It was common knowledge in the town of Delmonica that you could identify a goblin by his greed, a witch by the wart on her nose, and a vampire by his allergy to garlic.
Sanger the Vampire was admitted to the garlic-strewn village prison one Friday, eyes watering as though he had just stepped into a manure pile and uttering epithets that would have made even a common sailor blush. The mayor, whose house, due to some odd construction error, had been built adjacent to the gaol, was so distracted by the sneezing that he went to stay at his Auntie Bertha's for the next month. He was hardly better off there, he told the townspeople with an air of martyrdom, for her cats left fur all over his best suits and stank up her house to high heaven. Bertha grew so irritated at his constant complaining that she "accidentally" locked him out of her house one night and turned her radio volume to "maximum" so she could later claim not to have heard his frantic knocking.
Quite apart from the drama of the Mayor's personal life, the capture of the vampire was the talk of the town for weeks. Sanger's trial was pushed off for a few weeks, as the judge of the village court was on vacation in Hawaii for the Christmas holiday. (He would not return until his wife, suspecting that he was seeing a mistress, grew fed up with his absence and resolved to drag him home by his jacket lapels if necessary). However, there was no question about what the verdict would be, since vampire raids had accounted for a number of deaths that fall. Susie the baker's daughter had been found one morning, pale as paper, with two slits in her neck, and the old apothecary, Drake, met the same fate later that October. But it was not until Aurestia, the daughter of the wealthiest man in town, vanished without a trace one night that the village policeman had actually started taking the vampire threat seriously. (Aurestia, incidentally, was found two years later, happily married to the garbage boy her father had deemed an unsuitable suitor before her disappearance).
Somehow the sheriff had managed to convince the most able-bodied men in town to accompany him into the aptly-named Forest of Grisly and Miserable Deaths. Using Hefferel, the town drunk, as bait (in a stroke of what was either brilliance or – far more likely – plain, dumb luck), they were able to apprehend the culprit and incapacitate him using garlic – with, the policeman boasted later, only a few stubbed toes (and one dead town drunk) as casualties. The relieved mayor gave Sheriff Boyle a public congratulations and spent the rest of the time between Sanger's capture and trial berating the Sheriff for necessitating his stay in the house of a "mad, cat-obsessed old bat" intent on stuffing gingerbread cookies down his throat.
"Stay away from the vampire," worried mothers told their children, stuffing garlic into their shirt pockets as they left for school. (As soon as they were a block away from home, the embarrassed pupils chucked the garlic into the nearest waterway, decimating the area's already-faltering salmon population and nearly jamming a turbine at the mill downstream). These same mothers later gathered around the prison like onlookers in a zoo, exchanging in tight whispers all the past and present vampire lore they had managed to scrounge up from the recesses of their minds.
It was around this time that Fairfax, the handsome village priest, chose to emerge from his church. He strode piously amidst the gossiping fishwives and proudly informed them that he would perform an exorcism.
"Oooh!" the gathering gasped admiringly.
"Yes, ladies," the priest modestly. "Never fear. This threat will soon be no more!" He rolled up his sleeves (which provoked another round of "Oooh!s from the more romantic females in the crowd), raised a cross high above his head, and intoned, "Deus, venite et purificare monstrus!"
The vampire, who had until that point been asleep, opened one eye (the onlookers gasped and leapt backward in terror; one or two ladies even swooned). "Fool," he said scornfully. "Exorcisms don't work on me. I'm a vampire, not a demon." He coughed weakly. "Your Latin is wrong, by the way. It's 'monstrum'. Direct object and all that."
"Quiet, foul pestilence!" Fairfax screeched, waving the cross.
"Fine. Be that way," Sanger muttered, and he promptly went back to sleep.
The adolescents arrived in the wake of the disappointed priest and fluttery-eyed village ladies. Having apparently decided to take a break from their regular activities (which generally involved a good deal of cow-tipping and mischief-making), they clustered in front of the town gaol, taunting the vampire from a safe distance and daring each other to touch him. Eventually, they grew bored of this pastime and wandered off to set off firecrackers in front of the Sheriff's house instead.
It was not until later that afternoon that the boy appeared. Small and silent, he stood in front of the gaol with an air of frank curiosity, watching the vampire through innocent gray eyes. He couldn't have been more than eleven in human years. Sanger pretended to be asleep, but kept glancing periodically through his nearly-closed eyelids, hoping the child would go away.
