Bending Nature: a new kind of vampire novel
I never thought vampires would exist, let alone be from another planet.
-From Julie Sparks' recovered diary.
It happened again. I rushed to the bathroom to finish getting ready for work, only to find the door locked. In it, my brother was doing God knows what. I pounded on the door.
"Get out already."
He didn’t answer, so I stomped into the kitchen, finding Mom standing by one of the marble counters sipping her coffee. She looked amazing as always. Young guys must have agreed because they often gawked at her. Yes, it annoyed me. I mean, not because they weren’t staring at me. Heck, I was used to that. But they were checking out my mom—my mom!
I stared at her. "Can you please tell Jimmy to get out of the bathroom?"
"What's the rush?"
I rolled my eyes. Why tell her when she didn’t understand my fascination with Michael? By arriving early, I could spend time with him before my shift started. My mom wouldn't care about that.
I rushed back to the bathroom door and considered kicking it down so I could grab Jimmy by the ears. No matter how tempting, I couldn’t bring myself to do that because my little brother was lovable, just not then.
Waiting for him to finish combing his hair, or whatever he was doing, I rubbed a finger along my dad’s photo that hung in the hallway. My mother had snapped that photo right before we’d found out he had cancer, when he still looked strong, when he’d still been able to paint. He was an artist like me. I wondered if he missed me as much as I missed him. Memories of his horrible death flashed in my mind. I shook the thoughts away.
Prior to his death, he’d looked at me and had said, "Julie, be happy. When your time comes, I want you to be able to look back on your life and say, ‘I found happiness.’ Promise me you will find a way to be happy when I’m gone."
I frowned at his picture. How would I find happiness? I had only two good friends. Well, then there was Charlie, who was probably just friendly because we worked together.
The rattling of the lock and doorknob pulled me from my thoughts. Finally, the brat opened the door.
"About time, turd.”
He stuck out his tongue, squishing up his freckled face.
“Nice hair, dude.”
“Whatever, I combed it,” he said and vanished around the corner.
He could make me so angry sometimes, but I guessed that was what brothers did. I loved him, though. He was my little Jimmy, and no one else was allowed to mess with him.
I ran a brush through my hair. My best friend, Tiff, had said I looked good as a dirty-blond, to which I’d responded, "I’m not dirty." But why didn’t my curls bounce like the hair in the commercials? I had the sudden urge to dye it, not that it would’ve added the springiness I was after, but whatever.
Limited on time, I rushed through my routine. Makeup, check. Brushed teeth, check. Somewhat presentable hair, check. Bra, check.
Hey, this one time I had forgotten to slip on a bra before pulling on my thin hoody, a total mistake on a cold day. Yeah, not a good day, and one I tried hard not to repeat.
After finishing with the bathroom, I kissed my mom on the forehead. "Bye."
"Hey, wait. When did you get this sweater?" she asked.
"Bought it. You know, with the money I make at the museum?"
She rubbed it between her fingers. "Cashmere, nice."
Was she purposely trying to keep me from seeing Michael?
"You’re growing up so fast," she said.
"I’m only seventeen."
"Believe me, the next thing you know, you’ll be thirty going on forty. Enjoy your youth, honey. It goes by fast."
Enjoy my youth? I think she forgot how hard it was being young, or maybe her teen years had been trouble-free. Well, I had troubles. I didn’t know what seventeen-year-old girl didn’t have troubles. After all, seventeen represented the end of another chapter in life—perhaps the most significant one. Once eighteen, I would probably go to college, have to live on campus, away from home, meet new friends, learn to function as an adult in the Big World, and hope it wouldn’t devour me. Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but I was kind of scared. I freaked out when I thought about what I was going to do with my life and how I was going to care for myself.
I didn’t want to think about that. When I turned to leave, my mom stared at me in an all too familiar way, a look she would get when she was about to cry.
Don’t do this now.
"You look so much like your dad." She brushed her fingers through my hair.
"I gotta go, Mom."
I turned around and walked out the front door. Behind suburban homes, the setting sun turned rooftops into hazy silhouettes. I pulled my long sleeves over my hands, trying not to dwell on Dad, pushing aside how much I missed him. I even missed the stupid things he did, like telling me I would never find a boyfriend if I spent all my spare time reading, or how he had swiped paint on my forehead when I’d bothered him while he was painting. The silly things parents do aren't missed until something lame steals them away. If I didn't stop dwelling on him too deeply, I would cry. People at work would see my puffy eyes and ask what was wrong. No thanks.
My therapist had said crying was healthy and that I’d made a lot of progress over the last few months, but that I still needed to find my place in the world. The other day she’d said, "You don’t have to impress anyone to fit in. Just be you, Julie Sparks."
Easy for her to say.
After walking to the museum, I strode through the large glass doors that led into the main exhibit, a room so vast it would take stacking ten people atop each other to reach the ceiling. Paintings hung on the maroon walls, each masterful work of art lit by its own set of lamps. As always, Michael stood in the center of the room where lights shone down on him. His reflection was obscured in the dark marble floor.
He resembled an angel. Under the warm lights illuminating Michael, I stroked the smooth stone of his muscular chest. When I visited Michael, I would often sit by his feet and daydream, basking in his presence. It was the one place I felt like I belonged, the one place I didn’t feel like a weirdo. People just didn’t understand me.
This one time I had told Tiff that I believed it would be possible to walk on water if we only understood how, or that I would be able to shapeshift if I just understood how. She had laughed. I’d also sworn to her that when I focused hard enough, I could feel Michael’s presence as if he were something supernatural. I'm sure I had sounded crazy. Even Tiff thought I was a little freaky.
