I grew up in the company of vampires. I knew all about them: their strengths, their weaknesses, their dietary needs, and their Code. They had rules. Rules I couldn't afford to break, because they were always enforced. And enforcement came in three varieties: forget, convert, or die. At least that was what Uncle Nick always told me….
Aunt Natalie and Uncle Nick took me in to live with them after Mom died. It didn't take me long to discover their "dark secret." At first, the truth terrified me. My closest remaining relative ... and her husband ... were vampires!
I pretended not to know. I pretended not to notice that their hands were always cold when they held mine. I pretended not to notice that they never ate anything, even though Aunt Natalie made wonderful meals for me. I pretended not to notice the nauseating smell of the "wine" they drank. I pretended not to notice that they never went outdoors during the day. I pretended not to notice that sometimes they moved too fast, or that I'd seen Uncle Nick fly. I pretended not to notice that their eyes sometimes glowed or their fangs appeared ... and gradually I got used to it.
I never doubted that they both loved me. I was still pretty young, but there were already things I could not discuss with my friends, like the fact that both of my parents were dead. They just couldn’t understand. Because I already kept that a secret, it never occurred to me to betray Aunt Natalie and Uncle Nick’s secret. It was clear they didn’t even want me to know. Just knowing made me more curious, though, especially when I couldn’t ask them any questions about it.
For a time, I thought all the people I met between dusk and dawn were vampires. Pale delivery drivers with their cases of "wine," academic tutors, music teachers (I played the clarinet, badly), nameless people who arrived and departed without needing parking spaces. One set up my college fund in a series of evening appointments. He tried to interest me in growing hothouse plants. The only one whose name I remembered was Aristotle, but only because my best friend had a cat by that name. I thought it was funny to meet a man with the same name as a cat! I was much younger then, but, looking back, I realize that they probably weren't all vampires. Not all of them, anyway....
Then one morning I came home from a sleepover and found Uncle Nick covered in blood, crumpled and unconscious on the kitchen floor. I screamed for Aunt Natalie, but there was no answer, and no sign of her anywhere.
There was no one I could call for help.
I'm not sure how long I sat, watching and waiting for Uncle Nick to start breathing again. Blood seemed to be everywhere. Blood! Of course! He needs blood! I looked in the refrigerator for the “wine” bottles that were usually there, but they were missing. That stopped me for a moment. Then I remembered, and quickly dug around in the freezer under the frozen veggies and hamburger patties, where I knew the medical bags of blood were hidden (“We need them for emergencies, Nat,” I remembered Uncle Nick telling her quietly when he thought I wasn’t paying attention.). I found two and placed them carefully near Uncle Nick's head. Then I gathered up my sleepover things and left, relocking the door behind me.
Stowing my things in the bicycle shed, I grabbed my bike and headed for the library. I called and left a message for Aunt Natalie and Uncle Nick, telling them where to find me. I wandered the stacks just often enough to distract the librarians from my unaccompanied status, found a quiet study carrel with a view of the front door and easy access to the emergency exit in the back, and settled down to wait.
Just after dusk, Uncle Nick came striding, wild-eyed, into the library. I stood, looking past him for any sign of Aunt Natalie. There was none. I rushed into his arms, buried my face in his chest and sobbed as he hustled me home.
We became a team that night, Uncle Nick and me, and we’re a good one.
Over the next few weeks, we talked for hours, about vampires, about his long life and history, and about the vampire who'd both created and tormented him. Lucien LaCroix had also made Aunt Natalie into a vampire, just a few years after my dad died.
Uncle Nick told me that LaCroix came to visit while I was away on my sleepover. He and Uncle Nick argued and fought over Aunt Natalie. There was some long-standing disagreement between them, and Aunt Natalie was in the middle of it. They fought, and Uncle Nick lost. LaCroix had left Uncle Nick beaten and bloody and taken Aunt Natalie away from us.
LaCroix knew Uncle Nick would need blood desperately in order to heal from his injuries. He also knew about me. He knew I was mortal, that I was away overnight, and that I would return in the morning. LaCroix left Uncle Nick without another source of blood to feed from (We found the broken “wine” bottles in the garbage bin the next night.). He probably hoped that Uncle Nick would drain me in his blind and urgent need for blood, thus reinforcing his continuing "lesson" that a vampire should have nothing to do with mortal lives, other than ending them. Unbelievable, until it was explained it to me. Hard to believe, even then, but I now know it to be true.
