Copyright © 2014 by Michael Litzky
Charity Claire was as nervous as if she were about to ask her boss for a raise.
She fluttered and fussed about her dinner, roasting up a huge platter of vegetables with salt, basil and garlic. Only as she started eating did she remember that vampires were supposed to be repelled by garlic. With a pang in her heart, she looked up quickly.
Her nighttime guests drifted about just as they always did, phantom-like, with big dreamy eyes. They didn’t seem to notice the garlic. The skinny white teenager drifted forward to sniff at her food and it seemed he muttered “Hippies never eat spaghettios, man.” But she was never sure if one of them had spoken.
She didn’t want to lose them. She had come to feel affection for all of them, even for the spiky-haired one who’d tried to bite her. Most especially she cherished the little boy. She actually looked forward now to coming home instead of dreading the long grey interval alone.
She talked to all of them every night, told them about her day, about her sadness and all she had hoped to do, and the precious little things that made her smile. They never answered but it seemed they listened. In a way, they moved through the world like she did.
And now she might lose them. Charity had no illusions about the emptiness and the blackness. It lined every corner of her modest apartment, just out of vision at the edges where walls met floor, a dark chasm waiting for her to tumble back in.
When she’d eaten and put leftovers in the refrigerator and cleaned up, she gathered them all in her small living room by walking among them and quietly taking elbows, touching shoulders.
She settled on her small but carefully selected couch, feeling uncomfortably like a queen with them all arrayed before her. Something was so certain to go wrong!
“Oh my lambs,” she said softly. It was what Robyn, the camp counselor she’d adored, had called the kids in Cabin Rachael so long ago. All the affection Charity had never been allowed to lavish on anyone poured into honeyed words which in any other tone of voice would have been nauseating. “Are you willing to take a chance? Do you, can you trust me enough to take a chance that might save you?”
She waited but they just watched her.
“I know you’re scared of sunlight,” she continued nervously, “but I know of a vampire who’s been healed by sunlight.”
Sally Yan had told the TV reporters that her wife (Charity blushed at that; she’d always been more comfortable around gay men than gay women) was a vampire who could be in sunlight. The dark-haired woman, Lavinia, had walked into the sunlight and stood there quivering. The anchormen had made jokes because honestly Lavinia didn’t look much like a vampire, except for the fake-looking teeth. But Charity remembered Sally that night at the rally, weeping at Lavinia’s loss and being comforted by Jesse and Walter. Charity believed her whole-heartedly when she said defiantly that Lavinia had been healed by sunlight and her love.
“Or by sunlight and love,” she continued to the vampires now, “but I love you all. I’ll help you through.” Her voice trembled as she said it. Her heart was pounding. It was true! She did love them all. Oh, if she were only allowed to cure them, to make them well again. And not like her mother would have wanted to make them, fawningly grateful to her. When they were human again, they might not need her at all and she was going to let that happen. She wasn’t like Sasha Bernstein at all.
They listened as she invited them to walk into sunlight with her in the morning. They didn’t say yes or no – or anything. But it seemed they understood.
That night, she brushed her teeth and flossed with extra care. She dressed for bed and stroked the head of the little dragon statue as she always did. She walked shyly into her bedroom with her hairbrush in her hands, not wanting to assume anything. But the elderly one glided forward and took the brush from her hands again. Charity sat down on the bed and let the stranger run the brush through her long brown hair, eyes closed, crying softly. Thirty two years old and she had no husband or lover who would brush her hair with tenderness.
The chasm of loneliness yawned. Tomorrow, if they followed her into the sun, they might be gone. This brief, sweet period of her life would be over. But just as she had bitten her own hand rather than give the scream which would panic the crowd at the rally, she would now give up the comfort of their helpless dependence in order to save them. Surely that made her a good person?
The next morning, the weather was foggy. No sun.
How could she have expected anything else, in San Francisco? Especially in the Richmond, which might be fogged over while half the city was in bright sun. Sally hadn’t said anything about what would happen on a foggy day.
The vampires were slipping one by one out the window to wherever they went during the day. They would sleep and return at night, seeming drained of any humanity they had gained in her presence.
But one remained. The little boy.
He stood solemnly by the window, as if waiting for her to tell him what to do. She’d never noticed before but he wore a sweatshirt with the logo of Thomas the Train, dirty jeans with one knee worn through, and fancy little-boy-sized running shoes.
Charity had worked in day care for toddlers back when she was 23. She had never been good at leading games or reading stories but she had been the one kids would run to with a scraped knee or a bee sting. This little boy was older than a toddler: he looked about five, though he must have been killed nearly as many years ago, when vampires still made other vampires instead of devouring their victims to the last drop.
Charity smiled at him and said carefully, “Can you be a very brave little boy?”
He nodded, then for the first time since she’d met him, started picking his nose in a completely human way.
Charity quickly dressed in a brown turtleneck sweater and slacks. Then, moved by some impulse, she took a moment to put on lipstick and a gold locket which Grandma Claire had left to her. Inside the locket was a sepia-tinted hand-colored photo of a bearded young man glaring at the camera with the sternness which people used for pictures back then. Grandpa Claire, who had been only a mist in Grandma’s eyes and a fond smile by the time Charity was born.
There was no more delaying. She squeezed the locket one last time, let it rest against her heart and said a quiet prayer, though whether to God or to Grandma she wasn’t sure. Then she held out her hand to the little boy.
He came to her and put his small, cold hand in hers.
“We’re going to walk outside,” she told him, “but it’ll be okay. I’ll be with you. It’ll be awesome. Okay?”
His solemn gaze never left her.
They walked through the kitchen. Charity looked at the schedule of sunrise and sunset times which her boss had made everyone print out and take home. Even though it was light and most vampires were heading for their daytime hiding places, it wouldn’t do to be caught outside before the sun actually rose. But the sun would be up in less than a minute now. It was safe to open the door.
Full of dread and hope, Charity led the little boy outside.
He slumped to the ground and lay unmoving, looking up at her with panicked eyes.
Charity had had no way to know he would be paralyzed by the coming of the day. Sally had said nothing about that.
She pressed stricken hands to her heart as he lay helpless on the red cement porch of her building. Her world went dark. She felt hollow as she knelt beside his small body.
But the hidden sun began to work its subtle magic, even from behind the thick fog. The small face broke into wide-eyed wonder, as if a hot fudge sundae bigger than his head had just been set in front of him. She stroked his face and sobbed with relief.
“Well, little man,” she said at last, eyes stinging, “how are we? Would you like to, maybe, go play on the swings or, or feed the ducks?” He gave a faint shadow of a nod.
She picked him up. “Come, little man, we’re going to the park,” she announced. The sadness, for a moment at least, was gone. She was on fire. She had never in her life called in sick unless she was really sick. But she would do it today. She would! Greatly daring, she thought, to… to hell with my dead-end job!
She put her arm around the back of the boy’s neck to stop his head lolling back. His mouth against her ear whispered, “Awesome. Toe-tawwy awesome.”
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