Beverly was deaf to the chatter all around her. Every one of Johnny’s friends were shouting over each other about Christmas break and the thrill of being out of class for two weeks. She stared out the window as fresh snow started to fall and wondered if she’d done something wrong.
“What do you think?” someone said in the vicinity of her ear, and it took her a moment to realize it was directed at her. Cheryl the cheerleader was smiling, red hair tucked underneath a knit cap.
“I’m sorry,” Beverly said. “I didn’t hear.”
“I thought Merton might want to go with us,” she repeated, and at Beverly’s blank stare, her smile dimmed. “To Lake Green. For a bonfire?”
The conversation caught up to her. “Oh! I don’t know. I can, um, ask him.”
Satisfied with that, she turned back to the conversation. Beverly ran her fingers through a stray strand of hair and twisted it up. Johnny was looking at her, and normally that’d send her heart into flutters, but all she could think about was why Merton wasn’t talking to her, and where all these new friends came from. The’d been each other’s secret keepers since they could speak words, and now he’d ditched her for one of Betty Isen’s hanger-ons and some creep in the woods. Her eyes focused towards Devon Fields. She wondered if there were lights there tonight, and if Merton was chasing them.
She got up with the excuse of getting another soda, and about fifteen orders were added to hers. Johnny followed to help, and they waited at the counter together.
“Cheryl’s all over your best bud,” he said.
Beverly twisted her hair so hard it hurt and let go. “I tried telling him. If I got him a girlfriend, he might stop being so dang suspicious all the time.”
“A little bit of happiness can go a long way. He still not talking to you?”
“No.” She glanced at him. “You haven’t met Marya, have you? Betty’s new friend?”
He cringed. “I’ve seen her–them–around.”
“You don’t think there’s something odd about her?”
“Besides the accent?” He shrugged. “I’ve got a new definition of ‘odd’. You don’t think she’s nefariously undermining our capitalist ideals by attending high school, do you?”
“No.” A tray of food was set in front of them. “I’m probably looking for an excuse. I think I need some air.”
“You okay?” he asked.
“Five minutes,” she promised.
The cold outside was so thick, it pressed through her jacket and into her bones. She kicked the snow away as she stood beneath the streetlight. Beverly didn’t want to go home to quiet little house with only her thoughts for company, and the loud, constant energy of Johnny’s friends filled up enough space in her brain that she didn’t have to think about Merton, but even tonight that wasn’t enough. Her eyes glanced upward, where the moon was growing fat. It cast an eerie light over the fresh fallen snow. Everything was so quiet right now. No cars made the frost muddy, and no kids were building snowmen, and the light from the restaurant made sharp lines against the blue winter night. The alley behind her was filled with darkness, and cigarette smoke burned from it. She recognized the figure that leaned forward, a bruise now marring the skin of his jaw like a bruised banana peel. Beverly took a step back.
“You seen your buddy today?” Jack asked, squeezing the cigarette in his palm so that it crumpled.
“No,” she said and glanced at the window into the shop. No one was looking this way. “And he told me not to talk to you.”
He gave a low chuckle. “That boy’s got less trust than I thought. I bet he’s been talking a lot. Wants to ruin a good thing I’ve got going.”
His arm shot out, grabbing her. She gasped and pulled away, but his grip was firm.
“I don’t know why he ever started hanging out with a creep like you.” She spat the word. When faced against improbable odds, Beverly’s instinct was to buckle down harder. “You’re bad news, I can tell, and if you don’t back off–”
“You’ll do what?” His mouth stretched into a grin. “I’m trying to help. I’m the only one who can help him. He doesn’t need you.”
“He’s my friend,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Yeah, yeah.” His head tilted as he looked at her. “Maybe I’m the one thinking small. One more, and we’re practically a family.”
He pulled her closer, and before she could scream, the door to the shop jangled open, striking yellow light across the snow, and Johnny marched forward. He grabbed Jack and ripped him away from Beverly, who grabbed the streetlight for support before she hit the ground. Johnny shoved Jack into the wall, and Jack only grinned at him.
