Johnny raced across the schoolyard very aware of Lisa in her car in the pick-up zone. He didn’t want her to know he often came here to watch Crystal at recess.
He shouldn’t have come, even though he didn’t mean any harm by it. Crystal was precious to him, in a way that her mother, much as he had come to like her, could never be. Crystal was his own personal future. Johnny was not a creature bound by time, except when he chose to be, and it was hard for him to remember all the rules that time-bound creatures lived by. Crystal was his, and he was hers, eventually. He could wait. But it comforted him to be near her, to watch her grow as she slowly caught up to him.
Crystal always knew when Johnny came near. She was just as connected to him as he was to her. But she knew better, now, than to mention Johnny’s schoolyard visits. Crystal would glance up to where Johnny hid in the shadows and smile her secret smile, then go back to whatever game she was playing with her friends. It was enough for both of them, for now.
Today had been Art Day, so Johnny had stuck around after recess to see what Crystal’s class was making out on the lawn outside their classroom. It was early November, almost time for him to slip underneath the cold waters of the lake until Spring. He wanted to squeeze out every moment until then with Crystal and Lisa.
It wasn’t as easy to do that anymore. Lisa lived in Aunt Beth’s old house now, but the hunter was over there almost every night. Johnny couldn’t openly sit and watch television with them like he used to do when they summered at the cottage. Sometimes, he had the urge to put an end to the hunter, his cousin in some distant reality, and his mortal enemy. Then he could have Lisa and Crystal all to himself, and when Crystal finally joined him and Lisa wasn’t needed any longer, he could take her, too, and end her life. She wouldn’t mind; she would be happy to die for him. Johnny grinned darkly.
Trouble was, he actually liked Lisa, and not just because she was Crystal’s mother. They had come to know each other that first summer at the lake. She knew things about him that no other living soul did. It was a shame she was only human; unlike her daughter, Lisa could never be changed into a vampire, although there was a slight possibility that Lisa and Kenny together could create another like him, a born vampire. Kenny knew it, because he was a hunter and his line kept the oldest records. He had told Lisa the story of their family’s ancestry, as much of it as he knew, at any rate, and told her that they could never have children together in case their children were born unnatural.
Unnatural. Depends on which side of the fence you stood. Johnny was waiting for Lisa to slip up and mention something about him to Kenny. So far, she had kept her word and his secret. They led a double life alongside of her life in Lockwood, but Johnny didn’t know how much longer it could last. He didn’t want to go sleep under the water, but if he didn’t, he would start to age, and he had promised Crystal he would wait for her. It was very frustrating.
He couldn’t remember much of his life before he had woken up on a ship bound for the New World with his vampire mentor John Pryce, who had taught him all he knew about being a vampire. John Pryce, whether intentionally or not, had kept the biggest secret from Johnny. He might have thought he was protecting Johnny, but it hadn’t worked out that way. Johnny always knew he was a vampire and that he was not dead. What he did not remember was that he had a living family whose blood was addictive to him and therefore forbidden.
Johnny scowled. Well, he knew now. The secret that his vampire mentor had kept hidden from him aboard ship when he first woke up with no memories, the secret that eventually drove John Pryce in his loneliness and desperation to reveal himself as a vampire, was that they both were related to the colonists on that ship—they were both Smythes!
Over the centuries, bits and pieces of broken memories came back to Johnny. He should have seen the pattern, should have guessed, but he had been blind, and too enamored of the potent Smythe blood, so much so that he couldn’t bring himself to leave this enclave of Smythe descendants, even though he should have left long ago.
Johnny gazed longingly back at the brick building which currently contained his beloved Crystal. No, he could never leave now. Crystal was here.
Because of Crystal, because of her mother Lisa who loved him too, Johnny had gained access to the hunters’s list, which named each and every descendant of the Smythes from the time they came over on the boat from Scotland. It had been a shock seeing his own name, the one John Pryce had bestowed on him, on that list. Although he had begun to suspect a connection, the list was proof that he was a Smythe. The shock jarred his memory, and more pieces of his past tumbled out.
He was older than three hundred some-odd years. His mother was human, but she had walked the earth close to a millennium ago. He remembered Scotland before it was called that. He also had long stretches in his memory of nothingness, where he must have slept underneath the strange, black lake he sometimes saw in his dreams.
He remembered that, once, he was not the only vampire.
Johnny winced as the sun slanted through the fall clouds and caught him full on the face. The clouds helped, but they didn’t completely protect him from burning. He would have to replenish his blood before he went home to Lisa’s, or she would notice. She saw too much, sometimes.
Johnny veered across the back of the school, away from the cars and buses. He cut through the woods until he came to a new development. Lately, lots of people had been moving into Lockwood looking for rural surroundings to raise their families. They didn’t seem to realize that by moving there, the newcomers were slowly turning this sparsely populated farming community into another suburban extension of their former cities. Johnny didn’t mind, particularly. More people, more blood.
He picked a brand-new colonial that had chunky plastic climbing toys in the backyard. The children here would be too young for school, and so would be home, with their young mother. Johnny glanced at the driveway. The garage doors were open, but only one car was inside. Good. The father would still be at work in his far-away city. Nobody to bother him.
