Emily, Never Let the Right One Go

by Teel McClanahan III, Copyright © 2012

A Science Fiction novel; half of a two-book series

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Podcast; 26 episodes (complete), FREE

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Emily (Never Let the Right One Go)

About the book

Before she met Nicholas, all Emily cared about was shopping, and she believed her teachers when they told her the vampires had made the world a better place. After falling in love at first sight, Emily’s mind was opened to the harsh realities brought about by the worldwide alliances between vampires and humanity at every level of society. Nicholas was leading the charge in the fight against injustice, cruelty, slavery, and tyranny by the elder vampires, and Emily found herself suddenly caught up in a movement that stood for the rights of both humanity and a new generation of vampires who’d been tricked into giving up their natural rights.

Doing everything she can for the cause comes second only to following her heart as Emily tries to win the affections of a young man whose first priority is saving the world. She follows Nicholas back and forth across the country, into the heart of the nation’s vampire-run Capitol, and beyond. She risks her health, sticks out her neck, sacrifices friendship, and puts her life on the line in the name of love.

Will her efforts be enough? Will she win Nicholas’ heart? Can they save the world? Or will the schemes of the elder vampires put a stop to it all?

(Click here to read the first two chapters of Emily)

Books in this series:

Emily (Never Let the Right One Go), a Science Fiction novel by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil PressSophia (Never Let the Right One Go), a Science Fiction novel by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press

 

About the Author

Teel is an independent author, artist, creative visionary, blogger, publisher, podcaster, and sometimes filmmaker.

Teel is happily married to an English teacher and they live together in Phoenix, AZ with a grumpy old cat, a skittish young cat, and thousands of books, both read and to-be-read. Emily and Sophia (Never Let the Right One Go) are his seventeenth and eighteenth books, and there are plenty more trying to work their way into this world through the aperture of Teel’s imagination, hoping to be found and loved by readers like you.

Follow him on: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and Goodreads

 

Why offer free eBooks & podcasts?

 

eBook

The eBook edition of Emily (Never Let the Right One Go) is available under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License for those who can’t afford to pay, or who have never tried one of my books before.

You can get the eBook for FREE, using this pay-what-you-can link:

If you can afford to pay $4.99, you have your choice of eBookstores and eReaders, including (but not limited to) the following:

 

Audiobook

The Audio version of Emily was recorded in 2012, and was podcast on the Modern Evil Podcast and at Podiobooks.com in 27 parts, one per chapter. This MP3 Audiobook version contains the same basic recordings, but without intro/outro on every file.

This version is available exclusively as a digital download at this time. The MP3 Audiobook is DRM-free, but considering the free podcast version is still available, your respect in not re-distributing this ZIP file is appreciated: Download the Audiobook

If you cannot afford to pay for the audiobook, please enjoy the podcast version. The following is a list of links to all episodes of Emily (Never Let the Right One Go) on the Modern Evil Podcast:

