by José Pablo Iriarte
José Iriarte is a Cuban-American writer and high school math teacher living in EPCOT with his wife Lisa and their two teenage kids. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Penumbra, and Fireside Fiction. Learn more at his website: http://www.labyrinthrat.com.
Mom never knew who turned my stepfather. It was the time of business meetings at the (men’s only) club and a-man’s-home-is-his-castle and airplane stewardesses and work trips that lasted all weekend. Mom was a housewife and knew better than to look too closely. He turned her shortly afterward, but had the grace to wait until after my sixteenth birthday before turning me.
She didn’t do anything to protect me, and she didn’t do anything about it afterward, either. “Look on the bright side,” she said, sitting on my bed and holding my hand in both of hers. Mom excelled at looking on the bright side. “You’ll never get old and frumpy like me. You’ll be in your prime forever.”
The bright side.
The bright side was never being able to move out and get a job — at least, not any job I’d want. The bright side was that anybody my real age who came on to me was guaranteed to be a creep. The bright side was never being old enough to vote. The bright side was “homeschooling” forever and Dad moving the family every ten years or so, when a daughter who didn’t age started to invite too many questions. The bright side was never sensing the warmth of the sun on my skin. The bright side was never feeling anything again, except for a dull hunger for the life I could never have—a hunger that could only be sated one way.
I met Angie a couple months after we moved to Winston-Salem. I spent half my nights at the university library, which closed later than the regular library, mostly just looking for a place to be that wasn’t home. She sat at the computer next to mine, looking up articles on Finnegan’s Wake. I had bounced off Ulysses a dozen years ago; anybody who could make sense of that stuff impressed me. She seemed grateful for the distraction when I started up a conversation.
“Are you a student here?” she asked, after we meandered from Joyce to Wharton to Woolf.
“I, um, skipped a couple grades,” I replied, suddenly fascinated by something on my screen.
“Really? That’s so cool!”
I glanced back at her. She had a nice smile. Broad and genuine, and I felt scuzzy for letting her think I was some prodigy when I was old enough to be her mom.
I felt even scuzzier for smiling back.
I saw her again a week later, and before long I had joined her D&D group and we were hanging out every week. She drove me in her old Civic, and never made me self-conscious over being dependent on her or being her kid friend.
“A bunch of us are going to the lake on Saturday,” she told me one night, pulling into my driveway. “Swimming. Sunbathing. You should come with.” She frowned. “I mean, if you don’t think it’s creepy of me to ask.”
I paused with my fingers on the door handle, something almost like a feeling bubbling up inside.
I had never Turned anybody — don’t believe the myth that vampires need to drink blood to survive. That’s just bullshit vampires spread to justify themselves. We can’t die, after all.
Vampires drink blood because only when someone else’s blood is coursing through them do they feel alive again. We’re not, of course — that’s the point. But for one breathless night, a feeding vampire experiences the entire life force of the prey, all burned up in a prodigious blaze. Their hunger. Their fear. Their passion. Their sexuality.
I caught myself pondering what it would be like to lean across the center console and put my lips on Angie. I wondered if she’d let me if I asked her. If I told her to look on the bright side.
“I can’t,” I said. “I don’t do sun. I . . . burn easily.”
“Fair enough,” she said, the white glow of the dashboard reflecting off the side of her face. With her head turned toward me, the tendons in her neck jutted out invitingly. “See you Thursday night then?”
“Right,” I said, practically stumbling from the car. “Catch you then!”
I ran inside before I did anything I would regret. After I closed the door I leaned against it and clenched my eyes shut.
“That friend of yours is cute.”
I turned to see my stepfather leering from his La-Z-Boy, a half-full lowball in his hand.
“Stay away from her,” I muttered.
Angie ran early the next time she picked me up. I came downstairs after my shower to find her in the kitchen, Dad’s hand on her arm.
“Oh, hi honey,” he said. “I was just getting to know your friend.”
Angie took a step away from him, blinking and frowning.
In the car, I asked, “Did my old man, um, do anything creepy? I’m so sorry if he did.”
She shook her head slowly. “No. I don’t think? I can’t remember anything, actually.”
I tried to put it out of my mind, but Angie was not herself all night. She didn’t eat, and she kept zoning out during the game.
“Wait up,” I said at the end of the evening as we headed back out. “I think you’ve got something in your hair.”
She flinched slightly as I brushed her curls back behind her right ear. There, by her collar, I found them: two tiny pinpricks, twins to the ones on my own neck. Hers were still angry and red though.
“There,” I said, my voice shaking. “I got it.”
She nodded dully. “Thanks.”
I stared out the window as she drove me home, thinking about the different towns we’d lived in and how I never asked myself what my stepfather did when he went out. How I had accepted what he’d done to me. How like my mother I had become.
How many women and girls had he stolen the vitality from? How often had I decided not to think too much about it? What kind of monster did that make me, for only caring when he did it to somebody I liked?
I asked Angie to drop me at a Rite Aid a half mile from my house, where I bought a pocket knife. On the walk home, I pulled a branch off a dogwood and whittled as I walked, sharpening it to a wicked point.
I waited until nearly dawn to sneak into the house. There, behind the drawn curtains of the living room, my stepfather lay in his big chair, oblivious to the television blaring just a few feet away. I gripped my makeshift stake and stood over him, looking on the bright side.