This year, Gina’s gift to her husband would be extra special. It had been years in the planning; an interminable wait list, clandestine phone calls, hasty arrangements with the help of her sister when the time finally came.
Keeping the secret from Stuart had been agonizing; usually, they told each other everything. Conveniently, he was away on business when Gina and Maxine boarded a taxi for the airport. She told him her sister was recovering from surgery and needed an extra set of hands around the house for a couple of weeks. It was a half-truth; she did stay with her sister in Boston, but it was Gina who was recovering from surgery.
Gina had spoken to Stuart on the phone several times while she was away, but hadn’t told him she was returning early. He wasn’t expecting her for…
The headache was real. He opened his eyes and squinted at the sun coming through the window and tried to remember what had happened the night before.
“Oh you’re up. Look at the sunlight. Tell me how you feel.”
“Like I’ve been hit by a truck.”
“Do you feel alive?”
He looked at her sitting in a navy blue wingback chair wearing nothing but a smile and black silk stockings held up by red garters. He thought of her as a girl, not from her age but by the way she acted. She had been cute for a while but the cuteness became annoying and practiced.
He got out of bed and looked for his robe. She watched him with a smile on her face that was part wonder and part greed. Memories started to come back. Against his better judgement he’d taken her home and to his bed. Then she’d poured something she said was wine, but it obviously wasn’t.
“What did we drink last night?”
“What did you drink Andrew darling. I gave you an elixir to life. I gave you a tonic of love. I gave you light and love?”
He didn’t even respond. The sooner he got her out of his house and made coffee the better. Finding his robe he headed to the kitchen.
“Do you feel different?” She got up and followed him down the stairs.
“Other than feeling like shit?”
“Today is your new birthday. You’re mortal again.”
It suddenly occurred that she’d given him some sort of potion. “Jen, I can’t be cured. There was nothing wrong with me.”
“You were a Vampire.”
“I’m still a Vampire.”
“You’re walking in the sunlight. See it comes through the windows and you aren’t burning.”
“I’ve always been able to walk in the sunlight. Whatever you gave me didn’t work. It never works anymore than me giving you something that would turn you into a dog.”
“Give me a chance and I’ll take care of you Andrew,” she said clutching at his arms.
He pried off her hands and whispered under his breath, “Yes, and I’ll make sure to take care of you.”
Escorting her to the door, the Vampire told her to not come back – but he knew she’d try. Jen never took no for an answer. He compared her to a bad rash, that is if he’d ever had a bad rash.
Nobody would believe her tall tales of dating a Vampire. She was a groupie, a fan, a follower who didn’t know how to be an adult or find real love. It wasn’t like he always knew how to find real love, but at least he wasn’t going to let anyone change him for it.
Picking up the phone he made a call. “You know, I really don’t have the stomach for killing her right now. Any suggestions?”
His friend paused on the other end of the line then said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of her.”
After getting off the phone Andrew made a blood and strawberry smoothie hoping it would clear out some of the toxic effects of whatever the Hell Jen had given him.
Jen told everyone her family had always been around Vampires, kind of sort of, but she’d just discovered her ability to pick them out about 10 years ago. She’d clamped onto Andrew about a year back after seeing him sing with one of her favorite bands at a local club. She’d spotted him and found out all of the details about his life through mutual friends. Her immaturity was charming at first and kind of cute but now it just grated on Andrew. He ran his hands through his hair and wondered why he’d brought her home last night. Oh right, blood and sex. That always does it.
Then again, Jen thought life should be a cross between a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie and Twilight. Holy crap. The woman was delusional.
Jen sat alone in her San Francisco apartment and thought about her beautiful Vampire lover. Giggling at the thought of his cool skin and hot kisses and wonderful techniques as a lover. He knew all the tricks. She imagined living with him in his beautiful St. Francis Woods home.
Last night she’d offered him not just her body but her blood as well. Last of all she offered her heart. As far as she was concerned that was a sealed deal. She was part of him now. He’d never get rid of her.
A year passed and Andrew had all but forgotten about that night with Jen. Occasionally one of his friends would bring up the story of the toxic brew and laugh about it.
“Don’t laugh, it could have ruined my voice,” Andrew would tell them half serious and half joking.
“What ever happened to her?” They would always ask. Andrew would just shrug.
A hundred miles away, locked in a room with no sharp objects Jen sat rocking on the bed speaking of her Vampire lover and how he’d return for her. Andrew said something under his breath about taking care of her. So she waited not knowing that he already taken care of her, quite nicely.
“Why do I have eyes of different colors? The brown eye is my own. The blue eye is a different story. I plucked it from the freshly dead body of a young Irish nun. She’d killed herself because she had a vision that the child she was carrying, the child of the handsome young priest, was the Antichrist.”
