"There are two kinds of vampires, Hector." The old woman shifted in her rocking chair and fumbled for her cup of tea. "Born vampires and made vampires." Her voice trailed away into a rattling cough.
"Yes, Grandmama?" Hector VanBriggle cupped his chin in his hand and leaned forward, striving to be the picture of interest.
The old woman stared at him blankly.
Hector sighed. "Yes, Grandmama."
"Your Aunt Phoebe..."
Hector sat up straighter, "Yes, Grandmama?"
The old woman settled back into her rocking chair and turned a beady eye on her only living relative. "Your Aunt Phoebe was taken by one of those creatures."
Hector had met his Uncle Rupert once. He had been delighted by the older man's interest in him, and by his lovely wife, Phoebe, whose auburn hair shimmered in the recesses of a young boy's imagination. "But Mama said..."
Grandmama scowled. "I don't care what your Mother said. Listen to your Grandmother, Hector."
"Your Aunt Phoebe was taken by one of those creatures." The old woman paused, as if expecting a response.
Hector sighed, "Yes, Grandmama."
"Taken. And turned into one of them. A Creature of the Night."
"A young boy such as yourself has no need of the details," Grandmama said. "But you have to be vigilant, Hector."
"Vigilant," Hector echoed.
"And ready to kill at the slightest provocation."
"Provo-what?" Hector struggled with any word with more than ten letters.
"Provocation. It means..." Grandmama waved her hand in the air. "At any time."
"Oh." Hector tried to imagine always being ready to kill someone, and failed. "But how, Grandmama? I've never killed anyone before."
"You must be ready!" Spittle flew from Grandmama's lips. She bent forward, nose-to-nose with Hector. He drew away from the smell of her breath. "You must be ready! They're watching us, even now."
"Even now?" Hector squeaked.
Grandmama's eyes moved towards the shuttered windows. Her breath hissed from her lips. "Even now."
On cue, something scraped down the windowpane. Hector's breath caught in his throat. Surely it was only a branch, not a vampire. Surely...
Grandmama lurched out of her chair and threw open the shutters. A dark shape veered away from the window--a bat?--and vanished into the night.
Hector's heartbeat thundered in his ears. "W-was t-that..."
"A vampire," Grandmama purred. "One of the vilest of the undead. There are two types of vampires, you know."
"B-born vampires and m-made vampires?"
Grandmama turned away from the window, but left the shutters gaping open. "Yes. Born vampires and made vampires. Do you know the difference between the two?"
Hector had to swallow twice before he found his voice. "N-no, Grandmama."
The old lady's eyes glittered in the firelight as she slumped back in her chair. "Born vampires are of the old blood. Some of them can change into bats; some into wolves and snakes." She fixed Hector with a beady glare. "I've heard some can turn into mist and seep through keyholes into young boys' rooms."
Hector gulped. "T-they c-can?"
"Indeed." Grandmama fumbled with her pipe and the bag of tobacco, and soon the familiar smell filled the room. The smoke from her pipe took on a life of its own and tickled Hector's nose.
He tried to watch the shadows in the corners of the room, but he couldn't watch them all at once. What if that shifting shadow by the sofa housed a grinning vampire? What if the smaller shadow behind one of Grandmama's bookcases hid a bat? What if...
"You're not scared, are you?"
Hector licked his lips, "N-no, Grandmama."
The old lady puffed on her pipe. "Good. They can smell fear. Now. Where was I?"
"Born vampires and made vampires, Grandmama," Hector whispered.
"Ah, yes." Another puff of smoke drifted up into the air and swirled in the shadows cast by the fire. "Born vampires are much more powerful than made vampires. The creature that took your Aunt Phoebe..."
"Rupert," Hector whispered.
Grandmama peered at him over the bowl of her pipe. "Yes. His name is Rupert. How did you know?"
"I... Aunt Phoebe and U-uncle..."
"That creature is no uncle of yours," Grandmama snapped.
"T-they came to visit," Hector whispered. "After Papa died."
