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2008-06-22 | |
Vampires in the family Chapter 4 : My Grandfather, the vampire
"In life, we waste so much energy hating or holding grudges against those who've abandoned us. In the end, they always win."
I didn't really have a clue what the man was talking about, but I didn't really want to interrupt him. After all, the more he focused on his weird, philosophical statements, the less likely he was to decide to drink my blood.
This was a good thing, really. As bad of a mood as I'd been in the entire night, I really didn't want to die. Mother would be really angry at me, for starters.
The man kept his pace with me as we walked along the empty road. There were only a few houses here and there, only half of which had their outside lights on, so it was pretty dark. Tall trees crowded along both sides of the street, shading out any of the moon's silver glow. The golden, pooling lights from the houses were welcomed, making me feel a little safer as we walked past them, but as soon as the brightness faded into the distance behind us, I felt dread creep up in my heart again.
Any time the man wanted to, he could knock me unconscious and drag me away without being seen. Then, death would only be a matter of time.
"I've spent so many years being resentful," he murmured. I was really starting to think that he wasn't talking to me at all. Maybe I could sneak away into one of the houses and call Mother from there, ask her to pick me up.
No. No, that strategy wouldn't stop Mother if she was determined, so there was no reason why a few scared people would stand in the man's way if he decided to come after me. The guy was a vampire, after all. The poor family would get hurt and I'd still end up dead. Bad idea.
The occasional rocky gravel on the road crunched under my shoes as I plodded onward. I was going as fast as I could reasonably walk without making the man suspicious. If I got home to Mother before the man could attack me, then maybe I'd be okay. Maybe...
"Are you afraid of me, Sylvia?" the man asked.
Oh crap. How should I answer him? Lies or truth, truth or lies? I'd had so much practice with both. If I told him the truth, that he scared the heck outta me, then maybe he'd take that as an invitation to hurt me. ...But if I lied to him and said I wasn't, he could get angry.
He was still waiting for a reply. I couldn't stay silent much longer.
Taking a deep breath, I made my decision.
"Yes. I am."
"And why is that?" the man inquired, one of his perfect eyebrows arched up in question. "Didn't I say that I knew your mother? Why would I attack the daughter of someone I know?"
"Mother has a lot of enemies," I whispered. Maybe the truth wasn't such a good tactic after all.
"But don't you realize what I am?"
I nodded. "A vampire," I said, keeping my voice low. "But that doesn't mean that you won't hurt me."
The man tilted his head, looking bemused. "What on earth are you talking about, child?"
Oh crap. He was actually gonna make me say it. I cringed mentally, berating myself for choosing not to lie to him.
"Because," I said, "Mother is a...you know, a female, and she only hunts men. You're a...."
"Male?" the man supplied helpfully when I couldn't bring myself to say it.
"Yeah. And if you're anything like Mother, that must mean that you hunt..."
"...girls," I managed to whisper. The darkness of the road had never seemed more oppressive. Since the man had shown up, the buzzing and chirping of the nighttime insects had ceased with his presence. The silence was horrible, making every step I took as loud as a thunder crack.
The man chuckled, a warm sound that, against all logic, made me want to get closer to him.
Just like Mother affected other men, so did this man have the same, dizzying effect over me. Some part of me, some small and primal section of my brain that didn't know any better, wanted to be near him and do everything he said.
That was one of the things that made vampires so dangerous. Not just that they were really strong, which they were, and not that they were virtually immortal, which Mother also was; their most dangerous aspect was their natural effect on members of the opposite sex. It made hunting a breeze for Mother - she barely had to make any extra effort to get the men home and into the basement.
If this male vampire decided he wanted to kill me, then, odd's were, I would gladly follow him to my death, even knowing what he was gonna do to me. I could barely manage to think straight around him as it was.
Still laughing, the man put his arm around my shoulder as we continued to walk. I tensed automatically, but if he noticed, he didn't say anything about it.
"You needn't worry about me, young Sylvia," chortled the vampire. "While everything you said was absolutely true - and thank you for that, by the way. Your forthrightness is refreshing. It's been a very long time since anyone has ever spoken honestly to me."
I relaxed, at least a little. At least he wasn't angry with me for my answers.
"But, as I said, you're in no danger from me. After all," he continued, giving me a gentle squeeze on my shoulder, "you're practically family."
We walked around the curve in the road and my house appeared before me, all of its outside lights shining like some brilliant, electric torch.
Oh, thank goodness! I felt my knees go weak at the sight and had to fight off the urge to throw the man's arm off my shoulders and run, as fast as I could, inside to where Mother was waiting.
But the absolute worst thing I could do right now was make the man angry, so I stayed where I was, walking at the same, tepid pace towards safety.
