Denton was twelve when he almost died and was well on his way to becoming a vampire…but I intervened. I had no idea what I was doing, but it made sense at the time: get enough human blood into his little body and hope the transformation would reverse itself. What I didn’t know was that it was too late; the transformation had set in, but the infusion had halted it. As near as our specialists at Cedarcrest could tell, Denton had become a permanent ghoul — for better or worse.
Timothy and I had taken precautions to ensure Denton got placed with his surviving foster-sister Becca into a good home. Offering significant financial support kept us in the loop with visitations to ensure our funding was going to the children, but Denton had grown distant with his caregivers; we hadn’t had the chance to talk frankly about ourselves to each other. At Hector’s insistence, we managed to convince the state to allow me a further role similar to a Big Sister, as long as both the foster parents Mr. and Mrs. Brunty agreed to it along with Denton.
Cedar Creek State Park, about seven miles outside of Glenville, was closed in the early evening, but I cashed in a favor and received special permission to use the location for a nighttime nature walk. My first thought had been something physical like a karate class — vampires and ghouls sometimes need to work out aggression — but Denton wasn’t interested. He had agreed to talk, and I was happy to oblige him.
We arrived at one of the covered picnic shelters where the grounds were best illuminated for the nighttime. Denton had answered my initial questions with one-word answers, but at least he answered. The opinion of our staff psychiatrist, Emily, was that I was too much of a child myself to be of any real use, but she mostly was concerned with the way Denton saw me: as one of the vampires who hurt him. I told her he didn’t think that — he knows I’m the one who saved him — but it made me worry.
Her only real advice: “Let him do most of the talking, Janiss, and listen well.”
“Have you been out here before?” I asked him.
He shrugged and sipped his bottled water.
I pointed out a bench away from the car as a chorus of reptiles and insects sang for us. “We could sit there for a while.”
Denton nodded and we both sat. It was cool clear night and the sky was full of stars.
“Do you like astronomy?”
He chuckled. “You have no idea what to say to me, do you?”
So much for being the clever adult. “Did you want to ask me something instead?”
“Does it hurt being a vampire?”
The question surprised me; it was a good question, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what he was asking. “You mean physical pain?”
“Not usually, and not if I take care of myself.” I was suspicious of the reasoning behind the question. “Are you in any pain?”
“Me? No. I just wondered since you’re supposed to be dead and all.”
Good point. “Well, I have to sleep in the ground. If I’m up after sunrise, it isn’t pleasant. It’s like being dead and still able to feel everything.”
“But not right now?”
“Never at night.”
He looked me up and down. “You look like you’re breathing.”
“I have a heartbeat, too.”
Denton turned his nose up at me. “Prove it.”
I smiled at the little smart-ass and pulled back the sleeve of my top to bare my wrist. “Check for a pulse.”
He did, but he wasn’t impressed. “You’re not much of a monster. How do I know you’re not faking?”
“Why would I lie to you about that?”
“Everyone lies to me.”
That was the truth. I imagined Denton was feeling unsure about himself because his only exposure to another vampire was the one who tried to turn him. Just like the night I woke up buried in Gramma’s cellar when I wasn’t sure of anything, Denton had never actually seen me for what I was. I could show him, but that was also a risk; would he see me as the person who saved him — and who happened to be a vampire — or just another monster?
“If I show you,” I said, “you have to promise not to scream and run away.” I made it sound as childish as I could.
His expression was a mix of curiosity and worry. “I promise.”
I felt my fingertips and gums split open as talons and fangs pushed through, and the night brightened as my pupils widened into the whites of my eyes. “Do you believe me now?”
His fascination outweighed his fright, but I could tell he was being cautious. “Do you want to drink my blood right now?”
“Are you afraid I might? Out here with no one around?” I wouldn’t have, but of course I wanted to. He didn’t need to know that.
“Nash did,” he said in a whisper. He sounded worried.
“I’m not him –”
“But you could be.”
“No, I can’t be,” I assured him. “You’re under my protection. I’ll never let anything hurt you.”
“You can’t be around all the time –”
“I’ll never hurt you,” I clarified, allowing my human features to return.
“Are you fast and strong, too?”
“When I need to be. What about you?”
He didn’t seem to have expected I would ask that. “Yeah, but it scares Becca.”
“She says I run too fast, like freakishly fast. I had her time me. It’s one mile exactly to the neighbor’s house and back, so I pushed myself. I can do it in four minutes.”
It sounded quick. “Maybe you should go out for track. Do you like running?”
Denton looked incredulously at me. “You don’t even get what I just said! That’s ten seconds slower than Olympic runners; I looked it up. And I’m hungry — like, all the time.”
“It’s your metabolism,” I explained, hoping to ease his fears. “When people drink a few drops of my blood, they can do the same things you can for a few days –”
“So I’m going to start wanting blood, too?”
“No…you shouldn’t. You’re still alive.”
“What if I die?” he asked. “Will I be like you? Will I have to kill people?”
“I don’t…we don’t have to kill people.” It was getting hard to look at him knowing how horrified my facial expression probably was.
“But will I kill people? If I die in my sleep, will I wake up and kill the Bruntys or Becca?” Denton looked furious at me, and I had no good answer for him other than to be entirely honest.
“We don’t know. I’m sorry, but we don’t.”
His expression reverted back to the same passive nothingness I saw when I first picked him, the total disconnection. “Take me home.”
I almost told him that we still had a few hours, but I knew the visit was over.
To be continued…
Full disclosure: this didn’t just happen. I thought I’d document the progress I made with Denton over the last few years as a series of blog entries. It’s mostly for myself, but also…well, you’ll see. Thank you for reading and feel free to comment below.