His eyes fluttered open slowly, watching a blurry earth come in and out of focus. It rocked back and forth, nauseating him as he drifted into consciousness. He knew of only two things in the world. They were the biting cold of the wind above and the solid cold of the ground below. The two frigid forces seeped into his skin easily, cutting through his winter clothes as though they were nothing.
Raivis tried to move, a third thing came into existence. It came from deep within his core and rolled through his body painfully. Hunger, and a churning ache that ran through his abdomen and his chest. His insides felt like bruised mush. He gasped as if he hadn’t been breathing when he woke up. Despite the cold, his rapid breaths didn’t freeze in the air. Every time he inhaled, his lungs pushed around his other malformed organs.
He tried to remember what landed him here, at the bottom a ditch in god-knew-where, but his mind drew a blank as white and blinding as the two mounds of snow beside him. The bare branches of the trees above told him little of his location, only that he was in one of the potential billions of ditches by the woods. Wind whipped around through the forest and burned his skin. Raivis was colder than he’d ever been in his life, yet he wasn’t shivering.
His eyes flickered shut, face clenched in pain as he tried to get up. Every other nerve in his body felt numb and dead, the hunger still drove him to stand, and to get back up when he fell. He didn’t know how long ago someone deposited him in that ditch, the hunger scared him, as did the numbness. He tried not to think too hard about the parts he couldn’t feel, like big sections of unfeeling static painted across his body, those were the bits that got amputated if he made it out alive.
Finally off the ground, Raivis surveyed his surroundings with swimming vision. The snow around him only came up to his shins, though the cold, white sky promised more of it. He started walking, slowly at first, as to not risk passing out again. He climbed out of the ditch and onto the ice covered road.
Raivis couldn’t remember a time when walking was such a fucking chore. Even with putting one foot in front of the other by sheer force of hunger, he forced himself to stop every once in a while when the motions became particularly unbearable. A few of those times, standing hurt just as much, but he stayed up. If he went down again, hungry, cold, and alone, Raivis recognized that he would not have the resolve to get back up again. This continued forever, Raivis was lost as to how he kept up this torture, especially when the soft white snow looked at him so invitingly from the ground. Perhaps he would just lay down to rest, to get some sleep for a little bit, not have to worry about the hunger or the cold or the overwhelming numbness of it all.
In a waking dream, he saw light ahead. Maybe the sun, miniscule, shining low and dull against the white backdrop of the world. Maybe a street lamp at the end of a long frozen road, leading him back into loose collections of warm houses and hopefully nice strangers. Maybe a city standing out against the monotony of it all, dozens of streetlights and houselights together, getting farther away with every step he took toward it.
It was none of those things. As the light became larger and got closer, separating into two smaller lights, Raivis barely registered he was staring into the headlights of an oncoming car. He moved a little closer to the center of the road and tried to lift his arms to flag the vehicle down. His elbows cracked painfully. He kept waving.
The driver didn’t see him until they were about fifty yards ahead. Raivis could tell because the car (which was starting to look more and more like a truck of some sort) honked its horn and slowed down a bit. Under different circumstances, Raivis might’ve laughed at the fact that the driver had probably mistaken him for a deer. Instead, he waited to be hit, passed by, or taken in as a charity case.
The car slowed to a complete halt and pulled off beside of him. A door opened, Raivis turned to see a man in a thick winter coat step out. Thus, the first thing Raivs felt when seeing his savior was jealousy. The next was hunger. Relief would come later.
“My god-!” The man in the big warm coat exclaimed as he stepped out. Apparently Raivis looked at least half as bad as he felt. The man stepped closer to Raivis carefully, surveying the situation as if Raivis would drop dead if he moved too hastily. Raivis silently decided that he might just drop dead anyway.
“You - How long have you been out here?” The stranger fumbled, now only an arm’s length away and looking as if he intended to come closer. At this distance, Raivis learned a few new things about the stranger. First and most immediately, he was huge. The man towered over him by a good foot and a half, and had a solid build too. In contrast, Raivis had been historically remarkably short, and he had bones that threatened to snap if the wind kept up. Secondly, the stranger had weird, worry-filled eyes that looked down at him like he was dying.
