Ellie clutched her head, resisting the urge to scream. This was worse than a headache, worse than a migraine... There were no words for the pain. To say it felt like her brain was exploding would be an understatement. So would saying that she felt like she was dying. No words could describe this, but she tried.
A thousand nameless voices shrieked in her mind. Countless hammers banged against her skull. No, double that. Triple, maybe. She couldn’t bear it any longer.
“ Why?!” she yelled hoarsely at unseen tormenters. “What have I ever done to you?!” Nothing , the silent answer. Nothing at all .
“ Ellie?” Jonathon whispered cautiously, approaching his big sister. “Are you okay?” “ Why bother asking, you know the answer,” Ellie answered bitterly, though when her brother leaned in for a hug she gladly reached out to him.
The moment Jonathon’s hands touched Ellie the pain went away. The voices in her head were quiet, the hammers were still. It was as though a heavy weight had been lifted from Ellie’s whole being. “ There, all better,” Jonathon said soothingly, smiling. The cheap lamps in the bedroom seemed to brighten.
“ Thanks,” Ellie whispered back, hugging her brother even tighter. She would never be able to express the gratitude she felt for her baby brother, who had probably saved her life more times than she could count.
Giddy from the sudden recovery, Ellie attacked Jonathon with tickles, making him giggle. The lights buzzed and hummed, blindingly bright.
Ellie laughed triumphantly as Jonathon finally broke away. “Gotcha!”
“ Yeah,” Jonathon gasped for breath, still smiling widely.
“ C’mere, you,” Ellie said, hit by a sudden wave of emotion. She took her little brother’s hands and began waltzing around the room.
“ I love you,” she whispered. Jonathon smiled. “ I know.”
“ It’s still good to say it sometimes, though,” Ellie said. “ I know. “ Jonathon was silent for a second, then, “Ellie?” “ Yeah?” “ I love you, too.” ---------
“ No wanna!” “ Neither do I, Em, but Mom says we have to. Now say teddy .”
“ Bottle!” Emilie cried happily. “ No, Em, bottle was ten minutes ago. Now it’s teddy,” Ellie forced a grin. Her mom better have a really good reason...
“ No, bottle!” Emilie insisted. “You bottle. Red man with big teeth. You and Mamma happy.” “ Okay, great. If you can already string together words like that then my job is done, right?” Ellie smiled genuinely now, but the smile faded as she realized what the toddler had said.
“ Wait, you mean a guy with red hair and long teeth was giving me a bottle?! What are you talking about?” “ Me sleep, see you and red man,” Emilie answered. “ You had a dream about Daddy?” Ellie gasped. “But he was dead long before you were born!”
“ Daddy?” Emilie asked, then smiled. “He make you happy, Mommy happy.” “ I need to tell Jonathon,” Ellie decided, scrambling to her feet. “ No go! Wait!” Emilie shrieked. Her big sister paused and turned back. “Where red man now?!” -------
“ Hello, headmaster BJ.” “ Oh! Nice to see you here, Ellie. One of our more memorable students, if I do say so myself,” the headmaster said with a nervous chuckle. “ Don’t worry, my brother’s nothing like me,” Ellie assured the man, rolling her eyes discretely. First impressions, she reminded herself, good impressions.
So much for good impressions, Ellie thought half an hour later. Not only was Hope busy with Emilie and had failed to appear at the dinner table, but Jonathon was not even trying to use his manners. She kicked him under the table.
“ So, Jonathon, why don’t you tell the headmaster about your grades?” Ellie suggested once her brother had settled down. “ Yes, excellent idea!” BJ exclaimed, glad for anything that would break the awkward silence.
“ Um, I got straight A’s last report card,” Jonathon mumbled, blushing. “ My my,” BJ smiled widely. “ Actually it was straight A pluses , headmaster,” Ellie said proudly. “ My my!”
“ I’m sorry, your your what?!” Hope yawned as she finally arrived at the table. “No matter, we just want our our Jonny to get into your your school, right Ellie?”
With that she passed out into her plate. The others stood awkwardly. “ Um, she’s just tired,” Ellie said at last, knowing how bad this probably looked. “ I’ve seen worse,” BJ assured her. “It’s time for me to go, I’ve heard enough. We’ll be glad to accept Jonathon into Private School!” ------
Even though she had her hands full with Emilie, Hope had never been one to sit idly for too long. She had been saving up for a salon chair and had finally gotten it. Jonathon had been reluctant to be her first victim but had eventually caved. He would never say no to something that would make his mom so happy.
The look on Hope’s face when she had finished said it all. “ Mom, what did you do?” Jonathon asked, making an effort to keep his voice even.
Hope sheepishly held up her mirror, unable to look her son in the eye. Jonathon gasped when he saw his reflection.
