Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
Dazzling, the lights.
She walked down a sidewalk on the seedy lower end of Sunset–the end the tourists never saw–resisting the urge to dart from shadow to shadow. The maiden told herself she was a human now, one of them, and she forced herself to walk more slowly, imitating their awkward shambling gait as best she could, stumbling slightly from time to time in the awkward leather boots, scanning her surroundings with her eyes rather than swinging her whole head around.
The garments she had taken from the female on whom she had just fed were tight and uncomfortable against her skin, although she was grateful for the tall, shiny boots covering her injured feet: Shards of broken glass and metal glittered on the stone-hard streets and she thought she understood why the prey were forced to encase their feet in protective coverings.
The streets of the city were dangerous.
Of course, she had no way of knowing that the woman she had killed–a pretty, slightly built Chicano girl wearing a straight black skirt and an orange silk blouse that had perfectly complemented her olive complexion and shoulder-length jet black hair–was a secretary from the nearby Los Angeles Police Academy. The girl had entered the park en route to a clandestine meeting with the married police sergeant with whom she had been having an affair for the past six months; an affair of which her strict Mexican father had vehemently disapproved.
All twenty-one-year-old Anita Ruiz had known as she stepped from her car and walked into the lengthening shadows of Elysian Park was that she couldn’t wait to see Ray Jellicoe, a handsome firearms instructor at the academy. They had begun meeting by the fountain in the park last, summer in order to avoid being seen together at work. And although Anita disliked walking onto the poorly lighted grounds alone now that it grew dark so early, she had never worried about the danger, knowing that Ray would always be there, sitting on the edge of the fountain, looking up with that slightly impatient smile, waiting to sweep her into his arms and hold her.
Tonight, Anita Ruiz had hurried down the familiar wooded path, anxious to tell Ray her news and certain that when he learned she was carrying his child he would leave his cold, unfeeling wife as he had promised.
But Ray Jellicoe hadn’t been waiting there as she stepped into the grassy clearing around the fountain. He was, in fact, attending his daughter’s third grade play at her elementary school in Glendale, an event he’d promised his wife weeks earlier he wouldn’t miss. When she had called him at work that afternoon to remind him, he had guiltily sworn that he had not forgotten.
But he had.
In fairness to Ray, he had buzzed Anita’s office, intending to break their date. But she’d been tied up in a staff meeting with the senior officer for whom she worked, and so her lover could hardly have left a message. So, feeling bad, he had gotten into his car and gone home to Glendale. He had figured Anita would be real pissed at him. But then maybe that was just as well. She was getting to be a real pain in the ass lately, always talking about marriage and pressuring him about his impending divorce…. Christ, how had he ever gotten himself into this mess? Anita Ruiz had become a very big problem.
Ray Jellicoe had no way of knowing, of course, that the problem of Anita Ruiz was about to be swiftly and cleanly removed from his life.
Anita had sat on the edge of the fountain for nearly an hour, weeping softly to herself and alternately worrying and wondering about Ray’s whereabouts. She realized he had been acting increasingly distant of late. Had he simply stood her up? She had finally gotten to her feet, intending to walk back to her car and drive out to his neat white ranch house in the hills behind Glendale–she had his address from the Academy’s files. She planned to confront him about their relationship, their baby…
It was a desperate decision, but Anita felt she had no choice. She was going to have a baby and Ray Jellicoe was the father. If Ray would not deal with her, he would have to face Papa and her hot-tempered brothers, Rico and Jimmy. Then, she mused, policeman or no policeman, Ray Jellicoe would probably die.
Anita had been hurrying along the dark path when she saw the yellow eyes glaring at her from the bushes. “Vamoose!” she had bravely shouted at what she presumed to be a prowling coyote: the cowardly scavengers were a constant presence in the park and could always be counted upon to tuck their bushy tails between their legs and scoot for cover at the first hint of a threat.
The yellow eyes had not wavered, however, and Anita had not even had time to scream before the white apparition sprang from the shrubbery and knocked her to the ground. Gasping for breath, she had thought she was going to be raped as pale hands pulled down the bright fabric of her new blouse. Instead, a horrible yet beautiful face had buried itself in her throat, the gleaming white fangs sinking carefully into her flesh in order to avoid spilling blood on the garment the vampire needed.
