Let no dreams come along quickly or quietly tonight, for the hours are long and the shadows devour.
“It will be an especially dark night, ladies and gentlemen,” Derry said, his voice crackling as it came through the radio speakers. “So be sure to bolt your doors and windows, and continue listening to one-o-two-point-one for your latest local news.”
Derry’s voice was deep and soothing. Hearing it every night for my whole life as he gave us the weather report, he had gradually become like a prophet to me. He told us what to expect from the hours after dusk. If there was going to be a full-moon and clear skies, I knew that we would get some sleep. If it was overcast, like tonight, we could only expect to hear the Vampires scratching and banging at the walls, scraping at the windows. All the while, we knew that if they ever found a way inside, we would be dead. So far, that had never happened. We continued to be one of the lucky families. Nevertheless, dark nights made me afraid.
But tonight was different. Tonight, for the first time in my life, I was more afraid for dawn to arrive than I was for the night. As I lay down next to my brother and parents that night, hearing the first rattle at the downstairs window, I had to wonder how my best friend Aaron had talked me into his plan. If we both survived the night, we would probably end up dead before noon tomorrow anyway.
As I lay there, I imagined what it would feel like to have death pinning my body. I could imagine it so vividly. As much as my mother had tried to protect me from any sight of what the Vampires left behind, I had seen the corpse of a pig near the road one day. Drained of blood, and stiff with death, it hardly looked like an animal any more. Is that what it would be like for me? I wanted to be prepared, to be resigned to my fate so I would not be afraid anymore. I stayed half awake all night, thinking through every possible outcome I could imagine, but when morning broke over the mountains and the Vampires retreated with the shadows, I felt the opposite of prepared in spite of all the thinking I had done.
Mother was making breakfast. The smell of her special quiche was incredible wafting up from the oven. Eggs were scarce for most families, since the Vampires killed most of the chickens, but we still had three hens, and we took them inside every night to keep them protected.
Mother did not have to turn around to know it was me, a special talent of hers. “Phil,” she said, her voice tired. “Stay away from Pioneer Street today.”
“Who was it?” I asked.
“The Osteranders...I’m sorry, Son, I know that Hannah was a friend of yours,” she wiped her hands on her apron and turned to face me. I realized then that she must have been very pretty once, with her clear blue eyes and pale hair. But stress had lined her face, leaving her looking older than she actually was, and her shoulders were always hunched in a way that made her look defeated.
“How did they get in?”
“I’m not sure. You know how it happens. After they found an opening, the whole house was torn to pieces.” She turned back to the oven.
“Mom, I’m going to meet Aaron. I don’t need any breakfast,” I said.
“At least take an apple,” she said without turning around. She slipped quilted mitts over her hands and pulled open the oven door.
“I love you, mom,” I said...I could never forgive myself if I left without saying it.
She glanced back and smiled, looking younger. “I love you too, Phil.”
I stepped outside. I could see some new scratches on the front of the house and one deep gash on one of the boards that covered an upstairs window. Father would be busy patching that up sometime later, I thought.
Aaron was waiting for me at the edge of town. He was sitting on the curb, but he stood up when he saw me coming. His green eyes were serious behind his glasses and his red hair was disheveled from sleep as usual.
“You ready?” He asked. He looked anxiously up and down the road.
"I brought a flashlight."
picture from http://fantasyfineart.com/olson/art_0.html
We left quickly, hiking up the deserted mountain,
away from town before one of us could convince the other to stay. Taking comfort in the strong sunlight, I tried not to think about where we were headed. No one had gone up the mountain for years now and the dirt road which had once been wide was now grown-over with knapweed and sage.
We passed a few houses on the way. Their doors hung open on frail hinges, windows broken. The gaping doors revealed the torn wallpaper inside, the overturned furniture. On one, a corner of the roof was bent up like the lid of a tin can. The pine forest was growing up around the houses, filling in the places where once there had been gardens. Weeds tangled around foundations, making it seem as though the houses were sinking down into the mesh as the weeds grew higher.
These were the first houses ravaged by the Vampires. The people living there were caught by surprise. They had had no hope of surviving. Their deaths served as a warning to the village that something new and terrible was living above them in the mountains. Since then, I had seen similar destruction in town when someone had left a door unlocked, or open just a crack, and the Vampires, who were always in search of such an invitation, had rushed inside. I still could not understand why, when the Vampires were obviously strong enough to tear a roof up, they were somehow incapable of entering a house without someone “inviting” them inside.
“Why are we doing this?” I whispered, feeling the fingers of fear sliding up my back again.
“You know why we are doing this,” Aaron said, “We went over this yesterday, remember?”
How could I forget yesterday? Aaron had been so serious as he told me his plan. He was a methodical kind of person, so when he came to me, I knew that it was not a plan just flying out of his mouth. He was already decided. That’s how he got me; I could never let him go alone.
“We know a few things,” Aaron had said. “We know that they live in the Sawyers’ farmhouse. We also know that the Vampires sleep through the daylight hours, and that sunlight can be fatal to them...remember the incident with the Barns family.”
