by Katie King, Age 16, Australia
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
A cool breeze whistled through the ice-laced trees of which I rested beneath.
“Hey freak, isn’t it about time you found some real friends?”
A large shadow was cast over me as a group of nearby girls inched closer; surrounding me with their stone-cold glares. Avoiding eye-contact I began packing away my half-eaten sandwich and the book I had been reading. I would have to return to the literary world of Bella and Edward’s forbidden love another time, but for now I had to get out of there. Hesitantly, I rose from the bench, skin chilled from where my thighs had rested against the cold marble surface.
“This park isn’t for weirdo vampire-wannabes like you, Jenny!” The girls’ voices rang out behind me, and with one swift motion I jumped on my old worn-down bike and pedalled until their shouts became mere echoes in the distance.
“Jen, honey how was the par-” A loud slam from my bedroom door abruptly cut my mother off.
I stormed over to the antique mirror which hung unevenly in the corner of my room. It didn’t fit alongside the hundreds of vampire-inspired posters I had plastered carelessly over each of the four walls. I allowed my tear-stricken eyes to slowly scan over my reflection, surveying the counterfeit appearance I forced myself to portray day after day. An array of bright colours and floral patterns radiated from the clothes I wore, contrasting with the few dark bruises that surfaced beneath. With a deep sigh, I retired to my bed, the safe haven full of dreams and solace that only existed within the comfort of my silk-woven sheets.
Three high-pitched consecutive beeping noises released me from my slumber and back into reality. Vision hazy, I managed to pull myself up and inspect the room for the source of the beeping. It was my laptop. A gleaming icon in the corner of my screen alerted me of new messages. Yay, more spam emails. As I scrolled through the numerous rip-off coupon deals and phony advertisements, one particular subject line caught my eye. ‘The Coven… a journey to the dark side.”
I felt my heart rate increase with excitement as I prepared myself for what this mysterious email enclosed. Could it be what I hoped? Then suddenly, a quick click of the mouse revealed everything my I had ever envisioned in my dreams. I was directed to a website full of images of different people…each depicted with sickly white skin, dark clothes and grim expressions. These people aren’t human, I thought to myself. A tingling sensation buzzed through my arm as I rapidly scrolled down for more information. At the bottom of the page, scrawled in a white cursive font was an address. I knew the area roughly, and decided to leave as soon as possible.
A dense fog enveloped the night air, clinging to my skin like a dampened cloth as I made my way through copious amounts of dimly lit alleyways. I had tried my best to alter my appearance to fit in- thick red lipstick smeared across my lips in a way that made my face glow in contrast of the excessive amount of white powder and eye makeup applied.
After what seemed like an hour of trudging through metre-deep snow I reached a small building, hidden away behind a tangle of overgrown shrubs. A large crimson door with bronze handles in the shape of a bat took up half of the front wall. I took a step forward- something about the haunting eyes of the little figurine bat brought an uneasy feeling upon me and suddenly my whole body felt thirty pounds heavier. What if they reject me? What if they take one look at my wannabe attire and throw me out into the cold with nothing left to wish for? A swarm of negative thoughts clouded my mind and I struggled to keep them from invading my mentality.
“If I don’t do this now, I’ll regret it forever,” I whispered to myself, taking another step forward. And with that one thought, the negativity was drained from my mind, as if a vacuum had suddenly cleared up my brain and left me consumed with a new found confidence. I reached out in an attempt to grasp the bronze handles but was abruptly pushed back as the doors swung open. A dark figure emerged from inside with outstretched arms, I quickly turned in an attempt to run back but was roughly grabbed from behind. A small yelp escaped my throat before my attacker forced a brown paper bag over my head, turning everything black.
Several flames flickered in the distance. Oh god, I was dead. Am I in hell? No. They had removed the bag, and I could now make out that the flames were merely candles, placed in all corners of the room. I shivered, and not from the cold. I counted a total of seven hooded figures, seated on chairs arranged in a sort of semi-circle, as if we were attending an AA meeting. I however, found myself kneeling upon the hardwood floors. Someone had bound both my hands together with a rough rope that scratched against my skin in the most uncomfortable way. Before I could manage a sound one of the cloaked members rose and cleared their throat.
“Who are you, and why have you come?” The cloaked figure removed his hood, revealing icy blue eyes and a pale, washed-out complexion. It was a male, and I gathered from the pitch and tone of his voice that he was not much older than I was.
“I-I uh…” The words were caught in my throat. What were they going to do with me? “My name is Jennifer. I know what y-you all are…” I paused, but none of them reacted. “…I want to be like you.” I lifted my head and met his gaze.
