The setting sun painted the horizon purple, orange and red when it sank beyond the sea of reeds. The oar locks creaked as Walter Cooksey steered the little boat along the mud flats.
Niles Gule, being a vampire, appreciated the sun retiring. He detested being abroad in daylight. Only now that darkness crept near could he comfortably travel with his fellow police officers to the tidal flats of the Chesapeake Bay.
In search of crabs.
Why would a vampire do such a thing? This thought wandered through Niles’ mind as he sipped a beer and watched the reeds slowly scroll past. He had no interest in crabs because vampires didn’t eat seafood. They sucked blood from humans and gnawed on their bones. Niles, having taken a vow of abstinence, lived exclusively on land-based proteins like beef, pork, or venison. When he agreed to go crabbing he knew he’d give his two companions his catch. So why had he agreed to spend the weekend setting crab traps with Williams and Cooksey?
Because, Niles thought, taking another sip of beer, they’re the closest thing you have to friends. He considered the odd couple, Williams younger, huge, dark-haired, then Cooksey aging, fat and balding. What a pair.
Williams commanded Cooksey to stop. The chubby little man shipped his oars and tossed the small anchor over the side with a plunk.
“Bet I’ll get more than you,” Cooksey boasted as his watery blue eyes studied the darkening inlet with the wisdom of an experienced crabber.
“You’re on.” Williams rocked the boat as he stood to collect his traps. “What’s the stakes?”
“One week’s pay and a case of beer. Good beer. Not that cheap shit you always buy.”
Niles glanced at his bottle of Bud. No argument there.
“Can I get in on the bet?” he asked, desperate to be friends with these two humans determined to hate him.
Williams rolled his eyes but Cooksey grinned. “Absolutely.” When he noticed Williams’ scowl he protested. “It’ll be like taking candy from a baby! What does a Ghoul know about crabbing?”
“Nothing.” Niles adjusted his long legs in the confines of the little boat. “Yesterday was the first time I ever set a trap.”
Cooksey chortled. “There’s a skill to this, Ghoul. It takes intelligence to bring home good crabs.”
“So you’re saying I’m guaranteed to win then?” Williams quipped.
Cooksey whacked his partner with a bumper. “I’ve been crabbing these waters since I was a kid. I’m winning this bet.”
Williams hauled his traps up hand over hand. One by one the cages appeared, murky water running off them in sheets as he pulled them into the boat. By now the sun had faded. Cooksey lit a Coleman lantern and counted the crabs Williams dropped into a bucket.
“Twelve. Huh!” Cooksey scoffed while Williams rebaited his traps with more chicken then sent them over the side.
“That’s not bad!” Williams protested.
Now it was his turn to take the oars. He moved the boat along the inlet to a second arm where Cooksey had set his traps the day before. He dropped anchor, then Cooksey fished his collection of crab traps from the bay. Niles held the lantern as the little man counted.
“Fifteen!” Cooksey did a little dance in the middle of the boat, almost sending the lot of them overboard. He pointed a finger at Niles. “You’re going down, Ghoul. Get ready to cough up a week’s pay.”
Niles shrugged. “I can afford it.” He would surrender his paycheck if it convinced these people he wouldn’t eat them.
Williams gestured to the oars. “Your turn, Ghoul. Put your back into it.”
Niles shot the man a cool glance before he took the seat between the locks. He was a vampire, with a vampire’s incredible strength. One pull sent the boat flying. Williams nearly pitched overboard and Cooksey yelped as he grabbed the lantern.
“Shit, Ghoul! This ain’t a race,” Williams growled.
Niles smiled, his eyes glowing yellow in the lantern light. He saw Williams shiver and cursed his damned eyes. The convex shape of his iris directed light to his retinas which gave him excellent night vision. But it also added an unearthly shimmer to his gaze that made humans nervous.
After a few minutes, they arrived at where Niles’ had set his traps the day before. Because Cooksey insisted on secrecy for his treasured crabbing spot, the three men had each gone out alone to set their traps. Only because of a shortage of skiffs to rent had they come out together to empty the traps.
Cooksey considered Niles’ location. “You can’t catch anything here! The water’s muddy and shallow.”
Niles shrugged. He shipped the oars and dropped the anchor. Then, to the surprise of his companions, he jumped over the side. He landed up to his knees in brackish water.
Cooksey howled. “You don’t have a clue how to crab, do you, Ghoul?”
“Do you need the lantern?” Williams asked.
Niles raised a supercilious brow. Night had fallen. The two humans could see nothing, but to Niles the world existed in clear black and white. He could see the bank of reeds and the small ribbon he’d tied to one to indicate where he’d placed his bait. He kicked around with his feet until he hit it.
Steeling himself against the revulsion of putting his hands in that awful water, Niles bent down and grasped his bait. With a heave, he tossed it into the boat.
Williams and Cooksey both yelled and scrambled backwards, almost tumbling from the boat as the dead body landed between them.
“Shit, Ghoul! You used a dead person?” Williams stared in horror at the corpse covered in crabs.
Niles pulled himself into the boat and fastidiously wrung the water from his trousers. “Sure, why not?” He counted. “Thirty-six. I win.”
“Jesus!” Williams’ eyes were white orbs.
“Did you kill him?” Cooksey asked breathlessly.
“Of course not!” Niles scowled. “What do you think I am, a murderer?”
Their aghast silence answered him.
“Well I’m not!” Niles huffed with affront. “He was a homeless guy. Died of a heart attack.”
“You don’t use people as bait, Ghoul!” Williams yelled.
Niles pointed to all the crabs covering the body. “It worked.”
“Sure did!” Cooksey exclaimed. He started pealing the critters from the body and dropping them into the bucket.
“You aren’t going to eat those are you?” Williams demanded.
Cooksey blinked. “Crabs, Jonas! They’re crabs!”
“They ate some dude! He’d got no eyes, Cooksey!”
Cooksey looked mutinously at his partner. “Crabs are crabs, Jonas. It’s not their fault a vampire baited them.”
Williams looked ready to use Niles as bait next. Grumbling, he jumped into the rowing seat, pulled the anchor and set them moving.
“What now?” Niles asked.
“We have to get this guy back and officially log him as a dead dude,” Williams grumbled. “Although how the hell we’re going to explain it I’m not sure.”
“He had a heart attack crabbing,” Niles offered.
“What will you do with the crabs?” Niles asked.
Cooksey beamed. “Crab fest at my place! Who’s in?”
Niles and Cooksey looked at Williams. The man’s face had turned several shades of green. But now he was looking at the bucket of squirming crabs.
Slowly he raised his hand.
“In,” was all he said.
© 2016 Newmin