February 4th, 2017.
Stark City, Oregon.
Gabriel Lester craved blood. Lots of it. Fresh and hot; straight from the jugular of his prey. He hadn’t tasted the rich, red delicacy in what felt like forever, and being a creature of the night, he needed it.
Like humans need air.
So, stomach churning, Gabe looked up at his two unsuspecting victims, and grinned—baring his long, white fangs. Now, they’ll know true fear!
For a moment, no one moved. The man and woman across the table looked at Gabe with what seemed like fear welling up in their eyes. Fear of what he intended to do. Still smiling, Gabe curled his hands in imitation of Count Orlok in Nosferatu, then the man let out a disgusted groan.
A groan which jolted the eleven-year-old boy back to reality.
Instead of a dark, dreary castle in the Romanian wilderness, Gabe sat in a bright, cheery dining room. His family lived in a small, two-bedroom house in the Dibert District. He liked it there, but his stepfather, Ronald Keene, didn’t.
Ronnie didn’t like much of anything.
“Take those out, Gabe! Don’t bring that crap to the dinner table!”
Gabe’s grin faded. Aw, man…
“Where did you get those, Angel?” Gabe’s mother, Marcy, asked, glancing at Ronnie.
“From Dad.” Gabe took the plastic vampire teeth from his mouth and stuffed them in his pocket. “He got them out of a gumball machine, said they were magic. Pretty cool, huh?”
Ronnie, a big man with a fat belly, meaty arms, and a flat-top hairdo, chortled and reached for his beer. His third can of the night, and nowhere near his last.
“Well, Ronnie’s right. You shouldn’t wear those at the table.”
Gabe nodded. “Sorry, Mom.”
Ronnie belched—“Bruuup!”—and shook his head. “Marcy, why do you keep calling him ‘Angel?’ He’s almost a teenager…”
Marcy turned to Gabe with a maternal pout. “Because he’s my little angel.”
“Great.” Ronnie sighed, took another drink.
Ugh! I miss Dad already. Deflated, Gabe stared at his plate. Steak; so well done it looked like burnt leather. Mashed potatoes; good, but tainted with garlic. And his least favorite vegetable of all: Brussels sprouts; chewy and bitter. A worse dinner he couldn’t imagine; all of it dictated by his stepfather’s brutish tastes.
Poor Gabe. The combined aromas alone killed his appetite, but he had no choice. He had to eat it.
Every last bite.
“Hey!” Ron barked. “Don’t let your meat loaf!”
Gabe looked up, resentful of Ronnie’s tone. He didn’t find the joke funny, but knew what it meant. “Yes, Ronnie,” he droned, picking up his fork and knife.
“How were the three days with your father?” Marcy asked. She looked haggard, wore a nervous smile. Eyes flitting from Gabe to Ronnie, Ronnie to Gabe.
“Uh, we just hung out. Talked a lot. Watched movies.”
“Oh, God. Your father and all those old monster films.”
Setting his beer down, Ronnie let out another hearty “Bruuup!”
“When does he leave again?”
Gabe sawed into his steak. “This weekend.”
Ronnie laughed. “Lenny’s going on the road with his fruity little theater group again, huh?”
“Now, Ron—” Marcy began.
“What’s the name of the show this time? The Amazing Life of Professor Crabapple?”
“The Life and Times of Professor Appleton,” Marcy corrected.
“Whatever.” Ronnie shook his head. “Prancing around a stage ain’t no example for a boy. I can’t believe you married that pansy.”
Clutching his utensils, Gabe’s eyes narrowed.
“Well, at least you two have a real man to take care of you now.” Smirking, Ronnie cut himself a hunk of dry steak and stuffed it into his mouth. “A guy like Lenny just doesn’t understand what’s important in life…like having a family.”
You asshole. Trembling with the urge to jam his fork into Ronnie’s eye, Gabe turned to his mother. Marcy shrugged, gave him her usual apologetic look:
Don’t take it personally, Angel.
But of course, he did.
After dinner, Ronnie told Gabe to rinse the dishes, and he did; still fuming over Ronnie’s insults. By the time he’d rinsed the last glass and placed it in the washer, Gabe had reached a very profound conclusion:
If Ronnie represented real manhood, then he wanted to remain a boy forever.
Can’t believe that jerk called my dad a pansy. All Ronnie does is burp and fart and order us around…
Nothing but a bully.
Gabe dried his hands, then went to brush his teeth. Still angry, still obsessing over the word pansy. Walking down the hall toward the bathroom, Gabe overheard Ronnie in the living room, drinking another beer as he watched T.V.
One day, Ronnie. One day you’ll be sorry…
Gabe had just started on his molars when his mother appeared in the doorway.
