Claire licked her ice cream all the way around the entire scoop. It was such a warm night, the frozen treat threatened to drip down the cone on to her hand which would make her feel like a twelve year old. She didn't want to have to experience the rest of the evening with sticky fingers.
"I'm second guessing my decision to get Very Berry. You seem really into that Salted Caramel!" said Rose, followed by her maniacal laugh.
Claire's eyebrows knitted together in the middle, "It's not that I'm that into it, I just don't want it to melt all over me. Why didn't I just get a cup instead of a cone?"
Rose laughed again, "Because cups are boring and cones are more fun," she said in her best sultry voice.
The girls rounded a corner, the old fashioned street lamps cast little circles of light on the sidewalk every few paces. Claire saw an open door to a shop, one of the few businesses in this small town to stay open past six! There was a little, wooden cart outside the door with books in it, please let it be a used bookstore!
The sign up under a tattered awning read, "Waxing Moon Books and Oddities". Claire gasped.
"Oh gawd, Noooooo!" Rose read her friend's mind, "Please can we NOT go in there? I couldn't possibly roam around in a bookstore right now. It's so boring!" Claire rolled her eyes so hard it made her dizzy for second.
"Rose," it took real effort to keep her voice even and free from sarcasm, "Please just find something nearby to entertain yourself while I go in here. We have done everything under the sun today that has struck your fancy. It's my turn."
Claire shoved the rest of her ice cream cone into her mouth and immediately regretted it. The icy cream hit the roof of her mouth and gave her an instantaneous brain freeze. She gulped it down as fast as she could to get it out of her mouth and now she could feel her throat seizing uncomfortably.
Instead of enduring more torture, Claire stood over a grate in the gutter and spat the rest of her dessert into the black, metal slits.
Rose was laughing again, "What are you doing?!"
Claire pointed at the sign on the door of the bookstore that read, 'No Food. No Drinks."
"Man, you are dedicated. Okay listen, I'm going to go over to that bar across the street and get some poor townie to buy me a drink. Is that enough time?"
She wouldn't have any trouble. Rose was tall and thin. She was wearing a gray, linen dress cut right under her butt and no bra. Her long, black hair cascaded in perfect beachy waves down her back. In their travels downtown, she had picked a red rose and tucked it behind one ear. All she would have to do is cozy up to the bar and she'd have her pick of whomever was there with a wallet and testosterone. Claire wiped her chin to make sure there wasn't any traces of the ice cream and nodded her head, "Yeah, one drink should be enough time. Thanks."
She watched Rose take long, leggy strides across the street and disappear into the bar. She didn't think she could get in any trouble in there, it was a small town and the bar seemed quiet enough.
Claire looked up at the bookstore sign again and took a picture of it with her phone before entering.
A little tinkling bell sounded as she walked in and stepped on an ornate, rug. An intoxicating smell enveloped her senses immediately. A combination of cloves, ginger, musty paper and something earthy and musky.
She looked for the store's owner behind a large wooden counter to the left but didn't immediately find one. It always made her a little nervous to walk into an empty store. She didn't want anyone to think she had bad intentions,
"Hello?" her voice sounded thick and weird, an effect from the ice cream as she had always suspected she was little intolerant of dairy. She cleared her throat and went to call out again when a figure moved in her peripheral vision at her left.
There was a man at the counter now. A very cliche tall, dark and handsome man in a top hat. He was grinning at her in a peculiar way which made her stomach twist.
"Oh--heh--you weren't there a moment ago." she laughed nervously.
"Hi, yourself." he had a bit of an accent, from where she couldn't even guess.
His skin was the color of coffee with a splash of cream. His face very angular with high cheekbones, deep set amber colored eyes under thick, black eyebrows. The top hat gave an antiquated look which didn't quite jive with his young and somewhat modern features. Claire thought it was his meticulously manicured sideburns that was throwing it off.
She didn't want him to catch her staring so she busied herself with browsing, occasionally peeking up at him through her bangs to look at the man some more.
He wore a tailored vest and at his neck, one of those silky, fluffy...'ascots', was that the word? and a white shirt with billowy sleeves. She didn't know whether to judge him as a genuine eccentric who sincerely woke up and dressed like this for the work day or just some poser hipster trying to be ironic.
She was looking at the way his unruly hair was pulled back in a ponytail behind his neck and some sort of odd skin coloration at the collar line when she realized he was looking right at her. She immediately shifted her gaze but then their eyes met. Or more accurately, locked.
"Are you the owner?" she asked casually, looking away to break his stare-down. Claire desperately wanted to lose herself down one of the long narrow isles of books just to have a browse but mostly to get out from under his careful watch.
Being a people pleaser, she always felt this nagging sense of duty to make people feel comfortable so small talk was her way of feigning interest.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Claire peeked around a tall shelf of...what was this?...she looked down and saw a wide variety of...
...oddities...to look towards the counter but the man wasn't there. He was probably ready to close up for the night when I came in. The people pleasing side of her talking again.
Her heart had a sinking feeling at the thought of having to leave. There was so much more of the shop she wanted to explore! Every square inch was filled with...stuff!
She concluded she would act like she didn't notice that he was trying to close up and just wait until he asked her to leave. It would also provide another opportunity to hear his mysterious accent.
The store was full of such unusual things. Shelves of crystals, scrolls, brass objects, shells, taxidermy, jewelry, she even saw a casket with a mummified cat inside of it. She was squinting at a stack of old ledger papers when she realized it was difficult to read because the light was so dim.
She hadn't realized the store was so dark. It didn't seem that poorly lit when I first came in. In fact, she remembered there were all sorts of vintage lamps scattered throughout the shop giving the whole place a very warm and inviting feel, now it was just plain old dark.
