Sometimes humans bewildered vampires.
Niles Gule, vampire of Baltimore, blinked sleepily as a pale winter sun rose over the Chesapeake Bay and he watched as another strange human festival got underway.
He adjusted his wool scarf against his neck to protect it from the sharp wind that blew off the water and yawned because he was up past his bedtime. Around him milled hundreds of people braving the cold morning, sipping hot coffee or strong alcoholic drinks and waiting for the event to start. They were dressed in outfits that puzzled the vampire. Some shivered in simple bathing suits totally inappropriate for the frigid day. Others wore Victorian bathing gear, clown costumes, or Viking attire. Several were all but naked and had painted their bodies in bizarre colors. One elderly gentleman with a large paunch wore only a loin cloth. Niles avoided that view as best he could.
Some of the crowd rambled around the edge of the bay at the Sandy Point Park beach. Others had what Niles considered better sense and were huddled inside the Ram’s Head Ice Lodge, a tent set up for the event. About half the group was made up of brawny men in ridiculous getups while the other half appeared to be their friends and relatives, dressed warmly against the chill wind, laughing and taking pictures of the idiots who were about to do the inexplicable.
Go swimming in the Chesapeake in the dead of winter.
Having lived amongst humans for more than a century, Niles knew something about their anatomy. They were warm creatures who loved to bask in the sun. They dreamed of Caribbean vacations on tropical islands and complained mightily about cabin fever during the long, dark days of winter. So the reason why they were deliberately choosing to swim in icy water had escaped him.
“Explain this to me again?” he asked his partner, Mariella Cruz.
The feisty little Mexican-American danced to keep warm. She was wearing what Niles considered an offensive attempt at vampire attire, not that he didn’t love the effect all the same. She’d attempted to cover her luscious curves with a black lace body suit that hid nothing, especially her ample chest and cute little legs. Over her shoulders she’d draped a black satin cape with deep purple lining. She’d scraped her black hair tight to her head and let it fall in a long, graceful ponytail down her back. White theater makeup turned her complexion pallid and she’d lined her eyes in smoky gray.
As if, Niles thought, any self-respecting vampire would appear in public dressed like that.
He glanced down at his own appearance. In deference to the cold he wore a chic, camel colored coat with a chocolate hued scarf knotted at his throat. Beneath that he was Michael Bastian from top to toe. GQ all the way.
No black satin or skin-tight lace here, he thought.
“It’s the Polar Bear Plunge!” Cruz explained. She huddled against officer Jonas Williams to keep warm. “We all jump in the water and freeze for five minutes to raise money for police, fire and ambulance companies.”
Niles lifted a brow. “I’m not sure how all of you risking your lives raises money. Or why anyone would agree to do it.”
“It’s fun!” She poked him with a bare toe.
“Don’t bother to explain it to a Ghoul,” Williams grunted.
The big officer looked equally ridiculous in vampire garb. He, Cruz, and the rest of the Baltimore PD’s nightshift had volunteered to jump in the bay. They’d chosen a vampire theme and named their team the Ghouls. Niles found his lips twitching. He couldn’t decide if he was honored they’d named the team after him or outraged because they looked so tacky. Was that really how they viewed his species?
Little, aging, bald Cooksey bulged out of his spandex vampire outfit in all the wrong places. He looked like someone had let Batman out of the nursing home. He cupped his cold hands to his mouth to warm them.
“I don’t understand why the one person who isn’t bothered by the cold isn’t joining us.”
Niles gazed at him urbanely. “Someone has to hold the towels.” He lifted the bundle he carried.
The conversation was cut off by the sharp blast of an air horn. The crowd bolted, the brave, the excited and just plain crazy diving into the frigid waters first while the timid merely dipped their toes. Niles remained with feet planted firmly in the sand as he watched the crowd cavorting in the shallows. The Ghouls bounded into the water like a rambuncious pack of Labradors after a toy, laughing and splashing each other as they howled about the cold. Williams, being the tallest, grabbed Cruz around the waist and waded chest deep into the water then dunked her. She came up sputtering and pounded him with her fists. Jackson, a huge African-American, decided that looked like fun. He swept a squawking Cooksey up in his massive arms and marched out equally far. Then he dumped his burden into the water.
Unlike Cruz, Cooksey didn’t come up.
“Cooksey?” Williams started wading around, fanning the water as if he could find his partner by pushing the bay aside. “Cooksey!”
The rest of the Ghouls grew agitated as they milled around, trying to find the little man.
With a stab of panic, Niles remembered Cooksey wasn’t a strong swimmer. Were there currents in the bay? Could they be sweeping little Cooksey out to sea?
He pushed through the crowd of people fleeing the water after their dip until he reached the edge. His height allowed him to watch as his team desperately searched for Cooksey. Still the man didn’t appear.
Swearing, Niles tore off his overcoat and scarf, then his suit coat and tie. Finally, he toed off his boots and sprinted into the water. The cold bit into his legs but it didn’t pain him the way it would pain a human.
Arriving in the deep water where the Ghouls were frantically searching, he asked, “Any sign?”
“No!” Williams kicked with his feet.
“Damn!” Niles spun around, trying to look into the murky water which was now broiling with sand the team had stirred up. “Where could he have gone?”
“Don’t know,” Williams grunted. He flashed a look at the vampire. Something flickered in his gray eyes. With both huge paws, he shoved Niles by the shoulders under the water. “Maybe you should look below, Ghoul!”
The sudden dunking startled the vampire. Panicked, Niles struggled free of Williams’ grip, swam a few feet away and surfaced. Shaking his blond head clear of sand and water he cursed his nemesis.
To find Williams laughing. To find the whole team laughing.
Niles wiped his face clear then stood totally soaked, water dripping from every pore, as his team howled at his expense.
Jackson and Williams high-fived each other.
“Score one for the home team!” Jackson laughed. He slugged Cooksey, nearly knocking the little man back into the water. “Good job, Cooksey!”
Niles glared at the group. “Funny! Very funny!”
Williams grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. “Yes, Ghoul. It was. We couldn’t go swimming as the Ghouls without you, could we?”
Niles studied his ruined clothing. Lord, how he hated to be mussed! He turned annoyed blue eyes on his team to find them all waiting to see his reaction. Cruz especially looked appealingly at him, begging him to join in the fun.
He considered his expensive, Bastian suit, now destroyed.
Humans had a strange idea of fun.
He twitched his lips in annoyance while he considered how to react. They’d extended an olive branch. Asked him–no forced him–to join in a human experience. How could he refuse their offer?
He managed to grin and pretend he was thrilled.
Laughing, they gathered around him and cavorted like children. Dunking each other. Dunking him.
Niles tolerated it like an indulgent parent. Not that he understood.
Sometimes humans bewildered vampires.