From the moment he knows that he is destined to be a vampire, Chris thirsts for the blood of people around him while also struggling to remain human.
Erin Lukens Darr
In Chris's familiar world of high school, bickering parents, and secret crushes, the vampires have always been an acknowledged but distant reality, on the nightly news when their victims are found or when they are summarily executed by police. They are collectively weak; their god, Tch'muchgar, has long been banished from this plane of existence, kept away by regular rites. As the peaceful town of Clayton is preparing for one of its annual picnic-cum-ritual-blood-sacrifices (only goats, unlike in Boston, where virgins are required), Chris notices disquieting changes in himself: violent mood swings, sleeplessness, relentless thirst, and a tendency, when agitated, to fade out of mirrors and other reflections. Enter Chet, an alleged avatar of the Forces of Light, to confirm Chris's fears about his own nature and to reveal that a local group of vampires is plotting to derail the rites, thus bringing Tch'muchgar back into the world. At Chet's behest, Chris infiltrates the group to place a magic token where it will do the most goodbut then he begins to wonder: Which side is Chet actually on? Anderson leaves this desperate, naive protagonist in doubt until the end, then finishes with a breathtaking twist. An eerie jacket painting enhances this startling, savagely funny debut.
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It is English, and I am watching Rebecca Schwartz’s head.
It tilts down ten degrees and rotates slightly to the left. The sun catches it and turns her hair a more lustrous brown. Her hand is moving across the page, and loopy letters are following her pen. I am transfixed by this, even though I am supposed to be charting the syntax of a sentence about why people become flight attendants.
I think I have a crush on Rebecca Schwartz.
I haven’t spoken to her much. I am in awe of her. It would be like Moses speaking to the burning bush. Whenever I go to speak with her, I feel like I should take off my shoes. I guess I am also pretty timid. I imagine speaking with her. Sometimes I construct whole conversations where we say unusual things to each other.
I picture us walking through the forest in the spring. This is not a particularly original fantasy, I know. For one thing, it is in about every personal ad Tom and I have ever read. "SWM," they say, "seeking SWF, nonsmoker who enjoys long walks in the forest, quiet evenings by the fire, and strolls by the sea." People are not very original when it comes to romance. I think that’s too bad. Sometimes you want to see a personal ad that says, "SWM seeking SWF, nonsmoker who enjoys flailing in pig poop, puking, and honking on bagpipes. Women who do not know ‘My Lassie Yaks in Bonny Mull’ need not apply."
But I am not in the mood for pig poop today; so instead, I kiss her in the forest. There is sun and lots of mosquitoes.
I look up from my diagram and see her face rotated at one quarter as she looks toward the clock. I feel awful for having thought about kissing her. It is after the time when the bell should ring. I tap my pencil three times on the desk impatiently.
I look down. I draw a stem for the prepositional phrase to sit on. I clearly and deliberately write down "to many satisfied airline passengers."
The bell rings and we are going out of the room into the hall, where there is banging and shouting. I quickly try to maneuver toward Rebecca and her friends because she is talking to Tom, who knows her better than I do. I angle a few steps in that direction. They are heading for the lunchroom. I wade toward them. Suddenly Jerk appears at my side. He is as big as a roadblock. His hand-me-down pants are too short for his legs.
I am thinking desperately of things to say to her.
Jerk is in repellently high spirits. "Chris! Hey, Chris, I thought that would never end. I thought — did you get number four?" He squints. "That was the one with the guy who had a layover in Newark. It was real hard."
I say curtly, "The hardest." Jerk is unwelcome right now. I am considering my conversational options with Rebecca.
"It was so boring!" Jerk is still exclaiming. "So boring! Boring, boring, boring!"
"Let’s go over and talk to Tom," I say carefully. I push in that direction. They are moving down the hall. I am keenly aware that, conversationally, appearing with Jerk in his happy-to-see-you mode is like taking a dead moose as carryon luggage.
"More boring," he adds cheerfully, "than a very boring thing from the planet Tedium."
Tom, Rebecca, and the rest have reached the stairs. They are going down. I am estimating whether I can reach them in time. Jerk keeps pace with me.
"Hey, Chris!" exclaims Jerk. "Isn’t that your brother? Waving to you?" He gestures down the hall away from the stairs. My brother is there, waving to me.
I swear and move in the opposite direction. No time to lose.
"Chris!" I hear my brother shouting over the din.
"It’s your brother!" Jerk says, tugging at my arm.
"Really, Jerk? I guess that would explain why he sleeps and eats in my house." Rebecca and Tom and the others have disappeared down the stairs.
My big brother, Paul, works his way through the lunchtime crowd to me. He is short for his age, so he has to bounce up to see me over everyone else. He tugs on opposite sides of his sweatshirt hood drawstring. "Chris!" he says to me.
"What do you want?" I say.
"Tonight," he says. "What we’re doing is going to the lynching."
"What?" I say.
"The lynching," he explains, shifting carefully to let someone bigger pass. "A vampire. I’m going to go over to Bradley tonight to see them, like, stake the undead."
"After Mom and Dad leave."
"Chris—," Jerk begins, turning toward me.
"Where are Mom and Dad going?" I ask Paul.
"Out to dinner. And I have to keep you with me, slimestick. Mom said that I do. We’ll go out, and if she calls, we went to Mark’s house. We’ll be gone for maybe, like, an hour."
"Chris," says Jerk, "if we stay here, all the tater tots will be gone by the time we get there."
"You’re going to drag me over to Bradley to watch a lynching?" I say hotly. "It’s not like they’re going to do it out in front of everybody. It’ll be in the courthouse."
He shakes his head. "I’m there, Chris. All the media and everything are going to be there. Some girls from school are going to be there. I will be there. And Mom is, like, Miss Hyper, so you will be there."
"You are just trying to assert yourself because you’re only half an inch taller than I am," I say.
"I am not."
"I'll get a ruler."
"I just don't believe you," I say, disgusted.
Paul shakes his head. "I am not going to argue about this, butthole."
I shrug my shoulders. I head toward the lunchroom.
THIRSTY by M.T. Anderson. Copyright (c) 2003 by M.T. Anderson. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.
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