Merton arrived at school early the next day and dipped into the journalism closet well before anyone was patrolling the halls. He flipped on the lights and jumped when he saw Marya. She sat on one of the tables, flipping through an old newsletter.
“I cannot,” she said,” find any records of this godforsaken town. I swear even the newspapers have been expunged.”
He set his things down in a chair. “Is there a reason you were waiting in the dark? Is that a vampire thing?”
She slapped the newsletter down on the table. “Did you know no one has the key to these filing cabinets? I searched all night! Your and your friend’s newsletter is the only information I have about anything going on in this town, and your last headline was ‘Best Places to Visit Over Winter Break’.”
“Yeah, Beverly was scraping the barrel.” He eyed the filing cabinets. They’d been moved, dusted, and messed with in their many attempts to open them, but nothing had done it. “Turns out when your year starts out with the star quarterback rising from the dead, everything else is pretty boring.”
She played with the scarf around her neck. “Jack confronted me last night.”
“Oh, you too?” He threw up his hands. “I thought that guy understood ‘secret’ not ‘tell everyone and their mom’.”
“He threatened me.”
He paused and looked at her. Marya’s expression was the same solid unreadable line it always was.
“He threatened Betty as well,” she continued, “when I was unamused. I made my feelings on the matter clear. He said he didn’t want me to help you.”
“Were you following him again?” he asked.
“No, Merton, I wasn’t. He had decided to follow me. I’d understand his desire to keep me at bay, but his concern was primarily that he be the one to teach you what you need. No one else. When I told him I’d rather go by your lead, he made his feelings clear.”
He tapped the table. Part of him didn’t want to believe it, but a larger part of him recognized the truth. Jack had dragged him out into the middle of the woods, and every inch of Merton’s body wanted to run. Jack knew things like the most walked trails and quick passages to the forest, as well as what areas might lure the wolf towards them, and how he controlled the wolf, even when the part of him in control was so small and distant it might as well not be there at all. The hours spent walking around Whitby had been educational, but every time Jack looped his arm around him and offered that grin, he’d felt dread creeping up his neck.
Marya watched him. “I’m not telling you for my safety, Merton. I think he only has empty threats, and even if he tried anything on me, I doubt he could do much. But if you’re going to trust him, if you’re going to have him as part of your life, which may be unavoidable, I want you to know what he is.”
“He talked to Beverly too,” Merton said quietly.
“Did he threaten her?”
“I don’t think so.” He curled his fists at the thought.
Marya blinked slowly, like she was remembering to. “I think he’s been alone for a very long time, but he also seems to think people are after him. I worry about his state of mind.”
He looked at her uncertainly, but nodded anyway. “Maybe I can get him to cool down. But it’s next week and then the full moon, and I still don’t know what I’m doing.”
She stood, raising her hand for a moment as though to comfort him, and then she turned to look at the filing cabinets.
“He isn’t your only option,” she said, pulling on one of the drawers. “I may not know this town, but I know monsters.”
He winced. “I’ll talk to him anyway.”
“You’d have Beverly too, if you told her.” Her arms strained as she pulled. The filing cabinet gave a noise in protest.
His eyes caught the purple scarf draped over Marya’s neck. It looked out of place on her usual all black attire.
“You ever think about telling Betty?” he asked.
Her grip faltered. The drawer thunked back into place.
“About you being a werewolf?” she asked, wiping her hands on her dress.
“About you being a vampire.”
She chewed on her lip and grabbed the drawer again. “My nature isn’t her concern.”
“It might be. She’s sure not happy with the undead.”
“One specific instance–” Her voice strained with effort. “–is not a prejudice.”
Merton snorted. “Sure, people say that kind of thing all the time. I’m just saying you two are pretty close.”
Her teeth grit together. “We’re friends.”
“When you’re hanging out, how much effort do you go through to avoid mirrors?”
Something inside the filing cabinet snapped, and the drawer flew free. The pull of her grip sent it flying across the room, where it clattered on the tiled floor. Ancient newsletters dated ten years ago spread across the room, landing in ugly piles that splattered pages everywhere. Marya shook her hand, willing the welt that had formed away, and she grinned at Merton.
