by Darrell Schweitzer
Darrell Schweitzer is the author of THE MASK OF THE SORCERER, WE ARE ALL LEGENDS, THE SHATTERED GODDESS, LIVING WITH THE DEAD, THE WHITE ISLE etc. plus about 350 published stories. His most recent collection is his first explicitly Lovecraftian one, AWAITING STRANGE GODS, from Fedogan & Bremer. He is an essayist, reviewer, interviewer, and the former co-editor of WEIRD TALES. He has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award four times and won it once, shared with George Scithers, for WEIRD TALES.
The day my mother became a vampire, she ruined my life. I didn’t know it at the time, and I’m sure she didn’t have time to think about it — I have to admit that being dead and coming back to life more-or-less can be distracting — but that’s God’s honest truth and if I were of a slightly different persuasion I’d add “cross my heart and hope to die.”
Give me a break!
It wasn’t as if I were not beside myself with worry, what with Momma and Poppa off on their trip to Romania, he being, though he is my father and I love him, such a nebbish he never stood up to her about anything, so when he booked the two of them on that Dracula Fan Club tour or whatever it was with non-refundable tickets, you could have heard Momma’s jaw drop in Brooklyn, as she observed at the time, and we don’t live anywhere near Brooklyn.
My Poppa, he was bats about bats, and about Dracula and Children of the Night and all that stuff. He had a vampire-movie collection like you wouldn’t believe. I think it was the one thing Momma couldn’t take away from him. After I went off to college and they were alone, he got even battier, and so they went on this tour that was supposed last two weeks, and after they didn’t come back and I didn’t hear a thing from them for six months, you think I shouldn’t worry?
It was one thing, that two weeks, during my spring break, me back in the old house, watching Poppa’s movies when there was nothing else to do — he really does have a dubbed copy of Mein Yiddishe Drakula — and taking care of the cats. The cats, Elvira and Vlad. Poppa named them before Momma could. Just as well because she probably would have called them Pusscha and Poopsie.
Me, I am nothing like my mother, which is just as well, but I have to worry.
My putzy, sometime boyfriend Max, he says maybe they were carried off by the fairies, and I said no, in the Balkans you get carried off by the Roma. Ireland, fairies, Romania, Roma. Got it?
Max was confused, about Roma, Romania, and Rome, until I explained that the Roma were the people they used to call the Gypsies.
“Why don’t we just call them the gypsies?” Max asks.
I sigh. “Because it’s racist, and I go to Bryn Mawr, and you’re flunking out of community college.”
Then — and I swear I could have shot him— he says “Maybe Dracula turned her into a vampire… ” and I have to laugh, despite my worries, because Momma is so short. What would she do, stand on a stepladder so she can reach people’s necks to bite them?
Max has no idea what he is talking about.
Then the packages arrive, delivered by the Roma. The truck says Transylvanian Parcel Service, but I know these guys are Roma because what kind of delivery men wear scarves and earrings and make jokes about pulling one over on the gajos while hauling these enormous packages into the living room?
Max and I are left staring at these two boxes the size of phonebooths, which are marked DO NOT OPEN UNTIL SUNDOWN, but today is Tuesday so the Shabbat rules do not apply, so what the Hell does this mean, I want to know.
Nevertheless, it is getting late and starting to get dark, and God knows what’s inside these packages, so we close the curtains. Then Max and I whack away at the first crate with hammers and big screwdrivers. Dirt pours out onto Momma’s immaculate living-room rug, and the lid comes off, and inside is a coffin packed in more dirt. To get that open, we have to remove a whole bunch of silver nails, which are probably worth something, so I put them carefully aside.
The coffin lid creaks open just like in the movies. As soon as Momma, lying inside it, sees the hammer in my hand, and I see her, we both scream so loudly we could split the eardrums of everybody from Jersey City to Canton, China. She clutches her chest and says, “Go ahead, drive a stake through your poor mother’s heart. You’ve already broken it!”
