Our neighbourhood was a rarity in the modern world. In an era where people hid from their neighbours, and had more virtual friends than physical ones, our neighbourhood remained tight.
Partially it was because of my mom and dad. When they had newly arrived as immigrants, they set on a carefully constructed campaign to win over neighbours.
They threw huge Halloween parties, hung lights for every holiday and festival, and sent me -back when I was cute, mind you- to all our neighbours' houses with an armful of gift baskets.
So as the years passed, and I had sleepovers, playdates, community barbeques, our community grew closer and closer. Even when people moved, we continued our trend of staying close, and staying connected.
That was until Mr.Young died. He was super old, so nobody was hideously broken up about it, but I remembered his tolerance of my skateboard rattling on the pavement for hours into the night.
Out of everyone in the neighbourhood, he was the only one that consistently bought cookies whenever Lydia and I had a school project, and once he gave me an insider scoop on his military background.
His death was sad, but it also changed things. After his death, and funeral, the house was put on market.
All of my mother's hopes that a nice, neighbourly, possibly young family would move in were dashed with the arrival of Firoza.
One day we drove past the 'For Sale' sign on house 223, and the next we spied a twentysomething dragging boxes into Mr.Young's house.
My mother launched every trick in her playbook. My little sister, who still retained some semblance of cuteness, was deployed with cookies.
The new neighbour politely declined, citing some vague allergy. My mother, undeterred, invited our new neighbour, to our summer barbeque.
Nothing worked, and Firoza seemed determined to never leave home.
I couldn't care less about our new neighbour's dislike of our crazy community, unlike my seething mother, until I heard the world's weirdest sounds one night.
Not the non-PG variety of sounds, but something loud enough to jolt me awake in the middle of the night.
My room had the unfortunate privilege of being closest to Mr.Young's old house, and the noises continued. So bleary-eyed, I pushed apart two blinds and looked out.
Our neighbour, who hadn't been seen since she'd moved in, was outside her house, peering into the back of her car.
I blinked, frowning into the darkness. Is this when she did her groceries?
Then I watched bemusedly as she hefted something out of her trunk. There was a clatter on the pavement as a heavy, wrapped bag was dropped on the ground.
Rubbing my eyes, I tried to imagine what it was. A sleeping bag of tennis balls. A CPR dummy.
Firoza dragged the bag into her house.
A body. I swallowed, internally chiding myself for thinking something so stupid. I sounded like Lydia after she'd watched too many true crime documentaries.
Then Firoza came back out of her house and looked right at me.
My heart sprang into my throat, thudding wildly and I leaped back, letting the blinds snap themselves back into place.
Oh God that was dumb. Nothing weirder than a teenage boy watching a woman through a window.
Oh hell, what if she said something to mom? Now that would be an awful conversation.
Mom: So, you're into girls now huh? Well, it is that time-
Me: I'm not talking about this with you.
Mom: What do you even see in Firoza? Is it her-
I screwed my eyes shut, my face burning with shame already.
After that night, Firoza suddenly became more active in the community. By more active, I mean she did the bare minimum.
She showed up for the summer barbeque looking like she'd just gone to Mr.Young's funeral, completely dressed in black, with a scarf around her face, hat over her head, stockings, and full sleeves.
Not a very attractive look, because she looked like a creepy scarecrow, but my mother was overjoyed.
"Smile," I muttered, holding up the camera as Firoza and my mother stood together, Firoza's completely full drink in one hand, and my mother's half-empty third glass in the other.
I snapped the picture, and then frowned at it. Firoza wasn't in it. "Okay, sorry, one second, something's wrong."
But my mother had already drifted away, laughing with some other Aunt. Firoza grinned at me wickedly, and I smiled back, mystified.
I was so sure that she'd been in the frame when I took the picture.
Firoza crept even closer to the community, awkwardly standing outside people's doors with fruit baskets, personally offering to drive Mrs. Khan to the doctor's one day.
But I soon realized that Firoza was terrified of blood. At one of our gatherings, little Abdul fell and scraped his knee.
Barely a cut, just a little blood oozing, but Firoza pushed past the horde of concerned mothers to turn away, looking pale.
I narrowed my eyes, because that was one hell of a blood phobia, but was a little relieved. How could anyone be a murderer if they were scared of blood?
But our neighbourhood suddenly began deteriorating. People went missing, there was an unseasonable chill in the air, for some reason the nearby Catholic school got vandalized.
Nobody would ever admit it, but deep down, I knew this all started with Firoza's arrival.
All the mysterious incidents were adding up for me, and I decided to investigate.