“That is a very big decision you would be making here, girl. Life-changing, even. Our terms of admission are not so easy, either. We don’t just let anyone into our little group here.”
I noticed a pearly white set of fangs was visible each time he spoke. I knew vampires were real. A mix of excitement and anxiety-driven nerves washed over me. Part of me wanted to take my chances and make a bolt for the front door, but the other half of me remained confident and in command. “I’ll take on any kind of challenge you throw at me.” I thought back to my life at home, where I was closed off from both parents and pushed around by the girls at school without a second glance. “Believe me… I need this.”
“Girl has fire in her, I like that. I say give her a chance, Darius.” A woman’s voice emitted from across the room, and I turned to see a small blonde girl was now also standing. She shared the same pale complexion but her eyes were different from the others. They were a gold colour, so bright they almost illuminated the room.
The previous speaker who I now assumed was Darius clasped his hands together, furrowing his brow. “Very well then. Jennifer, in a few minutes you will be unbound, then required to undertake a trial which will determine whether you are worthy of our kind.”
I nodded, swallowing down the fear that began to creep up within me.
After a couple of minutes of murmured discussion, all but one of the vampires left the room. True to Darius’ word, I was unbound and guided by the remaining figure through a series of long hallways. Shadows cast by the flickering flames danced along the paint-chipped walls, which were beginning to rot and could surely collapse at any given moment. In an eerie way, it was kind of beautiful, I thought.
Seconds later, we arrived at yet another old wooden door; however this one supported a bright yellow sign. A quick scan of the sign and my stomach dropped. Half of the letters had been rubbed off but I managed to make out the three words printed in bold, capital letters: CAUTION – DANGER AHEAD.
Never in all my life had I imagined I’d ever be doing something like this. I sat on a wooden plank, supported by two frail looking beams, my feet dangling above a barrel full of mildly-venomous snakes. Yes, snakes.
Darius spoke. “Now don’t worry, if you’re bitten, you should only remain unconscious for a maximum of 16 hours. However, you will automatically fail the trial and can forget about proving yourself to us any further.”
My throat tightened. The deal was to last at least five whole minutes in the pit-without being bitten.
I felt my heart thud heavily in my chest. These snakes were attracted to fear, and I wouldn’t allow them to taste mine. Darius began tugging on the pulley, slowly lowering me down into the pit. From the corner of my eye I noticed the blonde girl from earlier had returned, a large smirk plastered across her tiny face. I flinched as my toes scraped the bottom of the barrel, sending consecutive shivers down my spine. I allowed the rest of my body to collapse down into the hissing pile of scaled creatures. I felt the smooth skin of a python begin to wrap itself around my ankle, but didn’t dare to open my eyes. I had to remain calm to ensure I made it through this. The snake’s grip on my ankle continued to grow tighter and I felt a rise in fear. Out of nowhere a sharp pain to my left hip forced my eyes open, inducing even more panic to my already-increasing heart rate. I looked down expecting to pass out at any second and sighed in relief. The source of pain was a large splinter peeling from the barrel, which must have pierced my side as I squirmed in apprehension.
“You have one minute and thirty seconds, keep it up!” A new voice rang out from nearby, but I was too focused to seek out my supporter.
A bright yellow gleaming set of eyes met mine as a deep emerald reptile slithered its way up my neck and around my shoulders. Keep it together Jen, you’re almost there. I squeezed my eyes shut once more and steadied my breathing, managing to hold it together for the last ninety seconds. Then I was suddenly being pulled back up and out of the pit, skin still prickling with both fear and anticipation.
Darius stepped forward. “You made it, congratulations. You showed real skill and control of fear, which is of utmost important to our kind. We will now gift you with your own enchanted token, which will officially identify you as one of us.”
All seven of the vampires now stepped forward to join Darius and in turn, each pulled out from beneath their robes a silver necklace. Each member had a different token.
The blonde girl spoke. Around her neck dangled what looked like a bullet of some kind. “We feel you are very unique, Jennifer. You hold a burning passion and determination none of us have seen before. Your willingness to take action and follow your dreams is truly inspiring. You remind me of myself and I feel we have some sort of connection, so here.” She held out a frail hand and resting in her palm was a silver bullet, identical to hers. “This token is incredibly rare, Jennifer. It holds the power to allow you to change into either vampire or werewolf, all you have to do is turn it thrice, in the palm of your hand and then gently squeeze.”
My mouth hung wide open, the rest of my body frozen in bewilderment. This was better than anything I could have expected, all my dreams had finally transitioned into reality.
And I knew just the right group of girls to test out my new scare-factor on…