I let the hammer drop to the floor. It lands on my foot. While I’m hopping around in pain, I say, “I have?”
And Momma, she looks so weird, I should say terrible, her hair all frizzed up and tangled, her nails like claws, her face so pale and sunken like a balloon that’s lost most of its air, and her eyes so dark and somehow burning that I can’t look away from them; Momma, she turns to Max (who also drops his hammer but misses his foot) and says, “No mother, living or dead, wants to come home after so many trials and tribulations, to find out her daughter’s still messing with a sheygets.”
“But Mom — ” I say.
“But nothing. When are you going to get a serious boyfriend, somebody with a future, somebody you can marry, one of your own kind?”
Max blurts out, “Who said anything about marriage?”
I stare at her, dumbfounded. Max is a bit of a doofus. He works in a flower shop and makes tie-dyed t-shirts on weekends and would have been a hippie if he’d been born a generation earlier. Maybe he’s not such a good prospect, but this is a stupid time to bring this up.
Apropos of not knowing what else to say, I get defensive. “But Momma, I like Max.”
Max beams at me like a dope, “You do?”
I don’t bother to explain that much of the time I’m not entirely sure of that because Max does have his shortcomings. But before I can utter another word Momma gets out of that coffin, opens her mouth to reveal huge, dripping fangs, and slinks over to Max in a way that no respectable short, zaftig, middle-aged woman should, and says, “Well if you’re going to marry him, he has to convert.” She pronounces it “convoit,” her accent having somehow grown a lot thicker.
I stamp my foot (not the one the hammer had landed on) and shake my finger at her. “Momma, we’ve been over this before! Get used to it! Max doesn’t want to become a Jew!”
Momma’s fangs somehow arc out of her mouth the way a rattlesnake’s do and still (I have no idea how) she’s able to say, “That’s not what I have in mind.”
Now there’s a loud pounding from inside the other box. Momma pulls back, her fangs disappear back into her mouth, and she looks as close to normal as she going to since stepping out of that coffin. She is Momma again and she’s giving orders.
“Marsha, let your father out. We need to have a family discussion. Max, you help her.”
So we let him out, carefully removing six more valuable-looking silver nails, which Momma cringes from and won’t even look at. Soon the coffin lid creaks open and there’s my father, dressed in black cape and black pants, white shirt, vest, medallion, and one of those bat-shaped ties I know Momma has always hated — it doesn’t go with the outfit — and his eyes are red and gleaming and he makes a claw out of one hand as if he’s trying to hypnotize me, and says in a thick, thick accent, “I vant to drink your blllooodd!!”
Then he trips over his cape and stumbles out onto the rug amid an avalanche of dirt that will be impossible to clean up. Somehow he twists around and lands on his butt, and there he is sitting in the dirt, staring up at me while his mechanical bat-tie flaps pathetically, only one of its wings working.
I help him up, taking him by the hand.
“Brrr! Poppa, you’re cold!”
“There’s a lot to explain.”
At our family conference, a lot that needs to be explained is explained. Max is there, holding on nervously to his hammer and screwdriver, as if that would do him any good. After all, he might become family, or at least Momma wants to allow for the possibility. Besides, he knows too much now.
“After all I’ve given up for you,” she moans, meaning me, not Max. She doesn’t care a rat’s ass about Max.
And I break in, saying that I had to give up a whole semester at Bryn Mawr to be here minding the house just in case she and Poppa should somehow reappear out of nowhere, and I did take care of Elvira and Vlad just fine, and I can’t help it if they hiss and run and hide when Momma comes near them. (They hide from Poppa too. He’s really unhappy about that.) And she has the nerve (I almost say noive but stop myself) to tell me to stop kvetching when she, my mother, is the world’s greatest kvetch, a Niagara Falls of guilt poured out, a woman put on Earth by God to complain about how things aren’t right and make people feel guilty about them. I think the only reason she doesn’t want me kvetching is she’s afraid I may have inherited some of her talent for it and she wants to make sure that if anybody in this house is going to kvetch, it’s going to be her, no competition allowed.