  • Chapter 1 – In which Emily’s day of casual shopping is interrupted by her first glimpse of Nicholas, and her eyes are opened to the invisible layers of oppression and slavery built up around her, while her heart is opened wide, to let Nicholas in.
  • Chapter 2 – In which Emily, Nicholas, and Ken are brutally attacked by a vampire.
  • Chapter 3 – In which Emily attends Nicholas’ meeting, hoping to spend more time with him, and ends up meeting Terrence, someone whose life has been ravaged by his addiction to vampire blood, and she learns the dangers of using vampire blood as a quick-fix for every human injury.
  • Chapter 4 – In which Emily gets to know a real vampire, Justin, for the first time, learning what life is like for the new generation of young vampires, turned after vampire and human cultures had been integrated.
  • Chapter 5 – In which Emily learns about how vampires have secretly been manipulating human society for centuries, and how even moderately old vampires had been disenfranchised by the open alliance of vampires and humans.
  • Chapter 6 – In which Emily hears how vampires have been taking chief executive positions at most large corporations, making it impossible for humans to compete fairly for corporate leadership roles.
  • Chapter 7 – In which Emily sees that even the working-class have been displaced by vampires, taking over work like building construction because their superior strength and speed allows them to create more with less time, effort, and cost.
  • Chapter 8 – In which Nicholas finally gives his presentation, charismatically exhorting his audience to opt-out of vampire-assisted healthcare and the “blood tax”.
  • Chapter 9 – In which Emily accompanies Nicholas through an entire day of drawing blood from humans at one of the government-run blood centers, then feeding blood to a recovering vampire organ donor at the hospital.
  • Chapter 10 – In which Emily convinces her parents to give her control over her own healthcare choices, so she can opt-out, and receives a gift from Nicholas.
  • Chapter 11 – In which Emily goes on a road trip with Nicholas and his group, heading to Washington, D.C. for a protest rally at the White House.
  • Chapter 12 – In which Emily participates in a protest march around the vampire-run capitol.
  • Chapter 13 – In which several speakers at the rally in D.C. explain the global, military, economic, and political problems and rights-infringements instituted by the vampire interventions in human societies.
  • Chapter 14 – In which Nicholas and Emily head home from the rally and their conversation takes an odd turn – wherein Nicholas talks Emily into being turned into a vampire.
  • Chapter 15 – In which the new school year begins, and Emily finds a more suitable subject for the application of Nicholas’ ideas about standing up for vampires’ inherent right to reproduce.
  • Chapter 16 – In which Madison joins Emily at Nicholas’ meeting, Justin agrees to turn her, and they go through the whole thing that night, on camera and before a live audience.
  • Chapter 17 – In which Emily tries to see Madison the night after she’d been turned, then finds out Justin has already been arrested and meets Nicholas at the Police Station where Justin is being held.
  • Chapter 18 – In which Nicholas finally invites Emily out for coffee -their first date- and discusses the new direction he’d like to focus his efforts for making a real difference in the struggle against the system.
  • Chapter 19 – In which Emily avoids calling Austin as long as possible, but ends up asking him out in order to avoid disappointing Nicholas.
  • Chapter 20 – In which Austin and Emily go to the movies, and Emily invites him to Nicholas’ meeting the next week.
  • Chapter 21 – In which Emily strings Austin along enough to get him to show up to Nicholas’ meeting, where he doesn’t quite fit in until Nicholas convinces him to buy in completely.
  • Chapter 22 – In which Austin is weaned from the blood stipend and begins practicing the hunt, to try to open his mind to the true experience of being a vampire.
  • Chapter 23 – In which Nicholas, Emily, Ken, and Benjamin attempt to deliver Austin into the care of an older vampire to mentor him but, before reaching their destination, Austin’s hunger drives him over the edge and he begins attacking, eating and mutilating them one by one.
  • Chapter 24 – In which emergency responders try to help the survivors as much as they can, hindered by their opt-out status.
  • Chapter 25 – In which Nicholas’ group has trouble moving forward without him, and Emily likewise finds her life both interrupted and irrevocably altered by his passing – then she seems to discover a conspiracy working to dissolve the movement Nicholas had put into motion.
  • Chapter 26 – In which Emily remains dedicated to the cause until the bitter end.

 

Which book should you read first?


Short answer: Read whichever you like first; I designed both Sophia and Emily to be introductory and primary.

Longer answer: Which book you read first will have a significant impact on how you see the world of Never Let the Right One Go, and how you see the characters, beliefs, and activities of whichever book you read second. Each book is designed to be a complete story, the story of one young woman as her eyes are opened to the world around her, and her life is changed as she steps out of her old comfort zones for the first time, but the paths taken and the end results are wildly different from one another. One of the books is told from the perspective of someone who sees the world as a dystopia, and is structured so as to demonstrate (as in a Euclidean proof) that the world is a dystopia, and the characters and plot are fashioned in the style of dystopian fiction both traditional and popular. The other book is told from the perspective of someone who sees the world as a utopia, and is structured so as to demonstrate that the world is utopian – or at least that everything which makes the world unique from our own has been an improvement both for the society and for the individual.

Based on the feedback of early readers who read both books I can also say that (probably) whichever book you read first you’ll like least, and whichever book you read last you’ll like most. After finishing one, they said they liked it, but after finishing both they preferred the other. Perhaps this is because people are convinced by whatever argument they’ve heard most recently, and each book is built as an argument for its own point of view; by reading the second argument, their perspective on the first is altered – usually reversed. Of course, there are other factors at play, as well. Maybe you can’t stand Nicholas, so reading Emily becomes difficult. Maybe you’re aggressively anti-religion, so Sophia’s Christian background and reliance on faith to get her through tough situations rubs you the wrong way. Maybe the long political and economic discourse in one is too dry, or the awkward and painful sexual situations in the other are outside your comfort zone. There are countless differences between the two books, any one of which may be the thing your opinion hinges upon.