As soon as the paralytic liquid had taken effect, the maiden had dragged Anita Ruiz off the path. She fed slowly and carefully, rising up only when the girl’s heart had stopped beating, to examine the manner in which her clothes were affixed to her body, removing the skirt and blouse and boots and placing them on her own body, leaving the stockings and underwear–the purpose of which she did not understand–undisturbed.
When she had finished, and with surprising strength for one so frail in appearance, the maiden had carried Anita Ruiz’s body up the hill to the shallow cave she had occupied, and covered the entrance with leaves. Her day-long observations from the hilltop had revealed that the city was dotted with uninhabited hills and mountains and the young vampire felt certain of her ability to locate another den without difficulty.
Had the maiden known of Anita Ruiz’s heartache or that she was with child, it would have made no difference.
The human had only been prey.
Now the maiden stood on a street corner before a darkened botanica, watching the flow of shining vehicles moving toward the glow of brighter lights far up the boulevard. She studied the motion of the passing vehicles, noting how they stopped and started in response to the flashing of round beacons set in boxes above the intersections of each street corner. Although her night adapted vision did not allow her to define colors well, she quickly understood that the flashing of the topmost lights signaled the vehicles to move, the bottommost to stop. The function of the center light was unclear.
She reached up to touch the smooth frames of the dark Ray Ban sunglasses she had found in Anita Ruiz’s handbag, marveling again at the comfort and protection they afforded her among the city’s numberless glowing lights. She considered the glasses to be the best of the human inventions she had thus far discovered, after their swift vehicles. The vehicles mesmerized her and she was determined to have one for herself.
“Hey, chickie, ya wanna ride?”
She looked up to see a sleek vehicle standing at the curb, its polished silvery wheels reflecting the lights of the city. A young male wearing a cap with a long visor was smiling at her from the dimly lit interior. Melodious sounds reminiscent of the stringed instruments in the Oracle’s camp emanated from within.
“Where ya wanna go, baby?” called the young male. He leaned through the open window and she noticed that his naked arms were covered with cunning drawings; a panther preparing to strike, a sword plunging into a heart, a soaring eagle…. She stared in fascination at the figures.
“Come on, baby,” crooned the human in the vehicle. “Let’s go for a little ride. Where ya wanna go?”
She tore her eyes from the clever drawings. He followed her gaze toward the bright lights on the horizon. “Hollywood? You got it. Come on.”
He did something with his hand and the side of the vehicle swung open to receive her. She slid onto the soft cushions of the low chair beside the male, sitting as she had seen the humans do, hiking up the clumsy skirt and drawing her long, exquisitely shaped legs into the vehicle.
The youngster at the wheel of the lowered Accord stared at her thighs for a long moment and, when she made no move to close the door, leaned across to do it for her, allowing the skin of his muscular tattooed arm to brush the sheer fabric of the orange blouse.
She watched carefully, noting how he closed the door, following with shaded eyes as he straightened and began to manipulate the controls of the vehicle.
“So,” he said when the Accord was rolling smoothly up the boulevard toward the deceptive glitter of Hollywood, “what’s your story, honey?”
The block-long neon facade of Rollo’s Super Bedspread Mart–the West Coast’s largest factory-direct-to-the-public outlet–still blazed–open 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year–among the rows of darkened auto body shops and steel gated discount furniture stores lining the southern reaches of Venice Boulevard at the beach. Inside, a few Sharp-eyed employees scrutinized the handful of customers who were methodically shuffling their way through towering stacks of slightly irregular bedspreads laid out on unpainted wooden tables.
Upstairs in the red carpeted office, Rollo Castle, the Mart’s swarthy owner, sat surveying the scene through a mirrored two-way window above the idle cash registers. Marissa, a doe-eyed stock girl with an overly large nose and a pair of truly stupendous legs, sat on his ample lap, exploring the depths of his left ear with the tip of her long red tongue. “You take me to Wegas with you this weekend?” she sighed, sending delicious shivers of sensation down his spine.
