It started with cleaning up the corpses. Mom mopping up the liquefied remains of one; Grandpa picking up pieces of another, dropping them one by one into a big black trash bag. Michael and Sam carried Max's dusty bones armful by armful out to a pit they dug in the back field, then together they pulled David's body off the horns in Grandpa's workroom.
Horns are dead flesh not wood and David came alive under their hands. He threw them off, hissing, and fled into the trees. His flesh smoked in the sun.
"But it's day," Mom said. "Won't he die?"
"I wouldn't count on it," Grandpa said darkly.
When night fell, Michael shut himself up in his room. Sam paced back and forth across the landing with a Superman comic crumpled in his hand. Mom and Grandpa sat at the kitchen table with six cups of coffee and a basket full of stakes.
Nine, ten, eleven o'clock and nothing came; at midnight, Sam let himself into Michael's room, curled up beside Michael's warm body and let Michael pet him to sleep.
None of them died then. David didn't come back.
They found Nanook crumpled and dead the day before school started. He was bitten all over. Animal Control said coyotes and took his body to be cremated. Mom gave the ashes to Sam; Michael took Sam down to the pier so Sam could put Nanook to rest as far away from Santa Carla as possible.
"Do you think Mom will finally let us move?" Sam asked.
"Move where?" Michael shrugged.
"Someplace we won't all get killed?"
"Where would that be?"
He pushed his hands down in his pockets, feeling the stitches stretch and pop one by one. "I don't know."
Michael looked out at the ocean. Still not there, not all the way.
"Are you still a vampire?" Sam asked.
"Yeah," Michael said.
Michael barely passed his senior year, just enough Cs to graduate, and next summer took a job at one of the Boardwalk bars. He was eighteen, so it might have been legal. He washed up. In the afternoons, the owner taught him to bartend.
Sam got a few Bs but mostly As, because everything they bothered to try teaching, he'd already learned in middle school. Most of the students and half the staff cut first period during the winter--it met before dawn. Sam's algebra teacher had shaking hands and mentioned her missing son every other class.
Sam spent the long afternoons at the Frog brothers' comic shop. Endless arguments about stupid comic plots and the occasional circle jerk in the back room. Edgar was short and stubby and cut and Allen was long and pointy and uncut and Sam had serious, serious doubts that they were actually brothers, but whatever.
He still slept with Michael every night. Sometimes Michael slid on top of him in his sleep, murmuring about blood and sucking on Sam's neck; but the mornings didn't change, so Sam let it go. You couldn't tell Michael was a vampire just by looking at him. It was only if you curled up on him, like Sam did, that you could feel how slow his heart beat and how cool his skin was.
Sam got a kitten from a girl at school and named it Hellfire.
In the summer Sam and Michael both became nocturnal. Mom was working as a secretary at the real estate office that handled the Boardwalk. Michael worked at the bar ten hours a night. Sam played pinball at the arcade until his eyes fuzzed over.
He also went down on the Frog brothers. He pretended not to notice the way they stared at each other when he did it. He enjoyed it, so he guessed that made him gay and maybe them too, but that conclusion was about the least important thing in the world.
The girl who gave him the kitten disappeared shortly before graduation. His math teacher was found stabbed to death outside her home around Christmas. The punks and gangs and screwy-eyed teenagers killed as many people as the vampires ever did.
Sam still slept with Michael every night. Michael never brought anyone else home. Sam learned to like the smell of smoke and sweat and was almost disappointed when Michael started taking a shower before bed, but the smell of clean Michael was good too.
When school started again he had a bright new teacher for English, filled up to the brim with the joy of learning. In October his wife was found decapitated in the Boardwalk parking lot. After that, he stood in front of the board for ten, fifteen minutes, chalk stopped mid-word as the class stared at his back, until he forgot his wife and started teaching again.
All Sam's classes were quiet, unless someone was crying. The noisy ones hung out in the parking lot or skipped altogether and went down to the Boardwalk. Nobody cared. There was no truant officer.
In December, Sam was lying on the landing playing string with Hellfire when Grandpa came up the stairs with a stake in each hand.
"Sam, go find your mother. This has gone on long enough."
Sam ignored him and stayed put. Hellfire hissed as Grandpa opened Michael's door. Michael was inside, asleep, vamped out and biting his own knuckle.
"You're not killing Michael!" Sam shouted. Michael woke up.
"We can do this the easy way or the hard way," Grandpa said as Michael climbed the wall. Michael just stared down at him with his blanked-out marble eyes.
"You are not killing Michael!" Sam repeated, yanking Grandpa back by his shirt.
"Sam, that's not your brother. That's a creature of the night and has been for a long time now."
Sam pushed him back, once and twice and he fell. He fell backwards down the stairs.
"Sam," Michael said.
"You're my brother and I love you," Sam said, burying his face in Michael's neck. He was as tall as Michael now.
Michael took the stakes out of Grandpa's hands before they called the police. The police came, said he fell and shrugged and left, taking the body with them. Mom started wearing black. Now the house was hers and they were never, ever going to leave.
There was only one movie theater in town. Sam saw every movie there as many times as he could stand it. Sometimes Michael came too.
