"This is Kent Brockman reporting for Channel 6 News. President-elect John McCain revealed today that he has been receiving chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer. I'm here on Pennsylvania Avenue, talking to one of the approximately seven thousand people who have lined up to offer their bone marrow…"

"Oh my God," said Marge with concern. "If McCain kicks the bucket, we'll be left with a vacuum in the White House."

Homer, one hand dipped in his favorite bag of potato chips, glanced over at his wife. "You don't normally watch the news," he remarked.

"You're right, I don't," said Marge. "But with the economy collapsing and the stock market shooting up and down, I've got to stay up to date on what's happening to my Enron shares."

"Senate Republicans have come forward with a bill officially blaming the Democrats for the economic crisis," Brockman continued. "Senate Democrats countered with a bill of their own…"

"Hey, where's Lisa?" Homer suddenly asked. "I haven't heard any saxomophone music since she came home from school. She didn't die without telling us, did she?"

"No, Lisa's fine," Marge assured him. "She's so engrossed in her vampire books, she's given up pretty much every other activity—eating, sleeping, even homework."

One floor above their heads, Lisa lay across her mattress with her nose, eyes, and brain buried deep within an obsidian-hued tome entitled, Unnerving Darkness. Her pupils flitted back and forth across the paragraphs as her stomach grumbled vainly. "Oh, rapture," she gushed to herself. "I so envy you, Della, having such a handsome and charming vampire for a boyfriend. If only vampires were real, and not monstrously evil."

Bart poked his nonchalant face through the doorway, asking, "Whatcha readin', Lis?"

She could only smile at him. "It's Unnerving Darkness, the sequel to The Black Finger of Night, Shadows in the Gloom, and Who Turned Out the Lights?."

"Humph," said Bart arrogantly. "Book sequels suck. They're not awesome like movie sequels."

"You're right, it does suck," said Lisa, stifling a giggle. "Because it's about vampires."

"Once again, humph," said Bart. "I was a vampire once. Couldn't change back fast enough. If I want to drink blood, I'll go to the dentist."

The following morning on the school bus, Lisa's friend Janey accosted her as she stared, waxy-eyed, at her book. "Is that the latest volume in Melenie Twyer's vampire series?" Janey asked excitedly.

"Er, yes," said Lisa, her tone sheepish. "But…but I'm not reading it for pleasure. I'm writing an extra-credit report for Miss Hoover on how blatantly commercial, not to mention poorly written, these books are. I mean, look at the cover…the author can't even spell her own name right. 'Melanie' is spelled with an a."

"Gee, I wish I had a vampire boyfriend," said Janey dreamily.

"Every girl wishes for that," Lisa lectured her. "It's the latest fad—sexy, non-threatening boys who happen to be undead. Melenie Twyer found a vein, and she tapped it."

Milhouse, his arms folded behind Lisa's head, trained his spectacles on her reading material. "I just love those stories," he said, grinning.

"Do you mind?" said Lisa, glancing over her shoulder at the boy.

"Eduardo is everything I'll never be," said Milhouse wistfully. "He's confident, he's assertive…"

"He's straight," Nelson chimed in, and the kids in the bus erupted into laughter.

"Knock it off!" said Milhouse, his voice almost a whimper. "I'm not gay! Kiss me, Lisa. Show them."

"The doctor says I have something called Asparagus Syndrome," said Ralph to the assembled children. "He says that's why I'll never have a normal life. My mom uses four different kinds of soap. Thank you."

Once Ralph had seated himself, Miss Hoover invited another student to the front. "Boys and girls, I'd like you to meet Vladimir Estragon," said the teacher. "Vladimir just moved to Springfield from…where, again?"

"I am from the former Soviet republic of Karjakistan," said the boy with a slight accent. He had shiny, flaxen hair that ascended to a point, blue eyes that appeared to reflect the sky on a summer day, and bleach-pale skin. "Please forgive my English. I am new to this country, and have not yet mastered the use of verbal contractions."

Lisa gazed at the lad as if her eyes were fixed in place by magnets. I used to think all boys were the same, but there's something different about this one, she thought. I'm not sure what it is, but when I look at him, I can't help wishing I was five years older…

To be continued