"Hmm." Grandmama rocked for a moment, her gaze on the shadows outside. The bat had not returned to the window. Hector didn't know whether to be happy about that or suspicious.
"The one called Rupert is a born vampire," Grandmama said. "Both his... parents were vampires, and their parents before them. He'll live forever, if someone doesn't stake him first." She seemed to have someone in mind for the job.
Hector stared at her. "Stake him?"
Grandmama dipped her hand in her knitting bag and withdrew a polished wooden stake. The blunt end looked like it had been hammered many a time before, and the pointed end had dark stains obscuring the grain of the wood.
Hector's throat tightened. "What's that?"
"A stake, boy," Grandmama said impatiently. "And here's the hammer." She handed him the stake and a worn mallet. "How do they feel?"
Hector felt his face flush. He wanted to drop the stake and the mallet and run from the room, but he knew Grandmama would only follow him. And he couldn't run outside. Not if the vampires were still around. He glanced at the window and thought he saw a dark shape flit past.
"How do they feel?" Grandmama smiled at him. "When I staked your Aunt Phoebe..."
"You... you staked Aunt Phoebe?" Aunt Phoebe was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. And Grandmama had killed her? "You k-killed Aunt Phoebe?"
Grandmama's eyes narrowed. She snatched the stake and the mallet from Hector's hands and stowed them away in her knitting bag again. "I killed a monster that looked like your Aunt Phoebe." She puffed angrily on her pipe. "Go to bed, boy. You're obviously not ready for this."
Hector stumbled to his feet and stood in front of her, shaking. "You killed Aunt Phoebe... did you kill Uncle Rupert, too?"
Grandmama's laugh had a broken edge to it. "No, that one's a bit harder to kill than I expected. And I've grown old trying to catch him."
"Was that him at the window?" Hector asked.
"Perhaps. He likes to taunt me."
You killed his wife, Hector wanted to say, trying to imagine how Uncle Rupert felt. If he ever fell in love with a beautiful girl like Aunt Phoebe, and someone--her own mother, even!--murdered her, he'd... well, he would want revenge.
Hector shivered and glanced at the window again.
"He likes to taunt me, but he'll never catch me outside at dark," Grandmama said. "He can haunt me until I die. I don't care."
"But wasn't Aunt Phoebe your... daughter?"
"My daughter died the day he turned her into a vampire," Grandmama whispered, and sank back into her chair. She sighed. "Go to bed, boy."
Hector stared at her for a moment. He wanted to hear her laugh and tell him the whole story was a joke, but he had a feeling Grandmama was telling the truth. He shivered and glanced at the window again. Uncle Rupert and Aunt Phoebe had been so nice to him after Papa died. And Uncle Rupert had even bought him a teddy bear.
Surely an evil monster wouldn't buy a teddy bear for a little boy.
"Go to bed, boy," Grandmama said again, her voice harsh. "Go to bed. Leave an old woman in peace."
"Yes, Grandmama," Hector whispered.
Five minutes later, he lay in bed with the covers pulled up around his shoulders, clutching the tattered teddy bear that a vampire had given him. He could not sleep. His mind would not stop thinking about poor Aunt Phoebe and her untimely death.
Something tapped at the glass of his window, and Hector jerked up in bed, breathing hard. He stared at the curtains, and saw a dark shape move behind them. A bat? Was it Uncle Rupert, still wanting revenge?
He slipped out of bed and listened hard at the door, but Grandmama didn't make a sound from the living room. Perhaps the old woman had fallen asleep in her chair. Perhaps she had gone to bed.
The tap came again, a bit louder this time. Hector stared at the curtains, then slowly pulled them aside. His legs felt all rubbery, like jelly, and he couldn't seem to breathe without choking on his own fear.
His window faced the road, and the moon shone down upon the gravel, making the shards of quartz and granite sparkle like diamonds in the darkness. He saw no bats, but something had tapped on the window. Had it been his imagination? He gulped and started to turn away.