When I focused on Michael’s presence again, it made me feel safe and wanted, truly wanted. But since it was time to work, I regretfully stepped back to get one last glance at his outstretched wings.
Charlie, a really cute guy, walked in front of me, blocking my view. He styled his light-brown hair in messy spikes. His strong jaw complemented his hypnotic blue eyes. Unlike most of the football jocks at school, Charlie was the kind of person to hold a door open for you, help you out if you dropped your books, or listen to you when you needed to vent.
"Still spending time with ‘lover boy’?"
My cheeks burned. "Hey, shuddap," I said behind a smile.
"Something strange about that statue," Charlie said. "I swear it attracts so many people, especially chicks."
I crossed my arms. "Chicks?"
"You know, ladies?"
I punched him in the shoulder. "You’re such a goof."
He smiled. "At least I don’t have the hots for a statue."
I didn’t have the hots for Michael. Well, okay, maybe a little, if he were real.
Charlie, in his tight jeans, strolled toward the left-wing hallway. Because one of Michael’s bat-like wings blocked my view, I leaned out to glance at Charlie’s butt. I didn’t make a habit out of checking out guys' back sides, but, well, he looked damn sexy. When he glanced over his shoulder and caught me, I blushed and quickly stared at the ground, ashamed.
God, I’m so dumb. Why did I let him catch me? Maybe he didn’t actually realize I was checking out his butt.
He raised his voice so I could hear him but kept walking. "Is it as nice as Michael’s?"
I cringed. Damn! I guess he did know.
"What?" I yelled, my hands balled into fists.
I never checked out Michael’s butt. He was a statue. Fine, I admit it; Charlie embarrassed me because I had . . . peeked once or twice at the naked statue’s rear end. Besides, I was seventeen and my hormones were probably going crazy. Five years before, I had never even thought about guys' butts, and now I got caught checking out Charlie’s.
Waving his arm in the air, he didn’t look back. Before disappearing into the left-wing hallway, he pointed at his butt, as if to say, I know you were checking this out. Charlie was always silly like that. I smiled and my cheeks no longer felt as hot.
Once Charlie disappeared from sight, I looked at Michael again.
Because of Michael's pointy wings, some argued that he was a demon. I always huffed at that, retorting he was too beautiful to be a demon. He was shiny stone, like marble, but without all the dark lines—without all the imperfections. He had a muscular yet thin body. Sorrow filled his beautiful eyes, his posture one of defeat, yet his wings spread with power.
No one knew where the young Michael came from. The old man who had donated the statue a year ago didn’t give us any personal information. No one had seen him since.
Some people thought I was a little crazy for admiring Michael the way I did. But there was something about him. He drew me in. At times, I talked to him when all alone, a crazy-sounding thing to do, but it felt like he could hear me, like he sensed me or something. Anyway, I wasn’t the only one who sensed it.
Even Charlie admitted the statue captivated him.
Once again, I had admired Michael for too long. This time, however, I actually got to work.
By most people’s standards my job was lame, but I enjoyed being a docent. My job was to interact with the visitors, answering any questions they had about our art. I had been studying art since I was fourteen, so naturally, I enjoyed it—I guess I was sort of a nerd that way. Not surprisingly, what I enjoyed most was answering questions about Michael.
Everyone agreed that when Michael had arrived, the atmosphere had tangibly changed. An unrelenting force had filled the halls, mysterious and magnetic, a force that left little doubt in my mind of its inherent goodness.
The night flew by. When my shift ended, and as I walked past Michael, the sound of a door creaking open echoed through the hall. It sounded as though it had come from Michael, but it had probably been my imagination. I paid it no further attention and glanced around to make sure no one else was in the room. Everyone had gone home but Frank and me, and Frank was probably in the back blasting his lame music. So, because I was by myself, I sort of skip-walked toward the front doors. Before I reached them, though, three men in black suits entered the museum.
One of them held a black duffle bag. Even with the suit on, I could tell he was well built, and for an older guy, he was pretty good looking. Flirting with him crossed my mind. Just harmless flirting, like smiling at him, yet I was too shy for even that.
Like out of place foreigners, they paused and studied the room. Then their eyes fixed on me.
The one in the middle said, "We’re here to take the statue."
Okay, I no longer wanted to flirt with the bastard trying to steal Michael.
No one was scheduled to take the statue. Everyone who worked there knew how I felt about Michael, and they would have told me.
Marching past me, they advanced toward the statue. The one in the middle laid down his duffle bag next to Michael, opened it, and drew out a black rope with clips on the end. It was the same rope that rock climbers use. At least it looked like the ropes I used when rock climbing last summer, or tried to, anyway.
After the man in the middle handed the rope to the other men, they looped it around Michael.
They couldn’t do this. They needed permission. "I’m going to get the manager," I said.
The one I assumed to be the leader casually approached me. "Can’t let you do that."
Keeping a straight face, he backhanded me. I slumped to the floor like a limp doll. Dazed, I looked up at him. I had never been hit that hard before. Come to think of it, I had never been hit before, except that one time playing volleyball.
Eyes filling with tears, I screamed, hoping the manager would hear me. The leader’s evil presence became more apparent as it overshadowed the peacefulness and warmth of Michael’s presence, like black seeping into white, creating shades of gray that darkened with each pass. I thought about the leader being evil blackness, hiding behind a good-looking mask. If I were only strong enough to hurt him, to stop him . . . Please, God, help me.
