“I do hope that’s better. Now, let’s begin by reviewing your choices for the assignment: You can read Dracula, Carmilla or, gag, excuse me, Interview with the Vampire.” I expect the reading to be done in a month, and then written responses every week thereafter.” She looked out over the sullen faces.
“What is wrong with you people?” She walked to the chalkboard. “Look: Dracula. Eighteen ninety-seven. Carmilla. Eighteen seventy-two. Interview with the Vampire. Nineteen seventy-six.” Looking out over the rows of silence, she scoffed, “For crying out loud, class. There’s not a book in this list published after any of you were born. If you’re worried about relevance… I refuse to assign Twilight.”
“Why is that, Miss Leonard?”
“I have a personal animus with what I consider … bad writing.”
When no one replied, she became exasperated. “Look, I know how superstitious this place is. I can assure you that the legends of that old Civil War hospital … what was its name? Jerry?”
Jerry Atherton hated being picked on, but he hated feeling stupid even worse, so he replied, “The Moss House.”
Miss Leonard gestured with one long finger. “Exactly. The Moss House. Legends of people dying mysteriously….I have news, class. More people died at that time in history with hospitals, than without them. Infections and disease were rampant. And the medical science of the time didn’t know the things we take for granted.” She looked absent for a moment. “Where was I. Oh, yes. I’m assigning these because they’re important from a cultural point of view. The older two are from the Victorian Era, and the last is from the post-Modern. If you look at the different ways in which the authors treated the subject matter, you can see how they viewed other things in their worlds differently.”
She saw a hand raised. “Let me presume that you’re about to ask me why you should care. Well, why should you? I’m supposed to be the teacher, so I’ll supply the answer, but only to get you thinking. You should care because culture tells us a lot about worldview. The Victorians were highly religious, and the writings of that period reflect that. The post-Modern is much more materialistic. It helps to know where an author is coming from. How many of you feel like your parents get you?”
A few hands were raised.
“Bravo. I have four honest people, and a bunch of liars. Parents forget what adolescence was like, because it was probably painful. The plain fact is they can’t remember what it was like, and you have no idea what you’ll be like in twenty years. That supplies the conflict….and conflict is what drives every great story.”
She opened the door. “It’s a nice day. Have a fifteen minute break. Any of you with parental permission issues, come see me.” Her eyes were locked on the tall, thin boy at the back of the room.
The man’s hand was rough and moved faster than the boy’s eye could follow. It impacted, lighting up his head in an orange flash of pain. He might have tried to avoid it, but long exposure had taught him that would have meant worse. He collapsed to the floor, trying to get his knees under him. His father drove him back down with a work-booted foot.
The boy noticed dried blood on the rawhide laces. He tried not to look up at the hateful face above him. The pressure on his ribs increased, the man leaning over him. “I done told you not to bring that goddam trash in this here house, you little shit! Now you made your momma cry, and you’re gonna pay for that! You keep readin them goddam story books, you’re gonna be in the nut house. Yore momma already thinks there’s somethin’ wrong with you. Now you’re gonna take that there book back to that school, and tell ’em you can’t have it at home.” He paused long enough to shake a fist. “I don’t care if you is sixteen. You ain’t above yore raisin’.”
The boy tried to marshal some breath against the pain. “It ain’t like that, Dad. It’s an assignment. Everybody’s got to read it, and do a book report on it….” The foot came down on his lower ribs. He felt something give, and then a fiery ache, making it harder to breathe. He wanted to cry with it, but he knew that would just make things worse.
“You’re gonna do what I tell you, and to hell with that goddam school. Goddam gov’ment people ain’t got no business interferin’ in no man’s family. You tell ’em that this family respects the Good Lord, and we ain’t gonna allow no devil trash in this house. Damn ole book’s prob’ly filled with nothin but titties and blackguardin’, and worse.” He picked up the book. “Goddam ole Count Drakalar. They oughta make you read somethin’ to improve yourself, boy. This kind of shit’s gonna turn you into some goddam no-‘count. You wanna do that? Make your momma cry more? I’ll goddam well teach you who runs this house.”
