Chapter 1: Two Girls and a Hazmat Suit
I wasn’t feeling very enthused about education the day the vampire came to school.
Usually, since we live in Maine, it’s cold. This September, the sun was invading the sky, bright and fierce, and my best friend, Cathy, and I were hauling our bags up one of the steep streets and sweating.
I was also not feeling very enthused about vampires. But I never am.
Cathy is a different matter.
If there was a box for “vampirologist” on one of our career goals questionnaires—and there isn’t, you can be a psychiatrist for vampires, or a donor to vampires, or an academic in vampire studies, but I just made up that word to mean “a big fan of the undead”—Cathy would check it every time.
Don’t get me wrong. Cathy’s not stupid. She’s really smart: Without her encouraging me I wouldn’t be doing AP English and history. She’s a dreamer. You know the type: reads poetry by the bucket load—Keats! Plath! Chatterton!—gets so into books she walks into walls, gets so into telling me a story she walks right into traffic and I have to grab her and yank her back to safety. She likes history more than the news and likes books better than most people. Of course she thinks vampires, since many of them are older than dirt and thus basically history books with legs and fangs, are totally fascinating.
So naturally when we looked across the street and saw the figure in the bulky black suit and helmet, like a cross between Darth Vader and an astronaut, Cathy’s eyes lit right up, because broad daylight plus person in weird-ass suit must equal vampire. This in spite of the fact that very few vampires seem inclined to go into the sun in a protective suit when a single pinprick to a sleeve would kill them. Let’s put it this way: I’m a born and bred New Whitby girl, and I’ve seen a vampire in a suit exactly once, and it was on the news.
“Maybe he’s a vampire,” she said, inclining her head. Cathy’s too much of a lady to point at people.
I’m not much of a lady, personally, so I stared pretty openly. I wasn’t the only one.
“Or maybe there’s been a chemical explosion and that’s the member of the hazmat team who drew the short straw,” I said.
We both looked ahead at the school. Craunston High stood there like always, red brick and very solid. No flames billowing from the bay windows.
“Alternate theory,” I said as we crossed the road and headed in, a little ahead of the mystery suit. “He’s the keenest scuba diver in the world.”
Cathy returned her gaze to the possible scuba diver and took a little wistful breath: not quite a sigh, but sort of bracing herself for her latest daydream not to be true.
“He could be a vampire.”
“Yeah, I can see it,” I said. “He moves with the predatory grace of a penguin.”
Cathy bit back a smile so she wouldn’t hurt the scuba diver’s feelings. Too nice for her own good, that girl. She even held open the door so he could penguin-shuffle his hazmat ass into the school.
He inclined his big black helmet to her as he passed by and advanced into the dark hall.
Then he slid off the helmet, and I saw he was graceful after all: The movement was the way you’d imagine a knight in a fairy tale would remove his helm.
He had the kind of looks that made normal sensible thoughts turn into stupid poetry: hair like sunlight trapped in shadows and eyes that were an insane cornflower blue. A face like a sculpture on a tomb, all clean white perfect lines.
A dead person’s face.
The vampire turned those eyes on Cathy, who stood rooted to the spot, and squinted.
“Could you possibly shut the door?” he asked in a low, cool voice. “It is rather bright.”
New Whitby. The vampire city.
It’s really not as weird as people think. It’s like Las Vegas. I’m sure people who actually live in Las Vegas hardly ever play slot machines or have Elvis impersonators perform their weddings.
Lots of other places were founded by people escaping persecution because of their religion. New Whitby was founded by people escaping persecution because they were the blood-drinking undead.
We’re not all vampires. We don’t all want to be vampires either.
When our career guidance teacher asked us to make lists of professions we were interested in, vampire was not on mine.
I know vampire isn’t technically a profession. But, seriously, you should see the ones around here.
They’re pros at it. Being a vampire is their job. Vampires have long-term investments, of course. And modeling careers. The camera loves Ludmilla von Doesn’t Need Airbrushing.
