The Flight Comes Home

Vampires don’t dream.  Nor do they sleep.  Instead, they fall into dormancy during daylight hours to avoid the deadly rays of the sun.  They reawaken at night having no sense of the hours that passed between.  Which was why Niles Gule, resident vampire of Baltimore, found the gentle murmur of conversation that permeated his dormancy so odd.  Most vampires lived alone, therefore the voices couldn’t be actual voices.  They must be coming from his head.

His brain fought the panic demanding he arise out of dormancy.  Voices where he rested could only mean danger.  Humans coming to kill him.  But his mind remained sluggish, unable to rouse itself.  The voices droned on.  Niles subsided again into darkness.

The searing pain of a bite on his ankle sent him bolting upright with a yelp.

“What the hell?” he exclaimed.

Two pairs of startled human eyes stared at him as Niles tossed off the afghan covering him to rub his throbbing ankle.

“Feeling better?” asked a sardonic Jonas Williams.  He sank his teeth into a slice of pizza.

“Something bit me!”  Niles’ brilliant blue eyes searched the apartment for the perpetrator.

“Wasn’t me,” Williams mumbled through his pepperoni.

“Or me,” added Mariella Cruz who sat on the floor beside Williams.  “Although the idea’s tempting.”  The dark-haired Latina vixen wiggled her eyebrows at her vampire partner.

The fact that she was out of bed, sitting on the floor and noshing on pizza stopped Niles’ search for the thing that bit him.

“You’re better?” he asked.

Cruz nodded, her puffy black ponytail bobbing merrily.  “Snapped out of it after only a day.  I don’t know what that medicine Marrenstan gave me was made of, but it worked like a charm.  I’ve been up and about for two days.”

Niles roared, “Two days!”

Williams nodded.  Lifting a bottle of beer, he saluted his co-worker.  “You’ve been out that long, Ghoul.  We thought maybe you’d never come around.”

Cruz rested a hand on the foot nearest him.  “You caught the virus from me, Niles.  We weren’t sure what to do about it.  But since it didn’t appear to affect your breathing, we decided we should just leave you alone.  Your fever broke yesterday.  We took that as a good sign.  How do you feel?”

Niles was about to answer when another jolt of pain hit him in his ankle.  He kicked out, and sensed more than saw a short, chubby creature trundle backwards to avoid the motion.  Then it raced in for more chewing.

“Gumby!  God damn it!  Get away from me!”

Niles lurched from the sofa and danced to escape his invisible nemesis, the jumbie he’d named Gumby.

Williams motioned with a pizza slice.  “I think you need to feed it.  It’s been annoyed for a couple of days now.  Made a mess of the place.”

As he hopped to avoid getting bitten a third time, Niles surveyed his apartment with dismay.  He was a meticulous individual and kept his apartment sparkling.  The furniture consisted of imported European antiques.  The artwork was exquisite and expensive.  His stereo system was one of only a few to be built and cost five hundred k.  Now his apartment had been trashed.  If he didn’t know better, he’d swear a bunch of frat brothers had taken up residence.  Beer bottles littered his glass coffee table along with the half-finished box of pizza.  Paper napkins lay balled around it.  Further afield stood an artfully arranged pyramid of Chinese cartons teetering on the edge.  The stench of garlic from them almost knocked Niles back to the sofa.  Cans of soda dotted occasional tables and the remains of a dinner including crumpled linen napkins, unused plates, silverware and glasses sprawled across his dining table.

“Gumby didn’t do this!” Niles snarled, fastidiously picking up an oily carton of mu shu pork with the tips of his talons.  His blue eyes lasered Cruz.  “You’re the queen of Chinese food.”

Cruz had the grace to blush.  “I know.  I didn’t have the strength to keep up after everything.  I’ll clean it!  I promise!”

When Niles set down the carton, Gumby playfully grabbed it and ran around the apartment with it.  Niles, Cruz and Williams could only watch as the carton appeared to pirouette in the air with no visible means of support, waft around the room, then flip in an arc into Niles’ sound system.

“Hey!”  Still weak from his bout with the virus, Niles stumbled to the system and using his sleeve, gently wiped it clean of grease.

Grumbling, Niles trudged blearily to his kitchen to rustle up jumbie food.  He was in luck.  Cruz had stocked up on supplies for the duration, so the ordinarily empty kitchen bulged with food.  He retrieved a bowl, sliced some bananas and dumped them and milk into the bowl.  He set the bowl on the floor.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the shadowy jumbie bumble happily towards the bowl.  The contents sloshed and then vanished.  A contented Gumby cooed a little song and sat replete in the middle of the floor.

The smell of milk brought Niles’ alley cat Lenny prowling for goodies himself.  He hissed at the sight of Gumby.  Gumby chortled at the sight of him.  Lenny bolted.  Gumby leaped to its tiny feet and cumbersomely waddled after the cat.  A crash in Niles’ office ended the encounter.

Wearily, Niles wilted against his kitchen table and questioned his sanity.

What sort of vampire flight was this for the lord of Baltimore?

A knock at the door sent a growl through the vampire’s throat.  Pondering who now could be interrupting his supposed isolation, Niles went to his door, peered through the peephole, groaned in pain, then opened it.

A petite, black-haired female vampire slipped past him into the apartment.

“Word has it you’ve been hit,” she murmured.

“Hi, Tyra.”  Niles closed the door.

Tyra whirled around.  Her black eyes flicked up and down his tall, lithe form.  She tsked at the sight of him, blond hair rumpled, dress shirt tails hanging loose, everything wrinkled, feet bare.  He looked a fine mess.

With a sly smile, the young vampiress sidled up alongside him and ran a hand across his back.  “I’ve come to nurse you through your illness, Guldendal,” she murmured, using his Vanapir name.

A shadow oozing with displeasure filled the hallway.  It was Cruz bearing dishes to the kitchen.

“He’s got all the nursing help he needs,” she said.

Tyra hissed, baring her fangs.

Cruz hissed back.  She held up a table knife next to her face like a fang.

“Ladies…” Niles murmured.

Tyra twitched, then settled.  “I like a woman with spirit.  Even if she is a mere human.”  This was said with acid condescension.

Wriggling her skinny butt, Tyra sauntered into his apartment.

Cruz twisted to follow her, knife poised to killed.

Tyra ignored her.  She disappeared into the living room.

Niles waited for the next confrontation, but the conversation from beyond was unexpected.

Tyra purred.  “Well, hi there, big guy.”

“And hello to you back,” replied Williams with a come-hither rumble in his deep voice.

Niles rolled his eyes.

The hall closet door sprang open without warning.  Startled, Cruz shouted and dropped the dishes.  They crashed to the floor and shattered, sending food and porcelain in all directions.

A pallid, ancient face peered from the hall closet.

“Is it safe to come out?” thousand-year-old Marrenstan asked his lord.

Niles waved helplessly.  “I suppose.  What were you hiding from?”

“Wasn’t hiding,” Marrenstan retorted.  He left the closet and closed the door.  “I brewed medicine for your lady friend using herbs and blood serum.  Made me nauseous.”

“Blood serum?” Niles asked, stepping over the mess as Cruz bent to clean it up.  “What do you mean, you made Cruz’s medicine from blood serum?”

Marrenstan shrugged.  “Old recipe.  From Wallachia.  Blood of vampire cures plague.” He pressed a hand to his thin torso.  “Took a lot of serum.  Felt sick.  Tyra!”  His voice brightened when he encountered the vampiress.

Unable to cope with the turmoil in his home, Niles faltered against the wall.  Cruz finished cleaning up the disaster in the hallway, then she took Niles by the arm and led him back into his living room.  There he found Tyra sitting on Williams’ lap and playing with his hair while she worked her wiles on him.  Williams, well aware the vampiress was after something other than a good time, humored her but didn’t swallow the bait.  Gumby and Lenny tormented each other by running around the furniture and knocking over priceless antiques.  Marrenstan plopped onto the floor in front of the television and flicked on Chopped.

Cruz settled Niles on the couch and curled up next to him.  She’d brought a bag of popcorn.

Offering him a handful, she looked over the chaos with a beatific smile.  “Isn’t it good to be quarantined with your family?”

Niles grunted a laugh.  He had to admit it.  If he was forced to isolate, he couldn’t think of a better group of … of… entities… with which to do it than his flight.

Ah, the joys of isolation!

He snaked his arm around her shoulders and rested his throbbing head against hers.

“Yes, Mari.  Family is all that matters.”

 

 

© Newmin 2020

Gule’s Flight Begins to Gather

The vampire sat overlooking his city, dark thoughts holding him immobile on his high perch.  Ten stories below him, Baltimore lurked subdued and frightened, unaware an apex predator glared down at it from a high-rise balcony.  Because something more evil than a vampire stalked its streets.  The terror of coronavirus had brought the Crab Cake Capital of the World to its knees.  Restaurants and bars, the life blood of the Inner Harbor, sat shuttered and dark.  The ubiquitous water taxis still churned around the Patapsco but did so mostly empty.  Cars moved infrequently along the gridwork of streets.  Even on the always humming Rt 83 traffic was light.  The city, like its state and its nation, had hunkered down in fear of a silent killer.