“ Mom, you said you were only going to trim my hair,” his voice was muffled by the hands over his face. “ I wanted to experiment,” Hope said apologetically. “I’ll clean it up, okay?”
A few minutes of scrubbing later and Jonathon was as good as new. Doubtful, he frowned up at his mother, who produced the mirror once again.
“ Thanks, mom!” he cried when he saw his clean face. He beamed, and Hope could have sworn that the moon and stars got brighter. -----
The next morning, after Ellie and Jonathon had gone off to school, Hope found Emilie had managed to crawl out of her crib and was playing with her toys. “ You play, Mamma?” the girl lisped, grinning widely up at Hope. “ Sure,” Hope readily replied. She wouldn’t dream of saying no to that face.
After a few minutes of play, the toddler spoke again. “Why you no happy now like before, Mamma?”
“ Hmm?” Hope asked, absently pointing at a hole in the toy.
Emilie ignored her mother’s ‘help’ and giggled as the block slipped through the hole she had chosen on her own. “ Before you be very happy, Mamma. Now red man gone, you sad.”
“ Red man?” Hope wondered aloud, once again pointing to the wrong hole. Did Emilie mean the redhead Hope thought she meant?
“ Red man make Mamma happy,” Emilie said matter-of-factly as Hope pointed to the correct hole. “Ellie say red man Daddy. Where red man now?” “ Gone,” Hope answered. A tear slid down her cheek, and she hastily wiped it away. “Mamma’s going to go... weed the garden, okay? Keep playing, I’ll be right back.” The toddler watched her mother run off, choking down sobs. Emilie pursed her lips and asked no one in particular, “When Mamma no be sad no more?”
On the mainland, three suspicious looking bats were making their way to the porch of a not-so-suspicious looking house.
Three vampires appeared in clouds of pink, the two women did not look happy. “ I swear, Richard, sometimes I wish you weren’t allowed to boss us around,” Steffi almost snarled, flipping her black hair over her shoulder. Even the shadows of thoughts that were leaking out to her were sending shivers down her spine. “ Dawson didn’t trust them, why should we?” Jaqueline asked, staring at the plain house with contempt.
“ We don’t have a choice, Jaqui,” Richard answered. Before Jaqueline could complain about the nickname, the front door opened on its own and another bat flew out.
“ Welcome,” the woman said in a voice that sounded anything but welcoming. “If you are here to see Supreme Count William you may follow me.”
The three visiting vampires followed the woman hesitantly. The house looked like any other Downtown house, if not for its inhabitants. Two bored teenage girls glanced up from the TV, then continued watching. “ Our daughters,” the woman explained as the door ahead opened of its own accord.
The room was lined with mirrors, but while they reflected some things they didn’t reflect others. Richard recognized them as the kind designed to tell supernatural beings apart from humans. The Supreme Count William greeted them with an annoyed ‘bleh’. Jaqueline raised an eyebrow at his appearance. She knew that nowadays most vampires were trying to blend in with the rest of society, but she had expected the Supreme Count to keep with tradition.
The three vampires stood awkwardly in a semicircle before the Supreme Count, unsure of what to say or do.
“ Well,” William said finally. “You have succeeded in disturbing my family and I, so what do you want?”
“ We come from the South Peninsula region, sir,” Richard finally began. “We have recently been observing the family of our now deceased leader, Dawson, on New Beginning Island.” “ He married and procreated with a human, sir,” Jaqueline added, a flicker of jealousy passing over her face.
“ Ah, yes,” the Supreme Count said, “Collins. He failed to inform his superiors of his unfortunate decision to mingle with the humans in such a way, and now he has suffered the consequences. A great loss to us all, dream readers are hard to come by.”
“ You mean you’re respo--” Steffi was cut short by an elbow in her ribs. The angry, hating thoughts that had been intruding on her mind since they got there suddenly reached their climax, screaming and echoing through her head. Steffi looked at the Supreme Count one last time, then spent the rest of the meeting staring at the floor.
“ But surely you haven’t traveled this far to speak of that,” William said, raising an eyebrow.
Richard had suspected that Dawson’s death had not been natural, but having the truth finally revealed had hit him hard. Dawson had been his best friend. But duty was duty, and grieving would have to wait. While he hesitated to tell these... murderers what he knew, Richard didn’t believe he had an alternative. “ Dawson had - has - three children.”
“ Three...” William was talking to himself, but the cold, calculating tone of his voice seemed to ring throughout the room. “We only took care of one. We only knew about one. Why were we not informed of the others?!” He screeched the last question, and the three vampires jumped.
“ Darling, cool down,” his wife whispered to him. “ Cali, why didn’t we know?” William almost whined to her. Richard cleared his throat.
