Asterisk Anthology: Volume IRound 1 Winning Story
Authentic Vampire Teeth
© James Gardner
On the day of Halloween, right before Ezekiel “Zee” Bradley’s favorite night of the year, young Zee burst into the Many Faces Costume Shop in the Hillview Plaza not to shop but to hide. Puffy, swollen, and with a trail of blood descending from one nostril, his face would have looked at home among some of the zombie masks in aisle four. The sun outside was too bright for him, the crisp autumn air too cloying. It was the same air he quickly expelled in quick spurts that oscillated between hyperventilating and sobs.
He was actually on his way here with his former best friend Kaitlyn, money in hand, looking for some finishing touches for his costume, but now he just wanted a quiet, dimly lit place, such as many of the aisles here, to cry silently. And then later he would sulk in his bed all night, mourning the loss of his favorite holiday.
But he was seen coming in, and not by the empty eyeless masks that watched customers coming in. The bell above the door seemed to signal to the two men in the store to pause their conversation and observe the physically and emotionally beaten 14-year-old that just wandered in.
“Greetings, young man,” said the elderly man behind the counter. Far from the drawled vowels of Eastern Kentucky that Zee heard most of his life, the syllables he was hearing was clipped, efficient, each syllable sounding vaguely like him clearing his throat. “Can I help you?” A long, spidery finger pushed his glasses up his thin, aquiline nose.
The other man staying silent knew Zee. It was Mr. Parsons, his math teacher. When he typically met Zee’s gaze, it was while Zee was, figuratively and literally, beneath him; Mr. Parsons looked down from the slope of his gut at Zee scribbling vampire bats on a worksheet as though he’d simply wiped an errant booger on it. Now, however, Mr. Parson’s looked caught in the act. Zee saw Mr. Parsons clutching a bagged costume to his chest. On the bag was a cheerleader who looked just shy of graduating high school, smiling and waving her pom-poms.
“I have a bathroom in the back, past medieval weapons, and it might be a place where you can,” the old man said, gesturing to his own rotten apple face, “clean yourself up.” The way he said “and,” more like “und,” reminded Zee of Hans and Franz on Saturday Night Live, except those two would not approve of the old man’s pipe cleaner arms and narrow, sagging shoulders. Zee beelined to the back without meeting either gaze, and Mr. Parson was trying just as hard to avoid Zee’s. Before Zee could make his way past a collection of plastic maces and axes, the bell above the door rang again.
The bathroom’s mirror showed not only the beating that he took from Ron Caulfield, including a shiner that would surely blossom by November 1st, it showed Zee why he was an easy target: too-large jacket hanging over thin shoulders, split lip trembling, the ripped t-shirt with The Lost Boys’ David baring his vampire teeth, eyes shining orange. I loved this shirt, Zee thought, and that’s when he let himself cry, cry for having 50 dollars he earned by mowing in the hot summers and raking when the leaves started falling, cry for getting beat up in front of his best friend Kaitlyn, and cry because he was proving that he was, according to Ron Caulfield, a “fucking pussy” for “crying like a bitch;” that thought only made him cry harder.
Zee soon cried everything out of him, and then scrubbed his face until the ground-in dirt and tears were gone, leaving only reddened skin behind. His shirt ripped, his face still throbbing and hot, Zee straightened his shoulders and was determined to march his way out of the bathroom, head held high.
Before he could take his newly fortified will past the door and into the late afternoon chill, he heard the shopkeeper shout, “Wait, young man.”
Zee paused, despite many of his instincts saying that he should simply bolt, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. He turned to see the old shopkeeper smiling cheerfully.
“You are forgetting something,” he said, pointing. The man looked enough not only like a grandfather but epitomized the concept that Zee thought he meant he’d forgot his gloves or that he forgot a nickel or piece of hard candy that may or may not be pulled from his ear. When he saw what the man was pointing to, he felt suddenly embarrassed.
He pointed to a sign on a shelf that even in the dim interior of the store could be read thanks to its big black letters: Bathrooms are for customers ONLY!
Zee cleared his throat. The thought of not having any money when he’d had over fifty dollars just hours ago was a good old fashioned twist of the knife in his gut. “I-I don’t…I’m sorry, but I—”
The old man, flatly, his smile waning, said, “You have no money.”
Zee could only shake his head. He thought about turning out his pockets like the folks in the Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry cartoons do to show they are truly bereft of funds. They had taken his wallet; he’d have to scrounge up a dollar to replace his library card.
Then the smile returned, so quickly that the frown was the old man acting. “Well, there are other methods of payment, aren’t there? You can pay me back, I’m sure.”
