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Monsters (Part 1)
“Aren’t we, like, too old to be playing Truth or Dare?” One of the stupid blondes giggles tipsily.
“Naw, c’mon,” says the musclebound track star, sitting in the cool dark of the grass. “Let’s go. There’s nothing else to do.” He turns to the mumbling knot of teenagers on the far corner of the lawn. “Yo! We gonna do this or not?”
The knot makes its way over and sits down, forming a sloppy circle.
“This is stupid,” the girl with glasses mutters, scowling. She doesn’t seem to fit in the group of jocks and cheerleaders. “I just know this’ll end with us at the police station. Again.”
“Hey!” someone yells. “Josh! We need you over here too!”
A voice – the kind of voice that could make any girl swoon – chuckles deeply, and a tall, very handsome boy strides out from the shadows. “If you insist,” he smiles, sitting down.
Now. Let’s focus on this boy for a moment.
His skin is perfectly, impeccably pale, and his hair always manages to maintain a perfect balance between neat and attractively sloppy. He wears designer sunglasses and a straw fedora-style hat, which is a little weird considering the fact that it’s eleven at night. His name is Josh Thornton, and he is a straight-A, über-popular, all-star baseball player at Rutherford B. Hayes High School.
Oh. And he’s a vampire.
Yep, Josh is a centuries-old, bloodsucking, living corpse. He cannot come into contact with direct sunlight or moonlight, and his eyes are a lurid shade of murderous yellow.
Chicks dig him.
“Truth…or…dare?” Stan Kimmel leers, exposing his large, crooked front teeth. His head snaps around to face one of the cheerleaders. “Brytnee?”
Brytnee begins to giggle uncontrollably. “Truth,” she gets out.
Stan pouts in disappointment. “Fine. Who is….” He rolls his eyes. “Your ‘dream guy?’”
Brytnee giggles for nearly a minute before saying anything more. “Josh, of course,” she finishes.
“Duh, Stan.” The girl with glasses scowls.
“Okayokayokay.” Brytnee’s ice-blue eyes dart around the circle. “Truth or dare? Umm…um, um, um. JOSH!” She and several friends explode in giggles once more.
Josh’s face is one of cool inscrutability. “Dare,” he says, his voice heavy and smooth as the black sky above them.
A gasp of reverence rises up from the circle. Inevitably, Brytnee starts giggling again. “Oooh, Josh, you know I’m not any good with dares!” She bites her lip, deep in thought. “Oh! Okayokayokay. I…dare you…Josh Thornton…to go into the woods…and stay there…for ten. Whole. Minutes.”
All the girls, except for the one with glasses, start laughing uncontrollably. The boys groan and roll their eyes.
“That’s so lame, Brytnee,” Stan whines.
“Nah, I can handle it,” Josh says smoothly, standing.
“Waitaminute.” Stan scowls and scrambles up to face Josh. “How do we know you’ll actually do it, Thornton?”
Josh holds out his arms. “Follow me,” he says.
The circle rises as one and follows him out the back gate. Only the girl with glasses remains, her arms crossed.
“They’re morons,” she mutters as their backs retreat into the shadows of the pine trees.
“Such. Utter. Morons.”
“This is far enough, I think.” Josh surveys the complete blackness of the heavy trees. “Brytnee, is this all right for you?”
She bites her lip, her eyes darting about. “Josh, are you sure you’re gonna be okay? We could always just go with Truth –”
“No.” Josh smirks, looking roguishly perfect. “What can I say? I like a little adventure.”
“O-ookay…” She glances nervously about again. “Ten minutes,” she blurts out.
“Right. Just wait here. I’ll be back.” With that, he turns and begins to walk into the darkness of the woods. The knot of teenagers watches as the night swallows him up.
Five minutes pass. Then seven. Nine. Ten.
Josh Thornton doesn’t come back.
Eleven minutes. Twelve. Fifteen. Twenty.
Josh Thornton is never coming back.
As he strode deeper into the woods, he became aware of shapes etched in the utter black. The moon was full and round, like a pillow, like a silver coin.
Josh glanced up at it, then sighed to himself. It was funny how it still looked exactly the same after four centuries. It was funny how it was a perfect facsimile of itself in England, in France, in Spain, in America. Well, not ha-ha funny. There was very little about being a vampire that was funny like that.
It was a pained existence, you know. Josh’s soul was a tortured one. He thirsted for the blood of mortals, and yet quenching that thirst would be much more trouble than it was worth. It’s not like he could die, but that got really boring after a while. Oh, sure, he could be killed, but only by fatal wounds from a magical animal. And those were kind of hard to find in the mountains of Eastern California.
To ensure that he remained safe, he and his vampire-father had taken to drinking the blood of animals. Bears were his dad’s favorite, but Josh was more of a squirrel kind of guy.
Speaking of which, there were probably bears in these woods. Josh shivered. He was terrified of big animals. And there was something strange about this darkness. The forest seemed alive, breathing.
Welcome home, the trees whispered.
Come back, the midnight beckoned.
Josh’s legs froze to the leafy ground, and he resisted the urge to turn around and run back.
To his left, a branch snapped. Probably nothing, he thought, and if his heart could still beat it would have hammered traitorously. Probably a raccoon.
How long had it been? Ten minutes already? Probably more like fifteen. He wanted to turn back, but he was frozen to the spot.
