“Another dress? No thanks, ma,” I told her on my fourteenth birthday. “I’d like a hunting knife instead.”
She eyed me curiously, as if I had just told her that I was no longer a virgin. “And what do you need a knife for, Cailan?”
“To kill vampires, of course.”
“It takes a lot more than a knife to kill a vampire.” She rubbed the scar above her ear.
“A toothpick can be lethal if you know how to use it. At least, that’s what the old man told me,” I replied.
Momma pursed her lips, and began knitting again, but I was smitten with my new occupation. At first I thought I would be angry when she started seeing the stranger a few months ago, but my heart warmed every time he passed by.
Initially I thought he was a dork…all right, perhaps he is a dork; but when I caught him throwing knives into an old post I was captivated. I hid behind a bush and watched for a while, certain he could not see me. Knife after knife he buried into the pillar, each the same distance apart. After tossing his three knives, he yanked them out and began again.
Mesmerized by his accuracy, I could not take my eyes off him. He seemed more like a machine than a man. When I edged forward to get a better look, he turned and asked, “Would you like to try?”
A man of few words, I could not believe he was speaking to me. “Sure.” I rose and brushed off leaves from my hair and dress.
He had been kind to my mother, always implying a respectable distance, and never trying to place a kiss on her lips. Although he rarely revealed his feelings, especially around me, I could sense that he enjoyed being here. Perhaps I reminded him of someone he knew who also had lost her father. Hopefully one day he would open up and share this.
“Take the blade with both hands. It is the easiest throw to make.” He positioned my hands above my head, and placed a knife in them. “Imagine what you hate the most. Do you see it there in the post?” he whispered. “Now kill it. Eradicate it from your life!”
The knife slipped from my hands as I tossed it, veering off course, and falling into a pile of leaves.
“Did I not make myself clear? Kill it before it kills you.” He handed me another knife. “Again.”
I gripped the handle tight, and flung it with all my might. It flew straighter this time, but well short of the post.
“Better.” He stepped closer, his dark coat blocking out the sun. “Imagine not your own mortality, but one that you hold dear. Someone whose life will be snuffed out if you do not hit the mark. Like your mother,” his voice sharpened.
My eyes began to well with tears, for indeed that was exactly what happened. Gazing up from under the bed I was helpless to do anything when the shadow burst through my bedroom door and seized her. If I were skilled like the old man, perhaps my father would still be with us.
“Die, you bastard!” The knife flew straight and true, streaking through the air, and thrusting into the top of the post.
“Well done. You are a natural.” He patted me on the shoulder.
How magnificent it felt to be touched by another man, even though he was not my father.
“Most likely you would have only nicked his ear.” He stepped away and collected the knives. “Vampires are quick and crafty. It takes precision and a fair amount of good luck to kill them.” He rejoined me and tossed the knives into the post once more.
He knelt to one knee, and looked into me with his gray eyes. “I am sorry that I did not know you sooner.”
The connection that I now felt with him combined with the loss of my father elicited a storm of emotion from me. He held me close as I wept, the first man to do so since that fateful night when my father came home early to celebrate my thirteenth birthday.
I could barely hide my disappointment when he collected his things and left the following morning.
“He will be back, just as he has in times past.” My mother ran her fingers through my long, brown hair.
“How can you be certain?” I found myself in tears again.
“Because there is a fire in him that cannot be so easily quelled. Besides, he purchased the old shed out back. He said that he would like to make his new home here.”
“With you?” I wiped the tears from my eyes.
“With us.” She pulled me closer.
I slipped from her grasp and walked over to a knife buried in the old post.
“What is it, dear?” Ma stayed on the porch.
I extracted the silver blade and held it close. “I think I love you, Lawson,” I murmured.