By Jess Charle
I always underestimate the intelligence of others.
I met Cynthia at work. She was hired to replace Doreen in Marketing about 6 months ago. I didn’t think much of her at first. She wasn’t particularly pretty, or interesting. At least, I assumed she wasn’t. I dismissed her fairly immediately after meeting her.
But apparently, I left an impression on Cynthia. I started noticing her around a lot. At first, I assumed it was accidental. I’d see her in my favorite coffee shop, but it’s honestly the only decent cup of coffee within a two block radius of our office, so I didn’t think much of it. I noticed her lingering at the copy machine, right outside my office. Which was odd, but not that odd. I did, however, begin to get suspicious when I noticed her at my favorite lunch spot. And my second favorite lunch spot. And my favorite dive bar where I would often go for a quick snack after work.
Watching her nurse her dark beer at the bar, I raised an eyebrow. There was something fishy about her. About her obvious interest in me. I had an inkling, a hunch really, that if I investigated Cynthia’s ancestry, I’d find a little vampire hunter blood in her. You can always tell. The bastards get a whiff of you, and next thing you know, you’re outrunning an angry mob, pitchforks and torches forcing you to find a new life.
It all peaked on Halloween. Our CEO, John, loves Halloween. The second a brisk wind blows through, hinting that Summer is at its end, he starts asking people what they’re planning on dressing as and telling them that this year’s party is going to be “epic.” He is obnoxious. An overgrown child living off of daddy’s fortune, unaware of the difference between a company and a fraternity. So, thanks to him and his bank account, the company always hosts a huge, disgusting Halloween party, and this year was no different.
I went as a werewolf. I love the traditional scary costumes, though for obvious reasons, I avoid dressing as a vampire. It always felt so… stereotypical. Edward, my boyfriend of two years, went as a samurai, wearing one of those god awful inflatable suits to the party. I picked Edward as my partner because he was safe. He thought I was smart, and witty, and beautiful. And beyond that, he didn’t really care why I wouldn’t come home some nights. Most of the boyfriends, husbands, lovers, wives, and partners that I’ve had throughout the centuries would assume I was cheating on them, or, worse and closer to the truth, involved in something illegal. But not Edward. He always believed me when I told him I was spending the night at Sarah’s apartment after a girl’s night out. Sarah was a real woman I had befriended when I moved to the city eight years ago. Between her and Edward, I should have had enough gullible alibis to buy me at least… well, I’d say at least another five years here before I would have had to start over again.
That is, unless a latent vampire hunter fucked it up for me.
When I introduced Edward to Cynthia, he beamed like a dumb dog at her while she eyed him suspiciously from his feet to his head, absorbing all the inflated nonsense in between. She snickered, and looked at me with an expression meant to tell me she wasn’t buying any of it. I felt color rise to my cheeks, a sensation a vampire does not often experience, but I had gorged on a drunk reveler the night before, and I could feel his borrowed blood being pumped – pumped is the wrong word, more like slushed about – by my dead but defiant heart. The man had been out enjoying the holiday a little early, and had too much to drink. When a young, attractive woman invited him to join her in the dingy alleyway, he didn’t even bother saying “yes.” Simply staggered down the narrow passage, very much like the classic metaphor of a lamb to slaughter: unaware, and unafraid. Trusting the shepherd implicitly, as is in its nature.
I turned from Cynthia, rolling my eyes to myself as I walked away from her and my boyfriend to find more interesting company.
Several glasses of pinot later, I was in the kitchen debating Bukowski with one of the IT guys whose name I could never remember (I know it begins with a K… Kyle? No… more unique than that… Kel? Is that even a name? Oh, nevermind). I hadn’t ever read Bukowski before, I just like mocking drunk pretentious fucks. Key (now I’m just making shit up) was mid-sentence when Cynthia sauntered in. I turned to face her. The wine had heightened my senses and I could definitely smell the hunter on her.
