Black Water

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Chapter 15

Johnny carried Crystal down the stairs. She was barely breathing, but she was alive. He deposited her gently on the couch in the living room and gashed his own wrist again where it had healed over. He held it to Crystal’s slack mouth.

“Crystal!” Lisa ran up behind him and tried to squeeze her way past to get to her daughter. “What are you—no!” She realized Johnny was attempting to feed her daughter blood, although it dribbled down the side of Crystal’s neck instead of down her throat. “Stop! She’s too young!” Lisa tried in vain to pull Johnny’s arm away.

At that moment, Kenny figured out what was going on, and he grabbed Johnny around the waist, intending to lift him bodily away from his young victim.

Johnny turned his head and snarled at the hunter, eyes black and mouth shining wetly with the remains of Crystal’s blood. Kenny flinched, although he didn’t let go of the vampire. It made no difference. Johnny was immoveable. He didn’t take his wrist away from Crystal’s mouth. After a few more seconds, Crystal choked and swallowed reflexively. The tension went out of Johnny’s shoulders. He eased Crystal up, supporting her with one arm while he still held the other to her mouth. As soon as he shifted position, Lisa crowded closer to Crystal.

Her eyes fluttered open and she pushed away Johnny’s wrist herself. He let her. The color had come back into her cheeks and her heart beat steadily. Crystal smiled. “I’m okay,” she said.

Lisa used that as an excuse to draw her daughter into her lap. She sat, holding Crystal to her chest, and rocked back and forth as if Crystal had still been a baby.

Johnny backed away, relieved and still unsettled. The hunter glared at him but kept his distance.

“Mom, I’m really okay,” Crystal insisted. “You’re squishing me.”

Reluctantly, Lisa loosened her grip, but she still kept one arm protectively around her daughter. Kenny joined her on Crystal’s other side, leaving Johnny standing alone in the middle of the living room.

Crystal turned calm eyes on Johnny. “You need to rest,” she told him.

Johnny nodded once, tightly, focusing only on Crystal and not on the two who sat protectively on either side of her. Lisa cried silently and wouldn’t meet his gaze, but the hunter looked ready for murder.

“I will. Soon,” he promised. Already his throat felt the need for more blood. He had to get out of there quickly.

“It’s all right,” Crystal continued. “You don’t need to stay with me all the time. You need to sleep or we won’t be able to finish this.”

Johnny could see the hunter tense up beside Crystal, his already hard mouth pulled down in a tight grimace. Johnny wished she had not brought up his need for rest. He did not want the hunter to know where he slept. Kenny hadn’t earned that level of trust.

Crystal struggled to get up, and both Lisa and Kenny restrained her. “I have to get something from my room,” she insisted.

“What?”

“My sketchpad,” Crystal replied, still trying to stand up. “I’ll show you what I mean.”

Lisa immediately loosened her grip, although Kenny did not. He shook his head. “What’s so important about your sketchpad?” Crystal turned anxious eyes on him. “Okay, okay. One of us will get it. You just sit back and relax. You’re still weak.” He glared at Johnny as he said it.

She was not weak. Johnny could tell that even the slight amount of his blood that Crystal had ingested gave her great recuperative powers. The two deep cuts she had made on the inside of her elbows were completely gone. “I’ll go,” he volunteered. He knew where she kept her sketchbook.

Johnny’s mind was confused. He hadn’t meant to hurt Crystal, hadn’t thought he had hurt her until she stopped moving. Away from Lisa and Kenny’s accusing eyes, Johnny shook, although whether it was due to lack of rest or a reaction to Crystal’s near-death, he wasn’t quite sure. Johnny was going to eventually lose control and slaughter them all long before Crystal had taken in enough of his blood to ensure her change.

He rummaged in her nightstand drawer for the pad, wondering how Kenny had managed to go four years without noticing the kind of pictures Crystal drew. His lip curled derisively. Some hunter.

He grabbed the book and headed downstairs. Well, the hunter was going to get a rude awakening. This was only one of several sketchpads Crystal had done over the years. Her drawings were eerily accurate and often foretold the near future, although lately they had also been revealing his own past which he had forgotten.

When he got back, Crystal was sipping a large glass of orange juice. Kenny hadn’t budged from her side, although Lisa hovered in the doorway which led to the kitchen, a plate of sandwiches—peanut-butter, Johnny noted—in her hands. She shot him a look of disappointment, if not outright betrayal, which in a way was worse than Kenny’s furious stares.

“Say it!” he snapped, suddenly angry. He wanted to make sure Crystal was all right, then he needed to leave. Their blood, all of theirs, was making him crazy!

“You promised,” Lisa whispered, on the verge of tears again. “You said you would never hurt her.”

“I’m not hurt,” Crystal interjected.