And she says, “Besides, you’re not going back to that snooty school anyway.”
And when I say, “What?” she explains that there have been some, uh, changes, like she and Poppa are technically dead now, but not in any sense that really matters, they’ll just have to keep different hours. Then she tells the whole story about how Poppa dragged her on this Children of the Night Special tour of Transylvania and after days of wandering into one crypt after another something happened and now they’re both vampires, which did not, I gather, change her disposition much, or stop her kvetching. Although she’s vague on the details, I gather that after some months of bouncing around in crummy coffins listening to bad jokes, and reaching people’s necks, not with a stepladder, but by getting people to bend over to look at a map of Bucharest when she asked them for directions (even if she was in some other city), and realizing she was her still being her old self, not svelte like the vampire-women in movies, she kvetched all the way up the chain of command until Dracula himself couldn’t stand her any more and had her and Poppa nailed up in special coffins with silver nails so they couldn’t get out. But even then she kvetched so much (he could still hear her; vampires have very good hearing) he finally gave up and shipped the two of them home.
She finishes deciding, “So the best thing for all of us will be that I should bite you, and, ugh, your father can bite Max, and then we’ll all be a vampire family together.”
Max raises his hammer and his screwdriver and crosses them. When Momma glares at him, he drops them to the floor: clunk, clunk.
I put my hand to my throat. “Momma, Gee, you’ll never get any grandkids that way.”
Then Poppa pipes up, which is amazing, since he never interrupts when Momma’s Decided and Made Up Her Mind About What Is Best. Now he says, “Wait a minute, Honey Love” — a name he calls Momma when he’s trying to wheedle something out of her — “sometimes it’s useful for our kind to be cared for by mortals, like that nice Mr. Renfield we met — “
And Momma rears up, eyes blazing, fangs gleaming, and she says, “No daughter of mine is going to eat bugs!!”
“That may not be necessary, Honey Love — “
She nods to Max. “Now he can eat all the bugs he wants, but not Marsha Leibowitz.”
So the family conference ends and I get to stay among the living, and so does Max, although Momma puts the whammy on him and before long he does eat bugs, insisting that they’re organic and all-natural and taste like roasted peanuts, rather than simply disgusting. I can’t imagine what I ever saw in him.
But he is really helpful around the house, once you get used to his gibbering, drooling, and constantly looking around for insectile snacks. The place seems to be overrun with bugs now and Momma will not allow me to call an exterminator. So, bugs and all, Max and I have to break up the basement floor with jackhammers — and I will kill anybody who asks if it ruined my nails — and dig a pit for the two coffins to rest side by side in their “native” New Jersey earth (with all the Transylvanian earth I could vacuum off the carpet thrown in for good measure), and, by day, that’s where my parents sleep.
Yes, I know that vampires are evil and totally given over to Satan and a menace to be destroyed, yada-yada-yada, but she’s still my mother and if you know my mother you don’t worry about such things as going to Hell. Hell on Earth is having to listen to her kvetching, which she can keep up until Hell freezes over unless she gets her own way.
Poppa has Max fix up a flat-screen TV in his coffin lid and hook up the VCR to it so he can watch tapes during the daytime.
I never return to Bryn Mawr, but after some whining I get to transfer to Columbia, which is in Manhattan, to which I commute as a day student. But I’m under strict instructions to get home every evening by dusk, so I can help her and Poppa out of their coffins and “see them off” for their “evening rounds,” as Momma calls it. “Terrorizing the countryside” is what Poppa calls it, as he swirls out the door in that ridiculous outfit with the cape. If he doesn’t turn into a bat and fly away, he’d like me and Max to think he does. I’m past caring.
