Friday, October 23, 2009

A Halloween Treat

I will be busy going to college Halloween parties next weekend, so you get your candy early! "Dressing Up As Human" is a tie-in short story set a few years after the events of Bite Me. Cute and fluffy.


"Dressing Up As Human"
A Halloween Confection by Donaya Haymond

"Come on, Ferdinand, it'll be fun! I dress up for Halloween every year. We don't have to trick-or-treat; we can just walk around or hand out candy. Please? I've got the perfect costume for you."

"Nat...the last time I celebrated this holiday was when my daughter was ten, and then I went as myself."

"But costumes! Sequins! Fabric! Doesn't that make you feel young again?"

Ferdinand stopped typing on his laptop as he sat engulfed in a huge, gray, moth-eaten easy chair with terrible springs. Anyone thin as he was sank right into the cushions and had great difficulties getting out again. His black hair always was a mess and his smoothly shaven, deathly white cheeks were full of small cuts. The whole mirror problem was very inconvenient. Despite this, he had a refined, classically European face; down to the sleek sunglasses he wore to protect his red eyes from the light, and his entirely dark-colored wardrobe. "I've been twenty-two for the past nineteen years. I think that's young enough."

"Bitter, bitter brooding all the time. Anne Rice would love you." Sometimes Ferdinand thought the only reason he and Nat were friends was they were the only two vampires in town. Their one similarity was a deep yearning to be morally upright. The standards were no bites, no scares, no crime, with subsistence on animal blood and holding down a job. Nat was a combination veterinarian, general physician, obstetrician, and psychiatrist. He simply returned to medical school whenever he scraped enough money together to pay for it. In terms of work he ran a nocturnal clinic and drank all blood samples after he tested them.

Nat, too, wore sunglasses, though his were considerably more expensive than Ferdinand's and dated from the seventies. He had bright orange hair, bright orange clothes, porcelain-white skin, and just as skeletal a frame as Ferdinand's. He was several inches shorter, though, which was why Ferdinand said he resembled a gnat, being small, bloodsucking, and annoying. He'd been bitten at age thirty, seventy-two years ago.

As an unsuccessful but passionate historical fiction novelist, Ferdinand had managed to help support a family. Nat moved into his house when his wife was ill, to take care of her and function as a sort of uncle to Ferdinand's daughter Dianne. (Vampires can father children, though their sperm count is rather low and it takes a while. They're not really undead – they're mostly dead, with all life functions slowed down to a near-coma state.)

Nat still paid Ferdinand rent, but there was an unspoken agreement that Ferdinand would never evict him. For all their bickering, they needed each others' companionship to keep from dying of loneliness, now that Dianne was off at college.

Ferdinand said, with a tinge of acid, "No, Anne Rice would not enjoy knowing about me, as I am neither gay nor sexy. Why must you keep infusing me with cheer, anyhow? I think it's within my rights to have angst, particularly after Selene died."
He met her at a Halloween party. He said he was a vampire. She forgot to get a costume and so claimed to be a dormant werewolf. It was several weeks before they found out both of them were telling the truth.

"I loved Selene too, but you can't keep using her as an excuse to be miserable for the rest of your life. And I foooouund something in the aaatiiiic." Nat reached over the coffee table – which wasn't even a real table, just a pile of hardcover books with a cloth on top – and straightened Ferdinand's hair.

Ferdinand removed Nat's hand from his head. "Fine, I'll humor you. What is it?"

Nat pulled a paper Trader Joe's shopping bag out from under his chair. From it he drew a long black cape, an imitation tuxedo, white gloves, a fake red rose, and a white mask to cover half the face. "The Phantom of the Opera! You'd look gorgeous."

Ferdinand ran his fingers along the soft cape, remembering the night he ran away with her, the awkward attempt at tenderness from his friends , their caring and hopes for him disguised as a gag gift. Even then he had been too melodramatic for his own good. "Probably still fits..." he murmured.

