The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 25

When Damon limped into the classroom, Roxy gasped, “Oh no! Damon, what happened?”

            Pretending to have no clue how he sustained that injury, I repeated her question, “Yeah, Damon! What happened?”

            As he glared at me, it was hard not to give him a cheeky grin in return. He eventually supplied a lame response, “I fell.”

            In my head, I pointed out that he didn’t fall but did make a dog plummet to the ground as he fled his unsuccessful attempt to prey on a student, but out loud, I instructed the class, “Alright… Let’s discuss what you read over the weekend. Do you think the doctor can cure Lucy of her so-called health condition?” A couple of students raised their hands, but Roxy gestured so wildly that I had no choice but to call on her, “Yes, Roxy?”

            “In my opinion, everyone should stop trying to cure her and let her go be with her vampire lover!” She gazed at Damon adoringly as she went on, “I worry about the vampire’s health and hope he can still go to the dance with Lucy…”

            “Uh… It sounds like you’re writing your own story there! Did anyone see the symbolism in giving blood to her?” Normally, I would have enjoyed seeing Damon get annoyed by her pursuit of him, but I couldn’t let her alter the other kids’ understanding of the material! I didn’t want Ms. Branagh to come back and suffer another heart attack from how badly I messed up her lesson plan! I noted how officially teacher-like I had acted right then, which felt strange since a couple weeks ago, I had every intention of quitting this position to run back into the arms of my ex in Philadelphia, and now, not only was I learning towards staying put and staying away from her, but I actually started to really assume command of a role I never envisioned myself keeping! It really struck me how much I committed myself to getting this job done right, especially with a chancy arrangement looming over me once this shift was done! I sort of found it funny that, in that moment, I hoped we were successful in our goal so that tomorrow Damon wouldn’t show up and disrupt my next lesson!

            I almost walked towards my car out of habit, but when I remembered the agenda for that evening, I recalled that my vehicle wasn’t waiting for me in the parking lot as usual. We planned on going straight to the estates after school, and I wasn’t comfortable leaving something so expensive on the street so late, so I rode in with Fletcher that day. The others were perfectly fine leaving their cars outside that territory as we worked in it, actually, it seemed like Aleck wanted someone to steal his clunker! With all of the luxurious rides so close to the neighborhood we would be leaving our wheels in, I doubted that a thief would choose to risk jailtime for that old thing, but I didn’t bring that up to him- I let him hold on to that faint hope of his insurance paying for a new one! Fletcher and I changed in the gym’s bathroom before we left, and based on our appearances, I began to have doubts about this idea of mine…

            Evidently, the security guard in the booth guarding the property shared my impression of our outfits because he lowered his sunglasses to give us a second look. Fletcher and I strived to maintain a natural demeanor, but the super’s uniform that he wore was comfortably tight on him and extremely lose on me! I hid some of the slack against the seat behind me, but I doubted that I had any success in convincing the guard that my clothes were formfitting! The security guard certainly must have been suspicious, but he played it cool as he asked us, “How can I help you gentlemen?”

            “We’re here to secure the statues in the area,” Fletcher answered him. “Apparently, they’re not on solid foundations, and one of the gargoyles was used to hurt somebody!”

            “I don’t see any repairs scheduled for today…” He flipped through some papers on his clipboard, and I planted a fake smile on my face as I was inwardly panicking! The thorniest part of this ordeal was getting past the gatekeepers, and when I plotted all this out, I assumed that Fletcher’s truck and Ellie’s husband’s uniforms would give off enough of a professional impression that security would just wave us through. If we faltered here, it would have been nearly impossible for us to find another way inside, and another innocent student would succumb to Damon’s sinister scheme! Fortunately, the guard concluded, “You must be telling the truth though ‘cause I don’t know how you’d know about the gargoyle incident otherwise! Okay, well, welcome to Carpathian Manor!” We thanked him and waited until we were on the other side of the boom barrier to breath a sigh of relief!

            We parked at the pool house, and once we could guarantee that the coast was clear, we lifted the tarp so that the other four could get out. I envied how close Ellie got to Phoebe, and obviously she had grown jealous of my position too since she muttered, “I should’ve just put on one of Victor’s uniforms! Tight clothes would have been so much better than tight spaces!”

            Ginger remarked, “I can’t believe we’re really gonna fix these statues!”

            “We have to have a good reason for hanging around here all day so no one reports us,” Phoebe reminded her. “Plus, security wouldn’t have let them in if they claimed they were gonna do repairs after dark!”

            “Where did this crap go?” Fletcher queried while he grabbed a pool net to retrieve the statue at the bottom of the pool.

            Aleck showed him where he got it from, and we took our sweet time putting on industrial glue at the bottom of the gargoyle. We inched our way around the vicinity and slowly fixed the gargoyles as we saw them. I found myself tugging at my jumper as it exposed my shoulders, and I could tell that Fletcher had tough time trying to breathe in his! Sunset didn’t seem so far away from our arrival until we had to endure such ill-fitting garments! I sincerely hoped that Damon wouldn’t wait too long after twilight to get here! We reasoned that it was a school night, so he wouldn’t want to go out too late. As the hours crept by though, I wondered about that! Damon did get good grades, but did he actually go to bed at a typical time that other children would? Did he even require sleep to function? I didn’t feel so confident about his sleep schedule considering that vampires were typically nocturnal…

            When the sun began to go down, we started to run out of statues to fix. We wound up back by the pool again, and Aleck suggested, “We could go back to just hiding from the guards again.”

            “We should forget the statues!” Ginger seconded that notion. “We need to focus on doing what we came here for and protect our student from the monsters who are after him! I think we should try hanging around his house. I doubt if he’ll wanna go swimming after what he went through last night!”

            “Oh, hey Ms. Ziven!” a teenage boy pulled up to us in a golf cart and a fluffy white robe. “Are you guys out here tutoring again?”

            Ginger echoed, “Again?”

            The boy shrugged. “Yeah, I figured that’s why you came here.”

            We all silently admonished ourselves for not coming up with that line before we went through all this trouble! That just seemed so much simpler than all of the effort we put into this escapade, and we all could have worn more desirable outfits too! We didn’t dwell on that too much though- now that Damon’s target arrived, we had a job to do! The boy headed towards the pool, and Aleck inquired, “Peter, you’re seriously going in there after what happened yesterday?”

            “Well, yeah! It’s not like those thugs would strike in the same place twice!” Peter rationalized. We didn’t say it out loud, but we were sure he would love to have another go at an attack in this spot! He probably went over the incident with Corvina and deciphered a better strategy to capture his prey! He saw the worrisome expressions on our faces, and he interpreted it in a very different way than we would have expected, “Wait, is it my turn to get tutored?”

            “Uh… Yeah… We were just heading your way…” Phoebe fibbed.

            Peter circled back to his golf cart and invited us, “Come on over! Oh, are you all walking? Does anyone wanna hop on board with me?”

            He only had one extra seat, and we all were so weary from the back and forth we did with the statues that we all scrambled for it! Ginger beat us to it, so the rest of us resigned ourselves to following his vehicle to his house. I was glad that he was impervious to Fletcher and me wearing mis-sized uniforms, and I was tempted to query if his father possibly had clothing in my size that I could borrow. All of a sudden, I knew I would not get the chance to find out- we all saw bats heading in the direction of his house! Ginger proposed, “You know, it’s such a nice day, we could tutor you out by the pool…”

            “I don’t have any of my papers with me though,” Peter countered. “And neither do you, so don’t we kinda have to go to my house?”

            “Nah, we have everything we need memorized!” I lied. I had my doubts about this ploy working, but it was worth a shot! If we could keep Peter away from danger, our jobs would become so much easier!

            Peter considered my argument, but then he declined, “We’re almost at my house anyways. Maybe next time.”

            We all covertly gave each other grim looks as we headed towards his abode. We secretly held on to our stakes in case Damon decided to ambush us on the way there, and each step we took made us more and more on edge of that being a real possibility! I prayed that we could hurry and shoo Peter inside prior to Damon’s siege, but considering this was his last chance to nab a student until he concocted a new scheme, I believed that this ambush would be more brazen than the rest. We peered at each tree, hoping to thwart him as soon as possible, and it frightened us when we got to his address and didn’t see him anywhere! I was highly skeptical that a pack of bats would show up in a ritzy area like this under regular circumstances, so I was fairly certain he was around, but where was the question! Was he hiding inside of his home already? Was there a way to precede Peter into his home without it being too weird?

            To our shock, Damon and his cronies (minus Corvina) were waiting for him by the front door! We stood ready for battle, but Peter didn’t seem at all worried by this visit! “Oh, hi! Are you guys here for the tutoring session too?”

            “Uh… Definitely! Let’s go inside and learn!” Damon urged.

            “Nope! We’re gonna teach outside today!” I redirected Peter to sit on his front lawn. I thought that Peter was the only kid I knew who would buy the concept of a group of educators showing up to his home at nightfall to tutor kids outside, but, for now, I was grateful of his trusting naivete!

             I expected Damon to argue, but instead, he asserted, “Yes, this is perfect! We can reenact the sleepwalking scene from Dracula! Peter, you can play Lucy!”

            Peter obliged, “Okay!”

            “No, I’ll be Lucy!” Phoebe planted Peter back on the ground and strolled over to where the vampire pack stood. Phoebe held out her arms, closed her eyes, and chanted, “I’m Lucy! Look at me, walking in my sleep…” As an English teacher, I knew she knew the actual text, and it made me admire her even more for daring to tempt our formidable foes to reveal their true motives!

            “Which one of you is gonna attack her?” Peter amusedly probed.

            All of the vampires held back, clearly not buying into the ease of which a potential victim present herself as, so I volunteered, “I’ll be the vampire!”

            Damon threatened, “Oh, we can arrange that!”

            “Oh, this is gonna be a great show! I can feel it!” Peter clapped in delight. Damon and I squared off with each other like two melodramatic actors in a western, and for a minute, we simply glared at each other… The tension between us got abruptly broken when Peter exclaimed, “Wait, I don’t remember any vampire fight happening in the book!”

            “You’re right! Allow me to mend it!” The drooling vampire lunged towards Phoebe, and my heart almost froze in sheer terror! I would have died if I lost Phoebe like that! Luckily, Phoebe had fast reflexes and impaled him before he could touch her!

            Usually, that sight would have made me nauseous, but seeing how bold she acted was just too hot to make me sick! Damon used my momentary distraction to push past me and dive after Peter! Ginger, Aleck, Fletcher, and Ellie were close to Peter, so they tried to pull Damon off of him, but they struggled to keep him at bay! Meanwhile, Peter puzzled, “Guys, calm down! It’s only pretend!”

            During the course of the tousle, Peter’s robe loosened up, and all of a sudden, Damon jumped away from him as if he touched a scalding surface! He then shrieked, “He has a crucifix!”

            We all turned towards Peter, who gazed at his necklace and stated, “My cross, you mean? Do you like it? My dad got if for me in Romania! I wear it all the time!”

            Damon’s face soured, and after taking a second to soak in his defeat, he ordered to his surviving members, “Let’s go!” He faced me and seethed, “This isn’t over!”

            Peter agreed, “Yeah, we barely got started! Can we act out the empty ship scene? That one’s my favorite!”

            My fellow teachers and I gave each other a shrug, and as Phoebe and I assigned parts, our adversaries left and I wondered what hairbrained maneuver Damon would dream up next! After our evening was through, I wished that I had been able to slay him that night because, for sure, we all could have used a break from impeding his demonic whims!

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 24

As we raced towards the shadowy figures, I muttered, “They better not be dogs or something stupidly harmless!” My adrenaline flew up at the call to action, and it would have really burned me if I built all that up for nothing!

            When we approached those silhouettes, I got relieved when the masses that got my vigor pumped up turned out to be vampires, but then I quickly got filled with dread because we now had to battle vampires! Damon, who had been trying to creep up to the house with some of his cronies, reluctantly stopped and griped, “Ugh! Not these guys again! Do I bother you when you’re trying to eat?”

            “Isn’t there some kind of non-cannibalistic food source for you?” Phoebe wondered. “I bet there’s vampires out there who go vegan!”

            “Don’t respond to that!” Damon barked at one of his lackeys, whose opened mouth became shut upon his orders. “No talking! This time, just get them!”

            Damon’s three friends came running towards us, and once again, his side outnumbered ours! I had become so preoccupied with my disheveled love life that I hadn’t properly thought out a plan for this eventuality, and I had to cook up a strategy really fast in that moment! I kicked at one of them, but another one used his leg to sweep out the foot I had on the ground, which caused me to tumble! Luckily, Phoebe managed to knock down the female she was fighting at the same second, and I ended up falling on top of her! I landed in a way that pinned her down, and while she lifted her neck and attempted to bite me, she couldn’t do more than chomp at the air! I maintained my position while I contemplated a better tactic for this situation. I couldn’t let Phoebe contend with two brutes by herself, at least not for too long- she seemed to have a surprising upper-hand against them! I visually scanned the area, and I spotted a lighter laying on the trail. I crossed my fingers that it still had fluid in it as I grabbed it along with a large twig, and doing so allowed the female vampire to wriggle out of my hold. As she lunged at me, I flicked the igniter and…

            Success! The dry Autumn leaves made for good kindling, and it soon turned into a small torch! I knew that no creature liked to get burnt, but I didn’t think vampires would get scared of the flames! When she espied the fire I conjured up, she backed away in a hurry! When her male counterparts noticed her action, they investigated the source and then mimicked her movements. Phoebe picked up a larger stick than mine and set it ablaze, and Damon snapped at his underlings, “Just put the flames out, you ninnies!”

