Chapter One

            Anata was barely awake when she realized she was not sleeping in her own bed. It was too comfortable to be her dorm bunk. The silk sheets felt cool against her bare shoulders. She pulled the blanket to her nose and nuzzled into it. It was soft and silky; it felt like mink.

            ‘Fur! Gross!’ Appalled, she quickly sat up. Her head spun as she took in the unfamiliar surroundings. The room was the largest room she had ever been in. The walls were painted deep red; the windows were covered with heavy, black velvet curtains. On the wall, opposite the bed was a stuffed moose head; on the bed-side table a stuffed pheasant, and on the floor a bearskin rug. A silver sword hung above the headboard; its blade so sharp it glistened.  Anata, a committed vegan and PETA member, found the room revolting. A deep shudder ran down her spine, and her skin began to crawl. Never in a million years, would she have voluntarily entered a room filled with such cruelty. It was repulsive.

            “Where am I?’ she asked, as a wave of nausea washed over her. She laid her head back on the pillow and the room began to spin. She turned her head into the pillow and took a deep breath; it smelled rank—like fresh blood. Bile rose in her throat; she fought the urge to vomit.

 ‘How did I get here?’ she asked herself, silently, so as not to worsen the pounding in her head. Ever so slowly, the room came back into focus. The last thing she remembered she was hanging with her friends at Joe’s bar, a popular hangout for Northwestern University students because Joe wasn’t particular about who he served, as long as they paid in cash. She’d gone there with friends, to have a few beers and play some darts.  The last thing she remembered was drinking a beer. Then she’d played some darts. She was laughing when a strange man walked in the room. The memory of the man was fuzzy, like it was hiding from her. She searched the recesses of her mind and tried to remember. He was tall, dark and hot; dressed in black leather, he was definitely not a college guy. He introduced himself, his name was. . . God, why couldn’t she remember his name? They’d chatted; about something. She tried but couldn’t remember what. Beyond that, she had no further memories. She didn’t have a clue as to what happened between the bar and here, waking up in a strange bed, in a strange house, that reeked of evil.

Anata looked under the blanket. She was shirtless, but her bra and jeans securely fastened. ‘Thank God.’ She felt relieved. She hadn’t had sex with the stranger. At least she didn’t think she had; she couldn’t remember.

            Anata heard violent retching sounds coming from the bathroom. The stranger was vomiting. He sounded like he might die. ‘The stranger—my God, I don’t even know his name!’

            She sat up slowly, saw her purse, shoes, and shirt scattered about the room as if they had been discarded in a hurry. And then, she remembered the kissing. It had been incredibly hot, incredibly passionate. It was nothing like the way she kissed Ben.

            ‘Ben. Oh shit!! What am I doing here!’ she thought. Ben, her boyfriend, was completely forgotten when she saw the handsome stranger. She heard water running in the bathroom. ‘He’s coming out,’ she panicked. ‘I have got to get out of here.’

            Anata scrambled to pull on her shirt, and shoes. It was dark outside, and she had no idea where she was. She could be anywhere in the city, or outside of it. But instinctively she knew, she had to be gone before he got out of the bathroom.

            ‘What does one say to a strange man that you may or may not have slept with? Hi. My name’s Anata? What’s yours?’ It was a little late to exchange vitals.

            She grabbed her purse and fled out the door. Cowardly yes, but she felt compelled to run as hard and fast as her feet could carry her. She needed to put distance between her and the stranger. She knew nothing about the man except that he was a hunter, and she was prey.

            Anata was a runner. She ran whenever she could. She was not competitive by nature, but she was fast. And at that moment, she ran as if her life depended on it.

