A nighttime affair.
A mild celebration when compared to the much more frantic displays offered by the big bright lights of the city life he was used to. But to this small, happy, town in the mountains, almost hidden completely from the world below by the thick foliage and age old trees surrounding it, this local carnival was a spectacle that brought awe and amazement to the area’s almost sheltered inhabitants.
Long strings of light bulbs hung high in the air, illuminating the humble party atmosphere, where all of the town locals came out to dance and sell their home gardened vegetables and all the arts and crafts of their own making. Music was thick in the sky above, and the usually dark scenery of the place was now festively rearranged and brought to life with a plethora of blinding fluorescent colors. The population of the week long seasonal celebration was maybe about two hundred people strong, give or take a few dozen. It was a place where everybody lived on their own delegated piece of private property, keeping to themselves, their houses always built at an angle on a hill…forced to surrender to the hills beneath them as well as the conquering forest trees looming over them. But everyone in the area pretty much knew each other, privacy and all. There weren’t too many unfamiliar faces walking around…even if you didn’t know the names and stories attached to every recognizable set of eyes you came across…you could spot them and nod whenever you saw them in public. If you could really call a place like this public.
There were only two major intersecting streets in the whole place. The only places to shop, go to school, get a haircut, go to church…there was no such thing as slipping by ‘undetected’. Not for more than a day or two. It kept the town united. Protective of one another. Even the ones they weren’t so sure about protecting. And certainly, to those who had just become a new member of their close knit community, looking to run away from a life that desperately needed a break.
One such boy was Payton Rivers.
Payton sat high up on a hill in the deep darkness that existed on the very edge of the current festivities. Just turning 15 a month prior, a boy of average size with straight brown hair than hung down just below his temples, a hazel eyed stare that physically brightened up a room whenever he entered it. So bright that they did well to hide his current melancholy mood. Payton had recently discovered just how very different, how very abnormal, he was when it came to fitting into the very tight confines of such a small community with such a limited population. How long had he been aware of his attractions? How long had it been hiding behind his closed eyelids at night as he slept? How long had he been holding back the whispered names of the other boys in his class as he fantasized about them, stroking himself slowly beneath his bed sheets at night, the Summer heat raising a thin sheen of sweat on his skin as the moonlight reflected off of his glowing flesh with pride? Who knows? Perhaps Payton had known all along. Maybe he was just now finding the strength to admit it to himself. And that took more courage than he ever thought he’d be able to generate in a heart that was consumed by such a great sense of loneliness.
Then again…maybe it was the small cluster of boys and girls that he had just discovered and fell in league with over the last few days or so that urged him to embrace his inner demons. Teenagers that claimed to just be ‘passing through’ town. As if THAT were possible. Nobody ‘passes through’ this town. Either they’re stuck here against their will, or they’re trying to hide from something. There is no ‘passing through’. But for Payton…just having something similar to a group of actual friends when he had just moved to this place less than a month ago was good enough for him. He’d take it. He’d take anything he could get.
He always made sure to sit up high enough to stay elevated above the somewhat ‘hokey’ collection of individuals below. Smiling and grinning and putting on a show as if this wasn’t a dreary place compared to where Payton was from. What made things especially hard to take was the fact that from that dark little ledge of the mountain climb, he could actually see the sparkle and glow of the sweet city lights in the distance. A dancing menagerie of flickering promises and faded dreams, piercing the darkness. Yet, still displaying a concrete level of hope for a brighter future…elsewhere. Away from this place. Away from this life.
Away from…the past.
But it all seemed so far out of his reach now. Those lights might as well be the stars in the sky as far as his perception of distance was concerned. It became a heavy weight on his heart. One that he struggled hard to carry with him everywhere that he went, all while trying to pretend that it wasn’t there.
One of the rogue teenagers he had currently been running with, Murphy, was 17 years old and one of the first new kids to greet him when they came to town. He was deceptively thin with a baby face that made him look even younger than Payton did at times, a tightly packed collection of swimmer’s muscles hidden under a snugly fitting t-shirt. When Murphy first approached him in the town square, Payton immediately thought he was too friendly to be up to any good. But with persistence and a boyish grin, he learned to let his guard down, and agreed to hang out. If only for a little while.
Murphy told Payton stories of all the places he had been, all of the things that he had seen. So much for a boy so young. But Payton admired and appreciated him, regardless. It almost seemed out of place that he would show up in a tiny little town like this one. He spoke with a level of wisdom that most teenagers couldn’t manufacture off of the top of their heads, not even if they tried. Payton found it refreshing, but he didn’t understand why Murphy always zeroed in on him the way he did whenever they were in close proximity to one another. Nor could he figure out why the rest of Murphy’s friends seemed to suddenly fixate themselves on keeping him so close when they barely even knew his name. Making friends wasn’t usually that easy. Payton had always maintained a certain level of self esteem…but he never considered himself that interesting.