            “What’s a ninny?” the female wanted to know. This prompted me observe her face more closely, and I recognized her as one of the missing students! I felt bad for trying to hurt her earlier, and I couldn’t help but ponder what we would do if she attempted to kill us again! We never really did discuss how to handle that, I don’t think any of us wanted to even consider doing that…

            “Don’t explain it! If you’re not gonna go after them, I’ll…” Damon cut himself off as a clap of thunder sounded, and he bore a devilish grin as it began to rain. Phoebe and I, who had started to advance towards them, froze as our weapons extinguished, and as four monsters barreled towards us, I couldn’t work out any way to escape from this, so I braced myself to fight my way out of the worst-case scenario…

            All of a sudden, a couple of large dogs ran out of the house! They made a beeline for the vampiric pack, and Damon’s subordinates all turned into bats and rushed out of sight! Damon glared at us and seethed, “You may have bested me this round, but I’ll-!” He let out a high-pitched scream as one of the dogs clamped down on his leg! He morphed into a bat, but the dog clung onto him, severely slowing down his flight!

            Damon managed to take the dog into the sky, and Phoebe cried out, “That dog is gonna get hurt!” She ran under the aloft pair right as Damon shook the dog off, and a man emerged from that home…

            Phoebe caught the dog prior to it hitting the ground, but she almost fell backwards from the impact, so I caught her and prevented that from happening! Man, did it feel nice to hold her in my arms! I couldn’t’ linger on that fulfilling treat though because the homeowner exclaimed, “Did that f’ing bat just try to carry my dog off?”

            “Uh, yeah! Basically! But your pet wasn’t the prime target! We prevented someone from trying to… sneak into your place.” I nearly informed him of the potential kidnapping that could have occurred here, but how would we explain the way we fended the criminals off? If we told the police that we frightened them off with fire, they’d probably throw us into the sanatorium in a heartbeat! I already had a bad track record with them due to my behavior from Corvina’s assault, so getting the authorities involved wouldn’t have benefited us much! I decided it was best to let the man assume our mere presence thwarted the culprit off!

            “So, this trespasser had a trained bat to do his dirty work for him?” the man probed. Phoebe and I nodded; even though that explanation seemed totally insane, neither of seemed to be able to come up with a better story about what he witnessed, and it had enough plausibility to convince this guy that we were telling the truth. He widened his eyes and remarked, “What a freak! I knew we should beef up our security around here!” He anxiously pulled a cigarette out of his pocket, and afterwards, he pat down his clothes to search for another object. “Where did my damn lighter go?”

            I let him know, “I saw one on the trail down there!” I didn’t mention how I saw it, I just voluntarily went down to get it for him.

            When I handed it to him, he gratefully conveyed to me, “Thanks!” Once he lit up his smoke, he commented, “I told Elizabeth we needed to secure this place more! That invisible fence only keeps our dogs in our yard, it doesn’t keep people out! We really need to replace our fencing system!”

            “Same here!” I related to him without disclosing that we both needed it to keep Damon at bay!

            “Well, thank you for stopping that freak and rescuing my dog!” he graciously regarded us. Phoebe and I gazed at the dogs, both of whom acted perfectly pleasant around us! “Don’t let me ruin your date night!” I almost corrected him, but that rationale was more reasonable-sounding than two of his kid’s teachers showing up to his property to ward off blood-sucking fiends, so I clammed up. “Have a good night!”

            We bade the same sentiment back to him, and we didn’t utter a word to each other as we headed out. I should have been mulling over where Damon’s circle might venture to next, but I couldn’t get over the fact that this stranger presumed that Phoebe and I were a couple! I obsessed over it until Phoebe suggested, “We should go check on the others!”

            I shook myself out of my reverie, “Huh? Oh, yeah! We only saw a part of his gang, the rest of them might be out hunting too!” We drove away reviewing the actions of our foes, but I preoccupied myself with the observation that Phoebe didn’t object when that man implied that she was my girlfriend…

            We all reconvened at my house. Ellie and Fletcher had apparently sent a pizza full of garlic up to the apartment they were guarding early on in their shift, and when a flock of bats flew towards that family’s apartment window, they left almost immediately! Ginger and Aleck didn’t have as easy of an experience though- they spent most of their visit to the estate evading the security guards’ detection, all of whom seemed to notice everything except for Corvina and a few other vampires ambushing a resident at the swimming pool! I guess they didn’t consider that anyone in that community would do so in the rain, but the facility was covered, so the student didn’t see any harm in taking a dip. Well, not until the vampires showed up! Ginger and Aleck were soaking wet, but they glowed with the thrill of victory because they successfully slayed a couple of Damon’s henchmen! Aleck described the episode, “I pushed the dude into the pool, and while he was struggling to resurface, I grabbed one of the stone gargoyles that decorated the joint and hurled it at his head! I don’t know why they didn’t tie those down or something, seems kinda dangerous…”

            “Anyways, Corvina and the other girl (You know, the one you sold the Ango Auxilium to) went after that child, who was hiding under one of the patio tables, so I rushed in front of them and impaled the pain med girl! Thank goodness Corvina decided to turn into a bat and fly off! I don’t think I would have had the heart to stab a student’s heart!”

            “We almost had to do that too!” Phoebe darkly admitted. “That would have been awful!”

            Ellie advised us, “We all gotta pray that it’ll never come down to that!”

            Fletcher brought up, “But… Are our children gonna turn back into children when this is all over? Or will they stay monsters forever?”

            No one had an answer to that, and I broke our silence by inquiring, “So, what’s the plan for tomorrow?”

            “I hate to use a line from, like, every horror movie right before they face a disaster, but I think we should split up,” Phoebe proposed. “Since Connor’s wrist still hurts, he can go with you two,” she indicated to Fletcher and Ellie. “And I’ll tag along with Ginger and Aleck.”

            “Make sure you don’t wear a skirt tomorrow!” Ginger recommended. “When we were climbing down that tree, a group of middle school boys could see my panties clear as day!”

            Phoebe sympathized with her, “Oh no! Were you at least wearing nice underwear?”

            Ginger made a waving motion with one of her hands. ”Eh…”

            “Why can’t I have a turn at the spot with a bus stop bench?” Aleck whined.

            “I think we’ve all seen how well I can climb trees…” Fletcher argued.

            Ellie put in, “We can’t send a pizza again tomorrow, so we may have to climb a set of stairs if he shows up tomorrow! I’d have a difficult… Well, there might be an elevator, but I think I should stay put ‘cause… um…”

            Aleck suggested, “Let’s do Rock, Paper, Scissors!”

            They faced each other and chanted, “Rock, paper, scissors!” Aleck laid his hand flat, and at the same instance that Ellie put out two fingers, the abandoned house groaned and shot out a pair of antique scissors, which landed right between the two of them! “Oh, the ghouls are on my sides! Is that a good thing?” She mulled it over for a minute, and then she addressed me, “Well, good luck in sleeping tonight!”

            I unenthusiastically replied, “Thanks!” as everyone headed to their cars. I would have fretted about that creepy house spouting out more stuff in my direction, but then Phoebe smiled at me as she said goodbye, and all my stress from that day vanished from my mind! Well, at least for a bit! I couldn’t sleep at all; the vampire thing bugged me a little, but I kept fixating on those divorce papers. It was so tempting to sign them and then go for it with Phoebe, but I held myself back since I didn’t know for certain that our feelings were mutual. If she rejected me, I didn’t think I’d want to continue as a substitute teacher or even stay in Terra Belle- the possibility of running into her after that would have been too painful! However, if she did have amorous feelings for me, then I would have endured any horrible circumstance just to be with her! I think I proved that with our never-ending brushes with our undead nemesis! As I laid on my bed petting Jett, I fixated on it over and over again until, finally, it clicked for me! The discovery made me bolt up in excitement, and that move made the poor cat slide to the floor! I chased Jett around the house to apologize, but she was in no mood to hear it! I made two conclusions that night: One, I needed to do something extra nice to make up for all the guff my kitty had to put up with lately, and two, I would make my decision about signing those documents based on knowing for certain how Phoebe felt about me!

            It wasn’t so straightforward to obtain that information on Sunday since we were separated for this excursion. I considered bringing it up to Ellie and Fletcher, but it was hard to get a word in edgewise! They were too busy swapping classroom stories to pay attention to the topic I wanted to raise! Fletcher shared with us, “Then, after I broke the two apart, I smelled alcohol on their breath! I took a look in their water bottles, and it turned out to be vodka! As the hall monitors brought them to Manuel’s office, they flipped the bird to me! Can you believe that?”

            “I sure can!” Ellie narrated, “One time, these two girls came in high as a kite, and after I told them to go see the principal, they dropped their pants and mooned me! They thought they were so hilarious, freaking brats!”

            “And after all this, you guys actually still had motivation to keep on teaching?” I asked them.

            Fletcher answered me, “Listen, as much as they drive us crazy, they bring us just as much joy too!”

            I grew skeptical of this, so Ellie iterated, “No, it’s true! Up until a few years ago, I thought about quitting every damn time one of those jerks raised my blood pressure! Now I keep thinking I could retire if I wanted to, but then I see a student who I made a real impact on, and they’re so grateful and sweet that I clock in another day! Sometimes-.”

            “Surprise!” Corvina and a couple of male vampires suddenly appeared in front of us! Without even having to get off of their bench, Fletcher and Ellie pulled out their stakes and nailed the two males in the chest! I would have probably vomited, but instead I looked to Corvina, who I only had to eyeball to send her running! As I tailed her, I had no clue what I would have done if caught her! She morphed into a bat and flew into an open window. Seconds later, an alarm blasted throughout the building, compelling Corvina to zip out of there in a flash!

            “Okay then…” I commented as we finished an astonishingly effortless shift. The others had a relatively simple time too since neither Damon nor any other vampire showed up. We all were convinced that wee needed to patrol the estates the next day, but we didn’t know how we could pull it off because of Fletcher and me not being able to climb that tree (for very different reasons! If I wasn’t injured, I would have done just fine!). After going over a lot of possibilities, I remembered something that gave me the inspiration to develop a plan for us to pull off this feat! It seemed a tad reckless, but I felt sure we could carry it out without encountering too many hurdles…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 23

“Take a wild guess!” Phoebe challenged me.

            “Uh…” I wouldn’t dare to say why I hoped she had come to my house! She may not have appeared as though she had visited me to have a good time, but that wouldn’t stop my daydreams from wanting that to be the case! It certainly would have been nice to put an end to my romantic dilemma once and for all!

            She let me know, “Damon struck again!”

            I laughed, “Oh! Of course! Why else would you be here?” I crossed my fingers that I had successfully covered my disappointment when I uttered that phrase. Not only would my love life remain a chaotic mystery, but now I probably had to fight a vampire with one good hand and pray that no one broke into my yard in the process!

            “I got a call from Hazel a little while ago,” Phoebe informed me. “Apparently, Damon broke into the school earlier today.”

            “Why would he do that?” I puzzled. “No one has class on the weekend! Unless he was going after the custodian…”

            Phoebe explained, “He broke into her office. At least, we think it was him. All the camera picked up was a man wearing all black, including a cape! He didn’t go in there to attack a person though, at least, not yet anyways! He made off with some zone variance forms on her desk, so we gotta patrol the neighborhoods of the kids whose information got stolen.”

            Fletcher approached us and remarked, “You’re trying to repair your fence with a messed-up hand?” I looked at my building materials sheepishly, and he gathered the truth from that inference. “Give all that to me!”

            “You’re gonna fix my fence?” I reacted incredulously. It flabbergasted me that someone would do something so kind without anyone having to make a request for assistance!

            “No, I’m just gonna knock some sense into you!” Fletcher joked as he waved the hammer at me. “Why didn’t you ask us for help?”

            I shrugged. “It wasn’t vampire related, so I didn’t think about bringing it up to you guys.”

            Ginger, who had just arrived, opined, “Of course it’s vampire related! You live across the street from their demonic lair, we can’t give them easy access to your house!” When she got closer to us, she grimaced at the lumber. “Oh, no, no, no! The angle for these is all wrong!”

            “Did you think I was lying about only getting a C in geometry? Angles aren’t my forté!” I retorted. “Besides, I only got these slats as a temporary measure. This whole fence needs to get replaced eventually.”

            “Why’d you paint them then?” Aleck probed as he walked up to my yard.

            I answered him, “Well, I didn’t want them to stick out like a sore thumb!” Ginger bit her lips as she stared at the wood, so I relayed to her, “If I had any tools to do the job, you could change it, but I only bought the very basics.”

            Fletcher notified her, “I have a circular saw in my truck you can use.”

            “You carry power tools in your truck?” Phoebe queried.

            “For emergencies,” Fletcher confirmed. He was doing something nice for me, so I didn’t question what kind of emergencies he envisioned that would demand an immediate need for heavy power tools. Fletcher instructed Ginger, “There’s an extension cord under that tarp too.”

            Ellie parked behind Fletcher’s vehicle, and when she got out of her car, she mentioned, “If you needed repairs done, you should have said something! My husband’s a retired super!”

            I bashfully regarded her, “If I had thought to ask for help, I probably still wouldn’t have bothered you on what was supposed to be an actual weekend off for us!”

            “Hey, friends are supposed to bother each other! How else are we supposed to know what’s wrong if you don’t tell us?” Ellie posed to me.

            “We’re friends?” I uttered without planning to do so. I had referred to Phoebe as “just a friend,” but what she spoke of was on a whole other level! I didn’t realize this group had grown so close to me! I feared that I may have offended them by not acknowledging that amity myself, so I attempted to cover up my error with, “I mean, I always got along with you all during our vampire hunts, but I didn’t realize that you guys thought about… I mean, when it comes to me, you… I…”

            As Aleck plugged Fletcher’s extension cord into an outlet on my porch, which I had no idea even existed until right then, he stated, “Listen, you don’t’ go through everything we’ve went through without bonding a little!”

            I’m pretty certain I was blushing in this moment! I always considered my coworkers at Novak Neander a second family, but I doubt I could have come to them with a problem that wasn’t work related! They hadn’t really even contacted me once I quit; I assumed that they were simply mad at me for leaving at first, but after over a month of me not being there, nobody from there really reached out to me. One of my old buddies sent out an invitation to some dumb game, but that was it! Those people at Rosemary King High seemed to have grown to care about me outside of the professional boundaries, and it was very touching! Perhaps too touching because it prompted Fletcher to chide us, “So, do we wanna hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ or do we wanna fix this fence before the vampires go out for their hunt?”