The leader gripped my hair, dragging me toward Michael. The smell of his manly musk disgusted me. In attempt to break free, I kicked, squirmed, and clawed at his wrist, ignoring the pain on my scalp, but then he caused more pain by digging his fingers into my arm. We both stopped struggling upon hearing the creaking sound again, louder this time. The men glanced around as if looking for the source.
The leader released my hair, relieving my tender scalp from the burning pain. When he headed for Michael, I scuttled back, crab-walking, not stopping until I was as far from the creep as possible. With my feet, I pushed myself against the wall. Then, trying to shrink, I pulled my knees to my chest and hugged them. I just wanted to sit there and cry and pretend none of this was happening. My heart raced. What do I do? I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think straight.
A popping sound echoed through the room, and the men stepped away from the statue, staring at it as if waiting for it to move. With a thunderous sound, a large crack appeared on Michael’s chest and spread down his legs and across his arms. Pieces of stone crumbled to the ground, revealing a pale boy. Dust rose. He flapped his massive wings, and the remaining pieces of stone crashed against the marble floor. The wind created by the fluttering of his wings rippled through my hair.
My heart thumped so hard I thought I might die. This couldn’t be happening. Must be a dream. Wake up, Julie. I had no idea what in the hell to do. My thoughts seemed to overlap, telling me to run, scream, cry, but I sat unmoving, as if I had become the statue. What on earth just happened?
The three men stared like pigeons looking up at a shotgun barrel, sensing danger but still wondering, hey, what's that? I must have shared their expression because, though a statue had burst to life, I didn't sprint for the doors.
Michael crouched and glared at the leader, revealing his sharp, angry fangs. I flinched. He catapulted from the floor, his movement a blur. The next thing I knew, Michael was on top of the leader, with wings outstretched, arching over the scared little man. He sank his devil fangs into the man’s throat.
Through my tears, I cried out, "Oh. . .God." I struggled to keep my lunch down.
After another blur of movement, the second man was flung ten yards, smashing headfirst into a painting on the wall. It made the sound of a hammer striking a coconut. My stomach turned upon seeing the blood splattering against the wall and painting.
The leader sprinted for the front doors, realizing what the shotgun did to his pigeon friends. In a flash, Michael was behind the man, tearing into his neck. The leader squirmed in the arms of the devil man, kicked, twitched, and finally went limp. Michael faced me and glanced up from his crouched position, his shiny eyes catching my fearful ones. As if ashamed, he dropped the body, looked away, and with his forearm wiped the blood from his mouth.
Was I next? None of this seemed real. I surveyed the room. I was in the middle of it, where peaceful Michael had once stood under lamps. A hallway stretched on either side of me, but they were no closer than the front doors, where Michael stood. Even if I tried, I wouldn’t make it to either hallway before he sank those scary fangs into my tender neck. I was the remaining pigeon, the practically retarded one who would have tried to eat the gun that had blasted her friends to bits.
Because Michael turned completely around, I could only see his backside. He stretched his wings out as a man stretches his arms after a long day of work. Afterward, he tucked them close to his body. Then the strangest thing happened: his wings shrank, retracting into his back, under his shoulder blades, and completely vanished. His back was smooth now, very human-like. I didn’t remember moving, but I was now on my knees, my hands trembling at my sides. The thought of running crossed my mind again, but I didn’t know where to go.
Slowly, he twisted around to face me. Our eyes locked. From this distance, his eyes looked like dark shadows with a hint of a shine in them. They reminded me of how a cat’s eyes look in the dark when light hits them just right. Hair black, long, and draped down the sides of his face, he looked like a sexy anime character, a sexy, evil anime character who transforms into a demon and slaughters humans.
My eyes traced down his slim yet well-built body. I must have been in shock, horrified--something--because it wasn’t until that moment that I realized he was naked. If he didn't look like a young man, I wouldn't have blushed and looked away. When I glanced back up at him, he dropped his head, abashed, and fled out the front doors, leaving behind a long-streaked blur.
Without thought, I lunged forward, my arm extended, reaching for him. I wanted to say something, tell him to wait, but he was gone.
Belatedly, I realized the insanity of my behavior. Why did I want him to stay? He just murdered three people, and I wanted to. . .talk with him?
"Shock. That must be it," I said to myself.
I took a moment to survey the damage, wondering that my manager, Frank, didn’t hear the earlier commotion. I didn’t know what to do. Call the police? Get Frank? "You see, officer, the statue came to life, and—" I said to myself. They’ll think I’m nuts.
So I did what any seventeen-year-old girl would do in my situation: I ran. Once I was a good distance away, I slowed my pace and walked the city streets. The nightlife was active as ever. Flashing neon signs, lowrider cars, half-naked women, and trash-filled sidewalks decorated downtown San Francisco—oh and the gay couple making out on the street corner. I’m not bothered by the open gayness that The City by the Bay is known for.
I’m sure to any outsider, the nightlife in San Francisco would seem wild, a devil’s playground, or perhaps they would revel in it. If they traveled near Haight Street, they would be welcomed by hookers on every corner, their pimps close by. They would pass porn shops every other building and filthy strip clubs often enough.
But to me it was everyday life. The nightlife didn’t seem so dark in comparison to what Michael did, yet I wanted to see him again. Oddly enough, I wasn’t afraid of him, not anymore. I needed to see him again, and that was pretty twisted. Something must have been wrong with me. I couldn’t explain it. All I knew is the same peaceful feeling Michael used to give me, I’d felt again when he’d stared at me before he’d fled out the doors of the museum.
