Chelsea Valley Asylum is an hour away, but it is still linked to our town. It seems everything in my life is a reminder there is no escape from the valley. I told Haru as such, as we pulled into the parking lot.
“There’s worse places you could be,” he replied.
Looking at the old brick building before us, I found that hard to believe. The day had become overcast, and the heavy clouds had thrown deep shadows against the asylum walls. In this light, it didn’t look like a friendly place. The last time I’d been here, it had been a bright, cheery day. Or at least as cheery as it can be when one of your parents is locked up in a crazy house.
We got out of the car, and I noticed that Haru was sticking to the shadows. The day he walked me home from school, he had stood out there in the blazing sun with no problem, but today he seemed to be playing it safe. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m alright.”
I didn’t quite believe him. He looked to be sweating more than usual. “Do you need to feed?”
“Probably so, mom,” he replied with a half grin.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“So, you can’t drink from me at all? Not even a little? Just to get your strength?”
“I could, but I’m not sure I could trust myself just to have you a little.”
I blushed. Part of me wondered if we were still talking about blood drinking, or something else. At the front door of the hospital we had to present our ID’s. I was kind of surprised when Haru handed his to the guard. I guess you don’t really expect vampires to carry identification.
The guard, a tall, towering man, looked at Haru’s ID briefly, before turning mine over in his hand. He glanced at me , then back down at the card. For a moment, it looked like he was studying the information, cataloging it away for future use. It kind of creeped me out , but then Haru took my hand to show I was with him, and the guard smiled, handing the card back. He let us in the building, and I didn’t look back as we passed him, because I knew I would see him staring at me.
The interior of the hospital was more pleasant than the exterior. At least inside it didn’t look run down or abandoned. It looked just like a typical hospital. White walls, polished floors, voices calling out for various doctors over a public address system. Orderlies and attendants moved about, up and down the hallways, in and out of rooms, all going about their various duties with precision and purpose. We approached the front desk and presented our ID’s again. An older nurse, who looked like she might have once been on her college wrestling team, looked at us with an odd smile.
“Well, he said someone was coming to visit soon. I didn’t believe him.” She stood up from the desk. “So many get forgotten and left behind,” she sighed. “Follow me, he’s in the day room.”
We followed the nurse down the hall. Her size and attitude ensured we made it to our destination without anyone bothering us. We walked by a few patients, most of whom were hanging out in the open doorways to their room. These must have been the harmless ones, residents whose psyche wasn’t so damaged they posed a threat.
Not all doors were open however. Some were closed, and though I had the urge to peek in a window or two, Haru held me back. His hand holding mine kept me close, as if he were afraid if I looked in those areas I would succumb to their madness as well.
The day room was spacious, a large open space where the less dangerous ones could spend away the hours watching television, playing checkers or cards, or just stare out the window at whatever memory had made them a prisoner. The nurse invited us to have a seat at a small table by one of these windows. Glancing outside, I saw the view was pleasant enough; a wide, grassy field decorated with shrubs and flowers. It seemed a small group of patients were attending the flowers as if gardening were the only thing that existed in their small confined world.
I looked at Haru, as he watched all the haunted people, both outside and in the day room. He glanced around the room as if sizing them up, and I had to wonder if he was thinking of his hunger and how not many of these patients would be missed by their families. If I wasn’t here, or if I turned my back for long, would the thirst overtake him, or was he more in command of it than I’d seen in the movies? As if he knew what I was thinking, he leaned over and whispered, “Stop worrying. I’ll be alright.”
I told myself he was right and looked around the room. My eyes focused on a set of double doors close to us. There was a window in each door, but I couldn’t help notice they were covered by wire grates, preventing anyone from smashing their way out or in. I was pondering this fact when the doors opened and in walked a tall, beefy orderly with screaming red hair. I would have mistaken him for another patient, if not for the white hospital uniform and the fact he was escorting my dad into the room.
I hadn’t seen my father in so long, he almost appeared a stranger. Still, his balding blond head and odd, crooked smile gave him away. It was a smile both bright and sad at the same time, like someone who has to smile on the outside, hiding the torture going on within. “Nora, “ he spoke in a small voice. “What a surprise. I wasn’t expecting a visit from you today.”
He went to hug me and the orderly stopped him. “Sorry, no hugging ,” he said.
Dad shrugged. “I got in trouble,” he explained. “Wasn’t my fault. They tried to take some blood. Not on my watch.”