            I kidded, “Can’t we do both?” Ginger set my new boards on top of the remains of my old fence, and when she turned on the circular saw, it made me jump! Aleck aided her by holding the wood in place, and once she had finished with each one, Aleck passed it to Ellie. Ellie held the lumber in place as Phoebe handed Fletcher a nail when needed. In a short stretch, the hole in my fence had vanished! I praised them, “Wow, that was fast!”

            “That’s not the first time I’ve heard that!” Aleck proudly responded. The others glanced at him with mischievous grins, so he corrected himself, “Because I work fast! Not because I do anything else fast!” He cleared his throat and changed the subject, “So, where are we going on this vampire patrol?”

            “There’s three different addresses that she gave me,” Phoebe reported. “One child lives across the street from a bus stop, so I figured Ellie and Fletcher could sit there and watch his house from there.”

            Aleck objected, “Why them? I want a shift of just sitting there!”

            Ellie taunted him, “Seniority rules!”

            “Well, one of the other houses is in a gated community, and the only way we could get in there without applying for a visitor’s pass is to climb this tree. You and Ginger seemed to be the best climbers, so it just made sense for you two to do this one,” Phoebe rationalized. Aleck appeared quelled by this reasoning, so she went on, “The last home is pretty big, so we’ll have to walk around it the whole time. You up for that, Connor?”

            “He’s not taking my bench!” Fletcher piped in.

            As casually as I could, I stated, “Well, I probably shouldn’t climb a tree, so I’ll walk with you.” Inwardly, I was freaking out! I hadn’t concerned myself with the concept of facing blood-sucking fiends (Although that should have daunted me!), I got worked up by the fact that she and I would be alone together right when I needed a way to determine the best course of action to take on my romantic dilemma that only continued to haunt me more and more! As we prepared ourselves to take off, I swore I would get to the bottom of this issue before the night was over!

            I didn’t realize until that evening that a town like Terra Belle would have mansions! Near the mountains, the city had a whole neighborhood of custom-built homes, which surprised the heck out of me! If a person had that kind of money, I couldn’t understand why they’d choose to live in this small suburb! I never envisioned myself staying here if I could help it, and I got another shock when I realized that I was sincerely considering if I wanted to stay put! As Phoebe and I circled the trail around this student’s home, I mulled over the pros and cons of choosing to reside in this area as well as maintaining my position as a substitute teacher. I hadn’t liked the job originally, but I got a great satisfaction out of winning children over with the course material! It didn’t pay much, but I had everything I needed, so did I really need a higher salary? It was kind of fun to have the freedom that wealth brought though, and if Lilith did want me back, I could get a position that paid a lot but required less hours than Novak Neander did. If I did that, I imagined that we could spend more time together building our relationship back up as we went on adventures in all kinds of places! I wouldn’t really get to do anything like that if I stayed here! That certainly sounded like more fun than the lifestyle a career in education promised to bring me! Especially since I had to deal with vampires on the side! However, despite all that, there was one major pro of opting to remain in this Podunk…

            I glanced over at Phoebe, and as I soaked in the way the moonlight made her glow like an angel, I ached with desire! Her beauty wasn’t the only thing that hypnotized me though! I loved her willingness to take on hard work when she could have taken the easier route and did nothing, and no matter how difficult of a task we had to tackle, she always did it without complaint! She had a goofy side too that felt absolutely liberating to participate in, and she was an amazing listener too! She would make living in this hole worth it, everything about her turned me on! I couldn’t say the same about Lilith, but to be fair, I had twelve years to get to know Lilith, so naturally, I unearthed all her most irksome flaws! I hadn’t known Phoebe long enough to detect any qualities that annoyed me like I had with my ex, and that’s when it clicked for me- I had the opportunity right then to learn more about her! I had to see if she had anything in her that would deter me from making Terra Belle my permanent abode…

            “Do you drink a lot?” I quizzed her.

            “What? Why?” She stared at me in confusion, and for a minute, I fretted that I had insulted her. Fortunately, she followed that with, “Am I walking like I’m drunk?”

            I laughed, “No! I just… I just remembered that it’s Saturday night, so my old coworkers are probably out drinking like fishes in some over-priced bar in Philly right now!” I was glad I produced that line, it made my inquiry seem more normal!

            Phoebe assured me, “I don’t really drink a lot of alcohol. Just socially.”

            “They socialize a lot!” I half kidded. I hadn’t intended to judge my past self in this instance, but it occurred to me that I did partake in a lot of boozy beverages when I was at Novak Neander! I hadn’t indulged in any since I got here, and it sort of stunned me that I didn’t miss it! I caught myself getting sidetracked, so I refocused myself on trying to subtly find a way to draw out some of Phoebe’s blemishes. “What would you consider your worst features?” Darn it, that wasn’t so subtle! She gave me another peculiar gaze, so I amended my statement with, “Sorry! Just no one in the sales industry ever talked about that. We all made ourselves out to be so perfect, like we were at the cool table in the cafeteria. It’s kind of nice to be able to be a little more honest!” I shocked myself by dreaming that up on the fly! It was pretty convenient to have my old workplace to keep throwing under the bus too! I saw her glance downwards, and I guessed what she wanted to say first, “Don’t’ say anything about your body!”

            “Why not?” she asked me.

            Another chance to use my new scapegoat! “All the women I used to work with complained about their bodies! I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t have a dozen things to criticize their bodies on!” That wasn’t a lie, but I could see most of Phoebe’s form and didn’t have a problem with it! I wasn’t about to fuss about any imperfection that existed underneath her clothes- if I got the chance to see them, I wouldn’t give a rat’s behind about anything but my luck in getting lucky!

            Phoebe deliberated on the topic I raised, and then she revealed, “Well, sometimes I’m nice to people I really shouldn’t be kind to.”

            “That’s supposed to be a bad thing?” I shot back.

            “It can be!” Phoebe insisted. “Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of effort to take of me!”

            My mind interpreted her phrasing in a way she hadn’t meant it to! “Moving on!”

            She divulged, “I’ve been told I snore a bit when I sleep.”

            All that made me do was picture her sleeping beside me after a very eventful escapade! “A bit? That doesn’t sound so terrible!”

            Phoebe then disclosed, “I take really long showers…”

            I thoroughly enjoyed that picture for exactly half a second! If I went too far with that, I wouldn’t be able to function for a while! I needed to keep myself in an optimal condition in case we had to face Damon or any of his minions, so I shook that notion out of my head and sighed, “You’re too perfect!”

            “No, I’m not! And if was, why does that make you so sad?” she pressed.

            “Uh…” I didn’t have any inkling to tell her that her perfection made my plight so much more complicated! But then I started to think that maybe this had been a sign that I should sign those divorce papers after all…

            Before I could entertain that concept any further, both of our footsteps suddenly came to a halt when we saw shadows moving in the path ahead of us…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 22

“Hold on, Stefan, I gotta take this!” my dad, who had already accepted my video call, told his golf buddy. Stefan kept trying to putt his ball into the hole as my father chatted with me from their golf cart. “Hey there, kiddo! If I knew you were gonna ring, I would’ve played my game a little later!”

            “Well, Mom said if I didn’t talk to you guys more often, she’d share my yearbook picture all over social media, and I couldn’t let that happen!” I relayed that in a tone like I was kidding, but I really meant that! I held my style in such high regard back then, but it makes me cringe now! “I’m surprised she didn’t answer the phone!”

            My theorized, “She probably assumed it was me. You know, my whole working life, she kept saying she couldn’t wait ‘til I retired so she can spend more time with me, but now that she has, apparently I need to get out of the house more! I could understand that though, I drove her crazy!”

            I reassured my father, “Aw, I’m sure you weren’t that bad!”

            “No, I did it on purpose,” my dad differed. “At first, being at home was great, but I got bored after a while.”

            “I get that,” I related to him, “I stayed home this weekend ‘cause I hurt my wrist, but I got bored pretty quick!”

            My father inquired, “So, it sounds like you’ve been keeping busy! That’s good! I was worried you were just laying around the house pining away for Lilith.” Hearing her name made my eyes go wide! Lately, most of my thoughts involved mulling over what Damon’s next move might be and fantasies about Phoebe, and up until he mentioned my ex, she hadn’t come to my mind at all! That hadn’t happened in over a decade- even when I was preoccupied with my old job, I still recalled my wife often! To not do so just felt strange! Obviously, my dad could see what I was thinking on my face because he noted, “You forgot about her! That could only mean one thing…”

            I asserted, “I’ve been too busy to mope about her, I know!”

            “What’s her name?” my father probed.

            “Phoebe,” I replied without thinking. I saw a twinkle in my dad’s eye, so I amended my sentence, “Oh, and there’s a woman named Ginger in the group too, and her girlfriend shows up sometimes. There’s a few dudes there also. Some of the other teachers and I are… a part of the neighborhood watch.” That wasn’t a total lie; we did watch the area, but we mainly focused on guarding it from one type of criminal…

            I had hoped my father would focus on the new friends I made rather than my little too hasty response about Phoebe, but, of course, he fixated on that. “So, this Phoebe person is a teacher, huh?”

            “We’re just friends, Dad!” I informed him to ebb this speculation. That was the truth, but it kind of stung me when those words echoed back to me! I believed that we developed a bond deeper than a mere friendship, but I had proof that we were anything more than just good pals! Moreover, I still hadn’t signed those divorce papers, so technically, I wasn’t free to become anything romantically significant to Phoebe. I wondered if I ought to have taken care of that right then so that I could try to start a relationship with Phoebe, but if she rejected me, I would lose her and Lilith by signing those documents! My insides twisted in guilt of not knowing what to do…

            “Okay, you don’t wanna discuss it right now. I can take a hint!” my dad relented. “But, you know, if you ever do need to have a heart to heart, your old man is here! I have experience in these things, you know!”

            It’s always nice when someone makes that sort of offer, but I wasn’t ready to have a dialogue about this yet! I hadn’t unearthed how I felt thus far, so how could I describe it to him? Instead, I took a swig from my water bottle before teasing him, “Yeah, you married your high school sweetheart, so clearly you have a background in tangled up love lives!”

            My father retorted, “Well, yeah, we knew each other for forever, but I had to win her over from her husband first…”

            I made the mistake of taking another drink as he revealed that, and I did a spit take, which I only ever saw in movies up until that moment! Jett got offended and ran off, but I decided to deal with her later! Ever know someone for years only to discover a shocking secret like that? It’s completely dumbfounding! “She was married to someone before you?” I cried out to him.

            “Yeah, we’re from the era where stuff like that is kept taboo, so we never brought it up, but we’re living in the twenty-first century now, so I guess it’s not a forbidden topic anymore! Yes, your mother married some rich jerk after graduation, and I stole her from him.” my dad confessed. “They weren’t in love- he wanted a trophy wife and she wanted to keep her job. He was her boss, so if she left him, she would have been out of work and out of a home. I eventually convinced her to come live with me, and we’ve been together ever since!”

            “So, that’s why Mom was a homemaker?” I questioned. “I thought she did it to support you and your career!”

            My father clarified for me, “No! I mean, it helped, but she could have gotten work somewhere else if she wanted to. After you were born, your grandma offered to watch you if she wanted to do that. She wanted to stay home and take care of her family, but if she didn’t choose that path, we would have found a way to make it work! When you love each other, you always find a way!”

            I felt so stupid hearing him say that! I grew up with a naïve belief that life partners had to be willing to sacrifice something important in order to support what one of them wants to do, and it didn’t occur to me until he spelled it out that I had gotten it so wrong! I was hurt when Lilith wouldn’t put up with some of the sacrifices necessary to support my sales career, and it hurt worse when she didn’t appreciate the sacrifices I made for her by leaving a workplace I loved and starting completely over in a totally new city! Then I learn that I didn’t need to throw away my whole life to please her- if she truly loved me, she would have found a way to find happiness despite our setbacks! Okay, it may seem obvious to you, but it’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way! My dad didn’t realize it, but he gave me a lot to consider about my next step…

            Stefan finally got his ball in the hole, and he celebrated, “Yes! Alright, that’s four for me. You’re up, Billy!”

            “Four strokes? Son, was he cheating?” my dad asked.

            “Totally!” I answered with a grin. I hadn’t been paying full attention to what Stefan was doing in the background, but I was pretty certain he had attempted to get it in more than four tries!

            Stefan prepared himself to argue, and my father ended our conversation, “I gotta go! Love ya, son!”

            I returned his sentiment, “Love ya, Dad!” before hanging up.