“There,” she said. “A solution presents itself.”
“Oh, yeah.” He kicked away newsletters. “You’re a real creature of the night, you know? Vampire stealth.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Sometimes, when there are no other options, brute force must be implemented.”
“You gonna do that to the rest of them?”
She looked at the towers that remained.
“As I need to,” she said and picked up a pile of newsletters. “This is a start.”
The door opened and hit the discarded drawer, smashing it into the wall. Beverly looked around at the mess the room had become, her gaze finally settling on Merton in a wide eyed stare.
“Do I even want to know?” she asked.
Marya hugged an armful of papers to her chest. “I will be borrowing these.”
She slipped past Beverly, whose confusion grew. Merton sighed as he bent down to pick up the rest.
“My concern grows,” Beverly said.
“I know, I know.” He put together a messy stack.
“Did Marya do this?” She kicked the loose cabinet. Small pieces of metal had been ripped straight out to loosen it. “The communists grow them strong.”
He gave a humorless, “Ha.”
She set it on the top of the disturbed filing cabinet and glanced at where it had been torn free. “Are you sure everything’s fine?”
He frowned as he added to the stack, fingers curling together. “Actually, remember that Jack guy?”
“Your secret friend? What’s his deal anyway?”
“I don’t know. Maybe steer clear of him. I think he’s got boundary issues.”
“I’ll say.” She shifted her bag over her shoulder. “Did he follow you home one day?”
Hands on hips, she looked around the room. “This is a mess. Is she going to destroy any more furniture?”
He set what he’d gathered on one of the tables, thumbing through it quickly. “Day’s starting early.”
Betty found Marya in the library during lunch, pouring over the newsletters. She snacked on her apple surreptitiously so the librarian wouldn’t see.
“More of these?” Betty picked up one of the discarded newsletters. The date read 1951. “What’re you looking for?”
“Anything.” Marya scanned the page. Another bake sale, another football game, nothing of worth. “This town can’t keep everything a secret.”
“Is this a project or something?”
She blinked and looked up at Betty. “Yes.”
“Is this for Mrs. Matheson’s class? She’s way into this town history stuff. I always thought it was boring.”
“History is important,” Marya said. “By learning the past we can understand our future.”
“Did Mrs. Matheson tell you that?”
She smiled. “Yes. But I do believe we can understand our present much better.”
“Well.” Betty drew a hand over the newsletters. “If you’re not too busy looking into the past, maybe you can spare a second for the future. What’re you doing Saturday?”
Marya lost her concentration on the page, and she flipped it over. “It’s safe to say I’m all yours.”
She touched a juice stained hand to the purple scarf. “Have you considered a new wardrobe?”
“I like my clothes.”
“And I like making up the funeral party with you, but my bad attitude shouldn’t affect you.”
“I was wearing black before I met you.”
“I know. Tragedy.” She removed her hand and bit into the apple again. “Let me buy you a sweater. Do you like purple? Red? Blue?”
“Black is my favorite color,” Marya said.
“You at least have to try it on. Please? I haven’t gotten to dress anyone up in a long time.”
Marya looked into her big blue eyes and relented.
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
Betty grabbed her in a hug across the table, awkwardly pulling her forward. “I’m buying you something. Can’t be black.”
Marya’s family had never been big on physical contact. Her hands hovered over Betty’s back, and eventually she placed them on her lower spine. The warmth of her neck pressed to Marya’s collar, and her quickened heartbeat filled the space between them. Betty let go and sat back. Marya felt dazed.
“I will see you later,” Betty said, waving her devoured apple at her. “Don’t forget.”
Marya’s concentration was shattered. She stared at the pages, barely able to read the words. She spread them out, but nothing was obvious. What had she expected to find? The secrets of the town written in plain view? Perhaps her father had sent her here to punish her after all.
She started stacking them back up, and her hand paused over an odd issue. On the top page, students recounted a strange experience they had at Lake Green, and Dr. Eckels took over as physics teacher, but near the bottom was a small blurb depicting a blurry photo of flames. A car crash claimed two victims, respected scientists in the community, who had driven on the back roads the night before the publication. Two victims named Richard and Margaret Kenley.
