Copyright © 2013 by Michael Litzky
A slender wisp of woman in a black skintight dress was curled like smoke into one end of the sofa and two or three other nondescript vampires stood around the room. In the background, with the DVD player turned off, the TV news played at low volume.
Jesse set a cup of Lung Ching tea and a plate of pesto in front of Sally. “It’s as good as it smells, my dear, Walter’s still the best cook in the world and since he’s only cooking for one, we’ve got plenty extra. We’re always worried when we go out that someone might notice that Walter doesn’t eat, we usually have a whole meal’s worth of leftovers.”
Sally watched Walter and Lavinia gazing with wonder at each other. This morning, when she’d suggested the experiment of declaring a home and walking into the night together, she’d already thought they should do it at the address on the card but she’d thought they’d find that old German guy who had made Lavinia’s jacket and who might just be a Norse god.
“And where do we do this crazy thing?” Lavinia had asked, which meant she had already agreed. “Right here? We already got a gang of vampires half converted.”
Cautiously, Sally had said, “There’s an address in San Francisco that I think we should go to. We should try it right outside that house. I think someone living there can help us if we need it.” She had looked straight into Lavinia’s eyes and nodded to say, you see, I know about it.
But Lavinia had wrinkled up her brow and said, “You know about some place in San Francisco where, what? What are you talking about, kid?”
Suddenly on shifting ground, Sally had said, “The card. I found the card.” She’d been about to reassure Lavinia that she hadn’t been snooping, that it had just fallen out of her breast pocket. But Lavinia had shaken her head with such honest confusion that she’d said, with something like relief, “You don’t know about the card?”
Lavinia had looked around as if she expected to see a greeting card or a gift card lying on a counter. “It’s in your breast pocket. I felt it just now, when I leaned against you.”
“There’s nothing in my, huh, what the fuck?” As she’d pulled out the business card, Sally realized that it couldn’t have been in there all along; she’d leaned against Lavinia any number of times over the past months.
Lavinia had studied the image on the card: a fairy, the size of a large cat or a small child, looking through a glass door at a heart surrounded by flames which could have been wings for flight in the sun. On the heart were twin ripples like symbolic fangs. Below the picture, the address and the words, “Welcome, come in.”
“I never fucking saw this before in my life. You sure it fell out of my pocket? You saw it fall out?”
But Sally had already understood (this often happened to her: she leaped to the actual truth the instant she saw on someone’s face that she’d been wrong). She’d seen the card shortly after she’d pulled her phone out of her pocket to check messages. The card hadn’t fallen out of Lavinia’s pocket, it had fallen out of hers.
Slowly she’d said, “I didn’t really tell you about my night without you. I slept with these two guys—”
Lavinia had lifted her eyebrows with laughing astonishment. “Perdonnez the fuck out of moi?”
Sally brushed away Lavinia’s amused misunderstanding with an irritated, “Oh, you!”
Right in the middle of her explanation, most of the truth had dawned on her. But Jesse and Walter’s halfway house for vampires was more than even she had expected.
Jesse was now gazing at Sally in wonder. “You found her and brought her so far back in just two days. You’re amazing. It was months before this one” (he tilted his head toward Walter) “was so human again.” He must have been moved: he hugged her tight without asking first if she wanted to be hugged.
The other vampires gathered around Lavinia now, reaching out uncertain hands to touch her face, walking around her like she were an exhibit in a museum. She looked amused as she snarled playfully, “Back the fuck off.” A ripple passed through them like a wave through tall grass but they still looked at Lavinia with interested eyes as she sat comparing notes with Walter.
Sally (just like Charity Claire the night before) soon found herself ignoring the vampires who drifted like smoky ghosts around the edges of the room.
Jesse started trying to explain a hundred things at once. “My dear one, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you about…” He waved a hand to indicate their halfway home for vampires, Walter, the fact that vampires can be brought back.
“I didn’t see it happen, if I could have imagined she hadn’t just been consumed, I would have told you about us, given you what guidance I could in finding her and bringing her back. It was a weird thing that we were even at that rally. Walter wanted to go in case he could help stop people from getting killed and then I had to go because I would have died if I’d lost him and then with me being there, he had to take care of me so he was no help at all when the attack started…” Jesse seemed to realize he was babbling and looked abashed.