And the boot came down.
Just when the dark gray cloud was descending, Daddy leaned in close and whispered, “Damn if’n you’ll invite anything in this house.”
He walked to the school in a daze, hardly noting the smells of uncollected garbage and bad plumbing in the trailer park. He had trouble breathing, one eye was swollen shut, and the school’s copy of Dracula was torn into shreds. It rode in a blue plastic Wal-Mart bag inside the cloth knapsack he used for school. He didn’t know how he was going to explain to Miss Leonard about her book. He thought about telling her the truth, but the thought made his ears burn. It had to be his fault. On some level, at some point, he was wicked. He’d heard his Daddy berating Mommy about him, telling her he looked nothing like Daddy, and he’d been stupid to marry such a whore.
At some point, the school came into view, the wire fences around it dancing in his vision. The edges of his sight looked all blurry and dark, and his shame didn’t help him get oriented, either, but finally he made it too Miss Leonard’s homeroom.
Miss Leonard was pretty and kind, and it took an awful lot to make her mad. She’d been confused at first by his inability to read, then had found out he’d needed glasses. Daddy had refused to pay, but one day, a pair of glasses had appeared in his locker at school. No one ever took credit, but Tom sometimes thought he saw a twinkle in Miss Leonard’s eye when she looked at him. Her daughter, Eve, was the same grade as him, and she’d been flirting with him when Daddy came by. Daddy had called Eve ‘a little slut’ and ‘a devil’s whore,’ and that had ended the flirting. She still looked at him sometimes with something more than pity. It was a look that Tom couldn’t place.
Tom’s legs got confused about what they were doing, and he had to reach out a hand to the rough stuccoed wall. He took two halting breaths, gasping anew at the stabbing sensation, and finally got to Room 107. He found Miss Leonard at her desk, and Eve sitting across from her, the blonde hair of both women halos in the sunlight. Tom gasped his way over, with no clear idea of what he was going to say.
“Miss Leonard,” he began, his eyes watering at the emotion in her face, “I am so sorry about your book….I’ll find a way to pay for it, I really will … ” Blood trickled out of his mouth.
He sank to his knees, barely aware that she and Eve were cradling him, lowering him to the floor, both of their eyes teary and pitying. He swam in dark waters, so deep that he never saw the deputy sheriff come in, never saw the medics and the principal arrive. Blackness closed over him as he was bundled away.
Tom Horne tried to claw his way out of the warm softness, but his arms wouldn’t work. One eye wouldn’t, so he opened the one that seemed to obey him. He was in a hospital room hooked up to wires and tubes. Miss Leonard and Eve were both there, Eve slumped with her head in her mother’s lap. Miss Leonard noticed his eye opening, and nudged her daughter awake. As soon as Eve was more or less vertical, both of the women were on their feet and looking down at him.
Miss Leonard’s long fingers stroked his hair. “Don’t try to move, Tom. You’re badly hurt.” She turned to Eve. “Honey, he’ll still be here. Go tell someone at the desk he’s awake.” Eve left, running down the hall. Miss Leonard just looked at him, her blue eyes reddened. “Tom …”
“I’m so sorry, Miss …”
“I think we can dispense with that for now, Tom. Call me Veronica. Or Vee.”
Tom could not tear his eyes away from her. He tried to rise, and his body was unequal to the task. He collapsed. Vee just regarded him calmly.
“Are you done trying to prove how strong you are, Tom?” She leaned in close, and whispered, “You scared the hell out of us, young man.” Her hand was warm and soft.
“Tom. You have nothing left to prove. Most men don’t have your spirit.” She leaned closer and whispered, “Tom, if you could live forever, and never be in fear again, would you? You might need to think about that.”
Her words confused him, and he tried to speak up, but then she shushed him, warm fingers on his lips. “Don’t say a thing. Deputy Duran wants to see you when the doctor allows it.”
