A nighttime affair.
A mild celebration when compared to the much more frantic displays offered by the big bright lights of the city. But to this small, happy, town in the mountains, almost hidden completely 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 small party atmosphere, where all of the town locals came out to dance and sell their home gardened vegetables and all the homemade 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. A place where everybody lived on their own private property, keeping to themselves as their houses were always built at an angle on a hill and were forced to surrender to the conquering forest trees looming them. But everyone in the area pretty much knew each other, nonetheless. There weren't too many unfamiliar faces walking around...even if you didn't know the names and stories attached to every recognizable face...you knew them when you saw them in public. There was only one major street in the whole place to shop, go to school, get a haircut...there was no such thing as slipping by 'undetected'. It kept the town united. Protective of one another. Even the ones they weren't so sure about.
One such boy, Payton Rivers, sat on a hill in the deep darkness that existed on the very edge of the current festivities. Just now turning 15 a month prior, a boy of average size with straight brown hair to his temples and hazel eyes that physically brightened up his currently uninterested 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 town 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 secretly fantasized about them, stroking himself slowly beneath his bed sheets, 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...'lonliness'.
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. Teenagers that claimed to just be 'passing through'. As if THAT were possible. Nobody 'passes through' this town. Either they're stuck here against their will, or they're trying desperately to escape. 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...he'd take it. He'd take anything he could get.
He sat up on one of the higher parts of the mountain, 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 moved her 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 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.
But it seemed so far away now. Those lights might as well be the stars in the sky as far as his perception of distance was concerned.
One of the rogue teenagers he had currently been running with, Murphy, was 17 years old, and deceptively thin with a baby face that made him look even younger than Payton did. He told Payton stories of the places he had been, and some of the things that he had seen. So much for a boy so young. But Payton admired and appreciated it regardless. He spoke with a level of wisdom that most teenagers couldn't manufacture, not even if they tried. Payton found it comforting. Refreshing. But he didn't understand why Murphy approached him the way he did the first night that he met him. 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.
The others were a bit...unusual, to put it lightly. Loud, boisterous, sometimes a lot braver than he 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.
In a place where the most exciting thing to do was go for a hike and maybe catch sight of a deer...any alternative is a welcome one.
"Sorry..." Came a voice from behind him, and Payton looked back to see a shadowed figure standing not far behind him, 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. His silhouette alone was beautiful, getting more and more alluring as his boyish features came into sight. The boy had this really light blond mop of chin length silken 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 set of delicate honeydew orbs behind. Almost carrying with them a golden glow that appeared to come from within.
Attempting not to stare at the enchanting features of the almost 'girlish' boy standing before him, Payton replied, "Oh...is this, like....your 'spot' or something?"
"Yeah, kinda." The boy replied, and Payton swung his feet around to climb down from the edge. "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. It's peaceful. Quiet. But...also pretty lonely sometimes." Then the boy bashfully asked, "Would you mind having some company?"
Was it a trick? It was an automatic response that was triggered in Payton's mind. It always struck him too quickly to avoid it. He almost opted to leave, feeling the temptations and the bad thoughts already beginning to infect his mind with the sick virus that he was trying so hard to escape from. And yet...when Payton opened his mouth to refuse, he said, "Sure. Do whatever you want."
The boy climbed up onto the rocks and sat on the edge next to him, both of their feet dangling over the side. "It's beautiful, isn't it? The view from up here."
Payton noticed the slightest haze in the boys voice. It was cute. Not something that he wanted to concentrate on for too long, but he liked it. "Yeah. I kinda like it here. 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." 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. I've only been here for a couple of months myself. Heh...I understand totally." The boy spoke through the softest set of thin pink lips. 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 came here with a friend of mine, and we found some people to stay with...but originally, I'm from the city outskirts."
"You're a runaway?" Payton asked.
The other boy paused for a second, and then said, "Umm...yeah. I guess you could say that." Then he smiled and extended his hand in friendship. "My name's Bryce."
"Payton." He replied.
"So what about you?" Bryce asked him 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. 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 one last deep breath. The tears strolling down his cheeks. And the sound of a gunshot...followed by the taste of oil and smoke mixed with the 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 completely. He couldn't understand what brought that mental image to the surface, or why it was so strong. But suppressing it quickly and pushing it back down into his stomach where it belonged had become the norm. Keeping it in the dark was the only way for him to deal with it.
"Yeah...so...we had to leave." He continued, avoiding the 'bad' subject entirely. "My mom brought me out here so we could stay with my grandmother a little further down the hill. We didn't want to be...in that...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 overwhelming 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 could stare at you with such sorrow. It was almost as if he was reading my mind.
"Whatever it was that happened...I'm sure it wasn't your fault, Payton."
"Yeah, well...you know, whatever."