“Careful,” Jack said. “You know what happens to undead who get violent.”
For a moment, Johnny’s grip slackened, and Jack shoved him off, slipping away back into the shadows. Beverly ran up to Johnny, her eyes searching the alley for the silhouette, but Jack had slipped away.
“You okay?” Johnny asked.
“I think.” She pressed a palm to the alley wall. Where had he gone?
His coat pressed warmth against her shoulders before she’d realized he took it off, and it carried with him his strange scent of teenage bravado and earthy soil. She deflated, pulling the coat closed over her, her fingers savoring the feeling of the jacket.
“Who was that guy?” Johnny asked.
“I–I don’t know, really.” All at once it dragged out of her. Merton wasn’t going to tell her anything, and his newest friend had just tried to bite her in an alleyway, and for the first time in her life she didn’t know what to do. If it weren’t for Johnny’s arm around her, she might’ve collapsed right there.
“Can I take you home?” Johnny’s voice came from far away.
She nodded pathetically, and he helped her to his car. Sitting against the seat, her head back and her eyes closed, she had a strange sense of deja vu. For the hundredth time, she pretended she was back in that night. As though she could change everything.
“Aren’t you cold?” she asked as Johnny got in the front seat. Beneath his letterman’s was only another simple jacket, and beneath that a shirt. He turned the key so the car started. They had to wait a minute for the car to defrost. It rattled as the heater turned on.
“Not really,” he said. “I don’t get cold very much anymore.”
She rubbed her eyes. “I was really excited about this year, and now everything’s different.”
“Aw, Bev.” Johnny reached a hand onto her shaking shoulder. “It’s really not that bad.”
Her head snapped up at him. “You died.”
“And then I didn’t,” he said. “It’s hard to feel bad about that.”
She stared at him, a laugh bubbling up in her chest. Everything was all wrong. Her best friend wasn’t talking to her, the boy she loved had died and come back to life, and some stranger was pouncing at her out of shadows, but somehow it had coalesced in this moment where she was wearing Johnny’s jacket, his hand on her as he looked into her eyes, a low doo wop playing on the radio. It seemed like every time they were here, it was because something had gone horribly wrong.
“You’re an amazing person, Johnny,” she said. “And I didn’t thank you for saving me back there.”
“I would’ve done it for anyone,” he said as he shifted gears.
“Yeah, but you did it for me.” She sat back, hugging the jacket closer to her. “So, thanks.”
He nodded and backed out. They drove in silence back to Beverly’s, and he offered to walk her up to the door, but she didn’t feel like explaining that to her mother tonight. It wasn’t until she was inside that she realized she was still wearing his jacket. Walking past her parents as they curled up in the TV room, she took the phone in the kitchen and dialed Merton’s number. It rang three times before his mom answered, and she told Beverly that he was feeling sick again. Beverly thanked her, hanging up, and sat down at the kitchen table. Head in her hands, Johnny’s jacket still on her shoulders, she started to cry.
It was the last week of classes before winter break, and everyone was rowdy at school. There were a few final tests for the semester left, but most classes were easy. Merton was grateful for it. His chest hurt so bad most of the day that he couldn’t focus on the board. Beverly watched him, her chin in her hands. He’d sat there this morning as she’d handed Johnny his letterman’s jacket folded up. Nothing was said between them, and jealousy burned tighter in Merton’s chest than his scar. He kept his head forward though. Jack wouldn’t come to the school, he was certain. He doubted he’d see him until tonight.
Beverly caught up to him after school, and they walked together. For a while they didn’t say anything at all. Something was clearly bothering her more than usual, and as he considered asking her about the jacket, she turned to him with an accusing look.
“No Marya today,” she said.
She had been conspicuously absent, and Merton had assumed she was making good on her promise to keep an eye out for Jack.
“No Jack either.” Beverly’s eyes narrowed at him.