Rollo shrugged noncommittally, trying to see the new customer who had just entered the store below. A man. That was good. Men were big spenders. Not like the dried up collection of penny-pinching housewives who drove all the way from places like Inglewood and San Pedro intent on saving a buck and who were driving him to the brink of bankruptcy. Marissa pulled back to stare into his eyes, blocking his view just as the new customer turned so he could get a look at him. “Shit, Marissa!”
She looked at him with those big liquid eyes. “You are angry with me now,” she whimpered, pulling a Kleenex from the enticing cleft of golden flesh showing through the low v-neck of her pink sweater. His eyes fell onto the soft, soft legs crossing and uncrossing in his lap.
“Naw, baby, I ain’t mad at you” he crooned, arching his neck to peer past her. Too late. The customer had disappeared from view. He hoped his lazy nephew Remy had enough sense to jump on the guy. Fat chance. Remy couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel. Marissa was wriggling her bottom against him and he felt himself becoming aroused. “Then you will take me with you?” she whispered, silken arms slipping around the neck of his custom tailored linen shirt.
“Yeah, baby.” Rollo surrendered himself to the heavy musky smell of her perfume, wondering if his Gold Card would stand the weight of a suite with mirrored walls and a sunken marble tub. The bedspread business had been for shit ever since McDonnell-Douglas and three other major aerospace manufacturers around the beach had folded their tents and moved to Taiwan. Marissa’s long, crimson tipped fingers deftly undid a button and her hand slipped inside his shirt, toying with the crinkly thatch of graying hair beneath the gold medallion. He allowed his eyes to close, dropping his free hand onto one of her buttery thighs.
He jumped, nearly dumping Marissa onto the floor as the seldom used intercom on his desk grated in his ear. Jesus Christ! It could only be that little bastard, Remy. “What?” he hollered into the cheap plastic speaker grille.
“Somebody to see you, Rollo.” Remy’s insolent nasal whine pierced the isolation of the office.
“I’m in conference,” he yelled, grabbing at Marissa, who had already slipped from his lap and was nervously straightening her tight skirt. “And didn’t I tell you to call me, Mr. Castle,” he added angrily.
“Sorry, Mister Castle…” He could hear the sarcasm dripping from the little punk’s voice–If he wasn’t his brother’s kid….the brother who had lent him twenty grand last year to keep the doors open. Shit!
“Yeah, Remy, who is it,” he sighed and leaned back in his chair. Marissa waggled her fingers and wrinkled her enormous honker at him before slipping out of the office and down the back stairs to the stock room where she was supposed to be marking down last week’s markdowns.
There was a buzz of muffled conversation on the other end of the intercom and Remy came back on sounding confused and frightened. “He says it’s a friend from the old days,” whispered the kid.
Rollo shook his head in disgust. Some fucking bill collector. “That covers a lot of territory,” he told the kid. “Ask him to state his business.”
There was another brief exchange on the other end of the intercom. “He says to tell you the Old Days, croaked Remy…. He said it in Romany.”
“Romany?” Rollo straightened in his chair at the mention of the ancient Indic dialect. No one spoke Romany except his own people, not even their kids anymore…. He was about to say more when he realized that his life might be in danger. Gypsy feuds spanned the generations. This stranger could well be the son of the son of a man his great grandfather had wronged, come here for vengeance. Another, and infinitely more likely threat crossed his mind. The man could be here about Marissa, come to slit his throat for daring to defile a virgin daughter.
“Rollo?” Remy’s voice crackled through the little Radio Shack speaker. “He says to tell you he means you no harm. He has given me his bond.”
Rollo Castle’s pounding heart slowed. Remy, the noisy little Domba, knew something of his heritage after all. A Gypsy’s bond to another member of his own race was sacred. Remarkable! He must remember to compliment his brother on the boy’s upbringing. Clearing his throat to expel the fear, he leaned forward and spoke in his rich, syrupy baritone. “Send the gentleman up please, Remy my boy.”
The reflections of a thousand lights bounced off the smooth curved lenses of the Ray Bans as she swiveled her head this way and that, staring at the wondrous electrical facades of the theaters and restaurants lining the boulevard. And the prey. They clustered thick as fleas about the entrances to shops, laughing, walking, chattering, examining paintings promoting adventure films; there were an untold number of them, defenseless as kittens on the streets of their shining city.
“It’s somethin’, ain’t it?”
