The sun should have been high, but the day was dark. It was the gloomiest noon for sixteen years, and everybody knew what that meant.
They had returned.
10-year-old Kelly looked up at the sky and saw what for her had always only been a fairy story. From the dark smudge where the sun ought to have been, bats flew, screeching their challenge, disorientated in daytime, though in their native dark.
24-year-old James saw a nightmare from his childhood. He shielded the eyes of his young son and prayed that history would not repeat itself. One of the bats landed on his roof, half crazy by exhilaration and fear of its master.
And then They came.
Wrapped in black cloaks that hugged their too-slim figures, They strode forward into the day that they had made night. Their faces were pale, chalk-white, but for their bright, blood-red lips, which bulged with the fearsome teeth that lurked, waiting, hungry, behind them. They were the nightmare of the entire world.
James had often wondered why it was that They lived here, of all places. They had the whole world to choose from, and yet They had chosen this sunny, bustling suburban town to inhabit. Maybe, he thought morbidly, it was because here, a few mortals who strayed from the beaten track would not be missed. All hungers must be satiated sometimes.
Everyone knew who They were. Why not? They had nothing to fear from mere mortals. Long ago, They had declared themselves as masters of the town and its people, but soon after had vanished from public view. Everyone thought They had gone. There had been no sign of Them for sixteen years. Of course, there were rumours, but there are always rumours. Now They returned. It was to be expected. The town - Their territory - was threatened; they would defend it to the last. The citizens had only found out a week ago that the entire town would be bulldozed to make room for a massive shopping centre and leisure centre. No one would take Their territory from them. Whoever tried would be punished. They would suffer. They would be confronted with the stuff of their nightmares, and would know what it is like to incur Their anger.
And then? Then, they would perform one last service, and help to quench Their relentless thirst.
You did not cross Them. Not unless you wanted to feel the wrath of a vampire - or that of a group, though one was quite enough to kill you.
That was how it had been last time. Though the terror had faded sixteen years previously, everyone knew They were watching, and everyone knew it would be the same this time. They had not changed. Neither would Their methods.
James had grown up this way. His whole childhood had been overshadowed by this threat. Once or twice a month he would go into school and find that his friends were missing. At the time, he did not understand where they had gone, and no one spoke of it. Then, one day, he came home to find that Matt, his eldest brother, had gone. Matt was fourteen. Pete, eleven, was left with the burden of being oldest. He knew what had happened to Matt and was terrified that the same might happen to him.
After They faded from view, Pete was driven mad by nightmares, and was admitted to a Home. An Asylum. A loony bin. He died a year later, shock, grief and terror stealing his will to live.
Matt had disappeared on James’ eighth birthday. It was rumoured that he was Their last victim.
Kelly looked at the sky, at the bats milling around, and ran inside, dropping her little gardening tools. Her mother was inside. Kelly was fourteen years younger than her brother. No one had expected Mary to have another child, at forty-four. But they knew that They had caused the death of two of her children, indirectly, maybe, but it was definitely Them.
And Kelly had been born. James doted on her, and although he had married and moved out, he came back to visit her every weekend. Kelly’s father alone did not love her, or so it seemed. He was moody and would not hug her as her mother did.
Kelly knew she did not look much like her family. They were blonde, mostly, although her brother was ginger, and had blue eyes that never seemed to get angry. They were of middling height and verging on the plump side, while she had black hair that made her skin seem pale, though in fact it was the same colour as that of her family. Her eyes were very dark brown, almost black, and she was taller than her mother, and thin, though she ate huge amounts for a girl of her age.
Several times she had wondered if she was adopted, but her brother assured her that she wasn’t. He had seen her mother just an hour after the birth. Sometimes her friends teased her and told her she was really a vampire, but once their parents heard, and Janet had been scolded. You didn’t joke about things like that, not here.
But now They had returned, was the truth going to come out, at last?