“I always said you had to watch out for the women who go out alone, Socrates,” I said to my pet owl. He sat on the table in front of me with his impossibly soft brown and white feathers. His giant yellow eyes and wide face always made him look like he was listening intently to whatever I was saying, even if he was really just thinking that he'd love to nibble on a lock of hair. That's why I loved talking to him.
"You're right. I know. But it is a good general rule to follow. What happened? Well, you know I went with Jim to the reading of that new zombie book, right? They love to read horror books at night. It makes for good atmosphere. Anyway, the author was there to sign copies of the book once they were done, you know how they do."
Socrates looked at me and shuffled his feet, tucking them under his soft downy feathers. I took that to mean he was settling in for a good story.
"The author lady, I forget her name, was just getting to a part in the story when they were introducing the crafty old man character when I happened to look across Jim. There was this girl, sitting at the end of our row with no one beside her. They always show up in groups, especially the pretty ones. Whether it's for protection at night or just to have someone to talk about the book with afterward like Jim and I, they always have someone with them. But there she was, at the end of the row with no one sitting beside her.
"Her hair was a billowing mane of iridescent black curls, long enough to cover her shoulders and hang down her back like lace curtains. She wore a low cut spaghetti strap satin red dress. It was the color of red that you would see on a giant mushroom on a distant planet in a sci-fi movie. It came to mid-thigh, showing off the lean muscle and silken skin of her legs. The lights in the room seemed just a little brighter where she sat. Or maybe it was only my imagination.
“Just when the author lady got to the particularly suspenseful part. You know the part where the protagonist doesn't know if they're safe or if a zombie is hiding in a shadow, waiting for them to come closer so they can eat their face? Right when she got to that part, the girl at the end of the row turned and looked dead at me. I swear, Socrates, she made eye contact with me for a good five seconds!”
Socrates blinked his huge yellow eyes.
"I wouldn't lie to you. Not about this. I swear! They were ice blue. I could tell, even from all the way at my end of the row. They seemed to light up, somehow. It was like one of those old 1940's glamour movies. That's a good word. She was very glamorous. She was a glamorous girl, sitting at the end of a row all by herself for the reading of a new zombie horror novel. And when she looked at me, I forgot to breathe. She probably looked away so I wouldn't pass out. That was very thoughtful.
“I elbowed Jim to get his attention. He ignored me at first so I did it again. When he turned to give me an annoyed look, I pointed with my chin to the girl at the end of the row. When he got an eyeful of her, he turned back to give me a surprised look. He had no idea how she could be there, either.”
Socrates cocked his head, just a little. With all his plumage, I keep expecting every movement to sound like the ruffles of a Victorian lady's dress. But he was silent. Truly the silent hunter that made thousands of mice crap their mousy drawers.
“Then what happened, you ask? I thought you might like the story. Well, for the rest of the reading, nothing. But it was hard to listen to what the reader was saying when the girl at the end of the row was the one with such a firm grip on my attention.
“When it was done and everyone got up to leave, she was there right beside us. I didn't even notice her walk up. I stood up from my seat when everyone else did, as did Jim and there she was.
“She stood on the other side of Jim and said, 'Why does everyone in a zombie story act like they've never heard of zombies?' I let my mouth drop open with no idea what to say. It was too hard to think of a response when my whole mind was filled with the thought of 'Her mouth is moving.'
“I couldn't help staring at her lips when she talked. Her top lip was thin like a stretched out cat and the lower one dipped in the middle like it held water. They were painted with red lipstick, the color of her dress. I couldn't help imagining what it felt like to kiss them.
“'Well, it's lazy writing. If they had ever seen a zombie movie, they'd never be in most of those situations to start with. Then the writer would have to have to come up with something smarter and that would be more effort. So, lazy writing.' I honestly had no idea where that came from. I opened my mouth and it just spilled out.
“I hit Jim in the elbow to get him to snap out of his trance. 'Yeah,' he said as he nodded his head. I felt like I maybe should've hit him in the head, instead.
“'Do you guys like vampire stories?' she asked. Jim and I both agreed.
