Bleeder [Blood Magic, Book 1]

What if everything you knew about yourself was a lie?

Mildred "Mills" Millhatten had a good life: close-knit family, fantastic friends, decent grades and even a not-totally-annoying kid brother. You might say it was the best kind of ordinary. Nothing could have prepared her for being taken and cast into a strange, vicious world that she didn't know existed and has little hope of understanding.

As a Bleeder - one whose lifeblood feeds the Nosferatu - her continued survival hangs ever in the balance. The creatures are keeping her alive because they believe her blood has mystical properties. Mills fears what will happen when they realize they are wrong.

If she hopes to survive and discover who she truly is, she needs an ally. She has to befriend the mysterious boy who's been secretly visiting her cell, even though he's destined to become a bloodthirsty monster. Because s


2. A Brief Introduction to My Not-Life


Chapter 2: A Brief Introduction to My Not-Life


Things only got stranger after we landed in Las Vegas.

Instead of heading out to the taxi stop, my dad steered us towards the parking garage. He threaded his way through the rows of vehicles before spotting the car he was looking for: a dusty, black PT Cruiser with severely tinted windows. After depositing his rolling suitcase by the trunk, he got down on the concrete and shimmied himself under the car's undercarriage.

What the hell is he doing? I thought, gaping at him.

I glanced at my mom, expecting her to look as bewildered as I felt, but she appeared to be scanning the parking lot, keeping watch for something or someone. I was about to ask her what was going on when my father slid out from beneath the car, hastily brushed himself off, unlocked the doors and told me to get in.

I obeyed, even though my intuition was telling me to dig my feet in and demand an explanation. Problem was, I hadn't bothered to develop a rebellious streak – the only things I had pierced were my ears and I never broke curfew, except when the subway was delayed or I passed out on Jenny’s couch while she tortured me with chick flicks. My parents strove to be fair and supportive, so until now, I hadn’t exactly needed one.

I rolled down my window as Dad navigated us along the Vegas strip; the colourful cacophony provided a welcome distraction from all the things that weren’t adding up. From the plane, Las Vegas had looked like a giant fairground, surrounded by tracts of patterned light and a vast black void: the desert after dark. In actuality, it was garish and salacious, full of looming billboards and flashing lights. Cheap and tawdry too; on the sidewalks, girls with too much makeup and clothes intentionally worn a size or two too small hung off guys that looked like a wild weekend in Sin City was all they had going for them. We drove past a bachelorette party with a halo-wearing bride clad in a thrift-store wedding dress adorned with cutlery. On the next block there was a trio of overweight Elvis impersonators.

I wondered what hotel we’d be staying at. Would it have its own on-site stage show? A pool? Did Mom even pack my swimsuit, or had she not bothered because we'd be spending all our time at the hospital? I hoped that wouldn't be the case. Las Vegas might be less an amusement park than a debauched playground for grown-ups, but that didn't stop me from wanting to explore it. Anna and I had a ritual of bringing each other back the most ridiculous souvenir we could find whenever either of us went anywhere, and Vegas presented me with the perfect opportunity to totally outdo myself.

Too bad it wasn’t our final destination.

All too soon I was staring forlornly out of the car's rear window as the hope of exotic entertainment and sightseeing dimmed, along with the city lights that were rapidly congealing in the distance. This was as wrong and off as my father fishing the keys for this car out from somewhere beneath it, while my mother stood guard like a suspicious night watchman.

Hospitals were in cities, not in the middle of the desert.

“What's going on?” I said, surprised by how loud my voice sounded in the closed confines of the car. I was tired and out of patience with the weirdness. My parents' unending silence grated on me, too. “Where are we going?”

When neither of them answered nor even acknowledged that they'd heard me, I dug my cellphone out of my backpackI didn't need to rely on them for conversation. But as soon as I turned on my phone, it blinked a low battery warning at me and then promptly shut itself off again. I cursed at it and chucked it back into my bag. The stupid thing barely held a charge anymore.

