Black Water

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Chapter 8

Reality seeped into Kenny’s consciousness in staggered pieces until he finally opened his eyes. He ached everywhere, and his throat was so dry he couldn’t even swallow. This was much worse than the last time the vampire had attacked him. He squinted. It was broad daylight and Lisa or someone had opened the curtains fully so the bright light of the sun fell across his bed like a blanket. Were those bandages on his arms? Gingerly, he lifted one arm to inspect it, and noticed that the bandages wrapped around his upper arm and diagonally across his chest. A swift glance confirmed that the other arm was similarly wrapped. He used his hands to push the covers off and saw that his legs were also bandaged tightly. He moved them, or at least he tried to, but his legs wouldn’t respond.

What was wrong with his legs? Was he paralyzed? “Lisa!” he called, although the sound came out as a faint croak. “Lisa!” This was her bed, her house. He couldn’t remember how he had gotten there. The damn vampire must have brought him to Lisa’s. That just didn’t make sense. First, Johnny almost kills him, then he brings him to Lisa so she can save him? Unless . . . he had made sure Kenny would never be a threat again. “Lisa!”

Finally. Lisa appeared in the doorway, a worried frown on her face. She hurried over to the bedside and smoothed the covers back over Kenny’s chest and arms. “You’re awake,” she murmured. “You shouldn’t try to move. You’ll start bleeding again. I called your work, told them you’d be out sick for a few days. Do you want anything? Water? Something to eat?”

Kenny shook his head, immediately regretting it. “My legs,” he rasped.

Lisa glanced down at his still legs underneath the quilt. “Do they hurt?” she asked. “I can get you some aspirin.”

He shook his head again, a small move this time so his brain didn’t swim from side to side as it had the first time. “Can’t move,” he said, questions in his eyes.

Lisa frowned. “The cuts are deep,” she said. “And you lost a lot of blood. Johnny said there’s no real damage. Once you start healing, you should be able to move them better.”

“The vampire’s bite did this to me? Why? Last time, there was no wound.” Kenny’s eyes sought Lisa’s. “You said he didn’t leave a wound when he attacks.”

“He told me you attacked him,” Lisa countered gently. “Did you?”

Kenny looked away. “Why are you asking me? Obviously, you believe him.” He lifted his chin and glared at her. “What about what he did to me?” He didn’t expect Lisa to answer him, and she didn’t. After a few minutes of awkward silence, he asked quietly, “How bad is it?”

“You’ll live,” Lisa replied tightly. “So will Johnny. I was scared when he brought you back, Kenny. I thought you were dead. You don’t know how lucky you are.”

So the vampire was hurt, too. Good. “Lucky?” Kenny echoed. “Yeah, real lucky. Where’s the bloodsucker now? In the hallway?”

“He left right after he brought you home. Whether you believe it or not, he doesn’t tell me where he goes during the day.”

That wasn’t quite true. Lisa knew Johnny went under the lake to rest. Usually by this time of year, he would be under there for the winter. She couldn’t figure out why he was still awake, still here, and what he wanted from Kenny. Soon the lake would freeze over, and then what would happen to him? Lisa didn’t like the way Johnny looked these days. He was wan and tired all the time. She knew he had to be getting blood from somewhere, and she worried about the people of Lockwood. Would there be a repeat of the mysterious deaths of the past centuries, when Johnny had taken out his frustrations on the families of the town?

Kenny’s movements had started some of his wounds bleeding again. Lisa changed his bandages, gently wiping down the long rips in his arms and legs and applying antiseptic. The wounds looked savage, and would probably leave scars. She hadn’t known Johnny could do that, either, although she remembered a torn-apart carcass of a raccoon once in the backyard of the cottage. She squeezed her eyes shut and shuddered. Kenny had been lucky. So had she, all these years.

Kenny’s eyes closed as he drifted back into the fitful sleep he had been falling in and out of all morning. Lisa lay down beside him for a little while, just to rest her eyes until it was time to pick Crystal up from school. It had been a very long night.

When Kenny awoke again it was dark. He could hear the television on downstairs and smelled supper cooking, although his stomach rebelled at the thought of eating. If anything, he hurt worse now than he had earlier in the day. He groaned, and wished Lisa would come upstairs to turn on the light. It was too much effort to move, but he really didn’t like being alone in the dark like this.

He heard laughter. Crystal, giggling. “No, you can’t do that!” she protested. “My teacher is going to know I didn’t do it myself.”

“No she won’t,” replied a familiar, hated voice. “I messed it up on purpose, see?”

A shouted reply, mock-angry, then more giggling. Then, from the kitchen, “Cut it out, you two. If you knock something over you’ll be in trouble!”

Two voices answered, contrite, laughing, before they faded as the vampire and Crystal must have gone into the kitchen too. Kenny didn’t get it. His stomach growled, and he didn’t know how he could be both hungry and nauseated at the same time.

Later, Lisa brought him dinner and helped him sit up so he could eat it. He ate sullenly, embarrassed to need help, then pointedly closed his eyes so she would leave. He had to go to the bathroom, but he was damned if he was going to ask Lisa to help him do that. His arms and legs still hurt like hell, but Lisa had been right, he could move his legs if he tried. He wasn’t paralyzed.

