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