I’ve been just a little obsessed with vampires since I was 9-10 and had a nightmare that woke me in terror and sent me running to my parents’ room for comfort, something that almost never happened because of a dream. I loved reading vampire novels, watching vampire movies, and the occasional vampire TV show, like Buffy. I was miffed, though, when Twilight came out and then vampires became THE popular thing and the market became oversaturated. I refused to watch shows like the Vampire Diaries or True Blood because of it – though they didn’t seem like my style in the first place.
I’m more concerned with writing what I want to write than what is marketable, though, and in 2016 (during a depression-free period of time) I started work on this story, which is one out of about a billion different vampire stories I’ve had an idea for over the years.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever get around to finishing the project. It was from an era when a lot of what I was writing was generally more depressing and drama-oriented, before I decided I needed to work on lighter projects for the sake of my mental health.
There was a woman in his coffin.
Thomas was almost staggering with the exhaustion brought on by the approach of dawn. He’d been careless and barely made it into his cellar in time. When he came through the door he noted dimly that the lid of his coffin was up but assumed he’d simply forgotten to close it when he got up that night. He was in the process of climbing into his coffin when he made the discovery that it was already occupied.
She was alive, which was somehow even more surprising. Fighting to stay conscious just a little bit longer, Thomas shook her by the shoulder.
“Up! Get up, get out, I sleep,” Thomas said, loudly, the sentence slurring unnoticed into incoherence.
She sat up, looking bewildered, and Thomas dragged her out of the coffin and set her down, not even noting whether or not she caught her balance when he released her. Operating on instinct now, he tumbled into the now-empty coffin and shut the lid.
Thomas woke up, which always gave him a little lift. On the one hand, dying in his sleep would presumably be painless. He would never know what happened. On the other hand, dying while helpless was a terrifying thought. Waking up meant he hadn’t died in his sleep.
He pushed the lid open, noting with alarm that the cellar smelled like human. He remembered an image from that morning, a woman, in his coffin. He would have believed it was some sort of strange dawn dream if not for the smell. He sat up, stretched, and climbed out of his coffin.
He’d fallen asleep in his clothes, right down to his socks and shoes. He turned on the book light he kept fastened to the inside of the coffin so that he’d have enough light to change. Then he jumped, startled, because the dim light had revealed that the woman was still in the cellar with him. She was sitting on the floor with her back against the wall, with one leg outstretched and the other pulled close to her chest, providing a place to rest her hands. She blinked a couple of times and then focused in the general direction of his face.
“Hi,” she said. “Sleep well?”
“Yes thanks,” Thomas responded with automatic politeness, immediately feeling foolish.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said, in his best firm, no nonsense tone of voice.
“Are you?” she asked.
“This is my home,” Thomas answered, stiffly.
“Can’t afford the rent on a mausoleum?” she asked.
Thomas did not dignify that with a response.
“Look,” she went on, “I know I’m being rude. I figured this was probably my only chance to meet a vampire.”
“I’m not a vampire,” Thomas said, too forcefully.
“Okay,” she said. “You’re just a guy that sleeps in a coffin.”
“Yes, I’m a guy that sleeps in a coffin. It’s not a crime,” Thomas said.
“Actually it is,” she said, “but I doubt anyone’s been prosecuted for it lately. Vampires have been eradicated, after all, like polio.”
“That’s right,” Thomas said, glowering.
“Of course, when you get thrown out of a coffin by a guy that promptly gets inside himself and closes the lid, it makes you curious,” the woman said. “You might open that lid up and prick him with a pin to see if he bleeds.”
Thomas glanced over his body uneasily, wondering just where she’d pricked him.
“You might,” the woman continued, “hold your hand over his mouth and pinch his nose shut, and he never wakes up or even tries to breathe.”
Thomas put a hand to his face, involuntarily.
“So, I know your dirty little secret,” she said. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Nothing,” Thomas said, flatly. “Please leave now.”
“If I leave, I’m going straight to the authorities to report you,” she said. “What are you going to do about that?”
Her pose had never changed but Thomas could see that she was tensed, expectantly, as if waiting for him to react violently.
“Nothing,” Thomas answered, shortly. “Please leave, I need to get changed for work.”
“I suppose I can step outside and let you preserve your modesty,” the woman said.
She stood up, proving to be just slightly taller than Thomas, with a lean build unlike his own. Thomas looked, if not exactly fat, at least soft around the edges. Thomas moved to put the coffin between them. If the woman noticed, she didn’t let on. She retrieved a bundle from the floor that Thomas hadn’t even noticed, which turned out to be a long coat rolled up into a ball. She shook it out and shrugged into it with her back to him, then opened the door and walked out without looking back.
Thomas clenched his hands and his jaw, feeling stressed. For a moment he considered throwing what belongings he could fit into his overnight bag, grabbing his bike and seeing how far he could get before having to stop for the day. That would be far too dangerous, though. He couldn’t head out on the road with no way of knowing where he could find shelter. There had been a time in the past when he could have left any place he stayed at a moment’s notice and had at least a rough idea of where he could go next to seek shelter.