There was the sound of some great weight dragging itself across the leaves.
Okay, Josh thought. A big raccoon. A really, really big one. But that’s okay.
He realized he wasn’t breathing. Not like he needed to.
A growl issued from the darkened pines behind him. Soft footsteps crunched over dead needles.
Something snapped, hard, around his neck. Something smelled of dirt and blood and sweat and mold all at once.
Bite him, Josh told himself, straining around. Just bite him, dammit!
He froze, remembering that he didn’t have fangs. He was a nice vampire.
Oh, crap, he thought.
“You’re not so scary,” a whispering voice growled in his perfect ear.
A sensation of sharpness under his jaw. Josh Thornton screamed like a little girl, and everything went black.
The second-most popular boy at Rutherford B. Hayes High School was none other than Zachary DeAngelo. He was musclebound like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, perfectly tan year-round, and the star player of the football team.
In addition, he was a werewolf.
That was actually kind of an embarrassing condition for him. The full moon had next to no effect, but transforming was always kind of awkward, namely because it totally ruined his clothes.
When he walked into school on Monday after returning from his annual vacation in Fiji, the whole school was oddly quiet. The students moved about like windup toys, stopping and starting in silence.
“What the heck is up with everyone today?” he asked Brytnee. “It’s like an Amish funeral parlor in here.”
“Josh is totally, like, DEAD!” Brytnee blurted out. “And it’s completely my fault! Oh, god, Zach, I feel so bad!”
“He’s not dead.” A short, skinny girl with glasses, the same one who had been at the party on Saturday night, glared in Brytnee’s direction. “He’s in the hospital. But if he does die, yes, it probably will be the dumb blonde’s fault.”
Brytnee let out a moan, like a puppy with a broken spinal disk. The girl with glasses rolled her eyes.
“He’s not going to die! Now shut up!”
“What happened to Josh, Maggie?” Zach asked.
Maggie’s pinched-looking face seemed to grow even tighter at the mention of her name. Adjusting her glasses, she said, “Those morons decided to play Truth or Dare, and Josh picked Dare and Brytnee made him go into the woods and stay there for ten minutes. I didn’t go in there with them, but twenty-five minutes later they all came running back panicking like chickens with their heads cut off and they kept yelling that Josh was dead.”
Maggie glared at him. “Of course not. He had some kind of injury right near the jugular, so it just looked a lot worse than it actually was, and it probably would have killed you or me, but he’s, you know, a fancy immortal vampire.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, he’ll be fine.”
“You’re sure? ‘Cause, you know, we’re real tight an’ all.”
Maggie sighed, annoyed. “Yeah, I know. Trust me, he’ll be back tomorrow.”
“You’re sure?” Zach asked again.
“Yes, I’m sure! Now get out of my way!” And she swept past him, her two tight braids swinging behind her.
Josh Thornton was dying.
“What was it?” asked the man next to his bedside. He was large for a vampire, with a small face and elegant features completely at odds with his bulky, muscular body.
“I don’t know.”
“Son. Yes, you do. Tell me.”
“God, Dad, I don’t know! It was dark! It…” Josh shifted and groaned in pain.
“Well, was it a person or an animal?”
“I don’t know, okay? Maybe both!”
Josh’s vampire-father frowned. “‘Both?’”
“Yeah, I don’t know, maybe it was –”
“So it was magical?”
“You know what that means, don’t you, Joshua?”
“Of course I do!”
Josh’s father furrowed his brow. “You’re sure this is okay, then?”
“Yes! I’m fine! In fact, maybe I’m happy that I’m going to die!”
“Look, Dad, it’s been four hundred years since you saved me. And I’m grateful, I really am. But I’m so bored. Who knows what happens after I die? It’ll be a nice change.”
“What should I tell your little friends?”
Josh rolled his eyes. “I don’t care. Tell ‘em it was a bear. You like bears. They’re stupid enough to believe it, anyway.”
“And keep my hat and sunglasses on for the funeral, willya? I don’t want them to see me in the sun.”
“Joshua Thornton, your sparkly complexion is something to be proud of!”
“It’s embarrassing. Keep them on.”
“If you insist. Goodbye, Joshua.” His father reached down and ruffled his hair.
Vampires aren’t very sentimental.
Joshua Thornton felt himself ending, and he was glad.
“About time,” he muttered, and the pain under his jaw rose to a crescendo and disappeared.
Joshua Thornton’s father moved away. There was some speculation that he was now part of an underground crime ring of vampires in Las Vegas or a malicious undead book club in Monaco, and still others claimed that he was now a door-to-door insurance salesman in the north-by-north-eastern region of Nebraska. In short, nobody knew where he was, and it did not matter much anymore.
Josh was buried in his sunglasses. His tombstone read: HERE LIES THE HONORABLE JOSHUA MICHAEL-EDWARD THORNTON, VAMPIRE. 1625-2011. BORN SHROPSHIRE, ENGLAND. DIED AGED 386.
To quote Brytnee, “It’s all my fault! Like, so totally all my fault! Oh my God, I’m going to have to wear, like, waterproof mascara for practically the rest of my life!”
She was wrong. It was not her fault.
Because, as is about to be demonstrated, Joshua the unscary vampire had it coming to him.
Let’s face it.
Sparkling and drinking the lifeblood of squirrels do not mix.