Vampire Short Story
“Oh look what the cat’s brought in,” I said, leaning across the padded arm of the chair to switch on the lamp, more for my benefit than for her. The torchiere in the corner and the light from the television screen provided more than enough illumination for her sharp eyes. “Do you realize that it’s almost dawn?” My words came out more acidly than I’d intended. I had been just on the edge of sleep when I finally heard her keys turning in the door.
She glanced over me, taking in my rumpled clothes and the paperback bestseller on the coffee table that was still crisp with unread newness. I met her wordless glare with a stare of my own, and eventually, a cold, patronizing smile rose onto her red lips. I didn’t want to be the one to look away first, but when she turned toward the door that led to basement stairs, I realized that I had. It bothered me when she pulled that hunter bullshit with me, so I pushed myself out of the armchair and followed her down the stairs into the darkness of her day room, intent on… starting an argument, I guess.
She had purposely left the lights off; I fumbled down the steps, leaning against the wall for guidance, and fumbled again for the switch panel when I reached the floor. Diffused incandescent light filled the bedroom with a sleepy glow, which was good because I would not have wanted to navigate her scattered collection of antique furniture in the absence of light. She was already undressing, crawling into the protective cave of her curtained bed after she stripped off the last of her clothing. She left a scatter of black gossamer on the floor, careless of her tumbled shoes, the high spiked heels waiting like pikes. Or stakes.
Even in the shadow of her bed, her sun-deprived skin had a luminous sheen. After five years I was still constantly struck by how beautiful she was, panther-black hair and eyes like hematite, a broad face with thick eyebrows and a defined chin. She had never told me how old she was, but I could imagine her hunting in jungled shadows; I could see her mantled in pre-Columbian gold. Looking at her always took the fight out of me, and put something else in its place.
“Have you at least eaten?” I grumbled, stooping to pick up her discarded dress and silks. The action was habit, and in rebellion I angrily tossed her clothes onto a chaise.
She released a weighty sigh, and her fingers combed through her heavy hair. She collapsed backwards slowly with a sensual stretch. “Why do you nag so much?” she complained languidly. “Yes, I’ve eaten. No, I’m not in the mood. It’s almost sunrise – do we have to go through the litany again?”
“I’m just trying to look after you,” I retorted.
“Like something you own?” she asked. Her voice had changed. It was cold, and sharp, and it was more painful than her teeth going through my skin. “Do you think you own me, then?”
“I never said anything about owning anybody,” I said, prickling. “I care for you.” I hesitated, because even though the double meaning was true, I hadn’t meant it that way. “When you sleep, I watch over you. Since we met, you haven’t had to worry about what would happen to you after you shut down, or if you would ever see another sunset. You don’t have to hunt to feed, unless you want to–”
She cut me off without moving from her reclined position. “Eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m sleepy – it’s been a veritable paradise,” she said with sarcasm dripping from each word. She at least turned her head toward me, holding me with the metallic glittering of her eyes. “Let me go,” she said. “I want to be a hunter again. Being with you is turning me into something domestic and weak. I want to be alone in the world again, taking chances.” She rolled her head back, and then the rest of her body away from me, revealing the wide, pale plain of shoulders and the blackwork tattoo centered on her spine. “Let me go.”
I walked toward her, watching her body relax into the unique sleep that came with the rising day. Sitting next to her, looking at the slack of her face that did not make her look like a child, I ran my fingers over her profile, and over her shoulder and along her side. I traced the unfaded lines of her tattoo. I wondered if I could let her leave. I wondered how I thought I could make her stay. Thinking of her prowling through the night, magnificently predatory, only to crawl “home” to an unguarded sanctuary from the sun, I felt a surge of angry possessiveness. She would never belong to anyone more than she did to me, because I loved her, so, yes, she was mine. I couldn’t live my days wondering, waking at first light and imagining her perfect skin turning to ash, or bubbling away in flames. I didn’t know how her kind went, only that it was a certain end. It would be too horrible not to know when her last night had passed.
I rocked her backward, and she rolled into my arms. Small of stature, she didn’t weigh much – a little over a hundred pounds, maybe – and it was easy to stand up and lift her, and hold her against my chest. I stepped on one of her shoes, which I couldn’t see over her body, and cursed because I almost dropped her. After that, I was more careful about traversing the maze of furniture; when I got to the foot of the stairs, I considered turning off the lights, and then decided that it didn’t matter. If she didn’t wake up in her last moments, then I would come back down and do it later. If she did, then I wouldn’t.
I shifted her weight again, because I wasn’t used to carrying other people. My arms were starting to feel strained. Her head rested on my shoulder. I gave her a small kiss on her forehead, and then carefully, slowly, carried her up the stairs into sunlight.