She approached me, unhesitating in her closeness. She drew her face to mine. I sensed Kay (close enough) leave in discomfort. We were alone in the kitchen. I squared my shoulders and stood my ground, narrowing my eyes at her. We stared at each other for what felt like forever, neither willing to back down.
Finally, she spoke. Her voice barely higher than a whisper, “I know what you are.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked, tilting my head slightly as I gave her a crooked smile. I could smell the booze on her breath, I could see the slight sway in her posture. A human would’ve been fooled, but I knew: she was drunk. An untrained drunk hunter? I could feel any trace of worry melt instantly away. I pressed my face closer, so close our noses almost touched. “What am I?” I whispered.
And then, to my great surprise, Cynthia kissed me. I allowed it, stuck in my spot in utter shock. She stepped her body closer to mine, and placed her hands on my lower back, pushing us together. Regaining my senses, I pulled away from her embrace. She looked up at me, her face, normally cold and stoic, was filled with questions. Questions I didn’t understand. Question I didn’t want to have in my face. I stepped back from her, and left the kitchen.
I found Edward playing beer pong with John and a bunch of the guys from sales. He was whooping about some idiot getting a ball into a cup, the opponent chugging more beer. I grabbed his arm and began pulling him to the door.
Edward resisted, “babe, what are you doing? We’re winning!” He emphasized the word winning, as if this game was the defining moment of his life. Edward, Beer Pong Champion in the 2017 Olympics.
I glared at him and lowered my voice into a not-quite-human growl, “we’re leaving. Now.” Edward gulped, He nodded silently, and we left.
I have been around for centuries. I have seen great men torn down by war, disease, love. I have seen strong women corrupted by lust, jealousy, greed. I have seen it all. I fear nothing and no one. Not even death itself. But when I woke up after that party. That kiss. I felt as I imagine human teenagers often feel: confused, lost, helpless, and a little… icky. A vampire hunter kissed me. Someone breed to find and kill me, got confused and kissed me instead. Part of my mind was whispering to take advantage of it while another part whispered to run away. And yet another part suggested filing a complaint with HR. But the idea of describing a lesbian kiss to Chris, our company’s pathetic excuse for Human Resources, who trembles every time I wait behind him at the printer, made my stomach drop.
I tried to hunt on Sunday, but it was useless. I was off my game. The scent of men felt dirty in my nose. The memory of Cynthia’s kiss warm, the smell of her shampoo much more enticing. I could smell it as I prowled the seedy streets of the city. I didn’t realize it at first, but I had followed it. I was suddenly at a doorstep. I could almost see her scent in the air around the building and I knew, my lust had brought me to the door of my enemy. I turned sharply, and walked home as fast as possible.
I stayed home from work Monday. I told Edward I was sick. I hung around the apartment all day, going back and forth between ignoring the feelings inside me, and trying to decipher them. Was I feeling sexually attracted to a hunter? Was I experiencing feelings for a hunter?
On Tuesday, as I rode the elevator up to the eleventh floor, I could feel sweat forming on my brow. It’s ok, I told myself, I probably won’t even see her. Outside of her stalking my daily outings, Cynthia and I rarely ran into each other in the office. The elevator doors began to open. My heart caught in my throat.
The hallway was empty.
Frustrated, I let out the breath I had been holding as I walked to my office. I was mad at myself for being so affected by a human. A hunter, nonetheless. But also frustrated that she wasn’t there, waiting for me.
The day was uneventful. I honestly couldn’t have told you if Cynthia was even in the office. The next day was the same. I felt relieved. Maybe I could forget this happened. Then, Thursday night, I was absorbed in a particularly nasty excel spreadsheet of dates and numbers that didn’t make sense, when there was a knock on my door. I looked at the clock. It was almost seven. Who would want to see me so late?
“Come in.” I called. The door opened, and there she was. She stood tentatively in the doorway wearing a blue dress. The dress hugged her body, and there was just enough cleavage to be interesting, but nothing too scandalous for work. I swallowed. We stared at each other for several seconds. Cynthia smiled sheepishly and waved.