In response to the man’s question, Raivis shrugged. The popping in his shoulder seemed to be a valid answer to the stranger, who gaped at him astonishedly.
“Good Lord,” he muttered, then closed the distance between them by grabbing Raivis’s arm carefully, “What the hell happened? You’re freezing to death out here,” he murmured quietly, talking to himself more than to Raivis, who was pleased to not have to answer his question. “Get in the car, it’s warmer. We’ll drive out for help in a minute.”
Raivis would’ve gone straight to hell if someone told him it was warmer, so he let himself get pulled along by this potentially kind stranger. He had not the energy to resist anymore. Even if this man turned out to be a serial killer, things might not be so bad. At the very least, he wouldn’t be hungry anymore. Or cold.
The passenger’s seat of the stranger’s car was by far the most comfortable place in the world. Even if the two cardboard boxes on the passenger’s side floor forced him to lift is feet up and curl his legs into his body in a way that made his muscles ache with the effort it took to keep them there. Curled up on himself, he noted that his heart felt still and dead, certainly beating so slowly that he couldn’t sense it beating at all. His time in the ice slowed down every human bodily process, if he had died he would’ve been preserved well. Raivis shut his eyes and breathed in the warm air with lungs that did not want to work. The warmth of the car made him strangely hungry. The leather of the seat was still unmistakably cold, but it was warmer than Raivis’s skin, so it helped.
The door to his left opened, the stranger got behind the wheel. Raivis would’ve jumped at the sudden noise if he had the energy.
“No,” the stranger said disapprovingly, nudging Raivis’s shoulder like he was glass, “Keep your eyes open. Don’t fall asleep.” One of his eyes twitched open to see the stranger with something in his arms. A water bottle or two, and a white paper bag that suggested some kind of food. These things got his attention, he sat up quicker than he imagined he could.
The stranger handed him the things as soon as he sat up. First, he opened the water bottle and drank half of it. Next, he pulled a peanut butter sandwich on white bread out of the white bag. It tasted more disgusting than anything he’d ever had the privilege of eating. After his first bite, he set it on the dashboard innocuously. The stranger was undeterred. Starving people who ate too fast got sick, anyway.
“Who are you?” the stranger asked in the short silence between giving Raivis the items and starting the truck.
Raivis tried to croak out his name with vocal chords that were frozen solid like the rest of him. His voice cracked horribly, it made him sound like he was close to crying. It wasn’t a pretty sound, nor was it decipherable. The stranger didn’t ask him anything that required him to speak after that.
“My name is Ivan,” he declared to the silence. “You can tell me yours later, if you feel so inclined,” he added, flitting his eyes from the road to Raivis’s form for a moment, possibly checking to see if he was still awake. Raivis didn’t like having Ivan’s eyes on him, so he talked back shortly to mitigate Ivan’s need to look. It also made their silence less unbearable, despite the fact that his words scraped his dry throat. He finished off his bottle of water.
“R-Raivis,” he announced, still hoarse, after a break that lasted a little too long. Then, because there was nothing else he could’ve said, “Thank you.”
“Raivis,” Ivan repeated, trying to commit the name to memory. “You shouldn’t thank me. I’m sure anyone else would’ve done it. Now… You wouldn’t happen to remember what left you out here, would you?”
“Not clearly,” Raivis said shortly, obviously not willing to talk about it. Thankfully, Ivan took the hint and kept driving on. He also did not stop talking.
“How old are you?”
“S-Sixteen,” he sounded pitiful. Ivan told him that there were towels on the back seats. Raivis grabbed them thankfully without words and curled into them for warmth. The drive was long and daunting, but Ivan let him fall asleep after he regained enough color in his face. He dreamed of a repressed memory.
