(Continuing a first paragraph with permission from David Farland.)
Marybelle wasn’t your mother’s kind of vampire, living in a crypt by day and sneaking into children’s bedrooms at night to suck their blood. Nor was she its modern counterpart—the sexy hip girl climbing trees in the forest and glittering in the morning sun. She was fat, and as her momma said, 'You come in a plain black wrapper, Honey child, and you got to accept that.' She tried to accept it, of course, she tried. But life ain’t no fun when you’re fat, and ugly, and you’ve got the blood Jones.
Back to school nights didn't measurably improve things. At the Vlad D. Middle School (Alabama's exclusive school for vampires, founded in 1718) the throng of vampire kids around her were chattering noisily with each other. Now, Rebecca, she was cool. Skinny. Just a touch of pink from her dinner. Long, straight black hair, not curly and unmanageable. She was saying something to Beenie, the star of the Vlad D. batball team, and both laughed. They hadn't looked at her, but Marybelle felt for some reason that they must have been laughing about her.
Anyway, no one paid her any attention. She might as well have stayed home. Except momma and poppa were fighting again. Poppa, between jobs as a truck driver, had bitten Earl Darrell Jones III over in Evans last night. Earl had been drinking, as you might expect, and this evening Poppa's hangover was killing him. Momma had said something, and they'd been off to the races. School could hardly be worse.
When the school bell finally tolled she dejectedly pushed her way along with her classmates through the open doors, along the candle lit corridor, to her new classroom. The first day in ninth grade was going to suck, and not just because she was a vampire. She could feel it in her bones. She fingered them repeatedly in the pocket of her unfashionable black jumper, a small collection of interesting rat and bat bones, and one small dog's tooth. This evening they were definitely feeling like prime suckage.
She looked for a place at the back of the room, the way she always did, and squeezed into her seat. As the other kids filed in and sat down, she noticed that some of them kept their backpacks on, as if they were planning on jumping up and running out any moment. Sadly, when you have to squeeze into your seat, that's not an option. Her backpack was parked by her side, leaning against her leg. It contained a carefully dulled pencil and eraser, a new notebook she'd tried doodling on, like the cool kids did, and her midnight snack, a 250 ml bottle of Type AB Negative®. Not diet - it was swimming with triglycerides and bad cholesterol, and she practically felt herself getting fatter just thinking about it. But she loved the stuff.
The classroom door swung shut on the entrance of Mr. DeVitter. This was no doubt the reason for the suckage her bones had promised.
"Gooood Eeevenink," DeVitter announced. Marybelle cringed. DeVitter seemed to be convinced a proper vampire talked like Bela Lugosi, and did a terrible job of it. It was going to be a long time until recess!
Two endless hours later she crowded back into the hallway with her class mates. The school yard was moon lit, only a few clouds obscuring the sky. A few miles away the small town of Evans put out enough wattage to obscure any chance to see the stars. Marybelle's parents were regular supporters of the International Dark-Sky Association, and she herself had donated some of her pocket money. What was good for astronomy could be fantastic for vampires.
A lot of the kids were drifting to the batball field. She assumed that Beenie and his friends would be choosing teams for a short pickup game. Marybelle aimed her steps to her usual spot on the low wall surrounding the school yard. She knew the two kids who already sat nearby, Jesse Lee and Elroy. They were also ninth graders, and both were distant cousins. They also ignored her, but at least it wouldn't be weird if she greeted them with a nod.
She had brought along her blood bottle and now unscrewed the lid. The blood was pleasantly warm and tasted faintly of horse. Marybelle knew kids who were able to afford straight human blood, but her poppa had failed the state bar exam three times, now. The family didn't have to resort to hunting to survive, but things occasionally did get tight. Splurging on meals wasn't in the budget, as her momma her told her often enough. Anyway, the ads for Type AB Negative® were great, with a fun song, and scenes of happy vampires working and playing together. Marybelle had no idea if it would have been her favorite without the ads, but it was her favorite.
While she slowly drank her blood (she'd read somewhere that eating too fast causes weight gain), she took her bones out of her pocket. The little dog's tooth looked odd in the collection. It wasn't fragile looking like the rest, even if it was small. It was a faintly yellow front tooth, shaped like a tiny chisel. Like the rest of her collection she had picked it out of a skeleton she had found. The dog had been a large one, and the skeleton had been wedged under the collapsed wall of the old McCoy place. She figured the animal had been dying and went there to hide. The skeleton was old but not as old as the McCoy place. She'd been taking an early morning walk last night, before the Sun rose, when she'd found herself at the kudzu covered pile of masonry. She didn't know what prompted her to look under the wall, but when she saw the skeleton, she knew to check it for a likely addition to her collection.
