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Author's Chapter Notes:




True Love Totally Bites

By Sean Henthorn


It was back the year of the bombs that the stranger came to town.

She had long, dark hair, strange clothes, and spoke strangely.

She came from somewhere far away and she misunderstood the local customs.

She gave death glares to all who crossed her and arched her eyebrows in a totally terrifying way.

She invaded a farmhouse on the edge of the town, where its inhabitants learned she didn't eat their kind of food, liked to stay up all night and sleep through the day, and mostly kept out of the sunlight.

But this isn't her story. This story is about a girl who lived in the farmhouse, long before the dark haired stranger came to town. A girl who was touched by death at an early age, who could make anyone laugh with a few good faces, and who had the secrets of the world in her smile.

She was the youngest child of the farmers who'd lived in the house until their untimely death in a car crash years before the bombs. Her older brother would tell you that he raised her, but she'd say they raised each other. They took care of the farm and lived their lives quietly in the town where their family had always lived. The brother loved to hang out with his friends from the old days, when he'd been a football star and an all around popular guy, and he spent a lot of time at the local bar, where everyone knew him.

Everyone knew her too, but they also didn't know her. She spoke a whole other language than they did and she saw things they didn't. She knew about things they didn't, things about life and death that the other kids at school didn't know, and things about growing up that her brother and his friends didn't know.

She looked hard at things, and she laughed hard, and she was almost never afraid.

These are some of the reasons why the creature of the night noticed her.

His story goes back further than hers, further than her brother and even her parents. He was touched by death when he was young too, but he didn't survive it like she did. He became something else, a monster lurking in the shadows, hunting for prey at night and hiding from life during the day.

It wasn't all bad. He wasn't like one of those vampires with a soul, or who's turned into a vegan or something. He had some fun times and he went all over the country. He went to parties in New York, and concerts in New Orleans, and in the sixties he was all over the west coast. He passed through wars and earthquakes, diseases and fires. At the beginning it would give him a rush, knowing how he could survive all the things the living humans couldn't. But over time it started to feel boring. He started to get tired of the way things stretched out forever but were always the same.

He had lived this life of darkness for over a hundred years when he decided to rest for a bit. He went to Kansas, to a small town with lots of farms, and decided to lay low. He fed off cows and deer a lot, not because he was going soft like some kind of lame monster, but so he could stay put for a while. He still hunted his favourite kind of prey sometimes, especially ones he thought no one would miss – traveling salesmen, crazy people living out on the edge of town, lost jackrabbit hunters, that sort of thing. But he could make do too.

It was the year of the bombs that everything changed. The bombs left him feeling restless. He wasn't sure why. In the old days he used to be the one causing the death and destruction. Now, it didn't have the same buzz.

He wondered to himself sometimes, if he were to go out into the wild, find these places where the bombs hit, would he still be okay? Were vampires indestructible, even up against radiation?

The townspeople were strange after the bombs too. They were way more vulnerable than him, weren't they? But they kept going, acting like things would be back to normal one day. They didn't know how normal things already were. Death and destruction were normal. More normal than Oreos and cellphones. You always knew they were coming, at some point. Even as a vampire, you knew someday you'd slip up and somebody would notice you.

He took to hanging out with some of the wilder townspeople. The thief who wanted to be a murderer. The teenagers who wanted to be bad. It made him feel something besides tired. It was during this time that she noticed him.

She looked at him across a group of teenagers, fighting in a street. He couldn't tell exactly what that look meant, then, but he had a weird feeling there was something in them that was the same.

There was no reason why he should think that. She was the opposite of him in so many ways. She was nothing like a creature of the night. Everything about her was made of light, from her hair, to her face, to the way she moved, and her laugh. But she stared at him, all intense, and there were shivers on his neck.

He knew of course there'd be trouble if he spoke to her. He'd heard enough of the stories to know there always was. He knew he would never want to bite her – there was just something too alive about her to think of doing that – but he wouldn't want her to have to stab him with a sword and send him to a hell dimension, or have a dutch doctor dude chasing him all over the country. He couldn't help but smile at her, but he made himself turn away.

She was the one who came looking for him. In the early part of an evening, she came up to his car and knocked on the window. She stared at him, smiling up from under her eyelashes. If he'd had breath, he would've been winded. She was asking something, he could tell, though it had been so long since anyone had asked anything of him.

“Don't you have a curfew or something?” he asked.

She shook her head and her chin was raised high. “No,” she said.

