I remember the night I saw her sitting on the dock by our cottage on the lake under the newly risen full moon. Legs hanging over the calm, black waters of the lake, her silhouette casting a dark shadow on the wooden pier. I had awakened sometime past sunset and had stepped out of the old wooden house to smoke a cigarette. I thought I was alone until I sensed her presence. My companions and I had specifically chosen this place because of its seclusion so I was surprised to see someone this late in the evening. Having no one know of our whereabouts was important to us at this time so finding a stranger so close to our cottage unnerved me a bit. Before making my way towards our unexpected visitor I took one last drag from my cigarette and tossed it out into the grass.
I didn’t attempt to hide my steps as I walked onto the creaking wood of the pier because I was curious and didn’t want to startle her. When I reached the dock’s edge I looked down to have a better view of her. She had pulled her long white dress exposing her knees to keep it above the water. I couldn’t see her face but from the back, I noticed her long, straight black hair reaching down to the old wooden planks of the pier. She seemed not to have taken notice of me until I spoke.
“Are you aware that you are trespassing on private property?” I spoke. I startled her as if I had awakened her from deep thought.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I saw the house earlier today and thought it was abandoned.”
Not completely untrue. Few knew it was occupied and fewer still knew of its occupants.
“Well, now you know.”
I bent down and slid next to her. That’s when I turned my head and look at her face for the first time. It was a soft profile, nothing angular about it. A small nose with an even smaller mouth underneath it, a pronounced but well-rounded chin. Her eyes, though, were her most remarkable feature. Wide and almond-shaped, her irises were as black as the dark waters of the lake.
She was about to get up when I stopped her and introduced myself.
“Please, don’t go, my name is Steven Elbridge. I own this property”
“Hello,” she said in a soft melodious voice.
“And you are…?”
“Laila? No last name?”
“Well, just Laila, what brings you out here this late at night?” I asked fascinated by this wonderfully delicate creature.
“I was walking along the beach when I came across the pier and decided to sit for a while. I like going out at night, especially on warm ones like this, to view the lake and to look up at the moon and the stars. Isn’t it wonderful?”
The beauty of nature is something I never tried to appreciate but on this occasion, sitting next to her, I understood what she meant.
“It’s the quietness, mostly, that I find so fascinating. It’s soothing and calm. It helps clear my mind and I feel, well, you’re going to think it silly, but it makes me feel like I’m part of it. You know, the darkness, I feel like its wraps itself all around me; keeps me safe and warm.” She added a soft giggle as she said the last words.
She wasn’t aware of how truly dangerous the darkness of the night can be. Things move around in the cover of night, terrible things, some of which can cause great harm. Tonight, though, she was safe sitting next to me. That’s when I noticed how quiet the night was. Not a cricket sang in the woods nor was there the occasional disturbance of the water by fish hunting for prey. It was silent except for her voice.
“Yes, yes, I guess you are right. It is wondrous.”
She laughed again. “You talk funny. You’re a bit strange. I bet you’re not from around here.” Laila’s expression then changed realizing she may have said something wrong. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. Sometimes I just blurt things out without thinking.”
“That’s okay, don’t worry.” I don’t know why but I felt like I needed to be apologetic. She was right, I wasn’t from around here and her observation could be a problem. An idea then came to me. “Would you like to come inside?”
“Oh no, no. I need to be going. I live on the other side of the lake and I should be heading back.” Laila got up and began to walk towards the beach.
“Maybe I can walk you home?”
“No, that’s okay. I can find my way back by myself. I don’t want to trouble you.” Not walking home with a stranger, smart girl.
“It wouldn’t be. I’ll just tell my friends inside-”
“Please, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” She said this as her bare feet reached the patch of grass before the path that led into the forest, and I had stood at the end of the dock. I resist the desire to follow her but decided, for my sake and hers, not to.
“Will I see you again?” I shouted as she ran along towards the path in the woods. From a distance, within the forest, I heard her reply, “Maybe.”
I stood there alone for a few minutes contemplating what had occurred and wondered why I wasn’t following her. At least, for the sake of keeping our location a secret, it would have been wise to know where she lived. I shook my head of those thoughts, lit another cigarette, and made my way back to the cottage. Just before I opened the screened door I took one last look at the blackness of the lake and noticed the crickets were singing in the forest.
Inside were my three companions. Raffi and Simon were laying on the couch, entangled in each other’s limbs, scrolling on social media. Dar sat alone, as always, on a stool by the bar with a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. All three looked up and stared at me with big grins on their faces as if they had just shared a private joke at my expense. Dar took a sip of something dark red out of her wine glass before putting the cigarette out in an ashtray. The television was on, a newscaster’s voice was giving the local weather report. Raffi, the brasher of the two lovers, spoke first.
