Black Water

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Chapter 23

“That’s Jonathan Price?”

“Johnny, yeah.”

“The vampire.”

“Yeah.”

“So he’s not dead.”

“No.”

Kenny and his uncle stood outside in the pouring rain staring at the closed door Johnny had just gone through. His uncle suddenly slapped Kenny on the back. “I knew it! I knew it!” he said.

Kenny just looked at him, then slowly shook his head. “You knew a whole lot more than you let on,” he commented. “I thought as a hunter you would want to kill him and instead,” he hesitated, “you make the blood offering? What was that all about?”

“What’s that—?” Uncle Robert blinked in surprise. “How can you ask that when you’ve—I have a lot of questions for you, but those can wait. I need to speak to him first.”

He started for the house, but Kenny grabbed his arm. “You don’t want to do that,” he said. “Give Johnny some time. He’ll find you when he’s ready.”

His uncle looked like he was going to argue, so Kenny grasped his arm more tightly and walked him over to the inside of the shed. They shook rain from their hair and clothes. The sound of it pounding on the newly-repaired roof was almost deafening.

“Do you realize what this means?”

“I realize you’ve put us all in a lot of danger unless you calm down,” Kenny replied evenly. “That kid is easy to fly off the handle, blood promise or no blood promise. He also is not stupid. He wants to talk to you. I’m just warning you—let it be on his terms.”

“He’s not a kid,” Uncle Robert said. “He’s an ancient being with power we can’t imagine! To think that he’s been living here the entire time, and that he’s started to form a following from among us once more.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Kenny said, holding up his hand. “He’s started what?”

Uncle Robert leaned against the lawnmower. “Maybe I should talk to you first,” he conceded. “When did the vampire reveal himself to you? Why go through the whole charade of pretending to kill him? Was that for your father’s sake?”

Kenny scowled. “It wasn’t a charade,” he said. “I tried to kill him. Several times.”

“But—he was with you just now!”

“Yeah, well, we’ve gotten over our differences for the most part,” Kenny said. “I’ll let him tell you the rest—when he’s ready. But Uncle, you’ve got to understand something about Johnny. He’s not some mysterious god from our family’s past. He’s a vampire, a killer. I know you think our family’s ancient rituals will protect you, and I hope you’re right. Johnny seems to believe it, too, for now. But I don’t know what will happen if he feels threatened.”

“Who else knows about him?”

“Lisa, Crystal, me. Now you.” Kenny put a hand on his uncle’s shoulder. “He is bound to protect us now because of the blood oath, but that means we’re bound to protect him too. Even you. You understand? You can’t say anything to my Dad about this.”

“Your father? If he suspected Jonathan Price was still alive, he would still be hunting him.” Uncle Robert said.

Johnny slammed the kitchen door behind him, startling Lisa at the sink. He peeled off his sodden hat and started to take off the long-sleeved shirt he’d worn to protect his skin from the worst of the daylight. Water pooled around his feet. “Where’s Crystal?” he asked.

“She’s gone over Ellie’s,” Lisa began, when she caught sight of his strained face. “Johnny, are you all right? What happened?” Automatically, she looked out the window.

“Nothing,” Johnny snapped. “He’s fine.” He strode through the kitchen, intent on going upstairs to grab a towel and maybe some dry clothes, although there wasn’t much point to it. The rain still pounded down outside, making it dark enough that he could easily bear the daylight. He wanted to find Crystal.

Lisa picked up his discarded shirt and hat and wrung them out in the sink. She had noticed the car in the driveway when she had glanced out to see if Kenny was still all right. Uncle Robert was here. “Did he see you?” she asked. “Do you need a place to hide until he leaves?”

Johnny’s lips twisted. “I don’t hide,” he replied. “He knows me. He won’t do anything.”

Johnny sounded so sure. Was he saying that he would kill Uncle Robert before he let him do anything? Kenny wouldn’t like that; neither would she. For all his annoying questions, Lisa had to admit she actually liked Uncle Robert. “Why are they still outside?”

“How should I know? I’m going to find Crystal.” Johnny moved towards the small hallway that led from the kitchen to the living room and the rest of the house.

