A gust of wind snatched the hat from Tia Juanita’s head and sent it rolling down Becker Street. At the old woman’s cry of dismay, Niles Gule gave chase and captured the errant object before it escaped for good. With a smile the tall, blond vampire returned it to Juanita and suggested she hold it until she was inside.
Gale force winds from Hurricane Irma were pummeling the tiny Florida town of Sparks perched on the edge of the vast Everglades swamp. The average wind speed had been fifty miles an hour with gusts up to one hundred hitting frequently. A hard rain battered the group as they huddled together for protection on the short walk from the parking lot to the shelter. Ever the gentleman, Niles used his long, slim body to protect Juanita and her wheelchair while her niece, Mariella Cruz, pushed her inside.
“This is why we don’t wait until the last moment to evacuate, Tia,” the little Latina growled as she sloshed through the rain. She was drenched to the skin.
Juanita muttered something about not needing to be sent to a shelter.
“It’s a Cat Four!” Cruz exclaimed. “On a direct line for Florida. No, you weren’t going to ride it out in your trailer!” Her dark eyes looked up at Niles for support, blinking wetly.
All he could do was shrug.
Volunteers inside the shelter held the door open as Cruz maneuvered her aunt inside. Niles followed, juggling the old woman’s bulky luggage. Dripping a river onto the linoleum floor, the trio was steered down the main hallway towards the gym.
Struggling with the cumbersome bag, Niles huffed behind Cruz, wondering where in the mayhem they would find a place to settle. The gym brimmed with families. Cots were set in precise order and most were already filled. The space rang with voices in English and Spanish, the high pitched yells of children and lower grumbles of parents trying to control them. Niles picked his way through the bedlam behind Cruz until she found an open space to bivouac.
Neither Niles nor Cruz, his partner on the Baltimore PD, should have been in Florida on that or any other day. Certainly not with a Category Four hurricane barreling at them. Unfortunately, Cruz’s aunt Juanita had refused to evacuate her trailer near the beach. When frantic calls from neighbors begged the northern branch of Cruz’s to send someone to pry the old lady out of her deathtrap, Mariella volunteered to beard the dragon in her den. Niles had no intention of allowing his partner to face a hurricane without backup. He’d joined her on the trip south. So there they were, a soaking wet, mad as hell Latina, her curmudgeon of an aunt looking waspish, and the elegant, if dripping, Nordic vampire. It was a hell of a thing.
Juanita scowled at the commotion in the gym. “How am I supposed to sleep with this going on?” she complained.
Cruz’s brows rose to the ceiling. “You’re half deaf, Tia Juanita. You won’t hear it when the storm rips the roof off this building.” She huffed at her black bangs that stuck to her wet forehead and turned martyred eyes to Niles. “It’s you and I who won’t get any sleep tonight.”
Niles glanced around the gym. It was filled with families setting out camping gear, sleeping bags, and radios. Five different styles of music mixed into an ethnic jumbo unique to America. A group of children were playing basketball at the far end, causing mayhem when their missed passes sent the ball rocketing through some family’s carefully arranged picnic grove. Crashes and complains were the result.
“Probably not,” the vampire commented, slicking his short blond hair flat against his head. “But it won’t be the noise keeping me awake.”
He twitched his nose at the smell of so much iron in the air. Salivated.
Blood. Warm and waiting. A feast if he wanted to grab it.
But he couldn’t. He’d taken a vow of abstinence. No biting humans. He considered the meager vittles he’d rescued from Tia Juanita’s trailer. Crackers, peanut butter, and pudding cups. Not exactly his favorites. He sighed. So long as the storm raged, he was going hungry.
Cruz flicked her wet clothing with disgust. “I’m going to find something to dry off with. Can you watch Tia for me until I get back?” Her scowl darkened. “She might try to run for it.”
Niles laughed. “She can’t outrun me.”