None of these differences, however, puts one book ahead of the other. Both books cover roughly the same time period, the same few months of the same year. Both books introduce and explain the world in the course of the girls’ journeys, without repeating one another. The books are well-enough paralleled that going back and forth between them, one chapter at a time (as you would experience them by subscribing to the Modern Evil Podcast), is a reasonable and viable approach to Never Let the Right One Go, as a duology. (In fact, doing so will reveal even more about the differences and similarities between the girls and their lives – I recommend it for a re-read, rather than a first-read, as some of the story becomes even sweeter when you know what’s coming in both books.) Which book you read first is truly a matter of personal preference, or random chance, rather than any pre-determined order.

My personal preference: I prefer Sophia over Emily, personally. I think it’s the superior book, I think Sophia is the stronger character, and I think hers is the better story. I fundamentally disagree with the politics and basic beliefs of Emily, Nicholas, et al, and had a hard time writing them convincingly. I wrote Sophia (mostly) first, though a significant portion of the world-building I did only appears in Emily. I think starting with Sophia is the way to go, because I think it gives a better overall impression of the duology, though I also want to suggest that you start with Emily, since I want you to like Sophia better.

I know, I know, I’m no help. Sorry…

 

Read the first two chapters of Emily:


Chapter 1

Tonight I learned that Justin lost his final appeal, and is scheduled to be executed on my 16th birthday, next week. If the doctors’ prognosis for me is right, he’ll live longer than I do. I’ve decided to try to write everything down, to leave a record of what I’ve been through in the last few months, in the hope that someday something more might be done. We did what we could, we fought for what was right, but it wasn’t enough, and we paid the price. We’re all paying the price. If you’re reading this, and vampires are still domesticated, and humans are still enslaved to the blood centers, you’re paying, too.
-Excerpted from the personal account of Emily,
dictated in January 2018

 

Lying on what she knew would be her death bed, Emily began trying to figure out how she had arrived so suddenly at the end of her life, by documenting her recollections of it in her online journal. Her parents had always encouraged her to examine the facts of a situation, to reason from evidence, and to document everything carefully. As Emily thought back to try to recall how it had all begun, she wondered whether the fickle whims of the heart could ever be so well documented that the last months of her life would make sense; she knew it had all started the first time she had seen Nicholas. Before that day, Emily hadn’t even realized how bad the world had become. She had been blissful in her ignorance. Then Nicholas had opened her eyes to a cause she would end up dying for.

That fine sunny day, Emily had been out shopping with her friends, strolling among the boutique shops downtown, enjoying summer break the best way she knew how. When she came around a corner and saw Nicholas for the first time, his eyes shining bright and fierce with passion as he stood above a small gathering of people, exhorting them about the dangers of collaborating with vampires, Emily felt a jolt of electricity which seemed to shoot right out of his eyes into hers, then straight down her spine, sending tingles all over her body. Her heart pounded in her chest, her breath drew in, and Emily suddenly believed in love at first sight.

“Are you coming, Emily?” asked her friend, Madison.

Emily had stopped in her tracks at the sight of him, and her friends had continued on without her, nearly failing to notice she’d trailed behind. Emily motioned with her hand and muttered something that didn’t quite sound like, “I’ll catch up,” but couldn’t take her eyes off Nicholas. She approached where he was speaking, and began to actually listen to what he had to say.

“They are our natural predators. We call their speed and strength and tenacity supernatural, but it is not that. Vampires were designed by nature to be superior to us in every way; they were designed by evolution to predate humanity. To overpower us. To bend us to their will. To consume our vital fluids, to suck the very life out of us. Humankind likes to think of itself as living at the top of the food chain, and until very recently, the true top of the food chain was well served by maintaining that illusion. Vampires are a hunter so cunning that for thousands of years humanity didn’t even believe they existed. They killed us, they ate us, and they convinced us they were only a bad dream.”

