It was cold. Snow coated the ground and the naked black branches of the twisted trees, reflecting the white glow of the frozen moon. His breath hung in the air in front of his face, swirling around him like a ghostly spirit as he staggered forward. Putting a hand on a tree trunk to steady himself, his gaze was caught by his pale bluish skin and he quickly pulled his hand back, stuffing it into a pocket of his long black wool coat instead. Up ahead he could see the warm orange glow of a building standing boldly at the edge of the forest, and he pushed his way to it through the drifts of snow. A delicious smell wafted to him from the building, causing his stomach to growl. He was hungry.

Suddenly he was there, his nose almost touching the frosted wood of the door as his eyes focused on the grain. He hadn't even been aware of reaching the clearing, or moving so close to the building. The delicious smell was stronger, calling to him. He felt tempted to touch his tongue to the door, but as he opened his mouth the door sung open into the room, spilling warm golden light over him and temporarily blinding him. After a moment of hesitation, he stepped inside.

It was a tavern. There were an unusual number of lanterns lit; most of them clustered around an unconscious and bleeding man lying on one of the tables. The delicious smell was overwhelming. His stomach twisted and turned, his hunger growing so intense he felt as if he would consume himself from the inside out.

"Phoenix?" a woman asked, pouring liquid into a glass and handing it off to someone else. "Is that you, Phoenix?"

He looked at her, unconsciously rolling his tongue over his lips as his stomach screamed to be filled.

"You look like you've frozen to death. Let me get you something hot to eat. Sit down." The woman disappeared.

He looked down at his hand, opening and closing his fingers. Yes, he probably did freeze to death. Even the giant blazing fireplace set in the back wall failed to warm his skin, leaving the cold, empty hunger inside of him. He needed to eat. Looking down at the chair closest to him, he slowly bent his knees until he was sitting, staring at the table beneath his blue fingers.

His gaze was interrupted by a plate of potatoes and meat being slid across the wood in front of him, sending steam up into his eyes. It smelled terrible, almost insulting in the presence of that other fragrance. He glared down at the food, feeling repulsed by it despite his starvation.

"Go on and eat," the woman said, sitting down next to him. She was silent for a moment, staring over at the injured man lying on the table. "It's terrible business," she began, "especially at this time of the year. He was attacked by a wolf. The doctor is treating him, but everyone's afraid that he'll transform. But you never believed in that sort of stuff, did you?"

He was shaking his head, still scowling down at the offensive plate. He wanted to push it away from him, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to lift his arm to do so.

"Is it true," the woman lowered her voice, leaning closer to him, "that you left your wife and kids? They say you just up and disappeared one day."

He turned his head to look at the injured man.


Someone was unwrapping the blood soaked bandages, and he could see the crimson liquid oozing out of the cuts. His stomach whined.

"I'm sorry. You must still be freezing. Here, let me warm you up." The woman placed her hands on his shoulders, massaging his muscles. "I'm glad to see you again, Phoenix. You must stay at my house tonight, and I won't let you decline."

He could feel rhythmic pulsing in her fingertips, and the sound of a steady thump came from inside her chest. She was warm, and he wanted to permeate her heat through his insides. Her lips were touching his, and he kissed her back hungrily, moving his hand up to touch her neck. Her skin felt as if it was on fire, and her heart beat faster, pulling him to brush his lips against her neck, and to taste her with his tongue.

A burning hot, delicious liquid filled his mouth and he swallowed it down, feeling the warmth almost immediately saturate his body. Sucking slightly, he filled his mouth with more of the drink, swallowing it almost as soon as it passed his teeth.

The woman fell limply against him, and he broke away, looking down at her. Small rivulets of blood flowed from two punctures on her neck, her eyes open wide but lifeless. Rubbing his chin with his hand, he looked down at the blood smeared across his fingers. Dropping the woman, he jolted to the door and jumped outside, barely conscious of the sound of shocked shouting before his legs carried him away.

No longer consumed by the cold and hunger, part his reasoning returned to him. Lurching, he leaned his back against a tree and sank down to the ground, holding his head. He had known that woman intimately in life, before he had died. Before . . . Lowering his pale hands, he stared down at the coating of shimmering dark liquid, then up at the dim forest looming around him. All he could see was red.