Zee nodded quickly, emphatically. “Yeah. Yes. You betcha I can pay you back. Whatever it takes for me to pay you back, Mr.—”
“Johann is fine. We can go by first names since we are now making a business deal, I assume.”
“Yeah,” Zee said. “My name’s Zee. Ezekiel, but friends call me Zee.” Kaitlyn, his only friend, was the only friend to call him that name, his only friend, period. The same friend who left Zee to get beaten, possibly to death. As she was beating feet, Zee didn’t hear her yelling for a cop or for anyone to help. He momentarily swallowed his anger down, a hot coal that stubbornly clung to the back of his throat.
“Well, Zee, I believe I have something for you.” The old man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black box, very much like a magic trick, similar but not quite the tried-and-true quarter behind the ear. He held it for Zee’s inspection.
Zee took the box and saw “Authentic Vampire Teeth” written on the top in stylized red bleeding letters. He couldn’t believe it. Before he was mugged, he was going to spend some of his money getting a pair of vampire teeth for his Halloween costume tonight.
“Are they acceptable? These teeth?” Johann asked. “I noticed your shirt and thought you liked the Nosferatu.”
“I love them,” Zee said, without looking up. The teeth didn’t even look plastic. They looked as real as the ones in his head, except these, were sharper. “These are great.”
“Take them. Tonight. We can discuss payment tomorrow. Before noon.”
Zee turned to leave, rushing to the door before the old man changed his mind. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“BEFORE NOON.” Johann’s voice was so loud, it was like a gunshot, making him flinch. Zee turned back and the old man was still smiling, but there was a flash where Johann’s grin looked less avuncular and more sadistic, the oddly even teeth bared like a snarling dog. “There will be payment, noon, tomorrow, but enjoy those teeth tonight. Enjoy the escape they provide.”
Later, after many Halloweens, Zee would dream about the old man’s face, the yellowing teeth, the warts and wrinkles, a mental photograph that would sometimes stretch and distort into funhouse mirror proportions. Even when the teeth and jaw stretched and looked big enough to bite off Zee’s head in one quick snap, dream Zee, no matter how terrified, would reach for the vampire teeth.
The trip back to his trailer home was uneventful, except that Zee looked over his shoulder constantly, ducked behind various light posts and telephone poles, and behaved like someone with gold in his pocket instead of a velvet box holding part of a Halloween costume. Several times he patted the pocket of his jeans to make sure they were still there.
His mother’s boyfriend Randy was still in the living room, still playing Goldeneye on his N64. When Randy had suggested moving Zee’s game system to the big TV in the living room, Zee was initially excited to see Link exploring dungeons on a larger TV. That was before he realized that Randy, stuck at home on disability, would be playing it all day.
“What’s for dinner, little man?” Randy asked when Zee stepped through the screen door. Meaning that he was to check the fridge and see if there was a casserole dish with something that could be warmed up. Zee was at the fridge before Randy had finished his question.
Without answering, Zee knew about her shift at Denny’s in the morning, and she mentioned working on a group project with her fellow nursing students last night. Zee set about preheating the oven and pulling the Saran Wrap off the casserole—ham chunks and cheesy elbow macaroni, yum—while Randy still looked at the TV.
Shouting at the TV, Randy bellowed, “Shit, he came out of nowhere!”
The wait while the over preheated was mostly silent with Randy playing and Zee pretending to watch the oven while it preheated to avoid conversation. During that time, he obsessively fingered the bulge the teeth made in his pocket. What made this moment awkward was his mother’s boyfriend deciding to pursue a conversation with Zee.
“Still going trick or treating this year?” Randy said without pausing his game.
Zee stopped dead and simply said “Yeah.”
“You gettin’ too old for that stuff, little man.”
“Lots of kids older than me are doing it,” Zee retorted, not mentioning that they were mostly kids out to egg and/or TP houses.
Randy didn’t reply to that, just simply told Zee to “get me a beer and you can watch me play some.”
Zee had obediently got Randy his beer, even opened it for him and set it down on the coffee table in front of him, but told his father figure, “I have to get ready.”
Randy ended the interaction with a grunt and went back to playing his game, leaning forward, darting his head, shoulders, and hands gripping the controller like it was a live animal trying to escape his grip. Randy’s body shifted in various ways that someone with a back injury typically couldn’t do.
As the sun eased itself behind the hills, setting the clouds aflame in its passing, and the moon rose to take its mark on night’s stage, Zee began his transformation, putting on a leather jacket (Goodwill), a Led Zepplin T-shirt (Randy’s closet), and jeans worn at the knees (ready to be sent to Goodwill). The moon was high and red while he moussed his hair into spikes and eye shadow to make his eyes look sunken. The boy in the mirror would look right at home as one of David’s brood in Santa Clara.