            ‘I’m being ridiculous,’ she thought. ‘I don’t even know what happened. I don’t think we had sex. I would have remembered, wouldn’t I? Maybe he was too drunk. Maybe I was too drunk. Maybe I was drugged’

            Her shoes were new and cute, too cute for running. Within a few blocks her feet began to throb. She slowed her pace enough to kick them off but did not pick them up. She carried her purse, slung over her shoulder. The purse slowed her enough; the shoes were too much baggage. She looked around at the houses and unkempt yards. She recognized the neighborhood; it was off-campus housing for college students. She was not far from Northwestern, near Ben’s apartment. If she could find his apartment, he would help her. Even if she could find it, he wasn’t home. He was away at a conservation convention. She’d only gone to the bar to kill time while he was away. And now, what would she tell him about her night?

Anata saw a bus stop ahead. She could wait for the bus. But she had no idea what time it was, or if busses even ran at this hour. She guessed it was four or five in the morning. It was pitch dark, but the night had a peaceful feel, like it was on the cusp of dawn. It was not a safe time to be walking the streets, but she felt safer out here—alone in the dark—than in that horrible house.

            Anata heard water lapping on the shore and realized she was close to the lake front. She headed east until she found the bike path that runs along the beach from the city and headed north towards campus. The sun was rising by the time she reached the grounds of Northwestern. The rising sun scattered on the dense layer of fog resting on Lake Michigan. Its warmth cut through the fog and the clouds gently rose off the water making the blue water sparkle.

Anata’s hair was a mess, her clothes disheveled.  She felt like trash. She would sneak into the dorm to hide the fact that she’d been gone all night. Maybe her roommate hadn’t noticed. Maybe she’d stayed out all night, too. If her roommate was up, she’d just tell her the truth, not that it was any of her business. But she’d tell her the truth, anyway, because Anata never lied.

“My first walk of shame,” she muttered in disgust.

It was noon before Anata woke. She sat at the table and inhaled the steam rising from a cup of black coffee. It smelled like salvation. She raised the cup to her lips to drink, her stomach churned, and bile rose in her throat.

            “Damn. This has got to be the worst hangover, ever,” she said.

            “You look like crap,” said her room-mate Carly.

            “Thanks. I feel like crap.”

            “How much did you drink last night?”

            “That’s the thing. I don’t remember much. I only had a beer or two.”

            “You better get your light-weight act together. Parents weekend starts in five hours, and I don’t need a lecture about this pig sty.” Carly pointed to the piles of dirty clothes stacked in the corner and over-flowing trash bins. “You promised to help me clean today.”

            “I will, just as soon as my stomach quits flipping,” Anata slowly raised the coffee to her lips and took a small sip. It was wonderful. She felt it burn all the way down her throat and into her stomach. She waited for the flip-flop, prepared to bolt to the bathroom, and was pleasantly surprised to find it only created a small wave of nausea. ‘Maybe I’ll be alright,’ she thought and then realizing that she was severely parched, possibly even dehydrated, she quickly gulped the rest of the coffee.

            It was too much, too quickly. Anata ran to the bathroom, dropped to her knees, and violently retched into the toilet.

            Carly rolled her eyes in disgust, and then stooped to scoop the pile of clothes into a laundry basket.

            “I’ll clean the room myself—again,” she said angrily. “But you are going to owe me. Big time!”

            “I’m sorry,” Anata moaned from behind the closed bathroom door.

            “Listen, I know we’ve only known each other six weeks, but I’m concerned that this is becoming a habit.”

            “What are you talking about?” asked Anata as she leaned over the sink and splashed water on her face. “This is the first time I’ve ever gotten drunk in my entire life.”

            Carly stood in the bathroom door, looking in at Anata. “Not the drinking–I’m cool with that. It’s the housekeeping. You’re always either too busy, or you forgot, or you’re too sick.”

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”

            “And then I get stuck picking up your clothes and doing all the cleaning. It’s like you’re this pretty little princess and I’m your loyal servant,” Carly ranted. “I don’t like it, not one little bit. It’s no wonder you went through three roommates last year.”

            Anata was attractive, more than attractive, she was drop-dead gorgeous. She was tall and lean with strawberry-blonde hair, green eyes, and high cheekbones. Carly was attractive, in an average kind-of-way. Brunette and cute; she was quickly starting to resent that no one ever looked at her when Anata was in the room.