“Dad, you look nice.”
“I don’t blame you. I’d change the subject, too. Must be embarrassing at school and with boyfriends.” He glanced over at Haru.
“Dad, you’re not an embarrassment. This is my friend, Haru.”
He cocked his head to one side. “Haru? Is that…”
“Japanese,” Haru answered. He’d probably heard the question so many times. I almost laughed because you only heard that asked of non-Caucasian ethnic groups. Nobody ever looked at me and said, ‘Nora, Are you white?’ It’s sad, really.
“I was in Japan once,” Dad said, though he didn’t seem to be telling Haru this; he was too busy staring at a spot past us, and I turned around to see what his eyes were fixed upon. I didn’t see anything, except white paneled ceiling and a large square wall clock in black and white.
“So was I,” Haru answered, a mischievous, playful smile crossing his face.
Dad laughed. “I imagine so.” Then he looked at me. “So, Nora, how are you?”
“I’m doing okay. How about you?”
“Well, I’d rather be home, but I guess I won’t be seeing that again.”
“Don’t say that. They’ll let you come home soon.” I wasn’t sure that was true, but he looked like he could use some encouragement. After you’ve been in a place like this, even for a short time, hope just seems to drain from you.
“Perhaps. But it won’t be the same place. How’s your mom?”
“She’s okay. You know, she’s typical mom. But she’s getting better, I guess.”
He nodded. “Just give her time, Nora. She’s new at having to raise you.”
“I don’t need raising anymore. I’m grown up.”
“Yeah, I thought the same thing at your age. Hell, I thought the same thing at my age, but you see where that got me. Stay a kid, baby girl. It’s much safer that way.”
“It doesn’t feel very safe.”
“I know.” He flashed me an encouraging smile. “Hang in there.”
That was the extent of his parental encouragement now. Once upon a time, he had nearly raised me alone. Mom being intoxicated and indifferent wasn’t anything new. Her drinking might have escalated after Dad’s incarceration, but for as long as I could remember, she loved indulging in her spirits. Maybe once, long ago, she had been a sober woman. But those days were over. And yes, she might be getting better and surprising me with thoughtful Mom moments, but I felt the alcoholic demons would always be lurking, waiting for their chance to take over again.
“I’ll try,” I said. “Are you and mom getting a divorce ?”
I could tell I caught him off guard, because he looked away. I reached for Haru’s hand under the table. I knew I was going to need him if the answer was yes.
“Nora, your mother and I. Well, things weren’t going so well before. And they have really gone sour since I’ve been in here.” He cleared his throat. “It’s not fair for me to keep holding on to her when she still has so much life ahead of her.”
“What are you talking about ? You have as much life as she does.”
“No, sugar. I don’t. They’ll be coming for me soon. In fact, they may already be here.” He leaned forward and looked at Haru. “Just how did you meet Nora?,” he asked.
“Dad! He’s our new next door neighbor. Now, who’s coming for you?”
I knew the answer before he said it. “The vampires.”
Still, I froze. Whether madness or truth it didn’t matter. He was talking vampires, and I had brought one with me. Noticing my discomfort, Haru squeezed my hand in reassurance. “Dad…,” I started to say, but he held up his hand to silence my protest, just like he used to when I complained about school at the dinner table.
“No, listen. I know everyone thinks I’m crazy, maybe you do too, but I exposed them, don’t you see? They came to Chelsea Valley to start a colony.”
I glanced at Haru, who drew his eyebrows down, waiting for my Dad’s next revelation.
“They’re going to wipe us all out. You and your mother need to get out before it’s too late. You too, Haru.” He wrung his hands together in apparent agitation. “I exposed their plan when I attacked that vampire clerk. I overheard them talking in the market. They’re building an army.”
“Who’s building an army?” Haru asked.
“I don’t know his name. I only saw the clerk. The other one was a tall shadow on the other side of the freezers. When he was gone, I confronted the clerk. The courts and the doctors say he doesn’t exist. That I’m crazy and snapped on that boy for no reason…” He stopped and looked at Haru with narrow eyes. “But you don’t think I’m crazy, do you?”
“No sir, I don’t.”
“And why not? Everyone else does.”
“Because…Well, I …I’m a..”
“He’s taking a course at the college,” I interrupted. “European folklore. Vampires and stuff.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh really?”
“Yes sir, “ Haru played along. “It’s very interesting, all the diverse cultural deviations of vampire lore.”
