Thursday, October 29, 2015

SHORT STORY: Creatures of the Night Shift

Halloween is right around the corner! To celebrate, here's a free short story inspired by the holiday. Hope you enjoy!

Creatures of the Night Shift 
Dannie shifts into a more comfortable reading position—legs over the back of the armchair, head hanging over the seat edge. In her hands is The Historian, a little light research, something she meant to finish in her old life. Stoker, LeFanu, Polidori, and Rice sit on her ‘read’ pile, along with some nonfiction titles and even a poetry collection. Now, the books are more humorous than helpful.

Though her bedroom door is shut, it doesn’t shut out all the noise her sisters are making downstairs—banging around in the kitchen, arguing more than talking, probably wrestling, too.
7:49 a.m. Positively late-night by vampire family standards. If only they would shut the hell up for a while.
All things considered, life at twenty-five and one week sucks about the same as life at twenty-four. Well, literally, it sucks just a bit more. She still hasn’t gotten the hang of this vampire thing. Her life is full of all the things it used to be full of—a crappy job at the local university’s library, trips to the bookstore, late-night walks in the park, an ever-expanding tea collection. Despite the faded week-old bites on her neck, she feels more human than ever, right down to her shitty taste in pop music.
She did have to switch to the night shift. Work is a hellhole no matter what time of day, but at least her bosses aren’t there after six p.m.
Horace isn’t there, either, though.
She grinds the heels of her hands into her closed eyes. A good way to stop thinking about her crush is to imagine him at dinner with her family—two parents, four older sisters, all creatures of the night.
Hell, she’s terrible at this. All of her sisters had gotten it in their, like, first hour of undeadness. It’s not fair, really. They were beautiful and athletic and talented and amazeballs without the family gift (or curse, however you want to look at it), and they only got more so. She’s the baby, the one always a few steps behind, the one who always needs to be taken care of.
Sam, Alex, Jo, and Charley are great sisters, really. In the past week alone, they’ve taken her to parties, introduced her to their friends, brought her into the community. They’re well-intentioned, but can’t just one be not quite perfect? It was supposed to be different after she turned, but she’s still just clumsy little Dannie. Still average. Still almost human save for the fangs and the appetite change. God, they’re going to tease her mercilessly when they find out she’s crushing on a human.
A thud from downstairs, followed by heavy, fast footsteps.
Exasperated, Dannie sits up and shouts, “What the hell, guys? Are you racing in steel-toed boots down there?”
She scoffs and settles right-side up, but her book is no longer an adequate distraction.
“Dannie dearest! Lovely youngest sister of mine!”
It’s Alex, the second oldest, who is tall and gorgeous and everything Dannie wants to grow up to be. Only there won’t be any more growing up. She’s stuck forever at twenty-five.
“But I can get used to that, right?” Dannie says to herself.
She’ll have to get used to it.
“Hey, kiddo!” Alex calls up the staircase. “Someone’s here to see you!”
Dannie groans. There’s no one on the planet she wants to see right now, except for maybe her parents. But work keeps them busy, too, and they’re big into smothering on a schedule, which means Saturday morning breakfasts and holiday feasts and turning rituals.
Dannie tosses her book onto the bed and traipses down the stairs. Alex stands on the second landing, her arms crossed over her chest and a smug grin on her face. She sticks her leg out to halt Dannie’s progress.
“What?” Dannie asks.
“When did you meet a boooy?” Alex singsongs the last word.
Dannie’s throat grows dry. Boys don’t just come visiting her unannounced. She kicks Alex’s foot aside.
“Hey, hey, hey, little sister,” Alex says. “Just be yourself. Well, maybe be a little less yourself and a little more me because I’m obviously your coolest sibling.”
“Not helping, Alex.”
Alex laughs but lets her past. Dannie races down the stairs. Sam, Jo, and Charley are all in the entrance hall.