Part of me was a little embarrassed; these things were a lot more excusable when a pretty girl was investigating someone on TV. A tall, weirdly introverted teenage boy stalking and spying was way less socially acceptable.
My mother would kill me if she knew I was staying up to sneakily spy on Firoza. My camera plans kept failing, since I could never seem to keep it in focus long enough to grab a decent picture.
I saw more CPR dummies or whatever get pulled into Firoza's house, and even though I tried, keeping track of missing persons just from the internet was really hard.
So I had no idea if I could actually connect this to anything. And something told me I'd be the suspicious one if I called the cops and said the woman I was spying on at night was bringing what appeared to be bodies into the house.
I winced at thought. But hopefully I'd be forgiven if I found proof.
Chalk this up to me being spectacularly stupid or bored, but I needed to break into Firoza's house.
I had tried to share my concerns with my parents, but the humiliating outcome I was trying to avoid had happened. My mother was now disappointedly convinced I was madly crushing on our - as my mother put it- "unconventionally attractive, shy neighbour".
My father just laughed, and was making a ton of jokes on my expense. Everytime he saw Firoza, he would wiggle his eyebrows and grin.
But I had a plan to prove them wrong. A big, end-of-July party was approaching, meaning that Firoza was probably going to attend.
While everyone was busy there, I'd sneak into her house, and find the evidence.
Mr.Young had shown me a way in a long time ago, because the back door handle could be jostled open easily. And Firoza hadn't gotten around to noticing, or replacing it yet.
I watched as Firoza left her house, dressed like a Paris Fashion Week mourner or a sun-allergic goth, as per usual.
I didn't know how long to wait in case she came back for something, and ran, awkwardly falling over her fence into the backyard.
"Ah, shit!" I swore, realizing that I'd scraped my forearm with a splinter.
I glanced around the backyard, ignoring the tiny cut and continuing.
Back when Mr.Young was around, he had carefully landscaped this place into perfection. Now everything just looked withered, dying, or barely going.
I shook the back door's handle like a madman, and the door just swung open. Carefully, I stepped into the house, fighting the urge to respectfully remove my shoes.
It was so weird being in someone else's house. The whole place was weirdly quiet, and cold. Everything seemed like something that would get me caught.
Quickly, I shook off the paranoia, reminding myself that something was very weird about Firoza, and scoped out the kitchen.
No weird bathtub of decomposing flesh, nothing to suggest a Hannibal Lector or Bates Motel-esque situation.
I determinedly avoided her bedroom, because there was a thin line between the good intentioned thing I was doing, versus the very disturbing thing it would look like I was doing.
Nothing in the drawing room, or any bathroom to suggest evil deeds.
I headed for the basement, wondering what exactly I would say when I got caught.
Me: Sorry mom, I just felt like breaking and entering the home of the neighbour you're desperately trying to win over, because I'm telling you, my spidey senses are reporting that she's responsible for the disappearances.
Mom: I'm going to hit you with a slipper.
There was an upside-down cross on the basement door, and as I celebrated, I felt like I was being biased and...intolerant? I'm sure there are very lovely Satan-worshipping people out there. I just hope Firoza isn't one of them.
The basement was frigid. And as I crept downstairs, I was almost overpowered with the smell of something rotting.
Swallowing thickly, I forced myself further, ignoring my pounding heart beat.
A literal horror show awaited me. There was a body on a countertop, attached to a million beeping machines.
Slowly, a pump moved, and blood continued filling bags.
There were a number of fridges, but I had seen enough. Fumbling a little, I pulled out my phone. My fingers were clumsy from the cold, and I managed to type in 9-1-1.
"I don't remember inviting you in."
I jumped, heartbeat walloping my chest, and saw her standing behind me.
She grinned, her teeth wickedly sharp, and I knew.
"Neighbour of yours." She finished, tilting her head at me. "Press any button and I drain you of blood."
"The cops will kill you." I stammered, breathing out a cloud of water vapour.
"Unlikely. I doubt they come equipped with wooden stakes." Firoza grinned. "You're a smart boy, right?"
I really couldn't see a way out of this, so I nodded, wondering how painful the draining process was.
"Your mother is looking for you, she's invited me into her house. Do I have to explain how tragic it would be if such a lovely family mysteriously disappeared?"
When I shook my head, Firoza grinned. "Excellent. Hand me that phone."
There was still time for me to get her later, so I decided to go along with it.
Firoza suddenly gasped, her cold, dead fingers grabbing my wrist instead of my phone.
Both of us watched as a small trickle of blood dripped off my arm.
I looked into Firoza's suddenly red eyes, swinging at her with my other arm.
But the vampire growled, and lunged in a flash of red and black.
I felt the slash across my throat as heat more than pain.