"No." Bryce said again, his eyes almost watery as he insisted, "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 in. 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 past 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 admire. Payton's skin was as soft and as smooth as a child's half his age. His chestnut brown hair was light enough to be blown up with even the slightest of breezes, giving him a surreal and dreamy look that Bryce found so very attractive. There was something about him that just...gave you a hint of him being a bad boy at large...but it was overwhelmed by this heavy layer of tenderness and warmth. Something intangible, that needed no description once you were in the presence of it. It was magnetic. For the first time in years, Bryce was feeling the slight pinches of infatuation as it traveled from what was left of his soul and fluttered nervously into the center of his heart.
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 living the wrong life?" He said. "Like...things just went 'wrong' somewhere along the way, and now you can't find a way to get it back to normal. Like you're just living this whole other life that you were never meant to live. 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 had made some other choices."
"Yeah. EXACTLY." Payton said, sitting up. "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. And now I'm stuck in it, 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. "I read that in a library somewhere. But...it's kinda true, you know? The only thing keeping you stuck in your image is you." Bryce said it 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. But Payton responded with a soft nod, surprised at the level of instant comfort he felt in talking to this boy. This sweet, incredibly gorgeous, boy that just so happened to step out of the shadows without warning.
"Maybe you're right." Payton said. "You know...there are these other guys that I've sorta been making friends with...they're always telling me that I'm too uptight. Too lost in my own thoughts. They tell me I should just let go."
"Yeah. 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. "Ugh! What the hell are the DOING?"
"Those are your friends?"
"Yeah, I guess so. But...they're being so damn WILD tonight. I don't get it. I mean, their a rowdy bunch anyway, but tonight, their being exceptionally weird."
"Hehehe, well, sometimes the full moon brings the beast out of people." Bryce giggled.
The boys heard some footsteps coming up the path towards where they were, and stopped talking, 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 stared directly at nothing. He seemed surprised to see me. "Hey...." He said quietly.
"Fletcher, come here." Bryce said with a smile. "Fletcher, this is Payton." The boys met, but Fletcher seemed to be rather bashful about being seen. It made Payton uncomfortable, as the other boy obviously had something 'secret' that only the two of them were supposed to know of. "We were just talking about you not long ago. Payton, this is my friend that I came here with from the city."
But the boy seemed to have more pressing matters on his mind. "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...um...." Fletcher looked over at Payton, and didn't finish his sentence.
"Ok. Tell them I'll be there in a minute, k?" Bryce told him, and the boy sorta slinked away back into the darkness from which he came. A bit embarrassed, and disheartened 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 explain if asked. If only he knew how surprised and accepting Payton would have been if such a thing were to have ever taken place. "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 time had to come to an end so quickly. He had never experienced a connection with someone that came about so swiftly.
"It's a pretty small town. I'm pretty sure we can't help running into each other at some point." Bryce giggled bashfully, and that's when a symphony of loud voice were shouted up at them 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, your public awaits." Bryce said.
"God, what the heck are they ON? I've NEVER seen them this riled up before! They're CRAZY!" Payton looked back at those bright eyes, and 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?
"Wow...um...yeah! Ok!" Bryce answered.
"I'll see ya...around noon? Maybe a bit later?"
Bryce paused. "Uhh, 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 emotions simultaneously firing off in unpredictable directions...that one meeting stimulating their hearts in ways that neither one of them were fully aware of yet.
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. "What the hell were you doing up there? Huh? You're supposed to be don here with us getting that golf ball out of your ass so you can have some fucking FUN!" Murphy told him. "Celeste...you and the other take this boy, and get him plastered, and we're going to the pond for some skinny dipping tonight! Make sure he's ready for it, huh?" The decree was followed by some shouting, and Payton blushed as his new crew of friends catered him off to do exactly as Murphy told him.
But Murphy and Rocky....stayed behind for a moment. Their smiles fading as they watched Payton get re-absorbed into the party atmosphere.
Rocky asked him, a thick English accent filling his words, "So what do you think? How much longer?"
Murphy replied, "Not yet. He's not ready to take the mark. If we try to turn him now...he'll reject it. He's too fresh. We have to continue breaking down his barriers before he's available to us." Then...Murphy turned to Rocky and asked, "Did you see who he was talking to? Up on the ledge?"
"See it? I could smell the stench all over him." 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 this ahead of time?"
"The bitch must be losing her senses. From what I smell, there's more than one of them too. A nest." Murphy stared up at the full moon, and took a deep breath of the midnight air. "So what do we DO, Murphy? How do we handle this?"
"We do what Father instructed...and we focus our concentration on the boy. There's something special about him that Father wants. And 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. Vampires have a way of seducing people into darkness. We need to keep our boy focused on us,and get him to make a choice 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 why they happened to slip under our radar."
"They must be outside of the town somewhere, Murphy. Probably somewhere on the outskirts of our territory."
"Don't be silly, Rocky..." Murphy replied as his eyes began to glow brightly, and his voice deepened to a growl. "...It's *ALL* 'our' territory."