Lisa watched him thoughtfully. He was avoiding the back door. She followed him upstairs. “Why don’t you take my car? I’ll call Ellie’s mom and tell her someone is picking Crystal up in a few minutes.” She handed Johnny her car keys and watched as indecision crept across his face. This wasn’t like him at all.

Downstairs, the back door opened and they both could hear voices coming from the kitchen. Kenny and Uncle Robert. That decided Johnny. He took the keys that Lisa offered, cupping the side of her face with his free hand. “Thanks.” He smiled, and quickly pushed open the window in Crystal’s room and jumped out.

Lisa smiled back. She touched her face where Johnny had touched it, half glad and half sad. He looked so young. Before she went back downstairs, she locked Crystal’s window. She knew it wouldn’t help. Johnny had a thing with locks.

Johnny drove through the rain to Ellie’s house and parked the car in the street. Lisa expected him to wait in the car for Crystal to come out, but he didn’t want to do that. He had been to this house many times before. Ellie was off-limits, but her mother was not. At least not yet. He frowned, wondering how far this protection of the family extended. Did it count if the people didn’t even know they were blood? He knew it did, because now he knew they were blood. He couldn’t pretend ignorance anymore.

It didn’t matter. Ellie’s mother wouldn’t notice him if he didn’t want her to see him. Not that she would notice him anyway. The woman was singularly unobservant, or maybe just self-centered. She let her kids do whatever they wanted while she stayed in front of her television watching her shows.

Johnny rang the bell, and it was Ellie who answered. “Johnny!” she said, surprised. “Come on in. We thought Crystal’s step-dad was coming to get her.”

Step-dad. She meant Kenny. It was strange to think of him that way. “I came instead. I thought I’d hang out with you and Crystal for a while before I bring her home.”

“Great! We’re downstairs.” Ellie led the way to the basement, where she and Crystal had been listening to music. They had big pillows strewn all over one end of the floor, and a couch was pushed back against the wall. Crystal lay on the pillows and sang along with the radio. She fell silent as she realized who had come downstairs behind Ellie.

“Don’t stop.” Johnny smiled at her and took a seat on the couch.

Crystal sat up. “The song’s over anyway,” she said with a quick grin. “Hi, Johnny.”

“Would you like some popcorn?” Ellie held out a bowl to Johnny, who shook his head. He was hungry, but not for popcorn. Ellie set the bowl down and turned up the radio. “Come on then, come on,” she said, pulling Johnny’s hands until he stood up. She held out her other hand for Crystal. “This is a good song to dance to!”

Johnny let the girls pull him this way and that around the basement. The music was actually fun. He could almost forget that he was incredibly old and these two girls, children really, were so young. Suddenly he wished that time would speed up for once, and that Crystal would finally catch up to him. He remembered pieces of his past, and meeting Uncle Robert today had reinforced some of those broken pieces. He didn’t want to be the family protector who lived always apart, always alone. He wanted to be a part of the family.

At true dusk, they left Ellie’s house. Johnny drove slowly through the wet streets. The rain had stopped, and the sky above was starting to clear. Johnny was glad when they got back to Lisa’s house to see that Uncle Robert’s car was gone. He parked Lisa’s behind the shed and handed Crystal the keys. “Go on in to supper. I’ll come see you later.”

“I want to come with you!” Crystal said.

“Not this time. I need to find blood.”

Crystal nodded, disappointed. “Okay,” she said. “But when will you take me to find blood?”

Johnny hid his grin. “Not this time,” he repeated. She was too young. They had many more equinoxes to pass before she would be ready. But she was already asking about it. That was a good sign. He slashed his palm with his teeth. “I offer you my blood for now.”

He knew what he was doing. It was a reversal of the blood offering his people had made to him and the other vampires for centuries. He offered a taste of his blood to her, and in return . . . in return . . . .

“Mine,” Crystal whispered, in the ancient language she had no earthly way of knowing. She had not been there when he had said the word to Uncle Robert. And yet she knew.

“Mine,” he repeated, and carefully slashed her hand, taking a taste and strengthening their bond.

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