Anata had been approached by a couple of sleazy guys claiming to be agents who promised her fame and fortune as a model. She bristled at the suggestion. She wanted to be more than a pretty face. She struggled hard to be taken seriously; her goal was to be a scientist. She intended to make a difference in the world. Determined to be a person of quality; she would be someone her parents could be proud of.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be that roommate. It’s just that I’m an only child. My mother always took care of that kind of stuff. I’ve never had to think about it.”

            “Well, I’m not your mother.”

            “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better, really.” As Anata stood up, the room started to spin, her knees felt weak, and she staggered into the room.

            “Oh, for Pete’s sake! Just go lie down. You look like death,” spat Carly.

            “Thank you,” said Anata weakly.

            “Like I said– You owe me!”

            Anata flopped down on the bottom bunk and succumbed to the spinning room. Her cramped dorm room was painted dirty beige and felt as homey as a jail cell. To liven it up, Anata hung posters of her heroes: Mahatma Gandhi, David Attenborough, and Rachel Carson. Now Gandhi was spinning around the room, smiling smugly as though chastising her for her moral weakness. She felt utterly defeated.

            Carly stomped around the room picking up clothes and throwing them into a laundry basket. She reached over Anata to pick up a tee-shirt and saw a bright purple bruise on her neck.

            “OMG!” Is that a hickey? How tacky!”

            Anata rubbed her neck; it was tender to the touch. She remembered the stranger sucking her neck.

            “I thought Ben was out of town,” said Carly with a short gasp at the end of the sentence when she put two-and-two together. “You cheated on Ben? You little skank!” she laughed as she slammed the door on her way out to the laundry room.

            “Shit! Shit!! Shit! What am I going to tell Ben,” said Anata to the empty room. Ben was the love of her life, her soulmate. Ben was a social activist, like Anata; committed to the cause, like Anata. He was a vegan, like Anata. He was her perfect match; and in her opinion, smoking hot.

            Ben was tall and lean, a blue-eyed blonde with the cutest little smattering of freckles across his nose. He was studying Environmental Science. He spent a lot of time outdoors and was deliciously tan. They had grown up together. Their parents were best friends, having met back in their Peace Corp days. Ben and Anata had always been together, like peanut butter and jelly. Ben was perfect–almost.

            There was that one summer before he went to college, when he was less than perfect. They had nearly broken up. Ben spent the summer in South American building houses for the poor; Anata spent the summer in Africa doling out malaria medicine in a refugee camp. Ben had strayed. He had become involved with another volunteer, had an actual relationship. Anata thought it was over. Ben was, of course, totally honest about the whole affair. They both valued honesty above everything else. In the end, he realized that his volunteer was only committed to good works for the duration of the summer. For her, it was more like an exotic vacation than a lifestyle. Ben and Anata both believed the cause was a life-long commitment. In the end, Ben realized that Anata was his soulmate and his best friend. He came back and everything was just as before, which only proved to Anata they were meant to be together. Two years older than Anata, he went to Northwestern first, while she continued to be home schooled. She followed him two years later, determined never to be separated again.

            Anata knew what she had to do. She had to tell Ben the truth, no matter how painful. Honesty was her highest value. Ben would understand, and he would forgive her. Because there was one thing in life that Anata had absolute faith in, and that was that Ben loved her. He always had; and he always would.

            Anata buried her head underneath the pillow and closed her eyes to sleep. She dreamt of Ben, her dreams so vivid she could smell him; so, familiar; so, safe; scented with sunshine and pine trees. Then she caught of whiff of something foul and rancid. Her dreams smelled of slaughtered meat and dripping blood. Anata ran to the bathroom and kneeled in front of the toilet and vomited until there was nothing left in her stomach. She lay on the cool porcelain floor, sweating profusely, while the world spun out of control.

            Hours passed, or maybe just minutes. Anata had no concept of time. It was the sickest she had ever been, she was certain she would die.

            Carly poked her head into the bathroom. “You ok?” she asked.

