Dysfunction and Dynamics
Doug's father burst through the front door, wisps on the night's mist following in with the breeze of his sudden entrance. "Where's your mother?"
Doug put down his tattered geography book and looked up from where he slouched on an upholstered divan, finger combing long black curls out of his face. "Where she always is, sitting in front of the mirror in her bedroom. What did she do, call the mayor a cow again?"
Warren LeRoux's eyes flashed with impatience. "You know she never called her that."
Doug knew his mother denied it. He also knew commenting on it would get under his father's skin and at fourteen years old, he couldn't help his teenage self. He shrugged and retrieved his textbook.
His father peered at him as if debating whether to continue. Doug figured he would. "That rumor is not the only thing damaging Bonita's reputation. And remember, what tarnishes her reflects on the rest of us as well."
Doug slammed his book shut. "I didn't marry her. I had no choice but to be born because of the two of you. Her tarnish, your tarnish, follows me like a black cloud every day. Have you ever wondered why I have no friends? If I could change my parentage, I’d do it in a heartbeat."
His father blushed red up to the top of his bald head. Long, black curly hair, like his son's—though only at the sides and back—was pulled into a thick ponytail that whipped as Warren spun and stomped to his bedroom.
Thick, dark, eyebrows protruded over Doug's eyes as he scowled at his father's back—his thin lips forming the flat line of a vindictive smile. As soon as his father closed the door to his room Doug hurried to stand close enough to hear.
Houses in the land of Vampire varied wildly in quality and construction. Warren felt, as a councilman in the city of Moordwick and having the mayor's ear, he should be afforded the luxuries of carpeting on wooden floors and real glass in all of the windows. Muffled by expensive imported rugs, Doug’s father shouldn’t be able to hear the creak of floorboards outside the bedroom.
Gossip circulated about how the civil servant was able to purchase such luxuries. Among the rumors following Doug’s parents were stories of foreign gold coming with Warren and his bride fifteen years before.
Bonita looked to be an ordinary vampire woman. But, her scream was unlike any other in the land. Once heard, a vampire would never forget its sound or the weakness hearing it left in their bowels.
The solid wooden door was not so thick, or his parents didn't attempt to lower their voices, and Doug listened with interest to their conversation.
"Silvia Hashmeer has been ensorceled or zombified or something. She's sitting in her home in a catatonic state, staring, unseeing, unresponsive and others are pointing their fingers at you," Warren growled.
Bonita's voice was cheery. "Why yes, dear. I've had a wonderful afternoon. And how was your day?"
"Don't play with me, Bonita. This isn't a time for levity. Everyone knows that you were at her house this morning. And while the whole town thinks they know what you're capable of, no one really knows what your skills are. It scares them and they jump to conclusions."
She laughed, though it was dry and humorless. "Very convenient. The cthulhu spawn visits someone by herself and the next everyone knows, the hapless woman is trapped in a vegetative state."
Doug's father hissed. "Don't say that."
"Why not? That's what they think. That's what they all say when my back is turned and they're too stupid to think that since I'm not looking at them, I won't hear them. Or maybe, they want me to hear. So, I walk past them, hiking my skirts to avoid non-existent mud. Let them see I have ankles and legs just like they do."
Warren coughed and cleared his throat. "You shouldn't ask for trouble. It makes my job so much harder."
She snapped at him. "I don't ask for trouble. Trouble is all over this town and if your job is difficult, that's your problem. It was you who brought us here for your great opportunity. You never considered the home we left or the lives we would have to lead to facilitate your climb up the political ladder. You knew all about me from the time we were children. If you didn't want trouble, you should never have asked me to marry you."
Doug heard his father step toward the door and dashed quietly back to the couch before the doorknob turned. As his father crossed the room to his study, Doug asked with feigned sincerity, "How's mom?"
His father shot him an appraising scowl but said nothing, closing the study door without a word.
The following day, Bonita stroked her son's hair as he finished his breakfast. "My boy is becoming such a man. Do the girls chase you all day, like I would have when I was your age?"