"You're not fooling me, you know," the boy said, the third time this happened. "I know you're awake."
"What's this?" the vampire asked, snorting fitfully. "What do you want? Come to throw more tomatoes at me?"
"Why would I want to throw a tomato at you?" the boy asked in confusion.
"All the others did," Sanger said, gesturing at the smashed tomatoes lining the walls. "I'm quite terrifying and dangerous, after all."
The boy frowned, a light crease appearing on his forehead. "I don't think you're scary."
Sanger smiled wickedly and jumped forward, baring his impressively long canines at the boy. "BOO!"
It didn't have quite the effect he intended. Far from jumping backward and screaming girlishly (as the town mayor had done a few hours earlier when Sanger had performed this same trick), the boy simply stared at him.
"That was awesome!" he said after a few minutes had elapsed. "Could you do it again?"
Sanger's glare was interrupted by his largest sneeze yet. "Can't you leave a poor, suffering creature in peace?" he demanded, wiping his streaming eyes. "Don't you have to go to..." he tried to remember what his relatives had told him about humans "...wherever it is human brats go during the day? Drool? School?"
The boy frowned and kicked a rock. "I don't go to school."
"Oh." Sanger closed his eyes and sniffed, hoping the pesky child would take a hint. Unfortunately for him, the boy seemed to be in a talkative mood.
"How did you get captured, anyway? I thought vampires were supposed to be fast."
Sanger opened his eyes again and drew himself up haughtily. "We are."
The boy looked at him.
"It wasn't my fault," Sanger said plaintively. "It was that man! I knew I should have listened to Grandma Mina when she gave lectures about the evils of alcohol. That man's blood was full of it. I couldn't stand straight, even before they brought out the garlic." He sneezed pathetically. "Why are you even talking to me? Don't you know better than to consort with evil creatures?"
The boy shrugged. "Evil? What, the whole 'I-vant-to-suck-your-blood' thing? You have to eat too." He sighed, hugging himself. "I don't like feeling hungry. Mum doesn't find enough food at the fish factory, sometimes. It's awful."
He did look painfully thin for a human, come to think of it, though Sanger really had no experience with these things. Vampires, of course, had a completely different standard for waist size than humans.
The boy jumped as though stung by a scorpion. A large, irate woman was bustling toward him, wielding a broom and a very annoyed expression. "What," she intoned, resembling nothing so much as a sentient steam engine on rampage, "are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay away from the vampire!"
"I don't think-" Lucian began.
"Don't you have any sense of self-preservation? He'll corrupt your already-corrupted soul!" And with that, she grabbed the boy by the ear and dragged him away from the gaol, chuntering under her breath about ingrates and children who didn't have the sense God gave fire-breathing chickens. (As a matter of fact, the town had had a problem with those a few years back, when a passing witch dropped some in the blacksmith's barn as a practical joke. The poultry pyromaniacs had burnt down a few fences and a garage - not to mention giving the mayor a hotfoot - before an errant spark had incendiated the blacksmith's hencoop, effectively putting an end to the matter once and for all).
Sanger watched the spectacle idly, finally closing his eyes when the boy – Lucian, was it? – was out of sight. Stupid child. Eventually, Sanger closed his eyes and shook his head. It was none of his business, after all, and Sanger had far more important things to worry about at the moment.
But the next morning the boy was back, bearing some colorful cardboard boxes and an expression that was far too cheerful for that time of day, in Sanger's opinion. (Of course, since vampires were nocturnal, nine AM was the vampire equivalent of three in the morning, so Sanger might have been a little unfair).
"Not you again," Sanger groaned in response to Lucian's quiet "psst." "Didn't your mother tell you to stop consorting with the big, scary vampire?"
Lucian didn't seem to have heard. "I brought this for you," he announced proudly, passing the vampire a box.
Sanger stared at it.
"It's a tissue box," Lucian explained. "You open the top, and, well, tissues come out. I'd have brought you some Benadryl too, but we're out, and I don't know if human medicine works on vampires.
"So..." he continued, as Sanger promptly put the tissues to good use, "tell me about yourself."