A slender, taloned finger stroked the vampire’s chin as the murk of worry kept him frozen in its grip.  He didn’t know what to do.

In the face of the pandemic, Niles Gule had opened his luxurious apartment on Lombard Street to his partner of the police force, Mariella Cruz, and to an ancient, doddering vampire named Marrenstan.  He’d taken in Cruz to protect the elderly relatives with whom she lived in a small bungalow in East Baltimore.  He’d accepted Marrenstan to save Baltimore from the rapacious vampire who’d been plundering funeral homes bulging with the newly dead.  Because in their roles as public servants, he and Cruz interacted with numerous people, she’d contracted the deadly ailment.  Even as Niles sat moodily on his balcony, she lay in his bed coughing as the virus ravaged her lungs.  Meanwhile, in a stupidly heroic move, Marrenstan had ventured out into the city during daylight to bring her his idea of herbal cures.  That brave act had sickened the frail vampire, although Niles wasn’t certain if he’d had contracted the virus or if radiation poisoning was to blame.  Marrenstan rejected help.  He’d locked himself in Niles’ hall closet and refused to come out.

The buzz of the phone in his pocket wrenched Niles’ dark thoughts from the abyss.  The name Williams appeared on the screen.

“Yeah?” he asked without preamble.

“Checking on things,” came the rumbling voice of the giant police officer Jonas Williams.  “Sarg says Cruz is down.”

Niles nodded although the man on the line couldn’t see the gesture.  “Yes.  Started this morning.”

To the vampire’s surprise, Williams immediately hung up.

And that, Niles mused as his thoughts turned dark and ugly again, is the response of one of the few people I can call vaguely a friend.  Niles, you are screwed.

Swathed in the gloom of night, the vampire sat on his balcony, glared at his city, and brooded.

A pounding on his door an hour later startled him out of his chair.  With a frown, Niles strode through his benighted apartment to answer it, running down the meager list of individuals who’d dare knock on his door.  The list was depressingly short.

Yanking the door open, Niles blinked at the sight of Williams lurking in his hallway.

“Evening, Ghoul,” the big man greeted grimly.  He shoved the vampire out of his way and trudged into the apartment.  “Don’t you believe in lights?” he complained, coming to a full stop when the glow from the hallway gave out.

“No.  I’m a vampire.”

“Huh.”  Williams swatted the wall until he found a light switch.  Snapping it on, he headed into the kitchen.  Only then did Niles notice he carried a six pack of beer and a bottle of tequila.

“What’s the beer for?” Niles asked, shutting and locking the door then trailing after him.  “I don’t drink beer.”

Williams dumped the beer in the refrigerator and the tequila on the counter.  “I know.  The beer’s for me.  The tequila’s for you.  Where’s Cruz?”

Lifting a brow, Niles gestured to his bedroom.  Cruz’s coughing reignited when the sound of activity disturbed her.  Digging a bottle of cough syrup out of his pocket, Williams headed that way.

“Is there a reason you’re here?” Niles asked, asperity sharpening his tone.

Williams nodded.  With surprising gentleness, he peered into the bedroom to check on Cruz.

“Can I be in on the secret?” Niles prodded.

Seeing that Cruz was awake and coughing, Williams headed into the room.  “I’m here to check on my co-workers.”  He shot Niles a look.  “She’s sick and you look like hell.  Even for a vampire, you’re white a as sheet.”

“It’s been a long day,” Niles muttered.

The big man gave him a hard look.  “Ain’t no law says a vampire can’t get this thing.”

“I’m not sick,” Niles insisted.

Williams whipped out a thermometer and shoved into the vampire’s mouth.  “Let’s just see, shall we?”

While Niles sputtered, his blue eyes wide, Williams sat down on the edge of the bed.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Cruz croaked.  Her body was racked with coughing.  “Where’s your protective equipment?”

Williams scowled.  “I don’t need no stinking protective equipment,” he quipped.  “I’m a big dude, Cruz.  Ain’t no virus that can kill me.”  He offered the cough medicine.  “I brought you this to help you sleep.  Figured the Ghoul wouldn’t think of it.”

Cruz sat up with surprising strength.  “Be nice, Jonas.  He’s doing his best.  He’s been very attentive.”  After a cough, she smiled at Niles.  “He even cooked for me.”

“That’s nice,” Williams grumbled.  “Medicine?”

Cruz nodded.  “Although,” she mused.  “I’m feeling amazingly better.  That brew Marrenstan gave me really helped.  I can actually feel it working.”

Williams shot Niles a look.  “Who’s Marrinwhat?  And what brew did he give her?”

Niles removed the thermometer from his mouth.  “Marrenstan is an old vampire and a member of my flight.  He concocted some recipe from the Dark Ages he said was good for plague.”

Another scowl.  “That was a bacterium.  This is a virus!”

Niles was startled the big galoot knew that much history.  “What do you want me to say?  He’s got weird ideas.”

After Williams spooned a dose of cough medicine in Cruz, he consulted the thermometer.  “Says you’re 72 degrees.  That’s hot for a vampire, isn’t it?”

Startled, Niles peered at the device.  “Yeah, it is.  We run around 65.”

Cruz’s eyes widened.  “What happens if you get this?”

Niles lifted his shoulders.  “I dunno!  Why does everyone think I know everything?”

Williams fluffed Cruz’s pillows and fetched a book from Niles’ library at her request.  Then he hauled Niles from the bedroom and forced him onto the couch.

“You need rest,” he grumbled.

When Niles sat down, Williams grasped his ankles and twisted his legs onto the couch.  While Niles complained, Williams dropped an afghan over him.

“I never would have thought I’d find myself nursemaid to a vampire,” the big man complained.

“No one asked you.”

Ignoring Niles’ protests, Williams stomped to the kitchen to retrieve a beer and a glass of tequila.  He gave the glass to Niles and sat down in an easy chair with the beer.

“You’re staying?” Niles asked.

Williams nodded.  “Yup!  Someone needs to look after the lot of you.”

“You’re so sure you won’t get sick.”

“Yup!”  Williams lifted his head proudly.  “Call it a family immunity.  Williams’ survived the 1918 pandemic without a single one of us getting sick.  Had cousins who worked as medical professionals during the H1N1, SARS and MERS outbreaks.  Not a one got sick.  And now I’ve got cousins up in New York working in Elmhurst.  Ain’t gotten sick.”  He beamed at Niles.  “We’re tough bastards!”

And I am lucky, Niles thought.  To have tough bastards in my flight.

 

© 2020 Newmin

Niles comments:  Hey!  We’re 200!  This is our 200th episode.  Thank you to all you readers out there keeping me going.  We will get through this.  Keep your masks on and your chins up.

 

 

 

 

The Virus Heats Up

The single bar of golden sunlight inched slowly across Niles Gule’s oriental carpet, counting the minutes and hours.  The vampire sat alone in his darkened living room watching that beam crawl from one side of his apartment to the other.  Daylight usually spelled death for vampires which was why Niles worked night shift for the Baltimore PD.  The sunlit hours delineated his time to rest.  Like his vampire brethren, he went dormant during the day.  While most vampires bolted to protective holes in forgotten places, Niles escaped to the upscale apartment he rented on Lombard Street overlooking the Inner Harbor.  He’d purchased blackout blinds for the windows to assure light from the deadly star never touched him.  Today, he’d failed to secure the blinds, leaving that one ray to inform him time was passing.

Not that Niles really needed that relentless clock on his floor.  Mariella Cruz’s increasing fever was another clock inexorably ticking as she tossed in his bed, fighting off infection.  Every hour, Niles rose to slip into the room to check on his partner’s progress.  Other than to provide her with chicken broth, he could offer little solace.  He didn’t know much about human biology, other than the delicious taste of its blood, and less about the coronavirus sweeping over the nation and over his little chili pepper.

On his next visit, he found her once again in the raging heat phase of her fever.  She’d kicked off the blankets and lay spread eagle on the bed, staring sightlessly up at the ceiling, sweat a sheen across her pretty features.  Her black hair plastered itself to her cheeks.

Niles soaked a cloth in cool water then sat beside her to tenderly wash her face.

“Let me call an ambulance,” he pleaded.

Stubborn mule that she was, she shook her head.  “It’s a fever, Niles.  Caused by a virus.  No cures for that.”

“This virus is killing people.”

She turned her head, grasped his icy hand with her hot one and smiled.  “I’m young.  No underlying health conditions.  Taking me to the hospital will just fill a bed better left to someone who needs it.”

