A vein pounded in Merton’s head. Groggily, he opened his eyes, his vision blurring. His mouth tasted of dirt and gristle, his body ached, and his skin felt like one giant bruise. He thought he was dreaming again. The leaves of the fat trees in Devon Fields waved in the morning breeze, the sun reflecting off the low clouds, glowing pink around the edges. His fingers dug into the cold dirt, and he squeezed his eyes shut, willing it all away.
A chill overtook him, and he realized he wore only his pajama pants. The edges of the leg were torn up and muddy. His hand went to the scar on his chest, and it seemed healed, no longer red, but still the raised shape of it on his skin. He sat up, and nausea rose with him. He buried his face in his hands. Bits of his dream came back to him. Running through the trees, seeing lights in the distance, a deep hunger. It was different from his other dreams, but the same.
A canvas bag landed in front of him, and he looked up. His vision managed to piece together the image of Marya, her dark hair streaming down her face, and her expression was somber.
“What–” he croaked out, his voice raspy. He swallowed and managed a, “What is going on?”
“I didn’t think you’d want to walk back shirtless,” she said, and she averted her eyes as she gestured to the bag. “There’s clothes in there. And shoes. We will be walking back.”
He tried to focus on her. His head was swimming. “Did you do something to me?”
Her mouth twisted up. “No, of course not.”
“It feels like someone drugged me.”
“You weren’t drugged.”
“Was I abducted?”
“What?” She stared at him. “Why would you even think that?”
He waved a hand. “Weird lights, missing time, the usual.”
“Do you remember anything?” she asked. Her eyes were intense, and it didn’t help the nausea. “About last night?”
He opened the bag and pulled out the long sleeved shirt, quickly pulling it on. The absurdity of the situation was starting to hit him.
“Do you know what happened last night?” she repeated.
“No, okay!” His glasses weren’t in here. He really wanted to be able to see properly. “I don’t know what you did to me or why, but what is even going on? Why are you here? How did you get this stuff?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Strange.”
“I’m not the strange one around here!” He pulled his shoes free and yanked them on. “Was this some weird Russian prank?”
“What are you doing here?” he shouted.
She touched his shoulder and looked at him, and a calm rippled through his head. Everything still hurt, and a panic attack was building in his chest, but she kept her eyes on him and said, “You turned into a werewolf.”
He started to laugh. His stomach regretted each contraction, but there was no other response. “I did what?”
“You’re a werewolf.” She let go of him, a look of frustration crossing her face, and the calm went away. “You transformed into a big monster, went into the woods, and spent the night chasing squirrels.”
“Wow,” he said. “You’re insane, you know that. I thought you were just weird, but it turns out you’re actually insane.”
“I’m trying to help you,” she said, kicking the bag. “I thought you wouldn’t want to wake up alone.”
“What do you care?”
“Have you looked around this town?” She held out her arms. “Johnny’s a zombie! You’re a werewolf! Ms. Helim is something, I don’t know, and no one bats an eye. What’s wrong here? What am I missing?”
He picked up the bag. “Did you break into my room?”
“Yes.” Her shoulder slumped. “Your window was unlocked.”
“And you just went in? What are you?”
She brushed her hair back. “I suppose it’s only fair. I’m a vampire.”
He started laughing again, hiding his face behind a hand. The pale skin, the gloomy clothing, the foreign tongue clicking against sharp teeth. This was a joke. Someone thought they were being funny.
“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re insane. And you dragged me out here to, what, drink my blood?”
She barely moved, and she was on him, sharp nails digging into his skin, her face changed, pulled back into sharp angles and lines, almost bat-like, two sharp teeth elongating out of her jaw, and her eyes were glowing red. Just as quickly, she let him go, and then she was standing away from him, pulling her hair back. Dizziness struck Merton, and he rolled over and threw up. He grimaced at his own stomach contents, which suggested a night of gobbling up squirrels and rabbits.
“Vampire,” he said, wiping his mouth. “Got it.”
“Vampires and werewolves share a kinship,” she said. “We’re from the same cloth.”