"I'm a vampire," Sanger said. "I scare people to death, suck their blood, and wash it down with a cappuccino or two. What more do you want to know?"
"Are all vampires allergic to garlic? Do you sleep in coffins? Is it true you can smell blood from five miles away?"
"Are all humans this inquisitive?" Sanger mocked. "The garlic thing is only really a problem in my family. I think it's genetic." He brightened. "If you think I'm bad, you should see Grandpa Drac. Just show him a picture of a clove and he starts sneezing."
"And the coffins?"
Sanger raised his eyes to the heavens as though pleading for patience. "Don't be ridiculous. Coffins! Really! We are no longer in the eighteenth century, for heaven's sake. It's only the traditionalists like Gramps that use coffins nowadays. And do you know how bad those things are for your back?"
"I can imagine," Lucian said faintly.
"Gran's told me they spend thousands of euros on chiropractic visits each year. Good thing they're filthy rich, or they'd probably have to sell the castle. Honestly. Coffins..."
Lucian nodded, passing Sanger the second box of tissues. "All right. And the smelling?"
"Let's just say," Sanger said haughtily, "my nose is twenty times better than that wretched, puny thing on your face. All vampires have wonderful senses of smell. My brother claims he can even smell Gran's blood-and-raisin croissants from twenty miles away, but I think he might be exaggerating." He sniffed. "That's why garlic annoys ordinary vampires, even ones that don't have allergies."
Lucian seemed to be hanging onto every word. "What else can vampires do?"
"Well..." said Sanger slowly, "I can predict the future, in a sense. At least, I can tell how long you're going to live when I look at you."
"Really?" Lucian said in amazement. "How?"
"I just know it," Sanger said. "It's a skill vampires are born with."
"What is it?"
"What is what?"
"My life expectancy."
Sanger closed his eyes and sneezed again. "You ask too many questions. Go away."
Lucian left. But he continued to come back to chat for a few minutes each day whenever he could spare the time. Sanger assured himself that he only looked forward to these visits because of the tissues Lucian brought him. His anticipation for Lucian's daily visits certainly had nothing to do with this small amount of company – human company, of all things! – brightening his otherwise lonely and garlic-filled existence. No, of course not. The idea was enough to make him vomit. A vampire wanting to spend time with a human? Really!
Sanger did, however, manage to learn some things about Lucian in the weeks that followed. Such as the fact that his father had abandoned the Lucian and his mother when he was only three, leaving his Mum to live off welfare until she got a job at the fish shop down the road (Sanger could relate – vampires were notorious for having dysfunctional families); how he was too poor to attend school; how the other children made fun of him for his ratty, tattered clothes. Of course, Lucian didn't complain outright. It was more what he didn't say that clued Sanger in. Not that Sanger was interested in the affairs of a wretched human child – oh, no. It was just something to pass the dreary hours between twilight and morning, when he should have been out hunting with his friends. It was lucky for him that vampires could survive for months without food.
"How do you become a vampire?" Lucian asked one night (he had discovered that Sanger was most inclined to be talkative after dark).
"Why do you want to know? Oh wait, I forgot, because you're the peskiest human in all of Delmonica." Sanger sighed. "You're either born a vampire – like me – or another vampire changes you."
"Changes you?" Lucian asked in puzzlement.
"Bites you but doesn't drink your blood. I don't know the technical details, but somehow that makes you a vampire."
"Oh." Lucian hugged his knees. "I don't think I'd like to be a vampire," he said thoughtfully. "Blood makes me nauseous."
"You get used to it pretty fast," Sanger said, shrugging. "And there are other benefits. The whole immortality thing."
"I think I'll pass, thanks," Lucian said. "I'd get awfully bored after a thousand years or so."
Sanger shrugged. "Your funeral. Pass me another tissue box."
The judge finally managed to return from Hawaii, bearing a tan that made the town teens jealous - and a hula skirt that his exasperated wife converted into a broom, which she promptly used to sweep the dusty courtroom floor. The ten-minute trial, during which Sanger was too busy sneezing to testify, took place the next day.
Lucian stopped by for a visit that evening, looking worried. "I heard the mayor and the Sheriff talking. The judge declared you guilty, so they're planning to stab you through the heart with a stake on Friday."
"I was afraid of that."
"Will it kill you?"
"I'm a vampire, boy. Technically, I'm already dead."