Nicholas’ eyes moved among the gathering crowd, making contact with every pair of eyes on his, and every time Emily felt him looking at her, she felt his eyes pierce straight to the core of her, and she felt herself melt a little more.

“Imagine a wolf so cunning it can live among the sheep, unnoticed. Unnoticed by the sheep, unnoticed by the shepherd, even the loss of life going unnoticed in the final tally. Imagine a serpent so sly it is born in the same nest as the doves it will feast upon. Treated with love by the doves, the serpent becomes sibling to its supper. Imagine the vampire, hidden among us since time immemorial, and imagine the perfect hunter. The perfect predator. The unstoppable force whose existence revolves around stopping ours.”

As Nicholas spoke, Emily began to be able to become aware of features beyond his beautiful eyes, though not far. She noticed the strong line of his jaw, tense with fervor and alive with motion. She noticed the high cheekbones, the thick mane of dark hair surrounding the top of his face, and the way his nostrils flared and his eyebrows furrowed with each wave of intensity across his features.

“Yet here we are, pretending it is within humanity to bend the vampire to its will. Pretending we can stop the unstoppable force of violence and death and cunning that is the vampire. We extort their blood, we mutilate their bodies, we exploit their strength and speed, and we steal all that is natural to them. No longer do vampires hunt humans. No longer do they kill. No longer are they allowed to rule the herd of humanity from behind the scenes, taking what they want and leaving us hurt or dead and wondering what went wrong.”

Emily gradually found her feet carrying her closer to Nicholas, bumping past the couple dozen people gathered in the square, and soon there was nothing between her and the sudden object of her affections but air and a lack of introductions.

“This is a grave injustice we deign to impose upon those clearly our superior in every way! This is a gross reversal, and it speaks as badly of humanity for its imposition as it does of the few vampires who forced the rest to accept this twisted version of reality. We have enslaved vampires with the ready availability of our blood. We have turned them away from their nature by playing to its weakness, by giving freely in abundance what they were made to fight and hunt and scheme and connive to achieve for most of their existence, turning them into little more than addicts beholden to humanity as drug dealer. Truly, humanity has made all vampires suffer a great indignity by putting them in this position. Truly, they have been forced into submission, into a form of slavery to humanity, rather than be allowed to live and survive on their own terms and according to their own natures.”

People came and went from the small group around Emily as they got the gist of what Nicholas was saying, but Emily was falling deeper in love with him and hardly noticed that the world had continued in the periphery of his existence. She had never given much thought to the plight of the vampire before, and was still too young to have begun making blood donations, but every word from Nicholas’ lips sounded golden as it reached her ears; Emily found herself feeling she was part of the problem, one of the living who unjustly enslaved the vampires with her blood.

“Worse than the enslavement of the master hunter to its prey is our own enslavement to the supernatural shortcuts of the vampire. A few short years ago, humanity took responsibility for solving its own problems. Human doctors treated injury and disease with techniques and technologies and traditions of human design. Human engineers designed great machines to accomplish amazing feats of construction and world-shaping. Humans directed their own economies, made peace or war according to their own negotiations, and governed themselves – if not well, then at least democratically. Now all doctors seem to know how to do is pour a little vampire blood on every wound. We hire vampires to snap together vampire-designed buildings and cities. We vote vampires into office and allow vampires to police the world and disband human militaries. In less time than I’ve been alive, humanity has gone from master of its own destiny to a slave of the super-human mind and body.”

Emily took note of Nicholas’ body. He was standing on a small platform, not much bigger than a soap box, but she knew he must be tall. His shoulders felt broad as her eyes caressed them. His arms and legs bulged with the musculature of someone who did real work. His tight pants left nothing to Emily’s imagination but how she would get Nicholas out of them at the first opportunity.

“We have become addicted to the quick fix. Humanity has enslaved itself to the monster in exchange for a few conveniences. It’s like our entire species has developed Attention Deficit Disorder. We’re no longer content to let our bodies heal themselves, we can’t be bothered to give up so much time. It’s gotten out of hand, we’ve completely coddled ourselves. What began with using vampire-enhanced healthcare to take months or years off people’s recovery time, while restoring them to health we hadn’t yet figured out how to rebuild on our own, is now an abomination against our own bodies. Johnson and Johnson have announced they’re discontinuing the entire Band-Aid brand, because we’ve all stopped waiting for even scrapes and bruises to heal; instead we rub a salve on and watch them fade away in seconds. I recently heard that consumers were demanding something even faster than V-Sal, as though mere seconds were too long to wait for minor injuries to be scarlessly healed!”