“This thing has killed young people,” Niles protested.  “It’s killed people without underlying health conditions.”  He fought down the tears that welled in his eyes.  “I don’t want you to die, Mari.”

Her fingers tightened on his.  “I won’t.  I have you to watch over me.  Only if I have trouble breathing are you to call an ambulance.”  She forced a weak smile.  “Go.  Get out of here.  I don’t want you catching this.”

“I don’t know if vampires can,” he said.

She thrust his hand away from her.  “I don’t want to take the chance.  If you do contract it, who knows what it would do to you.”  When he continued to balk, she snarled, the vampire code for annoyance.  “Okay, I’ll be selfish.  I need you healthy to watch over me.  Get out.”

Having nothing to counter to that argument, Niles reluctantly rose, placed the cloth in the bathroom, and returned to his vigil in the room beyond.

Watching over Cruz wasn’t the only reason anxiety kept Niles from his rest.  He’d invited another vampire, Marrenstan, to ride out the virus in his spacious abode.  That ancient creature had survived over a thousand years, although Niles always wondered how.  The tiny guy wasn’t the brightest member of the vampire fraternity.  Short, frail and sadly willing to please any dominant vampire, he existed at the edge of society.  He’d willingly fallen under Niles’ spell as the vampire lord of Baltimore and thrived in the stronger vampire’s shadow.

He was supposed to be isolating in the apartment per the orders of Larry Hogan, governor of Maryland.  Early that morning, however, while Niles struggled to warm chicken broth for Cruz (a challenge given vampires in general, and Niles in particular, didn’t know how to cook), Marrenstan had inexplicably darted from the apartment.  Niles didn’t know what to make of his behavior.  While Niles had worked out methods that allowed himself to take short excursions in daylight, Marrenstan had not.  He didn’t slather coats of suntan lotion on his exposed skin.  Nor did he wear the wide brimmed Australian cattlemen’s hat and wrap-around sunglasses Niles donned to fend off the sun.  He’d slipped from the apartment in his ordinary garb, black trousers and shirt with a flapping overcoat on top.  The little guy was going to fry.

The bar of sunlight continued its inexorable movement.  Niles waited in anguish.

He must have dozed off.  The sound of struggling outside the sliders to his balcony startled Niles upright in his chair.  He raced to the doors to find little Marrenstan scrabbling with his toes to find the railing.  Drawing an annoyed but grateful sigh, Niles plucked the vampire from his clinging grasp on the exterior wall and set him on his feet.

Marrenstan bobbed an obsequious bow to his lord, then, bent over some precious bundle he carried against his chest, scuttled into the apartment.  With a low growl, Niles followed.

To his surprise, Marrenstan beelined for the kitchen.  Suspecting the fellow knew little more about cooking than he himself did, Niles followed, curious to discover what had driven his buddy to venture out in daylight.

“Whatcha doing?” he asked, leaning against the door jamb.  He was startled by the relief he felt knowing Marrenstan was okay.

Always a nervous individual in the best of times, Marrenstan fluttered a quivering hand at Niles but didn’t look at him.  He placed his bundle on the counter then rummaged through drawers for equipment.

“Marrenstan?” Niles prodded.

Another hand flick.  “Go away.”

“Marrenstan…”  Now Niles was growling.

The little vampire huffed.  Without daring to look his lord in the eye, he made his displeasure clear with just his stiff posture.  “How is she?” he asked. “Best check on her.”

Although Niles knew a diversion when he saw one, he nevertheless realized he hadn’t checked on Cruz for more than an hour.  He hastened to his bedroom.

The lady had transitioned back to the frigid stage of her fever.  She’d curled herself into a burrito using his blankets.  She shivered as he touched her.

“Mari?” he whispered.  “Checking in.”

She nodded but didn’t open her eyes.  “Still alive,” came a muffled voice from the blankets.

Marrenstan appeared in the doorway.  He clutched a large mug in his thin, taloned fingers.  Without asking permission, he trundled to the bedside, nudging Niles aside, and proffered the mug to Cruz.

“For you.  To make you feel better.”

Startled, Cruz sat up and ran a hand over her brow.  She eyed the vampire askance.  “What is it?”

“Secret,” murmured Marrenstan.  He tried to smile, but that just flashed his fangs in a grimace amid his pale, skeletal face.

Cruz darted a glance at Niles who lifted his hands in puzzlement.  When Marrenstan thrust the mug at her insistently, she accepted it.  She sniffed it.

“Rum?” she asked.

Marrenstan nodded, his silver head bobbing rapidly.  “That helps.”

Cruz smiled, which warmed her face and Niles’ heart.  “Yes, it always helps.”

Somewhat dubiously, she sipped the brew.  She gave Niles a shrug to say it wasn’t horrible.

“Is that safe?” Niles demanded.  He didn’t trust Marrenstan’s knowledge of human anatomy.

Once again, the vampire’s head bobbed.  “Yes.  Recipe from the Middle Ages.  Wallachia.  Herbs and such.”

“Well, the rum can’t hurt me,” Cruz said.  “And it might help me sleep a little.”  She drained the mug and handed it back to Marrenstan.

The vampire accepted it with a sketchy bow, then scuttled from the room.  After seeing Cruz settled again and wondering what the little guy was up to, Niles followed him to the kitchen.  Marrenstan placed the mug in the sink.  Then, he shoved past Niles into the hallway.

Not knowing the subservient vampire to ever challenge his lord in even such a minor way, Niles again followed.  Marrenstan trundled to the hallway closet.  Opening the door, he took Niles’ coats off the hangers and dumped them on the floor.  That was when Niles realized the vampire’s hands were quaking.  He could barely return the hangers to the rod.

“Marrenstan, what’s wrong?” Niles asked worriedly.  “Don’t tell me you’ve come down with this now.”

Marrenstan shot him a befuddled look.  His face was an even pastier white than normal.

“I don’t feel well,” he murmured.  Then he slammed the closet door on Niles’ face.

Stunned, Niles stood outside the closet, wondering if he should gird Marrenstan in his new den.  Then he decided he’d better not.  If Marrenstan had contracted the virus, it was contagious to vampires.  That left Niles as the only healthy person left in the apartment.

Great, Niles thought.  Just great.

 

© Newmin 2020

Cruz Finds a Virus

The long night weighed heavily on Niles Gule’s shoulders as he shoved his key into the lock and ushered his partner, Mariella Cruz, into his apartment on Lombard Street in Baltimore.  Although crime had plummeted in the Crab Cake Capitol of the World due to the governor’s lockdown of the state over the coronavirus pandemic, Niles’ caseload had not abated.  Approximately a month into the pandemic, twenty police officers and four administrative staff had contracted the virus, while numerous others were self-quarantining after suffering symptoms.  That placed their work onto the healthy, including Niles and Cruz.

Their night had included four assaults involving various family members losing their tempers with relatives, three burglaries and two calls for vandalism.  Quiet for Baltimore, all considering.  Meanwhile, they continued to work three murder investigations and assist in surveillance of an open-air drug market on the corner of North and Pennsylvania Avenues.

With a weary groan, Niles dumped his keys on the delicate little table just inside his door, stretched his arms skyward then eased off his suit jacket.  Loosening his tie, he headed for his bedroom.

“Staying out of trouble, Marrenstan?” he asked the ancient vampire sitting in his living room watching television with the sound turned off.

Marrenstan shrugged his boney shoulders.  “Meh.  Bored.”  He pointed a pale talon at the television. “I don’t understand the purpose of that thing.  Food looks tasty.”

Niles frowned.  After considering the show for a moment, he leaned over the coffee table and pressed the mute button on the remote.  Instantly, the voice of Padme Lakshmi filled the room as she explained why a prospective chef should pack his knives and go.

Marrenstan’s haggard face brightened.  “That’s better!”  He clapped his thin hands together.

Niles rolled his eyes.  “How have you survived thousands of years without learning to work a remote?” he moaned.

Marrenstan peered up at his vampire lord meekly.  “They’re new.  Only been around a few decades.  I was going to get around to it eventually.”

Niles shook his head in disgust.

The old vampire’s silver eyes flitted towards the door where Cruz had wilted against a wall.  He momentarily bared his fangs at the sight of the human but immediately swallowed them at Niles’ harsh look.

“Dinner!” he chirped.

“No humans!” Niles warned.

Chastened, Marrenstan returned his gaze to the television.

Cruz’s languid demeanor caught the younger vampire’s attention.  He hastened to her side.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Cruz shook her head.  “I don’t feel too well, Niles.  I’m hot.”

Niles pressed an icy hand to her forehead then jerked it away.  She was burning.

“You’ve got a fever.”  He cursed under his breath.  “Could be the virus.  Should I call for an ambulance?”

His question earned him a scathing look.  “No!  I’m not that sick.”

“I can’t drive you to the hospital,” Niles said.  “Can you drive yourself?”