Can you imagine what this does to my social life? Max has moved in. I can watch him eat bugs, or watch TV, or do my homework. I become very studious. I get straight A’s. But believe me, romance is not on the roster.
The scary part of all this is that sometimes I am not sure I really am living with my parents anymore, or with two all-devouring things, who will gobble up even me at the end. When your parents are undead, you can never be certain they love you. It causes anxiety, believe me.
Then there is the one time I dare to bring over my best friend Sylvie for a night of shared homework and girl talk — and miraculously she is willing to put up with the bugs and the stench of the place. Did I tell you that vampire lairs smell bad? I could go on and on…. I even convince her that Max is a intellectually disabled cousin the two of us should lock in the basement (we do, and he sits down there contentedly chomping on bugs). Things are going swimmingly, and I feel almost normal for once, when suddenly I’m not sure what is happening, and there is a mist sliding under the bedroom door, and that mist has red eyes in it and looks a bit like my mother. It might be a dream. I am not sure. I can’t move. I want to call out, but I can’t, and when I really do wake up there is Sylvie on the bed next to me, pale as the other white meat with two holes in the side of her neck and her eyes crossed and rolled up.
Oy vey. So Max and I have to carry Sylvie out into a deserted lot and bury her in a cardboard box, which is very dangerous because the police might see us, but Momma likes her privacy and won’t share the basement (which she now calls “the crypt”) with just anybody. And most nights afterwards Sylvie comes floating to my second-floor bedroom window, tapping on the glass, asking to be let in, and before long she’s as much a nuisance as Max.
But I feel sorry for her and maybe I am even afraid of her. It is not her fault, what happened. But she also has that hungry, hungry, empty look in her eyes, and sometimes I am not sure if it’s even Sylvie, just those eyes and a mouth full of sharp teeth that talks like my best friend.
Everybody has their breaking point, and I have mine. I think I’m already past it. But what can I do? I am not made of glass, that I can literally break.
I get on the Internet. I go to lots of chat rooms. I become something of a celebrity, but everybody thinks I am making this up. People don’t take me seriously. They tell me how much they like my stories. The editor of Weird Tales asks me to send him something. I also get people writing to know what flavor of bugs I like, and am I really a hunchback, because hunchbacks are supposed to be the servants of vampires — and I write back, No, that’s mad scientists, you dork! because this is my mother you are talking about — and I get some very odd spam, a lot of it from a dead African oil minster turned zombie, who wants to get together with me to share the thirty million dollars he intends to smuggle out of his country in a coffin.
And then at last there is a message that merely says:
I think I can help you. — Heinrich.
Is your last name Van Helsing by any chance? I want to know.
No, it is Schroeder.
What do you want? I type.
I want to meet you? he types back.
Now this is so mysterious, and everything your mother ever warned you about when messing on the Internet, but when you have a mother like mine maybe you take her warnings with a grain of… garlic? (And that’s another thing — ever since the Big Change there is no pizza allowed in our house, but I am babbling… )
I am thrilled. Also desperate. I am almost ready to fling myself into the arms of the zombie African oil minister, or certainly a mad scientist’s hunchbacked assistant as long as his breath smells like garlic, and in such a deranged state of mind I tell my new friend Heinrich Schroeder that I would like to meet him.
So we make arrangements to get together.
In a lonely graveyard near Hoboken.
This breaks so many rules that it just adds to the thrill. So I stay late after school. I eat a light supper at a Pizza Hut and then wait some more, until it is dark. Yes, I know Momma will be mad, but I don’t care, I’m that desperate. In any case I know she can take care of herself, and that idiot-retard Max will be able stop eating bugs long enough to cope with any vampire-hunters who might want to sprinkle holy water into the basement, or whatever else they might do.
