I could feel the windowsill beneath my hands, the cool wood pressing into my palms. Grand mountains stretched outside the window, snow-capped under a bright blue sky.
My short, bobbed hair brushed against my neck, and then my chin as it swung forwards. A long highway stretched out alongside the mountains, curling away from them in the distance. I squinted, the arch of my eyebrows narrowing as I tried to focus on the point at which it disappeared.
I looked down. The wood that I had gripped so securely was morphing beneath my fingers, broadening and thickening until I had to let go of it, leaning back. I realised I’d been kneeling on my bed, my bare toes hooked into the duvet, as I fell.
The windowsill followed me, and as I tried to keep my eyes on the mountains I saw a surfboard flying towards me. I screamed, flinging my arms out to protect my face, but the board never made contact.
“Hey, Claire, wake up, silly.”
I squinted, trying to understand the voice. Blue light filtered through a set of curtains to my right, and I recognised the orange glow of the streetlight outside.
The image of the mountain range lingered, and I blinked heavily, confused. “Lily?”
“Who’s Lily?” The voice laughed, a soft chuckle, which immediately put me at ease.
I propped myself up on one elbow, and peered at Dan, sat beside me. His hair was ruffled, and he had the beginnings of bags under his eyes, but he was smiling at me, a soft half-smile that never failed to make my heart melt, just a little.
“Sorry,” I croaked, smiling ruefully.
“Bad dream?” He asked, stretching out on the bed beside me. He traced his fingertips along the inside of my arm, tickling at the crook of my elbow. I lay down beside him, and rolled so that my back was pressed up against his front.
“Not bad. I don’t remember much. I think it was more weird than bad.”
“I had a dream that I was pregnant yesterday. Did I tell you that?”
I snorted. “No, you didn’t.” Without thinking, my hand immediately fell to my stomach, where it began rubbing soothing circles onto my baby bump. My t-shirt has ridden up in my sleep, and I pulled it down as far as it would go, before it bounced back up to a midway point.
I let my weight sink back against Dan, feeling his warmth against my back. He settled behind me, his chest pressing against me with every deep intake of breath. My breathing slowed, too, and we drifted off together.
My eyes were bleary as I forced them open. The space beside me was cold, and I rolled over, blinking slowly. I felt for a body that was no longer beside me.
The room was dark; darker than it had been before. A long, sinister shadow stretched up the wall in front of me, and I stared at it, my eyes struggling to focus.
Long fingers inched towards me, creeping across my bedroom wall. I tried to find the orange glow of the streetlamp outside, to find some reassurance that this was just a shadow, a scientific fact of light and dark rather than a looming presence; I could not. My head seemed to be forced to remain facing forwards, stuck in one position to watch as those needlepoint fingers reached for my face.
A sharp pain stabbed at my neck. I could feel warmth behind me, and longed for Dan to say something, to whisper in my ear that he was here, that it was okay.
Instead, I heard a sneer. “I’m not the one to make this better,” Dan snarled. All of a sudden I could move, and I scrambled backwards, falling from the bed and tumbling onto the carpet, wrapped in the duvet.
His mouth was dripping with blood, rivulets following the curve of his chin and sliding down his neck. My neck throbbed as my eyes followed the path of the blood down onto his naked chest.
“I’ve been patient with you, so very patient.” He dropped down from the bed to kneel in front of me. His shadowed figure loomed above me, like the wings of a bat expanding outward, as his eyes met mine.
My hand moved instinctively to my stomach. “You – you wouldn’t hurt your own baby,” I stuttered.
“My baby?” He laughed. “Yes – he is mine. More so than yours, I’m afraid.” He began to crawl towards me, each movement calculated and deliberate, until he sat back on his haunches and levelled his gaze with mine once more. I could feel his breath against the bare skin of my neck, where my t-shirt dipped low against my collarbone. From the corner of my eye I could see blood pooling at the hemline, soaking into the fabric and drying, solidifying into a patch of crusted brown.
His teeth glinted in the frosted moonlight that pooled through the gap in the curtains. Two fangs, wicked sharp and shiny, poked from his upper lip. He followed my gaze as I traced their shape with my eyes; then his fingers dug into my chin as he forced my face upwards. I swallowed heavily.
“You aren’t going to ask?” He said, shifting his weight backwards. His smile was cocky as he spoke, and it let his fangs extend, allowing them to lie flat against the curved plane of his lips. “I always thought you loved context,” he teased.
I said nothing. I could feel my heart hammering against my chest, and I willed it to quieten.
“The monster in me outweighs the human in you,” he derided, speaking to me slowly, as though I was an infant. “That baby won’t care about you any more than I do – if you survive the birth.”
My brain strained to think clearly through the fog. I’d been with Dan for six years, and we’d met straight after university, in a small bar in a small town outside of Dartford. On our first proper date he took me to the London eye, and I could remember the feel of his lips touching mine as we’d reached the top, the city stretching out beneath us.
Now fangs distorted those lips, and I could not shake my stupor.
“Guess I’ll have to do the talking,” he shrugged. “I’ve been biding my time - longer than you know. I’ve been around a long time, Claire, and I’ve been waiting for you. These last six years have been nothing compared to the centuries that passed before your birth.”
“Why now?” I managed to squeak.
“Because, Claire,” he jeered, “now is the time.”
He leant forward, closing the last of the space between us. I squeezed my eyes shut, and waited for a bite that never came.
I heard laughter, light and airy, and the cry of seagulls in the distance. “Claire,” came the voice, a girl’s voice that I knew. It wrapped me in its familiarity, and I revelled in it, wanting to stay in its peace a little longer.
“Claaaaire,” it came again, this time drawn out, perhaps a little exasperated. I felt a soft poke in my ribs, and I turned to face the perpetrator.
Lily was smiling at me, her blonde hair a halo around her head in the morning sunlight. “Good morning,” she beamed, and leant forwards to press a soft kiss against my mouth.
“Why’d you wake me?” I grumbled. “I was having the strangest dream. I had a husband,” I said, with a small sputter of laughter.
“A husband?” She snickered.
“And I was pregnant, too,” I added, wiggling my eyebrows.
“Impossible,” she laughed. “You can’t get pregnant when you’re gay, Claire.”
“That’s not strictly true,” I teased. “Being gay doesn’t stop you from being pregnant. Being in a committed relationship with another woman does, though.”
“Well, now you’re forgetting about sperm donors, IVF…”
“Shush,” I said, cutting off her words with a gentle kiss.
She pulled back. “Anyway,” she began, “I had to wake you. You’re going to be late.”
“What time is it?”
“Nine?” I screeched, leaping out of bed. I pulled the duvet with me, and she tugged it back, swatting at me as I ran past her to the bathroom.
The yellow light of the bulb made my head hurt, and I squinted at myself in the mirror as I twisted the tap on. I leant in closer, examining my face for spots as I let the tap run, warming up.
I could see a blemish on my neck, and I leant in closer still, wiping at the growing steam on the mirror to get a closer look.
There, on my neck, half-scabbed with crusted blood drying beneath it, was a bite mark.