Copyright © 2013 by Michael Litzky
On the other side of the gate, in a lamplit green twilight which seemed vaguely familiar to Sally, were twenty or more vampires. Fitted into corners, on benches and stone stools, tall in the slender spaces between trees, they looked as human and peaceful as Sally had ever seen. A bird’s trill, the first she had heard in five years, warbled from one of three modest redwoods.
There was the vampire in frayed evening clothes; maybe he’d been turned on his way to a performance of La Boheme or Cosi Fan Tutti. Another one, with scraggly red hair and a sour tousled face, met her eyes with annoyance; he seemed about to ask what Sally thought she was doing there but then turned sharply away.
Sally, aware that she was the only living blood present, turned to Lavinia for support and found her stroking the wood of the gate with that puzzled look. Lavinia suddenly turned to the redwood nearest the gate, said “May I?” to the vampire leaning against it, a tall old woman with dirty yellow hair which might once have been gorgeous blond, and stroked the soft fuzz of bark as the old one moved gracefully aside. Lavinia’s face lit and she leaned her cheek against the tree.
Sally, annoyed to find herself jealous, stopped herself from barking, “What are you up to, you tree hugger?” I can share this with her, she reminded herself. Once we’re sure being a vampire is really a good thing, she’ll let me join her.
Lavinia turned to her with delight and Sally kept her face neutral. “This tree is so alive!” she whispered. Somehow the garden demanded respectful quiet. “This is wood without that wrong I felt in your stake.”
Sally fought down a ridiculous sense that she’d just been subtly insulted. As the gracious older vampire turned to the redwood curiously and stroked its bark with a questioning look, Sally asked what is wrong with me?
Once she formulated the question, she also saw the answer. Earlier she’d asked Lavinia, “Do you feel loyal to your fellow vampires?” and Lavinia had snorted, “Would you be loyal to measles?” But here were vampires Lavinia could be loyal to.
She looked around at these odd hybrids. They were in a trance, like the vampires had been last night, but there was little to mark them as undead. They were pale, though some had skins so dark it was hard to tell even that. They were not decayed, there was no smell of death as there had been when her father died (KerriAnne hadn’t come home to help, she had, she reminded herself). Their clothes were not rotted or decayed, though they must have worn them for years.
There was that faint otherworldliness that she kept sensing on Lavinia. The vampires seemed … preserved, like something kept in a tin jar on a shelf. In second grade, Ms. Jurgensen had brought in to class a vanity powder box that had been her grandmother’s (and Timmy Franks had made everyone pee in their pants by slipping a booger into it while she wasn’t looking). The vampires had that same old silver and purple feel, that lavender-and-lace kind of smell.
Lavinia returned to her and took her hand, raised her eyebrows to ask what was up. Sally tried not to blush as she shook her head.
Lavinia whispered into her ear. “I saw a statue in Europe. Rome, Florence, I’m pretty sure it was Italy. This angel smiling a beautiful smile and jabbing this woman with a gold arrow, and she’s got this look like, you never saw anyone so ecstatic. Back then I thought it was the sickest bit of male penetration fantasy anyone ever dreamed up. Now here I am thinking, if an angel penetrated my heart with that tree, I’d just about die of ecstasy.” She saw Sally’s shocked look and quickly added, “Don’t worry, not gonna make a stake and stick myself with it. Just a feeling. C’mon.” She tilted her head toward the house. “In.”
As they walked through the deepening twilight, Sally realized why the garden looked familiar: it was from her dream of the shared garden behind the houses. It wasn’t exactly the same but it had the same feel.
They reached the lighted back door. This was what they had come for. Sally had been sure of what they’d find here since the moment she’d shown Lavinia the card she’d found, the one with the little fairy inviting in the vampires.
Lavinia stretched out a hand and touched the gold knob. It turned easily. When she pushed the door open, her hand was able to pass into the interior of the house. Just as they’d thought.
Together, human and vampire, they stepped across the threshold and into a private home.
In a living room, in the midst of several dreamy vampires, Jesse snuggled against Walter while Sleeping Beauty told the world she had met her beloved in a dream.
When Walter saw them, he stood with supernatural fluid grace and glided across the rug to take Lavinia’s hands. “I’m delighted for you, sister,” he said, letting his teeth show for the first time. “It’s a hard road back.”
“Hah fuck,” Lavinia agreed in a voice choked with emotion.
The windowsill cold on her fingers, Charity Claire faced the hundreds. Welcome, welcome. She practiced the words once more, heart pounding as she opened her mouth to speak.
“If,” Charity began, then had to stop and clear her throat. The assembled faces watched her with icy hunger and she almost gave up in the face of such palpable evil. But she remembered how it had been the night before at Jesse and Walter’s house, and she started again.
“If you will protect me and shield me from any who would harm me,” she told the massing crowd outside, “and if you will respect the sanctity of my beautiful home,” her voice broke on those words, “you may come in and be … welcome.” She was amazed at the strength which came into her voice and how good the formal words sounded as she actually spoke them out loud. Just as sweet as when she’d told Walter this morning, after she’d realized what he was, that he was welcome in her home.
The invisible barrier melted away. “Gently,” she added just before the surge could begin.
One by one the evil undead climbed in through the picture window and became persons. A slender blonde man touched with gentle fingers her framed print of “The Land of Make Believe” by Jaro Hess. Three others, two tall and one short, gathered in front of that wonderful picture, tracing with their fingers the path which ran all around that wonderful kingdom, just as Charity had done when she was a child. How many years now since she had even looked at it, there on her wall?
She realized with a start that the short vampire in front of the picture was a child, a little boy with big eyes.
A punk teenager with spiky green hair looked at her hungrily but before he could begin to move on her, the others threw him abruptly out the window.
Jeremy’s horrified eyes darted along the line of vampires.
“It’s not him,” Jeremy whispered, and collapsed back into Sister Amanda’s arms.
The leader stepped to the edge of the invisible boundary, lifted a slender white hand, pressed it up to that nonexistent wall. Then, inch by delicate inch, the hand moved forward. Her pale face smiled. “A vampire has been inside this ‘home.’ With persistence, we will enter too before long.”
“What are you talking about? No vampires can enter a home.” Malcolm remembered hearing about a woman who had been turned, but she’d been pushed out of the plaza the instant she became a vampire. This didn’t make sense. But he felt the tremble of fear as he faced the hordes, which pushed a fraction of an inch forward.
“Sshhh,” the leader said, with that maddening smile. Motion stopped. “You will all die. Unless you send her out to me. Now.”
Sister Amanda laid Jeremy gently down and strode forward until she stood facing the leader. “I will come out to you,” she said, her voice shaking, “if you’ll all swear by anything you hold sacred to spare these people.” She looked desperately sad to be ending her life this way, but ready to do what she must.
All the men present moved forward to protect her but the leader of the vampires looked at her with scornful eyes. “Who the hell are you?” A delighted hiss rippled through the hordes. “I don’t want you, I want her. I know she’s here, I saw it on the news.” She held up a smart phone which glistened as though it had been licked clean.
“Who are you talking about?”
“My sister,” said the murderously hungry pixie face under the gleaming blonde hair. “I want her. Send her out to me or you will all die!”
The chanting started up again and the hordes pushed another inch forward, and another.
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