You want a story? Let me tell you a story.
Last August, five things happened to me:
1) I turned 18. This is important later.
2) I started my senior year of high school as a social pariah.
3) My parents got divorced, and my mom kicked my dad out of the house and let her personal trainer, Chuck, move in.
4) My grandpa died.
5) He left me a vampire-slaying kit.
Well. Kind of. That’s all jumbled up, but I’ll break it down in a minute.
Let’s start with me turning 18. When you’re born in August, before you can enter school in most places you have to take a test – are you smart enough to enter when you’re a year younger than everyone else, or are you dumb enough that you end up a year older than everyone else?
Ultimately, I fell into the dumb category, although the test I failed had more to do with me being clumsy than anything else. When I cried and told my mother that I didn’t get to go to school because I was stupid, she told me that the only reason I hadn’t gotten in was my lack of coordination.
I’m sure she chose to dumb that statement down to something I could understand.
In essence, I didn’t get into school because I couldn’t stand on one foot. That’s what held me back.
I know, right? The girl who can’t stand on one foot gets a vampire-slaying kit. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to make a TV show out of my life.
As far as the divorce goes, that had its own complications. My mom is a lawyer, so she talked to a couple of guys in her firm and got all her papers in a row, and bam, my dad’s out the door and living in an apartment, and trying to find a job.
Which sucked for him, because he let my mom work high-powered lawyer hours while he did the stay-at-home thing. Man has a college education and no work experience, unless he wants to open a daddy day care.
Which I’m guessing he didn’t. I don’t know. Haven’t talked to him recently. Been preoccupied.
But you know that.
Then there was my grandpa dying. People always ask you, when someone dies in your family: Were you close? What do you say to that? “Nah? Didn’t like him very much? Glad he’s gone?”
The real answer is, I was close with my grandpa before he started to get old. I mean, actually got old. From walking to wheelchair, deaf, can’t remember anything, muscles all loose so he can’t talk old.
I loved my grandpa. I did. But that was hard to watch, and I wasn’t ready for it. You know how they always say, “Oh, it was a blessing,” when someone like that dies?
I think it was, for him. Whatever’s next after this life, wherever he went had to be better than to be trapped in that body while it fell apart on him.
I said he gave me a vampire slaying kit, but that’s not true. Or rather, it is and it isn’t.
He was my mom’s dad, and she didn’t need the house, or anything in it. She went in, took some pictures and a few things she remembered from when she was a girl. Told me I could go in there and take whatever I wanted.
So one day last summer, I went through the whole house. All of it.
Took the candy dish he had. He always used to keep jellybeans in there. I wasn’t much of a fan of jellybeans, but I’d always have a few when I was there.
It was like candy corn at Halloween. No one really likes the stuff, but you have to have a piece or two to make the season feel right. You know?
Maybe you don’t know.
Mom already had the pictures, so I figured that was pretty much it for stuff I needed. And then I got to the coat closet.
That was one place I always loved in grandpa’s house. I don’t know what it was, maybe an old leather coat, maybe a set of boots, but I loved the way that closet smelled. I used to go in there when I was little and close the door, and just sit.
So that’s what I did. Just for a minute or two. Or that was the plan. What happened was, I was tired and needed a nap and I took one, and when I woke up all the light from outside was gone and there I was, sitting in my dead grandpa’s dark, dark, dark closet.
So I fumbled around, but I couldn’t find the doorknob. Don’t know how that happened. So I reached for the pull chain for the light, and it came on, and I realized that the reason I couldn’t find the doorknob was that I was all turned around and facing the back of the closet.
And what do you know? There’s a little wooden panel back there. Never saw it as a kid.
So I pulled at it, and there’s this glossy black box inside.
I pick up the box, and step out of the closet. The thing looked like something you’d stick jewelry into, only it was a little bit too big, and way too heavy.
I figured I’d found the family jewels or something, so I cracked it open. Didn’t even notice the big silver cross on the top of the box at first.
What’s inside? Stakes. Wooden stakes. Five of the things, all sharp and pointed. And a bunch of little crosses on necklaces. And some vials of water. Holy water, I would guess.
And this little pistol thing. With two hammers, and some powder, and a leather bag with these little balls I found out later were pure silver. Worth a few bucks. More than a few.
Now I ask you – what do you do with something like that? Sell it? Keep it? Hide it back in the closet to freak out the people who buy the house?
I know what you don’t do. You don’t tell your mom, or your dad, or anyone. Especially if you take it out of the house and stick it in your trunk.
I do recommend you go back into the closet and see if there’s anything else in that little cubbyhole, though. I thought maybe there’d be more stuff, or a letter explaining that we were part of a long line of vampire slayers, or maybe a letter from Joss Whedon, that guy who created “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
I mean, there was a note, but all it said was:
THEY’RE REAL. FIGHT THEM.
