Shannah had followed him every night for the last four months. At first, she hadn’t been sure why, other than the fact that she was dying and out of a job and had nothing better to do.
She remembered the first time she had seen him. She had been sitting by the back window in the Pot Pourri Café across the street from the town’s only movie theater. She had been sipping a cup of hot chocolate when she saw him emerge from the theater. It had been late October, near Halloween, and the theater had been running classic vampire movies all month, showing a different film each night of the week. The old Bela Lugosi version ofDracula had been playing that night.
The stranger had been wearing a long black duster over snug black jeans and a black T-shirt.
With his long black hair, her first thought was that he could have been a vampire himself except that his skin was a dusky brown instead of deathly pale. A wannabe vampire, obviously. She knew there was a whole cult of them in the city, men and women who frequented Goth clubs.
They wore black clothes and capes. Some of them wore fake fangs and pretended to drink blood. She had heard that some didn’t pretend, but actually drank blood. Others role-played on the Internet in vampire and Goth chat rooms.
Shannah had been sitting by the window in that same café when she saw the stranger the second time. He hadn’t been coming out of the movie theater that night, merely strolling down the street, his hands thrust into the pockets of his jeans, which were black again. During the next few weeks, she saw him walking down the same street at about the same time almost every night, which she supposed wasn’t really all that strange. After all, she went to the same café and sat at the same booth in the back at about the same time every night.
One evening, simply for something to do, she left the café and followed him, curious to see where he went. She followed him the next night, and the next. And suddenly it was a habit, a way to spend the long, lonely nights when she couldn’t sleep. Sometimes he merely walked through the park across from City Hall. Sometimes he sat on one of the benches, as unmoving and silent as the bronze statue of the town’s founding father that was located near the center of the park.
While following the man in the long black duster, she learned that he went to the movies every Wednesday evening and always sat in the last row. He wandered through the mall on Friday nights. He spent Saturday nights in the local pub, invariably sitting in the shadows in the far corner. He always ordered a glass of red wine, which he never finished. Other than the wine, she never saw him eat or drink anything. He never bought popcorn or candy at the movies. He never bought a soda or a cup of coffee or a hot dog in the mall.
When she followed him home, she learned that he lived in an old but elegant two-story house at the edge of town. The house had bars on the windows and a security screen door, and was surrounded by a block wall that must have been twelve feet high, complete with an impressive wrought-iron gate. She wondered what he was hiding in there, and spent untold hours pondering who and what he might be. A drug lord? An arms dealer? Some sort of international spy? A reclusive millionaire? A serial killer? A mad scientist? A terrorist? Her imagination knew no bounds.
The holidays came and went. He didn’t go to visit family for Thanksgiving, and no one came to visit him. As far as she could see, he didn’t celebrate Christmas. No tinsel-laden tree appeared in the large front window. No colorful lights adorned his house. He didn’t go out to celebrate the New Year. But then, neither did she. As far as she knew, he didn’t buy flowers or candy on Valentine’s Day, nor did he go to visit a lady friend. He was a handsome man—tall, dark and handsome—which begged the question, why wasn’t he married, or at least dating? Perhaps he was in mourning. Perhaps that was why he always wore black. Then again, maybe he wore it because it looked so good on him.
She camped out in the woods across from his house three or four times a week, weather permitting, but she never saw him emerge during the day. He took a daily newspaper, but he never picked it up until after the sun went down. The same with his mail. He never had any visitors. He never had pizza delivered. No repairmen ever came to call.
She wasn’t sure when she started to think he really was a vampire, but the more she thought about it, the more convinced she became. He only came out at night. He lived alone. He didn’t eat. He always wore black. He never had any visitors. She never saw him with anyone else because…
He was a vampire.
Vampires lived forever and were supposed to be able to pass immortality on to others.
Ergo, he was the only one who could help her.
All she needed now was the courage to approach him. But how? And when? And what would she say?
It was the first of March before she finally worked up enough courage to put intention into action. Tomorrow night, she decided resolutely. She would ask him tomorrow night.
But, just in case he refused her or she changed her mind at the last minute, she armed herself with a small bottle of holy water stolen from the Catholic church on the corner of Main Street, wondering, briefly, if stolen holy water would retain its effectiveness. She found a small gold crucifix and chain that had belonged to her favorite aunt. She fashioned a wooden stake out of the handle of an old broom. She filled the pockets of her coat and jeans with cloves of garlic.
That should do it,she thought, patting her coat pocket. If he was agreeable, by this time tomorrow night she would be Undead. If he decided to make a meal of her instead of transforming her, she would just be dead a few weeks earlier than the doctors had predicted.
Ronan didn’t have to glance over his shoulder to know that the slender girl with the long black hair and big blue eyes was following him again. She had drifted in his wake like a pale shadow for the last five months or so. She followed him to the park. She followed him to the movies, to the local pub, to the mall, to his post office box when he picked up his mail. She followed him home. Sometimes she spent the night in the wooded area across from his house.
He wondered when she slept.
He wondered why her complexion was so ashen.
He wondered who she was.
He wondered why in blue blazes she was following him.
One thing was certain. He didn’t like her trailing after him one damn bit. He could have lost her easily enough. He could have destroyed her. He could have hypnotized her and made her forget he existed.
So, why hadn’t he?
It was a question he had asked himself every night for the last five months.
It was a question for which he had no answer, and that annoyed the living hell out of him. But just now, he had other, more important things on his mind than a skinny mortal female.