Lucian frowned. Sanger had not really answered his question.
"Got any more tissues?"
Lucian sighed. "I'm out of pocket money, and Mum's starting to wonder where all ours have gone. You can have my handkerchief."
Sanger took it and wrinkled his nose. Despite feeling as if he had cotton balls stuffed in his nostrils, the smell still bothered him. "I can't use this," he whined. "It smells like garlic."
"Yeah, my Mum did stuff garlic in my pockets this morning, come to think of it..." Lucian said. He rolled his eyes as the vampire tried to pass the kerchief back through the bars. "I don't want it. You've got vampire germs all over it now. Why don't you just pass me the garlic in your cell, if that's what's making you sneeze so much? I'll give it to Puppy. He'll eat anything."
"Don't you know anything about vampire immunology?" Sanger said coldly. "I'll get a rash if I touch it."
Lucian shrugged. "Suit yourself." He frowned thoughtfully. "Do you know who locked you in here?"
"A fat man with a scrubby beard. His blood smelled nasty. I think he had a monocle."
"Maybe it was. He shrieked when I yelled 'boo' in his face."
"That sounds like Mayor Sturgis." Lucian grinned. "All right. I'll be back later."
"Wait," Sanger said feebly, "Where are you going?"
"To find a way to get you out of there."
"No!" Sanger said, rousing himself somewhat. "I think you should go home."
"I'm not going to do anything dangerous," Lucian reassured him, "just talk to the Mayor a bit."
Helplessly, Sanger watched as the boy strode purposefully toward the house of the mayor's Auntie Bertha. Lucian couldn't possibly hope to convince the mayor to release a convicted vampire; he would probably just make things worse all around.
"Well, that's a fine way to greet the brother you haven't seen in weeks," an arrogant voice said from the shadows, nearly causing Sanger to leap out of his pale skin. He relaxed, however, as the stranger came into view. "Yo, Sanger."
"Well if it isn't my no-good excuse for a brother," Sanger said, sneezing slightly. "Nice of you to drop by, Felix. What took you so long?"
"Oh, this and that," his brother replied flippantly.
Sanger sighed. "I should have known girls were more important to you than getting your own brother out of prison." Felix was something of a ladies' man. Sanger could never understand why, as he personally considered his brother one of the densest vampires to disgrace the race, but girls flocked to Felix like crows to a cornfield. It was just one of those mysteries of life. Or life among the undead, as it were. It was all so confusing.
"I'm here, aren't I?" the older vampire said indignantly.
"And just in time, too," Sanger said. "Now help me out of this thing."
Felix stepped forward, sniffing carefully. "It appears," he said, after employing his excellent powers of deduction for a few moments, "that the door is padlocked shut."
"Do tell," Sanger said, rolling his eyes. "They are called 'prisons' for a reason, you know."
"Only trying to help," Felix grumbled.
Footsteps sounded on the pathway outside the prison causing both of them to freeze in alarm. A commotion was the last thing either of them wanted in such a public setting. "Back later," Felix said, and he breezed away without so much as a "cheerio," leaving a miserable Sanger behind.
However, Sanger didn't have time to make bets with himself about the likelihood of the other vampire returning (slim, considering Felix had managed to forget his brother's existence for the last month). A second later, Lucian rounded the corner, gray eyes sparkling in the moonlight.
"Well?" Sanger demanded, annoyed that his escape (all right, perhaps "escape" wasn't the right word – more likely than not, his brother would have made a total fool of himself trying to break the door down before giving up and going back to chasing skirt – but still) had been interrupted.
"The mayor wasn't that helpful," Lucian said evasively... but Sanger noticed that the boy didn't seem as upset as he might have been. Sanger scowled, spotting the telltale glint in the boy's eye. It was the exact same look that Aunt Cruella got when she thought of some new way to coerce her relatives into holding a family reunion. "Mina's birthday is tomorrow; let's all surprise her by invading her house for the day." "Elfy's wedding is next month and it would break her heart if all of us didn't attend." (Never mind that Elfy was Sanger's third cousin twice removed and he had never met her in his life). "My car just died; I don't suppose you could give me a lift? Oh, and bring the whole family to my house while you're at it?" "Christmas is in ten days, and I know the kids are just dying to see one another again." (Ha. Sanger had had to break up more fist fights that December than he had fingers). "Uncle Bill's pet iguana just died; why not get the family together to console him?"