Both Lisa and Johnny ignored her. “I know,” Johnny replied softly. “I’m sorry.”

Crystal stamped her foot. “Look at me,” she insisted. “I’m not hurt. I tricked Johnny into taking my blood. He was hurt, not me!”

Kenny and Lisa both turned to stare at Johnny. His face reddened.

“He needs to sleep,” Crystal repeated. She took her sketchbook from Johnny’s lax fingers and thumbed through the pages. “Look.”

The picture she held up to them showed an emaciated Johnny surrounded by blood-drenched bodies. Lisa gasped. She recognized the leaf-pattern sweater on one of the bodies as her own. By default, the male body and the smaller female body could only be Kenny and Crystal!

“This is what will happen if Johnny doesn’t sleep soon.” In the background of the sketch Crystal had drawn their Christmas tree, just as it stood now, decorated but without presents underneath anymore.

Crystal flipped the page. She glanced over at Kenny who had grown very still beside her. “This is what will happen if Johnny dies first.” The second picture showed an emaciated Crystal, her hair falling out, reaching for her mother’s throat. “We can’t leave this unfinished.”

Kenny frowned. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Leave what unfinished?”

“You don’t know anything, do you?” Johnny sneered, even though he wasn’t sure the hunter should be brought into this. “Crystal has accepted my blood. We started the change in her, and now there is no other choice except to finish it. Or she will die.” Johnny left unspoken that he, too would likely die, as would the rest of them and very possibly the entire town if he lost control. If the hunter couldn’t figure that out from Crystal’s drawings, that was his problem.

“I don’t believe it.” Kenny stood up and paced to the other end of the living room, where he wheeled to face Johnny. “You mean you gave your blood to her before?” He made a face. “Disgusting.”

A gleam came into Johnny’s eyes. “You think so?” he murmured softly.

“Stop it.” Lisa pressed a sandwich into Crystal’s hands. “What would happen if I gave Johnny my blood? Would that help?”

Johnny shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “Are you offering?”

“I don’t want you to die,” Lisa replied, ignoring Kenny’s outraged grunt. She pulled down the collar of her shirt. “I’m trusting you not to kill me.”

“Lisa, no!” Kenny said, putting himself in between them, but she pushed him away.

“No, you don’t understand,” she said. “Johnny will die. Or we will. Can’t you see how unstable he is? Do you think I wanted this to happen? It’s too late to make any other choices.” Her voice broke. “I don’t want anyone to die.”

Johnny leaned against the wall, arms folded. He watched the hunter to see how he would react. Crystal’s drawings had shaken him more than he wanted them to see. Already, Lisa’s offer had set his throat to pounding and he had to strain not to just attack her right there. If he thought it would help, he would take Crystal away right now and leave Lisa and Kenny far behind. He had enough funds to start a new life somewhere else. But that wouldn’t solve the problem. His memory fugues would only get worse. Next time Crystal offered her blood, would he be able to stop? No, even without Lisa and Kenny, it was only a matter of time before he accidentally killed Crystal.

She was too young; he looked too young. Where would they go and still be safe? He was tied to the lake’s waters. In all his long years he had never bothered searching for any others. At home, nearly every lake was a haven for his kind. Here? He couldn’t be sure. It was another reason why he had remained in Lockwood all these years.

Johnny pushed himself off the wall and walked over to the sofa, settling in Lisa’s spot. Kenny had returned to Crystal’s other side. He was busy flipping through the pages of her sketchbook.

“What the hell is all this?” he asked. He had stopped at the picture of the little boy drinking out of the older man’s cupped palm.

“That’s me,” Johnny said softly. “When I first made the blood offering.”

Kenny glanced at him in astonishment. “But you were just a kid!”

“Exactly.”

“And now you’re trying to do the same thing to Crystal, aren’t you?”

Johnny didn’t bother to reply. His hands had started shaking again. He wanted blood very badly. It didn’t seem to matter that he had just taken blood—almost too much blood—from Crystal. The desire for more was overwhelming.

Crystal and Lisa both put their hands on Johnny, and he flinched away from them. “Don’t,” he grated, his throat raw.

“What’s wrong with you?” Kenny leaned across Crystal’s lap and peered into Johnny’s face. “Are you sick or something?”

Johnny clapped his hands to the side of his head and bolted across the room. All three of them stared back at him. His family. And he wanted to rip them apart.

“He needs to sleep and he won’t go,” Crystal said reproachfully.

“You know why I can’t.” Johnny spoke from across the room with his head down. If he didn’t look at them, then they couldn’t tempt him.

“You can, it’s all right now,” Crystal said.