“Hey, Angel.” Marcy now wore a yellow night gown, her light blonde hair in a ponytail. She looked concerned, serious. Wringing her hands as if something bad lay on the horizon.
Gabe spit a mouthful of blue paste into the sink. “Hey.”
“Getting ready for bed?”
“Yeah. Is everything okay?”
Marcy sighed, crossed her thin arms. “Well, uh…I just wanted to talk to you about Ronnie. You know he didn’t mean what he said about your father earlier, right?”
Tim stiffened. She had to be joking.
“Ronnie’s usually such a great guy, huh?” Marcy shrugged. “But tonight, I guess he was just blowing off steam because he’d had a long day…”
Yeah. Right. And I’m sure the beers had nothing to do with it. “Sure, Mom. I know.” Gabe nodded, trying to seem relaxed. But his knuckles had whitened around his toothbrush.
“Oh, good.” Another sigh as Marcy looked down. “So, uh…you won’t mention it to your father, then? I mean, it’s no big deal, right?”
Gabe ceased brushing his teeth long enough to say, “Nope.” And he wouldn’t, either. He didn’t want to start any trouble.
“Thanks, Angel. I owe you one.” Marcy looked up, and Gabe thought he saw tears forming in her eyes. “Ronnie…he’s…under a lot of pressure lately. That’s why he’s acting out.”
You mean, drinking, and being a dick. “Yeah, I know.”
Marcy nodded; more to herself than Gabe. “Well, anyway…we have to be supportive, you know? He’d never admit it, but Ronnie needs us…just as much as we need him.”
Maybe you need him, but I don’t. “I know.”
Brow furrowed, shoulders hunched, Marcy leant down and kissed Gabe’s cheek. “Thanks for being so good and understanding.”
“Goodnight, Angel. Don’t let the bedbugs bite, okay?”
“I won’t, Mom. Goodnight.”
Still looking as if she might cry, Marcy left Gabe alone with his reflection. Relieved, the angry boy gazed at himself in the mirror above the sink. Swishing water in his mouth. Rinsing off his toothbrush. Staring hard into his own blue eyes, letting resentment boil in his heart, wishing he didn’t have to live there anymore. Wishing he could go on the road with his vagabond father—
And thinking of endless ways to hurt Ronald Keene.
On the very day that Gabe began grade school, Ronnie decreed that his bedtime would be nine o’clock, on the dot. Tonight, Gabe intended to honor that decree as he did every night since his eleventh birthday: by settling in with the Android tablet and headphones his father had given him.
Now, of course, wearing his prized vampire teeth.
Gabe’s room lay at the end of the hall, next to the bathroom, across from the master bedroom. Although he spent most of his time here, it never got messy. Ronnie wouldn’t allow that. Thus, his closet, his drawers; everything looked tidy. As if an adult lived there. Ronnie also didn’t like decorations, but allowed him one “Walking Dead” poster. It hung on the wall next to his bed, and Gabe smiled whenever he looked at it.
Having finished his homework and brushed his teeth, Gabe couldn’t wait to slip into bed, relax, and start a movie. He’d just peeled off his shirt when he heard the familiar yet jarring sound of Ronnie’s voice:
“Marcia Anne, you let that kid get away with murder!”
Gabe stood in the middle of his room, facing his “Walking Dead” poster. Now he turned, frowning, toward the door. Muffled by intervening walls, his mother sounded tired and agitated as she answered:
“Will you please keep your voice down?”
With a deep breath, Gabe tossed his shirt into the hamper in his closet.
“Hell no, I won’t keep my voice down! A man’s home is his castle, and I’ll do whatever the hell I want here!”
God, what’s his problem? Gabe shook his head, unbuttoned his jeans.
“Please, Ronnie, can we just go to bed?”
“No! Don’t talk to me like I’m drunk! I only had three beers!”
Gabe’s jeans followed his shirt into the hamper. Then his socks.
“Look…I’m sorry. Can we please stop fighting and go to bed?”
“Aw, shut up, bitch! Don’t you ever tell me what to do! Unless you wanna get popped?”
Standing in his underwear, Gabe clenched his vampire teeth. His thin hands curled into bony fists. Not for the first time, he contemplated grabbing the Louisville Slugger from his closet and busting Ronnie’s head open.
Or trying to, anyway.
Better not ever hit my mother, asshole. Not even once.
“Ron…I’m not telling you what to do, okay? I just wanna go to bed, honey.”
Crying now. Gabe heard the unmistakable tremor in his mother’s voice. A tremor he’d heard many times before.
“You know what? I’m sick of this shit, Marcy! I’m havin’ another beer, and you can go to bed by yourself!”
Gabe growled. The master bedroom door opened, then shut—
Gabe heard Ronnie stomp down the hall, stop, and come stomping back.
“Lights out, Gabe! NOW!”
Teeth bared, Gabe raised both middle fingers. I hate you so much! “Sure, Ronnie. Goodnight.”
“Bruuup!” Ronnie replied, stomping off again.
Seriously…why can’t you just die? Livid, Gabe shut off the light and climbed into bed with his tablet. After several minutes of scrolling through Facebook, he logged onto Netflix and started his father’s favorite film: The Monster Squad.
Halfway through, Gabe fell into a deep and troubled sleep.
Hours passed. The dreams came and went. First, running down a shadowy hallway; fleeing some nameless, faceless terror. Then, drowning in cold, dark water; something monstrous and sinister lurking below. Climbing a steep, jagged mountain in the dead of night. Slogging through an endless desert beneath a moonlit sky. On and on until, at last, Gabe’s weary eyes snapped open.
Eyes which now glowed with an eerie, jaundiced light.
Nightmares…all night. But here I am, still in bed. Safe and sound.
Safe and sound perhaps, but also very hungry. Starving, even. As if he hadn’t eaten in days.
But that’s crazy! I finished my plate and ate dessert.
Gabe smiled. His teeth glimmered in the strange glow around his eyes.
I didn’t let my meat loaf!
Groaning, Gabe sat up. His stomach cramped hard, and he felt a strange, unnamable craving. A craving for something hot and fleshy and delicious.
Another steak! But rare this time! And bloody!
The Android still lay on Gabe’s lap. He plucked the headphones from his ears, set the tablet aside, and reached for his plastic vampire teeth. But instead of plastic, his fingers found nothing but human bone. Dismayed, he groped inside his mouth, finding that his canine teeth had somehow grown in the night; long and sharp, like an animal.
Huh. Maybe they fell out while I was asleep…
The puzzled boy searched the folds of his blanket, under the sheet. Then he looked at the floor beside his bed.
He got them out of a gumball machine, said they were magic.
Sighing, Gabe looked around his room in amazement. Aside from his new teeth—which felt uncomfortable, yet somehow natural—his eyesight now seemed clearer than ever. Either that, or he’d left the light on.
But he hadn’t.
So…what the heck is—
Gabe jerked at a sudden noise. The sharp creak of his mother’s bedroom door opening. She didn’t step into the hall, though; Ronnie did. Gabe could smell him. A strong, rich musk—like the aroma of seasoned brisket.
Wow, that smells…good!
Sniffing the savory scent, Gabe slid from bed and walked to the door. Ronnie, for whatever reason, always rose around midnight and marched through the house, checking the locks. Then he went to the kitchen for a beer and a snack.
Good idea, Ron. I’m hungry, too.
Gabe stood there, listening, until he heard Ronnie’s heavy gait on the kitchen tile. Then he turned the knob and stepped into the hallway.
Time for my snack!
It took all of Gabe’s willpower not to run. Each footstep brought him closer to something he desired, but didn’t quite understand. Had his heart still been beating, his pulse would’ve galloped through his veins. Breathing, in fact, had become a mere habit; a reflex. Oxygen did nothing for him as he moved down the hall—again mimicking Count Orlok. His yellow eyes gleamed, reflecting on the portrait-lined walls.
“Bruuup!” from the kitchen as Ronnie opened the refrigerator.
Snick! as Ronnie popped the top on another beer.
Man, that crap stinks!
Gabe stepped into the kitchen. Ronnie stood by the sink, clad in green boxers; right hand holding a can, left hand planted on the counter. The big man looked tired but content. He hadn’t turned on the light, but to Gabe it might as well have been noon instead of midnight. Everything glowed; shadows dancing in the silver moonlight. “Hi, Ron.”
Startled, Ronnie jerked toward Gabe, almost spilling his beer. He opened his mouth to roar in disapproval…then stopped; his reflexive anger quelled by the shock of Gabe’s gleaming eyes. “Gabe?”
Ronnie exhaled, chugged his beer. “What, uh…what’s up with your eyes there, bud? Your dad buy you some glow-in-the-dark contacts to go with those dumb teeth?”
You mean, my magic teeth? “Yeah. Aren’t they cool?”
“Bruup!” Ronnie snickered; his usual cruel response. Except this time, Gabe sensed nervousness beneath it. “Nope. They’re kinda faggy, like your old man. What’re you doing outta bed?”
Ronnie didn’t see it, but Gabe smiled. A sly, satisfied smile quite unlike any he’d ever worn before. “I’m hungry.”
Now Ronnie smiled, and Gabe saw it. “Hungry, huh? Good. Probably gonna hit a growth spurt soon. Grow some hair on your chest.”
And some fangs, Ron.
Ronnie took another sip, shook his head. “Get some muscle on you, so you don’t grow up to be a pansy.”
Like Dad? Wordless, Gabe walked toward his stepfather. Closer and closer to the source of his craving. Closer and closer to the reality of those magic teeth.
“Well, help yourself.” Ronnie gestured at the fridge. “Then get your ass back in bed.”
Ronnie drained the can, crushed it, and set it down. “And hurry up. I kinda…need to be alone right now.”
“Good.” Ronnie’s voice had grown very soft as he stood there, staring into his own personal darkness. His right arm now hung limp at his side.
Sure, Ron. I’ll leave you alone forever in just a second.
Unable and unwilling to control himself any longer, Gabe reached out and seized Ronnie’s wrist with both hands.
“Hey!” Ronnie yelled, jolted from his dark reverie. “Your hands are freezing!”
Are they? Are they, like, cold as death?
Grimacing, Ronnie pulled his wrist away. Or tried to. With arms thicker than Gabe’s thighs, he should’ve been able to yank Gabe off his feet, but the thin boy wouldn’t budge. His hands felt like cold steel clamps on his vascular flesh.
Tightening in anticipation.
Grinning, Gabe sank his new canines into Ronnie’s bulging veins. Blood, hot and metallic, burst onto his tongue, and Gabe began to suck like an infant at his mother’s breast. Man! That’s…INCREDIBLE!
Gaping at his stepson, Ronnie twitched as if being electrocuted, raised his left hand to deliver a mighty smack…then stiffened, eyes rolling back in an obscene form of ecstasy. Like an opiate addict; loving the poison even as it begins to kill him.
Don’t worry, Ron. This time, I definitely won’t let my meat loaf!
Ronnie’s left hand sank to his side. He groaned, eyes shut, as his knees gave way. Kneeling, swaying, the bold, belching, ogre convulsed, then collapsed onto his right side. Gabe, still sucking and slurping, moved with his stepfather, refusing to let go. He began to feel full, but continued to suck, anyway; afraid that if he left too much essence inside Ronnie, he’d rise and be like him. And Gabe didn’t want that.
Not at all.
No more midnight snacks for you, Ron. That’s what you get for letting your meat loaf.
So. Having sated his hunger, Gabe released Ronnie’s desiccated arm and turned to the window above the sink. Blood dripped from his fangs, his lips, onto his bare chest. Moonlight glimmered on his skin like a silver sheen. For the first time in his short life, Gabe felt as alive and powerful as he’d always imagined himself to be. As if those fantasies had devoured his very soul.
Oh, shit. What have I done?
Licking his right fang, Gabe stepped over Ronnie, closer to the window. He cast a suspicious glance into the backyard, then looked to the pale half-moon above. Gazing at it soothed the revulsion welling up inside. He couldn’t believe what he’d done. Even worse, he couldn’t believe that he’d enjoyed it.
What am I gonna do now? Mom’s gonna freak when she finds out.
Ah, but the moon. The night. The wind. How he longed to slip outside and breathe the crisp air, smell the moist earth.
No more school, I guess. No more teachers, no more homework.
And somewhere, beneath that alluring orb, his father slumbered. Leonard Lester; the man who’d given him the magic teeth. The coolest dad around, Gabe decided. The complete apposite of Ronald Keene.
I wonder what he’ll think—especially since it’s all because of the teeth he bought me! He can’t be too mad, right? And anyway, now I’ll be able to spend as much time with him as I wa—
A sharp gasp interrupted his thoughts.
The kitchen light blinked on.
“Oh, Jesus…did Ronnie pass out?”
Shaking his head, Gabe turned. There Marcy stood in her yellow nightgown, hair mussed and frowning. Eyes flitting from Ronnie to Gabe, Gabe to Ronnie.
“Then what—?” Again, Marcy gasped—this time in terror. Her flitting gaze grew wide as she saw the blood near Ronnie’s right forearm. The blood on Gabe’s mouth and chest. And his eyes. Those piercing, wicked eyes which no longer blinked, and glowed with an evil light. “Angel?” she whispered, hands now cradling her skull. “What are you…doing?”
Gabe smiled, revealing sharp, bloodstained teeth. He got them out of a gumball machine, said they were magic. “Don’t worry, Mom. I’m just having a little midnight snack…”—January 15th, 2017
Jesse Lynn Rucilez was born in Reno, Nevada. Growing up, Jesse was an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes stories and Marvel Comics. Throughout his life, Jesse has mainly worked in the security industry, both in Seattle, Washington and Reno, Nevada, and taught self-defense for several years before deciding to focus on writing. Inspired by authors such as Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Kurt Vonnegut, he prefers to write literary horror and science fiction, exploring what he calls “the dark side of the American Dream.” Check out more of Jesse's work @ www.jlrucilez.wordpress.com