Copyright © 2014 by Michael Litzky
Charity’s heart pounded as she clutched the knife. She was alone in a house full of vampires. She seemed to feel them all, even Tommy, moving toward her, the magic slipping.
Hurriedly she put the knife down, not thinking that it might be her only weapon, and pressed a paper towel hard against the cut. Then, flinching, she faced around.
Three dark shapes crept from the living room into the small kitchen, hunger glinting in their red eyes.
But Tommy was in their way. And the man who had spoken about Annadel State Park, a handsome black man with sad eyes, pushed the three zombies irritatedly back without looking at them. “Wife and I used to take a Sunday hike there,” he continued his thought, then looked confused.
Like an optical illusion where a grandmother becomes a young woman, he had emerged as a man but now sank back into white stillness. She could practically see the movie-vampire illusion gather like a cloak around him. His eyes drifted to her cut finger.
Then Tommy said, “Show us! Da sequet entwance!” And with a nearly audible whoosh, like a bird flapping trembling wings to get out of a still pocket, the man tumbled into full humanity. “Won’t be the same without Jean but yeah, yeah, I’ll take ya there.”
She smiled timidly at him, cradling her throbbing finger, to which nobody paid any further attention.
From behind her came the shump, shump, shump of onions being quietly chopped.
Jesse set out tea, coffee and snacks. The sun was just setting; nobody else would come.
Charla Thorpe and her husband sat stiff and uncomfortable on wooden chairs; the tension between them was palpable. Malcolm Donald sprawled his long-boned form on the sofa, glad to be released from his self-imposed “home” in the plaza for a night. Sally and Lavinia held hands beside him. Walter was in the comfy chair.
He looked for a moment at his beloved. Thanks to Sally’s inspiration, he had spoken his fears and Walter had held him and reassured him and he felt at peace. If he had lost Walter this time, it would have been because of his own stupidity. Twice before he thought he had lost him: once in the very early days when a rebellious Walter had left to indulge in a last orgy of strange men and once shortly after he’d become a vampire when, still only half human, he had disappeared into the night for over a week. Jesse didn’t like to think about either time. But he had returned from his sexual rampage ready to make a monogamous commitment and he had returned from his time in the streets ready to fully support Jesse whenever his kind heart prompted him to do something like hold a Sally Yan or a Charity Claire between them all night.
Now he was ready to offer all the money they had saved up (not much after paying monthly mortgage on a house in San Francisco) if it would help send people to the Black Forest to find this mysterious dead man and (perhaps) save the world. Jesse hoped others would pitch in.
It was just as well that nobody else could make it, he realized. Everybody would have to stay overnight unless they felt brave enough to put a “home shield” around themselves and risk the streets. It was going to be crowded as it was. Sally and Lavinia had volunteered to sleep in their camper, so that left Charla and Tomás (Jesse included in his mind the acento escrito that the self-effacing Tomás usually left off) in the guest room and Malcolm on the sofa bed.
Walter had really wanted Charity Claire to come; he felt she had so deeply grasped the principle of welcoming in the vampires and making them human again. But she had begged off, sounding embarrassed and excited at the same time, and he hadn’t pressed.
He himself had called Amanda Malreaux and Jeremy Paxton. But there was no answer at Jeremy’s house; he seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. And the woman he’d talked to at the convent told him in a worried voice that Sister Amanda was not available. Jesse hoped she wasn’t walking the vampire-crowded streets; he didn’t quite have her touching faith that wherever she was with God was her home.
Malcolm, used to being in charge, said, “Alright, Jesse. We could have planned tomorrow’s rally by video conference. I assume you have some special reason for gathering us in person after dark. The show is yours.” He acted as if he’d been called away from a hot bath and a comfortable dinner.
Jesse said defiantly, “Well, there are two things. One is something I want you to see, and you too,” he added to Charla. He motioned toward the back door with pleased awareness that his timing was perfect.
Five minutes later, Charla, Tomás and Malcolm were still struck dumb by the vampires who drifted in like veils of smoke and became as comfortable as furniture. They had known that the next media event would be to tell people about inviting the vampires in, but only Sally and Lavinia yet had seen it.