“Are we?” He squeezed his eyes shut, and bits and pieces flashed past his eyes. Running, chasing, howling. I’m a werewolf, he thought, blood pounding in his ears. Oh, God, I’m a werewolf.
“It’s fine to be afraid.”
His head was spinning. “How did I become a werewolf?”
“Were you cursed?” she asked. “Did you meet another werewolf?”
The creature in the woods. Blood. Crash.
“Your heartbeat is erratic.”
“I’m just–” He stumbled back and sat down on the ground. “I’m going to stay here for a bit.”
She sat beside him. “It’s been a trying few weeks.”
“Oh, God.” He rubbed his face. “What is even happening?”
“That’s my question.” She put her chin in her hands. “I thought my father wanted to punish me by sending me here. Now I realize something’s very wrong. What is this town?”
“Special military outpost,” he repeated. “Scientists looking for a miracle to save us from World War II.”
“But werewolves? Zombies? That’s not science, that’s–that’s–”
“Freaky.” He looked at her. “You’re really a vampire?”
She sighed. “I am really a vampire.”
“What are you doing in Whitby?”
“Fulfilling my father’s wishes.”
“Is he a vampire?”
He laid back, considering the thousands of questions this posed. He started with a simple one. “How did you know I was a werewolf?”
“Your friend,” she said, “has been publishing everything that happens in this town. You didn’t receive the splash page that Johnny did, but she included a segment after your accident.”
His chest groaned as he let out another coughing laugh. “I can’t believe you read that.”
“It’s very informative. I read about your accident. You had a miracle recovery, except for a single scar.” She nodded at his chest. “I hadn’t actually put the pieces together at first. It’s unusual, though.”
“Tell me what you find ‘unusual’.”
She gave him a look. “You felt sick, didn’t you? No bloodline, but a bite. And the form you took was strange.”
“I turned into a werewolf.”
“You turned into a wolf-man. They’re usually large beasts, but you retained human characteristics.”
“Okay.” He sat up slowly, wincing all the while. “What time is it?”
“Around six, I think.”
“I gotta get back before my mom’s up.”
Marya helped him to his feet, and they walked the mile back towards the residential streets. He didn’t want to believe her. Werewolves and vampires weren’t real, but zombies weren’t either, and he talked to Johnny every day. The night came back to him like a stream trickling in. He remembered running across the fields and snapping at small animals. It still felt like a dream, but the dirt on his feet and the contents of his belly suggested otherwise. He wished his memory wasn’t so faulty.
“Were you,” he asked, “a lot of bats?”
She nodded. “I can change my form at night. I was trying to keep you away from people.”
“This is so weird.” He rubbed the scar, an absent-minded gesture. “How do you deal with this being so weird?”
“This is normal for me,” she said. “Schools and suburbs are outside my range of experiences. I was actually relieved when Johnny came back from the dead. It meant I was here for a reason.”
“Why would your dad send you?”
“He’s done various work for various groups before, and I’m, um, not his favorite.” She brushed her hair over her eyes. “I have an extensive family, and sometimes he sends us out to accomplish things. He’s very… discerning.”
A whole family of vampires. “So you solve problems?”
He hesitated, and then ask, “Did you, uh, die?”
Her fingers squeezed together. “Yes.”
He turned away. “Is Johnny a zombie because of magic?”
“I don’t know!” She gave a frustrated sigh. “If he were, I would’ve located a source by now. But all this science and technology. What if the people of the now have managed to imitate the things of the past?”
“What about Ms. Helim?” he asked. “You said she was something.”
“She doesn’t have a heartbeat, she doesn’t breathe! I can’t be the first person to notice.”
He considered, but he rarely fell into her classes. “Maybe she’s a zombie.”
“No,” she said. “It’s not organic. But what else could it be? Every time I think I’ve figured something else, I just–” She gave a groan. “This town gets inside of you. I feel like I can see the answer, but I can’t put the pieces together.”
Merton quieted as he tried to see the same puzzle. Whitby was always a strange place. That’s what made it Whitby. They had nuclear physicists as teachers and now a real live zombie. And now him. A werewolf.
