Chapter 3: TV is the Coolest Thing Ever!

Do you know what the best thing ever invented is?

Television!

I’d never seen one of those contraptions, as my Uncle Vlad called them, until Laine’s family invited me into their house. Everything was different in their house. Instead of candles and drafty fireplaces, their home was lit by electric lamps and warmed by a central heating system. Their furniture was cheap, and kind of shabby, but really comfortable.

“Wanna watch TV?” Laine asked me as I stared around the room.

“What’s TV?” I asked.

“Are you kidding?” Her grin was wide and felt like daylight. “Come on. My favorite show’s about to start.”

Sawyer and Laine watch TV
Sawyer and Laine watch TV

We watched Kid Rangers, and Country Cops, and five or six other shows before Laine was ready to take a break. But I didn’t want to stop watching. TV was the most fascinating — I mean, the coolest thing (that’s what Laine always said, cool) I’d ever seen. It was like watching a storybook happen right in front of you, without having to see it in your own imagination.

“When I grow up, I am totally going to be on a TV show,” said Laine.

“Me too,” I said.

Every day, after Laine finished her homework, she and I watched TV together. We watched the newest shows, and the old ones, too. According to Laine, some of the old shows had the best acting and most original storylines. We compared actors, criticized directors, and analyzed plots.

“All the big stars live in Los Diablos,” said Laine. “That’s a big city in California. I’m going to live there one day.”

“I’ve never been to a city,” I say. I’d never left the village before. When Laine heard this, she begged her parents to take me to the city the next time they went.

“Get permission from your parents first,” they said. So I got fake permission, because I knew there was no way Mother and Father would agree to let me leave the village, even if it wasn’t dangerous for me the way it was for them.

Sawyer in the big city

I had only ever seen cities on TV. But being in a real city — wow! Everything was gigantic. The buildings rose to touch the darkening skies. Electric lights glowed in every window. The air was filled with the mouthwatering aromas of foods I’d never eaten before.

We looked at beautiful art in a museum, and ate foods from street vendors. I tried pizza for the very first time. And sweet, salty kettle corn. And a bite of Laine’s gyro, and my very first vanilla ice cream cone. For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for my family. They could never explore these amazing food flavors, or enjoy a smooth, cold, creamy mouthful of ice cream. They could do nothing but drink blood.

Sawyer and Laine eat food in the city

After we ate, Laine’s parents took us to a movie theater. We sat in large, comfortable seats and watched a funny movie on the largest TV screen I’d ever seen.

Sawyer goes to the movies
Sawyer goes to the movies

“Ive changed my mind,” I told Laine during the ride home. “I don’t want to be a TV actor. I want to be a movie star!”

Sawyer dreeams of the big city

When I went to sleep early the next morning, I dreamed that I was already a movie star, living in the big city. When I awoke, my heart was pounding hard. Could I really do it? Could I really leave Mother and Father and Violeta and live in sunny California? I thought of the promise I’d made to Laine, and knew that there was nothing powerful enough to make me break it.

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Chapter 2: The Fangless Ones

“Never ever go outside in the daytime,” my parents warned. “Our kind is allergic to the sun’s rays. You may only venture outdoors after the sun has set, and you must always return before the sun rises.

Laine and Sawyer (1)

I obeyed. Most of the time.

One day, though, Father was going on and on about his recent hunting adventures. How he and Mother had worked together to lure this man into a dark alley before drinking his blood.

“Most delicious blood I’ve had in a long time,” said Mother, licking her lips like she could still taste it.

My stomach felt wobbly, all of a sudden. I had spent my whole life listening to them talk about the blood hunt like it was the most thrilling adventure in the world. Even Violeta got to take part in it. But me? I was no different than the fangless people my family hunted. I didn’t drink blood, couldn’t hypnotize anyone, and had no special powers whatsoever.

“It’s like a human family left you on our doorstep,” my sister said, watching in disgust as I ate a hot dog slathered in mustard. I liked a lot of mustard, okay?

Anyway, I’d had enough. Enough off being trapped within the walls of our family’s mansion except at night, when it was too dark to see anything interesting. Enough of being the only member of our family with no exciting adventures to share. There was no one else like me, and I was lonely and bored and fed up with it all.