The bones' feeling of general suckage had been increasing all night. She'd thought DeVitter would have been the worst, but apparently not. What could possibly be worse? Marybelle tilted her blood bottle up to drain the last drop. She hated feeling hungry.
After putting the empty bottle into her other pocket she slowly shook her bones in her cupped hands. She wasn't sure if she really wanted to know what was going to happen tonight, but she couldn't imagine how it would be worse than just to know something awful was in store. When she felt the moment was right, she cast her handful of mortal remains onto a flat rock in the top of the stone wall, and let her mind go blank.
For some reason Earl Darrell Jones III loomed up in her mind's eye. He looked pale and furious. And he was coming at her! As his hands clawed at her, Marybelle stifled a scream and jerked herself out of her trance.
Blinking her eyes rapidly she cleared her mind of the sick looking Earl. Did her poppa end up killing Earl? Marybelle hoped not. Vampires called it catch and release, which Marybelle had learned was a joke of some kind, but she didn't get it. Killing a person, even just a drunk, was simply not done. Vampires relied on the uneasy truce they had with humans, and someone who broke it would have problems.
But it seemed Earl was the reason for the boding suckage. That worried Marybelle considerably. She knew she wasn't a fast runner, and she was too large to hide in most places. As little vampire girls went, she didn't have a lot of survival qualities.
As she collected her bones back into her hand a pair of shadows fell on the stone wall. Jesse Lee and Elroy had drifted over. They looked at the bones in her hand.
"Um." Jesse Lee was a lanky vampire girl who liked dressing boyishly in dungaree coveralls with a John Deere cap on backwards. She seemed to have trouble speaking.
"Do those bones really work for you?" Elroy amplified. He dressed as you'd expect, meaning the two of them were dressed as if they were twins. As far as Marybelle knew, they weren't all that closely related. There was no actual resemblance in their faces, in any case.
"Maybe." Marybelle was disinclined to brag on that point, but they had never failed her. True, they weren't easy to interpret. Sometimes they were frustratingly vague. She didn't dare play something like "20 Questions" with them. Each casting took a little out of her, and in spite of her size she didn't have that much in her.
"Jesse Lee, you tell her."
"Um." Jesse Lee still hadn't found her tongue, but she was scrounging in one of the voluminous pockets of her dungarees. After a bit of work she pulled out a handful of something, scatting sunflower seed hulls out of her pocket in the process. Marybelle stared at them.
"You eat those?" she asked. "Don't they, like..."
"Yes," Jesse Lee said, with a shrug. Getting words out of her was like pulling teeth, which meant something amongst vampires. Then Jesse Lee held out her hand. She had what Marybelle's expert eyes recognized as a full set of eight human wrist bones, surrounded by a fair quantity of sunflower seeds and hulls.
"Carpals," Marybelle said, with a small nod. "Whose were they?"
"My grandmother's," Jesse Lee said. Marybelle waited for more.
"Jesse Lee says her bones told her something bad will happen today," Elroy broke in, impatient with Jesse Lee's reticence. "Why did you just cast your bones?"
"Same reason. But I got the face of someone I know."
"Earl Darrell Jones III," Marybelle offered.
"The old drunk? What can he do?"
"I don't know. My poppa bit him last night."
Marybelle and Elroy stared at each other. Jesse Lee slowly closed her hand over her bones and stuffed them back into her pocket, sunflower seeds and all. Marybelle didn't know what else to say. This was the most she'd talked with someone in any recess since, well, forever.
"Tell a teacher?" Jesse Lee asked.
Both stared at her. Vampire adults didn't generally approve of casting bones. Marybelle's momma had explained that while some youngsters could cast bones, as vampires got older they lost the ability, and many thought it was just a childish fantasy they'd just as soon forget about. Her momma believed her, of course. What a teacher might say was a different matter.
"What else?" Jesse Lee actually managed to look frightened, and that frightened Marybelle. Elroy also seemed to look uncomfortable.
"We can try," Marybelle agreed. "But we may want to warn our friends, as well."
"Good idea," Elroy said. They looked at each other a moment longer.
"I'll go find a teacher," Marybelle offered. She didn't want to explain that she didn't have any friends. Elroy nodded, grabbed Jesse Lee by the hand, and both ran off toward the batball field where most of the kids were assembled. Marybelle thought she saw the head of Mr. DeVitter bobbing above the sea of kids. He might be playground proctor tonight, but she didn't want to talk to him if she could help it. Anyway, he'd be too busy to listen. Instead she headed towards the school building.
The halls were empty and echoed to her steps. The main office was halfway along from the door, and when she reached it, it was locked. She knocked, softly at first, but when no one answered the door in a few seconds she tried again, a lot louder, which echoed up and down the hall. She heard steps, and a few moments later the secretary Miss Daniels, an elderly vampire who wore too much blood red lipstick, answered the door.