Emily wondered whether, in his vehement rejection of enslavement to supernatural shortcuts, Nicholas’ body was covered in scars. She imagined being able to explore every inch of his body, turning it into a roadmap to the events of his past in a way she suddenly realized other men’s bodies no longer would be.

“We give over control of our corporations because our attention spans are too short to be able to plan beyond the next fiscal quarter, and in return we’ve been allowed to narrow our view of the future even further. How many of you have plans for your future three months from now? What about next month? Humanity has been blinkered into losing track of its own future. We’ve allowed ourselves to become addicted to being able to live in the moment, confident that someone else is taking care of the long view. Where we’ll end up if we stay this course is not ours to say. Not any more! Humanity’s face is turned down, the changing world out of sight, out of mind, and out of our own control. We’ve become passengers where we should be drivers. We’re distracted by digital wonders and no longer tempered by hard work or suffering. What does it even mean to be human, any longer? We pay our blood tax, and in return we get nothing more than bread and circuses. High speed, high definition, mass produced bread and circuses.”

Emily realized her own life had no meaning, that she had no plans of her own for the future, nothing beyond the day of shopping with her friends and a newfound desire to somehow see Nicholas again. The only event on her calendar was school starting again, but even that schedule had been part of someone else’s plans for her. Her government, keeping track of her future so she could spend her time thinking about what to wear and who to date. Emily wondered what other plans the vampires had for her future.

“If you can’t stand to see a superior creature hobbled and humbled and beholden to what amounts to little more than zookeepers or drug dealers, denying vampires the ability to follow their very natures, please come to our meeting Thursday night and find out how you can help liberate the vampires. If you’re concerned about your future, if you want to be able to make plans for your own life, set your own destiny, and have the chance to free yourself from the yoke of slavery that humanity has thrust upon your shoulders, I implore you to join us, Thursday night. Find out what you can do about the situation, and what it may mean for the future if you don’t act now. We’ll be at the Ravenbrook Community Center after sunset, Thursday. Be there, or know you’ve chosen a life of slavery for yourself and every other person on Earth.”

Nicholas stepped off his small portable platform and began handing out flyers for the meeting. Emily hadn’t even noticed the two other young men who had been handing out flyers to anyone who came within shouting distance of Nicholas, she’d been too absorbed in falling for Nicholas himself. When he turned to Emily to hand her a flyer, she hardly remembered how to speak, the words caught in her throat, and she almost feared she’d lose her chance to make a good first impression.

Nicholas took her hand in his, giving it a firm shake, and said, “I’m Nicholas. I saw you in the crowd. You looked like you really got what I was saying.”

“Emily,” was all she could manage to squeeze out, her mind focused on the feeling of his hand on hers, their first contact.

“I hope to see you Thursday night, Emily. It’s people like you who are the key to making a difference. People who really understand our cause. People who are key influencers of their social networks. You look like you’re an influencer, Emily. Would you describe yourself as an influencer?” Nicholas still held Emily’s hand in his, and all she could do was nod and melt a little more inside. “That’s good, Emily. Will I be seeing you again? I’d really like to see you Thursday night.”

Emily managed another nod, then discovered Nicholas’ hand in hers had been replaced by a flyer, and he had moved on to speak to someone else in the crowd. She stood there, staring at the flyer, trying to make sense of the words while her head was swimming, but after several minutes, she hadn’t got anything from it but what Nicholas had said to her, “I’d really like to see you Thursday night,” and the feeling of his eyes meeting hers, his hand on hers, and the dream of feeling more. When the crowd had dispersed, everyone going back to their shopping or errands, Nicholas and the other two spoke briefly, spent a little while gathering discarded flyers from the ground, and Nicholas returned to the small platform, beginning his speech over from the beginning. Emily stood there, listening to him speaking for a while, rapt.

