Child’s Play 

by Avery Timmons 

        It was difficult being a single dad — but even more difficult being a single dad to a  vampire. 

        At first, Keith didn’t believe his eight-year-old daughter when she came up to him and told  him, straight-faced — her blue eyes that stuck out from her thin, pale face wide and serious —  that she had been doing research and figured out why she was sick all the time: she was a  vampire. 

        He had followed her to the living room desktop regardless, trying not to laugh as he leaned  over her shoulder to read the page she had open on the large screen, figuring he’d humor her. Yet as his eyes skimmed the black text, any remnants of a smile faded. 

        There had been incidents over the years, of course — some more easily explained than  others, like her aversion to loud noises, versus when he found her trying to sink her teeth into the  dog when she was just a toddler, which he just chalked up to behavioral issues. Needless to say, they never got another pet. 

        And all the hospital trips, meeting with doctor after doctor — none of whom could ever  give Keith a direct answer as to why his daughter was smaller, skinnier, paler, colder, and weaker  than her classmates, why she was irritable and shaky and overly sensitive to every sound, every  smell, every touch. It was only during those hospital visits, those late nights as he sat slouched in  the chair in the corner, listening to the slow beeps and watching his tiny daughter asleep in the  too-large, too-white bed that threatened to swallow her up, that he let himself feel the heart wrenching, debilitating pain, let the tears flow, and cursed Genevieve for leaving him to deal  with this alone. 

        It was even worse because he didn’t understand it. She was fine throughout the pregnancy,  was she not? Sure, she had to leave for days at a time sometimes for work, all the way until the  end, and while Keith was worried sick for his wife and unborn baby girl’s safety, he was okay  with it. Because it never seemed to put stress on her. Because A, they were barely out of high  school and desperately needed the money, and B, she always came back looking a little healthier,  a little brighter, and Keith loved that her ocean-blue eyes lit up when she would walk through the  door after a trip and into his arms. 

        And now, she was gone. And now, he was left with the carbon copy of her, a daily reminder  of what he lost. 

        He loved his Lydia, of course. He would probably have let the grief overtake him in  considerably worse ways if he didn’t have a baby that he was responsible for, all on his own, at  barely twenty, when all of his former friends from high school were out partying and taking  advantage of being young. It was hard enough to have a healthy baby to handle on his own  without the support of his parents, but she was a sick baby. And then that sick baby grew into a  sick little girl who devoured every book she could get her hands on whenever she was strong  enough to read them (which wasn’t often). And it was this love for reading and knowledge that  led them to the discovery that — if you had told Keith a few years earlier, he would have  laughed in your face — eight-year-old Lydia was correct. 

        She was a vampire.  

        Sort of. 

        He fell apart the night after the discovery, wrapped up in his comforter, clutching on to  Gen’s old pillow as if his life depended on it, as if he was just a scared little kid again. Because  he was scared. He was terrified, and he did feel like a kid, still only in his late twenties, feeling  more alone than he had ever felt in his life. But after hours of not being able to fall asleep, staring  at the taunting shadows dancing in the moonlight that flooded in through the small window  behind him, he finally pulled himself out of bed. His weight caused the cold, old wooden  floorboards to creak under his bare feet as he left his room, went out into the hallway, and next  door to Lydia’s room. 

        The door was cracked, per usual, so he peered in, being careful not to touch the door so  that it wouldn’t creak and wake her. Everything creaked in this house, and it had been the best he  and Gen could afford at the time, but he couldn’t not notice that over the years, every time a door  or a floorboard creaked, Lydia cringed and covered her ears. He had never thought much of it  before. But now, he understood. 

        And now, illuminated by the white seashell night light on her night stand, she was sleeping  peacefully — curled up in the fetal position on top of the pale pink comforter she’d had since she  was a toddler, facing away from him, her chestnut brown hair falling about halfway down her  back — a peace that she likely was experiencing for the first time in eight years, because of what  happened after the discovery. 

        That thought shattered his already broken heart. 

        He had been hesitant about the blood, but she — already so grown up, so wise beyond her  years — was so sure, so eager that she’d discovered what was wrong with her when so many  doctors couldn’t, he gave in. 

        Because it made sense in a way, and he hated it. Because while she had a heartbeat and  breath and human to her, there was something Keith had never been able to understand. The  sensory issues, the dog attack, the red scratches that always lingered on her arms as if she was  trying to claw her way into herself, whether she realized it or not. 

