A Brief Note…
I started The Bloodlines of Rollinsford when I was fifteen, sitting in an empty classroom as I killed time before my astronomy class. I remember this because my friend Vickie Wacek was there, as she always seemed to be when I had something no one was interested in reading, and I’ve never forgotten a moment we’ve shared.
I’ll be 40 next month, by the way.
The original version of The Bloodlines of Rollinsford was what I’d have called “absolute garbage” five years ago, and what I’ll call today with a more tempered mind a “young author’s book.” In it, I had set out to create a vampire world unlike any yet seen in books and film, while faithfully adhering to the “ground rules” established in traditional vampire mythology. But I learned rather brutally after the rejection letters began to stuff my mailbox that vampire fiction was an oversaturated genre… and that my book would not sell. So I moved on to the other projects on my bottomless list.
As I grew older, my creative work grew with me, and for a time I had no interest in vampires. The old hand-written manuscripts containing the Bloodlines of Rollinsford Trilogy occupied a special place in my heart and a literal place at the bottom of a trunk. It wasn’t until I started writing Topaz in 2012 that I began to notice the connective tissue between it and my vampire books. Before long, characters from my original Bloodlines trilogy were popping up in Topaz, and I realized that a re-write of the entire vampire series was not only possible, it needed to be done. Seven years later, I’d release The Bloodlines of Rollinsford: The Estafru Messiah, completely re-shaped from bare metal. As I write this, The Bloodlines of Rollinsford 2: Savage Baptism is nearly ready for its February 14th, 2022 release (Happy Birthday, Mom).
Childhood’s End: A Bloodlines of Rollinsford Story picks up in the middle of The Bloodlines of Rollinsford: The Estafru Messiah and follows characters we’ll see much more of in Savage Baptism. That said, Childhood’s End is its own encapsulated story, and can be read without any prior exposure to my books, vampire or otherwise. As a serialized story, it should fill the gap over the next few months before The Bloodlines of Rollinsford 2: Savage Baptism hits shelves and digital media.
I hope you enjoy it.
Mom was going to rip into Dad worse than Dirk had ever seen tonight. Worse than the time Dad had come home reeking of lilac perfume, worse than the time he’d rolled into the garage in a new Mustang he’d bought without consulting with her, and worse still than the time Dad had driven said Mustang, drunker than a hobo at 9am, into the deep freezer in the garage, destroying the frozen stock of what would have been Mom’s tourtiere pie business. It would be different tonight not simply because Dad had broken a promise to her, but because she’d actually come to believe he’d kept to it.
Dirk occupied the chaise of their powder blue sectional couch as he always did this time of night. It was more practical than comfortable—he’d just as soon have done his nightly homework within the relative privacy of his bedroom—but it was vital to his continued existence under this roof that his parents regularly witnessed his commitment to school. Mom and Dad were the types who offered no help in deconstructing mathematical equations or pointing out the improper use of a semicolon, but they were quick to press his nose cruelly into any academic failure. Failure, like the privacy of his bedroom, was another relative concept. It could take the form of a B+ in his Junior High days, but as his parents’ standards grew—standards which two non-college-educated, mediocre students were remiss in self-applying—he’d found, alongside a palette of exotic bruises upon his body, that anything lower than an A would tempt to the surface the less savory areas of his parents’ personalities.
So he’d adapted, as Dirk Evans found he was more than capable. On the nights he spent lounging on the chaise, struggling to focus through the blare of his little sister’s evening cartoons on the television, he’d witnessed and shrunk away from many a physical breakdown between his parents. Dad had once taken a porcelain tea cup to the face, lucky he hadn’t lost an eye. On another occasion Mom had thrown herself on him without warning, rocking her inebriated husband with enough power to send him flailing backward to where he collapsed on the kitchen table. Dirk would never forget the way the table had shattered under the 250 pounds of dough that was his father. He’d also never forget the look on his mother’s face in the immediate aftermath, the instant buyer’s remorse that wrinkled her features in sheer terror, before she’d spun off-kilter and fallen back toward their bedroom.
Dad had broken the door in a single collected heave, filling the house moments later with the clatter of things breaking, punctuated sharply by the shrill cries of his mother, terrified and apologetic, as Dad worked her over. That had been the night he’d wrecked the deep freezer, denting it so badly that its lid would never close again. That had been the worst Dirk had ever seen his parents.
