A vampire gets trapped in a parking lot. Chaos ensues.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea. A maze of vehicles, combined with the crowd’s laser-focus on the entrance sign, made for the perfect hunting ground. They’d already be so confused, so distracted — they’d never see me coming. I was pleased with myself for having conjured such a creative solution, given my naïveté in the realm of vampirism, and sat back in my coup pretending to agonize over a map of the zoo.
Furrowing my marblesque brow, I attempted to hone in on my senses. There was no shortage of fresh meat, that was for sure, but I didn’t want my first kill to be an easy A. I wanted to lurk, stalk, conquer my prey. The shadowy mammary clouds rolling into the park provided an excellent setting, but I knew the unpredictable late-autumn weather of the region couldn’t be trusted. I figured I had about an hour to get in, feast, and get out. Then again, I could always take my meal to go…
At my six was a family of four, dressed in matching Halloween sweaters bearing the words The Spooky Salituros. In tow was the father, a juicy 240-pound sack of well-seasoned meat, though his blood smelled a little salty for my tastes; the mother, a spritely little thing whose bones could function as post-gorge toothpicks; and two young boys, one not older than eight and the other not older than four, whose nubile blood could sustain me for days. If I could lure them away from the hordes of tourists and further into the dark corners of the lot, it would be a quick and mostly painless kill. I considered my strategy for a moment longer, deciding that it would be safest to separate them one by one. Their increased panic and confusion would double their heart rate and bolster their blood pressure, effectively marinating their precious little arteries for me. I swallowed hard, the metallic tang of venom coating my teeth in anticipation.
Slipping out from the passenger side, I crept along the boundary of the parking lot, staying blanketed under the shade of the lemon trees. I watched the childrens’ movement most intently, wiping venom from my chin as I imagined how rich their mother’s nectar would taste after fretting over her missing boys. The smaller of the two children appeared to walk with a slight limp, and as he passed in front of a patch of light I could see a glittery bandage decorating his chubby leg. Damn — damaged goods. The wound, I could sense, was still healing, and the most delicate hint of his plum-red wine wafted in my direction as he waddled along beside his guardians. He may be a touch bruised, but I would simply cut the rotten parts off. His older brother took his hand — how sweet, how protective — and I decided I’d start with the cripple.
Black, purple, and orange balloons fluttered in the wind, which was picking up now and howling between naked trees. Stray balloons had already come unfurled from their designated places and were tangled in branches around the lot. A few deflated bits of colorful latex lay on the ground, scavenged away by squirrels and birds. Amidst the runaway balloons was a shiny black one bouncing helplessly against the windshield of a stranger’s minivan. Unraveling it in my hands, I waited for a strong wind before releasing it. As I expected, the wind carried the balloon westward…directly across the eyeline of the young boy.
His bright blue eyes darted from his mother, over to the balloon, then back again. Dropping his brother’s hand, the mop-haired glanced upwards to see the rest of his family assembling what must have been his stroller. Immediately bored by the activity around him, my pungent little meal dashed away toward the balloon, now floating gently toward what I excitedly pictured as his final resting place. Now just two playful bounds away from my shrouded figure, the boy reached up to grab the purple ribbon. My pale fingers shook and stretched toward his wrist, his fat blue veins pulsing wildly under that perfect white flesh…
My eyes snapped up, hands shoved into my pockets, and the aroma of my would-be appetizer drifted away as the boy scrambled back to the rest of his clan. In his place was a souped-up Silverado, flashing its brights as if I were a frail deer attempting to cross the road.
From the driver’s side window leaned out a generously-sized man, paler than me but for a splotchy red sunburn dotting his neck, wearing a coat that may as well have been made from cigarette packages. His sunglasses gleamed and glinted in the slowly-erupting sun, and in their black reflections I could see another balloon struggling against the confines of the chain-link fence behind me.
The man laid on his horn again. “HEY, ASSHOLE,” he called. “I’m talkin’ to YOU!”
A twinge of frustration knotted in my empty stomach and I fought back a growl. From the dryness in the air I could tell that the Salituros had long since moved on, too far into the more public areas of the park to pursue anymore. Had I still the ability to bleed, I may have tasted copper in my mouth as I bit down on the inside of my cheeks, but instead all I tasted was the torturous sandpaper of desperate thirst. The man in front of me looked and smelled about as appetizing as a red light whore, but my patience was wearing thin.