Maybe people were right about me being naïve. Maybe they were right to believe that one day I would end up beaten and left for dead in a dark alley.
I covered my hands with my long sleeves, crossed my arms, and walked. As I passed a group of punk rockers a little older than me, one of them said, "Bud for sale." Without taking my eyes off the ground, I kept walking. Even if I did smoke weed, and I didn’t, I wouldn’t have responded. I was too shy.
The punk rockers were far behind me when I passed by a dark alley and heard the same swooshing sound I’d heard at the museum. Startled, I jerked and looked up. It sounded like it was coming from above me, but I didn’t spot anything. Yet, I sensed a familiar tangible presence, the same peaceful feeling Michael had brought to the museum.
Keeping my eyes fixed on the alleyway, I walked backward down the sidewalk, imagining Michael crouched down, hiding in the dark shadows. Then, after brief consideration and a short pause, I stepped into the alley, knowing only big-breasted airheads in horror flicks would have done something so stupid.
I have no idea why I lunged toward Michael, trying to stop him from leaving the museum. What kind of person does that? He sank his fangs into a man’s neck, and stupid me wanted him to stay. Maybe it was the way he’d looked at me, or maybe it was something deeper.
-From Julie Sparks' recovered diary.
Slowly, I stepped into the darkness and whispered, “Are you there? Is that you?” Even if it was Michael, would he answer? For some reason I felt compelled to find out. Something in his eyes had made me believe he wouldn’t harm me, but it might have been my overactive imagination.
Scattered trash left a putrid smell in the dark, damp alley. A dumpster caked in grime sat snug against one wall. On a whim, and though certain death probably awaited me, I approached the dumpster, thinking Michael might be crouching behind it, waiting. The walls on both sides of me appeared to curve inward, trapping me in the dark tunnel, a place where only hours ago a crackhead might have killed another crackhead, or a young woman might have been raped.
I choked down spit and wiped my sweating hands against my pants. I inched along the dumpster. One more step and I would be able to see around it.
To my left, the sound of water slapping water grabbed my attention. An old rusty pipe dripped piss-colored water into a puddle. Gross. Where could that pipe lead? Maybe to a bedroom of a hooker who now lay dead on her bed? This place was giving me the creeps. I shivered, focusing back on the dumpster. Just one more step and I could peek my head around it. Would I find Michael crouched there?
I breathed in the foul air and coughed, swatting flies that swarmed my hair and face, then began having second thoughts. Get out of here. Turn around and run. I thought that was what I should have done. After all, what kind of girl walks into this kind of place? I took that last step on unsteady feet and reached my hand toward the dumpster to balance myself, then thought better of it. My heart thrashed inside my chest.
Hoping to gain courage, I took two stunted breaths and squeezed my eyes tight, counting to three. I peeked around the dumpster.
Something sprang out from behind it, screeching. Leaping back, I pulled my arms to my chest and screamed. A black duck slipped on a piece of trash, flapping its wings and quacking.
I doubled over to catch my breath, pressure pounding my temples, certain my heart was racing faster than the duck’s. A duck? What the hell?
A bum balled up in dirty blankets leaned out from behind the dumpster and glared at me. “You scared her,” he said, reaching for the duck.
I didn’t know what to say. Heart still thumping, I tried to catch my breath.
While petting her, he said, “It’s okay, baby, she didn’t know. Calm down.” He glanced back at me. “You’re in my home.” Even in the dark, I could see his teeth were rotted and in dire need of a dentist. He raised his voice. “Get out of my home.” Glancing around the alley, he started yelling, “Get out! This is my home. Did you knock? No, you didn’t. Now get out. Get out. Get out.” His voice trailed into a mumble.
What a crazy old fart. Back-stepping, hands up in surrender, I said, “I’m going.” As I walked away, I could hear him talking to his duck.
On my walk home, I thought about that bum and couldn’t help but smile. The hilarity of him, the duck, and that entire alleyway conundrum grew with each thought, until I was snorting and laughing and wiping tears from my eyes.
However, that mood faded as I stood at my front door, shoulders slumped, beneath the glow of the front porch light. No doubt Mom stayed up to wait for me. But I was ready. I had my story straight.
I inhaled the crisp, cold air and stepped through the doorway. Mom sat on a chair at the dining table. I didn’t even get a chance to close the door before she said, “Where have you been?”
She stood. “You didn’t hear?”
I knew what she was referring to, but I said, “Hear what?”
She stepped toward me. “Michael is missing.” Lovingly, she wrapped her arms around me. “I thought the worst. I thought,“ she squeezed me tighter, “that something happened to you.”
I hugged her back before slowly slipping out from her arms. “I’m okay.” Staring at the intricate designs on the tiled floor, I said, “That’s all?” Gawd, I sucked at lying, and I hated lying, especially to my mom.
Her mouth fell open. “Honey, what happened?” She reached to touch my face.
Placing my hand on my cheek, I stepped back, recalling the man who’d backhanded me. “Oh, it’s stupid. An accident at work.”
She squinted but didn’t press the issue. “You don’t seem worried about the statue.”
She knew how much I adored Michael. Several times, she’d told me my fascination with him was unnatural and possibly unhealthy. But why would she mention Michael first? What about the three dead men? Wasn’t the fact that three people had been murdered more important than a missing statue?
“Did they find anyone?” I asked.
“No. They have no leads.”
Puzzled, I asked, “Was anything broken?”
