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Their Changing Bodies by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The boy in the lake had achieved some notoriety in camp Ondawalla a week before, when he had been caught rooting through the sanitary pad disposal bucket in the girls’ bathroom. The boy was new, and though he had been caught at a rather odd activity, he spent his weeklong probationary period the subject of mostly positive gossip. This free afternoon marked his first sighting outside of scheduled activities. The wait had been worth it. The boy in the lake was gorgeous.

Judy had been painfully aware of him since her arrival two weeks ago, when she had seen him across the mess hall. They talked a little, but Judy hadn’t been prepared for his appearance or his popularity. She hadn’t expected him to change quite so much.

Judy had first met Brandon last summer in the woods of rural Michigan, at an institution the promotional brochures called Better Image! for Teens. The kids sentenced to this energetically punctuated camp had referred to it as the Penitentiary, but Judy’s sister Alice had more accurately called it Fat Camp. Judy came home thirty pounds thinner and possessed of a first kiss that had admittedly also encompassed some of her cheek. Still, at sixteen she had finally accomplished several of her goals in life: a) meet a boy, b) talk to the boy, c) impress him with her knowledge of esoteric subjects like grafting apple trees, and, finally, d) mack on him like crazy.

If pressed, Judy admitted that perhaps she still had a slight distance to travel until she fully accomplished d). Even though Brandon had attempted to insert his tongue in her mouth, the reality of it wagging wetly in the air had so disconcerted Judy that she turned at the exact wrong moment, thereupon forcing Brandon’s tongue to slither over her cheek until he realized what had happened and put it back in his mouth. How, she asked Alice, does anyone make out with so much spit? Alice just shrugged and said you got used to it.

Judy hoped she would get used to it.

Indeed, she’d spent much of her sophomore year of high school exchanging emails with Brandon, agonizingly clever missives about her latest obsessions: parasitology (when she told him about toxoplasma, he said that explained the counselors at the Penitentiary), figure skating (at her mother’s insistence so she could “keep up” with her “progress” at camp, no matter that she was the fattest girl in the class), and her latest: knitting (she was even now working on a blue and white garter-stitch scarf that she hoped, at the right time, to give him). Brandon was also an ‘eclectic dilettante’—his term, which basically meant that they liked lots of things really intensely for a little bit of time.

Because she had hit her “weight loss target” and was a “whole new person” even though she felt like the same old person (being fat didn’t matter so much in figure skating, it turned out), her mother had agreed to let her attend Camp Ondawalla with Alice this year. And Brandon—much to her joy, delight, deep confusion, and incipient panic—had written to tell her that he too would be attending this thoroughly normal summer camp, where the kids played capture the flag and ate real ice cream in the mess hall and there were no scales, anywhere. If it was curious that out of all the camps in the midwest, Brandon would have chosen this very one for his own normal summer, she hoped the casual hints she had dropped in the last few emails had encouraged him to sign up.

But it was now the end of June, and they had been at Camp Ondawalla for two whole weeks. Fourteen days when they should have been kissing each other’s brains out (in the midst of a conversation about neural plasticity, perhaps). Instead, she had barely seen him, barely had a conversation with him, barely recognized him because if Judy was a “whole new person” then Brandon had been abducted by aliens over the school year.

“Do you think he had surgery?” Alice asked, squinting past the sun to watch his long, powerful strokes cut a channel through the lake.

“He doesn’t have a scar,” Judy said. Her hands jerked and she lost the stitch for the fifth time that hour.

“Anyway,” said Sonia, Judy’s bunkmate, “no surgery gives you muscles like that. I think your crush is a gym bunny, Judy.”

Back at the Penitentiary, he hadn’t been very big, relatively speaking. Maybe forty pounds overweight. He said his parents sent him because they were Pilates instructors in the San Fernando valley and he embarrassed them at school functions. He’d only lost sixteen pounds at camp—the fewest of any of the kids, but his emails didn’t mention any new diets and she’d just assumed that he would look the same this summer.

Judy surreptitiously lifted her eyes and watched Brandon dive beneath the water and come up, laughing and spluttering. His pectorals glistened; his slicked-back hair revealed the perfectly-chiseled jaw that last summer had been hidden beneath an inch of baby fat.

Judy and Alice sighed. Sonia snorted and went back to her book: Eco-Amazon! Sustainable Living for Modern Women. Sonia’s parents ran their own environmental architectural firm, and Sonia took “harmonious living” very seriously.

“Why won’t they just talk to us?” Alice asked. The other boys weren’t swimming with Brandon. Instead, they lounged on the pier, wearing the dark, baggy clothing that Pablo and Tom had somehow made cool this summer. Pablo and Tom were the camp heartthrobs, which, according to Sonia, said nothing good about the boys at Ondawalla.

