Authors: Ruth Ames
At First Bite
by Ruth Ames
For Noah and Margot,
who are always perfect
There are a few myths about vampires that I should clear up, right from the start.
Myth #1: Vampires are waxy and pale.
This is totally untrue. Take me, for example: Ashlee Samantha Lambert. My skin is rosy and glowing (helped along by blush sometimes, but whatever). With my long blond hair, glossed lips, and skinny jeans, I appear to be a perfectly normal twelve-year-old girl. I hope.
Myth #2: Vampires drink blood.
Um, ew? Okay, yes, there are
of us out there who hunt small wild animals for this purpose. But thankfully my amazing vampire mentor, Arabella, told me about Sanga!, a refreshing blood substitute
drink that comes in these adorable frosted cups with rounded lids, like Frappuccinos. Sanga! was invented by a genius vampire who was as grossed out by hunting as I am.
Myth #3: Vampires sleep in coffins.
No way. I sleep in my white canopy bed, high above the streets of Manhattan. Of course, now that my family’s moving to Los Angeles, I’ll no longer be able to see skyscrapers from my pillow, but I guess I’ll see the ocean instead. Not a bad trade-off, and much better than staring up at the velvet lining of some creepy coffin. Obviously.
Myth #4: Vampires turn into bats.
All right … this is, well … this actually seems to be the case. At least, in my limited experience. It’s how we’re meant to hunt (if we have to) or hide from the prying eyes of non-vampires. The problem is, I stink at bat-shifting. You have to visualize wings sprouting from your body and fangs shooting out of your mouth — and then presto, you’re transformed. Instead, I start to transform when I
expect it, like in the middle of a stressful math exam. Then I have to dash to the nearest bathroom and wait to shift back. It’s horrifying — worse than split ends
chipped nail polish combined.
This is what I’m thinking about tonight as I’m packing up my bedroom with my best friend, Eve Epstein. I’m cramming books into a box and praying that I won’t suddenly feel my ears going all long and pointy. I reach up and touch them to make sure. My teeny diamond studs are still there, so I let out a relieved breath.
“What are you
Eve demands from across the room. She’s standing on my desk in her wedge booties, removing the Christmas lights I’d strung across the wall. It’s already January, but I forgot to take them down. “I asked you the same question, like, three times now.”
“Oh, sorry,” I say, blinking. “I was wondering — um, if there’ll be enough space for all my clothes in my new bedroom.”
Eve doesn’t know the truth about me. No one does. Not my mother, not my brother. No one.
one girl from school who knows. We were never friends (she’s not in the popular crowd, even though she’s now sort of dating the cutest boy in the grade), but she swore to keep my secret. Still, I’ve been terrified she might tell someone. At least in my new school, I won’t have to avoid her in the hallway anymore. Whew.
Eve says impatiently, “if you think you’ll get to be on TV.” She hops off my desk and flops onto my bed, her brown ponytail bouncing.
I bite my lip to keep from laughing. Or maybe crying.
My mom is going to be on her own reality show,
Justice with Judge Julia.
That’s why we’re moving to LA. But there’s no way I’ll ever be on TV. I don’t show up in photographs or on film. (Another vampire myth that is, sadly, true.) I learned that the hard way in November, when I tried to iChat with my other BFF, Mallory D’Angelo, and all she saw was my desk chair. Luckily, Mallory isn’t too sharp, so she bought my explanation about the computer being broken.
“Probably not,” I answer, fighting down the lump in my throat. I’d always dreamed about going to Hollywood and being picked to star in a movie. “You know I don’t like to be on camera anymore,” I add. “Not since I got self-conscious about my eyebrows.” That’s the explanation I’ve come up with for Eve. (In truth, I like my eyebrows just fine.)
“That’s right. You’re such a weirdo,” Eve giggles
as she reaches across the bed for my laptop. From where I stand, I can see my screen saver, which is a slideshow of all the pictures in my iPhoto album. There I am: giving my acceptance speech as student council president; posing next to the cupcake tower at my birthday party, surrounded by dozens of admiring faces; trying on a dress at Bloomingdale’s that every girl in school wanted the next day … all reminders of the way things used to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still popular. I shudder to think what
being popular would be like (worse than surprise bat-shifting, possibly). But it’s undeniable that everything in my life has changed.