“Nope. Everything looks the same except that Michael is missing,” my mom said, waving her hands by her face, eyes widening, as if to say, Michael is MISSING, HELLO! “This is sinking in, right, Julie?”
How could everything look the same when the wall had been blood-stained? What about the blood on the floor, the dead bodies, and all that dust and stone? Frank wouldn’t cover it up. He wouldn’t know what to do with the bodies. “Sorry, I must be in shock.” I offered a half smile. “Besides, I’m sure they’ll find him.” But I knew they wouldn’t.
I showered and put on a long white T-shirt that used to be my dad’s. Sometimes I could swear I smelled my dad on it still, even though I had washed it several times since he’d last worn it. Maybe his favorite cologne hadn’t washed out completely.
There was another one of his shirts I kept in my closet that I never washed. Sometimes I would take it out. While holding it, I would think about the good times we had had. Like the time at Disneyland when he’d pretended to punch the man dressed in the Mickey Mouse costume. Mickey had spun around at the wrong moment, and my dad had accidentally hit him in his big head, knocking Mickey over.
I sighed, shook the memory from my mind, and brushed my teeth. My blue toothbrush hanging from my mouth, I paused, tilting my head, listening closely for . . . something, extending my senses, certain I hadn’t imagined the shift of energy from somewhere nearby. I peeked out my bathroom and stared through my bedroom window.
The same feeling I had had in the alley, like someone was watching me, sent goosebumps across the flesh of my arms, but I quickly blamed it on being too wound up and jumpy. Stupid overactive imagination. I shook it off and finished brushing my teeth.
After flicking off the bathroom light, I hopped into my fluffy queen-sized bed. I didn’t have pink blankets, pillows, or anything overly pink in my room. My walls were not plastered with models. Rather, they were neatly decorated with my favorite novel covers and movie posters, one of them being the movie poster for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
That poster caused me to think about Michael. I considered myself more intelligent than those bimbos in horror flicks, so naturally, I knew what Michael was. My mind didn’t want to accept it, but I knew.
Leaning over, I switched off my lamp. Moonlight poured in through my bedroom window. Cocooning myself in my blankets, I tried to ward off the flashbacks that assailed my mind—the horror on the thieves’ faces as Michael’s statue disintegrated, as Michael hunted them, one by one, every bit the demonic creature I had never imagined. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t shake the images and questions from my mind. Every few minutes I’d reach for my phone, wanting to call my best friend, Tiff, but doubting she would believe me. Without evidence at the museum, no one would believe me. There were moments when I wasn’t sure I believed me. Either I had imagined it all, or someone cleaned up before Frank had left his office.
Thinking about the bum offered me comic relief, but those smiles were short lived, always replaced by the faces of dead men, of blood, of fangs, of Michael. What a long day. I felt exhausted, and I could no longer keep my eyes open. They shut.
Minutes later—or was it hours? I didn’t know—I dreamed that two stories from the ground, with no roof or ledge for him to stand on and no ladder for him to climb, unless he’d brought one, which I doubted, Michael was peering through my window, watching me with a blank expression. Seeing his face up close for the first time made me forget about the fact he was floating outside my window.
His face was so soft and welcoming, skin only possible in a painting. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, highlighted by the moonlight. Ravishing. Dream or not, I have no idea why I so readily stepped out of bed, walked to the window, and lifted it.
With sensuality in every movement, he slipped through my window and into my room. He smelled of a faint, musky cologne, and he was dressed, much to my conflicting relief and disappointment, in a dark hoody and jeans. Regardless, I gained plenty of satisfaction from the way his clothes clung to his form, revealing his shapely chest, biceps, and thighs.
He gazed deeply into my eyes, as if I were all that mattered. The shape of his eyes looked human, but his irises were a shiny-silver color, so amazing, so beautiful. Although he resembled an eighteen-year-old Johnny Depp, he was at least three times more gorgeous. He was the kind of guy that if he were my boyfriend, I would never want him to leave the house in case a supermodel snatched him up. But there was more to his beauty than his looks. There was a deepness in his eyes that I had never seen before in anyone else’s eyes. And I could sense his kindness, his gentleness. I had always been able to sense that about him, even when he’d been a statue. It was why I’d been comfortable telling him secrets in the museum when I was all alone, just me and Michael.
In articulate English, and with an angelic voice, he said, “Thank you.”
“For what?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
He caressed my cheek as if it were made of fragile glass. “For giving me the strength to wakeup.”
My legs felt rubbery and knees wobbled, and I slumped to the floor. Although I had daydreamed many times that Michael would come to life, I never thought it would be so intense. Yes, I was shy, but I wasn’t the type of girl who got dizzy around guys I had a crush on.
Placing his hand on my shoulder, he knelt next to me. “You okay?”
“Not sure,” I said, sighing. It started to feel less and less like a dream. I wondered what he meant by “wakeup.” I would have to remember to ask about that.
He stretched out his hand, offering to help me up. The color of his skin was like that of a pearl. And his fingernails would make any girl jealous. I slowly placed my hand on top of his. His skin was cool to the touch but alive and so soft. It reminded me of touching rose petals. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I could have never imagined such delicate hands being capable of killing.
Effortlessly, he lifted me to my feet, and his natural fragrance, fiery and sweet, drew me closer to his shoulder. Closing my eyes, I smelled him; then realizing what I was doing, I pulled back.
Michael smiled, revealing his fangs. “Do you always fall down when a stranger touches you?”
I wrinkled my nose, pressed my lips together, and a little too loudly, said, “No.”
