There was a crackle and hiss. Faint though they were, I felt them down to my core, beckoning to me. I stirred from my prolonged sleep, latching onto the sound, searching for its source, and caught onto it. It flared up, the rush tingling through my limbs as they stretched out, like yawning babes waking from a deep slumber only they could muster. I licked at the air, the chilly evening far too cold for my liking. Far too cold for the man who stood before me too, apparently.
He rubbed his palms together, the dry calluses whooshing together rhythmically, before extending them towards me. I rose higher, doing my best to get the heat pumping, dancing light pushing away the darkness splayed across his features. His eyes crinkled in the corners, orange specks coming to life within them as they mirrored my flickering form.
What a shame. That others should admire me in all my glowing splendor, whereas all I got to see past my resplendent flames was a mere shadow of my own glory. No matter, though. I would burn bright, or not at all.
The man stepped back, revealing an unfamiliar face. A woman — I’m pretty sure it was a woman. Either way though, it was a human, with a set of arms and legs topped by a bulging visage that pivoted and tilted unnecessarily much; it made it that much harder to guess what hid inside of it. She — we’ll just assume I’m right about that — sat on the sofa, features aglow and limbs reaching out towards me as if I were some sort of treasure or well-kept secret. I’m not.
I squirmed beneath her penetrating gaze until she returned her attention to the man, who settled down beside her. Her lips twitched upwards, stretching overmuch along her otherwise quaint features. I have seen my share of different smiles in my life, and I can tell you that this one was unnatural. It revealed too many pearly whites, which contrasted with their blood-red frame; it had the self-satisfaction of a cat clicking its claws on the floor as it observed the growing terror of its prey.
Only, the man didn’t seem afraid at all.
There was a low rumble, followed by a high-pitched, jittery laugh as the woman put a hand to her abdomen. “Excuse my stomach, I skipped lunch is all.”
“Don’t worry, I know the feeling,” he chuckled. “Like a fishhook pulling at the back of your throat, right down from your stomach isn’t it?”
Her coy expression fell away as she stared at him with the categorical judgement of someone who has just heard a casual acquaintance break wind and try to pass it off as the squeak of a chair. “Um — right, yeah.”
There was another grumble, and the predatorial glint crept back into her eyes.
“Do you want me to fix you some dinner?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
RUN. Run and run and don’t look back. Or better yet, smash that vase of flowers onto her head, and make sure you’ve done it right — that pan over there should do the trick. I would’ve taken his face in both hands and screamed a warning at him if I could. Except that I had no hands to shake him or lungs to try to get through to his thick skull.
The woman shifted, her neck twisting towards me. I stood tall, unwilling to let those sharp eyes pierce through my semblance of nonchalance. A faint smirk crawled its way up to her angular cheek as the man shuffled closer, trying — and failing — to disguise the movement by rearranging the flowers on the table.
At least that was one thing I agreed about with this woman — he was prey. Plain and stupid, like a rabbit pondering when it should pounce on that peculiar but promising mound of food, only to realise as the trap springs that, oh, woopsie daisies, that wasn’t just an easy meal. However, this particular rabbit also happened to supply my meals; it certainly wouldn’t do if this hungry vamp stole that away and stretched my fireless slumber on forever.
Despite the decisive life-or-death outcome for my caretaker — or rather, his doom-or-die, both of which would end in similar ways —, I took in the scene with somewhat engrossed fascination as I wondered what was about to unfold. However long I would be forced to hibernate as a result couldn’t be nearly as bad as what he was about to suffer. I only hoped it wouldn’t be too gory; I enjoy a bit of action now and then but having to watch full-on murder was a little crude, even for me.
The prolonged silence was starting to be awkward, the woman’s unmoving gaze and smile fixed upon my swaying body, as her host attempted to attract them onto himself. He cleared his throat. “So, um... Do you wanna like, watch a movie or something? I heard there’s a football game tonight, Giants against Patriots — we could watch that; I’m more of a G-man myself. Or — wait actually, you probably don’t watch football do you? That’s fine too, we could just, uh, talk.” After a slight, expectant pause he added, “Or something.”
The jumbled release of words tumbled into the silence and filled it for a short moment, only to be flooded by it once more as the woman merely gave an amused huff and answered, “Or something.”
A ruddy flush bloomed up from the man’s neck, which had nothing to do with my flickering orange self. Goodness. Are all men as idiotic as this one?
“I’ll just, add some — uh, you know, a little bit of —”
“Wood?” she offered sweetly.