"Yes?" she looked down at her over the fashionable reading glasses that she wore on the tip of her bony nose, secured around her neck by a glittering necklace of rhinestones and black beads. Marybelle tore her eyes away from the necklace and made a little nod at her.
"It's about my bones," Marybelle said.
"Your bones?" Miss Daniels frowned. "You don't mean that childish game?"
"Please, Miss Daniels, I need to speak with Dr. Randall." Marybelle figured she couldn't argue with Miss Daniels about bones, not when the old bat had taken such an attitude.
"Dr. Randall doesn't have time for nonsense," Miss Daniels snapped. She started shutting the door in Marybelle's face, but Marybelle quickly wedged her foot against the door and stopped her.
"You must let me talk with him. If he thinks it's nonsense, let him punish me," Marybelle said, sounding a lot braver than she felt. Something about Miss Daniels brought it out of her. At the moment, however, she didn't have time to think about it.
"Very well," Miss Daniels' eyes seemed to flash, and her blood red lips pulled apart in a truly weird grin as she opened the office door wide. "Come on inside, little...?"
"Marybelle. Marybelle Jenkins." Marybelle straightened her jumper on her shoulders and walked into the office, past the secretary who seemed to tower over her even though she was just a little taller than Marybelle.
"This way, Miss Jenkins," Miss Daniels led her to the principal's office. The plaque on the door announced "Dr Randall, EdD." Miss Daniels knocked on the door and opened it without waiting for an answer. "Miss Jenkins to see you, Dr. Randall," she announced, then reached back and grabbed Marybelle by the shoulder with a surprisingly strong hand and propelled her into the office, after which she shut the door.
Marybelle looked behind her at the closed door for a second, then turned around to face Dr. Randall. There weren't many vampires who enjoyed doing the kind of work required of a principal. Mostly they tended to lawyers, accountants, politicians, insurance adjusters, and used car salesmen. Dr Randall still seemed like an ordinary vampire. He was tall, dressed fashionably, and at the moment had a healthy glow to his cheeks, presumably from just having eaten. He waved at her to come forward with long and well manicured fingers.
"Excuse me, sir," Marybelle started a bit timidly, but then her voice accelerated as she explained the problem at hand. By the time she was telling him how she'd seen James Darrel Jones III, and how she knew him, she was speaking rapidly, with a fair bit of volume, which prompted Dr. Randall to wave his hand in a calming motion.
"Your bones are pretty reliable, are they," Dr. Randall asked.
"Yes, sir," Marybelle nodded. She felt relieved. Dr. Randall was going to take her seriously!
"May I see them? You can put them on this," he said, while opening a drawer in his desk from which he took an oddly decorated black plate and placed it on the edge of the desk near Marybelle. Marybelle reached into her pocket and pulled out her bones. She wasn't sure what Dr. Randall wanted with them, but couldn't think of any objections. She put her bones on the plate and withdrew her hand.
"Very good," Dr. Randall said. He was leaning back a little, as if trying to keep a distance between himself and the black plate. "Which of them is your favorite?"
At first Marybelle didn't know what to say to that, but Dr. Randall smiled at her encouragingly.
"None in particular, I guess," she said finally. "The dog's tooth is my latest, and I guess it's unique in the collection."
"Interesting. Have you told any of your friends about this?" he asked her now.
Marybelle reflexively shook her head, then remembered Jesse Lee and Elroy. But when she glanced up to say something she thought she saw a strange gleam in Dr. Randall's eyes, so she just said, "I don't have any friends, sir."
"Splendid," Dr. Randall said. He leaned forward. "You did say you wanted me to punish you if I thought you deserved it."
Marybelle stood thunderstruck. "Sir?"
"Here's what we'll do. I'm confiscating your toys until your parents come to school to collect them from me. Your punishment is just this," and he tapped the plate three times with one of his long manicured fingers. There was a small flash, and the little dog's tooth just disappeared. In its place was a tiny heap of grey dust. There was also a tiny wrenching feeling in Marybelle's chest, as if something had just disappeared there. Marybelle had never before realized that these bones were so much a part of her.
"Just to be clear," he said, while his eyes seemed to nail her to the spot, "if you spread your silly story to any of the other students, this will happen to the rest of your toys, as well." He gathered up the black plate carefully and put it back in his desk drawer, Marybelle's bones still on it. Then he leaned back in his chair and waved at her with his long fingered hand.
"Well, go on. Class has started several minutes ago. You're already late, and don't expect Miss Daniels to provide you with an excuse!"
Marybelle felt stunned, and almost unconsciously walked from his office, past a smirking Miss Daniels, out into the hall, which was empty. She could hear the classes being conducted behind the various doors. This was not a perspective she'd experienced before, and for a moment she stood there and took it in, without letting herself think about the perfidious Dr. Randall. It occurred to her that it was no surprise at all that he had chosen to become a school principal.