“'Well, it depends on what kind of vampire,' started Jim. 'I can totally get behind Ann Rice vampires. But the other kind...'
“'The From Dusk Till Dawn kind,' I added, shaking my head.
“'Yeah, they can stay at home.'”
Socrates brought me his little green food bowl. He held it with his beak and tapped it on the table in front of me. He always surprised me with how versatile that thing was. His beak, not the bowl. If I ever died, he'd probably be okay eating straight out of the bag. But I liked filling his bowl for him. It made me feel needed. He put the little bowl down in front of me. I opened his bag of brown pellets that smelled like things I'd rather not think about and poured them in.
“That's right. The first question she asked us was about vampires. Well, second. I mean I had my suspicions, already. Beautiful girls don't just come up to us unless they're trying to sell us something or recruit us for a cult. But the more we talked to her, the more doubt I let her have. I realized that it was hugely pretensions of me to think she was flirting with us. I mean, does it always have to be flirting? She can't just want to reach out to other like-minded people to have a platonic discussion about a common interest? The more I thought about it, the sillier I felt and the more I lowered my shields.
“We were walking along the sidewalk and in the middle of a discussion about Steven King and whether or not his books are really as scary as you're supposed to think they are when we turned the corner into the alley beside the book store. You know, the one you had to go through to get to the parking lot behind it. I guess you wouldn't know. That was a different owl, right?
“Anyway, that girl was saying, 'When I read Salem's Lot I couldn't sleep at night.'
“Jim started to say, 'maybe. But a lot of his short stories are...' and that's all he got out before the girl turned to him and pushed him into the brick wall of the building so hard that she knocked whatever wind he had right out of him.
“Maybe it was because it was so dark in that alley, or maybe it was because it was so unexpected, but I swear she moved so fast that she was nothing but a blur. In between heartbeats, she had one hand gripping Jim's hair, pulling his head to the side and the other behind his neck, gripping like a vice. And with another heartbeat, she had a set of fangs opening his jugular.
“I tried to get a hand in between Jim and that woman to pull them apart but she just threw me aside with a quick jerk of her arm. She paid me no more attention than a bug that landed on her, to be swatted away. I hit the asphalt face-down and slid, driving little rocks into my skin. She still had her incredibly feminine mouth around his neck, draining him of his blood. The look of terror in his eyes bored into my mind but he never called out. He never once screamed or yelled at her to stop. He was simply frozen with a look of mortal terror.
“I found a piece of scrap wood laying on the ground. It was a plank, about an inch thick and a few inches wide. I took a running start and hit her in the back of the head with it, like a baseball bat. She just ignored it and kept draining Jim of his life. I knew he didn't have long left so I broke the plank in half lengthwise and then again widthwise to make a spear. It was a kind of anti-vampire prison shiv. I had no idea if it was strong enough to make a difference, but I had to try if Jim was going to survive the night.
“I held it over my head, screamed like an Aztec warrior and brought it down to stab her in the heart, through the back. But before I could, she turned around and faced me.”
Socrates hopped on either foot and ruffled his feathers. The plumage on the top of his head flared out.
“I know, buddy. It's a scary story. But you're going to have to calm down, if you want me to finish it.”
He came to a stop, snapped his beak twice and looked up at me with his giant eyes.
“Okay, where was I? Right. Thanks, Socrates. So I had the makeshift wooden stake in the air and was about to bring it down for a solid heart stab when she turned around to face me. I didn't even see her turn around. But there she was, gazing right through me to my very soul with those eyes of ice blue. All I could do was freeze in place. It was as if her eyes were nails made of ice that pinned me to where I was in space. And I remained there, because she wanted me there.
“You should've seen her, Socrates. You know, tigers are the most beautiful when they're in the middle of a kill. They use all the power and strength that evolution has bestowed on them over millions of years. That's how this woman looked. As if her true beauty wasn't revealed until she was in the midst of what she was made to do. My beautiful predator who paralyzed me with just a look. I would have confessed all my sins to her, if she had but asked.