“Hey.” She stepped slightly into the office. I remember being able to smell her scent from my desk, and she smelled so good. A tingle ran from the tip of my spine to my lower back.
“Hi.” I responded, unsure what was expected from me in the situation.
Cynthia took another step towards me, suddenly emboldened. “I wanted to stop by and apologize for my behavior at the Halloween party.” She blushed, and looked down at the floor. When I didn’t answer immediately, she looked back up at me timidly.
“It’s… it’s ok.” I shrugged. I immediately felt stupid for the gesture. I stood up from my desk, trying to mask my awkwardness with movement. I was suddenly very aware that it was more awkward that I was now just standing. I walked around and leaned back, sitting on the edge of my desk and crossing my arms. “These things happen.” I said, as coolly as possible.
Cynthia’s face grew serious, “No, I mean it.” She stepped forward. “I didn’t know you had a boyfriend before the party. I guess it… surprised me. I got a little too drunk…” She shot her hands up defensively and quickly added, “Not that that’s an excuse! I didn’t mean to imply that…” She dropped her hands and groaned, “ugh, I’m terrible at this.” She straightened and looked me in the eyes, “I want to apologize for my actions Saturday. It was inappropriate, and I am sorry for making an advance on you. I would like to continue our professional relationship without any further discomfort.” She seemed proud of herself. She was smiling now, as if she was a contestant on a gameshow in mid-lucky streak. I swooned a little. She was being very cute. “I don’t want to create a… a hostile work environment.” She emphasized the phrase dramatically.
I burst out laughing. Cynthia was visibly taken aback. She blinked her wide eyes at me, unsure how to process my reaction.
“Oh my god, Cynthia. Please stop. It really is ok, I swear. You did not create a ‘hostile work environment.’” Cynthia smiled as her body relaxed. I felt more relaxed too. I smiled back at her, still chuckling to myself.
“Good, I’m so relieved.” She stood there, smiling at me. I returned the smile. Cynthia looked down at her watch-less wrist. “Oh goodness, look at the time.” She looked up at me, “I should probably be going.”
“Ok. Have a good night.”
She smiled, and turned to leave.
I tried to keep my lips shut, but something inside me couldn’t leave well enough alone. “Hey, Cynthia?” She turned to face me. “Wanna grab a drink?”
Latent vampire hunter or not, Cynthia was amazing. She was funny, smart, clever, silly, confident, and everyday she became more and more beautiful to me. Our happy hours became weekly. And then bi-weekly. We began getting coffee together every morning. I fell head over heels in love with her. My body ached for her. My heart swelled whenever I would smell her approach my office.
One Friday, we were celebrating Cynthia’s recent raise. We started at our usual happy hour spot, and moved across the city, drinking ourselves into oblivion.
At midnight, we got the brilliant idea to go back to Cynthia’s place and watch a movie. We had been gushing about our favorite horror films, and Cynthia discovered I had never seen Interview with a Vampire. She insisted we had to go and watch it that second. I had never seen that film because I refuse to indulge in anything vampiric. Watching Hollywood misrepresent my species disgusted me. But for Cynthia, I would’ve only read Anne Rice novels for the next hundred years.
I remember not hating the film as much as I expected. But I don’t think I was really paying much attention. Cynthia and I were on her small couch, huddled together under a fuzzy blanket. Her side was lightly touching mine, and I had never been as comfortable as I was in that moment. I never wanted the film to end.
I felt Cynthia adjust in the seat next to me. She leaned her body against my side, and rested her head on my shoulder. Electricity shot through my entire being. I looked down at the back of her head. Her hair smelled amazing. Cynthia must have felt my gaze, because she looked up at me.
“Oh, sorry. Is this ok?” Her large blue eyes bore into my being. I was on fire. I lost control over my body, my senses, and kissed her. Her lips remained slack for a few seconds, and then she reciprocated, hard. Thoughts escaped my mind completely as our bodies merged together.