The others in his cluster of friends were a bit…unusual, to put it lightly. Loud, flashy, boisterous. A lot more courageous than Payton ever could have been in most situations. Trouble makers. Payton knew the bad apples when he saw them. After spending multiple weekends in juvenile hall himself, one would think that Payton would be wary to be seen carrying on with a brat pack of their caliber. But even though they may occasionally border on crossing the line as far as their behavior was concerned, they were…fun. Unpredictable. Dare he admit it…thrilling?
In a place where the most exciting thing to do was go for a hike and maybe catch sight of a deer through the trees…any alternative to the monotony of your average day was a welcome one.
“Sorry…” Came a voice from behind him. Payton looked back to see a shadowed figure standing not far away, peeking his head out from behind a tree. “…I didn’t know anybody was up here.”
The boy was maybe a year or two older than Payton was. Or at least that’s what he guessed from a distance. His silhouette alone was beautiful, getting more and more alluring as his stunning features came into view. The boy had this really light blond mop of silken chin length hair, almost as silvery-white as the moonlight itself. And these light green eyes that were so amazingly see-through that it was almost as if the harsh colors had all been washed out somehow, leaving only this precious duo of delicate honeydew melon orbs behind. It kind of looked like they were creating a golden glow of their own. A luminescence that appeared to come from within.
Attempting not to stare at the enchanting, almost girlish, features of the boy standing behind him, Payton replied, “Oh…is this, like….your private ‘spot’ or something?”
“Yeah. Kinda.” The boy replied. Payton swung his feet around to climb down, but the boy stopped him. “No no! It’s ok. You’re not, like…intruding or anything.” He told him. “I mean…it’s usually just me, or maybe one or two of my friends that come up here at night whenever we come back to town. I simply wasn’t expecting anyone to know about this spot. It caught me by surprise.‟
‟Honestly, I didn’t know. I’ve only been here for a couple of weeks. A month, tops. I just didn’t feel like being a part of whatever that big bowl of lameness is down there. That’s all.‟ Payton said.
‟Yeah. I get it. That’s pretty much why I come up here, myself. It’s peaceful. It’s quiet. Gives you time to think. Or not think. It lets you be a part of the world and escape the world at the same time. Believe me, I get it. This is the perfect spot for that during festival season. But…it can also be pretty lonely sometimes.” Payton found the boy’s voice and understanding quite comfortable. At least he didn’t feel like such an introvert anymore. That’s when the boy bashfully asked, “Would you mind having some company?”
Was it a trick? Again, another boy who had no reason to ever look twice in his direction was suddenly asking to share some personal space with him. The idea made him feel slightly defensive. His beauty was overwhelming. Maybe even intimidating. And that made Payton want to distance himself from the situation as quickly as possible. It was an automatic response that was triggered in Payton’s mind. It always struck him too quickly for him to avoid noticing it. He almost opted to leave, feeling the temptations and the bad thoughts already beginning to infect his rational mind with the sick virus that he was trying so hard to erase. His emotions were so confusing these days, swinging wildly from one extreme to the next. And yet…when Payton opened his mouth to refuse, he heard himself say, “Sure. Do whatever you want.” It came out with a simple shrug of the shoulder and a nonchalant tone of voice, but deep down, Payton began to shiver almost immediately at the thought of the growing development.
The boy sat on the edge of the rocky hill next to him, both of their feet dangling over the side. “It really is beautiful, isn’t it? The silence up here.”
Payton noticed the slightest haze in the boy’s voice. It was cute. Not something that he wanted to concentrate on for too long, but he liked it. “Yeah. I kinda like the silence. I’m not really too keen on all of that made up nonsense down there with the rest of the locals. I’d much rather be out there in the city. I’d feel so much more at home.” Then, realizing what he said to, what was obviously, a local boy himself, Payton was quick to apologize. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that in a bad way, I just…”
“It’s ok. My friends and I usually stay on the move. We only come back home to this place every now and then to recharge. Get out of the world’s spotlight for a while, you know? Don’t sweat it. I understand the escapist mentality completely.” The boy spoke through the softest set of thin, pink, lips that I had ever seen. The wind carried every tonal inflection with the kind of fragile caress that one would use to hold a newborn baby. All at once, Payton felt spellbound by a beauty that he was helpless to ignore. “I grew up here with a close friend of mine, and we found some good people to stay with…but originally, I’m from the city outskirts too. Then I had to leave that life behind me.”
