Home > The Craving (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #3)

The Craving (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #3)
Author: L.J. Smith

Preface

Everything has changed. My body, my desires, my appetite.

My soul.

In seventeen short years, I’ve born witness to more tragedy than anyone should—and been the cause of far too much of it. With me I carry the memory of my death and that of my brother. I’m haunted by the sound of our last breaths in the mossy woods of Mystic Falls, Virginia, and the image of my father’s lifeless body on the floor of his study in our magnificent Veritas Estate. I still smell the charred church where the town’s vampires burned. And I can almost taste the blood I took and the lives I stole out of sheer hunger and indifference after my transformation. Most clearly I see the curious dreamer of a boy I once was, and if my heart could beat, it would break for the vile creature I’ve become.

But though the very molecules of my being have morphed beyond recognition, the world continues to turn. Children grow older, their plump faces thinning with the passage of time. Young lovers exchange secret smiles as they discuss the weather. Parents sleep while the moon keeps watch, wake when the sun’s rays nudge them from slumber. They eat, labor, and love. And always, their hearts pump with rhythmic thuds, the blood as alluring to me as a snake charmer’s tune is to a cobra.

I once scoffed at the tediousness of human life, believing the Power I had made me more. Through her example, Katherine taught me that time holds no sway over vampires, so I could become divorced from it, living from moment to moment, moving from one carnal pleasure to the next with no fear of consequences. During my time in New Orleans I was heady with my new Power, my limitless strength and speed. I tore through humans as if their lives were meaningless. Every warm drop of blood made me feel alive, strong, fearless, and powerful.

It was a haze of bloodlust. I killed so many, so casually. I can’t even remember the faces of my victims. Except for one.

Callie.

Her flame-red hair, her clear green eyes, the softness of her cheeks, the way she stood with her hands on her h*ps . . . every detail stands out in my memory with painful clarity.

It was Damon, my brother and former best friend, who dealt Callie her final blow.

In turning him into a vampire, I had taken Damon’s life, so he took from me the only thing he could—my new love.

Callie made me remember what it was to be human, and what it meant to value life. Her death weighs heavily on my conscience.

Now my strength is a burden, the constant thirst for blood a curse, the promise of immortality a terrible cross to bear. Vampires are monsters, killers. I must never, ever forget that again. I must never let the monster take over. While I will forever bear the guilt of what I did to my brother—the choice I made for him—I must also avoid the dark path he is so hell-bent on following. He revels in the violence and freedom of his new life, while I can only regret it.

Before I left New Orleans, I battled the demon my brother, Damon, had become. Now, as I remake myself up North, far from anyone who’s ever known me as either a human or a vampire, the only demon I have to battle is my own hunger.

Chapter 1

I picked out a heartbeat, a single life, in the near distance.

The other noises of the city faded into the background as this one called to me. She had wandered away from her friends and left the well-worn paths.

The sun had just set over Central Park, where I’d exiled myself since arriving in New York City fourteen long days ago. The colors in this expanse of wilderness were softening, sliding toward one another, shadows blurring with the things that made them. The oranges and deep blues of the sky morphed into an inky black, while the muddy ground dimmed to a velvety sienna.

Around me, most of the world was still, paused in the breath that comes at the end of day when the guards change: Humans and their daylight companions lock their doors and creatures of the night like myself come out to hunt.

With the ring Katherine gave me I can walk in the daylight like any normal, living human. But as it’s been since the beginning of time, it’s easier for vampires to hunt during the uncertain hours when day slowly becomes night. Dusk confuses those who aren’t equipped with the eyes and ears of a nocturnal predator.

The heartbeat I now pursued began to sound quieter . . . its owner was getting away. Desperate, I took off, forcing my body to move quickly, my feet to push off from the ground. I was weak from lack of feeding, and it was affecting my ability to hunt. Added to that, these woods weren’t familiar to me. The plants and vines were as alien as the people on the cobbled streets a quarter mile away.

But a hunter transplanted is still a hunter. I leaped over a twiggy, stunted bush and avoided an icy stream, devoid of the lazy catfish I used to watch as a child, until my foot slipped on mossy stone and I crashed through the underbrush, my chase growing far louder than I intended.

