“Jason. Stop,” I pleaded, and finally, all life, all sound faded, my cry becoming only a distant shriek, like a whistle blowing. But even when I closed my mouth, panting as the pain blast through my hip, the whistle continued.

The whistle blew once more, echoing in my mind as if I were spinning in a giant plastic bin.

Jason sighed. “Why did you have to go and scream? Now you’ve ruined all my fun.”

The cold night air burned my throat as it scraped into my lungs, dragging vestiges of Jason’s sweet scent with it—a scent that once reminded me of love, but now, only reeked of cold fear.

He landed on the grass, his body stretched out alongside mine, a cheeky grin putting the vampire to rest. “They’re coming for you.”

I tried to nod. I knew this much, but I knew he wasn’t finished with me yet, either. Vampires were fast—he had plenty of time. Just promise me you won’t hurt any of them, Jason.

His immaculately green eyes softened, turning bright as his body absorbed the life-force of my blood. “I want you to know, Ara—” he leaned down, his deep voice vibrating warmly against my brow, “—I’ve enjoyed our time together, although it’s been cut short. And I will watch when they come for you. I want to see what your replacement thinks when he finds you like this—so broken, so demoralised, just a worthless, unwanted little girl that nobody cared to fight for.”

I swallowed back the lump in my throat. The venom had burned in my limbs for so long now that they were numb to all he could think of to hurt me—except the truth.

Jason was right. David never came for me. Even until I hit the ground, I still, stupidly, believed he would come. And now I would die alone—disgraced, and all hope for an eternity of blood would only ever be a promise I wished I’d made. I ruined my own life by loving a vampire. I should never have loved David once I knew what he was—but I would love him anyway, for all time.

A sharp, tight grip capped my throat, and Jason’s cheek touched my jaw as he sank his teeth into the curve of my shoulder. I laid perfectly still. My body twitched, convulsing without the knowledge of my brain. But I felt calm inside—unable to process what I was suffering.

“Your blood is running thin,” he said, his red, wet mouth right in front of mine.

I studied it carefully, seeing my David in the way he smiled, the way he closed his lips for a second like he was considering kissing me.

“I was considering it,” he said, and he looked up from my lips, his eyes cold again. “I know how much it’ll hurt my brother to see our lips touch.” He came down slowly and opened my mouth with his tongue, sinking it inside with a mix of blood and venom or spit or something that burned the back of my throat. I tried not to swallow, holding my breath, but as I coughed from the burn, spitting back in his mouth, I had no choice.

“Don’t drown in it,” he said, drawing back, then turned my head to the side so the blood dribbled out the corner of my mouth.

It was nearly over now. The nightmare was fading away with the stars in the sky. Only second’s left, I could feel it. I’d miss life—miss David, but at least the suffering would be over.

I felt the fear in my eyes flood away with the serenity of near-death, and I was sure I smiled as I looked up at Jason. “Tell David...I love...him,” I muttered weakly—not a message for Jason to deliver, but a part of the story before the end. David would hear it when Jason showed him the memory, and he’d know that, even in death, it was his name on my lips.

I exhaled and settled back, looking up at the sky; the stars blurred into one thin silver line, and the night sky surrounded me.

For a second, I saw them; Mum and Harry—nothing more than a flash—just a flicker of a memory, standing there behind Jason. They were waiting for me. I wanted to run to them, call to them, ask them to help me—for anyone to help me. But I knew they weren’t really there, and that even if they were, they couldn’t help. There was no help. People died every day. People suffered every day. No one came to save them, and no one was coming for me.

I’m sorry, Mum, I whispered inside, I know you wanted better for me.

“It’s okay now.” The memory of her nodded, reaching out. “Come on, it’s time to go.”

But, I need to see David again—tell him I’m sorry; tell him I want to be a vampire now—be with him forever.

“I know,” she said with a sympathetic smile, like everything was okay. But it wasn’t. Not at all. She wasn’t going to help me. She wanted me to come with her—to end it all right now. Right here.

“Death is only the beginning, Ara.” She smiled. “There is so much more for you now.”

No! I want to go home! “Please?” Cold air brushed out past my lips—colder than it should be. I thought I felt my hands shaking, but wasn’t sure. The only thing I knew I felt was the warm, mucky feeling of something sticky under my head and all over the side of my neck. I struggled to open my eyes—to remember where it was I had fallen asleep, or how I got there. “Mum!” I screamed. “Mum?”

But she was gone. Everything was gone.

The strange blackness of the world smothered me, tightening around my ribs, making the air thin and humid. I felt myself being pulled down, like I was swimming against a strong current and losing the fight. I tried to kick my legs, to clutch at my throat and tear away the belt of restraint, but my hands were gone; there was nothing to move, nothing to free me from the sweltering wrap of my own death.

And then, from deep in the darkness, a warm grip pulled me back to the night. A hand. Something waking me from the depths of my own fear. I held onto it with my mind, focused on it with all of my strength until I heard a voice: “Ara? Baby, oh baby.” It echoed like an old memory. “God, what has he done to you—?”

“Ara.” His golden voice hit the walls of my subconscious and bounced off the empty space around me. “You stay with me…with me…with me,” it echoed again. “Ara, please—don’t let go…let go…let go—” I felt a hand around the back of my head, and a heavy cold settled on my limbs, making me wish I could sleep. Just fall asleep and everything would be okay.

“Oh, God!” his distraught voice cut out under grief. “Get help—please, she’s losing too much blood. Get help!”

Nothing. No stars. No sound. I tried to open my eyes to see against the black, but as I truly noticed the emptiness for the first time, I felt my heart stop; my eyes were already open.

“Mike?” I called, but my own voice fell flat in front of me, as if I’d spoken into cupped hands. I waited; waited past that moment you expect everything to be okay, past the breath you held when you thought you heard something, and finally realised what happened.

