Four nights later, tossing in bed, his sheets tangled, his blanket in a heap on the floor, Matt dreamed about Todd.
He saw a broad, sandy stretch of beach, golden under a bright sun. High waves rose majestically at the shore, capped with white froth, rose and then fell onto the gleaming sand.
Todd appeared, running barefoot at full speed. He was wearing baggy black swim trunks. His footsteps made no sound as he moved across the beach.
Matt struggled to see Todd’s face as Todd, running faster and faster, came toward him. But, although the beach shimmered in sunshine, Todd’s face was blanketed in shadow.
Please, Matt thought, watching his friend lean forward as he ran, the tall waves thundering behind him, please let me see your face, Todd.
And then Todd came into clear view.
And his face was twisted in horror, his eyes bulging, his mouth locked open in a relentless, silent scream.
The sky darkened, grew black.
The blackness followed Todd, moving toward him, moving faster than Todd could run.
At first the blackness seemed like a funnel-shaped cloud blocking the sun.
Todd was still in the sunlight, but the black cloud was gaining, about to swallow him up.
And then Matt saw that the darkness wasn’t a cloud at all. It was made up of thousands of moving creatures.
His vision cleared and he saw the black and purple wings, heard the shrill chittering, saw the dark heads bowed low in flight.
The black shadow chasing Todd was a cloud of bats.
Thousands and thousands of bats, fluttering, flapping, swooping together, blocking the sunlight as they moved, shadowing the beach, chattering and shrieking until the ocean’s thunder faded.
Running harder, sweat pouring down his forehead, Todd closed his eyes. But his mouth remained open.
Run, Todd—run! Matt urged.
But the cloud of bats swooped over Todd. He toppled to the sand, first on his knees, then facedown. And the bats descended over him like nightfall.
And everything went black.
Matt sat straight up in bed, relieved to see his room, relieved to see gray morning light through the bedroom window.
He stood up, half awake, half in his dreamlike state.
The shrill cries of the bats stayed with him as he made his way uncertainly across the floor to the window. The cloud of bats. The blackness descending over the beach, over Todd.
Leaning heavily on the windowsill, wanting to step out of the dream, wanting to escape from its frightening hold, but not wanting to forget it, Matt shook his head hard.
He realized he had awakened from the dream with a word on his lips.
Say it. Say the word, he urged himself.
And so he said it: “Vampires.”
The dream was trying to tell him, trying to show him.
Matt knew it.
Matt knew how Todd had died.
The bats on the beach. The bats that lived on that small island off the shore.
The bat that had attacked that girl.
The bats were vampires.
The dream had revealed the truth to him.
Wide awake now, he hurriedly pulled on a pair of wrinkled tennis shorts, picked up the T-shirt he had worn the day before, pulled it over his head, and headed for the back door without bothering to brush his teeth or hair.
“Hey—” his dad called to him from the breakfast table as Matt rushed through the kitchen.
But Matt was already out the screen door, the door slamming behind him. “Gotta go!” he called back and began jogging to April’s house.
The sky was gray, the air tinged with a wet chill. The sandy road was wet beneath his sneakers. He realized it must have rained the night before.
He hadn’t heard the rain. The dream had held him too tightly, first the thunder of the waves, then the frightening siren cries of the bats.
He had to tell April. He had to tell her that he had learned the truth.
Despite the sunshine and blue skies, the four days since Todd’s death had passed in a gray fog of gloom and shadows.
The pictures all seemed to have faded in Matt’s mind. Only the sounds remained. The anguished cries of Todd’s parents. The murmurs of the police. The frightened, hushed conversations of kids on the beach and in town.
Matt had seen April only once in the four days. They tried to talk as if everything were normal, but neither of them could manage it. Then they tried to talk about Todd. But that was impossible too.
Matt had left her to go wander alone on the beach, still wondering what had happened that night, why Todd had decided to go swimming, how Todd had died.
The town coroner had called it an accidental drowning.
But it didn’t make sense to Matt—until the dream. Until he woke up with the answer on his lips.
And now he had to tell April.
Approaching the back of her summer house, a small white clapboard cottage with a wide sundeck that was cluttered with outdoor chairs and an umbrella table, he could see April through the kitchen window.
He leapt onto the deck and hurried to the back door, calling inside. April looked up, startled, from the table. Her mother was just clearing the breakfast dishes. The twins came racing to open the screen door, each calling, “I’ll get it! I’ll get it!”
Matt greeted everyone, still trying to catch his breath from the long jog from his house. “Have you had breakfast?” Mrs. Blair asked, pushing up the sleeves of the man’s shirt she wore over her bathing suit. “There’s still some pancake batter left.”
“No thanks,” Matt said, his eyes on April. She looked so pale and frail in the gray light filtering in through the glass windows. “I—wanted to talk to April.”