He gently placed his hand on my shoulder. I glanced at his hand and then back into his eyes and then down to his full lips, the ripe color a stark contrast to his skin. I had never seen skin like it before, not in any vampire movies, not in any magazines, not anywhere. I wondered if I could capture his beauty in a painting.
He applied soft pressure to my shoulder and stepped close enough that I had to tilt my head to see his eyes. I relaxed my face and parted my lips.
“You going to fall down again?”
“I . . . uh.” I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move because he was touching me. Michael was alive, and he was touching me.
His fingers flowed through my hair. My legs felt rubbery again. As if perceiving this, he retracted his hand. “You have the most beautiful blue eyes, like the waters on my world.”
Was this really happening? Was Michael actually talking to me? Did he just say I have pretty eyes? Perhaps this wasn’t a dream. I had to be sure. I pinched myself—hard.
“Ow,” I said.
He stepped back and scrunched his eyebrows together. “Why did you do that?”
“Nope, not a dream,” I said in a high-pitched, slightly crazy voice.
He tilted his head, and his eyes searched the room, “Dream . . .” And then back to me. “We used to dream. A long time ago in my world.”
As my uncertainty over whether or not this was a dream grew, so did my anxiety. He’d mentioned his world a moment ago, and for some reason it didn’t register until now. “Your world?” I asked, lifting one eyebrow.
“This is a lot for you to handle,” he said, knowingly.
I didn’t answer, looking down at my painted toes and the tips of his black boots.
Effectively changing the subject, he said, “I came here to apologize.” Before I could interject, he continued. “I’m not a killer. It’s just that . . . those men were hurting you, and for so long you visited me. You even spoke with me as if you knew I was listening. You directed so much of your energy to me, and that is what gave me the strength to wake.”
“Every thousand years my kind enters into,” he paused as if searching for the right words, “a type of hibernation. A stasis. A hard crust forms over our bodies. Usually we can’t wake ourselves from this stasis until at least fifty years have passed. You gave me strength, and when I saw those men. . .” He flexed his jaw, looked away, and then back at me. Tears—were they tears?—filled his eyes. “I couldn’t let them harm you. I tried hard to restrain my anger and my hunger, but I’d been in stasis so long.” He turned his back to me. “Please, don’t see me as a monster.” He stepped toward the window.
“Wait,” I said. I had so much I wanted to ask, so much I wanted to understand, but the only thing that slipped from my lips was, “What’s your name?”
Before crawling out my window, he glanced over his shoulder and said, “I’ll have to tell you later. Besides, I like the name you’ve given to me.” Then he slipped out the window.
I bolted for the window and looked out, but he was gone. Later, he had said. He wanted to see me again. I smiled. Was it possible I could be in love? Love at first sight? An excited feeling fluttered in my chest. I tried to contain it, but I couldn’t. Instead, I grabbed my blue pillow and danced around my room.
Was last night all just a dream? It felt so real. I’m not even sure if Michael is real. No one else saw him but me. Is he a monster? I’m so confused. Whenever he’s around me, I feel so safe and warm inside.
-From Julie Sparks’ recovered diary.
I woke up Monday morning with anxiety. Seventeen-year-old girls aren’t supposed to have anxiety. It was not like being nervous. My stomach was all knotted, I felt helplessly irritable, and a tight feeling gnawed at my shoulders and chest. My heart would race uncontrollably for no apparent reason. It was a challenge to remain focused on any one thing.
Mondays sucked. I had always had a hard time waking up on the first school day of the week. Because the anxiety was so intense, I contemplated not going to school and wondered if my psychiatrist could give me something if it continued.
Or I could see a psychologist. After all, I’d witnessed three men being ripped to pieces. Psychologists claim that watching violent movies desensitizes people to violence. Bogus claim if you asked me. Being a horror fan, I’d seen my share of death, and none of that had prepared me for the real thing. Maybe I didn’t need to see a psychologist. What the hell do they know?
Jynx leaped on my lap. “Where have you been,” I said. “Out hunting mice again? Geez, you’re heavy.” I petted his gray fur and gently rubbed behind his ears. He purred. “It must be nice being a cat, huh?”
I thought about one of my fantasies, being able to shapeshift. It would be so cool to shift into a cat, dog, monkey, bird, another person . . .
Tossing him aside, I got up. “Sorry, Jynx, gotta go. Next time don’t stay out for two days, okay?”
He stared blank-faced and meowed.
Leaving Jynx in my bedroom, I walked downstairs and spotted Jimmy sitting at the dining-room table. He chomped on Captain Crunch, one of my favorites.
Still dressed in her robe, my mom drank her morning coffee.
“I think all that sugar is why Jimmy can’t control himself in class,” I said to her.
He stuck his tongue out at me, and his turd-colored, thick hair bounced. He shoveled more cereal into his mouth.
“See? It’s kicking in already,” I said.
Mom rolled her eyes, sipping her coffee. The runt sprung up, and with his spoon, flicked cereal at me. Throwing my hands out to my sides, I looked down at my shirt and then glared at him. He gave me an uh oh look and made a break for the front door.
“I’m gonna kill you, twerp!”
I chased him, but he sprinted out the door and halfway down the street. I yelled, “Paybacks! You have to come home sometime!”
Stomping back inside, I grabbed my bag. Without looking at my mom, I said, “See what sugar does to him?” I marched out the front door and didn’t wait for her to respond. I hated Mondays.
On the way to school, I thought of ways to get Jimmy back. That little brat. Maybe I would snap his favorite video game in half. Or maybe I would go to his school and act like his mentally challenged sister, embarrassing him.
