Waking up the next morning offered a little relief. Saturday meant no school, which meant no bullshit from my classmates. My family moved to this part of Chicago halfway through my sixth grade year. I wasn’t exactly met with open arms. By sixth grade, the hierarchy is pretty much already established for the rest of the school years. Outsiders upset the balance. I quickly learned this was a tight-knit bunch, and newbies have a hard time fitting in. I’ve always been fairly shy, but I really did try to make friends. No one would have me. I resigned to becoming a loner, which equals loser, which equals wearing a target. When no one has your back, what’s going to stop someone from giving you Hell? I’ve taken my share the last two years. Constant ridicule and occasional physical violence. It’s pretty fucked up, because I never did anything to deserve it.
It’s the same shit I hear at home from my dad. Getting picked on for not playing sports. For being skinny. For reading books. For wearing my hair long. I get called pretty boy. Girly boy. Fag boy. The list goes on. I put on a good poker face, but it never stops hurting. At home and at school.
Maybe that’s why I was so enamored with the boy in front of my house. He followed me. He looked me in the eye. He saw me. The real me. Nobody ever sees the real me, because nobody bothers to look. Maybe l really am that pathetic. I’m becoming infatuated with a complete stranger. A murderer. Only because he didn’t beat me up or insult me. I hate my life.
I forced myself out of bed, took a shower, and went downstairs for a quick bowl of cereal. I had about fifteen minutes to get dressed and jog about six blocks. There is a Saturday tradition I dared not be late for, even though today I would prefer to just stay home. I wasn’t completely honest earlier. There is one friend. Kim. She is a Korean friend of mine. My only friend.
Kim was adopted by a white family, and has had her own struggles fitting in. She’s brilliant, and funny, and I couldn’t ask for a better friend. She challenges me and makes me think. I know she values our friendship as much as I do. We’re kind of like two kindred spirits who were lucky enough to find each other. Although, I don’t really know what she gets from me.
I rarely see her at school, but we always spend Saturdays together. We hop a morning train downtown, and bum around Millennium Park, Michigan Ave, Navy Pier, and all the other exciting places to see in Chicago. It’s fun to just spend all day together, with nowhere to be, and nothing to do.
“Soooo…rough night? You look a little disheveled,” Kim commented, as we took our seat on the L.
“Yup. That’s what I said. Look it up.”
“O-Kay…actually, yeah. I was up kind of late last night. I’m pretty tired right now.”
“Up late? So who’s the lucky girl?”
“Hmmphhff!” Yeah right.”
“Ok. So what had young Tyler up so late? Inquiring minds want to know.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Oh? Try me.”
“I was staring out my window, looking for a vampire boy who followed me home last night.”
“Haha! You were right. I don’t believe you.”
“You’ve gone completely nuts on me now. Hello? Earth to Tyler. What would make you think a vampire boy followed you home?”
“Because one did. I saw him. He was a vampire. He had super pale skin, and his eyes glowed.”
“I’m sure it was just a trick of light…and you’re overactive imagination. However, it is creepy someone followed you home. Are you sure he followed you?”
“Yes I’m sure. I saw him way over by the library and then in front of my house. He followed me, no doubt.”
“Weird. I wonder what he wanted.”
“I know. That’s the part that bugs me. I don’t know what he wanted, but I don’t think he wanted to drain my blood.”
“Oh my god! Stop already with the vampire crap!”
“But that’s what he IS! I didn’t…I…didn’t tell you everything yet.”
“What? What is it?”
I scanned the train to make sure nobody was listening in on our conversation, before I responded in a hushed tone. “When I saw him by the library, I saw him murder somebody.”
“Shhhh shhhh. Keep it down.”
“Tyler, do you realize how stupid you sound right now? I mean haha good one. You almost had me there. Acting so serious. But honestly, you can st…”
“Kim. I’m not kidding. I am dead serious. You have to believe me.”
I stared directly into her eyes. Unflinching. I needed her to believe me. Nobody else ever would.
“You are serious aren’t you, Tyler?”
“One hundred percent.”
“Oh my god. What do you think it was?”
“I told you. A vampire.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Find him.”
“Hold on there, Van Helsing. You’re going to find him. How?”
“I drew a picture of him. I know what he looks like.”