“Anyway, I slipped the card into your pocket just on the off chance. I imagined that if you actually found her, you’d understand what the card meant and otherwise it wouldn’t mean anything and wouldn’t make you feel any worse. But I really should have asked you what happened, found out a little more. I’m very sorry.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted to talk about it, so it wouldn’t have made any difference,” Sally said with simple truth. There was silence between them for two minutes while Lavinia and Walter talked intently in low voices. They’re not the least bit romantically interested, Sally reminded herself.
“Two days,” Jesse finally marveled again. “You did this much in two days.”
Sally, suddenly shy about accepting so much praise (though she lapped it up) blushed and said, “Oh, well…”
“She was amazing, don’t let her tell you anything else,” Lavinia put in, tearing her marveling gaze from Walter and pulling a delightedly embarrassed Sally close to her. She suddenly hoisted Sally onto her lap and stroked her hair. “I never been loved by anybody like this, not my whole life. She, she’s amazing, she fought for me, she saved my life, fuck, twenty times in the last two days. She’s the best person in the whole world, she’s the love of my life, she’s a priceless treasure and don’t let her tell you anything else.”
If it had happened in front of anybody else, Sally might have been mortified to find herself suddenly weeping with the pleasure of being someone’s priceless treasure. It was partly the joy of knowing that Lavinia was not afraid to say so in front of strangers (even Callista had liked to subtly put her down in front of their friends; she had only been tender in private).
As the tears trailed away, she looked shyly around to see the two men tenderly watching her. She knew there was no need to say anything. She thought she saw Jesse cast a sad look at Walter but it had been smoothed over an instant later and she decided she must have imagined it.
A moment later, she forgot all about it because on the TV she heard a word which she instantly recognized. It was the one word anyone anywhere in the world can instantly pick out of any amount of background noise. Her own name.
Shocked, she said loudly, “Turn that up!”
KerriAnne was elated. This new life was a revelation. She was surrounded by … by … not strangers, not uncaring strangers. For the first time in her lonely life, she was surrounded by followers.
She was different from all the others. She was better than them. She could think, she could plan. They were empty but when she suggested something to them, they did it. It was incredible, it was just incredible. It was so much fun! She didn’t know why she could think and plan and the others could only follow but she liked it this way, a hell of a lot.
She’d still been in one of her funks (she nearly giggled about it now) when she’d gotten out of the truck after sundown and started looking for the plaza. Sally was there, she’d seen her picture in the news stories on the phone she’d gotten from that lovely delicious boy, and she wanted Sally so badly. She wanted to reach out and grab the bottle that was Sally Yan and drink, drink, drink.
But when she asked, “Where’s the Embarcadero Plaza?” the empty ones just slowed to a halt and waited. She was the one who pulled out the phone again, remembering a delightful little thing called GPS. “Come on, you gweilo assholes!” she’d cried. “If you don’t know anything, you can follow me, I know where to go now!” And they did follow.
When she realized that they’d obeyed her, she was nearly paralyzed with delight. “Carry me!” she commanded, like she was a popular teen again with guys arguing about who got to go out with her. “You and you, pick me up and carry me. This way.”
Boogie woogie damn bang, they did it! Her loneliness and despair were gone, what had she been so fucking upset about, anyway? Life was great!
But now that stupid bitch was talking. The black woman in the turtleneck and jeans who the idiots in the plaza called “Sister” like she was a nun or something.
“Malcolm, there was a young Asian woman whose picture was on the news. She was one of the defenders. I remember it was very sad: she had lost her beloved in the fighting.” The black woman faced her. “She would have left with the rest of the crowd yesterday morning. The only people in the plaza tonight are those of us you see.”
KerriAnne raged inside. Of course Sally wouldn’t still be here. It was the kind of mean-spirited trick the world was always playing on her. The picture was taken two days ago; why had she been blind to that? And Sally had a beloved, what kind of shit was that?
She wanted Sally, it was why she was a vampire! “Sally Yan!” she shouted. “Come out, Sally Yan!” Stern, implacable, a true Yan, that’s what she’d be. The vampires to the left and right, mindless followers (and she loved them for it!), took up the chant. “Sally Yan! Come out, Sally Yan!”
Thousands of cold voices shouting Sally’s name, that would bring her running. Meanwhile, her minions (she liked having minions) were pushing at the boundary between the emptiness, which was all there really was anyway, and that fake pocket of light and meaning that was called a “home.”
She stood like a Queen or an Empress, smiling coldly at the helpless food inside the plaza.
Like this story? Please vote for “Safe as Houses” at TopWebFiction.com.