Back | Next


Jody Lynn Nye

“Open wide, please.”

Obediently, Delilah Stollergard leaned back in the big chair and opened her mouth. Dr. Russell leaned forward with a little light and a probe to check her braces. She felt pressure tighten around her left fang and the adjacent bicuspid and prepared to wince. It didn’t hurt. She looked up at him thankfully as he went on adjusting the metal bands. With a snap, he attached new rubber bands, then stepped back, wiping his hands on a towel.

“How’s that feel?” he asked.

Delilah ran her tongue around, feeling the unfamiliar protuberances that lined her mouth.

“Fine,” she said. “How bad does it look?”

“Not bad at all, for a mouth full of metal,” Dr. Russell said, his pale blue eyes twinkling. “Here, let me show you.”

He reached for her file. From it, he took a fresh photocopy of a sketch of her that he had done the first day. She always found photocopies fascinating, because they were the closest she or any of her kind would ever come to being photographed. He had a lot of artistic talent as well as being a good dentist, because the girl in the drawing looked alive and interesting. He drew a couple of quick lines over the bared teeth.

“You’re showing good progress here and here. I’m still waiting for this gap to close. It will take a few months. We can’t rush things, but I promise you you will have a beautiful smile when it’s all over.”

“Great,” Delilah said, sighing with relief. She glanced out the window. Color still streaked the sky at the far horizon. “Thanks again for opening the office early for me.”

“I’m happy to, Delilah,” he said, his round, pale face beaming. “I think my son would disown me if I wouldn’t.”

Delilah felt the veins in her cheeks tighten, the vampire equivalent of a blush. “We just like walking together, that’s all.”

“Don’t tell him I said so, but it’s very kind of you to welcome him the way you have.”

“We’re used to newcomers,” Delilah assured him. “There are only a few night schools like ours across the country.”

He smiled at her. “Whatever your reason, thank you. See you next week, dear.”

“Bye now,” Delilah said, and hastily jumped out of the chair.

It wasn’t kind of her to show Jim friendship. She liked him a lot. He was really nice and funny. If only . . . 

“Ready?” Jim asked, springing to his feet as she came out into the waiting room. He was tall and lanky, his hands and feet seemingly too large for his thin arms, his face a long oval. His eyes were red like the rest of her friends’, but his hair was stark white. Except for that hair, he was really good-looking. He smiled, showing perfectly straight teeth and gleaming fangs. It seemed totally unjust that he, the orthodontist’s son, would never have to wear braces.

“Yeah. We’d better hurry,” Delilah said. “There’s assembly instead of homeroom.”

If only, she thought, as the two of them hurried out into the dark, he had been a vampire like her.

Jim fit into Elizabeth Bathory High School pretty well so far. He was athletic, friendly, and nice. He horsed around with the guys just like a normal teenager, but Delilah feared for his safety. Social vampirism required total honesty. Since they couldn’t see themselves in mirrors or photographs, they relied upon one another for information about their appearance. From what she had experienced of human girls, her kind were a lot less vain. If you had a tag hanging out of the collar of your shirt or the back of your skirt was unzipped or toilet paper was trailing from your shoe, someone would tell you—okay, in high school they were more likely to yell it at you from across the room than take you aside and let you know privately, but the assumption was still there that they were as open with you as you were with them. It could be a matter of survival. To be deliberately dishonest to someone was wrong. If they couldn’t depend upon one another, their fragile society could come apart. It had happened in other communities.

She thought it was ironic that Jim and his father had come to Bath, Ohio. They admired vampire -culture and preferred it over their own. For his part, Dr. Russell had never pretended to be anything but a human who saw potential clientele where his colleagues feared to go. The community had accepted him and his son. The one lie that they had told—by omission—was that Jim was human, too. One in a million vampires were born to human parents; the genes went as far back as Neanderthals, and might have been the death of that branch of humankind as well. It wasn’t out of the question that Dr. Russell and his late wife were carriers. Jim liked the taste of blood. As an albino, he abhorred sunlight. He was stronger and faster than the average teenager. He fully intended to make the change as soon as possible.