Around the time he began repeating himself, her friends came up to her, having finally noticed she’d fallen behind without catching up, and broke the spell Nicholas had put on her. As she rejoined her friends, Emily heard his voice fading into the distance, “Vampires were designed by nature to be superior to us in every way; they were designed by evolution to predate humanity. To overpower us. To bend us to their will. To consume our vital fluids, to suck the very life out of us.” Emily couldn’t wait to see him again, to hear his voice again, to feel his skin on hers. She couldn’t concentrate on her shopping at all, any more.

Chapter 2

Of course, I hadn’t realized then how right he was. I’d never really met a vampire before meeting Nicholas. I’m not sure I want to see another, after seeing what they’re really like, deep down. In the months between that first meeting and the attack I thought I’d learned a lot about vampires, but there’s nothing like running for your life from a monster while your friends are murdered and mutilated all around you to change your perspective.
-Excerpted from the personal account of Emily,
dictated in January 2018

 
The night was cold and still, the air slick with moisture on the verge of turning to frost. The moon had set hours earlier, and even with the Milky Way shining in the sky above, there was barely enough light to make each other out as they paused for breath; the darkness was a huge disadvantage for the three humans and their inferior vision. The trees were thick around them, and they’d managed to lose all track of direction as they fled; their six eyes searched the impenetrable darkness all around them for any sign of which way to turn, or at least which way to stay away from.

Nicholas was the first to speak, saying softly, “The vampire is the perfect predator, the perfect hunter, but not for sport. He’s only after the blood. Once he’s had his fill, we should be safe as long as we don’t antagonize him.”

“Don’t antagonize him?” Ken whispered angrily, loudly, “What do you think got us into this position? This is all your fault, you know. I should never have listened to you.”

“We can discuss the merits of one philosophy of vampire culture over another once we’ve survived the evening,” Nicholas whispered in all seriousness, “Now keep still and keep quiet and if he doesn’t come for us in the next half hour or so, we’ll try to find the road, alright?”

Emily gladly clung to Nicholas, half for protection, half just to enjoy the nearness of him. She nodded into his chest and breathed in his scent and tried not to think about the vampire or what would happen when it found them. If she was going to die that night, she wanted her final moments to be in Nicholas’ arms.

Ken didn’t think hiding from the vampire was such a bad idea, but didn’t relish spending his final moments with Nicholas the way Emily did. He whispered, “I’ll be keeping quiet over there,” pointing to the other side of the small clearing and beginning to cross it. Ken’s outstretched arm never had a chance to fall back to his side; the vampire fell, seemingly from the nowhere, right on Ken. Faster than the humans could make out, it dug its fingernails into Ken’s shoulder and tore through flesh and separated bone and tossed Ken’s arm aside. The monster seemed to be bathing in the fountain of blood from Ken’s shoulder, and faster than Emily could even begin screaming, Nicholas had disappeared into the forest.

For a second or two Emily continued screaming, first at the shock of seeing the vampire tearing Ken limb from limb, but more intensely at being abandoned by Nicholas, not even pulled along by her arm. By the time Ken had collapsed and the vampire had become engrossed in the business of gulping down hot blood as though it were water from a hose, Emily’s legs began carrying her away from the grisly scene. She was trying to find Nicholas, to catch up with him, somehow, but she couldn’t see much more than shadows layered upon shadows once she was back in the thick of the forest. Emily couldn’t hear the sounds of Ken dying or the sounds of Nicholas crashing through the forest over the sound of her own blood pumping hard in her ears. She ran and ran and ran, hoping she’d be able to escape certain death at the hands of a half-starved vampire without worrying about the prospect of a near-certain death from exposure or worse if she became too lost in the woods.

After what felt to Emily like a long time running, her legs began to ache and her pace began to slow, the jolt of adrenaline waning and the ominous sounds of the forest waxing in her perception. She gradually came to a stop, leaning against a narrow tree and breathing hard and fast, looking all around her as though the monster might appear from any direction and have his way with her. She looked up and could still see the stars shining brightly through the thick canopy of leaves above her, and was glad she had at least that much to reassure her. Emily stood there, as still and as silent as she could manage in the throes of exhaustion, contemplating the wisdom of calling out for Nicholas.

