Rowan sat on the knoll, impatiently dreading the sun’s slow rise above the horizon, counting down the last few hours of a life that had gone on for a century too long already.  This would be his first and last sunrise, and he intended to savor every moment of his immolation.

The occasional car whisked by on the road below him, their hum blending in with the sounds of the dawn even though their headlights cut bright swaths through the darkness.  He ignored them, focusing on the subtle pleasures of nature.

The damp grass tickled his palms as he leaned back, enjoying the faint, cool breeze carrying the scent of earth and the chirp of insects that flitted across the graying sky.  He’d learned to appreciate nature again since he’d isolated himself from the jangling noise of modern life.

The ever-present hunger gnawed at his belly, consuming him from the inside out.  But his body had weakened to the point where he no longer had the strength to hunt for food, even if he wanted to end his self-imposed starvation.  But the hunger strike was taking too long, and he was eager to bring an end to his interminable existence.

An unexpected noise broke through the quiet, a rowdy chaos of voices that jerked him from his reverie.  His eyes flicked to the road below where a car weaved across the lanes.  The driver and passengers hung out the windows, laughing and hollering.  Rowan looked away, uninterested in their youthful recklessness, or maybe just jealous.  He couldn’t remember the last time he felt that carefree.

He wasn’t looking when the other car came around the curve and collided with the first car.  But he whipped his gaze back to the road when he heard the ripping, squealing shriek of the crash.  The cars were twisted in a tangled accordion of metal that hissed and pinged, but the voices had gone silent.  The cars’ headlights illuminated the grisly scene.

Rowan stood up and stumbled down the dew-slick hill on shaky legs.  Just because he wanted to die didn’t mean he thought life was worthless.  Maybe he could save someone as his parting gift to the world.

A body dangled from the passenger window of the first car.  The teen’s head and arms hung limply, not moving, and blood dripped down his arm.  Rowan swallowed back the saliva that pooled in his mouth at the sight of the bright red trail and the sharp, metallic scent.  He put a hand to the boy’s neck but couldn’t find a pulse.

A glimpse through the space above the boy’s body revealed the lifeless driver, thrown over the steering wheel.  His head was lodged in the windshield, surrounded by a spiderweb of shattered glass.  Blood seeped around the edges and pooled on the dash.

There were no other visible passengers, so Rowan hurried towards the second car, looking for signs of life.  A woman sat in the driver’s seat, head lolling against the headrest, her body held in place by the crumpled metal of the mangled car.  He held a hand to her face, but no breath passed from her nose or lips.  He didn’t see anyone else in the vehicle, but he went around to the other side of the car, just in case.

A teenage girl lay on the grass at the edge of the road, her body twisted in an unnatural position and her deep brown eyes staring blankly, like a marionette with broken strings.  She had long, dark hair splayed out around her soft face and small, delicate features that instantly reminded him of Anna even though there was only a slight resemblance.  His heart lodged itself in his throat, blocking off his airway as he stared at her.  He’d never had this moment with Anna.  This last chance to soak in the memory of her and say his goodbyes.  When he’d found her, there was nothing left but a pile of ash.

He dropped to his knees and reached to cradle the girl’s head in his hands.  That was when he noticed the burgundy pool of blood seeping from the back of her head.  He sucked in a gasping sob, and the scent streaked through his nasal passages and flared in his mouth before igniting his lungs.

Memories of feeding from his mate seared through his mind — the salty taste of her skin against his lips, the warm, heady glut of her blood as it filled his mouth, the intoxicating scent of the coppery liquid.

His hunger roared to life like a wild animal had been birthed inside his body.  He reared back, and his body writhed as it stretched at his muscles, fighting to get out.  A howl tore from his throat, piercing the morbid silence.

All rational thought clouded over as the desire to feed took over him.  All thoughts of death or life disappeared.  All that remained was his deprived body’s need for sustenance.

If he’d been able to think, he still might have rationalized one last drink to satisfy his hunger before letting the sun seal his fate.  The victim was dead, the majority of her blood already spilled on the ground.  What harm was there in taking what was left?

But as it was, his mind ceded control to his impulses, and there was no space left for conscious thought.  His instincts took over, forcing his mouth to her neck.  He plunged his fangs into her flesh, severing the artery that ran down the graceful column.  Her heart no longer pumped, but his lips suctioned the blood from her veins, pulling the liquid from deep within her body.

