Chester Clayton Smith was nervous. At his age, a robust 68, that was not a healthy state to be in. Nonetheless, he could put this meeting off no longer. Michael and Sam were in trouble, and, he suspected, Lucy could not handle them well enough for the problem to resolve itself. Michael, his oldest grandson at eighteen years, was out at all hours of the night, and Sam was so spooked lately that it wasn't even fun to sneak up on him anymore. It had to be those damn vampire punks he'd heard tell of, and if it was them, then he needed to see Shade. It would be an awkward visit, to say the least. It had been over twenty-six years since he’d seen the…him.
Shade was a grown man when Chester himself was young. He’d met the dark-haired and ruddy-skinned Indian when he wasyears old; fishing in Sadie's Creek out on his grand pappy’s property. Calling Shade an Indian wasn't politically correct anymore... but that’s how Chester always thought of him as a boy, that strange Indian fella on the back forty. The evening he’d run into him, he'd been walking back from the creek, headed towards the cabin. He was taking a different path than he usually took because he was disappointed with himself. He’s hoped to bring home a catfish or two for his momma to fry up that night, but for some reason the fish weren't biting. In his melancholy mood, he was kicking at the ground and muttering to himself and not paying much attention to exactly where he was walking, only following the setting sun, as the creek was due east of his home. On the way, he’d snagged his rucksack on a thorn bush and had trouble pulling it loose.
As it sometimes happens with young folks, by then he’d just had enough of his frustrations and threw a wall-eyed fit. He’d been really looking forward to that fried catfish, and after a day of hard work in the fields helping pa with the harvest crops, darn-near splitting his finger open with the sling blade, and his Pa being sore at him for swearing when it happened and getting boxed in the ears for his trouble, this had all amounted to just too many bad events in one day for him. He picked up a branch and let the bush have it, yelling incoherently and grunting with each swing. A bird, startled by his outburst, streaked out from a neighboring tree, cawing loudly. He grabbed a handful of dirt, leaves and pebbles and flung them in the bird’s general direction, missing by quite a bit, but feeling much appeased that he’d had the last word on that subject at least.
Anymore, he could barely remember what had alerted him to Shade’s presence, only that he’d stopped hollering and throwing things, and the big fellow approached him and helped him pull his sack loose from the thorn bush, now misshapen and broken in places from the walloping he’d given it. The Indian had explained briefly that he was friends with his grand papa and had proceeded to walk him home, patiently listening to Chester holding forth about the day he’d had the whole way, and deftly avoiding his questions, revealing only that he lived in a small shack a ways to the north east of the creek, and that he’d known his papa when they were young men.
Chester had assumed he was close to his father’s age and, as boys can easily do, put any ideas about how strange it was to have never run into this Indian on their land in all his twelve years of wandering all over it, his parents owned about two hundred acres, and went on to talk about what all boys are interested in at his age; the animals he’d hunted and caught, where the best trails were for coon traps, and fishing. Chester was a very simple being, and still was. Once delivered safely to his cabin, and eating dinner with his folks, (NOT catfish), he told his father about the evening walk, and about meeting his boyhood friend in the woods.
“That’d be Shade, I s’pose…” His father had remarked, “Known him a long time. Don’t be botherin’ ‘em son, he’s had a hard life, and all he wants is peace and quiet.”
Chester had noticed his white-faced mother watching her father strangely as he spoke, but Chester just gave an obedient “Yes, pa...”, and returned to his supper. He soon excused himself to get ready for bed. As he walked through the kitchen to his bunk on the covered back porch, (it was cooler outside), he’d heard bits of his parents’ whispered conversation as they were finishing up their own meals.
“..said we would never know he was there, John…”
“..not going to be a danger, Eileen, now don’t…”
“..MY son around that creature…”
“Quiet woman! ..just outside the house…ideas in his head…”
“..can’t believe you’re alright with this…”
“..said he could stay, I meant it. I am the man of this house!”
At that point, Chester was already beneath the sheets, he’d had no idea what the argument was about, and really hadn’t been all that concerned about it. He was a boy, and his parents argued from time to time. Not often, but enough times over his life that he didn’t worry about them. He’d gone to sleep listening to his mother push up from the table and leave the kitchen.
Over the years, Chester ran into Shade in the woods from time to time. He didn’t bring up the meetings to his parents, as it always led to them arguing. He learned eventually that his mother did not want Chester to have anything to do with Shade, and would prefer his pa telling the Indian to leave their property. Pa said he wouldn’t, and that was that. Eileen just learned to live with the distress, and urged Chester at every opportunity to steer clear of Shade, or else. His pa had charged him with the same prohibition, so each accidental or incidental meeting between himself and his Indian ‘neighbor’ became a secret shared between the two of them. Shade seemed to know intuitively how Eileen felt about him, and that John would rather the boy not be around him either, though for far different and more noble reasons. However, the two developed an acquaintance of sorts.
Over the years, once Chester understood more, or rather, less, of his Indian neighbor, they still remained on good terms. Shade still lived in that old shack out by the creek, and though not as often as when he was a younger boy, Chester might, on the odd month or three, run into him out on the back forty, fishing, walking, or sitting in front of the shack, smoking his pipe.