Delilah was contributing to that lie by letting it continue. The deception ate at her, but she liked the Russells too much to reveal it. Even her folks didn’t know that she was seeing a non-vamp boy. They liked Jim. The secret was the one source of friction between her and Jim. She had told him he had to come out before he was found out. When humans were surprised or frightened by the unknown in their presence, they killed. Vampires did the same thing, with less hesitation. Delilah herself had killed—but only animals. Vampire parents knew that their children had to learn where fresh blood came from. Usually they all consumed commercially-farmed blood, from the same sources as meat that humans ate. Delilah was proud that her family used only organic, free-range blood that had been gathered cruelty-free, though she knew her ancestors had consumed every species but their own. Their blood was toxic to one another. But she was afraid of what her peaceful, live and let live family would do to a human who had insinuated himself into their presence unawares. They would consider it no more than self-defense. Most vamps were afraid of their day-living cousins, not without reason. So had she been, until the Russells had come along. She was surprised to learn how alike humans and vampires were. That was good and bad.

The principal, Countess Olga von Mettenmeier, three hundred years old if she was a day, strode out into the spotlight on the center of the stage before the impatient teenage crowd.

“Sit still!” she boomed, aiming an imperious finger at the floor. Her prominent jaw had a quivering bag of flesh under it like that of a bullfrog, the source of amusement to Delilah and her friends. The iron gray eyes, the same color as the countess’s hair, peered around and seemed to bore into all of them at once. The students squirmed and sat still. “Good! We will not keep you long. Bathory High is hosting its annual science fair next month. I am looking forward to each of you presenting an experiment or a thought-provoking study. You find that funny, do you? Some day each of you will have reason to have learned to think. Consider this a practice session. We have invited the press. That means you will be constrained to behave yourselves more than you normally do. Anyone who causes trouble that makes it into a news report will fail the assignment. Is that clear?”

Jim and Mike Lippman did a painfully accurate pantomime of the principal that ceased abruptly when the fierce gaze fell on them. They froze.

“Very nice, gentlemen,” she said, her eyes glowing red. “You can perform that again at the talent show. But it will have no place at the science fair. Try to use your analytical faculties, not your taste for foolery. Dismissed!”

“How does she always see us?” Mike asked, plaintively, as the crowd rose around them.

“Because it’s always you,” Delilah said, clicking her tongue in disgust. She gathered up her books.

“I have a great idea for a study,” Jim said, helping her. He glanced around, then lowered his voice. “Will you help me with the animations?”

“Sure,” Delilah said.

“Hah!” crowed a voice behind them. “Russell can’t do his own magic. You stunted dweeb! Carb-eater!” The owner of the voice was a boy with an almost feminine beauty, dark hair that contrasted strongly with his pale skin, wide brown eyes, and long eyelashes.

“Artiss, will you grow up?” Delilah asked, putting the most pity she could into her voice. Artiss Conrad had been her best friend when she was little. They had gone all the way through primary school and junior high, but Artiss was stupidly jealous of the attention she paid to Jim Russell. He was making it impossible to stay friends with him.

“I’m not the one who bleaches his hair!” Artiss sneered. Jim stepped forward to shove the other boy playfully, but Artiss slid out of his reach. He ran toward the glass doors of the auditorium, dissolved into fog, and went under them. On the other side, he rematerialized, and looped his hands through the handles. Jim reached the doors and tried to pull them open. He was strong, but Artiss was stronger. He made faces at them through the glass. Jim pounded on the windows. Artiss laughed wildly.

“Mr. Conrad!”

Principal von Mettenmeier strode up, slipped effortlessly into fog, which seeped between the closed doors. She took Artiss by the ear until he let go of the door.

“Ow! Ow! Ow!” he yelped.

“Now, go to class,” the countess said, as the students poured out around them. “You are causing everyone else to be late, and I will not excuse you.” Artiss gave Delilah a reproachful look, then transformed into a bat and flitted away, keeping near the ceiling. She was disgusted.

“It’s all right, Mr. Russell,” she said kindly. “Everyone grows into his or her powers at a different rate. But,” she added with a fierce glare, “just make sure all the work is your own.”

“It is! It will be!” Jim promised.

Von Mettenmeier nodded. “I trust you.”

Delilah saw Jim cringe and felt her heart sink. That trust had been broken even before it was given.

The science teacher, Dr. Lemuel Travanti, had been a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, something that he never let his students forget.