Uncle Nick also told me about the Code, and about those who enforce it. He told me that the vampire who creates another vampire has complete power over him or her, no matter how long they live. That part of the Code allowed LaCroix to take Aunt Natalie away from us. There was no trace of her, and we had no leads to help us find her. There was no way to tell if she were among the unliving or the dead. There was no one he could complain to, no one who would help us against LaCroix. We were on our own. There was more to the Code, though. Some rules affected me. No mortals are allowed to know the truth about vampires, without consequences. These were some of the rules Uncle Nick and his kind lived by, and which would now govern whether I lived or died.
We did our best to maintain the illusion of my ignorance. Aristotle was the only other vampire to know the truth. He had to, under the circumstances. Aristotle is a gem among vampires. His expertise in creating new identities and lives for vampires is well-known and respected by everyone in the “community.” The most remarkable feature of his services is that he never, and I mean never, reveals the new identity or the relocation information of his clients. Not even to LaCroix. Only rarely has he provided his services to mortals, but he did for me. He arranged new identities for me and enrolled me in a series of boarding schools. He was always listed as my emergency contact, and sometimes I spent school breaks with him when I wasn’t traveling with Uncle Nick, who was always quietly searching for Aunt Natalie and LaCroix. I kept in close touch with him. He became family, in a way.
In time, I graduated from University, double majoring in history and Romance languages. After graduation, Uncle Nick and I started searching for Aunt Natalie full time. I handled everything that could only be done by day, protecting Uncle Nick from the deadly sun, and he took the night shift. We went all over the world, following what leads we could find. We co-authored a travel advice blog aimed at amateur historians who wanted to get off the beaten path. It had a moderate following. That was our “cover story.” All we really wanted was to find Aunt Natalie.
It took us about three years, but we finally started getting close. Our leads grew less and less stale, until we were only a few weeks behind them. The trail led us to Venezuela. By the time we reached Caracas, Uncle Nick was on edge. He sensed other vampires in the area, but whenever he went looking for them, they eluded him.
I will never forget the night when everything changed. I returned from running some errands to find that Uncle Nick was not alone. I soon found myself the only mortal trapped in a room full of vampires.
LaCroix was there. I understand why Uncle Nick fears him. He's powerful, insanely fast, and brutal. He pinned Uncle Nick against a wall and held him there. Aunt Natalie was there, too. She looked so fearful, and watched LaCroix with one eye no matter what else drew her attention. She didn’t say a word after I arrived.
I was “introduced” to the Enforcers. There were four of them. One had his entire focus on Aunt Natalie. One had a grip on my arm that I was sure would leave bruises, if I survived. The others watched LaCroix and Uncle Nick.
As predicted, my "choices" were explained to me: forget, convert or die, just like Uncle Nick said. The first option was more limited than usual in my case. Apparently, I take after my Aunt Natalie. I'm immune to hypnotism. I would have to consciously submit my will to one of the more powerful vampires and agree to almost complete amnesia in order to be made to forget what I know about them. That meant I would never see Aunt Natalie or Uncle Nick again, and Uncle Nick would have to stay with Aunt Natalie and LaCroix for the rest of my life to ensure it. I considered it seriously. At the very least we would all stay alive.
I could have chosen to become a vampire. LaCroix wanted Uncle Nick to bring me across, if that was my choice, but he offered to do it himself if Uncle Nick wouldn’t. Amazing. Did he seriously think I’d choose him for my master after all the years he deprived me of my Aunt Natalie? Still, becoming a vampire was an option to seriously consider.
No one seemed in a hurry to kill me, though. That was encouraging. Uncle Nick had explained before that if the Enforcers killed me, there was a good chance he might be, as well, for violating the Code. I never wanted that, obviously.
My arm hurt where the Enforcer's hand gripped me too tightly. I asked for a chair and a moment to think. I got both, though LaCroix glared at the Enforcer who provided them. A glass of water was thrust into my hand as I settled myself. I forced myself to smile and thank the dark, frightening creature who held my future in his powerful grip. I avoided looking at his long, sharp fangs.
I drank the water, surprised that I wasn’t shaking. Randomly, I thought, "Not much of a last meal, really."
They didn’t know that I’d prepared for that moment. Not even Uncle Nick knew. The time had come to turn the tables and expand the list of options. It was time for the sales job of my life. I hoped it was an offer they couldn’t refuse ... and that my emergency message got through to the one vampire who could save my mortal life.