            Right after I got off the phone with my father, in the interest of fairness, I called my mother. She didn’t pick up, so I sent a text requesting that she call me. Once I took care of that, I put my cellphone in my pocket and drummed my fingers anxiously. I desperately wanted a productive activity to keep my mind off of the subject that had come up in my exchange with my dad, but I already did everything I could with one hand. I could see the divorce papers out of the corner of my eye. I hadn’t moved them since I dropped them on the carpet several days ago, although it appeared as though Jett had occasionally used them as a bed! I tried to focus on other spaces in the house, but it felt as if those documents were burning a hole in the back of head! If they were a person, they’d be glaring at me, avidly trying to get me to listen to their nagging! I didn’t feel prepared to make a decision about my marriage yet, but those papers continued to badger me! Not literally, I wasn’t completely insane! I just could not rid myself of the guilt of not figuring this out while I had no valid excuse not to do so! I had nothing else going on, it was the optimum time to do an important action like that! So, I forced myself to venture over to that corner…

            My nerves almost shook me more in this instance than when I encountered those vampires! Trembling, I picked up the packet of documents and set them on a tall but narrow table I had near the front door. Logically, Lilith’s behavior made more sense knowing she had fell out of love with me, but a part of me feared I could have been incorrect. If I signed this thing, that was it! If she decided to forgive me, I would have to break her heart by turning her away due to my signing this! I knew how much it hurt when she did it to me, so I didn’t have it in me to do it back to her! On the flip side, if she had returned, would I have even wanted her back? Phoebe had me spellbound, and in a way, I thought we made a much better match than Lilith and I ever did. I picked up the pen for the notepad I kept up there in case I had to take notes on a phone call or whatever, and I almost let myself get excited about signing the papers and becoming free to go for it with Phoebe! Before I put pen to paper, I hesitated again. What if I was wrong about Phoebe’s feelings for me? If she didn’t like me like that, I would have to just accept my new role as a substitute teacher in Terra Belle! I wasn’t convinced that I enjoyed this position yet, granted fighting off monsters wasn’t a great incentive for the profession! Signing it seemed so final, and I never really stopped to think about what I ideally wanted for myself, so I pondered if I was being to rash by this abrupt push to enter in this new phase of my life…

            All of a sudden, a section of my fence toppled down! I beheld a squirrel zooming off of the structure before it collapsed, and afterwards, I could see an ample entryway into my backyard! I couldn’t have that, not with Damon’s minions marking me as their enemy! Well, that and I supposed that a burglar or some other regular human could have broken into my property too! I set down the pen and headed outside, and I reckoned that once I dealt with my security issue, I could tackle the best course to take to resolve my relationship problem!

            I temporarily forgot about my injury, and while the pain wasn’t completely agonizing, it did feel a little tender when I attempted to pick up the wood I stored in my garage. I scooped up an armful of lumber and dropped it off by the newly created hole, and then I went back to get a hammer and nails. I recognized that I was down an extremity, but I determined that I could totally handle this project with one hand! I used my good hand to lift up the board, and then I leaned the right side of my body against it as picked up the hammer with my left hand. I used my right fingers to hold the nail in place, reasoning that I wouldn’t have to use that wrist if my digits grasped it strong enough, and at the exact second I was about to strike…

            My phone rang! It surprised me enough that I lost control of and almost fell through the opening! I dropped the nail, and as I went to retrieve it, the board I was holding fell! I opted to ignore the call, Mom could wait a while! I repeated the same process and I tuned out the myriad of text messages that poured in. I reasoned that my dad may have conveyed his conjecture about Phoebe to her, and she was probably dying to get more details. Personally, I felt more comfortable trying to put up a new fence with a bruised wrist than going over that messy situation with her or anyone else right then! After I got everything back up, I swung my hammer and…

            “Ow!” The impact of the hammer vibrated to my wrist! Luckily, the suffering didn’t last long, but as I gazed at my building materials, which were all on the grass again, I couldn’t comprehend how I would have been able to finish that project that day! I couldn’t’ leave it as it was, but I grew leery at the prospect of hiring a handyman. I sincerely didn’t’ want to touch my savings because of the whole fiasco with Lilith. If I took her back, we may have needed the money to get a new place. If that scenario didn’t play out, I was sure whatever divorce lawyer I would have to hire would require a huge sum for his or her services. Or if neither Lilith nor Phoebe wanted me, would I have wanted to stay in this shack? Once again, I felt pressured to work this conundrum out! I couldn’t believe the fate of fixing my house rested on figuring out what to do about my romantic life! I aired my ruminations out loud, “What am I gonna do?”

            “You could try checking your phone,” Phoebe’s voice emanated from behind me.

            I got such a jolt of shock that I could have doubled over from a cardiac arrest right then and there! Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was eerie to have her suddenly appear at the same minute I was sorting through a crisis that involved her! Had she sensed that her assistance was needed at that critical juncture? Had she arrived to do something that would make my dilemma a little easier? She dressed in a very flattering manner, and I got tempted to disregard my fence and invite her inside my house! I refrained from that when I saw the serious expression she bore, and now that I was thoroughly confused about everything that was going on around me, I couldn’t resist querying, “What are you doing here?”

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 21

Chapter 21

            Had he done that on purpose? Yes, I had come to the conclusion that he had misspelled the author of the play we had just gone over in order to get under my skin, but I hadn’t considered whether or not he had spearheaded this drama only to lull my colleagues and me into a trap! Did he know I was hiding behind that pillar when he gave Roxy information about this project? I mean, he couldn’t exactly invite us to the event, we would never have trusted him, but did he intentionally make it easy for us to discover this plan? I couldn’t allow anyone in this circle to walk into something that would harm them, and I definitely didn’t want that prick to gain any kind of advantage by taking one or more of us down, but we certainly couldn’t do nothing! I’ve already said that several times in this novel, sitting on our hands wasn’t an option! So, with that in mind, I asserted, “Trap or no trap, we gotta go in there and put a stop to all this!”

            Nobody could argue with that, and although none of us relished the thought of heading into an ambush, we all silently agreed that we had no other choice. Since no other objections got raised, Aleck sighed, “Okay, let’s get this over with!”

            We all started to walk towards the park’s amphitheatre, but then Ellie ushered us to freeze in our tracks, “Wait! Shouldn’t we work out at least some kind of strategy instead of going in there all willy-nilly?”

            “What’s to work out?” Fletcher countered her. “It’s not like when we went into that haunted house, this time we know what we’re going into! We go over there, yell ‘I caught you!’ to Damon, and he runs away, simple! We’ll be home before dinnertime, which will be great ‘cause the missus is making beef stew tonight!” He licked his lips as he savored the memory of how this dish tasted.

            “Maybe we should wait ‘til we see Damon,” Phoebe suggested. “I don’t think he’s here yet, and I’m sure we’d spot him if he were around, there’s nowhere to hide! Well, it looks like there’s a bit of space hidden backstage, I guess he could be waiting for us there.”

            Ginger proposed, “We could go backstage and ask to speak with him.”

            Ellie ridiculed that idea, “No way! It would be way too easy to corner us in a small space like that!” Right after she had conveyed that opinion to us, a dozen bats flew down from the trees above our heads and surrounded us! “Or, you know, we would have been safer back there!”

            “Bats sleep in trees!” Aleck lamentably recalled. “From now on, we always gotta check there!”

            “Assuming you’ll live to see another day,” Corvina darkly teased us.

            I glanced around and saw twelve vampires, but Damon wasn’t among them. Some of the bunch comprised of the students who went missing from our school, but a few adults were in the mix too. I didn’t have a minute to spare so I could speculate on why that might have been though, I had to think of a way to get ourselves out of this predicament! I guessed that Damon had them keep watch while he worked, so I figured that they would have to send out some kind of signal to him to let him know of our arrival. I had no clue how we would fight them all off when we were so outnumbered, so I went by the old standby of stalling until one of us came up with a solution, “Corvina! I didn’t think you were such a fan of Shakespeare since you missed your Hamlet test!”

            Corvina rolled her eyes at that quip. “Oh, please! You know this play isn’t really about Shakespeare!”

            “It’s called ‘The Biography of William Shakespeare!’ It’s literally about Shakespeare!” I retorted.

            “She means that I didn’t take over this project just to talk about an ancient playwright, and you know it!” Damon suddenly appeared by us! He stretched out his cape in a menacing way, but instead of intimidating us, he lost his balance and fell down the staircase that braced the stone seating outside of the stage!

            A few of the vampires peeked down to check on him, and one of the males queried, “Dude, are you alright?”

            One of the females in the mix offered, “You can have one of my pain pills!” She pulled out a bottle of Ango Auxilium from her pocket and waved it so he could see it.

            “Hey, it works, huh?” I conversed.

            “Yeah, but you knew that already, didn’t you?” She stared at me in surprise.

            I instantly went on the defensive, “Of course! Pharmacona wouldn’t’ sell inferior products!” I inwardly grew skeptical about my own assertion. I rarely got in enough pain to require medicine to cure it, so I had to rely on the data given to me about the materials that our client manufactured. It never occurred to me until right then about how effective they may have actually been, and I realized that I didn’t care about that before, I just wanted the sale! I began to regret that choice, and while I’m always up for self-improvement and constructive criticism, I never could have predicted that a monster would ever make me feel guilty about things I did in the past!

            The male who had inquired about Damon’s well-being earlier canvassed Damon again, “Seriously, you’re fine, right?”

            “Quit asking me that! And stop talking to him about medications! Just get them!” Damon barked from the bottom of the staircase.

            “You don’t wanna do that! There’s too many people watching!” Phoebe indicated to some bystanders who had ceased their former activities to watch this spectacle unfold.

            Corvina dismissed that concept, “Eh, they’ll just think it’s part of the show.”

            Ginger raised an eyebrow at that. “Really? It’s been a while since I took an English class, but I don’t remember hearing about any vampires in Shakespeare’s life!”

            Damon managed to hobble his way to the top of the venue, and he breathily ordered, “Stop… listening… to them! Just attack!”

            Gulp! Their crew didn’t seem very bright, but they still had the upper hand based on the larger quantity of individuals on their side! One skinny guy came running towards Fletcher, but Fletcher simply held out his hand and sent him flying backwards to the floor! Another man tried to topple himself on top of us, but Aleck struck him in the crotch and rendered him motionless! The girl with the Ango Auxilium tried to go after my neck, but she was too short and just kept hopping and chomping fruitlessly. I took the bottle of medicine out of her pocket and threw it, which prompted her to chase after her precious prize in a coveted way! A girl attempted to pounce on Phoebe, but Phoebe stepped aside, causing her to miss and fall flat on her face! A big guy came at Ginger, but Ginger ducked under him, went behind him, and tied her decorative scarf around his eyes, making him lose his sight and crash! Another male vampire advanced over to Ellie with drool dripping out of his mouth from salivation, and Ellie exclaimed, “Ew! Don’t touch me!’ before slapping him away. I started to think that perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard to defeat them after all…

            Damon hysterically commanded, “Don’t go one at a time! Get them all at once!”

            They did as they were told, and I briefly wondered why they felt compelled to heedlessly obey a twerp like him, but I couldn’t linger on that topic for too long since we had a swarm of vampires hurling themselves towards us! Wait, is a group of vampires called a swarm? I never did look that up… Anyways, Aleck latched on to a tree branch above us, and instinctively, we all followed suit. We curled our bodies up at just the right time- the eleven vampires who tried to spring on us couldn’t halt their movements fast enough to save themselves from crashing into each other! The vampire who Ginger blindfolded got his ocular obstruction off after that collision, and while his brethren nursed their wounds, he pursued us! Most of us had been able to swing ourselves to the higher post, but Fletcher sort of just dangled there. I didn’t want to judge one of my allies too harshly, but he was a PE teacher who couldn’t do a pull-up! Putting that aside, we were horrified when the vampire clung onto him! Fletcher tried to shake him off, but his swaying couldn’t loosen his attacker’s grip! Ellie and Phoebe, who were closest to him, tried to pry him off, but in so doing, Phoebe lost her balance and fell to the floor!

            The vampire on Fletcher lost interest in him and hungrily leapt over to Phoebe! Phoebe brandished her stake, ready to defend herself, but the other monsters had recovered and were creeping up on her! A white-hot anger coursed through my veins! My instincts wiped all my thoughts clean except for one- there wasn’t any way I was going to let them get her! I jumped down, and as soon as one of the males grabbed her from behind, I yanked him off of her! He jolted towards me, and as if someone else had been guiding my arm, I drove my stake straight into his chest! He let out this terrible shriek right before he exploded into a cloud of dust!

            The other vampires all froze and gazed at their fallen comrade in horror! Reality set in, and I couldn’t believe I had just done that! It was the right thing to do, but it was hard to soak in that I, the king of the squeamish, did such a feat! My eyes darted between the dried blood on my weapon and the fleshy remains in front of me, and I could not help myself- I threw up! Those vampires looked at me in disgust, and Corvina remarked in a repulsed way, “He’s sick! I’m not sucking his blood!” The others concurred as they morphed into bats and flew away!

            “Wait! He’s not ill! And the others didn’t vomit!” Damon bellowed to them, and as their figures grew smaller in the distance, he increased his voice’s volume, “Come back, you cowards! Oh, you’ll all pay for this later!”

            “No, they won’t! You’re outnumbered now!” I taunted him as everyone climbed out of the tree and marched straight to him.

            Damon fled towards the stage, but we tailed him pretty closely. We all got winded fairly quickly though, even Damon! He caught his breath near the set (which I want to say was supposed to be the inside of a castle, I’m not sure!), and I was the first one to get close to him. Wheezing pretty badly, I inched my way closer to him. He dashed to the backstage area and released a rope, and I could see a large chandelier speeding towards me! I swiveled out of the way and avoided getting hit, but unfortunately, that move caused me to fall off of the platform! I landed mostly on my side, but my right hand took a lot of the impact and started to ache! Damon maniacally laughed as he slid through the bits of broken glass, and when he reached the edge, he leered, “Nice try! I win!” He plunged himself downwards, landing on top of me! I could hear the others racing to assist me, but Damon’s large fangs were getting near my flesh…

            Just when I was about to use my legs to fight back, an old man came out from behind the scenery and yelled, “Damon!”

            “I’m so sorry, sir!” Damon hastily apologized. “We were only practicing a new stunt I cooked up for the climax! Honest!”

            “Yeah, I don’t care about that!” the old man spat, which sort of astonished me. Come on, why would Shakespeare’s biography have any stunt work in it? Regardless of that, the old man scolded him, “You broke an expensive prop! We had this on loan from the historical society, and I gave them my word that we would take care of it! Now we owe them a lot of money!”

            Damon pleaded, “It was an accident! I swear! Please, don’t fire me!”

            The old man assured him, “I’m not gonna fire you!” Damon swelled up in relief, but then the old man added, “I’m shutting down the whole play!” Damons’ face fell completely, and the old man continued to berate him, “Get your internship somewhere else! I have to use the budget for the rest of the season to pay for this! And don’t bother to apply for next season either!”