            “No,” said Anata. “I think I’m dying.”

            “You are such a drama queen. No one ever died from a hangover. If you don’t shake this off by tonight, we’re going to have to tell the parents you have the flu.”

            “I can’t lie to my parents.”

            “Fine, tell them whatever. But I’m telling my parent you have the flu. I don’t want them thinking that I’m living with an irresponsible skank. They’ll be up here every weekend, to check up on me.”

            “I am not a skank!”

            “That hickey on your neck says differently. But hey, look on the bright side; it ought to be gone by the time Ben gets home from his tree hugging camp.”

            “Conservation convention,” Anata corrected.


            “And it doesn’t matter; I’m telling him the truth.”

            “The truth? That you picked up some random guy at a bar? Let me know how that goes!”

            “He’ll understand.”

            “Yeah, right.”

            Lillia and Gerry were not typical parents. For one thing, they were a lot older than everybody else’s parents; having given birth to Anata when they were well into their forties. They were both doctors who had strayed from traditional medicine into more holistic practices. In Gerry’s case, he had turned to Eastern medicine, specializing in herbal remedies and acupuncture; then branched off to Native-American Shamans who taught him how to build sweat lodges and see visions; and had for a time studied with African witch doctors, learning to cast off evil spirits. He believed that all forms of medicine had value; and that to restrict his practice to Western medicine was next to malpractice. Lillia was a strong believer in the power of the mind. She believed the body had the power to heal itself, if the mind got out of its way. She also dabbled in Wiccan spells, crystals, and new-age potions. They could have been quite wealthy, had they chosen to maintain traditional practices. But somehow money never seemed to be a concern. They always had enough, even though Anata was never quite sure where it came from. They could have been born into money, but they never discussed it. To them, money was a means to an end, nothing more.

They had left conventionality behind and dedicated their lives to serving their causes. And there were so many causes that needed their attention. They served with the Peace Corp, UNICEF, and Doctors without Borders, among others. They often said they were so busy saving the world, they simply forgot to have children until later in life. Anata assumed she had been an accident, but no matter, they were the best parents ever.

            They spent their lives traveling the world, going from refugee camp to refugee camp, wherever their help was needed. Anata always travelled with them. She was home-schooled until she entered Northwestern. She was fluent in five languages: Spanish, Hindi, Farsi, French, and Russian. She had read all the works of Joyce, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, and Marquez; but none of the works by Bronte, Austin, or Fitzgerald. Her mother thought life too short for frivolous works of romance. “Novels, like life, should serve a higher cause,” said Lillia.

            Anata had chosen to attend Northwestern because Ben attended Northwestern. Ben chose Northwestern because his parents had attended Northwestern. Their home base when they weren’t traveling, which was rarely, was Winnetka. She liked living on Lake Michigan, the water so vast she often imagined she was living on the ocean. Her freshman year in college was the first time she ever stepped foot in a traditional classroom. Now in her sophomore year, she found herself disillusioned with education. Anata realized that the classroom setting was focused more on regurgitating ideas of the past, than searching for new ideas and new solutions. But she knew if she were serious about becoming a horticulturalist, she would have to suffer through college and grad school to achieve credibility.

            “We walked through the main campus on the way to your dorm,” her mother stated. “It’s almost, and I hate to say this–but it’s almost Ivy League,” said Lillian. “I walked down to the quad, and it was absolutely bucolic. Not one single protest.” Lillia’s long grey hair was pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck. She was a small woman, short in stature, and very thin. She was dressed casually, in worn jeans and an embroidered blouse. Her brown eyes sparkled through the lens of her reading glasses. She radiated warmth and love; she was the perfect mother.

            “Isn’t that what you wanted? Peace?” asked Anata.

            “Peace, yes. Complacency, no,” said Gerry.

            “The environment is at a tipping point, someone ought to be protesting,” said Lillia.