“You drew a picture…so now you can just go out and find him? You do realize Chicago is a really big place, right?”
“Duh. I didn’t say I was going to like find him in one night. It won’t be easy, but I will find him. I swear it.”
We unloaded near Millennium Park and aimlessly walked around. Kim was having a one sided conversation, as I was busy scrutinizing every person I saw with blonde hair, or under sixteen. I was not being real active in our time together.
“Umm Tyler? What are you doing?”
“Huh? What? Nothing.”
“Are you looking for your vampire friend? You are, aren’t you? Oh my god that’s so cute.”
“Cute?” What the Hell? I’m just walking…and lookin’ around. Ok?”
“Well Tyler my dear. You won’t find him now. It’s daytime. From what I’ve heard, vampires have a little problem with sunlight. You don’t know much about vampires, do you?”
“I know enough,” I said dejectedly. “Come on. Let’s go to the pier. This place is boring, and I want a coffee.”
We occupied a love seat near the fireplace, where I drank a mocha and Kim sipped a hot cocoa.
“You know you really shouldn’t be drinking coffee at your age. You can stunt your growth.”
“Haha. Stunt my growth. Bit too late for that, don’t ya’ think? I’m a shrimp now and will always be a shrimp. The tallest guy in my family tree is five eight. I’ll be lucky to see five five.”
“Well, all I’m saying is, you might stay four eleven forever, if you drink all that caffeine like you do.”
“I’m five foot even, thank you very much.”
“My bad. Five foot EVEN and sixty five pounds. Sound about right?”
“Not even close. Five feet at ninety five pounds.”
“I wasn’t that far off. Anyway, drink up, we’re going to Michigan. I’ve got something to show you.”
A little while later we walked into the bookstore, but it was more like a book warehouse. Kim reached out for my arm and said, “wait here. I’ll be right back.”
I complained, “what?”
“Just do it. Trust me.”
She ran off into the crowd and returned a few minutes later. “Ok. Follow me,” she said, dragging me by the wrist while sporting a big smile on her face. Whatever she had done, she was very proud of herself.
We ended at a very quiet, ignored corner of the bookstore.
“What is this?”
“This, is where you will find out all you need to know about vampires. I still think you’ve gone crazy, but if you’re going to try and find a vampire, you should at least know what you’re doing.”
“Wow. Thanks Kim. That’s a good idea.”
We spent the next fifteen minutes trying to find a good book about vampires. It was frustrating because mostly it was all crap. Just as I was about to give up, an employee showed up, to lend a hand. He looked like an extra from a NIN video, so he seemed like he was lurking in the right department.
“Something I can help you find?”
Kim jumped in, before I could find a way to embarrass myself. “Yes. I’m writing a book report on vampires, so I’m looking for a good reference book. A lot of information and stuff.”
“Let me see…this one should serve your purposes perfectly.”
He handed her a book titled ‘The Vampire Book.’
“It’s an encyclopedia, really. You’ll find the information you seek in there. If there’s nothing else?”
“Oh. No. Thank you. Thank you so much. This looks perfect.”
“Very well,” he said as he slowly strode away.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. What was the fake British accent about?”
“Hehe. Creepy guy.”
“Maybe he’s a vampire.”
“Ah…but it’s still daytime.”
“I’m so proud. You’re learning.”
I beamed. What could I say.
Kim and I sat on the floor and thumbed through the large book. It really was exactly what I would need, if I wanted to learn all about vampires. When we were done leafing through it, I saw the price tag on the back cover.
“Shit! Thirty bucks!” That could take me a month to save up that kind of cash.”
“Hmm. That is kind of a lot. Why don’t we check the library. Then it won’t cost you anything.”
“You’re just full of good ideas.”
We put the book back on the shelf and headed for the exit. “Would you like to help me, you know, find him too?”
“Umm…no. I’ll help you educate yourself, but if he’s really a vampire, and you happen to find him, I don’t want nothing to do with that craziness.”
“Nope. Just smart.”
We headed over to the beautiful Chicago Public Library downtown. I love this library, but I don’t get down here too often. There are at least six other ones closer to my house. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always enjoyed libraries. I do most of my homework and research at them. Maybe I’m old school, or maybe I just like to get out of the house as much as possible.