Zee got the vampire teeth from his pocket, noting that they even looked real in the light of his bedroom. The teeth were two separate teeth that slipped over the canines. He slipped one over his right canine, and it fit perfectly. He tried to wiggle it but that long tooth was as sturdy as the teeth that grew there. Then he slipped the other tooth over his other canine and disappeared.
Not disappeared, per se, but he felt a…dislocation of his body. Zee’s frail frame was ripped from him while another body was instantaneously draped over his essence, a body with different dimensions that took up different areas of space.
He could feel his new body, but couldn’t see it in the mirror. He waved one hand, both arms, but there was only the reflection of the Christopher Lee poster on his wall behind him. Wanting to test this, he grabbed a Freddy Krueger figure from his desk and waved it in front of the mirror. In the mirror, Freddy seemed to fly erratically like a moth orbiting a light bulb.
“Unbelievable,” he murmured. Then Zee looked down and noticed the hand that held Freddy, the one not appearing in the mirror wasn’t his hand. The skin on it was too pale, almost white except with light blue veins threading the translucent skin. The fingertips ended not in slightly chewed nails but nails that could be called talons, each nail longer than his regular fingertip.
“SON OF A BITCH,” Randy howled right into Zee’s ear. Zee stumbled back, clutching his head. “I HAD YOU! I HAD YOU!” Zee breathed deep, hearing other sounds: the squeak of couch springs as Randy sat down, the sloshing of beer in the bottle as he took a swig, the quickening of Randy’s own heartbeat.
Zee also felt the gnawing in his belly, in his being. He had never known hunger like this, but he also knew automatically, even instinctually, what would sate it. That knowledge only made him smile, and he wished he could see his smile with his brand new teeth.
But it was dark outside, and time to hunt. He opened the window, and a breeze suddenly blew in, becoming a gust. He could feel the wind gather beneath him, obeying his mental commands. Soon, he levitated a few feet off the ground.
“Bitchin’” Zee whispered and soared out his window, up over his trailer park. Despite the darkness, Zee could see perfectly, could even see the outlines of the trailers beneath him. From his altitude, the trailers beneath him were like pencil boxes with Trick or Treaters scurrying like ants between them He sailed away from his home, performing barrel rolls, front flips, even dive bombing a stray dog and pulling up just before he could snag it by its collar.
Zee was on the outskirts of town when his new olfactory senses caught something that wasn’t part of the night air. Before he tried on the teeth, it was a smell that he never thought in a million years would make him smile.
It was Ron Caulfield’s cologne, Old Spice, mixed with other aromas: motor oil, Camel cigarettes, sweat. The last time he’d smelled it, Zee was terrified. Ron’s face was inches from his, and Ron’s knife even closer. But now it was a scent that could be tracked because Zee was now a creature of the night, a predator.
No longer the prey.
Ron Caulfield looked over at his best friend Devin, sitting in his lawn chair, sipping his beer and staring off into space. Even in the light of the fire, Ron could still see the pockmarks adorning his friend’s features. Devin belched loudly and his tongue licked the side of his mouth, as though wanting to taste the eructation again.
“Good costume,” Ron told his friend, taking a long sip of his own beer, slightly leaning forward in his own chair.
“What costume?” Devin said, grabbing a Slim Jim from his personal pile and tearing at it with his teeth.
“Aren’t you going as a queer this year?” Ron said, looking steely-eyed at his friend, waited. He could see a brief flash of anger in Devin’s eyes, similar to the one he does right before plowing into freshmen who are dumb enough to walk into his path. Ron had seen Devin start dustups that left both involved with bruises and bloody lips, but he simply musters a smile to his friend of over a decade and says, “Fuck off.”
Ron smiles but is a little disappointed that Devin didn’t try anything. The beating they gave that little queer this afternoon seemed to only whet his appetite for violence. The kid didn’t put up much of a fight. After Devin had tackled him, chanting “Goldberg” at the top of his lungs like a fucking idiot, Ron had gotten a few kicks in as the kid tried to get up. After that, the kid just curled up into a ball.
Coming into the light of the fire, Ron’s girl Missy came blundering out of the woods, stumbling slightly in her heels. She grabbed onto her companion, Devin’s girl Patty, for balance. Both girls were giggling and leaning on each other, as though they were just having a very funny, whispered exchange.
“You girls find a place to piss?” Ron asked.
“Yeah,” Missy said a little loudly. “It’s called the woods.” Missy reminded Ron of an Angelina Jolie who favored platinum blonde hair dye and blood red lipstick to showcase her lips. When they fucked, and he squinted just right, she could very well be Angelina, save for the Kentucky accent.