“He tell me my thoughts are brilliant—brilliant!” Travanti insisted with a flamboyant Italian accent, pounding a fist on his desk. “So I expect you to listen to my lessons, and find your own brilliance, which is not so brilliant as mine, of course. This fair, it is a showcase for all of you, and it reflect on me, of course. So your work will be grand and glorious. I expect nothing less!”

Delilah groaned and buried her face in her hands. She had no ideas at all. Artiss waved his arm in the air.

“Will you have to approve our projects before we start them?” he asked.

“Of course, of course,” Travanti said, nodding. “So, you start us off, Mr. Conrad? You have the good idea?”

“Yeah,” he said, with a mean look in Jim’s direction. His eyes glowed like rubies. “I want to do a comparison of the lies that humans tell, and the harm they have caused throughout history.”

Delilah felt her heart stop for a moment. Did he know? Was he planning to reveal Jim’s secret in the middle of the science fair? In front of everyone and a bunch of reporters? There’d be a bloodbath! She wanted to grab Jim by the arm and fly him out of the classroom. Jim’s face paled even further than Delilah thought was possible. She reached out to touch his shoulder. He shook her hand off.

“This is science, not sociology,” Travanti said dismissively. “You save that for if we have a history fair. And I do not want a project that is a direct insult to the father of a classmate, you understand? That does not make use of your brilliant mind, which, as I say, is not as great as mine, but has its own promise.”

Artiss looked disappointed.

“You have got to let people know,” Delilah said to Jim, as they walked home from school close to dawn. “You can’t let him blow your secret like that. You could get killed!”

“I know,” Jim said, miserably. “I wanted to wait out the school year before I told. I figured if people had a chance to get to know me, they’d like me enough so it doesn’t matter.”

He sounded even more glum a week later when she came in for her next tightening. His father, though, was over the moon.

“Countess von Mettenmeier called me in for a parent-teacher conference,” Dr. Russell said, as he tightened her bands. “It’s the first time I met her. A very impressive woman, isn’t she?”

“Mmmf, mmf,” Delilah replied around his fingers and dental instruments.

“. . . I thought there was trouble, but it was marvelous news! They want to give Jim a certificate for academic excellence. It will be presented—along with the others, you know—at Awards Night next week. She wanted to make sure I would be there. Oh, I will. I wish his mother could have seen this.”

“Mm mfm.”

Dr. Russell beamed down at her. His blunt canines made her shudder just a little. “You’re right, I am proud. He’s so much smarter than his old man. I was afraid he would be overwhelmed by getting to know a new school, a new neighborhood, but he just slipped right into place. I put it down to knowing you, young lady.”

His father’s elation was Jim’s depression. The tall boy sloped toward school, his long spine bent over like a laboratory assistant’s. The heavy, overcast night seemed to match his mood.

“There is no way I can tell the truth now,” Jim said, woefully. “I’ll get double resentment from people if I do. For sure not until after the science fair.”

That is, if Jim didn’t have to run for his life before that.

“Let me see if Artiss really knows anything,” Delilah said, hoping to keep his mood up. “You’ve been so careful up to now.”

“If he thinks you’re trying to shield me, he’ll blow the whistle sooner,” Jim said.

“I know. Just . . . ​let me go to lunch with him alone today? I’ll see what I can find out.”

“How come you didn’t reply to my blog on Sketchbook?” Delilah asked Artiss. They had found a table near the glass wall of the yellow-painted cafeteria that looked out on the night garden. Bats flitted around the peonies that even this late in the year attracted ants and other insects they loved to eat. “I know you saw that new series on HBO. I wanted you to post what you thought.”

“I turned it off during the first episode—dammit!” Artiss choked and looked down at the red splotches on his hands. “I hate these bleeping new serving packs,” he said. “You sink your fangs into them, and they leak all over the place.” He slammed the opaque white bubble onto the long cafeteria table. More blood seeped out of the dispenser holes.

“Those foil seals are just creepy,” Delilah agreed. “I get a shock every time my braces touch them.”

“Your boyfriend doesn’t seem to be having any problems,” Artiss said, with a pointed glance toward Jim, who was sitting with Mike. The two of them were laughing over something.

“Come on, Artiss,” Delilah begged. “You’re my best friend. I’ve known you since we were babies. Don’t shut me out.”

He put his tongue up and licked the blood off his left canine. Delilah noticed for the first time that his incisors were crooked. He needed Dr. Russell, but she was sure he would rather die than go for treatment to a despised human. “I didn’t know you went for freaks.”