He put down his spoon and turned in his chair. "Did you chase dad? I can't imagine him waddling fast enough to escape from a tortoise."
She slapped him gently on the shoulder. "You! Your father was much more slender when he was young. And he had more hair. But, no. I never had to chase him. He always had his eye on me. I remember when he came to talk to my father and ask for my hand..."
"Your father. You hardly ever talk about him. Why don't we visit your parents the way we do dad's?"
A bang came from the front of the house as something heavy struck the door, followed by the crash of shattering glass.
Doug jumped to his feet but hesitated to run into the sitting room in case another rock or brick was about to fly through the window. He looked to his mother who remained rooted where she was. Her knuckles were white where she gripped the back of his vacated chair.
Someone rang the front bell. His mother bit her bottom lip.
The bell rang again and someone called through the broken window, "Bonita? Are you there?"
Like a statue coming to life, Doug's mother rushed to the front door.
Doug followed, his leather soled shoes crunching on the broken glass.
Bonita opened the door. "Hephzibah. It's you."
The two women hugged. The woman patted Bonita on the back. "I saw some children running away and then I noticed the broken window. Bonnie, are you alright?"
They stepped apart. "Yes. Thank you, dear. It's very shocking." She fanned her hand in front of her face. "I think I need to sit down."
Hephzibah helped Doug's mother to the couch. "Let me get you some tea."
The woman passed Doug on her way to the kitchen. "I think you should get to school, young man. It's getting late. I'll help your mother clean up this mess."
Blood rushed to Doug's face at the woman commanding him in his own house, though she was right. He needed to be off. "You'll be alright, mom?"
"Yes. Thank you, son. We'll get the house cleaned up and I'll go talk with your father. Behavior like this from neighborhood children is unacceptable. Warren is supposed to be an important person in our community. He should be treated with respect."
"Okay." Doug hesitated, then headed out the door wondering what his important father would do about this vandalism.
A rock sat on the steps down from the porch, obviously the first to hit the house as it had a note tied to it. Doug slipped the note from beneath the twine and shoved it in his pocket to look at when he was alone. He hurried around the corner and down the street to the school. He wondered who the children were who Hephzibah had seen throwing the rocks and running away. The rock on the steps was big enough and must have been thrown with enough force to make such a loud bang on the door. No small child could have been the culprit—most likely it was someone his own age.
Arriving to the middle school Doug wondered which of these children might have written the note and thrown the rock. There weren't many students around his age, only a few hundred, and most were as reclusive as he was. He passed a few groups of people as he entered the two-story, brick building. None turned to greet him or acknowledge his passing.
His first class was art and he sat at the large table. He spread out sheets of paper and arranged his pencils from the softest leads to the hardest. Fifteen minutes before class was to begin, and he was alone in the room.
Doug slipped the paper from his pocket. The writing was neat, the letters precise on unlined paper, though the message was unclear, 'Slimewalker, go back to your swamp.'
The beginning of class neared and others entered the room. Doug quickly slipped the note back into his coat pocket. Two students across the table laughed under their breath and seemed to glance at Doug every time he looked away. At the end of class when the young people gathered their supplies and slid their chairs back from the tables, had someone whispered, "Slimewalker"?
Doug walked down the long hallway toward his language arts class, ignoring the actual or imaginary stares of those he passed, looking at anything but the faces of his fellow students. On impulse, he stepped into a classroom, empty of everyone but the teacher. She concentrated on the papers before her, not noticing Doug's silent approach until he was almost at her side.
She smiled. "Doug. Biology isn't until this afternoon and no assignments are coming due. Is there something I can help you with?"
Doug stopped in front of her desk, shoving his hands into the pockets of his baggy corduroy pants. "I have a question, Ms. Shardsmith. Is there something called a slimewalker?"