Nat was either unaware of his friend's nostalgia or determined to steamroll past it. "You could sing as we walked down the street. The PHANTOM of the opera is he-ere, inside my miiiiiind..."

"Don't sing, Nat. It sounds horrendous." Ferdinand typed for a while, and then looked up with an embarrassed smile, fangs showing. "How much digging did you have to do to find that?"

"The better part of a sunny morning when I didn't feel like going to coffin. Nearly tripped over Dianne's old rollerblades in the process. I could have been wounded."

"Well, since you went to the trouble..."

"Indeed." Nat suppressed a grin.

"I need a break from writing, anyway. I've done nothing but drink blood, sleep, and write for the past week."

"Oh yes, definitely."

Ferdinand took the bag and went upstairs. He called out, "Incidentally, what will you be wearing?"

"I'm going to be a Beach Boy!"

"Good heavens."

When Ferdinand returned, he was a Gothic masterpiece, melancholy, handsome, and elegant. He found the mask a little sticky, but supposed something had to hold it on. "How do I look?" he asked.

Nat had changed too, and he was a holiday monstrosity: a pink Hawaiian shirt festooned with palm trees, bright blue Bermuda shorts, a Jamaican-style straw hat, and, of course, the sunglasses. He pulled a digital camera out of his pocket. "Strike a pose."

Ferdinand, overtaken by the romantic inside him, made a leaping motion with his cape furling out. Nat snapped the photo and handed the camera to Ferdinand, who looked on the screen. He sighed ruefully, but with a quirk to his lips. "Not bad," he said.

"Dashing and perfect, I think. I have a microphone for my costume." Nat put it to his mouth and belted out, badly off-key, "I wish they all could be California, I wish they all could be California, I wish they all could be California giiiiiirls."

"This is who I have for a roommate and my only friend? Wonderful. Where do you want to walk?"

"Around the neighborhood. It's seven o'clock and it's getting dark. I just want to see what everyone else is wearing."

The vampires went out to the sidewalk, Ferdinand with his hands in his pockets and his head bowed down. Nat tried telling jokes, but Ferdinand wouldn't laugh. They passed five teenage girls dressed as Lord of the Rings characters, and one of the unnaturally tall, very chubby hobbits stepped on a piece of glass.

"Ow! Guys, wait up. I think I have to get back home. I can't walk." She sat on the pavement, tears falling down her cheeks from the pain.

"I told you we should have gotten rubber feet," said her friend, in an Aragorn costume.

"I hope you don't get gangrene," the girl dressed as a dwarf, complete with a thick beard. The girls all clustered around the injured one, some consoling, some gawking.

Nat curled his hands into fists, breathing deeply. The smell of human blood required restraint. Forget the vampire, he told himself. Right now, you are a doctor in a very silly outfit. He pulled a small white box out of his pants pocket and rushed over to the girl. "I have a first aid kit right here."

"Why are you carrying a first-aid kit on Halloween?" the injured girl asked.

"I'm a doctor, and you wouldn't believe how many people get hurt on this night." He bent down and swabbed the cut with a disinfecting wipe, then wound gauze around the foot.

"It stings, but thanks," the girl said. Ferdinand entered the circle, trying to ignore the intoxicating blood. "Where do you live? I can carry you home."

"We can carry her," the girl dressed as Aragorn said.

The injured girl said, "No way. I weigh, like, twice as much as the strongest of you. I don't think these men can handle me either."

Ferdinand scooped her up in his frail-looking arms without any visible effort, carrying her bride-through-the-doorway style. "I wouldn't worry about that, miss. Your friends can show us the way to your house and make sure we don't run off with you."

The girls all stared. "You don't look all that muscled," one said.

"Appearances are deceiving." As he and Nat followed the teenage troop, Ferdinand softly sang "The Music of the Night".

"You have a nice voice," the girl in his arms said.

Ferdinand nodded, saying nothing. He and Nat deposited the girl at her doorstep, declining her mother's invitation to come in for hot cocoa. "Just being neighborly," Nat said, tipping his straw hat. "If you ever need a doctor late at night, I have a walk-in clinic downtown. Here's my card."

