Gule Goes to the Dogs

“Oh, good Lord!” Mariella Cruz moaned as she careened her tiny, powder blue Fiat into the parking lot.

The perky little Latina slammed on the brakes, throwing her six-foot-six partner, Niles Gule, into the dashboard.  The blond vampire cursed as he gripped the grab bar to keep from being tossed out the window when the Fiat spun to a stop.

After righting himself, pulling his knees out of the dash, and smoothing his suit jacket, Niles considered what had upset his easily frazzled detective partner.  They’d skidded into the middle of a parking lot surrounded by woodlands.  The overhead lights cast circular pools of amber glow onto the tarmac, revealing chaos in all directions.  A modern, angular building stood in front of them, lights blazing even at midnight.  Niles caught glimpses of people scurrying about inside.  He felt as if an anthill had been stirred with a stick.

Popping out of the car, Cruz flicked her thick, dark ponytail off her shoulder, stiffened her spine and prepared to take control of the situation in her usual, no-holds-barred manner.  More slowly, Niles unfolded his long, lean body, which had never fit well in the Fiat, shook the kicks from his legs, and considered the problem.

He got no further than thinking, hell, what a mess, before a barking dog raced past him in a sprint for the woods.  A woman dashed after it, yelling “Bongo!  Bongo!”  The pair clipped the vampire, sending him spinning against the Fiat.

Muttering invectives, Niles straightened and tried to determine what in the name of heaven was going on.  Before he could do so, however, he found himself gritting his teeth when he spotted uniformed officer Jonas Williams sauntering towards him through the pandemonium.  The giant man’s grin could illuminate the parking lot.

“If it ain’t the Ghoul!” Williams chortled.  He planted his ham-like fists on his hips as he considered first the vampire, then the disaster.  “This is gonna be good!”

Niles scowled.  He brushed invisible dirt from his suit as he decided how to proceed.

Not a simple question.  The nightshift of the Baltimore Police Department had been called out to a break in at the Maryland SPCA just off the Jones Highway in north Baltimore.  However, the perpetrators hadn’t been after money, of which the SPCA had little.  Instead, they were apparently animal rights activists who threw open all the cages and set the animals free.  Three patrol cars had responded to the emergency.  Officers scurried here and there rounding up escapees.  Jonas, being the most senior officer on site, elected not to join in the chase but instead directed his men, not that much directing could go on with dogs, cats, rabbits and assorted other creatures bolting for freedom.

Ignoring it all, Cruz marched into the building.

Almost tripping over a man trying to catch cat, Niles followed her.  Although his night vision was exquisite (he was a vampire after all), he knew better than to chase after loose animals.  Most found his unique biology off putting and didn’t like him.  He didn’t think running around after frightened cats would be helpful.

Not that entering the building turned out to be any better.  Dogs were still loose inside the offices.  A Great Dane lumbered towards him as he closed the door.  It stood nearly as tall as him, all gapping mouth, loose jowls and slobber.  Niles yelped and backed to the door when the dog bounded to a stop in front of him and started barking.

“Knock it off, Little Kitty,” yelled a man talking to Cruz.  “Sit!”

The dog ignored him.

Little Kitty!  Niles stared the huge dog in the eye.  Who were they kidding?

“Nice Little Kitty,” he said, trying to smile.

Wrong thing to do.

His smile revealed his ever growing fangs.  The dog flinched.  Its eyes narrowed and it began to growl deep in its throat.  When it bared its canines at Niles, the vampire was instinct bound to snarl back.  That set Little Kitty barking, snarling and snapping.  Then, to the vampire’s dismay, a huge black shadow appeared next to the Dane.  Although shorter than Little Kitty, this dog was a big, beefy mound of fur.  The Newfoundland woofed, flashing white teeth which set off the Dane further.  More barking ensued.  Niles couldn’t stop himself from flashing his own teeth back at them.

“Stop teasing the dogs, Gule!” Cruz complained when she found the source of the commotion.

Niles was plastered against the door, surrounded by two of the largest breeds of dog on the planet.  When he tried to ease around them, a third dog joined the fray.   A Chihuahua grabbed his pant leg and with a high-pitched snarl started to tug.  Between the big dogs growling in his face and the little one dragging at his leg, Niles almost went down.

With a huff, Cruz stomped up, grasped the Newfoundland by the collar and pulled it back.  “Gule, we don’t have time to play with the dogs.”

“I’m not playing!” Niles snarled, darting to put a desk between himself and the dogs.

The SPCA volunteer grabbed the Chihuahua.  Holding the writhing, snapping demon from hell, he said, “They’re not normally like this.  The break in is scaring them.”

Niles wanted to say something about which part of the equation was more scared than the other but bit his tongue.  Straightening his clothes for the third time that night, he considered the volunteer who glared at him like he’d assaulted a baby.

“Friend of yours?” the volunteer asked Cruz, muzzling the Chihuahua with his hand.

Cruz gave a brittle smile.  “Worse, Mr. Myers.  He’s my partner.  He and animals don’t always get along.”

To punctuate her comment, the Newfoundland woofed and tried to jerk free of his collar.  Cruz hung on.

“That’s an understatement,” Bob Myers chuckled.  He backed away with his angry Chihuahua as if Niles was more apt to attack it than it was to attack him.

Not appreciating the nasty vibes Myers and Cruz were sending his direction, Niles sniffed.

“Seems to me you can handle the questioning,” he said, edging towards the door.  “I’ll just head outside and help with the roundup.”

Cruz lifted her brows as she struggled to keep Tiny the Newfoundland from leaping for her partner’s throat.  “What do you think you can do to help?”

Niles shrugged.  “I don’t know.  But whatever it is, I’ll be more useful out there than in here with Cujo and company.”  His hand found the doorknob and he backed outside.

Drawing a breath of relief, the vampire enjoyed the arms of night wrapping around him once again.  Then a man raced by chasing a cat.  Wanting to be of some use, Niles sent his night-adjusted eyes sweeping the parking lot, seeking an animal that either didn’t attack vampires or that he could control once he caught it.  He was a long time looking.

Eventually, after most of the loose animals had been rounded up, Niles finally found success.  With a cry of glee, he spotted his quarry.  A jog across the parking lot nabbed him his prey which he proudly returned to the SPCA building.

Niles shouldered his way inside where Cruz was reviewing the security tapes with Myers.  They both blinked when he entered, his prize held proudly before him.

“Caught one!” he said.

“So you did,” chuckled Myers.

Smiling, he took Ferdinand from the vampire and gently placed the tortoise in his cage.

Cruz busted up laughing.

 

 

© 2017 Newmin

 

Niles comments:  I’m not much of an animal lover, as this tale shows.  But that’s no reason why you can’t help out rescue organizations.  They always need supplies, funding and volunteers.  Bob volunteers by walking dogs.  What can you do to help?

 

 

 

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Gule’s Day in Court

“Now, Detective Gule,” defendant’s counsel Tate stated in the same droning voice he’d used in court for the past three hours.  “Having arrived at the Roadkill Café and finding it in chaos due to a brawl, you indicated that you separated the warring parties and questioned them.  Can you explain to the jury what the plaintiff, Mr. McAnally, claimed caused the argument?”

Niles Gule flicked a glance from his brilliant blue eyes at the plaintiff who gazed back at him steadily, unaware a vampire was on the stand.  Niles didn’t care for Mr. McAnally.  The businessman struck him as arrogant and self-entitled.  He’d been a pain for this entire case, which was, in the vampire’s opinion, a waste of time and taxpayer resources.

“He was too agitated to discuss it.  Instead, he demanded the defendant, Mr. Rosenstein, be arrested.”

Tate feigned surprise.  “Did he say what for?”

Niles nodded.  “He did.  He said Mr. Rosenstein had stood on the stage with a microphone and loudly declared to everyone in the restaurant that Mr. McAnally was a lying, thieving, bastard, son-of-a-bitch.  He proclaimed that Mr. McAnally had promised to pave Mr. Rosenstein’s parking lot, taken a $10,000 down payment, then claimed weather and the state of the parking lot made performing the work impossible.  Thus, he’d robbed Mr. Rosenstein.  Mr. Anally was infuriated that his pristine character would be so maligned in a public sphere.”

“Did he actually use the word pristine?” asked Tate.

“He did.

“What did you do?”

“I explained that calling someone names wasn’t a criminal offense and I therefore could not arrest Mr. Rosenstein.”

Tate’s thin lips began to curl into a smile.  “How did Mr. McAnally react to that?”

Niles’ blue eyes shimmered as he studied McAnally.  The man glared back defiantly, sure of his righteousness.  His chin even lifted imperiously, challenging the detective on the stand.  “He didn’t react well.  He became… excited.”

“So what did you do?”

“I told him if he needed recompense that badly, he should sue Mr. Rosenstein for slander.”  Niles waved a delicate, long-fingered, white hand.  “Which is why we are all here.”  He tried to convey his disgust by the weight of his words.

Tate tapped his fingers together.  “Switching gears for a moment, detective.  Did you in the course of preparing for this trial investigate the plaintiff and defendant?”

“I did.”

Rosenstein, a smallish, balding man stiffened.  McAnally smirked.

“What did you learn about how Mr. McAnally supports himself?”

Niles glanced at his tablet computer which held his notes.  “I discovered Mr. McAnally professes to earn his living in the construction trades.  However, he uses his company not to build anything but to bilk customers for half-completed work and services that were never performed.”

“Do you have proof of that?”

When the plaintiff’s attorney Themapolis objected, Judge Blumenthal asked for relevance which Tate provided.  Niles proceeded to list five separate cases in the state of New York where Mr. McAnally had been found guilty of fraud.

Tate’s smile broadened.  “Now, regarding the plaintiff’s upbringing.  Did you happen to learn anything pertinent about that?  Where he was born, the nature of his childhood?”

Once again, Themapolis objected.  Blumenthal called for a conference at his bench and a quiet discussion ensued.  When the two attorneys stepped back, Themapolis was fuming while Tate almost danced a jig.

He turned to Niles.  “Detective?”

Niles glanced at his notes again.  “Mr. McAnally was born in Las Vegas as the third child of Annabelle McAnally.  As Annabelle was a prostitute and apparently unable to care for her son, she followed the same procedure as with her prior two children.  She placed her son with her maternal grandmother who raised the boy through his school years.   Roger McAnally failed to graduate high school.  Instead, he disappeared for several years, reappearing in New York City as an adult where he set up his construction business.”

Tate circled the courtroom with his hands behind his back, bliss on his face.  “Regarding that construction business.  You’ve already testified that he was found guilty of fraud in New York.  Did you discover anything else about how he managed McAnally Construction?”

Seeing McAnally’s face growing steadily redder, Niles fought not to smile.  “I did.  McAnally tended to suffer from cash flow problems and difficulty paying his bills.  To cover payments, he would steal materials from construction sites, claim them as his own and resell them to intermediaries and scrap dealers.”

“Objection!” yelled McAnally himself, jumping out of his chair.  “That’s slander!”  His beady eyes hardened.  “I’ll sue you next!”

Niles held still while the judge thumped his gavel and ordered the plaintiff to be quiet.  Meanwhile, poor little Rosenstein sat bewildered at his side of the courtroom.  His face told Niles he didn’t have a clue what any of this had to do with his ill-advised behavior at the Roadkill Café.

Another discussion ensued between the attorneys and the judge then Niles was asked to continue.

“It’s not slander,” he said in his cool, even voice.  “Two charges for illegal taking of materials have been filed in New York City and one here in Baltimore.”

Tate nodded sagely.  He asked a handful of additional questions then allowed Niles to leave the stand.

Curious to see how the jury ruled, Niles found a seat in the gallery and settled in for the long haul.  More witnesses were called, objections raised and dispensed, and a picture of Mr. McAnally as a disagreeable person who’d sue Mother Theresa over a bad haircut developed.  Meanwhile, Mr. Rosenstein came across as a bedeviled apartment owner who felt he’d been cheated.  Unfortunately, he was unable to prove his claims.

That led to Themapolis declaring Mr. Rosenstein was guilty of slander and should pay his client the half million dollars McAnally demanded.

After Themapolis rested, Tate stood to address the jury. Planting his hands behind his back, he gave his closing arguments.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have proven to you with our evidence that the plaintiff, the man who claims his pristine reputation has been sullied by my client, has been convicted of telling falsehoods under oath.

“Also by our evidence, we have proven that this pristine plaintiff has been convicted of theft by illegal taking.

“Further, with our evidence, we have proven that, on the date of his birth, his parents were not legally married.

“So, Ladies and Gentlemen, as a matter of law, my client cannot slander a person with the truth.  Truth is a complete defense.  My client called the plaintiff a lying, thieving, bastard.  These facts are not in dispute.”

He drew a breath before adding his last thought.  “And as for the son-of-a-bitch part … I’ll leave that to your best judgement.”

With that Tate sat down.

Niles chuckled quietly as Judge Blumenthal declared the defendant innocent.

 

© 2018 Newmin

Happy New Gule!

The vampire didn’t need to see his reflection to know just how awful he appeared.  The looks on his coworkers’ faces conveyed the bad news without words.

Uniformed officer Jonas Williams glanced at his wristwatch.  “It’s not even ten pm, Gule!  And you’ve already tied one on?  You sure like to start your New Year’s celebrations early.”

Niles Gule started to bare his fangs in the traditional vampire threat display, but stabs of pain stopped him.  Instead, he narrowed his brilliant blue eyes at his nemesis while he willed the three images of Williams to coalesce into one.

His lips tight and his mouth barely moving, Niles grated, “I specifically asked for tonight off.”

“Like Sarge would give you that!” scoffed the big officer.  He waved at the crowds moving through Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  “It’s all hands on deck tonight.”

Niles’ partner, the feisty Latina Mariella Cruz, peered up at him with worry creasing her brow.  “What’s wrong?  You look horrible.”

“Even for a vampire,” shot Williams.

Niles kicked Williams’ ankle before he grudgingly answered Cruz.  “I needed a trim.   Doc Delorento slipped me after sunset.”  Wincing, he bared his teeth to reveal a set of smooth canines in line with the rest of his gleaming white teeth.

As a vampire on the wagon and trying to pass as a human, Niles periodically required his fangs shortened.  The operation entailed a brave dentist willing to abrade the fangs flat and there weren’t many of those in Baltimore.  Furthermore, human compatible analgesics didn’t work on a vampire, so the appointment was two hours of sheer hell to make Niles feel vaguely human.  It never worked.  Without his fangs, he was a fangless vampire.  But he was still a vampire.  Afterwards, telling himself it was to soothe only the physical pain, he drank himself silly, vodka being his chosen libation.  Before his boss ordered him to work, Niles had consumed a fifth of the cheap stuff just to reduce the agonies in his mouth and soul to dull, persistent throbs.

A group of people near the Pratt Street Pavilion began launching consumer grade fireworks.  With a curse, Cruz marched off to stop the offenders.  Niles, meanwhile, cringed at the detonations.  His head exploded with sound and his eyes stabbed him mercilessly at the sudden flashes of light.  He threw his arm across his face to protect his delicate vision.

Williams grabbed his arm and tugged.  “Good lord, Ghoul!  You’re worthless tonight!”

Niles muttered that he’d told the Sarge that exact fact but he’d still answered the call to service.  His eyes blinded by stars, he could only follow as Williams dragged him from the plaza towards the Calvert Street Pavilion.  Once inside, Niles recoiled.

“Not here!” he exclaimed.  He’d face the misery of fireworks rather than the evil that lurked within the shopping mall.

Williams scowled.  “What?”

Niles’ gaze, bleary though it was, froze on the marble table in front of the Fudgery.  A local teen was working a puddle of melted chocolate over the cold surface, slowly converting it into fudge.  The warm, enticing, evil aroma of chocolate suffused the area and Niles’ mouth began to water.  Chocolate!  Vampire heroin!  Last year, he’d made the mistake of landing in this exact position, eaten a pound of that luscious, exquisite poison, not knowing what it would do.  And he’d awoken in New Jersey, having no idea he’d run naked through the state on a chocolate high.

Scrambling around tourists, Niles launched himself towards Calvert Street, away from the chocolate and the fireworks.  His feet slid on the tile floor.  The world spun.  The fireworks, the vodka, the chocolate overwhelmed him.  He barely made it to the sidewalk before he crashed to the ground.

—–

The sound of someone’s deep breath in his ear jerked the vampire’s eyes wide open.  Disoriented, Niles stared up at a discolored ceiling and tried to determine what had happened to him.  He was lying on his back in a bed that smelled musty.  The sheets were not his one-thousand count high gloss sateens but instead felt cheap and rough against his bare skin.  A quick assessment indicated he was naked.

Oh god!  What had he done this time?

Turning his head, Niles nearly leaped from the bed when he saw Williams lying beside him, his eyes closed, his hands crossed peacefully on his furry chest.  Ringing head, or no ringing head, Niles scrambled to free himself of the bedclothes.  In doing so, he fell out of the bed and landed on his rump on the sticky carpet.

At the sound, Williams turned and grinned.

“Morning, beautiful.”

Horror filled Niles.  As he scuttled away from the bed, his hands encountered his jockeys.  He stayed on the floor to pull them on.

“What happened?” Niles demanded.

Williams shrugged his beefy shoulders.  “Are you saying you don’t remember our night of passion?”  He wriggled his brows suggestively.

“No!”  Niles clambered to his feet.  Waves of revulsion ran through him.  “I do not.  We didn’t… you’re not like that!”

“How do you know?”  Williams propped his chin on his hand as he rolled onto his side.

“I just do!”  The vampire panted in panic, willing his brain to remember.  He glared at Williams, begging him with his eyes to refute the unspoken insinuation.  But Williams only chuckled evilly.

“I wonder what Cruz will say about this?” the policeman mused.  He stretched for his phone on the bedside table.  “Maybe I should call her.”

“No!”  Niles leaped across the bed in a single lunge.

Caught off guard, Williams scurried backwards and tumbled from the bed, revealing he still wore his uniform slacks, belt, socks and even his shoes.  He was only bare to the waist.

Niles’ eyes widened.  “You bastard!  It was a damned trick!”

Williams couldn’t keep from buckling with laughter.  “You ought to see your face!”  He slapped his thighs.  “Priceless!”

Rage burned Niles’ eyes from blue to yellow to red in seconds.  He instinctively bared his filed fangs and hissed his fury.  Williams, seeing the incensed vampire, realized that perhaps he’d gone too far with his joke.  With a yelp, he bolted from the motel room.  Niles was instantly on his tail.

Out the door Williams pelted, into the parking lot and towards the dumpsters alongside the small, dilapidated roadside motel.  Wearing only his jockeys, Niles sprinted after him.  He leaped at Williams near the dumpsters.  The two landed in a pile of garbage bags, sending papers puffing in a cloud around them.

 

Behind the front window of the Starbucks across the street, Baltimore police detectives Krewelski and Jackson settled into comfortable leather seats to watch the

action.

After taking a sip of his cinnamon infused Brazilian double shot, Krewelski sighed with pleasure.

Garbage

“Williams was right,” he said to his buddy as they clinked their coffee mugs together.  “This is better than the Mummer’s Parade”.

 

© 2018 Newmin

 

Niles comments:  Yes, another New Year’s Eve and another bad experience with chocolate.  Hopefully you had a better evening than I did.  Here’s to 2019 and another year experiencing life together!  Cheers!

Gule Experiences a Silent Night

The vampire’s footsteps slowed.  His brilliant blue eyes, exquisitely attuned to see in the dark, studied the building warily, a fundamental dislike uncurling from his bones.  Oblivious to his distress, Niles Gule’s perky little partner, Mariella Cruz, tugged on his hand to draw him forward, in her exuberance not noticing his reluctance.  When he turned mulish, his feet planted to the concrete, she was forced to whirl around.

“Come on, Niles!  My family can’t hold our seats forever.”  She gave his icy, white hand a rattle.

Niles’ gaze flicked between her warm, beautiful face with its shining eyes, to the dreaded edifice before him, also warm and beautiful with shining eyes.  Angel eyes.  Eyes that condemned.

Cruz’s brow puckered.  “What’s wrong with you?  You’ve been dragging your feet all evening.  You’re always punctual.  To a fault.”

The vampire continued to hesitate.  Knowing Cruz always got what Cruz wanted, he drew a deep breath.  “It’s a church, Mariella.”

Her face was all smiles.  “Of course it is!  What did you expect on Christmas?  That I’d take you to a mosque?”

Niles’ feet remained affixed to the concrete.  He couldn’t believe she didn’t understand.  “It’s a church, Mari.”  He hoped his hard stare would convey his feelings.

Cruz wasn’t getting it.  “When I invited you to join the family for Christmas, I assumed you understood we’d go to services first.  The party’s afterwards.”  She tugged hard on his hand with both of hers.

Niles’ grip tightened around those warm fingers, feeling the thrill he always did when she touched him.  Vampires were solitary creatures who staked out territory and fended off all comers.  Only alphas tended to have mates and although Niles was becoming the alpha of Baltimore, he hadn’t accepted a vampiress as his mate.  So he’d lived in a world devoid of touch.  Until now.  Cruz, although human, desired him.  Touched him whenever she thought she could get away with it.  In the darkness on the street outside St Ignatius Catholic Church, she didn’t worry about gossip.

He continued to balk.  “You’re dragging a vampire into a Catholic church.  Are you missing the irony?”

Cruz stopped tugging.  Her luscious red mouth formed an O.  “Oh, God!  I’m so sorry!  I forgot.  You can’t be near a cross, can you?”

The humor made his lips twitch and his gaze soften.  “No, I’ve no issues with crosses.”  His long white fingers dug beneath his tie and shirt collar to pull up a golden cross hanging from a delicate chain.  “I’ve worn this for two years against my skin without ill effects.”

Cruz studied the small bit of gold.  Her brow puckered again.  “I don’t understand.”

Tucking the cross into its hiding place, Niles explained.  “Vampires and humans have been at war since the Dark Ages.  Back then, the Catholic Church was almost like an unseen empire.  It held sway over all of Europe.  When the Vanapir attacked and ate people, the locals called on the one protector they knew they could trust, the Church.  So for almost two thousand years, the Vanapir have been at war with the Church, whose symbol is the cross.  Vampires avoid crosses for a reason similar to why Jews avoid swastikas.  They leave a bad taste in our mouth.”

Cruz shot a look at the brick church with its arched, stained-glass windows.  Her voice grew plaintive.  “But you’re not at war with the church.  Not you personally.  Nor is the church with you, really.  Not anymore.”

Niles nodded.  “True.”  Cruz’s pain ran as a soft throb through her words.  Her beliefs were inviolate, the Roman Catholic Church an integral part of her life.  Of her soul.  He was the antithesis of that.

“I told you a relationship wouldn’t work.”  He tried to say the words gently as he pulled away.  “Go to your celebration.  I know it’s important.  Say hello to the family for me.”

Cruz’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she fought to have everything she wanted.

“Wait!” she called before he’d completely turned his back.  When he hesitated, she stamped her foot.  “Stop the bull crap, Niles.”  She thrust a finger at the church.  “You don’t have a beef with anyone in there.  Not the priest or his assistants or any of the parishioners.  You aren’t at war with anyone but yourself.”

Niles lifted a cynical brow at that profound statement.  He remained still, waiting.

She held out her hand.  “Come with me, Niles.”

Still, he hesitated.  “I don’t belong there.  I don’t know anything about your religion.  I wouldn’t know what to do.  What to say.  What to think.”

Cruz snorted.  “Neither do half the people in there.  They only come out for Christmas and Easter.”  She snagged his hand and hauled on it.  Her tight grip told him she meant business.  “I’ll explain as we go.”

To say he was reluctant was an understatement, but Niles had learned that what Cruz wanted, Cruz got.  And a vampire sitting beside her inside a Catholic church on Christmas was one of those things.

Miracles never cease, he mused, settling on the pew between Cruz and her brother Xavier.

Having never been inside a church before, Niles gawked.  The nave was a huge, rectangular space with white walls that curved gently to become a high, flat ceiling.  Intricate plaster work framed paintings and the windows.  An altar surrounded by candles filled the front of the space.  Although he wasn’t certain, Niles suspected the wealth of pine boughs, holly and golden ribbon adorning the altar and its surroundings had been added for the season.

The lights were dimmed so that the space flickered with candlelight.  A murmuring hush cascaded through the space, the voices a single susurrating wave ebbing like bathwater in a tub in the near darkness.  Papers whispered as worshipers read bulletins or flipped pages in hymnals.  A small child piped a staccato question and was shushed by its mother.

At the first words of the choir singing Come All Ye Shepherds inviting believers to the celebration, the priest and his assistants paced up the aisle.  A child at the head of the procession bore a censer which swayed to his strides.  The rich smell of the incense struck Niles right in the nose, which he shoved into his scarf as he sneezed.  Like the parent shushing the child, he hated to disturb the quiet majesty of the scene.  Cruz patted him and rested her head against his shoulder.

The ceremony continued with the priest reading from the Bible and the congregation joining him in certain prayers.  They sang carols, stood, sat and knelt following some unknown formula.  Cruz merely nudged his elbow up or down to indicate what Niles should do.  When the time came for communion, Cruz whispered he should remain seated while the family went up to the altar.  He was glad of it.  He’d never understood the concept of changing wine into blood and bread into flesh.  He also didn’t comprehend why eating people was a crime when a vampire did it, but humans found it totally acceptable in their church.

Confused though he was, Niles was nevertheless absorbed into the solemn yet joyful occasion.  He felt the passion of those around him.  Their voices raised in song vibrated the air.  The words of the prayers spoken in unison held a magic that could, he truly believed, perhaps change the world.  A soft pain grew in his chest.  A longing to be a part of this family, because though they were strangers to each other, at that moment in that church, they were one.  Niles sensed it.  And that he could become part of it if he tried hard enough.  He felt the prick of tears that never quite fell.

When the ceremony ended to the triumphant Carol of the Bells, accompanied by a hand bell choir, Niles rose with the Cruz family and filed out.  He felt breathless, like he nearly touched something precious.

“So what did you think?” Cruz asked when they were outside on the sidewalk.  Her voice puffed clouds of steam in the frigid air.  Her eyes, bright with Christmas enchantment, gazed up at his hopefully.

Niles struggled to find the words.  “It was magical,” he finally breathed.

Cruz exhaled slowly.  “So maybe you’ll come back to church with me again?”

Niles felt the little woman’s golden noose inch ever closer to his throat.  And yet he didn’t have the will to fight against it.

“Maybe,” he said with a smile.

“A vampire converted to Catholicism,” Cruz said with a chuckle.  She slid her arm into his to follow her family to the parking lot.  “Tis a Christmas miracle!”

© 2018 Newmin

 

Niles comments:  My apologies for posting late this week.  Given the above only occurred last night, I needed today to recount it to my biographer and Mel needed time to pull it together to post it.  I hope all my readers enjoyed a Merry Christmas.  And for those of you at St Ignatius Catholic Church, thank you for not staring too much at the vampire in your presence.  And thank you for allowing me to join you in this precious moment.

 

 

Gule is Blinded by the Light

Being a vampire, Niles Gule didn’t celebrate Christmas.  Which was why, when his partner on the Baltimore police force called upon him to aid her sprawling, Mexican-American family prepare for the holiday, he’d scratched his blond head in confusion.  Refusing a request from Cruz, however, was taking one’s life in one’s hands since his feisty little partner took no prisoners.  He was commanded to appear at the Cruz abode just after sunset with an appropriately festive attitude.

Cruz lived with her mother and aunt in a tiny bungalow in a scrappy East Baltimore residential neighborhood.   As the vampire strolled along in the encroaching darkness, he considered the Christmas displays that were transforming the tired, drab buildings into twinkling miniature castles.  One house had filled its front lawn with lighted inflatable reindeer, snowmen and a Santa Claus.  Another house preferred the large C-4 lights popular during the 1950s.  Yet another possessed a Victorian flare with greens and apples in a wreath on the door and a small, genuine sleigh filled with presents on its porch.

Arriving at the Cruz residence, Niles found a crowd of Cruz’s on the lawn chattering in Spanish.  His brilliant blue eyes, exquisitely attuned to darkness, easily discerned boxes scattered on the lawn.  Although at five feet tall, Mariella Cruz was the tiniest member of the family, she was nevertheless in charge.  Her strident commands to her recalcitrant brothers rang out down the otherwise peaceful street.

Her face beamed when she caught sight of the tall, lithe vampire strolling up the walk.

“Niles!  Excellent timing!  Get over here.”

Nodding greetings to her five brothers who milled around like lost water buffalo, Niles snaked between the boxes and tried to read what was scrawled on them.

He saluted Mariella.  “Niles Gule reporting for duty.  What is all this?”

Mariella puffed a black bang off her forehead, telling him she was hot under the collar even though the night air was crisp and cold.

“Mama wants to win the Best of Baltimore contest this year.  Since she doesn’t have much stuff to work with, I’ve gathered all the family decorations so we can put something together for her.”

Niles considered the various boxes.  “Does any of this stuff match?  Will the display make cohesive sense?”

Mariella nearly choked.  “Oh, Lord, Niles!  Get with the holiday spirit!  What does cohesiveness have to do with a Christmas display?”

Niles shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Shouldn’t this … whatever it is… have a theme?”

Xavier stabbed at his little sister with a finger.  “That’s what I said.  My stuff’s tinsel and gold.  Manolo’s into sticks and twigs.”

“It’s called naturalistic,” Manolo complained.  “I like my Christmas to have a rustic look.”

“Well, mine is 70s retro,” German said, kicking a box.  “Snoopy’s doghouse is the sleigh being pulled by twelve Woodstock reindeer.”

Manolo gave his brother an arch.

“This is going to be a disaster!” moaned Jaime.  “Do the plugs even match?”

“What do you mean, do they match?”  Xavier stomped his foot.  “Are yours European voltage or something?”

Jaime shoved a plug into Xavier’s face.  “Grounded.”  Then he shoved another from a different box.  “Not grounded.”

Mariella swatted the offending plugs away.  “We’ll make it work.”

Niles rubbed a brow.  “What am I supposed to do?”

Mariella was already digging into a box.  “You’re here because you’ve got such good reach.”  Her dark eyes raked his tall, lanky form.  “And you’re more fit than most of us.”

“Fit?” Niles edged away from German, a big, beefy man who could pound him into the dirt with a single fist.  “I would disagree.”

“You see best in the dark,” Mariella continued, still rooting around.  She dumped a massive snarl of light strings into his arms.  “You can start by untangling that.”

Studying the five-pound knot, Niles decided he’d spend the rest of the night just getting it straightened out.  Which was probably a good thing, he realized, as he stepped aside to allow General Mariella to command her troops.

Manuel, the tech geek, darted into the house with his computer equipment.  His task was to coordinate the lights with music via his Ho-Ho-Ho-Rama Instant Professional Backyard Christmas Light Sho software.  Not only was he the smartest of the brothers in terms of his tech savvy, but Niles quickly figured out he was the smartest, period.

Manolo was to set up the Snoopy sleigh which he did with much complaining about how tacky it was, earning himself a cuff upside the head from Xavier.

Jaime tackled stringing a series of battered plastic candles along the driveway.  Within minutes, he was cursing in beautiful Spanish as the candles insisted on falling down one after another each time he got them standing upright.  At a certain point, he lost his temper and drop kicked one onto the neighbor’s lawn.

Mariella sent German up the ladder with a staple gun, white fiber snow and one end of the lights Niles was untangling.  When he reached the peak of the roof, German also reached the end of the line Niles had untangled.  With a jerk, he hauled on the light string.  That unexpected tug pulled Niles off his feet.  He tumbled into the line of candles, sending them toppling yet again.  Jaime nearly kicked Niles into the neighbor’s lawn.

“Let go!” German yelled, tugging on the knotted lights.

Niles scrambled to his feet, still clutching the lights.  “I haven’t gotten them untangled.”

German stomped down the roof to the eave and yanked again.  Unwilling to relinquish the task Mariella had assigned to him for fear of a beating, Niles hugged his knot to his chest.  Not realizing the innate strength of a vampire, German tugged too hard and pulled himself right off the roof.  With a wail, he tumbled headfirst towards the ground.  With a yelp, Niles tossed the ball of lights and caught German just before he hit.  The vampire stumbled backwards and wiped out the line of candles for a second time.

Hijo de puta!” wailed Jaime.  “I give up!”

“People!” Mariella clapped her hands.  “Knock off the horsing around.  Let’s get this done.”

Disentangling himself from German, Niles decided to handle spreading strings of lights on the bushes, something that seemed safe.  Meanwhile, the brothers continued fighting and the off-kilter display slowly took shape.  Manuel nearly electrocuted Xavier when he tested his show while his brother was still holding a live wire.  Mariella worked inside the house putting up the huge, white plastic and tinsel tree in the center window then incrusting it in lights and ornaments.  When she was finished and turned it on, it blinded Niles who painfully closed his eyes against the glare.

Finally, all was ready for the big reveal.  The family, Mama Cruz included, gathered on the sidewalk.  Like the infamous Christmas Vacation movie, the family rattled their tongues in a drum roll and Manuel hit the button to start the show.  And like the movie, nothing happened.

“What?” Mariella and Manuel exclaimed at the same time.

Jaime face palmed while Xavier and Manolo burst out laughing.

Mama Cruz glowered at her entire brood.

Manuel dashed into the house to check the fuse box.

“Try the switch in the basement,” Niles murmured, recalling what had caused the problem for the Griswolds.

But that wasn’t it.  Nor was it a fuse.  Or a connection.  For several hours, the family tried everything, but the huge light display wouldn’t turn on.  Finally, in desperation, Mariella called an end to the night and suggested they head out for pizza.  She ran inside, turned off the Christmas tree, grabbed a coat and returned.  Just as she stepped outside the lights blazed on in all their glory.

“What?” she and Manuel exclaimed.

Not that anyone cared.  The lights were working.  Mariella wanted to see the display with the inside tree lit up so she ran back inside to plug it back in.  Just as she returned to the lawn, the outdoor display went out.

“What?”  She and Manuel sputtered, unable to believe it.

“Too much power on one circuit?” suggested Manolo.

His lips twitching, Niles pondered the problem.  “Mariella, go back inside and unplug the tree.”

Annoyed, she did so.  When she returned outside, the lights blazed on.

“It’s you!” exclaimed Jaime.

Mariella scowled.

Niles shook his head.  With a pale white hand, he gestured for her to unplug the tree again.  When she did so, the display outside flicked on and blazed to the heavens.  Niles shifted his feet then told her to plug in the tree one last time.  She did so and returned, but this time, the outdoor display stayed on.

“So what’s the catch?” she demanded.

Niles moved his foot.  The outside display flicked off.

“What?” Mariella and Manuel stood gaping.

Niles moved his foot again.  The lights blazed forth.

Manuel glared at the vampire.  “What’s the trick?  Some vampire voodoo?”

Niles laughed.  “Vampire voodoo doesn’t affect Christmas lights.”  He shifted his foot and again the lights turned off.  He pointed at the ground.  “You put the light sensor right in front of the window.  Every time Mari plugs in that lighthouse beacon of a tree, the sensor thinks the sun has risen and turns off the display.”

“Oh.”  Mariella and Manuel spoke in unison.

Jaime slapped Niles on the shoulder.  “Thank God, that’s resolved.  Now we can go for beer.”  He winked at Niles.  “I guess it takes a vampire to understand the rising sun.”

 

© 2018 Newmin

 

WhiteTree

Gule Takes a Wallop

The view was unexpected.  Giant satellite dishes gleaming whitely in the sun.  Rockets on the launch pad pointing skyward just waiting to spring free.  Buildings with the look of Secret Government Black Ops – Stay out! – about them.  The complex appeared out of empty countryside when Mariella Cruz tore around a sweeping corner and the woods gave way to fields.  Niles Gule, Cruz’s partner on the Baltimore Police Force, on vacation with said partner, frowned at the sight.  The pair had traveled for nearly an hour out of Ocean City, Maryland to this remote place, passing by towns long forgotten and too many abandoned houses to count.  He swore they’d driven to the back of nowhere.

And yet, after they whizzed through a crossroads where a tavern, a bank and a gas station stood leaning against each other as their paint curled away and vines crawled out of their innards, this strange, futuristic place suddenly appeared.

“What is it?” the vampire asked as the complex drew closer.

“Wallops Island Flight Facility.”  Cruz’s smile could outshine the sun.  “So my surprise really is a surprise, huh?”

“But what is it?  And what’s it doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“It’s not exactly in the middle of nowhere,” Cruz chided.  “The Atlantic Ocean is right over there and so is Chincoteague.  I thought we’d head there for dinner and watch the ponies.”

“We saw ponies of Assateague.”  Niles’ eyes, safely protected from the blazing sun by wrap-around blacked out sunglasses, studied the facility.  “And we rode one.”

Cruz laughed.  That was a memory she’d not forget, riding a wild pony with a vampire.  She gestured at the array of satellite dishes.  “Wallops Island is where NASA launches its suborbital stuff.”

“Meaning?”

Cruz took her eyes off the road to give him a surprised look.  “I thought you knew everything!”  When he shrugged, she explained.  “They launch smaller rockets from here.  Not the big Saturn 5 things that took man to the moon.  Smaller ones that go into low orbit.  For sticking satellites up there, launching weather balloons, that sort of thing.”

She pulled the car into a space before one of the buildings.  “Williams has a cousin who works here,” she said.

“Williams has a cousin in every city of every nation,” Niles grumbled.

“Don’t complain, it’s convenient.”  Cruz popped out of the car.  “He got us a behind the scenes tour.  No hanging out in some lame visitors’ center for us.”

Six-feet-six Niles unfolded himself carefully from the tiny Fiat.  An hour cramped in a tuna can played havoc on his long limbs.  Yet he had to hurry.   To survive just the short walk between the car and the launch facility, he needed a hat and scarf to keep the sun from broiling him.  Contrary to myth, vampires didn’t vaporize in sunlight, but they suffered terrible radiation burns that could kill them.  Niles seldom ventured out during the day but Cruz had insisted for this side trip on their vacation, they had to take it during business hours.  Now Niles understood why.

Williams’ cousin Herb met them at the door and ushered them into a high tech workshop.  Herb was just what Niles would have expected for a NASA employee.  He was short and balding, with thick glasses.  He wore a white shirt and dress slacks but no tie.  His face beamed with pride as he took his two guests on a personal tour of the facility, chattering as he went.

Although he was an alien whose ancestors had come from the stars, Niles wasn’t particularly interested in the space sciences.  However, he found the tour fascinating.  Herb took them right through the workshop, hoping over this, sliding carefully around that.  Niles and Cruz looked around with avid interest.

The guts of a rocket lay spread open on a table, wires dangling, control modules circling around like the victim of a robotic horror movie.  To the left rested a giant plastic tarp which Herb explained was the skin of a weather balloon.

“Be careful,” the man warned.  “We don’t ordinarily let visitors in here.  Sensitive stuff.  But since you’re friends of Jonas, he convinced me you’d be cool.”

“We’re definitely cool,” Cruz agreed.

Herb looked up at tall, blond, Nordic Niles.  The look on his face told them he concurred.

“What’s the rocket out on the launch pad?” Cruz asked.

“An Antares.  We’re testing parachutes to be used to land rovers on Mars.”  Herb stopped near a control board where several people studied computer screens when one of the scientists, an African-American lady wearing a name tag of Greer, flagged him down.

He gestured at them absently to wait.  “Hold on.”

He bowed his head and listened as the woman pointed to something on her screen.

“That’s odd.  Where’s it coming from?”

Greer lifted her hands.  “That’s what’s so strange.  It’s not terrestrial.  At least I don’t think so.”

Herb leaned in and typed some commands.  The screen changed.  His frown grew deeper.

“What the hell?”  He tried something else.

Curiosity getting the better of them, both Cruz and Niles edged closer to see what was happening.

“It’s not something that will affect our launch schedule at this point,” Herb commented, “but we definitely need to figure out where that signal’s coming from.  I don’t like it.”

“Do you think it’s the Russians?” Greer asked, partly in jest.

“More likely the Chinese,” Herb said with total seriousness.

Greer started then turned back to her screen.

Niles couldn’t help using his superior eyesight to study the screen.  Even at a distance of several feet, he could clearly read it.  It portrayed a graph with signal frequencies.  Alongside ran a list of coordinates indicating where the signals were originating from.  Three were local, probably from the facility itself.  But one appeared to be coming from space.

“Looks like a repeater of some sort,” Herb murmured.  “Like an automated beacon.”

Greer picked up a telephone.  “I’m calling Houston.  See if they’re getting this.”

Niles reached in and took the phone from her.  Even as she gasped, he placed it back in his cradle.

Herb rounded on him.  “Excuse me.  Don’t interfere.”

“I have to.”  Niles gave the three humans a hard look from his brilliant blue eyes.  “I know that signal.”

Cruz gasped.  “What?  How?”

He tried to bore a hole in her head with his gaze.  “Let’s just say I’ve encountered it before.”  He turned to Herb.  “Leave it be,” he said.  “If we’re all lucky, it will move on.”

Herb sputtered.  “Now wait a minute!”

Niles pulled the cable from the monitor so that it went black.  “Do everyone a favor, Mr. Williams.  Forget what you just saw.  And pray it goes away.”

“Who are you?”  Herb demanded.  His eyes darted between Niles and Cruz.  “Who are you really?”

Niles tugged on Cruz’s arm.  “Let’s go.”

Cruz protested, but at the hard stare, she relented.  With a flop of her shoulders, she allowed him to drag her from the console.

“Niles!  What is going on?  What’s that signal?”

Niles waited until they were outside before he rounded on her.  “It’s nothing good, Cruz.  I’ve seen it before.”

Cruz planted her hands on her hips.  “Yeah?  Where?”

“At my father’s house.”  Niles drew an unsteady breath.  “It’s a Vanapir signal.”

Wallops

 

© 2018 Newmin
Niles comments:  Yep!  All true.  One of those hidden little gems that takes work to find.  If you’re into rockets and space flight, Wallops should go on your bucket list.

 

Gule is a Riot

Niles Gule had never been particularly fond of beaches or the human habit of invading them each summer.  As a vampire, he couldn’t fathom the desire to strip down to one’s underwear, slather on baby oil, and lay on hot sand to broil beneath a blazing star.  Since vampires did none of those things, a trip to the beach tended to be lonely business for Niles.   Since he only ventured beaches at night, he seldom met humans during his moonlit strolls.

This time, however, he was at the beach and wasn’t lonely.

Because his partner, the feisty Mariella Cruz, had chosen this destination and demanded Niles come with her.  And whatever the tiny Latina wanted, by God, she got, dragging her six-foot-three vampire in her wake.

So there they were at Ocean City, Maryland, enjoying Sunfest, the seaside village’s last hurrah before it closed down for winter.  The festival, a combination of musical acts on two stages and a craft show, took up a parking lot alongside the beach.  Since Niles couldn’t venture out during the day, he and Cruz slept until sunset before rising for a lazy breakfast and hitting the festival.

A steady breeze tugging at her thick, black ponytail, Cruz breathed in the salty air.  “Gotta luv the beach!”

Niles grabbed her arm and pulled her aside just as one of the ubiquitous gulls cruising above Thrasher’s Fries released a bomb.

“Just don’t look up with your mouth open,” he chuckled.

Cruz snuggled into the vampire’s side for safety.  Since Niles had made the mistake of kissing her one afternoon when he’d temporarily lost his mind, she used any chance she could get to plaster herself to him.  He didn’t want to complain because how could any man dislike all that soft, warm, curvaceous cuddliness pressed up against him?  And yet, Niles tried to keep her at a distance.  His vampiric urges to suck blood and his long lifespan made forlorn hope of developing a lasting relationship with her.

“Let’s check out the craft tents,” Cruz suggested.

A suggestion from Cruz was never really a suggestion.  Her warm fingers snatched Niles’ cold, pale hand to haul him towards the festival.  Because they made such a mismatched pair, short, dark haired, dark skinned Cruz versus tall, blond, Nordic Niles, they drew looks from everyone sauntering the boardwalk.  Cruz didn’t care.  She had shopping on her mind.

To avoid the crowds packed in front of the craft stands, Niles paced down the center of the aisle while Cruz plowed in like a dynamo, determined to see what she was determined to see.   When she emerged from the melee, most times she bore a bag which she handed to Niles.  Before they’d reached one end of the first tent, Niles bore ten different bags and was running out of hands.

Since his only purpose was to be Cruz’s valet, Niles entertained himself by watching the crowds.  He’d always been a people watcher.  The habit came with being a vampire.  In his youth, he’d study humans looking for the weak ones he could hunt down and kill.  Now that he was older, wiser, and following an ecologically sound, human-free diet, he simply loved to watch their antics.  People watching was a fantastic spectator sport.

Virtually the entire crowd was made up of senior citizens.  Niles saw more canes, walkers and wheelchairs than he did people walking unaided.  One woman had come to the festival ready to spend.  She pushed one stuffed shopping buggy ahead of her and dragged behind her a second one overflowing with country decorations which she used to bulldoze a path ahead of her.  An elderly man struggled to defend his wallet from his three voracious grandchildren who pleaded that they really needed the glow-in-the-dark sticky goo.  Niles, and he suspected the grandfather, had visions of those charming little cherubs winging gobs of goo at each other.  He could only imagine the mess that would result.  And then there was the large woman in the motorized wheelchair who insisted on purchasing a yoga mat and matching pants and a blinkie light to hang on a bicycle.  Curious, Niles eavesdropped on her telling her friend she intended to start a new program as soon as winter ended.

Niles glanced out the tent at the October evening drawing in damp and chilly and thought she had a long time before she faced the consequences that decision.

The highlight of the festival was a stand selling plastic flowers.  Although Cruz ignored the stand, a hoard of women encircled it.  Huge plastic flowers on long metal stems rose and fell as people made their picks, paid for the purchases and shoved a path out of the melee.

“What does one do with a neon colored plastic flower?” Niles asked with a pucker between his brows.

Cruz gave the flowers a quick glance.  “One plants it in front of one’s camper,” she said.

When Niles’ pucker didn’t relent, she shook her head.  “You’ve never been to a campground, have you?”

Niles drew himself up in afront.  “I most certainly have!  When I traveled to upstate New York in the winter of 1898, I stopped several times with my fellow travelers and we formed a camp.”

Cruz burst out laughing.  “Not that kind of campground.  A modern one.  As in RV’s and campers?  The poor man’s Riviera?”

Niles’ continued look of confusion made her hit her forehead with her fist.

“You are such a snob, Niles!”

Niles huffed but didn’t answer.

A scuffle broke out at the flower stand.  Niles stiffened as one woman exclaimed another had hit her in the face with a plastic flower.  The second denied the accusation, but when the first one pushed her, she fought back by stabbing at her opponent with a flower stem, nearing putting out the woman’s eye.  That brought several women into the fray and within seconds, plastic flowers were flying as women bashed each other with them.

“We’ve got to stop this,” Cruz said.

Before Niles could grab her, she marched in to separate the combatants.

Niles knew she was in over her head.  The plastic flowers were too flimsy for the women to score with, so once they were bedraggled and destroyed, canes were added to the battle.  Niles winced when one elderly lady with blue hair began beating on a heavyset woman with a walker.  Her friend came to her defense, blasting blue hair with her tote bag.  Cruz took a whack across the back of her head from a purse and nearly went down.

Seeing that, Niles waded forward, hands outstretched.  “Ladies!  Please!  Some decorum!”

He might as well have been shouting into the wind for all the attention they gave him.

Concern for Cruz sent Niles into the fray.   Wading in, he found her and hauled her to safety.

“I hope security is on their way,” she panted.  Her hair had come loose from her ponytail and she couldn’t see.

“This calls for something bigger than security,” Niles replied.

His eyes swept the area, seeking the appropriate weapon.  At the sound of crying gulls, he knew just what to do.

He ran for the Thrasher’s Fry stand where the crew was preparing to close shop.  Niles didn’t bother to stop or explain.  He simply grabbed several of the huge buckets of fries that had been left at the end of the day and raced back to the battlefield.  Security had arrived but seemed helpless in the face of twenty some elderly women beating each other with mobility equipment.

Niles waved for Cruz to get out of the way then he let the fries fly.  They tumbled in a warm, oily rain atop the women.  Instantly, the gulls took aim.  A flock of some fifty of the gray rats with wings pounced on the women, seeking the fries.  Yells erupted as the women shifted from beating each other to beating off the birds.  Then they bolted.  Niles watched with a pleased smile as the crowd of women scattered in all directions, leaving a tattered flower stand covered with a seething mass of gulls.

Cruz planted her hands on her hips and glared at Niles.  “Do you really think that was the best approach?”

Niles shrugged.  “It worked.”

Cruz fought to find a comeback but failed.  Shaking her head, she bent to pick up one of the sources of the problem, a neon yellow plastic flower.

As she twirled it around, Niles held out a bucket.

“Would you like fries with that?”

 

 

© 2018 Newmin

 

Gule Rides the Pony Express

Niles Gule was finally forced to admit it.  Taking a vacation with his partner on the Baltimore Police Force, Mariella Cruz, had been an inspired idea.  He’d resisted taking her away for a long weekend because he feared what might happen between them.  Cruz desired him and made no effort to hide the fact.  She was steadily maneuvering him into a corner from which he’d never escape.  That night, he wondered why he’d want to.

Because the night was magical.  Black velvet pinpricked by white stars arced overhead while a sliver of a moon rose above the mists over the ocean.  Off in the distance, lights danced on the water, a line of jewels tracing the mainland edge of the bay, while to the north an amorphous glow filled the sky above the town of Chincoteague.  But everywhere nearby, the world was dark and devoid of humans.

He and Cruz were paddling in separate kayaks along the long, thin sandbar that was Assateague National Seashore, a protected spit of land untouched by development.  The island slumbered in darkness lit only by the stars and the moon.  Niles knew of several camp grounds on the ocean side of the island but here on the bay side, all was silent.

He and Cruz were probably the only two people out that night, since humans didn’t generally kayak at midnight.  Vampires, however, did.  And Niles Gule, being a vampire, had little choice.

Dipping her paddle to slow her progress ahead of him, Cruz twisted around to ask, “Getting hungry yet?”

Niles allowed his kayak t drift.  “You do realize I’m a vampire, correct?”

At her puzzled frown, he sighed.  “I’m always hungry, Cruz.  Twenty-four hours a day.  Seven days a week.  Three-hundred-sixty-five days a year.  Awake or asleep.  I am hungry.  Vampire hunger never abates.”

He saw her delightfully tanned face pale.  “Really?”

Niles felt a stab of pain to the depths of his soul.  She could never understand him.  Not completely.  Because their biology was just too different.  Which was why he tried to hold her at bay.  Vampires and humans made poor lovers.  Humans found vampire aloofness intriguing while vampires were drawn to human warmth and vivacity.  But eventually, his ravening hunger would overcome him which terrified him.  He wouldn’t, couldn’t eat the woman he’d grown to love.  So he thrust himself away from her.  Only to have her chase him anew.

“Really,” he said quietly.

Cruz sobered and allowed her kayak to drift in the still water while she pondered that weighty concept.

“Would you eat me?” she finally asked.

Niles sighed and tried to smile.  “I endeavor every day to remain on my diet.  No humans.  Ever.”

His words perked her spirits.  Then, her face lit up.  “Remember, I’m anemic.  Low iron levels.  I’m sure I taste bad.”

In the darkness, Niles chuckled, a sound that would terrify normal humans.

“I’m not,” he murmured.  Then he caught himself before his lascivious thoughts got both of them in trouble.

Dipping his blade into the murky water, Niles propelled his kayak slowly through the hectares of salt marsh.  Marsh grass grew in rich swaths, the only plant that could survive the brackish environment.  In places where sand had accumulated, small island hummocks stood covered with scrubby pine and bushes, but most of the marsh was thick, black mud covered by grass in an endless sea reaching into the darkness.

As he allowed his craft to drift, Niles listened to the night sounds, birds calling, the splash of water as some night hunting creature dove for food, and the steady munch, munch, munch coming from the marsh.   A band of Assateague’s legendary ponies was grazing nearby.  Niles could see them clearly, a dark brown stallion and three pinto mares, contentedly eating their fill.  The group ignored the two humans paddling within a few feet of them as they ignored pretty much everything.  They had no predators on the island and were protected from human interference as a national treasure.  Their ancestors had washed up on the island centuries ago when some Spanish Conquistador’s galleon sunk in a storm.   There they’d remained, generation after generation, living high on the rich pastures of marsh grass.

Cruz decided she was ready for the snacks she’d packed for the trip.  She nosed onto semi-dry land and splashed out of her kayak.  A nearby hummock with its tiny sand beach would serve as their dining room.  Niles followed behind her.

While she laid a blanket on the sand and set out her picnic under the glow of LCD lanterns, Niles assured the kayaks didn’t float away.  When he arrived at the blanket, he found her already digging into pasta salad.  The meal she’d packed for him, raw beef, sat still wrapped in butcher’s paper.

Sitting down beside her, he unwrapped the steak and chewed on it like a burrito.  In quiet companionship, the pair enjoyed their dinner and absorbed the serenity of the island.

When they finished, Cruz packed up the picnic and sloshed through the march to where Niles had parked the kayaks not far from the band of ponies.  Just as Niles rose, he heard her shriek.  That was followed by splashing and cursing.

The vampire was beside her in an instant.  She stood in the march, hopping on one foot and muttering invectives in Spanish.

“A snake bit me!” she exclaimed.

Frowning, Niles knelt and placed her wounded foot on his bent knee.  He slipped her sock down from her ankle and grimaced.  Two small, bloody tooth marks marred her skin.

“Oh hell.  Did you see what it looked like?”

“It looked like a snake!” Cruz smacked his shoulder.  “Are the snakes here poisonous?”

“How should I know?  I’m a city born vampire!”

“Oh!”  Cruz moaned.  “It burns, Niles.  It really burns.”

That snapped it.  Against his better judgment, Niles wetted his lips and pressed them to the wound.  He tried to suck the poisons out but the punctures were too small.  So with a grimace and yet a thrill of pleasure, he sunk his fangs into that slim ankle.  Ignoring her shout of pain, he drew deeply, savoring the taste of human blood and its life giving iron.  Instinct begged him to keep on drinking.  His head whirled with pleasure.  And yet the taste was off-putting.  Cruz’s blood was thin, almost watery. Not his favorite vintage.

With a shudder, he pulled clear, hoping he’d gotten the worst of the poison.  Licking his lips, he closed his eyes and struggled to gain control of himself.

“Niles?”  Cruz’s voice was plaintive, worried.

“Maybe that helped,” he muttered.  Her. Not him.  It didn’t help him.

It wasn’t the total solution either.

Niles remained kneeling in the muck while he considered options.  His eyes caught sight of the kayaks, but they were single person.  He couldn’t paddle her to safety and he didn’t think having her paddle herself was a good idea.  If the snake bite was poisonous, holding her still was important to keep the venom from spreading.  His eyes swept the marsh, calculating distances.  Had to be a mile to the island proper across nothing but salt march.  He could carry her, but it would be slow slogging.  Then his eyes landed on the ponies.

Any port in a storm!

Telling her to remain still, Niles tore off his flotation vest then the cotton shirt beneath it.  His talons made quick work slicing the fabric into strips which he hastily knotted into a rope.  Then, allowing his vampire eyes to glow yellow, he approached the ponies.

Heads came up.  Mouths full of grass slowed their chewing.  Huge eyes studied him, unafraid but untrusting.

Niles cooed, using his ability to transfix prey to keep them from bolting.  The stallion stood closest.  Niles continued his song until he was alongside.  Then he looped his cotton rope around the stallion’s head, creating a makeshift bridle.  With it, he led the animal back to Cruz.

“Are you serious?” she demanded.  “They aren’t saddle broken, Niles.”

“Good thing, because I don’t have a saddle.”  Niles scooped her up and set her on the stallion’s back.  Then he leaped aboard.

The stallion’s head came up and he made a weak attempt to buck them off, but Niles locked his long legs around the animal’s barrel and hung on.  Then he whacked its rump with his palm.  The stallion bolted.

Splashing through the salt march, it ran.  Clutching Cruz to his chest, Niles gripped with his legs and steered with a single hand, forcing the stallion’s head in the direction he wanted to go.  After several minutes of wild riding, the stallion galloped onto dry land and charged across the island.  Niles had to duck as the animal dashed beneath scrub trees and tried to rub his cargo off against bark.  It squealed in fury and bucked again, carrying all of them into a parking lot surrounded by campers.

At that moment, Niles released his grip and went sailing, carrying Cruz with him.

He landed hard on his back with Cruz landing on his stomach.  He belched out a groan and lay flat.

Campers and a park ranger raced from the camp ground at the commotion.

“What happened?” the park ranger demanded.  “What were you doing riding one of those ponies?”

Niles heard the words stupid tourist although the ranger didn’t say them.  He sat up and arranged Cruz on his lap.

“She was bitten by a snake.  I had to get her here in a hurry.”

The park ranger’s face conveyed his disbelief.  Then his brow puckered.  “Um.  Okay.”

“It was an emergency,” Niles insisted.

“Not really.”  The park ranger rubbed his brow.  “Not really.  There are no poisonous snakes on Assateague.”

© 2018 Newmin

 

 

Gule is a Real Turkey

Niles Comments:  Based on my conversations with some of you, you’re eager to know what happened on my trip to Ocean City with Cruz.  Given the holiday week, I’ve asked my biographer to hold off continuing that story and instead posting my adventures with turkey.  We’ll get back to Ocean City next week.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

And thank you for reading!

Fall evenings in Baltimore possessed a special loveliness.  Breathing the crisp air was like biting into a crunchy apple.  Not that Niles Gule had any idea what biting into a succulent Royal Gala tasted like.  Because he was a vampire and a strict carnivore.  That didn’t mean that he couldn’t imagine the act of biting into an apple, however.  It just didn’t thrill him.  Somehow, he doubted biting an apple was like biting in a soft, white, luscious neck.

He licked his fangs and swallowed, reminding himself he was on the wagon.  No biting humans.  They were off the menu!

As for what was on the menu, he had a good guess as he swung along through the streets of East Baltimore in the dark.  The date was the give-away.  Thanksgiving.  A time when America lost its collective mind, overdosed on turkey and other assorted noxious substances, watched football and fell into tryptophan induced comas.

Normally, Niles dreaded the holiday.  The concept of giving thanks didn’t exist in the vampire world, nor did gorging oneself on a large, overfed bird.  Vampires loved to gorge themselves, of course, but they would sink their fangs into a jugular and feed until their bellies rounded with blood.  Ah, heaven!

On top of that, Thanksgiving was a holiday obsessed with family, another idea confusing to vampires.  Like most of his brethren, Niles had been loosed from the nest at a young age to fend for himself.  He supposed he might possess brothers and sisters, but had never met them.  While he maintained a relationship with his father, odd amongst the Vanapir, that relationship was strained.  Father and son met seldom and their meetings held the chill of an Arctic winter.

For those reasons, Niles tended to remove himself from his homeland.  Some years he visited Canada, other Europe or the Far East.  He’d contemplated India this year before the invitation arrived.

Invitation.  Niles snorted.  Command performance was more like it.

Since he’d made the mistake of kissing his partner, Mariella Cruz, she was circling in, intent on landing him as a mate.  Word had gotten out to her large, rambunctious, Mexican-American family, and suddenly an invitation to the Cruz Family Extravaganza had appeared in his inbox.  Cruz had made clear he was expected to attend.

Mama Cruz wanted to run more assessments, she said.

Like there’s any chance I’m unworthy of her daughter, the vampire sniffed.  Pluhleeze.

Night had fallen dark and soothing with just a nip of frost in the air as Niles strode towards the Cruz bungalow.  He was a tall, lanky fellow, like most of his kind and made good time.  His strides swept him past shuttered businesses and closeted rowhomes.  Given the chill in the air, few humans were still about.  Most had better sense than to wander East Baltimore after dark.  But Niles wasn’t afraid.  He felt sorry for any human stupid enough to rob him.

The mood of the neighborhood changed from seedy rowhomes and decrepit businesses to small cottages on postage stamp lots.  Trees bare of leaves sprouted up to claw the star-filled sky.  An icy wind picked at Niles’ short, carefully coifed blond hair.

Although he knew exactly where the Cruz house stood on its block, he wouldn’t have needed to know because as soon as he turned onto their street, it announced itself.  Like all Cruz endeavors, the Extravaganza spilled out onto the front lawn and into the street.  Mariachi music echoed off the surrounding houses and was punctuated by the shrieks of happy children.

Niles came under attack when he passed under a street light.  Five children barreled at him and nearly took him down.

Laughing, he hauled two easily onto his shoulders and marched for the house, having no idea what the mob was yelling because he didn’t speak Spanish.

Chaos reigned inside the tiny house which bulged from too many Cruzes.  Niles greeted Mariella’s five older brothers, who, true to form, gave him hard stares, challenging him.  He gave them right back from his brilliant blue eyes, earning their respect for another year.  He was swept into a hug by Tia Juanita which startled him because humans didn’t ordinarily hug vampires.  Then Cousin Pedro shoved a glass of tequila in his hand and ordered him to drink it.  The strong concoction nearly choked him.

Mama and Mariella were in the heat of battle in the kitchen, slinging potatoes, carrots and gravy with abandon and jabbering in Spanish at blinding speed.  Niles gratefully accepted the suggestion from Tio Gillemberto  to sit at the table and chat until the food was served.

At the ringing of a fork against a glass, Mama Cruz commanded her fractious family to the table, which took up all of the dining room, ran along the hall and ended in the living room.  Niles, being an honored guest, sat with Mama and Mariella near the head of it.

“So,” Mama began, after grace had been offered, platters passed and the gluttony begun, “When are you going to make an honest woman out of my Mari?  You should know Mexican tradition.  Sleep with her.  Marry her.”

“Mama!” Mariella exclaimed, her face aflame.

Out of politeness, Niles had spooned a handful of items onto his plate, knowing he wouldn’t eat much of it. Thinking he might be able to stomach the turkey, he was just sampling it when Mama’s words made him blurt it back onto his plate.

Xavier pounded him between the shoulder blades.

Niles darted a glance at Mariella before wiping his mouth and addressing Mama with the deference he felt she deserved.  “I suppose that would be true if I’d slept with her.  But I haven’t.”

Someone sighed unhappily.  Mariella moaned.

Niles frowned when he saw Manolo slip German a twenty with a grimace.

“Told you he was a classy dude,” German pronounced.

Mama’s face fell.  “Why not?  Isn’t my Mari good enough for you?”

“Mama!” Mariella’s wail rose even above a Julio Iglesias tremolo.

Niles smiled politely.  “She’s too good for me, Senora.  I respect her and her family too much to be so crass.”

Mama twitched in her seat and scowled.  “We aren’t that special.”  She sounded annoyed Niles hadn’t despoiled her daughter.

Xavier leaned in to whisper, “Mama’s betting on you.”

Niles blinked.  He couldn’t imagine any mother hoping her daughter would fall in with a vampire.  But as he looked around the table at all the shining faces, he realized they didn’t see him as a vampire.  They viewed him as a wealthy Anglo who could provide for their precious Mari in the style they all felt she deserved.  He found himself rubbing his temples.

“Stop tormenting the lad,” Tia Juanita exclaimed, as if a vampire needed protection from a pack of Cruzes.  “Let him enjoy his dinner.  He’ll need his strength.”

Once again, Niles’ mouth popped open.  “Need my strength?  What for?”

Juanita humphed.  “Well, for tonight, of course.  The reason we invited you to dinner.”

Niles glanced around the table, wondering what torture these people had planned for him now.

Juanita thumped her hand on the table then shot a finger towards the darkened window.  “It’s Black Friday!”

Niles blinked, waiting for someone to give him the punchline.

“The most important shopping night of the year!” Juanita exclaimed.

When Niles still didn’t bite, she sighed.

“You’re a vampire!  You’re coming with us to get us into Walmart at midnight.”

“We’re not getting trampled like last year,” added frail Cousin Luz.

Juanita lifted her chin.  “What’s the point of having a vampire in the family if we can’t use him to beat a path through the mob and get us the best deals?”

“Oh!”  Niles sat with his mouth open again.

Mama Cruz patted his arm.  “It’s not just that, chico.  We wouldn’t just use you that way.”

Niles nodded.  “Thank you.”

“You’ll help us carry the 100 inch plasma tvs we’ve got our eye on.”

Niles felt himself deflate.  Across the table, Mariella had melted into the tablecloth as if she could disappear.  However, seeing the women eyeing him hungrily, Niles conceded defeat with a smile.

After all, he thought.  Isn’t that was family is for?

© 2018 Newmin