I SPENT MY LAST WEEKEND SAYING silent good-byes. I visited every one of my favorite spots: library, swimming pool, cinema, parks, soccer field. I went to some of the places with Mom or Dad, some with Alan Morris or Tommy Jones. I would have liked to spend time with Steve but couldn't bear to face him.
I got the feeling, every so often, that I was being followed, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. But whenever I turned to look, nobody was there, Eventually I put it down to nerves and ignored it.
I treated every minute with my family and friends as if it was special. I paid close attention to their faces and voices, so I would never forget. I knew I'd never see these people again and that tore me apart inside, but it was the way it had to be. There was no going back.
They could do nothing wrong that weekend. Mom's kisses didn't embarrass me, Dad's orders didn't bother me, Alan's stupid jokes didn't annoy me.
I spent more time with Annie than with anybody else. I was going to miss her the most. I gave her piggyback rides and swung her around by the arms and took her to the soccer field with me and Tommy. I even played with her dolls!
Sometimes I felt like crying. I'd look at Mom or Dad or Annie and realize how much I loved them, how empty my life would be without them. I had to turn aside at moments like that and take long, deep breaths. A couple of times that didn't work and I rushed away to cry in private.
I think they guessed something was wrong. Mom came into my room that Saturday night and stayed for a long time, tucking me into bed, telling me stories, listening to me talk. It had been years since we'd spent time together like that. I felt sorry, after she'd gone, that we hadn't had more nights like this.
In the morning, Dad asked if there was anything I wanted to discuss with him. He said I was a growing young man and would be going through lots of changes, and he'd understand if I had mood swings or wanted to go off by myself. But he would always be there for me to talk to.
"You'll be there, but I won't be!" I felt like crying, but I kept quiet, nodded my head, and thanked him.
I behaved as perfectly as possible. I wanted to leave a fine final impression, so they would remember me as a good son, a good brother, a good friend. I didn't want anybody thinking badly of me when I was gone.
Dad was going to take us out to a restaurant for dinner that Sunday, but I asked if we could stay home to eat. This would be my last meal with them and I wanted it to be special. When I was looking back on it in later years, I wanted to be able to remember us together, at home, a happy family.
Mom cooked my favorite food: chicken, roast potatoes, corn on the cob. Annie and me had freshly squeezed orange juice to drink. Mom and Dad shared a bottle of wine. We had strawberry cheesecake for dessert. Everybody was in a good mood. We sang songs. Dad cracked terrible jokes. Mom played a tune with a pair of spoons. Annie recited a few poems. Everybody joined in for a game of charades.
It was a day I wished would never end. But, of course, all days must, and finally, as it always does, the sun dropped and the darkness of night crept across the sky.
Dad looked up after a while, then at his watch. "Time for bed," he said. "You two have school in the morning."
"No," I thought, "I don't. I don't have school ever again." That should have cheered me up but all I could think was: "No school means no Mr. Dalton, no friends, no soccer, no school trips."
I delayed going to bed as long as I could. I spent forever taking off my clothes and putting on my pajamas; longer still washing my hands and face and brushing my teeth. Then, when it could be avoided no longer, I went downstairs to the living room, where Mom and Dad were talking. They looked up, surprised to see me.
"Are you all right, Darren?" Mom asked.
"I'm fine," I said.
"You're not feeling sick?"
"I'm fine," I assured her. "I just wanted to say good night." I put my arms around Dad, then kissed him on the cheek. Next I did the same with Mom. "Good night," I said to each.
"This is one for the books." Dad laughed, rubbing his cheek where I had kissed him. "How long since he kissed the two of us good night, Angie?"
"Too long." Mom smiled, patting my head.
"I love you," I told them. "I know I haven't said it very often, but I do. I love the both of you and always will."
"We love you, too," Mom said. "Don't we, Dermot?"
"Of course we do," Dad said.
"Well, tell him," she insisted.
Dad sighed. "I love you, Darren," he said, rolling his eyes in a way he knew would make me laugh. Then he gave me a hug. "Really I do," he said, serious this time.
I left them then. I stood outside the door a while, listening to them talk, reluctant to depart.
"What do you think brought that on?" Mom asked.
"Kids," Dad snorted. "Who knows how their minds work?"
"There's something up," Mom said. "He's been acting oddly for some time now."
"Maybe he's got a girlfriend," Dad suggested.
"Maybe," Mom said, but didn't sound convinced.
I'd lingered long enough. I was afraid that if I waited any longer, I might rush into the room and tell them what was really the matter. If I did, they'd stop me from going ahead with Mr. Crepsley's plan. They'd say that vampires weren't real and fight to keep me with them, in spite of the danger.
I thought of Annie and how close I'd come to biting her, and knew I must not let them stop me.
I trudged upstairs to my room. It was a warm night and the window was open. That was important.
Mr. Crepsley was waiting in the closet. He emerged when he heard me closing the door. "It is stuffy in there," he complained. "I feel sorry for Madam Octa, having had to spend so much time in..."
