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1 One

    Prologue

    I felt relief even before the first drop of blood splashed my tongue.

    He squirmed, but he was kept from struggling by disbelief or fear or the hope that if he just lay here with his eyes closed, all the monsters would go away.

    I shivered and drank deep.

    One

    "You can't be serious, Annie," Dr. Parrish said.

    "Why?"

    "How can you not know how you became a vampire?"

    I sat in a dim psychologist's office full of deep earth tones and fluffy furniture with rounded edges. The babble of a desk fountain was the only noise besides the scratching of a pencil on a notepad. My chair had no doubt been carefully chosen for optimum comfort (and minimum corners on which to bash one's head), but it could've been made out of cinder blocks for all I cared.

    I answered, "I went to sleep in Palm Beach. I woke up in Denver three days later, alone, and very thirsty." And naked. And terrified. On top of a black, t-top Trans Am.

    He kept staring at me. Dr. Parrish was young for a Phd. Sheltered, skeptical, but rarely predictable. For example, instead of, "How did you end up living here in San Antonio?" or even, "What happened next?" he asked, "Can I get you a glass of water?"

    "No, thank you," I said. "I can't drink water."

    "Ah. I wasn't aware of that."

    "I doubt that is the extent of your ignorance, Dr. Parrish. No need to apologize."

    "You can't remember anything about those three days?" he asked, just like that. I'd insulted him, not very well, but still, he just carried on.

    "Nothing," I said.

    "How are other vampires made?"

    I shifted, though it had been a long time since I'd felt any lack of physical comfort. "I don't know."

    He put down his notepad and stared at me past his oversized nose.

    He didn't wear glasses. I'd almost walked away during my first meeting, four months ago now, when I saw that he had contacts pressed against his eyeballs instead. All psychologists should wear glasses, if for no other reason than so young women could examine their reflections in the glass: smooth their shoulder-length dark brown hair, bat their average brown eyes, admire their soft, pale skin.

    "Why do you wear contacts?" I asked. When he looked straight at you, he looked like a near-forty Shia LeBouf, which wasn't bad, but surprising. He spent so much time looking at his notepad, then suddenly, he looks up and has a personality. I wondered if his other clients felt that way.

    "Glasses smudge and shift on your face," he answered. "I don't have to think about contacts once they're in."

    Not vanity, then. Practicality. Not surprising.

    "Don't you know other vampires, Annie?" he asked.

    "Of course."

    "And you've just, what...never asked?" He was still staring at me, his floppy brown hair brushing his eyebrows. I flicked my eyes toward his notepad, and he remembered it and went back to scribbling.

    "Vampires aren't stupid, but we tend to be...impulsive. The judges keep the knowledge to themselves because they don't want young vampire impulsiveness to wipe out the food supply."

    Dr. Parrish knew about the judges. He'd asked about vampire "law" during our second session. Not the aspect of the supernatural that most humans were interested in. Perhaps it was Dr. Parrish's unusual lack of banality that kept me showing up for my twice-weekly appointment.

    "The...?"

    "Blood cows, Doctor. People. A world full of vampires would starve. They would have no prey. Even a world half of vampires would suck the other half dry in a few days."

    "So you have a kind of," he struggled for a phrase, "population control?"

    I nodded.

    "What's the percentage, if I may ask?"

    "Point zero zero zero eight percent of the human population. Enough to keep the vampire population strong, few enough so that we stay out of sight and so there's plenty of prey for however many centuries we live, taking into account a certain range in case war or famine or plague lowers the population before we do."

    "So vampires always kill when they feed?" He glanced up and back down to his notebook.

    "Of course not," I said, watching the fountain flow. It was placed where we both could see it, the ball eternally spinning, the water endlessly circulating. "But it is much more satisfying."

    The pencil scratching sound paused, then continued. "Centuries," he said, "but not eternity? You're not immortal?"

    I smiled. "I'm immortal compared to you. But no, not immortal."

    "Vampires can die of natural causes?" he asked.

    "A few."

    "And they can be killed?" Dr. Parrish glanced up.

    I could only see the wound. A black wound like a round burn in the middle of a kind white chest.

    When the office reappeared, I stood. "I'll see you Monday, Doctor."

    "I'm sorry, Annie," he said. "I didn't mean to offend you."

    There was concern in his face, but not fear. So he didn't yet believe me. No rush. He was playing the game, and that was enough.

    "Don't worry about it. Have a nice weekend, Doctor," I said, then left.
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