It’ll be okay. I tell myself that over and over as I get off the PATH train in Hoboken and walk down a dark street between dingy buildings, until I come to another street which is even darker and dingier, and my footsteps are going faster, faster, tap-tap, tap-tap like in the movies when the girl is about to get jumped, only I don’t get jumped, and eventually I climb through a broken fence and into an old, deserted graveyard. There are such places in the New York area. Not everything is modern and built-up. Probably nobody has been buried here for a hundred years, and if anyone or anything climbs up out of a grave to get me I’ll just tell him or it who my parents are.
Not that such a thing happens. Heinrich is waiting for me on a bench, in the one spot where a little light from a streetlamp shines through the gnarly trees.
When he stands up to greet me, like a perfect gentleman, I see that he is big. My head doesn’t even come to his shoulders. He is broad-shouldered, like two or three linebackers crammed into one body, and I can see that he’s one of these guys whose face is always hairy no matter how many times he shaves, but maybe my senses are getting sharper from hanging around vampires so much, because I can smell him in a good way, not b.o. but an alive odor that excites me more than I can understand, and when he takes my hand in his and his grip is firm and so hard it almost breaks my hand, but warm, I’m instantly in love! Before we even say a word, we fall into each other’s arms, on the ground, rolling in the leaves, heaving with such passion that a decent girl like me (ahem!) will have to leave out some of the details.
Later we talk quite a lot, and I pour my heart out to him, the whole story, and he is so understanding. He has seen and experienced strange things too, he says. He believes me. He knows I am telling the truth.
I look into his eyes. I may never look anywhere else again.
“You have to get away,” he says.
“But I don’t want to hurt Momma’s feelings.”
“She’s a minion of evil, a blood-drinking demon of darkness.”
“I know, but she’s my Mom. Besides, one tries not to be judgmental about alternate lifestyles.”
“That’s the college girl talking, not the real you,” he says, and takes me in his arms again and once more we are rolling on the ground, making hay in the dead leaves if you will pardon the expression, and oh! I have never felt anything like this and oh! goes on and on, and oh! I don’t care what Mom and Dad think, I just want to be with Heinrich.
“I might have a few deep, dark secrets of my own,” he says afterwards. “I am glad you are not judgmental.”
Then I suggest that maybe we should take the silver nails and nail my parents back into their coffins. It won’t be such an inconvenience for them because they’re immortal, so we could live out our lives and maybe let them loose again when we’re eighty or so — but at the first mention of silver Heinrich hisses and recoils as if I’d handed him a live snake.
Which is very odd. But do you expect me to have a normal boyfriend?
Then Heinrich has to leave. He leaves, quickly.
“I love you!” I shout after him, but he’s vanished into the darkness.
There is indeed Hell to pay when I get home, close to dawn, about the same time Momma and Poppa do, and even Poppa is beside himself with rage, his eyes burning red, his fangs dripping. He’s gotten his bat-tie repaired. Both wings are flapping furiously.
“You are one disobedient minion!” Momma screams as she oozes toward me in that odd, rolly-polly slink that is so hard to describe. Her eyes are all fire too, and her fangs are out.
“Damn it, Mother! I’m not a minion! I’m your daughter!”
Just then Max shambles into the room, a gigantic, live cockroach wriggling between his teeth. His back has been broken in several places, almost tied into a pretzel, though he doesn’t seem to feel any pain. Vampires really do have powers science can’t understand. Max is now a genuine hunchback of the finest quality, two-humped like dromedary.
“Now that’s a minion!” I shout.
Momma shouts too, orders to Max, who is surprisingly agile despite his condition, and surprisingly strong, not to mention horrible smelling as he grabs me and drags me up the front stairs like a sack of laundry, while both of my parents are hovering over me, their faces hideous masks with red eyes and gleaming fangs, like something seen in a dream, and the cockroach in Max’s teeth seems to be saying, “You’re a naughty, naughty girl and you’re grounded for life!”
Maybe they’ve put the whammy on me, because there is a gap in my memory, and when I wake up I am on my bed in my bedroom. The first thing I do is put my hand to my throat to see if I feel warm, and I do. That calms me a little, but I get up woozily, and only gradually discover, to my increasing rage, that the door to my room has been nailed shut, and there are boards nailed over all the windows.
