Black Water

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Chapter 24

Johnny carefully skirted the new development behind Crystal’s school, looking for homes that were dark. Those families, most likely with smaller children, had probably already gone to bed.

He eased in through an upper window on a home set back from the rest. There was a single light on in the living room; otherwise, the house was dark. These people weren’t family. They were fair game. It wasn’t as if he were planning to kill them anyway. He was more subtle than that. He killed slowly, over time. These days, there were enough of them that he didn’t even have to do that. He could take a little from one family, then another, then another, and nobody would be the wiser.

His eyes darkened. Lisa would be the wiser, and Kenny, and the uncle. He didn’t care—he made no excuses for what he was. Crystal understood that.

The sleeping children never stirred as he ghosted silently between them, leaving only a slight redness on their throats to show he had been there. They might have a hard time waking up in the morning, and their mother would probably wonder if they were coming down with something. He had done this countless times throughout the last few centuries.

The mother. Johnny moved on to the larger bedroom to find her asleep alone in her big bed. The father must still be downstairs. She looked a little bit like Lisa. For a moment, Johnny was tempted to wake her up, but he decided against it. He bent down to her throat. Her blood was nothing like Lisa’s, who had a trace of family in hers.

All of a sudden, he felt a tremendous desire for that potent family blood. It irked him that he had sought out other blood because of promises he had only just remembered. He had accepted blood from Crystal and Lisa and Kenny—and now the uncle. That was all. Why shouldn’t he still enjoy the taste of Ellie’s mother’s potent blood, or any of the other family blood in this town? What were they to him? With a few exceptions, none of them even knew about his kind—and the ones that knew had tried to kill him. Any pact the family had previously made with his kind was broken. They broke it. Why shouldn’t they be fair game now?

With a low growl, Johnny fed on the mother a little less gently than he had intended. He stepped back, wiping his hand across his mouth, and regarded her neck, which was very red. It would be better in the morning. She would think she was coming down with the same illness as the children.

He grinned. Might as well make it unanimous. He bounded downstairs to find Daddy.

When he was done, he left the same way he had come in, through the upstairs window. He felt better. Satisfied.

There were still gaps in his memory leading up to the horrific purge of vampires in the middle of the 17th century. He had only thought of himself as a vampire since he had been in this country. Young Jack had let him think it. When he looked back on his early days in Rhode Island and later in Lockwood, he now saw them through the filter of his new-found knowledge. Jack had hidden the truth from him. Was it really to protect him?

Alice’s house was dark and locked tight. Locks had never stopped Johnny. He walked in through the front door, closing it gently behind him. Uncle Robert was sound asleep in an upstairs bedroom. Johnny ignored him for the moment and prowled around the darkened room, which still looked too much like a guest room. It was the same room Kenny’s mother had occupied when he had last visited nearly five years ago. Strange that this uncle hadn’t wanted the master bedroom.

Johnny flicked on the light. He didn’t wait for the uncle to fully register what had happened. In a heartbeat he stood over the bed. In another, he had his hands wrapped around the man’s throat, not tightly, just enough to make a point. “You know me,” he whispered into his ear. “How?”

“I made the blood offering,” Robert Brown choked out in protest.

“And you’re not dead,” Johnny said reasonably. “How do you know me?”

The uncle’s eyes flickered down to the hands still pinning him in place, then back up to Johnny’s face. Johnny loosened his grip, but he did not let go. Robert Brown took a deep breath. “We—our branch of the family—have been tracking Jonathan Price—you—for centuries. Ever since we realized you had survived and followed us here.”

“No.” Johnny shook the uncle lightly. “You know me.” It had bothered Johnny all night long. How did Uncle Robert know to offer his blood? How did he know the rest of the words when Kenny didn’t, when Johnny himself didn’t—until he heard them spoken out loud? Was this man somehow like Crystal, able to know things he should have had no knowledge of? Or had he learned about the blood offering and the ancient language somewhere else? That was what Johnny needed to find out.

He let go of the uncle, who sat up and rubbed his neck. “Kenny said you would find me when you were ready,” the uncle said. “I guess he was right.”

Johnny didn’t like Kenny being right. He pulled the man to his feet and enjoyed the brief look of terror that flashed across his face. It didn’t last long. As soon as he let go, the uncle fell to his knees and once again held up his cupped palms, either offering his blood again, or reminding Johnny that he had already offered. “Don’t,” Johnny said harshly. He didn’t need to be reminded.

“Blood of my blood,” Kenny’s uncle murmured softly without lowering his raised hands. “I am glad you came. Please accept my blood. You asked how I know you. It’s a long story.”

“Get up.” Johnny ignored the offer of more blood. This man made him uncomfortable. It had been a long time since anyone had been in awe of him. Afraid, yes. Not this. In the old days, it had been Jack who dealt with the human family. He missed Jack right now. He would have known how to handle this throwback to the old ways.