Sam started going down on the arcade clerk, who wore so much thick black makeup that he looked like a comic book drawing. He smelled nice, though, like dead roses, and he gave Sam extra tokens. He invited Sam home after the arcade closed but Sam never went.
He slept with Michael every night. Michael picked him up from the arcade when he got off work at midnight and they drove home together in Grandpa's car.
Sam would have graduated with honors, but the principal was killed two days before the ceremony. They cancelled it, quietly exhausted, and mailed the diplomas instead. Sam's English teacher disappeared a little while later. The police found his clothes at the end of the pier, shrugged and called it suicide.
Sam got a job at the all-night video store. He saved almost all his money, pretty much by default.
"You should go to college," Michael said.
"Will you come with me?"
Michael shrugged. "Can't leave Mom, not now."
"Then I'm staying."
The other clerk at the store was a tall punkish boy with blue Liberty spikes. He smoked a pipe and spoke in wise sayings. The pipe tobacco smelled great, so Sam went down on him too. He had a girlfriend. Sometimes she watched. She asked if Sam liked talking to the kitty, but Sam just shook his head.
"Well, I had to ask," she said, sitting cross-legged on the counter.
"I had rather regret something I had done than something I had not," said the other clerk.
In October he took a day off and spent it sitting at the end of the pier. He could hear the endless song of the carousel echo off the water. Motorcycles screamed up and down the sand behind him. Clouds drifted over the full moon. He thought about life and the way he used to think it sucked less than it actually did.
David grabbed his ankle and pulled him under the pier. He pinned Sam to the slick algae-coated underside. "You're a killer," David said, sniffing Sam's throat.
"You're growing up. You don't have to."
"No, I do," Sam said, but David was already tearing at his throat.
He laid Sam back down on the pier and bit his own tongue, filling his mouth with blood, and kissed Sam, forcing him to swallow.
"Killer," he said. "Go kill."
Sam stumbled away, exhausted but unable to stop moving. Exhilarated. He felt his heart beating slowly, slowly in his chest. He felt his skin grow colder.
In the parking lot the arcade clerk was getting into his car. He smiled when Sam climbed in next to him. He took Sam home and Sam fucked him. He clung to the back of the couch, shivering and making small, passionate noises as Sam thrust into him; he made the same noises, but louder, when Sam bit into his throat.
Sam left him on the couch, small and dead and naked. Sam washed off the blood and put on clean clothes from the clerk's drawer, smelling of dead roses; Michael frowned in his sleep when Sam climbed into bed that night, but put his arms around Sam anyway.
Sam woke up with his skin smoking. He rolled under the bed and slept until nightfall. He bought blackout curtains that night.
Mom never came home. She disappeared the same night Sam changed. They never found a body. Her boss took pity on Sam and Michael and got Michael power over her estate. She wouldn't be declared dead for seven years.
They clung together tightly. Michael smelled even better to Sam--part delicious human, part vampire like him. Family. His kin. His brother who he loved.
Some night Sam went to work and Edgar and Allen were there along with the punkish clerk and his girlfriend. "Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the moon is full and bright," said the clerk.
"We thought you were pure, Sam," Edgar growled.
Sam broke his nose. It was easier than he thought it would be. Allen tried to stake him from behind but Sam diverted the stake into Allen's own chest instead. He grabbed the clerk and his girlfriend and banged their heads against the wall. He pinched the blood in Edgar's neck until he passed out.
He put all three people and the corpse of Allen into the back room and sat on the counter trying to decide what to do.
He thought it should hurt, betrayal. He thought...maybe he should be angry.
David was there. "Not bad."
"I hate Santa Carla," Sam said.
"I want Michael."
"So do I," David said. "And I'll have him."
"I..." He felt foggy, unclear on the basics. "I can leave?"
"The whole world is out there for you." David stood close up to him, not grabbing, just touching, cheek to cheek and chest to chest. Neither of them had a pulse. David's breath tickled his ear like cotton wool.
"Michael," Sam said.
"He's...no. He's definitely mine," Sam decided, his head clearing. He dove into the back room and when David followed, he pulled the stake from Allen's chest and plunged it into the hollow of David's throat.
David screamed. His skin ignited; he clawed for Sam. Sam shoved him into the pile of tape returns, which burned with a foul plastic stink.
Sam left him there and ran to the other end of the Boardwalk, finding Michael at his bar and dragging him out into the alley. "I'm human again," Michael said, petting Sam's hair. "I can feel it."
"I killed David."
"So I'm back."
"Yeah." Sam stroked Michael's throat.
"You're back too."
"No." Sam vamped out. "I'm really a vampire."
"I don't know." Sam petted Michael heavily, touching his hair and his throat and his face. "Because I'm a killer. Because I love you. I'm a killer because I love you."
"Eight people." Grandpa. And the arcade clerk. And Allen. And food.
"You're not," Michael whispered, and tears rolled down his face. Sam watched them fall.
He licked Michael's face. He pushed Michael down on the asphalt. Michael struggled a little, but it was easy.
Sam bit through the pulse in his thumb and rested the trickle of blood against Michael's hot tongue. He curled around Michael, eyelashes flickering against the fast beat in Michael's neck, feeling it slow again as Michael became his, feeling Michael cool into languor.
"We're going to leave," Sam said.
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