Dad smiled. He appeared relieved, and almost placated. “Yes it is. I studied a little bit of it myself. By the way, did you know in Asia, even Japan, there are no vampire legends that are indigenous. It’s all borrowed from western culture.”
Haru grinned a little. “Well, that’s not entirely true, sir. There is one deeply buried in our history. It’s not really equated with vampires by the west, but some think it’s where Japanese vampires derived from. The Kamikaze.”
“The suicidal fighter pilots?” Dad asked. This threw me off a bit, too. We had read about them in history class when we were studying World War Two last year. Japanese pilots who flew their own planes into the enemy, killing both themselves and their target. They had considered it an honor to die in defense of their homeland.
Haru nodded. “They took their name from a little known Japanese legend. In folklore, the Kamikaze were swirling demons called forth to enact vengeance on invaders. But, what they really were..”
“Visitation is almost up. You only have a few minutes left.” The orderly had approached our table unseen. How long he’d been standing there I don’t know, but it was clear he couldn’t wait to put Dad back in his room and see us on our way.
My father let out a heavy sigh, looked at me, then at Haru. He waited for the orderly to walk away and give us our last minutes. “Haru, I don’t know you son, but you’re friends with Nora, so I trust you. Please get out of Chelsea Valley. They are going to take it over. They’ll start with the children first, because they believe. Please get my daughter out of there.”
Haru lowered his voice. “Who was the guy in the grocery? Do you know his name? The one you had the altercation with.”
“The courtroom is all a haze. I was medicated. But I remember in the store his name tag read, Bram.”
“Bram? As in Stoker? The Dracula author?”
“Yes. I think he thought of it as a joke.”
“But you don’t remember his real name.” He turned to me. “Were you in court, Nora? Did you catch his name?”
I shook my head. “Mom wouldn’t let me go.”
Dad reached out and grabbed Haru’s wrist. For a moment, they both froze. Then Dad jerked his hand back. “Damn son, you’re freezing.”
Haru put his hand in his lap. “Yes, it’s a little cold in here, I think.” He looked at me. “We should get going.”
My father was still looking at his hand, as if it were infected with frostbite. He looked at my friend with a suspicious cock of the head. “I’m counting on you to protect, Nora,” he said. “Are you capable of that? It means putting your life on the line with the most vile, despicable creatures.”
The comment didn’t seem to bother Haru. “You have my word.”
“Shake on it.”
I wasn’t stupid. I knew my dad. He was trying to find a way to touch Haru again, to see if the cold, clamminess of his skin was his imagination or not. He’d been warm to me the other day, but now I was fearing that perhaps in his hunger, Haru was losing his warmth. I hadn’t noticed anything when he’d held my hand minutes ago, so I reached for him and touched the hand in his lap. While moments ago it had been comforting and warm, now it was like picking up a chunk of ice. Startled, I looked to him for reassurance.
Haru wasn’t looking at me, however. He was eyeing my father like he knew what he was up to. He reached across the table and shook his hand. “She has nothing to fear when she’s with me, sir.”
Dad realized something was off. You could see it in his face. He knew Haru was different. It wasn’t just the growing clamminess of his skin; it was something about the eyes, too. I noticed it a little too late, but the color was starting to change. The deep, darkness of his iris was turning a rich shade of crimson, as if his eyes were filling up with blood from within. I didn’t know what was happening, but I had to get Haru out of there.
Dad attempted to withdraw his hand, but couldn’t. Haru was gripping it tighter.
“The vampire army will not be built,“ he said in a firm voice. “We’ll take care of that.”
“We’ll? What do you mean by that?”
I interrupted their exchange before it got worse. “He means Haru and I will warn others.”
Haru gave me a look before returning his attention to dad. He let his hand go. “No, it means I won’t allow this. I’ll get Nora out of Chelsea Valley.”
It was too late. Dad wasn’t buying it. He rubbed his hand. “You’re not leaving the valley. I know who you are now. I know what you are. If I had my crucifix….”
“Wouldn’t do any good,” Haru interjected. “It may work with Western vampires, but it doesn’t work with..”
I slid my chair out and jumped up. “Haru, stop it! Dad, stop it! What’s gotten into you both? Turn the testosterone down, damn it!”
My father looked up at me. His face was sad. “Your new boyfriend is a vampire, Nora. He’s here to silence me.”
“Dad, please stop it.”
