chapter 1

“Turn me,” Jenny demanded, looking up at me, her eyes so intense they could have bored me into the brick wall behind me. “Turn me into a vampire.”

Her neck was milky white, like a blank canvas or first-day-of-school looseleaf. The few freckles near her collarbone jumped out at me like targets. Sink your teeth in, they called. Right here. One vein in particular bulged, full to bursting. The jugular. Two years ago I’d been taught about the jugular vein, how it was the largest vein in the body, holding the most blood. My biology teacher hadn’t predicted that the knowledge would grow dangerous in my hands. But it had in the past few months.

I had to admit—the opportunity was perfect. Jenny was a really little person, an entire foot shorter than me, ninety-eight pounds tops. She was not only a weak and easy victim, she was also a willing one.

The setting, too, was tailor-made, the stuff of low-budget horror movies and Mary Shelley novels. Jenny and I were in a dark alley. At her feet were dead leaves, litter, and a mangled pigeon. Aside from a brief flicker of light from three floors up, nothing and no one interrupted us. There were no witnesses.

But I was really, really wishing someone would come along. Lost tourists with Southern accents, pickpockets, whoever. I prayed for someone to interrupt us. I felt insane for having started this whole thing. This whole lie.

I’ve reached several points in my life at which, no matter what I did, I couldn’t win. Here I was again. So, hoping for inspiration, praying for a miracle, I bared my teeth, tilted my head, and nose-dived for her neck…

Wait, hold on. I must be telling this the wrong way. That whole thing made me sound like one of those bad vampires, one of those horror-movie vampires who goes around sniffing out victims, isolating them, and draining them of their blood, turning them into vampires against their will. In reality, in that alleyway I was just as scared as Jenny was—even more unsure. I was actually hopeful that someone would wander in—a cop, a homeless man, a superhero. I was so unsure in that moment because I’d never turned anyone into a vampire before.

Actually, that’s not true. I was the one who turned me into a vampire.

* * *

And, actually, I became a vampire under pretty normal circumstances. Not normal like the back-alley bared-neck incident, and not normal like the circumstances in fantasy books or horror films. My wrists weren’t bound by bloody chains. I wasn’t in a basement with the crosses and the windows covered. No one hovered dangerously by my bared throat. No thirsty fangs were at the ready. There were no splintered coffins, no Transylvanian castle, no rabid bats. No one wore a cape. Definitely not me.

I became a vampire in the third car of a train in Westchester County, New York. I was a Catholic schoolboy from the Midwest who was raised on Kool-Aid and overdue library books. And turning myself into a vampire like I did was normal for me, seeing as I’d taught myself how to tie a double Windsor knot, taught myself the lyrics to Tupac Shakur’s “Changes” in Latin, and taught myself that if I wore a double Windsor knot or recited the Latin lyrics to Tupac Shakur’s “Changes” in public, I would get beat up. Okay, those last two may have been taught to me by others, against my will. But becoming a vampire—I chose that.

Characters in books and movies rarely become vampires by choice. They’re usually pinned against a coffin or a castle wall and sucked dry while they writhe in agonizing protest. Becoming a vampire hurts. Or, in my case, is a pain in the ass. To “turn” voluntarily, you’d have to be on the verge of death, or so sick of the pathetic human being you are that you’d throw away your mortality for any kind of change. Looking back, I had definitely reached this brink, this point of desperation and self-disappointment. And now I’m trying to remember how I got there.

Maybe it started with the move to New York.

I grew up in Alexandria, Indiana. Well, I shouldn’t say “grew up.” I lived there until I was sixteen, after which I was hopefully still growing. I was already six-foot-one, but in terms of facial hair, I’m behind the curve, so perhaps I hadn’t reached maturity. Anyway, Alexandria, Indiana. Its claim to fame is being home to the World’s Largest