Chapter 10: Sawyer Fangley Plays the Villain

Shortly after Laine drove off, taking my hopes and dreams with her, I landed a new role. No, not a role in a TV show or commercial. This time, I was starring in my very own daytime drama. I call it “Sawyer Fangley: World’s Biggest Moron.”

And, action!

I went back to the bar where Laine had graced us with her super-famous presence, and downed my second scotch. Hasna, the cute girl I’d been chatting up just moments before, slid onto the stool beside mine. She was sipping a Paloma, and staring at me through large eyes the color of raw honey.

We picked up where we left off. Then she invited me back to her apartment building to “try out the new jacuzzi they just installed.”

I thought at the time that this was just code talk for have sex. You know, let’s watch Netflix and chill. Or, let’s go back to my place and have a nightcap. (Do people actually use the word, nightcap?). But it turned out that she actually meant a real jacuzzi. So that’s what we did. We spent a while soaking in the hot bubbles, flirting and making out.

“You want to come up to my place?” she finally asked, when we were both breathless and drunk on pleasure. Giggling and dripping with water from the jacuzzi, we hurried to her apartment, where we shared the most amazing night of my life together in her bed. Words couldn’t do it justice.

At four in the morning, she shook me awake and rushed me to get dressed and head home. “I have to be at work early,” she explained. So I left. After that, we began to meet on a regular basis — often very late at night, at various bars. We always ended up together in her bed, and I always ended up slipping out before sunrise. I wished we could have stayed wrapped in each other’s arms all night. I could have cooked her some French toast and coffee, and we could enjoy a lazy morning together. But she insisted that it had to be this way, and I didn’t question it.

After one passion-filled night, I woke and realized that something was different. The rays of early morning sunlight were beginning to creep into Hasna’s bedroom. She was still asleep beside me, snoring gently like a purring kitten. I lifted my hand, about to stroke her smooth, bare back with my fingertips, when I heard a sound that made me freeze.

A key, turning in the front door lock.

Just down the hall from where we lay, someone entered Hasna’s apartment. Someone’s footsteps were heading our way. I rocketed out of bed and looked around the room in a panic. Where had I dropped my clothes? Too late, I remembered that I had left them in a heap on the floor next to the dining table, after a meal neither of us would ever forget.

The bedroom door flew open, and there stood a man. The expression of shock on his face must have matched my own. His eyes flicked from me to Hasna’s sleeping form still curled in the bed. His shock gave way to dismay, then anger.

“What are you doing here with my wife?” he demanded.

I nearly choked. “Your what?” It was like someone had adjusted the camera, and everything in the background came into sharp focus. Hasna and I had only been meeting at night. She often did not even respond to the text messages I sent during the day. She pushed me out of her apartment before the sun rose. Before her husband could return from his night job. There were other clues, probably, that I had refused to see, too blinded by the heat and desire of the moment.

“Oh god. I-I’m so sorry,” I stammered, backing out of the room. I raced down the hallway, scooped up my clothes, and got out of there. I could get dressed in the elevator. I didn’t intend to stick around to watch the rest of this episode.

Dim the lights, fade to black, roll the credits.

The Other Man. That was the worst role I’d ever had to play in my life. After that, I began to get focused. Like, really focused on my acting career. Forget all of these pointless distractions, like my obsession with Laine, or affairs with beautiful women. From now on, the only flirting I did was on the set, while practicing for upcoming scenes.

I worked harder than ever at the gym, and spent my free time watching movies in order to study the other actor’s methods.

It was no longer enough for me to break into show business just to catch Laine Starr’s attention. She’d made it clear that I was just another nobody. A scrub. An extra. But I was more than that. The time had come for me to be taken seriously for my art. The time had come for Sawyer Fangley to shine.

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Chapter 9: The Saw

When I was growing up as the only non-hunter in a family of blood hunters, I had to play my role.

“Never let the others know that you’re blood intolerant,” my parents used to warn. After all, we were a respectable, ancient family. Knowing that there was a freak human in the family would have sullied our reputation. So I kept my mouth shut. Played pretend. Pretended that my favorite beverage was a Type O-negative smoothie with plasma on top.

So yeah. I wasn’t a stranger to acting.