My little prison consists of the bedroom and the adjoining bathroom. Someone or something (probably Max, who seems to have razor-sharp teeth these days) has gnawed a bit of the bottom of the door away, enough to make a slot where food can be slid in to the prisoner.
There’s a bowl of soggy Cherrios on a plate, but there’s a bug swimming in it and I push it back out.
So that’s how it is.
Yes, it is. I can’t go to college anymore. I can’t go anywhere. I am held prisoner, starving, occasionally able to nibble on the less disgusting things Max provides. (The lunchmeat isn’t too bad. I can even manage the stale donuts.)
Every evening I hear my parents rise from their coffins. I hear everything. I think my senses are heightened beyond what is normal. The lids creak, I think, because they like it that way. They could oil the hinges, but it would be against proper vampire style. They go out. They come in a little before dawn, exchanging a few pleasantries. “Did you have a good time, Morris?” “Yes, Honey Love.” Sometimes I overhear a few words about, “What are we going to do with our daughter? What can we do?” followed by assurances (from Poppa) that all parents go through this with teenaged daughters and things will work out.
Yes they will. Thank God for the Internet. Max is too addled and I don’t think my parents ever quite understood what computers are for, particularly a wireless connection through a laptop. (They’ve ripped out my phone.) If I am typing away, they think I am doing my homework.
(“Could we let her go back to school?” Poppa asks. “She’s still working so hard.” Momma just hisses like a snake and that settles that.)
I type away, day and night. By day, idiot Max the hunchback is there to make sure I don’t escape. At night, my old friend Sylvie still hovers outside the window like a Halloween version of Tinkerbell in a trailing shroud, tapping her skeletal fingers on the windows, asking me to let her in. I don’t, but she’s still out there, certain to make sure I can’t go out.
Where did she get the shroud anyway? She was wearing jeans and a top when we buried her. But I can’t bring myself to care anymore.
I type and type. I find Heinrich again, and we exchange e-mails fast and furious.
I too am a creature of darkness, he types. You might not be happy with me. I have a terrible secret.
Yeah, yeah. I DON’T CARE!
YES I AM SURE. COME AND GET ME!
I shall rescue you, then, as a knight would rescue a maiden imprisoned in a tower. It’s very romantic, really.
Yes, it is, and I spend my days and nights dreaming of him, imagining that I am with him, that he is in my bed, doing things a nice girl like me doesn’t talk about. I spend hours before my mirror trying to make myself presentable for him. We talk over the Internet every day, sometimes all day, but the one thing I can’t understand is why I have to wait. Why can’t he come and get me right now?
These things have to be done right, for the sake of romance, he types.
I don’t care!
But you should, my Sweet. There is, too, the matter that my power will not be at its greatest until the end of the month.
I have experienced enough of his power to last me a lifetime and I want more, but I do, ultimately, have to wait. The routine goes on. I listen to what Mom and Dad say to each other every morning after they come back from terrorizing the countryside. I can even hear the soundtrack of the movies Poppa plays inside his coffin.
I cross the days off the calendar.
28th, 29th, 30th.
And then, just after sundown, the front door explodes like it’s been dynamited, and I hear Max yelping and then such screams and snarls as you’ve never heard before, like there’s a rabies outbreak at the zoo, and furniture is crashing.
Then Max is whimpering outside my door.
“It might hurt the Master and Mistress! It might hurt them!”
Crash! Smash! Howl.
I pound on the door.
“Max, can you hear me?”
He whimpers and whines and slobbers. I hope I have his attention.
“Max! Let me out!”
The chaos downstairs continues. It doesn’t sound as if Mom and Dad are getting the best of it. The whole house begins to shake and sway. If this goes on much longer, the place may be ripped off its foundations.
“Max! I can help them!”