Cruz pushed past him and stumbled towards the bedroom.  “I’ll be fine.  I just need to lie down for a while.  It’s probably the flu.  It’s going around.”

“So is coronavirus!” Niles complained, following her.  He watched worriedly as she flopped onto his huge bed and curled herself into a ball.

Muttering about hot tempered Latin ladies, Niles removed her shoes and socks, then eased her out of her jacket.  At her murmured complaint, he left the rest of her clothing alone and pulled a blanket over her huddled form.  She promptly tossed it off.

“I’ll make you some broth,” he said, remembering from some Victorian novel that broth was good for ailing humans.

She choked out a laugh.  “You don’t know how to cook.”

“I’ll learn.” he replied.

Giving her a worried look, Niles turned off the bedroom lights and returned to the living room.  Marrenstan peered at him.

“Is she sick with it?” he asked.

Niles nodded grimly.  “I think so.  Do you know how to make broth?”

Marrenstan’s brow puckered.  His expression grew intense.

Niles waved him off.  “Don’t strain yourself, Marrenstan.  I’ll figure something out.”

With trepidation, Niles stepped into unknown territory, his pristine, Tuscan style kitchen.  The space sparkled, having never been used in the three years Niles had resided in Baltimore.  In the two weeks since she’d moved in, Cruz had cooked for herself, but she kept the place as perfect as she’d found it, appearing to be intimidated by its opulent grandeur.

Not knowing exactly what to look for, Niles began opening cabinets to peruse Cruz’s selection of groceries.  She’d stocked her larder for the duration, buying what she hoped was enough food to tide her through the worse of the lockdown to avoid grocery stores.  Not that it had mattered, he grumbled as he searched.  Her job as a police officer demanded she interact with the public.  She’d probably picked up the virus while on the clock.

Bingo!  Niles grinned when he found a carton that read chicken broth.  Just the thing.

Now what? 

He considered the microwave, but that appliance scared him.   Too modern for a vampire born in the Gilded Age.  He clambered around until he found a pot.  He poured the broth into the pot and set that on the stove.  A twist of a knob lit up an indicator light.

Now we’re cooking!  Literally!

At a clatter from the living room, Niles hastened back to more familiar territory.  The television droned on but Marrenstan had disappeared.  Not wanting to disturb Cruz’s rest, Niles didn’t call out, but he did wander around the apartment.  When he reached the sliders that led onto his balcony, he found them open.  Marrenstan had apparently decided to hunt up dinner for himself.  Niles stood on his tenth story balcony and fretted as dawn colored the sky gold and blue.  Given his age and delicate skin, Marrenstan had never been touched by sunlight.  It would kill him almost instantly.  Niles wondered what had driven the old coot from the apartment with daybreak imminent.  Not his cooking, surely?

Knowing he had Cruz to care for, Niles abandoned Marrenstan to his fate.  The ancient vampire would survive or not as he had for the past thousand years.  Niles could only worry and wait for his return.

Niles found his broth steaming on the stove.  Decanting it to a bowl, he located a spoon and carried it reverently to the bedroom.  Cruz now lay bundled under the blankets, shivering.

He offered her the broth.

“I don’t know what else to do,” he said.

At first, his little chili pepper seemed determined to ignore him, but at the sight of his plaintive expression, she forced herself to sit up.  Still shivering violently, she sipped the broth directly from the bowl until she’d finished it.  She smiled her gratitude wordlessly, then ducked under the covers again.

Terrified for her, Niles bent to kiss her blazing forehead and whisper he loved her.  She didn’t respond.

Woefully, Niles meandered back to the kitchen with his bowl.  He rinsed it and the pot in the sink, having no idea how to run a dishwasher.  Then he returned to his living room to wait.

For Cruz to recover and Marrenstan to return.

His wait was long and terrifying.  He fell dormant in his chair long before either happened

 

© 2020 Newmin

 

Coronavirus Week #2: The Walls are Closing In

Niles Gule, resident vampire of Baltimore, sat on his balcony overlooking the Inner Harbor as sunrise painted the eastern sky a soft pinkish yellow.  His brilliant blue eyes studied his city in crisis, noting how his view had changed in only a month.  Oh, the blue waves of the aquarium still glowed and the strings of the giant guitar at the Hard Rock still flickered as if plucked by unseen hands, but much of the city hung gloomy and dark.  Baltimore wasn’t New York City.  On an average night, it slept more than its hulking cousin to the north.  Its towers dimmed, traffic waned, and the beat of its heart slowed to a murmur.  Then, with the return of the sun, it would reawaken.  Lights would spangle across the towers as offices came to life.  The water taxis would begin their sputter as they traversed the harbor.  The restaurants in the pavilions would glow, beckoning tourists and locals alike.

But not this morning.  The aquarium had been closed for weeks.  Few people entered the octagonal World Trade Center of Baltimore, leaving that iconic building, perched on the very edge of the harbor, strangely dark.  The concourse between the Radisson and the Inner Harbor stood devoid of foot traffic except for a lone pair of blue uniformed cops coasting on bicycles on the lookout for trouble that would never come.  Because everyone in Baltimore remained in hiding.

Niles yawned for two reasons.  One, with the rising of the sun, his night had ended – time for him to go dormant.  Two, he’d been trapped in his apartment for a week and he was monumentally bored.  As a detective on the Baltimore PD, he was considered an essential worker, but since people weren’t leaving their houses, the crime rate in the city had plummeted.  Burglars couldn’t work their territories if everyone stayed home.  Rapists and muggers found slim pickings on the streets.  Even the drug crews had gone to ground, a virus able to scare them in a way police could not.  As for his open cases, Niles struggled to question witnesses because most refused to answer their doors.  Many had disappeared completely.  That meant Niles and his partner Mariella Cruz needn’t leave the safety of the apartment on Lombard Street.  They, like millions of Americans, were working from home.

As always curvaceous and sultry, Cruz stepped out onto the balcony, a mug of hot chocolate in her hands.  Wet and tousled from a shower, her curly black hair foamed around her delicate face.  In preparation for heading to bed during the day ahead, she’d changed into pajamas, thick woolies printed with red chili peppers.

Appropriate, Niles thought.  A chili pepper exactly described his little partner.

Cruz nestled into the chair beside him and rested her blazingly hot hand atop his frigid, bloodless one.

“Long night, huh?” she asked.

Niles nodded and pinched the space between his eyes.  “I cannot stare at a computer screen anymore!  Those things weren’t designed for a vampire’s eyes.”

Cruz squeezed his hand.  “Did you flip your settings from black type on white, to white type on black like I suggested?”

“Yes,” the vampire grumbled.  “It helps.”

“Krewelski and I zoomed about the Under-Armor hack,” she said, switching to business and an embezzlement case.  “He thinks it’s an inside job.  Their IT is swearing they can’t find evidence of a break in their firewall.”

Niles was spared from answering when a dark shadow scrambled down the exterior of the building.  Cruz choked in alarm.  When it threatened to leap on her, she threw her chocolate at it, the only weapon she had to hand.  A high, thin voice squeaked in pain as the hot liquid hit it.  The shadow wavered.  Nearly fell ten stories.  With a lunge, Niles grasped a pale, white hand.  He dragged the shadow onto the balcony over Cruz’s protests.  It tumbled into a pile of dark clothing at their feet.

“Marrenstan!” he scolded.  “Where have you been?”

The shadow unfolded itself to reveal the vampire in all his lack of glory.  As ancient as the pyramids, Marrenstan was a tiny, hunched, decrepit creature with floor-length silver hair, skin that sagged against his bones like a soggy tarp, and pale eyes that always darted nervously.  Like most things in life, his tumble onto the balcony had startled him and to soothe himself, he rattled his fangs against his lower teeth in a rat-a-tat that drove Niles insane.

“I’ve been hunting,” he said.  Beaming with pride, he lifted a fist which clenched three large, fat rats by their tails.

Cruz shrieked, leaped from her chair, and scuttled backwards.  “Madre de Dios!” she exclaimed, reverting to Spanish in her alarm.  “Eso’s asqueroso!”

A beleaguered Niles sighed.  “I have a cooler stocked with beef!  Why won’t you eat that?”

Marrenstan grinned, fangs flashing in the pale dawn light.  “Fresh kills!  Much better.”

“Get those infectious vermin away from me!” Cruz wailed.  “They probably have plague.  Or Hanta virus.  Or something.”

Shrugging, the vampire popped to his feet with an agility surprising for one so old, and trundled into the apartment, humming happily as he went.

“At least he didn’t catch Lenny,” Niles offered as a solace to his partner.  Cruz loved the wily alley cat Niles had reluctantly adopted.

Cruz danced to shake off her disgust.  “Thank God!”

Niles patted the chair she’d forsaken. “Sit.  Chill.  He’s harmless.  Really.”

“So you keep saying,” Cruz muttered.  But she did as he asked and slid back into her chair.