A figure stepped out of the shadows beside the house, familiar even in the darkness. Uncle Rupert had always dressed impeccably, and he looked no different tonight. There was enough moonlight for Hector to see the expression on his face as he bent close to the window and mouthed a few words Hector couldn't hear.
Uncle Rupert had laughed easily when he had brought Aunt Phoebe to visit. His eyes had been full of love and sorrow for Hector's Papa, but Hector had trusted him even before he knew exactly what his uncle was.
Now, Uncle Rupert's eyes were shadowed by grief and anger. His face had thinned, leaving his cheekbones protruding and his eyes sunken and dim.
Hector met his gaze. He knew exactly what Uncle Rupert wanted, but he couldn't force his hand to unlatch the window and allow it to swing open. He couldn't move at all.
Uncle Rupert sat down outside the window in the wet grass and put his chin in his hand. He waited for a moment, then covered his face with his hands.
Hector didn't want to see him cry, so he forced his fingers to close on the latch and swung the window open a little bit.
"Uncle Rupert?" He had to whisper; Grandmama had excellent hearing.
"Hello, Hector. I was very distressed to hear about your Mother." Uncle Rupert didn't sound like a murdering monster. Had Grandmama been wrong about him? But if she was wrong, and had murdered her own daughter...
Hector's eyes pricked with tears. He wiped them away. "You can't come in if I don't invite you, right?"
"You are correct." A thread of anger worked its way into Uncle Rupert's voice. "Your grandmother has been teaching you well."
"They were going to send me to an orphanage," Hector whispered. "I had nowhere else to go." He paused. "I'm sorry about Aunt Phoebe. Grandmama told me."
"She did." Uncle Rupert's voice broke. "Did she say why? Phoebe and I had eternal life together. And one old woman ruined everything."
"She said you were a monster," Hector whispered.
"Do I look like a monster to you?" Uncle Rupert asked.
Hector clutched his teddy bear to his chest. "No."
"Then let me in!" Uncle Rupert knelt in front of the window. "Please, Hector. I loved Phoebe. Your grandmother took all of that away."
"You're going to kill her, aren't you?" Hector's voice broke.
Uncle Rupert hesitated. Hector could almost see the thoughts flying through his head. "Yes," he finally said. "I can't lie to you, Hector. But she killed Phoebe. You have to understand."
Hector couldn't think. What his Grandmama had done was horrible, but did she deserve to die for it? Had Phoebe deserved to die for falling in love with a vampire? He felt a hot tear trickle down his cheek and wiped it away.
"I don't want to force you to make this decision, Hector," Uncle Rupert whispered. "But I've been waiting to avenge Phoebe's death for two years. Do you understand how frustrating it is, knowing her murderer is sitting inside this house, safe and alive?" His voice cracked on the last word and he buried his face in his hands again.
It was that one little shred of humanity that helped Hector make up his mind. Aunt Phoebe did not deserve to die. Uncle Rupert wasn't a horrible, evil creature, and Grandmama was wrong. But did Grandmama deserve to die?
The tears flowed faster than he could wipe them away. Hector buried his face in his teddy bear's fur and tried to think, but he was so tired. The smoke from Grandmama's pipe and her horrible story had rattled him so much that he couldn't think straight, much less make a decision like this.
"I don't want Grandmama to die," Hector whispered. "They'll send me to the orphanage."
"You can come home with me," Uncle Rupert said. "And live in a castle. Would you like that?"
"I don't want Grandmama to die." First his father, then Aunt Phoebe, and then his mother had died. Hector never wanted to go to another funeral again.
Uncle Rupert seemed to struggle with something, as if he wanted to shout but didn't dare. He finally sighed and closed his eyes. "Then I give you my word, Hector. If you invite me inside, I won't kill her. But I will take you away from here."
Hector hesitated. "Then you can come in." As soon as he spoke those words, he wanted to take them back, but he knew it was too late. He backed away as Uncle Rupert climbed through the window.
"Thank you, Hector."
Hector's voice dried up in his throat. He stared up at his Uncle, mute and terrified. His legs turned to jelly again.