I told Edward I drank too much and spent the night at Cynthia’s. I wasn’t lying. Looking back, I could’ve broken up with him. To be honest, I’m not sure why I didn’t. It’s not like I was in love with him, though that’s probably the excuse I would’ve given Cynthia if she had asked me to leave him for her. But she never did. She seemed content being with me, no matter the circumstances.
I couldn’t be with her, not really though. The hunter smell was there, no matter how much I tried to convince myself it wasn’t. I knew being with her in that capacity was a huge risk, let alone being with her for real. I loved her, but I had to protect myself. If only that instinct had been stronger. If only I could’ve stopped myself from seeing her. Then none of this would’ve happened. But I thought the affair was safe. I thought it was worth the risk.
Cynthia figured it out, of course. She noticed the fangs that would sometimes appear in my mouth when I was hungry and wasn’t being careful. One time she noticed fresh blood on my shirt and was worried. Having no visible sign of injury, I had to tell her that I had had a nose bleed. Like I said though, Cynthia was smart.
We were at my place. Edward was away on business for the whole week, so I had invited Cynthia over to play house. Pretend like we were a real couple. I’ve made so many mistakes. I had thought my emergency passports, cash, and decades of journals were locked safely away in the safe I kept in my closet. A secret safe that even Edward had seemed frustrated about, but eventually accepted as part of our lives. A safe meant for my eyes only. A safe I was very careful about locking behind me. Cynthia found it open, however, and had investigated. It only took her a few minutes to connect all the dots.
I was in the kitchen, cooking us dinner. She came in holding a leather bound book. I recognized it immediately as my journal from the early eighties. Years of idiotic cocaine use and playing the stock market for kicks.
“What the fuck.” It wasn’t a question.
“Cynthia…” I said.
She slammed the book on the counter. “I always thought my grandfather was insane, but he wasn’t, was he? Vampires are real. And you are one.”
I looked at her in silence. I didn’t know what to say.
She watched me for a moment, and then continued. “My grandfather used to tell me stories of our family of hunters. How we’d search the world for your species, ridding humanity of the evil of blood suckers. My father would tell me that Grandpa just had a wild imagination, and that vampires weren’t real. But he was wrong.” Cynthia paused, never taking her eyes off of me. “I knew something was weird. I could… It’s like I could sense it. I could almost…smell it.” She said the word with disgust. Like I was dirty now. “I assumed I was confused by my intense attraction to you. But I see now. My feelings were what was confusing me. Making me blind to the truth.” Her eyes began to water as her tone changed from hate to sorrow. She blinked and a tear ran down her cheek.
“Cynthia, I…” I started.
She shook her head angrily. “No, don’t talk. No talking!” She turned away and sat down at the kitchen table. She covered her face with her hands, and began to sob. My heart broke and instinctively I walked to her. I placed my hand tentatively on her back. She didn’t react, so I began to rub tenderly, as if comforting her for something normal. As if she had been fired or her cat had died.
I rubbed her back, and she leaned into my stomach. I moved my hand up and rubbed her hair gently. She looked up at me, her eyes red, her face wet. She was still so beautiful.
“I guess I’m supposed to kill you now.” She said. I smiled down at her, and she returned the smile.
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”
“Me too.” She placed her head back at my side and reached up to grab my hand. We stayed like that, unsure what to do next.
A loud thud from upstairs made us both jump. The house had been deathly silent. Cynthia’s grip on my hand tightened and she looked up at me. “What was that?”
“I have no idea.” I said, looking at the ceiling. There was another thud. I let go of Cynthia, “you stay here, I’ll check it out.”
It sounded like the thuds had come from the bedroom. I sniffed the air, but nothing was off about the smell in the house. If there was a stranger here, surely I’d smell it. I slowly pushed the bedroom door open. It was mostly empty, the open closet and safe being the only things out of place. I checked under the bed and Edward’s closet, but found nothing. I left the room and stopped short. Outside the door laid a clove of garlic. I picked it up. It had definitely not been there when I went into the bedroom.