Max stops whimpering, and in a voice that sounds almost like his old self, asks a surprisingly intelligent question. “But why should you help them after what they’ve done to you?”
“Max! They’re my parents! Can’t you understand that?”
Then he’s tearing away the boards nailed to the door, and in a moment I’m walking downstairs into what used to be the living room, with Max shambling somewhere behind me.
There isn’t much of the downstairs left. The walls are out. The TV is smashed to bits and smoldering. Most of the furniture is in splinters. Wading through what used to be the dining room, a huge, hairy Thing faces off against my parents, circling as they do. Momma’s dress is in tatters. Poppa’s cape is gone, and his vest and starched shirt are shredded, and everybody’s claws are covered with I-don’t-want-to-know-what. Everybody’s eyes are blazing like furnaces. They lunge at one another, jump out of the way, parry and thrust with their whole bodies like fencers.
“Stop it! All of you!” I scream at the top of my lungs, and somehow, like my hearing and my sense of smell, my voice has become something it didn’t use to be, and the whole house shakes with the sound of it, and they all stop, and turn toward me, their eyes still blazing, fangs gleaming.
Quickly I reach into one of the few surviving pieces of furniture, a little sideboard cabinet, and take out two of the long silver nails I had carefully placed there when we opened my parents’ coffins for the first time.
It’s trite, I know, and not what you’d expect from someone of my background, but I actually hold up the two long nails like a cross as I say, “Now everybody back off.”
They do, equally recoiling from the silver nails.
“Mom, Dad… is that you, Heinrich?” The Big Hairy Thing nods, breathing heavily. “Mom, Dad, you have to learn to let go. I’m grown up now. You have your life — or unlife or whatever it is — and I have mine. I’m not a minion. I’m your daughter. I ask you to respect that. Do you think you actually can? Do you?”
The fire fades from their eyes, and their fangs retract. Heinrich, a.k.a. the Hairy Thing, just stands there, panting.
Before anyone can say anything, I continue.
“Mom, Dad, I’ve got an announcement to make. I’m not the same as I once was. I’ve been… bitten.”
For an instant I can see Momma’s eyes beam with pride, in the sense of our little girl has grown up, but then she seems just confused, because she knows it isn’t what she thought.
I turn to show her the bruise on my neck, which I’ve had for a month now. “That ain’t a hickey, Momma.”
She just looks stupefied.
“Momma, I want you to meet Heinrich. I love him.”
The Hairy Thing leans over, as if to lick my face, the way a dog would, but then whines and draws away from the silver.
That is when I realize my hands are smoking and the silver nails are burning me. I let them drop to the floor, and before anyone can react, I rush over to the window, tear aside the drapes, and let the light of the full moon flood what is left of the dining room.
I begin to change then. Fur grows on my arms and legs. I feel my whole body melting, falling down, hardening into something else. My senses are much sharper than they’ve ever been before. It’s as if I can hear a cloud passing across the face of the Moon, like silk wiped across glass, and I can hear every sound of the night. I can see in ways that I’ve never seen before, through things, sensing heat and life. Were I so inclined I could tell Max where every bug in the whole damn house is hiding.
But I am not so inclined. Heinrich nuzzles me behind the ear. We play. I try to say something more to my parents, and I think I actually do manage to say “His middle name is Wolfgang.”
And my mother sputters, “But he’s not Jewish!” and she is sobbing in Poppa’s arms. “We’ve lost our daughter!”
“No,” Poppa says, “It’ll be all right, Honey Love, as long as the… er… cubs are brought up Jewish.”
Howling, Heinrich Wolfgang Schroeder and I leap through the window, out into the night.
What beautiful music we make.
— The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Marilyn “Mattie” Brahen, C.Y.C. (Certified Yenta Consultant.)
“Kvetchula’s Daughter” first appeared in Full Moon City, edited by Martin Greenberg & Darrell Schweitzer, 2010.