“It’s not what he looks like. It’s what’s inside him. He’s nice and smart.”

“Not so smart,” Artiss said, smirking. “He blew that glamour lesson in magic class. He can’t cast a spell for anything.”

Delilah glared at him. “That was really mean of you.” When the teacher stepped out of the room, Artiss had taken the opportunity to use his new skill to throw illusions on the hapless newcomer. Others had joined in the fun, surrounding him with monsters, falling furniture and fake walls. Jim was so dazed by the end that he had walked into a real wall trying to leave the room. Jim was at the top of the class academically, but it was all theory to him. One day, after he got someone to change him, he’d be great at magic, but not yet. Artiss used to be the top student in every class, until Jim came along. He was still the most talented, but losing his stardom obviously still stung him.

“It was just fun!” Artiss said. “If he needs to be wrapped in shrouds to stay safe, then he’s not going to make it here. Let him and his creepy dad go back where they came from.”

“They need to be here,” Delilah said firmly. “You’re not really going to do a project about human lies, are you?”

“No, I am going to make a study of all the massacres of vampires by humans over the course of history,” Artiss said, bitterly. “What do you care?”

“You’re just being ratty to Jim’s father so it hurts Jim. I thought you were better than that.”

“Maybe I’m not as superior as your freak,” Artiss said. “Maybe I feel betrayed.”

Delilah was shocked. “Betrayed? How? We never said anything about dating each other. Ever.”

“Maybe I changed my mind,” Artiss said, lowering his dark brows over his eyes. Delilah stared into the red glow, at a loss. How had she missed all the clues he must have been giving her? If Jim hadn’t come along, would she ever have noticed?

“I’m sorry . . .”

A bell rang at the front of the lunchroom. Delilah looked up. The school nurse sat down at a table to the side with an insulated zippered case. Artiss got up and kicked his chair so it slammed against the table beside Delilah. He stalked up to join the line in front of the waiting nurse.

Like a lot of vampire youths, Artiss had a congenital disease that meant his hemoglobin couldn’t absorb the donor oxygenators from the blood he consumed. It was like diabetes, from the readings Delilah had done in science class about humans. Artiss and her other friends with the disease could die in their teens from the condition. Jim and the others knew about it, because the sufferers had to line up several times daily for iron injections. Artiss knew that the others put up with his anger because they were worried about him, which made him angrier. No one liked pity. Artiss threatened them if they didn’t stop treating him like he needed to be wrapped in shrouds, but they were decent people and couldn’t help it.

She still wasn’t sure what he knew about Jim. Artiss could still put a spin on his project that might make others start to ask questions about the Russells. Any revelation might evoke comparisons to Jim’s father, and maybe someone would test the boy to see how much human he had in him. Which was a lot. One hundred percent, in fact.

Jim had been absolutely right about the notoriety that went with getting an academic certificate. He and three girls had been singled out for honors. The girls suffered the usual catty comments, which died down after another week, but Jim became the object of an undercover campaign of sabotage and malice.

“I’m worried about blowing my cover,” Jim confessed. “The last one, Nerys Binarti, scooted into my locker disguised as a bat, then pretended I had enchanted her and locked her in there on purpose. Mr. Travanti gave me detention for Wednesday. I couldn’t argue and say I was capable of twisting her mind like that. What if they want me to demonstrate? Dad and I will have to leave again.” He made a face. “I don’t want to go. It sucks to be the new guy all the time. People have been really nice about not staring at me here.”

“Well, when you can turn into a dog, white hair is just no big deal,” Delilah said. “Look, it would be better if you would just tell someone. Now. Is there a teacher you trust? What about Countess von Mettenmeier?”

“No!” Jim said, alarmed at the thought. “I want to get through this semester. I have to. They’ll stop bugging me sooner or later.”

“Not if Artiss is behind the harassment,” Delilah said.

“Don’t worry,” Jim said confidently, shouldering his bag as they rounded the corner toward his father’s office. “I’ll deal with Artiss.”