Perfect silence. Complete weightlessness; it almost made me breathless, like I needed sound or a horizon to remind me how to breathe. I couldn’t breathe—couldn’t suffocate because there was only emptiness where my lungs should be. All I could actually feel were tingles, shivering across every part of my body that had turned into air. I wanted to break free, but there was nothing to break free from.

The world was gone.

Everything was gone...

Floating through space and time, I waited for morning to come and light the corners of this dark room, but the sun never rose. I wasn’t sure how many days or years had passed, but this couldn’t be sleep—it couldn’t just be a dream. In fact, I was pretty sure this was Hell. No fire, no pain, just…eternal blackness slowly, second by quiet second, driving you mad.

It reminded me of the time I went swimming as a little girl; I’d closed my eyes and floated in the water for a while. With my ears under the lashing of waves, aware only of my own thoughts, I had thought it was peaceful then, but here, in this unimaginable expanse of nothing, floating, unable to find the shore, it was just agonisingly confining.

The only thing I ever found down here was the memories—hidden behind shadows in the darkness. And when the darkness got too much, those memories became nightmares—unhappy endings I’d keep examining in my mind—over and over again, never able to find the conclusion, because there’d never be a conclusion. Not for me, anyway. In death, we have no resolution.

My last breath would have been taken in the arms of my best friend; my naked, twisted and broken body would have stirred thoughts in him I couldn’t control; he’d think Jason raped me, did other unspeakable things to me, and I couldn’t tell him the truth.

Tears of frustration and anger wanted release, but with no face and no eyes to cry from, they were trapped, lodged like a rolled-up sock in my chest—quivering and growing into a feeling I had never known before. I wanted to rattle the bars of my cage, to scream at those responsible.

But the rage always wore down to misery, and when misery was unreleased, trapped in by nothingness, it turned to fear, then to rage again. It was an endless cycle. And even that made me mad, because there was just nothing…nothing I could do to make it stop.

“Let me out of here!” my mind called into the darkness. I imagined myself circling around, gripping my hair with both hands, falling to the floor with my head in my knees.

It did no good to picture it, though. I still felt just the same.

“Mike.” I imagined myself looking up—to wherever up was. “Mike. He didn’t rape me.”

I needed him to know that. I needed him to know how sorry I was for leaving the dance, and for not remembering what he taught me all those years—how to survive, how to fight.

“Mike? Please, please be there. Please.”

But nothing ever answered back.

The rage subsided again and I watched my imagination fall to her knees. She looked so fragile and human, so broken and alone. I felt no pity for her, though, because she did this to herself. She let herself walk into the arms of a vampire, and now, she was dead.

Dreams had happened in the blackness. Once or twice, I’d seen myself somewhere else, only to wake in the nothing again. As I wandered forward, of full body, I knew this was just another dream.

The emptiness around me was coloured with blue plumes of smoke, rising up, gripping my ankles and hips like creeping fingers. The message I’d been trying to get to my fiancé was still trembling on my lips, stuck, like a ghost that couldn’t cross over. “Mike?” I said weakly into the darkness. “Mike, please listen.”

With each step I took, I could feel the fine, tickly tips of the grass between my toes. I walked through the smoke, reaching out to touch anything at my fingertips. I’d take a tree in the head right now—just to feel.

When the sound of soft, ragged breaths came from somewhere ahead, I looked deeper into the darkness—past the blur, past the shadows.

Then, I saw him.

He didn’t look up. As he became completely visible for the first time, so too did the world around him—but not me. The storm clouds overhead raged and swirled, lapping the horizon with the promise of a wild night. But my hair, my dress, and my existence stayed frozen in time.

Mike stood hunched and shaking, one hand splayed out on something stone, while his lungs fought to find the breath that would make it all okay. “Ara, baby. I’m so, so sorry. I should’ve protected you. I should’ve been there to stop him from hurting you.”

I watched on, my lip trembling, tears edging tightly on the brink of hysterics.

Mike lost his words to grief, sobbing heavily into his fingertips, as he reached into his pocket, removing a closed fist. My thumb landed on my ring finger when the gentle tink of glass drew my eyes to what he placed atop the stone.

“This is where it belongs now,” he said and backed away, wiping a weary hand across his lips. As his shadow receded, allowing light against the words on the headstone, the core of my being imploded:

All life drew from my soul, like my existence happened in reverse for that spilt second, and the remains of the ring I once wore for love bled out over the stone, weeping crimson tears across my name.

I stumbled on my heels, reaching out for something to ground me. And the dream slipped away, becoming smaller until the blackness swallowed it whole. He was gone, but I knew he still existed out there, somewhere I could never go—just like everything I loved—lost in a world I would not see again; their smiles, their voices, their warm arms. All gone. They would grow old and pass, time would pass, and I would remain here.

Ghosts were supposed to watch—to see who was at their funeral, to see who mourned them. I was supposed to see David again—to know if he came to my grave. I was supposed to sit beside him, comfort him, though he’d never know I was there. Everything just turned out so wrong. How had it all gone so wrong?

The imaginary me appeared in full light, just a soft, golden glow in the darkness, her pale dress billowing, like the fingers of a ghost. She was the storybook version I thought death would be. But I was the reality, sitting across from her—an empty vessel, dark, invisible, tortured. There were no happy reunions in the afterlife, no peace and, from what I could tell, no God, either. I had called to Him; called to everyone I could think of—even called to Rochelle. But she wasn’t here. God wasn’t. Buddha. Anyone. Just me. Just me and my regrets.

I wanted to shake my head. She wasn’t there either. I wasn’t sure there was even a mind. I knew only an eternity of nothing—my punishment, I guess, for condemning David’s heart to the same.