Chapter 1:

Prologue 1: What Lies Ahead

Between Life and Death

Saturday, May 9th. Bookmark here

The sun had begun to set over the city and the sky grew ever darker. Initially, I hadn’t planned on being out until this late into the evening, but with midterms right around the corner, I studied all I could at the library. Studying followed by a short lunch break and the back to more studying. With a schedule like that, time passed by without me noticing. Bookmark here

But because of me engrossing myself in my studies, it was now almost 8:00 pm. I made sure to call home and let my mom know that I would be late, but I really underestimated how much time I would spend at the library. Bookmark here

Not like it mattered in the long term. Bookmark here

Welp, I'll just grab a quick snack somewhere and head home.Bookmark here

The warm breeze that blew by as the night settled felt soothing, ruffling my hair in its wake. Immediately afterward, a second breeze blew, this time like one you would experience during winter. Bookmark here

"Long time no see." Bookmark here

Out on the relatively lonely sidewalk, from one of the darkened alleyways, came her voice, making me come to a stop. Bookmark here

"Yeah. Long time no see Claire."Bookmark here

Before my eyes stood the vampire I had met two months ago. Bookmark here

"Well, I've been busy these past few days, so it hasn't really felt that long"Bookmark here

Those few months felt like a long time for me. But I would have to assume that to someone who was immortal, two months felt like a few minutes.Bookmark here

"Will you be alright out at a time like this?" I asked.Bookmark here

"It's dark enough that the sun won't be much of a problem. As long as I walk in the shadows, I shouldn’t burn up." Bookmark here

From the alley, she pointed to the sidewalk I was currently standing on. The buildings that stretched out along the road provided shade from the already setting sun. With me now understanding what she meant, Claire stepped out from the alley with a little bounce.Bookmark here

"So, why are you out here so late?" She may have asked me a question but she didn't stand by waiting for my answer. Instead, she started walking down the sidewalk, prompting me to follow with a sidelong glance. Bookmark here

"Just studying at the library. I had a lengthy doctor's appointment on Friday, and so I had to leave school early. I was just finished the homework I missed out on that day."Bookmark here

"Oh, that's good. I'm glad you're staying on top of your studies."Bookmark here

"You sound like my mom." Bookmark here

Except that when she tells me that, she always gives a strained smile afterward.Bookmark here

"You study at the library, huh?" she pondered. "I get the appeal. It's always nice and quiet, and it gives that feeling of always being in your own little world."Bookmark here

"Do you go to the library often?"Bookmark here

"Yep," she said, fondly. "Whether it's a chain or public library, there's always something to read there. In fact, I was at the public library yesterday doing some research."Bookmark here

"Does it have to do with why you've been so busy?" What kind of research was she doing for it to have kept busy the last few days?Bookmark here

"You have a keen mind, I see. The short answer is, yes. A little over two months ago, I caused a pretty big problem while I was passing through this part of the country. Usually, I would do all my research on the internet, but this issue required me to investigate the local history of the town. Needless to say, the best place to do that is to search through the public library's archives."Bookmark here

A problem that required her to research in detail this town, huh? Why kind of a problem could she have caused such a reaction? And she said two months ago? Was it before or after we met?Bookmark here

"Strangely enough, this dilemma of mine sort of involves you," Claire casually mentioned with a dry chuckle. Bookmark here

"Huh?! What kind of problem did you get me roped up into?!" I already have enough problems on my hands. I didn’t need another one. Especially if it involves a vampire. Bookmark here

"Don't worry," she assured me. "Saying that it 'involves you' was probably the wrong phrase. It's more accurate to say that you're related to it."Bookmark here

"That's basically that same thing!" Bookmark here

"They're completely different."Bookmark here

This woman. Bookmark here

Well, as long as she wasn't involving me in her own affairs. But still…Bookmark here

Related to me?Bookmark here

"Anyway," I continued, "what is this problem you caused that is somehow related to me."Bookmark here

"Sorry, but now wouldn’t be such a good time to tell you.”Bookmark here

“Huh?! Why’s that?”Bookmark here

“Well, it’s quite a serious matter, and I wouldn’t want to get your hopes up in case it turns out to have ended badly.”Bookmark here

“Serious…?”Bookmark here

She was already a vampire and yet she was already shrouding herself in even more mystery. I won’t lie that the fact that Claire specifically mentioned that I was involved in her dilemma didn’t make me curious as to what it might be. But I doubt I would be able to get her to give me any hints. Bookmark here

“Well, if it can’t be helped, then I guess I’ll wait,” I said with a resigned sigh. “But promise me that you’ll tell me even if it turns out to be bad news.”Bookmark here

Claire kept walking without a response, only staring ahead. It seemed that she was even hesitant to promise me such a little thing. But as I continued to look at her with expectant eyes, she eventually answered.Bookmark here

“Okay. But it might be something you might not like.”Bookmark here

Claire started off speaking about this problem of hers in a much chipper tone. But now she averted her gaze from me and she even seemed a bit worried. It went in direct contrast to her usually self-centered, happy-go-lucky self. She even bragged about her carefree attitude from time to time. Whatever it was, she acted as if she had disappointed someone. Bookmark here

But I didn't ask.Bookmark here

"Anyway," she continued with a much happier tone. "Want something to eat? I'll treat you."Bookmark here

And just like that, Claire changed the subject immediately.Bookmark here

"Did you meet up with me just so that you have someone to eat with?"Bookmark here

"Well, it's always nice to have someone to talk to while you eat." Bookmark here

"Just don't eat me."Bookmark here

As long as she wasn't going to suck out my blood, I was fine with her inviting me for a quick snack. Bookmark here

"But only a quick bite. I have to get home soon."Bookmark here

"Oh! You’re agreeing to let me taste your blood?"Bookmark here

Maybe "bite" wasn't the best word to use with a vampire. Bookmark here

"Relax. Relax. I'm only joking," she assured me. "I know this great crepe shop next to the train station."Bookmark here

"Sure. I'm fine with that."

Bookmark here

Not long after, we finished our snack and Claire vanished into the night.Bookmark here

The night had settled in much faster than I had expected and it had even gotten a bit chilly. So I hurried home not wanting to catch a cold. Bookmark here

As I walked toward the next intersection, I ran into something—almost as if it had materialized out of thin air. It gave a quiet yelp before falling to the ground. Bookmark here

When I looked down, I found a girl—not much older than I—on her knees. Bookmark here

“Oh, I-I’m sorry,” I instinctively said as I extended my hand to help her stand up. Bookmark here

But she didn’t move. She just sat there, seemingly dazed. She didn't seem to have hit her head, so something like a concussion probably wasn't likely. Bookmark here

“A-are you oka—“Bookmark here

But before I could finish, she jerked her head in my direction and looked at me with unbelieving eyes. Almost as if she had seen a ghost. Bookmark here

“Y-you c—“ But she fell silent. Bookmark here

And without another word, she got up and briskly walked away. Bookmark here

I couldn’t help but stare. It was a weird and awkward interaction, after all. Not only that but as I saw her walk away, she seemed almost as if she would disappear as quickly as she had appeared.Bookmark here

But I decided to brush it off. It was getting pretty late. The sky had, unbeknownst to me, turned a deep indigo, and the street lamps were already lit. Fewer and fewer cars roamed the streets, and few figures remained on the sidewalks. Bookmark here

I needed to get home. It was almost 9 pm and I hadn't called my mom in a while. She must be wondering where I am by now, and I don't want to give her any more reasons to worry.Bookmark here

I didn’t notice it then but as I watched the girl walk away under the street lamps, her shadow was nowhere to be found.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.