Niles Gule was alone on Christmas Eve. Although the vampire stood in the midst of a street party, he was alone. Although his long, white-nailed fingers clasped his wool coat tight to his throat, he was cold. A festival atmosphere filled the air, yet Niles didn’t celebrate. Because he was alone.
After suffering through a long afternoon of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story”, Niles fled into the streets of Baltimore to find solace amongst strangers. He possessed no family that would gather around the Christmas roast, no hoards of young relatives slavering to rip into presents under a tree. Although he’d been invited to the Lo family Christmas by his boss, Sergeant Tan Lo of the Baltimore PD, Niles felt uncomfortable impinging on the family’s celebration. He felt they deserved to enjoy this particular holiday without his ghastly presence. His partner, Mariella Cruz, also offered to absorb him into her Feliz Navidad festivities, but again, Niles refused. That family, too, didn’t need a vampire lurking in dark corners while they ate food he couldn’t eat, spoke a language he didn’t know, and enjoyed traditions that were alien to him.
Not that Niles was against Christmas. He wasn’t. He liked the joy and wonder that pervaded the air, the spirit of giving and camaraderie. To take part, he purchased gifts for his co-workers’ children. He strung lights and pine boughs around the balcony of his apartment on Lombard Street. He watched the parade of decorated boats in the harbor each year. He tried to fit into the sparkle and glitter. Unfortunately, vampires weren’t glittery people.
Since he had nowhere to go, Niles volunteered for duty Christmas Eve, freeing others to be with their families. He was on call, his cell phone in his pocket in the event of a vampire apocalypse or other tragedy. Otherwise, he was free to roam. So he did.
His feet had brought him to 34th Street where once a year the Miracle on 34th Street recurred. Since 1947 the owners of the Victorian townhomes converted the one block stretch into a Christmas paradise. Every house was decorated. Lights hung over the street with mistletoe and elves dangling. Festive music blared, blow up Santas waved and a herd of reindeer pranced in tiny front yards. Enterprising children sold sodas to hungry visitors. Due to the number of people, the street was closed to traffic. The Miracle was a giant outdoor block party with the City of Baltimore as its guests.
Niles sauntered through the crowds, vaguely smiling at the joy surrounding him. God, he wished he weren’t alone, he thought as he wended between laughing families. The winking lights blurred his vision and the smell of fried food was irritating. The jangle of music was harsh to his sensitive hearing, causing him to pull his knitted scarf over his ears. Eventually, the sounds, smells and gaiety robbed him of sanity and he fled into the darkness of the surrounding streets.
Niles ventured the night unmolested. Even the trolls who prowled in shadowy corners knew better than to mug the tall, silent vampire. His pain turned his eyes yellow. They glowed with enough satanic gleam to terrify the hardiest criminals.
Flashing lights piercing the darkness made Niles wince. The lights, however, were a beacon. A liquor store. Grimly happy because the one thing that soothed his tortured soul was alcohol, Niles headed straight for the vodka aisle.
No sense wasting good vodka on a bad drunk, he thought as he considered the cheap stuff on the floor. He knew he’d get totally reeling drunk. He hoped he’d be so plastered he wouldn’t mind spending Christmas alone in an empty apartment, facing centuries of loneliness.
As Niles bent to grab a bottle, the doorbell rang, indicating another soul had come for his tiny bit of Christmas cheer. Niles debated one fifth, then decided perhaps Christmas deserved a two-fer. He grasped two Heaven Hill vodkas marked down to 99 cents.
The barked command to freeze caught him by surprise. His startled gaze checked the aisle. Who was out to kill him on Christmas Eve? He saw no one but heard scrambling. Rising on his toes, Niles peered over the top of the shelf, not too difficult given his imposing height, and studied the checkout booth.
A huge man in a hoodie brandished a shotgun at the clerk tending the register.
“Empty it now, old man,” a gruff voice demanded. “Or I’ll empty this into you!”
The old clerk’s shaking hands scrambled in the register.
A robbery? Seriously? Niles sighed and set down his bottles. He wasn’t armed beyond his silver knife, useful for vampires but not much else. His hand immediately slid to his cell phone as he sank to a knee behind the shelves. Within seconds he’d texted the dispatcher, informing the police of the robbery.
He wanted remain merely a witness, but the clerk’s cry of pain sent him slipping along the aisle. He peered around the corner to find the robber had grabbed the clerk by the wrist. The burly man hauled the clerk over the counter and flung him to the floor. He raised a booted foot to smash the clerk’s face.
Niles yelled to divert his attention. The robber staggered back, his twitching hands aiming the shotgun at this new surprise entrant in his drama.
“Beat it!” he shouted. “I’ll shoot you.”
Niles raised his empty hands to show he was unarmed. “Take it easy. Just grab the money and go. No need to hurt an old man.”
“You don’t know shit!” Saliva spattered the robber’s cheek as his hands tightened on the gun.
“The police are on their way,” Niles said calmly. He remained frozen with his hands in the air. “Best get running.”
The robber’s red-rimmed eyes flicked towards the clerk then up at Niles. Niles saw him calculating. Too late, he realized what the man was thinking. Leave no witnesses. The man fired down at the clerk, hitting him in a spray across the back. The clerk jerked then lay still.
Niles cried out in horror and leaped but even a vampire can’t outrace a pump action shot gun. The robber pumped and fired. The spray hit Niles in the side, blasting a massive wound from his ribs to his hip. Niles went down, writhing in pain, smelling the stink of sulfur. As he hit the floor he heard the robber’s feet scrambling. Silence descended.
Through the searing pain, Niles’ found his cell phone. He dialed the precinct. To the dispatcher he gasped, “Man down, Fortuna Liquors.” His nerveless fingers lost control of the phone and it clattered onto the tiles.
For what felt like hours, Niles lay in the slowly spreading pool of blood from the clerk, his own consciousness flickering. Instinct screamed. Get up! Get up! You can’t be found like this.
As a vampire in a world that hunted his kind, Niles knew he had to move. Drawing every bit of strength in his long body, he dragged himself to his feet and staggered from the store, leaving a trail of bloody hand and footprints behind.
The dark cold called to him. Niles lurched along the street until he came to a small park. There the last of his strength gave out and he collapsed onto the frosty grass. Closing his eyes, he gritted his teeth through wave after wave of pain. Let the healing be fast, he muttered into the darkness. Because in a few hours the sun will rise. If its pale rays found him unprotected, they would desiccate his delicate skin and things would get really ugly.
Niles lay in the darkness, willing his body to work its magic, wondering if he even wanted it to.
He heard the bells ringing midnight.
Merry Christmas, Gule.
© 2016 Newmin
Niles Comments: While my experience on Christmas Eve hasn’t been the best, I do recommend visiting the Miracle on 34th Street. This street party is graciously hosted by all the families of the block. Visit to see the sights, meet the people and enjoy the festival atmosphere. And thank the hard working families who put on this show for your enjoyment year after year.