She wondered if Dr. Randall was what all that the boding had been about, but then she noticed that even though she didn't have her bones the feeling of suckage hadn't gone away at all. If anything it had gotten even stronger. Then it occurred to her that Jesse Lee and Elroy had been warning their friends about her vision. If Dr. Randall found out he'd conclude that she had disobeyed him and he'd no doubt then destroy the rest of her bones. The brand new dog's tooth had produced just a tiny wrenching feeling, but the older bones in her collection would probably hurt her a lot worse when then were destroyed.
Trouble was, she had no idea what she could do about it.
If she had a cellphone she could just call home. Her momma might know what to do. But because her poppa hadn't passed the bar there was of course no money for luxuries like that.
There was only one option. She had to go home to get her momma to retrieve her bones for her. The trick was not getting caught while she tried to leave the school building.
She walked as quietly as she could past the closed doors, expecting that at any moment one of them would spring open, and someone would see her out there, trying to sneak away. But then she'd reached the closed schoolhouse doors. She pushed down on the ornately decorated brass handle. The door's latch clicked so loud she felt sure it could be heard all the way in Dr. Randall's office. Hurriedly she pushed the door open, then let it swing shut behind her as she stood in the moonlit night. In front of her stood Mr. DeVitter. He had his back toward her, and didn't turn around.
"Nice night for it," DeVitter said. "Are they on their way?"
Marybelle said nothing. Are who on their way? Nice night for what? Why was DeVitter out here? Recess was over. And who did he think he was talking to?
That last question had just flashed across her mind when DeVitter turned around. He frowned when he saw her.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked.
"I'm going home. I'm not feeling well, sir," Marybelle stammered. That was true enough. She felt ready to throw up on the spot, which is not a pleasant feeling, especially when you're a vampire.
"Where's your excuse slip?" DeVitter demanded.
Marybelle felt her eyes tearing up. This was getting worse by the minute!
"I...I don't know..." she stammered.
"Then get back to class," DeVitter pushed her around by the shoulder and propelled her towards the door. Desperately, Marybelle twisted under his hand and dashed to the side and across the school yard.
"Get back here!" DeVitter shouted. Marybelle looked over her shoulder to see him start running after her. Marybelle ran like she'd never run before. The school yard was surrounded by the low wall, beyond which grew a tangle of bushes and small trees. Marybelle leapt up on the wall and headed into the bushes. Her vampire eyes helped her find her way in spite of mere moon light to show her the obstacles in her path, but DeVitter had vampire eyes, too, of course. Marybelle was no athlete, and what little stamina she had she'd burned in her dash for the school yard wall and the small leap up. If she had been mortal she'd have been breathing in ragged gasps; as it was, instead of running into the bushes she kind of staggered towards them. She ducked behind the first clump of bushes that looked thick enough and made herself as small as possible.
She could hear DeVitter jump up on the wall himself and blunder into the bushes. He pushed branches out of his way and Marybelle could hear his steps coming closer. Then the branches of the bush under which she was hiding were getting shoved apart so that leaves and debris rained down on her. And DeVitter walked straight past her. She held still for another minute as she listened to him struggle through the bushes, apparently still trying to follow her. Marybelle couldn't imagine what DeVitter was thinking. Why did he care? He could just have her expelled, or sent her to detention. But she continued to stay put. To keep track of time she started counting to herself. One-thousand-and-one, one-thousand-and-two, one-thousand-and-three...
After about a minute she couldn't hear DeVitter anymore. She stood up and headed back toward the school yard. With DeVitter gone, she figured it would be safe for her to take the country lane home, the way she usually would.
She did enjoy walking out by herself. The Moon's light was casting dappled shadows of the leafy branches above her onto the road. Hunting bats swooped around her, their echo location chirps poking at her from all directions like ghostly fingers stroking her head. Someone had told her that most humans couldn't hear bats. She often felt sorry for humans. In the distance a mockingbird was making a crazy racket as it imitated the sound of a toy laser blaster. Human children had noisy toys!
She had almost reached home, and the Moon was starting to sink towards the west when she heard a truck motor coming closer. After a few moments the truck rounded the bend up ahead, and before she could look away its bright headlights blasted twin rays of agony into her sensitive vampire eyes. She squeezed her tearing eyes shut and stepped off the road, moving as far as she could away from the road as the vehicle rumbled down the road toward her. Then it slowed down, and stopped where she was standing. She was rubbing her eyes trying to make the spots go away so she could see again. She heard a door open, and foot steps on the road, then on the weeds by the side of the road. She abandoned rubbing her eyes, and faced the approaching stranger. She could only see a shadowy shape loom in front of her behind purple blots of after image obliterating most of her vision.