Tom tried to think of anything he might have done illegal, but nothing except the book came to mind. “I’ll … pay for the book, Vee … “
She was shaking her head, smiling sadly. “Tom, for a bright young man, you can think in such stupid terms. He just wants to know how you got hurt.”
“It’s nothing, Vee. Really.”
“You might still die, Thomas.” This shocked Tom into silence. “Your lung collapsed. You were bleeding internally. The doctors admitted you with a skull fracture, a concussion, and three broken ribs. That is not ‘nothing,, Tom. Eve’s been crying since we got here. She fell asleep just a few minutes before you came to.”
The old shame threatened to close his throat, but he swallowed, and whispered back, “I never meant to hurt her, Vee. I am so sorry about what my Daddy did … ” He trailed off.
“Tom, my daughter and I know more than you think. We know none of this is your fault. But let’s not talk about other things, okay? I think my daughter wants a word with you.” She forestalled his objections. “You’re hurt and shot up with painkillers. She’ll never have a better chance to tell you how she feels.”
He stopped then, somehow just content to lie there, the pain still there, but muted. Eve came back in, followed by a skinny balding man in a white lab coat. “Mister Horne, or do you prefer Tom?” Without waiting for a response, he looked into Tom’s open eye with a penlight, and checked under the dressing on his head. Tom jumped. He hadn’t realized it was there until the doctor put pressure on it. “I’m Doctor Bush. Frankly, you’re lucky to be alive. I saw combat casualties with less severe wounds than you. Just for starters, you won’t be running anytime soon, and I don’t think you’ll want to. I was a bit worried about the concussion, but that turned out okay. We pumped a lot of blood out of your chest cavity, son. And you need to stay in bed for at least two weeks.”
Tom grew cold at the thought of being confined at home for that long. He didn’t want another beating for being lazy, or a bastard, or anything else Daddy might think up. “Does in bed mean here?” he asked, trying to keep his voice neutral.
“I’ve never met a kid that wanted to stay in the ICU … ” he muttered, opening the door to reveal a tall, muscular man in the black uniform of the Sheriff’s Department, talking with Tom’s Daddy.
Tom couldn’t hear anything until Daddy lost it. “Fuck that little asshole! Whatever he says I did to him, he’s lyin’! Just like his whore mother!” He started to enter the room, and the deputy moved so quickly Tom wasn’t sure how he did it. The man was just suddenly standing in front of Daddy.
“Mister Horne, I am going to talk to your son. You will remain here. If I think you mean to harm him, I will use any and all reasonable force to stop you. I’m not some browbeaten kid.”
“Fuck you, agent of the devil. You can’t interfere with my family. I’ll goddamn well sue you.”
The seven pointed star on the lawman’s chest shone defiantly. “I’ll tell you to step back. You’re not detained at all. You can leave, for now, and maybe you should.”
“You don’t scare me, pig. I got rights!” Daddy moved in, and the deputy’s massive hand swept up into Daddy’s jaw, up, in and over in a choke move, Daddy ending in a heap on the white tile.
“Roll over, Horne. You’re under arrest for obstruction.” Daddy resisted, yes he did, until the massive deputy’s knee pushed down into the side of his neck. Daddy gave up, but not without a lot of cursing. “Hey, Horne. Long as you’re down there, let me see the boots you’re wearing.” The deputy’s hand went to the radio mic on his lapel. “David-Three, I have one in custody. Request another unit for transport.”
The radio crackled back, “Copy, David-Three. One in custody, sending David Five. ETA ten minutes.” As the deputy was waiting, he took photos of the tread on Daddy’s shoes.
Another deputy arrived and took Daddy away. It was only then that Tom realized Eve had been holding his hand during the entire episode.
The deputy, still straightening his uniform, walked into the room. “Tom, I’m Ed Duran. I regret you had to see that. Can you tell me what happened last night, and who hurt you?”
