December 25, 1981

Winter nights in Maine were long and dark and frigid, and the wind chill was particularly evident if you lived in an old house. One with gaping cracks in the walls, on top of a hill, next door to the Atlantic Ocean. But that didn't concern Willie this night. He had a private party, sprawled in front of the parlor fireplace, where the young man celebrated his birthday and Christmas in his own fashion: with a cigarette and a bottle of rum. Otherwise, the day had been like any other, except that he was limited in the chores he could perform because of his mending hand.

The town rolled up its streets on holidays. All the shops were closed; there wasn't even a newspaper published, and at sunset, Barnabas had fled to Collinwood with an armful of presents. For lack of other entertainment, Willie read a book. He chose Candide from the boss's library because it was short, and Barnabas had told him it was full of action and adventure. With a pad and pencil beside him, the young man jotted down the words he would look up in the dictionary on the following day. On the top of the lengthy list was the subtitle: Optimism.

Willie tossed his cigarette into the grate and pushed the bottle aside when he heard the front door open. He buried his nose in the volume as Barnabas hung up his coat and cane.

"I can smell that cigarette from here," echoed his master's voice from the foyer.

"I didn't wanna go outside, it's really cold and—" His eyes lit up. "Is that for me?"

Barnabas stood in the doorway holding a plate covered with aluminum foil. "Yes. Mrs. Johnson insisted I bring this," he sighed. "She continually looks at me as if I spend my time beating and starving you." Willie rose but maintained a respectful distance, his eyes not leaving the plate. "Why am I to blame if you choose to spend your grocery allowance on hard drink? All I hear from folk is what an excellent job you're doing with the restoration; they have no idea of what I have to endure in the process. You're lucky I don't tie you to a hitching post."

"I wouldn't get much work done then." Oh, god, shuddup. You can see he's in a pissy mood. Do you want him to throw it away?

"It seems to me you didn't get much work done today in any event," Barnabas snorted as he thrust the dish at his manservant and settled into his favorite chair. "Don't spill that food on my book, boy, it's a first edition. Take your meal into the kitchen."

Willie peeked under the foil cover. "It's freezin' down there. You said not to waste fuel, so I didn't—"

"Then take it to your room."

"But there's no—" Willie cut himself off, seeing that the vampire wanted to be alone. "Oh. Okay." He started to leave.

"Very well," Barnabas wearily conceded. "Eat here by the fire if you must."

The boy planted himself on the floor near the warm hearth and pulled eating utensils from his jacket pocket. Barnabas raised a brow.

"Just in case," Willie explained and dove fork-first into his Christmas dinner. It was cold, but no matter. There were thick slices of slightly dry ham covered in sweet, sticky goo; creamy scalloped potatoes; buttered peas and biscuits. It was piled high enough for two meals but both men knew that it wouldn't last the hour.

"So this gift was not unexpected."

"'Member you told me to always plan ahead." Willie strained his brain to remember the master's words. "Determine what'll be the—somethin'—outcome, then the possible one, and be prepared, somethin' like that."

"Don't you have a remarkable sense of recall."

Willie continued to ramble and shovel simultaneously. "Well, I 'specially 'member that, 'cause ya were whackin' me with yer stick while you were sayin' it."

Barnabas looked at him in disgust. "Close your mouth when you eat. Must you devour that like an animal?"

"'m hungry," he snapped unthinking, then noted the master's expression and gripped his plate possessively. "Yessir. I mean, no sir. I'm sorry. I'll shuddup now." Willie adjusted his pace accordingly.

The vampire sat back in his chair and inhaled the food's aromas. Another scent caught his nose. He looked around and spied the rum bottle behind the fire poker set.

"Willie." The master's voice became stern. "Did I not specifically forbid you to touch those spirits?"

"No, shur." Willie shook his head and held up a finger until his mouthful was chewed and swallowed. "No disrespect, sir, but you specific'ly said not to drink when I'm sad. Unpleasant thoughts and situations, that's what you said." Willie shrugged. "Well, I'm not sad. Actually, drinkin' makes me very happy."

"You understood my meaning."

"No, sir, 'cause I'm stupid. I only understand what you tell me . . . and then not always."

"It seems to me that you are stupid only when it is convenient for you to be so."

Willie wasn't sure if he was expected to agree or disagree, so he simply nodded and finished his meal.

Barnabas picked up the book the boy had discarded to the end table. "Well, my stupid friend, what are your thoughts on Voltaire?"

Barnabas had just called him friend. He didn't mean it; he was being sarcastic.

"You mean that book? It's gotta lotta sex and violence. I didn't know you read stuff like that. I thought you'd read poetry or somethin', but there's some nasty shit—uh, stuff—goin' down in that story. Then they say, it's all for the best, and it's the best of all possible worlds. I don't get it."

"It is philosophical satire." Willie wrote those two words on his list.

