What’s a boy to do when his crush is a hot vampire with a mystery to solve?
We’re excited to share an excerpt from Caleb Roehrig’s YA paranormal romance The Fell of Dark—available from Feiwel & Friends.
The only thing August Pfeiffer hates more than algebra is living in a vampire town.
Located at a nexus of mystical energy fields, Fulton Heights is practically an electromagnet for supernatural drama. And when a mysterious (and annoyingly hot) vampire boy arrives with a cryptic warning, Auggie suddenly finds himself at the center of it.
An ancient and terrible power is returning to the earthly realm, and somehow Auggie seems to be the only one who can stop it.
Even before she opened her eyes, the girl knew that death had come for her. Again. The dark air was thickened with its pall, tangible as humidity and just as lush, and it settled over her with a gentle caress. This body was healthy and young, and it could have had a long life. But instead it would be sacrificed in a grab for power—that much had been written on the wall for months, years—because the only thing mortals prized more than the preciousness of life was their ability to destroy it.
“Your Highness?” A man hovered at her bedside, one hand on her shoulder. It was Botkin, the physician, his high forehead laddered with concern. He was a kind man, loyal—and doomed. The second she met his gaze, the fate that awaited him unrolled in her mind’s eye. It would be ugly. “You need to get up.”
“Is something wrong with Alexei?” The question came automatically, dredged from the grooves of instinct and a rebellious part of her consciousness that wouldn’t let go.
“It… the tsarevich is fine, Your Highness,” Botkin answered soothingly. Across the room, Olga was already on her feet, and Tatiana was stretching her limbs. “But it seems we’re being moved again. There’s been violence in the city, and they fear it will get worse.”
Taking a deep breath, she let the thick air coat her tongue and fill her body, her senses crackling. Rage, and hatred, and—yes, violence. But not in the city; it was here. Under this roof. It gathered like a thunderhead, and soon it would burst. Casting her covers aside, she sat up. “All right, then. I’ll get dressed.”
They moved quickly. Of the four sisters forced to share this room, she alone realized what was to come, and there was no point warning the others. Foreknowledge would be its own torture, and there was nothing to be done about it, anyway. She could stop it, of course, if she wanted to. But what would be the point? As healthy as her body was, it wouldn’t survive what would be required of it, and it might make things harder next time around. Next time. A pity. She was hungry for chaos now.
With care, the four girls strapped themselves into corsets, the fabric panels packed tightly with precious stones—a fortune in hidden diamonds that the revolutionaries would have seized, had they thought to look. Bulletproof, the girl observed grimly, death so close she couldn’t shut out the visions if she’d wanted to. And then the guards came for them.
They were hustled through the dining room, with all its ostentatious furniture, and something whispered across her skin. She turned, the sensation tugging her attention, and glimpsed the dark outline of a woman standing in the shadowed passageway leading to the kitchen. Faceless in the dark, the energy she radiated was as clear as a fingerprint.
A smile played on the girl’s lips, in spite of everything. The men herding them were drunk on power and self-importance—completely ignorant of how fragile they really were. How small and insignificant, how close to their own deaths. Their lives were as delicate as fairy floss, and one, two, three, they’d all be in their graves before their grandchildren were old enough to remember them. She could see it all, entropy scattering their futures.
Down the stairs and through the courtyard, the girls were reunited with their parents and brother, and then escorted into a basement room with scarred floors. They were told to wait, and Mama asked for chairs—one for herself, and one for poor, pallid Alexei—and the request was granted. Not for the first time, the girl wished her mother’s cleric and faith healer, Grigori, was still with them; he’d been a scoundrel and a fraud, but most unwilling to die. If anyone could have gotten them out of here alive…
“Where do you think they’re taking us this time?” Olga asked in a worried murmur, perhaps sensing the tension in the air. The younger girl had no answer to give, so she allowed her sister to find comfort in a squeeze of the hand, a listless shrug.
The answer was an unmarked grave. It flashed before her—a mineshaft, blankets wrapped around bodies, men woozy with alcohol tossing human remains into the void. The air in the room grew hazy with bloodlust, the smell of sulfur stronger than ever; and deep inside, she came alive. She drank in the caustic miasma of vengeance and loathing that spread as far as her senses reached, poisoning the blood of ordinary people. She felt their rage, their pain, their suffering; into her lungs she drew the intoxicating degradation of it.
The tension finally burst as, unannounced, more than a dozen men poured into the basement, all of them armed. A familiar face, bearded, lean, and lupine, pushed through to the front of the crowd—Yurovsky, their chief jailor. She pulled sharply at his thoughts until he turned, compelled by forces he couldn’t begin to understand, and met her eyes.
It took less than a second to dive inside his consciousness and find her way around, to leave sooty fingerprints on his best memories and plant a ring of frost around this night—one that would spread to kill any joy he might ever experience. There was no point trying to stop what he meant to do; but there was no reason to let him live a peaceful life, either. As she pulled back, releasing her influence, she let out a sigh. He had twenty years left, almost to the day, and every last hour of it would now be plagued with misery.