            As the old man, who I’m guessing was a city employee of some sort, hobbled off the stage, but Damon kept beseeching him, “We can do the play without the props! We can just play a recording of the ‘Pirates on the Chandelier’ scene!”

            “Hey, Damon! Good news! Now you’re free to take Roxy to the dance next week!” Ginger mocked him.

            “I’ll get you for this!” he seethed. He shot us one last dirty look before chasing after his former boss.

            I had forgotten that spectators had gathered to view our escapades until I heard them booing in back of us! “Terrible ending! So anticlimactic!” one person critiqued.

            Another attendee grumbled, “My sister said there was a snake handler at the end of the play when she saw the rehearsal! I don’t know why they scrapped that for this!”

            “A snake handler? And pirates? This is supposed to be a about Shakespeare?” Ellie’s eyes nearly bugged out at the lunacy of how inaccurate the plot sounded.

            “How’s your hand?” Phoebe knelt down and studied my injury.

            I temporarily forgot about the pain when her sweet face stared at me in concern, but when she tried to bend my wrist, I remembered the damage again! “It’s a little tender, but it’s not broken.” She seemed unconvinced, so I reassured her, “My dad’s a doctor- trust me, I know all the signs of a break! If resting it doesn’t get it better, I promise I’ll go to the hospital!” Phoebe smiled in an alleviated way- man, she had such a great smile! I wished that she and I were alone together while I had her situated this close to me…

            Aleck and Fletcher helped me up, and Fletcher joked, “I was gonna have the kids play badminton on Monday, but I’m gonna make that asshole run laps instead!”

            “Does he actually put on the uniform?” Ginger wanted to know. “I’m having a hard time picturing it!”

            “Oh, who cares?” Aleck piped up. “We have the weekend off, so I’m focusing on my family for once! I don’t wanna think about that idiot ‘til class resumes! Even then, I hope he’s absent!”

            As we headed back to our cars, I shared his sentiments about wanting to take a break from contemplating about Damon, but with his unceasing determination, I pondered if that would ever be possible to do…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 20

Chapter 20

            Okay, so it wasn’t technically my idea- Aleck was the first one to suggest that we hang around the cafeteria at lunchtime to see if we could catch wind of the students talking about some zany activity that Damon might be involved in, but I added more to it! We certainly wouldn’t learn much by taking a seat near any of the kids, they wouldn’t talk about any potential peril they intended to get into around an authority figure, but they might reveal something if they didn’t realize that we were around! No, I didn’t propose wearing disguises or any other elaborate method of making ourselves invisible; I just noticed that the spots where the children ate were surrounded by pillars, and I thought we could use them as shields in order to overhear their conversations. It didn’t seem like a very practical way of digging up dirt on Damon, but we couldn’t afford to wait for a better ploy, so we decided to do it until we came up with something better. Well, unless that plot actually worked, obviously!

            At the end of third period the next day, I got all of my things ready so I could tail Damon and see where he went during the break. When he exited the hall, he hissed at the sunlight that cracked through the cover over the open space, and then he furtively darted towards the quad. A lot of students preferred to eat their meals outside on the various steps around the campus and ledges of the planters, so I guessed that he was heading over there to recruit more people into whatever stunt he had up his sleeve at the moment. It made sense to me for him to do this outside since the cafeteria had more staff members around. He could get more privacy out here, and I crossed my fingers that he would choose to target potential victims who happened to be hanging around close to a pillar! He didn’t do that, he didn’t go near anyone actually! Instead, he found a small brick wall near some leafy bushes that obscured him from the main area where the rest of the students sat, and when he scoped out his surroundings, my interest heightened. He made skulking movements as if he were trying to conceal an object from everyone, and my pulse started to quicken! I truly believed that I was about to behold a fantastic clue to the enigma of his nefarious intentions! He reached into his leather bag and…

            He pulled out a textbook! My brain almost couldn’t comprehend it!  I mean, I’m sure a few students probably used their lunch period to do homework, but it’s not a habit I ever expected him to do at this time! It seemed like such a waste of an opportunity for him to go after his favorite prey- not that I wanted him to do that, I just knew he did at some point! He always did well academically, but, I don’t know, I had always assumed he had access to some magical force that could generate all of the answers for him. It blew my mind that he appeared to sincerely care about his grades, and I reckoned that since he was executing his sinister plan at night, he probably didn’t have any other chance to get it done. I accepted this as reality, but it still felt really strange to watch a bona-fide vampire doing math!

            I grew jealous of Phoebe, Aleck, Fletcher, Ellie, and Ginger, who may have been forced to listen to inane teenage chatter, but they still got to witness more interesting things then watching a person diligently analyze equations! Ginger probably would have been pleased as punch to see this, but I felt thoroughly annoyed! I pulled a granola bar out of my pocket, and I resigned myself to having a boring day! I bitterly munched on my snack as I lamented on the waste of this time had become, well, that and the fact that I couldn’t taste the peanut butter that was supposed to be in this food! Just as I started to contemplate better methods that we could deploy to gather intelligence on Damon, someone approached him…

            “Hi, Damon!” Roxy chirped. I no longer rued my position in this quest! I also forgave the manufacturers of this granola bar and gnawed on it without thinking as I viewed this event as it unfolded. She placed herself in front of him, but he didn’t’ glance up at her at all. I theorized that a guy like him would take advantage of her naivete to lure her into his web, but he surprised me again by looking rather annoyed by her presence. “Whatcha doin’?” she asked him in an ultra-perky tone.

            “Building a rocket ship,” he answered sardonically.

            Roxy didn’t seem to catch on to his sarcasm. “Really? That’s so cool!” Damon rolled his eyes, and I tried not to blow my cover by laughing! Roxy gingerly brought up, “So… Are you going to Homecoming with anyone?”

            Damon gruffly let her know, “I’m not going to Homecoming.”

            “You’re not going to Homecoming?” Roxy gasped. I’m not sure why she presumed that a man dressed like Bela Lugosi would have any interest in a school dance, but her shock level amused me enough that I let out a small snicker! I chided myself for doing so, and I reminded myself to keep quiet and pay attention to this interaction. Roxy objected, “But… everyone is going to Homecoming! How could you not wanna go?”

            “I can’t go,” Damon stated emotionlessly. “I’m busy that night!”

            Roxy argued, “Well, whatever you have planned for next week, cancel it! What could be more important than going to Homecoming?”

            Damon made a noise of irritation before putting down his pencil and digging into his satchel. “The director of this project became… ill, so I took over.” He handed her a flyer and briefly explained, “As you can see, we’ll be very busy that night!”

            “Oh, I see…” Roxy’s face fell, and I inwardly prayed that they would converse more about the contents of that flyer. I feared that Roxy’s disappointment would cause her to sadly walk away from this endeavor, but I forgot how relentless she was! She got some more color to her face as she queried, “Need any volunteers to help out with this?”

            “Yeah, sure, I guess,” Damon reluctantly agreed. I could tell he seriously did not want to accept her assistance, but he must have needed every bit of aid he could get because I’m positive he would have said no otherwise!

            I yearned to know what was on that paper he gave her! I hoped that she would ask for more details while she had him in front of her, but instead, she cheerily bade him, “Great! I’ll see you then! Have a good day!”

            She skipped off, and my mood deflated completely! I didn’t want to lose my post and miss something pertinent that Damon did after I went away, but I knew whatever was on that sheet would spell out what was on his heinous agenda, so I opted to follow her and persuade her to let me see it. She had almost gone into the girls’ restroom when I called out to her, “Hey, Roxy!”

            “Yes, Mister Fenmore?” She turned back and faced me expectantly.

            “Uh…” This was the second time I hailed her without having a gameplan of what to say to her! I resolved to come up with a topic to keep in my back pocket in case this ever happened again, but in the meantime, I needed to figure out what to discuss with Roxy right then in order to catch a glimpse of the flyer that Damon gave her! My eyes darted to that piece of paper in her hand, and I suddenly came up with what to speak to her about! “If you set that paper on the bathroom floor, it might get wet!”

            Okay, so it wasn’t’ brilliant, but it worked! She dismissed at first though, “I’m not using the toilet! I’ll just set it on the sink!” She thought about it for a second and then reversed course, “Oh, but the sink could get wet! Could you hold it for me real quick?”

            “Yes, I can!” I heartily volunteered.

            “Great, thanks!” She handed me the flyer before dashing into the bathroom.

            I practically shook from the anticipation of the mystery that I was about to solve! I didn’t hesitate, I eagerly flipped the page over and… “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” I cried out loud, causing the students who passed by me to stare at me quizzically. I tried to maintain a calmer attitude to avoid their scrutiny, but this discovery still ticked me off! It wasn’t as though he got himself involved in anything terribly sordid, it just drove me crazy that we had gotten so close to it without realizing it…

 He had apparently been placed as the head of the play in the park that Phoebe had seen last night! It really irked me to think we may have missed a chance to thwart his efforts sooner, but I consoled myself with the fact that at least we knew exactly how to get there. As I snapped a pictured for the vampire league, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down by Damon’s lack of creativity on his next move. Yes, I know I should have felt a little more grateful for an easy location to go after him (How challenging could it be to get him in an open-air theatre?), but I just expected him to choose a more interesting locale for our showdown. Like, would it have been too much for him to lure us to the river or a museum or something?
            Right as I was noting that I might have been at this vampire hunt for too long based on my gripes, Roxy startled me by asking, “Why are you taking a picture of that?”

“I…” Once again, I was at a loss for words! In my defense, I hadn’t expected her to finish up so fast, so it never occurred to me that I’d need an excuse for this! To stall for time, I answered her by remarking, “Wow, you sure finished up in there real fast!”

“I was just taking my vitamins, it’s not like that takes long!” She pulled out a couple of prescription vials out of her little purse and expounded on that, “If I take them out in the open, everyone thinks I’m a druggie popping pills! I’m not though! It’s B-Twelve and Iron, they’re good for you!”

It stunned me when I realized that something I learned from my old job may have just furthered my understanding of my current situation! In my research to sell a medicine that induces blood formation, I found that a lot of people who needed that supplement were already taking the same vitamin cocktail that Roxy took, and all of it was used to treat anemia! All of a sudden, Damon’s repulsion of her made sense- she didn’t have enough red blood cells for his taste! It was such a relief that regardless of how hard she tried, she wouldn’t end up as Damon’s dinner! She had bad blood, which only made Mom’s favorite song that much more ironic for me to enjoy, and a grin inched across my face at the hilarity of utterly useless Roxy’s attempts to attract Damon were! Roxy probed, “What’s so funny?”

I lied, “Nothing!” I followed that with something that had a grain of truth, “No, you’re right! Those vitamins are really good for you!”

“Thank you!” Roxy seemed relieved to have someone who saw her side on that issue. “So, are you done with that, or…?” She indicated to the flyer.

“Oh, yeah!” I handed it back to her, and even though she didn’t pry into why I had done that again, her expression was leery enough that I knew I had to offer some justification for my photography! I caught another glimpse of that paper, and when I read its contents more, I rooted out a rational basis for my behavior, “He misspelled Shakespeare! I have to talk to him about this!”

Roxy gazed at the sheet and giggled. “Uh-oh! Someone’s busted! Well, anyways, I gotta show this to my friends! See ya later, Mister Fenmore!”

She joined a group of garishly dressed girls, who all squealed in delight at her revelation, and I chuckled at her star-crossed role in this whole scenario! It really tickled me to picture how much she would annoy Damon as he strove to carry out his malevolence onto the world, and then I frowned as I deliberated whether or not she would interfere with our work once we went head-to-head with Damon! This steered my attention to the fact that the others were probably having strong reactions to what I showed them, so I pulled out my phone and confirmed that they definitely had some things to say about this! Nobody was happy about having to give up part of their weekend again, but everyone concluded that we needed to meet at that park immediately after school!

After I recounted what happened at lunch to Phoebe, Ginger, Ellie, Aleck, and Fletcher, Fletcher commented, “Wow, he spends his lunch doing homework?”

“Well, it’s not like he can feed himself during school hours!” Aleck pointed out.

“Huh, he misspelled Shakespeare!” Ellie observed while she studied the image of the flyer again.

I grumbled, “He knows how to spell it! He did that on purpose just to annoy me!”

Phoebe posed to me, “You think he created this poster knowing that you would see it? Are we walking into a trap?” No one could come up with a response to that…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 19

“Is this a trap?” I queried as the school secretary approached us.

            The school secretary laughed, “No! I heard you talking about getting dirt on Damon, and I’m completely on board with that! I want that brat OUT OF HERE!”

            She said that last part with so much malice that we nearly jumped! Phoebe somewhat nervously surmised, “So, there’s some history between you two!”

            “Listen…” she ranted, “This kid just shows up one day and wants to enroll in our school, and I asked him for basic information, like his parents’ names and general background stuff. Not only does he refuse to provide me any of that, but he gives me an attitude about it! He belittled me, called me old, and he laughed when I got upset about it! Manuel brings him into his office, and the next thing I know, he’s enrolled! Manuel made him apologize, but I could tell it was phony! He hasn’t caused any trouble since that day, but the whole thing is fishy! What business does a sociopath want with our school? I spent the last month that he’s been here trying to figure that out, and I swear my hair got grayer because of it! WHY IS THAT LITTLE ASSHOLE HERE?”

            Her last sentence came with enough venom that this time we actually did jump! It almost alarmed me to hear her speak about a student in a manner like that- almost, I mean, it was Damon we were talking about, but still! None of the teachers really trusted him, but she especially seemed to loathe him! It seemed like a bit of an overreaction to snarky behavior, but I figured that she could probably sense his true nature. I also considered that perhaps she had homicidal tendencies and marked him as her next victim. If it were any other child, I’d stay far away from her, but she expressed a willingness to help us, and since Damon undoubtedly was a far greater threat, I decided to forgive her animosity and use her assistance to get rid of our vampiric nemesis for good! She more genially regarded us, “So, you want to see his record?” We all nodded, and she ordered, “Go about three inches to your left.” We found that request quite odd, but we really needed her insight, so we obeyed, and she gave us detailed instructions on just how to pull this off.