We made it to the front door. The man held a finger to his lips - shhh - and went inside first. I hesitated at the door - maybe this wasn't such a good idea - but the man grabbed my arm and pulled me gently inside.
"Don't worry," he said again and the stupid, bespelled part of me longed to believe him. The rest of me, the logical part that had witnessed Mother doing the same damn thing so many times before, refused to comply.
On purpose, I walked over the squeaky part of the entryway's floorboards. It creaked ominously. From upstairs, I heard Mother's voice.
"Byron? I was expecting you earlier to...."
Mother appeared at the top of the stairs, but her words caught in her throat when she saw me.
"Hello, Octavia," the man - Byron? - greeted, smiling at her with obvious happiness.
"Sylvia!" Mother rushed down the stairs, moving so fast that she was beside me before I could blink. She yanked my arm out of Byron's grip. He let go easily and, with Mother pulling me behind her so that I was out of Byron's grasp, I felt like an idiot. Had I realized before that he'd just have let go of me, I'd have pulled away instead of letting him hold me like some sort of kid.
"My goodness, Octavia!" Byron said, his brown eyes glittering in amusement. "What in the world are you so afraid of?"
Mother scowled at him, pushing me further behind her. I didn't know what to do. Should I run to one of the other rooms in the house? Even if I locked the door, that wouldn't do any good if Byron came looking for me. But if Mother started to fight him, what sort of help would I be? I couldn't take him. I could barely even distract him!
"You stay away from Sylvia," Mother ordered. "She's off-limits, do you understand?"
"Of course, of course. My, aren't the two of you paranoid?"
"The two of us?" Mother glanced back at me to make sure I wasn't hurt.
"I've already had this conversation with Sylvia." He walked over and touched Mother gently on the chin. "Besides, I would never, in a million years, hurt my own granddaughter."
My breath caught in my throat. Granddaughter?
He glanced up at me and the briefest glimmer of hurt flickered in his eyes. "You didn't even tell her about me, Octavia?"
"Until you called me yesterday, I didn't believe I would ever see you again," Mother said. "Why should I complicate Sylvia's life more so than it already is, especially for someone she had very little chance of actually meeting?"
Mother's face was cold, incredibly cold. It made me shiver to look at her, with her pressed lips and narrowed eyes. She'd never been this hostile before with anyone.
Slinking into another room was sounding better and better. At least that way I'd be out of Mother's hair.
I backed up a little and started to move around the corner towards the weaponry room. There was a hallway beyond it that led to the second stairway, which I could use to go up to my room and wait out whatever was going to happen.
Despite Mother's expression, I didn't think they were going to fight. Byron had seemed sincere when he'd said he wouldn't hurt me, which I think was what Mother had been worried over. She would be fine without me. Better to get out of the way.
I reached the door to the weaponry room and was about to slip inside when I heard Byron call my name.
"Young Sylvia! Where are you going, child? Stay and get to know your grandfather."
Okay, that was it. I needed some explanation.
I turned around and caught Mother's eyes. "Okay, who is this guy?"
Mother still didn't look too happy, but she sighed and answered me, anyway. "He's not really your grandfather. Don't listen to his lies."
"Excuse me?" demanded Byron.
Ignoring him, Mother continued. "Your real grandfather died a very long time ago. During the second Crusade, in fact."
My memory sparked. "Oh yeah, I remember you telling me about that before."
She smiled at me, an attempt to comfort me even though I was still weirded out. "Yes, I used to tell you all sorts of stories before tucking you in for bed. I don't know why I stopped."
I gave a partial, half-laugh. "I'm a little too old for bedtime stories now, Mother."
Her shoulders slumped a little. "Yes," she agreed softly. "You are growing up."
Byron flashed her a look - something I couldn't quite read - and Mother glared at him before continuing. "This...gentleman here was the one who gave me my condition."
"Oh." I stared at him, overwhelmed at the idea that here was the only person I had ever seen who was older than Mother. Byron noticed my attention and stood a bit straighter.
It was strange to try and comprehend. Mother's appearance gave the impression of a woman in her mid-thirties. Byron looked about fifteen years younger than her, except for certain clues that gave away his true nature.
One of the tricks that I learned from Mother about how to tell when someone is a vampire is this: see if you can find visible veins. Most people have fine, natural blue lines running throughout their bodies, just underneath the skin. They're more visible on some people than on others, but every human has them.
Vampires don't. Their skins are too pure, too perfect and unblemished. Mother's skin may as well have been carved out of marble. She had no pores, no veins, no wrinkles, no laugh lines, no dimples...nothing. The lack of such things wasn't terribly obvious; most people wouldn't even notice, and those who did would just assume she'd had a face-lift or something, but I knew the difference between a vampire's complexion and a needleful of Botox.