"What are you doing out here?" a man's rough voice asked. The shadow behind the purple spots bent down toward her. She smelled cheap booze on a human breath. "Shouldn't you be in school?" the man asked, then cackled.
"I'm on my way home," Marybelle said, trying to back away from him. She wondered what a human would be thinking of a girl on a country road in the middle of the night. Nothing good, she figured.
"Ain't that nice," the man said. "Let me give you a ride."
He grabbed her arm and started dragging her toward the truck.
Marybelle tried to yank her arm free. Like any vampire she was much stronger than a mortal, but she was still quite small. The man didn't let her go. In spite of her struggles he practically carried her towards the back of the truck he'd been driving, a large tractor trailer rig. Through the after image of the blinding headlights she thought she saw the dirty white unmarked sides of a trailer. The man yanked the latch on the rear door of the trailer open and let it roll up with a crash.
"In you go," he growled, and grabbed her other arm. He tried swinging her around, as if to throw her into the truck. Desperately Marybelle sank her fangs into the man's arm.
"Ow, goddam it!" the man shouted. He cuffed her head with his free hand, knocking her to the ground. She tried to scramble to her feet, but then a heavy boot hit her, knocking her down again. She rolled away from the man, but he kept up with her and kicked her down again. "Goddam vamp!" he swore. "Turd eating vamp! Take that!"
Marybelle couldn't get away. Every time she tried to get up, the man kicked her down again. She tried rushing him, but he just cuffed her in the head and knocked her to her knees. Then he kicked her again, swearing.
How long this went on, Marybelle couldn't say. She'd crawl away from him, but he followed and kicked her down. His voice was raw with hatred, and his breath stank in Marybelle's vampire nose. Eventually she huddled, rolled in a ball, trying to protect her bruised stomach from the heavy boot. But the kicking continued, and she started screaming in a hoarse voice without words. She rolled to all fours and launched herself at him. She moved fast, no longer thinking, her fangs flashing. She tore a gash in his arm as he tried to knock her away. Growling and snarling she snatched at his neck, the man trying desperately to push her away. She tore at his throat with her fangs. While the man struggled Marybelle lapped greedily, and now the man's struggles became weaker as the wound in his neck spurted his life's blood. When the man fell groaning to the ground Marybelle crouched over his body and kept lapping at the blood.
Then a powerful hand grabbed her by her neck and threw her bodily through the air, into the back of the trailer. She hit the floor, rolled several times and came to rest against the far wall. Screaming with rage she gather her feet under her to leap at her new assailant, but the trailer door rolled down even as she jumped, and she hit it face first and crashed to the floor inside. She started mindlessly pounding against the door, howling with fury. Eventually the trailer started into motion. Marybelle's screams continued for a few more minutes, and then her mind slowly came back to her. She hurt all over. Her nose felt broken. The trailer had no windows, but from the motion she guessed where she was. She had no idea what happened, except that at one point back there she had lost it.
She had heard stories about vampires who lost it. They were often killed by other vampires, because they were too much of a danger to the truce with the humans. She didn't know of any that had been allowed to live. The really bad part was that the feeling of suckage was still getting worse. She huddled in the back corner of the trailer, braced herself against the uncomfortably ribbed trailer walls against the trailer's rocking motion, and tried to think of a way out while pushing her broken nose in place so it would heal straight.
A short while later the trailer stopped rocking. She heard the tractor's engine idle for about a minute, then it stopped. A couple of doors slammed, and the indistinct voices of two or three men receded, after which she heard only the chirping of the bats and the occasional calls of a whip-poor-will.
Even though it was totally dark in the trailer Marybelle's vampire eyes had recovered from being blinded by the headlights earlier, and she had no difficulty seeing. She crawled up to the trailer's door. She knew it was latched on the outside with a hook through a latch welded to the trailer. The locking bar would be caught under a pall, the entire thing designed to prevent the door from coming accidentally unlatched and rolling open while the trailer was under way. Trunks on cars now had a way to open them from the inside. Federal law required those, after several well publicized stories of kids accidentally locking themselves into the trunk of a car. Trailer doors, on the other hand had no such requirements. Still, Marybelle examined the inside of the door for any sign of a way out. She saw where the bolts for the various parts of the latch came through the door, fastened in place with large, rusty nuts.
Nuts and bolts!
Guessing which of them fastened the latch in place, Marybelle grasped one of the small nuts in her fingers and tried to turn it. It was rusty, and at first nothing happened. But if Marybelle was too small to fight a grown human with her vampire strength, a rusty nut was no match. With a small squeak and pop it started to turn, and pretty soon it fell off the bolt with a clatter. In the trailer it seemed as if that should have been audible for miles, and Marybelle listened tensely for a few seconds. When no one shouted and came running, she got to work on the second nut. After the fourth nut was off, she pushed the bolts out, one at a time. When she finally pushed the trailer door up, she stood in the opening for a few moments. Her face still hurt, but as far as she could tell, her nose had already healed. There was a lingering scent of humans, but there was also the distinct smell of Mr. DeVitter.