Damn. There’s really no privacy in this house. How did she ever think living with four older sisters would be any sort of good idea? Fine.
The front door is open, but the glass one isn’t. Horace stands on the porch with his back to her, looking out at the leaf-covered front yard.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, she opens the glass door. “Heyyy, Horace. W-what are you doing here?”
He turns. He’s wearing dark, well-fitting jeans and a black hoodie over a green plaid shirt, with his knit beanie and full beard and . . . Holy shit, he’s hot. And she is awkward. So, so awkward. Being a vampire was supposed to save her from sweating too much and getting her tongue all twisted when she tries to talk, all the sort of stuff that happens to hormonal teenage girls.
“Dannie! Hey.”
She almost swoons at his smile. What a pathetic excuse for a predator she is. “Hey, hi,” she says and immediately cringes. Normal people greet others once. Freaks greet them three times.
“I haven’t seen you,” says Horace. “How’s the night shift treating you?”
Her fangs come out. They’re still new enough that it sends an ache through her upper jaw. Holy shit. Is this a lady vampire boner? A voner? That is a completely legitimate and necessary thing to warn your little sister about. They may be older (well, not technically) and more experienced and, frankly, scarier, but she’s gonna make them pay.
Stay cool. Be Alex. Be any of her sisters. “You know, no complaints.”
She chuckles nervously, bringing a hand up to her mouth to hide her fangs. “Yeah. Totes cool.”
Behind her, her sisters snigger. She compresses her lips. Idiot, idiot, idiot. She better come to terms with her awkwardness because immortality is a long-ass time.
“So, I haven’t seen you since your birthday party,” he says. “That was a lot of fun, by the way. Liked the gothic theme. Very cool, good for October.”
“Thanks. It was my sisters’ idea. My whole family’s into that stuff.”
“I’ve noticed. Oh, speaking of…” He turns around to pick up two potted plants at his feet and presents them with a flourish. “Here. It’s, uh, a blood orchid and a blood lily. Sort of a late birthday gift.”
She accepts them with a broad smile. “Blood flowers? How . . . unique.”
The color drains from his face and his heartbeat quickens, niggling at the hunger in her veins. She should’ve fed on her way home from work this morning.
“I was wrong, wasn’t I? Man, I’m so stupid. I just thought with the party and the new aversion to day shift and how gorgeously Amazonian your sisters are, and how your parents still look like they’re in their twenties . . . Scott told me I was delusional. Now you probably think so, too. Oh, shit, I’m so sorry.”
“Wait. You think my sisters are gorgeous?”
Laughter from the entranceway. Awesome. As if this wasn’t embarrassing enough. Her rule is never to date guys who have seen them first. It creates false expectations.
“Well,” he says, “in the sort of way that you can recognize that your crush’s family has great genes. Respectfully, that is.”
“Right,” she says. He’s nervous and adorable, and if he really knows and is okay with it, maybe the whole vampire-human obstacle is one they can get around.
Wait. Crush?
Her brain stutters to a full stop, only shoved back into functioning by her sisters’ poorly concealed laughter. “So, you’re not terrified of my family?” she asks. “You’re not scared off by—” Bloodlust and undeadness and the possibility of having all the blood sucked straight out of your veins? “By what we are?”
“You mean an intelligent, loving family, every member of which can beat me at arm wrestling?” He cocks his head. “Or do you mean vampires?”
She sighs. He said it. That means she can acknowledge it, right?
“Yes, vampires,” she says. “I mean us being vampires.”
“Oh, good.” He raises clenched fists in a restrained gesture of victory. “Everything added up in my mind, but, I mean, I didn’t want to show up at your front door with actual blood because that’s pretty weird no matter how you slice it and there was the matter of where I even obtained such a thing, but also, like, what if I’d been totally wrong and just came off looking like a giant freak?”
She lifts an eyebrow. She’s gotten really good at intimidation brows since last week. It’s about the only thing she’s gotten good at.
