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I saw the cash and I took it. A different man might not have, I know that, and from time to time, I think back on the hour when I took the cash. You see, I was hungry. Isn’t it ironic. I don’t remember much else about that night except the cash and the hunger. I don’t remember the name of the tavern, or even the village, but I remember it was somewhere in southern Ireland. I can’t really be certain.
For some time I sat dumbly in my chair, my mind occupied by nothing but the pain in my stomach. If you’ve never been truly hungry from days of no food, you can’t know what it’s like. You can’t concentrate on anything. It wasn’t until a figure to my left got up from the table to get a drink and left a stack of bills behind that I snapped to awareness. From this moment on, my memory is crystalline.
My eyes to the money lying on the table, my eyes to the stranger’s back; walking calmly toward the barmaid. My hand to the cash, then quickly receding to my pocket. I’m up from the table, and out the door. For just a moment I looked back, and the stranger had turned to look my way. He wore a dark hood, but I could feel his eyes meet with mine. I swear I could sense a smile.
Out into the street and behind some barrels I crouched down, waiting for my pursuer. One benefit of a lifetime running from police, I know how to disappear. For nearly an hour, I waited there, suffering even worse from hunger. It felt like there was a wild beast tearing at my stomach wall. You see, I was awake, now that I had the means to buy myself a feast. This knowledge tortured me. When I finally got to my feet, I nearly fainted on the spot like a startled goat. I had only enough energy to walk to the other edge of the village to a run-down tavern before collapsing at a table. I think I must have fallen unconscious for a moment before hearing the barmaid’s small, yet angelic voice.
“Can I get you something to eat, sir?”
I gorged myself on succulent roasts, warm and moist pies, and huge frothing mugs of ale. As the fog of near fatal starvation began to lift, I looked up from my plate to see a gold-masked stranger looking at me from across the room, his visor glowing by the blinding light of the moon through the window. He wore a black leather trench coat and was a different size and physique from the man I had burgled, but I could tell he knew. I paid for my meal quickly and left.
I skirted the edge of the village, through a tiled central courtyard surrounded by cottages. There was not a light shining from any window or door. No one was on the streets. I could find no place to hide, so I took the road out of town, heading for the wilderness. Hunger had pushed me on in the days before, but now what I imagined to be the whip of guilt. Or perhaps even then, it was fear. I fell twice skinning my unprotected shins on the lightless, cobblestone path. I then ran a bit, unused to the texture on my bare feet. The sounds of animal life, which I had numbed to, were suddenly very loud in my ears. There was something else though, something out there in the dark night, something chasing me.
On the side of the road, there was a low wall, and I scrambled over it and hid. I knew well enough about concealment to pick a spot where the bulwark sunk slightly, so even if someone saw the outline of my figure, he would assume it was part of the wall. It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of running footsteps from more than one person pass me by and then stop. There was a moment of whispered conversation, and one of the people ran back on the path towards the village. Then silence.
After a few more minutes, I was brave enough to peer out from behind the wall. A female figure with a dun gown, wimple, and veil stood in the road. On the other end of the road, blocking the way back to town was a man in an old dark suit. Like the kind they wore in the Victorian era. I could see neither of their faces, but both heads turned my way. For a moment, I froze, unsure whether one or both had seen me.
“Run.” the woman said in a cold and dead voice.
The hill behind me was too steep, so I leapt over wall and across the road in two bounds. I ran into an ink black forest, the maddening crinkle of the leftover crisp Euro bills in my pocket. I knew I was making so much noise my pursuers couldn’t help but hear me, however now I cared more for putting distance between us than in stealth. Clouds made the moon dimmer, but I knew it was still too bright to hide, even with the trees cover. I ran and ran until I felt all my blood pumping in my head and heart, begging me to stop. I was at the edge of the wood, on the other side of a shallow stream from a vast, crumbling house encircled by a metal rail fence; behind me running footfall in the cold dusty earth. To the south, downstream, a distinct sodden splashing of someone moving nearer.
There was no choice. I half jumped and half fell into the mud and dragged myself up the bank on the other side. I rolled under the fence and ran through the open field towards the house. Jerking my head around, I saw seven shadowy figures by the fence posts. The hooded man I had robbed, the man in the gold mask, the veiled woman, and the dark suited man. The others who had pursued me I had never seen. To think I thought I was the stealthy one.
The moon was now entirely hidden by a mass of clouds, hungrier for its light then I’ve ever been for food. Only a few stars offered their meager illumination as I reached the open door to the ruined house. I slammed and bolted the door behind me, but I knew it could be no protection for very long. As I looked around inside the ravaged house, I looked for somewhere to hide; a corner, a niche where if I stayed still, no one would see me. A splintered table lying against the wall looked perfect for my purposes. I crawled under it, and jumped, and almost nearly blew my cover with a yelp, when something moved and I heard a frightened old man’s voice.
“It’s all right,” I whispered. “I’m not one of them.”
“Really? Well, then they did their job well.”
His puckered, gnarled hand reached from the shadows and gripped my arm. Instantly, I felt sleep fall upon me, no matter how hard I resisted it. The old man’s horrible face, the face of the hungry dead, emerged as the moon came out and shone through the broken window. His talon like fingers still gripping, I fell back, smelling his death surround me. The table was thrown back; there stood the seven hunters and a dozen more. No, they weren’t hunters, they were herders. They had chased me out of every hiding spot, expertly pushing me to the lair of the real predator. I could assume he was weak with age, and not as good at the hunt as he used to be; a blunt killing machine.
“Please,” I said. It was all I could muster.
Having enjoyed the chase I’d given, he granted me mercy, of sorts. I was not bled dry, nor was I cursed by being made into one of them; a vampire. I was kept with others, most of us insane with fear, to be aged and tasted at the blood-sucker’s whim. They call us all cattle; I’ve been in this cellar for so long I’ve begun to respond to that name, seeing as I no longer can remember my own. I lost all hope of leaving this cellar months ago. Even if this note finds its way to the outside world, I cannot give enough information about my whereabouts to be rescued, even if some champion were to kill the clan of vampires. I only write this to keep my own sanity, and to warn others.
There’s something worse than being hungry.