Raivis’s father screamed at him, pacing back and forth in their living room restlessly, growling all his words in way that he intended to be threatening. Instead, it made every word run into the other in a way that Raivis didn’t need to understand to know that his father was calling him a worthless faggot. A sorry excuse for a son. A scrawny disappointment.
An hour before, Raivis agreed to let Eduard Bock walk him home, fully expecting his father to be at work. The two of them laughed and talked all the way, Raivis blushed madly when he accidently touched Eduard’s hand with his own. As they came upon the driveway to Raivis’s house, Eduard grabbed his hand and squeezed it in farewell. Raivis smiled like an idiot, watching him walk away.
His father viewed the exchange with horror from the kitchen window of their house. He opened the conversation with his son by slapping him hard across the face. Not much had improved over time, an hour went by and his father remained a raging mess. Something Raivis did in that time frame only increased his anger, though Raivis couldn’t understand what angered him. He flinched when the man took a step forward, let his emotions pour out through his eyes, and did not speak a word.
Eventually, his father ordered him out. Raivis obeyed, taking to the streets around the place where he no longer lived. The tears in his eyes stopped blurring his vision at around five blocks out, but his breathing had yet to calm down. He continued walking straight with no direction until nearly halfway into his eighth block. A black sedan slowed to a crawl on the road beside him. The sedan’s window rolled down, revealing a stranger with long blond hair and short facial stubble.
“Would you like a ride?” The stranger’s accent was foreign, but Raivis didn’t care. He needed to put as much distance between himself and the world as possible. His hand almost recoiled when he touched the ice cold metal of the door handle. The passenger car door swung open rustily, Raivis wondered who used it last momentarily before taking a seat in the front.
The seat once had brown leather stitched into it, now sloughing off like the skin of a cooked turkey, revealing the yellow foam flesh underneath. The car lacked the familiar stink of tobacco, unnerving Raivis further. The pocket of the door was filled with rows upon rows of CDs with names that Raivis couldn’t pronounce. A thick unease stirred in his stomach as the car started moving forward. Raivis wanted out, but he had nowhere to go.
“Where to?” the stranger asked without looking at him. The town passed by lazily in the cold wind.
“Verdigre.” The first town on his mind, a rural little place to the west of their current landing. A distant memory of his father taking him to a cheap motel resurfaced painfully. One year, far before his father started developing suspicions, he took Raivis out on a business trip during the summer. They stayed in fancy hotel by Lake Michigan, where Raivis enjoyed staring out onto the never-ending waters. He pretended the lake was an ocean that he would sail across one day when the wind was right. He found other children to share his dream with, they stayed out for hours reenacting great pirate battles. At that age, the wind blew evenly through the trees and anything was fantasy. On their way back home, they stayed in the dank Motel 6 in Verdigre, staring at the ceiling and waiting for the night to pass, listening to crickets and cars from the world outside.
That summer faded into dust six years ago. The winter came as it always did, though now Raivis was in an old car with a strange man, abandoned by his last family member and left to fend for himself alone in the upcoming northern winter. The stranger started to make small talk, Raivis stared at the floor and mumbled his replies.
“Verdigre,” the driver repeated with more confidence than Raivis ever dared to muster. “I can do that. I’ll be passing through there on my way home.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“So rude of me not to introduce myself! My name is Francis. And your name is…?” Now the man stole a glance at him, seeming pleased with the returned eye contact.
“Ryne,” Raivis lied immediately. He hoped they would reach Verdigre by sundown, if ‘Francis’ ever intended on taking him there in the first place.
“Ryne Bock,” he answered too fast, too confidently. He hoped the name didn’t sound as fake as he thought it did. Looking at Francis, he couldn’t tell if the man bought it or not.
“Well, Mr. Bock,” he started condescending, “What business does a kid like you have in Verdigre on a school night?”
“I’m visiting my mother.” Raivis’s mother was ten years dead, “She’s in the hospital.”
“You’re going alone?” Francis asked, completely unperturbed by the fact that Raivis’s mother was in an out of town hospital that may or may not exist.
