Written for the prompt(s): A new neighbor in your apartment building is a vampire.
|Word count: 3,700
The first Keith Burkholder heard about the new neighbor in #23, was when elderly Mrs. Dalessandro mentioned him. And only to warn Keith to steer clear of him.
“A nice boy like you doesn’t want to get mixed up with their kind,” she’d sniffed, and Keith had had to fight not to roll his eyes at her. Instead he’d sighed and patiently asked her what kind their kind was.
Mrs. Dalessandro had blinked and looked at Keith as if he was being dense. “Why, Vampire, of course!”
Then she’d glanced around their sunny bit of sidewalk as if fearing that the vampire in question might come strolling along and take offense.
Keith—shivering visibly enough that Mrs. Dalessandro had patted him on the arm and called him a: “poor, dear boy,” and told him to try not to worry overmuch—had then gently steered the subject to the closure of the pool and when it might be opened again. For he missed his morning and afternoon swims. They had been part of his happy routine for the past ten years, and he’d rather not join a gym just to use a pool.
Mrs. Dalessandro had shrugged and told him to speak to that Kobold-fellow, meaning the custodian, then gone on about other things. Namely about her grandson Addison, and how single and upwardly mobile he was, and wouldn’t Keith like to give him a call and maybe set up a coffee-date?
When Keith had finally extricated himself from her, he’d hurried back to his condo and locked the door—one of the few who bothered in Colonial Village, which was not only gated, but also warded against Paranormals—pulled down all the blinds and sat alone in the semi-dark for the rest of the afternoon.
A Vampire, he kept thinking, his mind otherwise blank. Huh.
Like so many people his age, Keith could barely remember what the world had been like before Faery came to Earth for keeps.
He remembered that once upon a time, except for the annoyingly religious, most people had believed magic was all just hokum and bunk. That his own parents, a physics teacher and a journalist, had done their best to raise him to be free of superstitious fears and thinking. And though his father had, until his dying day, been a sort-of-Lutheran, his mother, a hard-bitten war-reporter, had been a staunch atheist. Keith hadn’t even heard of Santa Claus until he went to kindergarten. And when he’d asked his mother about a flying fat man in a red suit who gave good children free stuff, his mother had laughed her cynical laugh and lit a Camel cigarette, a bad habit she’d picked up in the trenches and never bothered to get rid of.
“Kiddo, the only person who gives you free stuff in life are the people who know you, and love you anyway, and people who want something back,” Nancy Schoenberg-Burkholder had said around her eventual lung cancer, eyeing her son, who’d gone from excited to downcast in a heartbeat. Then she’d sighed. “Listen, Keith, I’ve never met anyone who could prove there was a Santa Claus, let alone anyone who’d received presents from him. I certainly never did.”
“Maybe you didn’t behave good enough for him,” Keith had ventured in his timid way. His mother had laughed again, genuinely delighted.
“Oh, kiddo! I was a Stepford child. Always did as I was told, never questioned authority or stepped out of line. Always towed the party-line, until. . . .” her laughter and smile had faded, and she’d stared off into the distance behind Keith’s head for so long, he’d turned to look and see if there was anything behind him. But he saw nothing but the archway that led from the kitchen and into the living room.
“There’s no such thing as Santa Claus, kid. Believe what you want, I won’t stop you.” His mother had held up her hands and made a rinsing off-gesture. “But those little friends of yours that think they’re getting presents from Santa are really getting presents from parents who lie to them.”
Keith had frowned. One thing his parents had always been with him was honest, and he, in turn, had always been honest with them. He couldn’t understand why one person would start lying to another, because then . . . how would anyone know what to believe? “But why? Why lie?”
His mother had shrugged, her ordinary-blue eyes steady on Keith’s own. “Some people would rather believe and have their kids believe in patent idiocy than face up to the cold reality that this world and everything in it that can be proven and quantified is all there is. The idea that there isn’t some parent-figure up in the sky or in the North Pole watching over them and rewarding them when they’re good is . . . scary for them.”
“And it’s not for you?” Keith had asked, wondering if the idea that there might not be a Santa Claus frightened him. He felt as if it should, but it didn’t. It only made him rather sad, and sorry for his mom, who was, after all, a very good, if occasionally distracted mom, and deserved all the presents Santa had in his magical sleigh.
“Nope,” his mother had said, smiling again, her hard smile, but with the edge of kindness that only Keith and his father ever saw. “I’ve seen scarier things than no Santa Claus, kiddo. I won’t lose what little sleep I get on him. I suggest you don’t, either.”
And Keith had taken her sage advice to heart, and the next time one of his friends brought up Santa Claus, Keith dutifully told her what his mother had said.