It all started when I turned twelve, back in September. My teeth began to hurt, like they were growing, and I came out blurry in photographs. Then, one rainy night in October, I received a personalized, crimson-colored invitation … to my vampire initiation ceremony. The invitation explained that my great-great-grandmother on my mother’s side had been a vampire from Transylvania. Apparently, I had inherited this secret trait, and the invite said I could tell no one about my “condition.”
Of course, I freaked out. I almost told Eve and Mallory, but I knew they’d think I was crazy. So I went to the ceremony on my own. There, I was joined by many other frightened twelve-year-olds from around the world. The Empress of Vampires recited an incantation and we all bat-shifted for the first time. Then we followed older vampires — also in bat form — into Central Park as they hunted down small wild creatures. The things I saw and heard that night still send shivers down my spine two months later.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come to Mallory’s tonight?” Eve is asking me now as she checks her e-mail. “It’s the party of the year.”
“The year just started,” I remind her drily, but she doesn’t look up at me.
Mallory is hosting an End of Winter Break bash at her apartment, and, as the invite said,
Everyone who’s anyone will be there!
Mallory blatantly stole that line from an old slumber party invite of mine. So I don’t really feel like going.
The thing is, I’ve sort of been avoiding parties — and people — ever since I became a full-fledged vampire. My skin is cold to the touch, so I duck away from hugs. All my senses are heightened: Kids look at me like I’m nuts when I can smell what’s for lunch
a mile from the cafeteria. I got so paranoid about hiding my ginormous, creepy secret that I even resigned as student council president (Eve immediately took my place). And I started spending more time in my room and less time shopping, so I lost my title as fashion queen. In December, when Mallory wore little woolen shorts over her tights, all the girls copied
That’s why I’m actually excited about moving across the country. In California, I can make a fresh start. I’ll be the new, cool girl from New York City. I’ll be back on top in no time at all. I can’t wait.
“You’ve gotten so lame.” Eve sighs, echoing my thoughts as she snaps my laptop shut. “It’s your last night here!”
I narrow my eyes at my friend, wishing she could understand. I feel a twinge of self-pity. I didn’t
to become a vampire, but here I am, stuck in this sorry situation.
“Well, I need to finish packing,” I argue as I shove the last book into the box.
The other reason I’m hesitant to leave is that I’m suddenly super-thirsty for some Sanga! I still eat regular food, but if I go too long without Sanga! I get shaky and weak.
“Whatever,” Eve scoffs, standing up. Then she
freezes, and her brown eyes widen. She points right at me. “Wait. Is that — is that … a
My stomach turns to ice.
I’m too scared to touch my arms and see if they’re becoming leathery wings.
This can’t be happening!
I think, panic rising in my throat.
Not in front of Eve, when she’s about to go to the party of the year, and I’m —
“Behind you!” Eve says, pointing emphatically. “Outside! Gross!”
Knees shaking, I turn to look out my window. The bone-white moon glows between the snow-dusted apartment buildings. Then I see it — a quick, dark shape darting past my window again and again, as if impatiently pacing back and forth. It takes me a second to recognize the distinctive red markings on the wings. I shake my head in disbelief. It’s my vampire mentor, Arabella. Why would she show up unannounced?
“I think it’s just a bird!” I blurt, too loudly, whipping around and pressing my back against the cold window. “A bat-bird. I did a project on them in science class. They’re all over the city.”
Eve squints at me suspiciously. I swallow hard, waiting for her to nudge me aside and throw open the window to see for herself. But I guess she’s gotten
used to me acting like a lunatic, because after a minute, she shrugs.
“I should get over to Mallory’s anyway,” she says, giving me a quick hug. “Ooh, you’re always freezing,” she adds, pulling back and shuddering. “I guess this is bye.”
“Yeah, bye, I’ll text you from LA,” I babble, waving. I thought that Eve and I would have a tearful, extended farewell. But now I want her to leave as quickly as possible. I can practically
Arabella hovering outside.
With another questioning glance in my direction, Eve takes her coat and slips out of my room, closing the door behind her. I wait until I hear her say good-bye to my mom and brother in the kitchen. Then I spin around and yank open my window, letting in a blast of frigid air.