But I’d come to Los Diablos to find myself. My true self. Whoever that was. Sometimes, when making people laugh, or when chatting with the customers while mixing drinks, I thought I saw a glimpse of him. He was that easy-going kid who used to joke around with Laine and escape into movies. He had ideas for making things better — for creating something fresh, and real. For making people laugh, or cry, or think.

Whoever I was becoming now was not that guy.

It was like I had to live multiple lives. Wake up early and go for a run around our crime-ridden neighborhood. Or hit the gym and sweat for two hours, like every other person trying to make it big in Los Diablos.

At home, I had to act tough and cool to impress Adonis. Or let Jolene give me an earful of advice while she snapped headshots of me to blow up my Instagram.

Then it was off to work. Only these days, work was almost always in a studio. I walked in looking like someone who wasn’t me, only to walk out of makeup and wardrobe looking like someone who was even less me. Then it was up on stage, to make the world believe that I was definitely not Sawyer Fangley. Or The Saw, as everyone took to calling me.

It was kind of nice, finally getting to be well-known. It meant getting offered discounts at local shops, and the occasional request for an autograph or a selfie by a random fan who recognized me from a TV commercial, or from the small role I played on a popular TV period drama. It was kind of lonely, though. The thing about making friends in Los Diablos is that everyone either wants to befriend you in order to gain a role in front of the cameras, or snub you, because the role you play isn’t good enough for their circle.

One day, I stopped by my old bar to grab a drink and ease the loneliness by chatting with a stranger. I met a woman, Hasna, who seemed really into me, and also a little bit drunk. I downed my scotch, ordered another, and was seriously beginning to consider taking Hasna home, when it happened.

Laine Starr waltzed into the bar. It was like we’d all been sitting in the dark, and she was the sunrise. Everyone in the bar came to life. Cameras flashed. Girls squealed. People were holding up their phones, recording her entrance to prove to the world that they were actually in the same bar as Laine Starr!

I was not immune to the frenzy. Forgetting about Hasna, I joined the crowd that was now pressed together tight, all of us craning our necks to see just what someone like Laine would order at the bar. A Paloma, as it turned out. Suddenly, I, too, craved a Paloma. Everyone in the bar wanted to order a Paloma. We wanted to steal just a little bit of Laine’s sunlight for ourselves.

And just like that, she was gone. I never even saw her take a sip of her drink. The crowd parted for her, and she slipped away into the city.

“Wait! Laine!” I ran after her. When I was ten feet away, I stopped. She was staring in my direction, a blank but polite look on her face. “Laine, it’s me!” I said, my voice shaking.

She frowned and pursed her lips together. It hit me then. She didn’t remember me! Too many years had passed, and she had only known me a a pale, skinny blond kid who lived in a dark, miserable town. I was like a character from a fairy tale story she’d once loved, but now sat dusty on a shelf, forgotten.

Before I could say anything else to her, a sleek yellow sports car pulled up, and she got in. The car zoomed off, leaving the real me and my real dreams in a cloud of exhaust.

Chapter 5: Everybody in California is Rich!

When I first arrived in Los Diablos, my first thought was, where did all the sunshine go? A thick, brownish-gray haze covered the entire city, making everything look as dim and miserable as Midnight Hollow.

City of Los Diablos

I’d heard that everyone in California is filthy rich. Of course, I had been rich my entire life, living in my family’s ancestral mansion. But I couldn’t wait to see what it was like to be California Rich. Gigantic, modern houses! Sweeping views of the sea! Palm trees swaying in the wind, and crystal blue swimming pools in every backyard. The movie star life. I’d seen it all on TV, so I knew it existed.

Clutching the crumpled advertisement in my hand, I got off the city bus and followed the directions to 5281 Beach Street. To my dismay, the house was nowhere near a beach. It was also nowhere near rich. It was small and shabby, located at the end of a cul-de-sac, between a vacant lot and a busy freeway. The surrounding neighborhood looked pretty sketchy, too – graffiti, overgrown weeds, and chain-link fences containing menacing-looking dogs who growled as I passed by.

Jolene

A thin, stylish girl greeted me at the front door. “Ooh! Are you our new roomie?” she squealed. She pulled me close and planted a wet kiss on each of my cheeks.

“Um, yeah,” I said, feeling my face grow warm with embarrassment. “My name’s Sawyer Fangley.”

“Sawyer, darling, we need to get you some sunshine, pronto! You are as pale as the Mona Lisa. My name’s Jolene, by the way,” she said, as she invited me inside.