The bearer of the heart I followed heard and knew her death was close. Now that she was alone and aware of her plight, she began to run in earnest.

What a spectacle I must have made: dark hair askew, skin as pale as a corpse, eyes starting to redden as the vampire in me came out. Running and leaping through the woods like a wild man, dressed in the finery Lexi, my friend in New Orleans, had given me, the white silk shirt now torn at the sleeves.

She picked up speed. But I wasn’t going to lose her.

My need for blood became an ache so strong that I couldn’t contain myself any longer. A sweet pain bloomed along my jaw and my fangs came out. The blood in my face grew hot as I underwent the change. My senses expanded as my Power took over, sapping my last bit of vampiric strength.

I leaped, moving at a speed beyond human and animal. With that instinct all living creatures have, the poor thing felt death closing in and began to panic, scrambling for safety under the trees. Her heart pounded out of control: thump thump thump thump thump thump.

The tiny human part of me might have regretted what I was about to do, but the vampire in me needed the blood.

With a final jump, I caught my prey—a large, greedy squirrel who’d left her pack to scavenge for extra food. Time slowed as I descended, ripped her neck aside, and sank my teeth into her flesh, draining her life into me one drop at a time.

I’d eaten squirrels as a human, which lessened my guilt marginally. Back home in Mystic Falls, my brother and I would hunt in the tangled woods that surrounded our estate. Though squirrels were poor eating for most of the year, they were fat and tasted like nuts in the fall. Squirrel blood, however, was no such feast; it was rank and unpleasant. It was nourishment, nothing more—and barely that. I forced myself to keep drinking. It was a tease, a reminder of the intoxicating liquid that runs in a human’s veins.

But from the moment Damon ended Callie’s life, I had sworn off humans forever. I would never kill, never feed from, and never love another human. I could only bring them pain and death, even if I didn’t mean to. That’s what life as a vampire meant. That’s what life with this new, vengeful Damon as my brother meant.

An owl hooted in the elm that towered over my head. A chipmunk skittered past my feet. My shoulders slumped as I laid the poor squirrel down on the ground. So little blood remained in its body that the wound didn’t leak, the animal’s legs already growing stiff with rigor mortis. I wiped the traces of blood and fur from my face and headed deeper into the park, alone with my thoughts while a city of nearly a million people buzzed around me.

Since I’d sneaked off the train two weeks earlier, I’d been sleeping in the middle of the park in what was essentially a cave. I’d taken to marking a concrete slab with the passing of each day. Otherwise moments blended together, meaningless, and empty. Next to the cave was a fenced-in area where construction men had gathered the “useful” remains of a village they had razed to make Central Park, as well as the architectural bric-a-brac they intended to install—carved fountains, baseless statues, lintels, thresholds, and even gravestones.

I pushed past a barren branch—November’s chill had robbed nearly every tree of its leaves—and sniffed the air. It would rain soon. I knew that both from living in plantation country and from the monster senses that constantly gave me a thousand different pieces of information about the world around me.

And then the breeze changed direction, and brought with it the teasing, cloying scent of rust. There it was again. A painful, metallic tang.

The smell of blood. Human blood.

I stepped into the clearing, my breath coming rapidly. The thick stench of iron was everywhere, filling the hollow with an almost palpable fog. I scanned the area.

There was the cave where I spent my tortured nights, tossing and turning and waiting for dawn. Just outside it was a jumble of beams and doors stolen from knocked-down houses and desecrated graves. Farther in the distance there were the glowing white statues and fountains installed around the park.

And then I saw it. At the base of a statue of a regal prince was the body of a young woman, her white ball gown slowly turning a bloody red.

Chapter 2

I felt the veins in my face crackle with Power. My fangs came out quickly and violently, painfully ripping through my gums. Instantly I became the hunter again: balanced on my toes, fingers flexed, ready to claw. As I made my way closer to her, all my senses became even more aroused—eyes widened to capture every shadow, nostrils flared to gather in the smells. Even my skin prickled, ready to detect the slightest change in air movement, in heat, in the minute pulses that indicated life. Despite my vow, my body was more than ready to slice into the soft, dying flesh and lap up her essence.