Tonight would be something extra special though.
It had been nearly six months since the incident with the freezer, after which an uncharacteristically sober and repentant Dirk Evans Sr. took a knee before his wife. Dirk hadn’t slept that night and had caught the exchange only as he’d stepped out of his bedroom for school. There he’d glimpsed a pair of similarly broken people before hurrying off to the sanctuary of Eliot High. Mom cradled a dislocated arm against her timeworn nighty, torn at the shoulder seam, while Dad occupied the floor before her, begging her not to call the police and pleading for one final chance. As Dirk had hurried out of the house, fearing the day his four-year-old sister Lisa would spend at home with their battered and broken mother, he heard his father utter one of the many absurdities voiced by alcoholics during their inevitable periods of bottoming out. Dirk Evans Sr. had promised in that moment to quit the bottle for good, to shoot down the after-work coaxing of Eddie Hagrid and Calvin Spock, which never failed to tempt him toward the Legion in Rollinsford or Cece’s Weasel Pit in Somersworth.
Dad had promised to change his ways.
The problem Dirk was learning about alcoholics and their victims was that when they got a new chance at cleaning up, a single moment of weakness fetched a damning sentence from those formerly at the receiving end of their low moments. All Dad had to do was screw up once, and Mom had been ready for it initially, expecting it even, but when the months fell off the calendar and Dad had yet to stumble in stinking of blended scotch, she seemed to shed a certain darkness that Dirk had always known in her and had begun to live life less guardedly. But in the end, and for all his efforts, Dad would always be one screw up away from damnation. All it took was one betrayal. One night back on the bottle.
“He’s going out on his ass this time,” Mom grumbled, her voice barely rising over the clatter of dishes and the running of the sink. Dirk caught her in his peripherals several times, pacing the kitchen and rubbing absently at her long-healed arm. This was a tic she’d indulged on many nights during the last six months when the snarling roar of Dad’s Mustang failed to register in the garage at this customary time of 5:25pm. On the evenings Dad had been late, he’d returned verifiably sober and had employed a patience with Mom that Dirk could almost call saintly. Dad worked good-naturedly with Mom’s PTSD, never lifting his voice or his fist despite her often flaring temper. Most days he’d been delayed by a stop at the local Cumby’s to pick up the Ginger Ale he now favored in the evenings. Other days it had been traffic. Nowhere in his excuses or behavior could the taint of alcohol be found. Where Dad had once settled arguments with his fists, he’d kept his temper in these moments, answering Mom’s every question with the calm and placid face of a man who no longer had anything to hide. It grew to the point where Dirk was shocked to find himself resenting his mother as the days ticked off and Dad’s recovery seemed a certainty.
Tonight, however, Mom’s fury was completely valid. Dad was more than three hours overdue.
“Lisa—bedtime!” Mom hollered over the crashing dishes. Moments later an even greater crash, one that told Dirk she’d dropped a plate or ceramic mug, brought her voice back in a shrill collection of every swear word seemingly known to man. This tirade ended with a sharper cry of, “Lisa! Turn off those fucking cartoons and get to bed!”
Dirk sensed his need to get involved as Lisa, seated on the floor with her legs folded neatly before the TV, swiveled to peer helplessly back at her older brother. Dirk cast a bitter glance toward the open copy of “The Elements of Style” in his lap, resting atop a short story scratched to hell with red corrections, then grunted his way off the chaise.
“Come on, midget,“ Dirk said, trying in every way he could to grow his love and goodwill so it might eclipse the cruelty oozing out of the kitchen. “Let’s get you tucked in.“
Lisa had been what the older folks called a “change of life baby.” She and Dirk were separated by 13 years with Lisa coming as what dad frequently described as Mom’s missed pill or worse, the accident, in the last months of summer before the twin towers in New York fell. His cruelty was another of his defense mechanisms meant chiefly for Mom’s personal disparagement, but Dirk knew Lisa was rapidly approaching the age where she’d begin mining her own personal value from the words of their parents, and he didn’t want her to become the bag of mixed emotions that was Dirk Evans Jr. on most days.