Now that I looked at him, I could see that his skin was even more unnaturally smooth and perfect than Mother's. If he held still, he could easily imitate a wax figurine - a thing that looked almost human, but with some strange, unmentionable aspect awry that gave the charade away.
Byron was the one who'd changed Mother into a vampire, who'd given her that horrible disease.
He was the one who'd forced Mother to hurt innumerable men over the centuries. To...kill people just so that she could survive.
And he was expecting me to like him?
"Um, I think I'm gonna go to my room now, okay?" I said.
Byron looked crushed. Mother just gestured towards the second staircase with her head and raised her eyebrows at me.
I knew what this meant. We were gonna have to have a "talk" later on. Great.
"Bye," I said and went upstairs. My room was on the top floor, in this huge space that used to be an attic before Mother remodeled it to be my bedroom.
The ceiling was sloped in all sorts of different angles, looking like a geometry teacher's nightmare, but the assorted angles formed a large dome that stood about 20 feet from the floor at its highest point. In a fit of creativity two years ago, I'd painted the entire ceiling purple and decorated it with tiny, glow-in-the-dark stars.
My bed sat on the opposite side from the door. It was huge, almost big enough to fit four people comfortably. It was built for a canopy, even though I didn't have one on it. I liked to look at my fake, plastic stars at night and a canopied bed would have blocked that. I never really understood the purpose of one, anyway. I was inside. Why did I need a second, fabric roof over my head when I slept?
Sighing, trying not to think about what had just happened, I crawled onto my bed, pushing aside my two-dozen stuffed animals (literally. I had a collection.) and snuggled against my stuffed panda bear, Oedipus.
He'd been my first. I'd won him at the state carnival all by myself. This was back before I'd learned how to make friends, so Mother had been the only one with me. She'd offered to help me play the games, but I'd refused. She won every time and, eventually, that'd made getting the prizes less fun.
We'd wandered up to a tent that had about five hundred glass coke bottles sitting in rows. The carnie had traded us a bucket of small, plastic rings in exchange for five dollars. The game was to try and throw the rings so that they landed over the neck of the coke bottle. It was practically impossible, since the rings were only just big enough to fit over them.
I'd wasted almost the entire bucket, trying out different throws to see which ones were better for succeeding at the game. Finally, I'd been down to one final plastic ring. None of my other throwing strategies had worked, so I decided to do something different; I closed my eyes, tossed it in the air, and hoped for the best.
"Winner!" the carnie had cried.
I'd picked Oedipus out of the collection, since I'd always liked pandas, and taken him home with me. It'd been the first time in my life that'd I'd ever accomplished anything without Mother's help.
I'd been twelve years old.
Even though he was a little beat up and stained, Oedipus was still my favorite stuffed animal. I hugged him around his middle and tried to decide how I was gonna act towards Byron when I went back downstairs.
Be polite around him, I supposed. It seemed the most logical thing to do around someone who could snap your neck as easily as open a coke can lid.
There was a knock on my door. That'd be Mother then, coming upstairs for a talk. Normally I didn't mind those things. Mother-daughter talks were seldom as embarrassing in my family as the ones my friends complained about.
"Come in," I called. I hadn't turned on the light when I'd entered my room, and it looked a little gloomy, so I leaned over and plugged in my Christmas lights that I had hanging on my walls throughout the year. The atmosphere suddenly turned festive in pinks and blues and yellows.
I leaned back up and turned around, expecting to see Mother there, and my heart skipped a beat.
It was Byron.
"Hello again, Sylvia. You have a wonderful room," Byron said. He was still acting friendly. I'd thought he was faking it at first, playing with me like a cat plays with a mouse, but now I starting to believe that maybe he'd been being sincere. Maybe he'd actually wanted me to like him.
"Hey," I said, not taking my eyes off him. Where was Mother? Had she really agreed to let him see me alone?
I mean, jeez, she wouldn't even let me stay at my friend's houses overnight. She thought it was too dangerous.
I felt the urge to roll my eyes. Oh yeah, my friends are way too risky to hang out with, but a strange vampire in my room, yeah, that was okay.
Sometimes it was so hard to try and figure out what she was thinking.
"Contrary to how your mother spoke to me earlier, she really does know me well enough to keep my word. You could insult me, throw a chair at me or," he smirked, "shove a stake through my heart, and my promise would still hold true; I will not do you any harm."
"Okay," I said. I hugged Oedipus tighter against my chest and didn't move from where I was sitting.
"May I?" Byron gestured towards the foot of my bed.
"Sure," I muttered, backing up against the cold headboard.
He sat down and smiled at me. "So I suppose you're wondering why I've shown up here tonight."