So that was the start of August.
Then came the end of August, and the accident.
There’s a whole lot of stuff that went into that. Let me try to get all the details in order.
Okay, so, parents are divorced. Grandpa is dead. I’ve got a vampire slaying kit.
Chuck’s car breaks down.
Chuck, you’ll remember, was my mom’s boy-toy. I suppose it’s mean to call him that, but I didn’t ask for him to be part of my life and he didn’t pretend he was part of mine. My mom started working out a couple of years ago to “help her deal with some stress.” She said it was cheaper than riding the leather couch.
Yeah, I know how that sounds.
At any rate, Chuck was a personal trainer, which I guess means he had a lot of free time. He’d go into the gym where he worked a few hours a week and do training stuff. I guess. Like I said, I didn’t want to know anything about him.
So one day I’m sitting at home, doing nothing, because my best friend is out of the country and I’m what you call “shy” when you’re under the age of five and “someone who suffers social phobias” when you get over the age of five.
And here comes Chuck. His car is in the shop, and he needs a ride to pick it up. The conversation went like this.
Him: “I’ll give you twenty bucks to take me.”
Me: “We don’t talk.”
And I drive him over, in my used-but-not-too-used car, which is one of the perks of being the daughter of a high-powered lawyer.
That’s where we ran into Lindsey.
How to describe Lindsey? Imagine that you have a best friend when you’re in grade school. You have brown hair, she has red. You’re both kind of cute.
Then you hit the fifth grade, and suddenly she’s cute, and you’re, you know, Lucy. And then in middle school, she’s hot, and you’re, you know, Lucy.
Then high school… you get the idea.
That’s the long way of saying that we grew apart, and started running in different social circles. I can’t believe I talk like that sometimes.
At any rate, we weren’t friends, and we didn’t hang. And didn’t try. And then, I’m sitting around waiting to find out if Chuck can take his car home or what, and here comes Lindsey, and she says, “What are you doing Friday?”
I looked up at her. There wasn’t anyone else there, so I knew she was talking to me, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that happened to me usually. So I totally forgot that Friday was my birthday, and that I was figuring I’d be getting together with my dad, and I said, “Nothing.”
“My parents are out of town, so it’s party central at my house. You should come,” said Lindsey.
I tried not to look incredulous. “Yeah. Maybe.”
“Bring your friend,” said Lindsey, and she looked over at Chuck, and everything snapped into place. She wasn’t really inviting me, she was inviting my hot boyfriend by proxy.
Which in retrospect seems really awful. But it’s high school. People do that. And I wasn’t really going to go anyway, so what did it matter?
I sort of nodded my head, but the person who was changing Lindsey’s oil came out then with a bill and a little oil on his face and probably six-pack abs, so I didn’t exist to Lindsey any more.
Which was fine.
Until Friday, when it wasn’t fine any more. Because my mom left a note on the table that she and Chuck were going out that night, and to get myself pizza or Chinese.
And then my dad didn’t call to take me out on my birthday, or at all. So I finally called him at like eight at night, and we talked, but he didn’t remember what day it was and for some reason I didn’t want to have to tell him that his only child was turning into a legal adult because that seemed like something a kid would do.
So I got in my car around ten and went to Lindsey’s place.
When I rang the doorbell, the party was in full swing. I bumped into Lindsey almost immediately, and when she asked about “the new boyfriend” I told her that Chuck was actually mom’s new boyfriend.
Then I headed to the kitchen and grabbed a cup of what I thought was punch.
At first, the drink I was holding was just something to do with my hands as I walked from room to room.
As the night wore on, it was more like a lifeline.
The more I felt out of place, the more I drank. The more I drank, the more I felt out of place.
Finally, around one, I realized that I hated being with people who were basically strangers even more than I hated being alone, and I decided to head home. And since no one knew I was there (outside of Lindsey, who was walking around playing hostess) no one thought to see whether or not I needed a ride.
I got into my car, feeling a little dizzy. I started driving, and I realized after three or four blocks that I had already taken a wrong turn, that there was something in the punch from the booze family, that I was drunk, and that I was lost, despite having been at the party five minutes ago.
Most vampire stories start here – with the helpful stranger, or the dangerous creepy guy in the shadows.
This isn’t that kind of story.
I opened a window and sucked in some of the night air to clear my head. I thought about what I was doing, and because I was kind of drunk and also mad and a little stupid, I went, oh, I’m fine, I’ll be okay.
Then there’s a blank spot, where I crashed my car into a telephone pole.
Lucky for me, no one was hurt. I got a couple of days in the hospital while they watched me and waited to see if something was wrong with me, and then I got a court date and permission to go home.
Then school started again.
When I got up for the first day, I didn’t go right to school. I had this internship at a local printing press, where I was doing basic print jobs at less than minimum wage in order to prepare myself for my eventual career in graphic arts.