            “This is insane!” Aleck muttered as he headed out to the parking lot.

            Ellie hissed, “Will you keep it down?”

            Phoebe and I hid behind a couple of trash cans on a custodial cart, and we peeked over them to watch what unfolded with Ellie and Aleck outside. Ginger and Fletcher, who were hiding around the corner of the adjacent hallway, couldn’t see anything, so Ginger canvassed us, “What’s happening?”

            “They’re walking towards the mini-van,” Phoebe reported, “…and… Aleck stopped to scratch himself! Gross! Oh, Ellie thinks so too! She just pushed him, and he landed on… Here we go!”

            “Mister Palillo?” the school secretary knocked on his door. “Oh, sorry to interrupt, but one of your staff members just injured themselves on your car!”

            I couldn’t hear Manuel’s reply, but I could tell it involved a series of curse words! As the school secretary went into the front office to draw up paperwork on the incident, she gave us a nod. Fletcher picked up Ginger, and Ginger moved a security camera (which is why we had to move three inches to our left earlier) so that it no longer pointed towards Manuel’s office, and then Phoebe and I emerged from our concealed position to swiftly enter in that very room.

            As I put in a small key into a file cabinet, I remarked, “It’s lucky we ran into the secretary before we came in here! I don’t know what we would’ve done without finding this!” I put the key back into his desk drawer.

            “I used to say Hazel was creepy, but then I met Damon, and now she doesn’t seem so bad!” Phoebe commented while nervously glancing towards the doorway.

            “Kaatz, Kagan, Kahana…” I read out loud. “Wow, we have more students here than I thought! Wow, this person’s file is huge! Oh, it’s Colin! I wonder if he’s been doing better lately…”

            Phoebe reminded me, “Focus, Connor!”

            I knew she was completely right, so I snapped myself back into place instantly. “Sorry! Let’s see… Where is Damon? Man, I can’t believe Damon has only been here for a month!”

            “Yeah! It feels like he’s been haunting us for forever! He walks around with this arrogance like he rules this roost too! It’s been such a frustrating ordeal! I wouldn’t be surprised if he caused Deirdre to have her heart attack!” Phoebe kidded.

            “Here it is!” I finally found it, and a part of me wanted to stare and just soak in the meaning behind this discovery- it may have held the key to vanquishing that evil from the planet once and for all, so it was kind of awe-inspiring! I didn’t do that though. That would have been ridiculous, we didn’t have that much time! That drawer was so packed in that I couldn’t get it out very easily, but after a lot of shimmying and shaking, I finally managed to extract it! Unfortunately, I lost my balance and nearly fell backwards! Thank goodness I caught myself before I hit the floor- we wouldn’t have been able to hide our presence in here if I got blood all over his floor! I got lucky there, but I didn’t get a plethora of luck- I knocked into the candy dish and spilled its contents everywhere!

            I handed Phoebe the file as I stooped down to pick everything up, and she quickly flipped open his record. When she beheld what it contained, she gasped, “Holy crap!”

            My curiosity peaked, so I momentarily stopped cleaning to question her about what she saw, “What?”

            Her eyes grew wide, and as she snapped a couple of pictures on her cellphone, she warned me, “Hurry! It sounds like he’s coming back!”

            I scrambled to gather everything up as Phoebe hopped over the desk and tried to cram his papers back into their original spot. I could hear Fletcher and Ginger’s muffled voices on the others side of the door, obviously stalling him for us, and I felt really grateful that we had done this as a team! I couldn’t dwell too long on our group’s efforts though- I worried that missing even one fun-sized bar would give away what we did in there! We could tell they were starting to wrap up out there, so we doubled our speed to finish our tasks! Phoebe let out a sigh of relief as she got his file back in, and she grabbed the key from his drawer to lock it back up as I got the last bits of treats back in their container. She slid over his desk as we heard the doorknob turn, and I attempted to put the last item back in the tin as the door swung open…

            “Oh, hey! We were waiting for you!” I fibbed as I unwrapped the last chocolate I had in my hand, making it as though I intended to serve myself one of his candies all along.

            “This better not be about Damon’s record again!” Manuel cautioned me.

            I assured him, “Of course not! We’re here ‘cause… we were on our way home when Phoebe mentioned…” I didn’t mean to put the burden of coming up with an excuse on her, but I couldn’t come up with a plausible explanation for our return to his office.

            Thankfully, Phoebe was able to hastily drum something up, “Well, since Deirdre can’t chaperone the dance anymore, I suggested that Connor could take her place.”

            “Really? You’d be willing to do that?” Manuel looked at me in surprise.

            “Yeah, it’s my job, right? I’m here to substitute for her!” I had zero interest in doing this event, but it was a better alternative to getting fired for breaking into this space, so I didn’t complain as I got the details on how to volunteer for occasion.

            I arrived at the park nearby the school and saw that Ellie, Aleck, Fletcher, and Ginger had already gathered there. We agreed to all leave the school separately to not raise suspicion, and I lamented the fact that we couldn’t meet at my house to get more privacy, but privacy wasn’t an option in this instance since Hazel was supposed to join us. I thought it was only fair given that she played a crucial role in obtaining the information, but we couldn’t’ have an in-depth conversation about the issue with her around us. If that file had anything relevant to his vampire plot, then Phoebe would have to omit it or flat out lie about the details until Hazel left. Phoebe had such a strong reaction to what she saw that I couldn’t wait to hear what she learned, so it bothered me that we may have had to wait longer to gain the full truth. I admitted to myself that I ought to have practiced more patience, but to be fair, it’s hard to wait when you’re trying to shut down a dangerous operation!

            As I neared the picnic benches that everyone roosted on, I noticed that Aleck held an ice pack up to his head. Ellie iterated, “Once again, I’m sorry! You knew it was coming, so why didn’t you brace yourself for it more?”

            “It was my understanding that after you saw me do something gross that you were going to pretend to hit me hard!” Aleck grumbled.

            “That wasn’t hard!” Ellie disputed. Aleck gave her a funny stare, so she sheepishly tried to find the positive, “Well, at least it’ll seem more real for the parking lot camera!”

            Ginger picked p on my arrival, so she rushed over to me and asked, “What did you learn?”

            I answered, “Apparently the kids who buy Homecoming tickets have to have a permission slip form their parents. I would just assume if they’re there that their family is fine with it, but whatever!” The four of them glared at me, and so I amended my response, “Oh, you mean about Damon’s records! I didn’t see it. When Manuel was coming, I had to clean a mess I created, so Phoebe took care of the file. She wasn’t far behind me, so she should be here soon.”

            “What about Hazel? Did she leave yet?” Ginger inquired.

            “I didn’t see her on my way out,” I replied. “What kind of car does she drive?”

            Fletcher jested, “Probably a broomstick!”

            Ellie admonished him, “Don’t even joke about that! We already have vampires, we don’t need witches too!”

            Phoebe drove up, and as far as we could tell, Hazel wasn’t here yet, so we raced over to her to glean as much as we could prior to her appearance. Before we could get any questions out of our mouths, Phoebe apologized, “Sorry to keep you waiting! It looked like there was another haunted house on the other side of this park, but it’s not. The park has a stage to do concerts and stuff, and apparently there’s some play happening here soon. They have a permit and the set is really well done, so I doubt Damon’s involved.”

            “That’s great! Now, quick! Show us what you found before Hazel gets here!” Aleck urged her.

            “She’s not coming!” Phoebe let us know as she pulled up the image she captured on her phone. “I sent her a text with what I found. You know, when we discovered that Manuel was hiding something from us, I just assumed that he was part of some conspiracy that covered up Damon’s scheme, but it’s not that interesting.”

            She held her cellphone so that we could all view it as we observed it over her shoulders, and despite what she had just expressed, I still gazed at it with anticipation! I was hoping that I could decipher something more significant from this data that she didn’t catch, but my spirits fell once I glimpsed it. “He listed himself as homeless?” I hollowly pondered.

            Phoebe sniffed in disapproval as she confirmed, “Yeah, and he said that he got turned down at a shelter ‘cause it’s full. He supposedly just turned eighteen, so Manuel can’t call child services or anything.”

            “It says he missed a lot of school ‘cause of his living condition. He would have been a senior, but he has to repeat the eleventh grade to make up for the time he lost. Wow, he has a real record from Philly?” Ginger wondered as Phoebe thumbed through the other photos she took.

            “He probably forged it!” Ellie deduced. “Can’t Hazel check with the school to see if it’s real?”

            Phoebe told her, “She said that Manuel wouldn’t have been able to officially put him into our system without verifying his standing.”

            Fletcher’s brows furrowed. “But, that can’t’ be right! That punk’s gotta be at least three hundred years old!”

            “Maybe being a vampire takes a real toll on your skin and ages you a couple hundred years!” I quipped. I was totally on Fletcher’s side about Damon not being born in this century, probably not the last one either, and I acknowledged that I could have been wrong about that theory, but something inside of me insisted there was some other explanation for that slime-bag having an actual academic history! I didn’t know how we could prove it though…

            “So, Manuel was just trying to hide something personally embarrassing about him?” Aleck’s frown got more pronounced.

            Phoebe sighed, “Yup! I guess we’re back to square one! Now what do we do?”

            My first impulse was to feel totally doomed again, but seeing that beautiful woman appear so hopeless and down really pained me! I wouldn’t allow her to resign her optimism of solving our dilemma, so I racked my brain to find a clever plan for our next move. After a few seconds, I came up with something that wasn’t up to my standards of a solid plot, but I couldn’t unearth anything else, so I just went with that. It wasn’t very good, but it was better than nothing…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 18

You know, when I made this plan, I hadn’t accounted for whether or not this space would accommodate all of us! Manuel’s office didn’t seem so small when it was just the two of us, but with seven people crammed into the room, it suddenly seemed so cramped! Other than his own chair behind his desk, he only had two places to sit. I’m not blaming him, I don’t think he ever anticipated entertaining a group this size in here, it was just pretty darn inconvenient for our side! We let Ellie and Fletcher take a seat since they were the oldest, and I stood in the center facing our boss since we figured that I would end up doing most of the talking. Ginger sat on the arm of Ellie’s chair, which pushed Phoebe right up against me! For a second, I worried it would be hard to concentrate from having this goddess so close to my body, but then Aleck squeezed in on the other side, and that took away any romantic fantasies that may have popped up!

            Manuel held up his tin of candy and offered, “Chocolate?”

            “Yes, definitely!” I actually didn’t want any, but I hoped to stall for a bit of time! I had a vague idea of what I wanted to say, but between class and rushing over here, I hadn’t drummed up a particularly clever line of attack! I imagined that if I could postpone our discussion just a little more that something decent would materialize into my head! As I reached for a fun-sized bar, I saw that he had gotten a batch of Halloween shaped ones. I spotted several bats, and my face soured. “Oh man, I’ve had enough of bats! Ugh, definitely not in the mood for more vampire stuff either! Oh, a mummy! I haven’t been offended by one of those yet!”

            “He’s teaching Dracula,” Phoebe covered for me.

            Manuel’s confused face relaxed more to hear that. “Ah, that makes sense! So, what can I help you with?”

            I nearly choked on the bite I had in my mouth! During our last chat, this treat postponed the serious subject that Manuel intended to bring up, so I sort of assumed that the same would happen in this occurrence. Unfortunately, it didn’t delay dealing with the matter at for very long! Fletcher pat me on the back as a gesture of first aid, which didn’t really help, but luckily, the problem rectified itself. If only my other problem would get solved just as easily! I didn’t come up with a witty opening line, but I had to say something soon! Like Roxy, he gave me a perplexed stare from my hesitation, so I simply brought up the first thing that came into my mind, “Do you know Damon?”

            “Damon Karro? Of course! He’s a little hard to forget!” Manue responded genially. “Why? Do you guys wanna file a complaint?”

            “I have dozens of complaints to make!” Ellie exclaimed. “For one, it’s not right that we don’t have covered parking! When it snows, it takes forever to-!”

            Manuel cut her off, “You’ve mentioned that before, and I told you, the school doesn’t have the funding for that! If we gave the teachers covered parking, then we wouldn’t be able to fund Woodshop or Drivers’ Ed…”

            Ellie stated, “I’d be fine with that!”

            “I thought you came her to talk about Damon,” Manuel pointed out. “If you’re only here to present a list of grievances, then I could give you forms to fill out and make individual appointments…”

            “We are here about Damon!” I interjected. Privately, I did think she was right about the parking situation, but it wasn’t our priority right then! “We don’t want to file a formal complaint though. We mainly wanted to express some… concerns… we have.”

            Manuel appeared to have gotten startled to hear this revelation. “What kind of concerns do you have? I’ve heard he was a model student… Well, maybe model isn’t the right word, not with his strange clothes! But, from what I’ve gathered, he does quite well in his academics! He’s quiet, sure, but isn’t that kind of nice? I mean, so many of our kids are quite the opposite…”

            I felt positive, under normal circumstances, we all would have gladly agreed with that sentiment! I asserted, “He’s fine during school hours, our concern is… his off-campus activity…” Off-campus activity seemed like an inaccurate euphemism for child abduction and attempted killings, but I certainly couldn’t start off with that description! That’s the kind of material we would have to ease a person into!

            “Oh no! Is he getting enough to eat?” Manuel asked us. We all glanced at each other awkwardly. What he was consuming was actually the main issue here…

            “Let’s just say he has no trouble getting food!” Aleck answered him.

            I got the sense that Manuel had become concerned about Damon’s welfare, so before he could query more about his safety, I let him know, “He’s fine, physically anyways. We’re just troubled by some behavior we observed outside of the classroom. You see, we believe… he may have…”

            Manuel guessed, “Is he hanging around the wrong people?”

