Black Water

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Chapter 27

Lisa let Crystal stay for a week with her brother and his family at the cottage when school let out for the summer so that she and Kenny could take care of wedding details.

She read Johnny the riot act beforehand, however. “Keep your distance,” she cautioned him. “Eddie and Maureen know what you looked like five years ago. You can’t let them see you.”

Johnny’s lips twitched, but he nodded solemnly. As long as Lisa didn’t try to keep him away from Crystal altogether, he could live with her demands.

“And please, please don’t hurt them.”

Johnny’s smile faded. She meant ‘don’t drink their blood.’ Well, he wasn’t going to promise that. Lisa realized it after a moment also. Her eyes widened and she looked like she was going to say something, but then she changed her mind. She gave a grimace of a smile and turned her body slightly away, closing herself off both physically and mentally, as she bent to sort and fold Crystal’s summer clothes for the coming vacation.

Johnny, sitting cross-legged on Crystal’s bed, sighed. “They’ll be fine,” he conceded. Lisa could interpret that however she wanted.

“Ellie’s going too.” Lisa shook out a beach towel. Kenny and Crystal had gone over to Ellie’s house to collect her. Although Ellie had grown up in Lockwood, she had seldom visited the lake and had been excited when Crystal invited her.

“Ellie has nothing to worry about,” Johnny said ambiguously, aware that Lisa had been waiting for his acknowledgement. It didn’t mean anything, but Lisa took it to mean that they would be safe from him. Let her think it, if it made her feel better. It might even be true.

Before Crystal came home, Johnny left to take care of some things. He would see Crystal at the lake tomorrow night—her mother was crazy if she thought otherwise.

Uncle Robert still spent his weekdays in Boston, doing whatever business it was he did there. He had sold his house in the suburbs and formally purchased his mother’s family home in Lockwood from Kenny. He kept a small apartment downtown near his office.

Johnny knocked on the door just like any other visitor, enjoying the sudden shock on the uncle’s face when he opened it. He must not get many visitors.

“Johnny? How did you get here?”

Johnny had driven Lisa’s car and parked it in a commuter lot along the turnpike, but he didn’t tell the uncle that. Let him think it was some mysterious vampire power. He shrugged. He was fast, but not that fast.

Warily, the uncle held open his door and motioned for the vampire to come in. Johnny looked around curiously. The place was small, but well-kept. Uncle Robert had a couple of bookshelves and a desk in the small living room. His TV was in the bedroom. Johnny took a look at some of the books. Scottish heraldry. Ancient Celtic myths and legends. He smiled at that one. The uncle was off base there.

“Do you have a minute? I’m on a time schedule here.” Johnny made a show of looking at an imaginary watch.

Robert Brown didn’t know what to make of him, to Johnny’s amusement.

“Sure, sure,” he replied, and Johnny glided past him and took the only chair in the room, next to the desk.

“First of all, you are not to mention me to anyone. Nor anything about me.” Johnny wasn’t worried about the other hunter, Kenny’s father, or a stray villager or two. Those he could easily take care of. Johnny did not want the uncle contacting his sources in Scotland, not until he was ready. Johnny’s eyes hardened. “Or have you already done so?”

From the look on the uncle’s face, Johnny saw that he had. He let his eyes go dark.

“Not that I’ve met you, or that you’re still alive,” the uncle said hastily. “Only your name, Jonathan Price, that’s all. No one recognized the name.”

Johnny rose and took a step forward. Uncle Robert backed up as far as the door.

“I didn’t mean to offend you! I just thought—“

“Who did you tell? When?”

“Remember I told you about the old man up in the hills? He had a granddaughter. We kept in touch. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t mentioned you before,” Uncle Robert explained. “When I first went to Scotland as a young man, I tried to trace where you had come from. No one had ever heard of John Pryce or his nephew Jonathan. I never found the village you came from.”

He wouldn’t have, Johnny knew now. John Pryce was a made-up name. So was Jonathan. Old Jack had picked those names to hide them on the ship. None of the hunters knew the name ‘Eoin.’ Johnny himself had all but forgotten it. However. . . “Did you find the place where your ancestors used to live?”

Uncle Robert nodded glumly. He saw the connection. “Found it. Found the lake. Not one person I spoke to knew anything about old legends or blood rituals—or vampires. I know what you’re thinking—now that I’ve met you, I can see the resemblance between us—you, me, my brother, Kenny. We’re related, more so than the Smythes or anyone else in Lockwood. But there’s no one left there who has our blood.”

Our blood. The early hunters had known about the vampire blood in their family lines. In a way, Johnny was related through that blood to every descendent who had carried it across the ocean. But not all of those descendents came from Johnny’s village. Some belonged to villages who shared a connection with another of his brothers or sisters. Still potent, forbidden blood, but not exactly like his. It galled him to admit it, but the Browns were truly his cousins. His bloodline, both sides, flowed through their veins. He had noticed the resemblance, too. It didn’t matter. “Why did you contact her now?” he asked.