It was a bad idea he knew. Going anywhere with this living girl. Part of him didn't care. It was a thrill, electric-like, when he opened the door and she climbed inside. He was reckless again, driving forward and staring straight ahead. Having her so close to him brought back an old feeling. It was like throwing burning cars or chasing cocky protestors. Like that time he'd climbed up Golden Gate Bridge or the time he'd picked a fight with the leader of a whole vampire gang. Riding around in the car with her, taking her to his favourite haunts and letting her show him hers, it was like all the mayhem and explosions he'd ever caused. He ran his fingers through her silky hair and ran his hands on her warm skin, and she held him tightly and breathed his name quietly and it was a little like dying, as he remembered it. And a little like living.

She wanted to feel like living-dying-chaos too. She met him in the dark, laughing and telling tales about her latest escape from chores and rules and her annoying brother and his annoying stranger girlfriend. He never told her not to, or worried about her being in trouble. He hadn't been that kind of guy, even a hundred years ago, so he couldn't pretend he didn't love watching her be wild. They made trouble, they made love, they made jokes and stories, all under a cover of darkness in a town without stars.

Her family hated him. They knew where she was going when she went out to meet him, and her brother made it clear how much he didn't like it.

“It's okay,” she said one time, as they sat watching the river in the early evening. “He'll be okay, one day.”

He didn't say anything. It'd been a long time since he had any family around so he figured he shouldn't mess with hers.

“It's like him, and her...” she trailed off, scowling as she usually did when she talked about her brother's new girlfriend, the stranger in town who turned out to be an accountant. “They drive me crazy and I want to punch them both in the face sometimes.” She looked down at her lap, and then back at the river. “But I never will. 'Cause he likes her. And I guess she likes him. Nice to see him happy. Even if he is an idiot.” She laughed.

“So what do you think he sees when he sees me?” he asked, playing with a piece of her hair.

“An idiot,” she said with a smirk. He shook his head, just pretending a little bit that he was insulted.

“Don't worry,” she said, reaching over to take his chin in her hand, turning his face towards her. “I like you.”

He grinned and leaned in to kiss her, not saying what he felt with his words.

He knew how much she loved her family, even when she made fun of them. Her brother had to leave and work in a nearby town for a while, and he could tell how sad she was, even though she didn't say it out loud much. Mostly she'd just complain about how her brother's girlfriend slept all day and was completely useless at cooking and taking care of the animals and fixing things on the farm. It never surprised him when she would sometimes get that sad, faraway look in her eyes, and he would know she was wondering how things were going for her brother and if he would ever come home.

He was surprised by the question she asked him one day. “Move in with you?” he asked. “Do you think that's a good idea?”

“I trust you,” she said. She never had any reason to. He never hurt her but he was a monster still, through and through. He could go out and bite half the people in town and the only thing stopping him really was that he liked it there and wouldn't want to move somewhere else. But somehow when she said things like she trusted him, it made him want to prove her right instead of wrong.

They moved him in under the cover of some tarps in the back of her truck, so he wouldn't get caught in the sun, one morning before the other occupant of the house was awake. She wasn't happy when she found out, but there wasn't much she could do. She'd heard he was bad news from the bartender in town (who'd had a near run-in with him once a long time ago and had worn a silver cross around her neck ever since) but she couldn't convince the girl to forget about him and move on with someone more approved.

She sent her death glares at him whenever she could, and though he knew they couldn't hurt him (they were a little less potent than holy water or wooden stakes), he was a little bit impressed. Maybe because she was part of his girlfriend's family (much as she would hate to admit it), he found himself trying a little bit to impress her. He helped around the farm, helped with the house, and stayed nearby. He gave up hunting for a time, trying to survive on what they ate, hoping it would gross them out less if he didn't show off his different lifestyle. It was hard. Their food was running so low they barely ever had meat. There were vegetables and rice a lot of the time, which is kind of like eating paper all the time for a vampire, but he did his best.

Luckily since it was winter the nights were longer than the days and he could spend time everywhere in the house and yard, trying to keep himself from getting too restless. His girlfriend helped, and he was happy to be there with her, riding horses, building fires, and laughing at her brother's girlfriend behind her back. Still, living like someone who was, well, living was hard to keep up for a long time.

They never knew how close he came. One morning, before the sun had risen, he was lying beside her, all twisted up in the sheets and sweaty. She'd fallen asleep and her face was peaceful. He couldn't sleep yet because it was so close to dawn, when he'd have to go down to the cellar to avoid the sunlight. Something else was bothering him though. He realized it was hunger, something he hadn't really felt like this for a long time.

Food had gotten really tight and he'd been trying to leave more for them whenever he could. Being alive took them so much energy. Now the food was almost gone anyway, and he couldn't stop thinking about finding something to taste, to sink his teeth into, and breathe in.

