Authors: Dorlana Vann
“Wait? For what? Father’s not coming back. Why would he? He’s free.”
“Don’t you dare disrespect me, Junior. You’re too young to understand the world. Merfolk are manipulative and horrific.” With wild eyes she looked around. “I have to protect you. Go pack! Now!” She stood up abruptly and pointed up the stairs. “Pack up your stuff. We’re moving in the morning and never coming back.” She screamed, “They can’t have you!”
I made my way up the stairs to pack for the compound. A compound so far inland I heard the air smelled of pine. A compound I could not leave until I was of age.
Early the next morning, I climbed out of my bedroom window and found my way back to the beach. It had lost all of its darkness and now glistened and pumped silver-blue waves as far as I could see.
“You came back.”
I almost missed the mermaid; her hair blended and moved with the water.
“I wanted to say goodbye. My mother is scared of what she doesn’t understand.”
“But you’re not,” her voice rose over the rumble. “I can see it on your face. You have fallen for the sea.”
“I don’t know.”
She held out her arms to me. “There is only one way to find out. Give yourself fully to the waves.”
I stepped into the water, thinking I would come back later and tell Mother goodbye, but the feeling of freedom already overwhelmed me. The further I swam the further away the mermaid seemed. I watched the tip of her tail go under and held my breath, plunging in after her. Immediately, I felt different. I
changing! My legs felt as one unified object. But when I gave in to the need to inhale, I choked violently. I coughed and gagged until finally I felt accepted.
My eyes had burned feverishly from the saltwater during the ocean’s initiation; now they could focus on the new surroundings. Brilliant and vivid fish that I had never imagined existed swam playfully around me as if they were celebrating my arrival.
To my surprise, a group of Mermen suddenly appeared. My heart thumped wildly. I started scanning their faces, searching for my father. I smiled, and they grinned. Then they opened their mouths, exposing daggered teeth. They came closer, surrounding me, licking me with their shameful, filthy, cannibalistic tongues.
Her long auburn hair kept slipping from its desired position of behind her to in her face and into her cooking pot. When she finally had enough of pushing it back, she left her concoction to go pull it up.
She frowned at the vague remembrance of herself as a little girl in ginger-red pigtails as she stared in the mirror. But soon she couldn’t recall what she had been thinking about and went back to her kitchen.
Bubbles and smoke billowed from the large black pot as the robust spiced aroma filled the air. She scurried to its side and stirred it with her enormous wooden spoon. She gave a snorting giggle as she thought about how delicious the end result of her recipe would be.
She checked her recipe to make sure she had included everything, from eye-of-newt to the cinnamon sticks. Confused as to how she had come about the recipe, she picked it up. She found it difficult to examine the paper with her long black nails, which for a moment distracted her as well.
The spewing noise of the pot boiling over made her snap out of her trance and continue what she had been doing. Then began the task of dipping candy and fruit into what would become a delectable coating. When she was nearly finished, a knock came at the door.
Half put off by having to stop her duties and half hoping she had already drawn a child to her playhouse, she wiped her hands on her dress and went to answer the door.
In her doorway stood an average-sized man in his late twenties. He seemed familiar in an odd sort of way. It was his smile at first; thin yet reassuring. And then, disturbingly, his blueberry eyes were precise mirrors of the eyes she had looked at in the mirror only moments ago.
“Hey sis,” he said. “How you doing?”
She shook her head. Of course, she thought, I must have inhaled too much of my brew. “What are you doing here?”
“In the neighborhood. Can I come in?”
“I’m in the middle of something. Maybe next week.”
“This can’t wait,” he said; giving a fierce, I’m not going anywhere, stare.
“Fine,” she said.
“Love what you’ve done with the place,” he said as he stepped inside. “Planning on starting a daycare? He went and sat down on her teddy bear covered couch. “Look,” he said, suddenly serious. “Your friends—”
“I don’t have any friends,” she corrected.
“Well then, your former friends are concerned about you. That, and your landlord has called me countless times to tell me that you haven’t answered any of his calls about the smells and noises coming from your apartment at all hours of the night.”
“If that is all, I have things to do.”
“No. That’s not all. We need to go for a drive.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ll never bother you again, if that is what you want, but you must come with me—this second.”
She stared out the window as they drove out of the city and into the countryside. She had no idea where he could be taking her. However, the further they drove, the more recognizable he became, but not enough for her to want to strike up a conversation.
Finally, they slowed and pulled over to the side of the road. “We’re here,” he sang.
“Where?” she asked, looking at the dense woods that were on both sides of them. Her mind was trying to predict the outcome of her getting out of the car when he said, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Like you could,” she said and stepped out of the car.
She followed him into the woods, having to pull her long black dress from sticky bushes and climbing over thick vines and fallen limbs, until finally they stood in a clearing.
“Do you remember any of this?”
“The forest?” She was becoming increasingly annoyed but glanced around anyway. The marshmallow clouds glided away from the sun, letting it filter through the trees. A chill of nauseating recollection embraced her. For there, iced in the sunlight, white stone stairs lead down the side of an embankment. She could just make out the wooden bridge at the end of them that was almost hidden in the chocolate shadows of the trees.
“You know what?” she said. “I want you to take me home.”
“You remember. Don’t you?”
She shook her head. She didn’t... not really.
“I didn’t want to bring you back here. I didn’t have a choice. I was hoping you would break out of it. Now I see. It’s more than that. We have to go down the stairs. I’ll hold your hand.”