Were they that close to the school? Was DeVitter still looking for her? Marybelle jumped down from the trailer and ducked under it. Crouching, she looked around to see if there was anyone near the trailer. But the trailer was stopped in a parking lot surrounded by bushes and trees. There were no buildings visible. The sky betrayed a pre-dawn glow toward the east.
The silence was interrupted by occasional hoots from a nearby owl. Marybelle thought furiously. She decided she first needed to hide her escape. She clambered back up on the trailer and pulled down the door. She reattached the latch by simply pushing the bolts in place. The bolts and latch weren't going to fool anyone who looked closely, or tried to operate the latch, but she hoped it would delay the hunt for her.
Since she had no idea where she was figuring that out was her next order of business. If DeVitter was in the area then she was probably near the school and she could get help from there. She wondered where the men whose voices she had heard had gone. There was just one road into the parking lot. Hugging the edges of the paved area she hurried to the road. At first something nagged at her. When she finally reached the road and looked down its length it was as if her brain flipped around. The lot the trailer was parked in was the teacher lot, just behind the school.
Where were all the teachers' cars? What had happened at the school?
Shrinking into the Moon shadow of the bushes by the side of the road she took a moment to think again. If the cars were gone then the teachers were probably gone, as well. Likely there was no help for her at the school. But all the same she needed to have a look for herself.
She started to walk up the road towards the school. Not much farther along she heard voices and hid behind some bushes again. She thought she recognized the voices. One was that of DeVitter, speaking low, and without that fake accent of his. The other was louder, rough, and she realized that DeVitter was talking to the man who tried to push her into that trailer. Did DeVitter realize that he was talking to someone that dangerous? She thought DeVitter sounded angry.
"I keep telling you, if I hadn't locked her in the trailer you'd be dead," she heard DeVitter growl when they came close enough for her. "And will you keep your voice down? If she's regained her senses we don't want her to know what we're doing."
"What can she do? We hook up the hose and gas her, like the rest." The other man sounded petulant. When the two men came in sight Marybelle got a good look at the stranger in the setting Moonlight. It was Earl Darrell Jones III, carrying a flashlight in one hand, and pulling a handcart with an enormous gas bottle with the other. DeVitter was carrying several loops of hose. She felt for the suckage. It was still as bad as before, but it hadn't got any worse. Well, it was bad enough. A human who hated vampires was working with one of her teachers, and something had happened at the school so that there was no help for her from that direction.
"Vampires don't need to breathe. We do it by reflex left over from our natural lives. All she has to do is hold her breath. She can do that indefinitely." DeVitter's voice dripped scorn. "Even a vampire child can figure that out."
Yes, even a vampire child can figure that out, thought Marybelle. Thanks, DeVitter. Earl's neck and arm were swathed in bandages dark with his blood. How could DeVitter stand to walk that closely to Earl? The reek of blood from the man... Marybelle clenched her fists and made herself hold still as only a vampire could and waited for the men to pass her on the road. When they were out of sight she hurried silently in the opposite direction.
The drive to the school was empty except for two cars. She recognized Mr. DeVitter's beat up Honda as well as Dr. Randall's expensive European import. Marybelle at this point wasn't the least bit surprised to find that the two were working together.
The school doors had been propped open with classroom chairs, but no one was in sight. Marybelle hid behind a large buckeye bush while she tried to think of what to do. Once she was inside the hallway there'd be nowhere to hide if DeVitter or Earl came back. She didn't know where Dr. Randall was, either. Also, she reminded herself, there might be others working with DeVitter and Earl. But her main mystery was, what were they doing?
What did Earl say? "Gas her like the rest." Marybelle had no idea what the gas would do, but it seemed it would make a vampire helpless against humans. Suddenly she realized why the doors were propped open: to air out the building. Vampires didn't have to breath, but humans couldn't just hold their breath. If Earl or other human confederates were going to be in a building that had been gassed then the building first needed to be aired out.
Marybelle had no idea how much longer it would be before DeVitter and Earl discovered that she was gone. She ran up to the front doors. Stopped. Consciously shut her mouth and stilled her reflexive breathing. This was harder than it seemed. She slipped out of her shoes and stashed them on the side of the stairs where they might not be spotted right away. A vampire moved silently, but in her stockinged feet she figured she'd be soundless. To be sure not to breath she pinched her nose shut and hurried through the open doors. The first classroom she came to stood open. Inside the children were all slumped to the floor or over their desks, and Miss Dayton had collapsed in front of her blackboard. The other classes would be like this, too. Marybelle decided she had seen enough and retreated back out of the school to collect her shoes. She hid behind her buckeye bush to put her shoes back on and consider her options.