“How did you know to pick up this car?” I asked. I was bored, so I decided to take another stab at getting my parents to open up. “And why would someone just leave the keys underneath it?  Also, you said Uncle Curtis was sick. If he's sick, wouldn't he be in the hospital? And wouldn't the hospital be back there, in Vegas?”

“I know what we said, Mildred,” my dad replied, exchanging a concerned look with my mom, who shook her head ever so slightly.

“So what about it? Don't you think I deserve some sort of explanation? You yanked me out of school and dragged me halfway across the country...”

“It's late, honey, and we're all exhausted. It's been a long day of travelling. Can't we do this in the morning?” my father said, bookending his question with what might well have been a phony yawn.

“You guys are being seriously weird. You know that, right?”

My mother turned and gave me an indecipherable look with her grey eyes. It seemed more silent treatment was in order. But I just couldn't stomach it any longer.

“Why does this have to wait till morning?” I asked. “We're doing nothing but driving right now, so why not right now?” I sounded like a petulant three-year-old, but I just couldn't understand why they kept putting me off. I wanted to know who Uncle Curtis was before I ended up in the same room with him. How awkward would that be? Besides, if he was family, I had every right to know.

“Because it's complicated,” my father said curtly, keeping his eyes glued to the road.

“I get that,” I said, “but what I don't get is all the secrecy. I mean, really, come on, just spit it out. What awful thing did Uncle Curtis do?”

My father sighed and looked at my mother again. This time she nodded, slowly, in resignation. And I know that I'd won, they were finally going to tell me what the deal was with my mysterious uncle. I slid as far forward on the black leather seat as the seat belt allowed and held my breath in anticipation.

My mother curled her body toward the passenger-side window, so I could no longer see her expression. She was retreating; yet another out-of-character thing for her in a day already overflowing with them. It made me nervous. There was nothing my mother didn’t face head-on – except this.

My father took his time collecting his thoughts.

“Mildred,” he said slowly, “there is no Uncle Curtis.” At that point, he could have veered the car into one of those giant cacti that dotted the edge of the highway and I doubt I would have noticed.

“Wh-wh-at?” I stammered, mind completely blown. “Why are we here then?”

“That's the complicated part,” my father said. His vagueness made me want to shriek. So did the fact that they’d been so dishonest with me. Sure, they’d lied about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and other dumb stuff like that in the past, when I was a little kid, but never about something as important as life and death and family. My brain snagged on the true meaning of his admission and I momentarily forgot my anger. If there was no Uncle Curtis and they both knew what was going on and I didn't, then this must be about me. But why invent a fake person in order to drag me out into the desert? That familiar boulder of unease took shape in my gut again.

“Then explain it,” I insisted, trying to keep my voice steady.

“Okay,” my father relented, “but I want you to understand that this isn't how we intended to tell you. In fact, we hoped to never have to tell you at all.”

“Tell me what?” I asked. My dread now elephantine.

My father reached across the gap between the two front seats and took my mother's hand in his. She squeezed it. She was telling him to be brave. She'd done the same thing for Mikey and I time and again, when we needed a little support.

“Mildred, just hear me out first. You need to believe me when I tell you that all we ever wanted to do was protect you – from all of this.”

“Just tell me,” I said, unable to fathom what could possibly be so difficult to spit out.

He hesitated, but once he did speak, I understood his reluctance, these weren’t the kind of words you could ever take back.

“You are not our daughter,” he told me solemnly, and I thought I heard a tiny, muted sob and a shaky intake of breath from the passenger seat.

As this unexpected revelation rattled around in my head and took tainted root there, a slideshow of cherished moments from our perfect little family played out as the backdrop. All lies. It was almost too terrible to imagine, but there it was. Uncle Curtis had been a lie, and now I was one too.

If I wasn’t Mildred Millhatten, daughter of Fredrick and Estella Millhatten, sister to Michael Millhatten, who the hell was I? My memories of family began and ended with the two people in front of me and my kid brother. There was nothing and no one else, only ever them.

“Why didn't you tell me?” I asked, my words heavy with equal parts hurt and accusation.

“Your father insisted we didn't.”