They set forth again, ambling along Common Lane, Ferdinand's street. Most of the decorations were jack-o-lanterns and witch dolls, without much excitement. One house, however, had what looked like disembodied hands hanging from the cranberry tree in front.

Nat tugged on one hand. "How clever. They filled surgical gloves with popcorn. Too bad the popcorn isn't soaked in blood too, right? Mmm mmm good." He stuck his tongue out at Ferdinand, but Ferdinand failed to smile.

A Captain Jack Sparrow passed by, followed by a Sponge Bob Square Pants, a rabbit, a Mongolian princess, some sort of traveling trunk with six legs, and an alien. A boy dressed elaborately as a television set walked up to Nat. "Mister, why are you wearing sunglasses at night?"

"I'm just cool like that, son. What can I say?"

While passing a tumbledown townhouse with broken windows and peeling paint, Ferdinand pulled Nat to a stop. "I hear something," he whispered.

Nat cupped a hand around his ear. He heard a faint "hisssssss...hisssss..." among the shrubs. "Let's have a look."

Silently they tiptoed around the house, listening to muffled sniggers. Two teenage boys were spray painting "EAT SHIT MR. OPPENHEIMER!" Without the dashes.

"That'll teach the fag to give me an F," one commented.

"Hurry up, hurry up. He might hear us."

Nat nudged Ferdinand. "You're scarier than I am."

Ferdinand shrugged and swooped down on the boy holding the can of spray paint. "That is not acceptable," he said in the boy's ear, pinning him on his stomach on the ground.

"AHHHH!" The caught boy struggled and kicked, and the other made a run for it. Nat grabbed him in a swing dance move, doing "the pretzel", in which the dancer who is following ends up with both hands crossed over the chest and pinned behind the back. He didn't know any dances invented after 1967 or so, but could still do a mean jitterbug, foxtrot, and an attempt at merengue when he'd had a few too many rums.

"We're sorry! We didn't do it!" one shouted.

"I haven't done anything. I don't know that guy. Please let me go!"

Nat lifted the kid up with one arm. The look on his face was priceless.

"Tell us your names, or we'll bite you," Ferdinand threatened.

"But you're not dressed as a vampire, and it isn't – isn't fun-fun-funny," stuttered his prisoner.

"Fine, then, I'll make a giant chandelier crash on you. The point is that you two have committed a crime. Tell us your full names, please."

"George Rubashov," Ferdinand's captive said.

"Barry Terrence," Nat's captive said. He added, "Don't be sure about these guys, George. They're really strong."

"He's just trying to freak you out. We're sorry, mister. Let us go."

Ferdinand let George up, gripping him firmly on the upper arm. Nat lowered Barry and wrapped one arm around his shoulders in a way that held him tight. They marched the boys up the front steps and rang the doorbell.

A man of about fifty answered, wearing a robe and slippers. He adjusted his glasses. "May I help you?"

"Are these students of yours?" Ferdinand asked.

"Yes. Have they done something wrong?"

"We caught them vandalizing your house, sir," Nat answered.

Ferdinand could feel his mask slipping off and pushed it back on. "Do you have any paint remover in your house?"

"I think I do."

"I would advise you to bring it out, along with some sponges, and watch these two clean if off. Call their parents, and press charges if you would like to."

"These guys are creeps," one boy protested.

"Ah, Barry, I wish I could believe everything you told me. You cheated on your last four quizzes, right?" Mr. Oppenheimer shook Ferdinand and Nat's hands. "Thank you very much. I would offer you something to drink, but I'm rather undressed at the moment. Please stop by if there's anything I can help you with."

One boy gave Nat the finger, but Nat gave him the peace sign.

The vampires smiled with closed mouths at Mr. Oppenheimer and left. "I think I'd like to go home," Ferdinand said. "I need to meet that deadline."