She moved a little in her sleep and he stared at her exposed skin. She was so beautiful, and so warm, and so nearby and he could hear her heart thudding, sending blood all through her veins. He leaned over and quickly threw another quilt over her. Turning away, he stood and went out into the hallway.

His feet took him downstairs and into the kitchen. The fridge only had one bowl of sprouts in it. They needed the sprouts, he knew it. He sighed and started to walk back to the stairs.

At the foot of the stairs, he heard a loud sigh. He looked over at the bedroom door. It was the farmer's girlfriend's room, and she was tossing and turning in her sleep. He waited, super still, in her doorway, all the nerves in his body tingling. If his heart was still alive, he was sure he would have heard it pounding. Now he could only hear hers.

He opened the door slowly and looked inside. There she was, sleeping still, happily unaware of him standing over her. She was wearing a hat and a pair of mittens and nearly buried under five blankets, but a flash of pale skin at the place where her neck and shoulder met caught his eye. He stepped slowly forward, hoping the floor wouldn't creak and thinking about his options.

No one would really miss her, would they? A stranger in town with barely any friends and easily lifted right out of the workforce since she didn't do much but make messes around the farm. Of course the brother would notice eventually, if he ever came back, but if he didn't, the vampire and his lover could have the whole place to themselves. Or maybe they'd leave and travel across the country, and he'd have fun like old times but better because she'd be there.

She wouldn't be there, he realized. Because she wouldn't leave this place she looked after. And he'd better hope her brother came home, because he could see how crushed she would be if he didn't. And even if the brother could be convinced it was an accident, she would always know. And much as she pretended to hate this brother-doing accountant, she wouldn't forgive him if he took her away from them. They were more than important to her, they were weirdly part of her that he couldn't imagine ripping away.

It was messy and sharp and almost too much and he had to get out of there. He backed up quickly and shut the door, going as fast as he could to the fridge and eating the bowl of sprouts in a few mouthfuls. Like bits of wax paper. But they made things better for a while. The accountant was pretty steamed when she noticed the sprouts were gone, but he just told her, “I was hungry.” She gave him another one of her glares and he reminded himself again that he couldn't have done it. Besides, he would have missed her funny stories about the idiotic things she'd seen going on each time she took a trip into town.

He managed to make do after that, going hunting sometimes to make sure he would survive, but sticking around to make sure things were okay at home. Eventually the big brother came home and he was really steamed that a vampire was living at his house. It took a while, but she convinced her brother eventually that things were okay. The vampire couldn't help but be impressed. He sometimes thought that if she wanted to, she could get the leaders of warring nations to shake hands.

Things were going pretty well until they became part of an actual warring nation. The town next door started making weapons and planned to attack their town. Her brother was in the middle of things at first but soon it was hanging over all of them. Mayhem and murder was coming to town again, and the vampire felt a restlessness stirring in him.

On the eve of the war, he left her behind, sitting around the kitchen table with her family, and snuck across the fields and roads. He went all the way to New Bern, the town that had declared war. He had to see what he could do. He easily took out the team of border guards, piling their bodies alongside the bags of sand they reinforced their blockade with. Going further into town, he found a warehouse where some of the weapons were stored. There must have been nine or ten guards he ran into as he ran up and down the halls, taking note of the whole stockade. It felt too easy, cornering them against the brick walls, trapping them with his fists, twisting their necks to hear the noise of an easy twig snapping. But once the rooms where quiet and he took in all the explosives, he felt suddenly a lot smaller. There were so many of them, more than he could even move out of there and hide somewhere in one night, and each one could rip through the farmhouse and blow his beautiful funny alive farm girl into bloody dead pieces.

“Hey!” shouted a voice, and the vampire spun around and closed his fist around the neck of another guard. The guard's eyes looked like they would pop out of his head as the vampire stepped closer, squeezing the man's neck. The man tried to whisper something, maybe to beg for mercy or make a last request, but he couldn't choke one word out before the creature sunk his fangs into his neck. The blood had a weird taste to it, like metal, and the vampire stepped back, spitting on the ground. The man slumped to the ground and the vampire took off running, knowing where he needed to be.

He raced the rest of the way back to the farmhouse at the edge of the small town. She was waiting, watching out her window, and he waved to her to come out.

“Come out here,” he said as he pulled her along, making certain she could see his lips in the moonlight. He could smell her fear but also the sense of excitement as she looked at him, waiting to see what he wanted.

“I have to tell you something,” he said. She nodded. He held both her hands in his. “Look, I tried to stop them. I thought, being strong as I am, maybe I could stop what's coming. But I can't. No one can. There's no way you can win this.”