My father. I looked at the man in the driver's seat, his kind, familiar face full of laugh lines, darkened only by his grim expression and five o'clock shadow. I assessed him, this man with the slight belly paunch, the one I'd called Dad since the day I’d learned the word, the one who supposedly wanted me to follow in his footsteps. I tried to reconcile all that with the newfound knowledge that this man was not my father and it was damned near impossible. He may have taught me to tie my shoelaces, held me when I cried and cheered louder for me than any other parent did for their kid at my eighth-grade graduation, but we did not share blood or DNA. And he’d lied about that for the last fifteen years.

I suddenly regretted ever lamenting our boring, ordinary lives. I would've taken boring back in a nanosecond over this.

“Who's my father?” I demanded.

“We can't tell you,” my not-dad said. He sounded sincerely apologetic, but I still wanted to slug him.

“Can't or won't?” I shot back.

“Both. It's better for everyone that way. That part he was right about.”

“What about my mother?”

“We don't know anything about her. The deal we made was with your father and your father alone.”

Deal?!” I didn’t like the sound of that one bit.

“For your adoption,” he said, though I could tell he was omitting something. I decided to call him on it. Funny thing about finding out that your parents aren’t your parents: suddenly, it’s much easier to grill them.

“I know I'm new to this,” I said. A cheap shot, but they had it coming. I'd never been particularly sarcastic before, but me not being me was bringing with it some surprises. “But don't both parents have to sign the paperwork to make it legal?”

When he didn't answer right away, I knew I was onto something. Did it make it worse that I wasn't acquired through legitimate means? I didn't know. I’d always been confident I came from a good family, now I wasn’t so sure about that either.

“You're right: you didn't come into our lives the traditional way,” he said eventually, “but that doesn't mean that we don't care about you. I hope you understand that.”

I didn’t. What I understood was that he didn't say love. I noticed it immediately and it hollowed me out. My chest felt like a chasm, missing the components that had always made me whole. He should have said, “But that doesn't mean we don't love you.” But he hadn't, and I almost burst into tears; my whole body quivered from the effort it took to constrain them. He may not have been my biological father, but he was the man who’d raised me and if there had ever been a moment where I needed to know I was loved, it was right now. Then again, I thought to myself bitterly, they've both done such a good job at lulling you into believing that you were theirs, why couldn't they have tricked you into thinking they loved you too? The absence of the word hung in the air like the stench of rotting meat, turning everything toxic.

“What's my name?” I asked, veering the conversation in a slightly different direction, one less likely to end in a fit of uncontrollable sobs. I knew the tears would come, later, when I was alone and curled up in bed. But right now I had a personal history to piece together, which meant they needed to believe that I was mature enough to have this conversation, even if I wasn’t.

“Pardon?” my not-mom said, still staring out the window. It was like she couldn’t bear to look at me.

“Was my name Mildred when you got me or did you call me that?” There were bigger questions, but I needed to get a handle on the basics first, and my name was about as down-to-the-roots as it got.

“We named you Mildred. If you had another name before you came to us, we were not privy to it,” my mother told me.

“Why do you do that?” I snapped. “Why do you both sound so formal when you talk about my adoption? You’ve got to know that nothing is going to shock me any more than the nuclear bomb of 'You're not our daughter,' so why does talking about where I came from make you so nervous?”

My not-mother fell silent again, allowing me a minute to go over the depressingly little I'd discovered about my real parents thus far: my father was a secretive jerk who didn’t want anything to do with me and had given me up in some kind of clandestine deal, and my mother was an unfathomable unknown. What kind of woman allows her baby to be bartered away like that? I wondered. I felt sour bile rise in my throat as something atrocious occurred to me.

“Did you buy me?” I blurted out. That's exactly what kind of woman gives her child away in a back-alley adoption: the kind so desperate for cash that she'd sell her offspring.

“Of course not,” my not-dad said immediately. “Who do you think we are?”

“I don't know!” I shouted. “I honestly don't know!” Tears were threatening again, so I stopped yelling and tried to concentrate on my breathing.