“Beer me, baby?” Missy asked and Ron obliged, reaching into the cooler and tossing her one. She laughed like she was moving beyond buzzed and heading straight to bombed, but she caught the can, holding it aloft.
“Good catch, Missy,” said Patty, clapping. “Maybe you should have been in girls’ softball.” Sarcasm and alcohol drew out the vowels of her statement.
“I didn’t try out for softball ‘cause I don’t like to lick carpet, Patty.” Patty responded by putting the V of her fingers up to her mouth and wagging her tongue at her friend, eliciting laughter from everyone. Patty had a butterface that might even have been handsome if she were a man, but she had a killer hourglass figure. Missy had little teacup-sized breasts, but Ron preferred cleavage he could bury his head in. He loved looking at Missy’s face when they were fucking, but he’d fuck Patty, too, if she wore a paper bag. The two of them making out, Ron knew, would be the closest Ron would get to combining their best parts into one woman.
“We making S’mores or what?” Missy asked while sitting on her man’s lap and putting her arms around him. “Campfire’s not getting any hotter.” The campfire in question still burned but was in danger of dying. She looked suspiciously at him. “You bring the skewers? The wood ones?”
Missy was hot, a little crazy, and got the weirdest ideas into her head, like her suddenly wanting S’mores on Halloween. Ron obliged because one piece of advice his dad gave him had been spot on: “Psycho chicks,” he told his son while half drunk, “were the best fucks.”
Still, Ron could imagine taking that skewer and sticking it through her hands, into her eye. Could even imagine her screaming which, for some reason, wasn’t nearly as annoying as hearing her talk.
To her, he said, “Of course, I bought the skewers. And we got the S’mores.” He stood up, nearly dumping Missy onto the dirt floor. Missy huffed as Ron stalked away from the fire, heading in the direction of his car but stopping. Where would he go? Home where his dad was passed out and snoring? Around town to places that haven’t been TPed or egged? There wasn’t a place or person right now that didn’t fill Ron Caulfield with a revulsion that soured his stomach and poisoned his heart. More and more, everyone around him felt like people he’d rather hurt than talk to.
Missy called after him, getting progressively louder as he ignored her. “Earth to fucking Ron. You going to apologize to me?”
He turned, ready to tell her that her mouth should stick to blowjobs and not talking, when Devin said, “Hey, who the hell’s that?”
Ron turned and looked at the figure by the fire. “Don’t bother asking for candy. We ain’t got none,” Ron said. The girls laughed. The figure by the fire didn’t respond. Whatever it was, it looked 100 pounds soaking wet.
Ron shouted, “What are you doing here?” He moved around the intruder and off to the side to flank. Skinny flicked his eyes to Ron but still didn’t respond. The kid’s eyes reflected the light of the dying fire, which unnerved Ron. When Skinny smiled, Ron saw that he had some seriously fucked-up teeth.
“You want to answer the man, dickface?” Devin said, hands held out and beckoning. “Or did you just come out for an ass-kicking?”
The kid finally spoke and his voice sounded like a growl, too deep a voice to come out of so frail a chest. “I didn’t come out here to get an ass-kicking, Devin.”
The girls audibly oooohed, and there was an air of conflict brewing. The kid had used Devin’s name, almost like an insult. Ron, a fight on the horizon, could feel the adrenaline course through him and checked the pocket of his jacket and pulled out his butterfly knife.
“Brave talk for one hundred pounds of shit in a jacket that don’t fit him,” Devin said. “You think you got a chance of leaving here without having your head shoved up your ass?” Ron was fine to let Devin do the talking. He continued moving around back and flicked the blade open. The girls could see it too because they both look wide-eyed. The way he opened the handle and revealed the blade was the kind of violent showmanship that appealed to Ron.
“You better leave, kid.” Ron called out.
The kid spun around with a predatory quickness; not so much a turn, in Ron’s view, but suddenly switching from having his back to him to facing him, as though Ron’s brain stopped recording for a nanosecond. “Or what?” the kid said, smiling. “You’ll kill me?”
“Tell anyone about this, and I’ll kill you.” Ron’d just said that this afternoon.
When Ron finally recognized the kid whose $50 paid for their S’mores and snacks, Devin charged with the same tackle that took the kid down the first time and sent all his money flying. The first time, the kid fell like a straw dummy. But this Halloween night, he demonstrated the supernatural quickness that made Devin’s brain seem to pause recording. One second, he was smiling at Ron, teeth gleaming, as Devin charged from behind. The next, the kid was suddenly on Devin’s right, grabbing his wrist. Devin didn’t have time to even squirm; the kid’s gesture was the slightest turn of his own wrist, like turning the throttle on a dirtbike, but Devin’s joints and even bones popped and cracked like fireworks.