        They determined that she was half. After all, it wasn’t like she went up in flames any time  she stepped outside. She looked completely human and had human traits, just with the addition  of these other things. Things that could be passed off as sensory issues. 

        If it wasn’t for the blood. 

        When Lydia had asked him what being half meant and how that could be possible, Keith  didn’t explain. He didn’t even want to explain to himself that it was, most likely, biological. That, seeing as both he and his Genevieve were completely, utterly, ordinarily human, he,  most likely, was not Lydia’s biological father. That those “work trips” were, most likely, not  work trips at all, and that he, most likely, wasn’t imagining the scent of another man’s cologne  lingering on her skin and in her hair whenever she arrived home. 

        Not a man, he reminded himself, a vampire

        A monster. 

        The thought pushed itself into his mind before he could stop it, and he instantly felt a wave  of guilt, squeezing his heart in its iron-willed fist. 

        Looking at his daughter now, leaning all of his weight against the doorframe, he thought to  a few hours earlier, watching her down the blood he’d reluctantly picked up for her at the butcher  after they decided to test Lydia’s conclusion.  

        They had poured it into a cup — Lydia’s favorite, for whatever reason. It was plastic and  green and had a long, white scratch down one side, but she never drank out of anything else, so it  felt only right to Keith to give her the comfort of her favorite cup while doing this to her. It felt  so wrong, and watching himself fill the translucent cup with the thick, dark red substance made  his stomach churn. Lydia watched, too, her long hair tied back from her face in two braids. She  didn’t look as disgusted as Keith felt, and he almost wished she did, because maybe then they  could be wrong. 

        Not that he wanted to go back to daily hospital visits, but he couldn’t ignore the thought  that lodged itself deep in the back of his mind that he’d prefer that over this. That maybe, there  was still some chance that he wouldn’t have to start buying blood weekly, that Lydia was truly  his daughter, that she just had some rare disease and that they’d be fine, that his beautiful, perfect  Genevieve had been faithful and just as perfect as he remembered. 

        Lydia had stared at the cup as Keith stopped filling it, a little less than halfway. He wanted  to start small, to see how she would react to it. He stopped pouring, and she raised her eyes to  meet his, wide and full of so many emotions, but the only one that Keith couldn’t find was fear. 

        She was looking to him for permission, he realized, so he nodded, nudging the cup across  the table toward her. 

        Lydia had taken the cup in two hands, and Keith’s heart stuttered as he realized that she had  never looked more like a child than in this moment. It was a stupid thought, he realized, but she  had had to grow up far too quickly. She was so smart, but incredibly shy and out of school so  often for hospital visits that she had never really gotten the chance to make friends. 

        Keith thought that, watching her lift the cup up to her lips, that might be a good thing now.  He wasn’t sure how smart it was to let her around other kids if — if this was really what she was. He had watched as Lydia tilted the cup, the dark blood sliding down the length of the cup  until it reached her lips. She parted them, letting the blood slowly enter her mouth — allowing  for just a small taste. Keith half-hoped she would cringe away in disgust, slam the cup down on  the table, and run towards the sink to spit it out and rinse her mouth out. Then, they could move  on. They could figure something else out. 

        But instead, her eyes fell shut, almost with relief. 

        And she drank. 

        It slid down her lips, down her chin as she drank, her throat bobbing rapidly as she  swallowed, as if she’d never eaten a meal in her life. 

        Keith had wanted to look away, but he couldn’t. Especially not when Lydia lowered her  plastic green cup, now coated with dark red, and smiled at him with a mouthful of blood-stained  teeth. She smiled at him, her normally deathly pale cheeks pink and her blue eyes bright, which  Keith had never seen for as long as she had been alive. She no longer looked like a walking  corpse, as if drinking that small amount of blood healed her more than every prescription and  vitamin and drug that had been pushed into her body since birth. 

        “Can I have more?” she had asked, running her tongue along her teeth, as if wanting to  savor every last drop, and he had no doubt that that was exactly what she was trying to do as he  wordlessly refilled her cup, knowing that saying anything would betray how he was really  feeling, and he didn’t want to ruin this for her. 

        Because in that moment, he could tell Lydia felt more alive than she had ever felt in her  life. 

        And in that moment, Keith felt more scared than he had ever felt in his life. 


Biographical Note:

Avery Timmons is a student at Columbia College Chicago, pursuing a BA in creative writing. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading, dancing around her room, or aimlessly wandering the aisles of a bookstore. She is currently working on a young adult fantasy novel.