They say divorce, moving, job loss, and death are the most stressful life events, and Todd Kent could relate because he had experienced them all; however, sitting behind the wheel of the U-Haul truck, gazing at his new residence through a bug-spattered windshield, he didn’t feel stressed but relieved. A sensation he supposed touched on inappropriate and disconcerting, considering the circumstances.
“It looked better online,” he said aloud. The 1950s ranch house—fifteen miles out of Lexington, KY—had powder blue shutters, discolored shingles, and an overgrown yard consisting of more weeds than grass. The red and white sign in the front yard read FOR RENT, with the name KELLY written in black marker. “Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.”
The invisible Toto did not reply.
He glanced up and down the street and didn’t see any movement. It was 11:35 a.m. on a beautiful Saturday, but there wasn’t a single individual or animal in sight. Nobody washing their car or walking their dog. No children playing too loudly in a yard. Just a row of uninteresting houses in serious need of yard work.
Suddenly, the passenger door of the moving truck flew open. If Todd hadn’t stopped in Lexington to use the bathroom and grab a burger, he would have pissed his pants.
“Look like you seen a ghost,” the young woman said.
He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly as his therapist had instructed, in an attempt to calm himself and collect his thoughts. “You startled me. I didn’t see—”
“Scared shitless is what your face looks like.”
“You must be Kelly. We spoke on the phone regarding the rental property,” he said while trying to inconspicuously survey her landscape. She wore dark sunglasses so he couldn’t see her eyes, but the rest of her body shouted gorgeous. “I’m Todd.”
There was a long uncomfortable pause before she asked, “You’re not one of them rapists, are ya? You coming from California and all.”
“What? No . . . nothing like that.”
“Okey-dokey,” she said, pulling herself into the truck. She closed the door and leaned back against the window. “It’s kinda small, right? The truck, I mean.”
He thought about explaining he was exhausted after the long trip, that he didn’t feel much like small talk, but there was something about this woman that captivated him. Perhaps it was her curly blonde hair, which reminded him of Trisha, his ex-wife. Or maybe it was her effervescent personality. Then again, it could have been the simple fact he was horny, and she was hot. Period. “Uh . . . I don’t have a lot of furniture at the moment.”
“Old lady kicked you in the balls during the divorce, huh?”
“Something like that,” he said. “But I’d rather not talk about it.” And in an attempt to change the subject: “Sure is quiet around here for a weekend.”
Kelly sat up, snatched the oversized drink from the cupholder, and took a long, slow taste, cherry lips making love to the plastic straw. She replaced the foam cup and delicately burped. “People in this neighborhood only come out at night.” She glanced out the window. “Yep, it gets real exciting after dark.”
“Lot of young couples partying?”
She opened the door and slid off the bench seat. “How about we take a look inside? Whole inside has a fresh coat of paint. I think you’ll like it.”
There would be an occasion, later, to mentally replay the episode with the straw, but for now, he followed behind as she led him inside the house. And once the door closed behind them, she transformed into her real estate agent persona.
“Let’s start in the kitchen, she said. “A strong man like you has to eat, right?”
He didn’t believe the kitchen would get much use, considering both Domino’s and Chipotle were within delivery distance. After all, he was a bachelor. But he nodded and smiled as they went from room to room.
There was a lot of “This is nice” and “You could put a chair here” and some “It just needs a little TLC.” Then they reached the bedroom. “Look!” She pointed to the mirrors affixed to the sliding closet doors and winked. “Sexy, am I right?”
“Yeah, I guess,” he said, remembering a vignette from his previous life. Tricia, his girlfriend at the time, had made him remove the mirror from the door in the bedroom, didn’t want to see herself naked while they did their business. She had used that exact word, “business.” He couldn’t believe he had overlooked that red flag. And just like that, a loveless marriage, endless complaining, and sex—if he was fortunate—once a month.
“Earth to Todd!”
