Thoughts spun round in Johnny’s head as he struggled to relax in the cramped attic space above the stairs. Inconvenient. That must have been what was happening when old Jack pulled him out of the lake. The family had decided to purge their vampire blood. Johnny had been sleeping for a long time when Jack awakened him. None of the faces in the village were familiar. He had been taken by surprise, not expecting family to attack him. If not for Jack, he would have died.
Johnny felt a pang of regret for the way he had ignored old Jack and left him to his own fate, to die of loneliness at the end, even if the instrument of his death had been the hunters. But Johnny hadn’t remembered that Jack had saved him, and he couldn’t understand why Jack tried to keep him away from his beloved Elizabeth. Now he understood. Jack was following the old rituals, keeping Johnny away from forbidden blood. He had never tried to explain why he did not want Johnny to touch Elizabeth, although Johnny might not have listened even if he did. He had forgotten so much. Maybe Jack was still trying to protect him from the repercussions of the vampire purge.
Johnny growled and twisted around on the tiny bed he had made for himself in the attic closet. It didn’t matter anyway. The family had broken the pact. There was no forbidden blood any longer, no family to protect. There was nothing stopping Johnny from glutting himself on the blood of Lockwood, starting with Kenny and Lisa. Except that he was lonely, too. If he killed them all, he would have no one, and he wasn’t at all sure he would be able to bring Crystal to him when the time came. He wished he could sleep up here. The best he could manage was a fitful rest. He needed to go back under the water to regenerate. Without it, his need for blood increased until it was almost an incessant ache in the back of his throat. But he couldn’t leave Crystal now. He couldn’t risk interrupting the change process.
He gave up trying to rest. He was too hungry. Unfortunately, it was still daylight. Even in the lightless closet he felt the pull of the sun. Crystal was at school, the hunter was at work, and Lisa was too vulnerable right now. If Johnny stayed here any longer, he would attack her and he wasn’t sure he would be able to stop. He slipped out of the house before he could change his mind and made for the deep woods behind the house. The sun was a knife stabbing at him with a thousand blades. In the daylight even the animals hid. Johnny hunted without success and finally threw himself down in a narrow depression, covering himself with frost-rimed leaves until the weight of the sun became somewhat bearable. He had to stay away from humans. If he went near them in the state he was in, he would kill.
At dusk, he heard the rustling of small, nocturnal animals, and he pushed the leaves off him to begin the hunt again. He was a nocturnal animal, too. Small animals would not do tonight. Johnny hunted deer, and found three of them within seconds of each other. He took down the middle one as they ran from him, and he drained it until he could take no more blood into himself. With a shaking hand, he wiped his mouth and looked down at the carcass of the deer. He hadn’t been able to control himself, and the deer’s body was seriously mauled. They were deep enough into the woods that he didn’t think anyone would stumble over the carcass, but just to be safe, he dragged it over to the same depression where he had rested, and covered it over with leaves. By spring, if scavenger animals didn’t get it, nature would take care of the remains.
Satiated, he made his way back to Lisa’s house. His new jacket was spotted with blood, so he threw it in the laundry. “Hey,” he called out to Kenny. “Have you heard from your father?”
This was a recurring theme in their household for the past few weeks, ever since Mr. Brown had said he would be contacting his brother Robert in Boston. Johnny threatened Kenny that if Kenny didn’t follow up on this, then he would contact his father directly, and Kenny would not like the outcome of that confrontation. Kenny replied that he was working on it, and to give him more time, which Johnny invariably did.
The existence of another hunter, one who had left the family, made Johnny very uneasy. He discounted the Lockwood ‘Historical Society’ as being a threat. The only one, besides Kenny and his father, who had given Johnny any trouble was that Lovall descendant, whom Johnny had killed four years ago. Betty was no threat. Her only involvement came because her blood gave her insight into things she was better off not knowing. The ‘Historical Society’ had disbanded shortly after Lisa moved to Lockwood because they thought they had killed the last remaining vampire—him. Johnny smiled grimly.
“My father is going up to see him after Christmas,” Kenny said, looking up from the vegetables he was chopping. Against his will, this had become their nightly routine. Johnny appeared right around suppertime and stayed until Crystal went to bed. It was all very normal, except for the fact that Johnny was a vampire and nobody wanted him there. That wasn’t true: Lisa and Crystal both wanted Johnny there. It was obvious in the ways they both interacted with the vampire. Kenny couldn’t understand it. Since Thanksgiving, at least the vampire hadn’t taken blood from them, but it raised the question. Just where was Johnny getting his blood from?
“When?” asked Johnny. He picked up a sliced carrot and held it up to the light. He liked the color.
“Probably between Christmas and New Year’s, depending on the weather,” replied Kenny. He watched as Johnny put down the piece of carrot and wandered over to lift a lid off a pot on the stove. He couldn’t stand it when Johnny acted like a normal human being. “You look well-fed tonight,” Kenny said. “Who’s the lucky victim?”
Johnny scowled, dropping the lid back in place. “I want to go with you when you go,” he said.
“You can’t—it will be daylight,” Kenny immediately replied. Not to mention, his father would be sure to notice that Johnny was a vampire, was the vampire they all thought they had killed. It was the stupidest idea Kenny had ever heard.
“You know daylight isn’t the problem,” Johnny said. “Tell your father that you will go to meet your uncle instead of him. I’m coming with you.” His eyes darkened and he left no room for argument.
Kenny sighed. “I’ll see what I can do,” he agreed reluctantly. Great. Road trip with a vampire. Maybe he’d get lucky and his estranged uncle would slay the vampire as soon as he saw him. Wishful thinking.
