Murphy and Potter glanced at each other, then they, too, shot forward. Each grabbed their own chest, shaking violently as if receiving electric shocks from a defibrillator. I shook all over as my heart started to race again. It was a feeling I had forgotten, but welcomed. My heart raced like a trip hammer inside of me. I could hear it in my ears. I could feel the blood surging through me again.
“My heart is racing,” I gasped. “My heart is beating again!”
“Mine too,” Potter said, as if trying to catch his breath.
“It hurts,” Murphy cried.
“You’re probably having a fucking heart attack, you old fart,” Potter said, steadying his friend.
“The pain is going,” Murphy wheezed, straightening up.
“What does this mean?” Potter said, the water now lapping beneath his chin.
“One thing is for sure,” I breathed, “we aren’t dead anymore. It’s like the water has brought us back to life.”
I lifted my arms from beneath the water and studied my hands. The skin covering them was pearly white and just as smooth looking. I had never seen my skin looking so healthy and clear.
“But I thought these were called the Dead Waters...” Potter started but broke off suddenly.
He twisted his head to the right, then quickly to the left. He made a snarling noise in the back of his throat. It echoed back off the surrounding trees like thunder. Potter’s face started to change. His nose turned up, his ears stretched into points on either side of his face. Black hair bristled from every part of his body as he started to thrash about in the water. His wings sprung from his back, sending up waves of bright red water. It was then I remembered seeing such a creature before. I had seen Luke look like this once, as he sat hidden away in the forbidden wing. I was seeing Potter as his true self – in his true Vampyrus form. With his body covered in gleaming black fur, and his face contorted beyond recognition, Potter truly did look like a vampire bat. He rolled back his head, his wings beating rapidly, spraying water across the lake, where it fell from the sky like rain. Then he was gone, soaring high up into the night sky. I looked at Murphy, and just like Potter had, he began to change into his true Vampyrus form. Clawing at the air with his fists, I watched his hands stretch out of shape. His spine made a popping sound as his wings shot from his back. He twisted and turned in the water as his body oozed lengths of silver hair from beneath his skin. Just like Luke hadn’t scared me, neither did Potter and Murphy.
In a perverse kind of way, they looked beautiful – like no other creature seen before. It was like the Dead Waters had truly brought them back to life again.
Then as Murphy blasted up into the night, I started to change, too. Just like I had back in the cramped bathroom in the caravan, I changed into my true form. As I wasn’t a true Vampyrus, I was spared the bristling hair and the whole pointy ears thing. But there was something different now. It was like the Dead Waters were fully drawing the true me to the surface. It was bringing both sides out – the Vampyrus and the Lycanthrope. Jack had said I’d always had keen sight because of the wolf that had been hiding inside of me. Now just as the waters were red, so was my sight. The whole world appeared to seethe around me. It looked as if it were on fire. I could see the slightest movement in the trees, each leaf moving in slow motion. I looked back towards the shore and could see individual grains of sand, each one as clear as a shiny new pearl. I looked up at the stars, and each one of them seemed to shoot across the night sky like a blazing meteorite.
I’d never seen the world in such clarity before. It didn’t matter in which direction I looked, my eyes would zoom in – focus on the smallest of details. I saw a bird darting from the treeline. As I watched it soar just inches above the surface of the lake, the bird seemed to slow down so I could absorb every detail. I could see each individual feather ruffled by the breeze. I looked away, then blinked.
The redness had gone. The world no longer looked as if it were on fire. My eyesight, as keen as ever, no longer showed the detail I had seen just moments before. Would it return? I didn’t know.
I looked up to see Potter and Murphy swoop out of the sky, heading back towards the lake. They dive-bombed beneath the surface and disappeared from view. I stood in the water, the sudden waves created by my friends’ impact breaking over me. I rubbed the water from my eyes to see Potter and Murphy reappear from beneath the water. Both looked like my old friends again.
“What happened?” Potter choked, spluttering water from his throat.
“I dunno,” Murphy coughed.
“I think the water has made us whole again,” I breathed. “I think it brought out what we truly are. I think it has cured us of our hunger for the red stuff and restored our skin.”
“And what about them?” Potter said.
“Who’s them?” Murphy asked.
“Them!” Potter breathed, pointing back towards the shore.
Together, Murphy and I looked in the direction Potter was pointing.
“I knew it,” Murphy whispered to himself.