“Yeah — wood, that’s right. I’ll do that.”
I was starting to understand why my previous owner (or housekeeper or caretaker, whatever you call it) used to have such frustrated outbursts as he stared at the television that stands above me. He would sit, his movements comically slow as he shoved one chip after the other into his mouth, his eyes glued to the screen. And then suddenly there would be a twitch of the lips and a howled Nooo as his face scrunched up. Other times, it would just be a senseless string of words, something like you dimwitted twat, turn around it’s right there — freaking TURN AROUND.
Just like him, I was now a passive viewer of the unfolding scene, intruding on this intimate moment which featured one stereotypically dumb and another strereotypically evil character. The latter eyeballed me, again, as if she were about to unveil a great mystery. As if she, of all people, were special enough to even catch a glimpse of what marvelous creature lay behind my sparkling glow.
Our doomed character ambled towards me, taking a few logs with him to chuck them into my waiting mouth. Hmm. I guess I could give him a bit of credit for that: any awkward moment he had (and there had been many), he spent giving me more food. Perhaps he hoped that my welcoming warmth would ease the tension and lack of conversation. Or maybe he hoped for the heat to make them both a little woozy so that words might come easier. Who knows?
The fact remained that, when words failed him, he would come to seek comfort with me. Sweet, isn’t it? I danced up, sending tendrils of light his way. A perfect hypocrite for the perfect blockhead. I must admit though, I’d gotten rather attached to this guy, and it was without particular thrill that I watched as a gleaming set of canines rose up behind him and sunk into his neck. There was that twinge of fascination though, as he muttered an almost inaudible “what the —” before turning around to come face to face with a sickeningly wide smile.
It was devoid of any semblance of charm and was, really, just a showcase of now red-tipped teeth. The man spasmed, his spine stiffening as if it had been yanked top and bottom by a puppeteer, and he literally fell face first onto the floor, fingers still twitching erratically.
Wow. That was intense stuff.
I flickered on though. As my mother used to say, you simply can’t let yourself be pushed around by something as random and slapdash as water; even when it makes you hiss and steam, it is merely a test of your resolve, for if you push on, you may flare bright and burning once more.
Only, the dude currently sprawled on his stomach wasn’t a fire, so I guess my mom’s advice didn’t apply to him. I tried to imagine what she would’ve told me in such a situation. Perhaps these humans were like a gust of wind, a minor inconvenience which could be turned to our advantage once it abates. Yeah, that sounded about right.
The woman knelt by her prey, head dipping down towards it. I leaned forward, perversely interested. What even was she? Some sort of water incarnate — for humans? Oh, boy, here it comes. Her teeth approached the puncture marks, and I could already imagine a gross, squishy sound that would emanate from them.
Sparks flew from me as my coiled expectation trembled with equal thrill and fright for the oncoming show. Except that a fiery particle skipped right onto the woman’s wrist. She paused. She raised her hand to her face, tongue darting out to wet the pricked skin, and her lids lifted, abandoning the earlier butterfly-like flitting. She glared towards me — no, she glared right at me beneath her lowered brows, staring into the depths of my fluttering conscience.
I shrunk, quite literally, shying from predatorial attention. Her attention remained locked on me as I did my best to escape notice. After a while she stood, spun on her heel, and I heard the gentle slap of footsteps on stone recede.
I let out my inheld breath, shining brightly once again. Damn. It had felt for the first time as if someone actually saw me for what I truly was — not only the part of me which manifested as a bundle of heat when I was awake, but also the brains behind it. This thing I had wished for so often before just left me shaken. Naked.
There was a pat-tat-tat-tat from the kitchen, which drowned into a faint hum. The woman sashayed back into the room, now with a casserole in hand, which swayed to the rhythm of an unmistakable lap of water. Crap. She kneeled in front of me, her very presence bringing along a chill. That red-framed smile was back, except she didn’t bother keeping it contained with me as she had at first with the man; instead, she pulled back those velvety curtains, revealing her play in its full extent.
No. No no no. That single syllable was the only thought I could muster as she raised the casserole and started, ever so slowly, to tip it sideways. She took her sweet time, and I waited for the inevitable moment with growing terror. Like prey. Like plain, stupid prey before the ominous clicking of a cat’s claws.
“Sweet dreams, dearie.”
The icy grip fell upon me in a hiss of steam and I felt my limbs go numb, one after the other, weighing me down, down until there remained but a shadow of my former glory.