“Maybe they’re having a circle jerk?” Sonia said, without looking up from her book.

“Really?” said Judy.

Alice shuddered. “Dude, no more about that ookie cookie rumor. Way too gross to be real. They’re boys, not animals.”

“Then why don’t you go over there?” Sonia asked.

“Cramps,” Alice said, stretching. “The sun feels too good to move.”

“I got my period last night, but I just take some powdered feverfew first thing, do some morning meditation. Better than a shot of morphine, I’m telling you.”

“Feverfew? Could I try some?” Judy said. Around April this year Brandon’s interests had turned toward female reproductive health. She’d thought it a sign of his unusually forward-thinking nature, and it had been a bit of a thrill to actually be able to discuss things like periods with a boy who wouldn’t scream and run away.

Alice snorted. “You’re such a hippie, Sonia.”

They were startled by a sudden burst of giggles from the girls sipping cokes and wading in the water a few feet away. Tiffany and her crew had been ignoring them, but now she flipped her scarf over her shoulder.

“A hippie dyke,” she said and her friends all giggled while Sonia swallowed and Alice looked like she wanted to spit on them.

“It’s okay,” Sonia said, brushing away Judy’s arm. She spoke loudly, but refused to look in Tiffany’s direction. “She’ll have more fun once she’s out of the closet.”

After an awkward silence, Tiffany went back to ignoring them. Sonia had been out since forever (her parents were very supportive), and she and Tiffany had fooled around for a bit last summer. Judy wondered if Tiffany had been busy with someone else—the scarf around her neck must have been stifling in this July heat.

Sonia shook out her shoulders. “Soon as I graduate, I’ll be in New York, hip deep in beautiful women.”

Alice whistled a catcall. The sound seemed to carry farther than it had been intended; all the way across the lake, where the black-clad boys lifted their faces and turned toward them in unison.

“Whoa,” Sonia said. “That’s a little…must be those aviator glasses.”

Judy agreed. It had an uncanny effect: when all five of them started walking over, Sonia put her hand on Judy’s shoulder and Judy had to force herself to breathe.

Maybe it was the baseball caps, with the noon sun casting casting a deep shadow beneath their curved brims. Like they were being approached by a group of swaggering, faceless, bug-eyed monsters in track suits. Monsters who wanted their blood—

“Hey, Judy!”

She shrieked, just a little, before she recognized the voice from last summer. Brandon must have done a sprint lap across the lake to get to the girls’ side so quickly. He was even breathing a little hard as he pulled himself onto the dock, though the effect only seemed to heighten the beauty of his uncanny transformation.

“Hey?”

He glanced behind him, at the posse of black-clad boys even now closing in. “You want to, uh, get some ice cream?”

Judy could hardly breathe. “Really? But the mess hall doesn’t open for another hour.”

“We can wait out front. All of you.”

Now even Sonia looked confused. “You want to get ice cream with all of us?”

“That’s Pablo and Tom, isn’t it?” Alice asked. She was finger-combing her hair, ogling the approaching boys. Judy couldn’t figure it out; they looked like a pack of wolves, way too aggressive to be appealing. And yet Alice still wanted to stick around and talk?

“Sure, ice cream is good,” Judy said quickly. Cold food always helped with cramps. “Have you heard of feverfew?” she said, almost tripping over the words with her eagerness to finally have a conversation, to impress him and win him over and make it, finally and forever, through d).

Brandon frowned. “Feverfew? You mean the herb…oh God, Judy, are you on your—”

“Brandon!”

Judy didn’t recognize the voice, but she knew it had to be Pablo, identifiable only by the marijuana leaf stitched onto the front of his black baseball cap. Somehow the boys had managed to reach them already.

Brandon cursed under his breath. “Yeah, Pablo?”

Pablo grinned. This close, Judy was struck by the hyper-peroxided pearlescence of his teeth, like a game show host’s in an acid bath.

“Trying to steal our girls?”

“We’re not your girls,” Sonia said.

“Sure we are,” Alice said.

“I’ve heard they’ve got some nice tampons over in Mrs. Taylor’s office,” Tom said, which made Tiffany and her crew laugh as they grabbed their things.

“Good luck with that,” Tiffany said, fidgeting at her scarf. Judy was struck by the speed with which she and her girlfriends went back down the hill to the cabins.

It was almost like they were running away, Judy thought. From the hottest boys at camp?

“This is weird,” Judy said to herself, but the boys all seemed to have heard her whisper like she’d shouted it. Tom flashed his own smile. (Prompting Judy’s frantic justification: Maybe it’s the shadows? Or the sun? Some optical illusion? How could anyone’s teeth be that white?)