Jolene, I soon learned, was an actress-slash-YouTube life coach-slash-Instagram style influencer. My other roommate, Adonis, was a model, a waiter, and actor, too. I guess neither of them were very good actors, since Jolene had only landed a couple of commercials so far, and Adonis had only been cast as an extra in a couple of soap operas.

City of Los Diablos

“Technically, one of them was a telenovela,” he said, smiling proudly.

Adonis

There was also Kevlar, Jolene and Adonis’s dog, who had starred in a print ad for dog treats before, and had over ten thousand followers on Twitter.

Kevlar
Sawyer and his roomies
Watching TV with roomies

“I thought TV stars made a lot of money,” I said, looking around at the cheap furnishings and stained walls.

“Not every actor gets to become a TV star,” said Adonis. “It takes a lot of work, and a lucky break. I’m still waiting for my lucky break.”

“So how do I get into acting?” I asked them.

Jolene laughed. “Honey, you have to start putting yourself out there. Audition, audition, audition. And if that doesn’t get you any nibbles, then change up your look.” She flipped her shiny black hair. “It worked for me.”

I didn’t waste any time. I began to go to open call auditions, hoping to be discovered. I also found a job working as a bartender at a trendy little bar. As I poured drinks for customers, I told them stories about my rotten luck so far becoming an actor. Apparently, they found these stories hilarious.

Tending the bar
Bartending

“Oh, you should put together a routine and deliver it at an open mic,” suggested one of my customers. “Cloverdale Park, every Friday evening.”

The next Friday, before I began my shift at the bar, I swung by the park. Just like I did every night, I began to tell my stories about life as a newbie actor living in Los Diablos. There were only a few people watching, but they were in stitches, which seemed like a good sign.

Sawyer does stand-up comedy

“Keep it up, kid,” said one man as he dropped a handful of coins into the jar at my feet. “I have a feeling you’re going to go far.”

I hoped he was right!

Chapter 4: Laine is a Movie Star!

Laine leaves

“Los Diablos!” I couldn’t believe it. Laine may as well have told me that she’s moving to the moon. “But I’ll never see you again.”

“Maybe we’ll see each other one day,” says Laine. “You could move to Los Diablos, too, and we’ll be friends again.”

“Yeah, sure.” There was no way that my family, a sun-intolerant bunch of vampires, would move to the sunniest place in the country. I would be stuck here forever. Without Laine.

I almost didn’t believe her. But one day, I went to visit her, and she was gone. Her house was dark and empty, a For Sale sign posted on the dry grass in her front yard. My hard froze in that instant. Froze, then cracked in half.

Eating alone

Years passed. Not a day passed that I didn’t think of Laine. While I ate my human meals alone in the drafty dining room, I imagined her sitting across from me, cracking jokes and telling me stories about her new life in Los Diablos.

I sometimes worked at the local bar, filling in for the bartender. I was underage, but in a tiny town like ours, no one made a fuss about things like that. It didn’t pay much, but I saved every dime. Well, except for the twenty bucks I shelled out to buy an old television from the only motel in town. It was a piece off junk, and it barely got any reception. But it was just enough for me to find out what became of my dear friend.

Sawyer watching an old TV

She was a movie star.

Not just an actress. An actual movie star. She’d done it. Laine was famous. She starred in a funny sitcom, which I watched every week. Sometimes, she even showed up on TV talk shows and commercials. Whhen I wasn’t working at the bar or doing schoolwork, I was glued to the screen, in hopes of catching a glimpse of her.

Laine on TV

Laine on TV
Laine on TV

I began to write her letters. I wrote them in care of the many TV shows I saw her appear on, hoping that they’d get passed along to her. But if they reached her, I never knew. Maybe they were lost in her piles of fan mail.

One day, I made up my mind. I was going to have to go to her.

“Move to Los Diablos? Have you lost your mind?” asked my sister. “Mother and Father will never allow it.”

“Mother and Father can’t stop me,” I said. I was determined. If they said no, I would still go.

Laine on TV

To my amazement, though, my parents didn’t try to stop me.

“We’ve known since you were a young boy that one day you would leave us,” said Father. “You are not like us. This must be a very difficult town to live in if you are not one of the blood hunters.”

“May you find what makes you happy,” said Mother, as they took turns embracing me. “And may you find where you belong.”

Laine on TV
Laine on TV


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.

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