“I went to Bev’s house,” he said as more of the night came back to him. “Do you think she saw me?”
“I don’t know.” Marya gave him a sympathetic look. “Sometimes, when cursed, werewolves are drawn to the people they love. It’s why they often kill them.”
His eyes widened as he looked at her. “You sure know how to cheer a fella up!”
“These are realities you’re going to have to face,” she said. “I tried to guide you away. You’re remembering, then?”
“Bits and pieces. It still feels like a dream.”
“I didn’t see anyone else out there last night.”
“Why would–” The creature in the photo. “Someone else should’ve been.”
“It’s possible my presence could’ve driven them away,” she said. “Do you have any idea who it could be?”
He grimaced as he thought of the shadowy figure that’d been following him. “Have you met anyone named Jack Kenley?”
She frowned. “No.”
“I was sleepwalking, and he was there. He knows, I think. He has to. He’s been following me around.”
“I haven’t seen him, but he may be very clever.”
They came to the street his house was on. He walked up to the alley behind the house and hesitated as he came to the backyard gate.
“Is there a cure or anything?” he asked. “For being a werewolf? Is there a way to stop it?”
“I–” She looked down. “If it’s a curse, then perhaps if we knew how the curse worked. But I don’t know a way to stop it.”
“Oh. I was thinking you’d be the person to ask.”
“I can look into it.” She gave him an uncertain glance as he unlatched the gate. “I was lurking because I wanted to be sure you were okay. And I was curious. You are okay, aren’t you?”
He rested his palm on the wood fence. The sun was well over the horizon now, and they were far away from Devon Fields, far away from where he woke up naked dreaming he’d been a wolf, far away from what was the most insane night of his life. The distance made it more unreal.
“No,” he said. “But I’ll manage.”
“I can keep my distance,” she said. “If you prefer.”
He sighed as he looked at her. For a vampire she was absolutely pathetic. “No lurking, okay? Or skulking or stalking of any kind? But it’d be nice if someone knew what was going on.”
She smiled, just slightly. “That’s fair. I will see you at school.”
He waved goodbye and quietly slid open the back door. He made it all the way to his bedroom, stripping off the dirty clothes and pulling on fresh ones, and crashed face first into his pillow, when his alarm went off.
Time for school.
Merton took the long way around the school to the journalism closet, hoping to avoid Beverly and all of Johnny’s friends. The bell rang for first period as he pushed open the door and closed it behind him. He tossed his books to the side and removed the film from the other night, pushing open the dark room Ms. Helim had helped him set up, and he started working. He found the negatives from the night of the PTA meeting and blew it up as big as he could manage.
He watched as the photo of Jack from the game began to develop. Jack was a singular figure in the backdrop of people, the dark coats draped over his shoulder making him look like a shadow on the page. He didn’t look particularly werewolf-y, but he supposed most people wouldn’t. The yearbook stuff was kept with the journalism supplies, and he pulled out an old copy, searching or the name Kenley. It didn’t appear anywhere in the students. Out of curiosity, he flipped to the teachers as well. Ms. Helim’s face was passive as her bobbed blond hair curled around her apple cheeks. Mr. Colburn frowned into the camera. Mr. Eckel’s photo was missing entirely, but at least Principal Whale offered a smile. No Kenleys.
He glanced at the photos from the game. There were a few good shots of the cheerleaders, and he’d promised copies. The football players blurred as they ran, but there was a solid shot of an interception where Billy’s hands were inches from the ball. In the stands, he saw Betty in the top row. The space beside her was empty, just wide enough for a person.
“Vampire,” he said as he set it aside.
The pictures from the night of his accident started to fade into view. Enlarged, the beast was a little easier to see, though there was still some guess work involved. A hairy figure was a silhouette against the bloomed out light behind it, and two small curves suggested dog like ears. There was a glint of an eye, perhaps, but it was hard to tell with the light blurs and artifacting.
He held it up to the light and murmured, “Werewolf.”