“Arabella!” I hiss, and she appears, flapping her wings innocently.
was in here! Why didn’t you call first?”
Arabella flies into my bedroom, zipping past my ear. I slam the window shut and by the time I’ve turned to face her, she’s transformed. Her red curls tumble down her back, and her platform pumps make her look even taller than she already is.
“I’m on a serious deadline, Ash,” Arabella explains, smoothing out a crease in her black cashmere poncho. “But I wanted to see you before you leave tomorrow.”
Arabella Lowe was assigned to be my mentor the night of my initiation ceremony. All young vampires get a mentor — a guide who can help them through this strange new world. I feel super-lucky that I got paired up with Arabella. She’s only twenty-five, but she’s an editor at a top fashion magazine, which is what I’d like to be someday. I only wish Arabella had more time to spend with me; she’s always busy attending runway shows.
“Oh — thanks,” I say, softening, and Arabella grins at me. “I’m going to miss you so much,” I admit, heading to my closet to get a Sanga! “Are you sure there’s no way you can come to California with me?”
Arabella sighs. “Honey, you know I’d love to. But I have my work and my family here, and Beau, too.” Beau is Arabella’s boyfriend, another vampire, and he’s totally dreamy. “You’ll be
without me,” she adds. “Better than fine. Besides, we’ll e-mail.”
“And text,” I agree, pulling the red-and-white cooler from the back of my closet.
Sanga! has to remain at a certain temperature to stay fresh, so it comes in special insulated cups that you have to store in a cooler. Luckily, Arabella gave me the hot new vampire must-have: a Sanga! minicooler that I can carry in my schoolbag. She ordered it from the Sanga! online store. Only vampires have the password to the site, and we can order a six-month supply at a time.
I pluck out a container filled to the brim with bright red liquid: The drink looks so much like blood that it’s best to sip it in private. I stick in a straw and take a long, quenching gulp.
Delicious. Right away I feel a surge of energy.
“But listen, Ash,” Arabella says, her tone growing serious. I glance up and see that her green eyes have darkened with concern. “I also came to warn you about something.”
Fear makes the back of my neck prickle. I shut the cooler and get to my feet. “Warn me?”
Arabella nods. “I’ve been hearing rumors that” — she takes a breath — “Dark Ones are hiding in Los Angeles.”
I must look confused, because before I can even ask, Arabella says, “I’m sorry, Ash — sometimes I forget you still have a lot to learn.” Then she pauses,
glancing at my closed door. As a more experienced vampire, Arabella has even sharper hearing than I do; it takes me a few seconds to hear my mom’s footsteps coming down the hall.
“She’s probably going to the bathroom to apply her rejuvenating clay mask,” I whisper, eager for Arabella to continue.
Arabella nods. “Dark Ones are vampires who bring shame upon the rest of us,” she whispers back. I feel small tremors down my spine. “They shun Sanga! and they don’t drink the blood of small wild creatures. No, Dark Ones, like the vampires of long, long ago, are only content with one thing: drinking human blood.”
My heart is pounding in my throat and I set down my Sanga! on the dresser. “That’s disgusting,” I whisper. “And awful. But they can’t hurt
“No, but they are very dangerous,” Arabella whispers back. “And —”
“Ashlee!” a voice calls outside my door.
It’s my mom. She must have decided the rejuvenating clay mask could wait.
Arabella and I exchange frantic glances. How will I explain Arabella’s presence in my bedroom? Or the
Sanga! on my dresser? Mom has already asked me about “that red drink” she once saw me with. And then there was the time I was midmorph and she glimpsed my fangs and asked me if I needed a special orthodontist appointment.
“I should get out of here, Ash,” Arabella says, hurrying over to the window. “But text me if you encounter anything suspicious, okay?”
Mom is turning the doorknob. I look from the door back to Arabella, my palms growing clammy. I don’t want my mentor to leave yet. I still need to know more.
“Like what?” I whisper as Arabella pulls up my window, the night wind catching her curls and blowing them in all directions. “What sort of suspicious —”
Suddenly, my mom is in my room, hands on her hips, and I have just enough time to knock my Sanga! into the trash basket behind me …
to see a bat take flight from my windowsill. I watch its shape as it sails off into the night.