The sound of Kelly’s voice jerked him back to reality. “What?” And he realized, for the first time since they entered the house, she was still wearing dark sunglasses.
She moved to within arm’s length of him. “Ever do it in front of a mirror?”
He assumed he must have misunderstood her because beautiful women aren’t attracted to ordinary-looking men, especially men without money or a job. He had life experience regarding that topic. “What did you say?”
“You enjoyed what I did with the straw,” she said, shoving him against the wall. “I could see it in your eyes. And I can smell your pheromones. Now hold still.”
This is not happening, he thought. But the scent of her perfume, sweet and floral, made him drunk. His mind raced. There were 1,001 reasons why this was a bad idea, but right now . . . he struggled to think of even one. And as her slender fingers unfastened his zipper, he remembered the two words his psychotherapist had asked him. The words that brought him from California to Kentucky. The words Dr. Carrol said would assist him in rebuilding his life.
He glanced into the mirror and saw Kelly drop to her knees, still wearing those dark sunglasses. Todd closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and time stood still.
And after what appeared to him only a matter of seconds, he opened his eyes and immediately realized two essential details: it was dark outside, and he was lying on the floor entirely naked. So, he collected his clothes and dressed by the faint light that crept in under the door.
“ . . . yeah, he should be awake soon,” Kelly’s voice from a distance.
He slid over to the door and listened. Unless he was still asleep, in the clutches of some nebulous dream, he could hear a myriad of voices. “What the hell?” He opened the bedroom door and bolted down the hallway.
“Hello!” the group said in unison.
Todd’s brain fashioned the only reasonable explanation for what he saw before him: he was trapped in a bizarre episode of The Twilight Zone. There was no other way to justify thirty—no, check that—fifty of the palest individuals he had ever encountered seated in folding chairs in his living room. And Kelly, still donning the dark sunglasses, standing dead center of the motley bunch.
Kelly said, “Everyone, I would like to introduce you to Todd. Like I said earlier, he’s from California and recently divorced. So, you single ladies, take note.”
Again, in flawless harmony, “Hello, Todd.”
“Todd,” Kelly continued, “This is the Southeastern Vampire Club, Lexington chapter.”
Panic gnawed his insides when their lips peeled back in a smile, revealing elongated incisors. He stole a glance at the front door, but he realized he could never make it through the crowd. Perhaps the bedroom window? However, he could not move. His brain was screaming run, but it was as if he were glued to the floor. His heart pumped in his ears, body trembled, breath coming in ragged gasps.
Kelly must have understood the horror he felt because she walked over to him and gently took his hand. “Nobody here is going to hurt you, Todd.”
She removed her glasses.
Her eyes were breathtaking . . . blue beyond blue, electric, full of life, fire, depth. He could get lost in those eyes and forget about the rest of the world. The crowd disappeared. The room evaporated. Nothing left but those picturesque blue eyes. “Nobody here is going to hurt you, Todd,” he intoned.
“We’re a peaceful bunch,” she said. “Unlike our sister groups up north—running around attaching random strangers. We would never force you to do anything.” She replaced her glasses and kissed his cheek, plump lips leaving a vestige of red on his cheek.
He snapped out of the trance, back to the veracity of the situation. “But . . . I don’t understand. What do you want from me?” He scanned the room with wide eyes. “What do they want from me?”
“Well, Todd”—she held her hands out—"we would like you to join us. Becoming a member of this club has many, many advantages. Wouldn’t you like to live forever? How about never getting sick or permanently injured?” She smiled, showing her astonishingly white teeth, complete with fangs. “And it only takes one bite.”
He thought about his ex-wife, about getting laid off from his job at IBM, about his parents’ horrible death last year, and about his sessions with Dr. Carrol. He looked at Kelly, beautiful and vivacious. Yes, she was a member of the undead, but nobody’s perfect. He took a deep cleansing breath, letting it out slowly, and then . . .