Tom told him.
Tom’s voice held low and steady as he finished. “Where’s my mother?”
Deputy Duran was visibly shaken. “When did you see her last?”
Tom’s lower lip trembled. “Last night, when Daddy was stomping me. I didn’t see much of anything this morning. Just sort of snuck out.” A coldness was threatening to take him over. “What do you know, Sir?”
“We can’t find your mother, Tom. We think your father’s involved. He ever hit her?” Had Tom more experience, he would have seen sorrow and rage in the man’s eyes. But all he knew was rage, and so he shrank away from the deputy. “Son, you’re fine. You’re safe. I’ll be right back.” He stepped out, and admitted Vee and Eve.
Eve kissed the solitary line of salty liquid that ran down Tom’s face. “It’s alright, Tom.”
“No, it ain’t. You can’t be doing this. I think Daddy done away with Momma. I think he’ll do it to you, too. Just because you care about me. Maybe just because you look like you do.”
Vee stepped in on his other side. Tom couldn’t see her as well, but he knew she was there. “Tom, your father can’t hurt you anymore. I just heard the deputy phone in a murder complaint for your mother, and an attempted murder charge for what he did to you.”
Tom shook his head in hopelessness. “He’ll just get out. The people down at the church always bail him out. They wouldn’t even listen to me when I told ’em about the things he does.” His head was suddenly hurting worse. “They had some cop come and tell me that it was all in my mind, and they’d send me away if I didn’t stop making up stories about a Godly, hard-workin’ man.”
“They won’t get the chance this time, Tom. Deputy Hoag already called the judge. Your father’s staying in jail.”
Tom’s vision was getting cloudy again. “Where’s my mother?” He dimly heard one of the machines on his left start to make a steady whine.
He felt a falling sensation, strange in its weightlessness, and full of greens and purples. He barely felt the touch of Eve’s mouth on his neck, an erection growing and then falling away, a feeling of her possessing him, and then he was falling into her, he was everything she was, vital and lovely, adored and loving in return. His pulse thundered, and then the feeling of her hair in his hand was going away, too, as he fell into himself, collapsing without end.
Some part of him barely felt the large needle stuck into his chest, the emergency measures that meant nothing, less than nothing, because he knew he was leaving for good. He was sorry that he’d never gotten to thank Vee properly for her kindness. He was sorry he was dying a virgin. He was sorry that he’d never get to have Eve. In that final darkness, he knew he was safe from further harm.
And still …
And yet …
Eve was still with him, in him somehow.
I loved you when I first met you. Now we can be together.
This isn’t happening. I’m dead. You can’t be here.
You’re with me, Tom. You’re with us. Mom and I both love you.
But how … ?
Rest, love. We’ll come to get you. You’re going to stay with us.
Time ceased then for him, replaced by cold nothingness.
He opened his eyes and saw only a sheet over him, with pale white light behind it. Then, the sheet was thrown away, and down, and there stood Eve. She was dressed in the same sweater and short pleated skirt he’d last seen her in, but there was something so different about her….
“No, Tom. It’s not me who’s different now. It’s you.”
“What … what happened?”
She sat on the edge of the surface where he lay. A surface, he saw to his fright, that was in the middle of a room filled with shiny metal doors, and trays of instruments.
“You died, my love. Mother and I had to turn you at the last second. I’m sorry that we didn’t have time to ask your permission.”
“Good gods, I’m wed to a simpleton! Look, Tom. Look into my eyes.”
He was powerless to resist her, and he did not want to in the first place, and so he looked. The truth came to him as did the long sharp teeth, and the knowledge of what was happening all around him, and then he really saw her for the first time. He gained all her knowledge, and fears, and the truth came to him with more force than the knowledge of his death.
She loved him. Only him.
She swatted at his arm. “I love Mother, too, Tom.”