Did I mention my car was totaled, so I had to get up super-early so I could take a bus?
In the afternoon, I headed back to school, where I had two art classes, one English course, and a computer programming class I was taking because someone in administration had filed it under “math,” and I needed to raise my math GPA or suffer the perils of community college.
That kind of thing was important to me then. I wanted to get away from my life, and an out-of-state college seemed like the best way to do that.
I’ve never been the chatty type at school, generally opting to speak only when spoken to. Which might explain why I only had one good friend.
So it took me a while to realize that no one was speaking to me, and that no one was going to speak to me for a long time.
My misadventure in the car had been tracked back to the party, still fully in motion at 3 AM. The cops had shown up en masse, and nearly everyone there had been taken into custody.
A lot of parents got a phone call that night, and the punishments had been handed down harshly, as though from an angry Greek god.
I had, with one drunken driving episode, turned almost every member of the senior class against me.
Did I care? Sure, then. But now? Let me have those problems again, please.
I guess I should stop acting like none of what happened to me affects me now. It does, but in a weird way that I’ll explain in a bit. There was one part that I thought was going to kill me at the time. Losing my best friend.
I guess I should talk about that.
There’s not a strong criminal element at my former high school.
Some places have gangs, or bullies, or whatever, that make some classmates vanish for days or weeks or months or semesters at a time, but my school doesn’t have any of that.
What we do have is a lot of people who, like me, are living at well above the poverty line. And if eighteen years of spinning around on a big blue ball have taught me anything, it’s this: Kids who don’t need to lie, cheat, or steal to get what they want still will lie, cheat and steal to get what they want.
And when you’re a kid whose parents have money, you don’t usually end up in jail. Or juvenile detention.
You get community service.
What always bugged me about kids who got community service was the fact that they would whine just as much as I imagine kids who go to jail do. Instead of spending a few months locked up, they would have to spend a few nights and weekends helping people, and more often than not the kid in question would act like they were being forced to do hard time.
I mean, for me, I had the option of community service or going to jail. So trust me, I’d much, much, much rather do something good for people than sit in a cell where people can watch me use the toilet.
Driving drunk in my state is a big deal, especially underage. Usually, your license is gone until you’re 21. If you’re lucky. If you’re REAL lucky.
But I guess the judge bought my totally true story about not knowing that the punch was spiked. Even though I’m sure he gets that one all the time.
At any rate, my punishment was handed out thusly:
I lost my license for a year.
And I was assigned four months of community service.
All of this happened incredibly quickly. My mom might not be great at maintaining relationships, but she knows a lot of excellent lawyers.
But a driver’s license? That’s nothing. That’s not as bad as what came next.
Becca had received special dispensation from the school district to start the school year a little late, because she was off with her family in Italy on what they called an “Educational Journey.” The first week of school was actually the first two days of school – a Thursday and a Friday – and Becca, a valedictorian-to-be, would have no problem missing the first couple of days and starting on Monday.
I guess you’d think that getting into a drunken driving accident would be the sort of thing to upset my parents, but mostly they blamed each other.
My dad thought that the divorce had taken a toll on me and suggested family counseling, and my mother, who had decided she wasn’t interested in counseling during the divorce period, said that I had been given too much freedom.
So she took away my phone privileges and called it a day.
That meant I couldn’t call Becca in Italy. And I couldn’t call her Sunday night when she got home.
And it also meant that by the time I saw her on Monday afternoon, she was already not speaking to me.
At first I didn’t realize I was being ignored. Thanks to the city bus dragging me from internship to school at limping speed, I was late getting to class, and Becca was in place and taking notes when I walked in.
Then I thought maybe she didn’t see me when she walked out the door the moment the bell rang.
Then I noticed that I couldn’t catch up to her in the hallway, because she was walking too fast.
Then I noticed that even when I called her name, she wasn’t acknowledging me.
And then I finally caught up to her, walking away from school at breakneck speed after the final bell. I called to her, and when she didn’t hear me, I ran until I was in step with her.
“How was your trip?”
“What all did you see? Did you go on those boats in that one city, or-”
Becca turned to me. “I am not speaking to you. I was hoping you would realize that, but you don’t. So I’m telling you not to talk to me.”
“I-” I began. But she was already walking away from me. So I shouted, “Why?”
Becca turned and looked back at me, her face twisted into a grimace, her eyes glassy. I waited for words, but none came. She turned away from me and continued power-walking away while I stood there, hurt and confused and angry.
And then it slapped me in the face.
One week before we started high school, Becca confided to me that she had been having, “Like, this dream…”
In the dream, she met a brown-haired boy with totally sky-blue eyes who was the love of her life. Becca, being the artist type, even made a sketch of him using her colored pencils so I could see what he looked like.
And then, on the first day of high school, there he was. His name was James and he was brown-haired and blue-eyed and he was the love of Becca’s life.