He cringed. “He hasn’t–”
“He has, actually!” Her eyes could’ve burned holes in him. “He came after me Saturday night!”
Merton stopped in place. “He did what?”
“If Johnny hadn’t been there…” She bit her lip. “He’s crazy. You know that, right?”
“I–” Of course Jack had come after her. He’d probably been mad and looking to take it out on someone and Marya wasn’t standing within ten feet of her. “I know. He’s not–he can’t–I have to deal with him.”
“Let me help, Merton.”
“No.” His heart thudded in his chest. Sunset came early in winter, and it was already starting to dip low. “What if you get hurt?”
“What does he even have on you?” Her tone was desperate. “Why can’t you tell me?”
“It’s not–” He sucked in a breath through his teeth. “I’m dealing with this tonight. You shouldn’t be near him.”
“Tonight? What?” Her brows came together. “What is going on? You have to let me help you.”
“Just, please, Bev,” he said. “Stay inside.”
He didn’t give her a chance to ask anymore questions. Merton ducked inside his house, grabbing an extra jacket and his bike. He rode out to Devon Fields before the sun had finished its descent, the cold biting at his ears and nose. He stumbled off his bike into the trees. The wind shook snow from the branches, and the world was muted by it. He barely made it into the trees before he collapsed onto his knees. His face was hot, his skin burned, and he slumped forward, shrugging the jacket from his shoulders. He felt hands on his back, and he was hauled up, Jack grinning at him.
“I was worried,” he said, voice growling. He hugged his arm tight around Merton, who struggled in his grip. “But you made it.”
“Let go!’ Merton gasped. His efforts to shove him away were weak.
“You gotta learn to work through the pain.” Jack let him drop as a tremor shook through him, but he didn’t even stumble. “This is nothing. Not when I’m finished.”
“Stay away from my friends.” Merton grabbed at his shirt, feeling his bones knit and his muscles pull.
“The little bird told you, huh?” Jack pushed him off easily. “I was thinking of giving her a nip. Making her part of the team, you know. I bet she’d appreciate you then.”
The last light of the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, and the full moon spread its light across the dark sky. The only thing Merton felt was pain, but his body moved, teeth growing long, hair growing out, shirt and shoes tearing, and clawed hands wrapped around Jack’s throat, who was laughing all the while, voice changing to a strange barking sound.
There was teeth, fur, and blood. The full moon watched from overhead, its face blank.
Macbeth sat ignored on Beverly’s desk as she raged around her room. Merton’s abrupt departure after his cryptic warning had only made her angrier. Did he think he could tell her what to do after ignoring her for months? And what if he was in trouble? Why wouldn’t he let her help? She stared out her windows, knowing for certain he’d be in Devon Fields tonight. What good would it do to chase after him?
A lot more than sitting around here, she decided. She pulled on her shoes and grabbed her coat, sneaking around her parents, who were talking in soft tones in the kitchen. Quietly, she pulled her bike from the garage and rode out towards Devon Fields. It wasn’t fair that Merton had to deal with this alone. It wasn’t fair that Jack had come in and messed everything up. It wasn’t fair that she wasn’t allowed to be there and be his friend, or that he didn’t think he could tell her, or that he needed to rely on other people. Beverly knew one thing exactly, and that was that she could make it fair. She could be there for her friend.
Devon Fields was dark as she came to it. The snow had turned to ice, making the ground slippery, and she’d forgotten her gloves. She hugged herself to keep warm and walked slowly through the trees. Lots of people said the government had built more facilities out here, hidden, secret, meant for dangerous experiments. In the frozen night, the full moon baring down on her, it sent an extra chill through her spine.
Her foot crunched on a frozen branch, and she heard something stir in the brush. She stopped. A figure was moving closer, the dark shadow falling over it, making it hard to see in the night.
“Merton?” she called in a weak whisper.