The orderly must have noticed the disturbance on our side of the room. “Visitation is now over, “ he said, as he came up alongside dad’s chair.
Still looking at me, I saw my father’s eyes were welling with tears. “Nora, I hope you know what you’re doing. You can’t trust….” He looked up at the orderly, and knew he couldn’t say what he wanted to in front of him. “boys.”
“He’s not like that, Dad. Haru is one of the good guys.” When I said it, I found myself hoping I was right in that.
The orderly stepped back as Dad slid his chair out and got to his feet, looking a bit defeated. Haru stood as well.
“I’m not here to silence you, sir,” he said. “There is bad in every group of people, but I’m not one of those. I have Nora’s best interests at heart and I will protect her. The things you speak of will not come to pass, I promise.”
Dad was being ushered away, and we walked with them. “Dad, I love you. And I miss you.”
“I love you too, baby girl. I miss you very much. And I do miss your mom. We just can’t be like we once were. We both are changed, please try to understand.”
“But if you could just come home…”
We reached the doors, and soon my father would be separated from me again. “Dad, please…”
He turned his eyes from me and looked at Haru. “You really are, aren’t you? I mean, I’m not that crazy, right?”
Haru nodded. “Yes I am,” and then Dad was through the doors.
Back at the car, Haru looked at me, a worried look on his face. He opened my door and let me climb in. “I’m sorry, Nora.”
“Sorry for what?”
“How things went with your dad. I know it’s not what either of us expected.”
He walked around to the drivers side and got in. Leaning across, he buckled me in, and like before, it was sexy as hell, the way his hands pulled the strap across my chest and snapped the buckle in place. His fingers brushed my lap and I felt butterflies invade my stomach again.
“I’ll try to drive us, but you may have to take over. I should have fed last night.”
“I don’t have my license yet,” I said. “I don’t get it until next month. I just have my learners.”
“I’ll try my best to get us home, then.” He pulled down the visor to block the sun from his eyes. Lucky for him, the day was overcast, and the clouds prevented much of the sunshine from reaching us. He was getting weaker, and I didn’t know what that would mean for him if he was out in the daylight too long without feeding.
“I just wanted to be with you as long as I could last night. Watching you sleep is..beautiful.” He smiled. “All this is my own fault, and I’m afraid it made me a little testy with your Dad, too. I’m sorry. When he started about the crucifix, I got a little snippy. I guess I knew he was figuring me out and it made me a little confrontational. I don’t always get along with adults.”
Part of me wanted to laugh at that. I mean, come on, he’s nearly a thousand years old, and yet still thinking like a teenager. I touched his leg. “It’s okay, Haru. There was no harm done. I just didn’t want you guys to argue too much. It was drawing attention.”
“Yeah, I know. Again, I’m sorry.” He started the car and we pulled off, leaving the sanitarium behind. I looked back, as if I would see my father looking out the window and waving goodbye. All I saw was a dark, lonely building.
“Is it true?” I asked, after we’d driven a few minutes.
“Is what true?”
“Did your people come here to build a colony?”
“No, it’s not true.”
“Then, why are you here? Why did your family settle here of all places? There’s nothing here.”
He looked at me and smiled. “You’re here.”
“You didn’t come here for me.”
“When vampires hit the headlines, it hardly goes unnoticed. My uncles spotted a news article about your dad and his case. It mentioned the fact he attacked the clerk because he was a vampire. Of course, the news article made him seem crazy, but well, we were traveling, looking for someone we’d lost, and thought we might want to check it out. See if it was true.”
I turned my head and looked out the window. “So, you bringing me today wasn’t about you being sweet and nice to me, was it? You weren’t being a good boyfriend. You offered to drive because I could take you to my dad.”
I heard his soft sigh. “I wanted to help you. But yes, I wanted to see your dad for myself. To see if he was a danger to us.”
I turned to face him. Tears were threatening my eyes. “You tricked me, Haru.”
“It’s not like that, Nora.”
“Then tell me what it’s like. All this time you have been nice to me. All the sweet things you say, us getting close, me falling for you…it’s all been make believe for you. You have been using me.”
We stopped at a red light and he turned to look at me. “There is no make believe. I haven’t been using you or tricking you. Everything I feel for you is real, Nora.”