Merton had always assumed there were secrets in Whitby. A government controlled town of scientists working on projects against Hitler wasn’t going to be an open book. His mom never talked about her job as a communications specialist, and Beverly’s parents weren’t keen on opening up about her dad’s work in security. As far as anyone was concerned, after the war all the government guys shoveled every file into a big vault and locked the door. Maybe, buried in all that, there was a file on werewolves, or a vampire autopsy, and maybe with Johnny they could’ve re-opened that vault to see what they had. Or maybe they’d always been lurking out there, forgotten about until now.
He put them all away and was in the middle of cleaning up the lab when Beverly walked in. She looked surprised to see him.
“You weren’t in homeroom,” she said, setting down her books. “I thought you were out sick.”
“Thought about it.” He had. Every part of him had protested as he’d climbed out of bed, but the thought of being alone with his new revelation was almost as bad as the thought of going back to the hospital. They’d only held Johnny for two days, but he imagined how much probing and prodding and slicing away pieces had taken place. He shivered at the thought.
Beverly crossed her arms in front of him. “You looked like death warmed over Friday night.”
“I slept the whole weekend.” He smiled at her. “Honest, Bev. It’s fine.”
Her eyes narrowed, and then she glanced down at what he’d been working on. “Did you already develop the pictures?”
He shrugged. “Might as well get it down now.”
She looked unsatisfied with the answer, but she didn’t push it. Pulling out her notebook, she sat back on one of the tables. “You missed a riveting lecture this morning. I told you we ran into Betty Friday night, right?”
He withheld a groan. “Sure.”
“Johnny still seems down about it.”
Merton gathered up his things. “Second period’s about to start. We oughtta get going.”
“What?” She gave him an annoyed glance. “We’ve still got five minutes. You didn’t even show up to first period.”
“Exactly why I should be punctual.”
“Merton, you’re acting weird.”
She jabbed him in the chest. “What’s going on? You have to tell me. Did something happen?”
The words that burst in his mind were: This morning I woke up half-naked in the woods with a girl claiming to be a vampire who told me I was a werewolf, and I believe her. The boy who might’ve bitten me keeps showing up and disappearing, and no one else seems to notice. Apparently we’ve got a school full of freaks, and I don’t know how to deal with this.
Instead of saying all that, he said, “I’m just a little tired of talking about Johnny.”
He could’ve slapped himself. Keeping in a big truth, he’d outed a little one. Beverly’s frown set like stone.
“What does that mean?” she asked, tone chilly.
“Nothing. Forget it.”
“I’m sorry I’ve been hanging out with him so much lately, but he’s my friend. Just like you.”
A headache started to burrow into his skull. He rubbed his face. “Bev, I said forget it. I don’t care anymore.”
She stood still as he walked past her. Her mouth twisted up. “What does that mean?”
“You’ve been acting really weird for a while,” she said, “and I thought you were just sick, but now you’re acting like a jerk.”
“I’m not–” He made a frustrated noise. “I’m sorry, okay. I didn’t mean to offend the great and wonderful Johnny.”
“See! You’re doing it again!”
“Well the whole world doesn’t revolve around him!” He snapped up his books. “Sorry. I don’t have the patience today.”
“Merton!” she shouted.
He didn’t look behind him as he escaped to his next class.
Merton was missing at lunch and he was missing after school. Beverly walked over to his house, and when she banged on the door, no one answered. She walked around to the backyard and loitered around until she got bored. She kicked at a smattering of cigarette butts and stormed back home.
He was in class the next day. At first, she’d decided to be chilly to him, but he was doing a better job of ignoring her than she did of him. When the bell rang, she tried to block his exit, but he was quicker than her. He wasn’t in the journalism room, and when he wasn’t in class, he completely disappeared. Again, he ditched her after school, and when she went by his house, his mom said he’d asked not to be disturbed. Beverly was one more rejection from climbing in through his window.
Wednesday after school, the football team was practicing, and she watched from the sidelines with Johnny. The gang was light tonight, and she was grateful for that. It wasn’t as though she got alone time with Johnny often, and she was happy to sit beside him as he jostled a bag of peanuts, occasionally brushing hands together as they both snack on them.
“You worry a lot about him, huh,” Johnny said. His eyes were on the action, and she wondered how much he missed playing football.
