It’s rare to find human blood this deep in the Pine Barrens. Animal blood is common enough in this primeval forest. Creatures often tear one another apart, feasting on still twitching remains. It’s a brutal and dangerous life for the unwary, and so a little scattered in the rotting bed of pine needles isn’t unusual. If you move faster than the scavengers, you’re likely to stumble across a blood trail sooner or later.
But much of this forest and murky swamps are virginal — inaccessible to any but beasts and insects with the will to kill and survive. Yet, splattered there plain to anyone with keen sense are a few drops of humanity on ragged leaves and pine needles. Three tiny splashes, nearly lost in brambles and the browns and blacks of the Pine Barrens’ floor. Even in the dark, I see the edges of each bloom of blood and how those drops have spread like a flower.
I love the scent, and I take a long, slow breath. I do not need human blood to survive. I got over that myth years ago when I learned that any animal will provide me with what I need. Two legs. Four legs. It makes no difference. It is the blood – so long as it is red and rich – that sustains me. I have lived in forests for most of my new life as a vampire, taking the lives of creatures and living safely in solitude.
It is only the taste of the blood that differs, like the difference between a hamburger and steak. Both give me what I need, though one is admittedly more desirable. Yet, I am not above taking the solitary hunter in the forest. Careful in my bloodlust not to arouse suspicion, I take those humans who poach what would be my meal.
Now that taste for humanity beckons; it’s the blood that calls me.
I have no fear in the Pine Barrens. There are no hunters of my kind. Just me and the occasional unwary human. I take them if I feel safe in the knowledge that they’ll not be missed before I make my way to another forest.
I look toward the moon to make sure I’ve enough time to follow the blood trail. The moon is low in the sky — still time enough for me to follow my interests for one evening.
Only a predator made for the hunt could have found these drops of blood. One must have a taste for blood to pick just three drops from the myriad of delicious sensations aromas that hung in the air.
A werewolf, its nose to the ground, already tracking prey, snuffling along like the animal it is might have found those drops. But few other were-animals would even have bothered to slow down at such a tiny spoor. Wolverines, single-minded creatures, would have snuffled and moved on. Rats, certainly, would investigate. But most weres are too lazy to pick up and follow such a small trail.
Weres don’t have the patience to really track a victim. Too easily distracted by the abundance of more accessible prey, they screech, whirling in different directions until they stumble across a creature too slow and stupid to outrun them. It doesn’t matter whether a were is in the middle of the forest or a city. A were can run all day and into the following night: It doesn’t slow down long enough to think about what it’s doing. Just run and run until it catches something.
A vampire, understands understands tracking — the single-minded pursuit of one animal, following it from moment to moment, until its heart leaps in syncopation against its rage and fright. I know the sweet taste of stark, rabid fear, adrenaline shouting along, coursing through the brain.
Urging. Demanding. Run — RUN!
To me, finding and tracking is the appetizer before the meal, those delicious moments in which I can I lose myself.
My sense of smell is the sharpest of my senses, but even with that, there is what is plain to the eye: a broken branch; a fourth drop of blood nearly hidden against the side of a rotting log; a wisp of perfume — not the ruddy smell of aftershave — but perfume, delicate, like a puff of smoke.
And something else in the air. Dark, sweaty, an odor that grunts its presence. There are two people here. One is definitely male, the other female.
Two humans. One carries the other, and it is probably the female that is bleeding. Mixed in with the blood on the ground, perfume. Footprints are gone, swallowed in the spongy earth. But the broken branch is enough. With that branch, I can draw a circle and move out from here. And there is the scent of blood. Enough, for now.
It’s not a straight line to the pair’s camp, but wider and wider circles, and I know I will find another blood bloom. Even if one human carries the other, the latter still bleeds.
Not deer tonight.
Tonight, human fear and blood. I smile and run my tongue over my fangs.