“We just want to extend an invitation,” Tom said.

“Invitation?” Judy repeated.

“You girls want to have some fun later tonight?” Pablo asked. He winked at Sonia as he said this, and Judy put her arm over her friend’s shoulders.

Pablo fanned himself. “Even better—”

“Shove it, Pablo,” said Alice, and Judy grinned.

“What Pablo is trying to say,” said Tom, who had always seemed the nicer of the two. “Is that we’d love for you to come down to the pine maze tonight at eleven.”

“Yeah,” Pablo said, running a pale finger gently up Alice’s arm. “We’re playing flashlight tag.”

“We are?” Judy said.

Extra-extra-curricular, Judy,” Alice said, which meant against the ruleswhich meant cool.

Judy had never been cool before. She wondered if she would like it.

“Well, maybe,” Judy said, and then noticed Brandon behind them, still wet from his swim, with a face like he’d seen a ghost. For a moment, she wondered if he might faint right into the lake.

“Hey, Brandon, are you—”

“Yeah, buddy,” Pablo said, putting a black arm around Brandon’s glistening shoulders. “You don’t look so hot.”?

Brandon swallowed. “I’m fine,” he said, firmly, if breathlessly. “See you tonight, Judy.”

The boys turned around. Brandon sandwiched between Pablo and Tom up front, the rest of the black-clad boys toddling in eerie, almost ecclesiastical silence behind.

“Boys,” Sonia said, somewhere between an observation and a curse.

“Do you think something happened to Brandon?” Judy asked.

“I knew it,” Alice said. “Pablo is totally in love with me.”

#

The woods were darker than she remembered.

Something rustled in the trees on the left side of the path. Judy raised her arms to cover her face, inadvertently sticking Alice in the back with her knitting needles.

“Dammit, Judy, I think you cut me this time! Those things are dangerous!”

“Sorry!” Judy fumbled to stick her half-finished scarf and the attached pair of giant needles as far as they would squish into her jacket pocket.

“You heard that, too, Judy?” Sonia said.

“Yeah. Do you think it was an animal—”

“Guys,” said Alice, “we’re in the middle of the woods. Of course there are animals.”

Sonia shook her head. “We’re damn fools to be going with those freaky boys in the first place.”

Judy was inclined to agree with Sonia, but she’d gone along with Alice’s determination because of her memory of Brandon’s pale face, and the way he’d said “See you tonight, Judy.” She might not understand it, butsomething had happened to him, and maybe if they talked she would find out.

“We are cool, Sonia. Only cool girls get invited to flashlight tag.”

“Keep telling yourself that, chica. I’m only here in case you need someone to save your ass.”

They tramped along the path in silence for another minute, while Judy thought back to the boys’ strange invitation. She recoiled at the memory of Pablo and Tom’s smiles. It had to have been her imagination, but still…

“Did their teeth seem…kind of strange to you?” Judy said.

“Their teeth? As usual, Judy, you bring on the weird.”

Sonia nodded. “No, she’s totally right. Pablo and Tom’s teeth were all white. Like, denture commercial white. It’s weird.”

“What, now it’s a turn off for a guy to be into dental hygiene?”

The boys had said to meet at the first intersection of the pine maze. Even though only one path led there, this still felt as eerie as the maze itself, as though the soft crunch of brown pine needles underfoot, the rustling woods beside them, might hide real dangers.

“Hey, Alice?” Judy said.

“Yeah?”

“What’s an ookie cookie?”

Sonia snorted and Alice groaned.

“You so don’t want to know,” said Sonia.

“You so don’t,” agreed Alice, “but I know you’ll bother me forever so here you go: bunch of boys get together around a big cookie. They all jerk off really hard—”

“Wait, wait, together? Like, an orgy?”

“They’ll say it isn’t, but hey.”

“It’s gross,” Sonia said. “Boys are animals.”

“What happens after they ejaculate?”

“It’s a game,” said Alice. “A contest, I guess, cause they’re boys. They’re like bucks in heat.”

“Jerking off together.”

“Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor. Anyway, the last one to come loses.”

Sonia raised the flashlight to her face, turning her chin blood red and her eye sockets a deep, black shadow. “And then,” she said, her voice pitched low, “he has to eat it!

Judy shrieked and covered her face with her half-finished scarf, the knitting needles catching in the beam. Alice choked and then the three of them were laughing and laughing, so helplessly that Judy didn’t even notice the vampire until his fangs were an inch from Alice’s neck.