So I sneaked outside.

Laine and Sawyer (2)

It was pretty early in the morning, so it was still technically dark outside. But as I wandered across town, the sky began to pinken and glow. I was excited and scared at the same time. Would I burst into flames, like Father had said? Would I disintegrate into a pile of ash? I stood still, ready to run for cover the moment my skin began smoking.

But nothing happened.

No smoke, nothing. I stood in the pale sunlight for almost an hour, enjoying the brilliance and warmth I couldn’t experience while staring from my bedroom window. And then thick, gray clouds rolled across the sky, blocking the sunlight anyway and ending my adventure.

As I turned to head toward home, a small dog greeted me. “Hi there, fella,” I said, patting its head. “Are you lost?”

“Oh good, you found Neptune,” said a man I’d never seen before. “Our family just moved to town, and I’m afraid Neptune went exploring without us.”

The man introduced himself as Thaddeus Starr. “My daughter, Laine, is about your age,” he said. He invited me indoors, and Laine came bobbing over to meet me. Her eyes were bright and mischievous, and her grin made me want to grin, too.

We swung for a while in her backyard while chatting about all kinds of things. She taught me a song I’d never heard before, and I told her how my Uncle Vlad could play the organ. I left out the stuff about hunting, though. Because it was obvious right away that Laine and her family would be considered prey.

“Want to go swimming?” Laine asked. “Don’t worry, the pool’s heated.”

“It’s not that.” I shook my head. “I can’t swim.”

“Really?” Her eyes widened. I guessed where she came from, everybody knew how to swim. But around here, it just wasn’t common. “I know, I’ll teach you!”

I was still unsure, but I really wanted Laine to like me. So I followed her into the warm green pool.

By the time I headed back home, I could move around the pool just like Neptune. The doggy paddle, Laine called it. I hummed the song she’d taught me, feeling as light and free as a bird. I’d faced the sunlight and lived. I’d learned to swim, and made a new friend who ate hot dogs, like me. My first real adventure. Too bad I couldn’t brag about it to Violeta.

Chapter 1: Sawyer Fangley, Freak of Nature

Sawyer Fangley

Midnight Hollow is the best place in the whole world to live. At least, that’s what Mother and Father always say. Our town is surrounded by mountains, which keep outsiders out, and more importantly, provide shade from the sun.

Sawyer Fangley

“Why don’t we like the sun?” I remember asking them.

Mother shot me a horrified look. “The sun is nature’s deadliest element. Being exposed to its rays for just one minute or two can cause one to weaken and burn. Any longer than that, and you will be little more than a pile of ash for the wind to blow away.”

I shuddered. No sun for me, then. Like my family, I lived in fear of the sun. I stayed indoors, reading books, playing chess with my sister, Violeta, and listening to my Uncle Vlad pump out haunting tunes on the pipe organ. No one can make bone-chilling music like Uncle Vlad.

Sawyer FangleySawyer Fangley's Mother and FatherSawyer FangleySawyer Fangley

Sometimes, I play outside or go for long walks around town. Only at night, though, or on days when the fog is thick enough to choke out the sun’s rays. Sometimes, I reach the lonely highway, or the entrance of the deep, dark woods that ring our town’s borders, and I wonder. What is the rest of the world like? Do the people look and talk like us? Do they hide from the sun, and host parties under the moon? Are any of them like me?

You see, I have a secret. A secret so huge, my family has forbidden me to ever reveal it to anyone.

It started when I was a baby. Everyone enjoyed watching me grow, and looked forward to the day that my fangs grew in. Until then, all I could drink was Mother’s milk. But everyone knows that as soon as a baby’s fangs develop, his mother would wean him from milk and begin teaching him how to hunt for nourishment.

Sawyer Fangley

Hunting sounds hard, but it actually is pretty easy to do. Tourists come to our little town, lured by its “gothic charm” and “quaint architecture.” (I once read that in a travel pamphlet one of the tourists had dropped outside of the local inn).  While the tourists are out browsing the Midnight Hollow museum, or the art gallery, or having drinks in the pub, then some Midnight Hollow resident is bound to come along and hypnotize that person. Once hypnotized, the tourist just stands very still while the hunter takes a good, long drink from their jugular.

