It was truly a relief when my brother John began biting trees instead of people. He’d gotten it in his head that it was healthier, that down the road he would have fewer health problems with diabetes, high blood pressure, and so on if he became vegetarian. “There’s nothing like a vampire with high blood pressure, let me tell you,” he said. I didn’t argue with him. It would certainly make our lives easier if he would stop sucking blood from the neighbors. It would have been nice if he’d become vegan out of a sense of compassion for his victims, but John had never been very empathetic. You can’t have a strong sense of empathy and survive long as a vampire.
The first tree John bit was as thick as my arm. It grew in the planting strip between a sidewalk and the city street, bathed in the nearby streetlight. He clamped both hands on its white trunk, and paused the way he always did when he was about to bite a person. I used to think that was a bit of grandstanding for dramatic effect, to raise the victim’s fear level. John told me that was a nice side effect of the pause, because it had the physical effect of getting the victim’s blood to pump faster so he could drink easier, but his prime motivation was to “ready his incisors.”
While he was readying his incisors for the tree, I watched an ant crawl up and over a piece of its papery bark. The birch tree’s bark peeled back in decorative tan and ivory curls, as if somebody had been after it with a potato peeler. I wondered if that would cause him any problems when he bit it.
A tiny bit of sweat glistened on John’s cheek, just beside his foreshortened, angled sideburn. He breathed shallowly, then took a sudden, deep breath. I couldn’t see his head actually move from not-on-the-tree to on-the-tree, because he moved with superhuman speed, but I heard the distant-sounding supersonic boom and then saw him with his mouth clamped onto the tree. A curl of bark floated down onto the recently mowed grass.
The tree was about as tall as the single-level house nearby. The top leaves turned yellow. John made the little yummy noise he always makes, which made my stomach turn even though he was only biting a tree and not a person this time. The lower leaves now began to turn yellow while the top ones turned brown.
I thought I saw somebody in the house peek out of the curtain, but I couldn’t be sure. “Hurry up, John,” I said, knowing it would do no good.
The leaves began dropping from the tree. One settled on John’s ear, but he didn’t move. I heard a sort of crackling noise from the tree. Voices came from the house.
John lifted his mouth from the tree, his eyes glazed, his incisors showing. I took his arm and he stumbled off with me. I pulled a bit of bark from the side of his face.
Looking back, I saw the tree’s branches were bare, the tree angular and dead. The environmentalists wouldn’t be happy about this new turn of events. But we would save a few people’s lives if this worked. I could handle that.