OPEN THE DOOR


GENRE: Let the Right One In, Fanfiction, Original Characters

RATING: R (for gore and violence)

SUMMARY: When a boy befriends a mysterious neighbor, he discovers much more than he bargains for.

I

If Max could have his way he wouldn’t be living in the projects.

He wouldn’t have to pay for groceries with food stamps. His mother would always ask how his day had been and tuck him into bed at night with a warm smile and a kiss, instead of ignoring him to drown herself in a bottle of gin.

The other kids would leave him alone too, since they only bothered him in order to steal his meager belongings, pick at him, or beat him up.

…And he wouldn’t feel so empty and alone.

It had been abrupt, all of the changes that occurred after his father left them in the cold for a much younger woman and a new family.

They had lived in the suburbs, in a quiet land of lawn sprinklers and cheerful morning greetings. A land of carefully crafted middle-class homogeneity, where the kids all behaved as if they were as assured of their safe place in the world as they most certainly were.

Here, he was an anomaly made for bullying, a gangly fragile-looking white kid with dishwater blond hair and a pair of sad green eyes within a sea of world-weary brown faces. A non-confrontational soul by nature, he found himself that much more of an easy target for his new peers.

He’d often come home with fresh bruises.

Since moving to Paxton Heights, he’d come to realize just how little the rest of the city cared about its black poor. He’d often hear the shouting, the cursing, the blows swung and landed, and the rapid fleeing; and always far too long after, the low whine of a siren. He’d even started a collection of sixth page news clippings all about the forgotten murdered and missing in his neighborhood.

So many of them were around his age.

|

He’d cut out a new page one cool evening in early October. Andre Green, fifteen years old. Found hanging upside down from an old rusty jungle gym in a nearby playground, his throat cut, his body drained of blood.

This had been the third blood-letting murder in the past six weeks and there hadn’t been a single lead news-story about it. Not about the possibility of a serial killer, nothing but quick mid-news death notices. Instead, the head story was always about the latest award show faux pas or the latest missing white girl from some far away state.

Max snapped off the TV set and decided to go outside. He enjoyed the awakening chill the Fall air provided for his lungs and welcomed the chance to get away from the heavy smell of alcohol on his mother.

…The chance to imagine better things, while he’d toss his half-inflated soccer ball into the bent, netless rim of the nearby basketball court.

That he did, mostly making air-balls, managing to bounce if off the rim on his fifth go, watching it ping high into the air…

|

….and land squarely in the hands of a skinny black girl standing on the edge of the court.

Her clothes were inappropriate for the weather. That was the first thing he noticed.

The second was how visibly dirty she was. On her over-sized white t-shirt and dark blue knee-length shorts, he could actually see dark streaks that looked like dirt or old chocolate. Her hair was done like many of the black girls in the area; lots of complex braids, but they were coming undone. Looked like they had a while ago.

Sharp-eyed and thin to the point of gauntness she looked almost…feral.

She made him feel uneasy and not in the usual way he was used to, there wasn’t the usual challenging looks of intimidation, like the dealers, druggies, or gang members. She didn’t feel like any them.. Of that, he was certain. There was only mild curiosity.

He held his arms out for her to throw the ball back.

Time stretched between them.

She rolled it between her palms a few times as if trying to decide if she would, and then finally tossed it back, her aim solid. It landed hard enough to sting his palms.

He shook his hands out and frowned at her for a beat, before turning back to the basket.

Remembering himself, he turned back to thank her or ask if she wanted to play, but she was gone.

|

That night Max dreamed of old brown eyes floating outside of his window. He awakened with a start eight minutes before his alarm went off.

Crawling out of bed, he walked to his window. The blinds were down.

Later, he made his lunch, packed his book bag, and hopped on the bus, while his mother continued to sleep away her booze.

|

He always sat near the front by the bus driver for protection, but as usual that didn’t mean much to his tormentors or the driver.

“Sup, Pinky.” Craig said, and sat down next to him, his huge frame smashing Max’s hip against the side of the bus.

“Whatcho’ got today? More cracka’ shit?” He inquired and snatched the brown bag from Max’s lap.

He pulled out a sandwich and sniffed it. “Eugh, bologna. Nasty shit…Apple-” This he tossed back to another boy sitting behind them, by the name of Lamont.

Lamont promptly dropped the fruit to the floor of the bus and stomped on it.

“Now it’s apple sauce.” he said, letting out an annoying high-pitched snicker.

He drew out the last item in the bag.”Fake Cheez-its…Damn, your momma so poor she probably feeds you dirt for dinner -and with this shit right here, I bet you eat it too.”