It only took a few minutes before I had in my hands, the same book we saw at the bookstore. I rushed to the checkout, as if it was going to get snatched from my hands before I exited the building, and skipped over to a bench to sit down and gave it a closer look.
“So, what are you really going to do if you find him? I mean, have you thought of that?”
“Well, I’m gonna ask him why he followed me home.”
“What if he tries to bite you?”
“I’ll run like Hell.”
“I don’t get it. It seems like you’re going through an awful lot of trouble just to ask that question.”
“I don’t know how to explain it, because you’re right…but there’s…I don’t know, something strange. Like a feeling came over me when he was standing there. I felt connected to him or something. Like we need each other. I can’t explain it good. Sorry.”
“Hmm…sounds like you have a crush on him.”
I reached over and slapped her on the arm. “Shut up! Whatever.”
“Ouch. Jerk. It’s just kind of weird Tyler. Hit me again, and I WILL kick your ass.”
“So…is he cute? Don’t you dare hit me again.”
“Screw you. Let’s get out of here.”
“Where the fuck have you been?” growled my often angry dad, as I stepped through the door.
“Out with Kim,” I responded quietly, dreading where this conversation might go.
“What’s that in your hands?”
“I can see that smartass!” he shouted, slapping the book to the floor.
“Where do you get all this money to go out and buy this crap?”
“Umm…it’s from the library. Where’s mom?”
“Out. What is this shit? Vampires? Some faggot vampire shit. Figures. Goddamn freaky little queer boy. Get the fuck out of my sight!”
As I reached down to retrieve the book and do as he instructed, I felt his open palm slam across the top of my head. I reeled back, in pain, holding back my tears.
“Go! Go! I don’t want to see you. You disgust me.”
As I turned toward the stairs to make a quick escape, my father, in a mocking girl voice, continued to give me Hell.
“Out with Kim looking at vampires. I’m such a girly boy. Blah. Blah. Blah.”
Then as I was just about out of earshot, he growled “How come I never see you with any guy friends? You fucking pansy ass queer!”
I made it to my room and calmly shut the door. Inside I wanted to scream, but I didn’t dare to draw any more attention. I sat at the foot of my bed and shook as a flood of emotions flooded through my head. I’ve never been able to figure out why my father hates me so much. I’ve always been such a disappointment to him. I don’t like the things he wants me to like. I have my art, and music, and reading. He likes sports, and women, and alcohol. The part that hurts most is his gay comments. The older I get, the more I think he is right. I think I probably am gay, but I definitely will never be able to tell him. I’m pretty sure he would kill me on the spot.
I sat in my room in silence, listening closely to what was going on downstairs. I was waiting to hear my mom come home, allowing me to take my guard down. Or, if that didn’t happen, I was waiting to hear the sound of the bathroom door shutting, giving me a chance to sneak downstairs and out the back door.
I waited patiently as day turned to dusk and then night, through my window, until finally I heard the familiar sound of the bathroom door closing. With my shoes in my hand, I tip-toed down the old staircase and into the kitchen. I timed the flush of the toilet with opening the back door. I slid my shoes on and hustled down the alley. I guess this will be night one of my vampire hunt. Having not thought much about where to go, or what to do, I decided to go back to where it all started.
I decided to go to the little coffee shop across the street from the alley. It was a Saturday night and the place was pretty crowded with what I guessed was students from a nearby college. I got some strange looks and odd glances, but nothing that felt too threatening. I don’t suppose too many young teenagers come into a place like this. Especially alone.
I walked up to the counter and looked at the chalkboard mounted high on the wall, to see what I could afford with the change in my pocket.
A skinny girl with straight, burgundy hair and many random piercings was standing at the far corner, chatting with some other customers. Ignoring me, so it seemed. I didn’t really know what to say or do, and was thinking of bailing, when one of her friends noticed me standing there, on the edge of panic.
She turned and smiled, and started walking toward me.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were there. What can I get you?”
“Ugh…small coffee please.”
“Is the house blend ok?”
“Ok. Buck twenty five.”
She handed me a small mug, took my money, and thanked me, before returning to her hidden dark corner, to chat with her friends.
I cupped my mug with both hands and scanned the intimidating room for a table. As luck would have it, the table I sat at the night before, was empty. I took a seat there and looked out across the street. After a bit, I started to feel awkward, so I took out my sketch pad and started drawing. I figured it would look best if I kept busy and made it seem like I had a reason to be there.