“Hey!” Judy yanked him back by the collar of his black shirt. Whatever the vampire might have said was drowned in the volume of Sonia and Alice’s screams. Sonia dropped her flashlight and stumbled backwards. She might have run if not for the white-knuckled force with which Alice gripped her elbow.

“Jesus Christ!” Sonia said.

The vampire, still bent over awkwardly from Judy’s fistful of his shirt, gasped.

Judy kicked him in the shin. “Ow!” said the vampire.

“Knock it off, Pablo,” said Judy.

Alice let go of Sonia, who picked up her flashlight.

“Ohmigod, you scared the crap out of us!” Alice said. Her voice still shook, but she smiled.

Pablo grimaced. “Hey, could you tell Super Girl over here to—”

“Judy, let him go!”

Judy wasn’t so sure that was a good idea, but Alice’s glare could melt polar ice caps. She let him go. At night, apparently, the boys didn’t feel the need to wear the same dark clothing that they did during the day. Unfortunately, Pablo’s too-pale face in the beam of Sonia’s flashlight was hardly more reassuring than his shadowy aviator glasses.

“You didn’t tell us this was going to be a costume party, Pablo,” Sonia said.

He grinned, and under the illuminating beam of Sonia’s flashlight, Judy realized that the terrifying fangs were obvious fakes. The prosthetic overbite prevented him from closing his mouth all the way, so that he had liberally splattered her neck and shoulder with flying spittle.

“It isn’t,” he said. “It’s a game.”

“Really?” said Alice, twirling one perfect brown ringlet with her finger and gazing up at him, doe-eyed.

Judy wanted to hit her. “Where’s Brandon?” she asked.

Pablo flashed those teeth again, and this time she was sure of it: maybe they were caps, but no way any real teeth looked like that. “Taken care of,” he said.

Judy and Sonia shared a worried look. “Didn’t he say he’d see us?”

“Guess he’ll have to take a rain check,” said a deep voice, from the woods behind them. Alice shrieked again. Sonia raised her flashlight like a club. Judy took a deep breath.

But it was just Tom.

He’d also ditched the anonymous track suit and glasses in favor of jeans and a faded t-shirt. His teeth still gleamed that blinding white, even in the oppressive dark of the woods. Judy couldn’t help but shudder when his gaze fell on her.

“You girls are late,” he said.

“Sorry,” Alice said. “We had a hard time sneaking out. Is anyone else coming?”

“It’s your turn,” said Pablo, still close enough to spray Judy with his spit. Judy thought that if a boy had to spit on her, she wished it could be Brandon.

“We’re really glad you showed,” Tom said with a smile.

Alice bit her lip and looked away, but not before mouthing ‘I told you so.’

“So, where’s the rest of the goon squad?” Sonia asked.

Pablo frowned, but Tom put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Can I just say you smell delightful this evening,” Tom said, with such an insincere smile that Judy tasted the bread pudding she’d had for dessert.

Sonia frowned. “Uh…thanks?”

Alice smacked Sonia not-very-surreptitiously. “So, what’s this game?”

Tom and Pablo exchanged a look that could have meant anything from “Isn’t she hot?” to “Who are these freaks?”.

“The game is simple,” Tom said.

Pablo opened his mouth, grimaced and spat out his fangs. In his hand, she could see that they glinted almost like metal, not the plastic she’d originally assumed. But why would he have a pair of prosthetic metal fangs?

“There’s only one rule,” said Pablo. He looked taller, suddenly. Judy could have sworn he was at least two inches shorter than Tom but now his tousled blond hair rose inches above all of them.

“Oh fuck,” Sonia said, dry-throated and terrified.

Judy understood why a moment later. Pablo wasn’t taller, he was floating. Judy looked back up. He caught her eye and winked.

“Run,” said the boys.

#

“Alice, if we get out of this alive, you owe me like a thousand carbon credits.”

“I do not need to hear about the end of the world right now. I think we’re about to die.”

“Oh, what made you think that? The serrated fangs they put in their mouths? Or maybe it was the flying through the air?”

“Oh god, we are so dead.”

Alice resumed the snuffling sobs that had punctuated their conversation once they finally stopped running.

“It’s okay,” Judy whispered, though the words felt painfully fake. Alice cried harder. Sonia gave a shaking sigh: half exasperation, half terror. Judy could hardly feel anything. Even the rough bark of the gnarled tree root in her hand seemed distant, like she was watching someone else’s white-knuckled grip and only imagining what it would feel like.

“What do you think they are?” she asked. It was the only question her brain could form. Not, how will we survive? Not, where can we hide? But, what’s their taxonomic classification? Brandon would probably be able to tell her. Brandon would probably be able to explain a lot of things.

“Demons,” Sonia said. “It’s the effing apocalypse and we’re being Left Behind.”