Hunting for BloodHunting for Blood

“Afterward, they don’t remember a thing,” says Father. “They go home happy, with good memories of our town, and we get fed.”

Sometimes, the townsfolk will venture out of town to hunt, like during periods when the tourists are barely trickling in. But we usually get just enough visitors to keep the entire town satisfied.

Hunting for Blood

Anyway, back to me. As it turns out, nobody got to teach me how to hunt. Because my fangs never came in. I kept growing, like I was supposed to, but I couldn’t hunt for blood, and if my family tried to make me drink any from a bottle, I cried and gagged and refused to take it. I grew weak and sickly, starved of nourishment, until my family finally accepted the truth.

I am not like them.

I’m deformed. A freak of nature. My family had to learn how to prepare food – the kind of stuff the tourists ate at the inn or the restaurant. I learned to take meals alone at the dining table – roast chicken, rabbit stew, salad, mashed potatoes. Three times a day, I have to eat, while my family peeks in, watching in fascination and maybe a little disgust, though they try to hide it.

Sawyer Fangley

No one outside of our family knows the truth. Not even my cousin, Parker, who is my only friend, and loves swapping stories about exciting hunts. I just make up stories, based on what I overhear from Violeta or my parents. If Parker knew the truth – if anyone knew the truth about me, then my family, one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Midnight Hollow, would probably be sent away. I couldn’t do that to them.

Hunting for Blood

So, I eat my food in secret. And I hide from the sun, and do everything I can to blend in. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another ordinary kid.

Sawyer Fangley

To Live and Die in Los Diablos

Los Diablos

Welcome to Los Diablos, California!

Los DiablosLos Diablos

Where glitz and glamour are served for breakfast…

Few make it and many break it…

Everyone has perfect tans (and abs)…

Los DiablosLos Diablos

Life on camera is the norm…

Every audition is a step closer to getting cast in that winning role…

Los Diablos

And a small-town vampire kid with a big dream just might find a way to earn his eleven seconds of fame.

Los Diablos
Los DiablosLos Diablos

Ready? Quiet on the set! Lights! Camera! Action!

ENTER HERE

Chapter 18:Happily Ever After (Sort of)

Happily Ever After Sort of

“And then what happened?”

“And then they got married, of course. I mean, Al and Liberty had done what they needed to do. They traveled back to the rainforest with their son and found a way to break the curse of gloominess.”

“So Callen was happy?”

“Yes, finally. In fact, he was filled with so much joy, that it spilled over and filled other people with joy, too. ”

“How was the wedding?”

“Beautiful. Everyone came to the wedding. Dr. Lehoia and his family. Polly, Al’s other family and friends, and a bunch of their neighbors. It was the event of the decade, easily.”

Happily Ever After Sort ofHappily Ever After Sort ofHappily Ever After Sort ofHappily Ever After Sort of

“What happened after the wedding?”

“Well let’s see…Al and Liberty went on a honeymoon. No, silly, not back to the rainforest. They’d had enough off giant spiders and mosquitoes. They traveled to Croatia and had an incredible time.”

“Seriously? Who goes to Croatia?”

“Are you kidding? Croatia’s the best!”

“Okay fine. Croatia. And then what?”

“And then they returned to good ol’ rainy Oregon. Liberty continued to write and sell books, and Al kept moving up the career ladder as a businessman They had regular get-togethers with family and friends. Oh — and they had more kids Two lovely daughters.”

Happily Ever After Sort ofHappily Ever After Sort ofHappily Ever After Sort of

“Sounds like a happily-ever-after kind of life.”

“You can say that again.”

“So, do you think he has any idea that his entire life is really just a virtual creation playing out in his mind while he sleeps in our laboratory?”

Happily Ever After Sort of

“Does anyone ever have any idea?”

“I guess not. Well, let’s keep it going. We have many more tests to run, and I can’t wait to find out what Al and Liberty look like when they grow old.”

“Sounds good to me. Hey, I know — let’s adopt another dog for them!”

“And send Callen to university!”

“Yes!”

Happily Ever After Sort ofHappily Ever After Sort of

THE END

 

I hope you enjoyed this story. And now, please enjoy the “Alberty” music video.

