Fresh Meat

Independence’s Annual Fourth of July Celebration is truly a meat market for a vampire such as myself. I rarely leave the house to hunt, especially now that I know how to use Doordash to easily lure people to my front door, but this year, I’m reentering society for a special treat–a human hunt. I am in my finest gown, complete with corset and petticoat and sash, and as soon as the sun sets, I fly straight to Freedom Park to enjoy the smells, sights, and sounds of live prey.

Young blood is the best blood, and here it is in no short supply. Children run rampant as they play their electronic games, screaming and giggling without a care for which vampire’s foot they tread upon. I curse as one crashes into me, nearly knocking me into the grass. He is no taller than my knee, and stares up at me in wide-eyed wonder. “Sorry lady,” he says before scampering off to reunite with the other hobgoblins. 

I bare my teeth and hiss in his general direction, but he is already ensconced in play with his fellow children and doesn’t pay proper attention. Any self-respecting daughter of darkness would drain him in an instant, but the trouble with eating children is that it takes five or six of them to sufficiently slake one’s thirst. By the time that many go missing, people start to notice and form search parties, then it’s a whole ordeal that I do not wish to endure again. 

Tonight I am hunting for a fully grown man that should be fairly new to manhood, perhaps twenty to twenty-five years of age. And no, I am not sexist. I would happily devour a young lady of a similar age. Missing men seem to go unnoticed for much longer because people consider men as less likely to be victims of villainous attacks, which makes hunting easier. I’ve lived in this town since I was turned as a settler in 1821, and I’d prefer not to have to relocate. Afterall, my things are here and it is quite difficult to find a moving company that operates at night. 

The worst part of this evening is the scent of human food. The unbearable stench of burning oil permeates the air. I cannot fathom why humans enjoy eating bread dipped in hot oil, which is essentially all the food that’s offered here. That and overly processed hog meat doused in sugary sauces and wrapped in more oiled bread. When I was a human, I subsisted on stews and vegetables. These culinary abominations didn’t exist back then, and I doubt I would have chosen to partake even if I could have. 

I am having difficulty getting any of these people alone. I do not possess a great ability to hypnotize like some of my kind, so I must rely on my feminine wiles. Most of these young people are with large groups of friends or with their lovers. As I glide through the crowd, I cannot help but be appalled by some of the displays. Yes, I have the internet and have viewed many television programs, but I recoil at the underwear in which the young ladies frolic. To think they are so free! But I must confess, I am conflicted. I do hate to interrupt them as it was only sixty-five years ago that I, too, was in love with a human man called Harold, and I know what it feels like to have the object of my affection taken away so abruptly.

I sidle up to a young man standing alone under an umbrella, head bent and engrossed in his cellular device. “Good evening, young gentleman. Are you looking for company this night?” I say in my most alluring, soft voice. I arch my back and try to accentuate all the features a human man might desire.

He jumps in surprise, his eyes wide as he takes in my beautiful gown. It is white (well, it used to be white, but is now closer to gray after all these years), finely tailored to fit me perfectly with a slightly scooped neck and fashionably puffed sleeves. I have tried to preserve it, but there are some holes here and there from moths. They are small and likely unnoticeable to a human’s weak eyes, but his look suggests he is disgusted as well as intrigued. I can work with that. 

“Is this some 1700s costume?” he asks, continuing to stare. “‘Cuz it’s not Halloween for, like, 3 more months.”

I gasp. “Excuse me, good sir! This is an authentic, 1820 custom made gown from Darling Taylors. I’m sure you’ve heard of them.”

He frowns and narrows his eyes. “Is that an Etsy shop or something? Because I’d get my money back if I were you, lady. That dress smells like an old basement.” 

I open my mouth to reply, but he shakes his head and walks away. I am baffled. Typically, a young looking, beautiful vampire is irresistible to men and women alike. Never have I struggled so much to hunt in a large crowd! I smooth my gown and pat my perfectly coiffed updo. I was only twenty when I was turned. My skin is perfectly smooth and fair, my lips are as red as roses, my hair is dark and soft like silk. I do not understand why men aren’t approaching me, let alone why one would choose to walk away! Nevermind. I square my shoulders and fix my eyes upon the crowd, determined to find another, more rational human for feeding.

It is then that I see the perfect mark. He wears a colorful shirt and breeches with large pockets that hang off of him. He is handsome, sporting a beard and short haircut that reminds me very much of my Harold. His hair is light orange like Harold’s, and his smile sends a buzz of electricity through me in the same way. He stands at a food dispensary, speaking with an elderly man next to him. I step behind him as if I were going to order a hog and bread oil stick, but instead of taking in the disgusting smells of the food, I lean forward and inhale deeply to take in his blood’s bouquet. He is perfect. Twenty years old, healthy, and full of exactly the type of nourishment I require but with a touch of familiarity. Perhaps I am too nostalgic tonight because again, I am reminded of the way Harold smelled.

“Um, excuse me?” he says, and I open my eyes to find I am nearly nose to nose with this man. “Are you sniffing me?”