“Yes. My dad works second shift.”
Francis responded with something that was meant to sound sympathetic. The conversation continued similarly, Francis seeing through and dancing around Raivis’s lies while Raivis studied the intricacies of the sedan’s floor. Once, Francis reached for the radio, playing Bon Jovi and Whitney Houston until they lost signal to the wilderness. The silence planted a particularly dangerous red flag. After a while in the humbling soundlessness, Raivis found the bravado to look at the radio clock. Fifty minutes passed between the time Francis asked him if he would like a ride.
Verdigre was only forty minutes away from the spot Francis picked him up, and he could see the sun setting in the far west behind him like a warning flare. His insides turned to mush and sank, he cursed himself. Cursed himself for knowing this was a bad choice from the start, cursed himself for carting him off to an almost certain death and/or rape rather than taking his chances on the street.
The weight of his poorly made decision began to fall on him. His heart slowly sped up, within minutes it was the only sound he could hear. He trembled lightly, eyes full of tears. He breathed heavily to make sure he could still breathe. He was going to die alone in the winter cold. When the police found his body and started their search, no one would claim his body. He’d be a nameless corpse, unidentified and unwanted under the lonely Nebraska sky. The people at the morgue would look at him with pity until they found out how he died: underneath another man, playing the role of the worthless faggot even in the last stretch of his life. They wouldn’t have any clue who he was, but they would know what he was. Raivis could already feel the worms in his skin. If Raivis turned out lucky, the coroner might announce that their Johnny Doe took a shot to the back of the head and left the land of the living before he know what happened to him.
“M-mister Francis?” he asked timidly, readying himself for flat out refusal. “Sir? Could you let me out a minute? I think I’m going to be sick.” Thus, the only thing Raivis told Francis that wasn’t a lie. They were on a country road now, a desolate corn field to the right and a black forest to the left. In the forest, a maze of twisted stumps and tree roots under the giant shadows of twisted Cottonwoods. In the corn field, the stalks stood yellow and dead almost as far as Raivis could see. The snow had yet to fall and crush the stalks, they still had at least two heads over Raivis’s height. He choose the cornfield.
Francis ignored his question at first, Raivis blinked tears out of his eyes. “Sir?” He tried again, almost begging this time. Francis’s voice cut through the air hazily as he finally answered.
“Of course,” it sounded insincere, but Raivis considered it to be progress. The sedan began to crawl again, not bothering to pull over as it came to a halt. The doors unlocked with a click, Raivis stepped out hesitantly onto the asphalt, which felt like swaying earth under his feet. Francis watched him from the window of the sedan, and Raivis didn’t need to turn around to know it. He slammed the door without looking behind him, then he started running into the field. His life depended on it.
Raivis felt some flow of relief under the protection of the bare stalks, soon he was too far into the field to know where he was. His throat hurt and his legs burned, but Francis had yet to follow him out of the car. Raivis reached a hand across his forehead to wipe away sweat. On its way down, his hand touched something wet below his eye. He didn’t remember when he started crying. Feeling slightly braver than before, Raivis stopped to calm himself down. Maybe he was too scrawny. Maybe Francis got bored of him. Maybe he was stranded out in the middle of a cornfield alone. He listened to the sound of the soft wind, cold but inviting. A lone bird passed by overhead, going south. It looked like a crow.
Raivis’s blood almost stopped pounding in his ears when he heard a noise like rusted metal, a sharp slap to the face of the nearly calm quiet. It was the sound of a car door opening and slamming shut, and it was much closer than Raivis thought.
He wanted to run as soon as he heard the accompanying crunch of long dead leaves underfoot. Instead, he made sure to stay stock still, listening for the direction of the footsteps. If he stayed quiet, he might be able to go around Francis. If he caught some luck, he might get step back on the road again without Francis hearing. If god reached down and gave him a hand, he might step into Francis’s car and drive himself away. Praying for the keys to be in the ignition, Raivis listened closely.
