Authors: Shannon Bell
I sat on a bench overlooking the Canal. My pen was poised over the postcards as I tried to figure out what to say on each of them.
My phone rang and broke my concentration. It was Jen.
“Hey,” I answered.
“Sorry I missed your call. I just got up and thought I’d give you a call. It’s nine here…what time is it by you?”
I looked at my watch. “Three. I was just about to write you out a postcard.” I tucked them into my purse and leaned back against the bench.
“So you left Romania early?”
“Ugh, don’t remind me. It was really bad, Jen. I’m so pissed that I wasted all that money on the symposium. Transylvania itself was beautiful but I just couldn’t stay there anymore.”
“Was it because the symposium was bad or something else?”
A few birds landed on the bench behind me. I shooed them away. “Well, the symposium was filled with a mix of literature snobs and vampire fanatics.”
“And you’re both, so what was the problem?”
I rolled my eyes. “It wasn’t like that. It just wasn’t what I had expected. Then I met a guy named Alin.”
“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. You guys do anything?”
I sighed. Where did I even begin? “He didn’t turn out to be the guy I thought he was. He….” I didn’t want to admit this to her. “He said he was a vampire and I believed him. It turns out he’s in some weird cult where they drink the blood from farm animals.”
There was silence on the other line for a long moment. “Was Chris right?”
It was my turn to be silent. Chris and I talked about vampires over the years and he always thought I was insane. After a while, I stopped mentioning it and gave up on the thought altogether. I think that’s part of the reason why I’m so interested now. “What are you talking about?”
“I mentioned where you went and he said that you were probably looking for vampires.”
I shook my head and lied. “No, I’m not. I’m learning about vampire myths and enjoying a long-needed vacation.”
“If you say so. Still, you need to get over your vampire obsession and realize that there’s going to be other men that won’t break your heart like Chris did.”
Ouch…she went there.
“You’re quiet. You’re thinking about him again, aren’t you?”
“I hate that you know me so well.”
She laughed. “That’s why I’m your best friend, Dylan. So, you’re in Paris now, right?”
“Yeah. I’ll be here for a few more days, then a week in Florence and I’ll be home.”
“Okay. Call me more often. Don’t leave me in the dark while you’re out there, okay?”
I agreed and hung up.
As the evening pushed on, I took a leisurely walk around the Canal St. Martin, enjoying the nightlife. The sidewalks were covered with Sycamore trees that hung close to the path. I had thought Romania was full of dark corners but it was nothing compared to Paris. There were so many dimly lit streets as I went along that a sense of uneasiness soon washed over me.
The feeling of someone watching me started again. I stopped and looked around, turning in a circle to persuade my paranoia away. No…I was pretty sure that someone was watching me.
I squinted to read the street signs in desperate search for the one which would lead me back to the hotel.
“Dylan,” a voice whispered in the darkness.
All of my worst fears crashed into me.
That couldn’t be my name I just heard, Right?
I fought the urge to scream – scream anything. Should I ask who is there? Should I scream for help? I wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t a comfortable, friendly feeling coming across. There was no one visible on the street, no matter how hard I stared into the shadows behind me.
I stood still, waiting for a moment, but nothing happened. I turned slowly in wait, yet found the same results. There was nothing to be frightened of. It was late. I was still overtired. Rationalization was always my strong suit but nothing seemed to be working. Nonetheless, I decided not to stand here any longer. My pace quickened and I nearly tripped over myself in an effort to get to my hotel faster.
I kept glancing over my shoulder but nobody was following me. I just couldn’t shake the suspicious feeling. I was almost at a full run now and glanced over my shoulder again when I suddenly slammed into someone. A loud “Oooph!” escaped my lips as I fell backwards onto the rough pavement. Apologies started before I even got to my feet.
It was one of the local police officers standing over me. He extended his hand to help me up. “
“Yes, I’m fine,” I replied with a shortness of breath. I brushed myself off and took a final glimpse behind me.
His eyes followed in suit as he tried to figure out what I was looking for. “Is someone bother you?” he asked in broken English.
“I…I’m not sure,” I hesitated. “I didn’t see anyone, but….” I made a dismissive hand gesture so I did not sound like an ignorant American tourist. “It’s nothing.” Besides, it’s not like I was going to tell him that someone was calling my name when no one in this country even knew who I was.