I didn’t really know what to draw, so I drew what I saw. The alley. Absentmindedly, I recreated the scene from last night, drawing the lifeless body with the two teens biting at his flesh. I continued to draw, long after my coffee was gone. Filling in details from what I could remember.
Suddenly, there was a voice from over my shoulder.
“Can I get you a refill?”
I quickly dragged my backpack over the top of my drawings, answering nervously, “umm…no…no thank you.”
Glancing back, I could see she was trying to see what I was hiding. She tried again, “you sure?”
“Yeah. I kind of don’t have anymore money. Do you…you need me to leave?”
“How about on the house? You don’t have to leave. Stay as long as you want.”
She grabbed my mug and walked back to the counter. A little later she returned with a full cup. She sat down in the chair across from me and slid the coffee toward me.
“Sorry about last night. My manager was here and she can be a real bitch. Especially with loitering.”
“That was you? Last night.”
“Yeah, and I felt so bad kicking you out, but you know.”
“It’s ok. I just didn’t have any money last night. I forgot it. You look really different than yesterday.”
“Haha. Yeah. I got my hair done today. You like?”
“Yeah. It looks…it looks nice.”
“Soo…tell me. I’ve worked here for like two years and I’ve never seen you before. But now you’re in here two nights in a row. What’s that all about?”
“Oh…I don’t know. I’ve just never seen it before.”
“Do you live around here?”
“Not really, but not too far away.”
“Are you waiting for someone? You seem to look out that window a lot.”
“Nope. I don’t know…just looking around I guess.”
“I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. I’m just kind of nosey. Well, probably should get back. If you need anything, just come and find me.”
I’m sure I must have looked pretty suspicious to her. Sitting by myself and hiding what I’m doing. I couldn’t exactly tell her what I was really doing. She’d call me a nut job and kick me out for sure. Lifetime ban.
I pulled out my color pencils and worked on some of the details on my drawing. Making sure to occasionally glance around, so I could keep my drawing secret, if anybody should come around. At one point I did become fully immersed in my project and hadn’t noticed the place had thinned out considerably. I set my pencils down and was pretty impressed with what I had drawn. It almost looked like a photograph. I had captured about everything I could remember from the horrific scene in the alley.
I saw the red haired girl look my way, so I closed up my book and started stuffing my supplies back into my bag. She walked over and stood across the table from me.
“Oh. No thanks. I do need the bathroom though. Do you have one?”
“Yeah,” she said, pointing toward one of the dimly lit back corners. “We’re open another two hours, if you change your mind about the coffee.”
I stood up and thanked her, as I edged my way to the bathroom. She stood still and smiled. When I came out of the bathroom she was back behind the counter. I went over to the table and put my coat on to leave. After I had myself ready to go, I walked my empty mug to the counter.
“Is there somewhere to put this?” I asked.
“Oh. Thank you honey. You can just set it in the counter. Heading out?”
“Well, I do hope you come back and see us.”
“Yeah. I will.”
“Cool. Can I ask one more question?”
“How old are you?”
“Aww. You’re just a baby. Sorry. Sorry. That didn’t come out right. I have a little brother. He’s thirteen and bugs the Hell out of me, but you don’t bug me. Do come back, ok?”
As I turned to leave, she interrupted me yet again. “One more thing. What is your name?”
“Tyler. I like that. I’m Jasmine. Jazzy. Bye Ty.”
I stepped back out into the cold and scooted across the street. It was after ten by now, and there wasn’t much going on in this part of town. The streets were very quiet. I walked back into the alley of my obsession and looked around. This time I looked a lot more closely than the night before. Maybe there was some small detail that I overlooked. I squatted down at the site of the murder, scanning every square inch. Nothing. I looked at the large dumpster where the man was ruthlessly slammed and eventually slumped against, as he was bled out. Then, I reached my finger under the dumpster. I dragged my fingers along the bottom edge, just out of view. It was wet with something. I walked over to the glow of the streetlight, held my fingers up to examine what the wetness was. They were red with blood. Unmistakably blood. I had my confirmation that it wasn’t just in my head. What I saw was real, and so was the mysterious vampire boy who followed me home.