For another hour, the couple sat on the balcony and watched the sun spread its meager warmth across the world.  As per agreement, they didn’t discuss work once their night shift ended.  Instead, Cruz complained about her mother and Aunt Juanita, also isolating in the bungalow they shared in East Baltimore.  A murder loomed, Cruz asserted.  One of them was going to kill the other.

Niles rose.  “Only one of thousands brewing throughout the city this very day,” he replied.  “We’ll be busy when the quarantine ends.”  He yawned.  “Bedtime for vampires.  I’ll see you at sunset.”

He wandered into his apartment, a luxurious space he’d furnished with expensive, European antiques.  On the way past his outrageously expensive stereo system, his finger tapped it off, allowing silence to descend on the space.  The touch of another button lowered blackout blinds over the windows, plunging the apartment into darkness.  He headed to his bedroom.

Minutes later, Niles was undressed and snuggled in his massive bed, dormancy falling upon him like a thick, woolen blanket.

He was well into a dreamless state when Cruz arrived in the bedroom.  As was her wont, she flounced into bed, rocking the mattress.  Niles cracked an annoyed eyelid.

“Must you do that?” he muttered.

Cruz writched around to get comfortable.  “Yep!”  She tumbled onto her side to gaze at him adoringly.  She planted a kiss on his cold nose.  “Love me, love my annoying habits.”

He pretended to scowl but couldn’t find it in his heart to be angry with her.  His arms snaked around her and pulled her close.

“Nothing beats a warm human in my arms,” he murmured in her ear.

She giggled.

“True!” came a muffled voice from somewhere in the room.

Cruz scrambled free from Niles.  “What was that?”

A single indrawn breath through his nose told Niles exactly what that was.  He could smell another vampire at fifty feet.

The voice wigged Cruz out.  She sat up in the bed and scanned the darkness.  When nothing met her eyes, she bent over the edge and studied the floor.  She sensed motion under the bed.  Curling around the mattress, she peered beneath her.  A pair of silver eyes gazed back.  White fangs gleamed in the darkness.

Cruz screamed and leaped from the bed.  “Marrenstan is under there!” she exclaimed, dancing her ooh, get it out of here dance from several feet away.  “Niles!  Get rid of him!”

Rolling his eyes at the fuss, Niles leaned over his side of the bed.  “Marrenstan, move.”

“It’s the darkest place in the apartment!” a thin voice whined.

“Move!”

The sound of grumbling preceded shuffling.  Then the hump of a dark ass crawled out from under the bed.  Marrenstan’s silver head appeared next, followed by the remains of his three-rat dinner.

Cruz wailed in disgust as the elderly vampire rose to his towering four feet, glared at her hatefully, then scuttled from the room.

She continued to stand beside the bed, shuddering with revulsion.

Niles patted the mattress.  “Come back to bed, Mari.  I’ve driven all the rats from the room.”

Doubtfully, Cruz approached him.  At his come-hither leer, she finally climbed back into bed.

She scowled at her vampire partner.  “Must you do that?” she complained.  “Have your relatives under your bed?”

Mirroring her actions from minutes ago, Niles pressed a quick kiss to her nose.  “Love me,” he murmured.  “Love my annoying habits.”

She punched him.

 

© 2020 Newmin

 

Niles comments:  I hope all of you are continuing to stay safe and stay home.  It’s important and it is working.  We’re bending the curve.  We need to remain vigilant lest our enemy return.  I survived both World Wars and remember what my nation asked of us then.  Rationing food.  Blackout drapes for years.  Losing thousands of men and women to an insidious enemy to save our country.  Now our nation is calling on you to save it again.  And all you have to do is sit on your couch.  You can do this!

 

A Vampire, A Latina and a Vampire Shack up for the Duration

Vampires were murderous folk.  For thousands of years, they survived as a subculture, hiding in the dark spaces, emerging only at night to prey upon helpless sleeping humans, drinking them bloodless.  No one would ever know just how many people had fallen victim to the scourge.  Even the vampires didn’t keep count.

Niles Gule, a vampire who’d chosen the city of Baltimore as his haunt, didn’t know the tally of people he’d killed over his 159 years of life.  In his younger days in Boston and New York, he’d murdered for a living, killing as many as two people a week to feed his insatiable lust for blood.  However, since arriving in the Crab Cake Capital of the World, he’d sworn off murder and mayhem.  He’d taken a vow to never kill another individual again and had been successful for almost three years.

That was about to change.

Because Niles Gule, ordinarily a mild mannered and tame vampire, was reaching the end of his fangs.  All due to a tiny, invisible plague called coronavirus.

Larry Hogan, governor of the state of Maryland, had ordered his entire state to shut down in the face of the virus.  Gatherings of ten or more individuals were prohibited.  Citizens were required to remain in their homes except to travel as required for essential business or to obtain food and supplies for their families.  All this was in hopes that keeping people separate would starve the virus of new victims, thereby ending or limiting its spread.

Niles inhabited a spacious apartment in a high rise on Lombard Street overlooking the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium and the Hard Rock Café.  For three years, he’d lived alone.

Until now.

Due to the virus, his partner on the Baltimore police force, Mariella Cruz, had inveigled an invitation to bunk in his apartment.  Her advertised reasoning had been that since she was a police officer and therefore at risk of mingling with the public, she could become infected herself.  Given she was a mere thirty years old, she didn’t worry nearly so much about her own health as that of her mother and aunt, with whom she resided in a small bungalow in East Baltimore.  She didn’t want to carry the infection to them.  Thus, she’d claimed, she needed an alternative place to live.  Niles’ expensive digs downtown simply made sense.

“Worst bit of lying I’ve ever heard,” grumbled the wheezing old vampire, Marrenstan.  The white-haired, white-skinned, hunched-back skeleton trundled into Niles’ living room with a plate piled high with raw beef spareribs.  “She’s got her eyes on you, Guldendal.  Like every female.  Angling for the alpha.”  He huffed.  “Humans lusting after vampires.  It’s inhuman.”  He dropped onto Niles’ couch and proceeded to chatter his fangs against his lower teeth, a nervous habit that drove Niles up a wall.

Niles clenched his hands, talons cutting deep into his white palms.  “She’s doesn’t lust…”  He cut off midsentence when the topic of their discussion sashayed into the room.  He only half strangled off his words due to embarrassment that she might hear them.  Her appearance finished clogging his throat.

Dressed in nothing but his bathrobe, Mariella Cruz appeared warm, dewy and sensual from a shower.  Her bare feet padded on his Aubusson carpet, her cute little legs flashing with each step.  Her long, curly black hair plumed as a damp cloud around her perky cocoa-skinned face.  Dark luminous eyes glowed and a sultry smile curled her luscious bow of a mouth.

At her appearance, Marrenstan’s teeth chatter sounded like machine gun fire.

“Stop it!” Niles yelled, baring his fangs at the elderly vampire.

Marrenstan froze, swallowed, and forced his teeth to stop.  His stress at being reprimanded by his lord could not be quelled, however.  His talons began rattling on the plate of ribs.

Niles groaned and planted his hands over his ears.

With a grin, Cruz strutted to Niles’ coveted Goldmund Epilogue Signature sound system.  A quick search of his immense collection of CDs yielded Wynton Marsalis’ Motherless Brooklyn which, after being set to play, sent the sweet sound of a trumpet to cover the talon clatter.

“Better?” she asked, sliding into a chair near Niles.  When she crossed her legs, one smooth calf sprang free of the robe.

His eyes transfixed by that leg, Niles gulped.  “How in the name of heaven am I going to survive this?” he moaned.

Cruz peered at him in question.  “What’s wrong, Niles?”  She wriggled her cute little butt on the chair to settle comfortably then stretched out her arms to encompass the vast, luxurious apartment.  “This is heaven!”

“Or hell,” muttered the vampire.

“Beats spending a month locked up with Momma and Tia Juanita,” she sighed.  “Those two will be at each other’s throats in a week.”

Niles darted a glance at Marrenstan who gazed at him with limpid, silver eyes.  Lustful adoration from Cruz.  Hero worship from Marrenstan.  Niles didn’t think he could take much more admiration in so small a space.

“As will one of us here,” he grumbled.

Cruz’s eyes lit up at the pile of spareribs Marrenstan had corralled for himself.  “Ribs!  What a great idea!”

Without consulting Marrenstan, she leapt from her seat, snatched up the ribs and sailed for the kitchen.  “I know a great recipe for barbeque,” she wafted over her shoulder.

Marrenstan yelped then looked mournfully at the empty space where his plate had been.  “My ribs!” he mewed.  He scowled at Niles.  “You’re right.  This is hell.”

Niles buried his face in his hands and willed himself to find some zen.

“Don’t touch your face,” Marrenstan said, poking his lord with a finger.  “That’s how you get the virus.”

