find-a-story magic box

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Comestibles Correlation

I work between two and five part-time jobs at any given time. For two days a week, I work at a national chain copy and print shop. For three days I work as a barista at a local coffee bar and cafĂ©. During the spring “prom season” I worked evenings at a small tuxedo shop, and during the holiday months I pick up ten hours a week at any one of three major retailers who always hire extra hands to cope with the shopping madness between Thanksgiving and New Years.

But the weekends…on the weekends I have what I consider my real job.

It pays nothing. (Though there are, occasionally, odd bits of loot that can be sold on Craigslist, or, failing that, eBay.)

It will never show up on any tax return.

I could never, ever put it on a job application under the “last three places you worked” box.

And it will likely one day kill me.

It has, in fact, killedmy mother, left my father in an asylum, and driven my older sister to accountancy.

But I would give up all of my paying jobs, go broke and live homeless on the streets before I would ever quit my weekend work.

At two in the morning on a Saturday night, instead of furiously pounding the keyboard during an MMORPG boss fight, sliding steadily into an alcoholic coma while dancing madly at the hottest clubs, or pub crawling with a mob of friends, I stalk the abandoned in-between-places of the city with my cantankerous (yet curiously loveable) Uncle Dennis—or Uncle D as I call him, much to his disgruntlement—looking for dead people that won’t stay dead.

On the weekends, instead of partying, gaming, drinking or furthering my social status in any way, I, Lara P. Jacobs, hunt vampires.

It’s one fifteen in the morning on a Saturday night, and I am following Uncle D through the sunken, abandoned remains of a hotel that, thanks to eighty years of neglect and settling, is two and a half stories below street level. Most people don’t know that places like this exist; a few intrepid photographers obsessed with old and decaying places abandoned by humanity and time, they find spots like this, take pics, and evacuate the premises before anything can collapse on their precious artsy heads. Once in a blue moon, a cluster of desperate homeless will discover what seems like a miracle of hidden habitation, but quickly turns out to be a buffet with them as the sole item on the menu.

Vampires love abandoned places.

And no, they don’t sparkle.

Unless you spray them with glue and roll them in glitter but dammit that was New Years and we were drunk, don’t judge!

“Stop drifting, Lala.”

I scowled at my uncle, more for the use of my nickname than for his admonishment. Calling me Lala like I was still a kid was part of the reason I persisted in calling him Uncle D.

Seriously, though, the guy just does not look like a Dennis.

I pulled my attention away from the antique candle holder, and yanked my thoughts back from wondering how much a brass candelabra circa 1898 would fetch on Antique Roadshows. Sometime around the turn of the century, this hotel had begun to sink. Foundation unstable on earth unpredictable, the owners gave up trying to save it and just…left. Maybe they meant to come back to their investment one day. Maybe they were trying to find engineers who gave a better prognosis. Either way, they left everything behind, and sometime in the mid-to-late-30’s, most of the place had sunk as far as it was going to go. Everyone had forgotten what was there, new investors plowed over the bit still sticking up above street level, and built a new building—never knowing that the only thing keeping their bank or office building or retail shops from sinking below the street was a hotel that had already sunk thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred years ago.

There are places like this in every city. More than anyone will or wants to admit.

“Stop drifting, Uncle D.”

D stopped fingering a dusty gilded ashtray and flashed me a scowl that was have irritation, half guilty chagrin. He moved ahead, lighting the way with a specially designed flashlight that gave off increased UV radiation.

Rare was the occasion that we needed it.

Perhaps I was a bit misleading when I said we hunted vampires.

Only an IDIOT would hunt vampires.

Those things are stronger, faster, and, thanks to all that extra time on their hands, often smarter and craftier than humans. And forget everything you’ve heard about hunting them during the day, while they sleep—fool’s endeavor. They’re not sleeping, weak, or vulnerable—they’re bored and pissed off, and anyone stumbling into their home wielding holy water and wooden stakes is just gonna make them mad as hell.

My mother had been an idiot.

Uncle D and I run more of an…extermination service.

We go in at night—like tonight—find the nest, and leave nice, timed, nasty surprises that go off once we are safely topside in the sun, working our “normal” jobs and playing at being mundane.

Books, movies, fanfiction, even old texts with nifty monochromatic wood block prints of Nosferatu would have folks believe that it’s best to hunt a vampire during the day, and at night avoid its nest at all costs.


Night is when the fuckers are all out drinking blood and raising hell.