The thing was, eventually Chester realized that Shade never seemed to age. His hair didn’t recede; his skin never gained age spots or wrinkles. He always looked the same, each time they ran into each other. He was probably in his early thirties when he realized that Shade wasn’t…couldn’t be…human.
When he realized this, he began to understand his parents’ reticence about their only child mingling with Shade alone in the woods. He began to realize that, while obviously no harm had ever come to him, perhaps there were valid reasons for his parents’ fears. Reasons that should be evaluated…taken into consideration. Perhaps he’d been lucky to have survived each meeting with the creature in the woods. Eventually though, Shade might be a danger to him, especially now that he had children of his own to consider.
The last time he’d spoken with Shade, he could tell that the creature knew things were different. He no longer hid his otherworldly quirks, he didn’t even bother to blink, made no attempt to hide the inhuman speed with which he whittled away at a stick he was holding. He had never been more frightening to Chester, but after he’d told Shade he probably wouldn’t be around to see him anymore, that he’d been thinking he might be selling the property anyway, getting the kids closer to school in town, and hem-hawing around a final goodbye, Shade turned his head and looked him full in the eyes and spoke.
“You are right to fear what you do not understand, but know this… I owed your grandfather a debt I could never repay. He was my blood brother when I was like you. Now, I am vampire. I am a watcher in the night; I will always watch over you and yours, and I will never harm you. This I swore to your grandfather long ago, and I keep my word. Always.”
Chester hadn’t known what to say to him after that, so he just nodded and, noticing a hint of regret in Shade’s eyes, had walked home. In the end though, he didn’t move out of his old family home. He’d built on to it over the years. It was quite rustic, and he eventually added modern plumbing and electricity, even a telephone when those gadgets came out. He had never sought out Shade again.
Until now, he thought ruefully. Something had to be done though, and if anyone was strong enough to deal with a pack of bull-headed, punk vampires, it had to be Shade.
Strolling quietly in the dark towards the creek, which had grown into more of a small pond over the years, he kept a sharp eye out for the shack. He wasn’t sure if Shade would even be there, but he was hopeful.
The shack came into view when the trail veered to left and beyond a group of pine trees. No light shown outward from the one window the shack had. Not a sound came from within its confines. It seemed abandoned.
Chester let out a breath he’d been holding. His shoulders slumped. Well, he thought, that's that. He decided to wait at the shack in the hopes that Shade might just be out tracking. He had liked to coon-hunt. Settling back against the door frame, wondering how in the world he was ever going to get back up again once his joints locked up in their current position, Chester mused on what exactly he would say to Shade if he did turn up after all.
You promised to watch over me and mine…well, we need you now. Those vampires are after my grandsons.
That didn’t sound endearing at all, more like calling in an old debt. Perhaps it would convey to Shade just how desperate he was at this point. He worried with a hangnail on his pinkie while he brooded, now and then giving a yawn. He was trying to rearrange the words in his head to make them sound friendlier, more like a neighbor asking for a cup of sugar, than the desperate plea and demand for action that it was. He had no idea how Shade would react to something like that. As a boy, he would chatter incessantly at the Indian, and they’d fish, or hunt or just track game. He’d get monosyllabic answers or grunts of acknowledgement from time to time, but they’d never had a real conversation. It was always one sided. Chester had liked that about him. Growing up in a house where he was constantly told to shush, or quiet down, or quit bothering one person or another, it was nice to have free reign to say his piece to someone who was a good listener.
He’d never asked Shade for anything. Never…
Chester sighed and shook his head. He’d always had a peaceful life, steering clear of town and attachments other than his wife Sharon, who died seven years ago from a tumor in her brain, and his daughter Lucy. Now, Lucy was divorced, and she’d asked to stay with him to escape the emotional wreckage of legal battles where she’d given up everything she and her ex-husband had shared in their marriage, excepting full custody of her two sons. They’d turned his quiet, restive home into a loud and lively parade of rock-music, wrestling matches and brotherly chaos. He loved them though, or he wouldn’t be here.
He was so deep in thought he hadn’t noticed the Indian silently taking a seat, cross-legged, about a foot away from him against his shack. The flick of a cigarette lighter as the Indian lit his long tribal pipe nearly caused him to soil himself in shock.
“You damn-near gave me a heart attack, Shade! Don’t you ever make a sound when you move?” he complained.
“No.” was the quiet reply.
Chester heaved a sigh, and attempted to slow his pounding heart. Several quiet moments passed, during which Shade smoked and stared out into the forest without seeming to focus on anything in particular.
Chester was considering several ways to start when Shade quietly spoke first.
“I know why you have come here.”
He flicked his eyes up to Shade’s in surprise. “Is that so?”
“I’ve been watching, Chester, as I always have. I know what is troubling you. I do not know if I can help, but I will try.”
After a minute, while Shade sat contemplating his pipe, Chester nodded.
“I figured if anyone could do anything about this mess, it would be you.” He said with a small genial smile. “I’d sure appreciate anything you could do.”
Shade glanced up at Chester and nodded. To Shade’s surprise, Chester held out his hand. After a long pause, he took it slowly and shook. Chester showed no sign of acknowledging his cold, hard skin. After letting go, Chester dipped his head in a silent farewell, and slowly walked back towards home. Leaving Shade to himself…and the quiet, dark forest that surrounded him.