Black Water

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Chapter 25

Instead of returning to the lake, Johnny found himself back at Lisa’s house. It was stupid. The uncle wouldn’t dare approach the lake now, if he knew what’s good for him. Still, it had unnerved Johnny knowing that a virtual stranger knew where he slept. Never mind that the stranger was one of his now.

Dawn wasn’t far off. He looked in on Crystal as she slept, and debated whether or not to wake her up. He had promised her he would see her, but his visit to the uncle had taken longer than he’d thought. He pressed a small kiss on her smooth forehead and glided out the door. Crystal would understand—she always did.

Before he went up to his attic hideaway, he visited Kenny and Lisa as well. They slept twined about each other, comfortable in their nearness. Seeing them all where they should be reassured him. He could sleep here, in this house.

The attic space didn’t let in any light, but Johnny felt the pull of the sun as it rose anyway. The lake would have eased that sensation. But he rationalized it was only for one day. Before he slept, he moved the box he used as a table in front of the small entryway. Only Crystal knew about this place, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

That done, he rested on the thin quilts he kept for his bed and closed his eyes.

It was never easy to sleep when he wasn’t beneath the water. Blood helped, but it didn’t totally erase the restlessness he felt when he slept anywhere else. Thoughts circled around his brain like predators, waiting for an opening to attack. Maybe it was a defense mechanism—if he couldn’t relax, then he couldn’t let down his guard.

His mind drifted. In the early days when he and his supposed Uncle John Pryce had first come to this land, they had had trouble finding a suitable daytime resting place, and as a consequence, they both compensated by drinking a lot of blood, too much blood. There were lakes in the budding colony, but few were as deep and as healing as their lochs in faraway Scotland.

“Get down!” Jack pushed Jonathan’s head almost into the dirt. They were headed towards the big pond just north of their settlement when Jack noticed a band of Indians who were lying in wait for something, or someone, not ten feet in front of them.

Jonathan pushed back and spat. He was tired of hiding, tired of sneaking away from the group of colonists they had attached themselves to on the outskirts of Providence Plantation. Jack thwarted him at every turn. He refused to let Jonathan drink from their neighbors for fear that their secret would be discovered, so they ventured further afield night after night, feasting on animals and sometimes on these self-same Indians who roamed the woods along with them. The Indians were too canny, however, and Jack lately had prevented Jonathan from feeding on them, too, lest they begin to suspect the mild-mannered Mister Pryce and his sickly nephew of being more than they seemed.

Jonathan still didn’t see the problem. He would just kill them all. He’d rather have the blood to replenish him than go under the murky water of the small lake they had found. It was too shallow to grant him the rest he needed. The sun found him, even at the bottom of the lake. While the water soothed his aches, it did nothing to rejuvenate him and he emerged just as tired, and even hungrier than before. When they had first left the ship, Jack had searched immediately for a suitable body of water and then hauled Jonathan to it. Jonathan had thought his uncle was trying to drown him. They were both covered in blood and exhausted by the time Jack succeeded in dragging his nephew to the bottom of a sandy lake. He woke up the next night and realized the scars from his burns didn’t ache as much, and he finally believed his uncle that vampires slept under water to escape the light of day.

They had been noticed. The group of Indians, about ten in all, rose slowly from their squats and gripped edged weapons tightly as they faced Jack and his nephew in the dark woods. Jonathan wondered what they must have thought about the two colonists wandering around their woods in total darkness. If their sudden hesitation was any indication, they knew something was not right. That suited Jonathan perfectly. There was no way he could let them go now that they’d been seen.

“Come on,” he called in a low voice, altogether too happy. The Indians didn’t know what to make of the unarmed boy who strode towards them in the darkness. For a moment they looked like they were going to run, but it was too late for them, too. They couldn’t let these two colonists escape and spread the word of an impending Indian attack. They ran forward on silent feet, too close for arrows but with plenty of sharp tomahawks. Jonathan grinned, showing his sharp teeth, although it was too dark for most of them to see.

At first, Jack hung back but the smell of blood swayed him and he joined Jonathan. They both ignored the tomahawks, and the ones who didn’t die in the first few seconds stared at them in horror. One tried to run away, when he realized what he faced, but Jonathan couldn’t allow that. Still grinning, with blood dripping down his face and arms, he stalked the terrified man and dragged him back to the others. “Here, for you,” he said to Jack. Jack tore out the man’s throat and drank greedily.

“We can’t leave them here,” Jack said later.