The figure moved slowly, its front limbs too long for its large body, trudging on shortened wolf-like legs. Its eyes glinted gold in the moonlight, and its snout was raised, sniffing the air. As it came into the light, she could see its wolf face, jaw slightly open to show the rows of teeth, and claws like knives. It stalked towards her. Saliva dripped from its jaw, and it raised up, letting out a howl that startled Beverly enough that she fell back into the dirt. Somewhere, in the distance, she heard another howl respond.
Beverly screamed as the beast bound towards her, only rescued by a pair of strong hands that yanked her to her feet. The beast stopped short, jaws opening to reveal sharp fangs. Beverly clung tightly to her savior, gaze turning up for a brief moment, and her horror and confusion only grew.
“Marya?” she gasped. “What–”
Marya did not offer any answers as she lifted her up and dragged her through the trees. Beverly caught a glimpse of the wolf racing after them, and then a second one vaulted from the trees, scratching and scrambling as they collided. The terrible snarling and snapping disappeared behind them. The trees blurred by, and Beverly felt like a balloon on a tether being dragged behind. She looked again at Marya. The pale moon reflected off the sharp angles of her face, the dark eyes glinting red in the low light. Her hair streamed behind her, and no effort appeared in her face. She stopped as they approached the fields, allowing Beverly a moment of panic.
“They were–you were–” Beverly staggered back, staring at the girl.
“They won’t follow us,” Marya said. “They’re distracted.”
Beverly grabbed her by the shoulders. “What is going on?! I came out here to find Merton, not those–those–those–”
“Werewolves,” Marya said simply.
“What?!” she shrieked.
“You came here, against all better judgement, to find Merton.” Her gaze went to where the howls rang from. “You’ve succeeded.”
Suddenly everything clicked together. Beverly wanted to laugh, she wanted to cry, she wanted to scream, but she only looked at Marya and asked, “What are you?”
She turned her head. “Vampire.”
This was real. Werewolves, zombies, vampires, probably little green men and witches too. Beverly gasped for air as her reality shifted.
“You should go home,” Marya said.
“One of them’s Merton, right?” She grasped at her sanity, and she was starting to breathe normally again. “One of them’s my best friend. And the other one is–is Jack, right?”
Marya–the vampire–looked at her. Beverly sucked in a breath. She didn’t look quite human in the moonlight, and her jaw was clenched with the strength of her sharpened teeth, but concern bled into her features, softening her, her dark hair falling around her like a shawl.
“You’ll only be hurt if you stay here,” she said.
Merton was a monster. No, no, Merton was Merton, but he happened to be something else when the moon was full. No wonder he hadn’t told her anything. Even with Johnny running around, he’d probably been terrified. He didn’t think he could trust her with–with this. Merton, who’d helped her bury a turtle they found in Lake Green when they were seven years old. Merton, who’d spent hours with her sitting on top of his roof as they gazed at distant stars. Merton, who’d let her talk forever about Johnny while saying nothing at all. Merton, who’d agreed to do the school paper with her just because she’d asked. Merton, who was the one person in this whole stinking town she knew without a doubt she could rely on. Merton, who was a werewolf.
“Merton’s my friend,” Beverly said in a small voice. “I want to help.”
A crash directed both of their attentions to the mass of fur and fangs that was colliding in the forest. Another howl rang out, and Beverly held a hand over her mouth. Marya put a hand on Beverly’s shoulder, gently pushing her back.
“Go home,” she said, voice stone, “while you still have a chance.”
Beverly let out a gasp as Marya exploded into a colony of bats that flew into the trees. Shock kept her rooted to the spot for a moment, and then she raced after her. Shadows moved all around her, and she thought she saw one of the wolves run past her. She skidded to a stop, and there it was, watching her from the brush. It–he–slunk forward, clutching one arm, and when he came towards her, she saw the blood shining against matted fur. The werewolf looked at her, lips back as it growled. Brown eyes stared at her, and Beverly kneeled down on the cold ground, holding out a hand.
“I know it’s you,” she said in a quiet voice. “Merton.”