Devin howled. The girls screamed. The kid’s other arm snaked around Devin’s neck but he left his side exposed. Ron charged, aimed the knife for that spot and jammed it to the hilt beneath the kid’s ribs. Skinny tossed Devin to the side, Devin’s feet leaving the ground before he landed back first. The wind knocked from him, Devin barely had breath to moan.
The kid looked at the blade jutting like a flagpole from his side, then grabbed and easily pulled the knife free, the blade sliding out of the kid like butter. Devin noticed the lack of blood on his knife before Skinny tossed it aside as nonchalantly as he tossed Devin, who was twice the kid’s size. One second, he was flinging the blade away; the next minute, he was mere inches from him, close enough for Ron to see that the kid’s eyes weren’t just reflecting firelight but glowing with their own supernatural light. The kid smiled, showing teeth that weren’t just fucked-up but not even human, all sharp dagger edges.
The kid’s arm shot out, an angry shove, and Ron felt like he’d been shot with a 12 gauge. He was knocked off his feet and sent airborne, but not before hearing the explosive crunch of what could either be a rib or collarbone, the pain simply radiating from his entire left side.
The girls screamed some more and kept screaming, even after Devin got his arm broken, after Ron was shoved away like he weighed less than nothing. They didn’t do anything useful like get in the car and escape. The soundtrack of their screaming, and the pain of his broken bones, weren’t helping Ron process this lunacy.
Ron’s mind could barely comprehend what he saw after Skinny hauled Devin up by the neck in a chokehold. As Devin clawed at the arm holding him with his one good hand, the kid’s mouth opened and kept opening, revealing not just one row of teeth, but several rows, like a shark. The arm holding Devin turned to expose the older boy’s neck. Then the kid bit down, and Ron could hear the skin break, saw in the light of the fire blood spraying to the sides. Devin’s legs kicked feebly, his back went ramrod straight, and His face contorted with a new agony that seemed to change into ecstasy once the life was drained from him.
After Devin had knocked the little fucker three ways from Sunday, while Devin was scooping up the money the kid had dropped and stuffed it haphazardly in his pockets. Ron had climbed on top of him, getting in a few shots, busting his lip and giving him a shiner that would serve as a reminder. Something else that would help him remember was when Ron, his full weight sitting on the kid’s reedy chest, brought out his butterfly knife; he let the blade rest on the kid’s check. Ron told him quietly, “You tell anyone about this, and I’ll kill you. I’ll cut your fucking throat and you won’t even see me coming.” The kid practically vibrated with fear underneath Ron, and he knew from experience that the kid was too scared to talk.
Now it was Ron who was scared. Terrified, even. Terrified and hurt, which two emotional states that rarely occurred together and enough to keep him pinned to the spot.
Before Devin’s lifeless body could hit the ground, a twig cracked and the kid snapped his head around to the noise. The girls had finally managed to stop screaming and were tiptoeing to the car, but now were immobilized by the same terror that held Ron where he was. The kid pounced, and they still couldn’t move, only stand frozen as the kid jumped a length that would earn him a spot on the school’s track team, snatching them both as he landed, Patty by her overstyled hair and Missy by her throat. She called Ron’s name before the kid sunk his teeth into her neck, finally shutting her up, but Patty still had some screams in her. That’s when Ron decided to make a break for it, and he had two things that would help him escape: Patty, a frightened but capable distraction, and the car keys in his jeans pocket.
Ron was jamming the key in the lock as Patty carotid was torn open, but in his panic turned the key this way and that, locking and unlocking the door. Locked, unlocked, then locked again. Before he could reach the handle and open the door, something hit his legs and Ron fell backward, cracking his head on the blacktop. Blinking, struggling to keep the word in focus, he saw the girl he was fucking regularly, her Angelina-looking face now lifeless, and beneath it, the red ruin of her throat, a gory scarf.
Ron didn’t have time to scream before he was off the ground. The kid, the vampire, carried him higher and higher. He felt the wind on his face, his bladder let go, the twin infernos of the vampire’s eyes burning into his.
“I don’t want to die,” Ron whimpered shamefully, cravenly. “I don’t want to die.”
The vampire said, “Neither did I.” And Ron felt the sharp pain in his chest, four sharp pains, for each of the monster’s fingers.