Alice stopped snuffling. “Don’t you think we’d have, like, noticed if half the people on earth disappeared? I think they’re zombies.”

“Speaking zombies?”

“It’s not like they had anything intelligent to say.”

The three of them looked at each other. Alice pursed her lips. “As usual, huh?”

They’d stopped at a trench in the middle of a dense thicket of pine trees far off the maze path. It seemed as safe a place as any, and they hadn’t heard Pablo, Tom or any of the not!boys crashing through the woods for a while now. For creatures that could fly, the boys weren’t particularly graceful.

Only now, she had no idea where they were and no idea how to get out.

Judy squatted beside her sister and rested her head on her shoulder. If she had to die here, at least she wasn’t alone. She thought that this ought to make her cry, but her emotions felt as distant as Alice’s hand on hers. Sonia sat beside the two of them, silent and scared. Judy reached for her and they waited like that for what felt like a very long time; there wasn’t much else they could do.

#

Until there was.

A hollow tapping reverberated through the trunk of the tree, too even and rhythmic to be natural. Judy’s skin tingled as she tilted her head up; Sonia started reciting the Lord’s Prayer and Alice just screamed.

A boy smiled down at them from the highest branches. Not Pablo or Tom, but one of the others. He had slick black hair and apple-red lips that she’d assumed meant he wore lip gloss, but now she wasn’t sure.

“We’re going to die!” Alice wailed.

Sonia slapped her. “No one is dying!”

The boy smiled, and his acid-bleached teeth glinted in the ambient moonlight. “Sorry,” he said, “but I think someone might.”

He jumped from the topmost branch and wobbled down like a helicopter seed. The thud when he hit a limb about halfway to their trench released a shower of pine cones. One hit Judy on her nose.

“If it makes you feel better,” he said, catching his balance. “Think of it like…the call of nature.”

“You have to go to the bathroom?” Sonia said, eyebrows raised, and Judy could have hugged her.

He frowned. “No, smartass, like National Geographic. One of those nature shows, you know, like when the alligator finally catches the gazelle.”

Alice gasped and then choked, almost doubling over with the force of her coughing. Even Sonia’s hands shook.

Judy remembered the scarf in her pocket.

“Wait, do you know where Brandon is?”

“Tied up,” he said, and snorted. “You guys smell great! Anyone ever tell you that?”

“Take me first,” Judy blurted, and was proud when her voice didn’t break.

Alice yanked at her shirt so hard the seam started to rip at the shoulder. “Judy, no!”

“They even line up! Man, Pablo wasn’t kidding. This is the shnizzle.”

Judy stood, and Sonia quickly followed suit. “What are you doing?” she whispered.

“Trust me.”

Sonia shook her head but she didn’t stop Judy from climbing out of the trench and walking around to the other side of the tree. The boy wobbled in the air above her, accidentally hit a low-hanging branch and fell the last few feet to the ground.

He licked his apple lips. She was at least three inches taller, and way bigger, which made that bit of her that had been quivering like a jello mold turn solid and sharp, like a knitting needle.

“Hold on,” said the boy, his voice cracking. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of those serrated prosthetic fangs. They looked even more ridiculous in his small apple mouth than they had in Pablo’s. “Fere,” he said, spitting on her, “fats fetter.”

Judy tried to look scared. “Will it hurt?” she asked.

The boy blinked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Fis is my first time.”

He fumbled a bit with her shoulders, but his grip was surprisingly strong. His eyes had turned nearly as bright as his teeth by the time he bent over her neck. And Judy didn’t have any more experience with this sort of thing than he did, but she’d probably read a lot more, and she decided that this was as far as anyone needed to go.

So she stabbed him in the side, hard, with a steel knitting needle.

Apple-lip boy screamed. Judy was surprised, because she hadn’t expected it to work, or for the hole when she withdrew her needle to smoke.

“What…it’s not suffosed to haffen like fat!”

“Take us to Brandon,” Judy said, one needle at his neck and the other below his belt. “Or I’ll stick you again.”

“Aw, come on, I was just haffing a little fun!”

Judy poked a little harder. “And just so you know, alligators don’t eat gazelles.”

#

Brandon was tied to a tree.

He yelled “Judy!” as soon as the three of them came into view with apple-lip boy. The worry with which Brandon infused her name made Judy blush, and started to ease that place inside of her that had gone cold and hard when she thought they were going to die.

Brandon turned to their captive. “What did you do, Ben?”

Apple-lip boy glowered and coughed feebly, releasing a bit more of the strange black smoke from the wound in his side. “I’m the victim here, man. I can’t even fly. Leaked too much of the good stuff.”

