I AVOIDED STEVE THAT EVENING AND rushed straight home. I was confused. Why had I attacked Alan? I didn't want to drink anybody's blood. I hadn't been looking for a victim. So how come I'd jumped on him like a wild animal? And what if it happened again? And what if next time there was nobody around to stop me and I went on sucking until...

No, that was a crazy thought. The sight of blood had taken me by surprise, that was all. I hadn't been expecting it. I would learn from this experience and next time I'd be able to hold myself back.

The taste of blood was still in my mouth, so I went to the bathroom and washed it out with several glasses of water, then brushed my teeth.

I studied myself in the mirror. My face looked the same as ever. My teeth weren't any longer or sharper.

My eyes and ears were the same. I had the same old body. No extra muscles, no added height, no fresh patches of hair. The only visible difference was in my nails, which had hardened and darkened.

So why was I acting so strangely?

I drew one of my nails along the glass of the mirror and it made a long deep scratch. "I'll have to be careful of those," I thought to myself.

My attack on Alan aside, I didn't appear to be too badly off. In fact, the more I thought about it, the less dreadful it seemed. Okay, it would take a long time to grow up, and I'd have to be careful if I saw fresh blood. Those were downers.

But apart from that, life should be fine. I was stronger than anybody else my age, faster and fitter. I could become a sprinter or a boxer or a soccer player. My age would work against me but if I was talented enough, that wouldn't matter.

Imagine: a vampire soccer player! I'd make millions. I'd be on TV talk shows, people would write books about me, a film would be made of my life, and I might be asked to make a song with a famous band. Maybe I could get work in the movie business as a stuntman for other kids. Or...

My thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Who is it? "I asked.

"Annie," came the reply. "Are you finished yet? I've been waiting forever to use the bathroom."

"Come in," I told her. "I'm done."

She entered. "Admiring yourself in the mirror again?" she asked.

"Of course." I grinned. "Why shouldn't I?"

"If I had a face like yours, I'd stay away from mirrors." She giggled. She had a towel wrapped around her. She turned on the bath faucets and ran a hand under the water to make sure it wasn't too hot. Then she sat on the edge of the tub and studied me.

"You look strange," she said.

"I don't," I said. Then, looking in the mirror, I asked: "Do I?"

"Yeah," she said. "I don't know what it is, but there's something different about you."

"You're just imagining things," I told her. "I'm the same as I always was."

"No," she said, shaking her head. "You're definitely..." The tub began filling up, so she stopped speaking and turned aside to turn off the faucets. As she was bending over, my eyes focused on the curve of her neck, and suddenly my mouth went dry.

"As I was saying, you look..." she began, turning back around.

She stopped when she saw my eyes.

"Darren?" she asked nervously. "Darren, what are..."

I raised my right hand and she went quiet. Her eyes widened and she stared silently at my fingers as I waved them slowly from side to side, then around in small circles. I wasn't sure how I was doing it, but I was hypnotizing her!

"Come here," I growled, my voice deeper than normal. Annie rose and obeyed. She moved as if sleepwalking, eyes blank, arms and legs stiff.

When she stopped before me, I traced the outline of her neck with my fingers. I was breathing heavily and seeing her as though through a misty cloud. My tongue slowly licked around my lips and my belly rumbled. The bathroom felt as hot as a furnace, and I could see beads of sweat rolling down Annie's face.

I walked around the back of her, my hands never leaving her flesh. I could feel the veins throbbing as I stroked them, and when I pressed down on one near the bottom of her neck, I could see it standing out, blue and beautiful, begging to be ripped open and sucked dry.

I bared my teeth and leaned forward, jaws wide open.

At the last moment, as my lips touched her neck, I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror, and thankfully that was enough to make me pause.

The face in the mirror was a twisted, unfamiliar mask, full of red eyes, sharp wrinkles, and a vicious grin. I lifted my head for a closer look. It was me but at the same time it wasn't. It was like there were two people sharing one body, a normal human boy and a savage animal of the night.

As I stared, the ugly face faded and the urge to drink blood passed. I gazed at Annie, horrified. I'd been about to bite her! I would have fed on my own sister!

I fell away from her with a cry and covered my face with my hands, afraid of the mirror and what I might see. Annie staggered backward, then looked around the bathroom in a dazed kind of way.

"What's going on?" she asked. "I feel weird. I came in for a bath, didn't I? Is it ready?"

"Yes," I said softly. "It's ready."

I was ready, too. Ready to become a vampire!

"I'll leave you alone," I said, and let myself out.

I fell against the wall in the hall, where I spent a couple of minutes taking deep breaths and trying to calm down.

It couldn't be controlled. The thirst for blood was something I wouldn't be able to beat. I didn't even have to see spilled blood now. Just thinking of it had been enough to bring out the monster in me.

I stumbled to my room and collapsed upon my bed. I cried as I lay there, because I knew my life as a human had come to an end. I could no longer live as plain old Darren Shan. The vampire in me could not be controlled. Sooner or later it would make me do something terrible and I would end up killing Mom or Dad or Annie.

I couldn't let that happen. I wouldn't. My life was no longer important, but those of my friends and family were. For their sakes, I would have to travel far away, to a place where I could do no harm.

I waited for dark to fall, then let myself out. No hanging around this time until my parents fell asleep. I didn't dare, because I knew one of them would come to my room before going to bed. I could picture it, Mom bending over to kiss me goodnight, getting the shock of her life as I bit into her neck.

I didn't leave a note or take anything with me. I wasn't able to think about such things. All I knew was, I had to get out, the sooner the better. Anything that delayed my exit was bad.

I walked quickly and was soon at the theater. It no longer looked scary. I was used to it. Besides, vampires have nothing to fear from dark, haunted buildings.

Mr. Crepsley was waiting for me inside the front door.

"I heard you coming," he said. "You lasted longer in the world of humans than I thought."

"I sucked blood from one of my best friends," I told him. "And I almost bit my younger sister."

"You escaped lightly," he said. "Many vampires kill someone close to them before realizing they are doomed."

"There's no way back, is there?" I asked sadly. "No magic potion to make me human again or keep me from attacking people?"

"The only thing that can stop you now," he said, "is the good old stake through the heart."

"Very well," I sighed. "I don't like it, but I guess I've got no other choice. I'm yours. I won't run away again. Do with me as you wish."

He nodded slowly. "You probably will not believe this," he said, "but I know what you are going through and I feel sorry for you." He shook his head. "But that is neither here nor there. We have work to do and cannot afford to waste time. Come, Darren Shan," he said, taking my hand. "We have much to do before you can assume your rightful place as my assistant."

"Like what?" I asked, confused.

"First of all," he said, with a sly smile, "we have to kill you!"

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