“Why were you there Uncle Jeff?” A young voice in a hushed whisper asked.
“Because, my dear, I was the handsome young priest. That was before the life I live now. But I still see visions of angels and of a family in a warm embrace of love, then the fires of Hell with dancing devils and…”
“JEFF. STOP IT,” I yelled. “You’re going to give them nightmares.”
I know better than to ask my crazy brother to tell Christmas stories to my children and their young cousins.
“But, Simon, the stories are true,” my brother said as if he believed what he was saying.
“Kids, don’t listen to him. He’s blowing stories out of his…out of his ears.”
“Did I tell you about the time I met Santa Claus?”
“Jeff, no more storytelling.”
“It was the winter of 1969.”
“Jeff you were a toddler in 1969.”
“You have no idea how old I really am. Brother I have secrets that will make your head explode. Now children, the rest of the researchers on the Arctic research station had died of a mysterious illness. Then the giant polar two ton bears came. I’ll never forget the sound of them crunching on the bones of my friends.”
“Giant two ton polar bears?”
My brother and the children ignored me as he continued his tale. “I wouldn’t let them eat the dogs so we took off with the sled north, following the stars. Frozen and hungry, my body could take no more. Out of my blue eye I could see my angel Bernadette, the nun I’d loved. Her visions…”
“Then I heard bells. Not big bells like the Liberty Bell, but small happy bells. A lot of bells. I thought I was in a dream. My dogs huddled close. Then we saw them. The Zombies…”
I went to the kitchen for a beer. My wife and Jeff’s weird Goth girlfriend were talking about how to make the perfect prime rib.
Spotting my sister Libby out on the deck I went out to join her.
“It’s cold out.”
“Cold but not as weird as it is inside.”
“Do you think there is any truth to his stories.”
“I don’t know. He has memories of before we were found. All the records still say we were abandoned at the rest stop outside of Barstow. Nobody came forward to claim us. We’re related for sure, the DNA tests prove that, and we look like each other but…”
My sister shrugged. “I did more research but didn’t find anything. Nothing. It is like we were dropped by aliens.”
“Or Santa Claus.” I said.
We were found on Christmas Day, three tiny children. Our dad was the highway patrolman who found us. Jeff was the oldest, then Libby and I was just a baby. The doctors figured Jeff was around three, Libby maybe two and I was a newborn. We were all wearing hand knitted Christmas sweaters and red Santa hats.
Our life was happy and normal with our new parents. They loved us unconditionally. They still do.
I never thought about who might have left us at the rest stop with typed notes saying “Merry Christmas. Please keep us together,” pinned on our sweaters.
Libby and I went back inside to catch the end of Jeff’s story.
“In the morning Santa and I sat on the beach listening to the crashing waves. I passed him the bottle of whiskey we were sharing and he put his hand on back and said “Good job son, good job.”
Josh had left the meeting and work for the day. He needed to think.
Coffee and avocado toast. He’d found a seat by the window. Four hours of negotiations on the acquisition.
His phone dinged quietly with a text from his sister Kitty. She’d started the seedlings for her summer garden. It was only March but it was time for her. Every year he’d go to her house and help her can salsa and a myriad of other wonderful magical things she’d fit into Mason jars. Then they’d go on her deck where they’d drink beer and eat chips and salsa, and talk about everything, and nothing at all. She’d always pin her hair up and wear dangling earrings. Her laugh was infectious. He had needed that laugh after all of his meetings that morning. Jake would call her later.
Right now it was an exhausting and shitty day. Nobody was happy. Nobody would listen. He’d had an intelligent well thought out plan. It was a cluster fuck of already made ignorant opinions. Nothing was backed up with facts or experience.
On the way home a ladder had fallen from a utility truck, hit a car a few places ahead of him on the freeway. The next thing Jake knew a woman was holding his arm and they were both covered with blood.
His arm was broken, his face was bruised and cut, his entire body felt like he’d been beaten with a baseball bat then thrown off of a cliff. His car was totaled. Stitches went from his left ear down his jawline to his chin. Three pins or screws or something was now holding his arms together. The headaches lasted weeks.
The woman went to the hospital with him. She held his hand. Her name was Scarlet. The last thing he said to her was, “make sure someone feeds my cat.”
It was the last day before everything shut down.
At home he didn’t need a car. He couldn’t have driven anyway for the next few weeks. Using a keyboard was almost impossible with two hands. If he had to go out he could take an Uber or Lyft. Food could be delivered. Cat food and litter could be delivered. No problem.
