“I need to get laid,” Niles Gule grumbled.
“Don’t we all?” The big, bald, ugly bartender shook his head. His blood-shot eyes surveyed the tall, elegant blond, not realizing he faced a vampire. “I’d think a guy like you could land a lady for the night.” He pointed across the smoky room at a couple of women playing pool. “Greta over there charges by the hour.”
Niles didn’t bother to correct the bartender’s assumption he could hire a hooker to solve his problem. He didn’t need just any woman. In fact, he wasn’t sure he needed to get laid at all. He was merely speculating. Sex had saved Bill Murray. Maybe it would save him.
Although Niles now made Baltimore his home, he’d traveled to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog’s Day. To most of the world, February 2 was just a day like any other, but not so in the little town northeast of Pittsburgh. Since 1887, its people celebrated Groundhog Day with music, festivals, food and frivolity. During the fete a domesticated rodent would proclaim when winter would end. In its early years, the strange tradition passed unnoticed by the outside world, but with the invention of television weather forecasting, the world discovered Punxsutawney and a new holiday was born.
Niles, being one-hundred-fifty-seven years old, had taken part every year since the tradition’s inception. He’d been a mere twenty-eight years old that first year and stranded by a snowstorm. He’d joined the party since he’d nothing better to do. A quirk of humor sent him back every year to relive his lost youth. This year was no different. He’d come. He’d drunk too much, and collapsed in his room late that night to awaken the next day with a tremendous hangover.
And to find himself stuck in the same time loop that caught Bill Murray in the movie.
Like Bill Murray, Niles had tried to escape town by plane, train and automobile, but always re-awoke in the bed and breakfast with the morning television crews crowing about Groundhog Day. Calling for help from Baltimore hadn’t helped. No one could arrive in time to spirit him away. He continued to relive the same day over and over again.
Sleeping with Andie McDowell was how Bill Murray escaped. Niles’ chin sunk into his fist as he pondered the bottom of his glass of vodka. No Andie McDowell here now.
Niles knew the existential moral of the movie had been do good works and correct one’s karma. Except he felt his karma was on pretty firm ground. True, he’d murdered several hundred people in his youth. A vampire had to eat after all. But since his conversion two years ago, he’d shunned killing humans and survived only on beef and pork. He’d been a good vampire! He didn’t deserve to be trapped in hell in Punxsutawny PA.
What did the existential karma want from him?
“What it wants from all of us,” the bartender commented, jerking Niles from his brooding.
Niles frowned. “Excuse me?”
“You asked what the existential karma wants from you.” The bartender planted a beefy, tattooed arm on the glossy bar and leaned towards Niles. The vampire flinched at the smell of tobacco smoke that hung like a cloud over the man’s massive body. “Existential karma demands atonement.”
Niles blinked, trying to process that this hulking man was giving him a lesson in transcendental theology. “I don’t think that’s the answer to my problem.”
The man gave him a disparaging look. “I can tell you, laying some chick ain’t gonna do it either. If you’re stuck in the muck, which I suspect you are, you need to get your karma right.”
Niles’ blue eyes slid around to room. “Do you have lots of people come here stuck on a karma trip?”
The man shrugged. “It happens.”
Looking the man over, Niles found it hard to believe the bartender could resolve a cash shortage at the end of the night let alone cosmic harmony. “You advise them how to get out of it?”
Niles snorted. He spun his glass around. Considered.
“Okay. I’ll play. What if I’ve tried to atone for the things I’ve done?”
The bartender stabbed him with a finger. “There’s your problem.”
Niles felt his brows rising. “When a man has as much blood on his hands as I do, washing it off takes time.”
“Seems to me you have an infinite amount of that.”
Niles twisted on his stool and surveyed the bar. Outside the day was proceeding just as it had time and again for the past twenty loops. As a vampire, his life was almost unlimited. As a vampire stuck in a time loop, it promised to be eternal. He was stuck in an eternal hell.
“So I’m stuck in this town until I wash the blood of several hundred people off my hands?”
The bartender surprised him by grasping him by the hand and turning it over. The vampire’s long, slender fingers were pale white, the claws clean and neatly trimmed to hide their murderous purpose.
“Open your mouth,” the bartender commanded.
Startled, Niles bared his teeth. They were smooth and even, like human teeth. He suffered a great deal of pain once a month to have his mouth defanged by a dentist.
“You certainly are making an effort, I’ll grant you that.”
Niles’ eyes narrowed as he studied the bartender. “Who are you? How did you know I was a vampire?”
He received another shrug. “I’m many things,” said the enigmatic man. “Right now, I’m a bartender and I’m listening to some spoiled, prissy jerk moan about his woes, which,” he said spinning a fat finger in the air, “aren’t really all that earth shattering.”
“I’m not spoiled or prissy!” Niles reared back and jerked his hand away.
Another of those disbelieving looks.
Niles felt himself deflating. His only hope of escaping Punxsutawney appeared to be this bartender but the man clearly didn’t like him. “So what am I supposed to do?” he asked.
“Fix your karma.” An annoyed tone entered the man’s voice.
“I’m trying!” Niles caught himself. “No, really I am. You know what I mean. I’ve sworn off killing people. I’m working with the police to help others. I volunteer where I can. What more can I do?”
The bartender looked at him hard. “If you need me to tell you, you can’t do it.”
Niles swore. He swung around to leave but knowing what he faced stopped him. He sat with his back to the bartender mutinously.
“Karma isn’t what you do, it’s who you are, Niles,” the bartender stated softly.
Niles whirled around.
The bartender gave a gap-toothed smile. “Yes, I know who you are.”
“So what is a vampire that spent his life murdering people to do to erase the stain on his soul?”
“You make the changes you can make,” the bartender said. “And then, when you’ve done all you can, you forgive yourself.”
Niles blinked, finding his eyes threatening tears. Forgive himself? For all he’d done? Was it possible? He didn’t know, but like everything else, all he could do was try.
The bartender seemed finished with Niles. He ducked to pull a bottle from a low shelf. When Niles stood to look over the bar, he found the man had vanished. He sat back down with a thump, winded. Then he looked out the window, past the Miller Lite sign, and noticed a snow squall painting the town white.
It hadn’t snowed on Groundhog Day.