Niles opened one brilliant blue eye to glare his fellow vampire into silence.

Realizing he’d annoyed the senior vampire, Marrenstan looked away.  He sat mute, rattling his talons together for a minute before his fangs joined the chorus.

Not even Marsalis could cover that.

Before Niles could leap from his seat in escape the noise, Marrenstan squeaked.  He rose and stared.  A hiss filled the space between tracks on the CD.  Niles looked up to find his cat, Lenny, staring open fanged at Marrenstan while the old vampire stared open fanged back.  The two hissed at each other.  Then Marrenstan with a gleeful shout of “dinner!” leaped.

Lenny bolted for the balcony.  Marrenstan was hot on his heels, amazingly fast for such an old vampire.  Lenny shimmed through the partially opened door and raced for the railing.  He was on it, then scaling the wall upwards to escape.  Marrenstan flew after him.

Niles reached the balcony in time to see Lenny reach the roof.  Marrenstan climbed with the agility of a spider.  Niles had no intention of following.

He heard Cruz call his name from behind him.

Turning, he found her wearing an apron, tongs in hand, gazing at him with a pucker of her brows.  “What?” she asked.

Niles shrugged.  “I guess it’s just us two for dinner.”

Cruz looked around quizzically, realized Marrenstan had disappeared.

She grinned.

 

© 2020 Newmin

Gule Dances Macabre

“This is effing insane,” complained uniformed police officer Jonas Williams.  He stuffed his radio into his belt and jerked his head towards his partner, Walter Cooksey.  “We’ve got another riot.”

Cooksey bolted the second half of his hotdog in a single, impressive swallow, sucked up the last of his soda and climbed from the picnic table.  “What do you mean, another?” he asked.

Williams grunted.  “I take it you don’t listen to the police radio while off duty?”

At the rapid shake of Cooksey’s bald head, giant Williams fisted his hand and threatened to nail his partner into the ground with it.  “Three different dust ups around the city happened on dayshift today.  Now we’ve got another one.”

“What sort of dust ups?” asked Cruz.

Detectives Mariella Cruz and her partner, the vampire Niles Gule, had joined the two officers before shift to grab a light dinner outside Esskay Gourmet in downtown Baltimore before starting the night shift.  Given the governor of Maryland’s lockdown for the coronavirus, the quartet was forced to eat outside.  To comply with the social distancing order, each person sat at their own table, commandeering the entire patio.

Williams lasered a gimlet glare down at the much smaller woman from his towering height.  The expression on his face read, lightweight.  “A couple of thieves tried to rob a CVS in Mount Vernon.  Some concerned citizens broke it up.”

Niles arched a brow.  He tossed the buns from his order of five hotdogs into the nearest bin.  Being a consummate carnivore, the vampire only ate the dogs.  “Since when do concerned citizens stop a robbery?”

“Since the dudes were after hand sanitizer,” humphed Williams.  “A delivery had just arrived.  Quite a melee developed.”

“Over hand sanitizer,” Cruz sighed.  “Has humanity come to this?”

“Apparently.”  Niles gestured to Williams.  “Where’s tonight’s call?”

Williams scrunched his face in puzzlement.  “Some place called Serenity.”  He stomped towards his patrol car with Cooksey on his heels.

“Serenity on McCulloh Street?” Niles asked, his tone rising.

The sound of worry in the vampire’s voice sent Williams spinning around.  “Yeah.  Why?  You know it?”

Niles rubbed his brow.  “It’s a funeral home.”

Williams gave him an arch look then continued to his car.

Cruz eyed her partner worriedly.  “What’s got your shorts in a bunch, Niles?”

Niles’ gaze was withering.  “My shorts are never in a bunch.”  He grasped her arm and led her towards her tiny Fiat Fifi.  “What would cause a riot at a funeral home?”

“I dunno.”  Cruz fought off her partner’s thrusting hands as he shoved her towards the driver’s door.  “What would?”

Niles crammed himself into the passenger side before she’d even climbed in.  “I don’t know either,” he said, clicking his seat belt.  “I’ve just got a bad feeling about it.”

With a shrug, Cruz slid behind the wheel, cranked the key, and sent Fifi careening onto the streets of Baltimore.  Fortunately for both Niles and the city, the streets were eerily bare of vehicles.  Only a handful of cars and trucks sped along roads normally clogged with rush hour traffic.  As they whizzed west towards the Bolton Hill neighborhood, a city in crisis flashed by.  But a city in a dark, quiet, terrifying crisis.   Small businesses stood shuttered and dark.  The parking lots around larger factories that often ran all night held only a handful of carefully spaced cars.  Even the offices of the Baltimore Sun appeared subdued.  Normally bustling restaurants still flashed their open signs, but no hordes of diners filled sidewalk tables.  The interiors looked abandoned.   The only indication a faint heartbeat still pittered inside them were the banners that read Take Out Only.

McCulloh Street ran through areas of the city that had been struggling for years.   With the attack of the virus, those neighborhoods now lurked in forbidding darkness as night descended over Baltimore.  Cruz’s hands tightened on the wheel as she plunged them deeper into an area where boarded up windows began to equal those with glass.  They found the Serenity Funeral and Cremation Services building on the corner with Wilson Street.  Somehow, even given Cruz’s insane racing skills as a driver, Williams and Cooksey had beaten them to the scene.  Their car’s emergency lights strobed the darkness in red, white and blue.

As Niles climbed from Fifi, his night vision, which was exquisitely designed to probe the darkness, picked out the bulk of Williams and his shadow Cooksey holding back what looked like a frantic family.  Niles noted two middle-aged couples, five children ranging in age from seven to fifteen, and an old woman gripping a walker.  They milled behind the vague police line Williams and Cooksey made with their arms, appearing to half desire rushing the funeral home and yet hanging back.

“Ghoul!” Williams shouted with relief upon seeing the long, lithe form of the vampire appear out of the gloom.  “Get your ass in there before this gets ugly!”

Niles frowned at the desperate family.  “What’s going on?”

“They’re stealing my Amos!” wailed the white-haired old woman.  Her black skin gleamed in stark contrast to the pale cloud of her hair.  “Oh, Lord!  Save us from the End Times!” she wailed, raising one hand towards the sky.  The second remained firmly clasping the walker.

Niles and Cruz stepped around the family who seemed ready, maybe, to follow them into the funeral home.  Niles raised his hands to calm the family and murmured, “we’ve got this,” before preceding inside.

The home’s parlors were decorated in the subdued, elegant taste one would expect from a funeral home.  Soft, upholstered chairs circled delicate tables upon which sat vases filled with fresh flowers that filled the room with their sweet scent.  The peace, however, was broken by shouts from somewhere in the back of the building.  Drawing her service pistol when a shriek of fear echoed through the otherwise silent space, Cruz edged forward first.  Niles, who never carried a firearm, followed behind her.

They arrived in the back rooms which client families never saw.  Here, the spaces were sterile, the walls of white tile, the tables of stainless steel.  A collection of doors three feet square lined one wall like giant mailboxes, most with their doors open.  A corpse wrapped in white cloth sprawled half out of a box.

The funeral home’s staff ranged around the room, using the steel tables for cover.   They wielded various implements of defense, a curtain rod, a lamp, a flower vase, and a candlestick.  One gentleman, a huge brute of a dude, bore a sign easel like a medieval shield, the words, “Dear Friends and Family of Amos Buckwalter” on the notice board.  The coup de grace was the teenager in coveralls who brandished a crucifix, Jesus and all, at their assailant.

Who was about the last person Niles would have expected to cause such a ruckus.

Swearing, he pushed Cruz’s hand down to lower her weapon.  “It won’t work.  He’s a vampire.”

Startled, Cruz slowly holstered her weapon.  “You know this guy?”

“Yes, unfortunately.”  Niles growled as he parted the funeral home staff to reach the offender.

“It’s a vampire!” shouted what Niles assumed was the undertaker given his formal, dark colored suit and tie.  “Swear to God!  It’s a vampire!”

“No need to swear,” Niles murmured.  “I’m aware.”

The teen thrust forward with the crucifix.  “Get him with this, sir!”

Niles brushed off the huge bit of brass.  “That’s actually a myth.  Vampires aren’t afraid of crosses.”  At the boy’s sudden whitening, Niles sighed and turned on the troublemaker.

“What are you doing, Marrenstan?” he asked, infinite weariness in his tone.

The tiny, stooped-shouldered vampire with white hair trailing to the ground cowered at the sight of his lord.  He chattered his fangs against his lower teeth and clicked his talons in agitation.  His pale, silver eyes darted around the room like a frightened mouse, perhaps more terrified of the humans than they were of him.

“You know its name?” demanded Easel Dude.

Niles proffered a broad smile.  “Cruz and I work the night shift.  We encounter a lot of strange stuff.  Including vampires.”

“Have you dealt with vampires stealing bodies out of funeral homes?” boomed the undertaker.