“I think I do, too.” His voice sounded different to him, deeper and with better diction. Some look of confusion must have shown (or Eve could simply feel it), because she swatted at him again. “You have all the knowledge of our kind, Tom. Blood is so much more than just food to us. It speaks to the thousands of years we’ve been around. It tells us about the person we feed on.”
“Wait just a minute … did you say ‘wed.’?”
She tittered around her fangs. “I did. Don’t worry about it. If you don’t want me, you don’t have to have me.” She looked down at his naked torso. “But I think we’d both be missing out. I think so, anyway.”
For some reason, her hungry look did not embarrass him. He rose to a sitting position, and swung his legs over the edge of the table. “What do you mean, ‘think so’?”
She pouted at him, “Mother’s so overprotective. I’ve never even been on a date.”
The blood had brought maturity with it, so Tom tried to ignore the implications. “What happens now?”
“Mother and I convince the doctor he made a mistake, and when he sees you walking and talking, he’ll have no choice but to agree.”
“Won’t he do tests?”
Her smile was that of a friendly piranha. “He’ll be convinced he already did them.”
“And what then?”
She shook her head sadly and began removing clothes from her oversized book bag. “We got you clothes. Then you go home.”
Undead or not, immortal or not, Tom couldn’t imagine going back to the trailer, stammering, “That’s not a good idea….”
“Not there, you lovely idiot. With Mother and me.”
“What about her job?”
“The school board will be convinced it’s their own brilliant idea for Mom to adopt you.” She touched a small pink tongue to a fang tip. “It’s not very hard to convince them about how great they are.”
“Where will I sleep?”
Her smile was already predatory, but it grew unsure now as well. “With me, if you want. I mean, I want that too, and Mother won’t mind … “
He had never kissed a girl, but he held her there to him, cradling her face, hoping the grief for his mother wouldn’t surface. She ran a tongue between his fangs.
“We can still grieve, Tom. But I think we’d better get you dressed. For now, at least.”
She had brought him jeans, running shoes, a T-shirt and black leather jacket. He hurried into them, doing his best to ignore her staring.
They met outside the morgue, Vee now in a sweater and skirt combination that created the impression of anything other than “vampiress.”
She hugged him, so tightly that he thought he might come apart against her. “Tom,” her voice was warm in his ear, “No one expects you to forget your mother. And you’re adjusting well to your own death.”
He supposed he should have been chilled by that, but he simply said, “I had nothing to stay around for. Daddy killed my dog last week when he couldn’t find his dope.”
“Tom. You should know. Your father probably won’t stay in jail, unless they can find your mother’s body. And what about what he did to you?” She waved a hand. “There’s not a mark left on you. The law isn’t going to serve you. All the people will see is a teenager who most of the jurors might be afraid of, and some man who’s a lot like them. They won’t want to believe the truth.”
His glowing eyes found theirs, and all silently agreed. They slipped into the night.
Tom liked his new name. Tom Leonard. It sounded right, even if it was an adopted name. He swept down Road 184, intent on this one final errand before formally taking Eve as his wife. He had learned much more at school, and at home with the two women tutoring him. Now, he appreciated the dull thudding of the days, and the people too weak or dumb or powerless to fight against it. He thought that maybe the humans brought this upon themselves. He was waiting until the sun concluded its garish descent, and he could function at something near his new, ‘normal’ level. Eve sat beside him in her mother’s Mustang.
“Are you alright, Tom?” Again, there was something in her eyes that he could not place. He did not try to probe her mind.
“Yes. I thought I’d enjoy this, but … ”
“I know. But this should be done. And you know why.”
He passed Old Man Simpson’s trailer, rust running down it in rivulets. Then, it was in front of him, the place of so much more suffering than he wanted to remember. Momma’s yard trinkets and flower beds were gone. In their stead was a junk waterfall of Coors Light cans.
Tom could hear the old bastard tearing it up inside. Without much in the way of introduction, Tom ripped the door off the hinges. The belligerent drunk within regarded him with piggy eyes.
“What the fuck, boy? You don’t belong here, Get out, afore I call the law.”