            “Boy, that’s an understatement!” Ginger remarked as she shifted herself around to make herself more comfortable on her small perch. “It you wanna count them as people…”

            “They’re monsters, so to speak!” I forced myself to chuckle like her comment was offhand and not a big deal. I fretted that she intended to reveal Damon’s vampiric nature, and I thought it was obvious that it was too soon to do that, but apparently not! I appreciated her tenacity, but it took us all a while to buy into the concept of their existence, so I doubted that Manuel would react to this information well! He probably would have judged us as not mentally fit to do our jobs and would have had us booted to the curb if we relayed that to him right then! “But what’s worse is who wants to follow Damon to his… hang out! There’s a connection between him and the missing students!”

            “That’s quite a serious accusation to make!” Manuel pronounced. “You’re saying that Damon is luring these kids to dangerous individuals he associates with?”

            I felt that there was a grain of truth to that. He certainly seemed to get more and more bats to roost in that abandoned house! I had no clue if anything else lurked in there, but, to me, the most dangerous creature haunting that area was Damon himself! However, once again, I couldn’t’ relay any of that to him, so I decided to roll with his notion. “Yeah, basically!”

            Manuel acknowledged, “That’s startling!” I started to feel relieved when I saw our repost had that kind of an effect on him! If we could have convinced him to accept this as reality, then we could have persuaded him to show us Damon’s record! To my astonishment, he supplemented that with, “Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about that!”

            “What do you mean, there’s not much you can do about it?” Fletcher voiced what went through the rest of our minds. “But you’re the principal! You have to do something!”

            “I can’t control what goes on off school grounds!” Manuel reasoned. “If I could, each student would get straight A’s and would qualify to represent Rosemary King in the National Spelling Bee! Our last finalist misspelled our state in the state finals! Do you know how embarrassing that is?”

            Phoebe defended that pupil, “That wasn’t her fault! She thought she had grabbed orange juice at breakfast, and it turned out to be a Screwdriver! You gotta admit, she did pretty well for someone under the influence!”

            She let out a nervous laugh in attempts to lighten Manuel’s mood, but he didn’t budge on his position. He shook his head exasperatedly, but before he could say anything else on that topic, I steered the discussion back to the original subject, “Listen, we’re only here because we’re worried about Damon’s well-being.” That was a lie, but I determined that it would make more sense to convey that to him rather than tell him that we wanted to corner him so we could drive a stake through his heart! “We won’t accept doing nothing as the only resolution to this issue! We may not be able to influence his behavior off campus, but…” As I struggled to come up with a proper way to finish that sentence, I observed Ginger absentmindedly tearing up one of the vampire-shaped candies. I mused about what Manuel’s mother would make of her consideration for her medicinal tool, and then the remedy for my conundrum became clear! “But his mom and dad sure can! They may not even be aware of what’s going on, but they should be! If you just hand us his file, we’ll get his contact info and make sure they can stop him from going too far down this dangerous path! Please! For the sake of this… child, give us a shot at saving him!”

            I cared much more about rescuing his victims than doing anything that might benefit Damon, so I channeled that emotion into my plea to really sway him to fulfill our request. I reckoned that adding that tidbit about Damon’s parents to pull at Manuel’s heartstrings, after all, he had a mom that he appeared to have had a close relationship with, so I truly believed that I nailed it and that he would gladly hand over Damon’s record to us. It shocked me when Manuel refused, “Uh-uh! I can’t hand over that to you! You know I can’t show you anything that’s classified like that!”

            Drats! I tried not to allow myself to become too disappointed by that denial; while that would’ve been the best way to analyze Damon’s profile, it wasn’t the only way to make that happen! When I had a reluctant client at Novak Neander, I didn’t give up on the first no, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to do it at that moment either! I coolly addressed him, “Fine, I understand. We’re fine with a phone call if you could just connect us with his family…”

            I didn’t expect to actually reach anybody related to Damon. First of all, they all more than likely died, like, two hundred years ago! Secondly, I suspected that Damon may have given the school a faulty number, so if Manuel dialed it, he would know we were right to assumed that that something was up with Damon! If Damon did put down someone who might be able to communicate with us about him, we could at least wry some clues on his whereabouts or maybe even some hints pertaining to his schemes! I saw no logical purpose for denying us the opportunity to get in touch with people at his supposed home, so it absolutely stunned me when he declined, “Sorry, I can’t do that.”

            The others got more alarmed by this development than I did! I’m not sure what the rule for teachers decreed for conditions like this (I never really read it thoroughly because I didn’t think I would stay in this position for as long as I did), but I guessed that the staff would normally be allowed to interact with their children’s caretakers if they judged it necessary to do so. To get barred from a customary practice definitely raised their eyebrows! “We can’t? Why not?” Phoebe challenged him.

            “There’s… special circumstances that…” Manuel sputtered. Fortunately for him, the landline on his desk rang, and he gladly picked it up. “You’ve reached Principal Palillo, how can I be of service? … I see…” He notified us, “This’ll take a while.” He returned to his telephone and got into a complicated discourse over technology upgrades for the school’s computers, and we all froze for a minute as we tried to absorb what just occurred.

            “He’s hiding something!” Ellie declared when we exited his office.

            Ginger concurred, “For sure! But what? I doubt he’s anything but human, so I don’t think he would intentionally do something to harm our kids! At least, I hope not!”

            Fletcher opined, “Whether or not he realizes it, he’s abetting Damon in his crimes! The only way we’ll put an end to Manuel’s part in this is to find out what he’s keeping from us!”

            “But how?” Aleck posed to the group. “He’s not ever gonna give up the truth to us, so what are we supposed to do? Break into his office when he’s not there?” We all lit up at the plausibility of that concept, and Aleck’s face fell. “You can’t be serious! We could get fired if he catches us!”

            “We have to do something though!” Phoebe objected to him. “He could be holding back a vital piece to our puzzle! If we don’t get access to it, we could lose more innocent students!”

            Aleck, Ellie, Fletcher, and Ginger appeared reluctant about the concept, so I proposed, “We could go back to wandering around aimlessly looking for signs of him in my neighborhood again!” They were repulsed by that invitation, so I suggested, “Or we can try searching the abandoned house…”

            I knew that would do the trick! Ellie put her foot down, “We’re not doing that! But how do we break into Manuel’s office without losing our jobs?”

            “I can help with that!” Somebody behind us volunteered. We jumped at their intrusion, and when we turned around, we were surprised to see…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 17

How does someone get a blackeye when they don’t have any blood running through their veins? I have no clue how that works, but when Damon came into class the next day, he had a real shiner on his face! I didn’t understand the mechanics behind it, but I knew that it resulted from Ginger’s projectile against him as he tried to elude capture last night, so I smirked at the knowledge that she managed to hurt our vampiric foe! He caught me staring at him, so I quickly pretended like I had only glanced at him so I could take attendance. As I actually did take attendance, I saw that I wasn’t the only one who had been smiling at Damon! I spotted Roxy on the other side of the room making goo-goo eyes at him, and I cringed! If she only knew the truth about him, she’d have thought twice about checking him out! Sor so I hoped anyways…

            After the bell rang, I posed to the class, “So, what did you guys think of chapter three?” Roxy eagerly raised her hand, and I really didn’t want to call on her- I was so sure she would use the opportunity to try to hit on Damon, which was a terrible idea, obviously! But she made herself impossible to ignore, so I had no choice but to hear what she had to say, “Yes, Roxy?”

            “I don’t think The Count should be considered the villain!” Roxy opined. “He may be a monster, but it’s not his fault! He can’t help himself for what he is! I mean, what did he even do that was so horrible?” She lovingly gazed at Damon as she spoke, but Damon didn’t return her sentiment. He stared into space looking very confused about whatever he was pondering about.

            “You mean besides all of the kidnapping and blood sucking?” I retorted. I tried not to talk to the kids in such a condescending way, but for her own safety, I needed her to recognize what a grave error in judgment she was making! It disturbed me to think that she may have figured out his true nature and was totally fine with it, and now, on top of everything else I had to worry about, I feared that she may purposefully allow herself to become his victim!

            “I liked the scene with three women!” a male student randomly threw in. “It reminds me of a movie I watched once! Well, it wasn’t so much of a movie as it was a video… Either way, it was so hot!”

            I nearly got lost in thought just then, so I felt glad he decided to bring that up when he did! As I got myself back on track, I responded to the topic he raised, “Don’t go into too many details about any clips that managed to get past the parental controls on your internet service! But let’s go over that scene! Do you think it really happened, or was it just a dream?” As the children argued over their respective viewpoints, Roxy continued to gawk at Damon in a romantic manner, and I was so relieved that he appeared to be oblivious to her behavior!

            I got a jolt of alleviation when the lunch bell rang, but before I could relish in the joy of getting a break from this sordid love story, I heard Roxy call out, “Hey, Damon! Can I talk to you for a second?”

            With horror, I observed Damon hang back as Roxy happily bounded over to him! I didn’t know exactly what she had in mind, but there was absolutely no way I was going to let that happen right in front of me! Before she could utter a word to him, I shouted, “Roxy, I need to speak with you! Damon, would you please excuse us?”

            “Of course!” Damon obliged, but I could sense a note of derision in his voice. Too bad! I watched him slink away in annoyance, and while I wasn’t sure if he caught on to Roxy’s intentions or not, he clearly could tell he missed out on some kind of good fortune. I silently celebrated thwarting another one of his plots, but I knew it was going to be a short-lived victory. Once he could talk to her without any supervision around, that poor, dumb girl would be doomed!

            “Yes, Mister Fenmore?” Roxy addressed me.

            I practically jumped when I remembered that she was still in the room! I only said that to get her away from Damon, I didn’t actually have anything to discuss with her! But I couldn’t tell her that! I had to articulate something to her though! She was starting to grow perplexed by my purpose for holding her back, so I had to do something immediately! Without thinking, I informed her, “He has a girlfriend, you know!”

            Wouldn’t you think one would grow distressed to hear news like this? I certainly did! To my astonishment, she very confidently brushed that off, “He can think that, but once I’m through with him, he’ll forget all about her!” I had no response to that. I never met anyone who had no respect for the boundaries of a serious relationship! Well, that’s not true! Evidently, Lilith’s lover had some knowledge of her marriage to me since he helped her pack up her stuff and leave! I wondered if he had adopted the same mindset as Roxy when he pursued my wife, and picturing that totally bummed me out! I couldn’t mull that over too much though since Roxy followed up her statement with, “Who is she?”

            “Corvina Delaney,” I divulged. It seemed a little wrong for me to give out a student’s personal info, but I reasoned that if a pupil tried to murder you, all rules are off the table! Besides, I needed to make sure this felt real to her so she would be less tempted to go after Damon! I crossed my fingers that she liked Corvina enough to leave her supposed boyfriend alone, or maybe she would get intimidated enough by Corvina’s gruff exterior that she would stay far away from him! I didn’t care what her motivation was as long as it happened!

            “Oh, one of the missing girls?” Roxy chirped. “This is perfect! I can console him for his loss and then snag him as he’s grieving!” Her callousness almost alarmed me more than Damon’s dark plans with her! She stunned me enough to render me speechless again, and prior to me getting close to having the ability to formulate a comment on that, she cheerily regarded me, “Thanks, Mister Fenmore!”

            As she skipped out of the classroom, I yelled, “He might be too sad to go to Homecoming!” Who was I kidding? Daon wouldn’t have been distraught over Corvina, she was still with him! And I wasn’t entirely sure if they were even exclusive! I groaned in frustration, and as I rubbed my temples in solace, I had a hard time accepting what a lost cause keeping Roxy safe seemed to be! She already used predatory language like a monster! Still, even though she was far from my favorite student, I hated to think of her enduring a fate like that!

            Normally, I bolted out of my seat to quell my rumbling stomach, but between my crazy love life, the insanity of this new workplace drama, and the batty vampire (yes, I put those words together on purpose) situation, I couldn’t summon an appetite. I only wanted to clear my head! I pulled out my cellphone and started up my favorite classic rock station. That worked! I learned back in my seat, closed my eyes, and drifted away…

            …For about a minute! “Bad Blood” came on- that was my mom’s favorite song! I sprung up from my chair, and as I really drank in the nostalgia, I found myself dancing! My moves were goofy and heavily outdated, but no one was around, so I just let myself go! In the middle of this tune, I espied something by the doorway. When I turned to face it, I froze completely! Phoebe had been standing there for I don’t know how long, and I became completely mortified to have been caught doing something so nonsensical! I stood in shame as I waited for her to deliver a snarky remark about my performance, but to my surprise, she dealt out some groovy steps of her own! For a couple of minutes, we didn’t convey a single sentence to each other, we simply allowed ourselves to bask in our delightful weirdness! I don’t know anyone else who would have reacted like that, and it elated me to have someone who I could completely be myself around! No shame, no fault finding, we just enjoyed each other’s company, and it was pure heaven!

            Once that track finished, we both fell back on some desks laughing. “Isn’t that song kind of ironic for you?” Phoebe inquired.

            “Why?” I replied quizzically. “Oh, you mean ‘cause it talks about blood? Yeah, that never really crossed my mind ‘til now!”

            “No, I mean…” She stopped mid-sentence, and right then, I didn’t understand why she did that. Later, I realized that its lyrics depicted an awful woman that sort of fit Lilith’s description! I don’t think Phoebe wanted to ruin things by bringing up that sore subject again, so instead, she merrily stated, “I love that song!”

            I concurred with her, “Me too! It brings back so many memories for me! Whenever my mother had a particularly rotten chore to do, she would throw on a song like this and just jammed away as she worked to make it better. One time, she put on this record when…”

            All of a sudden, a lightbulb went off in my head! I happened to catch a glimpse of Damon’s desk as I said the word “record,” and a realization instantly came to me! “Damon would have to have some kind of record to enroll in this school, right?”

            Phoebe lit up with a glow of understanding as well. “Yeah, he would! Well, unless he’s been attending all of these courses illegally. But in that scenario, we could get him kicked out right away and keep him away from our students for good! If he is here legally, we still might be able to learn his address and stuff! Well, I know he spends a lot of time in that abandoned house across the street from you, but maybe there’s somewhere else that’s significant to him!”