Scooping up his little sister, Dirk offered his usual playful musings, though in a voice hushed to avoid catching the ears of the Wraith in the kitchen. “Goodness,” he whispered, using a theatrical grunt to really sell it. “You must weigh more than a six-year-old now! What a big girl!”
Lisa nuzzled into his neck as he ferried her out of the living room, Mom’s breakdown receding behind them. “I’m a big girl, Steve,” she responded proudly, calling Dirk by his middle name as she had since she’d learned to speak. It had been Dad’s idea, no doubt one informed by shots of whiskey and PBRs off-tap, when he’d suddenly considered the oddness of hearing his own name uttered by his child. Dad’s insecurities abounded in the years leading up to his now broken stretch of sobriety, and his family knew well not to stand against them.
“You’re a very big girl. You’ll be bigger than me in a year at this rate!” Dirk followed this with a series of tickle kisses on Lisa’s neck and shoulders, at which she giggled uncontrollably, flailing so that he nearly dropped her. Correcting his grip, he tickled-kissed her again as he toed open the door and stepped into her bedroom world of unicorns and rainbows.
Dirk took a moment for Lisa’s giggles to pass before depositing her softly into a mess of clotted blankets and stuffed animals beneath the pink gossamer awning of her four post princess bed. Lisa giggled some more, snatching at her unicorn comforter until it came free of the mess. Drawing it up to her tiny, dimpled chin, she gazed mischievously up at Dirk with a pair of unmoored black curls stranding down each cheek.
“I want Charlie the Choo Choo,” she demanded playfully, referring to her favorite children’s book by Beryl Evans. It was the novelty of the last name, which matched their own, that had leashed her to the book. At some point Dirk would have to let her in on the big secret, that this dark tale was actually the work of Stephen King, and a story within a story, but as with most things when it came to Lisa, he would nurture what brought happiness to her in this house until those illusions were as obvious as the failing conceptualization of Santa Claus to a tween.
“Next stop, Mid-World,” Dirk happily obliged, fetching the book from a pile beside the vanity Lisa had been given (along with the bed) from Mom’s parents, Mimi and Papa. The Mid-World reference wouldn’t hold any weight in Lisa’s mind until later in life when Dirk would almost certainly place a copy of Stephen kings “The Gunslinger” in her hand, but for now she knew it only as a sign of her older brother bending toward her will.
Dirk read through the book twice while Lisa worked steadily to embed herself in him like a tick. After he’d finished the second pass and paused for every odd question her little mind could possibly unearth, he eventually found slumbering against him the tiny form of his baby sister, his shadow veiling her sleeping face in a way that felt symbolic of their relationship. Dirk had been, and always would be, her protector. Some days he could still feel the white-hot sting of his father’s open hand across his cheek as he’d stood between the man and his sister more than a year ago, halting a beating over the uncollected Lego blocks Dirk Sr. had stepped on barefoot. Dirk had never hated his father more than he had in that moment, and it hadn’t just been the corrective smack that delivered him to the drab kitchen tile. That night Dirk had proudly taken the medicine originally intended for a helpless and ignorant toddler. Gazing upon his sleeping sister now, he knew he’d take a million more slaps and bruises and broken bones in keeping Lisa safe. He’d take them with a smile and say thank you from the floor.
Easing his sister off his shoulder and guiding her head gently to the pillow, Dirk was assured by the sounds of ire bursting from the kitchen that the old times were indeed returning. Fingering the light switch on his way out and pausing to pivot back at his sister’s sleeping form, filmed by shadow broken only by the tiny flicker of her Hello Kitty night light, he mourned what had been—easily—the best six months of his life.
A sad part of him spoke from the blackest margins of his mind, maybe we’ll get lucky and one of them will kill the other this time. Though the thoughts stabbed at his heart like the barbed tips of arrowheads shaped from stone, he couldn’t help this hope settling in him, assuring him that from the tragedy which would unfold, true liberation from this life would be gained.
One parent would go to hell, the other to prison, leaving Dirk and Lisa with the prospect of a better life in foster care. But, of course, Lisa would be scarred in ways that would follow her, ways that would shape her every thought and interaction for the rest of her life. She was still too young to see her parents for the monsters they were. For things to end in the only way Dirk thought possible, they would each have to cut out a part of themselves and leave it at the feet of one dead parent.