“'Tom,' she seemed to say without moving her lips. 'Tom you want to put that down.' So I did, without even thinking about it. I dropped the wooden plank that I had fashioned into a spear. It fell to the ground with the typical sound of falling wood. She released her hold on me and I stood in front of her holding my hands in front of me, anxious for approval.
“She came closer without walking. She sort of floated over to me. I could smell her intoxicating scent. It wasn't the dank stench of wet earth and decay, like I had always read she should smell like. She smelled of the grape popsicles that my mother used to give me when I was a kid. She gave them to all us kids on the hottest days of summer, when they were the most delicious things on Earth. I still remember the way they smelled when the sugary stickiness melted all over my hand because I could never eat them fast enough. She smelled like that.
“I looked into her icy depths and wanted to cry. I would gladly give her my life. 'Make it quick,' I asked of her.
"'No,' she said. The word echoed in my ears and stopped my heart as surely as if she reached in with her hand and did it, herself. 'I'm giving you a choice.'
“'What choice can there be?' I asked. 'I'm yours.'
"'Become one of us,' she said. 'Become a child of the night and live forever. See nations rise and fall and the outcome of all humanity. See into people's souls and show them who they really are. Vanish into the shadows like you were never there.'
“'At the price of murdering others so that I can live?' I asked.
“'Yes', she said. She drew out the 'S' while caressing my cheek with the back of her fingers. 'You would kill indiscriminately as would a god.'
“'What If I say, no?'
“Then run from here as fast as you can, Tom. And pray you never lay your mortal eyes on me, ever again.'
“I thought hard about the offer, Socrates. I did. I'd thought about it, lots of times. I mean, who doesn't? But, I never thought I'd have to choose while such a creature stood right in front of me and waited for me to answer. I mean, pressure, right?”
Socrates climbed onto his wooden perch that I kept on the table. I made it, myself. It was nothing more than a part of a branch that I found in the front yard, glued to a pipe, screwed onto a piece of wood. He loved it. As he sat comfortably, he watched me with his giant eyes, waiting for me to finish the story.
"You want to know what I chose," I said as I took an old book from the bookshelf. I'd already read it at least a dozen times. "You want to know if I stand here a changed man, as it were. Is that right?”
Socrates stepped down from his perch and sat on my book, not letting me open it until I finished the story. I tried to take it from him, but he nipped at my fingers.
“Someone is bossy. Are you sure you don't want me to finish, tomorrow?”
He squinted his giant eyes at me. I love messing with him.
“You win,” I told him.
“The vampiress gave me a choice and expected me to give her an answer. I got the feeling that she came here looking for someone who'd already given it some thought. And I already had. I put my thumb to my chin and turned around, facing my back to her. Like I said, I thought hard about it. And I wanted to be sure I was making the right decision, without the most beautiful girl in the world staring me down.
“'Well?' she asked impatiently. 'What's your answer, mortal? Will you join me in eternity or scamper away like vermin?' Her voice was silky smooth. The way she pronounced her N's tickled my eardrums.
“'My answer,' I began. I took a breath and said a prayer. I dropped to the ground and grabbed up the makeshift stake and leaped at her. I shoved it in her chest before she knew what was going on. It went right through her heart, obliterating it. She shrieked into the night and swatted me away like a fly. I flew through the air and hit the brick wall on the opposite side of the alley.
“'I stood up and threw out my chest. 'That was my friend, lady. Do you understand? You deserve to die like the demon you are!'
“She collapsed onto the asphalt like someone kicked her legs out from under her. Those once ice blue eyes that froze me in place melted into pools of black. She reached up with clawed fingers to grab my hand, presumably to hold it while she died.
“'Rot in hell,' I told her as I knocked away her outstretched hand. Her body ignited into a cold blue flame.”
Socrates narrowed his eyes and looked at me from the side.
“What? You don't believe me?” I asked him.
He looked down his beak at me then walked into his cage and shut the door with a tiny clink sound.
“Fine. Don't believe me. See if I tell you any more stories.” I walked over to the mantle over the fireplace and cleared it off. I replaced what was there with a piece of scrap wood, fashioned into a stake, with just a little ash still left on it.