            “I’m so disappointed,” said Gerry. “I would have like to join a protest while we were here. It would have been just like old times.” Like Lillia, he too was dressed in worn jeans. His hair was grey, thinner in spots than he liked, but he did nothing to hide his baldness. He stood a head taller than Lillia, and if she couldn’t see his thinning hair, he was fine. For them, a person’s value was in the contribution they made to society. Inner beauty was important, outer appearances a frivolous waste of time.

            “There’s always the Walk for the Cure,” suggested Anata.

            “Which cure?” asked Gerry.

            “I’m not sure, some disease or other,” replied Anata.

            “I suppose we could attend. I’m sure it’s a good cause. I just miss the days when a march meant you were filled with righteous indignation. Perhaps you should find a school that is more socially active. I wonder what they’re doing at the University of Wisconsin.”

            “But Ben is at Northwestern,” Anata protested.

            Lillian scowled at Anata. “You can’t make major life decisions based on what Ben is doing. UW has one of the best agriculture programs in the country, and they are more socially progressive.”

            “Why can’t I make decisions based on Ben?” Anata countered. “Ben is my life. We want to be together, at Northwestern. Besides, Wisconsin is too.” She struggled for an adjective; but it the end, it boiled down to one thing. Ben was not there.

            “You’re nineteen,” said Lillian. “Things can change, your feelings can change.”

            “I’m almost twenty. And my feelings for Ben aren’t some schoolgirl crush. Ben is my soulmate.”

            “I long for the days when we fought for bigger issues,” said Gerry to change the subject. The last thing he wanted to do was to turn this visit into another mother-daughter tug-of-war about Ben. He liked Ben, they both did. But he was concerned about his daughter’s obsessive focus on all things Ben. He supposed every parent goes through this at some point, but it was baffling. “Where’s the concern for global issues? Children are starving all over the world. Millions are dying in Africa for want of mosquito netting. California is literally on fire, and no one is outraged. There are no protests. When did our society become so passive?”

            “I blame television,” said Lillia. “As long as the general population is glued to the television set, entertained by God only knows what reality show, no one will be motivated to rebel.” Anata had not been allowed to watch television when she was growing up. Her parents considered it to be a propaganda tool for the establishment and watched it only to keep tabs on the opposition.

            “But enough about us,” said Lillia as she lowered herself to the floor and sat cross-legged.

            “Yes, we’ve come to hear about you,” said Gerry as he joined her. “How are your classes? Are you getting along with your roommate, this year?”

            “She’s a little crabby and a bit of a neat freak, but on the whole, ok,” replied Anata. “My classes are just ok. I’m working on a plant splicing experiment in Botany that is interesting.”

            “Someday a farmer will save the world,” said Lillia.

            “Or maybe a scientist?” countered Anata as she joined them on the floor.

            “That’s possible,” said Gerry. “But I’d put my money on the farmer.”

            “What’s that on your neck?” asked Lillia.

            “A hickey,” said Anata.

            “A hickey! Oh my. I don’t approve, and you can tell Ben I said so. Love should not cause bruises!” said Lillia. “I’ve fought too long and hard for women’s rights to see my daughter man-handled.”

            “Ben didn’t do it,” said Anata. “It was someone else.”

            Her parents took a moment to digest the information. This was a shock. “Did you and Ben break up?” asked Gerry.

            “No,” said Anata. “It’s no big deal, really. I went out with some friends, got drunk and made out with a total stranger. I don’t know why I did it.”

            “Well, I suppose it’s normal for young people to experiment a bit. But this is so out of character for you,” said Lillia. “I mean, normally, you are so head-over-heels about Ben that you don’t even notice other boys.”

            “Does Ben know?” asked Gerry.

            “Not yet,” said Anata. “But I’ll tell him as soon as he gets back.”

            “Are you sure that’s wise?” asked Lillia.

            “What are you saying? I should lie?”

            “No. But sometimes the truth does more harm. Think how this will hurt Ben,” said Gerry. “If it was really only a one-time slip, maybe it’s better just to remain silent.”

            “This is ridiculous. Didn’t you always teach me that honesty was the highest virtue?”