“If you’re worried, you take care of it,” Jonathan said, continuing his walk towards the pond. “I’m going to sleep.” He knew Jack was worried about what their neighbors would think of the mutilated bodies, but he didn’t care. Behind him, he heard Jack sigh and he smiled. Jack would take care of it. Jack was good at that. When they had first disembarked, Jack had ingratiated them with a family who had connections here, and soon had made a life for them in one of the portside villages. He was extremely choosy about whose blood he would let Jonathan drink, continuing the ruse of Jonathan’s supposed illness to shelter him during the day. They took miniscule amounts of blood from the townspeople, weakening but not killing if they could help it. Inevitably, they had to move on before people started noticing that neither John Pryce nor his ailing nephew ever got any older. Jonathan sighed himself. It looked like they would be moving again soon, after this. Pity. He was beginning to like this place. At least it had a lake, of sorts.

He slid under the water, glad for the unexpected blood, and closed his eyes.

A few days later his uncle arranged for the two of them to accompany several of the townsmen along the Post Road towards Boston, but that was not their final destination. To the north and west, in neighboring Connecticut, a splinter group of the original colonists who had arrived on the ship with them some forty years ago had settled by a deep, natural lake because it reminded them of home. Over the years, Jack and Jonathan had followed various other settlers away from the coast, ever inland, as the settlers aged and they didn’t. It was time to move again. William Smythe had come to Providence Plantation on business and was now traveling back to his home in Lockwood village. These days, there was safety in numbers. Jack talked at length to William Smythe and got himself and his young nephew invited to the older man’s home. When the rest of their group continued on towards Boston, Jack and his nephew accompanied Mr. Smythe to Connecticut.

“This is my wife, Clarice, and our daughter Elizabeth.” William Smythe introduced his family, who had come to stand outside of the severe, two-story wood house to greet their unexpected guests. Mrs. Smythe, jiggling a wide-eyed baby girl on her hip, dipped her head in greeting. Her daughter, Elizabeth, blushed and curtsied as she caught sight of the young man standing silently beside his uncle.

Jonathan was captivated by the young woman. He smiled, in spite of the agony the afternoon sun was currently causing him, and bowed. Jack nudged him, frowning, and he stepped back into the shadow of the house. On the other side, men were hammering out a frame along the ground. Those would be William’s sons, he realized.

“I’m sorry I can’t offer you a place to stay inside the house,” William Smythe apologized. “As you can see, we’re building an addition which won’t be ready for some time. You are welcome to stay in the barn for now.”

Jack nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “Where is the lake you spoke of? Is it near?”

Jonathan realized that this was why Jack had brought him here. Yet another lake. If it hadn’t been for the girl, Elizabeth, he would have gotten angry. So he kept an open mind and was surprised to see the lake surrounded by gentle hills, shining like a mirror in the dying rays of the evening sun. Something about it stirred memories in him. The hills weren’t as steep, nor the lake as big, but it reminded him fuzzily of home.

Jack made sure he kept his distance from the family members as they sat around the long wooden table in the central room. Elizabeth served them supper, and in between her raucous brothers talking over the top of one another and grabbing food as fast as it came out, no one noticed that neither he nor Jack did much more than push their food around their plates. Her hand brushed Jonathan’s as she poured his drink, and both of them started. Her eyes met his, and she smiled shyly. Across the table, Jack Pryce grimaced.

They stole away from the barn after the household had fallen asleep and made their way down to the nearby lake. “Sleep, Jonathan,” he instructed his nephew, gathering up the younger man’s clothes. “I will stand watch.” He seemed happy for the first time since they had come to Lockwood, which Jonathan didn’t understand, since coming here had been Jack’s idea. But he wasn’t about to argue. Naked, he slipped under the water, which was colder than the other lakes he had been in. The water felt different, too, as he let himself drift down and down. No sun would find him here. For the first time in a long time, he slept peacefully all day long.

He found the clothes Jack had left for him on the edge of the lake, and made his way back up to the Smythe homestead. He felt good, rested, and not ravenous for a change. He looked forward to seeing Elizabeth again.

Jack looked up from the supper table as Elizabeth led him in. He had knocked on the door of the house when he couldn’t find his uncle in the barn, and she had answered, her face lighting up when she saw him. “Jonathan!” She blushed. “Master Pryce,” she corrected herself. “We missed you at supper.”

“Jonathan,” he replied, smiling at her. “Sorry. I had to—“ He stopped, not sure of what his uncle had told them to explain his absence.

“I told them you were ill,” Jack said with a challenging smile. “Your health has never been good. It was best to let you rest.”

