THIRTEEN HAUNTS OF HALLOWEEN
vampire (also spelled vampyre): in popular legend, a creature, often fanged, that preys upon humans, generally by consuming their blood. Vampires have been featured in folklore and fiction of various cultures for hundreds of years, predominantly in Europe, although belief in them has waned in modern times.
Music - or, at the very least, what passes for it - throbs through the ceiling and down the concrete walls. The cellar shakes. Bottles rattle and one falls off the shelf, spreading shards of glass and splashes of Shiraz across the dusty floor. A trickle of wine kisses bare skin, hesitates, then pools around the body curled in the corner.
It does not notice.
Not at first. Not until the head turns and the red tickles the nose and the slumped figure wakes, sputtering, hands and feet scrambling for purchase. It kicks up dust in a frenzy and when it finally stills, back to the wall, the spilled wine has formed a rivulet across paint-peeled molding. Ripples tremble and the wine snakes toward the stairs.
Dark eyes find the ceiling. The bass shudders, then kicks back in with a stronger beat.
Nell pushes herself to her feet, her sleeves dripping wet and her jeans stained red. She shakes her arms and soft droplets spray across the floor. “Okay,” she says again and, sighing, she tears off her soaked shirt - peels off her jeans - digs through the tattered backpack sitting at the edge of the spill and fishes out fresh clothes. She combs her fingers through her tangled hair and stuffs her feet into the unlaced boots flung sloppily at the bottom of the stairs.
“Let’s do this.”
The room is dark save for the spotlights swinging from the stage. Their bright beams sweep across the writhing crowd. Faces glisten in their harsh glow, slick with sweat, hair of all shades clinging to foreheads and lips and cheeks and shoulders. The music swells to fill every last pocket of air; any sliver of space missed is plugged quickly by slurred voices crooning misheard lyrics out-of-tune.
An average Saturday night at The Chain.
Nell slinks through the throng of people, the rubber soles of her shoes squelching and squeaking over spilled drinks. She wonders if there was ever a time when the floor was not sticky with beer and vodka, fruit juice and spritzers, and then thinks maybe she should clean up the wine sloshing all over the basement floor.
Once she’s crossed the club, she decides it would be a hassle to turn back.
“Usual?” It’s Christian who asks. He’s behind the long black slab of the bar sweeping a gray-ish dish rag along the rim of a martini glass.
Christian’s name is ironic, because he looks anything but: swollen muscles speckled with sailor tattoos, long hair pulled back as he works, silver studs stuck through the tail of his brow and a matching ring poking through his lip. He wears a cross around his neck, though, on a thick chain that belonged to his father, and sometimes Nell sees him grab it when he thinks no one is looking. Once, she even heard a Hail Mary in a gentle whisper. Christian keeps the cross tucked under his shirts and jackets, a tiny little secret, something just for him, but sometimes Nell can see it glint under the strobe lights.
She doesn’t know what he prays for.
Christian has a warm smile, the kind that makes him look like a friend, the kind that rakes in tips from drunk girls when he makes their vodka sodas and that makes drunker guys feel insecure.
Nell likes Christian. He’s kind in the real sort of way, he doesn’t skimp when he pours bourbon, and he’s never asked questions when Nell ends the night with a smudge of blood on the corner of her mouth.
Well, he did ask once. And a few times after that he seemed concerned. Then it clicked.
“Please,” she tells him. A glass lands on the bar before she even sits down. She hooks the heels of her boots on the rings of the stool and listens to the Old Crow trickle and splash into the tumbler while she watches the dance floor. She turns back in time to see a drop spring onto the back of her hand. She licks it off, then slides the glass closer. “Thanks.” There’s a pause that would be silence if the DJ wasn’t scratching and the crowd wasn’t certain of its (not so) perfect pitch. Nell watches the shadows, the flashes of arms and legs and hips swaying under frantic lights.
“Something on your mind?”
Christian is back to cleaning glasses. He smiles the tiny sort of smile that lets you know he cares, and Nell smiles back. She sips from her glass, shrugging as she does, swallowing before she says, “A wine bottle broke.”
“Downstairs?” Christian asks.
“Yeah.” Nell takes another sip. “Shiraz.”
Her gaze has trailed away again, attention fixed on the crowd. She finds herself drawn to the fringes where young couples go to argue, friends snap photos, girls adjust shoes too painful to dance in but too cute to take off. A drunken frat boy is trying to start a conga line. He fails.