She didn't know what the men were planning to do, but if Miss Dayton was here and her little blue VW was not, that couldn't be a good sign. Whatever it was they were planning, there would be a point where it would be too late to do anything about it, and they would be out of reach for punishment. So if she was going to do anything, it would have to be done soon. Maybe if there was a way to sabotage the tractor? Marybelle knew she wouldn't be able to drive it, if for no other reason than that she was too small. But maybe it would be enough to let the air out of all the tires?
Suddenly she heard Earl's voice again.
"I don't care what your excuses are, you should have just killed the thing," he growled.
"You forget yourself," DeVitter's voice was cold and menacing and made Marybelle shrink back further under her bush. "I am one of these 'things,' too. And I know about your AV rounds. Don't think they will protect you from me. You are here because you are useful. Don't make me regret that decision."
"Ya, whatever," Earl didn't say anything else. The two men came hurrying up to the school and went inside.
No time to lose. Marybelle first moved carefully to avoid making a noise, and then ran to the teachers' parking lot as quickly as she could. The trailer's back door stood open. The hand truck with the gas bottle was standing next to the trailer, a hose connecting the bottle to the trailer's wall. Marybelle walked up to the tractor. With some effort she boosted herself up on the step below the door and tried the handle. With a click the door came open. She looked in the cab. No keys in the ignition. So much for that idea. Then she noticed wires dangling from under the dash. Did Earl steal this truck?
She grabbed the wires and yanked until they pulled out from under the dash. If Earl was planning on hotwiring the tractor later, this would make things a bit more difficult. She grinned to herself while she climbed back down from the cab and carefully closed the door. On second thought she climbed back up, locked the doors, and closed them again. As many barriers as possible.
When she jumped down from the cab's step she heard a small metallic tinkle from under the tractor. She froze, ready to run for the bushes if Earl or DeVitter showed themselves. When nothing else happened she looked under the tractor and almost jumped back when she came face to face with Jesse Lee. Jesse Lee slowly crawled out from under the tractor and stood, spit out some sunflower seed hulls. In one hand she held a bundle of black wires. She looked at the wires in Marybelle's hand, and grinned all over her grease begrimed face.
"There you are," she said. She beckoned once with her head and walked toward the bushes. Behind the first one Elroy was waiting for them, grinning as well.
"Teamwork," he said. "I was posting lookout, but when I saw you climb up in the cab I figured I'd wait for you. Did you pull the wires?" he asked Jesse Lee. Jesse Lee held out the wires. Marybelle just looked from one to the other for several seconds before she found her speech again.
"How did you guys manage not to get gassed?" she asked.
Elroy pointed at Jesse Lee.
"She and I hid out after recess. I think DeVitter knew we were out there, and he kept looking for us. Eventually we saw you leave, with DeVitter after you. We knew something was up, then."
"I was just going to go home," Marybelle admitted. "Dr. Randall had taken my bones away from me."
The three didn't say anything for a few moments, and then Marybelle's eyes fell on the wires in Jesse Lee's hand again.
"I think Earl actually stole the truck," Marybelle said. "I locked the doors. Without keys he can't get in, and even if he could I tore out the wires so he can't get it started."
"And Jesse Lee made sure that even if he figures out what to do the motor won't make a peep," Elroy sounded delighted.
At that moment they heard a car's engine roar. The sound of squealing tires added itself, and a few seconds later a somewhat more sedate sounding engine started up. The three listened as one engine raced off into the distance with a great deal of noise. The second car also moved off. Seconds later they heard someone running. Looking around their bush they watched by the flare of a dim flashlight as Earl came hurrying up to his tractor. He paused briefly to yank the hose from the side of the trailer, and then climbed up to the cab. He swore when the door wouldn't open, climbed down, and tried the other door. A moment later they heard a window shatter, then the cab door open. For a while all they heard was Earl cursing, louder with each passing second. Then he fell silent. They heard him jump down from the cab, and his steps receded across the parking lot.
"I hope he's not going back to the school," Marybelle said. "He might hurt people there."
"You think DeVitter and Randall both left?" Elroy wondered.
"I'm pretty sure that's what we heard," Marybelle said. Jesse Lee nodded.
"Come on!" Elroy said, and the three rushed through the bushes. The Moon had almost set, and the night was lit mostly by the reflection of nearby city lights from the clouds. Where Earl had only his flash light to walk by, the vampire kids moved through the bushes with ease, and they reached the school building ahead of the angry human.
"We can just go in and lock up," Elroy suggested.
"Just be careful not to breath," Marybelle said. "They used a gas."
"I know," Elroy said.
"I'll call for help."