I mustered up a tired “I’m sorry?” and scanned his truck for additional witnesses. Though I could easily see the shiny satin pink bow atop his tiny daughter’s head, I couldn’t quite grasp her scent. Her father’s overbearing burnt-leaves-and-gasoline stench reined over the cab, but even through his open window I could scarcely sense what was usually an especially pungent smell — toddlers with fast little hearts, so easily excitable, typically smelled warm and indulgent like mulled wine. This time, I questioned whether the little girl was even real as I inhaled what could only be compared to some kind of cleaning product. Lemon? Bleach? Some kind of antibacterial…
“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?” the man muttered, slamming his door behind him and approaching me with a scowl painting his rotund face.
“I’m sorry sir, can I — ”
“Can you get the fuck outta the parking spot, man? I’m trying to have a nice fuckin’ day with my daughter and you’re just standin’ there like you ain’t got a clue in the goddamn world!”
Upon closer inspection, I realized he was right — in my pursuit of the chubby-legged cripple boy, I must have wandered out of the shadows and into the rapidly-filling parking spaces surrounding my car. I cursed myself for being so careless, quickly shuffling backward under the shelter of the foliage. “My apologies, sir.”
“Yeah, your apologies!” he called from over his shoulder as he retreated back to his truck. “You see any open spaces, dude? Naw, ’cause there ain’t none! ‘Sept the one you’re fuckin’ standing in!”
His rant continued out of earshot as he clamored back into the cab, his engine roaring to life and thrusting the truck two feet forward into the parking space. In another moment, the ignition shut off and I was graced to a view of the aggressive stranger’s sweat-soaked cargo shorts as he leaned behind his seat to unbuckle his daughter’s carseat. The electric shock of sunlight on my bare hand reminded me of the rapidly-ticking time bomb of my mission, and I began the short trek back to my car. I would just wait until the night maintenance crew arrived. My first kill would have to be simple and quick — I’d try something tougher next time around. Perhaps I could infiltrate a Halloween party…
An unmistakable squeal of delight emitted from the rude man’s direction. I paused, hand on my driver’s side door handle, and glanced up to see the man lift the smallest, most fragile little porcelain doll from her seat. Her cherubic cheeks flushed with red, grabby little hands wrapped around her father’s neck as he set her in a stroller near the sidewalk. Again, I eagerly sniffed the air, hoping to catch a whiff of dessert before I continued on, but instead all I gathered was that same clinical odor. It was as if someone had doused the child in air freshener, or had used far too much laundry detergent on her tiny pink dress. Even if that were the case, I should still be able to pick up a taste of blood, a hint of sweet decadence pulsing through her small veins. But no such luck; in fact, she almost smelled…disgusting.
“Are you JOKING?”
Again, the fat man threw his arms up, this time tearing off his sunglasses and waving violently in my direction. “You’re a pervert now too? Can I fuckin’ HELP you?”
Shit, I didn’t realize I’d been staring. I blinked rapidly, stupidly, as if my full two minutes of unblinking gawk could be made up for by an excess of human tic-ing.
“What are you starin’ at my daughter for, you fuckin’ freak?!”
“I-I’m sorry, I just thought — ”
“You just thought what?!” The man breathed heavily, frantically, face reddening as if he’d been aching for a fight for weeks. For a moment, the rush of blood to his face pushed a wave of hunger over me that burned through my bones. My fingers shook in my pockets and I closed my eyes, leaning back against my car, as desperation set in.
“I’m sorry, there’s just…just something wrong with your daughter,” I murmured. As soon as the words left my dry lips, I bit down on them in anger. Why did I say that? Damn it, I need to get out of here…
Through my closed eyes I could sense them growing nearer, and the wobbling stroller wheels caught on stray pebbles as the man rushed toward me. When I opened my eyes, he was mere feet away, knuckles white on the stroller handles. His daughter carelessly kicked her feet and leaned back and forth in her seat as if she were dancing to music only she could hear. This time the citric acid scent was even more powerful and I couldn’t help but stare directly at her in awe. I locked eyes with her, and without moving I whispered, “Your daughter. There’s…something wrong with your daughter.”