Robert Brown flushed and looked away. “I was so glad I found you,” he said so softly that Johnny almost didn’t hear him. “I wanted to prove it to her that I wasn’t lying about my family. I called her, told her that the stories were true.” He hesitated, raised his eyes to meet Johnny’s. “I told her my nephew had found the vampire and killed him, but that Jonathan Price really had existed in Lockwood. That’s all. I needed someone else to know.”

“Why her?” Johnny practically growled. He didn’t believe the uncle that there was no one left in Scotland who had heard about blood-drinkers. If there was a connection, he needed to find it, but on his own time, in his own way.

“She—believed her grandfather. He taught her the way my father taught my brother and me, only he taught her that the vampires were hers to protect, not to destroy. We talked about our beliefs a lot when we were younger. I told her about Jack and Jonathan, but she never really believed me back then. She thought I was just trying to out-do her stories. We used to laugh about it. When my brother contacted me, told me Kenny had found you and killed you, I called her. She was the one who convinced me to move to Lockwood and find out the truth for myself.”

“So you didn’t call her when you found out I was alive?” Johnny asked. He kept his voice low and vaguely threatening, but he wanted to shout out loud. She had stories! Stories about vampires. This was his connection!

“You told me not to tell anybody about you.”

Uncle Robert still looked guilty.

“You have talked to her.” Johnny took another step forward, as much to force a confession out of the uncle as anything else. He wasn’t going to kill him.

“Not about you!” Uncle Robert made that clear. “You don’t understand. She’s more than just someone I knew from Scotland. We’re not together now, but she’s my wife. We have two sons. They live with their mother in Scotland. I wanted—I hoped—I always hoped the stories about you were true. I wanted to tell you that not all of us are like my brother. You would be welcome in their village in Scotland. My sons would be proud to guard you there.”

Johnny wasn’t looking for a new home. “You said there were no other vampires,” he reminded Uncle Robert. “Did you lie about that, too?”

“I said that I had never encountered any,” Uncle Robert corrected him. “There are stories. Legends that my sons have been taught.” He laughed ruefully. “There’s a reason I’m here and not in Scotland with my wife and sons. Some secrets her grandfather shared with her only, not with me, and she passed on to her sons, not to me. We keep in touch, and maybe that’s why I needed to tell her about you, that you were real.”

“What I said still holds,” Johnny said. “Do not mention me to your wife or your sons or anybody else unless I specifically tell you to.”

“Nobody here knows about my family in Scotland,” Uncle Robert said. “I’d like to keep it that way for now.”

For now. Johnny wondered just what secrets the Scottish wife and sons were keeping. It seemed more and more that he was going to have to go over there himself to find out. Now that would be a tricky problem. There was the matter of passports, and daylight, and being away from Crystal. He needed to do some thinking on the matter.

He drove back to Lockwood in the early hours of the morning, leaving himself just enough time to drop Lisa’s car back off and make it to the lake unseen.

Crystal and her two cousins were playing tag in the dirt road in front of the cottage when Johnny strolled up the next evening. He stayed to the shadows, listening to their chorus of “Johnny!” with a growing smile.

“Want to go for a walk?”

Bethany and Eddie each grabbed one of Johnny’s hands. It didn’t seem to dawn on them that he hadn’t aged, but then again, they had been very young the last time they had met.

Crystal, the responsible older cousin, ran inside to get Ellie and inform her aunt that they were taking a walk down to the bridge. She came out with two flashlights, Ellie, and her Auntie Maureen who peered across the darkening driveway to wave at Johnny. “Nice to see you again, Johnny!” she called. “Kids, you listen to Johnny now. He’s the oldest. Have fun!” She went back inside, slamming the screen door against the ever-present mosquitos.

Johnny’s grin widened. Maureen had not seen him too clearly, that was obvious. “Let’s go, kids,” he said, starting down the dirt road, still holding each of Crystal’s cousins. They skipped along happily beside him while Crystal and Ellie followed more sedately behind. His little Crystal was growing older.

“I’m scared of the bears,” Bethany said as they walked past a giant boulder on their right. In the light of day, they used to joke about it and call it the Three Bear’s house, but now, at dusk, the hulking rock seemed ominous.

“Don’t worry,” Crystal said. “Johnny will protect you from the bears.”

“Yeah, right!” Eddie scoffed. “The bears would eat him up in five minutes!”

“No, they wouldn’t.” Johnny spoke confidently, giving the little girl the reassurance she needed. “I’d eat the bears up in three minutes!” That last part was for Eddie’s benefit.

They reached the bridge and sat with their legs dangling over the edge. On either side of the bridge water shone blackly in the night, picking up light only when the breeze caused it to ripple, and then only in certain spots. The moon was hidden behind clouds making the night seem darker and the lake, blacker. Usually the bridge was lighter than the surrounding road.

Once, not that long ago, Johnny would have left all of these children unconscious or even dead if he had found them alone like this in the dark. Now, he promised to save them from bears and other scary things. He leaned back and smiled. It would be nice if a bear came strolling by right about now.

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