She sat up straight, and blinked her eyes several times. "Well. Yes and no. That is a derogatory term, not an actual classification. And, whether the creatures actually exist to which the term has been connected, well, no one really knows for sure. To accuse someone of being a, well, of one of those creatures, defiles the accuser as well as the accused, because to have knowledge of such requires rather intimate contact. And no one would admit to that, since, otherwise, one would just be spreading rumors, which is also wrong."
Doug shuffled his feet. "Maybe, someone might admit that they're one of them."
Ms. Shardsmith cut him off. "No. No one would admit to that. They're purported to be very dangerous with psychic abilities to control the minds and actions of other people. No. To admit that would be asking for exile or death, even."
"If slimewalkers, sorry. If that term is bad, what are they really?"
"I can't say they really exist. If they did they would be referred to as Cthulhu spawn. They are believed to have descended from the ancient gods and allegedly have hidden in the southern swamps for generations. They are indistinguishable from regular vampires. That's all I know about them, so, unless you have other questions, I must get back to my work."
Doug shook his head. "No. No other questions. Thanks."
He turned and headed toward the door. The hairs down the back of his neck seemed to stand on end. Was Ms. Shardsmith's watching him leave, making assumptions about his motivation? He glanced at her quickly as he opened the door. She had been staring at him.
The broken glass was all cleaned away when Doug came home from school and brown paper was taped up, covering where the window had been. Examining the front door, he found where the rock had struck it, leaving a deep gash in the wood. For the first time in his life, he found the door locked. His mother must have really been upset by the attack that morning.
The back door to the kitchen was unlocked. "Hey, mom. I'm home." He dropped his books on the kitchen table and walked further into the house. "Mom?"
With no response he walked to her room and knocked on the door. "Mom? Are you in there?"
All was silent in the house. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in the house all by himself.
The back door opened and closed. Bonita LeRoux hurried into the sitting room from the kitchen, breathing heavily and straightening disheveled hair. "Doug. You're home."
"Yeah. I just got here. You were out?"
"Yes. I was out," she repeated absently. As if waking up she added, "I was in the backyard."
Doug frowned. "The front door was locked, so I came in through the back door."
She nodded, walking to her room. "Good. We need to keep the front door locked, after this morning."
He pursed his narrow lips. "I didn't see you in the back yard."
She stood as still as a statue, barely taking a breath. "I was around the corner."
Bonita went into her room and closed the door.
A moment later, the front door rattled. Doug wondered if he should check who was there, until he heard a key in the lock, followed by his father opening the door. His jaw was set with grim determination as he charged to the bedroom. Doug watched through the open door as his father challenged his mother. "Bonita. What have you done?"
No coy response this time. She spat back, "Are you accusing me of something? Your wife? I've done nothing but hide in my home all day fearing who will attack next. And where have you been?"
"Me?" Doug's father stepped back, dramatically, as if he'd been struck. "I've been chasing around the town trying to convince people not to burn you at the stake."
"And why would someone want to do that?"
Doug stepped into the bedroom and held out the note he'd taken from the rock. "They think you're a slimewalker."
They both turned to stare, open mouthed, at their son. His father's pale face was a stark contrast to his mother's bright red blush. Warren took the note from Doug's hand.
"Where did you get this?"
Doug shoved his hands back into his pockets. "It was tied to one of the rocks thrown at the house this morning. I tried to look up what a slimewalker was in the school library, but there were no references to anything like that. Do you know what that is?" He looked from one parent to the other for an answer.
Doug's mother walked to the bed and sat, staring at her hands.
"Dad? What's a slimewalker?"
His father snapped at him. "Don't use that term in this house."
"Fine, then. I'll go use the term outside in the street and I'll ask people what they know about them. And I'll keep asking until someone gives me an answer and can explain to me why it was written on that note and thrown at our house."
Doug's father closed the bedroom door on his wife and showed Doug to the sitting room. "Take a seat and I'll tell you what I know." He looked back over his shoulder as if to see if Bonita had followed out of the bedroom. "No one admits to being one, and no one admits to knowing one, because they are believed to be psychic vampires who siphon off the mental powers of regular people. Their victims are left like Silvia Hashmeer was yesterday and like the other two women were left today."