“Merton’s been my best friend since we were six years old.” She wiped the salt off her fingertips. “And I still feel pretty responsible for the whole car accident thing.”
“Tell me about it. Billy says its reverse karma.”
“I don’t know if that’s how karma works, Johnny.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like I’m paying back the miracle.”
She put her chin in her hands and gazed up at him. “Merton might feel the same. He was so sick last week, and now–well, he looks fine. But he’s acting weird. It makes me more worried. Should that make me more worried?”
“I don’t know his life, Bev, but you do. I figure if you’re concerned, you probably have a reason.”
She smiled, just a little. He would say something like that. “He and his mom are still coming over for Thanksgiving. He can’t avoid me there.”
“It’s going to be weird this year.”
He rolled his good eye and brought his hands up in mock prayer. “‘I’m thankful a freak thunderstorm raised me from the dead.’ Yeah, it’s been a weird year. Plus, Betty’s not going to be there.”
Her lips thinned with concern. “She hasn’t talked to you at all, you know. It feels like if she really cared about you, she would’ve talked to you.”
“Sure, but my math teacher doesn’t talk to me anymore. Doesn’t mean I can avoid it.”
“I’m not an expert at getting over someone,” she said, cringing all the while, “but have you considered trying?”
He sighed. “I’ve considered it.”
They sat in silence as the boys ran through their plays, the cheerleaders giggling in the distance. It was surreal, how little was different, even Johnny, who still wore his letterman’s despite probably never being able to play again. It seemed people could only treat Johnny two ways: either completely ignoring that he existed, or treating him like nothing had changed at all. But so much had changed, and the semester wasn’t even over yet. Life-altering things had happened to him, literally. Beverly wondered if treating him like nothing had changed was a little like ignoring him too.
“Johnny–” she started, but the coach blew his whistle, and the boys broke apart, starting to make their way over. When he looked at her, she sucked in a breath and shook her head. “I’m gonna go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Sure,” he said and gave her a smile. “You know, if he really cares about you, he’ll talk to you.”
“Yeah, yeah.” She waved a hand at him. “I’ve heard it before.”
The clouds were heavy with snow, and it got dark so much sooner, but she walked to Merton’s anyway. He wasn’t home, his mom said. He was working on a project with a friend. She thanked her and trudged back home.
Merton had biked out to Devon Fields. On a Wednesday evening, there were practically no cars, and the early winter sun was already setting below the horizon. He’d pulled on two coats, and the chill was still deep. He brought the camera too. He didn’t know why. It felt safe, holding it up between him and the forest. Like there was a barrier between them.
Merton didn’t really know what he was looking for. His dreams always sent him back here, to the forest. He hadn’t woken up sleepwalking since the full moon, and he wondered if his sleeping brain knew something his awake brain didn’t. After Sunday night, there’d been no more pain, no more burning scars, no more nearly passing out during class. Would he go through it all again? Or was it gone for good?
He rode out to where about Marya had found him. The clouds were low, so the moon offered little light, and he fumbled with his flashlight. His skin bristle, and when he turned around, Jack was there. He shone his light at him.
“If you’re wondering,” Jack said, is eyes glinting black in the light, “this isn’t where it happened.”
Merton kept the flashlight steady. “How’d you know I was out here?”
“For the same reason I was outside your house. I’ve been here. I did all this already.” He stepped forward. “I’m trying to help.”
Merton took a step back. “I don’t really believe you.”
He held up his hands. “Look, if I’d come up to you and said, by the way you’re a werewolf, would I be less creepy?”
Merton let out a breath. “I guess not. But being a stalker wasn’t really working for you.”
“Sorry. I don’t spend a lot of time talking to people.”
“Yeah, I get that.” From his pocket, he removed the folded up picture he took and held it out to him. Jack grinned when he saw it. “You weren’t around on the full moon.”
“No, you’re creepy friend was there.” He held up the image, admiring it. “Truth told, I don’t usually go this close to people. In the winter, it’s easier by the lake. In the summer, though, people everywhere. I’ve been avoiding this whole scenario.”