Her eyes went from excited to sad to understanding. “Thank you,” she said. “For trying.” She reached a hand to the side of his face. A tear slipped down her cheek and he reached to brush it away. His hand traveled down her cheek, towards her neck. Her breathing, even when she was scared, was so hypnotizing. She smiled at him through her tears.

What he wanted caught him with a blaze. He wanted her, forever. He didn't want it to stop. He held her tightly and leaned in, baring his teeth.

Before he could sink his teeth into her neck, she jumped back and pushed him away with all her strength. “What are you doing?” she shouted.

He couldn't say anything. He stood like an idiot with his mouth open, staring at her in shock.

She signed something she'd never signed at him before, and stormed off to the house, tears in her eyes.

He stared after her and it was like time stood still. He couldn't understand how his chest could hurt so much, without breathing lungs and a beating heart. It was ruined. The eve of destruction and he'd destroyed what mattered most. Just before the sun began to rose, he ran over to hide in a shed near the barn.

It was there that she found him, a little time after. He was sitting with his head in his hands, on the dirt floor. She sat up on an old piece of equipment and looked down at him. “We're leaving soon. The fight's going to start. I couldn't go without saying goodbye.”

He nodded, still looking down. “I'm sorry,” he said.

She folded her arms. “I know. It's who you are.”

He sat up. “I said I'd never hurt you, but that wasn't what I was doing. I wanted to save you. Keep you from getting hurt.” He almost reached for her, but put his hand down again. “I didn't want to lose you. I thought we could be together forever.”

She looked at him for a long time. He wondered if she was thinking about her dead parents, her brother's girlfriend who'd lost all the people in her life in the bombs, her brother's close call with the radiation. He wondered if she'd imagined her life with him, and how long she'd seen it going on for.

“I could give that to you,” he said, slowly standing up. “I could give you life forever. You wouldn't be hurt by this war. You could be stronger, harder.”

She looked away for a while, but finally looked back at him, stood, and took his hand in hers. “I know. But it's not the life I want.” She looked over at the door. “I want the life I can have out there.”

He understood. She belonged out there. In a world of sunshine. Of brothers, friends, family that remembers your past and watches you change. He didn't belong to that world, but it was hers and he could never expect her to give it up.

She started to say something. “Go,” he muttered. She looked at him, and in her eyes he could see as much fear as he felt. “You belong with them. Go,” he repeated.

She gave him a small nod. They stared at each other for a moment that stretched out for ages. She made a move like she was about to leave, but she stepped towards him and kissed him. It was like their kisses had always been, fiery and icy and loud and calm and he wanted to hold on forever. He waited til she let go, and he turned away as she walked to the door. He crouched and covered his face as she opened the door and stepped out into the sun.

All day he listened to the sounds of the humans fighting each other with metal and fire. He could do nothing as long as the sun shined and through everything that happened, it did. It wasn't until the sun set that he could go find out what had happened. He felt a jolt of happiness as he saw her, walking back to the house with her brother and his girlfriend. The dust had begun to settle and everything was a mess, but they were together, smiling, hugging each other, and they would continue to live and change and be a part of their world. Part of him wanted to stop and stare at her forever, freeze her smiling face, her happy family, in his mind. But he began walking away. He made his way again through the fields, across the bridge, along the roads, only this time he wasn't going to New Bern. He didn't know where he was going, only that he was going away from her and leaving her behind in the world she needed to be in.

It was like he was back to his old life. That was what he told himself. He traveled to cities and small towns, hiding out in dive bars and abandoned warehouses. He got in fights, caused chaos, and killed without worrying about being found out. He laid low by moving constantly and he told himself the adrenaline was what made it worth it. The thing was, it was a different feeling, when he fought now. It wasn't just fun, excitement, something to make him less bored. Sometimes he tore up a bar room or beat up a soldier, and found himself screaming a loud scream of rage. And her face was always there in his mind. Always. But he had to keep moving, so he did.

He began to adjust, but he still kept a few reminders of his old life. He had a button she'd given him, with a picture of a duck on it, that he kept in his pocket. A piece of string that'd held one of his shirts together when it started to tear during his days of working on the farm. And now and then, he would listen in on the phone calls and messages coming out of their area, just to make sure things were going okay. It was because of this that he first learned of the bad news.

A Jericho local was trying to reach a family member who was out of town. Said she had to come home quickly because something bad had happened. A tragedy. Their friends needed them. And she'd said their name.

He got back there as quickly as he could, but it was far too late. The house was empty but one of the neighbours told him of her death and how the others were in hiding. He ran back to the house and went inside. There were only a few signs of the struggle that'd taken place. But he could feel her all around. He'd just missed her. There but gone. He let out a loud, wordless scream and sunk to the floor.