I wiped my fingers on my jeans and took a good look around. With my discovery, came a sense of panic and fear. I really shouldn’t be here right now. What if they are watching too? Waiting to see if I came back. I decided to head for home, where I wasn’t so vulnerable. As I walked briskly down the sidewalk, I glanced back toward the coffee shop. Standing in the window was Jasmine. Staring me right in the eyes, with no readable expression on her face.
I jogged most of the way home, taking occasional glances across the landscape, to see if I was being followed. In reality, if I was being followed by a vampire, I’d have no way of knowing.
I approached the front of the house panting from exhaustion. I sat on the stoop to catch my breath before going inside. Even if the asshole is awake, my mom would be home, so I wasn’t on my usual high alert. The neighborhood was very quiet, except for the distant hum of traffic on the not too far interstate. Suddenly, there was a familiar sound that broke the silence. The unmistakable snap of a twig. I perked up my ears and scanned up and down the street. Looking for any kind of movement, or disturbance. I couldn’t make out the direction it came from, but it sounded pretty close. I quietly got to my feet and unlocked the door, sneaking in quickly. I locked the door and ran right upstairs, completely ignoring who was inside and where. I left my light off and ran right to my window, looking out to the scene below. Just out of my view to the left, I saw a shadowed figure disappear into the darkness of the night. I threw open my window and leaned out as far as I dared go, but it was no use. They were gone. I wanted to scream out to get the attention of whoever it was, but I held back. Even though I thought I knew who it was, I couldn’t be sure.
I flipped on the desk lamp and sat there with my thoughts. I dug my sketchbook out of my backpack and studied the gory picture I drew earlier. Why me? Why did he come here? Why didn’t he talk? Why did he spare me my life? I had all these questions, but no easy answers.
I thought back to earlier tonight and the coffee shop girl, Jasmine. She was kind of strange. Why’d she ask so many questions? Why was she so nice to me? Did she see what I saw the other night too? Does she know why I was there tonight? And then there was the cold stare she gave me when I walked by. Maybe I should stay away from that coffee shop. Something tells me it might not be safe. Maybe it’s connected to the murder somehow.
I spent some time looking at the book I picked up from the library. It was pretty cool, but it didn’t really offer much of what I was looking for. After a while, I opened up my laptop to see if I could find some answers there. I was happy to find the internet was loaded with information and websites. I’m sure a lot of it was bullshit, but there was one site in particular that seemed well informed and full of information. I read page after page of stuff, until my eyelids became too heavy to keep open. I glanced down at the bottom of the screen, and saw it was three in the morning. No wonder I was so tired. I closed up my computer, stumbled to my bed, and collapsed into an immediate sleep.
When I didn’t make it down in time for breakfast, my mom came up to check on me in the late morning.
“Wake up sleepyhead.”
“Huh? Ohh…good morning.”
“Morning? It’s nearly noon honey. You feeling ok?”
“Mm…I think so. Just really tired.”
“Your father and I are gonna run into town in about an hour. Do you want to come with?”
Thinking on my toes, I decided I would take advantage her previous question, and weasel my way out. “Oh I don’t know. I don’t feel too good actually.”
“Ok. Well don’t sleep all day or you’ll never get to sleep tonight. I made up a plate of breakfast for you. It’s in the fridge now, but you can reheat it.”
“You’re welcome handsome.”
She bent down to kiss me on top of the head, and left my room. I laid around a little bit longer and timed my shower with their leaving. When I got out, the house was all mine. A rare event, but one that I always enjoyed. I went downstairs in only my boxers, because I could. I docked my iPod on my dads stereo, which I never got to do. And I blasted my 90’s grunge playlist louder than necessary.
I reheated my breakfast, which was one of my moms skillet scrambles. One of my favorites. Thanks mom. I look it to the living room, another forbidden deed, and gobbled it down.
It’s not as if I was a bad kid, but breaking these little rules is part of my responsibility as a moody adolescent. It’s not as if I’m sneaking alcohol or smoking weed, but I somehow felt rebellious.
After eating, I flipped on the tv and scanned through all the bs, settling on some super cheesy old zombie movie. Bad acting. Bad special effects. Bad story. It was perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon, alone in my underwear. Tomorrow would be here soon enough, and all the shit that a school day brings with it. For now, at this moment, I can let it go and be free.