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Authors: M. T. Anderson

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BOOK: Thirsty
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“Hi,” says Kristen to Rebecca. “I’ve been thinking: Does history make, like, any sense at all?” This is quite an impressive question and one that might take a long time to answer, but Kristen continues, “God, this rain is, like, driving me crazy. It is making everything so wet. It’s hopeless. Can you do this history thing at all? I think it makes no sense. What are you
reading?

Rebecca looks startled. She shifts her papers to the side. “These?” she says. “These were here when I sat down.”

“Were you
reading
them?”

Rebecca squirms. “They’re sort of interesting. They’re about ancient magic.”

Kristen listens. She fixes Rebecca with a look that says,
Okay. Now even my jaw is bored with you.
Then she says, “Yeah. Whatever. Are you gonna come over and do the history with us, or what? The guys are like, ‘Where’s Rebecca? We need someone with, like, an actual
brain
at our table.’” The two of them laugh.

“Okay,” says Rebecca brightly, leaving her stack of books. “I’m there!”

She looks at me as she turns away — over Kristen’s shoulder — and suddenly I know that there is a price to her popularity. There is a silent pact between her and Kristen, one which I have witnessed and am expected not to mention. Kristen will not tell anyone that Rebecca reads strange, boring books, as long as Rebecca agrees not to talk about them and embarrass them both. She has her secret interests, too; and she doesn’t care that I know. She thinks I will keep her secret.

This makes me feel a little better.

I put the book about famous vampires back on the shelf and head out into the afternoon rain to kick pebbles on the street. I’m feeling so happy that kicking pebbles in the rain could be a wacky, hip solo on the jazz saxophone.

It’s that kind of game.

Sometimes late at night I think about Rebecca when I can’t get to sleep.

I can’t ever really get to sleep.

I think about if we were the last two people on earth, because I’ve made her into a vampire, which is very romantic, and we’ve withstood the radioactivity and all the madness of nuclear war. Outside, the ancient crumbling city is razed beneath the blood-red sunset moon.

We lie together in a room at the top of a tall, tall stone tower, far in the air. We lie side by side, draped in silk that slithers between her legs, and we feel the pressure of each other’s bodies while outside, huge mutant bats beat against the walls.

One night I am watching the news with my mother. She has an afghan over her lap.

On the news, a woman is being tried for manslaughter. She thought that the faeries had snatched away her twin babies and put elfin changelings in their place. You are supposed to throw changelings in the fire after you say prayers and chants. She did that. She threw the twins in the fire. She was right about one: it was a changeling and scurried up the chimney, stretching like a mantis, wheezing and whining. The other was not a changeling. It burned.

My mother, watching, holds her hand to her mouth so the fingers are limp and touch the top lip. She says, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe she’d throw her baby on the fire.”

“There were two,” I point out. “Two babies.”

“One of them wasn’t even hers,” my mother says. “It wasn’t even human.”

It wasn’t even human.
I get up and go into the den. I sit there, looking out the window for a minute. What would she do, my mother, if she found out a son of hers was not human? Then I go and get out the photo album. I look at photos of me when I was small. There I am, walking by the reservoir. I have made a Tinkertoy ray gun and have shot my mother as part of my plan to invade the earth. She is laughing and falling backward, clutching her heart. She is laughing so hard, and I’m laughing, too, holding my ray gun, invading her world.

I am walking to school through one of the abandoned mills. It’s a shortcut from home. The parking lot is chipped and breaking out in stubbly dead grass.

The factory buildings loom over me like a canyon. Rows of empty, dark windows in abandoned sweatshop galleries hang above me in the sky. There are sagging slate roofs and broken glass and wide doors covered in plywood and nailed shut. On the brick wall someone has sprayed green words reading “Sheila loves Mike for a while.” I walk between the buildings slowly, listening to the sound of my sneakers on the gravel.

One of these mills was closed after a big fire. There weren’t enough exits, and fourteen women were trapped upstairs and burned to death. The rumor is that on some nights you can see them still, those fourteen women, shrieking as they work at flaming looms, producing strange garments for an inhuman overseer. It’s a desolate place.

Suddenly I hear something.

Footsteps.

Who would be here at this abandoned place at this hour of the morning?

I look up at the empty angles of the brick walls against the sky. I look the other way, across the broken pavement.

Someone is walking slowly, surely, toward me.

I don’t know why, but this figure outlined against the sky frightens me. It is obviously staring at me. It is obviously coming right toward me. It walks mechanically, relentlessly.

That is when I start running.

I scamper up some concrete steps. I pivot on the rusty handrail and run off to the left between broken factory buildings. I throw myself down the alley. Only a few more turns and I’ll be back out on a main street.

From around the corner, I can hear that the figure is gaining at an inhuman pace. It couldn’t have gone up the steps with feet.

I burst out onto the street. Cars are whipping past. Birds are shooting through hedges. A motorcycle revs.

I move away from the alley and up the road, glancing backward. I wait to see who’s coming after me.

I stand there.

No one comes.

The unglassed windows of the factory are blackened with ancient soot, dark carbon licks of women who sewed petticoats. The walls face blankly on the street.

No one comes.

There is no sign that anyone was with me in the factory at all.

I continue cautiously on my way to school. I walk up the hill past the town green. Up a steep lane past the house of a man who owns sixteen old cars, all of them without wheels. By the time I reach the first of the streets in my school’s neighborhood, I can tell that I’m being followed again.