Delilah read through the text on the standing board at Jim’s table, which was in the second row on the broad auditorium stage. She read it through again, and shuddered. The magical animations that she had provided for him shimmered and danced in the center of the open space, repeating again and again. They showed the combined digestive and circulatory systems of a vampire. She followed the path of ingested blood. It went down the esophagus, then was absorbed through a membrane in the stomach lining that filtered it. The animation enlarged at that point to show the capillaries that fed the new blood into the vampire’s own circulatory system. Platelets in vampiric ichor erased the DNA of the species from which the blood had come, leaving the cells functioning as they would in a healthy organism. Waste products were collected in the intestines and kidneys, but the model ended at the tabletop, discreetly above the parts of the body that showed their elimination. Down the sides of the standing display ran a series of images of distorted or unhealthy cells that prevented absorbtion of this nutrient or that. The top one was of disk-shaped cells that were bleached pink instead of a healthy red. She groaned.

“I can’t believe you talked me into helping with this,” she said.

“It wouldn’t look good without special effects,” Jim said. “And I can’t do them. Yet.” He gave her that hopeful look.

“No, and maybe never!” Delilah said. “Why did you do this? Artiss is going to be upset that you’re airing his iron deficiency in public! Is this revenge for him picking on you?”

“No!” Jim said, his eyes widening in alarm until the whites around the red irises were exposed. “No, I’ve been doing some research. I think it might be possible to splice genes to prevent iron deficiency. When I go to medical school, hematology will be my special subject.”

“You just want to drink the specimens,” Artiss said, with a sour expression.

Delilah jumped.

“I didn’t see you.”

“Yeah, you never do anymore,” Artiss said. He scanned Jim’s display. “So the freak hits back, huh? I didn’t know you had it in you.” He turned his back on them and sauntered over three rows to where his table stood. Jim looked stricken.

“That wasn’t what I meant to happen,” he said.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?” Delilah asked, after a moment of shock.

“Bad news,” Jim said at once.

“He’s pissed at you.”

Jim made a face. “No kidding. There’s good news?”

“Yes,” Delilah said, tension in her neck easing for the first time in an entire month. “He doesn’t know you’re human. Did you hear what he just said about your hematology specimens?”

“Yeah!” Jim said, a smile easing across his long face, and his shoulders relaxed. “Whew! Now I can come out at a time when it’ll do the least damage.”

Delilah settled down to enjoy herself. Her project had been on bats, animals that she had always loved. The vampire bat was too obvious a choice, and besides, Bobbie MacKenzie was doing her paper about them. Instead, she had chosen Amazonian fruit bats to -demonstrate echolocation, a trait that vampires used as well as their small mammalian counterparts. She had set up a miniature cylindrical sound chamber made of plexiglass with images of bats whisking around and between obstacles. Doing it with electronics was beyond her skill level, though she had recorded the shrieks of bats from the local zoo. The rest she had had to do with illusion magic. She had just enough talent to draw power to run her display and Jim’s. He credited her on his paper, so there were no falsehoods here. She had fun watching the visiting reporters screw up their faces in pain at the sharp sounds coming from her display. The article that the school had put in the paper about the science fair had attracted loads of visitors. She hoped it would help make people think of the vampire community as friendly and welcoming. A human high school was only about six miles away, but it might have been on another planet. One with too much daylight.


A flash of light exploded in Delilah’s face. When her eyes cleared, a hand was holding a square of white up to her.

“Robin, what are you doing?” she asked.

Robin Feldman was in the year behind Delilah, but she mingled cheerfully with all the classes at Bathory.

“Kirlian photography,” Robin said. “I’m taking pictures of everyone’s aura. I’m going to post mine on Sketchbook. You can, too, if you want.”

“Thanks,” Delilah said, holding the little square as it darkened. She couldn’t see features in the mass of colors that radiated outward from a silhouette in the center, but it was the closest thing to a real photo of herself that she had ever had. “It’s awesome!”

“Yours is really pretty,” Robin said, peering over her shoulder at it. “You should see some of the others. Here’s Jim’s.” She held out a mass of rainbow color. “It’s the strongest image I have been able to get. He must have a really powerful aura.”

“Don’t show Artiss,” Delilah whispered. “He’s in a bad mood.”

“He already saw it,” Robin said, apologetically. “Hecate, I hope that’s not what they’re fighting about.”

Delilah followed Robin’s gaze until she spotted the two boys. Jim was in front of Artiss’s display, which was titled bravely, “Vampiric Superiority Against Overwhelming Enemy Numbers.” Her friend’s face was purple with fury. Jim’s was uncharacteristically pink. Delilah made a beeline for them, weaving in between people. She had to make them back off before they started fighting. The principal had told them what would happen if they made a scene.