“Nikolai Alexandrovich,” Yurovsky began in a loud, crisp voice, addressing her father, “in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.”
“What?” Her father started, the blood draining from his face. In the split second before the roar of gunfire filled the room, before a crew of inebriated men could begin a gruesome and inept act of mass murder, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova closed her eyes. The youngest daughter of Russia’s last emperor, she’d had so much ahead of her. But this grisly little scene was not really the end—and she knew that better than anyone.
Death was only the beginning.
Fulton Heights, Illinois
The only thing worse than living in a vampire town is having to take Algebra I for the second time. While living in a vampire town. I have a quiz tomorrow on exponents and square roots,
and literally the only thing that will keep me from failing it at this point is if I get eaten by one of the undead on my way to school in the morning.
To make matters worse, Fulton Heights, roughly thirty minutes from downtown Chicago, isn’t even one of the cool suburbs. All we’ve got is a dying mall, a nexus of weird, mystical energy that attracts monsters, and a handful of abandoned buildings the municipal government can’t afford to tear down. Hence the real source of our vampire problem. Empty warehouses make great hideouts for creatures of the night, who need proximity to their food source (us) and a safe place to sleep during the day.
I seriously don’t understand why we can’t just move somewhere else, but my parents refuse to discuss it. Right now, going on minute twelve of my agonizing attempt to solve for x on question number eight, I’m not sure if dying doesn’t have a certain amount of appeal. Reviving a lost argument might be pointless, but it is distracting, so I shout from the kitchen, “Why do I have to learn this stuff when I could get vampired at, like, any moment?”
“About three people in Fulton Heights die from vampire attacks each year, August,” my dad calls back from the living room in his stop-being-so-dramatic tone. “That’s less than the number of people we lose to heart disease, cancer, and traffic accidents. It’s not even in the top ten causes of death for the area! Stop being so dramatic.”
Like that’s supposed to make me feel better. Pretty much every Fulton Heights resident has those statistics memorized, but for most of us, it’s cold comfort. Vampires aren’t wild animals that kill indiscriminately, and most of them are smart enough to know that it’s in their best interests not to rack up a huge body count and give the frightened townsfolk a reason to get all torches-and-pitchforks about them hanging out in our long-shuttered glassworks factory. But we don’t exactly have an armistice, either.
They still need to eat, and we’re their favorite entrée. Okay, unlike what you see in the movies, they don’t tend to chase us down dark alleys and tear our throats out. A little Undead 101: Along with their superstrength and eternal youth and all that business, vampires also have this special mind-control thing that makes humans all docile and aroused, which renders us easy pickings. You meet a cute boy, he smiles at you—and the next thing you know you wake up all light-headed with a great big hickey and a pint of blood missing from your veins.
Or so goes the rumor. No cute boys have tried to seduce me yet. That’s another thing Fulton Heights doesn’t seem to have: other gay guys for me to date.
“We should move!” I shout next, because I want to keep this pointless conversation going as long as possible.
“Move where?” my mom responds this time. It’s a challenge. “I think Californ—”
“Earthquakes.” She doesn’t even let me finish, and I know I’ve got her. “Heat waves, droughts, brush fires, mudslides… Do you know how many people die from those each year? Do you know how much property values are, or how much homeowner’s insurance costs?”
“No!” I’m on a roll now. “How much?”
“Stop baiting your parents,” my tutor scolds, tapping the worksheet in front of me to regain my focus. Daphne Banks is a student at Northwestern University, about fifteen minutes away from here, and my parents pay her to come by twice a week and torture me. “You’re not leaving this table until you finish every one of these problems, mister.”
“Who cares if seventeen is the square root of three hundred and sixty-one?” I exclaim. “A vampire could chase me down an alley tomorrow and eat me, and it’s not like me being barely competent in algebra will scare him off!”
“‘Barely competent’ might be… kind of a stretch,” Daphne says, wincing, “and the square root of three hundred and sixty-one is nineteen, not seventeen.”
“Ha—gotcha!” Gloating, I scribble down the answer to question number eight. I feel a little bad for tricking her like that, but when you’re this bad at math, you need to be really good at grifting. “Thanks, Daph.”
“August Pfeiffer, you little swindler!” She reaches out and messes up my hair to teach me a lesson—but the joke’s on her, because my hair was already a mess to begin with. “This is important, though, you know? You need to learn this if you want to leave here for college. The odds that you’ll get vampired to death are, like, twenty-thousand to one; but if you don’t get decent grades, you could end up stuck in Fulton Heights forever.”
It’s a sobering thought, and I rededicate myself to the soul-sapping practice test. I cannot wait to leave this town, with its empty buildings and guys I can’t date, and go live someplace where “Heart disease is our leading cause of death!” isn’t a humblebrag. It doesn’t have to be California, either. Just a place big enough that the ratio of art galleries to yearly vampire attacks is at least even. The only person I’ll miss is my best friend, Adriana. And my parents. And Daphne.
Everyone else can get eaten.
Excerpted from The Fell of Dark, copyright © 2020 by Caleb Roehrig.