Sensing the awkward nature of that statement, Payton asked, “You’re a runaway?”
The other boy paused briefly, and then said, “Umm…yeah. I guess you could say that.” Then he smiled and extended his hand in friendship. Partially to introduce himself, and partially as a distraction to keep me from asking any more questions. “My name’s Bryce.”
“Payton.” He replied.
“Cool.” He replied. “So, what about you?” Bryce asked with a smile. “You runaway from home?”
“Heh…more like my home picked up and ran away with me.” Payton chuckled. But then decided to give a better, albeit vague, account of what happened. “I got into some ‘trouble’ back home. Well…to be honest…I got into a lot of trouble back home. DAILY trouble. And then…” Payton stopped for a moment. “And uhhh…and then…something bad happened…” It was almost as if he could feel it. That last deep breath. The tears strolling down the heated surface of swollen cheeks. And the sound of a gunshot…followed by the taste of oil and smoke, mixed with a disgusting gush of blood as it ran down the back of his throat.
“Payton…?” Bryce asked, just as Payton was realizing that his entire world had frozen for a few moments. He couldn’t understand what brought that ghastly mental image to the front of his mind, or why it was so powerful at that particular moment, but suppressing the memory quickly and pushing it back down into the pit of his stomach where it belonged had become second nature to him at this point. Keeping that horror in the darkest corners of his soul was the only way for Payton to deal with it. The only way to keep the bad thoughts at bay.
“Yeah…so…we just had to leave. My mom and I.” He continued, avoiding the gruesome details entirely. “My mom brought me out here so we could stay close to my grandmother. She lives just a little further down the road. We didn’t want to be in that old house anymore. So…” Payton drifted off, staring out at the city lights again as he tried to wipe his mind clean from the tragedy he was hoping would be forgotten with time. Forgotten…which meant losing ‘him’ forever.
Payton noticed that Bryce was suddenly looking at him with such an expression of sadness in his eyes. A level of pity that you would save for a mortally wounded animal that you were forced to put out of its misery. Those eyes. Those eyes were staring at him with such sorrow. It was almost as if Bryce was reading his mind.
“Whatever it was that happened…I’m sure it wasn’t your fault, Payton.”
“Yeah, well…you know, whatever.”
“No…” Bryce insisted, his eyes almost watery with emotion. “It wasn’t your fault.”
It was an odd occurrence, having this stranger suddenly take such a heartfelt position on something that he didn’t even know anything about. Payton’s life, his whole history, was complicated. Bryce didn’t want any part of it. Payton was sure of it.
The two boys shared a moment of silence as Payton attempted to find ways of getting as far away from discussions about his personal life as he could. But while Payton was lost in his thoughts, building up defensive walls to keep Bryce from getting into his head…it was the beauty on the surface that Bryce was truly taking the time to appraise in its entirety. Payton’s skin was as soft and as smooth as a child half his age. His chestnut brown hair was light enough to be blown up with even the slightest of Autumn breezes, giving him a surreal and dreamy quality that Bryce found soooo very attractive. There was something about Payton that just gave off a hint of being a bad boy at large…but it was enveloped in this heavier layer of tenderness and warmth. Something intangible. Something that needed no description at all once you were in the presence of it. It was magnetic beyond words. For the first time in years, Bryce was feeling the slight pinches of infatuation as it traveled up from what was left of his once treasured soul and fluttered nervously into the center of his heart. It almost felt as though it was beating again for the very first time.
Or…in Bryce’s case…the third.
The boys share a few more extended moments of small talk, and a few more moments of silence. It’s strange how a total stranger can make one feel so at home sometimes. Payton, now staring up at the intense brightness of the full moon, began to speak…almost subconsciously. “Did you ever get the feeling that you’re just living the wrong life?” He asked. “Like…things just went ‘wrong’ somewhere along the way and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to find a way to get it back to normal again. Sometimes, I feel like I’m just living this whole other existence that I was never meant to be a part of. Wearing this life like a ‘costume’.”
Bryce was feeling more impressed by the second. Who WAS this boy, anyway? “Yeah. Sometimes.” He agreed. “Some nights…I sit back and wonder if maybe things could have been different if maybe I could have made some other choices.”
“Yeah. EXACTLY.” Payton said, sitting up with interest. “I feel like I’ve gotten myself trapped in this stupid image that doesn’t fit me, and it sucks. Every second of every day, it just sucks. I’m stuck, and nobody will let me out.”
