Charlize feels the chill from the fridge sneak into every fine opening of her nightgown, the cold air tickling her silken skin as her hand reaches in to grab a bottle of Cabernet. She pours her wine into a sleek stemless glass while leaving the refrigerator door open.
She hears a rustling, leaves laughing in the wind. Charlize places the bottle back in the fridge, closes the door, and peers outside. She runs to the foyer, certifies the chain and knob; she expects no visitors. The moon’s full, glowing radiantly. Charlize knows from that familiar gleaming face that tonight will be one of those nights.
Nights, in general, are always suspicious. Charlize remains careful, keeps the doors locked, looks through the peephole even in the day, and never invites strangers in. Her mother had fallen prey to the full moon on a night much like this one, and Charlize had promised herself that she would never go through something similar again. She avoids worrying, remembers the words often chanted by her mother, “Boredom is a pleasing antidote for fear.”
Charlize retrieves her glass from the counter, walks to her favorite spot in front of the fireplace. The pyre dances and crackles as her lips perch on the rim while she dives her spine into the armchair. Charlize still feels cold, but in front of the fire, her blood warms up quickly. Her eyes swing from left to right as she follows Rebecca through the written verses of Daphne du Maurier.
She turns to the side, hears yet another sound, something running, bushes being brushed upon maybe, a crow taking flight. The fire elongates her shadow, the shadows of all the furniture in her living room. She sees a body-like figure spring from the torchier, demonic claws creep on the floor from the deer hanging above the mantle.
The fireplace calls to her like a maw. Charlize grabs her book, kneels onto the floor, and crawls closer to the flames. She lies down on the hardwood, opens her book again, and reads, “I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone.”
A cold sensation runs up Charlize’s thighs. She wakes up with the scent of ash and the last cinders glimmering like stars in the pile of blackened wood. She stands up, noticing the lines traced around her arms from the grains of the wooden boards.
“Note to self, avoid drinking close to the fireplace.”
She picks up her book and tosses it onto the armchair, wipes down the creases from her gown, and goes back to the kitchen to place her glass in the sink. It’s still dark, and the moon is still out.
Charlize hears a flurry of rapid sounds, something scratching on the grass, and runs to see what it could be. She darts to the windows but hears a knock on the door and stops midway.
“Hello, is anyone home?” a voice calls. “Please, I need help.”
Charlize inches closer to the entrance but doesn’t say a word. She crouches as if whoever is at the door could spy her body through the magic mirror.
“Hello, is anyone there? I need help.”
She holds her hand to her chest as if pressing down on her own voice, keeping it at bay. If this man was evil, why would he knock? Why does he sound so worried and afraid?
“What is it?” Charlize yells. “What do you want?”
“Please, it’s my dog. He’s run away.”
Charlize sighs with relief, thinking that the problem is so mundane, so ordinary that the burden of answering the door would not be troublesome.
“One second,” she says.
Charlize unlocks the doors, turns the handle, and opens to find a man, so pale with eyes so red that her mouth opens wide enough for him to smell her wine-laced breath.
She grabs the door, but before she can slam it shut, he yells. “Please, don’t. I’m not what you think I am!”
“You’re a vampire!” Charlize returns.
“It’s not what you think. My name's Clyde. I live down the street. My dog really did run away.”
The cold nightly breeze rushes in through Charlize’s foyer, sends a jolt through her skin. She wraps her arm around her waist, hugging herself while slowly bringing the door to a close.
Clyde kneels to the floor, “I’m telling the truth. I saw my dog run into your yard. Can you just look for him, please? You don’t have to invite me in!” Blood trickles from Clyde’s eyes, red tears running down his cheeks.
“Why did dogs make one want to cry? There was something so quiet and hopeless about their sympathy.”
“What’s your dog’s name?” Charlize asks.
“Balthazar. I know, I know, what a terrible name. But if you saw him, I’m sure you’d understand.”
Charlize lets out a grin. “Were all the other demonic names taken at the pound?” she asks. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to…”
“I’m being serious,” Clyde cuts in. “That dog is precious to me. He’s my best friend. Just please, take a look in your yard.”
“Will he come if I call?” Charlize asks.
“Of course, just call him, try to get him to come my way. Please believe me,” Clyde implores. “I’m not going to hurt you; you don’t have to invite me in.”
“They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.”
“Alright, just give me a minute.”
Charlize races up the stairs, leaving the front door slightly open, fully aware that Clyde can’t set foot into her property without permission.
She grabs a jacket and a flashlight from her closet on the second floor and runs back downstairs. Clyde remains idle on the porch, sitting with his back against the wall, watching her with sorrow-ridden eyes.
“I’m back,” she announces, stepping off the last tread. “I’ll check out back to see if I can find Balthazar. You pay close attention, in case he runs your way.”
Clyde nods in agreement.
“If you need help grabbing him, just tell me.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Charlize fires with a sharp tongue.
“I know what they say, that you shouldn’t trust my kind.”
“We don’t need to talk about this.”
“I just want you to know that I would never hurt a fly or anyone for that matter. I’m just trying to live my life.”
“Yeah, yeah, just wait here while I look for your dog.”
Charlize glides past the kitchen, opens the back door to her yard. She turns on the light and scans the area looking for a dog with the name of a demon.
She runs the light across the rose bushes, “There was something rather blousy about roses in full bloom, something shallow and raucous, like women with untidy hair.” Charlize surveys the bench she frequently sits on to read in the mornings. She walks on the crisp grass, searching for a dog hidden under the veil of night.
Part of Charlize really does believe Clyde is searching for his dog; after all, she is trying to offer him some help. She looks to the moon, illuminating the sky, flashing stronger than her light.