I freeze for a moment but break the tension with a smile. “I am sorry. You smell like someone I knew long ago.” 

I expect he will leave as well, but instead he throws his head back and laughs. “I’ve never heard that pickup line before. Usually it’s ‘you look familiar’ or something. But smell?” He laughs again, a warm sound that piques my thirst as the laughter brings color to his cheeks. “That’s a good one. I’m Patrick. What’s your name?”

I hold out my hand for him to take and kiss, but before I can introduce myself, another voice says, “Abigale?”

I move my eyes past the handsome young man to the older human in front of him. He is small, coming only to Patrick’s chest, with wispy soft white hair, round glasses, and wrinkles all over his face. It is not until I lock eyes with him that I am stunned with recognition. I remember those light green eyes. The wrinkles around them remind me of when he used to laugh and they would only appear then, but are now permanent parts of his aged face. Much has changed, but those eyes remain. “Harold?”

His thin lips curl in a familiar smile. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

“Wait, Grandpa,” Patrick says, touching Harold on his elbow with one hand and pointing at me with another, “you think this is Abigale? The Abigale?”

Harold widens his eyes and stares at me. “It’s so good to see you again, my love, my queen.”

Patrick laughs again and shakes his head. “Grandpa, that woman would have to be as old as you are now. This woman is obviously,” he pauses to examine my face, “closer to my mom’s age than yours.”

I try to smile without showing my fangs. I should rip out his throat for that slight alone. This was a mistake. I should have stayed home and ordered Uber Eats again and I’d be fed by now and settling down to watch 90 Day Fiance undisturbed by geriatric ex-boyfriends and their arrogant grandsons. But my heart also breaks as I see Harold again, weak and frail but still alive, so close I could take him in my arms and devour him in an instant. 

His eyes stay fixed upon mine as he steps closer. “Abigale, you can do it now,” he says, his voice shaking. “You can make me a vampire! Please. We can live forever.”

“Are you OK?” Patrick asks, ducking his head so that he is eye-level with Harold. 

Harold ignores Patrick and grabs my wrist. The scent of his blood surrounds me. I’m so thirsty that I feel it moving through the veins in his weak fingers as he wraps them around my wrist. “Do it now. I don’t have much longer to live!” 

He is hysterical now, drawing the attention of the other nearby humans. Patrick gives me a weary smile. “I’m sorry. He gets confused sometimes.” The young man gently pries Harold’s fingers from my wrist. “Come on, Grandpa. Let’s go sit down somewhere quiet.” 

Harold’s eyes dim as Patrick wraps an arm around his grandfather. “Abigale, please. I’m so old. Please,” Harold whispers as Patrick rubs his shoulder.

A loud pop interrupts our conversation as a bright light blooms overhead. “Oh wow. Look, Grandpa! The fireworks show is starting. Let’s sit over here, away from the big crowds.”

Yes. That’s a wonderful idea. Let us go to a dark corner away from the other humans. I follow closely as Patrick leads Harold to a wooden table under a tree that is at least fifty feet away from the most crowded point of the party. My feet are soundless, barely touching the ground as I inhale the scent of their blood that trails behind them as they walk. My throat burns with thirst and my heart is aflame with the memory of Harold. I want to speak with him to see how much of him remains, but I fear my thirst is too great. 

Patrick and Harold sit and the sky explodes with the horribly loud noise of fireworks. I may never understand the appeal of them. In my opinion, one might as well light their money on fire and watch it burn, but humans seem to enjoy these displays more than most others. The crowd collectively intones as the colors splash across the sky, leaving smoke and soot in their wake, and I watch as the light flashes across Harold’s wrinkled and forlorn face and reflects in the youthful glow of Patrick’s smooth skin and bare arms. 

I creep closer, careful not to make a sound. Shall I try to speak with Harold alone? Shall I turn him, as I promised so long ago? What is the point of existing when he is already so frail? My emotions range, but the thirst is stronger than I like to allow it to be. I am at the threshold where I cannot control myself, and any vampire knows you must not allow yourself to reach this point. This is the point that goes beyond reason and supersedes any connection one might have to logic or love. This is the kind of thirst that demands quenching. I should’ve fed an hour ago, but I realize this too late. 

 “Why did you think that was your old girlfriend?” Patrick asks Harold as I stand behind the pair, hovering just feet away.

“Because it was!” Harold insists. “She looks just the same as she did back then.”

Patrick purses his dark pink lips. I am standing almost directly over them, my position perfect for the kill. The vein in Patrick’s neck is throbbing, practically begging for me to open it. “And what was all that about being a vampire? Have you been watching those old Bella Legosi movies again?”

“She’s a vampire! She promised me she would turn me into one,” Harold says, his voice quivering with conviction.

Patrick smiles. “You’ve sure got some imagination, Grandpa.”

Red and blue light bathes them both as another rocket detonates. It’s the loudest boom yet, and the crowd watches in blissful transfixation, gorging themselves on their oil fried bread with sugar, conveniently distracted. No one can hear the screams over the fireworks.

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