"Mmm, the best part about living in a home with a porch," Erin thought to herself while she attempted to cuddle up on the worn out wicker patio sofa, "being able to quietly sit outside with tea while everyone else is asleep."
She loved the huge tree that was near the house, but it seemed to be too talkative that night. What's going on, squirrels, birds? The branches were active. The crickets were battling the volume with their own song too. Was it just a great night to be social? Great them but Erin actually wanted to just sit and zone out.
As if the world read her thoughts, everything stopped. Were they still there? Erin strained to look through the branches. She strained to hear anything now. She snapped her fingers to make sure that she did not suddenly go deaf.
The snap cut through the quiet, crisp and loud. She smiled and looked out into the dark. Another snap came back. Erin froze and then laughed. The contrast of sounds was playing tricks with her head, so she put her tea down and clapped twice. It was quiet. See just tricks on her head. Then two claps in the same rhythm broke through the silence.
She stepped back, trying to give herself a better view of the trees and bushes in front of her. What direction did the sound come from? Did she dare try again to find the direction?
Erin took a deep breath and clapped the first part of "Shave and a Haircut." She looked down to concentrate on the direction of the response. To the left, the clap responded with the exact same tune, Not the ending. How does this person not know the response to "Shave and a Haircut?" she thought which was probably not the most important concern of this exchange right now.
The bushes to the left moved and an extremely pale woman walked out. She had deep brown hair and ruby colored lips and Erin figured that these features contributed to her seeming so pale. Her color might be normal but the hair and the lips were so dark. Erin had wanted to tell her to see a doctor but she seemed fine. "Menekse, you nearly gave me a heart attack," she started laughing.
Erin went back to sitting with her tea as the woman joined her on the porch. "Isn't that what new roommates are for?" Menekse teased.
“You know there’s a path. You don’t have to climb through the bushes,” Erin teased back.
“I just got a little turned around while I was finishing up my walk,” Menekse said.
"It's a good thing you got back when you did. The entire wood was being social just a moment ago and then instantly became silent. I think there might be a predator out there," Erin said.
Menekse waved her hand in a no big deal fashion, "Ah, the predator they were sensing was probably me."
Erin began to laugh, "Yes, self-sufficient women in hiking gear are the most dangerous of predators." Erin got quiet and stared at Menekse's collar. She reached out, confusing Menekse, and swiped blood off of her neck, "Are you hurt?"
Menekse tried to sound as calm as possible, hoping she would not reveal anything of her night, "I'm fine. I feel good in fact. Energized after my walk."
Erin stood up, staring at the blood she grabbed, "I knew it."
"Dammit," Menekse thought, what does she know? Softly she asked, "What did you know?"
"There is a predator in the woods. You need to be careful when walking, okay," Erin said.
Menekse chuckled, relieved, "Okay."
A text chimed in on Erin's phone. She read it and Menekse could see the irritation immediately on Erin's face. "Who is it?" Menekse asked.
"Another predator. The Ex wants the girls for Halloween. Actually, he's demanding. He can't just bully me into these things. That was the point of the courts making him leave. So we could live without being scared everyday," Erin said.
"Stand strong, you’ve come this far," Menekse said.
Erin drank her tea while shaking her head and thinking, "Look what you've gotten yourself into. All you wanted was to rent a room, although I don't know why a single woman who works nights would want to rent a room from a single mom with two girls under the age of ten, but here you are stuck in the middle of all of this drama."
Menekse smiled and whispered, "It's not exactly earth-shattering drama. And you've got beautiful girls. It's nice to hear some laughter every-so-often. Innocent, happiness..."
Menekse got quiet as she focused on the woods and its tranquil absence of sound and movement.
A light shown at the bottom of the hill. It looked like a car had stopped, but the road did not lead to anywhere except a few houses including theirs.
Another text message chimed in. "Yep, that's him," Erin said as she motioned to the light down the hill, "I don't want him coming up here and waking or upsetting the girls. I know this is a lot to ask but would you be willing to watch the girls while I go down to talk to him. They're asleep so they shouldn't be much trouble."
"I don't think they would be any trouble if they were awake. You go ahead and take care of business. I'll keep an eye on them," Menekse said and watched Erin walk out of sight down the path.
She concentrated, trying to hear anything. There was a faint noise but it was coming from inside the house. The lock to the front door creaked and then it opened. Erin's oldest, Anabelle was in her pajamas and wrapped in an afghan, looking worried, "She went down to talk to him, didn't she?"
Menekse smiled, hoping she looked as nurturing as the babysitters she had seen on television, "What are you doing out of bed little Miss? It's late and you're supposed to be asleep."
"All of the crickets stopped chirping and the animals got quiet and it was too quiet to sleep," Anabelle said, "I came down to see Ma and I overheard you talking. He's here, isn't he?"
"Yes, but I don't think your Mom wants you to see him tonight," Menekse tried to explain.
"I don't want to see him," Anabelle said on top of Menekse's words. Anabelle came further out onto the porch trying to see how her mom was doing and was frustrated at only seeing a glow from the front of the car.
"I think I know what you are," Anabelle said as she looked back at Menekse, studying her face, "I read some books. The library calls them fiction but I think that some of it might be true and they are a lot like you."
