The world outside is even more potent. Cool air frolics across my skin, the sky is so bright red and purple it looks as though I'm on a far away planet. Even the stars dotted through the crisp night, making the view all the more surreal. The pigments darken in slow waves as the sun continues it's decent behind the emerald horizon.
Wow, everything is so impossibly vivid like a painting with the richest acrylics. The countless smells and sounds synchronize with my touch making me feel like I'm apart of the forest. 'Who knew dying could make you feel so alive? Have I been resurrected into a mythical God?' I wonder, only half exaggerating to myself.
I stare into the active trees and grass that seem to breathe with life. I'm drawn to a single slow beat that makes my soul dance, it stood out amidst the other unique vibrations pounding away in the vast forest. I can't quite understand, but I need to become that pulsing beat.
I *need* it.
I follow a somewhat unappealing musty smell that accompanies a lovely rhythm, until a heat tickles my arms and face from nearing a beast in the tall weeds.
The pulse accelerates zero to sixty in seconds, the revving beat awakens something fierce inside me. I watch as two reflective green circles peer through the dim trees. It's a deer, and I can make it out perfectly in the darkness as if it were broad day.
I lose control, no longer thinking just acting. Taking a back seat to the instinctual movements propelling me forward. The pace of the rhythm accelerating only adds to my unadulterated desire for it. I had to have it, just like the necessity for air in my lungs.
I lunge for the deer before it has a chance to bound away, the operation is so smooth and swift it feels outright uncanny. Tension flares in my eye as alterations can be felt in my gums.
My teeth plunge into the neck of the doe, biting through its course skin as if it were made of soft butter. I'm absolutely ravenous and hungry.
The shriek of the frightened animal cuts short as it's tackled to the ground. I man-handle this poor creature that is much larger than I as if it were only a toddler.
In the back of my mind I'm shocked and somewhat disgusted with what I'm doing, but the dominating part latches on the throat of the doe, miraculously holding it down as I continue to drink the blood like fine wine.
The flavor isn't exactly desirable but the energy and the drumming is more addictive than anything I'd ever experienced.
It's fueling me, I had hold of that slowing beat just like it had an unfailing grip on my being. I'm under it's spell though I've never felt more empowered. Every note is ecstasy, vitality overflowing.
I can't stop myself from gulping this thick fluid and I become even more lost in the sweet pulse. Something in me is driven to keep this incredible feeling for an eternity if possible.
The beat slows, still hypnotizing me with it's flow even as it dies down to a slow dance pace. The deer is dying and it scares me.
I'm terrified of myself, what I'm becoming.
I feel an undeniable thrill knowing I'll take it's life. Killing this animal will only add to my absolute rapture.
The reasonable part of myself hollering somewhere far off in my mind 'Stop!', but I just cannot let go, not until the last thud pronounced the deer dead, dead as a doornail.
I tear myself off of the throat of the hooved creature, shaking and quite disturbed. How can I possibly come to terms with what I've just done?! Not only had I fully committed this act but a piece of me reveled in it, wanting live the experience again.
The deer is lying in the dirt motionless. I take my eyes off the furry brown mass not letting myself look into its lifeless face. I don't like seeing this dead thing at my feet, whatsoever, but the act of drinking that life and absorbing it into myself... It was simply euphoric.
My conflicting thoughts fought with each other like two separate entities, tumbling in horrified chaos and beastly satisfaction.
"Now you truly see. You *understand* that you are no longer the same person," says a voice from my side.
I jump back defensively, baring my teeth in surprise, quickly realizing it was just Juniper. What the hell!
She clicks her tongue, "You've soiled your fresh blouse, at least you didn't tear this one down the..."
I interrupt her, "What did I just do? What the hell happened! And why are you creeping up on me?!"
"You wanted to be saved, didn't you? This is the price. You must feed on the blood of the living."
"I killed that animal, I drank until it's heart stopped... and I relished it's death." The last part made me physically ill and disgust spread over my facial features, "What does this mean? Do I have to kill animals like this in order to live? That was disgustingly demonic! I don't know why I couldn't stop!"
"No." Her response is curt,"You cannot be sustained by animal blood alone and you don't need to drink to the point of death, you only need the blood. Though, preserving life is not always an easy feat."
"What are you saying? I need to take... blood from people?" I asked, feeling my stomach drop lower as nausea washes over me.
She nods sternly, eyes fixed on mine, "You need human blood and don't try to avoid it. The longer you attempt to live off of beasts alone the less control you'll have when engaging in mortal affairs."
"This isn't real, this is a sick joke! I can't..." I falter losing myself to delirium.
A strange feeling of peace descends on my manic mind. It's as if an outside source is wrapping around like a large blanket trying to comfort me. I look to Juniper realizing she's somehow sending these feelings to me almost like a physical gesture. The realization only unnerves me more and I *feel* her disappointment when she fails to offer me relief. This was all too much!
"Perhaps I was wrong," she mumbles mostly to herself, "I can end this if it only brings you misery and distress. I'll make it quick and painless."
She gives me an intense look as a frown forms.
I automatically shift into a defensive position. 'Whoa, this woman is a complete sociopath! She's threatening to kill me now?' 'Calm down, no, she said if...*If* it brings me misery. Well, is this second life too much? Should I have died or do I accept this extension with all it's conditions?' My thoughts were going at a million miles per hour.
"No! I'm not asking for you to kill me. It's just a lot to take in." A gut response, I truly wasn't ready to die a second time. Though, my apprehension for what this new life meant was undeniable.
"Very well then," she nods once as her expression mellows, "Go out and aquatint yourself with the night. Embrace it, you may find it to be a loyal friend."