While Jesse Lee and Elroy removed the chairs and shut and locked the school doors, Marybelle ran for the office. Miss Daniels was slumped on the floor next to her desk. Marybelle stepped over her body and sat down to call her mom.
"Mom, Dr. Randall gassed us and Earl is coming to hurt us you have to get help!"
"Marybelle? Are you OK?"
"Mom, call the police and hurry, please," Marybelle realized she wasn't sounding entirely sane. "I'll explain later, but you have to hurry!"
From the hallway she could hear heavy pounding on the school doors. Earl must have discovered they'd locked the doors.
"Marybelle, what's going on?" her mother asked.
"I told you. Dr. Randall gassed everyone, and now Earl is coming to hurt us. You have to call the police to help us!" Marybelle hung up. She would get yelled at later, but she didn't see the point of spending a lot of time explaining things to her mom.
She got off the chair and checked on Miss Daniels. The old vampire woman's body was limp, and no matter how she prodded at her, there was no response. Marybelle gave up and went to rejoin Jesse Lee and Elroy.
Elroy had his ear pressed against the door.
"I think he's leaving again," he said, softly. "He's been using words I'd never heard before." Elroy seemed to have a certain admiration for the human. Marybelle worried what Earl might try next.
"Do you think one of us should keep an eye on him?" she asked.
"That'd be dangerous," Elroy said. He glanced at Jesse Lee. Jesse Lee shook her head.
Marybelle thought for a moment. She knew she was no match for Earl, but Earl had to remember that she had almost killed him. As long as she didn't let him near her. Then she remembered another thing she had heard.
"Earl has AV rounds," she said. Elroy stiffened.
"He can kill us!"
"I know. DeVitter told him they didn't scare him, but they scare me plenty."
"We can't none of us go out there. Not if he's got AV rounds!" Elroy said.
"But we don't know what he's doing. I've been thinking. How did they gas the school?"
"I don't know," Elroy said. Jesse Lee poked him in the arm, hard.
"Basement," she said.
The three kids looked at each other, then ran down the hall to the door to the basement stairs. Elroy was far ahead of the two girls when the door burst open and Earl stepped into the hallway, his flashlight and an ugly snub nosed revolver raised in front of him.
"I'll teach you turd eating vamps to mess with humans," he snarled. The weapon barked and the children screamed. Elroy dove for one of the open classroom doors while Jesse Lee and Marybelle practically skidded to a halt. Marybelle grabbed Jesse Lee by the hand and scrambled for another one of the open classrooms. Jesse Lee tried to run back into the hallway, but Marybelle held her back.
"Earl," Marybelle called from where she was pressed against the doorframe. "I've called for help. You better go away if you know what's good for you."
"I should have killed you when I first caught you," Earl shouted. They could hear his heavy footsteps coming down the hall. Marybelle risked a peek and saw that he had passed the door where Elroy was hiding. If they could get him to waste his AV rounds... Elroy must have had the same idea, because Marybelle watched as he popped out from his room and threw a book that hit Earl in the head. As Earl tried to find Elroy with the flashlight, Elroy ran across the hall to another open classroom. Earl's gun fired twice, and Earl swore. Now Jesse Lee burst from their room and a chalkboard eraser sailed down the hall to peg the human in the back of the head. This time Earl didn't even try to use his flashlight. Three more shots, but Jesse Lee was safely back beside Marybelle.
The two vampire girls looked at each other.
"Six," Marybelle agreed. Together they burst from the room and ran toward Earl. They reached the human about the same time that Elroy jumped him from behind, and Earl, who had apparently been trying to reload his gun, collapsed under them. He tried to kick them away, but he was no match for three vampire children, and Marybelle tore the gun from his hand and threw it down the hallway. Then they let the human go and stepped back, the three of them taking up positions around him. But the fight was out of the human, who just sat cringing on the hallway floor.
"We still don't know what Randall and DeVitter were planning to do with all of you kids," Marybelle's poppa later told her.
"Teachers, too," Marybelle reminded him. Both students and teachers had come back around at the next sunset, none the worse for wear, to everyone's great relief.
"I heard the cars have been returned to the teachers," he said. "Oh, and Earl is going away for a few years. He just got sentenced."
Marybelle was glad. Maybe that's all Randall and DeVitter wanted to do? Sell twenty-five used cars to some shady character in Mobile for a tenth of their actual value? Marybelle found it hard to believe, but no one had a better explanation. Truth be told, she didn't really care. Her poppa was studying for the bar again, and she hoped he'd pass this time. Better not to bother him anymore.
Outside Jesse Lee and Elroy were waiting for her. She had her bones back from Dr. Randall's desk, and she and Jesse Lee and Elroy were going to go looking for a replacement for the small dog's tooth. Marybelle had found that, while she still liked walking through the woods at night, she liked it a lot better with friends.