She wasn’t about to let him hold her hand, but she allowed his hand on her arm, just for support, of course. When they made it to the last step, she stopped. Images of childhood began to emerge.
Running... being chased by... him, her brother.
Father’s smiling face.
She closed her eyes.
“You remember,” he whispered.
She did: they had held hands as they walked down the stairs, leaving breadcrumbs behind.
She felt the tears of the memories run down her cheeks.
“Do you want to go further?” he asked.
She shook her head. There was no way she was going to be able to cross the bridge to that house. That house made of sweets... made of horror.
“I had to bring you here, Gretel. You were turning into her. She must have cast a spell.”
It was true, she was preparing to poison and then eat the boys, but the girls... she wanted them to be like her. She knew the incantation.
She looked at Hansel, who she now remembered from beginning to end. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll end the cycle.” She took a couple of steps onto the bridge. Knowing very well she would forget who she was as soon as they left—she jumped.
The Vampire’s New Suit
His apartment was on the top floor of a tall apartment building. Everyone knew he was a vampire, so no one would have bothered him even if he had been on the very bottom. That was why he found it strange when he heard the knock. After opening the door, he asked, “May I help you?” but thought: magnificent—take-out delivered to my door.
“Excuse us, Mr. Smith,” said the first young man of two, “for dropping by unannounced, but you’re not listed.”
“There is a reason for this,” the vampire said.
The second young man said, “I’m Mark, and this is my partner, Trey.” He held out his hand graciously and, without a mere tremble, he shook the resident’s hand.
Intrigued, Smith sought to connect with the gentleman’s eyes. When he avoided this with skill, the vampire couldn’t help but grin, something he hadn’t done for centuries. “Perhaps you have happened upon the wrong doorstep,” he said, only because he liked them.
Trey cleared his throat and also avoided Smith’s stare, except with less sincerity. “We’re new to town; however, we do know... who you are.”
Mark said, “We believe we offer a service that may very well interest you and benefit your particular situation.”
“Hmm,” Mr. Smith said. “Is that right? Well, in that case, do come in.” It had been a long time since the vampire had guests—that were alive at any rate—and he found that he was quite enjoying the change of pace. Suddenly the mundane lifestyle that he had become accustomed to became clear: sleep, eat, and watch TV. He had been doing the latter before the interruption and used the remote to click off the early evening news. “Please, have a seat,” he told the boys. “I’m afraid I do not have any refreshments... that you would enjoy.” He couldn’t ignore the sudden sound of Trey’s heart as it pumped a refreshment of its own. He licked his lips, knowing the evening could only get better.
“Mr. Smith,” Mark said, clearly noticing the look of desire in the vampire’s eyes. “Perhaps we should come back another time?”
“Don’t be silly,” the vampire said. “There is no better time. Perhaps you should state your business.”
“Of course,” Mark said, pulling Trey down beside him as he sat on the couch. “Our company, of which Trey here is a new recruit, provides a unique service to, shall I say, our nocturnal clients. We understand and sympathize with the fact that you are a prisoner in your home from sun-up to sundown. We have developed a fabric that is solar and flame resistant but extremely lightweight. We design and produce clothing made of these exclusive materials.” Mark reached inside his bag and pulled out a black swatch. Handing it to the vampire he said, “This is the most popular with our clients, but we do offer many different colors. All we need to get started are your measurements. As you can imagine, this discreet service is not cheap. It’s company policy to receive half...” he stopped when it seemed he had lost his audience.
The vampire had walked into his modest kitchen and turned on the stove. After all, he wasn’t born yesterday. He put the little piece of fabric over the flame. Nothing happened. He was impressed, already imagining the possibilities. The thought of walking outside during the day after so many, many years was very enticing.
The young men took out their tailor tools, a small catalog, and more fabric samples. In no time, Mr. Smith had chosen a dark gray, pinstriped suit with a high collar, black gloves, and a hat complete with ear and neck coverings.
As the weeks passed, the vampire actually became fidgety. He thought about all of the wonderful things he would be able to do during the day. He could even do lunch—if he were to be so bold.
He began to amuse himself as he pondered curious things that didn’t have to do with feeding. He wouldn’t have to hide in shadows. Maybe he would see a matinee. He could walk among the mortals, saying, “Good afternoon.” He picked up the catalog the young men had left behind. He thought that next time, he might even buy khaki. He would almost be... human.
Finally, the knock came at the door.
Mark held up a black garment bag. “I have your new suit,” he said with a smile.
The vampire moved out of the way and let him enter the apartment. “Where is your friend?”
“Trey told me he had a previous engagement,” he said and then winked. “Between us, I think he’s a little afraid that you no longer need us.” After giving the vampire ample time to answer, Mark said, “You know, I am your personal tailor, and the only way to get more of these, is through me.” He put the bag on the couch and unzipped it. He pulled out a handsome, well-tailored suit.
It was just like the one in the catalog. Mr. Smith couldn’t hold back his excitement and snatched it out of Mark’s hands.
Mark winced from the sudden pain the vampire’s nails had caused. The amicable mood immediately transformed into intense as they both looked at his hand, the red blood slowly escaping its safe haven.
For the first time, the vampire caught and held Mark’s stare. It was so unexpected and so challenging that it seduced the vampire into wanting to win. It had been a long time since he had fought such a tough challenger. But of course, the mortal was no match in the end.