“So, Elbie, who’s the chick you were talking to?”
I felt annoyed by his question.
“Yeah, Steven, who was she?” Dar asked in her most accusatory voice. Dar could be very abrasive when she wanted to be. I calmed myself down before I answered them.
“Nobody, a local I think. We didn’t talk much before she had to leave.”
Simon, who was normally the quiet one, spoke up. “I think Dar’s right, Steve. Do you think it was smart to let her go? I mean, what if she tells someone we’re here?”
I could read the anxiety in his eyes. He always worried we would be discovered.
“I don’t think we have anything to worry about, Simon.”
“But what if she does talk? What then? Not smart, Steven, not smart at all.” Her anger showing, Dar stood up from the stool and approached me from across the living room.
I tried to reassure them. “She won’t. Besides, if she shows up again I’ll follow her and take care of it.”
“You’ll take care of it,” mocked Raffi.
“I said, I’ll take care of it.”
We three have been together for several years now and we’re like family. I met Raffi and Simon at a dance club in Soho, they were lovers back then too, in a night of hedonistic revelry. They were a pair looking for an adventurous night and I, well, I provided the entertainment. They have been with me ever since. Raffia and Simon weren’t your typical representatives of the LGBT community. There have been more than a few times when I’ve walked out on them because I found their antics a bit excessive. One particular “game” they were fond of playing was their sadistic version of “Monkey in the Middle”. That’s when they blindfolded and hand-tied their victim and proceed to use a baseball bat whenever their target got near to them. Another one of their escapades was “the pigeon drop”. That’s where the boys would indiscriminately push an individual off the roof of a building and bet on how big of a mess they could make when the person finally reached the ground. Most of the time, though, at least when they weren’t bored, they were tolerable and even mildly amusing. Yet, despite all their cruelty the bond they shared between them was so deep I have to admit I envied them. Their love for each other was so passionate I know death itself couldn’t tear them apart.
Dar was different. At seventeen, her mom kicked her out of their house and had been alone when we three found her. Dar wasn’t into guys, or even women, but was willing to do what she had to do to survive in the streets. We took her in, not asking for any favors, and soon found out she came in handy when we were on the hunt. Predators are what we were. She was particularly good with children and had an uncanny knack for putting them at ease and gaining their confidence. They trusted her and did everything she asked. We purposely looked for the ones people wouldn’t miss and preyed upon them. It was because of this that we ended up in the northern part of the state; to hide among the scattered cottages along the lonely, forested roads by the lake until things cooled off a bit and we could return or move elsewhere.
We had left the city when one of the human trafficking outfits we traded with got raided by local law enforcement. We got a tip from one of our associates that the police had arrested everyone at the house we dealt in. Dealers, by their very nature, were unscrupulous and I knew the one they had arrested couldn’t be trusted to keep his mouth shut. He would have easily turned me and my companions to the authorities on the promise of a lesser charge. I hadn’t lived this long by being stupid. So, Raffi, Simon, Dar, and I decided to seek refuge in a cottage I had purchased some time ago just for this very purpose. Here, with no one around for miles, we would rest quietly, so I thought. It was by complete surprise to me to find someone out on the dock that night.
The next night Laila returned. There she was, same dress, same lovely hair, and beautiful eyes, sitting on the dock as she was the night before. I approached her, just as I had, and sat down next to her. Same black waters, same night but with the moon a little less full than before. This time, though, it was she who spoke first.
“Hi, I want to apologize for leaving so quickly last night,” she said in that same soft tone I found so pleasing.
“That’s okay,” I said in a way that I found surprisingly mimicked her calmness. “I was hoping you would return.” She softly laughed at my remark. Same laugh as the night before.
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
I found myself strangely attracted to her, like a moth to a flame. The look in her eyes, the way her lips moved as she spoke, the way her dark hair cradled the pale skin of her face, all these things awakened a desire in me I hadn’t felt for a very long time. Her small delicate features, so child-like and innocent, contrasted with eyes so deep with age. A thought that had never come to me before slowly crept into my mind. I wanted her! I wanted to be possessed by her! If I could just sit next to her for all eternity I would be content.
We spoke for a while just me and her. We talked about the night again, the darkness, how calm and soothing it was. We talked about the ageless stars and the charming moon. We conversed for a few moments on the things that dwelt in the night, both real and imaginary. And I, listening to everything she said, felt so serene. She had a mystical presence that held a spell over me. Then the time had come for her to leave.