The next day, just as the sun set, the accountant found him sitting on the back porch. She'd been hurt too, he could see, and she looked tired. She gave him a wordless nod and sat down carefully.

“I'm sorry,” she said.

He looked at her and wondered if she was crazy. Her arm was in a sling and she looked like she hadn't slept for days. He just said “I'm sorry too.”

They sat in silence for a while. Finally, he said “Was it fast?”

“What?” she asked.

“I keep thinking,” he said. “That if I'd been here in time, I could've saved her. Kept her alive. Kept her with us.”

Her sister wiped tears off her face with her free hand. “It was too fast.”

The creature of the night didn't have the heart to go back to his old ways again after this. He stayed on the edge of town, in a shack, and fed himself when he got too hungry. He didn't talk much to anyone and sometimes he thought about stepping out in the sunlight and seeing what the burn would feel like. Most of the time, he imagined it again and again. Him realizing something was wrong, running back to town, getting between her and the gunman in the nick of time, or just catching her, biting her, making her better before her heart stopped.

He knew, somewhere deep down, that it wasn't what she wanted. But what could she want now? It seemed more impossible, than war, than the new flag, than vampires and monsters being real, that she could be gone.

And he stayed alive. He couldn't quite make himself gone, though he wasn't always sure he was anywhere. He sometimes went to where she was buried, though he couldn't imagine her there at all. She wasn't like him, put into a coffin but real and now. Hers hadn't been a beginning.

Once in a while, when he was nearby, he'd go nearer the house and watch them. The accountant and the farmer, the only remaining child of the people who'd farmed the land before. They had their bad days, and some good ones. Sometimes they sat on their porch still, just the two of them, leaning on each other's shoulders, and sometimes they were there with friends, laughing and joking.

One evening, just after sunset, he stood under the tree where he'd once sat with her. They didn't realize he was there and they were busy paying attention to their own conversation. The farmer held his wife's hand in his lap and the accountant rested her head on her husband's shoulder.

The little girl with long, whispery hair ran in the grass in front of them, reaching her hands towards the fireflies. She never caught them but laughed and kept trying again and again.

She never would have been happy, away from this, he knew. This was the world she loved, and it was a world that would always include her, somehow, even if he couldn't understand it. It wasn't his world. But he was glad he had never again tried to take it from her.

Her family whispered softly in the glowy porch lights. He turned and walked into the night.




“Hey stranger. Ready for some time off?”

Emily jumped slightly in her chair and quickly swiped at her eyes.

Heather had been standing in the doorway but she came into the room and surveyed her friend with a concerned look. “Oh no, you okay?”

Heather was already pulling up a chair beside her but Emily chuckled slightly and wiped her face again. Moments like this had been hitting her now and then, always unexpectedly, but they weren't usually brought about by reading students' assignments.

“And Sean,” she whispered in dismay.

“What'd he do now?” asked Heather cautiously.

Emily glanced down at the paper on her desk. “I wasn't expecting them to take this assignment so seriously.”

Heather smiled slightly, apparently satisfied that true disaster had not yet struck. “That's a good sign, right? That they really are buying into this 'just because you're adults and part of the town now doesn't mean a bit more education won't be helpful' thing?”

“Yeah, you're right,” nodded Emily, smiling herself. The once a week evening class she'd been teaching to this group of teens had been a hard sell at first, to the town and to the teens, but she had to admit she was pleased with these early results. Not that she should start bragging about victory yet, but it was a good start. And she still couldn't believe Sean had finally figured out metaphors. “It is a good sign,” she nodded.

Heather touched a hand to her friend's arm briefly and smiled. “So, you almost ready to go?”

Emily nodded. “I should write something on this one,” she motioned down at Sean's paper.

Heather nodded. “Well, I've still got to pick up something for my costume from Mrs. Weinberg. So take your time if you want to work on anything else. I'll be back in a bit.”

“Okay,” agreed Emily. She nodded again to her friend as Heather stood and went back into the hall. She scribbled a few notes on the last page of Sean's story and placed it on top of Marcus's.

Leaning back in her chair, stretching her arms in front of her, she considered the others in the pile. If Heather was talking to Mrs. Weinberg, kindergarten teacher and infamous gossip, it would probably be at least fifteen minutes til she was back. Probably time for at least one more.

She reached for the next in the pile. Allison's neat handwriting was scrawled across the front page. The young Hawkins was proving herself to be an engaged and enthusiastic participant in the class, but Emily was most intrigued to finally read some of her work. She felt like she might first get a glimpse into the mysterious side of Allison that she only hinted at during class discussions so far.  

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