It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.
December 23rd: Children of the Night by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Tell me about your first time: I liked Star Wars when I was young. Really liked. I collected all the books, which were usually written by names from the science fiction and fantasy world, and so when I saw their names pop up elsewhere, I read their stuff. Which I presume is how I came to read ‘Children of the Night’, recognising Rusch’s name from her novel The New Rebellion.
I was probably about eleven. I was used to safe, easy stories, even if they were nominally ‘horror’. If I read about vampires, it was in schlocky, pulp, kid- or teen-friendly stories. I remember reading ‘Children of the Night’ and being totally freaked out. It felt grimy, and realistic, and complex in a way I didn’t really know how to understand. Long afterwards I remembered two things about it. The first: the visceral horror of the children who are raised by vampires, only to have their ‘parents’ murdered. The central idea of the story – that vampires might also care for their charges – I found uniquely disturbing; I’d not encountered this kind of ambiguous storytelling before, and it was perhaps the first thing I read that took horror from the everyday-within-the-monstrous, rather than from melodramatic pantomime.
The second was something about words: a brother and a sister who remember that, when they were young, certain words were imbued with psychological meaning, so that they thought of them as dirty or powerful, when they were insignificant to anyone else. I found this idea profoundly fascinating, carrying overtones of seduction, sexuality and power before I was old enough to put a vocabulary to those sorts of things.
Sum it up: Cammie works for a vampire rehabilitation centre, though there’s not much rehabilitating going on, and when she carries out an eradication on a vampire who has a small child, it brings up dark memories…
Second reading: It took me ages to figure out what this story was. I was certain I remembered the author, and was convinced I’d read the story in an anthology of vampire stories, but when I searched through the publishing history I could find no record of the anthology. Eventually I ran across Sins of the Blood, a novel, and realised that the plot was very similar to what I remembered, and from there discovered that the short story ‘Children of the Night’ re-appears as part of Sins of the Blood, and so I reasoned this must be the story.
And indeed it seems it was, for the first part of what I remembered was right there: the children of the vampires, and the uncomfortable exploration of the monster as parent. I thought that perhaps, with eighteen years of further reading under my belt, I might discover that the story was less complex than I’d imagine, but it still retains a discomfiting sense of atmosphere even if I am no longer taken by surprise by the grey shades of characterisation of the vampires.
But of the second thing I remembered – the words given power – there was no sign, and so I still don’t know where that came from. Perhaps from another story in the collection, which in my childhood memory I have conflated, or perhaps from somewhere else entirely. It remains frustratingly elusive, and if anyone has any hint as to where I might look to find it, please let me know.
Where can I read it: The short story ‘Children of the Night’ is available on Amazon as an ebook.