Brandon scooted as far forward as the ropes would allow. “Good for you guys,” he said, after a moment. “I, uh, wasn’t expecting a hostage situation.”

“Yeah, about that,” said Sonia. “What exactly is going on here? We’re split between the four horsemen and a zombie apocalypse.”

“I thought you guys might be pulling a really good prank,” Alice said, “but that doesn’t explain the flying.”

“Or the game show host teeth,” Judy said, and Alice rolled her eyes.

“We’re frakking vampires, you nimrods,” said apple-lip boy.

Judy jabbed him harder than necessary in the neck. He yelped.

“So not funny,” Alice said. She held her arms akimbo, the tangles of her hair silhouetted against the almost-full moon like Medusa’s snakes.

“I know your zit face from last summer, kid,” Sonia said. “Please.”

Alice nodded. “Yeah, vampires are, a) hot, b) old, c) not lame. Try again.”

“No, really! I got turned last week, that’s all. I’ll get better at it, promise.”

“It does explain the fangs,” Judy said, thoughtfully.

Alice frowned. “Vampires need fake fangs?”

Brandon coughed. It was hard to tell with the distance and the dim light, but Judy could have sworn that he was blushing. “He’s right.”

“No frakking way,” said Sonia.

“You watch BSG?” said apple-lip boy.

“No, she won’t go to the dance with you,” said Alice.

“I think that I…uh…infected them,” said Brandon.

Apple-lip boy rubbed his arm. “You smell really great,” he said.

Sonia growled. “Will you guys stop saying that! What the hell do I look like, a hamburger?”

“You infected them?” Judy said. “But you’re not a vampire.”

“No. I cured myself.” He coughed. “But I guess I was…you know…uh, like with typhoid and certain other communicable diseases…that are transferred through, uh, bodily fluids…”

Brandon was definitely blushing. And his near-incoherent speech sounded suspiciously familiar from all their conversations about parasitology and disease vectors last spring. And she couldn’t help but think about the one kind of bodily fluid that helped spread too many diseases to count. Maybe even one that she’d thought couldn’t exist?

Judy gasped. “Oh my god.”

“You understood that?” Sonia said.

“It’s the ookie cookie.”

Sonia and Alice stared at her in horror.

“Oh no,” said Sonia. “Oh no way.”

“Are you telling me,” said Alice, warming up to her subject with theatrics that Judy thought, for once, were entirely justified, “that we are stuck here in the woods, with crazed supernatural fanboys out for our blood, all because you just had to go and jizz on a cookie and infect everyone with some sort of vampire STD!

“Yes?” His response was very soft, almost inaudible. “Just Pablo. He turned the others after losing the first game. I tried to stop them, but Pablo had other ideas. He drugged this girl Tiffany last week and drank from her. I don’t think she remembers what happened. But now he isn’t even hiding himself. He thinks he’s invincible.”

Sonia nodded, slowly. “I thought Tiffany looked kind of spooked when they came over. Guess we should have run with her.”

“But there has to be a way to get out of this,” Judy said. “You cured yourself, right, Brandon? How can we cure them?”

“We don’t wanna be cured!” wailed apple-lip boy.

Sonia jabbed him. “You wanna leak more smoke?” she said.

“Judy,” Brandon said, “you mentioned feverfew, earlier. Are you on your period?”

Judy had thought that nothing could surprise her anymore. But even if he’d accidentally turned all the boys in his cabin into vampires, Brandon was still the most surprising guy she’d ever known.

She stammered incoherently until Sonia sighed and waved her hand at him. “Yeah, we all are. Hormonal regulation and all that shit. What about it?”

“That’s why they think you smell so good. Vampires are attracted to menstruating women.”

“That’s…unlucky,” said Alice.

“Actually,” Brandon said, grinning, “it’s luckier than you know. Because the only thing that can cure a vampire? Drinking menstrual blood.”

“Aw hell, Brandon, you never told us that! It’s disgusting!”

Without warning, Sonia twisted apple-lip boy’s arm behind him and actually broke his skin a little with the needle. “You are on such thin ice, kid. Don’t even start. Periods are not disgusting, they are natural and healthy and apparently are going to save your sorry fanboy life, so why don’t you just play nice and drink up?”

Alice grinned at Sonia. “You are totally my hero, you know that, right?”

“Does that mean I get a kiss?”

Alice looked thoughtful.

Judy moved a little closer to Brandon, who looked torn between excitement and embarrassment. More than anything, that made her think he hadn’t changed so much since last summer. “So vampires are attracted to their cure? That’s a real evolutionary disadvantage,” Judy said. “Maybe that’s why we’ve never seen a vampire before.”