"What two other women? I haven't heard anything."
"I don't want to say." Doug's father closed his eyes and sighed dramatically. "But you should know. Your mother is implicated. One is Hephzibah Gournish and the other is Alathea Fourie."
Doug shook his head. "Hephzibah was here, this morning, after the kids threw those rocks."
His father nodded. "And your mother visited Alathea earlier this afternoon. All three women were last seen with Bonita before they were found bewitched."
Doug could barely control his anxiety and got to his feet. He walked around the couch and stared at his parent's bedroom door. "Is mother a, well, one of those things I'm not supposed to mention?"
Warren said nothing.
"You would know, wouldn't you? They said at school, knowing one is as bad as being one. You would know she's not, if she was just a normal vampire. You can stand up for her, then. You can defend her."
"No Doug." His father stood and walked to his side. "I can't defend her. And the evidence against her is too damning. Your mother had close contact with each of these women shortly before they were found. If she had visited only one of them, we could reason that away, but you know the saying, 'Three's a Charm'."
Doug pointed at his father. "Wait. You can't defend her because the amount of evidence against her, or, because you know what she really is?"
His father's eyes seemed to bulge out of his face. "What she really is, is your mother and my wife. I'm not going to throw her to the wolves just because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or times."
Doug folded his arms. "What are we going to do, then? Board up our windows and dig a mote around the house?"
"No. We're going to move. People are too superstitious in small towns like this. We need to go somewhere bigger. Somewhere more accepting to people who are...different." Doug's father headed toward the door.
"Where would that be? The capitol? Hordamere"
His father shook his head. "California. Lock the door and don't let anyone in."
"Warren?" Doug's mother stood in the open doorway to her bedroom. "Where are you going now? You always seem to leave, just when we need you to be around."
Unable to disguise his annoyance, Warren rolled his eyes. "I'm going to find out if I still have thirteen friends who will join with us to form a circle and send us away, magically. If not, I'm afraid we will be hounded all the way to the borders of Vampire and the land between where we can make the transfer ourselves. Pack a single suitcase of what is most important to you. We have to hurry."
Doug's mother found him in his room, sitting on his bed, next to an empty suitcase.
"You haven't packed a thing. Your father will be back soon and you won't be ready."
Doug hunched forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and scowled sideways at his mother. "I don't want to be ready. I don't want to leave. Everything I know is right here. I don't want to start new somewhere else."
She leaned against the wall. "It's not safe to stay here. They threw a rock through our window. It could have been a burning bottle of alcohol and we wouldn't have been able to gather up any of our belongings before we left."
"It was kids. Teenage boys looking for a little excitement. Are you going to let a couple of punks chase you away from the home you've built over the last fifteen years?"
"Ideas have to come from somewhere. If kids are talking about something, it's because they heard adults talking about it."
"But why?" Doug stood up to face his mother. "Why are we running away? Are you what they say you are? Did you do to those women what they said you did?"
She put her hands on her hips as if it would make her more right. "Of course I didn't hurt those women. They're my friends. But, people will believe what they want to believe, and right now they want to believe I'm guilty."
Warren burst into the room, nearly knocking his wife over. He looked around the room frantically. "Why aren't you packed? The ring will be formed in the backyard in less than fifteen minutes. We have to be ready to go before anyone can interrupt the ceremony."
"Take mom and go. I'm staying here." Doug sat back down on the bed.
His father stomped toward him. "Are you insane? They're organizing near the town center. They'll be coming for us within the hour. They'll burn the house down and anything, and anyone, in it."
"No. They're coming for mom. When they get here, I'll tell them you left town with her, and they'll leave me alone."
Doug's father seized him by the arm and pulled him to stand. "You're not insane. You're stupid. If they think your mother is a creature with supernatural powers, what does that make you?"
