It was a slow night at Casey’s. Less than a dozen people. He noticed her because of her drink – she was drinking something white. It glowed palely in the shadowy corner where she sat. When she lifted the glass to her lips her drink tracked against the dimness like a fat albino moth taking flight.
Her hair was long and curtained a small, pointed face. She wore a dark bulky sweater that did not hide the bony rack of her shoulders. She sat sipping her white drink, watching a couple grind near the juke. Behind her two guys played pool; they talked loud and laughed louder but she kept her pointy face pointed toward the juke.
He wondered who she was, what she was doing here. She looked like she was from someplace else. Mentally shrugged. Not his type anyway. He went back to what he was doing, which was drinking, shredding napkins, eating pretzels and hating his life. Who said he couldn’t multi-task?
He thought of Pam. The antithesis of pale Miss Mouse with her pale drink. Tall and big-bosomed, with cropped red hair and a hey-look-at-me brand of sexiness. Pam had been his type. Pam was everyone’s type. That was the problem.
His mind tried to present him with a picture of that last scene with Pam. He was too drunk to dodge it. How surprised he’d been to see her home; her long naked back, how at the sight of it he could only think, stupidly, Why isn’t she at class? The guy scrambling around for his clothes, Sorry man, I didn’t know. Himself, throwing shit around the room, screaming. Her calling the cops, telling him to get out, get out, get out. It was her apartment so he got out.
He didn’t think of the moth-goth girl again until she sat next to him at the bar. There was no light perfumed disturbance of air announcing a female presence. She might have been sitting there for a minute or an hour. He didn’t know.
“Hi.” Her voice was soft.
He looked at her. Not much in the looks department. Hair thin and stringy, the muddy caramel of coffee. Small grey eyes. Not bad-looking; just sort of nothing looking. But it wasn’t as if Pam (or anyone else) was going to walk through the door of this dump.
So: “How ya doin.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Come here much?” he asked. Knowing she didn’t, because he did. Then again, she was so unremarkable – he might not have noticed.
He looked at her with more interest. It was one of the few things about Pam he didn’t like – the constant monologue. There had been compensations, though. His shoulders slumped.
“I’m Joel,” he said.
“Eva,” she said.
He saw she wasn’t as plain as he’d first thought. Her skin was smooth with no blemishes. Her lips were thin but with an appealing bow shape.
“Eva,” he repeated, tasting her name. “Nice to meetcha.”
“Likewise,” she said. Her bowed lips curled the tiniest bit, and he was surprised how much this gratified him.
That day at Pam’s, he’d tried to talk to her. Just talk. She got a restraining order. She changed the locks. She changed her number. He thought he’d go crazy with frustration.
“So where you from.”
“I’m not from anywhere.” Her voice soft.
“So what do you do…Joel.” Her little bow lips barely seemed to move.
Pam hadn’t stopped with the locks and the restraining order. She’d told people….all kinds of stuff. Some of it true, sure, but mostly exaggerated. Friends began avoiding him. The scholarship committee got wind of the rumors. They’d been looking for a reason to kick him out. He’d been looking for a reason to leave. Now he was here.
“This and that,” he said.
He flicked his index finger at Casey for another round. He was down to his last twenty but what the fuck. Live for today.
“So where’s your date?” she asked.
“Lookin’ at her,” he said, tipping his Pabst slightly in her direction. His smile felt creaky at the edges. Christ. It had been a long time.
It was total cheese but she blushed, surprising him. With color her face looked different. Pretty, almost.
A fresh bowl of pretzels slid toward them. Good ol’ Casey. Trying to help the cause.
He opened his mouth to ask her something that would no doubt sound stupid and she slipped her finger in.
His tongue rose automatically to meet her. He tasted the light salt of her. Her finger exited his mouth with a small wet pop.
She smiled. Leaned closer. Her breath tickled the cup of his ear. The skin of his neck crawled excitedly.
“Which urge do you think is the more powerful urge: to avoid pain or seek pleasure?” Her whisper throbbed lightly in his pelvis.
