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￭ in return for your navy blue shirt
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2008-06-22 | |
Vampires in the family: Chapter 1 Helping the needy
Mommy had chained the man up in the corner of the basement so that he didn't wake me up when he screamed at night.
There was a plastic bowl on the floor under his arm to catch the blood that dripped from the cut on his wrist. It was my favorite bowl. It was decorated with flowers all along the sides.
"Mustn't waste a drop," Mommy used to tell me, and then she'd smear some of the blood on my lips so that I'd get used to the taste. She didn't do that so much anymore, but I didn't mind. I knew she still loved me.
I watched as Mommy opened the door and took the knife out of her handbag. It was one of the niftier ones where you pressed the button and suddenly a blade popped out. Mommy had a lot of knives. Most of them were down in the basement where they were easy to reach, but she had a couple of the nicer ones hanging on the walls upstairs. They were the ones that had blades with figures shaped into the metal. Some of them were really pretty. The one with my favorite design hung over the fireplace. It was this big sword with a really wide blade that had metal vines crawling all over it. Mommy said that she had taken it from a Turkish warlord after sucking him dry. She always looked happy when she talked about it.
"Sylvia? What are you doing down here?" Mommy walked down the stairs, tucking a knife back into the handbag that matched her purple dress. It was my favorite dress, the one that Mommy sometimes would let me play dress-up in. Mommy always looked beautiful when she was out on a hunt.
"Why are you standing in the dark, sweetheart?" she asked me as she reached the bottom of the stairway.
I looked down at the man in the corner. I could see him pretty well, even though none of the lights were on. I was used to being in the dark.
The man's skin was really white, and it clung to his face like the cellophane Mommy wrapped my sandwiches in for my lunchbox. He wasn't breathing very well and sounded like me like when I had a bad cold. The blood had stopped dripping from his wrist a while ago. The bowl was almost empty.
"My teacher says that hurting people is bad."
Mommy snorted and walked over to me, placing her hands on my shoulders. Her nails were really long, but she was always careful not to cut me. Mommy had scratched me once a long time ago and then she'd felt so bad about it that she had to run away from me and lock herself in her room. I'd put the bandage on myself. Mommy had been so proud of me.
But now Mommy looked annoyed. "Ms. Nicholson is an idealistic idiot." She knelt down before me and looked me in the eye, ignoring how her dress was getting all dirty from the basement floor. Mommy told me before that the only reason she didn't get a real floor put in when we first moved here was because she needed someplace to put the men when she was done with them. I had never seen her bury any women, though. Mommy never seemed to bring them home.
"Sweetheart, we've had this talk before," Mommy said as she brushed my hair with her fingers, "and you said that you understood."
"I do understand, Mommy!"
She shushed me so that the only sound was the man's breathing, scratchy and horrible in the air. I imagined he felt very sad right now. I would be too, if I were him. I hugged myself from the sudden shivers I got after thinking that, wondering how bad it must feel to watch your own blood drain away.
Mommy picked up the bowl on the floor, frowning when she saw how full it was. She dipped one of her fingers in it, pad first so she wouldn't get blood under her manicured nails, and then slipped it into her mouth. She made a face and then set the bowl down again beside me while the man breathed and breathed.
"You know I have this condition, Sylvia," Mommy said, "And you know that the only thing in the world that will make me better is human blood. Nothing else, not even kitty blood or bunny blood. It has to be human."
I looked down at my feet, feeling ashamed. "I know, Mommy."
"Don't think I don't realize how uncomfortable it must be for the men I bring here, sweetheart. I feel just as bad for them as you do. Worse, even. But if I let them go, they'll tell on me and take you away."
"Into a bad home filled with rats and beatings and no food at all," I recited with her and then giggled at the end.
Mommy and me used to say this every night, at bedtime, before Mommy went out to work. She made a game of it, clawing her hand at "rats," lightly tapping me on head with "beatings" and then covering her mouth at "no food at all". I did all the hand motions when I said it this time, but Mommy just stood there and watched me, trailing off before the end.
"I can make the bad feelings stop for them at the end. And I do, as soon as they can't help me anymore. Then they feel better. No more pain for them, none at all. Not even the littlest pinch!" she said and pinched me on my cheek for emphasis.
"Mommy!" I laughed and pulled away from her, feeling better again. "So Ms. Nicholson was wrong?"
Mommy shook her head. "No, she wasn't wrong about everything. Just in special cases, like mine, it's okay."