While Cruz disappeared in search of a bathroom, Niles regarded her elderly aunt as the tiny woman fussed over her few belongings and grumbled.
“Dragging an old woman out of her own because of a rain storm,” she muttered. “Picking her up bodily too!” She shot Niles a hard look. Then her harsh scowl softened and a twinkle gleamed in her cataract clouded eyes. “Although, if a woman’s got to be slung about by a man, he should be one as fine looking as you.”
Niles smiled but said nothing.
Juanita grew agitated again. “Where’s Buttons?”
Niles looked around with his brow puckered. “You need buttons?”
“No!” She hit him with her hand. “My cat. Buttons. You did get the cat, didn’t you?”
Niles caught his breath. In the race to reach the trailer, throw things into suitcases and hustling the old woman out of the place before it took flight, he only vaguely recalled something about a cat.
“You left Buttons behind?” Juanita screeched in a tone that would have suited a native Vanapir speaker. “Oh!” she wailed, her arthritic hands to her forehead. “Oh! My poor little Buttons! How could you!”
Niles stared at the woman in horror. Excuses wouldn’t cover it. Nothing, frankly would cover it. Niles considered the view out the window. Rain was flying horizontally across the parking lot in a gray veil. He could barely see the parked cars parked. A piece of plywood went flying. The storm was reaching its zenith.
Still, there was nothing for it but to do what he’d come to Florida to do. Save on old lady. Because Juanita was getting ready to charge back out into the storm to save her cat. Niles forced her to sit on the cot.
“I’ll get Buttons,” he said. “I swear. Just stay here!”
Cursing his stupidity, Niles headed to the doors. Although the volunteers begged him not to leave, Niles threw up his arm and raced into the night.
Cruz paced nervously, jumping every time the lights blinked as the power threatened to give out. She was hoarse from yelling at Juanita for sending Niles back into the storm. Night had fallen over the town of Sparks as Irma raged full fury around the civic center. Leaks in the roof created pools throughout the facility, but people were reasonably safe and dry as they huddled together to wait it out. Juanita had fallen asleep, damn her. Not a care in the world.
Cruz gripped her arms as she paced again. Three hours. He’d been gone three hours. He wasn’t a superhero. He was just a vampire. Vampires could get killed in hurricanes. Couldn’t they?
The insane howl of the wind tore through the building when the front door opened to admit a bent over human form, totally soaked and battered. Cruz stood frozen, waiting for it to unravel itself. Slowly, majestically, it did so, to reveal a long, lean, pale and ghostly vampire. Holding a giant wad of pissed off black fur. Buttons.
Cruz exclaimed and raced across the gym to throw her arms around Niles.
“God, you had me scared!” she complained. She cupped his wet face with her hands, noting the bruises on his cheek and a cut on his forehead. “Are you all right?”
“I took a couple of hits,” he grumbled. He held out the cat. “But I got Buttons.”
Cruz relieved him of the cat and led him towards the Cruz family campsite. His steps were shaky and he collapsed when he reached the wall. Cruz worriedly set Buttons next to Juanita where he immediately curled up and started cleaning himself. Then she turned to the vampire.
Spreading his trench coat open, she discovered why he was so weak. A piece of wood had struck him in the ribs, nearly running him through.
“You’re in luck, Gule,” she said as she eased him flat and worked to remove the stake.
“How so?” he whispered.
“God has terrible aim. He missed your heart by three inches.”
© 2017 Newmin
Niles Comments: I hope everyone escaped the storm safely. Objects and homes can be replaced but lives can’t. My dear friend Dani Hoy was forced to flee from Key West with what she could cram in a car. I am thankful she’s safe and well. Both Irma and Harvey have brought pain and destruction to many families. Please consider giving to the American Red Cross during this time of tribulation.
More comments from Niles: As Brother Jim noted, another great place to include for donations is United Methodist UMCOR
100% of money’s goes to the victims.
The denomination pays for the employees. the website is www.umcor.org