Niles Gule arrived late to the game. Being a vampire, he’d waited until the sun set before venturing out to Dundalk on the southeast side of Baltimore. The night was unusually warm for winter, in the mid-fifties, which allowed for an outdoor game of basketball on the tarmac court of the local elementary school. About twenty kids between the ages of ten and seventeen played three different games simultaneously under the auspices of the Baltimore Police Department’s Police Athletic League. Several of Niles’ night shift co-workers had arrived before him. Being human, they could brave the weak winter sun of the late afternoon. Deshawn Jackson had coaxed the group to come out. He was a family man, a father of five, who championed any endeavor that supported children. Williams and Cooksey, two more officers on the night shift, had been strong-armed into playing.
A fight broke out between the various teams as soon as they laid eyes on the tall, lithe vampire. Not even knowing he wasn’t human, everyone wanted him on their team. Eventually, however, the team that claimed him discovered that being tall didn’t mean elegance on the basketball court. Not that Niles wasn’t agile and athletic. He was. He worked out several times a week at a local gym so he was sleek and toned. And being a vampire he was stronger than the average human.
The problem turned out not to be Niles per se, but rather the lighting. The courts were bathed in the yellow sulfur glow of overhead vapor lights. Unfortunately, they were positioned so that they beamed into his face whenever he wanted to take a shot, blinding him. His performance was not epic by any standards.
Williams, a huge man of Polish descent, who was tall, muscular and athletic, eventually hooted the vampire off the court.
“Sit down, Ghoul!” he chortled, giving the vampire a hard shove with his shoulder, sending Niles dancing to the sidelines. “Watch how real men play ball.”
Niles folded his arms and lanced Williams with his brilliant blue gaze. “Let me know when a real man shows up, Jonas.”
Even in front of all the children, Williams shot him the finger.
Undeterred by being rejected, Niles sauntered to a bench and settled with his long legs stretched out before him. A young lady with a forlorn expression sat there watching the game, her chin planted in her fist. Niles studied her. She was short and round. She wore thick glasses that gave her an owlish appearance. Her clothing looked like it had originally been worn in the nineteen seventies. Niles suspected he’d known the designer at one time. Even her jeans had butterfly patches on the knees.
He popped open a can of soda and sipped it. Then he offered a second to the girl.
“Don’t need it,” she said. Her voice was thick with the accent unique to Dundalk. “I never get to play enough to work up a sweat let alone get thirsty.”
She turned her head, myopic eyes blinking at the vampire beside her. “You really are blind, aren’t you?”
Niles tilted his head. “I suppose in a sense I am. Certainly under these conditions. What makes you say that?”
She gestured at herself. “Look at me. Would you put me on a basketball team?”
Niles ran his eyes over her. He didn’t see anything particularly wrong with her. “Sure.”
“Bull.” The girl planted her chin in her fist again. “I’m short, fat and ugly.”
“Wow, that’s pretty harsh.” Niles sipped his soda. “It’s also untrue.”
She snorted. Then she twisted her head and narrowed her eyes. “How would you know? Look at you! You’re gorgeous! Hollywood like. What are you doing in Dundalk anyway?”
“I work for the Baltimore police.” Niles turned the soda can idly with his long fingers. “I’m here to play basketball. And my looks, obviously, have nothing to do with my ability to play the game.” He nudged her lightly with his shoulder. “The same holds for you.”
“Tell them that,” she muttered, giving a dark look at the other kids darting around the court.
“You need to tell them that.”
“They won’t listen to someone like me.”
“Someone like what?” Niles tilted his head to look her in the eye.
“Someone short, fat and ugly.” The girl seemed to sag deeper into the bench.
Niles continued to play with his soda can while he considered her words. Something dark stirred deep in his soul, something that belonged with the night that swathed the court. He could smell the girl’s anger. Vampires were an angry people. The scent of human anger raised the vampire in him. His body shivered.
“You don’t know what ugliness is,” he said.
“No, you don’t!” She sat up straight and glared at him. “You with the blond hair and pretty eyes. Half the girls fainted when you walked up.”
He shifted so that he faced her. “And that makes me beautiful? I beg to differ.”
She made a face while she mouthed I beg to differ. “People like you haven’t got a clue. Life is handed to you on a silver platter. People fall all over themselves to be with you. You don’t even realize how easy it all is for you.”
Niles watched the game in silence while he mulled her words. She was only a child; he guessed she was thirteen. She had no idea the ugliness of his early years, or the pain he endured every night upon waking up, alone and virtually friendless. Some nights his instincts screamed for him to slip into the darkness and hunt down the nearest human, rip its throat out and suck it bloodless. Some nights he woke quivering, half in hunger and half in terror he’d act on that hunger. He was vampire trying to change his stripes. Some nights he thought the pain of loneliness and fear would kill him.
He didn’t realize his emotions had turned his eyes yellow until he glanced at the girl and found her staring. He suspected his face had twisted into a mask of anger and self-loathing. He certainly wasn’t beautiful when his true colors appeared.
“Wow, that’s like… wow!” The girl wasn’t afraid. She was fascinated. “How do you do that? Make your eyes change color?”
Niles looked away to hide them and willed himself to calm down. “It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not a pretty thing.”
“No, it sure isn’t. But it’s cool all the same.”
Niles’ lips twitched as they tried to smile. He nudged his chin at the game. “Can you play basketball?”
She nodded. “I’m really good, actually.”
Niles’ smile turned to a grin. “I’ll bet you are.”
He rose and gestured for her to come with him. “Let’s show them, milady,” he said with a grand bow.
“Show them what?” The girl popped off the bench, delighted by his gallantry.
Niles’ face shifted back to blue eyed and beautiful. “Let’s show them how ugly people play basketball.”
© 2017 Newmin