Zoomie the gray tabby kitten was delighted to keep him company. Unfortunately his girlfriend had moved back in with her ex the day he got out of the hospital.
By April a new car had been delivered and now had almost eighty miles on it. He wasn’t going anywhere. All work was at home. At least work was going well and keeping him busy. He’d hired three people he’d yet to meet in person. A woman named Emerald had been cleaning his house since he’d come home with the broken arm.
By June the depression rolled in so he would put Zoomie in a backpack or in his harness and go for long walks. By July his sister was canning without him. His brother and parents had driven down to see him a few times. It was always great to see them. They begged him to come up and stay with them but he was too busy with work. He’d bake cookies for Emerald to bring home to her husband and kids.
At the end of July he could pull his hair back in a ponytail. He’d started working out again. Zoomie was getting huge.
One morning on Facebook he saw where a friend of a friend posted something about a dog. My brother passed away. His dog Daisy needs a home. Daisy is a sweet five-year-old German Shepard/Lab mix. She is well trained. We don’t want to take her to a shelter.
Without thinking more than five minutes about it Josh called the number. A man answered. He said his neighbor would drop off the dog.
A few hours later he got at text. I’m outside in your front yard with Daisy.
Daisy stood wagging her tail and wiggling with happiness. A pretty brown haired woman wearing a sundress held Daisy’s leash. At least he thought she was pretty. Her eyes were pretty above the mask.
She introduced Daisy to Josh, then said, “How are you Josh? Do you remember me?”
He couldn’t quite place her.
“I was in that accident when you broke your arm. I was in one of the other cars. I’m Scarlet. Do you remember me?”
“Oh, wow. Scarlet. It’s good to see you.”
“Good to see you too. You look good. Thank you for the nice letter and the flowers,” then she laughed, “and the toilet paper.”
In September Josh cleaned out the texts in his phone and found Scarlet’s message. I’m outside in your front yard with Daisy. Right now Daisy was at his feet snoring with Zoomie curled up at her side.
Outside the smoke from the fires made it unhealthy to walk. Josh put on music and danced while playing with Zoomie and Daisy. Then he pulled his hair back and attended Zoom meetings, trying to look like he was normal. He noticed how the scar on his face showed up, not so much ugly or disturbing but interesting.
There were Zoom calls with work and friends. His family stopped by once a month. A few friends came by. Josh talked to his neighbors. The world was opening up. It wasn’t the world where he’d stop for coffee and avocado toast when he wanted to think. This was a world of protests, and weirdness, hate, and mean politics. But in his own bubble it was a world of people who’d reached out. It was a world where he treasured each phone call and guarded visitor. It was a world where Zoomie and Daisy were his own tiny family with their own habits and secrets.
One Saturday right before Halloween he received a text. Hi. Do you mind if I bring my dog Crystal over? She and Daisy used to be great friends. In fact, they’re sisters from the same litter. I thought it would be fun to have a play date.
Josh thoughtI could use a play date too.
Then he texted back,That would be awesome. Bring Crystal over anytime.
Opening and closing his hand Josh still felt a little bit of numbness and a little ache. He’d be fine. It would be more than fine.
Note: I’m just fooling around with some ideas for much larger and more detailed stories. As we all stay at home, worry about the election tomorrow, and think about the well being of those we care about we’re still side tracked by other challenges. Fortunately good things still happen. This might get worked into my 2020 NaNoWriMo project. You never know.
Have fun. Stay creative. Stay safe. Wear your mask. Vote. Check in on those who might need extra help both mentally and physically. Hug your kids. Kiss a Vampire. And keep checking back for more silly stuff.
Damn. What a night. Fighting demons and their fucking friends. Max rarely even thought of using four letter words but tonight was a swear night. Even as an alpha Vampire to top all alpha Vampires he was exhausted, and away from home.
The only saving grace was that he’d been not far from his fiancé’s house by the beach. He looked forward to falling asleep in her arms to the sound of the waves.
She wasn’t home. Damn. He let himself in as the sun started to light up the morning sky. 5:00 a.m. Where was she?
Max stripped off his clothing and threw it into the washing machine. Then he fell onto her bed. Damn it felt good. She said she’d gotten new bedding but this was amazing. He never understood Vampires who slept in coffins and crypts.
Falling into a deep sleep the dreams came in waves…
“I’m smarter than everyone in this room. They’re all idiots,” said Archibald Fontaine.
What is that blow hard doing here? Thought Max. He couldn’t stand the pompous ass. Archi was the last Vampire he’d want in his dreams.
Then Archibald Fontaine leaned forward and kissed Max on the mouth.
Max backed off. “It is over Archi.”