I knew the story.
The Barns family had opened their shed one day to find a Vampire trapped inside. Daybreak had apparently caught it by surprise and too far from home to make it back, so it had ducked inside the shed for shelter. The square of light that spilled in from the door apparently touched the skin of the creature, causing it to shriek and writhe. The air filled with black, sooty smoke, and Mr. Barns fled. He did not return until the next day, when he found his barn empty. There was only a black mark on the floor in the same place where the creature had stood. Mr. Barns figured that the Vampire had burned up in the sunlight, but there was no way to prove it, and the fact that Aaron and I were working off of suppositions was something that was making me nervous.
The idea was a simple one: Aaron and I were going to bring sunlight to the Vampires. The Sawyer's farmhouse. That was the place that the Vampires were thought to be living, because it was the house furthest from town and people had seen the creatures retreat up that way. The farmhouse was a large, southern style house with lots of windows. If the Vampires were susceptible to sunlight, then they must have blocked up the windows with something. Aaron thought that if we could pull off whatever was blocking the windows, then we might be able to kill the Vampires for good.
“We’ll pull out their windows like they try to do to us every night.” I had to admit, it did sound fitting.
We were nearing the Sawyers’ farmhouse, and we began to smell the unmistakable stench of Vampires. They had a sharp smell, acrid, like charcoal. It was the smell they left on our walls after every visit.
When we came into full view of the house, we were surprised at what we saw. We were expecting a few planks over the windows, something similar to what we had on our own houses, but that was too much of a human expectation. Instead, there was a mountain of random junk piled all around the house, covering over the walls and windows like some kind of bulging rat’s nest. There were big chunks of aluminum roofing, plastic lawn chairs, bed springs and boxes, cushions and clothing, no doubt taken from the houses of their victims.
Aaron approached the house in shock. “There’s so much!”
“Do you want to go back to town?” I asked hopefully.
He seemed to think about it for a moment, and then he shook his head. “No. We only have today. If we don’t kill them, how long will we have before they get us? It only takes one night, one careless mistake, and we’re dead. I think I can remember where the windows are. We only have to clear away enough to uncover a few of them. It will take some time, but I think we can do it.”
He started climbing up the pile of stuff, hauling himself over a couch and up onto the flat side of a TV. When he had gone far enough, he stopped and looked down at me. “Let’s start here.”
I regretfully followed Aaron and climbed up beside him.
We started throwing things off the pile. Some things were so heavy that it took both of us to just get them unstuck. We worked until we could see a corner of the window. Aaron had put us almost directly in front of it, which was a blessing. The pane of glass was dirty, but I could see that some light was getting through. Aaron spat in his palm and rubbed the glass.
We kept working until the entire window was clear then we moved a few yards across the pile and started all over again. About halfway through the process, we began to hear shuffling noises from inside. It was strangely similar to what we heard every night outside our houses, but different now because it was we who were outside, and they who were trapped inside, their sounds muffled by carpets and insulated walls.
“It’s coming from over there,” Aaron said, pointing to the left. “I’ll go work on that window while you finish this one.”
I wanted to argue that we should stay together, but Aaron was already bravely moving away and I didn’t really want to join him.
There was a big piece of cardboard in the hole in front of me and I yanked it out, expecting to find more stuff behind it, but there wasn’t. The window was immediately and unexpectedly clear, and at once, I heard a bloodcurdling scream from inside the house. A shadow flapped and writhed behind the dirty glass, and then burst into flames. The whole creature exploded in red hot fire, the ridges of flame twining around its body like the coils of a snake.
I yelled. I couldn’t help it. I had never seen anything so terrifying. I scrambled to get away, anywhere away from the window.
Aaron ended up pulling me over to him, and we stood clutching the wall and each other as the screams subsided and the window turned black. The sounds coming from the room next to us became more frantic now that one of their own had died.
“Come on,” Aaron said, gasping a little, but more confident than ever. “We can do this!” he grabbed a piece of metal and threw it behind him.
I would have joined in, but suddenly noticed something that could be a problem. While we had been working, the morning sun had reached the top of the sky and had started to descend. It was creating shadows under the pines that were gradually, but steadily stretching toward us like the fingers of a hand. In fact, one of the shadows was already falling across the back of Aaron’s shoes.
“Come on, Phil!” Aaron screamed at me. “We can kill them! We can kill all of them, once and for all!”
“Aaron…the shadow.” I struggled to explain what I was seeing.
“Hurry up! We’ve almost got them!”
The shadow was well up Aaron’s leg now, and I tried to pull him away, but I was too late.
The thin pile of debris that was between Aaron and the window exploded out and a thin, bony black hand wrapped around my friend and yanked him inside the house.
"Aaron!" I screamed.
I tore at the place where they had taken him, I pulled loose boards and an old chair, cushions and a pile of dresser drawers, trying to clear the window, trying to have one last chance to save my friend and kill the ones who had taken him. If I could not succeed, perhaps I could die with him. How could I live after what I had just seen?
