The average vampire slept lightly because they lived amongst humans determined to kill them. Although he was grievously wounded, Niles Gule, being a vampire, remained aware of his surroundings. So when he heard the stealthy patter of feet in the room, he fought to waken. Instincts screamed. Danger! Danger! You’re being attacked.
Although he knew he should be in a safe place, his will to survive jarred him awake bare seconds before the attack hit. Three small bodies landed on him, shooting rays of pain from his torso. He struggled to free himself of the cocoon of blankets but it was too late. He was pinned, pummeled and squished by a pack of squirming children.
“Uncle Niles!” Little Luz shook his cheeks to wake him. “Get up! It’s Christmas!”
With a groan, Niles turned onto his back to stare bleary eyed at his tormentors. Little Luz was five years old, dark-eyed and rosy cheeked. Carlos was raven-haired and broad shouldered even at the age of seven. Angel was the devil of the trio. His brilliant green eyes forever twinkled with mischief. Niles suspected he’d led the charge into the room where the vampire slept.
Niles had spent Christmas Eve in Mariella Cruz’s bed in the little ranch house in Baltimore after he’d been shot during a robbery at a liquor store. Being a consultant for the police department, he’d reported the robbery and the murder of the store clerk. Being a vampire, he’d immediately fled the scene. A wounded vampire oozed clear gelatinous goo not blood. He’d be revealed as a vampire. If those who answered the call weren’t friends, they’d kill him. Few people suffered vampires to live.
He’d collapsed in a small park where he lay in the cold darkness, waiting for the rising sun to kill him. Fortunately, he’d left a trail of bloody footprints a blind man could follow. Cruz, his partner, hearing the call of an officer down, had abandoned her party preparations and raced to the scene. She’d tracked him to the park, called for assistance from Williams who knew Niles was a vampire, and together they shoved him into her car. She’d brought him home against his protests then tended to the wound, bound him up, and ordered him to stay in bed until she decided he could rise.
Which was why he had awoken Christmas morning with her niece and nephews jumping on him. The tiny ranch house was bursting with Cruz’s.
“Get up, Uncle Niles,” Luz chirped. “Santa came!”
Groaning, holding a hand to his bandaged ribs, Niles sat up. Cruz’s ultra-frilly bedroom drowsed in predawn twilight. Angel pounded on his shoulders to wake him.
“Shssh!” Niles whispered when he realized the house was silent. The adults hadn’t yet risen, not surprising given they’d been up until midnight dealing with an injured vampire. “Let’s not wake everyone.”
The three children tugged on his arm, dragging him from the bed. When he swung his legs over the side he realized he was naked and hastily grabbed a sheet for cover. The three children kept pulling. Niles doubted he’d be able to sleep given the throb in his side, so he stripped the sheet from the bed and wrapped it around his waist. Once all his bits and pieces were safely tucked away, he allowed his tormentors to tow him into the living room.
The children threw themselves to their knees before the glittering tree and started sorting through brightly wrapped packages. Still not totally functional, a barefoot Niles lowered himself into a chair.
“Can we open them?” Angel asked, shaking a box in silver paper.
“No!” Niles gave him a reproachful look. “Your parents won’t appreciate missing out. Put that down.”
Angel scowled. His calculating look told Niles he might ignore the warning, but another hard look from the vampire’s blue eyes made him set the package aside. The boy drew a huge sigh and looked petulant.
Niles knew he had to keep the children occupied or they’d wake the entire house. Shoving himself to his feet, he trundled to the kitchen, found a tray, plates and glasses, filled them, and returned to the living room. He set the tray on the floor.
“Milk and cookies,” he said. “Breakfast.”
The children dove in.
Her eyes wide over the rim of her glass, Luz asked, “Aren’t you going to have any?”
Angel handed him a glass. Niles sniffed it and shuddered. Even the smell was awful. Then Carlos extended a cookie and Niles felt bound to accept it. He fingered the bit of bread and sugar.
“Don’t you like cookies?” Carlos took a giant bite of his.
“They’re chocolate chip!” Angel garbled with his mouth full.
Niles considered the cookie. Eyed the kids who stared back at him expectantly. Well, you’ve always wanted to be human, he thought. He took a miniscule bite. The taste was alien. He couldn’t describe it, but it wasn’t unpleasant. He let the bit roll around his mouth until it disintegrated. He smiled at the children, deciding maybe cookies weren’t such a bad thing. He took another bite.
The three were growing restless again.
Niles spied a chess set made of carved quartz. To keep the children occupied, he set it on the floor.
“What’s that?” Angel asked suspiciously.
“It’s a chess set. A game.” Niles noted the look of derision on the boy’s face. “It’s like Game of Thrones.”
That sparked interest in the lad. Eagerly the three children gathered around as Niles wove a tale about the origins of chess, of ancient battles and medieval princes. The three sat around him rapt. Then he explained the rules and challenged them, three against one. It was on.
An hour later, Niles looked up when he heard a faint, strangled sound. Mariella Cruz stood in her bathrobe watching the group huddled on the floor around the chess set. Her eyes were wide, her mouth half open.
Niles decided it wasn’t every day Cruz woke up to find a naked vampire playing chess with her relatives on the living room floor. He smiled and ate another cookie. Her mouth dropped.
“Join us?” he asked, waving to the floor.
Cruz nodded, dazed, and dropped beside him. She touched his forehead.
“Are you all right?”
Niles focused on the board. The trio had his queen on the ropes. “Couldn’t be better.”
“You’re teaching them chess?”
Niles nodded. “Game of Thrones version.”
Her hand found his shoulder and squeezed. “You’re a miracle, Gule.”
He flashed a dazzling smile. “No, just a vampire. Thank you for bringing me here. I’ve always wanted a real Christmas.”
Cruz glanced at the tree and its array of gifts.
“I’m sorry there aren’t any for you,” she murmured.
Niles allowed little Luz to crawl into his lap. Her wriggling made his injury ache but he didn’t care. He wrapped his arms around her and held her against his chest while he tried to protect his queen.
“Don’t be sorry.” His hands tightened around Luz as he smiled at Angel and Carlos. “There is a gift for me under this tree. It’s the finest gift I’ve ever received.”
© 2016 Newmin