The footsteps sounded like they came from someplace behind him and to the left, as did the sound of the door. All of the movements sounded boisterously confident, like Francis already knew where Raivis stood and was just biding his time. It must’ve been some kind of game to him. Raivis shivered minutely, taking the most tentative step he’d ever taken in his life, shifting all 85 pounds of him as quietly as possible. The bed of grass and leaves below made a tiny cracking sound, not enough to rouse the attention of a capable adult, he hoped.
His hope died when his pursuer’s footsteps stopped in return. His heart climbed up to his throat, thrumming wildly. The footsteps started again, faster and louder this time, heading straight toward Raivis, who immediately began to panic.
He abandoned any semblance of caution as he ran in the opposite direction, feeling like herded cattle. Francis followed without any issue, Raivis morbidly hoped he was a necrophiliac rather than a sadist. He had no chance against this thing that was too skilled to be man.
Raivis miraculously broke out of the cornfield, seeing the same stretch of road ahead would’ve been a relief if he wasn’t running for his life. His feet hit the road again. The footsteps barreled behind him. He looked right. The distant form of the black sedan was the last thing he saw before something heavy grabbed him from behind and threw his body to the middle of the road with its weight. Raivis tried to close his eyes for the rest without succeeding.
The thing in human skin twisted his body around, forcing him to face it as it pinned him down. He tried struggling, but the thing was far too strong and he was far too scrawny. He opened his eyes once to see that thing that called itself Francis smiling at him with an amused expression, pleased with the useless fight Raivis tried to put up. Raivis flinched back hard when the thing moved its hands towards his face, wiping away one of his tears with false care. His hands felt like papery leather around a block of ice.
“Cute,” Francis chuckled sadistically, proceeding to snake his other hand into Raivis’s hair, pressing him harder to the road so he couldn’t get away. “I almost want to keep you for myself.”
Raivis trembled with every nerve in his body and said nothing, looking at Francis with the face of a frightened rabbit. Francis kept the hand in his hair, then moved the other to his neck. Raivis whimpered in fear, though Francis didn’t wrap his hand around it fully. The hand found his jugular vein, pointed it out with one finger, and slowly slid down his neck with a fondness that suggested familiarity. Raivis cringed.
“Perhaps I could…” Francis said to himself thoughtfully, Raivis stayed still, too afraid to ask just what the hell that meant. “I’ll warn you first - I’ve never tried it before. Seems fairly simple, though. You’ll understand later, if you live. I just need you to stay still while it happens, for your sake..” Francis’s eyes flitted over the boy’s frozen solid form and he smirked, “But it looks like we won’t have a problem with that at all. Now, hold your breath. This is going to hurt either way.” Francis jerked downward, biting into his neck with more speed and force than should’ve been allowed for his thin, angular jaws. Raivis felt his skin bust open, he screamed. It echoed off the sky and into the distance, a horrid sound that called no one to his side, bouncing emptily into the cold atmosphere.
Raivis died looking out at the blue void sky.
He woke up again, this time in a warm house he didn’t recognize. He reached for his neck, which jolted at the ghost of pain from the memory. He breathed heavily, though now he had a suspicion that he didn’t need to breathe at all. And Goddamn, he was hungry. He looked around the room.
A living room. Underneath him, a black sofa. The television stayed dead. The only light was that of the sun reflecting off the snow outside. How much time passed since he stepped into a better stranger’s car? He didn’t know. Hell, he didn’t know didn’t know how much time passed since Francis dumped his body in a ditch. He couldn’t remember any snow in the forecasts, so quite possibly over a week. He did remember that he was very, very hungry.
Raivis sat up in the couch, fully awake. He yearned to risk standing up, but he felt even weaker than when he stepped into Ivan’s truck. He heard someone shuffling around in the room next door, the sound of metal on metal and running water. Must be the kitchen, undoubtedly full of things that would have made his stomach stop sending pain through his abdomen. The taste of food disgusted him already, he began to feel the disgusting sandwich Ivan gave him earlier again.