And of course, once she had everyone together, she would either practice her favorite pastime (matchmaking) or (even more disturbing) try to seduce Sanger's bald second-cousin Eggbert, on whom she had had a crush for years.
Small wonder Sanger avoided his family at all costs.
But back to the matter at hand.
Or... not. Lucian was already rapidly making his way home, whistling as he skipped away. Sanger replayed the conversation of the last few minutes in his head:
Lucian: The mayor wasn't that helpful.
Lucian: Don't worry, I'll think of something.
Lucian: Are you all right?
Lucian: Are you sure? You seem a bit... off. Or is the garlic just getting you down?
Lucian: Well, see you tomorrow!
Damn Aunt Cruella. He had been so preoccupied with terrifying family memories that he hadn't even realized what he was saying! Or... hmm-ing, as it were. And now...
Sanger sighed and settled against the wall. He counted hours, then minutes, then seconds. Milliseconds eluded him. It was going to be a long night.
Eleven hours, thirty-three minutes, and 21 seconds later, his brother still had not returned.
Eleven hours, thirty-three minutes, and 22 seconds later, he was asleep.
"Psst - Sanger. Wake up."
Sanger choked on a snore and opened his eyes blearily. "It's too early..."
"Never mind that; you have to wake up!"
Sanger reopened his eyes to find himself face-to-face with a grinning Lucian. The startled vampire screamed, (or rather, cried out in surprise; vampires were much too dignified to scream) backpedaled, and managed to hit his head against the stone wall. "OUCH!"
It was only after a few seconds of fluent cursing that Sanger realized something important.
Lucian was inside the gaol. Which meant... the prison door was open.
He was free.
"How..." Sanger rasped.
"Oh, it was easy," Lucian said cheerfully. "The mayor wouldn't do anything to lessen your sentence yesterday, but that wasn't a problem. I found out where he kept his keys."
"Keys?" Sanger said in befuddlement.
Lucian held up the key ring proudly. "Yup. And the mayor's aunt insisted I come over today to play with her cats. If I accidentally took the keys while I was there, who's to know? Although the mayor realized what was happening as I was walking out the door, so I had to make a run for it..."
"That wasn't smart." Sanger frowned.
"Oh well, I think the mayor's aunt would back me up if I pretended she told me to do it. She really hates him, you know." Lucian shrugged. "And you're free now!"
"Yes," Sanger said, reveling in the garlic-free expanse in front of him. He turned to the small figure, who was looking at him expectantly. "Shouldn't you be getting home?"
Lucian nodded. "You'll be all right?"
"Oh, I should be just peachy," Sanger said sarcastically. "After all, being starved, having tomatoes thrown at my head, and having constant allergy attacks for a month is a fine way to keep in good health."
"Sorry," Lucian said awkwardly. "I didn't..."
Sanger sighed. "Yeah, kid. I know." He paused - remembering something - and added urgently, "You'd better get home, before that mother of yours realizes you're -"
"THERE HE IS!" a voice bellowed, interrupting Sanger mid-comment. "The little devil who stole my keys! And – OH MY GOD, THE MONSTER'S ESCAPING! GET THEM!"
Mayor Sturgis, the sheriff, and an assortment of ten men burst from the nearby hedges and careened toward them – or rather, the sheriff and his companions charged toward them. The mayor caught one glimpse of Sanger's fangs, shrieked like a little girl, and took off in the opposite direction, nearly managing to spear himself on a farmer's pitchfork as he fled.
Sanger fled too - toward the forest, with Lucian on his heels. Somewhere along the road, he realized that Lucian was lagging behind and grabbed the boy by the wrist, dragging him along. Shouting furiously, the horde of vampire-hunters gave chase, but they were – Sanger allowed himself a small smirk – ludicrously slow compared to him.
He only breathed a sigh of relief – not that he really needed to breathe; being a vampire was useful like that – when they were inside the Forest of Grisly and Miserable Deaths. He knew the forest like the back of his hand; the sheriff would never have trapped him in the first place had he not been wandering around in the vampire equivalent of a drunken stupor that night.
"You're so slow," he muttered to the figure staggering behind him.