The officer nodded. “
,” he said and continued on his route.
, I thought. I wondered what he’d do if I had been in any real danger. It also occurred to me the French police should have known better English – but maybe, too, I should have known better French.
I walked the rest of the way to my hotel with the same uneasy feeling. I would have felt better if the police officer had walked back with me but he didn’t offer and I didn’t ask. Actually, I wasn’t sure if my French vocabulary could have even handled it because his English sure as hell wouldn’t have understood. He probably would have brought me to a McDonalds or something, if I were even that lucky.
I wasn’t attacked on the way back, so I was feeling fortunate, despite the feeling of being stalked for the better part of the evening.
Once up in the safety of my room, I closed the curtains and made sure my door was locked. If there was someone out there, I wanted to feel safe. The deadbolt was secured, too. I eyed the small dresser and considered pushing it in front of the door but thought better of it. I zoomed through the hotel lobby so fast I didn’t even see what flavors they had baked tonight. Damn it. My stomach growled at the thought and made me realize I skipped dinner.
The trip to the Canal stopped my night time sight-seeing in Paris. For the next two days, I stuck to all the tourist traps and shopping centers. Each night, I was back in my hotel room by six, just before sunset. The days of taking chances like that were over. It pissed me off that I was frightened so easily but I reminded myself that it’s a foreign country and things had to be a little different.
Someone had followed me, though. My imagination ran wild with possibilities. Did I think it was a vampire? Secretly, I sort of wished for it, but deep down I knew better. A vampire cult in Paris crossed my mind more than a few times. I highly doubted Alin’s was the only cult like it in the world, but there was no way to be sure. With memories of Transylvania still fresh in my mind, I decided that it was time to leave Paris.
I ended my French expedition and made arrangements to take the train to Italy. Italian was the language I practiced more, so it was
to the Parisian scene. I would be in Florence for a week and a half before I’d have to go back home. It was only supposed to be a week, I’d have more time now and hoped my experience there would be better.
IT WAS TIME to call Jen again. I’d neglected to call her since Paris because of all of the sightseeing that’s kept me busy.
Italy gave me some kind of purpose. Even if it only involved eating rustic Italian food and gazing at the amazing old architecture, it was a country which didn’t need to re-invent itself over and over again like some of the countries in Europe. The history around every corner filled a part of my soul which France wasn’t able to accomplish. The Italians were also friendlier, but it may have something to do with my Italian skills being better.
My hand hovered on the phone before I punched the numbers in.
“Dylan?” Jen sounded out of breath as she posed the question. “What the hell took you so long to call? I was ready to book a flight and find you.”
I laughed. “Sorry, it’s been hectic. I’ve changed my schedule a few times. I’m actually in Italy early.”
“What’d you do that for?”
I wondered how much to tell her but it was Jen after all. “I got creeped out. Something scared me and I felt like I was being followed.”
“Don’t tell me you think it was a vampire.” I swear she rolled her eyes over the phone. “I don’t know what it is with you and vampires. You know they don’t exist but it’s like you’re determined for someone to tell you one way or another.”
“No, I don’t think it was a vampire. But still, it was enough to make me want to leave Paris.”
Jen was silent for a second. “You need to be careful. I really wish I came with you.”
“You don’t need to worry. I’m fine.”
“I’m serious. I’ll meet you in Italy by mid-week if you want. Then we can fly home together.”
Tempting as it was, I wanted time to myself. “It’s okay. My flight leaves in a week. There’s still some sightseeing I want to do and then I’ll be home. I promise.”
“You better. What’s the name of the hotel you’re staying at?”
I told her and she wrote it down in case she had to come track me down. I wasn’t worried anymore. It’d been three days here and nothing has happened to me like it did in Paris.
“Are you at least having fun?”
“Yes, it’s amazing. I wouldn’t mind living here. People are always walking around, drinking coffee, eating gelato, and carrying on day and night. There’s always something going on.”
She sighed. “I really wish I came with you.”
“Me, too. Listen, I signed up for a cooking class this evening so I need to get ready but I’ll call you in a day or two, okay?”