The man was quiet for a moment. I could feel his gaze penetrating my face, trying to find some kind of irony in it, some reason to punch it. Instead, his heart rate stabilized slightly, and his breathing slowed.
“What do you mean there’s something wrong with ‘er?” He was more quiet this time, voice still tinged with anger, or maybe it was urgency? He looked down at the babbling baby, then back to me. I allowed him to meet my gaze. “What, you some kinda doctor?”
I had already said too much, I’d almost certainly have to kill them. It would be just as well — I wanted to dissect the little creature and find out where her stench was coming from. Was she poisonous? Some kind of mutant? Maybe her blood would taste even better, as if her putrid citrus smell was just a rind to remove in order to suck down the sweet juice inside.
“Y-yes. I’m a…pediatrician,” I said, straightening my posture. “Your daughter was behaving strangely while you were getting her stroller prepared. May I take a look?”
“What do you mean, behaving strangely?” The man demanded. I expected more fiery rage from his tone, given a stranger was requesting to handle his infant daughter, but instead he seemed merely perplexed. He put a calloused hand on top of her head and brushed away some stray strands. “Like, sick?”
I couldn’t believe it. He was actually going to let me examine her. It would only take a moment to consume her, and a moment more to subdue him. This loud-mouthed moron was going to feed me his child on a silver fucking platter. “Yes, sir. She seems…sick.”
The man had unbuckled her from the stroller before I had even finished speaking. In a moment he had already begun rattling off symptoms. “Well last week she fell over for no reason at all and then she hasn’t really been eatin’ much which is really weird for her because she’s like her ol’ man when it comes to food hah hah and I don’t have health insurance but I was going to — ”
Her smell was even worse up-close. With her resting in my arms, I couldn’t reconcile her perfectly angelic face with the rancid aerosol smell she emitted with each breath. Her skin stunk of heavy-duty cleaning products and mold, as if she were made entirely of filthy public showers. I fought back a gag as she touched my face, barely registering her father’s monologue. Her wide, innocent eyes belied disgusting, intolerable blood. I didn’t care anymore about my rind theory — I needed to get this demonic rubbish-child away from me.
“So what do you think?”
He looked so hopeful, almost sweet. Mercy was not in my nature, but I was sick with hunger and disgust at the same time. I set the child back in her stroller and muttered, “she’s sick. Get her to a specialist,” before brusquely getting inside my car.
The man hurried after me with the stroller, knocking twice on my window. “Wait, what’s your name, doc? So I can tell ’em who sent me.”
Fighting back another wave of nausea, I spat out my name before rolling up the window and peeling out of the lot.
The call came on a Thursday night, long after I’d finished a couple of virgins from the local community college. I’d been just about to venture out to another clan’s meeting when I was interrupted by my landline buzzing off the hook. Within three weeks of my encounter at the zoo parking lot, word had spread about a mysterious doctor — a private practitioner — who had a knack for identifying leukemia in children. The first benefactors of my unsolicited services — little Sarah and her father Mike — had insisted on showering me with gifts after receiving the diagnosis, which I later heard resulted in a positive prognosis due to the early detection. I declined each offer, but that hadn’t stopped them from sending hordes of friends and acquaintances to my door in search of free medical examinations of their little ones.
It only took three positive identifications — anemia in one, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in another, and sickle cell in the last — for the nearby research hospital to recruit me into their hematology division.
Unable to decline without raising suspicion of my identity, I began a consulting position — which then led to a full-time position — in the department as a diagnostician. My uncanny 100% success rate for identifying abnormalities in blood convinced the administration to look the other way when it came to my nonexistent qualifications. As long as it continued making money for the struggling hospital, no one cared how or why I was able to sniff out disease.
And so I lay in my permanent tomb of unrelenting torture, surrounded by piles of vials of delectable sustenance, but unable to touch a single drop. A lone survivor trapped on an island dripping with succulent fruit — but fruit with flesh so rotten it curls one’s toes. A sea of sickness surrounds me, a bitter fate, a cruel joke which condemns me to an eternity of dry, thirsty, sickly hell.