Jonathan gazed at his uncle steadily. “I feel better now,” he said, taking a seat at the table. Jack had given him a good excuse to be gone for long absences, but he didn’t want Elizabeth to think of him as sickly. “I took a walk to the lake,” he added, for his uncle’s benefit. “I went for a swim. I really like this lake.”

Jack grunted in satisfaction. “I thought this lake would be beneficial to your health,” he said, embellishing on his story about Jonathan’s supposed illness. “Perhaps I should try going for a swim, myself.”

“You should,” Jonathan told him. “You would enjoy it.”

They excused themselves not long after, Jonathan making eyes at Elizabeth as they took their leave. They hunted in the hills around the lake, and this time Jack followed Jonathan underneath the water to experience the healing powers of this particular lake for himself. It was what they had been searching for—or at least, what Jack had been searching for—since they had come to this country. Even Jonathan had to admit that the lake made him feel better. Elizabeth made him feel better, too.

“You need to stay away from that girl,” Jack cautioned him. They had awakened early, to help the Smythe family raise the walls for their new addition. Jack’s explanation about Jonathan’s recurring illness served as their excuse to spend most of their days, but not all of them, in the far recesses of the barn.

“Why?”

Jack’s face darkened. “She’s human,” he said ominously.

“I haven’t touched her blood,” Jonathan said. And he hadn’t, although he had been tempted. He liked her, more than liked her. It didn’t seem right that he steal into her room in the middle of the night and take her blood without her knowing, like he usually did with the victims he didn’t outright kill.

“You can’t! Promise me you will not take her blood, nor her parents, nor her family’s.” Jack spoke urgently. He had often made Jonathan promise not to touch the blood of people in the communities where they lived. He was deathly afraid of someone discovering their secret. Jonathan didn’t see why he cared so much. If someone did discover their secret, they could just kill them and be done with it. Problem solved.

However, in this case, Jonathan agreed with Jack. He didn’t want Elizabeth’s family to discover their secret this time either. He didn’t want to have to leave, and he certainly did not want to kill Elizabeth. “I won’t attack her,” he agreed, choosing his words carefully. He had other ideas.

Eventually, Jack built his own small house, a cottage made of logs, along the access road to the lake. It was close enough to Lockwood village, but closer still to the lake, and it gave them privacy and a little distance from the Smythe family. Jack did not approve of the growing relationship between Elizabeth Smythe, and his nephew, Jonathan Pryce. Now that Jonathan had access to the powerful healing waters of Lockwood’s lake, he increasingly stayed awake during the daylight hours, and a good portion of those hours was spent at the Smythe homestead.

Jonathan, for his part, enjoyed acting the part of a regular young man. He liked Elizabeth’s family, and they liked him. They even let him spend moments alone with their daughter, and the two of them took long walks in the evening along the shores of the lake. They kissed in the moonlight, and Jonathan resolved right then and there to tell Elizabeth the secret of his existence.

“I wish I could marry you,” he said, stroking her honey brown hair away from her forehead where it had slipped out from beneath her cap when they kissed.

“Why can’t you?” Elizabeth asked breathily.

“I’m not the same as you. I don’t eat. I don’t grow old.”

“If you don’t eat, how do you live?”

He kissed her gently, then pulled away and let her see his sharp teeth. “I drink blood,” he said, and watched her eyes widen. If she screamed, what would he do? He couldn’t kill her—he loved her.

But Elizabeth didn’t scream. She didn’t draw back. “Show me,” she said.

He took her hand, turned it over, and bit her wrist. She winced, but only for a second, and he let her feel the pull on her veins before he withdrew. She stared at her wrist in fascination. There was no wound, only a spot of redness where his mouth had pressed against it. Yet she had felt the drawing sensation as he took her blood. “It’s true,” she whispered. Then, tilting her head, she asked, “Will I die?”

Jonathan laughed softly. “No,” he replied. “Not from that.”

“Then marry me anyway. I don’t care if you drink blood.”

Jack Pryce was furious when Jonathan told him he was engaged. “You can’t do that!” he shouted, throwing clothing into a sack. Things had gone too far. He was prepared to leave Lockwood behind and start over in some new town with Jonathan before he ruined everything by marrying that girl. “She’s bound to find out you’re a vampire.”

“She already knows,” Jonathan admitted.

“What!” Jack paced back and forth in the tiny cabin. “You’ll just have to kill her, then. Tonight. We will have to leave before anyone else notices.” His eyes narrowed. “You haven’t told anyone else, have you?”

Jonathan scowled. He wasn’t going to kill Elizabeth or anyone else. “No,” he muttered sullenly. “No one else. And Elizabeth won’t tell. She is fine with it. She loves me.”

“What do you mean—don’t tell me you exchanged blood with her!”