It was almost midnight on Halloween night and Kaitlyn had missed it, missed trick or treating and all the bags of candy it promised. As a kid, she even loved just the idea of Halloween night, always feeling that the shadows were a little darker, the wind that blew through her hair more likely to hold something sinister, even the moon back then was more than just a celestial body but was in fact, a gleaming eye of some spirit that watched over her dark children.
But she was no longer a kid. Halloween just wasn’t the same and would never be the same. Tonight she lost her best friend. Instead of partaking of Halloween night, she was indoors, sitting dejectedly on her bed, watching Halloween II without really watching it, only just now realizing how many times she’s seen this nurse with no idea that Myers is in the hallway. She used to shout along with Zee to “look out,” as though that nurse would hear them if they screamed loud enough.
Kaitlyn looked at the phone on her nightstand and thought about calling Zee again. Randy unfortunately answered and said he must have gone out trick-or-treating, never sharing any real details. She asked if he could call her when he gets back, but Kaitlyn knew she might as well have left a message with a houseplant.
Zee was at least alive, not in a hospital somewhere, and with that knowledge came some relief. She knew Ron’s reputation, which grew until he was like the mythic figures that haunt this night, that he carved initials into one kid’s back, that he flattened all four tires of a cop car, that he broke a kid’s jaw and a few of his ribs, another kid he supposedly put in a coma. Not all could be proven since there were either no witnesses or witnesses brave enough to come forward.
Seeing Ron send boot after boot into Zee’s side, and then whipping his butterfly knife open, she ran. Devin, scooping up Zee’s hard-earned money, called after her, “Where you going, sweet cheeks?” At first, Kaitlyn told herself, she ran to find a cop, or a teacher, or any authority figure that could get them to stop, but she kept running until she was up in her room, didn’t look back until the door to her bedroom closed. She only left to make herself a sandwich and to tell her mother goodbye before she worked the night shift at the hospital. Kaitlyn did not want to be alone tonight, and honestly, watching Michael Myers killing several people who never saw it coming wasn’t helping.
Tap, tap, tap. Kaitlyn reached over and paused her movie. She listened for where the sound was coming from. It sounded like it was coming from the window, but her bedroom being on the second story made that unlikely.
The tapping came again and Kaitlyn saw the talon that was tapping against her window, saw the thing rise upward. What came into her view was a thing with a horrible, red clown smile set below blazing yellow eyes within a pale face. The thing’s hand, with long, spidery fingers and sharp talons, waved exuberantly. The bared fangs, she realized, was just a smile. The shock of seeing a Nosferatu float outside her window was tempered by her actually recognizing it.
“Zee?” she said aloud, more to herself than the thing outside her window. Zee nodded, then beckoned her to the window. She got up from the bed but didn’t immediately run to the window. “What happened to you?”
“I’m a vampire, Kaitlyn. A real live—dead, undead vampire. Let me in and I’ll show you what I can do.”
Kaitlyn stayed put. If Zee was flying outside her window, and he did say he was a vampire, that meant the red on his mouth wasn’t from Kool-Aid. “Are you really a vampire?”
“Sure am,” he said. The window was closed, but she could still hear his voice, echoing not in her ears as much as in her head, the sound of it like rusty hinges finally being forced to move. “I can fly, I’m really fast, and I can turn to mist, too,” he told her. His hands were palms up and slowly rising, pantomiming one opening a window.
She took a step, then another, not really conscious of her feet moving. “What’s that on your mouth?” she asked dreamily.
“Blood,” Zee said. “Just animals. Raccoons, I think.” She thought about raccoons, how she had a stuffed one named Ranger when she was little, when there was a needle prick of panic at realizing that her feet were walking her toward the vampire outside.
“You want to fly?” Zee asked, his eyes boring into hers. “Open the window and we’ll fly together.” He gave her a smile that wasn’t exuberant. It looked…hungry.
“It won’t hurt,” he said. Kaitlyn didn’t even ask what wouldn’t hurt as she was now a few inches away from the window.
Kaitlyn neared her dresser and let her left hand blindly slide across it, looking to grab the desk to pull herself away, but finding the crucifix that was to be part of her zombie nun costume, the one she planned to wear trick-or-treating with her best friend.
“I’m sorry,” she said to Zee.
“Never mind that,” he said impatiently. “Let’s just go flying.”
Holding the cross in her left hand, she slammed it against the glass, facing outward. Zee recoiled when he saw it.
“Our Father,” Kaitlyn began. “Who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…” As she said the Lord’s Prayer, her voice got louder, and the fog in her mind dissipated. Zee was writhing putting his hands over his ears, his face, his features contorting with every syllable until she could see the monster that was there.