“I knew it.”
“Knew what?” I breathed, looking at the statues which had gathered on the shore.“I knew they were following us,” Murphy said, heading back across the lake towards them.
Potter threw my shirt at me from the shore. I snatched it out of the air. With it trailing in the water, I put it on. With one eye on the statues that had suddenly gathered along the shoreline, I pulled on the rest of my clothes and boots. They stood, grey and lifeless, their heads and hands tilted up towards the night sky. All of them were young – no older than sixteen or seventeen years in age. I counted eight in all. Potter glanced at me as he pulled on his coat, then back at Murphy, who was passing amongst the statues. Buttoning up his shirt, Murphy stopped before one of them. With his nose just inches from it, he stared into the statue’s upturned face. Taking a deep breath, I made my way along the shore to where Murphy stood, seemingly transfixed by the statue. Then, so quick that if I’d blinked I would have missed it, the statue suddenly moved. It lowered its face and held out its hand. Swinging from the statue’s fist was Murphy’s crucifix. Covering my open mouth with my hands, I realised this was the statue of the girl I had seen moving about the grounds of Hallowed Manor. Just like before, her face was a network of ancient-looking cracks and fractures.
Her eyes were two white spheres.
With my newfound heart starting to race in my chest, I stopped just inches from Murphy and the statue of the young girl. Potter joined me.
“Meren?” Murphy whispered, screwing up his eyes and inspecting the statue, who now looked blankly back at him. “Is it really you?”
Slowly, he reached out and took the crucifix from the statue’s cracked hand. He looked in awe at it, then back at the statue.
“Sarge?” Potter whispered. “Is that Meren? Is that your daughter?”
“Help me,” Murphy barked, taking hold of the stone girl before him. “Help me get her into the Dead Waters.”
Potter went to the statue, placed his arms around the back of her and heaved. “Fuck, she’s a heavy girl,” he wheezed.
Murphy shot him a look.
“Sorry,” Potter muttered and doubled his efforts.
“Let me help,” I said, wrapping my arms around the statue’s legs.
“On three,” Murphy grunted, bending his legs at the knees. “One...two...three... lift!”
Together we heaved the statue off the sandy shore and struggled with her towards the water. With the red waves lapping about our boots like blood, we dropped the statue into the water. A wave splashed up high above our heads. The statue rolled over, then disappeared beneath the water. I stepped back onto the shore, as Murphy stood knee-deep in the water.
“Did she sink?” Potter whispered from beside me.
“Shhh,” I hushed back, unable to take my eyes from the water where the statue had disappeared.
Suddenly, a flurry of red bubbles appeared on the surface of the water. Murphy staggered backwards. The water continued to bubble like a saucepan of boiling hot water on a stove. Without warning, something broke through the surface and shot at speed up into the night sky. At once, the three of us snapped our heads back to see what had suddenly appeared from beneath the Dead Waters. High up in the sky I could see something dark corkscrew at speed through the bright moonlight. At first it looked like an arrow, but as I peered up through the night, I saw two black wings unfurl on either side of it. Red water sprayed from them, raining down on us like tears.
The water splashed our upturned faces, as the figure swept about.
“Meren?” Murphy breathed out loud.
I looked up again and as the figure swept out of the sky, I could now clearly see it was indeed a young girl. She fluttered left, then right, swooped and soared. To watch her reminded me of the time I had secretly watched Kayla in the grounds of Hallowed Manner as she had taught herself how to fly. Although this young girl was the same age as Kayla – sixteen or seventeen – her hair was blue, not red like my friend’s.
She swept gracefully out of the sky, her wings beating softly like that of a giant butterfly.
The black surface of her wings twinkled in the moonlight as if encrusted with a million diamonds.
Gently, she landed on the shore, white sand seeping between her toes.
“Meren?” Murphy croaked. I glanced at him to see tears glistening on each cheek. “Is it really you?”
“Dad,” Meren smiled at him. And when she smiled, her whole face seemed to blossom.
Her bright hazel eyes blazed a fiery orange.
Unable to hold back any longer, she raced across the shore towards her father, white dress whispering around her calves. Her dark blue hair flew out behind her like streaks of lightning. She was truly beautiful.
Murphy closed the gap between them in three giant strides, snatching her up in his arms and spinning her around and around, her feet lifting off the shore. Meren’s wings made a humming sound over the noise of Murphy sobbing.