I didn’t know if I could believe that or not. I was beginning to feel like a pawn on a chessboard. Vampires just don’t show up in your hometown for no reason. All the things I thought were just coincidence or random, blind luck or faith, now appeared to have been planned. Had Haru’s uncles compelled him to become friends with me in order to find my dad and talk to him? Was Ryo the backup in case I didn’t go for Haru? And what about Chi and Luhan? Were they further assurance the vampires got what they wanted?
“What is it you want from me, Haru? I thought it was me.”
He pulled the car off to the side of the road and threw the gear in park. He turned to me. His eyes were red and tired. His face pale and sweating. “It is you, Nora. We aren’t concerned with your dad. After we got here, we figured out no one believed him. There was no danger to us. But there wasn’t any sense in moving in one day and moving out the next.”
“So what, you decided to put the make on a local girl to kill some time, then? A girl nobody else liked or gave a damn about? Am I that easy to you?” There was no stopping the tears now. I felt them running down my cheek.
He reached up and let them run onto his finger. “No, you’re not that easy, nor am I just killing time. From the moment I saw you watching me from your window, I wanted to know you. Even from the distance of our two yards I saw the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, and yet her eyes were more haunted than my own. I wanted to know you. I wanted to know everything about you. Me getting close to you has nothing to do with your dad, vampires, or anything. I just thought maybe, this was it, I’d found the someone to …to be with after all these years.” He took me into his arms and held me. My tears fell onto his shoulder. He cut the car off, and even though the sun was coming out brighter, I felt like he was enduring the discomfort for me. I could feel the heat coming through the window, and I knew he must feel it worse.
“I’m sorry, Haru. I didn’t mean…I just need to know if this is real or not. All my life I have been picked on, bullied, made fun of, and I don’t want to be taken for a fool anymore.”
I could feel his smile as his face pressed against my cheek. “The only fool is me,” he said. Before I could wonder what he meant, he tensed, and I caught a scent of something burning. I pulled away from him and saw that the skin on one of his hands seemed to be wilting. It wasn’t like in the movies where the vampire’s skin smolders and catches fire; it was more like a flower wilting before your eyes.
“Oh, my god,” I whispered. I had this horrible vision of centuries of aging catching up to him all at once. “Haru, we have to get you out of the sun. Why didn’t you tell me it was this bad? Do you have a blanket or anything?”
“In the trunk,” he said.
I grabbed the keys from the ignition and jumped out of the car. I ran around to the trunk and popped it open. There wasn’t much in there. A spare tire iron, bottles of oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid. And the blankets. I snatched them up and ran around to the drivers aside.
“Move over,” I commanded. With his help, I managed to maneuver him over the gear shift and into the passenger side seat. I got in behind the wheel and laid the blankets over Haru. He was starting to slump down in the seat. He lay his head over in my lap as I restarted the car and put it into gear.
I’d had plenty of simulations and driving instruction, so it wasn’t like driving was an alien concept, but trying to drive while a boy’s head is in your lap is not the easiest thing to do. It’s even worse when that said boy just might be dying before your very eyes.
Haru’s body was wracked by shivering as we sped down the road. I held my own with the driving. I knew I was going over the speed limit. But I was focused. Intent on getting us home safely, I prayed the whole way. I believe in God, and though I wasn’t sure where vampires stood in the spiritual scheme of things, I was hoping that heaven would allow me to save Haru.
“Hold on, baby,” I heard myself say, and took a curve much faster than I should. The back tires slid a little and squealed, but I righted the car and drove on. We passed a sign for Chelsea Valley and I smiled a little. We were going to make it. “Almost there,” I said to reassure him and myself both.
The ‘almost there’ was a little further than I thought, and I put my hand on Haru’s head, stroking his hair with my fingers in gentle motions. The road twisted and turned, winding and curving its way to home, and we drove the rest of the way in silence. The only sound was my steady heartbeat and Haru’s ragged breathing. By the time we reached the town limits, I was almost to the point where I would offer myself to him and risk death rather than lose him. But the burning smell had dissipated and it seemed the blankets were helping to protect him. He was still shivering and cold, though. He would shudder, and his head in my lap would shake from side to side as if cold chills were wracking his very brain.
I did my best to soothe him, but I was at a loss at what to do once we got home. Did I drag him inside his house? Get Ryo from across the street to help? Or do I take him to my bedroom and try to nurse him back with my own blood? I knew, no matter his condition, he wouldn’t allow the latter to happen. So it was either his house, hoping someone was there to save him, or Ryo. I chose Ryo.
“Vampire Boys Of Summer” 2017 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.