Johnny left them alone while they ate dinner, preferring to watch TV instead. He had appropriated Kenny’s easy chair as his own. Lisa came in to see him while Kenny washed the dishes and Crystal went upstairs to get her homework. Usually Johnny helped Crystal with her homework after they finished supper.
“The lake is starting to freeze over,” Lisa said in a whisper. She crouched by Johnny’s chair, and he felt his hunger rise at her proximity. “Why aren’t you asleep for the winter? If you wait much longer, you won’t be able to go under the water.”
Johnny turned to look into Lisa’s eyes, ignoring the hunger. “You haven’t told him about the lake, have you?” He let the threat hang in the air.
Lisa shook her head. “No. And I won’t. I’m just worried about you.”
“The ice isn’t a barrier to me, Lisa,” Johnny assured her, saying nothing more on the matter.
Crystal burst into the living room with her bookbag. “Johnny—I’m ready!” she said with a smile.
“Not here,” said Lisa, switching automatically to mother mode. “Take your homework into the kitchen. You too, Johnny.”
Johnny passed Kenny on the way to the kitchen. The hunter pressed back against the wall so that Johnny and Crystal could get by. “Have you called your father?” Johnny asked.
“Do it soon.”
Kenny didn’t bother answering, as he kept on going to the living room and Lisa. He sat in his chair which Johnny had vacated. Lisa sat on the couch. With an exaggerated sigh, Kenny got up to sit next to Lisa. “How the hell come he’s always at our house?” he commented.
Lisa shrugged, but her eyes were clouded. “I don’t know,” she replied. She didn’t know why Johnny had decided to reveal his presence to Kenny now, either, after four years of hiding it. She didn’t know what his intentions were, and it scared her. Johnny was so unpredictable. Yet there was something vulnerable about him, too, that made her want to protect him, even from Kenny. She laid her head down on Kenny’s shoulder. It wasn’t so bad, this life. Was it?
After a few hours, Lisa realized she hadn’t heard any noise from the kitchen in quite a while. Had Johnny gone? She slid out from under Kenny’s arm as he lay with his head back on the couch. Her movement made his eyes flash open. “I’m not asleep,” he mumbled, staring straight ahead at the television.
Lisa smiled. “I’ll be right back,” she said. “I’m just going to check on Crystal.”
No one was in the kitchen. She took the back stairs up to Crystal’s room. The door was closed, but there was a light shining through the crack at the bottom. It was unlike Crystal to voluntarily go to bed so early. She opened the door and stood frozen in the doorway.
Johnny knelt by Crystal’s bed, and her daughter sat cross-legged on the bedspread, with a small knife in one hand. Johnny held her other hand, which had blood pooling in the center of it, and was just lowering his mouth to it when Lisa opened the door.
“Oh, my God!” Lisa gasped.
Johnny didn’t stop what he had started. Reverently he sipped the blood from Crystal’s offered hand, but before he completed the ritual, and let Crystal drink from his palm, he darted up and pulled Lisa into the room, closing the door behind her. His eyes, when he gazed at her, were black with fury. “Sit down,” he snapped, pushing her onto the foot of the bed. Crystal hadn’t moved, although her eyes widened when she saw her mother.
Viciously, Johnny slashed at his own palm with his teeth, cutting a little wider than necessary in his anger. The blood dripped over the edges of his hand and onto the pink and white bedspread. Crystal quickly grasped his hand in both of hers and drank until the blood stopped flowing. Both their hands healed over almost immediately.
“How could you?” Lisa moaned, speaking half to herself and half to the two of them. “You promised. You promised you wouldn’t take her blood until she was older.”
Johnny grabbed her by the shoulders. “Things changed,” he said flatly. “You need to forget you saw this. Do I have to make you forget?”
“Don’t,” said Crystal, laying her hand on Johnny’s arm. “Mom, I chose this, not Johnny. Don’t blame him. We had to do it this way or it would be too late. Do you understand? I wanted this. Johnny didn’t do anything wrong.”
Johnny closed his eyes, but he backed away from Lisa. “Forget this, Lisa,” he said tiredly. The hunger was stirring again, even after he had exchanged blood with Crystal. He wanted more, always more. “I’m leaving now, but I’ll be back. If you make trouble, I’ll take Crystal and you’ll never see her again. Do you understand?”
Lisa slumped down. “No, I don’t understand,” she replied. “I don’t want to understand. I believed you when you said you wouldn’t hurt her.”
“I’m not hurt, Mom,” said Crystal. “Please, let it go. This is what I want. This is what must be.” Her eyes sought out Johnny’s. “Johnny, go. I’ll talk to Mom. It will be okay.”
With a last suspicious glance at Lisa, Johnny left through Crystal’s window, which Lisa had thought was locked securely.
“He knows I don’t want him to kill you—or Kenny,” Crystal murmured, coming to sit down next to her mother. “And I don’t want to leave. I love you both. But I will leave if you can’t handle this. It’s too important.” She dug out one of her old sketchbooks from the nightstand drawer. “I draw something, and then I know it,” she continued, showing her mother the picture she had shown Johnny of the little boy drinking blood from the palm of a vampire. “I knew if Johnny waited until I was older, he wouldn’t be able to complete the change. I would die, then you would die, then Kenny, because he would kill you both next. And then Johnny would go crazy with grief. We’re the only family he has left.”
Crystal put her arms around her mother’s waist and hugged her like she used to do when she was little. After a few minutes, Lisa hugged her back. Tears streamed down Lisa’s face as they held each other without speaking. Finally, Lisa pulled back. “It hurts,” she whispered. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“I know,” Crystal replied. “I don’t want to lose you, either.”