VAMPIRE, VAMPIRISM, VAMPIRIC, VAMPY!
A collection of short stories which explore and celebrate the vampire genre with talented, world-class writers. There’s something here to delight and horrify even the most seasoned vampire fan.
Abraham R Nox, Adrian Bond, Dennis Kriesel, Emily de Rango, Eric S. Brown, Frank C. Gunderloy, Jr., Greg Beatty, H. Turnip Smith, J.R. Corcorrhan, Jean Burnett, Jennifer Moore, Joshua Alan Doetsch, Laura Cooney, Lester Thees, Liz Williams, Lorna Dickson, Miles Deacon, Mordant Carnival, Raymond T. McNally, Richard Jones, Sheri Morton-Stanley, Stephen Minchin, T. P. Keating, Tom Phillips, Trent Walters.
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A vampire story by Sheri Morton Stanley – Featured in Fangers Inc. Volume One
The easiest grab, ever. That’s what Andre was thinking as he rounded the corner with Marvin and Del. Big old house, windows always open, even in the wintertime – didn’t ever look like anybody was home. If you leaned all the way across the fence, you could see all kinds of fancy furniture, and you just knew there was good stuff in there. Like jewellery that you could stuff in your pockets and cops wouldn’t even stop you after, because they couldn’t tell you had nuthin’. Least, that’s what his older brother said. They walked past the old house every day, and sometimes Levon would point it out to him, and say, ‘One of these days, little bro. That’s gonna be the easiest, ever.’
Andre always figured Levon hadn’t done it yet ‘cause he was scared of the old lady. He might laugh and call his brother a chickenshit around his friends, but secretly he didn’t blame Levon one bit. Wasn’t nothin’ worth making the crazy lady mad.
Until the shoes.
He’d seen them in the store window the week before, on the way home from school. Stopped dead on the sidewalk like a dog on a chain. They were black, with silver striping all ‘round the edges, and he wanted them more than he ever wanted anything in his whole life. You could tell by looking that you’d go faster-than-fast in those. He wanted them bad. He needed them bad.
The fantasy of wearing them had been rubbed almost shiny; a week’s worth of running faster than the mean kids down on the corner, a week’s worth of jumping high enough and fast enough to get past the Vasquez’ dog so he could take the shortcut home. A week’s worth of Levon, who thought he was all that, getting put down by him, because he had the coolest shoes, ever, while Levon was still wearing those crappy old things from the dollar store.
It never occurred to Andre that he wouldn’t have the shoes an hour before Levon held him down and just took them to sell for going-out money, so he could impress Tisha from the next block over. Gritty reality hadn’t so much as poked a toe in that afternoon, when Andre and his friends stood leaning against the fence, looking at the house with a greedy eye.
From the outside, it didn’t look like much. Inside the fence, there was trash flung all across the lawn, though the weeds hid at least some of it from view. The remnants of screens flapped crazily in the breeze, and bits and pieces of fancy decorations lay amid a litter of cigarette butts and empty bottles on the porch. Paint hung in strips along the walls, and the windowpanes were thick with dust, like nobody lived there at all. Looking at it now, you’d never know that once upon a time, their neighbourhood had been fine. Big houses and big yards, and neighbours all hanging around helpful just like on TV. That’s what his Granny said, anyway. But now all the big old houses had been cut up into apartments, and the new ones all had bars on the windows, or old mean dogs. Only big house left was this one.
Andre’s Granny couldn’t remember when the crazy lady moved in, but said she’d always been mean. Never had a soul over, in all those years, not family nor friends, nor neighbours.
“One of these days, that old biddy gonna die, and people be weeks finding her body,” his Granny said.
“Maybe she dead,” said Del. He bent to scratch absently at one pale ankle, peeking out from under a pair of pants that hadn’t fit right in a year or more. “I ain’t seen her in a while. Used to be, she was outside every time I went to the store.”
“Hey,” said Marvin, “If she’s dead, you could go in whenever you wanted, just get everything good. That’d be cool.” Marvin was a year older and a whole head taller than the rest of them, and he was the one who had all the good ideas. None of them noticed that Marvin rarely took his own advice.
Andre shifted uncomfortably. It was one thing, running in to snatch something off a table so you could sell it. But it was a whole other thing going in to steal from a dead person. “I dunno. I heard that if you steal off a dead person, they come back to haunt you.”
“That’s stupid.” Marvin kicked at the fence post contemptuously. “Anyway, she probably ain’t dead, you big scaredy cat.”
“Yeah, well, if you’re so brave, why don’t you go in there?” Andre demanded.
“I ain’t going in there – everybody knows she’s a witch.”
“Ain’t no such thing – ‘cept for that stuff like Melly and her friends was doing. You know sticking pins in dolls and stuff.” Del looked supremely unimpressed. “Didn’t work. If it had, Melly would have done give me that cd player she bought.”
“She is too a witch. Look at all them marks.” Marvin gestured toward the sidewalk and steps of the house, covered in chalk figures, endless rows of hatches and lines that were swiftly disappearing in the long afternoon shadows.