The sun continued to sink in the sky, expanding the shadow, giving me a smaller area to work in. The sounds coming from inside were a nightmare. It sounded like they might be fighting over who would get to start the meal. I could hear Aaron as well. No words could describe the sound that he was making. I comforted myself that he was still alive. If he fell silent, I would be defeated. I worked harder. I could see a windowpane. I shifted a few more things, and yes, there it was, as dirty as all the others had been. I tried to spit, but my mouth was dry. So I rubbed at the glass with my bare hands. I knew that some light was getting through when I heard the creatures’ frantic voices as they jumped back. I could see a glow, some flame where the light had touched on the skin of one of them. It was not enough.
I was frantic now. I would not have much more time if I could not get the window clear soon. The shadow was spreading too fast.
Aaron stopped crying, and my heart stuck in my throat. I just got another pane clear, and had rubbed off the dirt when the shadow finally overcame the window. There was no more time. I had failed. I scooted away and hid my face in my hands, weeping for my lost friend, weeping for myself, weeping for the horror I felt.
I cursed the sun, which had played such a terrible trick on us. I cursed the tree for being so tall. Most of all I cursed the Vampires.
The sun had one more trick to play. As I sat there, angry as hell and wishing for death, the sun passed below a branch of the pine that had been the cause of my sorrow. That gap in the tree was all it took. Strong, unfiltered sunlight poured over the window, and down the hole that Aaron had disappeared into. Screams of agony filled the air, and black smoke poured out of the hole.
I stared at the plume of smoke. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
Aaron was not out of danger. With the Vampires creating an inferno of smoke and flames all around him, even if he was still alive, he could still die with them. I slid frantically down the rubbish pile and stumbled to the front door. It was the only way in. Still clear of debris because it was the entry and exit point for the Vampires. Busting in, I saw the flames ahead. I saw my friend lying on the floor, face down, and that was all I needed. I ran over to him and knelt. I was reaching around him to pick him up when I heard a unearthly hiss in my ear. It was enough to make me fall on the floor. Looking up, I saw the creature. For the first time, after all these nights, I looked into the eyes of my enemy, and what I saw there could turn a black man white. It was clinging to the ceiling in the corner of the room, hands spread, claws tearing holes in the drywall as it shifted and squirmed, screaming at me with a thin mouth full of sharp, pointed yellow teeth. Its black, bald face and head was completely focused towards us, with pale green eyes flung wide in wild excitement. It clattered back and forth from one wall to the other. It broke a sconce light and the glass fell to the floor. The creature lunged out at us with its hands only to shrink back into its corner. It seemed to want to come after me, attack me, but for some reason, couldn't come near. It was then that I realized that Aaron and I were both sitting in a pale square of light in the middle of the floor. The vampire was trapped in its corner. Both doors, in and out would require him to pass through the dim square, and since it couldn't do that, it was caged.
I knew I had to act quickly before the sun went away, or I would be dinner to this one, lone Vampire, who was still more than a match for me. Aaron no longer had his flashlight. It must have fallen into the pile sometime while we were working outside. Cursing my bad luck, I looked around quickly, scanning the room for anything that could be used to make light. The room was empty, except for the shards of glass from the broken sconce light. And those were, unfortunately, directly underneath the creature. I had no choice. I had to get that glass, if only to defend myself against the vampire if the light should fade. Thinking fast, I tore off one of Aaron's shoes and threw it with force at the Vampire, then scrambled across the floor to grab the biggest piece of glass that I saw. As I jumped back towards the light-square, I felt the wing of the creature brush down my back, and all my hairs stood on end. It was a narrow miss.
Protected by the light once again, I turned back to face the creature, the glass shard at the ready in my hand in case it had followed me. As I did so, the glass caught the light and reflected it straight into the chest of the horrified creature. There was a sputter as its skin caught fire, and then I had to dive my head under my sleeve because the heat that was emanating from the Vampire was scorching. I didn't wait, but pulled Aaron onto my back and ran back through the front door and into the yard. I continued running until I was partway down the mountain and had no more strength.
Aaron was limp as I laid him on the ground near the side of the road. He was pale, and his glasses were black with soot. I held his wrist for a pulse and I nearly fell over with relief when I felt the weak rhythm under my fingers. He was still alive! He was knocked out, but he was still the same person I remembered. Laughing in pure joy, I lifted him, my strength restored, and started walking the rest of the way back to town.
It was almost nightfall and the sun was about to set, but I took my time getting home—enjoying, for the first time, the beauty of the evening. Aaron seemed to be getting better, even if his cheeks were pale. He woke up a little, and struggled, but I told him to quit, that we were safe, and that he should rest. I would take him home.
"Phil?" Aaron said, his voice weak. "I feel so cold."
"Its ok. We are almost home. I'll tell your mom to get a blanket."
"No. That's not what I mean..."
I looked sideways at his face and saw that he had fallen unconscious. There was a little trickle of blood where his neck was resting on my shoulder but I didn't worry too much. The doctor would gladly fix him up when he found out that the two of us had single handedly rid the town of Vampires.