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per amica silentia lunae

or, across the ferny brae with the evil voodoo celt

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and now part 3

I saw the boy a few times over the next month and a half, always around dusk. He would be absorbed with something- a leaf, a stone, a cloud- but snap out of that state when I came near, and rush to greet me. He always had questions, careful, reasoned adult questions about the world around, about people in particular. I would answer the best I could, simply but without condescension, and he would listen with that disturbingly complete attention. Sometimes his questions stumped me, but he would accept my suggestions as to books he could read to find out (he was already reading at a level several years above his age). He never again looked at me with the feral glare he had used on his first meeting, and he would always take my hand before he left me, with a quiet "Thank you. I have to go now."

On an evening in early January, it was blizzard-white outside, three inches of snow on the ground and a foot or more expected by dawn. I was shuffling through this arctic mess and berating myself for a fool- but there was no food at all in my house, and the local convenience store was the only place in walking distance. I didn't own a car then (more fallout from the divorce), and I wouldn't have driven in that mess even if I had.

"Mr. Burkhart!" came a familiar call. I was across the street from the Rushenko house at this point, and Thomas began to cross towards me. I stopped and waited, despite the whipping snow. Then I noticed the oncoming headlights, moving much too fast.

"Look out!" Too late. The car didn't even put on its brakes. It swerved crazily, but hit him anyway, hurling his small body with horrific force across the road and into a cast-off Christmas tree that lay at the curb. The car tore off and slewed around the next corner before I could see the license plate. I stumbled over the slushy street to Thomas.

He lay sprawled on the dead tree, not moving. He didn't appear hurt at first, then I noticed traces of bright red at his mouth, a rapidly-spreading stain of the same beneath him. With a sick feeling, I realized that he had been impaled, or nearly so, by a broken branch.

I felt for a pulse, and my touch made him moan and thrash. I tried to make my voice comforting. "No, Thomas, lie still.." He grabbed my hand painfully and dragged himself free with astonishing strength. He flopped forward onto his stomach, and I near retched at the sight of the wound in his lower back.

Before I could do anything else, he pulled my hand down to his mouth, bit me in the soft area between thumb and index finger, and sucked. I was immobilized, watching in terrified fascination as the edges of his injury drew together and sealed, leaving only a redstained rip in his jacket and shirt.

He let go, and stood up. Even wit me kneeling, he wasn't much taller than me, but he seemed to loom then up into the snow-laden sky. "Thank you," he said, wiping his mouth. Then his mother appeared behind him, gave me a despairing look, and hustled him inside. I knelt there for a few minutes, watching the snow cover the blood, until his father came and led me indoors as well.

"Here," he said, dumping a healthy tot of rum into my hot chocolate. I sipped gratefully. He put the bottle carefully back into a high cabinet, then turned to stare blindly out the window. "He's not a bad kid," he began.
"Mr. Rushenko…"

He cut me off. "You know what he is." He looked me in the eyes for the first time. "It… well, it runs in our family. I guess you could call it a curse if you wanted to. In the old days, if it showed up in a child, the family would just," he swallowed, "deal with it in the traditional way. But I'd like to think that we're better than that. Sara... my wife and I didn't know before we married; when he... changed... we had to do some research into my family history. But when we found out, and knew that it was incurable, we agreed. We love Thomas, and we decided to treat it just like a birth defect, a handicap."

"But a more dangerous one."

He smiled weakly. "Like I said, he's not a bad kid. But he almost killed another boy, the first time. Lucky for us that the other kid didn't remember, and it looked like an accident. We moved anyway." There was a note of pleading in his voice. "We want to settle somewhere, put down roots."

I looked away, taking my turn at looking out into the storm. The silence stretched while I sipped the chocolate. "He's intelligent for his age," I finally mused. Mr. Rushenko gave me a startled look. "I'm a teacher, and single. I have my evenings free. Even though I don't have much experience with children of Thomas's age, I can tutor him." He started stammering in gratitude, and I set down my mug and held up a hand to forestall him. "Here's my number; give me a call tomorrow. We can work out the details then. Right now, I want to get home as soon as I can and sleep. Good night and thanks for the drink."

Outside, the snow had eased a bit. I looked back at the house; a small head was silhouetted in an upstairs window. I raised my hand, and received a reply in kind. Tucking in my scarf, I turned to resume my arctic journey.

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Ooh, it gets a little more complicated. . .!

Well, actually, that's the end. ;-)

Aww. I was just starting to like the kid too!

Very nice, love... worth the wait for the plot twist...

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