She gestures to the cabin, "You may think of this cottage as your home, come back before sunrise. You'll find direct daylight rather unpleasant."
"Thanks for the offer but I have an apartment and a job. I won't burden you." I quickly create my excuse, not feeling too comfortable staying with a complete stranger.
"I strongly advise you leave your human life behind. It will only cause suffering to cling on to these past relations."
My eyebrows raise, "Are you saying just drop everything I know? Like, start over completely?"
Concern rolls in, wondering if she's planning on keeping me captive.
"Everything, family, friends, personal belongings. The Ashlen you knew died yesterday and the dead walking again complicates things. I promise you, it will only bring suffering, let the past die with your human body," she responds quickly almost cutting me off. Her face is cold and unsympathetic like stone.
"I... don't think I can do that. Everything? ....I can't," I contend, she can't be serious!
"The choice is yours, I'm only offering you my advice." She states, looking up toward the sky breathing outward.
I stare out into the trees listening to the hum of many heartbeats near and far paired with thousands of smells that twist and glide through the air. It's truly difficult to wrap my brain around all this or accept it.
Deep down I know she speaks the truth about letting go of all my human connections. Obviously things are different, but I don't know how I can do that. I love my family and I'm still kind of alive. How can I leave everything? Everything! I can't just detach from things I love most, I'm not ready to let any of it go.
My thoughts start to aggravate and stress me out even more and I'm already feeling unquestionably unhinged. I settle on a decision to go back to my apartment to work this through, I need something familiar right now. I pray she's not intending on keeping me here against my will.
Juniper's gaze is on me, I meet it with my own. It's daunting how she can look so angelic one moment and downright scary the next. Her eyes glow with focus and I could feel her trying to probe through the roller coaster of my raw emotions like someone sifting through folders in a filing cabinet with their fingers. I'm not sure I like her being so aware of my emotional state.
I attempt to search her mind with this mystical connection we seem to have. Since she was invading mine it's only fair. I didn't get much, though I sense curiosity and doubts swirling around her.
"I'm going back to my apartment. I need to sort things out."
"You don't have to ask for my permission. You are free to do whatever you wish, I am not your master," She tells me blankly, her attention back to the stars.
Though, I'm relieved she's not intending on keeping me prisoner, I'm bothered by this coldness from her that I don't understand. Is she shutting me out because I'm going against her wishes?
I blink, "Did I upset you, Juniper?"
She raises her eyebrows, studying me again, "No, you are not the thing that ails me. I have other matters pressing on my mind."
I could tell she was being honest, her indifference wasn't aimed at me directly. Still, it made it clear that my questions were going to have to wait, I wasn't going to get much more out of Juniper tonight. I just hope this vagueness isn't habitual, I might not have the patience for it next time.
It's strange, we had just met and this entire encounter was truly bizarre, but she is a seemingly new edition to my life from this point forward.
I use the mountains as my guide to determine the best way out of the woods and back to town.
As I started to leave Juniper spoke to me again, "Remember, don't be out for the sunrise. You'll surely regret it."
I stop turning my head but she isn't looking my way as she says this, though I can see her lips curl into a slightly sadistic smile. More ambiguous babble.
"Will I burn up like a vampire or something?" I lay on the sarcasm thick, she was going to get under my skin if she kept me guessing like this.
She snickers darkly, in a way it takes me off guard.
"Or *something*," she repeats, curling that smile even more, but still looking elsewhere.
I roll my eyes. Just as I thought, she isn't going to be helpful for the rest of this evening.
I start for the direction of town again, hoping I was going the right way. I wish Juniper would have explained more things to me. She didn't really offer many answers.
I wander through trees trying seek markers so I find my way back to this lodge with ease. 'I guess it's nice to have back up since I'm getting kicked out on Friday.' I recall with dismay.
Though, I always liked exploring nature, this walk in the night was strangely therapeutic. I feel all the emotions burdening my mind lighten the deeper go. I definitely preferred the night over day before this change but now I can say I am truly and fully in love with the dark. The way many sounds sailed in the shadowy atmosphere like a beautiful symphony is more than enchanting. The forest was its own breathing organism.
I'm completely immersed as I wander in the dreamy woods like a real fairy tale come to life. I'm graceful and light on my feet, gliding through thick trees as bird would, flying and weaving effortlessly. In total awe, remembering how I struggled to run through this same forest the other night.
I decide to test out my new strong limbs with a light run.
Oh, and running was absolutely exhilarating! I moved like a ninja bounding off of trees, winding around thick bushes without strain, never catching on stray twigs or tripping over rocks. Not even my loose hair snagged on low hanging branches.
I feel invincible, laughing out loud and propelling myself faster. I want to see how fast I can really go! I zip through the wooded area like a cheetah on the prairie, grass bending away from the force of my velocity.
"I'm unstoppable!" I gloat to no one in particular. Feeling the wind whipping at my face and combing through my hair, it doesn't even sting my eyes or prick my skin!
I leave all of my problems in the dust, running faster as I race away from them. For that brief moment I was on top of the world.
Slowing myself I take notice of a man-made hiking trail. I remember hearing about this trail; Spiral Hood Falls. The path lead to some gorgeous waterfalls a few miles from the start. I had also heard rumors about the occasional disappearances on this trail, giving it the nickname Stranglehold Falls because of the growing missing persons count.
I shudder inwardly realizing I almost made my way onto that list, another tally for the books.
I wave the bad thoughts away, I had just gotten rid of the majority of my worries with that much needed run, no need to bog myself down with more unnecessary stress for the time being.
I continue down the trail, I'm really close to the city now. I swallow down my light anxiety for the unknown. Next stop, apartment sweet apartment.
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