The headlights sliced through the viscous gloom as the van pulled up alongside the curb. Shadows enshrouded the house, the windows like half-lidded eyes. The driver killed the engine.
“Well, here we are, Mr Gracen. Home sweet home. I suppose we better get on with it, eh, Barry?” Terry nudged his coworker, who had snoozed for the latter half of the journey. He woke with a start. “Wake up, man! You’ll have time to sleep when you’re dead.”
“Mm? Wha?” Barry yawned and stretched.
Terry gave Monty a wan smile. “I hope you’ll excuse the idle chit-chat, gotta get back to the missus, what with it being so late and all.” Terry looked through the van’s windshield at the night sky. “Never worked a job at this time, before.”
Montgomery Gracen laughed. “Yes, I do keep unusual hours, I know.”
The man from the moving company shrugged and pulled a face that seemed to say, Eh, it’s your business, not mine. “You paid for it, you get it. And pay for it you have, so here we are.” He offered Monty a nervous smile.
A second of silence ticked out between them, eyes locked, false smiles on both of their faces. Barry didn’t notice it — he wiped the sleep out of his eyes. Monty guessed that the second man was ready for bed.
“Er, shall we…?” Terry opened the driver’s door, the interior light pinged on. Monty cringed away from it — a tad. Barry groaned at the brightness, and Monty offered him a secretive smirk.
Monty let the men do most of the heavy lifting. After all, that was what he’d paid the company for.
“What’s this then? Didn’t get the chance to ask you before.” Terry and Barry held a coffin-shaped object between them. They wheezed and grunted as they carried it from the truck to the house.
“Bookshelf,” said Monty. “Do be careful, it’s an antique.”
Terry grunted and nodded. “One o’ them literary types, eh? Could never get into books, myself.”
“I’ve gotten into a few, myself.” The grin that touched Monty’s lips was wistful.
“Hm? What was that?” Terry locked eyes with him for a second as he and Barry navigated the front door. Monty could feel the man’s fluttered heartbeat. A panicked mouse, a tiny bird.
Monty Gracen smiled. “Oh, nothing, just thinking aloud.”
Terry laughed. It was fake, Monty knew. “Right you are. Where do you want this, Mr Gracen?”
“Oh, right this way…”
Monty paid them — in cash, as the moving company requested — before he killed them. Propriety, and all that.
The vampire counted out the notes into the senior employee’s hands. “…and that’s all. And here’s a little something extra, just for you two.” He winked at Barry, who leant against the doorframe, mouth open wide in a yawn.
“Well, that’s very kind of you, Mr Gracen.” Terry took the cash with hands that trembled. He did a rather good job of hiding it. Hadn’t rushed to get the job done or anything — had performed his work well.
“When you bleed for your work, it’s only right that you get compensated.” Monty grinned and allowed his teeth to grow longer — a teensy bit. If you couldn’t have a bit of fun with it, then what was the point?
Terry’s smile faltered, and a look of terror washed over him. “Uh…” A rabbit in headlights. “I—”
“Hurry up, Ter, I’m ready to sleep like the dead.” Barry yawned again as if to emphasize his fatigue. “Can we get going? No offence, Mr Gracen.”
The vampire chuckled at that, with all the heart he didn’t own. “You can sleep like the dead right now.”
Terry turned to Barry a moment too late.
Out of nowhere, a gale whooshed through the house and slammed the front door shut. Barry managed to pull his hand out of the way in the nick of time. The guillotine of the door would have otherwise amputated his digits.
And that was when the vampire attacked.
After some time, the pair stopped their screams.
Monty cleaned up all the blood. He threw their stained and tattered clothes into his dustbin and carried it out to the curb. The vampire turned and looked at his new house, hands upon hips. “Ah, home sweet home!” He sighed with contentment.
With that, Mr Gracen dusted his hands off and headed inside for the night.
A knock on the door woke him from his slumber. He tried to ignore it, but it repeated and repeated — insistent. Monty groaned and pushed the coffin lid up. He checked his bedside alarm clock. It was 7:13 a.m. Who on earth would knock on his door at this time?
And still, the knock rapped on. “Hello? Mr Gracen? I need to speak with you, please!”
The vampire sighed and sat up. He’d obscured all the windows, but tiny cracks of sunlight broke in through the gaps, here and there. He pulled on his cloak and donned his sunglasses — old-school aviators. If Monty’d been able to see his own reflection, he would have thought he looked rather dashing.
He pulled the door open a smidge. “Yes? What is it?”
The woman on his doorstep was on the wrong side of 50 and had an attitude problem. She was all at once chipper and holier-than-thou. In her hands, she held a bloody some bloody rags. Monty’s nonexistent heart sank. Discovered already.
“Hello, Mr Gracen. Good morning.” Her words clipped, short, tight, to the point. “And welcome to the neighbourhood. I’m Barbara Covett, head of the neighbourhood homeowner’s association. I’ve come to speak with you about your bins.”
“I have a perfectly rational explanation for th—” The vampire’s words caught in his throat. He frowned from behind his aviators. “My bins? Did I hear you correctly?”
“And not just that, it’s the noise you made last night.” Barbara turned her nose up. “First night in the neighbourhood and you’ve already caused a disturbance.”
The vampire pulled his door open a bit more and winced at the early-morning light. He wanted to cringe back into the gloom, but first, he needed to clear this up. “The problem is the bins? Not—” he gestured at the maroon-encrusted clothes she held in her hands “—that?”
“Yes, well, you see bin day is Tuesday.”
The vampire stared at the woman. This five-foot ball of passive-aggressiveness with a perm. “Yes?”
Barbara looked at him as if he’d defecated on her mother’s grave. “Well, today’s Monday! You can’t put out your bins until tomorrow, it’s not right!”
Monty squinted. “O-kay…” A bit unsure. “I’ll put out my bins tomorrow. But you’ve no problem with…” He gestured at the remains of his victims’ clothes.
“What you do in your own home is your concern, Mr Gracen.” Barbara’s words cut deeper than the wound from the vampire hunter’s stake, which Monty’d had since 1667. “But you cannot put your bins out on a day that is not bin day!” She sniffed. “It’s not proper.”
A weight lifted from the creature’s undead heart. He smiled. “I understand.”
“Good.” Barbara raised her nose again — any further and she’d risk a backwards tumble down his doorstep. She thrust the lifeblood-coated tatters of cloth into his hands. “I expect to not see your bins out on the curb until tomorrow. And I expect you’ll have them taken back inside once the binmen have been — no later than three in the afternoon!”
“But of course!” Monty had an odd compulsion to follow all that this she-devil demanded. It would do no good to get on the wrong side of her fury. He took the torn bits of clothing with puzzlement, one eyebrow raised.
Barbara turned on her heel and descended the first step. Monty began to close the door when she turned and froze him with a final glare. This was it, he was sure of it. She’d realised, the gig was up, he’d have to flee.
“And do try to keep the noise down between nine and seven.” Barbara glanced up and down the street with an air of disdain. “This is a family neighbourhood, Mr Gracen. Keep your bloodcurdling shrieks to community-friendly hours, thank you.”
“You got it. Nice to meet you, Barbara.”
The look she gave him turned the blood in his veins — Terry and Barry’s — to ice.
“Please,” she smiled, but there was no warmth there, “call me Mrs Covett.”
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