Bryce thought for a moment, and then told him, “You can’t change what you are, but you can change what you become.” Payton finally found the courage to look him in the eye after that comment. Beautiful. Bryce told him, “I read that in an old underground library somewhere once. But…it’s kinda true, you know? The only thing keeping you stuck in your current image is you.” Bryce said the words without really thinking much about it, but then felt as though maybe he was pushing into private pieces of Payton’s life where he wouldn’t be welcome. Not on a first meeting, anyway. So he let the quiet take over once again.
Payton responded with a soft nod, surprised at the instant bond he felt when talking to this strange boy who came out of nowhere. This sweet, incredibly gorgeous, boy that just so happened to step out of the shadows without warning.
“Yeah. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should just let it all go. It’s hard to remember why I was holding on to it in the first place.” Payton said. Feelig a certain closeness with this boy that he was hoping to avoid, he changed the subject. “You know…there are these other teens that I’ve sort of been hanging out with since they came into town…and they’re always telling me that I’m too uptight. Too lost in my own thoughts. They tell me I should relax a little and give in to the moment.”
“Yeah. I’d say they were friends. They’re down there at the party somewhere…” But before Payton could finish his sentence, there was a loud crash from down below, and a string of lights was torn down as some of Payton’s friends knocked down one of the tents and nearly doubled over with wicked laughter from the damage they had caused. “Ugh! What the hell are they doing NOW? Hehehe!”
“Those are your friends?”
“Freaky, right? I haven’t known them very long, but they’re a fun group of people to be around. They help me to forget.‟
‟Forget what?‟ Bryce asked.
Payton didn’t answer.
‟Look at ’em. They’re being so damn WILD tonight! I don’t get it. I mean, they’re a rowdy bunch anyway, but they’re being exceptionally crazy right now.”
“Hehehe, well, sometimes the full moon brings out the beast in people.” Bryce giggled.
“I suppose so.”
The boys heard some footsteps coming down the path towards where they were sitting, and another boy, younger, about 13 years old, stepped into view. He had brown curls and timid blue eyes that peeked around at everything, but never seemed to stare at anything directly. Almost as if he expects some creature of the night to jump out of the bushes and snatch him away at any minute. Timid. He seemed surprised to see another boy when he approached. Not Payton, specifically, but…Payton didn’t think he expected to see Bryce sitting there talking with anybody. “Hey…” He said quietly.
“Fletcher, come here.” Bryce said with a smile. “Fletcher, this is Payton. He moved into the area not long ago. Since we’ve been away.” The boys met, but Fletcher seemed to be rather bashful about being seen by a pair of unfamiliar eyes at all. It made Payton rather uncomfortable with his own presence, as the other boy obviously had some ‘secret’ that only the two of them were supposed to know about. “We were just talking about you not long ago. Payton, this is my friend that I came here with from the big city.”
Bryce tried to be friendly, but Fletcher seemed to have more pressing matters on his mind. So he quietly muttered, “Bryce? Elijah says we have to go out tonight. Ferris and Simi are waiting.” The boy was almost trembling in his own shoes, but it wasn’t from blind fear. Not entirely. “We can’t be late, or we won’t get to…ummm…” Fletcher looked over at Payton, and didn’t finish his sentence.
“Ok. Tell them I’ll be there in a minute, k?” Bryce replied, and the boy sort of nodded and whispered a parting word or two to Payton that went unheard. Then he lowered his eyes and slinked away, back into the darkness from which he came. A bit disheartened and a little embarrassed about having to say goodnight, Bryce walked back over to Payton and stood close enough to give him a hug.
But he stopped himself. Fearing that it would be an awkward experience that he wouldn’t be able to take back, or explain if asked. Bryce has been dealing with his feelings for other boys for a long time now. They’ve become second nature to him. But never has he been so quickly impressed with someone so cute. He was afraid to let a hint of his personal feelings slip if such an intimate contact was to be made. If only he knew how surprised and accepting Payton would have been to Bryce’s advances if he had proof that such a thing was possible. “I guess I’ve gotta go.” He said.
“Well…maybe I’ll run into you again some time soon.” Payton said, also sorry that this moment had to come to an end so soon.
“It’s a pretty small town. I’m pretty sure we can’t help but to run into each other at some point.” Bryce giggled bashfully, and that’s when a symphony of loud voices were shouted up at the boys from the party below.
“PAYTON!!! What the fuck are you doing way up THERE, man??? Get your ass DOWN here!!!” Said one of them. And the others were quick to join in, shamelessly cursing and make all the noise they could with no regard to the offended women and children standing around them.