            “Honesty, the most important virtue? No, I’m certain we never said that. There are many virtues more important than honesty,” said Gerry.

            “Like peace. Or human rights,” said Lillia. “How many times in our lives have we had to lie to smuggle vaccines into refugee camps. Certainly, the ability to save a life outweighs the need for absolute honesty,” said Gerry.

            “Telling a lie to save a life is acceptable, isn’t it dear,” said Lillia.

            “So, you’re suggesting it’s ok to lie to Ben?”

            Of course not. Telling a lie to spare an uncomfortable conversation is never acceptable. I’m just saying it’s ok to lie in matters of life and death,” said Lillia.

“And it’s ok to lie to protect someone’s feelings,” said Gerry.

“This is ridiculous,” said Anata. “Ben and I are committed to a completely truthful relationship. He will understand. After all, I understood when he was with someone else.”

“Is that what this is about? Payback?” asked Lillia.

“Of course not; I meant it when I said I forgave Ben. I don’t even know why I did it. I must have had too much to drink.”

“Do you think you have a drinking problem?” asked Gerry who was well-trained in addiction therapy.

“No. I had a beer or two at a bar. But I never drink, so I couldn’t handle it.”

“This guy? Do you know his name?”


“Maybe he put something in the drink?” said Gerry.

“Possibly, I was sicker than a dog this morning,” said Anata.

“Sick?” questioned Lillia.

“Sick. You know—hung-over—headache and vomiting.”

“Let me look at that hickey,” said Lillia as she leaned over to examine the bruise. “Gerry, look at this. Do you see what I see?”

Gerry leaned in to look at her neck. “Are those?”

“Yes. Teeth marks,” said Lillia. “Tell me, dear. What did this stranger look like?”

“I don’t know really. I just remember he was tall, dark, and handsome.”

“His face? Do you remember his face? Could you pick him out of a line up?”

“No. Not really. That’s odd, isn’t it? I remember he was dressed in black leather—and he smelled bad—like slaughtered meat.”

“Uggh!” said her vegan parents.

“And you remember nothing else?” asked Gerry.

“Not really. I woke up at his house. My pants and bra were still on. So, I don’t think,” Anata stammered. Even though her parents were doctors, she still felt uncomfortable discussing sex with them. “Anyway, I got scared and bolted.”

“That settles it dear. You’ve been bitten by a vampire,” stated Lillia very matter of factly.

“Please be serious,” groaned Anata. “Vampires don’t exist.”

“Weigh the facts my scientist daughter:

  1. You drank only a small amount, yet you don’t remember anything. Vampires charm their victims to obey their commands, and then leave them with no memories so they can’t be tied to the crime.
  2. You were still clothed but have marks on your necks. Vampires want blood from their victims, not sex.
  3. The vampire virus mimics a hangover, which you appear to have even though you don’t remember getting drunk.

All the facts point to a vampire bite. And that is my qualified medical opinion,” stated Lillia.

“Mom, Dad. You know I love you. And I know you really believe in all this stuff about vampires, elves, fairies, and witches. But I don’t. I’m a scientist. I believe in tangible facts,” said Anata.

“Anata, darling, we really need to talk,” said Lillia.

“NOT NOW,” said Gerry.

“Yes, now. Her life could be in danger,” said Lillia.

“NOT NOW. You took an oath. We will discuss this privately,” stated Gerry.

“What are you two talking about,” asked Anata, puzzled by what her parents had left unsaid.

“Nothing,” said Gerry as he rose to leave. “We need to be on our way. We’ve promised to have dinner with the Andersons. We’re planning our next medical mission to Syria. We’ve got to hurry, we’re running late.”

Lillia rose to join him. “But soon,” she promised. “We’ll talk soon.”

Her parents each gave her a hug, promising to return in the morning.

“Peace,” said Gerry.

“Peace,” said Lillia.

“Peace,” replied Anata as they left the room. She smiled. Her parents were so sweet and so sincere. She loved them dearly, but really. Were they insane? Vampires!