“Must you go?” I asked, almost pleading.
“I have to. It’s getting late.”
Laila got up and, as she had the night before, she made her way towards the beach and then to the path that led through the forest. But, unlike the night before, I decided to follow her. I had made a promise to my companions I now wish I could take back. I needed to keep our whereabouts secret, I told myself. I needed to take care of the danger she posed. As much as I desired her I knew her existence was a threat to us.
I let her get ahead of me just enough for me to see her yet not too close for her to notice me. The forest was dark, but my eyes were well enough adjusted for me to follow her white dress. I moved quickly yet watched where I stepped so as not to make a sound that would give me away. The insects helped to cover my movements for they had started back with their nightly music. Surprisingly, Laila mirrored my silence and agility as if she was aware I was following her. I thought it impossible and yet there she was in manner. She turned into a bend in the path, and I lost sight of her for the moment. As I followed I saw the path open up into a clearing and then the beach but no sight of Laila. She was gone! I looked back behind me, retraced my footsteps hoping I took the wrong way, but no other paths were leading another way. Laila had vanished and all there was, all I could see, were a few dim lights from scattered houses in the distance and a lonely beach.
“You lost her! Bullshit!’ screamed Dar. “We saw you talking to her for hours! Why did you wait so long?”
Dar and the two lovers had been watching Laila and myself as we talked on the pier. They saw how she got up and entered the woods and how I followed her. When I returned my companions were under the impression I had taken care of our problem. But when I explained how she vanished they all howled in disbelief. Raffi spoke then.
“I’m with Dar. You let her go.” Raffi was standing next to Simon who stood by the old plaid couch they normally occupy. “We saw how you were looking at her.”
In silence, I put out my third cigarette in the ashtray on the dinette set. I was seething with anger as I sat in the chair next to the table. It vexed me how brazen they were with their accusations. I was tired and heard enough. It had been a long evening and the last thing I wanted to hear was any more of their squabbling. They weren’t there. They didn’t know what it was like to be in Laila’s company. They certainly didn’t know how I felt when I realized I had lost her. It tore me apart. Not only because of the missed opportunity but she had vanished, and I wasn’t sure she would ever come back.
“I’m going to sleep,” I said as I got up from my chair and made for my room. “I suggest you three do the same.” They were all standing in the living room when I closed the door to my bedroom.
The next night I overslept again. Since leaving the city I had been ill at ease and had not been sleeping or eating right. It didn’t help that the provisions we had brought were proving to be unappetizing and, with the threat of discovery hanging over our heads, I felt very stressed. I awoke restlessly and feeling the burden of age. Shuffling across the floor of the bedroom I tried the door. It was locked from the outside! I banged hard with my fists and cried out loud for my release. At first, I heard nothing. Then I heard conspiring whispers coming from the living room before the sound of a key moving and tumblers shifting within the door’s lock. I pushed on the door hard, almost taking off its hinges, and entered the room. I let out a grieving wail at the scene that greeted me.
The great couch in the middle of the room was soaked with blood and in the midst of it was Laila’s lifeless body. She was in an upright sitting position, her arms marked heavily with multiple puncture wounds as they were stretched out along the backrest of the sofa. Her neck, in an unnatural and twisted position, had a heavy gash where her carotid would be. Raffi and Simon sat on either side of Laila, content and satisfied, as Dar sat on her favorite stool by the bar. Dar’s fangs still dripped crimson along her lip line from the meal she just consumed. I was enraged.
“What have you done?!” I screamed. I launched myself over the couch and landed squarely in front of the two men. In fright, they tried to escape but I grab each one by their shirt collars and threw them across the room. Dar hissed and jumped towards me. My fist caught her in her midriff, and she landed roughly on the dinette set breaking it. When I recovered I looked upon what they had done and came to the realization that they accomplished what I failed to do. We were desperate creatures with a consuming hunger and she, poor innocent sweet Laila, was nourishment. Even then, as tempting as she was to me, as much as I needed her, I refused to drink.
“What’s the matter, Steven? I know you’re as hungry as we are,” Dar chided from where the table now laid toppled over.
“She showed up like she had the two nights before,” added Simon as he recovered from hitting one of the living room walls. “She knocked on the screen door asking for you, Steve.”
“We let her in,” it was Raffi this time. “We told her you were sleeping and, well…”
“You said you’d take care of it!” Dar was up now and ready for another round. “Well, we took care of it! She won’t be telling anyone where we are! AND SHE WON’T BE VANISHING INTO THIN AIR ANYTIME SOON!”