She dipped her finger into the bowl again and then wiped some blood onto my lips, smiling down at me while she did so. I licked it off and made a face. The blood was too sweet, the way it always was when all the good stuff was drained away.
"He's all used up, isn't he?" I asked her as she tilted the bowl to her lips and drained the rest, even though it was nasty and too thick to taste good. I liked it better when it was new.
Mommy set down the bowl and nodded, wiping her mouth at the corner to get rid of a little trail of blood. "I'm going out tonight to get a new one."
I thought for a minute as I watched the man. He looked really bad and he must have felt even worse. Mommy always tried to make the men eat after she'd caught them in the beginning, but after a while they stopped taking food. They didn't even fight it at the end. They just stopped doing everything except breathing. And then they stopped doing that.
The man needed help. And Ms. Nicholson taught us to always offer help when it was needed. She even showed us a video.
"Mommy?" I asked and she looked up from brushing the dirt off her skirt.
"Can I help him? Please? Will you let me make him stop hurting?"
Mommy smiled at me and she looked really beautiful, especially in the dark where I couldn't see her teeth very well. They always got pointy after she drank. That was part of her condition. I wished she would get better.
"Are you sure, Sylvia? Sometimes it's hard work."
I nodded, and my braid flopped against the back of my neck.
Mommy laughed, loudly and clearly, like the bells at Christmas. "You are a wonderful daughter. Come on, then, sweetheart. I'll let you use your favorite sword."
I gasped in amazement. Mommy never even let me touch that sword! Not even on my birthday!
"Thank you!" I cried and then ran after her up the stairs. Ms. Nicholson would be so proud of me! I bet that none of the other kids in my class were doing anything this good.
The man's raspy breathing followed me up the stairs, but disappeared when I closed the basement door, which was designed to block out noises so that you couldn't tell that anyone was down there. Mommy had it specially built when we'd first moved here, along with the padding in-between the walls.
Mommy was standing in the living room and I was happy to see that the curtains were open. Usually Mommy made sure that they were shut tight, with the blinds closed behind them to keep out any sunlight. Mommy didn't like the sunlight and she usually slept through the day, only waking up later when the moon appeared. But now it was night outside and the curtains were open.
"Be careful, sweetheart," Mommy warned me as she handed me the sword. I grabbed it, and it immediately fell to the floor. I'd never held it before. It was really heavy.
I tried to lift it again and managed to get it up to my chest when the handle slipped out of my hand. It almost hit my foot when it landed on the floor.
"It's too heavy, Mommy."
"Would you like me to help you?"
I thought about it. I really wanted to be the only one to help the man, but the sword was too big for me to carry, and Mommy was the strongest person I knew.
"Okay," I said, though suddenly this didn't seem like nearly so much fun anymore.
I wasn't sure what Mommy was going to do with the sword once we got back down to the basement, but I didn't think about it as I followed her down the stairs and across the dirt floor.
The man looked even worse than before. He opened his eyes and looked at me. I could tell he was looking at me, even when I hid behind Mommy's dress. It was creepy.
"Come on, Sylvia. Come stand in front of me."
I walked over in front of Mommy and the man's eyes followed me. He was starting to scare me and I wanted to hide some more, but I remembered what Ms. Nicholson had taught us about helping the needy and I stood where Mommy told me to stand.
Mommy handed me the sword, which was still too heavy for me to pick up all the way, so I let the blade rest on the floor. Mommy circled her arms around me and grabbed the sword's handle over my hands. Together, we would be strong enough to lift it.
"What are we going to do?" I asked, and my voice came out in a whisper even though I didn't mean it to.
"The right thing," Mommy said from behind me, "We're just going to hurt this man one more time, just a little bit, and then he'll feel better forever."
"But I don't want to hurt him, Mommy! I want to help him! Like Ms. Nicholson said!"
Mommy took her hands off of the sword handle. It was too heavy for me, so I let it fall to the ground. I looked into Mommy's eyes and smiled a little, even though I still didn't feel any better about hurting the man. I hadn't realized that this was what she'd been talking about when Mommy had said that she wanted to make the man's hurting stop. I didn't like it whenever I got hurt, and I decided that the man probably didn't like it either.
"Remember when you got really sick and the doctor had to give you a shot?" Mommy asked.
I remembered. I hadn't been able to stop throwing up and Mommy had paced all day around the house, waiting for the sun to go down so she could take me to the hospital. I couldn't stay awake then, either, but Mommy made me. She had been afraid of me going to sleep like the men downstairs and leaving her alone forever.
"I remember," I said.