Uncle Robert led Johnny to the kitchen and made himself a cup of tea, offering one to Johnny, who declined. He smiled at the young-looking vampire across the table. “You’re not what I expected,” he said. “I spent most of my life learning about Jonathan Price and tracing his—your—history. I was trained to hate and fear you as one of the enemy—blood of my enemy—“ He murmured the phrase in the old language. “But even as a child, I questioned it. How could someone who shared the same bloodline as us be our enemy? My father showed me the evidence of your crimes, showed me the evidence that you lived century after century, but that only made me question our family’s teachings more. I knew your history, how you and John Pryce had come over on the ship that carried our ancestors to this country, but nobody knew at the time that you were vampires. You must have hidden from those of us who could sense your kind.”

Johnny frowned. He hadn’t known enough then to be cautious. He hadn’t even remembered that many of the other passengers on that ship shared his bloodline. Jack had protected him and kept him away from any of the family who might have recognized them for what they were. Jack had continued to protect him right up until the moment he died—killed by those very same family members—this man’s relatives. His eyes darkened. “Go on,” he said.

“I knew the history of what had happened to the vampires in the old country. I couldn’t help thinking that if you and John Pryce had escaped, maybe some others had, too. But my father refused to consider contacting Scotland. He wouldn’t tell me which village we had originally come from. He told me there was no one left who was related to us. He said that if, by some chance, any other vampires had survived the purge, we were better off not knowing because they would kill us.”

Johnny thought the uncle might be right about that. He would have.

“So I left. When I was a young man I went away to Boston and used the knowledge I had gained as a hunter to trace back the colonists on that ship to the original port they had left Scotland from, and then I tried to follow the different groups back to their original towns and villages. It wasn’t easy; they didn’t all come from one single village, and I didn’t know exactly which one our family was from. When my father found out what I was trying to do, he was furious. Lucky for him I had another brother to carry on the hunter tradition. He cut me off and wouldn’t even allow my mother to speak to me.” He gazed lovingly around the kitchen of his mother’s childhood home. “I never went home again. But I did travel to Scotland, as often as I could, and I spent many summers up in the hills trying to trace my roots—our roots. I told Kenny and my brother that I never found anything, but that isn’t exactly true.” He took a big gulp of his tea. “There are people there who remember the old language. I spent a summer with an old man who lived next to a very deep lake. He told me stories. Most of the people from his village considered him a little off his rocker, but I listened to what he said because he used phrases I recognized from what my father had taught me. Blood of my blood, blood of my enemy. He told me about the blood drinkers that were born from human and vampire to protect the villages from enemies. I asked him if there were any more vampires, and at first he seemed puzzled by that word, but when he understood what I was asking, he only shook his head sadly and stared out at the lake. The next day, he brought me to the edge of the water and cut my palm with a knife and held it over the water. My blood dripped into the water and was washed away. He told me he was calling to the blood drinker, but no one ever came.”

Johnny let out the breath he had been holding since Kenny’s uncle had mentioned the lake. If there had been a vampire in that lake, he would have come to the call of blood—wouldn’t he? “So he never accepted your blood offering?”

“There never was a vampire, to my knowledge. We repeated the ritual every time I visited the old man, but no vampire ever appeared.” Uncle Robert tilted his head. “You’re the first one I’ve ever actually seen,” he admitted. “The old man died about ten years ago and I haven’t been back since then.”

“But you could find the place again, right?” Johnny didn’t believe there was no vampire. If the old man had known enough to drip blood into the lake, then he knew there was a vampire there. Johnny had never seriously considered going back to the old country, not even after he had started to get his memories back. Now, he was starting to change his mind. He might not be the last one after all.

Uncle Robert looked at Johnny curiously. “I—yes, I know where it is.”

“You weren’t surprised to see me in the daylight. Why?” Johnny asked. The hunters, including Kenny, had not known that fact about vampires.

“I was surprised,” Uncle Robert admitted. “I was surprised to feel you so strongly when I touched your hand. I was surprised to find you doing manual labor. I was surprised that you chose my nephew, a hunter, as your servant.”

Johnny laughed. Servant? He’d like to see Kenny’s face when his uncle said that in front of him. “Go back to sleep,” he said, getting up to leave.

“Wait! I have so many questions to ask you!” Uncle Robert said.

“Later,” Johnny said. The uncle wasn’t so bad. He had given Johnny a lot to think about, but he definitely wanted to talk to him some more after he had had a chance to digest what he had just learned.

“May I wait for you at the lake?” the uncle asked.

Johnny turned. “What?”

“May I wait for you to awaken tomorrow evening?”

Johnny crossed the short distance to Kenny’s uncle before he had time to think. “Whatever you think you know about me, forget it. You are not to go near the lake. You especially are not to mention my connection to the lake to your nephew or anyone else. Understand? You offered me your blood and you are mine to protect, but if you cross me, I will kill you. Because you are mine.”

Uncle Robert nodded several times.

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