Max kept silent. He’d learned the hard way that fighting back only lead to a worse beating later, so he just allowed them to have their fun. It would be over soon.

They’d take this lunch, trash it, and watch for his crestfallen expression, so they could laugh.

Much better than deep tissue bruises from them holding down him while each took turns punching him hard in the same place, usually a thigh.

…And later, he’d eat his spare lunch on a bathroom break, in one of the stalls.

But they got creative this time.

Craig opened up his bologna sandwich and spit on it. He then smooshed it together, making an appropriately disgusting gooey sound and stuck it in his face.

“Eat it.”

Max stared back at him blankly, immediately deciding that he would take the deep tissue bruises today.

“No. I won’t.” he replied, trying to sound firm.

A series of “ooooh’s” came from Craig’s clique and the entire bus murmured excitedly as they caught wind of an impending fight.

“He said, ‘No’ Craig, whatchoo gonna do?”

“Aww shit! White boy said ‘No!'”

Craig’s eyes narrowed. No way was he gonna let this go. “What? You tryna’ grow some balls, Pinky?”

“You heard me.” He replied and glanced at the bus driver, who for once was looking through his rear-view mirror and directly back at Max’s seat.

“Don’t be messin’ round back there, make me crash and kill all y’all.” he huffed.

Craig chuffed.

“See you later, Pinky.” he said, thumped his balls discreetly and slid out of the seat and on to the back of the bus.

Max doubled over in pain.

|

Max had to urinate, but he held his water all day. He didn’t even bother eating his stashed lunch. He didn’t want to chance his bullies finding him alone.

They didn’t have to.

At gym class they played flag football. Craig and his boys found slick ways to “accidentally defend too hard” with Max.

He came out of gym class with a sore side, foot, and the beginnings of a swelling, where Lamont “accidentally” caught him in the lower lip.

Max couldn’t take a bus ride home after this, so he limped the five miles back, alone.

He made for a pitiful sight, holding his side, favoring one foot hard, with a lopsided mouth.

By the time he reached his projects’ courtyard, he was ravenous.

He found a low wall and sat on it, opening his book bag to eat his other lunch.

As he nibbled quietly by himself, he felt a strange shift in the air to his right.

He looked up and saw the girl from the day before.

|

Strangely, she wasn’t sitting, but standing on the edge of the wall as if were as stable and wide as the sidewalk, instead of the mere three inches across that it was.

This time she was wearing a plainly styled pale green dress that was entirely too small for her, dingy and faded.

She was watching him eat.

Max stopped mid-chew and swallowed the large gulp of wonder bread and bologna, dryly.

Then he looked up at her.

“Are you hungry?”

She stared right back at him and slowly nodded.

‘She’s real bad off.’ He thought.

He reached into his bag and pulled out an apple. He then reached it out in offering. She glanced down at the apple and then back up to his face, looking indecisive.

“…Or you can have the rest of my bologna sandwich, but not many kids I know like it.”

“It’s okay.” he continued, hopefully.

Agile as a cat, she stepped closer. That’s when he realized she wasn’t wearing shoes or socks. Her dress was thin and short-sleeved. She plopped down next to him and took his apple, but didn’t eat.

“Aren’t you cold?”

“No.” She replied, as if the notion were inconceivable.

She turned the apple in her hands as if it were a foreign object.

He inhaled.

She smelled like something that had long ago been locked away and only just discovered.A queer combination of the brittle, yellowing paper of an ancient tome and damp school chalk. And there something vaguely metallic-smelling about her.

He was polite enough not to say anything.

Up close she looked even more odd. Sallow-skinned and lithe. She seemed tensed, wound tight somehow and ready to spring, like a rubber band pulled tight. He could actually see sinewy muscles flexing beneath her skin. She had an androgynous look about her even in the dress, tomboyish, but not ugly. He suspected her life somehow made her such, hardening her, and her eyes… he could barely look at them for long…so dead and empty.

“Aren’t you going to eat it?”

“No.” She said, honestly.

She looked across at him while he continued to eat, now digging into his fake Cheez-its.

“What happened to your lip?”

“An accident in gym class.” He said, slowly, looking down and away.

She frowned her disbelief, but didn’t press.

“You live here?” He asked.

She nodded again, the apple now balanced comfortably in her lap.

“I’ve never seen you.” He said.

“Haven’t been here long.” She replied. “My guardian moves us around.”

“I’m Max.”

“Tia.” She replied.

“What school do you go to?”

“I don’t go to school.”

