The Wisdom of Children

Photo by Josh McGonigle : Story by Cameron Mitchell

When it came to neighbors, Darling didn’t like them as a rule. They asked too many questions, were quite loud during the day, and died all too quickly once you got to know them. Really, the rule could apply to all mortals, but Darling didn’t deal with a lot of other people aside from neighbors and victims, and he didn’t get much of a chance to dislike victims. But these new neighbors weren’t too bad. The Leeves didn’t ask questions, weren’t too loud during the day, and so far they hadn’t died. But Darling still kept to his rule of not liking neighbors and therefore not socializing with them. It was easier that way, in the end. Lonely, but easy.

The loneliest hours were in the early evenings just after the sun had set and the sky was a dark purple peppered with stars. It was in these hours that he felt his loneliness. There were people all around him, chatting in their apartment, walking on the street, laughing, dancing, all together. And there he was, standing above it all on his crumbling balcony, alone. He tried to keep busy, clean or play the piano, but some nights he just watched the stars; they were the only constants in his life, never changing, ever sparkling.

It was one of those nights, a star watching night. Darling stood on his balcony in a simple t-shirt and jeans, face upturned to the night sky, alone until he suddenly wasn’t.

“Hello.” The voice cut into Darling’s thoughts, startling him as he became all too aware of the fact that the Leeves’ daughter was standing on the balcony next to his, face pressed against the wrought iron bars, pudgy cheeks squeezing around them. The sound of blood pumping through her veins and the breath moving through her lungs assaulted his ears and he shook his head, willing the sounds of the street to come back to him.

“Hello,” he responded eventually. The girl stared at him, wide-eyed, making no move to say anything else. For several moments, the two were locked in a staring match of sorts until Darling spoke again: “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“Yes.” There was an expectant pause.

“Well, why aren’t you?” he prompted after no elaboration followed.

“I don’t want to be. Why are you out here?” the girl asked.

“I want to look at the stars.”

“Why?”

Darling opened his mouth once, seemingly confident of his answer, before closing it with uncertainty. He repeated the process a couple of times. “Because…they’re my friends,” he eventually stuttered out. He cringed as soon as the words left his mouth.

“I have a friend. Her name is Lisa,” the girl said as if it were exceedingly normal to call the stars your friends. “Do you have a name?”

“Darling.”

“That’s a weird name,” she said. “I have a normal name. It’s Mary.”

Darling nodded, unsure how to respond.

“Do you know Mommy and Daddy?” Mary asked.

“Not really.”

“Why not?”

Darling shrugged haphazardly, but Mary stared up at him. Words jumbled through his head as he searched for an answer. An answer came to his lips but it seemed unsatisfactory as well.

“I don’t know,” he sighed when no other answer became present.

“They’re really friendly.”

“I’m sure they are. I just-” The words caught in his mouth, tasting of fear, bitterness, and sickening familiarity. “I’m afraid of losing them,” he muttered, so quietly he was afraid Mary wouldn’t hear.

“Do people leave you a lot?” she asked, voice nearly as soft as his.

“In a way,” he sighed.

“Mommy and Daddy won’t. I promise.”

“Everyone leaves eventually.”

Mary seemed to contemplate that for a moment before nodding.

“Yea, everyone does,” Mary sighed. “But what about before they leave? Could you be friends with them then?”

“I don’t know, Mary,” he whispered. “I’m afraid.” The words sounded so alien outside of his own head. They’d often lingered there, in the shadow of his thoughts, waiting to be said, but he’d never said them until now. They felt good to say, like they’d been a heavy weight that was now lifted from him.

“Mommy always says you have to face your fears,” Mary said. “And that love makes everything easier, even if you only have it a little while.”

The words were like stones dropped in a still pond. Darling felt them hit his soul and ripple it. It wasn’t as if it had never occurred to him. It had just never been put in such perspective. Thoughts swarmed through Darling’s head. Existential crisis-y sort of thoughts. What had he been doing all his life? He’d never considered that the pain of losing someone might be less than the pain of loneliness and that loving someone, knowing someone, might make it all easier. How could this child, a mere toddler, put his thoughts into perspective like this? She knew nothing of the world, had hardly been in it long enough to know anything more than this meager stretch of street. How were children so infinitely wise and so terribly young?

Darling’s thoughts were interrupted as a fresh wave of blood lust hit him. His throat burned like a desert stranded man’s would and he felt himself lurching to his feet, stumbling back across the balcony in a desperate attempt to escape the tantalizing smell before primal instinct took over. His back hit the opposite railing and he looked up to find Mrs. Leeves standing there, watching him carefully. Swallowing thickly, Darling managed a quick: “Hello,Mrs. Leeves.”

“I hope Mary wasn’t bothering you?” she asked.

“Not at all.”

Mrs. Leeves smiled before a sharp tug on her shirt front drew her attention to Mary. “Can we have Mr. Darling over for dinner?” she asked. A hesitant look was thrown Darling’s way.

“I don’t know, Mary. Mr. Darling is very busy-”

“No, he’s not!” Mary cried indignantly. “He just said he was lonely!” Another look was thrown Darling’s way, this one more concerned than the first. “Please! He needs friends!”

“Maybe I should just turn in,” the vampire muttered before turning to disappear into his apartment, into his safe, peaceful loneliness.

“Mr. Darling,” The voice stopped him on the threshold of his apartment. He peered back to see Mrs. Leeves watching him. “We would be more than happy to have you to dinner, if you would like.” Darling’s immediate response was no, thank you, but a small voice, one that sounded a lot like Mary, told him to say yes.

“I’d love to.”

Rules be damned. It was time he wasn’t alone anymore.