"So there's this young guy, and one rotten thing after another happens to him, and ya kinda wanna feel sorry about that, if he wasn't such an idiot—Oh, I liked when they went to El Dorado, 'cause there was gold and jewels in the street—then all these people keep dyin', like Dr. Pangloss and the brother and the girl; they're hanged and burned and chopped up, but then you find out they're not really dead. How are ya supposed to believe that?"

"There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

"I guess." Willie set aside his empty plate, cleared his throat and began hesitantly. "Uh, B-Barnabas?"

"Yes?"

"I, uh, was wonderin' . . ." He chickened out and began a new topic. "How was the p-party?"

"Noisy. Crowded. Carolyn's fiancé serenaded us on the grand piano with rather unorthodox interpretations of Christmas carols. Quite an unusual young man, that Mr. Hackett." Willie smiled and nodded. "You're not going to do that thing with your hair, are you?"

"A Mohawk? No, sir. I'm more of a James Dean kinda guy, know what I mean?"

"No, I don't."

"Well, I guess it's like Voltaire. You just hadda be there." The significance of that statement was not lost on a man of multiple centuries.

"They also have a most annoying houseguest who bombarded me with questions all evening. I was trying to hold polite conversation with Miss Winters, but this woman thwarted my every effort."

"Did she have squinty eyes and red hair? I saw her come in with the Collins family last night at that church; she was starin' at me. Hey, Barnabas, do ya think she's a cop?" Barnabas was unfamiliar with the term, so Willie explained. "Ya know, police, or maybe a detective."

"A female officer of the law? Don't be idiotic. Miss Hoffman—that's her name, Julia Hoffman—claims to be some sort of author or historian, gathering facts for a book about my ancestral roots."

Willie sighed with relief. "Well, that's okay, ain't it? I bet there's a lot of stuff ya could tell her."

"If I had the slightest interest in doing so, then yes, I could. But the farthest thing from my mind is the continued acquaintance of that… that . . ."

"Hey, as long as she's not a cop." Willie took a swig from his bottle. "I keep worryin', sir, that we're gonna get in big trouble. Somebody's gonna find out about Maggie Evans, and they're gonna come get us. But it'll be durin' the day—you won't be here—and they'll just get me. . . "

He decided it was better not to finish that thought. It would certainly work out well for the vampire if Willie was the fall guy. He looked carefully at Barnabas. Every man for himself.

"You mustn't let your imagination run wild. I assure you, there is no danger," but the master emphasized, "as long as we keep our wits and do not panic. I trust I don't have to whack you with a stick for you to remember that."

"No, sir."

Barnabas deliberately changed the subject and adopted a lighter tone. "For some ungodly reason, they chopped down a perfectly good Norway spruce and displayed it in the middle of the foyer, bedecked in glittering ornaments and artificial lighting."

"That's a Christmas tree. Didn't ya never have a Christmas tree?"

"No."

"Wow." Willie looked surprised. "Yeah, well, me neither. 'Cept at the bar, where my mom used to work, they had this fake tree that it looked like it was made outta toilet brushes. There were presents underneath, too, only they weren't real presents, I found out, just empty boxes wrapped up. I know 'cause I opened one once. Bob put the same ones out every year, and after a while they really looked liked crap."

"Ah yes, Bob. The proprietor who knew you were drinking his alcohol. He felt pity for you, when he should have intervened."

Willie shrugged. "Sometimes it's hard to know what's the right thing to do. Real hard."

There was a brief silence as the young man emptied his bottle

"So, hey, uh—how 'bout if we lose this scar off my face? You said ya would," he said with deliberate casualness.

"Is that why you're inebriated?"

Willie started to write the word on his list but then remembered hearing it before.

"Well, yeah. I was thinkin' it wouldn't be too bad if I was passed out."

"I'm sure that event is imminent."

Willie curled up on the floor and dozed off to the sedative sounds of the crackling fire and the master turning pages.

When Willie next awoke, he was lying on his back. His eyes fluttered opened to reveal Barnabas hovering over him.

"Wha' the fuck," he mumbled incoherently.

"This is ineffective," the vampire said with a furrowed brow as he dabbed his face with a handkerchief.

Willie pushed the man away with no actual force and his arm flopped over. "Get offa me." He felt his head being moved to the side and the familiar pressure of punctures on his neck.

Willie next regained consciousness cradled in Barnabas' arms. The vampire's suit jacket had been removed and his shirt sleeve pushed up. Willie tried to focus but the room was spinning. He reached up, put his arm around Barnabas for balance, and held on.

"All is well," Barnabas said, gently removing Willie's hand. "But the wound is too deep, it does not respond." He remorsefully ran a finger along the scar on the young man's cheek. "I don't know what else to do." The master put the underside of his forearm to Willie's mouth, where it had already been punctured. "Drink from me," he said, holding the boy's head in place.

Had Willie been fully awake or sober, his first reaction may have been repulsion. But, for once, the servant followed directions without question or protest. He grasped the vampire's arm and swallowed blood.

The End

The Willie Loomis World Series

Little Willie
Globetrotters
The Maine Event
Changes
This Old House
Interlude
Haplessly Ever After