“Oh.” Max said, drawing the conclusion that she was home-schooled.

That made sense. He knew about home-schooled kids. That’s why she was so weird, wearing that flimsy dress and no shoes. Probably some Christian sect with weird beliefs.

Max opened his plastic bottle and sipped a little water, always from the tap..

That little sip was all it took to recall his need to empty his long-held bladder.

“Um. I have to go.”

She didn’t reply.

”Right.” He whispered under his breath, slid down the low wall to the sidewalk and began to trek back to his apartment.

She blinked her curiosity as she watched him limp along and key in the code to the front door of his building.

She was still hungry.

|

Much later that evening…

Petey’s days didn’t consist of much beyond panhandling for booze-money, sleeping, and pissing said booze off.

Even he found his continued existence surprising in light of this. But he went on. Just kept hitching his pissy pants up and singing his long gone dreams into gutters, occasionally annoying passerby so much that the police showed up and made him move along.

That night, he’d managed an extra score: a quarter full Crown Royal bottle, tossed for being too long opened.

Not quite gone to vinegar, he sipped away, the pleasant tingle warming his gullet and muddying his circumstances.

|

He coughs and then laughs.

Both sound like hard sandpaper. He sits (falls) against the side of some strange building in an alley.

He starts singing to himself… modified Al Green.

“Whether times be good, -bad, happy ‘n sad!”

His singing (and smell) announce his presence to a one Tom Vale. A man you wouldn’t give a second glance to if you passed him by.

Ordinary and unremarkable in just about every way. He’s of medium height, medium build; a white male of median age and average looks.

In fact, nothing about his outward appearance would make you think he was what he was.

…A pedophile and a murderer who commits one sin to feed the other.

Still, strange though it might be, Tom hopes Petey is drunk enough that he doesn’t feel the razor’s edge drag across his jugular.

…And that he doesn’t feel the last slip of life pouring out of him and into the waiting two gallon jug.

He doesn’t enjoy hurting people, after all.

He has to.

He has no choice.

|

Max woke on a Saturday morning to the sound of the anchorman’s voice.

His mother, more sober than usual, was watching news of another murder. This time, it was one of the leading stories.

The police had finally started realizing they were dealing with a serial killer and that trumped even the perceived insignificance of his victims and the local media loved the sensational terror a serial killer’s presence inspired.

His mother poured Max a bowl of off-brand Pops, watered down some canned milk and added it to his cereal.

She sat down opposite of him and peered at him, looking tired and sad and guilty.

Max mumbled a “Thanks mom,” between bites.

She half-reached her fingers out to touch his swollen lip.

“Those boys at school still bothering you?”

“I’sfehul” He said around a mouth full of cereal. Which his mother translated as ‘I fell’ and he quickly cleaned his bowl, got up from his mother’s uncomfortably sober presence and washed his bowl in the sink.

He’d been through that fruitless song-and-dance too many times.

He hastily grabbed his coat and went outside to the basketball court to toss his half-inflated soccer ball around again.

After about every third or so toss, looked to side of the court.

Eventually some older boys showed up and he had to head back up to his stinking apartment.

|

He spent the rest of the day holed up in his room, alternately managing his morbid hobby and reading comic books. He read the sensational headline, “Man Bled To Death. Blood Stolen.”

He went on to read that his name had been Peter Franklin, that he had been a known vagrant. All other details had been gruesome.

By the time night had fallen, his mother was snoring loudly and drunk again, so he snuck out to their tiny balcony.

He peered down at the courtyard (a square of grass and boxed in trees only slightly too tall to qualify as shrubs). Four guys completing a shady deal, but deserted otherwise. It was too cold for any others to be out, both predator and prey. There was a frost warning that night.

Soon those guys departed and Max watched as Tia came back and sat on the wall, again.

Maybe her religious parents never let her out of her apartment, so she snuck out when she could.

Maybe they didn’t care.

Regardless of the reason, he felt relieved to see her.

He went to his room, grabbed a few comic books, his heavy coat and headed outside.

|

He pulled himself up onto the wall next to her and retrieved the comics from the inside of his coat, shuffling them before her eyes.

“I thought you might want to see these. I figured you don’t get to see them, usually.” he said.

She scanned them passively: Batman, Dr. Strange, Giant-sized Chillers….

She grabbed that title and flipped through, noting the dark-haired heroine’s abilities.

“Who is this?”

“Lilith. -You like that character?”

“She’s not real.” she said frowning, as if confused by any interest otherwise.

“Of course not.” Max laughed. “Someone made her up.”