Lucian gave a sort of grunt in response. Something about his reply seemed slightly out of character to Sanger, but he didn't waste time wondering why.
"Let's get moving," he said instead, making for the hill he knew was nearby.
Lucian nodded; in the darkness, Sanger heard the boy's harsh panting. He took a few steps, but Lucian didn't follow.
Something was definitely wrong. He realized he had been sensing it for some time, but in his still-stuffy state, he had not really registered it until now.
It was the smell of blood.
Sanger whipped around, just in time to see Lucian collapse behind him, an arrow protruding from the small of his back.
At first, Sanger thought they were under attack again; then he realized what had really happened. The injury had probably happened back at the village; Lucian had run all this way with such an injury. Why hadn't he said something?
Because he was Lucian, and as far as Sanger could tell, Lucian had never complained once in his life.
A small part of him felt a touch of guilt for his involvement – but of course, he supposed, it had been inevitable, anyway. It had been silly to think he could stop something happening just by trying to prevent it. Because he had never told Lucian just what he had read when he was evaluating the boy's life expectancy...
Hesitantly, Sanger rolled Lucian over. The boy's eyes were closed, his breathing shallow. Sanger bit his lip. He knew had mere minutes to make the change, if that. Vampires could change live humans into other vampires.
They couldn't do anything for people who were already dead.
The seconds ticked by, but still Sanger did nothing. In his mind, he was replaying the conversation he had had with Lucian, before the stupid boy had been so idiotic as to stupidly steal the stupid, stupid mayor's key ring...
"I don't think I'd like to be a vampire, thanks all the same."
Idiot. Sure immortal life was a bit boring, and blood was a bit disgusting until you got used to it, and the whole murder thing quite frankly made you the object of universal hatred and disgust, but... still! Life as a vampire was better than death as a human, right? Of course it was. It was for the boy's own good, after all. Sanger nodded to himself resolutely and turned back to Lucian.
The boy's expression was peaceful, and he looked, for all the world, as though he were sleeping. Except for the fact that he wasn't breathing. Which meant, in human terms, that he was dead.
Sanger was too late.
This time, he wasn't sure whether the thought was directed at Lucian... or at himself.
"Felix," Sanger snapped, as his brother walked out of the woods. "What, no 'so-glad-to-see-you-long-time-no-see'? What do you want?"
"I saw you yesterday," Felix pointed out. "Anyway, I smelled blood on the wind." He started toward Lucian, but Sanger stepped in front of him before he got a chance.
"Mine," Sanger said defensively.
"Fine, be greedy," his brother said irritably. "You smell like garlic, by the way."
"Yeah, yeah," Sanger muttered. How his brother managed to charm all the girls with that attitude, he would never understand. Sanger bent down, trying to push his earlier thoughts out of his mind. After all, the first rule of being a vampire was never letting good blood go to waste, and Lucian's blood wouldn't remain fresh for long...
"I recognize him now," his brother said, effectively interrupting him. "That's the boy who was hanging around your cell earlier, wasn't it?"
"Do you mind?" Sanger demanded. "I'm trying to eat, here."
"Fine, fine," Felix grumbled. "I'll be at the bottom of the hill. Hurry up though; Gran's been worried sick."
The smell of blood was making Sanger weak and dizzy; Sanger shook his head to clear it. It was silly to put off a good meal, after all. He bent down –
- only to stop again, half an inch from his target, with a taste of something like disgust in his mouth. What was wrong with him? This was ridiculous. The garlic must have done strange things to his brain. He narrowed his eyes and bent toward his meal once more.
Third time lucky, after all...
When he arrived at the bottom of the hill, his brother greeted him, tapping his foot irritably against the ground and looking peeved. "Slow, aren't you?"
His brother regarded him frown marring the unblemished white skin of his forehead. "You're acting awfully funny, Sanger – you're not still upset over that kid from earlier, are you? He was just a human brat."
A heavy pause filled the air; the wind played about the clearing softly.
"Yes," Sanger agreed finally, "he was just a human."
Above them, at the top of the slight crest, moonbeams rained down upon a freshly overturned plot of earth. Near the head of the pile, barely illuminated under the shadow of a tree, a piece of slate that had no-doubt once belonged to a farmer's roof protruded from the ground. If one looked very carefully, one could just barely make out the badly-scrawled words upon the stone: