Vacation on the east coast of the United States often equaled a trip to the beach. New Yorkers to Long Island. Pennsylvanians to the Jersey shore. Virginians to the Outer Banks. Niles Gule, being a vampire, loved the beach but avoided the usual hotspots. Instead he selected a place few people visited. Niles Gule liked Asbury Park.
The town had suffered during riots in the sixties and had never recovered. Whole blocks of what should have been expensive, ocean-front property stood abandoned. The shell of a hotel stood half built, its loose metal banging fitfully in the steady winds off the ocean. The Wonder Bar still remained, a fragment of the town’s once vibrant past, its painting of Tilly smiling creepily. Further down Ocean Ave stood the famous Stone Pony, where Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and Jon Bon Jovi got their starts. Some new construction had finally begun to perk up the ocean front, but the town was a far cry from both its own glittering past and the liveliness of other Jersey shore towns.
The solitude suited Niles. As a vampire, he couldn’t sunbathe on the beach. Indeed the idea of being fried by the yellow orb that humans worshipped made him shudder. So when he came to the shore on vacation, he came out at night. Long after the sun set and most of the sun worshippers had gone home, the tall, blond vampire strolled the deserted boardwalk and considered the shops secured for the night. Crime was still rampant in the area and few people dared walk either the boardwalk or the beach after dark. But Niles wasn’t afraid. Although he carried only his silver knife, humans could do little to harm him. So he strolled alone through the darkness, the salty sea breeze plucking at his carefully trimmed blond locks. His eyes, exquisitely designed to see in the dark, read the signs in the shop windows and he chuckled at the tacky slogans on t shirts. His personal favorite was “I’m here for the blowjob.”
New Jersey. Nothing, if not classy.
When he’d had his fill of the shops, he headed onto the beach. The night was clear without a moon. Mars rode red just above the horizon, muted by the sea mist that rolled ashore with the breeze. The sea was calm, its waves shushing in an endless rhythm that soothed the vampire’s soul. He’d always loved the sea.
On that summer night, as Niles sauntered barefoot along the beach, the cool water washed up over his ankles, soaking his jeans to his knees. He chased shells through the foam, picked up driftwood and found some sea glass. Jingling his finds in his hand, he wandered back to his towel and sat down with a sigh. He liked the peace and yet, he felt loneliness lurking in the dark corners of his soul. He yearned for someone to sit beside him on that beach, to laugh at his silly shell collection. To kiss him under the stars.
Unless he surrendered to taking a vampiress lover, it was not to be.
A shadow flitting along base of the boardwalk caught his attention. He watched as what resolved into a middle aged black woman slipped between the piers that held up the boardwalk. Her furtiveness perked his curiosity and he watched her, knowing she could not see him the way he could see her. She stopped at a place where the sand had been scooped into a trough, peered around nervously, then crawled into the low, dark hole, dragging a plastic bag behind her.
Niles considered the hole. Considered the woman’s stealth. Considered the torn, dirty bag stuffed with belongings. Homeless, he thought sadly. Living under the boardwalk. He wished he could help but doubted she’d want his interference.
With a shrug, he turned back to watching the ocean.
Through the mist a man approached, walking along the beach towards him. Niles again watched, seeing the man as clearly as if the beach lay in sunlight. Once again, due to the darkness, the human didn’t notice him.
Niles tensed as the man drew closer, not liking the look of the fellow. His clothes were rough, his bearded face wearing a snarl. Like the homeless woman, he edged the boardwalk as if trying not to be seen by anyone walking above. He approached the entrance through which the woman had disappeared and ducked inside.
Once again, the vampire sighed and turned away. Another homeless person.
A scream from under the boardwalk sent Niles scrambling to his feet. He raced to the hole and peered inside. Dim, uncertain light flashed in the spaces between the pilings as if a lantern was swinging wildly. Niles heard scuffling and another scream. Drawing his knife and planting it between his teeth, Niles crawled in. Snaking on his belly, he worked all the way to the concrete seawall. There he found the nest the woman had made as her home. The man had attacked her. He’d crawled on top of her and was clawing to free her of her clothes.
Spitting out his knife and grasping it in his hand, Niles crawled into the space. He could stand because the ceiling in the little hole was loftier than the crawl space. He yelled and brandished the knife.
The man froze. His feral, red-rimmed eyes gleamed like fire in the dim light of the single Coleman lantern.
“Get out!” he growled. “I got this one first.”
The woman spat and clawed. She tried to kick her attacker but the thick clothes both she and the man wore got in the way.
Niles didn’t waste any time. He reached out with long, white taloned fingers and grabbed the man by the collar. With an easy tug, he lifted the man off the woman and dropped him to the sand in front of him. The woman scrambled away to huddle against the seawall.
Her attacker wasn’t finished. “You sonofabitch!” he yelled. His grimy hands scratched at Niles’ aristocratic face, its beauty seemed to enrage him further. Niles easily avoided the attack and raised his knife. Its blade gleamed in the uncertain light.
“That don’t scare me none,” the man chortled. He drew a Bowie knife twice the size of Niles’ smaller, more delicate weapon. “Size matters!” he laughed.
Niles decided he’d had enough. Allowing his anger to bloom through his cold veins, the vampire’s eyes shifted from their brilliant blue to a smoldering yellow and then to the hot, burning red of fury. He opened his mouth to reveal his fangs, long now since they’d not been trimmed in over a month.
The man recoiled in horror.
“Yes, size does matter,” Niles hissed. “When one is speaking of fangs!” He lunged forward. “Time for dinner!”
The man howled and scrambled backwards into a piling. Niles marched towards him, deliberately leaving the way out open. The man was no fool. He took it. He bolted around the snarling vampire, fell to his knees and scurried so fast through the hole he left a cloud of sand in the motionless air behind him.
Shaking his head, Niles allowed his anger to bank down so that his eyes returned to their normal blue. He sheathed his knife.
“Are you all right?” he asked the woman who sat curled up in the corner trembling.
Her eyes were white orbs staring out of the dark skin of her face. She barely nodded her head.
Niles studied the home she’d made for herself. Her bed was blankets spread over the sand. A pile of packing crates served as her dresser. Her sole light was the hissing lantern. What amazed Niles the most, however, were the sheets she’d hung for walls. She’d painted them. In black line drawings against the tattered and stained background she’d invented an entire house. One wall showed a bed piled with pillows. A second had a dresser with a window where the sun perpetually shined. The third held a mirror with a drawing of her face wearing a quirky, sad smile. And the last portrayed her door. If he allowed his imagination to roam, Niles realized it did indeed almost seem like a home.
“I won’t harm you,” he said, keeping well back from her. “I’m not what I seem.”
She pointed with a shaking finger. “I saw the fangs. Vampire.”
“Is there anything I can do to help you?” he asked. He knew better than to offer money. “Anyone I can call for you? Family perhaps.”
“I ain’t got none.” Her voice was bitter. She clutched her clothing tighter. “I don’t want no damned vampire in my house. Get out.”
Niles winced. Even to a homeless person with nothing and no one, he wasn’t wanted. Not that he was surprised. Sadly, knowing he could not help her any more than she could ever help him, Niles dropped to his knees and crawled from the nest. He then sat down on his blanket on the beach to watch the stars wheel through the night sky and ponder the meaning of it all.
When dawn drove him from the beach, the lonely vampire still didn’t have a clue.
© 2017 Newmin
Niles Comments: I’m thrilled to tell everyone that Rheb’s Candy is 101! How amazing is that? Imagine a family company surviving nearly as long as me? They’re celebrating this Friday, June 15. For those of you in the Baltimore area, visit them for free hot dogs and drinks from 11 am – 1 pm and lots of prizes. Alas, it’s during daylight so I will probably be sleeping. But you can go and stuff yourself silly on some of the best chocolates in Maryland.