The thing outside gave an inhuman howl, stretching its jaw wide, showing a bottomless pit of writhing, undulating teeth, the tongue whipping like a snake with its head cut off. It was an animal yell of pain and anger, but in that howl, Kaitlyn could hear a distinct word, one that was like a grenade of pure rage going off in her brain.
The vampire curled itself into a fetal position and exploded into a fog that momentarily turned the night white. Kaitlyn could even see it swirling madly like a category 5 hurricane before dispersing, leaving only the night outside.
Kaitlyn fell back from the window. Her hand still holding the cross, she picked up her phone. Dialing was cumbersome while holding the cross, she dialed Zee’s number.
She dialed and dialed, but Randy had taken the phone off the hook since he didn’t want to be distracted.
Zee startled awake the next morning, cocooned in his bedsheets. Unlike most dreams that faded with waking, he remembered everything from last night, how everything in the darkness glowed as though covered in a swarm of fireflies, the feel of the wind as he flew through the air, the exhilaration of hearing the heartbeats of those who hurt him. When his victims’ heartbeats double timed with fear, Zee could feel that pulse sensuously ripple all the way through his spine. He was a boy on this morning, November 1st, but on Halloween night, he was a cold-blooded killer and loved it.
He remembered Kaitlyn holding the cross before her and how it was too bright to look at, like staring into the sun. The prayer she spouted, hateful gibberish, was hot lead being poured into his ears.
And he remembered the blood, hearing it pumped through a body before being released by his teeth, it flowing down his throat and into his being, silencing the gnawing in his stomach and making him whole. But that was on Halloween night.
On this morning, November 1st, Zee managed to make it to the bathroom and empty the contents of his stomach into the toilet. There was no torrent of red, just bile and the pizza slice he had for lunch. When his stomach finally stopped seizing, however, he spat a coppery-tasting loogie into the bowl.
Zee saw the hands grasping the bowl were his, not the vampire’s talons. When he looked into the mirror, he saw his reflection, the same reflection that he wished every day was different. The teeth were in his mouth, but now they really looked like plastic. Cheap plastic.
The teeth, he remembered. Then an alarming thought. Noon! He remembered the sudden menace in the old man’s voice, the quick and subtle promise of retribution in that one shout of “Noon.” Zee had seen Amazing Stories, had read Needful Things and knew the kinds of being that bestowed magic—magic that made a weak boy into a fiend of the night, needed to be respected. Granted wishes could easily become curses.
In his bedroom, Zee found his alarm clock, which proclaimed the time to be 10:40, easily enough time to walk over to the place. He also found a Styrofoam cooler on his desk that wasn’t his.
Curious, he looked inside it. The ice was slightly melted, not quite water. Brushing aside the ice, he saw the heart that he recognized as once belonging to Ron Caulfield. Zee remembered ripping it from Ron’s chest, even letting Ron look at it before dropping his body into the lake. The rest of his friends soon joined him, in more pieces, but with him just the same.
He remembered bringing this cooler with him to Kaitlyn’s, thinking that two hearts for the old man had to be better than one, and he was horrified.
Remembering the old man, Zee set about finding the velvet case the teeth belonged in and put them there. Teeth in case and in pocket, cooler in hand, Zee was practically out the door when he saw his mother shambling into the kitchen. A bathrobe clenched around her, she shuffled from one foot to the next, her bleary eyes straining to focus on anything. After a bit, they sluggishly brought their focus on Zee, who was still wearing the Led Zepplin T-shirt smeared with last night’s kill and holding a cooler with a human heart inside.
“Randy’s shirt,” his mother muttered. “Gonna be pissed. Better hide it.” With that declaration, Zee’s mother turned her focus to the coffee maker, mentally working out the steps to produce a steaming pot of Maxwell House.
Zee power walked to the costume shop with the ice bucket hitting his leg, spilling its ice and soaking Zee’s pant leg. The experience, the walking, was enough to remind Zee how much it sucked not only to be human but to be him. When Zee entered the costume shop, he was greeted by the electronic bell and by a high, whiny, all-too-human-voice. “Why not another night? Can’t you make an exception?”
Mr. Parsons, Zee saw, was leaning forward. The plastic packaging from the cheerleading costume crackled under his weight. The crack in his math teacher’s voice reminded Zee of addicts he’d seen on Law and Order, the ones who used words like “fix” and “just a little more.”
But behind the counter wasn’t the old man. Instead, it was a girl a few years older than Zee, hair the same tar black as her dress, which only accentuated her bare, milky white cleavage, where Zee’s eyes were drawn.
“Return by November 1st,” the girl droned. “No exceptions.” From her black painted lips, she blew a bubble then gobbled it back up. Her eyes, from beneath a layer of eye shadow, were focused on a magazine. The mastication of her chewing gum and her magazine had more of her attention, it seemed than poor Mr. Parsons.