The girl was small, but not sickly or dainty. She looked to be about sixteen. Her bosom jerked as she stuggled for breath. Her hair was dark, with curls highlighted gold in the light of the rising moon. She had been wearing silk flowers and ribbons in her hair, but these, along with her tresses, had come undone, trailing out behind her head like sea foam.

Her dress had a dark red slip buoyed by frothy white cotton tulle. Where her petticoats were torn, slashes of scarlet silk showed through, matching the blood that was seeping from her chest and down her bodice. One of her doeskin gloves was white, while the other was nearly black with soaked blood, as if she had tried to stanch her wound before she’d passed out.

Thick, curly lashes fluttered as her eyes rolled beneath their lids. This was a girl who clung to life, who was fighting as hard as she could to stay awake and survive the violence that had befallen her.

My ears could easily make out her heartbeat. Despite the girl’s strength and will, it was slowing, and I could count seconds between each beat.

Thud . . .

Thud . . .

Thud . . .

Thud . . .

The rest of the world was silent. It was just me, the moon, and this dying girl. Her breath was coming slower now. She would most likely be dead in mere moments, and not by my hands.

I ran my tongue over my teeth. I had done my best. I had hunted down a squirrel—a squirrel—to sate my appetite. I was doing everything I could to resist the lure of my dark side, the hunger that had been slowly destroying me from within. I had refrained from using my Power.

But the smell . . .

Spicy, rusty, sweet. It made my head spin. It wasn’t my fault she had been attacked. It wasn’t I who had caused the pool of blood to form around her prone body. Just one little sip couldn’t hurt. . . . I couldn’t hurt her more than someone already had. . . .

I shivered, a delicious pain fluttering up my spine and down my body. My muscles flexed and relaxed of their own accord. I took a step closer, so close that I could reach out and touch the red substance.

Human blood would do far more than sustain me. It would fill me with warmth and Power. Nothing tasted like human blood, and nothing felt like it. Just a mouthful and I would be back to the vampire I’d been in New Orleans: invincible, lightning fast, strong. I’d be able to compel humans to do my bidding, I’d be able to drink away my guilt and embrace my darkness. I’d be a real vampire again.

In that moment, I forgot everything: why I was in New York, what happened in New Orleans, why I left Mystic Falls. Callie, Katherine, Damon . . . All were lost, and I was drawn mindlessly to the source of my agony and ectasy.

I knelt down in the grass. My parched lips drew back from my mouth, fangs fully exposed.

One lick. One drop. One taste. I needed it so badly. And technically, I wouldn’t be killing her. Technically, she would die because of someone else.

Narrow streams of blood ebbed and flowed down her chest, pulsing with her heart. I leaned over, my tongue reaching forward. . . . One of her eyes fluttered open weakly, her thick lashes parting to reveal clear green eyes, eyes the color of clover and grass.

The same color eyes Callie had.

In my last memory of her, Callie was lying on the ground, dying, in a similar helpless pose. Callie had died of a knife wound in her back. Damon didn’t even have the decency to let her defend herself. He stabbed her while she was distracted, telling me how much she loved me. And then, before I could feed her my own blood and save her, Damon threw me aside and drained her completely. He left her a dry, dead husk and then tried to kill me, too. Had it not been for Lexi, he would have succeeded.

With a tortured scream, I pulled my hands back from the girl and pounded the ground. I forced the bloodlust that was in my eyes and cheeks back down to the dark place from which they came.

I took a moment longer to compose myself, then pulled the girl’s bodice aside to view her wound. She had been stabbed with a knife, or some other small and sharp blade. It had been shoved with near perfect precision between her br**sts and into her rib cage—but had missed her heart. It was as though the attacker had wanted her to suffer, had wanted her to slowly bleed out rather than die immediately.

The attacker had not left the blade behind, so I placed my teeth against my wrist and tore open the skin there. The pain helped me to focus, a good, clean pain compared to that of my fangs coming out.

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