The young male! She had nearly forgotten him in her eagerness to see and smell everything. She turned now to find him twisting his lips at her; showing his square, white teeth in what she had come to realize was a display of friendliness. She flinched as his free arm snaked around her neck, the fingers dangling over the neck opening of her garment. She felt his hand beneath the thin material, his hot rough fingers touching one of her newly swollen breasts and, when she did not flinch, growing bolder, cupping the tender flesh. Squeezing gently.
Guided solely by the reactions of the human female she had observed in the window of the habitation by the freeway, she allowed him to fondle her, arching her neck against the vehicle’s soft hide cushions and surprised to discover that the sensations she was feeling were pleasurable.
“Hows about you and me drive someplace up around Mulholland where we can be all alone, honey?” The male’s voice was a hoarse whisper in her ear.
“Yes,” she agreed. “Someplace dark!”
The pale young man sitting in the straight backed plastic chair across from Rollo Castle’s cheap surplus store desk exuded it.
“You are Romish then…,” began the bedspread merchant, his throat suddenly dry. He had never known a Gypsy whose skin was not the same rich olive hue he shared with his Indic ancestors.
The other did not answer immediately. Instead, he slipped a slender hand into the jacket of the expensive suit he wore over his silk tee-shirt and removed a bulging vellum envelope. Placing it on the desk, he pushed it across the cigarette scarred Formica until one corner was just touching Rollo’s fat brown fingers. “A small offering,” he said.
Rollo fingered the envelope, lifting the flap to look inside. An inch-thick packet of fresh hundred dollar bills winked back at him. More cash than he had ever seen at one time in all his forty-six years. He smiled nervously. “I don’t understand,” he said, suddenly alert for hidden cameras, reluctantly pushing the envelope away. This had to be some kind of a mistaken identity drug deal.
“You are of the lineage of Castillo, the eldest son of that family, are you not?” The stranger’s voice was soft, hypnotic.
“Yes.” A sudden feeling of dread was beginning to grab hold of Rollo’s guts. All the countless nights before his grandfather’s miserable trailer came rushing back into his brain; the keening violins and the roaring fires and the drone of the old man’s wine thickened voice as he recited the family’s ancient lineage, interjecting gruesome and incredible stories of the fey and deadly creatures who had traveled to the old encampments of his grandfather’s father’s grandfather to seek the counsel of the Oracle, the Gypsy arbiter of disputes among the outcast races, the keeper of their ancient histories.
“Then you are the one I seek,” said the pale creature, lifting a thin white hand to remove the dark glasses, gazing at him with huge golden eyes.
Rollo gasped, fighting for control of his sphincter. Jesus H. Christ, it was true! Everything the old man had said. He was suddenly more frightened than he had ever been. Remembering how he had laughed at the old fool, left the stinking caravan of broken down pickups and bone-weary Cadillacs with their rust-stained travel trailers in some dogshit Mississippi town to join the army, saved his money and mustered out to make a new life for himself here in California, vowing to stay put in one place forever….
Of course, the family had eventually caught up with him. Blood was not to be denied. “I, uh, haven’t really kept up much with the old ways,” he truthfully confessed, wondering what the creature was, wondering if it would let him live.
Sweet Mother of God!
The creature smiled, the skin of his thin, bloodless lips sliding back to reveal a mouthful of hideous razor-sharp teeth. “Do not be afraid,” it said, reaching forward to grasp the hammered medallion glinting against the hairs of Rollo’s chest. “You are the Oracle and the ancient wisdom is in your bones.” The creature gazed at the chunk of hand wrought gold at his throat for a very long time. Finally, he dropped it and settled back into his chair, the skin of his face slipping back to cover the awful teeth. “You must help me,” he said.
“Well, sure…. I mean, if I can,” Rollo croaked, his eyes shifting nervously from the others golden gaze to the envelope stuffed with money.
“A solemn pact was executed before your ancestor,” said the creature, “a marriage pact. Do you understand?”
Rollo nodded weakly, a sudden vision of the old man, his enormous cloud of fluffy white whiskers glowing in the light of the fire, telling how the hidden creatures, having no permanent societies of their own and little power to reason logically in matters involving the emotions, had sought out his ancestors to solemnize their marriages, settle their territorial disputes. “Yes,” he said, nodding and doing his best to sound wise, “my grandfather once told me of such pacts.”