“Do you know what I had to do to get THIS?” Mr. Parsons snatched up what looked like a peanut butter jar with a milky substance and then slammed it down. “I spent half the night collecting—”
“But you were the life of the party,” she muttered and looked up, delivering a gaze that denoted Mr. Parsons was less interesting than pond scum but twice as disgusting. “It’s what was promised.” She took the jar from off the counter and put it on a shelf behind her. “No exceptions. Come see us next year for all your Halloween needs.”
Mr. Parsons spun irritably and marched to the door. Zee had to sidestep to avoid him. Mr. Parson’s hand came up to scratch the side of his face that was facing Zee, also protecting the older man from eye contact. Mr. Parsons flung open the door and dashed out into the chill November air. The girl at the counter called out without trying to stop him from leaving, “Try the Horny Devil next year, or Naughty Nurse, maybe.”
Before the door swing closed in Mr. Parsons’s passing, the girl flicked her jaded gaze as Zee. “Leave the cooler and your costume on the counter,” she said, turning her eyes back to the magazine. “Come back and see us for all your Halloween needs.” She licked a finger this time before turning the page.
Zee walked forward, looking at the masks behind the counter. He immediately noticed that the Goth girl mask was missing; in its place was an old man mask complete with a shiny bald spot. The mask even had Johann’s genial smile.
“You’re him, aren’t you?” He told the girl. “I saw you yesterday. You gave me these.” He held the teeth to her.
The girl looked away from her magazine, leaned forward, and rested her elbows on the counter, risking spilling the contents of her dress over an embarrassed and aroused Zee. Her lips curled into a smile.
“I was him. Now I’m Elizabeth. Life is shit. My parents are stupid. Your poems are so lovely and dark.” She gave a tinkling yet derisive laugh that both enhanced his erection and made him guilty for having it. “So give me the cooler. And the teeth.”
Zee put the cooler and the teeth on the counter. Elizabeth opened the cooler and inhaled, as though it were an oven full of freshly baked bread. “Still young. Not yet past expiration. Should do nicely.”
“Why did I bring that to you?” Zee said suddenly. “I killed those teenagers. I almost killed Kaitlyn. I never killed anyone before. It wasn’t me.”
Elizabeth closed the cooler and regarded him. “It was you . . . as a vampire. Vampires kill. Vampires enjoy killing. Ergo, Zee the Vampire enjoys killing, and I have to say Zee the Vampire is quite fucking good at it.”
“Why do you need a heart?”
“Because that’s the price, whatever I want you to bring. And just like you, we have a special holiday coming up.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Thanksgiving. My kind celebrate it like yours do, except we do a little potluck and we give thanks to the Dark Lord that created us.”
“Thanksgiving?” Zee tried to picture Elizabeth’s “kind” sitting around a dinner table. “For demons?”
“That’s your name for us. My family each brings a dish, and me being the middle spawn, I’m responsible for the side dish. My brother, the family fuckup is supposed to bring the virgin, but he cheats and just snatches a child off the street. Practically all of us leave hungry. Be thankful you don’t have any siblings, Zee. See you next year.” Elizabeth looked ready to get back to her magazine, back to being the cynically depressed young adult she appeared to be. But Zee wasn’t ready to leave.
“How did you know my name?” Zee asked. “That I’m an only child?”
Elizabeth, magazine open, turned away from it to bestow Zee with her irritated glare, only wanting her magazine, but she smiled at Zee in a way that stirred something in his pants, that worked through his stomach, all the way to his spine, it seemed.
“I can see through your eyes when you wear any of my costumes, Ezekiel Bradley. I saw that your life sucks, that you parents are too wrapped up in their lives to care, that you have a best friend that you wish desperately were more, and that’s why I know you’ll be back next year to let me fulfill your Halloween needs.” Elizabeth blew him a kiss, and Zee dreamed also about that kiss. He found himself for many Halloweens hoping that, upon each return to the Many Faces Costume Shop, that Elizabeth would be there, wearing something else that most mothers would disapprove of.
There were many costumes in the Many Faces costume shop, one could be a fireman with a six-pack, Little Red Riding Hood (both kid and adult versions), a superhero, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, some say there was even a costume of the Devil himself.
But Zee always got the teeth. And he was never late with the payment.
James Gardner is originally from Olive Hill, KY but currently lives in Lexington, KY. He’s taught writing, worked in libraries, and really loves stories, especially scary ones. He’s published in magazines like The Harrow and Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Accolades as well as anthologies like Lucha Gore: Scares of the Squared Circle, and wants to share more of his stories.