"Remember how that needle hurt, but how you felt better afterwards?"
"Yes," I whispered, starting to understand what she was talking about.
"Just like when the doctor stuck you with the needle, sometimes you have to hurt people to make them feel better."
"I guess," I mumbled, but I knew she was right.
She helped me pick up the sword again and stood behind me, her hands over my own. Together we raised the blade. I looked at her, unsure of what I was supposed to do next.
"We're going to put the sword next to this poor man's neck," Mommy said, "and then push it across, really quick so that he barely feels a thing."
"Like when I got the shot," I said, and Mommy nodded.
Together Mommy and me moved the sword to the man's neck, and I was scared for a moment. Then Mommy tightened her grip over my hands and moved the blade so quickly across the man's neck that at first I didn't think she'd cut him at all, but then I noticed the blood.
I guess Mommy hadn't drained him as dry as I'd thought.
Mommy let go of the sword and began to lick at the man's neck as he bled, trying to get all the blood before it dripped on the ground and got ruined. I dropped the sword, not liking it so much anymore. The blade was all red now. It looked less pretty than it did when it was hanging on the wall.
Mommy was sucking at the man's neck, getting blood all over her nice dress. The sound of the man's raspy breathing was gone now, and the only noise that I could hear was the slurps that Mommy was making as she drank and drank.
I knew that I should be happy now, because I'd helped someone. The man was better now. He wasn't moving and his scary eyes were just staring at the ceiling without blinking. He wasn't in pain anymore. He wasn't sad. And Mommy would be healthier because of him and maybe wouldn't have to hunt for another whole week. And we would be together and she could keep me home from school and...
Mommy had finished with the man and she was looking at me with some concern. Her face was still smeared with blood and she was using her fingers to try and wipe it off, licking them afterwards like I sometimes did with my greasy fingers after eating chicken legs.
"Sylvia, sweetheart, don't be sad. The man's better off now than he was before. He doesn't hurt now, because of what we did. You know this is the only way that I can stay healthy."
I nodded my head to try and show her that I understood, but I didn't say anything. Instead, I watched her as she finished getting the worst of the blood off of her face. Mommy would have to use soap and water later, since there was still a pink film all around her mouth. She didn't look beautiful anymore. She looked stained.
I walked past her and knelt down next to the man. He was lying on the ground now, half of his face in the dirt, the other half staring ahead at nothing. He had light blond hair and I saw that he had a bald spot in the back. I wondered if he had been sad about that, if he had wished that he'd looked different.
Mommy sat down beside me, reaching over to close the one eye that wasn't already in the dirt. She had flecks of blood on her fingers, too. I wondered if I had any on me.
"Sylvia, please don't be upset."
I wanted to shake my head and look away, but I knew that Mommy would keep trying. So instead I reached over and touched his face. I had never touched a dead man before. Mommy had always buried them right away.
The man's skin was cold, and he had little bumps on his forehead. The man hadn't been very nice looking. Mommy once told me that ugly men were the ones she usually tried to catch. The men she hunted were always the loneliest.
Mommy took my hand and held it, pulling it away from the dead man and into her lap.
I didn't say anything for a while and Mommy was quiet, too. Occasionally, she would stroke my hair or rub my hand with her fingers, but I didn't smile like I usually did whenever Mommy would do those things. Instead, I just knew, deep in my insides, that I hadn't really helped that man at all. That, instead, I had made things worse.
Finally, Mommy said, "Sylvia?"
I looked at her and then took my hand back, away from her and into my own lap. She opened her mouth to say something else, but I interrupted her.
"I wish that you weren't sick."
Mommy looked as sad as I felt. "Sometimes I wish that, too, Sylvia."
"And I wish that you didn't have to hurt people."
"I know," Mommy said.
I paused for a moment, looking at the dead man I had helped kill, and then I looked at my mommy. Even though her dress was ruined and her face was sticky with blood, she looked healthy and strong. Sometimes Mommy would get so pale that her skin would almost look see-through and she wouldn't be able to do as much. Mommy scared me whenever she looked that way, but now she was strong and her skin had color in it.
"But I want you to not be sick, Mommy, even if you have to hurt people. Because I don't want you to die like they do."
Mommy pressed her lips together and looked at me like she was going to cry, but then wrapped her arms around me for a hug. I hugged her back, my eyes closed so I wouldn't have to see anything, especially not the man.
"I love you, sweetheart," said Mommy. I opened my mouth, about to tell her that I loved her, too, but then I opened my eyes and I saw the dead man. And then I couldn't say anything at all.
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