Disgusted, I pushed a defensive Dar out of my way, went into the refrigerator, and pulled out one of the bags of blood we hastily robbed from a Red Cross blood bank we broke into before we left town. I tore hungrily into it, feeling the cold, dead fluid run down my throat, and when I could drink no more, threw the almost empty bag into the kitchen sink. It was cold and old, but it had done the trick. I was filled and the desire for Laila’s sweet offerings was quenched. I restored my composure and addressed my companions.
“Now that you have decided to take matters into your own hands you will now clean up your mess.” All three looked at me in indignation. “I meant NOW!”
I grabbed my pack of cigarettes from my bedroom as they began to straighten up the room and take out cleaning supplies. I avoided their stares as I stepped outside and made out to the pier. I listened to the crickets sing as I sat on the lonely dock and lighted my cigarette.
The next night I was awakened by a cry I had never heard before. A low-sounding moan and sob coming from one of the other rooms. I hurried out of my bedroom and made my way down the hallway to where I heard the commotion. It was coming from the lovers’ room. The door was ajar, and Dar was already there. Raffi was sobbing as he laid over Simon’s body on the bed. Simon! Vampires normally have a slightly pale complexion but even then, if kept well-nourished, we appear to have the resemblance of the living. Not so with Simon, not now anyway. He was ashen and thin in countenance and more worrisome, unconscious. His skin had become leathery and desiccated and there were scattered blotches like pox all over him. It did not seem possible for one of the undead, but he looked as if he was truly dead!
“Steve, please, help,” Raffi pleaded as he saw me enter. “I woke up as soon as the sun went down and normally Simon wakes up after me. But, tonight, he didn’t even stir. I shook him and he wouldn’t wake up! What’s wrong with him, Steve?”
I stood there next to Dar not knowing what to say or do. In the many decades that have passed since I’ve been turned, I never would have thought something like this possible. Yes, daylight can do us harm, even destroy us if we prolong the exposure. There is the blood of the dead that could make us ill, but we have always been good at avoiding it even if we were in short of supply. We weren’t carrion eaters. Even if we could not feed for some time, which has happened in the past, we only have to lay dormant, with the appearance of death, until we sense something living to nourish us. A scavenging animal or a person eventually stumbles upon us, and we feed. But this? I motioned Dar to grab a bag from the refrigerator thinking it would help. When she came back I tore a hole with my teeth and let the red droplets fall into Simon’s gaping mouth. Nothing happened. He remained still. I eventually drained the whole bag and watched the crimson liquid spilling out of his mouth. Simon was truly dead.
Later that night we buried our poor sweet Simon next to the grave he had dug for Laila. Two bodies, in the forest, one taken by violence and the other by some unknown agent. We sat in the living room, Dar at her stool, me on the couch, and Raffi, uncomfortable in the only chair left of the dinette set. Dar finally said something.
“I don’t get it. This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen. Right? I mean, am I right?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Raffi remained silent in his grief.
“Steven, do you think there was something wrong with the blood we took from the bank?” Dar had an unfounded fear of blood-borne pathogens. Maybe it was because of her previous occupation as a prostitute or of some experience from earlier in her childhood. She always checked her victims for needle marks before she bit into them. This is why I think she preferred children or young adolescents to feed upon.
“I don’t think so,” I answered her. “We all drank from it, and we would have known right away if there was something wrong.”
“I think she had something to do with it.” Dar and I looked in Raffi’s direction, he had broken his silence. “Maybe she told someone we were here. They could have entered the cottage while we were sleeping and did something to Simon.”
“That impossible!” I said as I looked at him with astonishment.
“Why not?’ Raffi continued to argue. “How would we know? You don’t know where she went after you lost her in the woods. As far as we know, she could have lived in any one of those houses along the lake. When she didn’t return, whoever she told about us could have gone out to look for her and found us instead. We all heard the stories about vampire killers”
“Fairy tales,” snide Dar. “Stories vampires tell each other to drive the competition out.”
“We would have known. I would have known,” I said for it had happened before. Once, in the city, a burglar broke into a house I was staying in during the daylight hours. Because the sunlight was bad for us I always kept the windows well shaded as to not let even a sliver of sunlight in. As I laid sleeping I sensed the thief breaking in. I heard him noisily stumbling through the house looking for anything he could steal. He was surprised to see he wasn’t alone. He was even more surprised to see me lounge towards him ready to put my fangs into him. No, if anyone had entered the house while we were sleeping I would have known. Then a thought occurred to me that even I found hard to believe. But could it be?