That’s part of what I think makes vampires so boring. Once you’re a vampire, you don’t ever need to be anything else.
New Whitby is not only a vampire city. It never was. Plenty of humans came too. People who had vampires in the family, and people who didn’t, people who just arrived here and stayed. My mom’s family came over from China to America because of the railroads, moved across America selling stuff to the gold miners, and settled here. You wind up where you wind up, and no place in the world is perfect. There’s always something to cope with: too hot, too cold, no night life. In our city’s case, it’s way too much night life. With fangs.
But like I said, it’s not such a big deal. There are blood banks and donors these days. You’re more likely to be killed in a plane crash than drained by a vampire, even if you live in New Whitby.
There are a ton of restrictions on making vampires now, too, so most people living here don’t have vampires in the family. Except for a few vampire ancestors some people inherited, like antique chairs or the family silver, or my biology partner Laura’s crazy Aya or my friend Ty’s Aunt Sabine, who only comes over to his house on the holidays.
Apparently she gives truly excellent presents.
So sure, at night you’ll pass a vampire here and there on the street. Occasionally you’ll find yourself sitting next to one at the movies. You’ll see vampire cops walking their beats. There’s an all-vampire division since human cops faced with vampire criminals are at a bit of a disadvantage.
As you may have noticed, I’m not crazy about vampires. I always thought they were a bit creepy. On top of the whole blood-drinking thing, they don’t have human feelings. And after what happened to my friend Anna this summer, I’m even less keen on them.
But vampires tend to keep to the Shade quarter, and the tourists have to go there to goggle at them. New Whitby is a city like any other, except this one’s mine: stretching up steep from the harbor where the Nightshade came in three hundred years ago, to the high smoked-glass towers gleaming in the sun beside the spikes and slopes of Victorian buildings.
Cathy shut the door with such a loud bang I jumped. But when I turned to my best friend I saw that she hadn’t taken her eyes off the vampire. She was staring at him as if Richard the Lionheart had arrived at her house for tea. As if a miracle had happened.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “For the noise, I mean.”
“Think nothing of it,” the vampire murmured.
“Hey! My name’s Mel Duan,” I announced, in an attempt to break Cathy out of her blissful vampire-induced daze. “Is there something I can do for you? Can we point you to the principal’s office? I bet you want to be on your way as soon as possible, huh?”
I have never received any compliments on my subtlety.
“I am not anxious to leave,” the vampire said. “In fact, I have been fortunate enough to be accepted as a student in this fine center of learning. But I thank you for your offer of assistance.”
His eyes slid over me in a funny way: as if he were looking at a chair instead of a person. Mind you, he didn’t seem terribly impressed with Cathy, either. He looked beautiful and bored.
He also looked like a crazy astronaut suit full of trouble.
The vampire inclined his head to both of us in a way I knew Cathy would shortly be describing as “courtly.”
“Permit me to introduce myself. My name is Francis Duvarney.”
“Heh, Francis,” I said.
The cornflower eyes iced over.
“Not funny,” I continued. “Obviously. Not a funny name. Does anyone ever call you Frank? Frankie?”
“No,” he said, the word coming down like an icicle dropped on my head from a height, though he wasn’t all that tall.
Pretty much everyone is taller than I am.
“I’m sorry,” Cathy burst out in a rush. “I’m Cathy. Catherine. Whatever you like. I . . . I’m . . .” And poor Cathy, she did stammer, and went bright red, but struggled on. “This is Mel. Um, welcome to Craunston High.”
“Thank you,” said Francis the vampire, and his eyes rested on her for a moment as if he’d just noticed her. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
That was all he said. He gave yet another tiny head bow, then turned and walked away to the principal’s office or the little vampire’s room or wherever. I didn’t care. I had other things to worry about.
Namely Cathy, her big dark eyes open wide and glowing as if she had fireflies trapped inside her head.
“This year is going to be amazing,” she said with deep conviction.
Yeah, we were in trouble.
“A vampire who wants to go to high school?” I said. “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”