Edited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Vampires Never Get Old includes eleven fresh vampire stories from young adult fiction’s leading voices—publishing September 22nd with Imprint. We’re excited to share an excerpt from Rebecca Roanhorse’s “The Boys From Blood River” below!
The Boys From Blood River
“It’s just a song, Lukas,” Neveah says, her voice heavy with disdain. “Nobody believes the Blood River Boys will actually appear if you sing it.” She leans a plump hip against the old-fashioned jukebox that squats in the corner of Landry’s Diner and runs a bright blue fingernail down the playlist, looking for just the right song to get us through after-hours cleanup.
I lean on the mop in my hands and watch her. She’s so confident. So easy in her body. Where I’m… not. I’m too skinny, too gangly, too tall. Caught somewhere between a baby bird and Slender Man, if Slender Man were a pock-faced sixteen- year-old boy whose hair wouldn’t lie flat no matter how much gel he slathered on it. If Slender Man weren’t even the least bit cool.
“Your brother believes,” I offer.
She shakes her head. “Honestly, Brandon is the last person in the world who knows anything about the history of Blood River, much less about the Boys.”
Her eyes dart to me, and then quickly away. I know she’s avoiding looking directly at me, as if not making eye contact will mean she doesn’t have to acknowledge the purpling bruise circling my left eye. As if not seeing my black eye means I don’t actually have one.
But not acknowledging something doesn’t make it go away. Most of the time it makes it worse.
“You don’t believe in the Boys, do you?” Neveah asks me.
Neveah works here at the diner with me, and she’s the closest thing I have to a friend, but even she’s not my friend. Not really. She’s older than me, almost graduated from the community college, whereas I have another full year of high school. If I were going to high school, that is. I’m pretty close to dropping out. Neveah’s smart, way smarter than me. But she’s wrong about the Boys.
“Brandon sure knew all the details,” I challenge nervously. I don’t want to make her mad at me. She’s pretty much the only person in this town who even talks to me. But she’s wrong. I know it. “Their escape, their hideout up by the old mine, the things they did when the townspeople came for them.”
“What about the song?” she asks, eyes focused back on the jukebox. “Do you believe that part?”
“No.” That was the least plausible part. But even as I say no, I wish I were saying yes. “But—”
“Shhh… Here’s my jam.” She punches the little white button, and after a few seconds a song starts. But it’s not the one I expected.
The slow moan of a fiddle wails from the jukebox, joined by the heavy thump of a washboard drum and then a banjo, picked strings as soft as a weeping woman. And a man sings: “As I walked by the river, the moon my companion, I spied a young fellow, an amiable lad…”
Neveah frowns. “This isn’t the song I picked.” She slams a hand against the side of the jukebox, but the song plays on.
“He’d the face of an angel but the heart of a demon, and that night he did take the lone life that I had.”
“It’s the Blood River Boys’ song,” I say, voice high with excitement. “The one we were just talking about!” I’d never heard it before, but it had to be it. Since when did Landry put that on the jukebox?
A thrill rolls down my spine as the fiddle joins the melody with a minor note, and I’m not sure if it’s the music or something else that’s making the room feel colder and the night darker out there beyond the thin windowpanes.
“I didn’t pick this!” Neveah complains. She slams her hand against the player again. “It just started on its own.” She shoots me a suspicious glare. “If this is some kind of sick joke, Lukas…”
“He said, ‘Wrath is my birthright and woe my first swaddling, blood for my feast as I take what is owed…The harvest is coming, and we reap what’s been sowed.’”
“I didn’t do it!” I protest, laughing. “You did it. If anyone’s playing around, it’s you.”
“Well, you make it stop!” Her voice rises, panicky, and I realize she’s serious. I drop the mop, letting it clatter to the floor, and take three quick steps so I’m close enough to reach around the back of the jukebox and hit the emergency off button.
For a minute I think it’s not going to shut off, like we’re in some horror movie and the thing has a life of its own, but sure enough, the machine cuts off, just like it’s supposed to.
Silences rushes in. The lights behind the counter dip with the electrical surge, the neon signs in the windows blink off and then power back on with a high-pitched whine. And something out in the night howls.
From VAMPIRES NEVER GET OLD: TALES WITH FRESH BITE © 2020 Edited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker. Reprinted by permission of Imprint, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, a division of Holtzbrink Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership. All rights reserved.