The werewolf considered her as he slowly crouched to the ground. His expression shifted, no longer angry or skittish. He sniffed the air.
“You’re my best friend,” she continued, “and a werewolf, which is fine. I know you wouldn’t hurt me.”
His ears went back as a howl sounded from a distance. His eyes flashed to her one more time, and then he bounded away. Beverly breathed out and slowly came to her feet. She glanced back at the path to the road, towards where her bike was, towards safety, and then she followed him into the woods.
Merton came to slowly. He was really starting to hate this feeling. His guts churned, his body ached, and his vision blurred as he sat up slowly. His fingers stretched for his glasses and found only the snow covered grass. Oh, right.
He squinted as he tried to see where he was. No road was near, and he couldn’t see the fields through the trees. He must’ve gone deep into the forest. His jaw ached, and he rubbed his shoulder where the scar had started to heal again. A few more scratches marred his skin now. Stumbling as he stood, bits and pieces of the night came back to him. There was a fight, and there was a lot of howling, and there was–
He heard her voice in the trees, and he realized he could smell her. Her rose scented soap she made her mom buy filled his nostrils, and he covered his face. Beside her was an empty space, a blank void. Marya.
“Merton!” Beverly shouted as she ran towards him. She didn’t hesitate as she dove at him, wrapping her arms tightly around his bruised shoulders and squeezing. He hugged her back. He had no idea what she saw last night, but here she was anyway.
“You’re not wearing a shirt,” she said and pulled away quickly, hiding her face as it turned bright red.
“Here.” Marya fished into the bag she carried and handed a shirt to him. He put it on quickly. Embarrassment flooded in.
“Is Jack…?” he started to ask.
Marya frowned. “I don’t know. I followed his heartbeat, but once the sun rose…”
He turned to Beverly. She was staring intently at him, her expression crossed between absolute relief and unbridled terror. She held his glasses in her hands, and slowly she set them on his face. She seemed to study him as she did so, as if she were afraid a bit of the wolf had been left behind.
“You’re a werewolf,” she said.
“Um, yeah.” His eyes turned down. “I’m sorry, Bev.”
“Well, everything makes a lot more sense now.” She sighed. “You know I’m in love with a zombie, right? You could’ve told me.”
“I just–” He breathed out. “I didn’t want you to think I was a monster.”
“You’re my best friend, Merton.” She touched his arm. “There’s nothing you could do or be that would change that.”
They sat there, neither knowing exactly what to say, both overcome with emotion for the other, and Marya gently cleared her throat.
“I just want you to know,” she said, “classes start in half an hour.”
Merton’s eyes went wide. “We have finals!”
“Merton.” The usual Beverly tone spilled back into her words. “I just watched you battle another werewolf who was also a very creepy boy that Marya says is still running around. I think our Economics exam can be put on hold.”
“It can’t.” He took the shoes Marya proffered. “You’re the one who’s going to fail your Language Arts essay.”
“I’m not!” She waved her Shakespeare book at him triumphantly. “While you were running around half-naked, I was studying!”
“I really wish I had time for a shower,” he moaned.
“I wish you had time for a shower.” She took his arm and helped him to his feet. The sleeves covered most of the marks, but there were scratches on his palm and face. “Your mom’s going to think you were fighting.”
“I was fighting.”
“You know what I mean.” Her mouth twisted up. “Does it hurt?”
He jammed his hands in his pockets. “Some.”
“You really have to tell me everything.” Her gaze shifted to Marya. “She’s filled me in, but I want to hear it from you.”
“Yeah,” he said. “But can we go already? This place gives me the creeps?”
“Did you bring your bike?” she asked, and they both started out of the forest.
Marya watched them walk away, a little stricken by how casual they were. Beverly was right. Two werewolves had battled here tonight, and Jack had limped away with every intention of returning another day. She glanced back through the trees. Her instincts told her to follow, and watch, and wait. But she felt a pull towards her new friends.
There would be time, a part of herself said. For you, there’s always time.