Tiff pulled up next to me in her Honda. “Need a ride, sexy?” The color of her car matched her spunky personality. Red also symbolizes passion and sensuality, both of which she had. Her curvy figure, long legs, and almond-colored hair with red highlights caused most guys to glance twice. I wished I had her figure.
Although I was still irritated, she had a way of making me smile. “Hey, girl,” I said and hopped in.
Tiff glanced at me. “Nice outfit,” she said sincerely.
One time, she had driven me home and made me change into something more presentable. Then she had said, “I’ll have to buy you better clothes.”
She was big on fashion, something I had no sense about, but I guess I’d chosen the right clothes today.
“Thanks.” I had dressed in nothing special—jeans and a tight blue T-shirt with the Superwoman emblem on it. It was a hot day; otherwise, I wouldn’t be in a T-shirt.
Tiff had been my best friend since, well, forever, or at least since I was four. Growing up we had gone to the same schools, had most of the same classes, and often argued over who had dibs on the new cute guy. She had always been beautiful, so she usually got the guys. We never let it come between us, though. Sure, we had our fights, but we always made up. I would lie for her, steal for her, die for her.
Here was something most people didn’t know about Tiff: although she was kind-hearted, had all the jocks’ attentions, was wealthy and popular, she was also intelligent. Most people thought of her as the typical pretty airhead, but she got straight A’s without trying. She read books on physics for fun, if that said anything. Of course, she didn’t let anyone know that side of her.
Anyway, she put an iron foot on the gas pedal, and the tires squealed.
Placing my hands on the dash, I said, “Whoa, Speed Racer.”
She giggled and spun around a corner.
“Stop sign. Yup, you just ran that stop sign.”
“It shouldn’t be there anyway,” Tiff said.
She was right. They only put the stop sign there because overly protective, paranoid Mrs. Johnson had bugged the city to do so. Our suburban street didn’t get much traffic, and we all pretty much knew each other. We sped by the rest of the cookie-cutter houses.
We arrived at school, got out of the car, and she asked me, “When you going to beg your mom for a car?”
“Well, get on that,” she said, flinging her black Prada handbag over her shoulder. Charlie, the same Charlie who works with me, caught her eye. She puckered her lips. “Hey, Chaaaarlie,” she said in a sexy voice.
He waved and came straight to me. “Did you hear about Michael?” He wore his short brown hair in spikes going every which way. He honestly looked like a young Brad Pitt.
“Yeah,” I said, feeling guilty for withholding information from them.
“What are you two love birds talking about?” Tiff asked with a hint of jealousy.
Shaking his head, Charlie said, “Michael’s missing. Just like that, bam.”
“Shut up!” Tiff said. She looked at me, her face softening. “I’m sorry, honey.”
“It’s just a stupid statue,” I huffed. She knew he was more than that to me. He was the apex of art, every artist’s aspiration. He was Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. He was Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and more than that, he’d inspired me to try to paint a masterpiece of my own.
“Oh, hey, I gotta go. Early football practice.” Charlie jogged in the direction of the football field.
We stood at the edge of the huge parking lot. The student body count was seven thousand and growing. Although it was a high school, it looked more like a college campus. Tiff and I headed away from the parking lot.
Short and thin, Nox crept in unnoticed, as usual. Nox looked totally emo[DM1] . He dressed in all black, sported jet-black hair that hung over his right eye, his arms were decorated in leather and chain bracelets, and he wore mascara.
He nudged me with his elbow.
In unison, Tiff and I said, “What’s up.”
“Still messed up about your dog?” I asked. Nox’s dog had died a horrid death. Although his new chain had been long enough for the him to jump over the front yard fence, it had not been long enough to make it over the fence, and he’d died of strangulation.
“Nah,” he said, “I beat my neighbor’s cat to death with a chicken leg. I feel much better now.”
Tiff rolled her eyes, “You’re such a freak.”
Nox scratched his nose. “I blame that on my parents raising me in the cellar and feeding me nothing but red wine and brownies until I turned fifteen.”
I giggled. I understood his dark humor.
Tiff bumped me in the shoulder. “Gotta get to class.” She lightly messed up Nox’s hair and in a friendly tone said, “Bye, freak.”
She was the only one who could get away with messing up Nox’s sacred hair. I suspected he had a crush on her, but he would never tell because he rarely opened up emotionally.
We parted ways and went to class. Throughout my classes, I mostly spaced out and dwelled upon the three men in black and the dream I’d had about Michael. I was starting to feel more and more like last night hadn’t been a dream at all. I was trying to come to grips with seeing three men killed, trying to find my peace about it. They were scum, but did they deserve to die?
Midday, I sat at my desk in math class. Mr. Numbers Nerd wrote on the chalkboard. The teacher’s real name was Mr. Nadanya. His parents had come from India. He was brilliant with numbers.
Interrupting Mr. Nadanya, someone opened the classroom door. The principal stepped in, capturing the attention of the class. An officer stood in the hallway. The principal pointed at me and motioned me to come to her.
Slowly, I scooted out of my chair, the grinding of metal against the floor the only sound in the room. Nervous flutters had me fumbling for my books and pencil. Standing, shoulders slouched, head down, I let my hair fall to my sides, forming temporary walls that I tried to hide behind. All eyes focused on me. The students whispered. The rumors had already begun. By the end of the day, students would be talking about how I was so obsessed with Michael that I’d stolen him and hid him in my basement.
Because I had sat in the middle of the classroom, my embarrassment was amplified. I was surrounded by students with nosey eyes.
