MR. CREPSLEY (OR VUR HORSTON, if that was his real name) smiled. "So," he said, "I have been discovered. I should not be surprised. It had to happen eventually. Tell me, boy, who sent you?"
"Nobody," Steve said.
Mr. Crepsley frowned. "Come, boy," he growled, "do not play games. Who are you working for? Who put you onto me and what do they want?"
"I'm not working for anybody," Steve insisted. "I've got lots of books and magazines at home about vampires and monsters. There was a picture of you in one of them."
"A picture?" Mr. Crepsley asked suspiciously.
"A painting," Steve replied. "It was done in 1903, in Paris. You were with a rich woman. The story said the two of you almost married, but she found out you were a vampire and dumped you."
Mr. Crepsley smiled. "As good a reason as any. Her friends thought she had invented a fantastic story to make herself look better."
"But it wasn't a story, was it?" Steve asked.
"No," Mr. Crepsley agreed. "It was not." He sighed and fixed Steve with a fierce gaze. "Though it might have been better for you if it had been!" he boomed.
If I'd been in Steve's place, I would have fled as soon as he said that. But Steve didn't even blink.
"You won't hurt me," he said.
"Why not?" Mr. Crepsley asked.
"Because of my friend," Steve said. "I told him all about you and if anything happens to me, he'll tell the police."
"They will not believe him," Mr. Crepsley snorted.
"Probably not," Steve agreed. "But if I turn up dead or missing, they'll have to investigate. You wouldn't like that. Lots of police asking questions, coming here in the daytime ..."
Mr. Crepsley shook his head with disgust. "Children!" he snarled. "I hate children. What is it you want? Money? Jewels? The rights to publish my story?"
"I want to join you," Steve said.
I almost fell off the balcony when I heard that. Join him?
"What do you mean?" Mr. Crepsley asked, as stunned as I was.
"I want to become a vampire," Steve said. "I want you to make me a vampire and teach me your ways."
"You are crazy!" Mr. Crepsley roared.
"No," Steve said, "I'm not."
"I cannot turn a child into a vampire," Mr. Crepsley said. "I would be murdered by the Vampire Generals if I did."
"What are Vampire Generals?" Steve asked.
"Never you mind," Mr. Crepsley said. "All you need to know is, it cannot be done. We do not blood children. It creates too many problems."
"So don't change me right away," Steve said. "That's okay. I don't mind waiting. I can be an apprentice. I know vampires often have assistants who are half-human, half-vampire. Let me be one. I'll work hard and prove myself, and when I'm old enough..."
Mr. Crepsley stared at Steve and thought it over. He snapped his fingers while he was thinking and a chair flew up onto the stage from the front row! He sat down on it and crossed his legs.
"Why do you want to be a vampire?" he asked. "It is not much fun. We can only come out at night. Humans despise us. We have to sleep in dirty old places like this. We can never marry or have children or settle down. It is a horrible life."
"I don't care," Steve said stubbornly.
"Is it because you want to live forever?" Mr. Crepsley asked. "If so, I must tell you we do not. We live far longer than humans, but we die all the same, sooner or later."
"I don't care," Steve said again. "I want to come with you. I want to learn. I want to become a vampire."
"What about your friends?" Mr. Crepsley asked. "You would not be able to see them again. You would have to leave school and home and never return. What about your parents? Would you not miss them?"
Steve shook his head miserably and looked down at the floor. "My dad doesn't live with us," he said softly. "I hardly ever see him. And my mom doesn't love me. She doesn't care what I do. She probably won't even notice I'm gone."
"That is why you want to run away? Because your mother does not love you?"
"Partly," Steve said.
"If you wait a few years, you will be old enough to leave by yourself," Mr. Crepsley said.
"I don't want to wait," Steve replied.
"And your friends?" Mr. Crepsley asked again. He looked very kind at the moment, though still a little scary. "Would you miss the boy you came with tonight?"
"Darren?" Steve asked, then nodded. "Yes, I'll miss my friends, Darren especially. But it doesn't matter. I want to be a vampire more than I care about them. And if you don't accept me, I'll tell the police and become a vampire hunter when I grow up!"
Mr. Crepsley didn't laugh. Instead he nodded seriously. "You have thought this through?" he asked.
"Yes," Steve said.
"You are certain it is what you want?"
"Yes," came the answer.
Mr. Crepsley took a deep breath. "Come here," he said. "I will have to test you first."
Steve stood beside Mr. Crepsley. His body blocked my view of the vampire, so I couldn't see what happened next. All I know is, they spoke to each other very softly, then there was a noise like a cat lapping up milk.
I saw Steve's back shaking and I thought he was going to fall over but somehow he managed to stay upright. I can't even begin to tell you how frightened I was, watching this. I wanted to leap to my feet and cry out, "No, Steve, stop!"
But I was too scared to move, terrified that, if Mr. Crepsley knew I was here, there would be nothing to stop him from killing and eating both me and Steve.
All of a sudden, the vampire began coughing. He pushed Steve away from him and stumbled to his feet. To my horror, I saw his mouth was red, covered in blood, which he quickly spat out.
"What's wrong?" Steve asked, rubbing his arm where he had fallen.
"You have bad blood!" Mr. Crepsley screamed.
"What do you mean?" Steve asked. His voice was trembling.
"You are evil!" Mr. Crepsley shouted. "I can taste the menace in your blood. You are savage."
"That's a lie!" Steve yelled. "You take that back!"
Steve ran at Mr. Crepsley and tried to punch him, but the vampire knocked him to the floor with one hand. "It is no good," he growled. "Your blood is bad. You can never be a vampire!"
"Why not?" Steve asked. He had started to cry.
"Because vampires are not the evil monsters of lore," Mr. Crepsley said. "We respect life. You have a killer's instincts, but we are not killers.
"I will not make you a vampire," Mr. Crepsley insisted. "You must forget about it. Go home and get on with your life."
"No!" Steve screamed. "I won't forget!" He stumbled to his feet and pointed a shaking ringer at the tall, ugly vampire. "I'll get you for this," he promised. "I don't care how long it takes. One day, Vur Horston, I'll track you down and kill you for rejecting me!"
Steve jumped from the stage and ran toward the exit. "One day!" he called back over his shoulder, and I could hear him laughing as he ran, a crazy kind of laugh.
Then he was gone and I was alone with the vampire.
Mr. Crepsley sat where he was for a long time, his head between his hands, spitting blood out onto the stage. He wiped his teeth with his fingers, then with a large handkerchief.
"Children!" he snorted aloud, then stood, still wiping his teeth, glanced one last time out over the chairs at the theater (I ducked down low for fear he might spot me), then turned and walked back to the wings. I could see drops of blood dripping from his lips as he went.
I stayed where I was for a long, long time. It was tough. I'd never been as scared as I was up there on the balcony. I wanted to rush out of the theater as fast as my feet would carry me.
But I stayed. I made myself wait until I was sure none of the freaks or helpers were around, then slowly crept back up the balcony, down the stairs, into the corridor, and finally out into the night.
I stood outside the theater for a few seconds, staring up at the moon, studying the trees until I was sure there were no vampires lurking on any of the branches. Then, as quietly as I could, I raced for home. My home, not Steve's. I didn't want to be near Steve right then. I was almost as scared of Steve as I was of Mr. Crepsley. I mean, he wanted to be a vampire! What sort of lunatic actually wants to be a vampire?