“. . . Sticking it right in my face, right here!” Artiss snarled, his fangs glistening dangerously. Some of the adult strangers, almost all humans, backed away from them. “No, I do not want to be part of your ongoing study. I would be happy if you went back to your coffin and buried yourself for ten thousand years!”

“Look, we don’t have to be enemies,” Jim said. “I’d be grateful to have your input.”

“Well, here’s my input,” Artiss snapped. He put his fingers up in a V-shape, and his voice took on the echo of power. “I call on the powers of darkness to cast you out. Let light and fire consume you!”

Jim recoiled, throwing his hands up before his eyes.

“Artiss!” Delilah shrieked. “Stop that!”

Artiss spun and thrust his forefinger to her nose. “Don’t you defend Mr. Perfect, here. He’s not real, wanting to embrace his enemies.”

“I’m not your enemy!” Jim protested. “Well, I . . . ​I don’t want to be. I want you to accept me. Please!”

Artiss gave him a glare, but it melted off his face, leaving his faunlike features blank. As Delilah watched in horror, Artiss sank to the floor. She threw all the magic she knew at him to catch his head before it bounced off the stage boards.

“What happened?” Jim said, kneeling at Artiss’s head. Other students were on their feet. “I didn’t do anything to him!”

The faculty judges came toward them in an alarmed group. “What is wrong with Mr. Conrad?” demanded the countess.

“He’s having an attack,” Delilah said. “I bet he didn’t eat lunch.”

“Is his medication here?”

“He gets it from the nurse,” Delilah said. She bent her head over Artiss’s mouth. He panted in short breaths, only a few per minute.

“Someone, go!” ordered the principal. One of the elder students jumped up from his table, leaped into the air in bat shape, and flew out the door.

By then, the human reporters had taken one of two actions. The first and overwhelmingly larger group fled for the doors, bursting out into the night, many of them screaming. The second, smaller contingent were huddled, wide-eyed, at the side of the stage, the men with their arms protectively around the shoulders of the women, their cameras and recorders held out like weapons. Delilah wanted to run to them, to reassure them that they weren’t in danger, but Artiss came first.

“Can’t move,” Artiss murmured. Delilah let out a little cry of relief.

“Lie still,” she said. “They’re getting your injection.”

“He needs iron,” Jim said. “I bet he hasn’t had any all day. Look at the color of his skin. He’s critical. He could die, Delilah.”

“No!” she protested, cradling his head in her arms.

“Didn’t eat. Too excited.” He glared at Jim. “All your fault.”

“It is, kind of,” Jim said, grimly. He thrust a wrist into Artiss’s face. “Bite me.”

“What?” Delilah asked.

“Bad time for insults, freak,” Artiss gasped. “You’d like that.” Biting another vampire tore up their digestion for days. All other blood on earth was edible and safe, but not their own.

“Bite me,” Jim insisted. He took a deep breath and let it out. “I’m human. Take my blood. Save your life.”

Weak as he was, Artiss could still show scorned disbelief. “You are not a bleeping human.”

Jim reached into his mouth and removed his fangs. To the horrified cries of the other students, he revealed his blunted canines. “I am so. These aren’t real. My dad made them for me. Hurry. What have you got to lose? How long until you pass out?”

“Not long,” Artiss said in a fading voice. His eyes rolled upward. Suddenly he reached out. With amazing strength, he grabbed Jim’s arm and bit down on the other’s wrist. Jim gasped. Delilah could tell it hurt like crazy. She had never been bitten by anything but her hamster. Artiss fed, the blood rolling down the sides of his face.

The pain was the least of Jim’s worries, to judge by the others homing in on him.

“Mr. Russell, stand up,” boomed the countess. Her eyes were aflame with fury.

“Not yet,” Jim begged. “He needs more. I . . . ​I can stand it.”

The countess pointed a finger, and Jim’s chin rose in spite of himself. “Mr. Russell, what is the meaning of this? Are you trying to poison your classmate?”

“It’s not poison,” Jim said. “Countess, I told you a lie when I enrolled—just one. I’m everything else that it said on my transcripts. Only, I’m not a vampire. I’m a human.”