Jack collapsed in the dirt. The pain burned through him despite the cold, and though his fingers numbed as he scratched into the dirt, he made himself breathe. In and out. In and out. It didn’t keep the pain away, but it let him work through it. His lungs constricted in his rib cage, and he felt like his bones were too small for his body. He coughed, tasting copper in his mouth, and then his fingers found the hatch. He heaved, still weak, arms sore, hands shaking, and managed to pull it open. His foot caught the ladder, and he looked below at the expanding darkness. One more breath of fresh air, and he climbed below, dragging the hatch closed with him.
The stupid vampire couldn’t see the whole town. There was so much more to Whitby. It went beyond the military goons and white coats and labs that smelled like chemicals and blood. They pretended not to know about what was buried beneath the town. The vaults, the caverns, the tombs. Experiments shelved for no one to see. Where the ghosts walked.
He held out a hand as he stumbled down the dark corridor. He could hear water dripping, sending ripples through the air, and a vague sound of shifting stone, somewhere far off. Little ladders and hatches all over town. You could get anywhere without being seen. You could hear everything too. The people who build this place, they knew how valuable a secret was. His eyes adjusted to the dark. The smells were overpowering. Ancient chemicals made the air sour, and formaldehyde burned his nostrils. Mud and dirt caked the floors, mold growing in the dark corners, a dark wet smell. It made it had to concentrate, hard to see, hard to get around. His fingers fumbled for his cigarettes and found nothing. Right after the full moon. He’d lost it all.
He bit down a growl. Merton didn’t understand. Being alone, being removed, being erased. No one knew who the Kenleys were, huh. He bet his parents knew, and the school, and the tall men in dark suits with hidden eyes. Disappear that little problem. Swear everyone to secrecy. How did they justify it if there wasn’t a war on? Maybe there was always a war on. There were always reasons to keep things secret.
He stumbled and emitted a curse. Merton fought better than he expected. Parts of him were still bleeding. He tried to remember the way through the passage, and his foot found a small indent in the stone. It gave away, and his ankle was sprung into a knot, which quickly pulled with the weight of the stone dropping into the pit below. He shouted, scrambled at the tiles, and as dragged into the pit. His shoulder hit the wall of the small space, tearing skin from it as he fell. He landed on the ground feet first, the crack of his bones echoing in his ears. His body crumpled.
He remained there a minute, eyes watering. In and out. Work through the pain. It was all pain these days anyway. His fingers stretched down in the darkness, and he pulled free the rope around his ankle. Stupid. He knew about the traps. He’d seen them go off for rats, splatting the critters that made their way down here. The tile had fallen away before. He’d been lucky before. Not half-blind, fresh from defeat. His eyes went up as he tried to make out the distance to the surface. The pit was small, barely enough room for him. The walls were smooth, but he could climb his way out, maybe. He tested his broken foot, wincing at the spike of pain it brought. In and out.
Footsteps overhead. He froze.
The tunnels were empty, the equipment pulled out, the vaults locked shut, the horrors never to see the light again. Only the ghost remained.
The steps of a man who walked in his own home. Tapping gently towards him. Echoing down the hall. Jack struggled to stand. His hands searched for purchase on the wall. Empty, empty, empty.
A light flared in the darkness. A shadow passed over him. The ghost stared down, behind its eyes, an empty black. Jack wanted to scream, howl, shout, but he knew there wasn’t any point. There was no one down here except for him and the phantom.
Somehow, through sheer miracle, Marya survived her first semester of school. It was a strange feeling, exiting the building on the Friday before Christmas, with kids rolling in the freshly fallen snow, lobbing snowballs at each other and running off to enjoy their brief reprieve. Betty had walked with her to the soda shop, where they ordered hot cocoas. For a brief moment, amid the crowd of excited teens and Betty sitting quietly beside her, Marya considered telling her everything. Betty had looked at her and smiled, and her whole heart had melted. But in the end, Marya couldn’t bring herself to. Despite what she’d told Merton, her reaction to the Johnny situation did linger in her mind.
