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Authors: M. T. Anderson

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BOOK: Thirsty
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I shuffle from one leg to the other.

“Okay,” I say. “And me?”

“And you what?”

“What do you want me to do?”

The celestial being draws his fingers ticklingly along the bottom side of his jaw. Then he drops his hand to his lap again and nods. “As I’ve said, you are useful to us in the Forces of Light. You can walk among vampires without being suspected. Yet you are so young and your spirit still so transparent that you would be hard to trace with spells and wizardry if something should go wrong.

“We need you to enter the dwelling place of vampires. We need you to take within an object that I will find for you at great cost and deliver to you. You will take this object, enter the vampires’ enclave, and find the small gate they have opened to Tch’muchgar’s prison world. You will take the object through the gate, activate the object, and leave it there. Once activated, it cannot be moved or touched by anyone who is wicked or evil. It was very well designed at much expense.”

“What is it?”

“It is called the Arm of Moriator.”

“So you would like me to travel to another world, carrying a body part?” I say.

“No. You’ve misunderstood me. Arm as in arms race. It’s an archaic usage. The Arm is in fact a magic disk a few inches wide. I think it’s blue.”

“What will it do?”

“I will explain precisely when the time comes, which will be in a few weeks. Let us say for the time being that the Arm of Moriator will stop Tch’muchgar from escaping when the vampires interrupt your townspeople’s spells of binding. If he tries to escape from his prison world, he will pass out of that world but will not enter into another. He will thus cease to exist.”

The celestial being winds his fingers together with a sense of finality. “Christopher, I am giving you the chance to save your world. I don’t understand why you’re standing looking confused and frightened. I am also giving you the chance to prove that you are, deep down, a human and not a vampire. If you can prove that to us, we will lift this curse. Your fate is tied up with this quest, Christopher. You can be a hero and a human. Or you can be a vampire. And degenerate. And be hounded down by a mob after you’ve chewed through the throat of some pretty girl in an alley.”

I think about that, looking out across the reservoir. Tom and Jerk are sitting much farther down the bank, throwing stones into the water. Tom points across to one of the islands. I look there and see a large bird flapping among the trees. I say, “But I’m just — look, I’m —”

“Christopher, Christopher, your life depends on this. The lives of everyone you know, too. Remember, in four months you’ll be ready for blood, unless you help. Remember the stake. Think about the squealing of your own vampiric little heart.” He smiles. “I’ll be in touch.”

“What if I . . . ? Isn’t there some other way?”

“There isn’t. You won’t be in danger. You’re on the cusp, remember? So you’ll slip in and slip out. Undetectable. I’m sorry I have to ask you to do this. It really won’t be as difficult as it sounds. An adventure. Just give me a few weeks to retrieve the Arm of Moriator and then we’ll talk. Three weeks is a long time when you’re becoming a vampire.”

My head is spinning. “I don’t know,” I say weakly. “I’ll think about it.”

“Christopher, this is the only way. Say yes.”

For a minute I stand there looking at him frowning with his lips pressed together. A little girl is riding a bicycle with training wheels on the ridge above us. Her father chases her and calls, “Go, Stacey! Go!” He runs against the thickening clouds.

“Okay,” I say. “If it’s got to be.”

“It has got to be. Is that a yes?”

“That’s a yes. I’ll help.”

The celestial being laughs and claps once. “That’s wonderful. You’ve made the right decision.”

“I hope I have.”

“You have. That’s just great.” He shakes his head. “This sure is a load off my mind. Now I can go and retrieve the Arm of Moriator for the next step.”

“When will that be, again?”

“In about three weeks. I’ll be in touch.”

“Okay,” I say. “What is your name?”

He looks surprised. “My name is nonverbal,” he says. “It is a pattern of thought.”

“You don’t have a name?” I ask, somewhat incredulously.

“Okay, a name,” he says, shrugging. “I don’t know. Name . . . ? Chet.”

“Chet?”

“That will do.”

“Your name is Chet? Chet the Celestial Being?”

“Look,” he says. “I don’t need this.”

“Do you really think I’m becoming a vampire?”

“You are becoming a vampire. Within a few months, you’ll be a killer.” He moves to rise. “Damn,” says Chet the Celestial Being. “I am unused to physical existence and my leg has fallen asleep.”

I part ways with Chet. He shakes my hand and says he knows I’ll be perfect for the job. He says wait a few weeks and I’ll start to see his point of view.

“Otherwise, Tch’muchgar and the Forces of Darkness will devour us all.”

Then he limps away, doing the hokeypokey with his sleepy left leg.

I run toward my friends through the long, dead grass. I want so badly to be with them and to talk about stupid, normal things like B movies and truck scenes. The grass is all around my waist, exhaling in the wind. I am running, and my friends are now faceless bodies far, far off along the shore.

Jerk, Tom, and I are walking back toward the dam, silently. Tom will not forgive me. He will not even talk to me. The afternoon is getting chilly. There are more clouds now than sun. Some people who were picnicking on the banks are standing up and shaking the grass out of their blankets.

None of us says anything. It is better that way. I am picturing a scene in the future when Tom will drop by my garret to visit, when he is bored and married and has an itsy-bitsy little life. He will come by my garret and find me amidst clutter, listening to vibraphone music and papier-mâchéing pictures of apes and cosmetic supplies to my girlfriend’s nude body. I will have told her, “Once I was a vampire and saved the world.”