"This is the one holiday I don't work, so I think I'll wander a little more, maybe transform and fly around. It will make people so happy to see a bat on Halloween. I'll walk you home, though."

"Are you afraid of someone attacking me?"

"There are an awful lot of picket fences around here. You could stake yourself if you tripped. And there's always angry mobs that pop up out of nowhere."

"Yes, we have to be careful about mobs. You didn't squeeze his throat or anything, did you?"

"Nah. Loosest grip I could have without dropping him. My his expression was funny."

"Don't do it again. It'll lead you down the wrong path. This isn't the Vietnam War where you could go around biting locals willy-nilly."

"Ah, those were the nights." Nat reminisced, a look of serene pleasure on his face.

Someone had forced open the front window of Ferdinand's house. He shook his head and pressed his finger to his lips. They unlocked the door and crept through the living room. There was a clinking noise in the kitchen. Nat's shadow swept across the room and a young voice cried out. Then another one and another one joined in.

Ferdinand entered the kitchen and looked around. His refrigerator was open, with two bottles of cow's blood sitting on the table. No one appeared to be there, but he could smell frightened humanity. He knocked the broom cupboard. "If I am not mistaken in my voice recognition," he announced in a clear voice, "within this hiding place I will find Mark, Luke, and John Spiralli, the younger brothers of Matthew Spiralli, who for two years dated my daughter. Am I right?"

"Be kind to them," Nat said. "They're just kids."

When Ferdinand opened the door, three boys shrieked. They all were scrawny little kids, with the uncommon combination of dark eyes and light, golden-brown hair. Mark was twelve years old and dressed as Luke Skywalker, Luke was nine and dressed as Superman, and John was seven and dressed as a 50's gangster.

"Stop screaming, please. I'm not going to hurt you."

"But you're a vampire," John pointed out.

Mark pulled a cross out from around his neck and held it in front of them. "You can't do anything to my brothers."

Ferdinand took the cross in his white-gloved hands, turning it over and over. "Sorry, son, crosses don't really work." He tossed it to Nat, who made a big show of holding it tightly.

"See, kids? Another myth busted."

"Why are you telling us this?" Mark asked. "It would be better if people thought they worked, so they wouldn't prepare other things."

"Mark, you're gonna get us all killed, and Mom's going to be so mad at you," Luke whispered.

"We're as nice as vampires get, which isn't saying much" Nat explained, warming up a mug in the microwave. "We wouldn't want you to get hurt by a bad one. Ferdinand, can I turn the light on?"

"I'd rather you didn't. Come out. I want to talk to you." Ferdinand pulled three chairs from the dining table into the kitchen.

Nervously, the brothers sat around the table. Luke was praying, and Mark shrank back when Nat returned his cross. "We're sorry. We heard you two might be vampires ever since we moved in, and we wanted to know if it was true. And now we know you are. Are you going to suck our blood?"

"No," Ferdinand said. "It's important for you to learn, especially you, Mark, because you're the eldest now that Matthew's gone to college, that it doesn't matter what you think someone is. Laws still apply, and you still trespassed. So, there will be a punishment."

John started to cry, and Luke tried to stop him. Mark asked, "What punishment?"

"You have to help me rake the backyard this Saturday, and help me move my firewood. All three of you, and you have to be here all day. I will be talking to your parents about it."

The boys all sighed in relief. "That's all?" inquired Luke.

Nat cut in, "You shouldn't tell anyone we're vampires, not so much for our sake but for yours. Your parents are more likely to think you're crazy than to believe your story. It's the same with your friends. If we can trust you, you can come over other times. We could be friends."

"Nat has some great stories to tell," Ferdinand added. "He's more than a hundred years old."

"Cool," John said.

"So vampires aren't all evil?" Mark asked.

"No. Not all. Some are, though, so don't go around looking for them." Nat grinned.

"If you're already a monster, what do you do on Halloween?" Luke asked.

Ferdinand said, "Pretend to be human."

"Yeah," Nat said, "the rest of the time we're just humane."

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