Not helped when Johnny and his friends came into the shop. They left soon after, but Merton broke away from their crowd, stopping her as they exited the building. Betty waited impatiently away from them, head turned towards the street.
“Sorry,” Merton said, glancing at her. “I forgot to give you this at school. Things have been crazy this week.”
“How are you feeling?” she asked as he fished through his pockets.
“Not bad, actually. You, uh, haven’t seen you-know-who, yeah?”
“He may have left,” she said. “I don’t know if I would stay.”
“I don’t know if he can,” he muttered, and something like concern passed over his face. She wondered what it was like to pity someone you couldn’t stand. Her thoughts were broken when he pulled free an envelope from his pockets and placed it in her hand. The paper was red, and he’d wrapped a bow around it, now slightly squished. “It’s been maybe the strangest semester we’re ever going to have, and you were a pretty good friend through most of it. So here.”
“What is it?” she asked as she took the envelope.
“You can wait until Christmas if you want.” He gave a shrug. “I know you don’t have a family here. I thought about asking mom if you could come our place for Christmas, but she gets weird about it. Anyway, it’s not special or anything. But I felt like doing something nice.”
It dawned on her that he was giving her a present. Her fingers pressed down on the paper, which crinkled. Her mouth parted, but she didn’t know what to say.
“I don’t have anything for you,” she decided finally.
He smiled. “I’ll be okay. Come around whenever, okay? With just me and my mom, I get lots of free time.”
“Okay,” she murmured and tucked the envelope into her jacket. They said their goodbyes, and she returned to Betty’s side.
“I think he has a thing for you,” Betty said.
“No, he doesn’t.” Marya looked up a ther. “What do you want to do now?”
“Well,” she said, reaching down and taking Marya’s hand, “I know this really nice spot a little ways towards Lake Green. If you don’t mind the cold.”
Marya smiled. “I don’t mind at all.”
It would’ve been that easy, to enjoy the calm of it. Long walks in the snow with Betty. Going over to Merton’s home where he and Beverly talked loudly about things that didn’t even matter. As the days moved closer to Christmas, there was less time, and Marya found herself in her empty home, for the first time feeling alone. She’d opened the envelope Merton had given her when she’d gotten home. It was filled with pictures tucked inside a Christmas card. They showed the things that had happened in her short time here. Johnny among his friends. Beverly on the sidelines. Betty in the stands of a football game, the space beside her empty. The bright blotches of lights in Devon Fields. The lightning strike that brought Johnny back to life.
She’d set them on the end table. The house still had its furniture, and she hadn’t bothered removing the white sheets from most of it. Dust covered nearly everything and was more or less undisturbed as she walked through the house. She sat in one of the large armchairs and looked over the pictures. It was striking to her at first, the moment captured in time, the memory made tangible by the ink and glossy finish. But the more she looked at them, the more uneasy she became. Something was there in the pictures. Her vision blurred as she stared at the lights in the trees, and she tried to grasp a thought that fluttered away, and the picture dropped from her fingers as she heard a heavy knocking on the door.
Marya froze. She stood in the living room, with a clear view of the front door, the windows shaded by curtains that kept the night away. She’d told Merton where she took up residence, but no one else knew, and he wouldn’t come here so late at night. There was no purpose to a visit. The house still looked empty from the street. She’d kept it that way. No reason to invite prying neighbors.
The knocks thudded again, loud, echoing. She stepped forward, lifting her shoulders. I am a vampire, she told herself. Creature of the night. Bloodsucking fiend. Not at all scared by the horrors of a stranger knocking on my door.
Thud, thud, thud again. For a moment she wondered if it was Jack, come to seek revenge, but she would sense him. She would sense anyone. Beyond the door, there was no heartbeat.
She reached for the doorknob. Thud, thud, thud. She closed her eyes, took a moment, and then pulled the door open.
And stepped back in horror from what waited outside.