“What about avoiding pleasure?” he asked. “Is that a choice? Then there’s seeking pain.” He downed his beer.
Her eyes widened. “Maybe for some people. Sad people. Are you a sad person, Joel?”
He gave her a slanted smile. “I wouldn’t say that. No.”
She cocked her head at him, considering. “So what’s next?”
“I got a room upstairs,” he told her. Glad his voice was steady.
“Room” was an exaggeration. Casey let him squat in exchange for unloading the beer truck and wheeling kegs from out back on weekends. Sometimes swamping out the bathrooms.
“Yes,” she smiled, as if he’d asked a question.
He started to spin off the stool but her spider-hand stayed him. “There’s something you should know,” she intoned. Her gray eyes serious.
He’d heard this preface before. Towns like this it was common. There was a kid somewhere. A not-so-ex ex. He raised an eyebrow. Waited.
“I’m a vampire,” she said.
“Want to go out for a bite before we go to my place?” He grinned.
She swiveled away, facing the bar. He thought he saw her chin tremble, but it could have just been the smoke-swirled light.
What the hell, he thought, uneasy. She’s just a kid.
He put a hand on her arm and she turned to him. At the look in her eye, he recoiled a little. Wondered, how had he thought she was too young?
Her eyes were dry and hard, making him think of boulders dotting some barren highland, whipped by a invisible wind. Someone behind him laughed, and it bounced around his head until it became a million voices echoing coldly, drowning out the sound of his thoughts, the bar…
He shook his head. Must be drunker than he thought. He took a breath.
“I’m sorry I laughed,” he said. “But whadja expect me to do?”
They were the right words. She gave him that considering look. Then, surprisingly, smiled. Again she was almost pretty. He relaxed a little.
“I just wanted you to be aware of the risks,” she said, serious.
“What are the risks?”
“Well. I could kill you,” she said, boulder-eyed. He felt a chill despite himself.
“Why would you want to do that?” he asked.
“If I were hungry. Or angry. Or just felt like it.” She shrugged.
He stared at her bow lips.
“So where’s the…” he made a motion with his hand, forefinger and middle finger crooked at the knuckle. Fangs, was what he didn’t say.
“It’s not like that,” she told him, rolling her eyes. “It’s never been like that.” Her lip curled dismissively.
He took this as his cue to swivel off the barstool. She stood, her hand lightly nestling into the crook of his forearm.
“Shall we?” he asked.
“We shall,” she said. It should have sounded corny, but it didn’t.
They smiled at each other and he felt suddenly lighter, almost as if some weight had tumbled off him – an invisible vulture perched on his shoulder blowing dead carrion breath around his head.
He led her up the dark narrow staircase. Resisting the urge to turn and check that she was still behind him.
“Hey darlin, things don’t work out you come on back,” came a yell.
“Maybe I just will,” she said, so soft he wasn’t sure he heard her right.
By the time they got to his mattress he was hard. The whole vampire thing had amped him a little, made him more curious than he otherwise might have been. He went slower, and paid more attention – she’d got him looking for something. What, he didn’t know. Not the vampire thing, but maybe the thing that made her believe the vampire thing. Yeah.
When he thrust his tongue into her mouth the first time she made an impatient sound and pulled back. He’d moved his hands immediately to her breasts – he was fine without kissing – but she took his head in her hands and gave him a little shake. Then she kissed him, starting slowly, and in seconds he couldn’t believe he’d ever thought he could be fine without kissing.
Her tongue caressed his with a surprising dexterity – stroking him, finger-like, then slipping easily around to awaken the underside nerves. Excited, he sucked it deep into his mouth, expecting her to protest. She didn’t – if anything, she seemed to push it deeper, and for a moment it seemed his mouth was filled almost to the throat with warm slithery wetness.
He tried to back his head away and grab a breath but her lips held him, vacuum-like. He tried again to move his head but found he could not; he was totally immobilized. His heart began to pound, not just in his chest but everywhere – his neck, his temple, his wrists, his groin: pulse points all around his body began fluttering like bats.