Brandon scrunched his nose—his ‘conundrum face,’ she’d called it last summer. “The guy who, uh, turned me—anyway, he told me about the cure. He said things got bad if you stayed that way for more than a few weeks.”

This excited Judy. “Maybe it’s a parasite that can be transmitted more easily in an asymptomatic host, and actually being a vampire is a temporary stage of its development cycle!”

“Hey!” Sonia’s voice was sharp. Judy jumped back. “Supportive as I am of geek love, how about we focus on making this stage in their development cycle very temporary? Smear a little blood…”

“It touches his lips,” Brandon said, “he turns human again in a few minutes. And he can’t ever turn back again.”

Apple-lip boy started to cry. Not even Judy could muster compassion.

“Don’t worry,” Sonia said. “I got this one.”

She reached under her sundress and pulled out the brown rubber cup that Judy had seen her rinsing out this morning. Sonia liked it because it had ‘zero carbon footprint’ and was ‘ecologically harmonious.’ Apparently, it was also good for curing supernaturally transmitted diseases, because all she had to do was tip the cup into apple-lip boy’s screaming mouth for him to choke and then fall to the pine-needle floor in a boneless heap.

“Wow, that was easy,” said Alice.

Brandon wriggled against the ropes, but the knots were well-tied. “I hope you’ll let me help?” he said. Judy knelt and worked at them with a needle until they came undone.

“Can he still transmit?” she asked, gesturing to the groaning, fully-human boy.

“Yes,” Brandon said, rubbing his wrists. “But only once, and only to another guy and I’m pretty sure even that wears off after a few months…”

“Maybe you should carry him,” Judy said.

Brandon shrugged and hefted the boy over his shoulder. Sonia handed Alice the knitting needle and held aloft her rubber cup.

“All right, girls,” she said, ignoring Brandon. “Let’s go slay ourselves some vampires.”

#

They picked a spot in the middle of a maze path with plenty of room on all sides for maneuvering. Brandon hid with apple-lip boy just behind some trees to the side. The three girls sat down in the middle of the clearing.

“You ready?” Judy asked her sister.

Alice took a deep breath, and nodded. “Let’s do it.”

Judy held her pad, Alice a tampon, and Sonia a half-full rubber cup. They were as ready as they would ever be.

And so Alice started screaming. It was a thing of beauty—ear-piercingly shrill, but full of deep pathos and sadness and despair at the same time. Alice had instantly transformed herself into a hysterical girl. Judy gave her sister a tight, soldierly nod. Judy knew how scared she must be. They all were, stuck in the woods with a bunch of vampire boys out for their blood. But Alice had turned her fear into a weapon, and Judy had never been prouder to be her sister than at that moment.

Judy caught Sonia’s eye. “Be ready,” she mouthed. Alice had started blubbering, artfully incoherent moans about “mommy” and “being a good girl from now on” and “just get me out of here, please, please, please.”

Something rustled in the woods. It took all of Judy’s concentration not to jump or whirl around.

See what we want you to see, Judy thought. Three helpless girls, ripe for the taking. Don’t worry about what happened to the other boy. Don’t worry that we might hurt you. What can we do, anyway?

More rustling. Judy made a show of hugging Alice. Sonia dropped to her knees and clasped her hands together, mouthing silent prayers.

Four, maybe five seconds. Alice’s sobs drowned out Judy’s thudding heartbeat.

And then the woods exploded.

Six boys came at them from all directions, some Judy recognized, some she didn’t, but Pablo and Tom clearly in charge. When Pablo was a few feet from Alice and Judy, he paused and held up his hand. The boys all froze, much to Judy’s relief.

“Aw…begging for your mommy to come find you? Not going to happen, babe.”

“Are you really going to kill us?” Judy said. Alice kept burbling; Sonia kept praying; Judy gripped the pad in her pocket.

Tom shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t think anyone will notice one way or another with you, will they?”

“She’s like Ugly Betty, but less popular,” Pablo said. “At least she smells nice.”

There was a time when insults like this had made Judy stop speaking for weeks at a time. When she had retreated so deeply into her hobbies that even Alice hardly saw her. At one time, coming from a boy like Pablo, it might have devastated her for life.

Now, she just glared at him.

“You’re kind of pathetic,” she said. “You don’t even have real fangs.”

Pablo yanked her up by the roots of her hair. “But I think they’ll cut your skin just fine,” he said, so close to her face that she could smell the blood on his breath. And more spit, of course.

He lowered his mouth to her neck, but his pearlescent teeth felt about as strong as a set of dentures. “Oh, right,” he mumbled, and fumbled at his pocket with his left hand.

“Shit!” he said. “I must have dropped them. Tom, can I borrow yours?”

