It was dark. Darker than she’d ever imagined.
No light, no light.
She tried to sit up, and swore when her head hit something hard. Reaching up to rub the pain away, her hand brushed against soft, velvety fabric. She pressed upward further and found it cushioning against the hard something that she had banged her head on. That cushion clearly hadn’t been sufficient against her hurting herself, she thought with dry amusement.
She tried to pick up her feet, but her shoes banged against the surface above. Frustrated, she felt along the sides, her hands running along that hard material. But it was smoothed down, as if it had been waxed to a high shine before she’d gotten here.
Here. Where was here?!
Oh God. It was a small space, trapping her on all sides. Despite the comfortable material she was laying on, she couldn’t feel any air flow…
Distantly, she marveled how her heart wasn’t drumming frantically despite her burgeoning panic. She knew exactly where she was now. The small confining space, wood on all sides, with plush velvety comfort… small enough that she could only lay down on her back… it all added up, into something horrible. Something that no human could ever imagine experiencing in her life. Ever.
Jesus Christ! It was a coffin. She had been buried alive.
If she was alive. She had no air, but wasn’t hyperventilating, and her heart was unnervingly quiet. Instinct was screaming at her to get out get out GET OUT!
She began to claw at the fabric above her, her nails ripping at it with an ease that would have disconcerted her if the situation she found herself in wasn’t scary enough. Stuffing tumbled onto her face, and she spat a stray bit of cotton that had found her mouth out. Where it landed, she neither knew nor cared, as she continued to tear away more fabric and stuffing.
Her nails finally hit the wood above, now unobstructed by the cushioning. Her scratching gave way to pounding, and the world exploded around her. A tsunami of dirt flooded her underground prison, drowning her in damp earth. She coughed, her previously calm lungs now burning from having accidentally inhaled the very thing she shouldn’t have. She continued to claw her way through the dirt, rendered completely blind but for her reaching hands.
She could hear bugs skittering away from her grave, themselves terrified by the unexpected shifts she was causing in her haste to find the surface. It seemed like an eternity before she was able to enter a sitting position, as she moved in a demented parody of a diver trying to break through the ocean’s surface.
Finally, after what felt like several more forevers, she was able to stand somewhat upright, her feet now the only part of her touching the coffin. But, even basic grade school-level knowledge of mortality-related minutia warned her that she had at least one more foot to go before she could breathe air again.
She was tired, hurting, lungs still burning… but now from her holding her breath to avoid inhaling more dirt.
Distantly, she felt more than heard the pounding of feet against the surface. Her heart rejoiced as one hand finally met with empty air, and a strong familiar grasp latched on and pulled her out.
She lay on the ground now, limp as a slug and covered in the grave dirt, hacking up the earth she had breathed. Her eyes were too caked with mud for her to open them, but she felt that grasp give way to gently placing her head against a broad, finely clothed shoulder. The scent of a lemony aftershave coupled with a distinctively natural, masculine scent teased her nose in the gentle breeze. She didn’t have to see him to recognize him anywhere.
“Nick...” she began, her voice creaky from lack of use, then giving way to more coughing.
“Shhhh,” he told her. “You’re all right now. I’m here.” The earnestness of his tone made her smile, in spite of the situation she had found herself in. “I’m so sorry...”
“...not your fault…,” she wheezed, her airways still complaining at their recent abuse. But they finally righted themselves, and she could speak again. “The ground is the same for every dead thing. Things that go in the ground should not come up. I should not be up. Not from the dirt. I should be in the ground, feeding the little worms. They’re so hungry, you see...”
“Shh, Nat,” he said, his hand gently rubbing her back to soothe her rambling. “You’ll feel better after you’ve fed.”
“I’m hungry,” she realized with innocent wonder. In her desperate bid to escape the grave, she had hardly noticed the rumbling of her stomach that issued its demands now. “I’m hungry and dirty. Like a child making castles in the sand.”
His hand stopped its rubbing along her back. “Natalie,” he said softly, and she could tell there was worry in his voice. “Why don’t I take you home, so you can have a bath and feed yourself?”
“I like the sound of that,” she agreed. She felt herself lifted into his arms. “I’m tired. It’s so much work to wake up. My bones are rattling with the sleep of death.”