That was a mistake that’d cost Keith most of the few friends he’d made.
But by the middle of that year, Faery had come to Earth to stay, and a lot of people had had to change their minds about a lot of things. Such as the existence of Paranormals, and the existence of two different places in the same space. For Faery was exactly the same size and shape as Earth, and it existed—had always existed, according to Paranormals, in approximately the same space as Earth, just on a different plane of reality. And the two planes had only ever rarely crossed paths or been linked by powerful magic. But something or someone—and on this, the Paranormals had been mum to a being—had blasted open the few Gates that had existed between Earth and Faery. Blasted them open and stabilized them for long enough to let Paranormals onto Earth and humans into Faery.
Of course, once those Gates had stabilized and been open for a while, the two planes of reality had begun to align, so that for the first time in recorded human history, Earth and Faery had occupied the same space perfectly and exactly.
Shortly after the planes had aligned, Earth began to not grow thin, as some predicted, but to become even more real. Hyper-real, some said. The laws of physics held, but could, at least by Paranormals, be bent . . . and even broken. By the same token, it was reported by a grudging Paranormal population that science could be wielded by their ranks. (The Fae were, it turned out, humongous fans of human television and radio shows.)
For the better part of a decade, human society was on the edge of a nervous breakdown, enacting laws first aimed at protecting humans from Paranormals, then protecting Paranormals from humans. Then the New Civil Rights laws came along to regulate human-Paranormal interaction and things slowly but surely calmed down. The leaders of each Paranormal group, including the Fae—and there were many, in all their variety: trooping fairies, solitairies, Seelie and unSeelie, the high Sidhe, the Gentry . . . and many more—the Witches, Vampires, the Weres, the Ghouls, the Dead and the Undead (among which Vampires were not counted for some reason the Paranormals would not explain), and even Gwynn ap Nudd, lord and leader of the Wild Hunt, agreed to abide by human laws that did not infringe upon their freedoms unduly, if the humans agreed to the same. This agreement wasn’t hammered out and put into effect until Keith was in his late teens, his beloved mother was three years in her grave, and his father had withdrawn from the world almost entirely.
But by then, the world had mostly calmed down regarding the presence of Paranormals—at least the ones who looked different enough to spot right away. There was no mistaking most of the Fae for human. They were certainly humanoid, but too tall (or, conversely, too short), too fine-featured, and too still of gaze to be anything other than what they were. The Dead were, of course, disembodied, and could only influence the waking world indirectly. The Weres and Vampires were a different story altogether. They looked human, except under full moons and when feeding, respectively.
Strangely enough—to Keith, anyway—it was the Paranormals that looked the most human that caught the most flack.
Not a day went by without Were-rights activists chaining themselves to some monument or other demanding equal rights for not only themselves—and they were a proud, fierce lot—but for all Paranormals . . . even the Vampires, with whom they’d once had a millennia-long blood-feud, which had been settled shortly after Faery came to Earth. (Some say it was to fight a common enemy: humanity.)
The Vampires were quieter, choosing, instead, to fight within the system. They became lawyers and politicians, pundits and public speakers.
But they still, for all the great strides made by their people, were not considered to be decent society by many, for whereas the Fae enchanted all with whom they met, the Vampires—with their air of quiet menace, inscrutable faces, and dependence on human and/or Fae plasma to survive (even the Fae did not like Vampires . . . few did)—were somewhat off-putting to the world at large.
Though, like most Paranormals, they had a fan-base of lovestruck humans who courted their presences and offered themselves as Founts. And though Vampires were as good as their word to not kill humans or Fae while feeding—for the most part—they still struck a chord of primal fear within the non-Vampire populace.
Anyone who didn’t keep normal daylight hours and avoided the sun was labeled either “Vampire” or “wannabe.” But many Vampires were stealth . . . in the closet, as it were. They used the cover of working night jobs—and employers were not allowed to discriminate or even ask if a potential employee was a Paranormal—to stay out of the daylight.
But apparently not Mr. 23. Not Daelyn Selithan. That intrigued Keith, for some reason.
Mr. Selithan was an OutProud Vampire and successful businessman. He owned three high-end clubs—Paradiso, Purgatorio, and Inferno—in three major cities, which catered to Vampires and the humans who adored them. And business was extremely good.
Or so the rumor-mill had it. Keith was tempted to do some digging of his own, via the internet, but decided not to. A little mystery never hurt anyone, he’d thought, his finger hovering over the mouse. And instead of hitting SEARCH, he’d simply closed his browser.
If and when he learned more about Daelyn Selithan, he’d learn it from the Vampire, himself.
To that end, he resolved to keep an eye out for his new neighbor and make a point of welcoming him to the neighborhood.