But then he introduced the main topic, the vision of the dead man in the Black Forest which Sally, Lavinia and Walter (and little Tommy too, if he had only known it) had all seen.
As he spoke, Sally uncomfortably edged her gaze to Charla, who sat as if she were made of blunt rock. This was the first time she’d seen the woman since Lavinia’s little revelation. Did Charla really subconsciously want Sally because, as a “gorgeous young babe” with an older woman, she must be “available?” Tomás sat with his hands folded in his lap like a little boy, withdrawn and small; had Charla been ignoring or insulting him because of her?
It wasn’t fair that if Sally said, get out of this house, Lavinia would have to go and this mean, messed-up person could remain.
Charla suddenly turned machine gun eyes on Sally and Sally, mortified, looked away and focused on Jesse. “They need to get to Germany and find that young man and discover what is really behind this vampire plague and they don’t have the money to go. It’s that simple. I think this is important, so Walter and I can chip in something. I’m willing to go but I can’t find that place and Lavinia can. I guess what I’m saying is, let’s talk about who should go, how we’re going to get there…”
“Question.” Charla’s flat voice. “Why does anybody have to go anywhere? If you’ve all had this vision, can’t you just widen your field of view, just a skosh? And see what’s going on and how to stop it without a free trip to Europe?”
“It’s a fair question,” said Walter, seemingly unmoved by Charla’s implication, though Sally burned. “I suggest that tonight, each of us focus on having a dream about that place. Maybe we can find out what we need to know without actually going there.”
Sally felt in her bones that this wouldn’t work, but she nodded, jaw tight.
“So I believe the question is,” said Malcolm, used to summing up and pushing for a decision, “assuming it’s necessary to go to Germany, who should go and how much can each of us chip in?”
The conversation wallowed into logistics. Sally stole another reluctant, fascinated glance at Charla and found her looking straight at Sally with that speculative look she’d surprised once or twice before. Charla instantly looked away.
It looked like Lavinia was right, as she had an annoying habit of being. (She sighed as she caught herself suppressing the annoyance for fear it would push Lavinia out of the house.)
What should she do about Charla? Even if she had found Charla attractive, even if Charla had been kind and appealing, even if Charla was everything she wanted in a lover, she wouldn’t have felt the least bit of desire. She was bisexual only in the sense that when her mate radar was on, it responded to both genders. But she was with her beloved and her mate radar was off. It had always been that way for her.
She wished they could just kick Charla back to her little town in the Midwest. But now she was being helpful (in a condescending way). “So put out an appeal online! Get all the felching dough you need. Shit, start a blog for the trip. Post updates, check in each place you go. If you feel you have to do this, you don’t have to do it like headless chickens.”
Sally still felt in her heart of hearts that she and Lavinia would tackle this alone in the end. But it was tempting to have an international audience rooting for her. She made herself say (in a voice which came out fawning), “Thanks, Charla. That’s a good idea.”
There it was like on earlier occasions, that look that said “I’m not suggesting this to help you” as if she found Sally too disgusting for words. Sally’s face got hot. Jesse noticed, and sent her a sympathetic smile, which upset and comforted her at the same time. He and Walter touched each other a lot this evening. Whatever had been wrong between them seemed to be better now. She was glad for that at least.
Sally stood up, making a sudden end to the discussion. “I think it needs to be just me and Lavinia, but I’ll try to dream on this tonight. I’m ready for bed.” Charla quivered and Tomás burrowed further into himself; yep, Lavinia had called it. Well Charla could play with herself all the god damned night if she wanted. Sally was still enraged as she turned to ask Lavinia pointedly to come to bed with her (stroke her naked body, she was tempted to add) – and her eye caught a white face out in the street.
KerriAnne. Of course.
The hungry face vanished down the hill the next instant but she couldn’t pretend anymore. Her leech sister, her dear one, was alive – or at least, undestroyed. All the roaring mass of guilt and tiredness and pain she’d pushed fiercely down boiled to the surface in a swell that nearly made her faint.
She shrieked her sister’s name, stormed from the living room and clattered down Jesse and Walter’s front steps.
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