Johnny edged his way inside through the garage, listening for voices. The mother was in the kitchen feeding her baby. Another child, a boy, played quietly in the living room. Perfect. Lisa wouldn’t think so. She would be horrified if she knew he fed on such young ones. But what Lisa didn’t know . . . . Johnny grinned suddenly, and burst into the kitchen, taking the mother, and then the baby, in a matter of seconds. He didn’t kill them. Lisa had no reason to be upset. Besides, he needed their blood. It wasn’t like he was drinking blood from the family. This blood was safe.
He shook his head, annoyed at his line of thought. Why was he trying to justify this? He didn’t kill them. He could have, but he didn’t. Quickly, he moved into the next room and took the boy, laying him gently down next to his toys. They would all wake up in a few minutes, a little disoriented maybe, but generally unharmed. He looked over at the baby, who slept open-mouthed in her high-chair. He had only taken a little, hardly more than a taste, so that she would stay asleep as long as her mother was out. It wouldn’t do to have Mama wake up to a screaming baby and have no recollection of where the time had gone. The baby’s mark was little more than a pinprick, a bug bite. Mama’s was below her collar; she wouldn’t notice the faint redness until she undressed, and the boy was full of scratches already. What was one more?
Johnny sauntered over to the sink and rinsed his hands under running water. He splashed a little on his face. It felt good, especially after being sunburned. Already, he could feel the heat in his face, on his arms, that meant the blood was working. Now Lisa wouldn’t notice his sunburn and they could have a normal evening. If Kenny didn’t show up.
Even with his detour, he still beat Lisa and Crystal back to the house.
“You’re up early,” Lisa commented, as she and Crystal shouldered their way through the doorway lugging both Crystal’s backpack and the art project she had been working on outside her classroom today. Crystal smiled.
“Maybe you can help her finish that.” Lisa indicated the odd-shaped project. “Kenny’s coming over later and I want to get dinner started.”
She took him for granted. Johnny frowned, displeased at being told what to do. He had stopped taking blood from Lisa right about the time she got serious about Kenny, and she had stopped fearing him as a result. Maybe that would have to change. He wasn’t a kid whom she could boss around.
Then again, he liked helping Crystal with her schoolwork. He settled for glaring darkly at Lisa before he hefted the bulky artwork over his shoulder and followed Crystal to her room. No wonder the class had been working on these monstrosities outside.
“What is it?” he asked, as he deposited it on her bed. The rectangular cardboard had been cut haphazardly across one end, then painted in sweeping bands of green and brown and blue. He had watched her class stretch out their pieces of cardboard in a long line while the teacher walked down the line making ragged cuts along the top edges. Half the class went out into the woods and gathered up sticks, while the other half painted undulating lines of color across all the pieces. The cardboard had stayed outside while the children went back to class. They must have picked them up at the end of the day.
Crystal dug out a handful of sticks from her backpack along with a sheaf of colored construction paper. “It’s a mural,” she explained. “We’re making a woodland scene for the little kids to use in their Thanksgiving play. We lined all the pieces of cardboard up and drew the woods. Now we each have to finish our piece, and when we put them back together, it will be a whole scene.”
Johnny smiled to hear Crystal talk of ‘the little kids.’ “I see it now,” he commented. The twigs were meant to represent trees. “How can I help?”
Crystal grabbed some red, yellow and orange construction paper. “Cut out leaves,” she said. “Like this.” She showed him how to trace and cut. “I’m going to glue the trees to the cardboard.”
Johnny sat cross-legged on the floor and half-listened to Lisa bustling around downstairs as he cut different colored leaves and separated them into piles. He kept his eyes on Crystal as she worked, and flinched only slightly when the scissors poked his index finger, drawing a single bead of blood.
“Oh, you hurt yourself!” Crystal cried softly, dropping the bottle of glue so she could rush over and inspect his injured finger.
“It’s nothing,” Johnny said, frowning for the second time that afternoon. He let Crystal brush the tiny droplet from his finger. The skin underneath was unblemished. He shouldn’t have bled at all.
Crystal stared at the drop of blood which now clung to the tip of her finger. With a decided nod, she popped her finger into her mouth, and Johnny’s hunger roared through him.
He threw himself sideways and out the door, uncaring at the moment whether the hunter would see him or not. He had to get away from Crystal before he did something he would regret.
Johnny could move fast when he wanted to. He darted past Lisa in the kitchen before she even noticed him. If he touched her now, he might not be able to stop. Later, he promised himself.
He shouldn’t be hungry. Even though he had been out during the day, he had taken plenty of blood to make up for it. He needed to rest. His body needed the restorative powers of the lake to fully regenerate, and he hadn’t gone beneath the water for weeks. Seeing Crystal taste his blood had sent him over the edge. He wanted hers, or if not hers, then at least family’s blood. There was a good reason it was forbidden.
He ran through the woods parallel to the main road until he came to the cemetery, but he didn’t even slow down. He crossed over the road and cut through the cemetery to the dirt road beyond it. When he got to the lake, he threw himself into the water, not bothering to change. He would have to get new clothes tomorrow. Just that thought sent his bloodlust spiking. Tomorrow. The dark waters sucked him down and for once he gave himself to them gladly.