“ Sir, the second was not born until after Dawson’s death. The third...” “ The third was born of a dream,” Jaqueline finished, and an awed silence fell over the room. Dreamchildren were even rarer than half-vampires. “ Dawson was not powerful enough to create a dreamchild,” William growled. “No one is, no one has been for centuries.”
“ Do the other children have Gifts?” William asked. “We didn’t know to block them too, and now it’s probably too late.” “ The Dreamchild is a dreamer, of course. The middle one, a son, is an empath. He has also been made a Healer by Death.” “ Death knows better than to touch one of ours!” William roared.
“ Once Dawson was removed from the house, the child was no longer ours,” Cali spoke at last. “Death has full rights to the children now, especially since he has been such a frequent visitor.” “ Cali, why don’t you take the contessas out,” Richard said in an annoyed voice. “Richard and I can finish the discussion alone.”
Cali lead Jaqueline and Steffi to a small side room, and they sat gingerly on the faded couch. Steffi held her head, which was pounding from the heavy thoughts it was receiving. Jaqueline tried to keep her own thoughts happy and light, hoping to relieve the load. Steffi smiled gratefully, though the smile quickly turned into a grimace.
“ Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll figure something out,” Cali broke the awkward silence at last. “You won’t have to worry about those pesky halfies anymore.”
“ That’s what I’m afraid of,” Steffi muttered to her companion. The smile Jaqueline had plastered on her face faltered for a moment, then finally disappeared.
“ Why have you not come to me with this knowledge sooner?” William asked accusingly. “ We did not learn it ourselves until recently.”
“ Tell me, is the woman aware of any of this?” It took Richard a moment to realize he meant Hope. “Well, she knows Dawson was a vampire and she knows that the Dreamchild was not conceived normally. If she suspects anything else, she is ignoring the suspicion.”
The Supreme Count tapped his legs absently. “It is too late to block their powers now. We could... eliminate them, I suppose, but it might not be necessary. The easiest thing for me to do would be to simply remove the problem from my territory.” William looked up, remembering Richard was still there. “You are dismissed.”
“ But what should w--” “ You are dismissed , Bear. Don’t worry yourself with Dawson’s spawn anymore, I’ll take care of it.” I’ll take care of it. Richard shivered.
Though Jerry didn’t go to Private School with Ellie and Jonathon, they shared the same bus.
Unfortunately, they also shared the bus with other, not so nice people. As if there weren’t enough kids to pick on them at school, there was another group here.
“ Ellie,” Jonathon murmured, interrupting her from the cuddle she’d been sharing with Jerry.
“ Yes, smelly Ellie, stop flirting with your ugly, emo boyfriend. I want to talk to you.” “ Get a life, Leah,” Ellie retorted half heartedly.
“ I’ve got one already, thank you very much. A much more interesting one than yours, no doubt.” You have no idea , Ellie thought. She turned away.
“ Aw, come on,” Leah flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Don’t back out that easily, rainbow head.”
“ Wow, you’re so creative with your insults,” Ellie scoffed. “ I don’t see you coming up with any better ones.”
By now the rest of the kids on the bus had gathered, eager for their daily entertainment.
“ We’re waiting, freak. We all know you’ll break anyway, why not just get it over with?”
“ Fine,” Leah said when Ellie continued to ignore her. “I bet your creepy little brother will do just fine as your replacement. I’ve heard about him, you know. The little freak doesn’t speak to anyone, and he makes the lighting go all weird. He also keeps touching you and stuff all day. Weird, very weird. Why, imagi--” That did it. They could pick on her all they wanted, but the moment they so much as looked at Jonathon they had crossed the line.
“ Whoa!” The shout could have come from anybody as Ellie leapt to her feet, a burst of color coming from her finger. Leah backed away, looking scared. “ Okay, that is beyond creepy. You freak, what are you doing? Don’t touch me!”
Light and color were everywhere, zipping all over the bus. The children scrambled to avoid it, but it was centered on Leah. It surrounded her, spinning faster and faster.
“ Get it away, freak!” Leah shouted, but her voice was smothered with panic. “I’m warning you!”
“ Leave my brother alone!” Ellie shouted. She would not make it stop, no matter how much Leah might beg.
Leah screamed and clawed at her head. Everyone else cried out as they watched her, until the hysterical shrieks poured out through the windows.
“ It burns! I can’t breath! Make it stop!” Eventually her shouts were silent, and the other children began sobbing quietly.
Ellie stared down at the still body, not feeling so much as a twinge of regret. Leah had deserved it-- “ Ellie!” The image clouded over, and Ellie shook herself out of the daydream.
She couldn’t help but grin. She would probably never be able to do anything like that, but a girl could dream, right? “ Ellie, guess what!!”
“ Yeah, mom?” Ellie asked, still only half awake, as Hope burst through the door to the porch.