The poets and philosophers I once loved had it wrong. Death does not come to us all, nor does the passage of time dim our memories and reduce our bodies to dust. Because while I was considered dead, and a headstone had been engraved with my name, in truth my life was just beginning. It was as if I'd been asleep these many years, slumbering in the darkest night, only to awake to a world that was brighter, wilder, more thrilling than I'd ever imagined.
The humans I used to know continued their lives, just as I once had, spending their finite days going to the market, tending the fields, stealing secret kisses when the sun went down. They were merely shadows to me now, no more significant than the frightened squirrels and rabbits that scampered in the forest, barely conscious of the world around them.
But I was no shadow. I was whole--and impervious to their worst fear. I had conquered death. I was no fleeting visitor to the world. I was its master, and I had all of eternity to bend it to my will.
It was October. The trees of the cemetery had turned a decayed brown, and a cold breeze had whistled in, replacing the stifling heat of the Virginia summer. Not that I much felt it. As a vampire, my body registered only the temperature of my next victim, warmed by the anticipation of her hot blood coiling through my veins.
My next victim was only a few feet away: a chestnut-haired girl who was currently climbing over the fence of the Hartnett estate, which ran adjacent to the cemetery.
"Clementine Haverford, whatever are you doing out of bed so late?" My playful demeanor was at odds with the hot, heavy thirst coursing through me. Clementine was not supposed to be here, but Matt Hartnett had always been sweet on her. And even though Clementine was engaged to Randall Haverford, her Charleston-based cousin, it was clear the feeling was mutual. She was already playing a dangerous game. Little did she know it was about to turn deadly.
Clementine squinted into the darkness. I could tell from her heavy-lidded expression and wine-stained teeth that shed had a long night. "Stefan Salvatore?" she gasped. "But youre dead."
I took a step closer to her. "Am I, now?"
"Yes, I attended your funeral." She cocked her head to the side. She didnt seem too concerned, though. She was practically sleepwalking, heady from sips of wine and stolen kisses. "Are you a dream?"
"No, not a dream," I said huskily.
I grasped her by the shoulders and pulled her close to me. She fell against my chest, and the loud drum of her heartbeat filled my ears. She smelled of jasmine, just as she had last summer when my hand had grazed the bodice of her dress while we played one of Damons kissing games under the Wickery Bridge.
I ran one finger along her cheek. Clementine had been my first crush, and Id often wondered what it would feel like to hold her like this. I put my lips to her ear. "Im more like a nightmare."
Before she could make a sound, I sank my teeth straight into her jugular vein, sighing when the first stream hit my mouth. Unlike what her name might suggest, Clementines blood wasnt nearly as sweet as Id imagined. Instead it tasted smoky and bitter, like coffee burned over a hot stove. Still, I drank deeply, gulping her down, until she stopped groaning and her pulse slowed to a whisper. She went limp in my arms, and the fire that burned in my veins and my belly was quenched. All week Id been hunting at my leisure, having discovered that my body required two feedings a day. Mostly I just listened to the vital fluid coursing through the bodies of the residents of Mystic Falls, fascinated by how easily I could take it from them. When I did attack, Id done so carefully, feeding on guests at the boardinghouse or taking one of the soldiers up by Leestown. Clementine would be my first victim whod once been a friend--the first victim the people of Mystic Falls would miss.
Disengaging my teeth from her neck, I licked my lips, allowing my tongue to savor the spot of wet blood at the corner of my mouth. Then I dragged her out of the cemetery and back to the quarry where my brother, Damon, and I had been staying since wed been turned.
The sun was just creeping over the horizon, and Damon was sitting listlessly at the edge of the water, glancing into its depths as if they held the secret to the universe. Hed been like that every day since wed woken up as vampires seven days earlier, mourning the loss of Katherine, the vampire whod made us into what we are now. Though she had turned me into a powerful creature, I celebrated her death, unlike my brother. She had played me for a fool, and the memory of her reminded me of how vulnerable Id once been.
As I watched Damon, Clementine moaned in my arms, one eye fluttering open. Were it not for the blood seeping onto the blue lace neckline of her wrinkled, blue tulle dress, it would seem as if she were merely in slumber.
"Shhh," I murmured, tucking a few loose strands of hair behind her ear. A voice somewhere in my mind told me that I should feel regret over taking her life, but I felt nothing at all. Instead, I readjusted her in my arms, tossing her over my shoulder, as if she were simply a sack of oats, and walked to the edge of the water.
"Brother." I unceremoniously dumped Clementines nearly lifeless body at his feet.
Damon shook his head and said, "No." His lips had a chalky white texture. Blood vessels twisted darkly on his face; they looked like cracks in marble. In the weak morning light, he looked like one of the broken statues in the cemetery.
"You must drink!" I said roughly, pushing him down, surprised at my own strength. His nostrils flared. But just as it was to mine, the smell of her blood was intoxicating to his weary body, and soon his lips met her skin in spite of his protestations. He began to drink, slowly at first, then lapped up the liquid as though he were a horse desperate for water.