“Play with me instead!” Courtney demanded.
“No—me!” Whitney cried.
April stood up and gently brushed both girls aside. “Matt and I are going out on the deck,” she said, giving Matt a faint smile as she led the way outside.
Matt followed her onto the deck, eager to tell her what he had figured out. The ocean air still carried a chill; the overcast sky was low and gray.
April leaned against the deck railing and stared out at the trees. Matt stepped beside her, wiping cold perspiration from his forehead with the hem of his T-shirt.
The T-shirt smelled, he discovered. And he suddenly remembered that he was in such a hurry to talk to April, he hadn’t even brushed his hair.
I must look pretty gross, he thought. But he shoved these thoughts away, determined to share his new knowledge with her.
“How ya doing?” she asked somewhat shyly, staring out at the trees, dark under the low, hazy sky.
“Okay. I mean, not great. But okay.”
“Me too,” she said softly.
“I have to tell you something,” he said impatiently, wishing she’d turn around and face him. “Something important. I mean . . .”
Should he just blurt it out?
She turned, curious. “I’m so sleepy,” she said. “Guess it’s all this fresh air.”
“Listen, April, I want to tell you this. I know how Todd died.”
Her eyes narrowed. Her pale face seemed to lose even more color. “We know how he died, Matt,” she said, her voice a whisper. “He drowned.”
“Listen to me, April—please,” Matt pleaded, putting an arm on the shoulder of the oversize blue T-shirt that stretched nearly down to her knees. “Please?”
She didn’t reply, just stared into his eyes.
“This idea came to me in a dream,” he said, speaking rapidly, urgently, his hand still on her slender shoulder, “but I know it’s real.”
There was no way to say it slowly, to introduce the idea gently, he decided. He had to get it out, say what was on his mind.
“Todd was killed by a vampire.”
“Huh?” She pulled away from him, raised her hands as if shielding herself from this idea.
“Vampires,” he repeated. “You know all the bats that fly over the beach? They must be vampires. A girl was attacked by a bat a few nights before Todd died. The bat bit her throat. And Todd—”
“Matt—this is a very dumb joke,” April said heatedly, crossing her arms. “I don’t get it at all.”
Matt started to reply, but the tiny red marks on April’s throat caught his eye. He gasped, staring hard at them.
Wild thoughts careened through his mind. Crazy thoughts.
Am I seeing things? Is it just a mosquito bite?
Gabri’s face floated through his thoughts. April and Gabri. April and Gabri.
He pictured the two of them together.
Is it possible? Is it possible that Gabri is a vampire?
Or am I cracking up?
“I had this dream, see,” he continued, his eyes locked on April’s throat, his mind whirring excitedly. “Todd was running, and—”
“Stop, Matt!” April exploded. “Just stop it!”
“I know I’m right!” he insisted, ignoring her angry plea. “It makes sense, April. All the bats. And Todd—he had a cut on his neck. I remember—”
“Matt—I mean it,” April said, her features tight with anger. “Shut up. Just shut up.”
What had he done wrong? What had he said wrong? Why wouldn’t she listen to him, at least give him a chance to explain?
“Grow up, Matt,” she said, her green eyes flashing angrily. “Grow up. Your best friend is dead, and all you can think about is some horror movie!”
“No—” he cried.
But she wouldn’t let him continue. “I’ve got news for you,” she cried heatedly, “life is real.”
“I know. But—”
“Life is real, Matt. It isn’t a dumb horror movie.” There were tears in the corners of her eyes now.
Oh, no, he thought, feeling his heart sink. I didn’t want to make her cry. Haven’t we all cried enough this week?
“Todd is dead, and it’s impossible to explain, impossible to accept,” April said, forcing back the tears, trying to keep from losing control. “But blaming it on vampires like a—like a child isn’t going to help anyone.”
“But, April—” He didn’t know what he was going to say. He couldn’t take his eyes off the small bruise on her throat.
“Gabri is a vampire,” he muttered. He didn’t even realize he was talking, didn’t hear the words as they came out, didn’t mean for April to hear.
Wiping away the teardrops that stained her pale cheeks, she glared at him furiously. “Are you totally losing it, Matt?” she screamed. “Go away! Just go away from me!” She spun angrily and moved toward the house.
He started to follow, but she pushed him back, pressing her fists against his broad shoulders.
“I mean it. Go away. I don’t want to see you again! Don’t call me—and don’t come over!”
“What’s going on out there?” one of the twins called, poking her golden head out the door.
“Are they fighting?” the other one asked from inside. “Let me see!”
They both clamored noisily out the door as April pushed past them into the house, sobbing loudly.
Matt sighed miserably and, without looking back, stepped off the deck and headed back to the road. Two rabbits hopped excitedly across his path, but Matt didn’t notice.