"Well, for the past few weeks or so, I've been examining certain aspects of my life that I've found...displeasing. One of the most particularly frustrating elements would be loneliness."
He picked up Mr. Fluffers, my pink bunny rabbit that I'd won from a claw machine at the grocery store. Playing with the ears, he continued.
"Over the centuries, I've created a handful of vampires to keep me company, but as of today, only your mother is left alive. Due to her luck, prowess, or intelligence, probably. Your mother was always exceptionally gifted in those areas.
"The problem of staying with a woman as gifted as Octavia is that, eventually, an argument will come about." He shook his head ruefully. "I honestly cannot remember what we fought over - something important to the both of us, no doubt, but needless to say, I cannot name the reason why your mother abandoned me a hundred years ago."
He leaned against the carved bedpost and shrugged his elegant shoulders. "Of course, I kept tabs on her, as I have all of my created companions. When you get to be my age, young Sylvia, you develop certain connections that can be suitably exploited when it comes to obtaining new information. Those connections are how I found out about you."
He waved at me using Mr. Fluffers' little pink paw. "The very idea that Octavia, of all people, would have settled down to raise a child - a human child, no less - absolutely astounded me.
"So these past few weeks, I got to thinking about my life and I realized, without uncertainty, that the one thing missing, the one thing that has made my existence incomplete, is family."
"You want a family?" I echoed back, trying to keep up with the conversation.
"Enormously so," he replied. "So yesterday, at the time of evensong, I made up my mind. I placed a phone call to your mother, told her I was coming to visit, and hung up before she had the chance to deny me." He shrugged and smiled. "A bit tacky and presumptuous, I know, but given the heated way we left things, I figured it was my only chance of ever getting to meet you."
My mouth dropped open as a piece of the puzzle fell into place. No wonder Mother had set me up on that horrible blind date. She hadn't been trying to drive me away from my boyfriend or make me hate guys; she'd just been so desperate to get me out of the house that she'd arranged a blind-date with the first willing boy she could find.
All of her silly lies to Emmanuel about immortality and stuff were just that; desperate lies, all in an attempt to keep Byron from actually meeting me.
"How did you know I was going to be on that road?" I asked him.
"Tonight, when I was walking home from the restaurant and you met me on the road, how did you know I was gonna be there?"
He had the grace to look chagrined. "I must admit, I was following you. Your date was a rather...interesting creature. A pity it did not work out between the two of you; he was rather amusing, in a pitiful sort of way."
I wrinkled my forehead. "You were following me?"
He shrugged helplessly. "I didn't know how else to get to know you. I was so very curious about you! What in the world sort of child must you be to have so tamed Octavia's heart?"
All night, all during that horrible, embarrassing date, he'd been watching me like I was some sort of entertainment. "Never do that again, okay?" I said.
"I give you my word," Byron swore, placing his hand on his chest.
I relaxed, letting my shoulders droop as I rested against the headboard. "So how long will you be visiting?"
I leaned forward. "I mean, well, how long will you be in the neighborhood? Visiting Mother and me?"
Byron began to laugh, a warm and disarming sound. As I waited for him to get control over himself and answer my question, I realized something; I no longer felt that strange compulsion around him. That vampiric effect on the opposite sex - that near compulsory longing to obey and be near the vampire in question - had left me. Now sitting next to Byron was like sitting next to anyone else.
Maybe the effect only worked for a little while before the human got used to it. Maybe I was immunized against it permanently affecting me since I'd been raised by Mother. Or maybe it was something else altogether.
Either way, I was glad it was gone.
Byron managed to stop chuckling and shook his head. "My goodness, Sylvia, I thought you'd realized."
"Realize what?" I asked.
"I am far too impressed with Octavia and yourself to just leave. After all, a family is everything I've been missing in my life. I'm not going to abandon the chance to have one now that I've found it."
"Wait! So you mean you're...."
"Exactly, young Sylvia! I'm moving in." He leaned towards me and winked with his 21-year-old face. "Aren't you excited? Your new grandpa's going to stay!"
He got up from my bed, still holding Mr. Fluffers in his hand. "I'll have to go talk to your mother, of course. Convince her to see things from my perspective. I'm sure she'll be adamant against it at first, but undoubtedly, she'll see reason by the end."
He looked down at the pink, stuffed rabbit he still held in his hands and smiled. "Can I keep this?" he asked, gesturing at me with Mr. Fluffers.
"Um," I said, completely flabbergasted.
"Thanks!" Still grinning, he walked out of my room, shutting my door behind him.
Mr. Fluffers was gone. The guy claiming to be my grandfather had stolen my stuffed bunny.
Hugging Oedipus against my chest, I shook my head and wondered what in the world Mother was going to say.
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