“Yes. I mean, -I know she’s not real.”

She continued to scan the pages.

“I have more featuring her, if you want.” he said. “You can keep this one.”

She looked up only briefly, barely smiled and went back to reading.

Max opened up a favored copy of the Submariner and read on next to her in silence.

Far above, Tia’s apartment curtains parted.

|

The blood had been bad, tart and diseased, but she had been ravenous enough that it didn’t matter.

Sustenance did, and that he did provide, along with shelter.

He’d claimed to love her. Then apologized for hurting her, which he didn’t -couldn’t ever really do. This was merely out of guilt and habit. He knew what she was. She felt nothing anymore, but the hunger, couldn’t remember how to, if she did. She was the perfect solution to his problem and he the perfect helper for her own.

Still, he bothered her. His snivelling shame. His attachment, addiction to her. The thing that trapped her, that kept her limited was what drew him to her, that special glamour she had only for his low kind.

She would’ve rid herself of him long ago, if she didn’t need him.

Free him of his slavery and her own.

When she came back from the human boy’s company, he stared at her, resentful and darkly jealous. He called her a cursed thing in a child’s body, a pretender.

And she tossed him across the apartment like a ragdoll and straddled him…nearly crushed his windpipe with her bare hands, barely stopped herself from doing so.

After, she let him up, reminded him of how important they were to each other and then crept to her room.

She fiddled with her ancient childish trinkets tyring to remember how to play with them.

She couldn’t.

Eventually she found herself rereading Max’s comic book again.

|

The roof of Paxton Heights was always open for many purposes, dubious and legitimate.

There were times when it was unoccupied, with unknown corners that were usually more and less-so.

Tia and Max found and used these corners to read comic books, to listen to apartment conversations and noises (old Charlie getting cursed out by his young girlfriend for sneaking junk food and stinking up the apartment with his farts and bowel movements was a favorite), and stare up at the few stars visible on clear city nights.

Always, they would meet at night, when his mother was too drunk to notice and she was able.

Max brought his Walkman up a few times to listen to the old The Shadow radio dramas his father had left behind. They would hold the earphones open and crank the volume loud enough to be effective speakers.

Sometimes he would appear with fresh bruises.

“Does your mother hit you?” Tia inquired one day.

“No. She’s just sick… and sad. She’d never hit me.”

“Then who?”

“Just some boys at school.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t fit in. Maybe, I’m too short, too quiet, too white…I don’t know.”

“You’ve hit them back?”

“Yeah. And they come back with more boys and hit harder.”

“Then you have to hurt one of them enough so that they’re too afraid of trying to hurt you again…The leader.” She said firmly.

When he looked dubious, she added. “You can’t be afraid to hurt people, Max.”

|

Tom Vale had two close calls in one night.

He’d almost been shot by a streetwalker who’d smartly packed another form of protection and he hadn’t completely knocked-out the young druggie he’d picked up after her.

The runaway escaped through the passenger door when he stopped.

He’d come home to an enraged Tia. She cursed at him, stomped around the apartment seething with near-mad starvation and then finally, decided to get her own meal.

Wandering in and out of shadows, she closely watched people, looking for stragglers at the back of the herd.

It didn’t take long to find one.

An old lady was walking her little terrier.

She sat on bench in her path and began to sob. The old lady was wary of solitary black kids, but she’d still slowed down to look.

She could always count on the elderly to be nosy.

That was all she needed.

The old lady didn’t so much fall as melt to the ground, dead before she’d had time to realize she’d been bit. The terrier, torn between protecting its mistress and the strangeness of what it knew was attacking her, kept it at arm’s length, not biting but yapping shrilly.

A flashlight had only shone in Tia’s face for a split second before she’d managed to escape.

|

Max awoke to a harsh chill. He shivered violently and sat up.

In the near pitch of his room, he at first thought his nightmare was recurring…the eyes…

But then he rubbed his eyes.

“Tia?”

She looked strange. Her mouth and chin were darker than the rest of her face as if smeared over with something, her hair and clothing more disheveled than usual.

He moved to turn on the light.

“No, Max. Leave it.”

“How did you get here?”

“Nevermind it. I need to stay here.”

“Sure.”

“Don’t look at me.”

He turned in his bed, heard the window slide shut and felt her weight shift beside him.

The chill returned. This time deep within his bones.

“If you’re cold…” he began.

“I’m never cold, Max.”

II

He didn’t remember falling asleep. Just the gentle raking of fingers against his scalp and then daylight…and his alarm.