The full moon grew closer, and so Merton’s dreams grew darker. He’d started putting something against the door to keep from sleepwalking out of the house, but sometimes he still ended up in the backyard. He didn’t feel half as sick as before, but pain still twisted in his chest at night. He didn’t know how to explain it to anyone without explaining everything, and so he curled up in his bed at night, too afraid to go to sleep, too tired to stay awake.
He didn’t see Jack the next day, or the next, and he stuck to school and home. Beverly didn’t give him peace in either. He tried his best to put on a normal face when around her, but he knew she could see through the cracks. Invites to come along with Johnny and his friends were less frequent. He didn’t know he could feel relieved and upset about it at the same time. There were times during the day the truth bubbled up to the surface and nearly burst out of him, but there was no way to phrase. How do you tell someone you’re a werewolf? At least Marya had finally found something. She’d shown him the newsletter on the car accident, the only mention of a Kenley on record, and there wasn’t more than that. They’d died eight years ago. It was any wonder Jack was swimming so close to the deep end.
It was Friday night when he finally crashed. His schoolwork was still piled up on his desk, the camera on top of that, since he’d been playing with lenses, and his various photos from the year strewn around. The scar on his chest prickled in pain, and he didn’t even bother changing out of his clothes. Laying there, face pressed against his pillow, sheets kicked onto the floor, he fell asleep. As usual, his dreams took him to Devon Fields. The full moon was almost as large as the sky, and it shone through the trees, which seemed to curl towards him. He was walking barefoot and alone. He saw on the trunks of the trees large scratch marks that tore them to splinters.
He tripped on something, and when he looked down, he nearly fell back. It was his mother’s face, half buried in the dirt, fingers reaching through as though she were grasping for help. Her skin, so much lighter than his, was even paler in the moonlight. Ahead of him were mounds of half-exposed corpses. Beverly’s neck was pulled back, her eyes glassy and empty, and Marya was buried as well, curled into the dit like a child. He saw Johnny and Principal Whale and Cheryl the cheerleader, and at the end of the long row he saw someone digging the next hole. Hunched over in the moonlight, his face was in shadows, but two animal eyes looked up at him, and a wide grin spread across his face. Jack raised his shovel.
Merton woke suddenly to Saturday’s sun glaring down at him. He could hear his mom downstairs, humming to herself as bacon sizzled, and the smell of it wafted up. Outside, shovels scraped against the sidewalk as fresh snow was shoveled away, and children shrieked and shouted running through it all. Everything felt so normal, and serene, and he could pretend for a few brief seconds that his whole life hadn’t been ruined, and he wasn’t keeping secrets from his best friend, and that Jack Kenley didn’t exist. Fear still rested inside his head, making his heart beat fast and his lungs gasp for air.
He couldn’t do this alone, that was clear. He wasn’t sure he could do this at all, but at least with friends he could avoid the worst of it. Briefly he wondered what it meant to live like Jack, to throw off any ties for fear of them becoming a meal every full moon. He wondered about the article Marya had shown him, and he wondered if Jack’s abandonment of society was purely caused by a monthly affliction. He wondered why there were no other mentions of the Kenleys. He wondered if Jack might be right to be a little paranoid. He wondered too if Jack remembered what it was like to have friends, if he was even capable of that anymore.
His thoughts turned back to his dreams, and he saw Beverly again staring up at him with dead eyes. If there were vampires and zombies and werewolves, maybe omens were real too.
Eventually he sat up, pulled on some clean clothes, and went downstairs. It was early still, but he grabbed his coat and pulled his bike out of the garage. No doubt it wouldn’t take Jack long to find him. It was the one thing he’d learned to count on.