In and out. In and out. Stay calm. Just stay calm.

Not-Mom tapped not-Dad's elbow and when he glanced over at her, she shook her head. This time, I had no idea what was conveyed. I considered asking them, but I liked that they weren't being as guarded with their physical language as they were with their words. It gave me more opportunities to read them.

Something had changed this morning after they saw Mikey and I off to school. Something that had brought us to Nevada. Something that they still weren't telling me.

“If there's no Uncle Curtis and I'm adopted, why are we here?” Trying to get to the bottom of it was like picking at a scab. I couldn't resist the temptation, regardless of how much it stung.

“That's something we can't tell you, Mildred,” my not-dad said. “I know it's probably too much to ask you to trust us right now, but that's what you need to do. We're here to do right by you, to protect you. I promise you that. But that's all I can say.”

“I need to be protected? Why do I need to be protected?! From whom?” My voice grew noticeably shriller again. “Seriously: you can't just tell a person something like that and then say, ‘That's all I can say.’”

“Mildred, you need to calm down,” my not-mom interjected. “We'd like to tell you everything but we can't. So this has to be enough for now. Okay? Let your father pay attention to the road.”

“He's not my father,” I mumbled angrily as I kicked the back of her seat. I regretted saying it as soon as my not-dad's anguished eyes met mine in the rear-view mirror. He may not have said the L-word, but he felt something. His pain was a mirror of my own and I wanted to say sorry. I really, truly did, but I was heartbroken and they were still keeping secrets. Secrets that involved me.

It was evident our conversation was over, so I loosened my seat belt and stretched out across the backseat. There was nothing to see outside the car's windows anyway, except for dark flatness peppered by the occasional lights of a service station or truck stop. It’s said the desert is a lonely place and tonight I felt its loneliness acutely. My thoughts drifted to Mikey – poor oblivious Mikey, safely ensconced back in New York, but suddenly down one flesh-and-blood sister – and I found my affection for him undiminished. This brought an unexpected, but not unwelcome smile to my face; I desperately needed something concrete to hold onto and my little brother was it. So were my friends.

I reached into my bag for my cellphone. I really needed to tell Anna what was going on. She might not understand – I mean, how could she? – but she'd definitely be sympathetic and might even crack a joke or two about the whole sorry situation. Then I remembered that the battery was pooched. I hoped not-Mom had packed my charger, but I refused to ask her. If they were done talking, so was I.

I curled up on the back seat and closed my eyes. There was nothing but the low hum of the engine and my own racing mind to keep me company. Who was my dad and why did I need protection? Why now? And from what? Did I need protection because of who my dad was? Or did I need protection from my dad? These questions twirled around in my head like ugly, misshapen ballerinas, caught up in an infernal, unending dance. I lost myself in their senseless pirouettes until I passed out.

* * *

I awoke to Fredrick – I couldn’t very well keep calling them not-Dad and not-Mom, it was childish – shaking my leg. For a brief moment I forgot all about the events of the long drive through the desert and he was just Dad again, but that faded as soon as the fog of sleep did.

I had no idea how long I’d been out for, but my legs were cramped from lying scrunched up on the seat and the fabric of my jeans was biting into my skin along the creases. It was still dark outside, though I thought I saw the first hints of dawn creeping across the horizon.

I stepped out of the car, stretched, and took in my surroundings. We were in the middle of nowhere; I could tell that much even in the low light of the sagging moon. Fredrick had parked the PT Cruiser behind a small, square, dilapidated cabin. The wood slats that formed its walls had been bleached by sun and sand and time, and the windows were so thick with grime I wasn't sure any light would find its way inside regardless of how bright the sun was shining.

I slung my backpack over my shoulder and hoisted my suitcase out of the trunk, then followed Estella around the building. She produced a key from her purse and unlocked the front door. Where had that key come from? I wondered. Had it been under the car as well? Or had my parents been to this shack before? It was bad enough that my family wasn't my family, but having everything I thought I knew about them be called into question made it unbearable. These people, who never ventured further from home than the state campground, suddenly had the means to have cars waiting for them at airports on the other side of the country and possessed keys to secluded cabins that they hadn't been to in at least as long as I could remember. It was mind-boggling. I felt like I was on Punk’d. Hell, I wished I was being punked, because at least then this would end. Right now, it was the new world order.