Tom crossed the distance with a hard thought. He lifted the suddenly sniveling man by his throat. “Where’d you leave her body … Daddy?”
“You ain’t no son of mine, devil spawn. You never was.” Then, and only then, did the fear reach him. “You cain’t come in here….”
“Sure I can. Takes a family to form a threshold. You pissed yours away. Care to explain why?”
“I tried to keep you from them devils, I did! Kept you from that bitch you tried to take up with.”
Eve’s voice was a tinkling from the doorway. “You mean me, Garrett?”
The remaining color left Daddy’s face. “You took my son, you whore….”
Eve touched Tom’s arm. “He’ll never admit it. Your grandfather beat him for having a girlfriend, and threw him out. He might have suspected what I was, but he never really knew. It was enough that Garrett here loved someone else.” She sighed. “He was very different back then. I asked him to marry me, and be with me. He ran off instead.”
“That answers a lot. But not what I asked. Where is Mother’s body, Daddy?”
“There ain’t no body. She done ran off with some other unclean bitch.”
“That’s not an answer.” With his new strength, he ripped away Daddy’s left thumb. “Care to try again? I’m some put out about you killing Momma.”
The shrieking man slumped. “I tole you she ran off with some other bitch.”
The next digits to go were the left index and middle fingers. “I’ll give you one chance. One. If you can make it to that church that loves you so much, you can keep me out. If not, you’re shit out of luck. Are you ready? Too bad. I’ll give you a head start.” With that, he picked him up and threw him out the front windows of the double wide. Daddy rolled twice and staggered away, blood flowing freely from the stumps. The smell of it gave Tom a headache. It just smelled….wrong.
Daddy had just gained the steps of the Holiness Church of Christ when the slim form of his onetime son stepped out from the shadows. “Go ahead, Daddy. Pull that door open. Let this fine group of believers see you with piss stains down your front.” Daddy disappeared inside the building. Vee joined him and Eve, gliding in from the parking lot. “I moved the car. No one ever talks at the trailer park, but I’d rather not have to move. Again.”
She smoothed his lapels. “I am so proud of you, my son. Your self-control is impressive.”
“Wait here. You might get some fast food as it exits.” They grinned their approval.
There was some heat when he entered the church, but it was the residual heat of a car left all day, and then entered long after sundown. He found Daddy in the sanctuary, attended to by several people.
“All of you. Leave him. Let’s see if his faith can protect him.”
The pastor (or whatever the hell he was) attempted to rebuke him, waving a small cross in the air and starting to pray. Tom swept him aside. “Just so’s you folks know, I’m not scared of any of your religious bullshit. He was just in the way.”
He pulled Daddy up, making all his attendants scatter. Tom thought he might have heard a scream or two. He smiled wolfishly. Vee really needed to eat out more. “Now, you … “
He ran out of words, so he filled his mouth instead with Daddy’s reeking throat, so full of despondent evil. He had no sooner started to drink before he started to get ill. Very ill. He dropped Daddy without hesitation, and held his stomach.
Eve ran in, gave Daddy a kick in passing, and grabbed Tom by the shoulders. “Tom, Mother’s sick. She said the blood in these people is dead. Maybe for years. It’s all curdled.”
“Mom said these people only worship themselves. It can make the blood go bad.” She looked around. “I think that’s why we can enter.”
Tom fought down the nausea. “Is Mom okay?”
“Maybe we can find her a cheerleader.”
“I thought we wanted to make her better. Maybe one of those old hippies out by the interstate.
Tom looked down at the broken man on the floor. “Daddy, this is Eve; I think you remember her. She’s about to become our new daughter in law. I have one of your traditions that I want to hand back to you. I’m going to give away the father of the groom.” He and Eve tore off his arms, then his legs, then his genitals, and cauterized the wounds with a fireplace poker they found in the parsonage.
“You were right about one thing, Daddy. I am a Drakkalar. But you’re the no-‘count.”