The strange thing is that the man (for at first I assume it’s a man) is not subtle at all. I have read about a billion spy novels, and when you are following someone, you hide behind newspapers, or pretend to paint the house next door, or hide a camera inside a spacious poodle.

You don’t just walk calmly after your prey and stand across the street from him, right on the sidewalk, staring.

He is wearing a cheap baggy suit and a blue polyester tie with raised paisleys. His face is wide and stern. His hair is in one piece, all pulled back and oiled into waves. That is how I first know that he is not of this earth. No human would willingly have that hair.

His eyes do not blink or move. He does not look like he is comfortable in his body.

He follows me to school. He waits on the circle at the base of the American flag, and every class I’m in he turns like the shadow on a sundial to face the windows.

He follows me home. I am petrified. In my house, I cling to rooms where people are sitting. My family starts looking at me strangely. I can see him through windows, standing across the street, staring.

He stands there through the afternoon. No one else has noticed him.

He stands there as night falls.

During dinner, he treads right up to the window, peering. I scream and back away from the table. His face is inches from the glass. His eyes are dead. He is staring at me.

Everyone else looks around the kitchen and asks me what’s wrong.

When I look out, he is back across the street, staring at us.

I ask Paul if I can sleep in his room. He says not until I fix my little bed-wetting problem, ha ha ha.

It must be some kind of supernatural servant of Tch’muchgar. That is all I can think. It must be a spirit like Chet, but working for evil instead of good. It is watching to see whether I will respond to the vampires’ letters, or whether I will just be a danger to them. It wants to see whether I go out at night, and range through the town, and find my gory prey. It stands there, just biding its time.

That night, when I can’t sleep, I can feel the Thing with the One-Piece Hair staring in at me. I can feel its line of sight shooting through the window, ricocheting off the lamp, and striking me.

I get up at about three and peek out the window.

There are a few streetlights. It is standing near one of them. Its arms are at its sides.

Its dead eyes stare at me still.

They are staring, and it waits.

Paul and I are watching the double funeral for the two teenage lovers killed in Northborough by vampires.

The national tabloids have made the story into a big morality issue as a warning to teens and hysterical parents. Their headlines are things like “N
O
N
ECKING
!” W
ARNS
N
ORTHBOROUGH’S
N
APE
-N
IBBLING
N
OSFERATU
. The funeral is on the Catholic channel during prime time.

Paul says, “I can’t believe these media buttscoops. You know, who are the real vampires here?”

I am crouched down to watch the show because the Thing with the One-Piece Hair is standing with its face pressed to the window. Its nose leaves no grease on the pane.

I am terrified, curled up into a ball so it can’t see me behind the plaid sofa. But I know it is still standing there. My parents are out, and I don’t want to be in a room without my brother.

“Are you okay?” Paul asks.

“I have a stomachache,” I say.

“You’ve been sick a lot lately,” he says.

After the commercial break, the show moves on to the psalms.

“I can’t believe they’re doing this close camera work on these people. The mother and sisters are, like, bawling their eyes out and the camera’s loving it,” says Paul.

On the screen, the father of the girl, voice cracking like a kid’s, is intoning one of the Bible readings. “In the mountains, there is a voice of mourning, crying, and wailing; it is Rachel, who weeps for her children, and will not be comforted, for they are no more.”

His voice floats through the dark forests, past the blinking radio towers on lonely hills; it floats past the empty squares and pizza joints with buzzing signs, and into the neat white houses by the green, into the shacks down near the old factories.

And everywhere at once, he lowers his head; and everywhere at once, his voice falls silent.

O
ne night, Tom and Jerk decide to go on a vampire hunt.

I do not think it is a very good idea. I say I don’t generally seek the company of anything with fangs. There are three of us, however, which always means that it’s one against two. I end up protesting uselessly. Tom has not quite forgiven me for trying to beat him up, so I have to play along.

I really don’t want to go at all. The Thing has been following me off and on for three days, and I don’t want to go out of the house more than is absolutely necessary. But I have to. Tom has started watching me at school. He can see that I have not been sleeping well. He notices at lunch that I am not eating well. I am worried that he might have guessed what is wrong. Maybe it is nothing; but maybe he knows.

He is judging me carefully. There’s a suspicion in the way he looks at me. I can tell that this vampire hunt idea of his is a test. He has something up his sleeve.

I am terrified that he might know. And once he knows for sure, he will blow the whistle.

I do not have much homework, and I do it all before dinner. I have to translate a dialogue between two French people buying greeting cards. After dinner, I lie to my mother.

“I’m going over to play video games with Tom and Jerk,” I say.

“Video games?”

“At Tom’s house,” I say. “His mother said it was okay.”

“Get your father to drive you. I don’t want you walking after dark.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

“It’s only about five minutes to Tom’s house.”

“I don’t want you walking after dark.”

“At all?” I say. “Can I crawl?”

“Don’t get sarcastic with me, Chris. I said I don’t want — ,” and so on. We have this sort of conversation for a while. In the end, my father drives me.

While we drive over to Tom’s, which is about a minute’s drive, my father listens to the oldies station and hums along. Occasionally he’ll remember three words and sing them. The blossoms are coming out on some of the trees. The telephone lines are drooping over the street.

It’s about half an hour later that we set out for the forest. Tom’s parents know we are going, but they are lax and not very bright. “Have a good time!” they say. “Be careful!”

We pick up Jerk on the way. The two of them insist on bringing Jerk’s dog, Bongo.

Bongo runs around the three of us, huffing. He bounces on me for a while. Then he bounces on Tom.

BOOK: Thirsty
13.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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