James and Becca became, like, one person almost immediately, even though he was a junior and she a freshman. They did everything together, and went everywhere together, and neither of their parents had any problem with that, because they were both freaky-responsible. Top of their class, lots of college-impressing extracurricular activities, no pregnancies.
When James hit the end of his senior year and went away to college, no one even blinked when a reasonably priced engagement ring appeared.
And things were perfect, until James got in his car and started driving home for Christmas break that year.
There was a police report, but the important words in it were, “drunk driver,” “opposite direction,” “same lane,” and “killed instantly.”
At the funeral, I held Becca while snot and tears and grief ran down her face so hard I forgot to cry.
For a long time afterwards, she wouldn’t talk about what happened. Sometimes we did things, and sometimes we didn’t do anything at all except sit there.
And then one day she was ready to say what she had to say, and it was this: “If you ever drink and drive, you are dead to me.”
As I remembered all of this, I could feel my lungs collapse inside me. I fell down on the grass and bawled.
Kids aged seventeen-and-364-days are under a different set of rules than “kids” aged seventeen-and-365-days. And we all know where I fall. Birthday, remember?
It blew my mind when I found a copy of my judgment on the mail pile at my house, including information about when and where I was supposed to report for my community service.
Specifically, 8 PM to 11 PM Monday through Saturday at one of the local homeless shelters.
State law designates that kids can’t work past 9 PM on a school night. Every kid who ever decided to do something stupid knows that.
But like I said – I wasn’t a kid.
Still, the hours were unusual.
I hopped online to find out more about the Sundown Shelter.
It seems that the Sundown Shelter had an ominous moniker for a very specific reason. Back when I was in Girl Scouts, we used to volunteer at shelters all the time, and most of them were, in the words of my troop leader, “Three hots and a cot.”
That’s not how Sundown works. Instead, it opens up every night at eight PM and closes again every morning at nine AM. This was according to their Website, which also boasted an address and phone number, both of which I already had on my papers.
I should amend that “opens and closes” to “opened and closed.” The place is gone now.
Still curious about the place I would be spending most of my nights for the next few months, I threw Sundown Shelter into a search engine to see what I could see. Not much. A couple of places that listed the addresses of local shelters. One in particular was interesting, because it allowed people to make comments, which ranged from, “Clean shelter, friendly staff. Recommend!” to “Don’t go there if you’re hungry, they don’t have food,” to “One of the volunteerz was totally hawt!”
I clicked around a bit more, looking for information and putting off calling Sundown and figuring out what day I should show up.
After something like an hour of poking around, checking email, and trying new and exciting search engines, I sighed, picked up the phone, and called the number.
There was no answer.
I glanced at the clock on the computer monitor and saw that it was six PM. I knew the shelter didn’t open until eight, but I figured someone had to be there. A janitor. A volunteer.
Uh-uh. Not even voice mail, or an answering machine.
I hung up the phone and dialed a second time, certain that I’d hit a bad digit. Then my mother walked in. I could tell by the look on her face that I was doing something wrong.
I cocked an eyebrow.
“I believe I removed your phone privileges.”
I looked at the receiver in my hand for a moment. Then I held up my paperwork. “Community service.”
“Oh.” My mom paused for a moment. “When do you start?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out, but no one is answering.”
Chuck appeared in the doorway behind my mother. For the first time, I noticed that my mom was more dressed up than usual. Her impeccable business suit had been replaced by an impeccable (and also tiny) dress that I didn’t recognize. Chuck had upgraded from whatever a trainer wears when he goes out to whatever a trainer wears when he wants to go out in style.
“We about ready?” he said.
My mother ran her tongue over her teeth – her thinking face – and looked at me. “You know what? It’s Friday night. You should just head over there tonight and introduce yourself. Maybe you can get some of your hours knocked off for good behavior.”
I considered defying her. Calling her bluff, telling her that I knew she was hoping I’d be gone when she and Chuck got back from an incredibly expensive night so they could have the house to themselves for an hour. When really, all they needed was five minutes. Tops.
Instead, I sighed, and told my mom I’d figure out what the bus schedule was, and that I would see her later.
And so, two book chapters, some Googling, one reheated Chinese take-out dinner and a bus ride later, I found myself in front of Sundown Shelter.
Dusk had arrived, casting the street into various shades of black and grey and street-light orange.
Sundown sat in front of me, squat on the pavement, part of a series of shops and storefronts with large windows and merchandise artfully backlit in hopes that you’d come back to buy it at a more normal hour. Sundown’s windows, by contrast, were dark, as though thick curtains had been pulled over them.
I knocked on the door, though I was sure it was open, being a shelter.
I stood for a minute, taking in my surroundings, and was just about to try the knob when the door swung open on well-oiled hinges.
That’s how I met my very first vampire.
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