“Do you two think that maybe it was Laila?” I asked. Dar rolled her eyes thinking I was taking Raffi’s side. “Not as Raffi suggested. Dar, do you think that maybe it could have been in her blood?” Raffi contorted his face in confusion as he tried to understand what I meant and Dar shook her head more dismissive than before. It pained me deeply to hear her response.
“I doubt it, Steven, she was fresh, warm, and clean. I know good blood when tasting it. Hers was sweet like a newborn. No, I think you’re wrong there. If anything, my money is on that filthy blood we stole.”
That’s when we ended our argument that night.
On the fifth night of our stay at the cottage, it was Dar’s turn not to awaken. As with Simon she had to succumb to the same ailment that had afflicted them. Raffi and I began to uncharacteristically worry. This is something that wasn’t supposed to happen to us and yet it was. Raffi still didn’t believe me when I said nobody has been in the house while we slept. He couldn’t, wouldn’t accept it. So, he took matters into his own hands. Some time ago he had purchased surveillance cameras just in case we needed additional protection from pesky onlookers. They were small, easily hidden, and could be synced to our smartphones. Later, we could watch the videos the motion-activated cameras recorded. Raffi planted three of them strategically around the rooms and at dawn turned them on.
On the sixth night of our stay, I was the only one left. Raffi was dead, really dead, just like the rest of them and I was not going to stay and be next. I thought that even if it was an unknown agent in our environment, tainted blood, or sickness, I prefer to meet my end as far away from this place as I could get. Let’s say it was something particular to the cottage, some virulent strain specific to our kind, would it not be wiser to leave than to prolong exposure? What if it was in the blood we consumed? Deer were plentiful in the woods. Then there was the occasional hiker walking alone. If the blood was tainted I could hunt for sustenance and not risk suffering the same fate as my companions.
Leaving Raffi’s rapidly putrefying corpse where it laid in his room, I quickly packed what I could take into a small suitcase. I only took a few things; a change of clothing, multiple passports if I decided to leave the country, and the couple of thousand in cash I always kept while on the run and loaded them into the Rover Ranger Sport we drove on our way to the cottage. I went back in to retrieve my phone and charger and that’s when I remember the surveillance cameras Raffi had planted the night before. Not wanting to leave anything behind that would incriminate me of some wrongdoing, I removed them from their hiding spots and placed them in a carryall I was going to take along with my luggage. That’s when curiosity got the better of me. What if Raffi was right. What if instead of something causing my associates’ unfortunate demise it was someone. I had dismissed the possibility the night before but now I couldn’t take the risk if I was wrong. Knowing it was one threat or the other bettered my chances to escape.
I looked for the app on my phone and opened it. I then scrolled down to the correct date, time, and camera angle in the recordings and tapped the screen to play. On my phone screen, I saw the living room as it would have looked when we slept. The room was heavily darkened by the shades I had erected yet you could still make out items as if it was lighted. All seemed calm and I was about to shut it down when I saw a shadow moving in the hallway leading to our bedrooms. The shadow became more defined as it moved into the living room and that’s when I almost dropped my phone in horror. The specter wearing a white dress moved to face the camera as if it knew where it was hidden.
“Hello, Steven,” said a familiar voice behind me. I turned quickly and faced the same phantom I had just looked upon on the screen. I could only think it was a spirit for it was Laila who spoke to me.
“No, I’m no ghost. It is me, Laila.” She spoke in the same soft melodious tone I had heard her use just three nights ago.
“But, but how?”
“You of all people should know of the hidden things that walk this Earth.”
“I saw you die. You were dead when we buried you. That’s your body in the shallow grave in the woods.”
“Dear, dear Steven. How can anything that has never been alive die?”
“I don’t understand.”
She gave me a feral smile before she continued. “Ever wonder where the monsters come from? You, your kind, and others? Have you ever known what begot the denizens of the dark? Hmm? The Night, of course!”
That’s when I understood. All the talks we had on the pier about the darkness of the night and of how comforting it was to her. Of how even the creatures of the night, except for me, shunned from her presence. Only she could steal our semblance of life. She could bring true death to the undead. It was then that I remembered what they had called her in that ancient biblical tongue. “Your name,” I said.
“Yes, my name.” She moved closer and I could feel the coldness of her breath on me. “Come now, dear boy, my sweet, sweet Steven. Come and hug your mother.”
-A. M. Holmes