Chapter 31: The End of the Beginning

We could never run long enough, hard enough or far enough to sate the primal urges surging through me. If I'd hungered for blood – instead of only scenting it – I'd never have been able to resist. I was grateful the bond didn't transfer Keel's need to hunt – only the tools by which to do so.

It should have bothered me that my magic was tucked away, so far out of reach. But, like the running, it was a relief. It meant Keel couldn't feel my heart twisting and turning inside my chest, threatening to tear itself apart as our last confrontation replayed itself over and over again inside my head every time I stopped moving.

"Always," I'd said, after I confessed I could never be Nosferatu, not even hypothetically. But what had I meant by that? Always until when? When Keel turned and hunted me? Or turned and enslaved me? Or till death, whether that was sooner or later – turned or unturned?

The end was coming.

Even if we could keep running and managed to outpace both the Nosferatu hunters and my father, that just meant it would happen another way. We couldn't outrun nature.

The clock kept ticking.

Biology demanded transition. There was no skipping this assignment.

It took Keel and me a long time to find a place that was open, even once we'd reached the town I'd scented earlier, but we eventually came across a 24-hour gas station. Even it looked completely deserted. The only sound, apart from the chirping of some particularly energetic crickets and the occasional howl of a distant dog, was the semi-frequent low hum of passing cars on a nearby highway. If there was an off-ramp anywhere in the vicinity, no one slowed down to take it.

Keel changed clothes in the bushes, while I ogled him covertly. He had no idea what I'd been considering earlier this evening, as I stood on the other side of the bathroom door trying to work up the courage. What I was still considering now.

Temptation lurked. And beckoned. And wailed.

Keel stuffed his bloodstained pants beneath a dense, thorny shrub, and then took my hand. We strolled across the parking lot to the tiny convenience store attached to the gas bar. It was a mom-and-pop operation trying to ape the look and feel of one of the much bigger chains. The bell above the door tinkled dully as we stepped inside.

The bald man behind the counter must have been asleep, because he startled at the sound and almost fell out of his chair. I tried not to giggle: even as his arms flailed cartoonishly, scrabbling to grasp onto the counter before he ended up on the floor.

"A little late for you kids to be out, isn't it?" he said, once he'd righted himself.

Keel motioned for me to give him the card for Mike's Motel. "Grab us some food," he said, after I handed it to him.

As Keel made his way to the counter, I surveyed our culinary options. The pre-made submarine sandwiches looked dry and unappetising; limp lettuce sagged from out between the buns, already browning along the edges. Still, they were the closest to thing to a proper meal this gas station stocked, so I grabbed an assorted and a turkey breast – I had no idea which Keel would prefer. I also picked up a couple bottles of water, a couple more of juice, and some packets of nuts and dried fruit. All in all, a healthier selection than Keel would have come back with.

The heavy-lidded man behind the counter had just finished giving directions when I walked up with our food. His eyes grazed my selections as he got up to ring them in, but when they reached my scarred arms, they stopped. He didn't look away from them even when Keel extended his own arm across the counter to pass him the money.

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