Marya had resisted shopping to the best of her ability, but Betty had looked at her with those baby blues, and she was suckered. Dragged into Whitby’s one retail shop Saturday morning, Marya had done her best to avoid the mirrors that decorated the shop, and she’d refused each outfit Betty presented her with. What would her father say anyway if she returned home with a bright pink bell skirt and pearls on her neck and wrists? The midday sun was pouring through the windows, and it wasn’t long before Marya was feeling weak and hungry. Betty had already offered to buy her a burger, and she’d probably have to choke the thing down, wishing it was still alive and bleeding. Animal blood was never the same, though. She wasn’t the strongest of her extended family, but now she felt weaker than she’d ever had before. She leaned away from the shafts of light streaming into the shop, fearing brushing them might burst her into flames.
“Well you’re not fun,” Betty said as they left the shop. “You won’t even let me dress you up.”
“I like my clothes,” Marya repeated. “I told you I didn’t want anything.”
Betty sighed dramatically, letting her head fall back. It craned her neck beautifully, and Marya looked away.
“I’m starved,” she said, taking Marya’s hand. “Let’s get that burger.”
Marya followed dutifully behind. Fresh snow had fallen overnight, but each passing car did its work to turn it dingy and dirty grey. A dark cloud in the distance threatened more, and Marya prayed it closer so it would block this godforsaken sun. As they came to the diner, she watched the shadows. She doubted Jack would follow them in broad daylight, but she also knew he got around town through ways unsee. She’d sent her bats out last night, stretching herself as far as she could without losing anything, but his coming and goings remained a mystery.
“You’re so distracted,” Betty said, looping her arm in Marya’s. At lunchtime, the diner was busy, and she made a berth around others from their school, bringing her to the end of the counter. “It can’t just be homework.”
“No.” Marya had made a decision to only meet expectations at school. “I suppose the weather reminds me of home.”
“Did it snow a lot where you’re from?”
She thought of the cragged mountains that surrounded her father’s estate, the thin perilous trails that were the only means a man had to access it, and the constant storms that isolated them. Her father adored the castle with its drafty rooms and hidden passageways and perpetual fog that hung around the burial grounds. He may as well designed it himself.
“Often,” Marya said, realizing she was getting too close to an actual emotion.
Betty ordered for the both of them, and Marya accepted what was put in front of her. The meat was overcooked for her liking, but even a rare burger would’ve been too much. She swallowed it anyway as she watched outside. A bat or two fluttered around the town, a trick she didn’t like to pull but found it necessary these days. At least the bits of her that were missing weren’t obvious. She’d done it before and walked around with nine fingers before noticing. Keeping her attention on Betty while also seeing the houses below and diving through the forests was a difficult task. She wouldn’t be able to reassemble herself until nightfall, but she could block out the other images if she focused hard enough. It meant her brain was pulling in three different directions, and a small pat of her felt a desire to eat bugs, but she felt a need to keep out an extra eye or two.
Betty shifted in her seat, and Marya blinked, pulling her triple vision into just one. The blond prom queen chewed thoughtfully on a French fry, her gaze resting out the window, as if seeing something far, far away.
“I am so desperate to get out of this town,” she said. It was her usual refrain, but with each repetition it became more tired, her tone wearier. “I used to dream about the day I got my college acceptance letter. I didn’t even want to say goodbye. Me and Johnny would just go. I didn’t even want to spend the summer here.”
Marya placed her palm over hers, turning Betty’s wrist so the white skin faced upwards. Blue veins made spiderwebs near the surface, and she stared at them, the pulse a steady pace. She was standing on ice over a vast lake, and she could feel it cracking beneath her feet.
“I think like that sometimes,” she said, choosing her vocabulary carefully. “My father’s approval means the world to me, but there are times when he doesn’t speak to me at all that I feel… relief, I suppose. I thought maybe he sent me here as a punishment, but even if he did, I’ve enjoyed my time away. My family can be too much.”
“You never talk about that,” Betty said. She leaned closer, and a curl of blond hair rested against Marya’s cheek. “You listen to me complain about my mom all day long.”
“You have reason.”
“And you don’t? Why’d your dad drop you in this middle of nowhere town? It can’t be for your education.”
“Perhaps he wanted to Americanize me.” She couldn’t meet Betty’s face. “It’s unimportant.”