“Bodies?”  Niles’ voice grew plaintive.

Undertaker thrust a fat finger at the receiving door.  “He’s loaded everything we got ‘cept the last one!”

Niles considered the open doors for the various coolers.  Eight.  He wilted some more.

“They were all full?”

Undertaker nodded.  “Yeah, dude!  It’s a virus!  People are dying.”

Cruz, realizing the people were safe from vampire attack, started herding the staff out of the room.  “Let’s go.  Nothing to see here.”

“Are you crazy?”  Crucifix Boy’s eyes were dancing.  “A vampire is raiding the morgue!”

Cruz puffed up to her complete five-feet-four.  “I said move!”

With a grumble, the staff bowed to her fiery glare and the threatening hand she rested on her holster.

“What about my bodies?” Undertaker complained.

“I’ll take care of it,” Niles growled.

Cruz continued to threaten until the group backed into the hallway.  Then she slammed the door.

Niles whirled back around at Marrenstan.  “What are you doing?” he demanded.

Marrenstan shrugged.  “Grocery shopping.”

Cruz choked but Niles didn’t blink.

“Put them back.”

“All of them?” the old fossil protested.

“Yes!  All of them!”

Marrenstan pouted.  “What I am supposed to eat?  Governor said we should stay home.”  He shot his lord a reproachful look.  “You tell me I can’t kill people.   Or dig up their corpses out of cemeteries.  This was the next thing.”  He threw his hands towards the final body.  “All chilled and ready for takeout.”

Niles rolled his eyes.  He thrust a finger towards the receiving door.  “Get them, Marrenstan.  Put everyone back.”

Grumbling, the ancient vampire trundled away.  Meanwhile, Nile tapped his toe.

“Aren’t you going to help him?” Cruz asked.

Niles lifted his brows.  “No.  He managed to get them out there.  He can bring them back.”

The two police detectives waited as poor Marrenstan dottered in carrying one body after another and placed them in their slots.

When he was finished, he gazed balefully at Niles.  “Now what?  I’ll starve!”

“Have you considered beef?” Niles demanded.

At the mournful shake of Marrenstan’s head, Niles’ blue eyes began to glimmer.

“Well,” he said, taking Marrenstan by the arm, “I can’t have an old vampire perish of hunger.  It just so happens, I stocked my larder earlier this evening.  I’ve got tons to eat.”  He shot a look at his partner.  “And plenty of room, too.  Haven’t I?”

Cruz stiffened when she realized he’d trapped her.  No cozying up to her vampire in solitary bliss in Niles’ apartment as she’d schemed.  Not with an old, decaying vampire under foot.

“Yes, Niles,” she sighed in defeat.  “You’ve got plenty of room.”

 

© 2020 Newmin

 

 

Gule Packs on the Pounds

The request so stunned Niles Gule, the vampire stood blinking, unable to conjure a response.  Police Officer Jonas Williams’ mouth hung open before a wicked twinkle sparkled in his gray eyes and his lips curled into a knowing grin.

“It only makes sense, Niles,” purred the vampire’s partner, fiery Latina Mariella Cruz.  Her dark gaze smoldered as she tried to coax him with a come-hither expression.

Williams did something unusual.  He bumped Niles’ shoulder with his own in male camaraderie.  “Watch out, Ghoul.  She’s reeling you in.”  He plunged his teeth into a chocolate glazed donut.

Given the current crisis descending on the world, America and now Baltimore, Niles was in a less playful mood.  “Explain this to me,” he said to Cruz.  “Maybe I’m being dense.”

Williams howled, spitting donut bits in a wide arc.

Niles swatted at them and leapt backwards.  “Social distance, Jonas!  Social distance!”

Cruz kicked Williams in the shin before turning her beguiling smile on her partner.  “You must admit this is an emergency.  People are dying as we speak.  Especially the elderly.”

Niles’ brilliant blue eyes considered first her body, cute, curvaceous and spunky, then his, long, lean and lithely muscled.  “Are you insinuating that because I’m 159, I’m at risk for the virus?  In human years, I’m in my thirties.”

Now Cruz punched him in the arm.  “No, silly!  But Momma and Tia Juanita are both pushing 70.  I don’t want to infect them.  So….”  She slid alongside him and batted her eyes, raising another howl from Williams who stood watching, “Since I have to work in the public as a police officer and I live with them, my being there is a danger to them.  I would feel so much better if I could bunk down somewhere else until this is over.”

From over her shoulder, Niles watched Williams pretend to cast a line then start reeling it in.

“What about a hotel?” he asked, fighting to avoid her lure.

“They’re closed!”  Cruz pouted prettily.

“Haven’t you got a sister somewhere?” Niles tried in desperation.

Williams went wild as if hauling in a marlin.

Cruz stomped on Niles’ foot.  “You know I only have four brothers and they all live at home.”

“Girlfriends?” Niles tried.

Williams nearly fell over the nearest desk as he fought his invisible giant fish.  His donut had hooked over his nose.

Another pout.  “Niles!  You have a nice, quiet, large apartment, right downtown.”

“And as I recall,” Williams mumbled through his donut, “a really big bed.”

Niles stabbed his nemesis with his eyes.  His lip started to curl to brandish his fangs before he stopped himself.  No going vampire inside the precinct.

Cruz sidled against him.  “It would only be for a few weeks.  Until the crisis is over.”

“I don’t have a stock of human food,” Niles protested.  “In fact, I was just about to ask Jonas if he wouldn’t mind helping me with my own shopping.”

Over his donut, Williams’ eyes widened.  He continued to grin.

With a gulp, the big man swallowed the last quarter of his prey, then choked out, “I’ll help with your groceries.  I gotta see how a vampire packs his larder.  Gonna be lots of dead people available to munch on.”

“Jonas!”  Niles made a fist to shut the man up.

Williams danced out of range.  “I’ll make you a deal, Ghoul.  I’ll help you with your groceries if you take our poor, homeless waif in for the duration.”

“Waif?” Niles demanded.  He considered Cruz, the toughest bit of feminine fluff in the entire state of Maryland.  The one thing she wasn’t was a homeless waif.

Cruz fluttered her eyelashes at him.

Niles’ gaze darted between her pleading look and Williams’ gloat.  Finally, knowing he was beaten, he nodded.

With a chortle, Williams hauled in his imaginary marlin and pretended to hang to over his desk.  He beamed with pride.

Shaking his head, Niles grabbed his two supposed friends, and shoved them towards the door.  “Let’s go before the stores are totally picked out.”

A few minutes later, the trio was packed into the cab of Williams Ford F450 super duty pickup driving through the relatively deserted streets of Baltimore in sunset.  As of March 16th, Governor Hogan had ordered all non-essential businesses in the state to close.  With little reason to leave their homes, the residents of the city were for the most part obeying the edict.  During the drive, they passed a city maintenance truck, some delivery vans and a man on a bicycle but otherwise the Crab Cake Capital of the World was eerily quiet.

Their first stop was the Lexington Market and Herlings Grocery Basket on the west side of downtown.  Both the market and the Basket had been picked clean by marauding herds of panicked shoppers, forcing the trio to grab what they could then head to Streets Market and Café closer to downtown.  There, Cruz bought chicken, bread, fresh fruits and canned goods, and loaded up on frozen entrees, but missed out on any rice or pasta.  That sent them to the point of last desperation, Po Tung Oriental Grocery on Park Avenue.  Cruz wasn’t enamored of Asian cuisine, but beggars in a city devoid of food couldn’t be choosers.  She scarfed up the last bag of rice in the city, plus an assortment of ramen noodles and numerous types of seasonings.  Deciding she’d purchased enough to tide her through the crisis, she settled her packages in the growing pile in the bed of Williams’ truck.

“Now where to?” Williams asked.  He’d remained on guard over the truck to assure that no one stole Cruz’s supplies while she and Niles scoured the empty stores.

“Cross Street in Federal Hill,” Niles said.  He scooched closer to the door when he found Cruz almost sitting on his lap.  “Back side of the market.”

With a quizzical look, Williams shoved his truck in gear and soon was heading south of the city down Charles Street.  The light traffic made for a quick drive.  At Niles’ direction, Williams pulled into a space at the back of the Cross Street Market where the loading docks and dumpsters lined the building.

“Here?” Williams queried.  His expression was skeptical.

Niles slid down from the truck and headed for one of the doors.  He rapped with his knuckles and after a few minutes, a man appeared in a white apron spattered with blood.

“Do you have my order ready?” Niles asked.

Lou the Butcher stood with his brow puckered.  “Yep, I sure do, Mr. Gule.  Five complete beef carcasses.  You planning on a picnic?”