“Gross, man. No way.”

“Come on!”

“You’ll, like, give me herpes.”

“Bros before hos?”

“Dude, that’s…I don’t even know where to start.”

But Judy did. She raised her hands like she was trying to protect her neck and when he turned back to her, she put two fingers, very carefully, into Pablo’s mouth.

“Faht the eff…” Which was all he had time to say before the blood on her hand did the trick, and he collapsed on top of her, twitching and gurgling.

“Pablo? Are you—”

Brandon sprinted out of the woods, knocking Tom to the ground in a running tackle.

“Goddamn it, Brandon!”

Tom kicked Brandon hard enough to make Judy wince even from her position beneath Pablo. Tom started to float, but Alice reached him a moment later and stabbed him in the butt with a needle. Tom sank back down like a leaky balloon.

“Will you guys “Stop them!” he yelled, prompting the other four vampire boys to do something more than gape and wince in sympathy.

Judy managed to wrench herself from underneath Pablo (muscle definitely weighed more than fat) around the time that Brandon hauled himself upright.

“Are you okay?” she said, shouting to be heard over the valkyrie screams of her sister and friend, and the moaning gurgles of defeated vampires.

“Yeah. You?”

“The painters are in, buddy!” Sonia shouted, and Judy felt a spatter of blood hit her cheek. She grinned.

Brandon pushed her down in enough time to prevent a tree limb from smashing into her head.

“Sorry, Judy!” Alice hollered. Judy watched Alice wrap her legs firmly around a boy’s neck while he gasped and cursed. Alice lifted her tampon, twirled it above her head like a cotton mace, and then thwapped it with wet precision against the boy’s lips.

“Listen,” Brandon said, “I’m really sorry about this. The whole thing was a mess, and I didn’t want to put you in danger—”

“You could have talked to me,” Judy said. “I could have helped.”

“I…”

“Judy!”

But it was too late: Tom gripped her from behind. He held a simple fishing knife against her neck.

“I told Pablo those fangs were stupid,” he muttered. “Got your attention? Good. Now back away slowly. If I see any of you girls touching yourselves…”

“Jackass,” Sonia said.

“As for you, Judy,” he said, letting the razor bite softly into her skin. “I need some blood. I’ll try not to take it all.”

Judy was shaking too hard to speak, but she had always been good at thinking. As Tom leaned into her neck, she turned her cheek, like a girl hoping for a kiss. Tom laughed a little and shrugged, as though to say, “why not?” Except the angles were all wrong—like a certain bumbling attempt on the edge of the woods last year. And just like that time, the boy missed her mouth, landing instead with a wet slobber on her cheek.

The cheek that Sonia had splattered.

Tom dropped with hardly a sound. The helpless twitching that followed a moment later felt particularly satisfying.

“Someone stop me from kicking him,” Sonia said.

Alice kissed her.

Well, that’s one way of ending an evening, Judy thought.

#

Judy and Brandon and Sonia and Alice sat by the lake, watching the sun come up. Apple-lip boy had staggered back to his cabin, and Judy didn’t much care if the other boys never found their way out.

“You did it to lose weight?” Judy repeated.

Brandon could hardly look at her, but at least he was telling the truth. “Not on purpose. This guy visiting the school glossed over the details. Said it would turn me into a stud. I was…you did so well with your weight loss goals and my parents were going to send me back to the Penitentiary and…”

“Oh Brandon,” she said, patting his shoulder. “I guess that explains the bathroom raid.”

“I hope you can forgive me. I should have said something instead of ignoring you.”

“I understand. But maybe your next hobby could be feminism? Sonia has a copy of The Second Sex.

Brandon smiled ruefully. “That sounds like a good idea.”

“Oh!” Judy said, blushing. “I meant to show you. It’s the garter stitch I wrote about. It’s not finished yet, but…”

She handed him the half-scarf. The loose ends had unraveled a bit, and the stitching seemed kind of strange in the brightening dawn, but Brandon held it like a golden fleece.

“It’s…Judy, did anyone ever tell you…I mean, back at the Penitentiary…I mean, ever since you got here—”

And so Judy grabbed Brandon by the back of his well-coiffed head and crossed d) very thoroughly off her list. 

Alaya Dawn Johnson lives, writes, cooks and (perhaps most importantly) eats in New York City. The first two volumes of her The Spirit Bindersyoung adult trilogy, Racing the Dark and The Burning City, are available now from Agate Bolden. Her novel Moonshine, featuring vampires in the 1920s, was released in 2010 by Thomas Dunne. Johnson’s short fiction has appeared at Strange HorizonsFantasy Magazine, and in the anthologyZombies vs. Unicorns, among other places.

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