“No, I drank her blood, and she didn’t mind,” Jonathan said, although he wondered what his uncle was so worried about.

“Thank goodness that’s all you did!” Jack said. “It’s not too late, then. We can kill her and that will be the end of this. We won’t have to leave and lose the lake after all. I’ll help you.”

Jonathan’s eyes turned black. “No one is going to kill Elizabeth,” he growled. “If you touch her, I will kill you.” He turned on his heel and walked out.

“What about the lake? We need this lake! How could you risk it?” His uncle called after him.

Jonathan ignored him, and went to find Elizabeth. His uncle had been worried that they had exchanged blood. It hadn’t occurred to Jonathan that if he exchanged blood with Elizabeth, she could become a vampire like him.

“I want to do it,” Elizabeth said, sitting next to him on the beach as the sun set.

He explained to her about the lake, how it sustained him and protected him during the day. He explained that he wasn’t really dead, and she wouldn’t be, either, just changed. She smiled at him and held out her wrist.

In the weeks and months that followed, Elizabeth grew paler with each blood exchange, but she insisted upon continuing it. Jonathan tried to ask Jack about the process, but the older vampire refused to speak to him about it. He had a strange gleam to his eye whenever Jonathan mentioned the girl’s weakness, as though he knew the process wasn’t working, and Jonathan grew desperate. It was as if he were waiting for the girl to die. Jonathan was determined that wasn’t going to happen.

“Elizabeth, Elizabeth, look at me.” She sat listlessly on the small blanket they had brought to the beach. “You must drink.” Jonathan ripped open his own wrist and held it to her lips. She drank a few small sips, then drifted off into sleep. Sighing, Jonathan pulled the edges of the blanket around her and left her there on the beach. It was nearly dawn, and the blood exchange had taken its toll on him, too. He needed to go under the water to recuperate. They would try again tomorrow night.

He didn’t see her sit up in time to watch him slip underneath the water; he didn’t hear her gasp when he failed to resurface. He never heard her screams, never felt the hands that pulled him out of the water, never woke until he was covered under the earth, in the grave marked ‘Jonathan Pryce.’

When he finally awoke in the dark, confining space, he realized immediately what had happened. With a violent kick, he broke open the wooden box he had been placed in, and clawed his way to the surface. Jack stood a few feet away, waiting for him. “It’s over,” Jack said quietly. “She thinks you are dead. Now we can go. I’ve already told them I am leaving Lockwood because I am too distraught over your death.” He walked over to where Jonathan crouched, and began pushing the loose dirt back into the hole Jonathan had made so that no one would be able to tell that the grave had been disturbed.

Jonathan swung his arm back and hit Jack Pryce as hard as he could. “Get away from me,” he said in a steely voice. “Get away before I kill you.”

Jack took an involuntary step back, and rubbed his jaw. He stared uncomprehendingly at Jonathan. “But the problem has been solved,” he said. “We can go back to the way we were.”

Jonathan turned his back on his uncle. “Leave. Now. I don’t ever want to see you again.”

For the next few days, he kept to himself, hunting in the woods, avoiding people since he was supposed to be dead. He stayed away from the Smythe household, who were still in mourning for his passing. He went by the cabin he had shared with his uncle only once, to find it dark and empty. Jack Pryce really had left Lockwood. He was glad.

During the day, he rested under the lake. One night, he awoke to find Elizabeth sleeping on a blanket in their usual spot. Her feet were bare and the bottom of her dress was soaking wet.

“Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” He whispered her name as he shook her gently. Her face was streaked with tears, and she looked pale, so pale.

She opened her eyes, and when she saw Jonathan, she finally understood. “You’re alive!” she sobbed, throwing her arms around him. “You really are a vampire!”

He smiled against her neck, and murmured, “You doubted it?”

She shook her head, half laughing, half crying. “Oh, please, please finish it!” she begged. “I want to be like you.”

That was what Jonathan wanted to hear. He had feared she might have changed her mind, in light of his unexpected ‘death.’ He bit gently down on her throat, taking more than he usually did, leaving her unconscious on her blanket, but not before he made sure she had taken some of his blood, too. It was all he knew how to do.

Her family came for her in the morning, bundling her up in quilts and speaking in hushed voices about her grief. Every night, she slipped away from their watchful eyes and made her way back to the beach to wait for Jonathan. Every night, he gave her sips of his blood, and took hers, and willed her to change.

There came a time when Elizabeth never woke up. Jonathan shook her, then held her and cried with her in his arms as he realized she was truly gone.

He woke up in Lisa’s attic, and his face was wet with tears.

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