They were moving… or rather he was moving, carrying her as if she were feather-light, her arms draped around his neck. “The conversion tends to feel that way… though, it’s usually not so literal.”
He set her back on her feet, and she found herself leaning against something metallic. A door was opened and shut, and he wrapped her in something warm and fluffy—a blanket?—and used the edge to wipe the caking of mud away from her eyes.
“You sparkle like a diamond,” she cooed at him. She had clearly shed dirt on him as he’d held her, but never had he been so beautiful to her eyes. To see his handsome face after what she’d just been through made the whole damn thing worth it.
He actually chuckled at that. “No, that’s just your senses adjusting to the pre-dawn light.”
She shook her head sadly. He didn’t understand. It all made perfect sense in her own head, but when she tried to get the words out…
“I’m wrong. So much wrong inside me.” She began to whimper, in a prelude to tears, as she huddled against his rental car. Why couldn’t she get the words out right?!
He held her close once again. “It’s all right, love. We’ll figure it out.”
The ride was quiet, down several unfamiliar streets to a motel. Of all the places she’d imagined Nick being in, this certainly wasn’t one of them… some by-the-hour dive that had paint that was beginning to crack and peel, and two simple queen-sized box spring mattresses.
And she certainly didn’t expect to find Janette there, either, coming out of the bathroom where the sound of running water issued.
“Oh, pauvre cherie!” Janette’s voice was warm and comforting. “What an ordeal you’ve had!” She gestured to the bathroom. “I’m running a bath for you now, so you can cleanse yourself of all that unpleasantness.” She placed a dainty hand on Natalie’s back gently leading her forward, to where soap and water awaited. “Come with me.”
Natalie heard Nick sigh, strip his dirty jacket off and then all but collapse into one of the beds.
The water was dirty now. She held her breath until the burn returned to her lungs, and breached the water’s soap-and-dirt laden surface. But she herself was now clean, the water bearing the dirt away from her.
From her vantage point in the bathroom, she could hear the murmur of conversation between the two. Her Nick. Her Janette. The possessiveness of her own thoughts surprised her, as she stood up in the tub and reached for a towel.
“I’m saying she’s… not well, Janette,” Nick was recalling, in a frustrated voice. “You weren’t there; you didn’t hear her. She was talking all right but… well, she wasn’t making much sense. Or… she was, but she wasn’t. It’s hard to explain.”
“Hmmm,” Janette mused. “She may have been in the grave too long. Starvation will not kill one of us but, for a new one, it can cause much damage.”
“You think starvation has damaged her mind?”
“If what you say of her is true… well, do you have another theory, Nicolas?”
He became silent.
“I know how you fret for her, mon cher. But she is not the fragile little mortal anymore. She is strong; she will recover. She just needs time, which she now has in abundance.”
“She was always strong,” he replied softly. “It’s now that she’s weakened. She sounded like a child, Janette.”
Natalie emerged from the bathroom, her towel wrapped around her, but still dripping slightly. “I am wrong inside, Nick.” Her lower lip trembled. “Help me?” she whimpered. “The sparks don’t fly the way they should. No. No.”
Nick went to her again, holding her protectively as she cried softly in his arms.
“But you can still think for yourself, cherie?” Janette queried gently, though the vampiress gave Nick a significant look.
“The sparks snap inside, but they don’t fly out like they should,” Natalie lamented.
“So you know exactly what’s going on, but you are having trouble communicating?” Nick suggested.
Natalie nodded, her cheek brushing against his shoulder.
“Well,” Nick replied tenderly. “I’m understanding you right now.”
“You can hear the stars sing too,” she replied, remembering the copious amounts of time he used to stare out his loft window, lost in thought. Perhaps, in a way, he could get lost in his own mind too. Maybe that’s why he understood her, because he could feel what she meant and not just hear her mangled, dissociated ramblings. Her heart lightened at the thought. I’m still me, she wanted to say. Just… different. I’m still here.
“The stars sing for us, Nick. If we’re very quiet and listen.”
“I will always have the time to listen, if you want me to.” And he smiled at her.
She was positively brimming with delight at the thought, and Janette smiled fondly at the couple.
“I’m sleepy,” Natalie then announced. “Will you hold me, so I don’t fly away into little pieces?” Don’t let me be a prisoner inside my head. Be patient with me.
“As long as you want.”
“Forever and forever,” she agreed.