"Shut up," I told him.
"No need to be rude," he sniffed. "I was merely making a comment."
"Well, don't," I said. "You might not think much of this place but I do. This has been my home, my room, my closet, ever since I can remember. And I'm never going to see it again after tonight. This is my last little while here. So don't bad-mouth it, all right?"
"I am sorry," he said.
I took one long last look around the room, then sighed unhappily. I pulled a bag out from underneath the bed and handed it to Mr. Crepsley. "What is this?" he asked suspiciously.
"Some personal stuff," I told him. "My diary. A picture of my family. A couple of other things. Nothing that will be missed. Will you watch it for me?"
"Yes," he said.
"But only if you promise not to look through it," I said.
"Vampires have no secrets from each other," he said. But, when he saw my face, he shrugged. "I will not open it," he promised.
"All right," I said, taking a deep breath. "Do you have the potion?" He nodded and handed over a small dark bottle. I looked inside. The liquid was dark and thick and foul-smelling.
Mr. Crepsley moved behind me and laid his hands on my neck.
"You're sure this will work?" I asked nervously.
"Trust me," he said.
"I always thought a broken neck meant people couldn't walk or move," I said.
"No," he replied. "The bones of the neck do not matter. Paralysis only happens if the spinal cord a long nerve running down the middle of the neck breaks. I will be careful not to damage it."
"Won't the doctors think it's strange?" I asked.
"They will not check," he said. "The potion will slow your heart down so much, they will be sure you are dead. They will find the broken neck and put two and two together. If you were older, they might go ahead with an autopsy. But no doctor likes cutting a child open.
"Now, are you totally clear on what is going to happen and how you must act?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"There must be no mistakes," he warned. "If you make just one slip our plans will fall apart."
"I'm not a fool! I know what to do!" I snapped.
"Then do it," he said.
So I did.
With one angry gesture, I swallowed the contents of the bottle. I grimaced at the taste, then shuddered as my body started to stiffen. There wasn't much pain but an icy feeling spread through my bones and veins. My teeth began to chatter.
It took about ten minutes for the poison to work its deadly charms. At the end of that time I couldn't move any of my limbs, my lungs weren't working (well, they were, but very, very slowly), and my heart had stopped (again, not fully, but enough for its beat to be undetectable).
"I am going to snap the neck now," Mr. Crepsley said, and I heard a quick clicking sound as he jerked my head to one side. I couldn't feel anything: my senses were dead. "There," he said. "That should do it. Now I am going to throw you out of the window."
He carried me over and stood there a moment with me, breathing in the night air.
"I have to throw you hard enough to make it look genuine," he said. "You might break some bones in the fall. They will start hurting when the potion wears off after a few days but I will fix them up later on.
"Here we go!"
He picked me up, paused a moment, then hurled me out and down.
I fell quickly, the house whizzing past in a blur, and landed heavily on my back. My eyes were open and I found myself staring at a drain at the foot of the house.
For a while my body went undetected, so I lay there, listening to the sounds of the night. In the end, a passing neighbor spotted me and investigated. I couldn't see his face but I heard his gasp when he turned me over and saw my lifeless body.
He rushed straight around to the front of the house and pounded on the door. I could hear his voice as he shouted for my mother and father. Then their voices as he led them around back. They thought he was pulling their leg or had been mistaken. My father was marching angrily and muttering to himself.
The footsteps stopped when they rounded the bend and saw me. For a long, terrible moment there was complete silence. Then Dad and Mom rushed forward and picked me up.
"Darren!" Mom screamed, clutching me to her chest.
"Let go, Angie," Dad shouted, prying me free and laying me down on the grass.
"What's wrong with him, Dermot?" Mom wailed.
"I don't know. He must have fallen." Dad stood and gazed up at my open bedroom window. I could see his hands flexing into fists.
"He's not moving," Mom said calmly, then grabbed me and shook me fiercely. "He's not moving!" she screamed. "He's not moving. He's..."
Dad once again eased her hands away. He beckoned our neighbor over and handed Mom to him. "Take her inside," he said softly. "Call for an ambulance. I'll stay here and look after Darren."
"Is he...dead?" our neighbor asked. Mom moaned loudly when he said it and buried her face in her hands.
Dad shook his head softly. "No," he said, giving Mom's shoulder a light squeeze. "He's just paralyzed, like his friend was."
Mom lowered her hands. "Like Steve?" she asked half-hopefully.
"Yes." Dad smiled. "And he'll snap out of it like Steve. Now go call for help, okay?"
Mom nodded, then hurried away with our neighbor. Dad held his smile until she was out of sight, then bent over me, checked my eyes, and felt my wrist for a pulse. When he found no sign of life, he laid me back down, brushed a lock of hair out of my eyes, then did something I'd never expected to see.
He started to cry.
And that was how I came to enter a new, miserable phase of my life, namely death.