We hung up after she swore she’d hop the next plane to Florence if I didn’t call her by Tuesday. It was Sunday, which meant I still had plenty of time. Now it was on to learn how to cook risotto.
Between cooking classes, sightseeing, and drinking half-carafes of wine with every meal, the excitement of Florence was exhausting me. There were these little areas of the city telling different stories. Every block had a new mystery. I especially loved the area south of the Arno River, known as Oltrarno. Large buildings with immense iron doors were around every corner. Wondering what was behind those massive doors was part of the intrigue to Florence.
I slept in late today to have enough energy to go out exploring tonight. Room service was called up to my small room overlooking the Palazzo Pitti. After eating ravioli, I left the room with my messenger bag slung over my shoulder. It was supposed to be cold this evening. I decided to wear my favorite turquoise turtleneck over a pair of jeans. I’m five foot six and liked to look even taller, so my heeled boots were a natural choice. My tennis shoes peaked out at me and reminded me to be sensible, but fashion won. As I left the hotel, I promised myself not to stay out too late walking or my feet would pay for it later.
Couples bustled past me on the crowded streets of
. They were all headed back to the city center, towards the restaurants, bars, and over-priced, fancy hotels. It was where most of the tourists stayed because they didn’t know any better. I, however, was headed in the opposite direction, where there were only little shops and quaint little trattorias on the outskirts of town. Most of my recent nights have been like this. Quiet walks gave me time to think in this beautiful city. Getting away from my job and my life in Florida was one of the best things I ever did. The change of pace helped me to become more free spirited, which is exactly what the vacation was all about.
The shops I passed now were small and piled one on top of each other along the road. Bookstores, pottery, jewelry, and wine shops all appeared to be family owned. Hand-written signs filled the thick paned windows. Some had flower pots in the front that made them inviting while others were barren. I found myself window shopping despite the late hour and the inability to see in them all that well.
I wandered the streets aimlessly. I had no responsibilities, alarm clocks for work, or drama to deal with. It was only me and the streets of Italy where I could walk, clear my head, and be at ease.
The lights were off in the stores and very few lamp posts were lit along the street. A few shop owners were locking up for the night and I was surprised to find that they stayed open as late as they did.
My mind told me to go back to Florida and hang out with Jen, my one friend who wasn’t getting married. My heart told me it was the last thing I should actually do. Marriage was the opposite of what I wanted and the wedding invitations from all my friends were becoming irritating.
It was easily midnight and the streets had quieted significantly. The stone fountains that stood taller than me were gurgling loudly, though that was the only sound remaining in Oltrarno.
I turned down Borgo San Jacopo and passed a few artisan shops closing up. A pudgy man in his late sixties locked the front door of a pottery shop as I strolled by.
I nodded to him. “
He stepped into my path. “Are you lost?”
I smiled at him. “No, just headed back to my hotel.”
The old man nodded. “It’s late. A woman of your beauty should not be out this late.”
I nodded in understanding and watched him go back into his shop where he sat at the counter working on piles of paperwork.
Florence was a confusing city to walk around at night. Rather than placing street signs at every intersection, the names were printed on small metal placards placed on the side of buildings at every corner. It turned navigation into a game of hide and seek, though I was the one searching. There wasn’t enough light to read the signs. Figuring out where I needed to make my next turn was time consuming.
I turned the corner onto
and saw no familiar signs of civilization. This isn’t where I was supposed to be. The name didn’t sound familiar but I was hoping it would get me back to the main road where my hotel was.
There was a street lamp at the end of the road…or alley as it was. I reached for the map in my messenger bag blindly and stumbled on something. I caught my balance and took a few more steps forward.
It was now that I wished I had asked the shop owner for directions. The single street lamp acted as a beacon. With map in hand, I started towards it to figure out how to get out of here.
A loud noise crashed behind me and I stumbled again. My boot heel caught in the pavement cracks but I saved myself from falling and stepped towards the sound to investigate. It was the old man throwing garbage out at the far end of the alley. I caught my breath and watched him as he disappeared. Realizing it was a dead end, I turned on my heel to go back in the right direction.
Tripping on the same divot in the road, I wasn’t able to catch my balance this time. A hand caught me around the shoulder. The height was all wrong to be the old man. Before I could let out a scream, someone covered my mouth. My elbows jabbed into the body behind me to no avail, but the person made no sound. It was as if my elbows were meeting stone instead of flesh.