The creature looked relieved. “Know you then,” he said, “that the child bride I contracted for in the camp of your ancestor has come of age and I now wish to claim her for my own.”
Rollo nodded. If there was something he was supposed to say, he couldn’t imagine what it was.
The creature replaced his dark glasses, apparently satisfied with the acknowledgement. “There is one more thing,” he said.
Oh shit! Rollo felt his gut tightening again.
“The female does not know that I am in this city, how may I find her or bring her to me?”
A bead of sweat rolled down the bedspread magnate’s nose and plopped onto the fabric of his striped shirt. He had the feeling he’d better have a good answer for this one. He closed his eyes, feeling slightly nauseous, and tried to remember something the old man might have said on the subject of locating lost brides. He couldn’t think of a fucking thing. He looked up and felt the golden eyes burning into him through the dark glasses. Amazingly, one of his grandfather’s old Romish sayings popped unbidden into his brain. “Well,” he suggested, trying desperately to smile, “they say if you lose your donkey you must try to think where you would go if you were a donkey.”
The golden eyes glared behind the glasses and, amazingly, he found the pale head nodding in agreement. “That is very good advice,” said the creature, getting to his feet and bowing formally. He turned to leave and Rollo touched the envelope, which had laid undisturbed on the desk throughout the bizarre conversation. “What about this…?” The creature whirled back to face him and he was suddenly sorry he had asked.
“Is the offering not satisfactory?” There was genuine concern in the soft voice.
Rollo grinned, certain now that his bladder would burst at any second. “Oh no,” he said. “It’s just right!”
The creature smiled his thin, humorless smile. “Thank you,” he said.
“Thank you,” smiled Rollo, realizing that not only was he going to live, he was going to be allowed to keep the money. “Come back any time.”
“When I have found her I shall return for the saying of the vows,” smiled the creature. “Of course, there will be a much larger offering at that time.”
The office door closed and Rollo realized that he was alone again. Through the mirrored window he saw the creature leave by way of the front door. A few housewives on the floor below continued to flip through stacks of sale bedspreads without looking up. “Jesus Christ!” he breathed, feeling the hot urine flooding the crotch of his red polyester slacks, soaking into the cheap fabric covering the seat of his secondhand swivel chair.
“Jesus H. Christ on a crutch!”
Straight Razor Dan punched the accelerator and the powerful black Ferrari leaped into the evening traffic stream cruising Venice Boulevard. The Gypsy was, as he had expected, a complete and utter fool.
Had he been capable of humor, the vampire would have found Rollo Castle’s pathetic attempt at advising him in the matter of finding his bride laughable. As it was, he wondered if it had been worth the extraordinary trouble he had taken to find the man; consulting a European internet genealogy service and tracing his shadowy ancestry down through tens of generations of Gypsy travelers, locating him here in the new land…. a fat pathetic merchant.
He dismissed the thought. Of course it had been worth the trouble. For, despite his ignorance of the ways of his ancient and distinguished ancestors, Rollo Castle, the bedspread czar, was the Oracle, the legitimate heir to the centuries old seat of power still recognized by the elders of all the Seven Kingdoms as the sole arbiter and pact keeper of the unseen tribes. If, as was the prince’s plan, he were to found a strong new dynasty of hunters in this barren land, he intended to do so with the full weight of the ancient authority.
Despite his disappointment at the human’s degraded condition, it had gladdened his heart to see the greed in Rollo Castle’s piggish little eyes; the greed he had tested with the envelope filled with cash. While he had no doubt that the fat little merchant did not even know there was no such tradition as the offering he had so readily seized upon–the Oracles of old having wisely bargained their services for the unquestioned protection and nearly limitless power offered by the minions of The Seven Kingdoms– it would make the task of controlling this upstart Oracle far easier than he had dreamed.
Straight Razor Dan owned the Oracle; the human who could decree him ruler of all his kind and, ultimately, of all the Seven Kingdoms.
Now he needed only to find his bride.
For what was a ruler without heirs?
He pressed the accelerator to the floor, threading the heavy sports car through a maze of traffic and onto a curving freeway ramp.
The hunger was burning in his belly.