Uncle Frankie was obviously a vampire.
Eddie suspected something the first night Frankie came to the house. It was just before dinnertime, in midwinter, already dark outside. Eddie was doing his math homework in the living room. He wasn't at all unhappy about abandoning it when his Mom called him to the front door.
"Eddie, this is your Uncle Frankie -- my brother," said Mom, in the careful voice she used to let him know, at the family reunion, that he had to eat at least some of Aunt Mary's cobbler and make no comments on it.
"Cool, dude," Uncle Frankie said, taking Eddie's hand and shaking it around, randomly, then dropping it, dropping Eddie from his attention. It was like being briefly nibbled by a goldfish.
Uncle Frankie's skin looked a lot like the crust of Aunt Mary's cobbler. The underside of the crust.
Frankie wore wrap-around, Aviator-style shades. With his black leather outfit, they made his pasty skin look even paler. Even at twelve, Eddie had a fairly good idea that Frankie's style was something old that hadn't gotten old enough yet to be anything but an embarrassment -- to anyone except Frankie. Frankie was oblivious to embarrassment. Oblivious to almost everything.
At dinner, Mom announced in that same casual voice, "Uncle Frankie is going to be staying with us for a few days." Lisa, at fourteen, had decided to become a social worker. She and Dad did most of the work of trying to entertain Frankie, draw him out. Frankie answered in two-word sentences. He seemed to eat without interest, but he cleared three plates of food.
Eddie spent most of the meal watching Frankie. Mom watched everybody.
Afterward, Lisa helped Mom clear and do the dishes, while Eddie helped Dad bring Frankie's suitcases in from the car. Frankie carried a suit-bag and a box he cradled close to his chest. He also had boxes of CD's, and a sound system. Eddie thought it was weird to bring all that along on a visit.
The next day Eddie and Lisa got up to go to school, Dad and Mom got up to go to work, but Frankie didn't get up. He wasn't around when Eddie got home late afternoon. Eddie didn't see Frankie again until just before dinnertime. After dark, Frankie came wandering out of the guest room, looking rumpled and disoriented.
Patterns of life didn't change, but everything felt weird to Eddie, like he'd found himself stuck in the House of Usher, waiting for the fall, with everyone still acting like nothing was wrong.
When everybody came to dinner, Eddie held Mom's chair for her, while Frankie was already stuffing food in his mouth before anybody else had sat down. Frankie flipped the television station to whatever he wanted to watch, without asking anybody else in the room.
Frankie slouched around the house -- when he moved at all -- as if he was posing on a movie set, expecting everyone to recognize who he was. Eddie never did, though he heard Dad mutter once, "James Dean lives." Eddie suspected Frankie was stuck in the mold of some ancient era, unable to move out of it along with the rest of the world. Like he was frozen in an earlier time.
One morning he noticed Lisa was looking pale -- paler than her blond, middle of winter, normal pale. She was very quiet, too. With a thud like he'd caught a baseball with his stomach, Eddie realized she had been getting steadily paler and quieter for weeks. He looked closer, from the corner of his eyes. Her long blond hair, always fluffed and tossed into casualness for half an hour every morning, hung limp and dull. There were light blue shadows under her eyes.
The folklore couldn't be a reliable guide. Obviously vampires ate regular food. But Eddie had to try something. And at least some of the folklore was reliable. The vampire avoided sunlight. The vampire couldn't enter anywhere uninvited, but if you invited him in once, you could never keep him out again. Eddie was pretty sure he remembered Frankie waiting on the doorstep until Dad said, "Come on in."
When they were showing Frankie around the house, had Lisa invited him into her room?
So he wheedled Mom into baking her special lasagna with lots of garlic. He even helped in the kitchen, and made sure there was lots. And lots in the Caesar salad. And on the garlic bread.
Uncle Frankie ate extras of everything.
It was unnatural that Uncle Frankie could eat so much and sleep so much and stay so thin.
Eddie gave Lisa a ten-cent store crucifix. She cheered up enough to smile at him, and she wore it constantly.
But it didn't work. She grew paler.
Maybe it wasn't a good enough crucifix. He "lost" his baseball glove, the deluxe leather glove Dad gave him on his twelfth birthday, traded to a Catholic classmate for her crucifix that she swore on the name of her Patron Saint was genuine wood from the Holy Land blessed by a priest with Holy Water. He gave that to Lisa. She wore it faithfully.
She continued to grow paler.
He made a large crucifix in shop, to stand on her bedside table. He didn't have Holy Water. He poured his heart into it instead. The Salem's Lot book said it was the feeling a person had that worked against the vampire, not the symbol.
His Dad came up to his room while he was doing homework, asked about school and friends and chatted a bit. "Do religious questions seem a lot more important to you these days, Eddie?" Dad asked.
Lisa kept fading away.
Eddie did try to talk to his parents. He asked every day for awhile when Uncle Frankie was going back to his own home. Mom and Dad just looked uncomfortable. Finally Dad said, "Uncle Frankie has things to work out, Son. Grownup things. Let's let him alone and concentrate on your own business. God help me the day I feel so poor I can't extend myself a little bit for family." He looked fierce.
Eddie stopped asking about Frankie moving out. He began leaving the paper lying around, open to the want ads, likely jobs circled. Night watchman. Long haul truck driver -- they could drive at night, couldn't they? Janitor.
His Dad picked up one of the papers and shook it until it folded neatly. "Your business is looking for a job now, Son?" He glared.
Once when he got Mom alone, Eddie asked, "Has Uncle Frankie always been like that? I mean, kind of like John Travolta in Grease, without the energy? And in his room all day?"
His Mom glared at him. "Do you have enough energy to clean the garage? Good."
He gave up trying to talk about Frankie, and tried to talk about Lisa. "Is Lisa sick, Mom? Shouldn't she see the doctor?" He hadn't been able to spot the bite marks, but maybe vampires didn't bite on the neck after all. Dr. Peters would find the marks, though, wherever they were. Dr. Peters searched every inch of you, even when you came in for a baseball smack to the head.
His mother looked at him warmly. "It is caring of you to think about your sister, Eddie. But we are the parents. We will take care of Lisa. And we'll take care of you." She smiled. "Now you go take care of your baseball practice."
But they didn't take care of Lisa. He knew they couldn't. Grownups didn't believe in vampires.
Eddie had to do it himself.
He prepared very carefully. He waited just inside the carefully ajar door of his room all one long silent night. The vampire went into Lisa's room, absolutely quietly, just after midnight. He came out, still moving in eerie silence, just before one in the morning.
Even with an agony of tension sharpening his senses, Eddie could just barely hear the muffled sobbing from Lisa's room.
He waited, frozen still, until just before dawn, when the glutted vampire would be deep in coma-like sleep. Imitating the slow, smooth glide, he ghosted down the hallway and eased through the guest room door.
Frankie lay still and pale on top of his sheets. He must have his native earth under the mattress. Eddie wondered if there was any chance that, later, he could produce that dirt as evidence.
It didn't matter. Only saving Lisa mattered.
Eddie stepped slowly and softly to the side of the bed, breathing shallow breaths of silent prayer.
He placed the carefully sharpened point of the stake against the vampire's chest, and swung the heavy mallet with all of his strength.
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