He did remember her being there (really there) and a flutter went through his chest.

He had a friend, his only real friend, but she was special.

Special because they only had each other. She’d come to him because she didn’t want to go anyplace else.

She wanted, maybe needed to escape as much as he did. He hadn’t been born into it and forced to adjust and endure nor were they drawn together by need.

No, their bond was all the more deep and special because they’d chosen it for themselves.

|

On Monday, Craig cornered Max away from a teacher.

He’d stupidly started picking at him, plucking at his ears and collar while Max still held a pencil in his hand.

What people remembered most about that day was the high-pitched feminine scream Craig let out upon impact and the styrofoam cup they’d used to stabilize the implement and keep the pencil from causing further damaged to his eye socket.

It made him look like some king of bizarre cyborg.

They’d called Max’s mother, but of course she didn’t answer the phone.

And Max sat in the office chair with a wry little smile on his lips, for the first time ever, glad his mother was a lush.

Walked home with his head held high and Craig’s posse avoiding him, whispers of ‘Crazy-ass-white-boy…’ trailing off in his wake.

His mood was the highest it had ever been and he couldn’t wait to tell Tia, when all the world went black.

|

Tom Vale had been stalking the kid since that morning, while Tia slept.

She was becoming distant.

Getting the notion in her head to replace him.

As if she could.

As if she could find someone to serve her like he did.

Who would love her like he did.

This was a boy.

A child who had no clue what he was actually dealing with, what he’d be in for…for how long.

When the boy dropped to the pavement, Tom had a moment’s panic, certain that someone had seen.

But life went on around him.

He’d been careful.

The boy always cut through the side-road, long closed and isolated but quicker… Relatively safe.

He dragged the boy into deeper shrubbery, mostly long dead stumps covered in kudzu.

And he held the pipe over his head as if to strike.

He thought about Tia’s smile…

Her cynicism suppressed after such a long time ….and he couldn’t do it.

He couldn’t do it.

And he knew he would now pay, regardless.

He dropped the pipe and fled.

|

Tia awoke quickly and with a start.

She’d felt him. A prickle in her mind of his intent to harm Max and then vague feelings, images of his stalking.

She’d found Max first.

His forehead bloody. His breathing labored.

She thought about biting him, but only briefly.

Pushing his hair away, she examined him to be certain he would recover.

She had been long gone by the time the ambulance came.

A night’s hospital stay, a questioning social worker, and some key clues later, Max was placed in foster care with people who cared in all the wrong ways: quick to anger and doing it for the free labor and a government check.

Tom Vale was found alone in his apartment, with a bloody child-size mattress and several sets of clothing for an adolescent girl. Too tired, and emotionally wringed-out to want to fight them. No. Here was relief. Finally an out.

He was arrested. White children were rarely newsworthy when poor, but much more valuable as incentive to investigate and prosecute, than brown children. Max was poor, but also white. His name withheld from the stories for being a minor, but heralded for being the one who got away from the Paxton Heights Slasher.

Tom Vale was sentenced to psychiatric imprisonment. A difficult place for Tia to visit. And that she did, in the middle of the night, despite guards, nurses, and bright white fluorescents.

He didn’t hear her. No one ever does, unless she wants them to.

She sat on the edge of his bed, where he was strapped in tight and regarded him like he was a child who had disappointed his mother.

“Why?” she said, the span of the ‘why’ covering his attack and retreat.

“It’s not fair…” he whined. “…What you want from him is small.”

“…But not always.” He finished darkly.

She shifted forward and petted his forehead.

“He is not you. He is not a man who fetishizes children. He is not a killer like you and I.”

“It’s not fair.” he repeated, quietly..

She clasped his head between her hands and snapped his neck.

“No, it is not.”

|

She also visited Max.

His new foster siblings were also his new bullies, far worse than the old ones he’d had. These were being nurtured to become sociopaths.

These creatures tortured animals for kicks and were slowly poisoning their mistress. The one who insisted they call her mother.

Max had taken to shutting down completely again, even missing his mother and especially Tia.

Even with her dirty nails and feet and unkempt appearance.

She never yelled, always listened, and was honest.

She had frightened him, at first. But then he’d stopped caring so much about that. His life was bad enough that even with her strangeness, and the chilling aspects he’d observed, he figured he’d be better off.

So, when she came in the night and offered her hand, he went with her.

…Every now and then, however, he’d get a peek into her eyes… Tired weary and still mostly hard and cynical and reconsider.

Those times had been getting further and further between.

|

One night she told him to close his eyes.

Later was the last time he ever woke up again.

 

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