I can’t breathe, he thought, but even then her tongue was slipping away and he was chasing it, coaxing it with his own. She resumed caressing the inside of his mouth until he groaned.
There was nothing unusual about the sex – just straight missionary. She had a decent body – a little thin, but with smooth white skin so flawless it seemed to glow. He was disappointed that she turned her head away once he entered her, evading his kiss. She kept her head turned to the side even when she came.
When he woke sometime later, she was gone. He thought vaguely of following – make sure she wasn’t snooping around the bar. Usually Casey kept the door from the storage to the bar locked on the bar side. After hours Joel could come and go by the alley door. He’d been offended by this. The fact that he’d once or twice idly considered an after-hours look-see into the till or the safe was beside the point. It was just an intellectual exercise.
But no way had Casey forgotten to lock up tonight. He’d seen them walk up, knew the score.
He was almost back to sleep when he heard a voice out in the alley. A dull thud that shuddered the building. Another voice, also male. Another thud-shudder. The voices louder.
He slumped back into bed. A fight. Common. Usually on Saturdays though – today was only Thursday.
He drifted back to sleep. There were a few more muffled sounds but nothing to compel him from the thin warmth of his mattress.
He awoke in darkness to the sound of the beer truck pulling up the alley. He staggered up, pulling last night’s clothes on. An aborted shout pulled him quickly down the steps. He stepped into the alley and was momentarily overwhelmed by stink and noise. The beer truck rumbled on idle, blowing exhaust.
The driver was a few feet away, hands on his knees, vomiting noisily.
The sour odor of puke made Joel wince and step back, kicking something soft with give. He looked down just as he became aware of another smell coating his sinuses, slippery and unpleasant.
The thing he kicked – the source of the slick-thick smell – was a man. Had been a man. From the neck down he looked all right. Dark shirt, jeans, scuffed engineer boots. From the neck up (what was left of his neck) was a different story. The hair was there, the forehead, and the eyes. Some of the nose. But the mouth…..
His head snapped around just in time. The puking was quick and almost painless – as if his stomach had simply balled up yesterday’s kip and beer and tossed it up the flue of his throat. He retched twice, waited to see if it would happen again. But his stomach settled quickly, if uneasily.
He turned back, looked down.
It wasn’t a mouth anymore, that was the thing. More like a crater. Like he’d swallowed a stick of dynamite. But that wasn’t quite right either. The chin and cheeks weren’t gone, as he had first thought. They were….pushed. The lower half of the face was mostly just a hole now. As if the guy had tried to swallow something too big – way, way, way too big. A train, maybe. A moving train that had somehow mistaken this guy’s mouth for a tunnel.
The breeze prickled the sweat on his face, making him shiver. The driver walked slowly over to where Joel stood. His face was a pale blur in the fuzzy morning darkness.
“What the fuck happened to them?”
The word them was like a string connected to Joel’s chin, yanking his head around. The second one was about ten feet away, also lay on his back. The hands spread from his shirtcuffs like pale starfish. The indiscriminate dark mass of the face told Joel that whatever had happened to engineer boots had happened to this guy, too.
The police interviewed everyone at the bar that night. No one asked about the girl. Not one person remembered her, not even Casey. But Joel found himself thinking of her.
I’m a vampire.
How nondescript she was.
You want to go out and get a bite?
He thought how being nondescript was a kind of camouflage.
If I were hungry. Or angry.
He couldn’t really remember anymore what she looked like. Just her gray boulder eyes.
And her tongue, of course.
How the bodies had looked, as if something had forced its way through their mouths. Burrowing.
Her pink, muscular, sinuous tongue.
Which is stronger, do you think?
He left without telling anyone. He took a few books, left the rest.
He never spent more than a week in any town. He sat patiently in the taverns, watching and waiting. He didn’t bother describing her – no point in that. But if he did see her, if he saw her and recognized her, this time he would know what to say.
Ask me that question again, he’d tell her. He thought he had an answer now, thought he knew what he was seeking.
And of course he would kiss her.
At least he never thought of Pam any more.
© Copyright Sandra Stephens (nee Sandra Miller)