“Hehehe, looks like your public awaits.” Bryce chuckled.
“God, what the heck are they ON? I’ve never seen them this riled up before! They’re insane!” Payton looked back at those bright eyes in the dark one more time, then slowly began to back up as he was taking a different path down from the ledge than Bryce and Fletcher were. “So yeah…I’ll be back around town tomorrow if you wanna meet up or something.” The boy was beautiful, and so far he was friendly…why not take a chance? If for no other reason than to mentally fondle him every chance he got.
Ummmm, did he really just think that up?
“Wow…uhh…yeah! Ok!” Bryce answered. A tremble went through him when he bared witness to Payton’s boyish grin. It was something he hadn’t truly felt in years.
“I’ll see ya around noon then? Maybe a bit later in the afternoon?”
Bryce paused, the words getting stuck in his throat. “Uhhhh, well, I have a lot of stuff to do during the day, so…how about after sunset some time?”
Odd. “Hehehe, after sunset? Fine. Whatever you say, Batman. I’ll see you then.”
The boys went down on opposite ends of the mountain ledge, both feeling the remaining tingles of having their hormones and their hidden emotions simultaneously firing off in unpredictable directions…that one meeting stimulating their hearts in ways that neither one of them were prepared for at such short notice.
As Payton reached the bottom of the hill, his new collection of friends…Murphy, Rocky, Bear, Celeste, and Natalia…were all there to claim him and begin handing him liquor bottles that they had swiped from the party while the others were causing a distraction. Murphy instantly put an arm over his shoulder. “What the hell were you doing up there? Huh? You’re supposed to be down here with US getting that golf ball out of your ass so you can have some fucking FUN out here!” He told him. “Celeste…you and the others take this boy and start drowning him in liquid courage. We’re going to the pond for some serious skinny dipping tonight! Make sure he’s ready for it, huh?” Drunken swimming didn’t sound like a good idea to me. But the first half of their plan sounded like a blast to me. The decree was followed by a few cheers, Payton blushing furiously as his new crew of friends catered him off to do bad things and giggle about it afterward.
Payton was no stranger to the taste of a little alcohol here and there, but never more than whatever tiny bottles he could sneak into his pocket from the local store. And that certainly wasn’t enough to get him naked at the side of a pond in front of a bunch of other boys. Even worse, a GIRL! But he followed. They always had a way of making him follow. If nothing else, it put a surprised smile on his face.
Murphy and Rocky stayed behind for a moment, their smiles slightly fading as they watched Payton get re-absorbed into the party atmosphere they were dragging him into.
Rocky asked him, a thick Cockney English accent filling his words, “So, what do you think? How much longer?”
“Not yet. He’s not ready to take Father’s mark. We’ve got a long way to go. That boy is hiding something, and from the looks of it, he’s practiced a lot and become a pro at dodging the issue.‟ Murphy replied.
‟He’s got a ‘flippy’ side to him, but he doesn’t really seem all that deep to me. Give me a few nights with him. I know how to loosen up blokes like that one.‟ Rocky smirked.
‟That’s not the plan.‟ Murphy said. ‟If we try to turn him too quickly, he’ll reject the change. He’s too fresh. We have to continue breaking down his emotional barriers before he’s fully available to us and to the calling.” Then…Murphy turned to Rocky and asked, “Did you see who he was talking to tonight? Up there on the ledge?”
“See it? I could smell the stench of it all over him when he came down to join us.” Rocky replied. “I didn’t know there were any V’s in these woods.”
“Neither did I. Father won’t like this one bit. How did Natalia not sense them ahead of time?”
“The bitch must be losing her instincts. From what I smell, there’s more than one of the buggers too. A whole nest.” Murphy stared up at the full moon and took a deep breath of the late night air. “So what do we DO, Murphy? How do you figure we handle this situation?”
“We do what Father instructed…and we focus our concentration on the boy. There’s something special about him that Father wants to keep. It’s our job to make sure that he gets it.” Murphy, once again, looked up to that empty mountain ledge. “But I suggest we keep him away from that other boy and his bloodsucking tribe. Vampires have a way of seducing people into darkness. We need to keep our boy focused on us, and get him to make choices that we can use to our advantage.” He looked back at Rocky, and set the order. “Talk to Natalia. See if she can find out anything more about this vampire nest and how they happened to slip under our radar.”
“They must be just outside of the town somewhere, Murphy. Probably somewhere on the outskirts of our territory.”
“Don’t be silly, Rocky…” Murphy sneered as his eyes began to glow brightly in the darkness, his voice deepened to a beastly growl. “…It’s *ALL* our territory.”