Night is the safest time to attack a vampire’s nest because—duh—the vampire isn’t there.

Snug in backpacks carried by myself and Uncle D, three to five timed UV and incineration devices waited deployment. The bigger the nest, the more devices we would use. Around dawn, when all the vamps living in the nest were home safe and sound from the sun, the littler timers would go off and BAM! No more vamps. The traps burned clean and quick, the UV blast wouldn’t harm humans, and to the best of my knowledge we had only accidentally burned down one building, and really, don’t we have enough Starbucks?

Don’t look so worried, no one was inside.

D and I have eliminated over twenty-three nests since I disregarded my father’s and sister’s advice and took up the family business.

Despite this, I am still considered a noob.

I figure D will consider me a veteran vamp hunter sometime around my fortieth birthday. Or once all my hair goes gray, whichever happens first.

Ahead of me, D pushed through one of four sets of semi-rotted doors leading from the buried hotel’s lobby.

The smell hit me as soon as the doors opened.

Rot, mildew, and a dry musty sort of smell one usually associates with reptiles and low-income nursing homes.

“Ain’t it just like a phage.” D snorted, looking around the room with his UV-flash.

I blinked. “Isn’t what just like a phage?”

D gestured around us. “This. This is just like a phage.”

I stared. We were in a dining hall. Plates still held places that no one would ever fill. Silverware (real silver by the tarnish, my eBay senses were tingling) still set beside each plate. Crystal glasses. More candelabras. Moldering linen napkins and even a few silver-domed carts abandoned between the rows of circular and long rectangular dining tables.

“It’s a damn restaurant, D. How is that like a vampire?”

Uncle D continued to advance, scanning the room for the best places to lay our timed traps. “Hemophages, or Hemovores, Nosferatu, dhampir, vampir, the common vampire…”

Dammit I hate it when he lectures.

“…they’re all the same basic monster, Lara.”

At least he was using my real name. But I’ll be damned if I call him Dennis.

“They live off the blood of others. Preferably humans. Apparently we taste better. But phages have all given up two things that they long to get back. One, the sun.” He turned over a pile of rotted wood with his toe; linen napkins turned to dust by dry rot rose in a cloud around his foot. “And two, food.”

Beneath the disintegrating pile of table and cloth, there was an iPod.

It looked new.

There was blood covering the lower half of the small electronic device.

For some reason, hemophages liked to bury the bits and pieces left behind from a kill. Like a wild animal burying its scat.

D turned towards me and grinned his most irascible grin. “This is why you’re still a noob, Lala.” He played the light from his UV-flash across the far wall. “What you don’t know could fill more pages than one of those damned books by George R. R. Martin.” He pressed on through the dining hall. Everywhere were signs of the nest. Cast off items from victims. Careful stacks of books. Clothing not covered in dust and the occasional phone charger.

But no footprints. Never footprints. Vampires do not leave footprints in dust, mud, dirt, blood…nothing.

I still haven’t figured that one out.

And yet they never noticed when we did it. I wondered if it was pure arrogance, nothing more than the conviction of superiority that made the phages ignorant of the stark evidence of our visit. Whatever the cause, not once had one of our traps been avoided because one of the phages in the vamp nest said “Hey, guys, what’s this size six boot print doing here?”

Shut up. So what if I’m short.

“So…” I stepped carefully around a fallen chair, dancing my light over this and that, making mental notes of what I wanted to grab for later selling, once my backpack was emptied of its load.

Once we found the actual nest part of the nest.

Vampires sleep in a pile like puppies.


I tried not to scowl. “So…what’s with the dining hall?”

“Pay attention and I might let you go scouting with me next time, instead of just helping to blow shit up. The dining hall,” oh God help me, he was lecturing again, “falls under their obsession with food. None of them can eat any more. They miss it. They begin to develop an outright neurosis for food and anything that has to do with food. They collect ketchup packets and line the nest with them. They hoard plastic sporks and silver knives alike. They get tattoos of turkeys, ice cream, sushi, whatever, and when their eternal hides reject the ink in five or fifty years, they get more tattoos of PopTarts, Twinkies, empty plates and empty goblets.” He swung his arms wide, flash in one hand, an illegal semi-automatic rifle in the other.

Hey, we avoid them whenever possible, but we’re not stupid.

“They nest in dining halls.”

D followed the line of his arm, across the room to where his UV-retro-fitted flash caught a pile of what looked like garbage mounded under and around one of the long dining tables.

The nest.