"Like me? I don't understand, how like me?" Menekse asked a bit worried to know the answer. She had been a model roommate and friends with Erin for two months now. Could this child see her better than her own mother could?
"At first I was scared, but you never acted scary. You’re nice to us. I like your jokes and your baking classes, even though you never taste the cookies. You cook great for someone who never eats," Anabelle said.
"Yes," Menekse dragged out the thought, realizing that her excuse about dieting never fooled this kid.
"Why did you want to live with us if you never wanted to hurt us?" Anabelle asked.
Menekse sighed realizing that everything she liked about this child was even more so now, "I missed having a family. I wanted to be around a family like yours again, even if it could not be mine."
A grunt came from down the hill, loud enough for them both to turn and try to see. Then a scream of, "Stop."
Anabelle looked at Menekse, rushing to get her words out, "I think maybe you are strong enough to help my mom. She tries to be strong but he's stronger. Maybe what you are can help her now. Please?"
Menekse looked into Anabelle's eyes and gave her a nod of reassurance, "Make sure you and your sister stay up here. No matter what, don't come down and," she stressed the three words, "do not look."
Menekse ran out of the sightline of Anabelle, then she ran at her top speed down the hill.
She saw Erin on the ground trying to get up and a vile voice barking orders at her of, "They're my girls and I get to see them whenever I want, to Hell with the court order."
"Hell has better things to do," Menekse said and went to check on Erin. She noticed the side of her face near her eye was swollen and her mouth was bloody and she was holding her side in pain. When Erin realized it was her, she gasped, "I'm bleeding. Won't the smell of the blood trigger you?"
What a 21st century explanation for a Victorian condition Menekse thought. Was she that obvious that the whole family figured it out? "After 300 years, I've learned to wait until my next meal," she tells Erin.
The Ex kicked dirt at them, "Have you come to your senses?"
"You've done a great job," Menekse smiled as she held Erin up, "How about you tag me in?"
Erin breathed a sigh of relief and with almost no strength, placed her hand on Menekse's arm.
Menekse lifted Erin, found a soft spot near a tree for her to relax, brushed her hair away and took a moment to see if she would be okay sitting there. When she was certain Erin could handle staying there, she turned and started walking to the predator.
"You're gonna take her side. You bitches always take each other's side," he said, "She just needs to learn to behave. Honor and obey! That's what was promised before bitches started getting ideas."
"Yes, I remember," Menekse said, "I was one of those women with ideas. Thinking for ourselves and resisting an existence of being a man's toy. What a radical idea."
She continued walking towards him until there was only a foot of space between them. Her unwavering gaze was focused on him and her presence made his skin crawl. He was determined to stand his ground and warned her, "I'll teach you, just like her.”
"I'm sure you will," she was somber as she stood firm.
He held up his hand and waited for her reaction. She tilted her head and shrugged, unaffected by his threat. Then he backhanded her across the face and grabbed her by her hair as if to drag her by it and looked her in the eyes, waiting for her fear.
"Ah, that's what I was waiting for," Menekse said as her eyes went black and she smiled, showing her weapon for teaching.
He whispered, "Devil."
"Not quite," she said and gave him a punch to the sternum that flew him into the bushes and caused him to gasp for air. She watched him start to run which was good. No need for Erin to see everything and have nightmares about it later. Menekse checked on her again. Erin had managed to get some strength back and was attempting to get ready to walk back to the house. Erin nodded. "I trust you. Whatever needs to be done," she said.
Menekse nodded in agreement and ran at her speed, into the woods.
Erin listened. Not a single animal was making a sound. All she could hear was foliage moving and then a man's scream. There was a sound of a thud and a large branch cracking and crashing. A man's scream of pain sliced through the dark and then Erin heard him yell the word, "Stop."
Erin wondered if he finally realized how much she needed him to listen to her when she cried, "Stop."
Erin made sure the girls were both in bed and waited in the living room. Menekse came home surprisingly fast. Erin noticed that it was silly to think that she would know anything about how long she would be gone. Menekse sat down on the sofa near Erin, "I didn't fool any of you, did I."
"It took us a while to figure it out. The clues were subtle and nothing like the movies. For me, coming to the conclusion that vampires are real caused me to need a lot of deep breaths and panic attacks before I calmed down. The girls handled it better. After a month went by and you didn’t try to hurt us, I realized that probably wasn’t your plan,” Erin said.
“Why not just kick me out?” Menekse asked.
Erin burst out laughing and was afraid she might wake the girls. Menekse joined in the laughter, “Yeah, I guess if your only guide is vampire movies then confronting a vampire would seem like a fatal move.”
Erin wanted some reassurance that her and her daughters would be safe, “Are we good?”
“Always,” Menekse said. She looked off, concealing her sadness, “I remember what it was like to be pushed around by someone who used his brute strength to control me. I have no interest in that. Friendship and love are worth so much more when they are experienced without fear.”
Menekse turned to Erin and smiled, “I am extremely happy to rent a room in a loving household and enjoy watching your sweet girls grow.”
“There are plenty of evil bullies in the world. I’ll never go hungry with them around,” Menekse thought as she prepared to get ice for Erin’s injuries.