Home felt impossibly far away, much further than the miles alone. You don't even know where home really is, I reminded myself. But for tonight, home was my bedroom back in the city, with its purple walls and silver drapes and glow-in-the-dark stars that I'd stuck up on the ceiling while following an astronomical diagram in a library book as closely as I could. That was the place that felt the most like me. It was also another thing I could grasp onto. That made three, and three wasn’t bad.

Estella disappeared into the cabin and I followed, though I stopped as soon as I crossed the threshold. It was pitch dark inside. Estella was moving around in the room to my left. There was a thump as she bumped into a piece of furniture and it scraped across the floor. A moment later, I heard the tell-tale squeak of a drawer opening. After some digging-around noises, a light appeared. Estella had found a flashlight. She returned a few minutes later with an armful of chunky half-used candles. She set two on the pine dining table on the left side of the room and another one on the coffee table in front of the small fireplace on the right side, then lit each of them.

The cabin's interior was constructed with the same wood as its exterior, but it was much less faded. In fact, the cottage, though obviously without working electricity, was a lot cleaner than I'd expected. No dust, cobwebs or creepy crawlies anywhere. I wondered who maintained it, or if it had been specially prepared for our arrival.

I dropped my bags, grabbed a candle, and scouted out the rest of our lodgings. The room to the left where my mother had found the flashlight was the kitchen. It had a propane-powered hot plate on the counter, but no fridge. I peeked in a couple of the cupboards. Well stocked.

Now I was sure someone knew we were coming.

The two small bedrooms – one on either side of the fireplace – were similarly basic. The first held a queen-size bed, which took up so much space that its matching oak dresser had to be placed outside the door in the common area, and the other had a bunk bed. That room, which I assumed would be mine, also came with an antique armoire that’d been hand-etched with flowers. It clashed with the bunk bed, which was both utilitarian and juvenile.

There was no bathroom anywhere to be seen.

I tramped across to the front door and back outside. As soon as I started circling the cabin, I caught sight of the outhouse. I liked indoor plumbing as much as the next person, but this didn’t faze me. Years of family camping trips had prepared me well.

I was starving, but when I returned to the cabin, I grabbed my stuff and high-tailed it into the room with the bunk bed, instead of the kitchen. Estella had placed a pair of candles on top of the armoire while I was out.

I flung my bags into the far corner and unlaced my army surplus boots, tossing them in the same general direction. Then I crawled into bed. I didn't care that I was hungry and still fully dressed. I just didn't want to have to hold myself up any longer or hold back my tears any more. That had been exhausting, more tiring than the trip itself.

I buried my face in the pillow and sobbed. I didn't want Fredrick and Estella to hear and come asking if I was okay. I wanted to be alone. I needed time to think, to see if I could make some kind of peace with this.

At some point the two of them must’ve had dinner. I know they talked because their muffled conversation carried through the cabin's walls. Not the words, just their cadence and inflection, which told me little.

At some point I dozed off, only to be awakened by an engine turning over and the soft crunch of tires on loose earth, before the veil of sleep pulled me under again. If the car and its occupants returned, they did not wake me a second time.

But the nightmares did.

They served up one gruesome set piece after another, all variations on a theme. In the first, I found myself paralyzed and forced to watch Fredrick and Estella slowly peel off their own skins – a paring knife their only tool. In another, Anna and Jenny were at the mall trying on clothes fashioned out of still-dripping animal flesh, parading around in them as if they were strutting down some hellish Parisian runway. And in perhaps the most horrifying one, I grew horns and wings and claws and scales and strange mottled clumps of fur until I became repulsive and utterly unrecognizable. But I was only bestial on the outside. Inside I was trapped and screaming. Just a lost girl, stuck in the wrong shell.

Even after I woke up, that feeling proved impossible to shake.

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...