Niles proffered one of his enigmatic smiles that told Lou not to question his prize customer’s bizarre orders.  Lou, having unknowingly supplied a vampire with his daily vittles for over two years, never questioned Mr. Gule’s apparently insatiable love of meat products.  The vampire, after all, covered half his rent at the market with just his orders alone.  Lou knew better than to look a gift vampire in the mouth.

Turning, he led Niles into the back of his shop.  In a cooler, the five carcasses hung waiting, tagged with the name Gule.

Lou propped his fists on his hips.  “How are you planning on getting these puppies out of here?”

Niles snagged a towel from a railing, whipped it over his right shoulder and headed for the nearest carcass.  With relative ease, he hefted the nearly 750 lbs of prime beef off its hook, shouldered it and headed for the door.  His mouth hanging open, Lou stood back and watched.

“Not a word, Lou,” Niles growled.

Lou shook his head.  “Nope.”

One by one, Niles carried his stash to the truck, layering them neatly so they didn’t squash Cruz’s daintier groceries.  When all five were installed, he accepted a clean tarp from Lou which he lashed over his supply to keep it clean.

Lou leaned against the wall watching the operation.  “I guess you’re settling in for the duration,” he finally drawled.

Niles nodded crisply.  “Indeed.  As should we all.”  He waved a taloned finger as his eyes swept over the neighborhood.  “This thing is going to last months.  Prepare yourself for the long haul.”

Lou grunted with a hopeless shrug.

Niles turned towards Williams and Cruz who peered out from the pickup’s cab.  “For the sake of our families, our city and our country,” he said, “We all need to hunker down.  For the long haul.”

 

© 2020 Newmin

 

Niles comments:  Hopefully by now, the reality has settled in and all of my readers realize this epidemic is not a hoax or overblown by the media.  It is real and it is killing Americans at an escalating pace every day, at every age (even young people are dying), at every income level, race, creed or political bent.  The only hope of stopping it is to starve it of its food, you!  Please do what Cruz and I are doing (egad, did I just type that?)  Hole up as best you can.  Maintain six feet distance even between your family members in your house.  Don’t go out unless you have to and when you do, wear gloves, maintain your distance, and disinfect everything you touch.  Cruz carries a wash cloth soaking in bleach in a ziplock baggie in Fifi so she can wipe down everything before entering her house.  Please be safe everyone!

 

 

Gule Faces March Madness

With a squeal of tires, police detective Mariella Cruz screeched into the parking lot of the Kenwood Shopping Center in Rosedale, a working-class neighborhood northeast of Baltimore.  The clock on her dash read just past midnight and yet the lot was filled with vehicles.  Police cars, civilian and emergency response units crammed the area which was brightly lit by numerous pole lights.

Unclicking her seat belt, Cruz hopped out to survey the scene.  Somewhat more slowly, her partner, Niles Gule, the six-foot-six Nordic vampire, unfolded his long, lanky form from the little Fiat, as ever wishing Cruz would purchase something more befitting his size.

“What have we got?” he asked.  His exquisite night vision swept the area, noting several people lying on the ground with EMTs hovering around them.

Cruz’s pretty cocoa colored face twisted with displeasure.  “Mass shooting, according to dispatch.  Let’s dig in.”

Together, they headed towards a familiar pair, the looming giant patrol officer Jonas Williams and his diminutive, chubby partner Walter Cooksey.  The two men jabbered with what Niles determined were two sets of distraught parents.

Williams held his palms out at the couples, holding them back.  “I’m sorry, but this is a crime scene.  You have to wait.”

“That’s my baby!” screamed one of the women, a black lady in her thirties.  Tears streamed down her cheeks as she pranced on tiptoes to see around Williams’ bulk.  “Oh, Lord!” she wailed to the sky.  “How can You take another one!”

She collapsed against a man who hugged her to his chest.

The other couple tried to dart around Cooksey.  The little man, to his credit, blocked them with his shoulders.  “We can’t let you past, yet,” he insisted.  “Let the EMTs do their work.”

Williams gestured for Niles and Cruz to approach.  “Good you got here,” he grumbled.  “We can use all the help we can get.”  He thrust out a hand to forestall another end run around him.

Much as Niles hated to use his vampire voodoo on humans, in this instance he felt calming the frantic parents worth the sin.  He caught each woman’s gaze in turn and sent mesmerizing, calming vibes at them, silently ordering them to breathe slowly and relax.  After a moment, each did.  They stood dazed in the darkness, shifting from foot to foot as if still fighting to see their children but unable to break Niles’ spell.

Having calmed the situation, Niles pulled Williams a few feet away from the parents.  “What’s the situation?”

Williams’ aging face looked gray and haggard.  “Six shot.  One’s dead.  The others are injured but expected to survive.”  He pointed to the various clumps of people working over the wounded.  “All teenagers, if you can believe it.”

“Who’s the shooter?” Cruz asked, looking around.

“Unknown.”  Williams shot the pair a look telling them he hated that word.

Cruz thanked him and approached the one body that wasn’t surrounded by medical personnel.  A large black man wearing an EMT uniform with the name Apostle Clarence Hooper, deputy chief of the Baltimore Trauma Response Team, embroidered on his front pocket stood guard over it.  Niles tilted his head to study the fallen.  It was a skinny black kid wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a FUBU hoodie.  With his eyes closed and his face in soft repose, he looked ten years old.

Hooper explained.  “Name’s Rickie Forehand, thirteen years old.  His mother, Mia Forehand, is over there.”  He jerked his chin towards where Williams and Cooksey continued to hold the stunned parents at bay.

“And the others?” Niles asked.

“Two 12-year-old boys, a 14-year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy and a 19-year-old man.”

Niles considered the location.  The Kenwood Shopping Center was a small strip mall nestled in a series of leafy neighborhoods made up primarily of single-family properties.  It was home to a Goodwill, a nail salon and a liquor store and didn’t look like the kind of place for a mass shooting.  Not that any place should look like a place for a mass shooting, Niles thought.

“Any idea what instigated it?” he asked.

Hooper shook his head.  “Story goes, the kids were at an event at the dance studio over there.  Apparently, some of them became involved in a confrontation that spilled out into the lot.  That’s when the shooting started.  But so far, the story’s pretty garbled.  Someone else said as the kids left the event, they were approached by several suspects in the parking lot. An altercation ensued there, and multiple shots were fired towards the group.  Don’t know which one is the truth.  Or neither.  This is a damned mess,” he muttered.  “No family should have such luck.”

“Meaning?” Cruz asked.

Hooper drew a heavy sigh.  “Meaning that family ain’t had no luck.  Rickie was the half-brother of Jeffrey Quick.  Quick was fifteen years old when he was shot dead in a couple of years ago up on Fremont Avenue in Harlem Park.  Them boys shared a mother.”  Hooper shook his head and tsked.  “Damned shame.  Real damned shame.  I feel real bad for Mizz Mia.”  He nodded towards the woman who still wailed some distance away.  “To lose both her boys before eighteen.  That’s tough.”

“Yes, it is,” Cruz murmured, her eyes on the child at her feet.  “And yet, all too common these days.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Hooper agreed.

Niles left Cruz to continue questioning the officer while he approached the Triple Threat Elite Dance and Fitness Studio.  Lights still blazed in its front windows through which Niles could see other officers questioning staff.   He stopped in front of the door to read the notices posted there.  A calendar indicated that a high school March Madness party from 9:30 to midnight had been scheduled for that night, a Saturday.  Niles supposed the event had lured the large number of minors to the shopping center, and, unfortunately, into danger.

He approached Detective Krewelski who was questioning one of the uninjured survivors.  The African American boy’s eyes flashed in the darkness as he recounted his tale.

“I just heard boom boom boom and then I turned the corner and I see Rickie on the floor,” he gasped.  “Me and my friends, we ran for the woods,” he added, pointing to the copse of trees beyond the lights.

“Did you recognize the shooters?” Krewelski asked.

The boy shook his head.  “I didn’t see nothing.  I just ran.”

Cruz appeared at Niles’ side.  “We could use your eyes on the lot to find shell casings,” she said.

“Assuming the shooters used automatics,” Niles added.

“Revolvers are getting scarce these days,” Cruz mourned.  “They don’t kill fast enough for most people.”  She clucked her tongue and shook her head.

Together, Niles and Cruz searched the lot, pointing out the fallen casings for CSI techs to collect.

After a few minutes, Niles determined they’d found them all.  He stood with his hands on his hips as he surveyed the scene of chaos from a distance.

“Humans are stupid,” he said.  At Cruz’s sharp look, he added.  “Only creature on earth that deliberately and with malice aforethought, kills their own children.”

Cruz folded her arms, studied the disaster, and nodded grimly.

“Yep, Niles, humans are stupid.”

 

(c) 2020 Newmin

 

Niles comments:  This crime is still unsolved.  Metro Crime Stoppers of Maryland is offering up to $2,000 for information that leads to the arrest and charges in connection with the Rosedale shootings. Police ask anyone with information to call 410-307-2020.