Countess von Mettenmeier grabbed his shoulder and lifted him into the air. He dangled from her grip like a kitten in its mother’s mouth. “Come with me, Mr. Russell.” She turned and marched out of the auditorium. Jim’s long legs kicked in the air.


“No one else comes!” the principal boomed over her shoulder. The rest of the faculty advisors swarmed after her like a pack of wolves. Delilah sat down beside Artiss, stricken with fear. She had been afraid of this for months. He was going to die, or worse, get expelled.

“Damn him!” Artiss said. Delilah looked down at him. His face looked less pinched already. The purple faded from his cheeks. “Just when I was comfortable hating him.”

“He couldn’t let you die,” Delilah said.

“But he’s a bleeping human. Why wouldn’t he? He’s not one of us.”

“Yes, he is,” Delilah said fiercely. “He’s our human. It’s okay to be human, if you’re like us. He couldn’t help being born needing . . . ​needing food. He wants to make the change. He just can’t yet, but he will.”

“He won’t live that long,” Artiss said. “I’ve seen the countess mad before, but never like that. Hey, wait for me!”

Delilah ran for the door, changing to a bat as she ran. She took off. Artiss was wing to wing with her.

They resumed their normal shapes when they reached to the principal’s office, and pounded on the door with both fists. The countess answered it herself and looked down her aristocratic nose upon both of them.

“What are you two doing here?”

“What’s going to happen to Russell?” Artiss demanded.

“Go to the nurse, Mr. Conrad,” the principal said. “You have been ill. This is a very serious matter.”

“But you know his father’s a human,” Delilah said. “Can’t you understand that he might want to keep his condition a secret?”

“Honesty is a vital trait in our culture, Miss Stollergard,” the principal said, her eyebrows lifting incredulously. “Are you falling into the human way of thinking?”

“No! I mean, I understand why he did it. He wants to belong, Countess,” Delilah pleaded. “Don’t hurt him.”

“Hurt him?” Countess von Mettenmeier echoed. “I have not hurt the boy. I brought him here for his protection. But he is answering questions. You must understand that his credibility has suffered a mortal blow. The community will not be pleased to have a liar in their presence.”

“But he saved my life,” Artiss said.

“Yes,” the countess said, with a wintry little grin. “I agree, that does make him seem more than human. But we have to maintain a higher standard.”

“Can we see him?” Delilah asked.

“No. An explanation has to be made before we loose him again upon the world. If we do. Go back to the fair. Go! Don’t question me again.”

Dr. Russell stood back from the chair and wiped the probe clean on a towel. “How does that feel?” he asked.

Artiss sat up, grimacing. “Like you scraped my gums off.”

“That means I did an extra good job,” the orthodontist said, beaming. He snapped rubber bands onto the new braces. “You know, if you were human, I’d have to pull out your canines to straighten your teeth.”

“No!” Artiss glared. Then he realized that Dr. Russell was teasing him. Delilah, at his side, snickered. “But you don’t have to with us.”

“No, I’m pretty good at what I do,” Jim’s father said complacently. “You’ll have a smile that’s good for hundreds of years. See you next week, Artiss.”

“Thanks,” Artiss said, and struggled out of the deep chair. He gave Delilah a sheepish glance. “C’mon. We’d better fly if we want to get to school on time.”

Delilah looked alarmed. “We can’t. We’ll leave Jim behind.”

“It’s a figure of speech!” Artiss said. He pushed out into the waiting room, where the pale-haired boy was waiting. “Come on. We’ve got practical magic today. You going to be as inept as you were yesterday?”

Jim smiled, and the false fangs clamped into place over his rounded canines gleamed. He didn’t have to wear them any longer, not after the countess’s stirring defense of him at assembly the week before, but he liked them, and Delilah preferred the way he looked in them. “Probably. What are you going to do about it?”

“Enjoy it,” Artiss said. He marched out the door of the orthodontist office, his head high.

Delilah took Jim’s arm. Together, they followed him into the clear night.

Dave Freer is a former ichthyologist/fisheries scientist turned SF/fantasy writer. He now has eleven books in print (the most recent—Dragon’s Ring—came out last October) a number of which are co-authored with Mercedes Lackey and/or Eric Flint. He is also the author of about twenty other short stories, and a teens novel. He lives in Australia and he has learned a lot about teenagers from his sons, though very little about vampires. He does wonder why he is so anemic. 

Back | Next