The knock on his door, four evenings later, surprised Keith out of a doze.
He’d fallen asleep watching the news, and when he was woken up, Alex Trebek was giving the answer to a question Keith’s parents probably would have guessed. “I’m coming!” he called, levering himself up out of the tar-pit sofa and shuffling to the door.
He looked out the peephole and saw nothing.
Confused, he opened the door, expecting to see kids running off down the street. What he saw was a smallish young guy standing there, smiling, and holding out his hand.
“Jesus!” Keith jumped, one hand coming up to cover his suddenly rabbiting heart. The guy on Keith’s welcome mat blinked and his smile faltered.
“Erm,” he said softly, taking a step back and looking over his shoulder, then back at Keith. He had the face of a Caravaggio angel, ridiculously beautiful, under a shoulder-length mop of dyed black hair with electric-red highlights. He was almost sheet-white, with hectic roses at each cheek. Huge, dark eyes regarded Keith warily. “Are you quite alright?” he asked in a relaxed, but nonetheless precise English baritone.
“No, yeah—sorry,” Keith replied, letting out a breath and laughing. “It’s just that you startled me. I looked out the peephole and didn’t see anyone. I figured it was kids playing a prank.”
“Oh,” the young guy said, laughing a little, too, and running a hand back through his wild mane of dyed hair. “I, erm, don’t actually show up through peepholes. They require reflections and, well. . . .” he shrugged and somehow shoved his rather large hands into the pockets of sprayed-on jeans. A tight black band t-shirt emblazoned with oozing, unreadable red letters, a purple velvet blazer, and black Converse All-Stars with purple laces completed the outfit.
The import of what the young guy had said suddenly hit Keith like a ton of bricks and he, too, blinked. “Oh! You must be my new neighbor in #23!”
“I must be,” the Vampire said evenly, wryly, his perfect lips quirking in a smile as wry as his voice. “Word travels quickly around here.”
“Yeah, it does,” Keith practically apologized. “Around here, it’s telephone or tell-Mrs.-Dalessandro.”
“Ah, yes, I’ve met the, erm, lady in question, briefly.” The Vampire—Daelyn Selithan—snorted briefly. “It was . . . an experience.”
“It always is, with her,” Keith said with a chuckle. Then smacked himself on the forehead. “Where’re my manners—I’m Keith Burkholder.”
Daelyn Selithan immediately took Keith’s hand in his cool, sure grip and pumped his hand exactly three times. “Daelyn Selithan, but you’ll already know that. Charmed to make your acquaintance, Keith.”
“Ditto, Daelyn. Uh—” Keith stepped to one side of the doorway and let go of Daelyn’s hand. “Would you like to come in for a beer or something?”
That wry smile turned genuine again and it momentarily floored Keith, left him gaping once more. Even if the canine teeth were almost dismayingly long, it was still a lovely smile. The kind long-dead poets might have written sonnets to. Literally. And it made Keith’s normally steady heart beat faster.
“I would love to, but unfortunately I’m a Vampire on a mission, I’m afraid.” Daelyn’s smile turned apologetic. “You see, I’m actually in the midst of making the rounds of the complex, trying to win friends and influence people. I’m having a get-together on Friday evening to christen the new place, so to speak, and I’m inviting likely neighbors over for it. Consider yourself invited, if you’re interested.”
It took Keith, who was still waxing poetical, himself, about Daelyn’s smile, a minute to return to Earth and replay what had been said. Which was long enough for that lovely smile to falter again, rather bitterly.
“Right, then, I’ll take that as a no. . . .”
“No! I mean yes! I mean—” Keith laughed self-deprecatingly and Daelyn’s fading smile turned into a coolly appraising, slightly wary look. Trying to quckly collect himself, Keith cleared his throat. “Um. Let me start over. Yes, I would love to come to your party. Thank you for inviting me.”
Which was good for the full return of that lovely smile.
“Excellent—you’ll certainly be made welcome.” Daelyn gave Keith a once over the other man didn’t miss, and bit his bottom lip. “It starts at sunset, and you don’t have to bring anything but your sweet, little ol’self.”
“Great—I’ll be there.” Keith leaned against the lintel. In the background of his condo, Alex Trebek announced Final Jeopardy. “You sure you don’t want me to bring something, though—wine, pigs in a blanket . . . Jenga?”
“Good lord, no!” Daelyn chuckled, low, rich, and deep. It sent chills up and down Keith’s spine. “No Jenga! Bloody can’t stand that game. And everyone gets into arguments over it when I play with my friends. Just you, will do, Keith. And feel free to bring a friend or, erm, significant other.”