He’d gotten complacent.
He spent a full minute drawing breath in and then expelling it. He hadn’t discovered the calming capacity of measured breathing until after he no longer needed to breathe. Next he stripped out of last night’s jeans and work shirt, spritzed them and hung them up so they would be unwrinkled the next time he needed them. He hoped there would be a next time. Then he pulled on another pair of jeans, a similar shirt and a light jacket. He was not bothered by cool weather but dressing appropriately for the season was a necessary part of blending in.
He looked around the root cellar where he’d been living for the last five years. This had been such a foolish place to stay. It would be easy enough to explain living on abandoned property if not for the coffin. Even if he told the truth – that the coffin had already been here when he arrived – would they believe him? At least there was nothing much here that he couldn’t live without if he did have to set out for other parts without returning. He put his string of buttons in a pocket and collected his jar of small mementos and trinkets that he’d collected during his travels. He’d look for a safe place to hide it on the way to work, just in case.
It was a beautiful night. The moon was three quarters full and peeking over the surrounding tree line. A light breeze filled the night with the sound of rustling leaves. Thomas did not see the woman when he looked around after emerging from the cellar stairs. The charred remains of the parsonage and the church blocked his view of the driveway and the small cemetery that fronted the rural road that led to town. There were only two unburnt structures on the property, the well house and a small storage shed. Thomas retrieved his bike from the latter and wheeled it around to the front of the church. He was about to climb on when he saw that the woman was still here, using one of the tomb stones as a seat. She was watching him.
Thomas wished the moon was not up right now. Vampires had better eyesight than humans but even a human could easily see their surroundings on a bright night like this. He looked around uneasily and sniffed the air. There was no indication of additional humans nearby and no sign of a car parked anywhere within eyesight.
The woman stood up and began walking toward him. Thomas considered jumping on his bike and peddling away as fast as possible but she held both hands up and spoke.
“Whoa, I’m not going to attack you,” she said, with a just a hint of amusement in her voice. “You work in Greenville, right?”
Thomas looked at her warily and did not respond. She came to a stop a few feet away.
“I bet Greenville is big enough to support a Croaker’s now,” she continued. “If I give you some cash could you pick up a tire repair kit and bring it back with you?”
“Is that why you’re here? Because of a flat?” Thomas asked.
“No, I’m here because this is where I meant to be,” the woman said. “But I left my bike about an hour’s walk from here because I didn’t feel like dragging it around with me. I figured if you’re already heading to Greenville, it wouldn’t hurt to ask you to save me the walk.”
Thomas felt a glimmer of hope. Perhaps if he helped her get her transportation operational she’d move on and leave him alone. He was beginning to suspect that her declaration that she’d report him to the authorities was just a bluff.
“Here, you can have my kit,” he said, retrieving it from his backpack and holding it out at arm’s length.
She stepped closer and took it from him, holding out a wad of bills in exchange.
“Consider it a gift,” Thomas said.
“Okay,” the woman said, putting the bills back in a pocket of her coat.
Thomas got on his bike and pedaled away. He felt like she was staring at him until he was finally hidden by the trees that lined the road but he refused to look to see if it was true.
Thomas decided to check with his boss, Jayla, to find out if she’d let him work through his breaks in order to leave early. She was usually willing to be flexible about things like that and tonight was no exception. Luckily she wasn’t the sort of person to pry into her employees’ personal lives so when he left she wished him a good morning and that was that.
He cycled home at a faster speed than usual but left his bike behind a tree a little ways from the driveway and went the rest of the way on foot. The moon had set. The light from the stars was enough for him but visibility should be poor for any humans that might be loitering nearby. The woman’s scent was all over the property but not fresh enough to suggest she was still nearby. Thomas hoped that meant that she’d moved on and would no longer bother him. She would become just another random encounter, stranger than some, but not the strangest.
Things seemed safe enough so Thomas returned for his bike and rode it back. He dismounted in the area of packed dirt that would once have served for parking and walked the bike around the husk of the church and to the shed. He found the door open and another bike inside. He drew in a breath and released it in a sigh, then put his bike inside the shed, shut the door and made the deceptively ancient padlock appear to be locked. If the woman’s bike was here that almost certainly meant that he’d find her back in the cellar. It was the only serviceable shelter nearby as far as he knew.
After walking down the stairs he hesitated in front of the door. He just wanted to relax for a little before going to bed but how could he relax knowing some woman that seemed vaguely threatening and whose intentions were unknown would be here while he was helpless? In this case, though, he would have to pick the strange devil because the devil he knew was the sun and there was no safer haven within easy reach. He decided to go inside.
The door was locked and Thomas couldn’t find the key. He must have forgotten to remove it from the pair of pants he’d worn the night before.
Thomas felt panic swelling. It was such a simple way to drive him away from the property. If he couldn’t enter his regular shelter he’d be forced to look elsewhere, and he might not be able to find anywhere relatively safe fast enough. As much as he’d tried to steel himself in regards to his probable eventual demise the idea of dying was still terrifying. He wondered if there was any chance that she’d open the door if he knocked.