“What am I doing?” she asks herself. “This dog is probably long gone, and I have a vampire camped out on my front door. This is literally something you don’t do during a night like this.”
Charlize thinks about how her night was supposed to be simple, how she was not supposed to open the door, read her book, and go to bed after at most two glasses of wine. She thinks of Rebecca, her words echoing in Charlize’s head, “I could fight the living, but I could not fight the dead.”
“Could Clyde be considered dead?” she thought. If something were to happen, could she fight him? Run a stake through his heart?
“Have you seen him yet?” Clyde yells from the porch.
“Try calling him!”
And so Charlize calls, “Here Balthazar, Balthazar. Here boy.” She taps her uncovered knees as if the sound was a hymn, something all dogs registered and knew what it meant. “Balthazar, come on, you’re dad is waiting for you.”
A shadow uncloaked by the moon stretches from behind the rose bush. A dog with fur like leather, sagging grooves, and a dangling tongue emerges from the greenery. His eyes survey the yard and halt at Charlize who’s smiling.
“Found you, boy!”
“I suppose sooner or later in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial.”
Charlize squats to the floor and calls to the dog, charming him with open arms. Balthazar moves in closer, lays down beside Charlize’s feet.
“Hey, did you find him?” Clyde asks.
“Yeah, I found him.”
“Then send him my way.”
Balthazar’s as big as a rock and pudgy like a toad. He’s fat, his skin ripples, and his fur follows the tide patterns like currents. His face dangles with wrinkles, heavy and protruding that Charlize’s hand would get lost among the dog’s cheeks.
She stands up, “Come on, let’s go, time to get you back home.”
Balthazar doesn’t budge; he simply sits and allows his weight to fall onto the lawn.
Charlize runs behind him, tries to get the dog to move, but her hand slides off his body like clay. Balthazar weighs a ton, and she doesn’t have the faintest idea on how to get him to budge.
“What is it?” Clyde screams.
“You got a leash or something? Balthazar here doesn’t seem like he wants to go.”
“Sorry? I didn’t plan on having him escape. I forgot the leash back home.”
“Figures,” Charlize tells herself. “The guy’s a vampire but is still a man. Leaves his house unprepared.”
Balthazar licks his drooping lips and rubs his face against the grass.
“Well, how are we going to get you out of here now, huh?”
Balthazar murmurs and groans incomprehensibly. He rolls his tongue out, almost mocking her.
“Clyde?” Charlize yells.
“Come get your dog already! He’s right over here!”
“With Rebecca, we enter a world of dreams and daydreams, but they always threaten to tip over into nightmare.”
Clyde darts through the house and blazes out the back door.
“Oh, who’s my good boy!” he says like a proud canine father.
Charlize grabs her flashlight from the ground and giggles at Clyde’s remark.
“What? Can’t I be relieved that he’s okay?” Clyde comments.
“Sure, no problem. I just didn’t think I would see that today.”
“See what?” he asks. “A vampire sweet talking to his dog? Well, I guess that isn’t something we see much these days.”
Clyde lowers to the ground and scratches Balthazar’s head, his fingers running along the dog’s ears.
“Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s getting late and well…”
“Say no more,” Clyde interjects. “But let me at least thank you… um, I didn’t get your name.”
“Well, Balthazar and I thank you.”
“Please, it was nothing. I’m happy to help.”
“Oh, that makes this situation all the more upsetting. Did you hear that Balthazar, she was happy to help?”
Charlize looks at Clyde with a furrowed brow.
“I saw that you were reading Rebecca tonight. It’s quite a lovely book.”
Charlize takes a step back, almost stumbles onto her bench.
“Yeah, it is. Do you know it?”
“But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood,” Clyde responds.
“I’m sorry,” Charlize says, “I rescind your…”
But Clyde disappears before Charlize’s very eyes, surging like a ghoul behind her body, covering her mouth.
“We can’t let you do that, right Balthazar?”
The dog in front of Charlize stretches; he places his paws forwards, his skin expands like elastic, gains form, grows, and reshapes like magma. His back erects, rises like a tower, stems straight like a rose. Balthazar reveals his form. He's not a dog but a man. His skin's not as pale as Clyde's, and his face harbors eyes as round as the moon.
“Charlize, meet Balthazar.”
Charlize tries to scream, but Clyde holds her jaw firmly with an iron grip.
“Clyde, come on, no need to be cruel. She did help us.”
Charlize looks to the man who was once a dog while her mind dips into a craze. She tries to say something, anything, but the only words that come to her mind are, "What are you?"
“There, there, no need to worry. It’ll all be over soon,” Clyde advises. “I’m guessing you’re thinking how this is possible. No, it’s not a trick of the light, and no, you’re not dreaming. Balthazar here really is a dog, well, almost.”
“Hey,” Balthazar says.
“You know of vampires, right?” Clyde forces Charlize to nod. “Well, now you know of shapeshifters too.”
“Please,” Charlize chokes out.
Clyde loosens his grip slightly.
His fingers seal her lips shut again.
“Let’s not take any chances, shall we?”
“Clyde, you know the deal,” Balthazar interjects.
“Yeah, yeah, you can have any part of her you want, dog. I just want the neck.”
Clyde's fingers dig deep into Charlize's hair while he arches her head back. He plunges his teeth deep into his victim's neck while Balthazar waits for his turn to feed. Charlize, by the end of the night, will be another fallen prey to the full moon, dying with nothing but the memory and regret of how she opened the door and invited a vampire in, fully knowing that tonight was one of those nights.
“Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, even upon a dreamer’s fancy.”