Betty frowned slightly, but she didn’t press. “You are a strange duck, Marya.”
Marya smiled. “That is true.”
Something flickered in her third vision. It startled her so much, she drew her hand to her left eye. Betty looked at her with concern.
Marya nodded and tried to focus on the piece of herself out in the woods. She hadn’t hoped to catch much, but her bat saw two figures in the distance. There was an argument. The boys’ shoulders were squared, arms out, and one grabbed the other. She urged her bat closer, the motion nearly taking her off her stool, and Betty caught her arm.
“Are you dizzy?” Betty’s voice was a distant echo as her bat tried to catch the words. Her second self lurched away from the sleepy suburbs towards the trees, and when Marya tried to stand her feet turned the wrong way, and she grabbed the counter for support. Her father could do this without even blinking, her siblings and cousins never stumbled about trying to figure out which part of themselves they were controlling. She was only embarrassing herself in front of Betty, which was one hundred times worse.
“I have to go,” she said.
“Are you going to be sick?” Betty scrambled in her purse for money to pay the bill and slammed it down, but Marya was already stalking away. “I’ll walk you home.”
Marya managed to get herself walking in sync. Her eyes blurred with three different sights. The afternoon sun blazed down on her. Her body urged to pull apart. It was easy to control twenty of herselves flying in the same direction than three with completely different forms, and in the hard light of day she was only what she was.
“I have to go,” she said by way of goodbye and ran off. If Betty followed, she didn’t know.
Her bat fluttered closer to Merton and Jack, and she gasped as Jack reached for him. Fear overtook her, fear for her friend, one of the first she’d ever had, and she wasn’t going to let him get hurt. She flew.
Merton rode his bike out to Devon Fields. His heart pounded in his chest. There was a chance he was making the worst decision. He wanted to trust his instincts, but what if he was wrong about everything? How many people would he hurt? Right now, all he was thinking about was his friends.
He wasn’t surprised when Jack found him almost immediately. The smell of cigarette smoke preceded him, and Merton set aside his bike as he glanced around the trees. Jack was very good at getting around without anyone noticing him. If he wanted to sneak up on him, he could.
“Talked to your gal pals,” Jack said, and Merton spotted him a few feet away, leaning between two trees. “If you’re sweet on the vamp, I think you’re out of luck.”
Merton kept his distance. “She told me what you said.”
“I’ll bet.” Jack eyed him as he played with his lighter. He’d said he could smell what people were feeling, and Merton wondered what the anxiety coming off him was like. “You think anything coming out of her mouth is the truth? She’s selling you a narrative and you’re buying it up.”
“She hasn’t threatened anyone.”
“I don’t buy that for a second. She’s a vampire. They’re pretty well known for doing violence. You think it’s cute she’s all over that girl?”
Merton swallowed down his uncertainty. “I don’t know. I think you should stay away from her.”
“Now you’re getting it.” Jack grinned, tossing his cigarette to the ground. “She’s bad news, I can tell. Stick with me and–”
“No.” He stepped back. “I mean, you should stay away. I don’t like you talking to Marya, or Beverly, or anybody.”
Something twisted up in Jack’s expression. His lips pulled back, showing his tth. “You think I’m not good enough to run with your little girl gang.”
He brought his shoulders up. “I think you’re a creep, and I don’t think you’re interested in sharing. Don’t come around my friends.”
“This isn’t about friendship.” Jack marched forward, closing the space between them. “We’re a pack. You and me, we’re blood brothers. You need me.”
“I don’t need you for anything. I don’t care about packs or whatever nonsense you drummed up. I’ll figure out the werewolf stuff, and I’ll figure out the other weird stuff going on around here.”
“You got it all wrong, man.” Jack grabbed his arm, nails digging into the skin. “I’m the one trying to help you. I’m the only one who knows what’s it like.”
Merton tried to pull away, but his hand remained. “I’ve got that covered.”