Quickly we unloaded the traps from our packs. Three from mine, two from his. They went into the piled debris of blankets, clothing, corpses and—I noted for the first time—single serving sugar packs and, yes, ketchup packages.

One charged trap, timer set, went into the basin of a chandelier still clinging tenaciously to the tilted ceiling. Another was balanced on the metal prep table just inside the swinging doors to the kitchen. The last trap went near the only exit to the surface; the door we had entered through.

A quick glance at watches told us we were almost out of time.

It was unlikely for a phage to return to its nest until it absolutely had to, but apparently the damn things sometimes suffered from depression or homesickness because hunters like D and I had been caught with their proverbial pants around their ankles by early homecomings.

Packs emptied of traps, we pilfered a few items of dubious worth, but undoubtable awesomeness and headed back for the surface.

Uncle D replaced the chain and lock we had cut to slip through the business now above the hotel; there were other ways in but for us, this had been the safest option. Skulking through sewers may seem like fun, but trust me, it smells way worse than TV makes it look.

The rifle went into a case, the flashlights into backpacks, and we walked single-file down the narrow alley trying not to look suspicious. Out on the street, the nightlife was still moving hard and heavy; Uncle D and I split up, staying close but moving as independents.  I trailed after him trying not to look like the five-foot weirdo I was, out at two-thirty in the morning, dead sober, and dressed in military surplus everything. The raised hoodie helped. I at least looked like a ne’er do well hoodlum, a delinquent criminal out to pick a few pockets.

A band of neopunk rave girls giggled their way past us, furred boots to their knees in eye-watering shades of pink, green, and yellow, legs bare despite the cold weather, skirts shorter than their bums and makeup liberal, artful, and bold. I rolled my eyes as my uncle turned to follow the bouncing line of twenty-somethings move down the sidewalk.

He didn’t see the girl slip in behind him, so focused was he on catching sight of extra leg, exposed bossom, and tanned flesh.

The girl following my uncle was about as tanned as a dead fish belly.

Uncle D turned down the third alley from our sunken hotel and instead of going past and hitting the fifth alley like I was supposed to, I followed him.

The alley was abandoned, empty and lonely compared to the vivacious street behind us.

I twisted my wrist, freeing the apparatus strapped to my arm. In two steps I was behind the girl following my uncle, my wrist up and my finger depressing a button that sent six inches of slender Brazilian Ebony (one of the hardest woods on Earth) stabbing through the girl’s back.

She arched against my arm but did not cry out. Instead she turned flaring eyes of ebony flecked with gold and red towards me with what can only be called a shocked expression.

The fire in her eyes was mimicked by the cracks of glowing cinder radiating out from the stake in her back. The tip would have just pierced her heart.

She slid off the stake, falling to the ground in a heap of club-girl clothing and lightly smoking flesh.

She had followed my uncle with not a care for another human following her. We mattered that little to them. I guess it is arrogance that keeps them from seeing our footprints.

My uncle spun around, his expression less shocked than the dead phage’s, but still more startled than I had ever seen before.

He glanced at the corpse by my feet with unforced aplomb.

“How did you know?”

I pointed with one toe.

“The cupcakes,” I said.

He leaned forward. The dead hemovore had kawaii-style cupcakes dangling from her earlobes and one arm was a tattoo sleeve of cupcakes, candy, birthday cake and icecream cones.

He gave me a sharp, approving nod. “Just don’t go thinking you’re a hunter like your mama.”

“No sir,” I murmured, stepping over the body to follow him down the alley and to our car. The sun would take care of her. Or her nest would. No one would find the body; even if they did, they wouldn’t last long enough to talk about it.

I wondered if she was a part of the nest we had trapped.

Yawning, I slid into the passenger seat of Uncle D’s silver Prius.

That was three weeks ago.

Tonight is Friday. I’m supposed to be scoping out a run-down factory in the middle of what D and I jokingly call Clubville (a two block area littered with haute clubs, hotter clubbers, and hungry vamps). But there’s a small pack of teenagers watching me more closely than I’d like.

The girls have chopsticks in their hair.

Two of the boys have donut subdermals in their temples.

All of them have eyes way more ancient than their teen-something faces.

There’s an alley ahead. I’m pretending to talk on my cellphone and breakup with a boyfriend I don’t have. I’m pretending to stagger while I walk.

Everything about me says victim.

I’m about to find out just how much of a hunter I really am.

I twist my wrists, right and left, and hope like hell that the hemophages following me really are as blindly arrogant as they seem.

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