Then he was jolted into a dark passageway. Sadness overwhelmed him. He had never felt so alone. A cat started to follow him, then two, then three, then five.
The dream jumped to another location. This time a house. His house. She lay on his bed in silk tap pants and a silk bra, both in pale pink. He kissed her neck and brushed it with his fangs. He wanted to tell her that he loved her but he didn’t. Or did she want to tell him?
He was at a party. It was the 1916. He heard her voice I haven’t thought about him in years.It was a lie. She thought about him all the time. A wolf howled in the distance. It was a Werewolf.
He sat on a chair pulling off the silk stockings he’d worn the night before. Red peep toe shoes were on the floor in front of him along with a flowered dress.
Max had never worn a dress. Not even on Halloween.
Max opened his eyes and looked into his own face next to him in bed. His eyes were brown, then the color turned to hazel, then back to brown. He smiled at himself and pulled himself close in an embrace.
Then he woke in a jolt. This was too weird. What had those demons done?
Mehitabel stood by the bed. “Hey baby.”
“Hey,” said Max.
He reached out his hand to her. She sat on the edge of the bed and gently kissed him.
“The new bedding is nice. Love the pillows. But oh man, I’m having weird dreams.”
She smiled and stroked his hair. “Memory foam,” she said.
“Memory foam. You’re sleeping on my pillow silly.”
Then she undressed and got into bed beside him, but not before she gave him his own pillow.
A while ago, back in Europe, when I was traveling with a friend, I went for dinner to a restaurant that belonged to a very nice Italian couple. It was in Rome.
You know, when you go to European restaurants, there are these eight-to-ten people tables for tourists, where they place you on, and unless the table is filled up, you won’t get served.
My friend and I had a lot of fun. I don’t belong to the people who always want to eat steak and fries or fish and chips wherever they go. I’d like to know what a country has to offer me. And here it was the same thing.
Confidently I told the waiter, I want to have the ‘house special,’ no matter what it is. He was a bit surprised and asked carefully, “Are you sure?” I confirmed that I was, indeed, very sure.
He brought us soup and salad ahead; then, the entrees were served. My friend got steak and fries, and I got the ‘house special’… it was a bird, a tiny bird. It was lying there, all by itself, on a small white plate.
The little head hung halfway over the plate; one of its eyes was open, one closed, beak, feet, and claws were still entirely there.
So far, I have always taken on every challenge I had accepted, even the ones to myself. But in that particular case, the question was not, would I really go through with this? The question was, “How?”
There is something we all can learn from American ‘Haute Cuisine’… One can eat everything imaginable on Earth, no matter what it is, provided it fits in a bun.
I, therefore, clipped the poor bird’s head between its legs, pressed it a bit flat, took two pieces of white bread, stuffed the bird in between, and started eating. At that point, the conversations in the restaurant had lapsed into almost complete silence, interrupted only by the occasional embarrassed cough. At that point, even my friend didn’t say anything, which I gave her great credit for.
Now, the way things are, as soon as our nutrition passes the stomach, it reaches a, let’s say, ‘portal,’ which allows it to enter the intestinal system. When my portal saw, what was on its way, it immediately shut down. The ‘house special,’ from that moment on, laid there like a stone in my stomach, and started festering.
That chemical process developed resulting gases, which pressed stomach acid back through the ‘cardia,’ the stomach entrance, into the esophagus. A doctor, in that case, would talk about ‘gastroesophageal reflux’; we would typically call it heartburn – or pyrosis.
Try to picture now tiny, about pinhead-sized gas clouds, which are racing upwards, passing the uprising stomach acid towards the exit, in our case, my mouth, where they made themselves noticeable in the form of diminutive burbs.
The combination of these gases with oxygen apparently became an overly aggressive mix that made my friend tell me: “Wwwwoooow… if my eyes wouldn’t tell me for sure that I’m not wrong, I would almost think, you’re dead – for about three weeks.” I sat there, slowly blowing up. At the next chance, I asked the waiter: “Do you, by any chance, have something like a digestive juice?” He looked at me and nodded understandingly. “The ‘house special,’ right?” He then brought me something that looked, smelled, and tasted like a septic tank. I drank that stuff in only two big swallows.
And then, suddenly, all portals in and on my body opened – simultaneously!
That liquid was clearly familiar to the bird because that animal immediately started running. I started running too… as a result, we got to the restroom almost at the same time…
I’ll save you all the gory details of the following happenings – but let’s say we didn’t plan to eat there again anyway.
(This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.)
Aurora Jean is one of my oldest and dearest blogging friends. I’m happy to share her work today. As some of you recall she also wrote the popular Short Story Sunday – Tangled Tales featured story: Bernie Showers in France.