A mixture of frustration and anger boiled inside Doug. "If mom is innocent, just a normal vampire, we should be able to go to court and talk to a judge. If she's not normal, and I'm not normal, tell me what she is, now, or leave without me."
"Okay." Warren pointed through the open door. "Let's go." They followed Doug's mother out to her suitcase. "Your mother is a descendant of Cthulhu spawn, ancient gods with psychic powers to control others. Because she is, there is a chance that you are too. We won't know for a few years if you have those characteristics. But if we don't get the two of you out of here soon, we may never have the chance to find out."
Doug saw through a window they passed, people gathering on the front lawn. Some carried torches. "It looks like the circle is forming out front."
Warren gritted his teeth and picked up his wife's suitcase. "Those are not our friends. I told them to form the circle in the backyard. The people out front are a mob come to exact their own justice."
At the door to the back yard, they peered through curtains. Doug counted a half dozen people gathered in the shadows. "There aren't enough people yet."
The front door rattled and then someone kicked it hard, several times.
"Let's go," Warren said, opening the door to the backyard.
They hurried down the wooden steps to the dry grass of the dead lawn.
Incomprehensible shouts came from the other side of the house.
A woman stepped from the shadows--the mayor. "Form the circle, quickly, the others will be here in a moment and we can start."
Even as she spoke, the side gate opened and three more dark forms slipped into the yard.
"Where's your suitcase, Dad?" Doug asked as his mother hanked him toward the ring of people forming in the middle of the yard. A low chant groaned from their midst.
His mother interrupted. "Warren. We only have twelve participants. We need another."
Doug's father stepped into the single gap in the circle. "It's okay. I'll catch up with you later."
With Doug and his mother at the center, the area inside the circle rapidly filled with fog until he was no longer able to see the participants around them.
When the fog cleared again, Doug and his mother found themselves alone, on a short gravel driveway to a dilapidated cottage.
Standing five yards away from a paved road visible between hedges to both sides of the gravel drive, they heard the roar of something approach. Doug and his mother jumped back as a metal, horseless carriage shot past, humans inside, clearly visible through large glass windows.
Doug heard the crunch of gravel as his mother walked to the cottage. Unwilling to resign himself to his apparent fate he folded his arms and stood in the center of the driveway, watching her climb the steps and push open the door. After fifteen minutes of silent rebellion he saw his defiance was getting him nowhere and followed her into the house.
It appeared that humans had not lived there for many years. Paint peeled around the door frames and the linoleum floor tiles were discolored and cracked. Once through the doorway, the kitchen opened to the left and a small sitting room lay directly ahead. From the sitting room, two doors lead to bedrooms on the right, with a bathroom between them.
Doug entered the smaller of the two rooms. Brown light tried to shine through the filthy, north facing window. There was no furniture in the dusty room.
He turned around to find his mother considering him. "How am I supposed to live here?" he growled at her. "I didn't have a chance to bring any of my stuff and there's no furniture in the house. Dad's not even here to suffer with us. Did you know he wasn't coming along?"
She folded her arms. "Well, no. I thought he would be here. We didn't have much time to talk this adventure out. But, you had the chance to pack. It's your own fault that you sat there brooding like a child."
Doug tried to think of a sassy response. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a horn from their driveway, and then a knock on the door.
Opening the door, Doug was greeted by a young vampire, not many years older than himself. He didn't smile, but indicated a vehicle behind him in the drive, its open bed loaded with boxes and furniture. "I'm Randall. We brought you some stuff. My parents got word you'd be here today."
Doug stepped out onto the porch.
Randall pointed to a girl beside him. "This is Theressa. She and I both came from Vampire, too. This other girl is Marrissa. She used to be human."
Doug glanced at each person. "Are you from the local coven?"
"I'm in charge of the tributary." Randall pulled a box of mason jars filled with thick red liquid from the bed of the truck. He handed the box to Doug. "My parents lead the coven for this part of town. How old are you?"
Randall smiled. "Perfect. There's an elf your age I need someone to keep an eye on."