Garlic negatively affecting vampires is a Hollywood myth. In fact, I love garlic. I use it in everything. But this was a sign. A message.
Cynthia screamed from downstairs. I dropped the garlic and ran.
Entering the kitchen, I immediately noticed Cynthia on the floor, blood beginning to pool around her. Before I could react, the world went black.
I woke up, my head splitting. I opened my eyes. My vision was blurry, but I slowly was able to blink the fuzziness away. There was something brown in front of me. I blinked again. It was a face. It was Edward’s face. His brown eyes were inches from me. I tried to speak, but my mouth was gagged. I turned my head, but couldn’t tell where I was. All I saw was a cement floor and matching walls. Wherever I was, it was filthy. I shudder and turned back to Edward, whose face filled my entire vision.
Edward reached behind my head and I felt the gag loosen and fall to my neck. Thoughts flooded my weak mind. Thank god Edward found me. Did he find Cynthia? Is she ok? I tried to open my mouth to ask, but my tongue was so dry I couldn’t speak.
Edward patted my shoulder. “Shh, shhh, sweetheart. I’m here.”
Tears filled my eyes, and I smiled at him.
“Do you remember me?” He asked. My smile was replaced with a look of confusion. What was he talking about. He continued, “It’s me, Edward. Your boyfriend?” I nodded, slowly, trying to put the pieces together. “You thought I didn’t know, didn’t you? You thought I never knew. But I always knew.” My breath began to quicken as the adrenaline cleared my mind. “I was ok with your… Cravings. Cheating on me though? For that… You’re gonna pay.” Realization flooded my brain with panic and I found my voice.
“Where is she, Edward?” He smiled. His dumb face twisted in macabre pleasure.
“Oh, your fuck buddy? She’s right over here. Let me get her for you.” Edward stepped back and I saw her. Cynthia was bound and gagged in the corner of what I now recognized as the water heater closet in our basement. Edward walked over to her, and grabbed her by the hair. She groaned and her eyes began to flutter as he dragged her towards me.
At least she was still alive.
He dropped her in front of me, and lowered himself onto her back, his knee pressing into her. I cringed as Cynthia cried out in pain. She was awake now, looking at me with a mix of utter fear and confusion. My face was wet with tears and I began to do something I’ve never done in all my years on this planet. I begged.
“Edward, please, no! Edward, don’t hurt her! I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry! Please, stop!”
He glared at me and pushed down on his knee hard, carefully keeping his distance between himself and my face, my only current weapon. Cynthia screamed. Edward dug his fingers deep into Cynthia’s hair, and pulled up, stretching her pale neck long and taut in front of me.
My eyes locked with his.
“Eat beast.” His words a slap of terror reverberating through my skull.
I shook my head violently and struggled with my rope restraints, trying to tear them from my wrists with force, but even a lion’s might is useless if tied up tight enough. I pressed my back against the wall. My shoulder stung with the anguish of being pinned behind me, but I didn’t stop trying to distance myself as much as possible from the woman I loved. Edward’s lips curled into a nasty sneer. He spit on me, the wet fluid sliding down my face.
“Fine then.” He rose, dropping Cynthia to the ground. She curled her legs to her chest as she whimpered. “I can wait. We’ll see how long it takes you to choose. Starvation or her.” Edward said the last word with pure disgust, and kicked Cynthia away from me with his boot.
I don’t know exactly how long it’s been, but it’s been at least a week. Every day or so, Edward comes back. He offers me Cynthia’s neck, spits on me when I refuse, feeds Cynthia some old bread and water, re-ties her gag, and leaves.
I’m starting to get hungry. Really, really hungry. I can feel my hunger beginning to burrow into my insides, screaming to be released. Despite my best efforts, my fangs have grown in behind my lips, and refuse to leave. The first few days I would comfort Cynthia, promise her that I’d never bite her. That I love her. But, I don’t have the energy anymore. And the hungrier I get, the more unsure I am that I can keep my promise.
I can smell her blood from here, and it smells so fucking good.