After several long moments, Emily decided calling out would only put her, and possibly Nicholas, in danger. She decided instead of move on, more slowly, and see whether she could find Nicholas, or the road, or otherwise come up with a better idea than simply standing around waiting for death. Emily thought she’d been running in a straight line, and she tried to continue that way, imagining it would take her farther from her pursuer. A quarter of an hour of walking later, when Emily came across the clearing where Ken’s mutilated, cold, blood-splattered body lay in pieces, her breath caught in her throat. Emily had managed to circle back to where she’d begun.

There was no sign that the vampire was still around. Emily stood as still as she could, nearly frozen with fear, listening to the sounds of the forest. Every rustling leaf and chirping insect seemed sinister to her ears. She couldn’t take her eyes off the gruesome image before her. She couldn’t get her eyes to close, or her head to turn, or her legs to carry her away. She stood still, and she stared, and the night seemed to grow colder around her, and Emily felt the icy chill of the entire tableau of death seeping deep beneath her skin.

Emily’s transfixion was interrupted by a muffled beeping emanating from Ken’s remains. She blinked her eyes as her mind tried to recall the significance of the odd sound coming from the otherwise permanently silent body before her. Then she broke into a run toward the center of the carnage-strewn clearing, falling to her knees beside Ken’s blood-soaked torso. As she tried to force her fingers into the tight front pocket of Ken’s ripped jeans, Emily had a series of troubling thoughts. Her first thought was that she’d rather be getting her hands in Nicholas’ pants. Her eyes wouldn’t let her forget what it would mean for her beloved Nicholas to be in Ken’s place, and she immediately regretted wanting to have her hands on Nicholas’ body instead of Ken’s. Then Emily’s hands, slick and cold with Ken’s blood and twisted in pain as they tried to pry the phone free of his pocket, reminded her she didn’t want to be touching Ken, either. Emily’s imagination began filling her head with visions of Nicholas’ bleeding, broken body laying somewhere in the woods, growing cold, without her by his side; as she finally freed the phone from Ken’s pants, Emily hoped Nicholas’ early lead had kept him safely away from the vampire.

Wiping the blood from the screen, Emily was glad to see that the phone had good signal; she’d considered that the beeping might have been the phone’s way of letting her know it had no signal, rather than an incoming message. She unlocked the phone, relieved Ken hadn’t password-protected it, and nearly dialed 911, barely stopping herself before pressing ‘send’. Emily looked around at the dark woods again, wondering whether the vampire was near. Her finger found the switch to silence the phone. She slowly and carefully retreated back to the deeper shadows of the woods from the dim light of the bloody clearing. Somewhere in her mind, Emily was aware that a vampire’s super-human sight and hearing would mean that no matter how quiet she was and how dark she thought it was, the vampire would have no trouble finding her. As she decided not to make a voice call to 911, not wanting to have to speak and possibly alert the monster to her presence, Emily wasn’t thinking about comparative vampire/human perception limits. She was thinking about Nicholas, and whether he was still alive. She texted the situation to 911, knowing the phone’s GPS would identify her location, and hoped help would find them before the vampire did. The phone buzzed as it received an automated response a few seconds later, acknowledging receipt of her emergency and advising that she should expect to get followup text messages from a real person soon.

Emily took a last look in Ken’s direction, then turned away and began to put some distance between herself and the horror of it. She clutched Ken’s phone in her hand, sorry she’d left her purse behind as they’d first fled the monster, and almost sorry she’d selected pants on the basis of how they made her butt look rather than on the utility of having pockets. Not that she would have used her pockets, had the designer added them to her pants, since she hadn’t known she’d be attacked by a vampire and forget her purse, but that in hindsight she had a new appreciation for having a phone with her at all times. When she felt she had enough distance from Ken’s cooling body, Emily found a large log to lean against and collapsed to the cold ground, letting out a heavy sigh.

Immediately there was a noise from the other side of the log. Emily pulled herself lower, made herself smaller, hoped she was hidden from whatever was there. It moved noisily, was definitely on the other side of the log, and seemed to be heading toward her. All of Emily’s muscles tensed, ready to leap away, to run away, to escape again into the night as soon as it came into sight. Then it spoke, whispering, “Emily?”

Emily recognized Nicholas’ voice. Her whole body relaxed at once, as though suddenly everything were all right. “Nicholas,” she said, her head turning up to see his leaning over the log from the other side.