"Why don't I tuck you in?" Uncle Rupert helped him to bed and tucked the covers around him. Hector felt something thaw in his chest. His eyes slipped shut. He had to force them to open again.
"You won't kill her," he whispered, almost too tired to force the words past his lips. "You won't kill her."
"I gave you my word," Uncle Rupert said gently. "Why don't you sleep now, Hector?"
"I'm not tired," Hector whispered, and drifted away into dreamless sleep.
Twelve years later
"Do you realize how much it costs to heat a castle these days?" Ophelia's father sipped blood from a wineglass and made a face. "It will be worse come winter. Last year..."
Last year, the plumbing had sprung a leak and the front hall had become a skating rink for most of January. Ophelia swirled her supper around in her glass and tried not to add to her father's worries. At least Darkbrook had no tuition fees.
"I realize that, dear, but I think..." Ophelia's mother waved her hand. "There are over four dozen of us living here. Surely things can't be all that bad! Tracy has a nice paying job, Seth is going to night school..."
Ophelia's father slammed down his glass. "We're existing on bottled blood! The human members of the Family have little less than macaroni and cheese to eat!"
"I like macaroni and cheese," Cousin Hector mumbled from his place near the middle of the table.
"You might like it, but I've been contemplating going back to school," Ophelia's Aunt Nadine said, carefully blotting her mouth with her napkin. "I'm sure one of the local colleges has night classes."
The others murmured around the table, suddenly caught up in the fear of the moment. Ophelia sighed. Once upon a time, all the Family had to worry about were vampire hunters. Nowadays, they had to worry about bills and electricity and silverfish in the library.
"It's close enough to Halloween," Hector said between bites. "Why don't you open the castle up as a bed and breakfast?"
Stunned silence greeted his words.
Ophelia's mother turned green. "What did you say?"
"You're all so worried about money. The humans run haunted houses every year and make a profit." He ducked his head when everyone at the table stared at him. "Cousin Seth and I went to one last year. It was badly done, but they charged ten bucks a piece to get in."
Ophelia's mother swayed, but Ophelia's father had a speculative gleam in his eyes.
"Tell me more, Hector."
Hector VanBriggle suddenly found himself at the center of attention. He swallowed rather audibly, which set the pimple on the end of his nose bobbing up and down.
"I... ah..." He adjusted his glasses. "It was just an idea."
Ophelia glared at him. Trust Hector to come up with an interesting idea and then have no clue how to make it work.
"It would be easy enough, I'd think," she said. "All you would have to do is advertise in human newspapers... 'Spend the night in a vampire's castle' or something like that."
"Brilliant!" Ophelia's father shouted.
Hector opened his mouth, then flushed angrily. Ophelia waited for him to say something stupid, but he stabbed at his supper instead.
"Oh, I don't know," Aunt Iseult twittered. "Would that be safe?"
Ophelia's father waved his hands dismissively. "We haven't seen a hunter in close to thirteen years," he said. Ophelia saw her Uncle Rupert flinch. "I doubt opening up our castle for a couple of months would do any harm..."
"But..." Ophelia's mother turned a stricken gaze on Cousin Hector. "How could you suggest such a thing? Humans, here? In our home?"
"It's a brilliant idea," Ophelia's father stated. "Brilliant." He rubbed his hands together. "I'll need all of you to help me make this work, of course... We could charge by the night. A sort of Halloween hotel, I suppose."
Ophelia felt a thrill of uneasiness when she realized what opening up the castle would entail. Humans. Roaming through the halls, the rooms... getting underfoot and in the way... poking into things they shouldn't be poking into...
"If you're going to do this, can I invite Jacob over for a couple of weeks?"
Ophelia's parents exchanged glances. "I suppose that could be arranged," Ophelia's father said.
"With her parents' permission, of course." Ophelia's mother regained her composure quickly. "If you truly think it will work, dear..." She sighed. "I suppose it will be safe enough."
Ophelia's father grinned. "It's only for a little while." He patted his wife's hand. "And it's not like they'll believe we're really vampires..."