He never had to test this theory because the door opened and a beam of light flashed painfully into his eyes. He was temporarily blinded and when he backed up defensively he merely managed to lose his balance and sit down hard on the stairs behind him.
He heard a chuckle.
“Why were you lurking on your own doorstep?” a familiar voice asked.
“I wasn’t lurking, the door was locked,” Thomas said, still unable to see properly.
“Did you forget your key?” she asked, sounding vaguely surprised.
“Yes, I forgot my key,” Thomas said.
“Do you realize how lucky you are?” she asked.
“Lucky? What?” Thomas said, surprised.
“You locked your door and forgot your key. If I hadn’t picked the lock and stuck around, you’d be looking for a safe place to sleep right now,” she said.
“You’re the reason I forgot my key,” Thomas said.
“Maybe,” she said. “Or maybe you’re just someone that would eventually forget their key. I guess we’ll never know.”
Thomas realized his initial assumption that she’d locked him out on purpose had been silly and based on panic. He stood up carefully and put his hand on the wall so that he could guide himself into the cellar. Once inside he sank to the floor with his back against a wall and waited for his vision to clear.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“Because I want to be,” she said.
“How long do you intend to stay?” he asked.
“As long as I want,” she said. “That’s two question you’ve asked so far, though, so now it’s my turn. What’s your name?”
“Thomas,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Not your turn yet,” she said, cheerfully. “I get one more first so we’re even. Hmm. Innie or outie?”
Thomas stared. His vision was returning so he could see that she still had her flashlight on, but had set it on the floor and pointed it away from him so that the room was illuminated without risk of blinding him again. She was squatting next to the flashlight
“I – what?” he said.
“Is your belly button a hole or a bump?” she clarified.
“I guess you can find out the answer to that while I’m sleeping,” Thomas said bitterly.
“I won’t touch you while you sleep. I haven’t touched you while you slept,” she said.
“You said you did,” Thomas said, shortly.
“I lied. Oh, I opened the coffin, and I stared at you for a while. Then I held a mirror in front of your mouth to see if it fogged. But I didn’t touch you,” she said.
Thomas was silent.
“Synth,” she said. “You can call me Synth for now.”
“Cynthia?” Thomas asked, not sure he’d heard her correctly.
“No, Synth. S-y-n-t-h. I like the sound of it so that’s my name until I get bored with it,” Synth said.
“Thomas isn’t the name I was born with, either,” Thomas said.
“I figured,” Synth said. “Do people ever keep their real name when they’re trying to disappear? That’s rhetorical, not one of my questions.”
“Why’d you pick Thomas?” Synth asked.
“It’s for the apostle Thomas in the Bible,” Thomas said.
“Really? Are you religious? Is that why you’re living here?” Synth said, frowning.
Thomas noted a wary suspicion in her expression.
“No I’m not religious,” Thomas said, deciding not to point out that she was exceeding the question limit. “I decided to live here because it’s close to a town, within reach of a city, but out of the way and private with a safe place to sleep.”
“Or at least it was, right?” Synth said, voicing what he’d kept back. “Well don’t worry I’m sure we don’t have an eternity together.”
“How comforting,” Thomas said.
“You know hold whatever thoughts you have, I need to pee,” Synth said.
She got up and left the cellar, taking the flashlight with her. Thomas went to the coffin and turned on his book light. He checked over his belongings. He was certain she’d looked through everything he’d left in the cellar, but nothing was missing. He noticed that she’d left her pack by the wall and considered reciprocating her search. Then he shrugged and decided against it. If she had come here intending to kill him he would have been dead yesterday.
“I don’t remember whose turn it was for a question,” Synth said from the doorway, “so I’m declaring it my turn.”
“Suit yourself,” Thomas said.
“How old are you?” Synth asked.
“Somewhere around a hundred twenty-five I think,” Thomas said. “Around fifty of that as a vampire.”
“You must have been one of the Elect,” Synth said, “because you look around thirty.”
Thomas nodded, feeling a frown forming. He’d indulged her prying curiosity so far but if she attempted to dig up more information about his past she’d be left disappointed.
“Your turn,” Synth said.
“Dawn’s not that far away, I’d like to read before bed,” Thomas said.
“Suit yourself,” Synth said. “I guess I’ll head into town and see about picking up some supplies. Mind if I take the key?”
“Can’t you pick the lock?” Thomas asked.
“Yes, but keys are always faster,” Synth said.
“I think it’s in a pocket of the jeans I’ve got hanging up,” Thomas said, looking over in that direction.
It leaves off rather abruptly and awkwardly, but I figured I’d post it anyway. Outside of short stories, my writing tends to be character driven and have a fair amount of dialogue, so this represents my style reasonably well. Reading through it, I was glad to note I’ve seen some improvement in the following three years.
When I showed the snippet to A earlier this year, she responded that she was here for dad bod vampires, and I had to laugh. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms when describing Thomas, but that’s a reasonable assessment.