Competition entry

This is my entry for the 12th March 2017  Writing with the Stars writing competition.

Hunger is my master by Ian Reeve

   I have never been this weak, not in all the centuries of my existence.

   I am lying on top of a hill, staring up at the roiling clouds above me, as turbulent as boiling water. I only meant to rest for a moment, but once I was down on the frozen ground the relief from having to carry the weight of my emaciated body was so great that I ended up staying for several hours. I may even have been here for a whole day. It’s almost impossible to mark the passage of time any more. The clouds are so dense that the whole world is shrouded in perpetual gloom, and the faint luminosity they carry masks the true darkness of night. My hunger has grown considerably, though, and rages inside me like a savage beast. I would feed upon my own wrists if I thought it would ease it.

   I have to get up, I know. I have to keep looking for something to renew my strength, but I’m so weak! Just raising one hand from the dry, dusty earth requires an effort. I have to try, though. If I don’t get up now, I never will. This will become my final resting place. Eventually I’ll be so weak that no movement at all will be possible. I’ll be fated to spend the rest of eternity lying here, staring up at the clouds, knowing that they will never part to reveal the blue sky or the stars, that no bird will ever pass below them. Centuries will pass, and my mind will remain as sharp as ever, able to contemplate my fate until loneliness and tedium break my sanity. I will never die, though. How can you die when you’re already dead?

   I remember the day I died as though it were yesterday. I was young, happy and optimistic. The son of a wealthy family with a great future ahead of me. I courted the ladies and attended wild parties  with others my own age. I fought duels when I was insulted,  or just for sport, and I gambled with gay abandon, laughing when I won and cursing when I lost. The world was mine and I wanted to swing it by the tail. I knew that a life of hard work and responsibility lay ahead of me, that I would marry one day and take my place in the family business, but that was years away and I wanted to enjoy my youth while I had it.

   I was attending a particularly boisterous party one hot, summer night when the wine I had drunk began to have its inevitable consequences and I went out into the garden to find a bush behind which to relieve myself. There were other revellers out enjoying the cool, fresh air and making quite a lot of noise about it, so I headed away from them, to where the great rhododendron bushes created a hidden space where couples would occasionally come in search of solitude. I loosened my clothing and did my business against the thick, wooden trunk of the largest bush, and it was as I was making myself decent again that I was attacked. An impossibly powerful hand clamped over my mouth, there was a pain in my neck, and that was it. That was my life over, right there.

   There’s a lot of nonsense told about our kind. Myths and legends have grown up, most of them no doubt made up by us, to fool those who would hunt us. One of those myths is that you have to drink the blood of a vampire to become one. It’s not true. There’s no telling whether the victim of a vampire will become one himself, it’s just random chance. One in a thousand victims will rise from the grave and go in search of blood. The rest just rot. I was one of the lucky ones, or so I thought until just recently.

   I never found out who’d killed me. We tend to avoid each other. It’s true that there are occasional battles between us over a particularly desirable patch, but these are rare. There never were very many of us, so few that the vast majority of the human race had no idea we even existed, and there are plenty of unclaimed towns and cities where a new vampire can set himself up. The Sandford Estate, where I’d died, was clearly within my attacker’s territory, and so some instinct told me to go far away, to carve out a territory of my own. I went up to Nobridge, therefore, in Lincolnshire, and spent the next two hundred years feeding upon the people of that quaint little town. It’s possible that some of my victims rose again, as I had, but if so I never knew about it. They just went off to find a patch to call their own.

   One of the true stories told about us is that, every so often, we have to return to the ground, to sleep for a number of years. I was asleep when the war broke out, the last war. The war that the survivors called the Night of a Thousand Suns. I emerged from the ground, expecting to find the world pretty much as I’d left it, and found nothing but ruins in which a handful of pitiful scavengers crawled in search of something to eat, even if it was only rats and cockroaches. I laughed at first, amused by the folly of mankind and confident that civilisation would rise again. It might take a century or two, but what of that? I would just wait it out, feeding on those survivors whose burns and injuries weren’t too off putting. Indeed, life had never been better for me, because I no longer had to fear the sun, the only thing that can kill us. The war had sent great clouds of radioactive dust Into the atmosphere, plunging the whole world into darkness, and the surviving experts said that they would never leave. The planet’s weather had been permanently altered. No man would ever see the sun again.

   It took a few years before the real consequences of this began to sink in. I noticed that the humans I was feeding on were growing increasingly scarce, and that those I could find were thin and weak. They were starving, I realised at last. They couldn’t grow crops in the darkness. They were living on whatever they could find in the rubble, and even the rats wouldn’t last for ever. Soon, I had to search far and wide to find any humans at all, and I would end up killing every last one in the area before moving on to find more.

   For the first time we began to fight each other for possession of whatever remaining human communities we could find. That was hard, because we are almost impossible to kill. Forget all that nonsense about stakes through the heart and so forth. Stakes just tickle, and whatever damage we might take just regenerates in a few days. Battles would end in the loser being imprisoned in a locked room, therefore, or under a pile of large boulders, where he would stay until hunger left him too weak to move. I may well be one of the last in the world now, for all I know. Not because I’m some kind of great fighter, I have to admit. I just got lucky every time I found myself facing one of my own kind.

