Daniel

Nancy threw down her implements, and ran over as Rachel began to faint. She grabbed the woman’s bony hips, but her top half flopped backwards. A muted screaming came from inside the station wagon. “It’s okay, kids!” Nancy shouted, guiding Rachel’s limp body down to the grass. But when she looked up, she saw that the children were looking past their step-mother, past Nancy, to the porch. Nancy turned around in time to see Daniel lift the bird’s head to his mouth. Nancy dropped Rachel. The car doors popped open, and for a second, there was so much screaming that it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, an atmosphere of sound. Rachel was finally rousted awake. Hazy, the distress of the children caused her confusion to quickly turn into panic.

“It’s fine, it’s fine.” Nancy’s words were nervous and crazy-sounding. “My son’s just playing a trick on you,” she assured them. “I’m just going to go have him stand back inside.”

The rage on Nancy’s face caused Daniel to bolt toward the door. Then he locked it behind him so that Nancy was madly turning the knob and pounding the door when she heard Rachel’s car start and turned to see the station wagon speeding away. Nancy dropped her head against the door. “Daniel, I’m not going to kill you,” she said. “Please just open the door so I can come inside and drink some alcohol.”

With that, there was a quiet click. Nancy left the plugged-up Shop-Vac out in the yard with the rake; she wanted only to shut the door and beget behind closed walls. Daniel had scurried back away to his bedroom. “It’s Chris’s fault,” she finally decided. That helped. A glass of white wine also helped. The fluffy safety of a robe would help, too, she decided, so she took off her shirt and walked to the bathroom in her bra for the first time since Daniel was born. If he can drink blood out of the Shop-Vac, she reasoned, I can walk around in my bra. There is no way I can scar him more than he has scarred me. Not any longer. In a small way, the thought was freeing. Perhaps she had failed, but at least now she could finally quit trying.

*

Since he’d tasted Pickle, his urges had grown. There was now a telepathy about them—when he’d woken up to his mother yelling and opened his bedroom door, Daniel had nearly sleepwalked downstairs to the bird’s corpse. And then, when he’d found himself standing before it, his eyes had moved directly to the tiny dead animal concealed inside the vacuum tube, to its settled blood, and the rest had been instinct.

That evening when he woke up for the night, he went downstairs to find his mother sitting in a chair in the dark.

“Look, it was kind of a trick, like you said. I didn’t think that they’d react so bad. I’m sorry.”

Nancy nodded her head a little. This gave Daniel pause. Why wasn’t she yelling?

“Mom, are you okay?”

“Did you…put the blood into your mouth?” It was almost clinical, the way she posed the question.

“No, I just pretended to.” The lie felt awkward to Daniel; he didn’t normally lie. It was usually more rebellious for him to tell the truth.

“That blood was from a dead bird. Who knows how long it’d been dead. It probably had diseases.”

She stared at him, and Daniel felt like a ghost; she seemed to be looking behind him and through him and around him, trying to make out his shape, squinting her eyes as though she’d almost processed what was standing before her but then had lost its definition just as suddenly. “Help me up,” she said quietly, holding out her hand. Daniel smelled the sourness of alcohol about her. She was drunk, he realized.

“Do you want me to walk you upstairs?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m making it; I’m doing well.” She walked to the banister slowly, the bottom of her robe dusting the floor.

*

Chris woke up as Nancy climbed into bed. He glanced at the red numbers of their digital clock: It was later than usual for her.

“You know,” Nancy began, “maybe you and Daniel should spend more time together. I think he needs a stronger role model.” She paused. “And he certainly doesn’t like me, so I think you would be a better choice.”

This statement struck Chris as odd. It took a moment for him to place his finger on it, but then he realized that Nancy was being conciliatory. She’d just mentioned one particular area and suggested that, within its confines, he might possess a greater level of skill.

“I dunno,” he said. “What if I helped him build that bat box?” Daniel didn’t like leaving the house or being awake during the day, Chris knew. The bat box project seemed like the only thing that would interest the boy enough for him to break his own rules.

“It might be better if it didn’t have anything to do with vampires. He’s taking it too far, Chris. I keep waiting for the village to arrive at our door with torches and pitchforks.”

“What else would he be willing to do?”

With that question, Nancy seemed to snap out of her dolor; she turned ,and he could see the gleam of her moving eyes. “Yes…you’re right. So here’s what you do: You make it an absolutely terrible experience for him. Try to get him to connect this stupid creepy box he wants to build with sweat and hard work and accidentally hammering his hand. ” He recognized the manic tone of her voice. This was excited Nancy. This was Epiphany Nancy, Nancy who felt she had all the answers.

“I’ll sure try.”

She turned off the light and rolled over, her bottom a rotund mound beneath the covers. It occurred to Chris that he had no idea how to make love to her anymore. Not the faintest idea of how to approach it. Just as he had no idea how to approach hanging out with his son. He tried not to let these facts convince him that he should be labeled a failure; on the contrary, he told himself, he was a good man for sticking things out in a rough situation.

*

He’d done it again last night; he hadn’t meant to. Pickle had jumped into his lap while Daniel was watching television. Daniel leaned in for a short taste and found it quite painful to withdraw after he began drinking. It scared him, how hard it was to stop. Afterward he’d ran to the fridge and got several slices of lunchmeat for Pickle to enjoy. He didn’t want the dog to become anemic.

Now, as Pickle snored atop Daniel’s pillow, Daniel watched him with equal parts love and anger. Why did the dog still come to his room, follow him around, sit against him and fall asleep? Didn’t it have instincts? Wasn’t it still more of an animal than he was? Couldn’t it tell that it was taunting him, that it was putting its life in danger? Daniel jumped when he heard the knock; his parents hadn’t knocked unexpectedly for quite a while. His panicked brain imagined Nancy standing on the other side of the door with the bird’s corpse in her hand. She would enter his room, point to the two pricked holes in its throat, then plunge a stake into Daniel’s heart while lamenting, in her usual voice of punishment, that she was only doing this for his own good.

“Son?”

Daniel felt his fangs fill with warm fluid in relief. It was his father.