Dad never liked the Strausburgs. The evening that the vampires moved in, he watched them from behind our beige curtains, his face contorted in a sneer as if he had just stepped into something disgusting.
“I ought to call the real estate agency,” he growled underneath his bushy blonde mustache. “I thought they weren’t allowed to move their kind near the living.”
“That’s illegal now, dear,” said Mom indifferently, her placid blue eyes never looking up from the newspaper.
“Illegal or not, I will not have those bloodsuckers anywhere near my house,” said Dad. “And I want you to stay away from them, Tim. The last thing I want is for you to come home with a pair of holes in your neck.”
I looked up from my firetruck and nodded. I’ll admit, I wasn’t really paying attention to what my dad was ranting about. Mom and I had taken to ignoring him when he was like this. Besides, I already knew one of them from school.
Vienna was in my second-grade class, though she said she was eighty years old. Still, she had the body of an eight-year-old; just a head shorter than me, with curly blonde hair and yellow, cat-like eyes that seemed to consume half of her pale face. She was very smart. Sometimes, she would help me with my math homework when I was having trouble – which was most of the time. We’d play cops and robbers at recess. She chased me around the playground but was always careful to keep her pale pink umbrella over her head, particularly on sunny days. She always drank a package of red liquid at lunch. And she’d never once tried to suck my blood.
“These undead are going to decrease property values,” Dad was saying. His beady eyes were still fixed on the front door of the house despite the fact that the Strausburgs had already disappeared behind it. The house was one of the oldest on the block. The white paint that covered every house had faded to gray, and the shutters on the cracked windows were askew. Word from the kids on the street was that the house was haunted. Now that it was occupied by vampires, I guess it was.
“I really wish you wouldn’t talk about the neighbors like this in front of our son,” said Mom, finally lowering her paper. “And you had better treat them like they are living at the barbeque on Saturday.”
“What!?” Dad’s face turned almost as pale as Vienna’s. “You invited them here? How could you?”
“It’s a neighborhood barbeque, and they are part of the neighborhood. And I expect you to behave yourself.”
If there was one thing that Dad and I had learned, it was this: if Mom made up her mind on something, there was no getting out of it, no matter how much you pleaded. And so Saturday arrived and, sure enough, there was Dad at the grill — wearing a miserable face and cooking his world-famous cheeseburgers (the secret was mixing bacon into the ground beef).
When the early guests started arriving, a glimmer of hope crossed Dad’s face. He was thinking that they wouldn’t show up because it was the middle of the day. Like many people who had never met one, he believed that vampires were only active at night.
There was one thing that he had forgotten, though: vampires are extremely punctual. They never arrive even a second too early or too late. At exactly three o’ clock, the Strausburgs came gliding through the gate and into the backyard, each of them holding an umbrella high above their head. Vienna, hiding behind her father’s very long leg, gave me a shy wave and a small smile.
“Ah, good afternoon,” Mom greeted them cheerfully. “We are so glad that you all could make it.”
“We are very thankful to have received your invitation, Mrs. Jones,” said Mr. Strausburg in his heavy Transylvanian accent. He and Mrs. Strausburg were wearing Hawaiian shirts and beige shorts, revealing marble-like skin on their arms and legs, limbs greasy with gobs of sunscreen. “We were beginning to think that this move might not have been the best choice for our family.”
“I am so sorry you feel that way. But we Joneses want you to feel welcome. Isn’t that right, Bud?”
Dad opened his mouth to say something, but Mom’s dirty look made him close it quickly and nod.
“Now, what would you all like to eat?” Mom asked. “There is plenty of Bud’s world-famous cheeseburgers.”
Mrs. Strausburg shook her head. There was something about her presence that drew the eye of all the grown-ups in the yard. Even Dad’s. “I’m afraid that we are not able to consume mortal food.” Her accent was thick, but her voice felt like velvet in my ear.
“Oh dear, I’m so sorry –” Mom’s cheeks turned scarlet.
Mr. Strausburg gave Mom a charming smile. “It’s quite alright. We expected this would happen.” He held up a metallic cooler in his unoccupied hand. “As you said on the invitation, this is a BYOB affair.” He opened the cooler and gave his wife and daughter a package full of a scarlet liquid.
At that point, Dad couldn’t take it anymore. “NO! I won’t have it! I will not have the likes of you drinking blood around my family and my guests!”
“I’m sorry,” said Mr. Strausburg in a calm monotone. “Do you have a problem with what we consume? We can always drink in the house.”
“No!” Dad shouted, nearly knocking over the grill. “I will not have you drinking blood anywhere in this house!”
“Bud,” said Mom in a worriedly singsong voice, “Not in front of the children.”
“What children? I only see one.”
“How dare you, sir,” snarled Mr. Strausburg, baring his fangs. “I don’t mind you insulting me and my wife. We’ve been dealing with your kind for a century; we can take it. But I will not stand by while you insult my daughter this way.”
“It’s not insulting if it’s the truth!”
Mr. Strausburg growled. “That means a lot coming from the man whose idiot son is being taught by my daughter.”
Dad lunged forward and punched Mr. Strausburg square in the jaw. His fist crumpled against the vampire’s marble skin. Dad yelled with pain before trying to strangle him with his other hand. His fingers grasped around the thin neck and gripped it in what would have been a chokehold for humans. But, of course, vampires are already dead. Mr. Strausburg stood there and rolled his bloody red eyes.
“Are you done?” he asked.
“Not on your life,” Dad grunted.
Mr. Strausburg sighed, picked him up by the collar, and dropped him an arm’s reach away. The shock of it all caused Dad to stumble. Mom shrieked and pulled me away as Dad fell over the grill, and it crashed to the ground. Hot coals and overcooked hamburger meat strewed across the patio.
“Enough!” Mom shouted, trying to pull Dad away. “What happened to your manners? You are a bad example to Tim.”
“I agree,” said Mrs. Strausburg. “Your husband is behaving terribly.”
“I’m sorry?” said Mom, her eyes narrowing.
“We thought that we would be treated better than this.” Mrs. Strausburg’s voice was thin and choked up. If vampires could produce tears, she might have started crying. “This neighborhood is awful. You humans are all the same.”
“I’m sorry, but if I’m not mistaken, it was your husband who provoked mine.” Mom’s knuckles turned white as she gripped Dad’s shoulders.
“And your husband punched him!”
“Only because he wanted to protect his family. He wouldn’t have done anything if your husband didn’t bring Tim into this.”
“And my husband wouldn’t have said anything if your husband didn’t bring our daughter into this.”
“Oh, why don’t you just go eat some garlic, you filthy bloodsucker.” The words came out of Mom’s mouth before she could take them back. But from the look on her flushed face, she didn’t want to.
“That’s it. I’ve had it.” And Mrs. Strausburg smacked Mom across the head with her umbrella.
The other guests dispersed very quickly after that. The hot coals lit the grass on fire, and at some point, someone knocked over the rainbow streamers strung across the back yard. The police and the fire department came. It took them nearly fifteen minutes to pry the fighters off of each other. At one point, the Strausburgs lost their umbrellas and the police dragged them to the back of the cars while smoke erupted from their shoulders.
They left Mom and Dad at the house with only a warning.
I didn’t stick around to see the end of the fight. The moment Dad was knocked over the grill, I looked at Vienna and pointed at the gate. She smiled and took my hand. Together, we left the disaster of the party to go play cops and robbers.