“You’re not getting half of what this does to you.” He yanked him forward, his face baring down on Merton, teeth out. “Wait until you stop sleeping. Wait until everything smells so strongly it’s like you can hear what people are thinking. Wait until the wolf comes out in the daytime. You think I’m gonna hurt your friends? I don’t even know them. You’re the one who’s going to see them every day. The instinct is harder to control than you think. And when they find out what you are, wait until they come for you.”
Panic seized up inside Merton, and he shoved desperately on Jack, who grabbed his other arm and threw him to the ground. Jack’s eyes were pinpoints of anger, and his fists curled. A dizzying sensation took over as Merton felt he was replaying his dream. Sickness rolled over him, and if his heart was any higher in his throat, he was going to throw up soon. Jack loomed over him, fists as his side.
“This is how the world works,” Jack said. “Us vs them. Eat or be eaten. You don’t get to back out of this.”
“That’s your fault!” Merton struggled to sit up. “You’re the one who did this to me! Sorry I don’t drop my friends for some stranger I met in the woods who’s already sunk his teeth into me once!”
“What about when your friends drop you? You think your girlfriend is going to be all over you when she finds out you moonlight as a big hairy dog?”
“I’ve got more faith in her than that.”
Jack reached down, grabbing his collar. “Prepare to be disappointed.”
Merton cringed as he awaited the punch, but a screech sounded overhead, and a bat flew down, striking Jack in the face. He shouted, letting Merton go, who scrambled up. A second bat swooped in, and Jack slapped at it, throwing it to the ground. His face was contorted in anger, and in it was a flash of the wolf, teeth bared together in an ugly snarl, fingers reaching out like claws. He lunged at Merton, jaws open, and Merton managed to strike him across the face, shouting at the shock of bone hitting bone that made its way down his arm. Jack staggered back, hand pressed to his jaw, and he stopped. Merton could feel Marya before he saw her, her shape a black shadow amid the trees, her dark eyes narrowed, and the bats screeching overhead. A chill rippled through the pair of them, and she stepped forward. Nothing was changed about her, except how she held her chin, and the clench of her teeth, and her eyes, but Merton wondered how he never figured out she was a vampire before. She was swift as she marched towards them, and Jack took each step back she took forward. He spat on the ground and turned, disappearing amid the trees.
Marya’s hand touched Merton’s shoulder, and he nearly jumped away before remembering she was his friend. The harshness she’d carried faded away as she looked at him, concern taking its place. The two bats swooped down to her, and she waved a tired arm.
“Did he hurt you?” she asked.
“Not a lot.” He let out a breath. His whole body ached, but he could breathe again. “You didn’t run all the way over here for me.”
Her gaze shifted to where Jack had disappeared, but she remained. “I saw you fighting.”
His body wanted to collapse right there, but he swallowed it down. “I think you might’ve been right about Jack.”
She lifted his chin, inspecting his face, and on his arm where Jack had grabbed him was starting to bruise, but she seemed satisfied. She stepped away, hands on her hips.
“I ditched Betty for you, you know,” she said.
That made him grin. “For me? You think she’ll get mad?”
“After the fool I made of myself, she probably thinks I’m simple.” She held out a hand to the two bats, and they flew back into the air, following after the werewolf.
“Neat trick,” he muttered.
“It’s very annoying.” Marya appraised him again. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
Merton squeezed his shaking fingers together and tried not to look directly at her. Jack’s words rattled around in his head. There were no separates, that’s what he’d said, that all the things he felt right now were equal part himself and wolf, and when Jack had gotten angry… It scared Merton to think that could be him, unable to control some part of him, that he might lash out at his mom or Beverly, that he might have to isolate himself from the world. What if Beverly did get scared off? She’d been there for Johnny, but Merton was never going to get as lucky as that.
But he only looked at Marya and said, “All I want is to get out of here.”
She nodded, and together they walked back. As distraction, Marya reprised him of how she left Betty, tripping over her own feet, and she kept her concern minimal as they approached his house. She told him she’d watch for Jack, but Merton knew he wouldn’t let her see him if he could get away with it. He thought about running straight o Beverly’s house and telling her everything, or just running away. He laid up in his room, avoiding his mother on the way up, and tried to figure out a plan.