As I passed Mr. Nadanya, he said, “I’ll have Tiffany give you your homework assignment.”
“Okay,” I said.
The principal placed her hand on my shoulder and guided me out of the classroom. “He just needs to ask you a few questions.”
The officer stood with an air of authority. “Afternoon, Julie.” I dared not meet his gaze. “I’ll take it from here,” he said to the principal. She walked away. “If you would come with me,” he said.
As we walked down the hall, I noticed the door of another classroom was open. When we passed, half the students stared at me. Cheeks aflame, I groaned, quickening my steps.
Once we arrived at his cruiser, he opened the back door and motioned me in.
I hesitated. “I thought you only needed to ask me a few questions?”
“That’s right, but I need you to come down to the station.”
“Just need your statements on record, is all. You’re not in any trouble.” He tried to assure me, motioning once again for me to get in the car.
Ducking, I stepped in and settled into the hard seat. Closing the door, he walked around the car and slid into the driver’s seat. A few beeps and the voice of a lady on the CB radio filled the car.
Anxious, I tapped my foot, many paranoid thoughts rushing through my mind. What if they’d found the bodies? What if I was a suspect? They may have thought I had something to do with his disappearance, or worse. Trying not to panic, I breathed deep, slow breaths.
We were headed down First Street. Without sunglasses to shield my eyes, I had to squint to look out the side window. The car stopped at a red light, and I nearly laughed when I saw Nox striding down the sidewalk, Starbucks coffee in hand. He must have been ditching school again. He didn’t see me, fortunately.
“There you are,” the officer said.
Twisting my head, I looked at the officer, thinking he was talking to me. He stared straight ahead. As I traced his line of sight to what he focused on, my heart skipped a beat. Before the car, wearing the same hoody, jeans, and ponytail as the night before, stood Michael.
Biting my cheek, I suppressed a girlish giggle. If it were possible, my eyes would have sparkled because I was close to Michael again. But what was he doing here? And why did he block the car?
His head dropped, hands balled into fists at his sides, and eyes screamed.
Before I could blink, he stood outside my window, grabbed the door and yanked. Something pinged and snapped. Apparently locked police car doors were no match for Michael. The door swung open, and he said, “Get out.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” the officer said coldly. I glanced back and stared down the barrel of a gun. The officer adjusted himself in the front seat. “We know what you are,” he said, focusing on Michael. “Now, if you agree to come with me without a fuss, I promise not to blow this bitch’s face off.”
Michael tightened his grip on my arm. I winced but said nothing about the pain and leaned halfway out the door, trying to distance myself from the insane cop. Then Michael placed his head in the car, glowering at him, and in a raspy voice, said, “You’re going to wish you hadn’t said that.”
Michael reached inside the car and clinched the man’s wrist. The gun fired, and I instinctively reached for my ringing ears, but a rip of pain through my arm stopped me short.
Once I noticed it, I couldn’t un-notice it. Holy crap, it hurt. Michael snatched the gun from the officer’s hand and tossed it aside. He pulled me out of the stupid bastard’s car and laid me on the rough street.
Although his lips moved, I couldn’t hear what he said over the ringing in my ears. Leaping onto the hood of the car, Michael snarled, baring his fangs. He glared at the officer through the front window. In one fluid movement, he punched through the glass, grabbed the officer, and yanked him out of the car. Michael still stood on the hood and held the officer in the air with one hand. The officer’s feet dangled.
As the ringing faded a little, I began to hear people. I glanced around. A heavyset woman dropped her hotdog and ran cursing. People at Starbucks gawked. Some pushed forward to get a better view. A tall man shoved a lady in a red dress out of the way, causing her to spill her coffee. What a jerk.
Some people kept walking, as if they had more important things to do. Most stopped and stared. Cars parked in the middle of the streets, holding up traffic. Others honked. When my hearing cleared, I heard a man yell, “Move it already!” I glanced back at Michael.
Michael’s free hand hung close to me. His nails grew long. He looked ready to murder.
“No!” I said, still sitting on the blacktop. I gripped my shoulder. It burned with pain. I didn’t want Michael to kill the man. It worried me to think he could kill so easily.
A man behind me said, “Teach that pig a lesson. Damn pigs.”
Michael turned his head to look at me, still showing his fangs. His face calmed, and his claws retracted.
“Listen to the girl,” the officer said in a broken voice.
“Don’t listen to the girl,” a guy hollered. “Beat his ass, man”
The horror on a young lady’s face from the other side of the car captured my attention for a brief moment as she screamed, “Oh my God,” and ran away.
Michael hissed and snapped at the officer and then backhanded him. I flexed my jaw, tensing my shoulders. He dropped the officer, and he bounced off the hood of the car onto the street. The officer’s body fell limp, tangled in a screwed up way. I cringed, but I was sure he was only knocked out because I could still see the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest.
Michael stepped down from the car and approached me. Without asking, he reached into my handbag, whipped out my cell phone, and tossed it behind me. I glanced over my shoulder in time to see Nox catch my phone. Nox stood in shock. Now I knew last night could not have been a dream because Nox saw Michael. Michael was real. He really had come to life.
“Call her an ambulance,” Michael said. When I looked back to see Michael, he was gone. Again. The crowd moved closer, but I ignored them. The mysteries of Michael continued to build, and the questions allowed my mind little rest. How did he know where I was or that the officer was dangerous? And what the hell had the officer meant when he’d said, “We know who you are,” to Michael? Or did he say what you are? Too much pain to think.
[DM1]Will your readers know what this means? It is a new word to me.