Out in the hallway, he heard muted voices. “No, you can’t go in there tonight,” Lisa was saying. “Haven’t you done enough? Leave him alone until he heals. Johnny, you look awful. When was the last time you rested? You need to go sleep.”

Kenny couldn’t make out what the vampire said in reply, but he let go of the breath he had been holding when the bedroom door did not open. Apparently, the vampire had listened to Lisa. Funny, that the vampire would obey her. He slumped down in the bed and waited until there were no more noises from the hallway, then he carefully eased his legs over the side and tried standing. He hurt all over, and for a minute he thought his legs wouldn’t support him, but they did. Among all the other hurts, his bladder was the most insistent. Slowly, he made his way down the hall to the bathroom. He was shaking and his head was pounding. In the shadows at the end of the hall stood the vampire, just watching him. Kenny was too tired to care. By the time he finished and crawled back into bed, he was exhausted.

He woke up when the sun streamed into the window. Lisa lay beside him, still sleeping. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and froze. On the nightstand next to his side of the bed was a full glass of orange juice with a straw in it. And over in the corner, a bucket. He could guess the purpose of the bucket. He wondered who had put those things there—Lisa, or the vampire? It didn’t matter. He ignored the bucket and used the hall bathroom again. He had done it once; he wouldn’t allow himself to go backwards.

Kenny slept most of the next day, waking periodically to drink or eat something light. Lisa said sleep was the best medicine. She should know. She gave the same advice to the vampire. He did feel a little better, so he carefully limped down the stairs to the living room after supper. Lisa sat on the couch, watching TV. The vampire sat in his easy chair, laughing at the same TV show, while Crystal was on the floor by his feet, drawing in her little sketch pad. She looked up to say something to Johnny, who smiled, and reached over to tousle her hair.

The vampire noticed him first. He met Kenny’s eyes and nodded briefly. Kenny nodded back. They understood each other. What had happened between them was over, for now. Johnny made no move to give up his chair, so Kenny slid heavily in next to Lisa on the couch. She glanced at him in surprise, which quickly turned into concern. “Should you be up?”

“I’m fine,” Kenny snapped, training his eyes on the TV show they were watching. He hadn’t liked the cozy family scene they made. He wondered how many years it had been going on when he wasn’t around. Was he really that unobservant? Lisa leaned against his side, careful not to press against his injured arm. He let that arm come around her and felt her relax against him. He wasn’t the only one who was hurting, he realized.

“I’m going,” Johnny suddenly announced. He smiled down at Crystal. “You’d better go to bed. You’ve got school tomorrow.”

With a grin, Johnny glided out of the living room. Kenny heard the front door open and close, and wondered if that was for his benefit. Crystal kissed them both good-night, and went upstairs to wash and go to bed, leaving him alone with Lisa.

“Why do you let him into your life?” Kenny asked her. “And don’t tell me because he threatens you. I know that’s not it.”

Lisa sighed. “I don’t know. At first, I was afraid of him, then I felt sorry for him, I think. He has no one except us.”

At the top of the stairs, Johnny laughed softly. It wasn’t only sorry that Lisa felt for him. It was complicated, even for him. He was destined to have Crystal, when she grew up. The matter of Lisa was becoming more and more unclear.

He entered Crystal’s room quietly and knelt by her bed. They continued to do the blood exchange nearly every evening so that Crystal would grow stronger. It would take years, Johnny knew now. He could only remember portions of the process, and he was quite sure he had never actually done it himself.

Kenny’s attack had hurt him more than he cared to admit. His head had bled from the stone the hunter had repeatedly smashed into his skull. It healed when he drank the hunter’s blood, but he still felt weak. He bled more often since he had started the blood exchange with Crystal. As she grew stronger, so he grew weaker. He had promised her he wouldn’t age until she had caught up to him. She was still five or six years younger than his apparent age. But he had no choice but to stay awake, and age, while she underwent the change.

“What do you have there?” he asked, indicating her latest sketch. It showed a lake surrounded by hills. “Is that the lake?”

“Not our lake,” she replied, adding a pair of figures near one end of the picture. “Yours.”

Johnny spun out of the present as memories assailed him. The black lake was huge, much larger than the lake in Lockwood. He remembered the first time he had gone underneath the water, with the older vampire. He had been afraid that he couldn’t breathe, but the lake waters had enveloped him like a womb and he slept. The older vampire had awakened him when it was night, and offered him blood, once they stood on the shore again. Then he took him to hunt, animals only, until the family gave them offerings of enemies to feast upon. That was the rule. Never touch the family unless their blood was offered freely. Never touch humans unless they were the enemy. The family would protect them; the lake would preserve them. The vampire taught him nightly, although he only was allowed the comfort of the lake waters after they had dealt with one of the family’s enemies. He was still too young, and he needed to grow.

His eyes snapped open. Crystal regarded him calmly. “You need to sleep,” she said, in an echo of her mother. She offered him her hand, which had a small pool of blood in its center. When had she cut it? When he was dreaming? He took her offering, and made her one of his own. Blood for blood. Her blood was exquisite.

“All right,” he agreed. He would go under the lake tonight. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

Crystal’s eyes were troubled as he tucked her in, but she nodded.

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