Thankful I was wearing my heeled boots, I was able to use the three inches to make contact with my attacker’s foot. The stomp was a little more effective judging from the Italian curses that were muttered behind me. Before I could get another jab or kick in, the hand around my collarbone tightened and dragged me several feet down the alley, closer to the streetlight. He pushed me against the stone wall and took a step back with his other hand still planted firmly across my mouth.
“You’re certainly a fighter,” the man spoke. In the light, I could tell that the man standing in front of me was attractive with a strong jaw line. His shirt was taut against his chest and there was a slight amusement behind his blue eyes.
I cursed at him but it came out as mumbles thanks to the placement of his hand. His gaze burned into me as he took another step towards me and rested one hand nonchalantly on the brick wall above me.
“I’m going to remove my hand and you’re not going to scream, okay?”
I nodded and swallowed hard.
His hand slowly slipped away from my mouth and slid down my neck. His fingertips grazed my skin and came to a rest on my shoulder.
I knew screaming would do me no good. His solid frame loomed over me by six inches. My previous self-defense techniques had been useless against him. I opted for reasoning with the handsome attacker in front of me. “What do you want from me?”
“No. What do you want from
“Why have you been looking for us?”
I stared at him, wondering who he had me confused with. “Looking for who?”
It was late and I just wanted to find my hotel. The sooner we could clear this up, the sooner I could be on my way.
He shook his head slowly. “Don’t play coy.”
What the hell was he talking about? His gaze met mine and his set jaw gave no indication of moving anytime soon.
“You know what I am, Dylan.”
I went rigid when he said my name. Panic set in all over again. I squirmed under his grip. “What do you want from me?”
“Look at me and answer my question.”
Before I could ask anything else from him, I saw what he wanted me to see. He smiled at me, showing two elongated incisors behind his lips.
One word screamed through my mind.
“Why are you so quick to deny what’s standing in front of you? You seek the truth. Here I am.” He stepped back as if to make a demonstration of who—or rather, what—he was.
I simply stared and took in what stood before me. Designer jeans, a button down shirt, and a stunning face surrounded by short and tousled, black hair. It’s not what I had ever imagined, though somehow it seemed to fit now. My heart pounded a little faster as I realized that a vampire was standing in front of me.
My mouth went dry. I had questions to ask and couldn’t seem to formulate words.
He stepped in even more intimately to me and kept me pinned to the wall while one muscular arm hovered beside me.
I gulped hard, making a sound which seemed to echo out of my body.
Could he hear that?
He chuckled softly. “I could hear you swallow. It is what you were wondering, yes?
Oh. My. God. I was going to die.
I continued to stare, trying to get past my shock and the giant knot now swelling at the base of my throat. I closed my eyes for a moment to try and gather my thoughts.
“Are you ready to answer my question now?”
What was I supposed to tell him?
Ha, well I was only wondering if you guys were real and you are, so have a nice eternity
. I glanced up at him to see an amused look on his face. Dimples formed on either side of his mouth.
Shit. He was reading my thoughts again. My palms began to sweat and panic set in when the sound of his laughter filled the alley.
This is great. I have to stand here while a vampire of all things laughed at me. I thought back on the night in Paris. I never actually saw anyone, but now it made me question if my gut feeling was correct.
He abruptly stopped laughing. “Dylan, let me ask again. Why have you been hunting for vampires?”
My shoulder was rubbing against his fingers but I couldn’t move. The touch of his cold fingers left goose bumps across my skin and me slightly breathless. “I was…” I couldn’t think of the right word to explain my curiosity. The whole idea sounded insane when it came down to it. “I wouldn’t really call it hunting-”
“Listen, your mind is an open book.” He blinked and shifted his eyes to take the whole view of me in. I shifted awkwardly under his scrutiny. “You’ve come alone, have you not?”
“Yes,” I cursed myself for telling him the truth. I swallowed again, wondering if I was going to die tonight. I shouldn’t have told him I was alone.
“Did anyone know you were looking for vampires?”
“No.” I opted for some honesty here, hoping my life would be spared. “But I wasn’t really looking for vampires. I was simply curious about your existence.” It sounded lame, even to me.