Though it had rained steadily all day and it was cool for July, the turnout for the first day of the history symposium was better than expected. All of the esteemed professors from the Greystones universities made an appearance, and even a few professors with only a slight interest in the subject came. A number of scholars were in from out of town, some from as far away as the west coast. There were no less than twelve philanthropists in attendance, and every professor with a project vied for their attention.
Maureen Willison had just finished speaking with one of these philanthropists and was considering taking her leave for the evening when someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to find an older gentleman, his jet black hair sporting streaks of grey.
He offered her a hand. 'Good evening, Miss Willison. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Darius Khalid. I'm one of the curators at the museum here.'
'A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Khalid,' the young woman replied, shaking his hand. It was surprisingly cool to the touch. 'I would do the same, but it seems you already know my name.'
'Please, call me Darius. I attended your lecture on the herb lore of the Ancient Egyptians earlier this evening. I wanted to congratulate you on your presentation at such a prestigious gathering. I understand this is your first?'
Maureen smiled proudly. 'It is.'
'It was very well put together, and your research appears very thorough. How long have you been working on the subject?'
She informed Darius that her interest for ancient plants had turned into a love for how they were used historically during a study abroad in Egypt. The pair of scholars fell into an easy conversation, and Maureen lost track of time. Before she knew it, it was nearly midnight.
'As wonderful as this conversation has been, Mr. Khalid, I'm afraid I must excuse myself for the evening.'
'Darius,' he told her again, smiling. 'And I have gone on, haven't I? Please, allow me to escort you to your car.'
'Oh, thank you, but that won't be necessary,' Maureen protested. 'I walked here from my apartment. I only live a few blocks away.'
'I insist,' he said, guiding her toward the exit. 'It would be most ungentlemanly of me to let you walk the streets alone so late at night.' They paused near the doors to retrieve their umbrellas, then he held the door for her as she pulled her raincoat on.
Rain still dripped from the skies, making soft pattering sounds on their umbrellas as they stepped onto the sidewalk. 'So how long have you been living in Greystones for, Maureen?'
'Just since I obtained my master's, so only three years. Do you live nearby? I hope my apartment isn't too far out of your way.'
'Not at all, my dear,' he assured her. 'I live not far from the museum.' His pace slowed almost imperceptibly as he glanced over his shoulder at an alleyway they had just passed.
Maureen could not help but give the darkened opening a look as well. 'Is something wrong?' she asked.
He gave her a winning smile. 'Not a thing. Thought I might have heard something, but I believe it was just rain in the gutters.' The young woman accepted his answer, but noted that her companion seemed to grow more alert and their conversation all but stopped.
They were almost to her home when heavy footsteps and a shout came from behind them. Both whirled to see a man in a hoodie, hiding what Maureen could only assume was a gun in the front pocket. Darius pushed her behind him. 'You had best turn around and go back to whatever hole you crawled out of, boy.' The man's tone had grown cold and steely, a dissonance from conversations earlier in the evening.
'Who da fuck you think you messin' wit' old man? You want me to fuck you up?' The man in the hoodie pulled his handgun from his pocket. 'Gimme yo fuckin' wallet. And yo watch and any other valuable shit. Do it!' He thrust the gun at them.
'I don't think you understood me,' Darius said, taking a step toward the would-be mugger. Maureen stood rooted to the spot as his presence seemed to fill the air. 'I told you to turn around and get lost.'
The other hesitated, as if contemplating obeying. Then he waved the gun and shouted. 'Dude, I ain't fuckin' around, man! Gimme yo shit!'
Darius took another step forward and the other man responded by taking a few quick steps back and pointing his gun at Maureen. 'Stop moving, motherfucker! Stop moving or I'll shoot her. Don't fuck wit' me old man.'
He looked about to ignore the threat, so Maureen reached out to stop him. Without further warning, she heard the blast of a gun and felt a searing pain in her upper chest. She stumbled, gasping for breath, and was only vaguely aware of Darius fighting briefly with the man in the hoodie. Her fingers pressed to her coat front, finding it slick with rain. But that couldn't be, because she'd been using her umbrella. A cough caused the pain to become excruciating and she sat down hard on the wet pavement.
The next thing she knew, Darius was crouched before her, forcing her chin up to look him in the eye. 'Maureen. Maureen! Look at me!'
She gazed at him blearily. His eyes were all black, but that was probably because it was dark. 'Hi,' she coughed, flecks of blood spotting her lips. 'I think he shot me.'
'He did indeed, but he won't be shooting anyone ever again, not to worry.' His hands moved her coat aside so he could survey the damage. A heavy sigh escaped him and he looked up and around at the street, empty at so late an hour.
'The... ancient Romans... used to employ a... a plant called milfoil... to stop wounds from... bleeding.'
Darius looked down at the mumbling woman. 'I believe you're a bit past the help of some milfoil, my dear. You might even be past the help of modern medical technology.' She looked as though she did not understand him. 'You're dying.'
'Dying... dying, no I... I can't. I'm not ready. I... I have things to... research to...'
As she began to slump, Darius made a decision, and bent his head toward her neck.
When Maureen came to, she had no idea where she was. She sat up to look around, taking note of an underlying ache in her chest. Rubbing the spot, she found a hole in her blouse and a tender indentation on her flesh.
'How are you feeling?'
She looked up to see a man in a doorway just six feet from the couch she was on. 'Darius,' she said, though it was with uncertainty. He nodded. 'I feel... strange.'
He nodded again, as if that were expected. 'I imagine you do.'
The young woman began to recall everything, and it was all clear up until the point she was shot. Was that last night? The signs on her body said no. 'How long have I been asleep for?'
Darius checked his watch. 'Approximately fourteen hours,' he informed her.
She frowned. 'No, that can't be right. I was shot. In the chest. My wound is healed, even if it hurts a bit. It's not possible for-'
'You died, Miss Willison,' he interrupted.
Her mouth dropped open. 'I'm what? But then how are we talking? Are you dead, too? Where are we even at?'
Smiling, he sat next to her on the couch. 'So inquisitive,' he commented. 'One of the many reasons I deemed you worthy of the Embrace. We are talking because you are undead now, like me. Our location is my sitting room.' He gave her a moment to process this before adding 'I notified the appropriate persons that you would not be able to give your other presentations at the symposium, but I thought it best if you talked to the dean of the university about leaving.'
'Leaving?' she whispered. 'But I don't... why would I leave?'
'You are a vampire now, my dear,' he told her softly. 'And as such, you cannot enter sunlight, lest you turn to dust.'
Tears brimmed in Maureen's eyes. 'All my research...'
'Not to worry, I am already coordinating things so that you may continue your research, but it shall have to be through the museum, as I do with my work.'
'Where will I go? I won't be able to stay in my apartment anymore, right?'
'You may stay here with me for a time, until you prove to me you can control yourself and we find you a safe haven of your own.'
Maureen nodded, feeling numb. She would adjust to this, she knew she could, but it would be hard. 'And where exactly is here, again?'
He smiled, showing a hint of tooth. 'Under the museum, my dear. Right below the Greystones Museum of History.'