Origins (Chapter 32)

I turned my back to the estate and began walking, then running, on the dirt road into town. Somehow, I felt that my feet barely touched the ground. I ran faster and faster, but my breath stayed the same. I felt that I could run like this forever, and I wanted to, because every step was taking me farther and farther away from the horrors I'd witnessed.

I tried not to think, tried to block the memories from my mind. Instead I focused on the light touch of the earth as I quickly placed one foot in front of the other. I noticed that even in the darkness, I could see the way the mist shimmered on the few leaves that still clung to the trees. I could hear the breath of squirrels and rabbits as they scampered through the forest. I smelled iron everywhere.

The dirt road changed into cobblestone as I entered town. Getting to town seemed to have taken no time at all, though normally I traversed the same distance in no less than an hour. I slowed to a stop. My eyes stung as I glanced slowly from left to right. The town square looked different somehow. Insects crawled in the dirt between the cobblestones. Paint flaked off the walls of the Lockwood mansion, though it had been built only a few years ago. There was disrepair and decay in everything. Most pervasive was the smell of vervain. It was everywhere. But instead of being vaguely pleasant, the scent was all-consuming and made me feel dizzy and nauseated. The only thing that countered the cloying scent was the heady smell of iron.

I inhaled deeply, suddenly knowing that the only remedy against the vervain-induced weakness was in that scent. Every fiber of my body screamed that I had to find the source of it, had to nourish myself. I looked around, hungrily, my eyes rapidly scanning from the saloon down the street to the market at the end of the block. Nothing.

I sniffed the air again, and realized that the scent–the glorious, awful, damning scent–was coming closer. I whirled around and sucked in my breath as I saw Alice, the pretty young barmaid from the tavern, walking down the street. She was humming to herself and walking unevenly, no doubt because she'd sampled some of the whiskey she'd been serving all night. Her hair was a red flame against her pale skin. She smelled warm and sweet, like iron and wood smoke and tobacco.

She was the remedy.

I stole into the shadows of the trees that flanked the street. I was shocked by how loud she was. Her humming, her breathing, each uneven footfall registered in my ear, and I couldn't help but wonder why she wasn't waking up everyone in town.

Finally, she passed by, her curves close enough to touch. I reached out, grabbing her by her hips. She gasped.

"Alice," I said, my voice echoing hollowly in my ears. "It's Stefan."

"Stefan Salvatore?" she said, her puzzlement quickly turning to fear. She trembled. "B-but you're dead."

I could smell the whiskey on her breath, could see her pale neck, with blue veins running beneath her skin, and practically swooned. But I didn't touch her with my teeth. Not yet. I savored the feeling of her in my arms, the sweet relief that what I'd spent the last moments insatiably craving was right in my hands.

"Shhh …," I murmured. "Everything will be all right."

I allowed my lips to graze her white skin, marveling at how sweet and fragrant it was. The anticipation was exquisite. Then, when I couldn't take it anymore, I curled my lips and plunged my teeth into her neck. Her blood rushed against my teeth, my gums, spurting into my body, bringing with it warmth and strength and life. I sucked hungrily, pausing only when Alice went limp in my arms and her heartbeat slowed to a dull thud. I wiped my mouth and looked down at her unconscious body, admiring my handiwork: two neat holes in her neck, just a few centimeters in diameter.

She wasn't dead yet, but I knew she would be soon.

I slung Alice over my shoulder, barely feeling the weight and barely feeling my feet hit the ground as I ran through town, into the woods, and back to the quarry.