   I last fed over a month ago. That was the last time I saw a living human being, a pathetic, half starved wretch covered in sores and boils. Normally, sheer revulsion would have kept him safe from me, but my hunger was insistent. My hunger drove me to bite into his lice ridden neck and drink his rancid blood. It was disgusting, but now I would give anything for a single drop of it.

   Okay, I’ve been laying here long enough. Time to get back on my feet, if I can. I make a supreme effort to raise myself up off the ground, to get my feet under me. I just barely make it. Any longer, and I would no longer have had the strength. I stagger off across the frozen, lifeless ground, now truly desperate to find blood. Any blood. My hunger rages inside me, an inferno that drives me on after I should have long since given up and collapsed. It is my master, and I must obey it!

   There is barely any wind on this dead world, but a slight breeze begins to blow from the west, and with it comes a scent I’ve almost forgotten. My undead heart beats faster as I recognise the scent of blood. Young, healthy blood! I turn, as helpless to resist as a speck of iron in the grip of a magnet, and stagger off towards it. I can smell how healthy he is! Blood such as I haven’t tasted since before the war! The kind of man I would have chosen with a whole city of people from whom to pick! How is this possible? My hunger doesn’t care. It just drives me on, desperate to feed.

   I see him emerging from the ruins of a hospital. It’s a building I’ve been in many times, chasing fantasies of stored blood somehow kept fresh in cooled storage rooms powered by independent generators, fantasies that always turned out to be just that. This man is carrying a canvas sack stuffed full of drugs and medicines and he turns in surprise to see me running towards him, screaming like a lunatic. He drops the sack and holds his arms out to fend me off. I crash into him, intending to knock him to the ground, but I’m so weak! He fends me off easily, needing only one hand to do it while he fumbles for a walkie talkie with the other. Then the last of my strength leaves me and I collapse to the ground, weeping in despair, my hunger raging in frustration. I sense him staring down at me in surprise and pity.

   I must have fallen asleep for a while, because the next thing I’m aware of is new strength flooding into my body, the most wonderful sensation imaginable. I open my eyes to see that I’m lying on a bed in the hospital’s emergency ward. He must have carried me in and put me on the first bed he came across. The walls are damp and mouldy and rotting leaves are piled up in the corners, having blown in through the broken windows.

   There is a tube running into the vein in my arm. At the other end of that tube is a bag of donated blood, almost empty. Fresh, healthy blood, feeling like gold in my veins. I just lie there for a while, exulting in the feeling, before I become aware of voices just a few feet away.

   “He was so anaemic I don’t know how he’s still alive! It’s as if there’s no blood left in his body at all!”

   “Blood cancer perhaps. And he’s so old! He must be at least ninety!”

   “He’s a living human being, something of a scarcity nowadays. For all we know, we might be the last. The very last...”

   “But even if he lives he won’t last long, not at his age. He can’t contribute...”

   “He might know something. Maybe he knows about other survivors...”

   “Right!” agreed a third voice, and it makes me sit up in bed in sudden excitement because it’s the voice of a woman. “And even if he doesn’t, we have to look after him anyway, because it’s the right thing to do!”

   A woman! Young, healthy, able to bear children! If I can control my hunger, take just the blood I need to maintain my strength and no more, I can breed them! One day there’ll be enough of them for me to be able to sate my hunger fully, but for now I have to show restraint. It’ll be hard, I know. I’ll probably be hungry for decades, but if I’m careful I need never know the kind of starvation I’ve just escaped from...

   My hunger disagrees. The donated blood has restored my strength but my hunger still rages and it’s strong! So strong! I rip the tube from my arm and leapt out of bed, my hunger exulting in the feast to come. There’s nothing I can do to control it, I’m like a leaf caught in a hurricane! My hunger is deaf to the voice of reason. All it knows, all it cares about, is the presence of lIving humans so nearby. I can only watch helpless as my body plunges though the curtain and grasps the first man, my teeth plunging down to his neck...

   Moments later all three of them are dead. My body surges with strength. My hunger, temporarily sated, sleeps contentedly while the sane parts of my mind wail in despair. If there were any more humans in their little community, I would now have the ability to restrain myself, but there aren’t any more. Just the three of them, possibly the last living humans in the world. What will I do when the hunger returns?

   There must be others, I tell myself. These three survived. Somewhere, there must be others. I have to find them, quickly, while I still have the ability to act rationally, because if I can’t, if the hunger returns first... Then my destiny will be to roam the world, snuffing out whatever small sparks of humanity have somehow managed to survive until there are no humans left at all, and then I will starve. Forever.

   I turn my back of on the scene of slaughter and head out into the world. I’m walking fast, with a sense of desperate urgency, because hunger is my master. Hunger is my master, and once it wakes up, all hope will be lost.