The shuffling in the kitchen stopped momentarily, then heavy footsteps started towards him. He curled into himself a little at the memories he associated with footsteps coming for him, but didn’t flinch when Ivan reached out an arm to get his attention. Still, Raivis looked up at him apprehensively, and Ivan tried to assure him with a light smile.
“Hello there,” Ivan greeted softly. “Are you feeling any better?” Now that he was fully aware, Raivis was slightly disconcerted by the kindness. He responded with a light head shake.
Ivan knitted his eyebrows, thinking. “You must be terribly hungry! And thirsty, too… You were asleep for nearly seventeen hours!” He let Raivis absorb this fact before continuing a little more solemnly, the ghost of his worry tainting his voice. “Your breathing is so shallow… I thought I lost you a few times. The roads are iced over, I don’t think I would’ve made it to a hospital. I’m glad I found you when I did…”
Ivan went on to tell him about the house, but Raivis wasn’t listening. Preoccupied by the hot, thick blood thrumming in Ivan’s veins, Raivis gawked at him with glazed over eyes. Ivan seemed nice so far...Perhaps he wouldn’t mind if Raivis got a little closer to him. For warmth, maybe. He was so fucking hungry.
Raivis snapped out of his haze when Ivan shook his shoulder gently, concerned about his vegetative state.
“Huh?” Raivis looked him over with more clarity, though tears came to his eyes at a particularly painful twitch in his belly. Ivan noticed the tears. “Sorry,” Raivis said, “It’s just…”
Ivan nodded, although he couldn’t even begin to understand. He opened up his arms and enveloped Raivis in a hug. Raivis tensed. The thing that happened next was beyond Raivis’s control.
With his face buried into Ivan’s neck, Raivis felt his teeth on fire. His mouth opened of its own accord and sank his teeth into Ivan’s skin. He lapped at the resulting wound without thinking, capable of crying at the warm euphoria settling in his body. The hunger didn’t leave, but was abated slightly. Raivis did not want to stop.
Ivan gasped at the initial intrusion, but stayed surprisingly compliant throughout the ordeal. Raivis didn’t pause to think about the implications of that. In fact, Ivan brought one of his hands to the back of Raivis’s head, holding him in place. He took a few deep breaths and bore the pain for a few minutes, when he started trying to pry Raivis off of him.
“I know you’re hungry,” He started, his voice soft, yet he tightened his grip on the back of Raivis’s neck, “But I need my blood, alright? I’ll let you have more later.” He began to pull his hand back and Raivis reluctantly detached himself from Ivan. Raivis wiped a bit of blood off his mouth with his arm, looking horrified at the result. A silence hung over them, Ivan held his neck and Raivis gawked at his hands like he was a monster.
“You know, I had my suspicions,” Ivan said, causing Raivis to jerk his head up to face him.
“O-of what, exactly?” Raivis asked, horrified. His shaking hands overlapped in an attempt to comfort him.
“You’re a vampire,” Ivan stated in a matter-of-fact voice, as if he’d given news like this every other day of his life. “And a new vampire, by the looks of it,” he added, astonishing Raivis with the relaxed tone of his voice
“Wh - How - how did you -?” Raivis started asking twenty questions at once, his mind raced and his world started to spin with nausea. Ivan stopped him before he could hurt himself thinking about it.
“Calm down,” he chided. “You’re really lucky, actually. I don’t know what kind of beast sires a youngling and leaves them to freeze in the snow, but I do know that very few humans would’ve been as… understanding of your case as I am. I know this all must be terrifying to you and all, but rest assured I know more about the care of vampires than you do right now.”
Before Raivis let the word ‘why’ come out of his mouth, Ivan answered.
“I’m not a hunter - don’t worry about that. I’m a bit of a sympathizer of sorts. I’ll explain later, now I need to know a little more about you.” He adopted a softer tone for his next question, fully aware that he was delving into sensitive territory.
“Raivis...Why don’t you tell me about what landed you in that ditch?”