We pass between two small brick sheds. One says “Grady ’74.” We do not speak. Tom is walking ahead of us. He chooses which path to follow back to the dam.

We walk down beside the cataract. The water splatters on boulders and struts.

Jerk asks me, “In
The Hitcher,
did you see that scene where the guy finds the finger in his french fries?”

“No, Jerk,” I answer. “In the version I saw, they cut out just that scene.”

My hunger grows. At dinner, I ask for my steak rare, and my brother calls me a bloodsucker. I try to change the subject. He keeps calling me a bloodsucker. My father is silent throughout the whole meal, except once, and that is because he likes a lot of butter on his potatoes.

I dream that night of killing Tom.

I dream we are in a fight. He says that something is not blue, and I say that it is green. So we fight, and I kill him and drink his warm blood; and as I do, I go from strength to strength. Then I realize that I am going to dream about Rebecca and am horrified. I will not let that happen. I wake up.

My sheets are twisted like a winding-sheet. It is black in my room, but I can see.

I do not feel like going to sleep. I am frightened. I am thirsty.

I pad down to the bathroom. I drink water and more water out of the faucet.

I turn it on warm. I want to drink the water warm. I gulp and gulp, but am not satisfied. It runs down my face and soaks the flannel collar of my pajamas.

I straighten up. I look in the mirror, and I see what I saw in the water earlier when I tackled Tom.

I have no reflection.

I pace in my room.

I am thirsty.

I
n the next few weeks there is spring rain. It rains all the time, rain like little spit pellets of dirty newsprint, tapping and gumming on windows and roofs. Out in the gray rain, there are sludgy buds hanging on the trees like chrysalises.

On the few days when the sun comes out, there’s a dog-dung smell clogging the streets of town. For the people who live near cow fields, there’s a cow-dung smell. In fact, our town is a kind of dung-smell smorgasbord.

People talk about the beauty of the spring, but I can’t see it. The trees are brown and bare, slimy with rain. Some are crawling with new purple hairs. And the buds are bulging like tumorous acne, and I can tell that something wet, and soft, and cold, and misshapen is about to be born.

And I am turning into a vampire.

I receive the first vampire letter about four days after my discussion with Chet the Celestial Being.

It is on a cream card bordered in black. It says:

On the back, in fountain pen, someone has written, “Christopher! We’d love to see you! We’ll provide transport — just R.S.V.P. and we’ll set up a car pool! Hope you can make it.”

I have read it through three times when the writing fades and the paper withers to fine onionskin.

So they have found me. I ball up the letter to throw it away. This I mean to be a big gesture, showing that I will have none of them, but unfortunately the paper is so spiderweb thin and spongy by this time that I don’t get that sense of rattle and crinkle that makes balling something up and throwing it away a really a big event.

I am anxious because I don’t know what to do. Obviously Chet the Celestial Being wants me to act with these inhumans as if I were happy to become one of them. Otherwise, I won’t be able to slip in with Chet’s magic Arm. But there is no way that I am going to visit vampires alone. There is no way that I am going to pencil in on my social calendar a gruesome kegger of death. So I don’t know what to do, and I wish he’d come back and tell me.

I wonder how he expects me to just figure things out with nothing to go on. I’ve never fought with the Forces of Darkness before. That was a Cub Scout badge I seem to have missed.

In the nights, I cannot sleep. I lie in my bed, and I hear the rain drumming and drumming until the roof must be numb.

I can hear others moving about the hallways, and sometimes I can hear them in sleep. I lie awake on my bed and I can hear them all, almost down to their pulse.

I can hear my mother snoring. I can hear my father turn uneasily. And after my brother thinks we are all asleep, I can hear him get his secret magazines from where they’re hidden under his video equipment and use them.

But the worst is when I can hear no one. When there is no tread on the carpet in the hall, and I know I am alone.

When I was very small, there seemed to be a forbidden time after my parents went to sleep. It was fine when I lay awake and heard my parents talking softly down in the kitchen, or guffawing at sitcoms on the television. But after they went to bed, and the dishwasher stopped running and sighed, and the house was silent, it seemed like I had found a vast abandoned lot of night where no one was allowed, and I was staggering in that place alone, with walls that held me from all who slept.

Now I feel that again because I can’t sleep, and the same thoughts run again and again in my head.

I lie on my pillow one way, and when my cheek gets used to it, I turn the other way. I cannot sleep, and I think about that.

It is then that my thirst starts, in the dead hours.

I think:
I am so thirsty. I wish I could go to sleep. If I don’t go to sleep, I will be sleepy tomorrow. I would sleep if I weren’t so thirsty.
And these thoughts go on and on wheeling in circles and I get more and more desperate for something to break the silence.

Sometimes I get up and stare out the window. I stare out across the little lawn to the fence and then each moon-defined object there in the next yard: the plastic wading pool; the sun-bleached Big Wheel; the tangled apple tree.

And then I lift my eyes above the houses, above the comfortable roofs, and see the woods on the hills. And I sense then, in the way the moon drapes itself easily, obscenely over them all, that there is something wicked all around us, something staining the aluminum siding and the four-door sedans. There is something hiding behind it all, Tch’muchgar scheming, locked in darkness, and I pray to Chet the Celestial Being in my mind, if he can hear me, that he comes quickly so I no longer feel this danger in myself and out there on the hills.

BOOK: Thirsty
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