“Marya’s a vampire,” Merton said.
Jack laughed. “No kidding? Thought I would’ve picked up on that one. Lots of freaks around here.”
“‘Course I do. I spend so much time underground around here. There’s spots where you can hear absolutely everything.”
“How long have you been around?” he asked.
He shrugged. “Long time.”
“I was looking for your name. I started to wonder if I hallucinated you.”
“There’s a lot of stuff they just–” He made a cutting motion with his hand. “Lots of people erased from the history books. Your friend’s really a vampire?”
“That’s wild. No wonder she was giving me the willies.” He stepped forward. “I’m not trying to scare anybody, you now. You and me, we’re the same now. We gotta stick together.”
“Sure,” Merton said. Marya had said something similar, hadn’t she? “I got some questions fist.”
He held out his arms. “Go on them.”
Meton hesitated. Jack was built like a coat rack in danger of overuse, and there was still something to his grin, a manic flash in his eyes, something about him that made his stomach churn. But Merton needed to know more than he currently did, which was nothing at all.
“Okay,” he said. “Was it like that for you? When you got bit? The sickness, the infection?”
Jack’s face turned a storm cloud. “Kind of. I didn’t get hit by a car or anything, but yeah. I was sick for weeks. Could barely move. Thought I was dying.”
“Marya says that’s now how werewolves are supposed to be.”
“She’s a vampire. What does she know?”
“A lot more than me.” Merton’s brow furrowed. “Who bit you?”
“No, no.” Jack put a hand on his shoulder and shook him. “This is about you, man. I’m here for you. You don’t want to know what I’ve seen? How I keep off the trail? I’ve never hurt anyone before. That’s seven years of avoiding folk and keeping off the roads, and 84 full moons I’ve been keeping track of. You don’t want to know about that?”
“I guess. How do you keep out of the way? I went to my best friend’s house, and if I ever hurt her–”
“First, you can’t think of you and the wolf as separate.” Jack grabbed him by the arm and started walking deeper into the woods. “It’s you, just a hairier, hungrier part. So you’re sweet on some girl, right? The animal part of you remembers that.”
“I didn’t say I was sweet on her,” Merton muttered. He couldn’t quite pull his arm out of Jack’s grip.
“No, but imagine you were. You don’t like a guy, maybe, and when you’re part wolf some feral instinct decides to pick a fight. There’s no separation, just conscious and unconscious. One informs the other.”
“You don’t do that?”
“I don’t talk to people.” In the low light, it was hard to see Jack’s expression. “On purpose. Caring about folk hurts them, in the long run it hurts you. It’s easier without.”
“Doesn’t sound easier,” Merton said.
“You’ll figure it out.”
Merton managed to worm free, and he fell in step behind Jack. He glanced around to see if there were any lights. They’d gotten deep into the forest, and he couldn’t see the road from here.
“Do you ever see the lights?” he asked.
Jack frowned. “Highway lights, probably. That’s what I always heard.”
“It’s hard to go near them,” he muttered, more to himself than to Merton. “Better to stay hidden.”
Merton stared at the back of his head. He couldn’t be older than nineteen, and he dressed like he had to carry everything on his back. The Kenleys hadn’t shown up in any of the town records.
“Your parents,” he said, “were they scientists too?”
Jack glanced at him. “What makes you say that?”
“Everyone’s parents were involved.” He stumbled on some roots and quickly righted himself. Where were they even? He didn’t remember going this far. “Scientists, military specialists, men who now dress up in suits everytime something goes wrong. Why else would you e here?”
His shoulders hunched. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
He whirled around, and Merton nearly slammed into him. They were in a small cleared section, far away from the paths cut away for cars and the places groomed by people.
“I said this is about you, man,” Jack said, adopting a friendly grin, but it strained against his features. “Who cares about what these nobodies do. You and me. You want to know how it happens, and so I’m showing you. Here we are.”
“Where…?” Merton stepped back, and it hit him suddenly. He had been out this far, somehow, probably getting lost in the dark. Following lights. Seeing the creature. He clutched his camera strap.
“Right over there.” Jack pointed to some trees. “You took a picture. That’s hilarious. You saw something like me and you took a goddamn picture.”
Merton’s breath caught in his throat. Memories were flooding in. He’d stepped forward and flash.
“I couldn’t stop myself, you know.” Jack shrugged. “I avoid people when I’m like that. No idea what I was doing so close here.”
His chest ached. He pressed a hand and felt the scar through his shirt.
“I tried to find you as soon as I woke up, but you were in a hospital. Car accident. I didn’t put two and two together until you woke up. I remembered you, see? No separates.”
“I have to–” Merton gasped for air. “I can’t–”
Jack put a hand on him. “Breathe, man. It’s not a big deal. We’re gonna be pals, right?”
Still grinning, his mouth stretched wide, and Merton’s mind flashed to his wide open jaw, the long teeth, claws and pain and fear pounding in his chest like a hammer. Merton thought he was going to die. That Jack was going to kill him. Her jerked back, clutching his chest.
“I can’t–I don’t–”
“Wait,” Jack said, but Meton was already running.
His chest ached with every step, and his heartbeat reverberated through his whole body, spiking pain into his nerves. Sickness curled in his stomach. Jack had tried to kill him. He’d found him and he’d attacked him and now he’d brought him out there again to prove it. Merton grabbed the handlebars on his bike and nearly keeled over, but he managed to work his feet and pedal away. He was dead. He was worse than dead. He was some kind of monster and the kid who made him this way wanted to be friends.
Merton made it about halfway back before he tipped over. He pushed the bike off him and lay in the grass on the side of the road, staring up at the sky. The waning moon seemed to taunt him. The stars curled around it, an audience of several billion. This was it. This was his life now.
Eventually he climbed back on his bike and headed home, locking the doors and windows. When his mom asked, he gave one word answers and went up into his room. No more nightmares. No more sleepwalking. He had to figure this out, and he had to do it now.
Occasionally Marya was nostalgic for the quiet of buried earth. There was a simplicity in it. It did not ask challenging questions, nor did it defy expectations. She was alone, and she was happy.
School was not like this. School was loud and children screamed through the hallways as teachers shouted after them. a hundred heartbeats were around her all the time, out of synch, a cacophony of destructive noise. Her teeth grew long in her mouth, and she counted things in her head to distract from the hunger. Head buried in her locker and pretended she had died again. At least then she’d have some peace.
Someone banged on her locker door, and she slammed it shut, preparing her deadliest of glares. When she saw Merton, she relaxed.
“I didn’t know if you would speak with me,” she said.
He offered a smile. Bags hung under his eyes, and he had a jitteriness to his hands he tried to calm by putting them in his pockets. “I think you’re the only person I can talk to. I don’t know how you handle this.”
She glanced around. The time between classes had ticked down, but stragglers always remained. “As I mentioned, my family is knowledgeably in this sort of thing.”
“Right. Remember that guy I told you about. I talked to him.”
Concern filled her features. “How did you find him?”
“Funny thing, he finds me. I had a panic attack and left.”
Without thinking, she reached a hand out to his chest.
He brushed her off. “Do you do normal interaction?”
The bell rang. Neither moved.
“If you like,” she said, “we can skip this period. Betty and I hide beneath the bleachers sometimes.”
“A little forward,” he said, with the cadence of a joke. She stared at him, and he shook his head. “Yes, please. If I have to sit through another lecture on Macbeth right now I will probably go insane.”
They walked towards the football field. In the middle of the day, it was empty, and the track had been completely covered in snow. Marya didn’t notice the cold, but Merton shivered beside her as he told her about the encounter he had the night before.
“He isn’t very forthcoming,” Marya said.
“Maybe.” Merton rested his head against the cold metal bleacher. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“You can. I don’t know if I’ll answer it.”
“Did you, uh–When you, you know…”
He looked at her for help, and it dawned on her what he was asking.
“When I died?” she finished for him.
“Sure.” He looked away. “Was it your dad or whatever?”
“That killed me?” Her dark eyes were distant. “No. He found me, added me to his colony. He’s not the reason I’m dead.”
“Why are you asking?”
He twisted his fingers together. “Because Jack says he wants to be friends, but last night he showed me where I–where it happened, and I couldn’t even look at him.”
“Merton,” she said and touched his arm. “Look at me.”
He did, and her large black eyes stared at him. The hair on the back of his neck rose like he was in a lightning storm, his heart beating faster, and his throat tightened. She blinked, and it settled. She let go of his arm.
“I’m a predator,” Marya said. “My cousin used to describe us as anglerfish. We are pretty to look at and can draw people near, but you know that there’s something wrong. When you see the parts of me that aren’t quite right, you start to see the illusion. You are a predator.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” Merton said.
“I mean, werewolves are. Jack’s a predator. He’s already gone after you, intentionally or not. When you look at him and you see the illusion, it upsets you.”
His eyes lowered as he considered that. Marya pulled her hair back, hoping she hadn’t revealed too much. It was so hard to tell how much of herself was worth sharing.
“So,” he said after a while, “you have a cousin.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. “Yes. I have several family members.”
“Always thought vampires were a solitary bunch.”
“For some reason, my father has the urge to make more of us. I don’t know why. Every single one of them is awful.”
He smiled. “No offense, but your dad doesn’t sound like a peach.”
She bristled slightly. “He’s my father. He doesn’t have to be.”
“What about a mom? Do you have one of those?”
“No.” She tugged on a stray strand. “I don’t really like to talk about it.”
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to meet a real vampire.”
“It’s not every day you get to meet a werewolf either.” She put her chin in her hands. “Your Jack, what else did he say?”
“I don’t know.” He sighed. “Some cryptic stuff about hearing everything and people disappearing. Maybe that’s what your dad sent you here for.”
“Maybe.” She sounded unconvinced. “I don’t suppose I could speak with him.”
“He seemed kind of scared by you. Oh, yeah.” He opened his notebook and pulled out the photos he’d crammed in the back. Among them were the ones he’d taken at the game. “In case you need a spooky scrapbook.”
She took the picture of her and Beverly in the stands. “You noticed?”
“Not until you told me.”
She held it gingerly. “Mirrors are said to reveal your soul. That’s why the dead don’t have a reflection.”
“Johnny does.” He pulled out another.
“Then maybe it’s just us.” She picked up the one of Jack. “This is him?”
“I haven’t seen him anywhere.”
Merton stared at the photo. “He says he’s been hiding for seven years.”
“Do you think that’s possible?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” He flipped through a few of the other photos. He still hadn’t handed them to the cheerleaders. “We’re isolated out here, more or less. There’s a lot of space between here and the highway.”
She tapped the picture, thinking. “Do you think he’s really trying to help?”
“Yeah?” Merton shrugged. “If I was alone for seven years because I was afraid of hurting someone, and then suddenly there’s someone else like me, I’d want to be friends.”
“Do you? Want to be friends?”
“He’s a weirdo,” he admitted, “but so are you. That doesn’t make someone bad.”
Marya smiled. “I’m going to start being offended.”
“You did describe yourself as an anglerfish.”
“It was metaphorical.”
“I’m skipping English class, thanks.”
She laughed. “Woe unto the American education system.”
He leaned back, folding the pictures into his things. “One more deeply personal question, since I can tell you love them.”
Marya rolled her eyes. “Go on.”
“How old are you?”
Her lips quirked up. “You should know not to ask a lady her age.”
“Yeah, but you’re a vampire,” he said. “You’ve probably seen some really neat stuff.”
“When I died, I was sixteen,” she said. “That’s all that should concern you.”
“Give me a clue, at least. One hundred years? Two hundred?”
She was trying to keep a straight face. “Guess.”
He gave her a discerning once over. “At least a century. Definitely.”
“That’s so rude!” she said with a laugh.
“Is it? I honestly cannot tell.”
She shook her head. “I shouldn’t have even told you any of the other things I said. My father would ground me a hundred years just for telling you.”
He made a face. “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”
She only grinned at him. Even in the day, as a normal girl, two teeth were slightly longer. Merton shivered, though it might’ve been the cold.