Chapter 17: Mama Juana and the Blessed Waters

Curse of Tachauatl

Three weeks later, Al and Liberty returned to the Selvadorada Rainforest, with Callen at their side.

“I can’t believe how much it’s changed,” said Al. Tachahuatl Village had continued to grow since Liberty and Callen had last visited, and now teemed with tourists hoping for rainforest tours and cheap “authentic” trinkets. Though the village was still fairly remote, jeeps and small, rugged buses drove in daily on the new paved road.

A few things hadn’t changed, however. The forest around them still teemed with life. Monkeys chattered and birds shrieked from the canopy overhead. And giant bats, spiders, and snakes still made their presence known, reminding them that the rainforest was still a dangerous place.

Curse of Tachauatl

To their surprise, the villa they’d rented not only happened to be the same house Al and Liberty had shared years ago, as relief workers, but had hardly changed at all, except for upgraded electricity and plumbing.

“This bed even looks the same,” said Al, throwing Liberty a meaningful look.

“Hmm,” said Liberty. “I wonder if it still feels the same.”

“Guess we’ll just have to test it and see,” said Al.

Curse of Tachauatl

The next morning, it was time to get right down to business. After asking a number of native Tachauatl people, they managed to track down the village’s current shaman — a small, gray-haired women called Mama Juana, who at first kept trying, in broken English, to get them to buy a bottle of her homemade digestion syrup.

“No, no, that’s not what we want,” said Al. He began to speak in the native language. Roughly, at first, but as he spoke, the language began to flow as it once had. He explained who he and Liberty were, and what had happened to their son. As he spoke, Mama Juana’s eyes grew round with astonishment.

“Did you activate the ancient bones in the Great Temple of the Moon?” she demanded. When Liberty said yes, the old woman clapped her hands to her mouth. “It is the curse,” she said in a hushed voice. “The Curse of King Tachauatl. I have heard of this, but have never seen it before. Those bones are property of the spirit king who still roams the halls of that temple. If you anger him, he will take your most precious treasure.”

Curse of Tachauatl

Curse of Tachauatl

“But we didn’t have any treasure,” said Liberty. “We were poor as mice back then.”

“But you did have a treasure.” Mama Juana pointed to Liberty’s belly. “Hidden so deep inside you, even you didn’t know it existed. The spirit king was merciful. He chose to spare your child’s life.”

“But he took our child’s joy,” said Al. “He knew that the most important thing to a parent is to see his child grow up healthy and happy.”

“Yes,” said Mama Juana, examining Callen’s face. “And this child is not a happy one.”

“What can we do?” asked Liberty. “We’ll do anything to make him better.”

Mama Juana’s face was grim. “There is only one cure. You must bathe in the blessed Waters of Tachauatl. The enchanted springs hidden so deep in the forest, that almost no one can locate them.”

Al and Liberty exchanged glances. Once, all those years ago, the two of them had stumbled across a hidden pool so lovely and remote, they had considered it their own private Eden. Could those be the blessed waters?

Curse of Tachauatl

“Don’t worry,” said Al, giving his son’s shoulder a reassuring pat. “Your mom and I once knew this forest so well, they could have hired us as guides. We’ll find those enchanted waters and get you cured.”

Curse of Tachauatl

Curse of Tachauatl

And so they began their hike. For six long days in the stifling, humid heat, and for five restless nights filled with buzzing mosquitoes and the wild chorus of rainforest wildlife, they trekked deep into the jungle. Sometimes they talked, sometimes Al and Liberty sang together, and sometimes Callen even joined in. And sometimes, they walked in silence, too sore, or sunburned, or itchy from bug bites to feel like making much conversation.

Curse of Tachauatl

And at last, they came upon the pools. The waters shone green, clear, and inviting, even under the pale silver light of the moon.

Curse of Tachauatl

Curse of Tachauatl

“Bless our son, Oh Great Tachauatl,” Al said, face lifted up toward the glittering night sky.

“Cleanse his spirit with your blessed waters,” added Liberty, “and return him to life.”

And with that, they peeled off their clothes and splashed into the enchanted pool.