It started to rain, a few large drops, a sprinkle at first, and then after a few seconds a hard, steady downpour.
Trudging slowly, his head down, Matt didn’t react to the rain. His thoughts weighed heavier on him than any downpour.
Of course April is right, he told himself, kicking up clumps of mud with his sneakers. His hair fell down over his forehead. His wet, fragrant T-shirt clung to his back.
Of course she’s right. How could I run over there talking about vampires? I really must have been totally off my nut.
Of course she thought I was a jerk. And she’s right.
Gabri isn’t a vampire.
I’m just jealous. And upset.
And feeling sorry for myself.
Vampires . . .
I’d laugh myself—if I didn’t feel so much like crying.
How did I ever get such a dumb thing in my head? And how could I be so crazed that I took it seriously?
He sighed loudly, shaking his fists at the trees as they bent under the weight of the falling rain. He wished he could sink into the mud, sink down over his head, and never return.
I’ve made a total fool of myself, he thought, shaking his head miserably, shivering as a hard gust of wind swept cold rain down the back of his shirt.
I’ve made a total fool of myself. And I’ve lost April for good.
• • • • •
“So what did you do in the rain all day?” Ben asked, leading the way through the high grass, over the dune.
The grass, still wet from the day’s rain, tickled Matt’s ankles as he walked, and he wished he’d worn jeans instead of shorts. “Not much,” he muttered to his friend.
Actually, he had spent most of the day staring out of the living-room window at the rain, pacing back and forth, rolling Todd’s plastic butane lighter around in his hand, and thinking about his dream, and how stupid he’d been to run right over to April’s without stopping to think.
He fingered the lighter now as he made his way over the dunes with Ben. The lighter was somehow comforting, his only memento of Todd.
“The sand is dry already,” Ben said, kicking at it with the toe of a sandal. “Isn’t that amazing? It rained all day, and the sand completely soaked up the water.”
Matt looked toward the ocean. The clouds had finally parted as evening arrived. The night sky was nearly clear, the moon a pale circle over the ocean horizon.
“I did a really stupid thing this morning,” he blurted out.
“So what else is new?” Ben joked, bending to pull a long piece of dune grass up and stick it in his mouth.
“No. This was really stupid,” Matt insisted. In a few sentences, keeping his eyes on the sand, he told Ben about his dream and his conversation with April. “It was a dumb move,” he concluded sadly.
Ben chewed thoughtfully on the long piece of grass. “Dumb is a good word for it,” he agreed, shaking his head. “Stupid is even better. I might even be tempted to use idiotic.”
“You know, I didn’t tell you about it so you could make jokes!” Matt snapped angrily.
Why did I tell Ben? he wondered.
Did I expect him to jump up, slap me on the back, and say, “You’re right, Matt! Those bats are vampires!”
I guess I just needed to confide in someone.
“Sorry,” Ben said quickly. “Really. You must feel like a jerk already, right?”
“Some apology,” Matt muttered.
A bat swooped down low just ahead of them, a dark, fleeting shadow across the beach. Matt looked up again and saw two bats hovering over the next dune.
“In science class last year we learned that bats are good,” Ben said, slurring his words because of the long stem of grass he was chewing. “They’re really needed for ecological balance, you know. They eat insects. And bat guano is a really important fertilizer.”
“Bat guano to you too,” Matt muttered bitterly. “Thanks for the science lesson.”
“I don’t blame you for being in a bad mood,” Ben said sympathetically. “I still feel creeped out about Todd too. And then having that guy move in on your girl—”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Matt snapped, surprising himself with his own vehemence. “Really.”
“Hey—I’m heading to Swanny’s,” Ben said, obviously eager to end the conversation. “You coming?”
Matt shook his head. “Think I’ll keep walking,” he replied glumly. “Maybe I’ll catch you later.”
Ben gave him a little wave as he headed off. “Cheer up,” he called back. “It’ll only get worse.” He didn’t even bother to laugh at his own dumb joke, just hurried toward town.
What a goof, Matt thought. With his science facts and ancient, dumb jokes, Ben usually cheered Matt up—but not tonight.
He made his way over the dune. Then seeing a group of kids he knew on the beach, he turned, eager not to be seen, and began to walk quickly in the opposite direction, his eyes on the stone cliff, a black silhouette against the clear night sky.
He found himself thinking of ways to apologize to April. But none of them seemed right. He couldn’t imagine himself saying them.
As he walked over the sand, he tried to think of how he could ask her to go out with him again, how he could ask her to stop seeing Gabri. But that seemed impossible too.
Shaking his head, he tried to push all of those thoughts from his mind, tried to let the steady rush of the waves drown out all of his thinking.
He stopped short as something caught his eye up ahead.