“That don’t mean nothing,” Del snorted. “If having gang marks on your sidewalk means you a witch, your momma better be buying herself a broom.”
“They don’t look like no gang marks to me!” Marvin pointed out one row, nothing but sideways T’s, and upside-down Y’s, and the same three lines repeated over and over and over, all up the sidewalk and down the half-rotten gateposts. “You tell me which gang has a dumb mark like that?” Andre rolled his eyes. “I don’t memorize ‘em, Marvin. They don’t mean nothing, anyway, you big old scaredy-cat.”
Marvin frowned, sullen and angry. “Well, if you ain’t scared, why don’t you go on in?”
Andre glanced up at the house, to where the front door hung half-open, its contents still in shadow. He felt a rippling shiver run like a spider over his skin. He said nervously, “I’m just waiting till a good time.”
“Like when?” Marvin taunted, “Like never?”
Andre focused on his shoes, once plain white but now greyish brown with dirt, ratty shoelaces flapping and holes wearing through over one big toe. Imagined the sleek black shoes instead, with soft insides and springy soles. He wanted them worse than he’d ever wanted anything.
But it was beginning to get dark, the front steps nearly invisible in the twilight. Any minute the lights would go on, and the old lady would be moving behind the thin lace curtains. “We done waited too late,” he said.
Marvin snorted, pushing himself off of the fence. “I knew you was too big a wuss,” he laughed. “Well, if you ain’t doing it, wussy, I’m going home.” Without another word, he struck out, moving with a lazy, satisfied stride down the block.
Del eyed Andre thoughtfully, his brow furrowed, lips parted, the tip of his tongue just peeking out. Finally, he spoke. “You really going in?”
The answering silence hung in the air. “You gonna come with me?”
His friend gave a start, as if he’d never considered that it might have to do with him. “Naw – I got to get home; Momma be mad as hell if I’m late again.” He didn’t wait for Andre to answer, to point out that in fact Del lived not two minutes around the corner – less if he wanted to brave cutting through the crazy lady’s yard. “See you tomorrow,” he said, and he was gone.
Andre twined his fingers in the rusted chain-link and swayed backward, thinking. There still weren’t any lights on in the house, just the last rays of sun slanting through the entryway. He wasn’t really concerned about the right or wrong of it. If he had thought about it at all, he would have decided that if they didn’t even bother to lock the door, they didn’t want their stuff, anyway. If he didn’t take it, somebody else would.
No, it was the possibility of getting caught that worried him – of being put in jail or even just shot. And something else, maybe, that he’d never have admitted out loud – that he was afraid, just a bit – of the old lady. She was crazy, not just old; talked gibberish to them sometimes, but mostly just stared at the people going by like she was sizing you up to fit in her oven.
He might talk big, dream big, but as he stood there, he realized that his chances of getting caught were a whole lot higher than his chances of getting anything that he could sell. He rested his cheek against the flaking metal of the fence, wishing hopelessly for what he couldn’t have.
His shadow was nearly to the front steps, shading out the markings that led up to the dingy door, when he finally gave up the notion of robbery, his feet dragging as he began to walk the fence row towards home. There was no hurry to get there – he was already late, which meant his Granny was already mad, which meant he’d be in trouble for days, and there’d be less chance than ever that he’d get the shoes.
He didn’t know what made him turn around, take one last longing look behind, but when he did, he saw the fading light spark bright off something just inside the door. Closer, and a little closer, and finally he could see what it was that all but glowed: Jewellery. A whole pile of it; bracelet, watch, and rings, all sitting on the corner of a little table in the hall. He wouldn’t even have to go two whole steps in to reach it.
He pushed experimentally on the gate; waiting to see if the old lady appeared at its squeal. But the rusted hinges swung open silently, and he stepped a foot inside.
What little breeze there had been that day had long since died, and the air hung heavy around him. Andre looked up and down the street, empty for the moment of people; everyone at home eating their supper. It wouldn’t be that way long, he knew – if he was going to do it, it’d have to be now. He wished nervously that Del had stuck around to be the lookout.
Another step or two, and he was nearly to the house, nearly ready to sprint up the stairs and in the door, when something made him stop – the prickling sense of being watched, the sweat soaked hairs along his neck standing stiff. Was the old lady staring at him, ready to call the cops?
He paused, scanning the upper windows – but the house was dark, and the curtains firmly shut.
For a moment, his fear got the better of him, and he took one halting backward step. Didn’t nobody leave stuff like that laying out around here – something was just not right. Maybe she was sprawled out dead behind the door. Maybe he should just go home, instead.
And then he saw it. A shoebox stuck under the table where the jewellery still sparkled, its familiar black and red logo almost hidden in the shadows. He didn’t stop to wonder why the crazy lady would have such a thing; his heart leapt up towards it and his feet followed. Quickly he ran, one foot in, and groped for the table, but it was further away than it had looked from the road. His arms, too short, couldn’t reach in. Looking furtively behind, he stepped inside, and ducked down to grab the box.