“Don’t have one of those at the moment,” Keith said quietly, daring to meet Daelyn’s questioning dark eyes. For a few seconds, anyway, before he was looking at the lurid lettering on the Vampire’s t-shirt again. “And most of my friends are the long-distance kind.”
“I see.” Daelyn’s considering gaze was almost tangible, and under it, Keith flushed and swallowed the frog that’d somehow gotten lodged behind his larynx. “Well, as I said, bring yourself and that’ll be more than enough.”
“Okey dokey, Smokey!” Keith said cheerily then silently kicked himself for it.
“Excellent,” Daelyn murmured again. Then he chuckled once more. “I should warn you, however, from the number of doors slammed in my face and the stares of outright horror on some of our dear neighbors’ faces, I expect you’ll be the only one from Colonial Village at my little soiree.”
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true.”
“Well, that makes one of us.” Daelyn sighed, but didn’t seem especially upset. “At any rate, that’ll mean more Mojitos and Doritos for the rest of us!”
With that, he turned and hopped off Keith’s top step and backed down the walk, finger-gunning Keith. “Remember: sunset, Friday! Be there or be square!”
“I will!” Keith called after Daelyn, waving even though the Vampire could no longer see him, having turned away with a wave of his own. Then Keith realized how that might have sounded and decided to clarify. “I mean, I’ll be there, not I’ll be square!”
Daelyn laughed as he walked away. “I know what you meant, Keith! Have a good night, yeah?”
“Yeah! You, too!”
Keith watched until Daelyn had gotten to the next condo—the Julians’ place—before stepping back into his own condo and closing the door. He leaned against it, smiling to himself and enjoying the way his heart still beat faster at just the memory of that innocent-yet-knowing smile. . . .
And Keith would have had to be blind to miss the elevator-eyes Daelyn had been giving him.
Of course, that could have been the kind of elevator-eyes one gives a potential meal . . . Daelyn being a Vampire and all . . . but Keith didn’t think it was that. Or at least not just that.
Not that any of that meant anything in the grander scheme of things. And yet . . . Keith found himself getting excited in a way he had never been before.
All over nothing, I’m sure, he thought drifting back to his quicksand sofa and sitting with a soft sigh. I’m likely just projecting my admittedly powerful attraction to him, onto him. What’re the odds someone like that would be attracted to someone like me?
“. . . what is Alsace-Lorraine? That is correct,” Alex Trebek informed one triumphant-looking contestant on the television. “And your wager was . . . 14, 001 . . . and that’s enough to take you to the semi-finals!”
The contestant nodded staidly and Keith sighed again, turning off the television. In its shiny, blank screen he could see his reflection. Long, lean body, mostly muscle, thanks to a decade of mornings and afternoons spent swimming—though not so much, recently, with the pool being out of service—sandy-blond hair topping a square, boy-next-door face that wasn’t handsome, so much as symmetrical. Ordinary-blue eyes were rendered sea-dark and mysterious by the television screen.
Keith knew he wasn’t a bad looking man—his current, eye-watering outfit of pink polo shirt, fluorescent orange swim trunks, and neon-green flip-flops aside—but he was definitely not in Daelyn Selithan’s league.
Best to just put this nonsense to bed. I’m no teenage girl, to be obsessed with a Vampire who probably wants nothing whatsoever to do with me, Keith thought, standing up, meaning to go start his Healthy Choice microwave dinner, when there was another knock on his door.
Heart beating faster for absolutely silly reasons—why would Daelyn Selithan be back so soon? Or at all?—Keith nonetheless hurried to the door and opened it.
There stood Daelyn Selithan, smiling almost sheepishly, hands shoved into his pockets.
“Is it perhaps to too late to take you up on your offer of a beer?” he asked, and Keith grinned, stepping aside with a flourish.
“I invite you in,” he said formally, and Daelyn met his eyes with an unreadable glance before stepping across the threshold and past Keith.
“Thank you,” he said solemnly, all hints of sheepishness and levity—of wry amusement—gone. “If at any time you feel the need to revoke that invitation, I’ll understand. Vampires make everyone . . . twitchy, it seems.”
“Not me,” Keith averred firmly, as he followed Daelyn into the living room. The Vampire looked around curiously before turning to face Keith, smiling that gorgeous smile. “Unless you come in and steal my television while I’m out, that invitation won’t be revoked.”
If anything, that gorgeous smile became downright incandescent and Keith’s heart really began to trip-hammer.
“I shall try to control myself . . . around your electronics, that is,” Daelyn added rather pointedly, giving Keith another once-over, this one slow, approving, and leaving no doubt as to the fact that it was being given. And it ended with Daelyn looking him squarely in the eyes, his own both challenging and inviting.
Blushing and grinning, Keith shut the door for the second and last time that night.