“But the answer is,” he says, “they’re really not so bad. I think after they get to know me, they’ll even like me. And ‘scary’ is definitely not the adjective I would use for you.”
“No?” She clears her throat.
Someone nudges her, probably Sam because then Sam whispers, “Ask him what adjective he would use, you dolt.”
“Oh, dear Lord, she’s useless,” says Jo. “How did we go so wrong?”
Vampirism should come with a handbook, like how to flirt with a real, live boy and how to rid herself of annoying siblings. Horace scratches the back of his neck. Autumn suits him. His scent is all cinnamon and cloves and musky man. He’s life in the midst of decay, the promise of rebirth.
Too bad her social ineptitude has sparked warnings from her brain. Abort. Abort mission. Abort conversation. Abort crush, move away, change your name so he can’t find you.
Dannie snaps herself out of it. “Well, uh, you probably need to get to the library. Boss’ll kill you if you’re late. Thanks again for the plants. They’re lovely.”
“Right, work,” he says with a nod. “Can’t be responsible for undergrads not getting their papers on agency and Victorian governesses done. And you’re welcome. Guess I’ll see you around.”
“Okay. See you around.”
He turns and walks down the porch steps, taking his beautiful face and his beautiful beard with him. Shit, shit, shit.
“Someone’s got to save this,” Alex says. She leans into the doorway and shouts, “What adjective would you use to describe me?”
Their voices are similar enough, and Alex has withdrawn from sight by the time Horace spins around.
“That’s the thing,” he says, “I can’t pick just one. Or—” He strokes his beard, considering. “—if I were going to, I guess it would be ‘indescribable.’”
Vampires do not get butterflies. That’s ridiculous and most definitely not what is happening to her right now. “That’s . . .”
Sweet. Endearing. Romantic. Perfect. Any of those would suffice.
“Ask him out,” comes Charley’s fierce whisper from behind her.
“Actually,” Horace says, taking a step forward, “the reason I really came here was to ask you something.”
Dannie tilts her head. “Anything.”
“Would you, uh, would you mind if I switched to night shift, too?”
She can’t help the ludicrous grin on her face. “No. No, I wouldn’t mind that at all.”
“See you at work, then.”
Another nudge between her shoulder blades. She clears her throat. “Or, you know, outside of work.”
“Outside of work?”
“Yeah, for drinks maybe. Saturday night before my shift.”
“I’d love that,” Horace says. He lifts his hand in a wave and retreats down the path to the sidewalk.
Yes, yes, yes. Her stomach clearly thinks she’s still in tenth grade because it’s doing these nonstop nauseating flip-flops, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is that a man exists who, despite knowing her true nature, doesn’t see her as scary or weird or anything like that.
It’s not until he’s around the corner that she steps back inside, closes the door, and leans against it. His smile warms her so much that she can almost ignore the four girls swarming her.
Charley takes her arm. “What kind of a name is Horace? He wasn’t born in the nineteenth century. Or was he? Should we look into his background?”
“Am I the only one who’s concerned that he’s human?” Sam asks. “Mom and Dad are gonna flip their shit when they find out.”
“Ah, come on,” Jo says with a dismissive wave. “She’s allowed to experiment. We should be thankful she’s got a date at all.”
“And he’s smokin’. That helps,” Alex says. She flings an arm around Dannie’s shoulder and says in a low voice. “Nerds in love. It’s so cute my heart just might start beating again.”
Dannie, unable to quit smiling, gently pushes her sisters away. She may not be as graceful or as stunning or as dynamic as they are, but maybe she doesn’t need to be. Maybe she only needs to be comfortable in her own skin, even if that means she sometimes thinks like a human and can’t win at any family games and still likes terrible music. 
You're all horrible, and I love you, Dannie says as she jogs up the staircase, but now, if you don't mind, I'm going to bed. Try to entertain yourselves without me. She runs her tongue over her fangs. You know, maybe her life doesn't suck so bad after all.

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