The situation was hopeless, and Dirk knew it well. He’d be out from under in another year, but that would leave Lisa alone in this house with no one to protect her. Despite his numerous prospects for college and his meticulously maintained grades, Dirk’s only future rested in Eliot, Maine. That is, until Lisa was old enough to exit the family, similarly broken.
Dirk reclaimed his space on the chaise and returned to the edit on his story for Miss Lewis, who’d made sure to nurture what she called a “natural writing talent” with a cocktail of praise and harsh criticism that was never evenly mixed and almost always favored the latter. Lewis was simultaneously the greatest mentor and harshest critic ever to take interest in him. Though his logical side insisted that those two roles often came paired in a mentor, it was a hatred nurtured in him by his father’s hand that made Dirk distrustful and on one occasion violent toward any perceived position of authority. His guidance counselor had ascertained as much when Dirk had kicked his Phys-Ed teacher, Mr Kilroy, feebly in the shin after being ordered to complete the mile run. His counselor had warned him that such disrespect to the natural order of things would leave him struggling to adapt to any job he might pursue as an adult, but Dirk had only collected half of himself that day, vowing he’d exercise better control, but never relinquishing his core feelings on the matter.
He never would.
Dirk wasn’t two sentences back into his story when Mom’s rigid, fuming form reappeared in the archway joining the kitchen with the living room. He spared a moment’s attention to her, just long enough to consider the stage she was setting. The dishes were done, save for the leavings of their dinner, plated on dollar store flatware around the circular kitchen table. The plates were scattered with bones from the rotisserie chicken dinner she’d put together, while Dad’s plate sat pristine and untouched. Further adding to this mindful assembly was the presence of Mom’s red checkered bandana holding back her chestnut hair with wisps stringing out and bobbing under her frantic movement. Dad hated that bandana. He’d told her numerous times (usually in a slurred drawl) that it made her look like white trash. She now wore it in defiance of the man, in spite of the man, just another piece of pageantry like the dinner left out, all to set his pot boiling over alongside hers.
It would be a fight for the ages, and Dirk decided in this moment that he would be absent when it came. Gathering up his books as quietly and statically as his flight instincts would allow, he stood and made his hasty exit toward his room.
“Dirk?!” Mom called after him, that tone of overflowing rage threading her voice and halting him at the threshold of the hallway. He rotated back toward the kitchen archway, prepared to choose his words carefully.
Mom nearly tripped over the frayed edge of the carpet, which bristled in slowly deconstructing agony at the edge of the kitchen tile. As she corrected herself and stood impossibly erect before him, eyes running hatefully up and down a boy who had over the years assumed the steady build of a man she clearly hated, Dirk bolstered himself against the crushing salvo of resentful clutter she was about to dust off in her mind.
“Your sister’s asleep?” Mom asked in a tone Dirk imagined she might have easily used with a nanny or au pair.
“Out cold,” Dirk answered, fidgeting with his books.
“Your homework is done?” Those eyes were now questioning, sweeping over him for signs of deception. Imagined or otherwise.
“Yes,” Dirk said, adding truthfully, “and I’m already halfway done with the story for Miss Lewis due next week.” He hesitated, then, “Would you… do you want to read it? She says I’ve got natural writing talent.” He omitted that she’d also recently given him a full ration of crushing feedback about his use of superfluous commas.
Mom’s face twisted as though Dirk had asked her to identify an odd odor in his room. He watched as for a moment her harsh exterior shed itself like a snake slipping its skin, as she perhaps revisited a point in her life when she’d actually cared. But it lasted only a microsecond and was rapidly edged back out by the life of struggle she’d built with his father.
“Just… go to bed,” she said at last, defeated in every regard. The tenseness in her relaxed only marginally, and she walked back into the kitchen, slumped forward without another word. There she’d wait for Dad to stumble in, perhaps already planning to forego conversation for the clear message sent by a carving knife dividing his flesh. In any event, Dirk wouldn’t be around to see it. He would in fact sleep with his headphones on and deal with this conflict’s ultimate resolution in the morning.
This would have been the plan, anyway, if Dad had actually come home that night. But Dad wouldn’t be there in the morning.
Dirk Evans Sr. wouldn’t arrive home until the sun set on his first full day as a reported missing person… and his condition would be far worse than any cultivated from a night lost in a bottle.