“Johnny.” Lisa tried. “When we came back from Christmas vacation and couldn’t find you, I told Crystal that you probably went—to rest. But Crystal was extremely upset, saying that you hadn’t and that we needed to find you right away. I didn’t believe her, although I guess I should have, after what happened the last time you disappeared. She knew what had happened to you that time too, and she knew what to do. If she says you need to rest now, I think you should listen to her.”

Kenny looked suspiciously from Lisa to Johnny. “I’m not sure I follow,” he said. “What other time? First you say Johnny is trying to change Crystal into a vampire. Then you tell me Crystal knows this because she drew a picture of the same thing happening to Johnny when he was small. Now you’re telling me Crystal says Johnny has to rest or he’ll kill us all? Since when is Crystal the vampire expert?” Kenny stared hard at the vampire crouched against the far wall. “You’re the vampire. How come Crystal has to tell you all this stuff?”

Johnny raised tortured eyes. “Because I can’t remember!”

Crystal ran to Johnny and knelt in front of him on the floor. She held out her hand, cupped. “Eoin,” she said.

Lisa glanced at Kenny, then quickly knelt beside her daughter and held out her palm too.

“I remembered for both of us,” Crystal murmured. “We don’t have to exchange blood every few days. Once we started, it’s okay if we do the exchange just a few times a year while I’m still growing up.”

Crystal had not cut her hand; she didn’t have a knife. Johnny was so tired. He wanted to believe her but he was so scared that he might lose her forever if he stopped the blood exchange too soon. Both Crystal and Lisa gazed at him steadily. They trusted him. Slowly he took first Crystal’s hand, then Lisa’s, and brought them up to his mouth. He couldn’t hide the trembling in his own hands as he carefully pierced each palm, taking only a few sips from each. They had freely offered.

He heard a noise, and was stunned to see that Kenny had knelt next to Lisa and held out his palm, too.

Johnny had this much control, at least. “You’re sure?” he asked.

Kenny hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah, you don’t look so good, kid,” he said.

Johnny grinned, and brought one sharp tooth down across Kenny’s palm. Blood welled in the cut, but Johnny waited until the hunter held it out to him before he accepted the offering.

After he had tasted all three, his cravings subsided. He slashed his own palm and offered it to Crystal. He let Crystal set the pace, and she took more blood than she usually did, but not enough to hurt him or set his mind completely at ease. But he had decided to trust Crystal’s instincts in this.

By offering him their blood, they all had put themselves under Johnny’s protection. He would die before he would harm any of them, even Kenny, not that the hunter would know that. He should have known that, though. They had all forgotten so much.

“I need to rest,” Johnny announced. “Kenny, I won’t be going to Boston with you after all. I’m trusting you to find out what you can about our past. Now you know the truth—I can’t remember what happened to me and I need to know, because of Crystal.”

Kenny nodded, staring down at his palm where there was no mark except for a slight redness which itched fiercely. It hadn’t hurt at all. “I’ll talk to my uncle. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with you changing Crystal, but for now I’m going to accept your word that it’s too late to stop it. I don’t like being lied to,” he continued. “I’m also planning to have a long talk with these two lovely ladies and I expect them to tell me the truth. You got a problem with that?”

Johnny smiled. “I trust them,” he replied. Lisa knew better than to reveal any more about Johnny’s resting place, and Johnny wanted to make sure Kenny got his subtle threat. Johnny didn’t fully trust the hunter yet.

Crystal’s sketchbook had fallen open on the couch to the last page. It was a picture of all three of them, kneeling to offer blood to Johnny. She had known all along how it would turn out.

He stayed long enough to tuck Crystal in one last time. “How long?” he asked her. How long is safe? How long did he need to recuperate?

“I see daffodils in front of the cottage,” Crystal replied. “We’re opening up the windows and turning on the water.” She squeezed her eyes shut in concentration, then popped them wide open. “You left your clothes there!” she realized.

Johnny smiled at her. “Spring, then. I can wait. Be good. If you need me for anything, come to the lake.” He kissed the top of her head and slipped out through the window. There were two things he needed to do before he went under the lake to sleep for the rest of the winter.

He needed to hunt, but first he made a quick visit to the cemetery where it had all started. It was here he had met Crystal and her mother four years ago. He stopped at his old grave, Jonathan Price’s grave, and scooped snow away from the back of the stone. He lifted the loose covering until he found the hole he had made centuries ago. In it was a small box filled with tiny treasures he had accumulated over several lifetimes. Gemstones, coins, a ribbon, snippets of hair. He fished out the keychain Crystal had given him and placed it carefully in his box of treasures before he replaced it and smoothed snow back over the spot.

Now, to hunt, and then to sleep. There was a spot near the bottom of the road where a stream fed into the lake. The ice had not completely hardened over there because of the running water. It was a good place for him to enter without leaving a telltale sign. To sleep—he was honestly looking forward to it.

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