Sometimes a vampire wished he couldn’t see in the dark. Like tonight. As the little caravan drove west along A1A, Niles Gule winced at the devastation he saw on both sides of the highway. Hurricane Irma had trashed the Florida Keys from Largo, through Marathon, all the way to Key West. The emerald waters of the Gulf were littered with sunken boats. Piles of them rested on the shore. Debris from buildings lay scattered everywhere and palm trees had been shredded.
And yet, Niles knew the destruction could have been worse. The islands had taken a direct hit by a Category Four hurricane but still they remained. He was amazed that only an estimated one quarter of the buildings on Key West had been destroyed. Some had survived almost unscathed. Given the strength of the storm he would have expected more damage. Fortunately, the millions of residents had fled to the mainland for safety, so loss of life had been minimal. Now the reverse migration began as nervous locals made the long, heartbreaking drive through the Keys towards home.
Niles was passenger while his partner, Mariella Cruz, drove the rented van packed with household belongings. A native of Boston who made his home in Baltimore, Niles had never been to Key West. He’d never planned to visit the island, given vampires weren’t into the sun and sea lifestyle, but since he’d come to Florida on a mercy mission to drag Cruz’s elderly aunt to safety in Miami, he was available when he got another call for help. This time his old friend, Dani Hoy, could use some extra muscle moving back to her home in Key West so he volunteered himself and Cruz as a moving crew.
Dani drove ahead of them, leading the way, while Cruz stayed hot on her tail and complained about the slow pace. Niles had warned his crazed partner that the driving would be slow given all the damage still cluttering the roadways, but Cruz never drove any slower than ninety, so the forty-five pace Dani set was sending her over the edge.
He sighed with relief when they turned onto Duval Street and picked their way around palm fronds and bits of wood because here Cruz couldn’t drive fast or complain about it as she had the entire ten hours since the mainland. The scene they encountered was bad and yet not as awful as Niles had expected. Whole areas of the town were still dark where power had yet to be restored. Building debris was piled everywhere and many of the houses were boarded shut. One, a charming B and B, stood racked to one side as if another stiff wind would blow it over. Dani had gotten lucky. Her end of the Old Town was on some of the highest land on the island, a whopping eighteen feet above sea level, and it had weathered the storm better than the newer, low lying areas. As if, Niles thought, eighteen feet made a hill. Her apartment building had suffered only minor damage and the lights were on all along the street. Even the Aqua nightclub was open.
“Good ole Conchs,” Dani laughed, using the name for a native Key Wester. “They never let a night go by without a drink.” She brushed a lock of her light brown hair from her face and stretched tiredly. The day of travel and midnight arrival exhausted her.
Niles worked the kinks out of his long legs and considered the street. In any other small town, especially after a crisis, the place would be sleepy and quiet. But not Key West. A couple of drunken locals staggered down the sidewalk on the far side of the street, while neighbors sat on their front porches and chatted. Niles heard music and laughter emanating from Aqua and saw two men wander out its main door. A lighter flashed, briefly illuminating a face then Niles smelled cigarette smoke. A gentle, tropical breeze skirling over the island wafted the scent away. When a couple strolled past the nightclub, the men approached them with offers, trying to coax them inside. The pair laughed but continued on their way.
“Let’s get to this,” Cruz said, rubbing her hands together and contemplating everything crammed into the vehicles. “I don’t need to be up all night moving stuff.”
“We work the nightshift,” Niles said. “What’s the rush?”
The perky little Latina gave him the stink eye. “We do have to get back to Baltimore, Gule.” She grabbed a bag. “Let’s go. Time’s awasting.”
Dani and her boyfriend Chris started unloading their music equipment. That left Niles to handle the heavy stuff. Fortunately, being a vampire, he possessed incredible strength and was able to muscle the large trunks and suitcases into the apartment with relative ease. Back and forth the four people worked, unloading the two vehicles and carrying items into the house.
“Hey!” Niles yelled when he saw a large, tattooed man snatching a box from Dani’s car. “Put that down!”
He sprinted from the house to chase down the thief.
The man was either stoned or drunk because he didn’t run. He swung the box into Niles’ face, catching the vampire by surprise. Niles stumbled backwards into a camellia bush and became tangled in its branches. The thief flung the box at him. Its corner hit Niles in the mouth, splitting his lip.
Before the vampire could disentangle himself from the bush, he heard a high pitched yell and saw Dani running from her house. In her hands she held one of her guitars in the air as if she was going to hit the man with it.
“No!” Niles yelled. “Not the guitar!”
Dani froze. The thief whirled around and started towards her, a long knife appearing in his hand.
Niles clambered free of the camellia and considered drawing his knife. But he didn’t want a knife fight in the middle of the street. He threw himself between the man and Dani to protect her. Then he used the only other weapon he possessed. He bared his fangs and screeched in the home tongue of the Vanapir. The high pitched sound, almost too high for a human to hear, nearly flatted the thief.
The man staggered backwards, his eyes wide as he stared at the two long, white fangs dripping so close to his face. He screamed and ran.
Niles caught Dani’s hand and gently took the guitar from her. “Please don’t kill another guitar on my account,” he said. “I can’t afford to keep buying you equipment.”
Dani’s face unfroze and color came flooding back. “Yeah,” she laughed, sagging into him. “Sorry. My jewelry’s in that box.”
The man who’d been trying to talk people into the Aqua raced across the street.
“That was incredible!” he gushed.
Dani grinned. “Just call us the Justice League.”
“No, not that!” the man exclaimed. He pealed Niles free from her grasp and started dragging him across the street. “Those teeth! They’re incredible!”
Niles pressed his pale lips tight, horrified he’d flashed his fangs in a public street.
“It’s not what you think,” he murmured.
The man kept pulling Niles until they reached Aqua. “I think it’s perfect!”
Too much the gentleman to struggle, Niles found himself dragged into the nightclub. Where he discovered just why his appearance, and his fangs, would be so popular.
“You’ve gotta get on stage!” the man insisted. “The audience will go wild over a vampire act!”
A horrified Niles began to struggle. There was no way he was getting up on that stage.
Because Aqua was a drag club.
© 2017 Newmin
Niles Comments: I have nothing against the hard working stars of the Aqua. It’s just not something I have a need to do. Wishing Dani and Chris well on their return home. May the sun continue to shine brightly over Key West.