Deprived for so long, his brain silenced completely as it soaked in the life-giving bath of nutrients.  They blocked out all other sensation, like floating in a sensory deprivation chamber filled with hot, thick blood instead of water.  He was deaf, blind, his whole body paralyzed except for his lips, which moved in an instinctive rhythm.

That was the only explanation he had for why he didn’t notice the red and blue lights that flashed across the pavement or the siren that cut through the silence with a plaintive wail, or the boots that pounded against the road as the men ran towards him.

A loud voice barked, “What the hell are you doing?”

Then a hand yanked at his hair, lifting his head from her neck, and his eyes squinted as a bright, white light shone in his face, dancing over the blood he could feel smeared across his lips.  “He’s drinking her blood!”

Rowan woke from his delirium with a jolt, suddenly thrust back to reality.  He hissed, exposing his fangs, and his body tensed like a spring, poised to launch himself into the night with the superhuman speed that inspired stories about his kind turning into winged creatures.  But before his sluggish body could react, his arms were twisted behind his back, and cold metal clasped around his wrists.

He immediately tugged at the restraints, but the small amount of blood he’d ingested hadn’t been enough to reverse the effects of weeks of deprivation.  It would take several more feedings to regain his strength.

“What the hell kind of freak are you?”  The man grabbed his arm and lifted him to his feet, reciting his rights as he dragged him towards the police car.

The policeman opened the door and shoved him into the back seat then slammed the door shut and stalked away, barking into the radio on his shoulder.  Rowan pulled himself upright and watched out the window as the police officers examined the bodies he already knew were beyond help.

Tugging more at the handcuffs, he shifted around till his feet were pressed against the door.  He kicked as hard as he could, but the door didn’t budge.  In his weakened state, he was no stronger than a human.

More sirens pierced the air as emergency vehicles arrived.  Police officers, firemen, and EMTs swarmed the scene, assessing the victims and the vehicles. Rowan plotted an escape plan.  But at the rate they were going, the sun would turn him to ash in the back of this vehicle before they had a chance to take him to the station.

Rowan turned his attention away from the accident scene and focused on the sky as the first soft rays of light brightened the horizon, turning it into a pastel rainbow of colors.  He’d witnessed a few sunrises before, back before the sun became his enemy.  But this one was the most beautiful he’d ever seen.  With the invention of the internet, he’d watched countless videos, but they didn’t come close to experiencing it in person.  It made him wish he could stay alive long enough to see the full show.  How long could he watch before it set his body on fire?  He already felt its warmth on his skin through the clear glass of the cruiser windows.

A flare of light blinded him as a tiny, orange sliver peeked over the horizon.  The sky brightened, glowing red and gold.  Rowan’s skin started to redden and sting.  As the globe slid higher, the sky flamed, and Rowan felt his flesh begin to singe.  The pain was glorious and terrifying at the same time.

He’d lived for hundreds of years, experienced every facet of life till it no longer held any joy or wonder.  The only mystery that remained was death.

What came after this?  Was there an afterlife for his kind?  Did he have a soul that would live on after his body disintegrated?  Would he find Anna on the other side?  He contemplated the universal questions as his skin blistered and his blood began to boil in his veins.

When the passenger door swung open with a squeak, wisps of smoke were curling from his blackened body, and the air reeked of burning flesh.  The police officer gaped at him.  “Holy hell, he’s on fire!”

Suddenly, the back door opened, and a fireman appeared.  He reacted quickly, tossed a heavy, tan jacket with reflective yellow stripes over Rowan, dousing the flames more effectively than a bucket of water.

Rowan huddled under the coat, shaking, clinging to life.  Even though the bulky material held in the heat radiating from his body, his skin stayed cool and began to mend.

“He must have a sun allergy.  We need to take him to the hospital.”

A few moments later, they wheeled a stretcher up to the police car and lifted Rowan from the back seat then transferred him into the ambulance.

Once the doors were shut, someone started to pull the coat away.

“No!  The windows.  He’ll burn.” The medic laid the coat back over him.

“We’ll get you to the hospital soon so they can treat those burns.”

The EMTs wheeled him into the hospital, and frantic voices echoed around him as they explained what had happened and described the horrific burns that covered every inch of exposed skin.  A hand reached out and slowly peeled back the coat.


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