“That bastard killed Ken,” said Nicholas in a soft voice as he climbed over the log to sit by Emily’s side.

“I know,” she replied, “I managed to get his phone and text 911.” She showed him the phone, still held tightly in her hand, a lifeline to the world. Nicholas didn’t look close enough to see that her death-grip had completely blocked the phone’s signal.

“Are they sending help?”

“I just got the automated response, so far. How long is it supposed to take before they text again?”

“I don’t know,” Nicholas admitted. “Vampires were behind the upgrades, trying to protect their food supply, so I’ve been boycotting the system. Of course, they say it’s better than anything humans could have done for themselves,” he grumbled, “like we can’t take care of ourselves.”

Emily didn’t particularly feel like she was able to take care of herself under the circumstances, but was more aware of the heat of Nicholas’ body next to hers than of any desire to argue the point. After everything they’d been through together and everything she’d seen, Emily couldn’t have been any more convinced that it was a good thing she’d met Nicholas when she had. As she sat with him in the cold and the dark of the forest, hiding from a vampire out for their blood, Emily looked at Nicholas and saw him as her savior; before he’d set her straight, she hadn’t even known she was a slave. As she waited for death to find her, Emily thought it was a good thing that if she couldn’t be entirely free, she’d at least done what she could to fight for freedom.

Emily’s train of thought was interrupted when the vampire appeared, towering over them, looking like he’d been hit with a fire-hose of human blood and grinning like he was having the best night, ever. When he spoke, his voice had an unnatural guttural quality to it, as though the coat of blood all down his throat had altered his voice. His eyes never left Nicholas, but he said, “I’m saving you for last, Emily. I want you to see me eat your little boyfriend here before I take by force what you only pretended to offer me. Sit tight.”

A long second passed, then the vampire was on Nicholas in a flash, chomping on his throat messily while apparently trying to tear his arm off. Emily was close enough to be able to struggle against the monster devouring the object of her affections, but it was like beating her fists against a statue; he didn’t budge. She screamed at him to stop, beat on him, even tried to bite him or pry him away from Nicholas, but all to no avail. When Nicholas’ left arm came free of his body, the vampire switched to the other side of his neck and at the same time began pulling at the right arm.

Suddenly Emily was thrown backward, away from the vampire eating and mutilating Nicholas, flying twenty feet through the air and hitting the forest floor hard – the air was knocked out of her and she lay stunned for a long while, missing what happened next. An emergency responder, after getting Emily to a safe distance, had plunged a steel-reinforced wooden stake into the vampire’s heart, through his back.

The vampire released his grip on Nicholas and began flailing violently with super-human speed and strength, trying to reach the stake in its back, but within a second it had collapsed to the ground, unable to save itself. With its heart pierced, the monster’s body went into a sort of catatonia punctuated by flashes of light and minuscule twitches, both invisible to the human eye. The emergency responder pulled out her axe and decapitated the vampire’s body in one swing, ending his life. Head and body began rapidly to collapse in on themselves, at first as though the vampire were shrinking. Then, rather than continue to collapse, the whole of the monster seemed to vanish in a puff of smoke and light and then there was nothing; not even the stake remained.

Emily came to her senses in time to witness the vampire’s violent end, and to see the emergency responder move over to where Nicholas was rapidly bleeding out. Her head felt like it was full of bees. She propped herself up on one elbow to try to get a better look at what was going on, and she thought she saw the emergency responder cutting her own arm open. Emily shook her head to try to clear it a bit, then looked again at what was going on with Nicholas. It didn’t make sense to her, any more than the way the vampire had attacked them all.

Then suddenly Emily understood what the emergency responder was doing, and she shouted, “Stop! Wait! He’s opt-out!” Emily tried to get herself to her feet, tried to move toward them as she continued, “He’s opt-out. We both are. No vampire-enhanced healthcare! No blood! Stop it!” The best she could manage was to crawl in their direction, her head buzzing louder than ever. She couldn’t feel her fingers, from the cold, couldn’t feel the forest floor scraping up her hands. “You’re violating his civil rights! Nicholas only wants human healthcare.” Emily collapsed, continuing to mumble as she passed out, “We both opted-out. We won’t be your slaves. We won’t…”