Claire looked around for any sign of the elusive owner but couldn't see him anywhere, it was also strangely quiet. She could hear the tinny sound of a ticking of a clock from somewhere deep in the clutter but that was literally the only sound. She suddenly became aware of the sound of her heartbeat as it sped up. Her skin broke out in goosebumps and she felt a strange static sensation in her clothes. Her long, rayon skirt was sucked in and sticking to her legs, riding up as she walked.
What the hell? I need to leave.
Just then she spotted a very old train case propped open with opulent jewels spilling out of it. She could never be expected to turn away from antique jewels!
There was even a curious, radiant glow coming up from inside the train case. Standing over it, her face illuminated, she fingered a fragile looking pearl necklace. Tangled up at the bottom was the glowing object, a locket on a ribbon. She held the locket in her hand and tried to force it open, it wouldn't budge. Finally she saw the problem, a clasp on the side she didn't see before. She split the locking mechanism with her finger nail and it popped open.
Staring up at her was a photograph of her mother.
Claire felt the air suck out of the room. Her vision got blurry, the locket and the glowing train case swimming before her eyes. She dropped the locket and put her hand on the shelf to steady herself. Her mind was a maze of random, confused thoughts. How would a photograph of her mother be in this store? What are the odds that she would find it tonight? She looked older in the photo than the last time she saw her before she disappeared.
Claire pushed the strap of her purse up on her shoulder and turned towards the door. She had to leave. Leave now.
She passed by a large window and looked out across the street to the bar. A stab of fear pierced her chest as the door was closed and the neon "open" sign that was in the window was now dark.
Her eyes flashed to the bookstore's door and that was now closed as well. The swinging sign in the window read "open" which meant the sign facing the street read "closed".
Claire tried look around her but the store was really dark now, pitch black. The back of the store, where the bookshelves were, was now a shapeless mass of forms and shadows.
She kept her body facing the shelves and backed slowly towards the door. Instinctively, she didn't want to turn her back towards the darkness.
There was a little illumination from a streetlamp outside and she made her way slowly towards the window closest to where it was. She felt drunk on fear and adrenaline, unable to force her brain into cognitive thought.
Like an idiot in a low budget horror movie, she banged her shin hard on a low, wooden table and almost fell. She tried not to cry out for fear of giving away her location, so she grimaced in pain, gnashing her teeth together as hot tears squeezed out uncontrollably.
She decided she would have more success navigating through the store if she crawled. She could keep her hands out in front of her and prevent any further injuries and she would be harder to see. Carefully dropping to her knees, she crawled to the front door.
It was locked.
She knew it would be. She wasn't even surprised. What surprised her was that that man was able to dim the lights and lock up the shop without her even noticing. It was like he could come and go as he pleased without the slightest--
He's a vampire.
The thought exploded in her brain.
You're going to die.
Claire pounded at the sides of her head. Stop it! Stop! She had read too many horror stories and her mind was betraying her. She needed to think clearly and rationally. Vampires aren't real--serial killers pretending to be vampires because they are psychopathic freaks is real.
Would dying in the arms of the man in the top hat be so bad?
That thought didn't entirely feel like her own. That one felt carefully placed there by someone or something else-like another voice inside her head besides her own.
The static feeling came again. The strands of her hair feeling like they were being lifted off her body and suspended. She whimpered and laid out flat against the ground, her face towards the ceiling.
Something in her gut told her he was crawling on the ground towards her. At the same time, she heard a low, guttural growl.
Tears seeped from the corners of her eyes and slid down the sides of her face into her hair. She brushed them away with her hands.
Just get it over with. Don't fight.
Her body was splayed out on the ground paralyzed, immobilized with fear but also by something else, that static power in the air-it pressed on her and held her down. Her mind felt fuzzy--a flurry of her own, panicked thoughts and then some other--messages forcing their way inside.
She turned her head to the left and saw him.
He was crawling on the ground, flat like a soldier, with his large arms out in front and his body snaking out behind him. His hat was gone, the vest was gone, the ascot gone...just a bare chested man with long, unruly hair and shimmering eyes crawling towards her.
His lips were parted. She half expected him to lick them seductively like they always do in the movies.
He's going to kiss me, that's all. An eternal kiss. Won't be so bad.
Again, Claire knew something else was inserting messages into her mind thinly disguised as her own thoughts. She kept feeling something in her rise up, this fight or flight reaction but then it was smoothed out and dismissed before her body could respond. Claire's fingers dug into the floor so hard she lost a fingernail. She never wore those fakes, this was a real one and it hurt like hell. There was nothing to hold on to, nothing to brace herself against.
And then he was above her. That musky, earthy smell so potent now. She imagined this was the smell of an animal when it is ready to devour its prey--overpowering, intoxicating, terrifying. He opened his mouth to show his prey the fangs that would embed themselves in her flesh. Her slow brain simply stated...
She closed her eyes, just get it over with, she thought again.
Suddenly, the sound of glass shattering overhead and the release of the static pressure happened at the same time. Claire jumped up and scrambled to her feet. There were men with torches and shovels and axes out in the street. Several of them were batting at the shards of glass making a large space where she could escape. She ran to the window. She saw Rose. Rose was wearing a mask of cartoonish fear.
"Rose! Rose, it's me, I'm right here!" she called out.
She felt something warm and wet blooming on her stomach. She looked down and saw it all. All of herself; red and glossy. She was a done.
The animal got his prey.
Claire felt her body had gone all twisted as she collapsed on the ground. She could hear shouts and more breaking glass but she didn't care. She rolled over on her back and threw her arms around the neck of her attacker and let go. She hoped this wouldn't be the end.Vampires don't actually kill their prey, right?
The edges of her vision were going black, slowly closing her circle of sight until only a pinpoint of light danced before her eyes before it blinked out.
***TO BE CONTINUED***