Curse of Tachauatl

Two months later, Callen was still smiling, even after his orthodontist put braces on his teeth. “I can’t help it,” he said, his voice bubbling with excitement. “I’m playing first chair in the spring orchestra concert. Cassandra Walters said she’ll go to the dance with me this Friday. You guys are finally getting married. And — man, I don’t know. Everything is just so awesome!”

Callen Smiling

 

Chapter 16: Spring in the Winter

LostandFound (6)

“I hope you’ll stay for Christmas dinner,” said Liberty. “I baked a ham. Well, it’s tofu ham, actually. Callen’s a vegetarian.”

Al’s stomach churned at the thought of tofu ham, but if it meant he could spend more time with Liberty, he would have eaten moldy bread and sauerkraut, if it was on the menu.

“So are you going to keep him?” asked Callen. Al looked down with surprise at the stray dog, who hadn’t left his side since he’d found him.

“I don’t exactly live around here,” said Al. “Would you like to keep him?”

“Yeah!” Callen’s face lit up. He knelt down to scratch behind the dog’s ears. “Now I have to come up with a good name. Yoda? Nah. How about George? Loki? Mr. Bean?”

Al laughed. “Take your time,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll come up with the right name.”

LostandFound (4)

“So how old are you, Callen?” Al asked during dinner.

Callen gave him a strange look. “You mean Mom hasn’t told you yet? I’m fifteen.”

Al blinked. It had been sixteen years since he’d last seen Liberty. Could she have met someone and had his baby soon after they’d broken up? He studied Callen’s face again, and it suddenly occurred to Al why the boy had seemed so familiar. His chin, his nose, the shape of his eyes…

Al sucked in a sharp breath and turned to Liberty. “Are you trying to say–”

“That Callen is your son?” Liberty nodded. “I’ve been trying to find you ever since I learned I was pregnant. You’re his dad.”

For a moment, Al was speechless. Then he let out a whoop of excitement. “I’m a dad! I have a kid! Oh my god, this is crazy!”

LostandFound (5)

After dinner, Liberty asked Al to stay and open presents with her and Callen. They listened to jaunty holiday tunes and sipped peppermint cocoa while the still-nameless dog chomped on leftover tofu ham. Then Father Christmas appeared with gifts for everyone — new jewelry for Liberty, a bicycle for Callen, and a genuine ham bone for the dog to gnaw on. He even had a gift for Al. But when Al opened the package, his face fell.

LostandFound (8)

“Seriously, Father Christmas?” He held up the present — a CD of Phil Collins’ Greatest Hits.

Father Christmas shrugged. “Sorry, kid. But you’re on my naughty list for not tracking down these two much sooner.”

LostandFound (7)

After Christmas, Al decided that he wouldn’t be separated from Liberty or Callen ever again. He made arrangements to work from home and set up his computer in the guest room at Polly’s house. Then whenever he had free time, he was over at the farmhouse, getting to know Callen, and getting to know Liberty all over again.

LostandFound (1)

When Al learned that Callen had a talent for music, he brought over one of his old guitars. He hadn’t played much since his mysterious loss of talent. But as soon as Callen began to play his violin, Al could feel the urge to play rush through him. He picked up his guitar, and next thing he knew, he was jamming like he used to at the height of his music career.

“Maybe you were my lucky charm all along,” he told Callen.

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Three days after Christmas, Callen decided to name the new dog Rain. “Because it rains so much in Oregon,” he explained. “And because you guys met in a rainforest.”

Three days after that, Liberty asked Al if he would move in with them.

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The rest of the winter felt more like spring, despite the freezing temperatures. Everything was like new again. Living in his hometown felt like new. His relationship with Liberty felt like new. Being a parent definitely felt like new. Was it normal for teenage boys to be so gloomy and lifeless?

Al was more in love with Liberty than ever, and he told her so. They spent every spare moment together, walking in the snow, ice skating, even having snowball fights, like they were kids again.

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By the time the snow began to melt, Al had made up his mind. “Will you marry me?” he asked Liberty.

Liberty’s eyes filled with tears. She dropped to her knees, too, so they she and Al were on eye level. “I can’t marry you, Al,” she said. “Not yet. There’s something we both have to do first.”

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