            “There’s no way he came here in a legit way!” I esteemed. “The dude’s at least a hundred years old, he had to have faked his record!”

            “Well, we’ll have to meet with Manuel and…” She trailed off as she pinpointed an issue with this concept. “Oh, but he’s not likely to let us see any permanent records! That’s all kept confidential, only the principal is allowed to access those files!”

            I frowned to learn of this setback. I tried to contemplate a solution, or at least something comforting to express to her, but then my stomach started growling! Phoebe noticed this and giggled, so I couldn’t ignore it to keep the conversation going. I looked at the clock and saw that we only had minutes before fourth period would begin, so I told her, “I’ll be right back!” and dashed out the door.

            Ellie, Aleck, Ginger, and Fletcher were sitting at our usual table finishing up their meals when I burst into the teachers’ lounge! “There you are!” Fletcher verbalized to me as he swallowed some fries. “Where have you-?”

            With my cheeks swollen up like a chipmunk’s from the enormous bite I took from my sandwich, I let them know, “Can’t talk… later… Damon’s records… Bye!”

            As I rushed out of there, I heard Aleck query to the others, “Did you guys catch any of that?” I’m pretty sure they all shook their heads as I left.

            The bell rang before I reached my classroom, and it disappointed me that Phoebe and I couldn’t hatch up a conclusion to our conundrum! She exited my class and gave me a shrug while heading towards her room. I ached to spend more time with her, but I couldn’t contemplate about that for too long since I had to wolf down this peanut butter and jelly prior to any kids arriving. Some children had beat me there, and it irked me to have such punctual pupils! I resorted to hiding behind the teacher’s textbook as I gulped down the last of my repast down. As I did so, I realized just how much I could conceal behind this tome! During our Dracula discourse, I snuck a text message to the group and requested that we all go to Manuel’s office after school. I didn’t expect anyone to respond until this period was over, but I smiled knowing we had a method unbeknownst to Damon that could get us ahead of him so we could foil his sinister plot! Again!

            “Mister Fenmore, do you have a cellphone out?” a young girl probed.

            “No, it’s a book light!” I lied before continuing the lesson. What would she have done if she did witness me breaking a rule like that? Send me to the principal’s office? Actually, that would have been great! We had already intended to see him anyways!

            We all met up outside of Principal Palillo’s office, and Ginger asserted, “This idea is completely bonkers!”

            I snapped back, “As opposed to all of our other totally sane ideas?” She bit her tongue, but she definitely didn’t care for this proposal. I reassured her, “Relax! If I can convince a vampire to pause his attack against us, I’m sure I can convince Manuel to-.”

            “Did someone just say my name?” He poked his head out of the door, which naturally startled all six of us! I wasn’t ready for this yet! I thought we would have a minute or two to go over some things so I could mentally prepare myself for this encounter! “Can I help you guys with something?”

            “Yes, we have something important to confer with you about!” I spoke so formally to him, so I’m sure he knew something was up! He invited us into his office, so it was now or never! I took a deep breath and inwardly prayed for the best…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 16

“Do you have change for this?” Phoebe held up two twenties.

            “Let me see…” the guy checked a metal tin underneath his little podium. “No, sorry, we don’t.”

            Fletcher questioned him, “What do you mean you don’t have it? You charge five dollars a person, and we just need the price of two entries back from you!”

            The guy held up his till for us, showing us it was completely empty. “Most people pay with credit nowadays.” I wanted to argue with him about his snotty attitude, I mean, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that a shoddy attraction like this would have been cash only, but before I could open my mouth, Phoebe swiftly handed him her debit card. The guy took out a small attachment, stuck it in his cellphone, and took her payment by swiping her card through that. After Phoebe signed it with her finger, he unlatched a thin cord that guarded the front entrance and unexcitedly bade us, “Enjoy your visit!” None of us thought that was very likely, but we didn’t say another word to him as we went inside.

            We walked down a dimly lit hallway with extreme caution… at first. A family came in behind us, so we had to quicken our gait. I couldn’t tell if having innocent bystanders around would make it more or less likely for Damon to attack us, but I really hoped that his plans wouldn’t allow innocent people to get hurt! Of course, the children that he victimized were more innocent than anyone, so I wasn’t going to rule anything out! Worrying about their welfare and searching for a blood-sucking monster set my nerves on fire! I supposed that we had no proof that Damon was actually there, but my gut says he was. I gathered that everyone else felt the same way because no one uttered a word, well, except for Aleck assuring Phoebe that he’ll pay her back for the entry fee. She didn’t respond to that, I imagine she had more pressing issues on her mind! She wasn’t the only one, I didn’t feel ready for this confrontation! I tried to remember where Phoebe told me to drive the stake in him, but the memory of that demonstration distracted me with flights of fancy, so the further we walked into this haunted house, the less prepared I felt for this encounter!

            We went through almost the entire length of the structure without any signs of him, or any other spooky festivities that might jump out as for that matter, so I was starting to think that maybe the whole building was empty. All of a sudden, something fell from the ceiling! The bewilderment of this unexpected arrival frightened us for a second, but that quickly disappeared when we discovered it was nothing more than a plastic spider with one of its legs missing. Behind it, a skeleton popped out of its coffin, and as it did so, ocean sounds played in the background. “I’m guessing he put in the wrong CD,” Ellie remarked.

            Aleck criticized this concept, “What sound would you expect it to play? Skeletons don’t have any vocal cords, so how could they make any sounds? Actually, beach water kind of makes sense ‘cause what else would make it pop out of the coffin like that?” He nearly walked into a mechanical witch who sort of twitched in a circle in front of him. He shook his head as we moved on to an adjacent hall.

            To our right, we saw a small display of a zombie, mummy, and a werewolf having a dance party, and Phoebe queried, “Is that supposed to be scary?”

            “It’s scarier than that!” Fletcher pointed to the left wall ahead of us, which was just a list of how much cost-of-living items would be in the next ten years.

            “We paid money for this crappy experience?” Ginger complained. “If we don’t’ see any vampires in here, I swear, I’ll…”

            The mother behind us concurred with her, “Here, here! If we don’t see anything more frightening, I’m asking for my money back!”

            My panic for that family’s presence started to ebb, and it slowly got replaced with depression over how the evening turned out again. I couldn’t believe my instincts had led me astray, and if I couldn’t trust them, I didn’t know what I could rely on anymore! Ellie interrupted my funk by kidding, “Next time you see your neighbor, you can warn him not to come here!”

            I didn’t want to agree with her, that would be the final curtain to the hopes of getting anything out of this evening! If it kept going at this pace, I would probably have wanted to help my neighbor not waste his time, but I wasn’t willing to accept that our excursion would end this way! “We’ll see! There’s still one more hallway to explore, maybe they’re just lulling us into a false sense of security before the real horror shows up!” No one seemed to buy into that notion, but I wouldn’t let go of its plausibility! As we rounded the corner, I kept trying to convince myself that we would finish the day strong!

            We expected to stumble across more cheesy decorations, but instead, the walls were lined with dozens of mirrors! There wasn’t anything daunting in the reflective plastic itself, but somehow, its appearance gave off an extremely ominous vibe! We proceeded ahead very carefully with one hand in our pockets, readying ourselves to strike at a moment’s notice. I wished that those people hadn’t been right behind us because I knew we all would have liked to have taken our weapons out sooner, but we certainly didn’t want the bystanders to find us threatening! That might’ve induced some unnecessary delays for us! We couldn’t see any obvious signs of peril, but none of us had to say it out loud- something about this wing was different, so we knew if anything menacing were to happen to us in there, it would emerge right then and there! We neared the end, and a part of me wondered if we were just being paranoid, but then…

            A hand reached out from under the wall and grabbed Phoebe’s leg! She screamed, but then she immediately stomped on the perpetrator’s grip! A female’s voice cried out, “Ow!” as it retracted its extremity back into the wall.

            The husband of that family that followed us ridiculed her, “Geez, lady! They’re just actors!”

            Before any of us could differ with that, dozens of more hands jutted out and snagged us! A set of red eyes suddenly started to glow from up high, and we heard the sounds of wings flapping towards us! My heart pounded wildly! I was right! We had found Damon! But as we tried to escape our enclosures, I had no interest in basking in the glow of any victory!

            “At last, I’ve finally cornered you all!” Damon leered at us in his human form. “You’ve interfered with my plans for the last time! Now, it’s time for you to pay! Right, my comrades?”

            “My hand really hurts!” the female who Phoebe stomped on moaned.

            I don’t know what possessed me to say it, but I unexpectedly advised her, “Sounds like you need Ango Auxilium!”

            Damon, who had been advancing towards us, stopped in his tracks as he puzzled, “What the heck is that?”

            If he had continued to try and attack us, I wouldn’t have even bothered! However, the fact that he had paused in his attempt to dispose of us made me realize that we may not have come up with a plan to cut ourselves loose yet, but I could at least buy us some time! “I’m glad you asked! Ango Auxilium is the best pain reliever on the market! I know, a lot of medicinal manufacturers say that, but unlike its competitors, Ango Auxilium can prove it! Pharmacona has used the latest technology to develop a serum that’s both fast acting and long lasting…”

            “Aw man, seriously? This show was just starting to get good, and now they have to freaking advertise something!” an observer who had come in after the family who followed us griped.

            “Now, I know what you’re thinking- an advancement in medicine like this is probably super expensive, but no-no!” I ignored the person who found fault with my spiel, and I felt grateful that, for whatever reason, Damon was still listening to my message! I was glad that I still had my sales pitch memorized, but as I continued to rattle off everything I knew about this pill, I worried that Damon would lose interest before we had crafted a way to get out of this situation! If more spectators began to heckle my performance, we would lose our distraction and succumb to Damon’s evil whims! It irked me to think that we would lose after getting this far, and I inwardly prayed that someone inside (or on the outside, I wasn’t fussy on who would save us) would produce a solution before it was too late!

            I could hear the modest crowd that had gathered growing restless, but before anyone’s agitation could interfere with my efforts, the vampires (or at least I thought they were vampires) to our left let out a harrowing scream and ran off! We were free… for a second! We could smell smoke and hear some crackling, so somebody shouted, “Fire!” Some people ran back towards the entrance, but others grew hysterical from not knowing what to do. We certainly couldn’t push past the frightened haunted house attendees, and Damon blocked our path forward. To the six of us, our best way out seemed pretty obvious…

            We all lunged towards Damon, who grew alarmed to see himself outnumbered, but just when we almost got our hands on him, he turned into a bat and flew well above our reach as he raced towards the exit! We tried to jump for him, but none of us could really do that very well anymore! It’s funny, I remembered being adept at this skill during my youth, and I have no clue when I lost it! I can’t even recall the last instance where I tried to do it at this point! Anyways, as Damon zoomed towards the door, Ginger took off her shoe and threw it at him! She clocked him pretty good, but despite any agony he may have suffered from that, he was still able to get out! We all watched on in disappointment until an individual to our rear barked, “Show’s over, ‘kay? Do you mind if we avoid burning to death now?”

            Okay, yes, clearly we needed to elude the flames, but it flabbergasted me that everyone just beheld a human being morphing into a bat and no one had any reaction to this phenomenon? I guess they all thought it was part of the show, but did they really think this joint had the funds to pull off a stunt like that? Seriously, they saw the atrocious décor and didn’t consider that perhaps this place didn’t have the budget to perform such a feat? As much as I desired to debate this subject with them, it’s probably needless to say my priority was to not burn to death! Our teacher instincts compelled us to assist everyone else in evacuating first though, so we ushered the people towards the exit as Fletcher (who was closest to the way out) directed the crowd, “Everybody exit through here! Single file! No pushing!”

            The blaze didn’t move very fast, so we managed to escape at a higher speed than that of the tiny inferno! Once we were out of danger from both the scorching and the vampires, I had so many questions swirling around in my head! Were the missing students part of Damon’s squad back there? Did they all run to that hideout in the abandoned house across the street from my home? If not, then where else would they go? Now that Damon’s scheme failed miserably, what would he cook up next? Since we didn’t get to finish the tour, could we get a refund? None of those inquires got answered immediately though since we saw Brielle and Spike standing at a distance from the building, and as soon as she saw us emerge, she exclaimed, “You’re okay! Thank goodness!”

            Ginger hobbled up to her (since she only had one shoe on) as hastily as she could, and after giving her partner a hug and a kiss, Ginger requested, “Can we skip the explanations and just go home? I just wanna take a long bubble bath and forget that this day ever happened!”

            Brielle shook her head. “Sorry, we gotta stick around for a while. You see, when you all didn’t show back up at Connor’s place, I had Spike lead me to you. I didn’t bring any money, so that jerk at the front didn’t let us in! As we went around looking for a backdoor, Spike peed on the generator! It short circuited the wiring and started this thing…” She indicated to the flames that engulfed a section of that structure. “… So, we probably need to explain this to the fire fighters…”

            We all groaned at the prospect of extending our long day! The emergency crew that showed up was able to neutralize the threat pretty rapidly, and thank the lord, no one got hurt! Well, that one vampire had a sore hand, but we didn’t have any inkling on how to find her! Apparently, Damon had put up this attraction illegally, so there weren’t any permits or anything that could have given us information about him! The city intended to shut this establishment down, but we knew that Damon wouldn’t let this setback make him give up on expanding his evil empire (or whatever his diabolic plot was)! We were all too exhausted to discuss it after the first responders were done talking to us, but I couldn’t get this development out of my head! Even in my dreams fixated on it! Other than obsessing over possibilities of how Damon would lure in his next set of teenage victims, I kept pondering… If we had gotten a hold of Damon that night, who would have been the one to do him in? If it had to have been me, would I have been able to rise to the occasion? I feared that it may someday come down to just me and him, and I consumed myself with the question- if that really did happen, would I be able to summon the guts to slay him?