The clink of glassware pulls her back. Christian is sliding wine glasses upside-down on the rack over his head. Nell lifts her glass, swirls the amber liquid inside. She downs the rest of her drink. Christian reaches for the Old Crow, but she holds up a hand. “No?”
“I’m good,” she says. His hand lingers on the neck of the bottle.
“You sure?” he asks. But Nell isn’t looking at him anymore. Across the room, something catches her eye. Christian notices, and he isn’t surprised when Nell slides off her stool, leaving her empty glass on the counter and his question effectively answered.
It’s easy to lose sight.
Nell learned this quickly. In a club, in the dark, in the shadows of the alley where the cooks steal smoke breaks out of the watchful eye of the security cameras. People like dark clothes for nights out, and that makes them look like the shadows they move through on the dance floor and out in the street.
Scents, however, are much easier to lose.
Scents cling to a person and permeate the air. They drift and they linger and they leave trails. If one is enough in-tune with another’s scent, one can track them for miles - across highways and state lines and continental borders if one wanted to. Nell doesn’t often have to go that far. Tonight, she doesn’t even make if off the block.
The man is in his thirties; on the tail-end if Nell has guessed correctly - and she usually does. When Nell first spotted him, he was with a woman not much younger - late twenties, Nell would say, if she had to put money on it. They’d been dancing. He’d been close. A few times she twirled away, but he’d take her hips and pull her back each time until, eventually, she grabbed the wrist of a friend in a pink sequined dress and declared that they were going to the bathroom. A code, Nell knew. A code for, “we need to talk” or “this guy is bugging me” or “I need to borrow a tampon”. Judging by the scent, it was one of the former - perhaps both.
Scents tell stories - blood most of all.
In their absence, the man turned his stumbling, drunken attention to a blonde girl nearby, who scooted closer to someone who could have been her boyfriend or could have been her husband or could have just been a safe spot to land.
Whoever he was, he got the hint, and whirled the girl away.
The man gave a few more tries.
Nell watched him flit from a redhead to another pretty blonde to a busty girl in a silver top who seemed to take a liking to him. Until he got too close, that is. Too handsy, one might say. The girl shoved him away, but kept dancing with a distance between them. As one song bled into the next, the man closed in again, and again his wandering hands got the better of him.
The girl slapped him that time, clear across the face. Nell swore she saw red in his eyes, but his backwards stumble had turned some heads, and he seemed to shrink under the sudden attention.
So he bolted.
Nell followed, and now she is on the edge of a quiet back alley, watching him take a piss against a wall. He mumbles to himself when he finishes, speech slurred and words incoherent, and staggers when he steps away.
He doesn’t see Nell - not until he slams straight into her.
“The fuck?!” the man blurts. He glares at Nell, but she says nothing. “Watch where you’re goin’.” The man adjusts his jacket - worn, made of leather that smells beaten and old - and side steps. He’s about to say something else in his attempt to move past Nell, but all he gets out is a short, “B-” before she grabs him and shoves him hard into the brick exterior of The Chain. He hits the wall so hard his head bounces against it and dust and crumbled bits of mortar catch in his unruly hair.
Nell smells blood.
The man blinks, dazed, and scarlet drips down to his shirt collar. It smells boozy, like iron soaked in rum, and when it snakes around the front of his neck Nell leans close enough to taste it. The man wriggles beneath her. She hisses as he struggles and presses her forearm hard against his chest, pinning him so firmly he can barely move. “What th’ f-..fuck!” he growls, though it comes out more like a whine. He trembles, breath hitching, as Nell scrapes her teeth against his neck. She hears his heart hammering in her own ears, hears the blood streaming through his veins. “Ge’off!” he says, and tries to push her. It’s to no avail. “Ge’off!”
Suddenly, Nell stops. She raises her head to meet his eyes. She licks his blood off her lips.
“What’s the matter?” she asks. “Don’t like strangers touching you?”
Before he can answer, teeth tear open flesh. A vein snaps like a thread.
The man gurgles, his hands clutching at Nell’s wrists. She ignores him in favor of ripping at the wound. Warm, rich blood oozes out. Nell drinks greedily, drinks until the man’s hands fall away from hers, drinks as his body goes still and slides down the wall, drinks until there is nothing left to drink.
She straightens, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. Behind her, a door swings open. Nell turns to find Christian carrying overloaded garbage bags to the dumpster. He pauses, eyes flicking between Nell and the slumped body at her feet. He sighs.
“Tell you what,” he says. “I’ll clean up the Shiraz if you...take care of that.”
He gestures toward the corpse, and Nell considers the dead man.