His fingers couldn’t quite reach, so he squatted beside the table and crab-stepped closer, feeling around for the lid. When his hand brushed something moist and slippery and warm, he nearly yelped. Jerked his arm hurriedly away, wiping his hand on his jeans. Had he put his hand on something gross? A dead rat, maybe? The houses ‘round here were full of them, and he didn’t think the old lady was too big on cleaning.
Cautiously, he peered under the table to see what he’d touched, but the box sat alone in the darkness. This time, he got on hands and knees, kept a careful eye on it while he flipped open the lid with the barest touch of a fingertip. He’d been half-afraid that the box was empty, but there they were – brand new in a little nest of crumpled tissue, the silver striping glowing faintly.
Quietly, he slipped off his own shoes; if he traded them out, the old lady might not even notice they were gone. From above there came the shuffling sound of movement, slippers moving back and forth across the floor. Quickly, eyes trained on the stairs, he felt for the box, pulling it forward to grasp the shoes inside.
His hand hadn’t completely closed around the laces when he felt a pinch – just a tiny scratch, not even enough to pull his attention from the fear of discovery. At least, not until the second time.
When he was eight, he’d stuck his hand in some soapy water and cut himself on a butcher knife that sat hidden in a dish. The memory flashed through his mind a mere second before pain shot up his arm. He bit back the cry, his breathing harsh and teeth gritted, as he pulled his hand back. For one heart-stopping moment it stuck, till he heard the faintest ripping sound – Oh, god, his hand! – and fell backwards to the floor. Blood poured from between his fingers – he’d cut himself good on whatever was underneath there. He jammed his injured hand underneath his armpit as he got up from the floor, every movement causing his hand to throb wildly. Blood ran freely down his side; he could feel the droplets rolling down his skin. The floor was covered with red splashes, and he could hear the old woman up and about; he was gonna get caught.
He knew he’d have to grab the shoes and run like hell; his hand hurt bad, but not bad enough to make him leave them behind. He started to drop once again to his knees – just had to be more careful this time – and saw with a cold start of fear that the door had shut behind him. Couldn’t open the door and carry the shoes, even he was smart enough to figure that out.
He tried to turn the knob, but his good hand was slick with blood, too, and the knob suddenly seemed too big for his grasp. Tears were splashing down, stinging as they hit his hand, and he was dimly aware that he was making a low whimpering sound that he couldn’t stifle no matter how hard he tried. His skin felt clammy, and the hand that gripped the knob was beginning to shake, when the sounds upstairs grew louder and more purposeful. He pulled harder at the door, but it wouldn’t budge, not an inch. He could hear her moving towards the stairs. She was going to see him. The pain made his fear ten times as strong, his pulse pounding loudly in his own ears, and his belly felt like he’d swallowed a stone.
He had to get out before the old lady came downstairs. He turned loose the stubborn doorknob and ran into the next room, blood spattering behind him as he went. The ancient lace curtains were even darker here, from decades of dirt and filth. They pulled away easily, rotten and sticky under his hand.
Beneath them, there was only a wall where the window used to be.
The sound that forced its way out of his throat sounded odd in his ears, high-pitched, desperate, and confused. Now he heard her tread on the stairs, and he had to be dreaming, this had to be a dream; he’d wake up in the middle of social studies and Mrs. White would give him detention. Please, please, please, let it be a dream.
The curtains were already pulled wide where the second window had been, nothing but bare wall with its peeling paper and peeping lath, and there was no place else to go. It was a matter of seconds before the shuffling footsteps made their way across the entryway and found him. Before she got him. He glanced around the room, looking for a weapon – if he could hit her before she saw his face, maybe he could get past her, out the door –
He grabbed up a shabby metal lamp from a table, held it high in one shaky hand, waiting. When she rounded the corner, she was smiling. A happy, vacant smile that frightened him more than any anger would have done. He raised the lamp, ready to swing, and then he felt it again – that little, tentative pinch. He turned his head in time to see his hand disappear inside the lamp. This time, he couldn’t pull it free, though he shrieked and flailed, blood spraying out around him. The old lady took one step towards him, and then she sort of flickered, grew faint, and vanished altogether.
The rest of the house vanished behind her. He had a glimpse of viscous wetness and long, waving tendrils covered with teeth like rows of corn. He didn’t have time to scream before it swallowed him down.
The house had seen better days, and better meals. Once upon a time, there were door-to door salesmen, hobos, and friendly neighbours. Now there was only greed and despair. Poor fare, but it suited well enough. The image of the shoes that it had plucked from Andre’s mind it would remember – new bait was always welcome. When morning came, the floor in the entryway sparkled clean. The house never wasted anything.
It didn’t bother to clear the hobo marks away; there was no one left who remembered what they meant, anyway.
(c) Sheri Morton-Stanley, All Rights Reserved.Featured Image by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash