A Party of Two

I wrote this story as a standalone attempt to mix vampires and some humour. At some point during the labours over the third draft of “The Lamiastriga” it fit perfectly into the beginning of the story. So perfectly, in fact, it helped me finish the bloody thing.

“Come on, let me have him!”

“No! I take the herder you take the cow, Ernesto said.”

“I know what he said, I was there. I just thought you’d do me a favor.”

“Steve, you’re a mosquito. You can’t hold a whole ounce of blood.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I kind of hoped I could have one little bite before you swoop in.”

The bat was perched on the edge of a cliff over a canyon. She tried to turn her head so she could face the mosquito on her shoulder. She couldn’t, so she gave up, turning her gaze back down to the man who stood below them on the grassy bottom, smoking and watching four cows graze the spring grass.

“Steven, did your boss teach you anything at all?” the bat asked in a quiet, deliberate voice. The mosquito’s wings bristled.

“What the hell do you mean?”

The bat sighed and yawned. The herder was still smoking. Ernesto had said nothing about tobacco smoke, so she decided to assume it was not a problem for the blood.

“I mean that one little mosquito bite can compromise my sample. God knows what’s in your mouth.”

“Are you suggesting my mouth is filthy?” The insect’s wings were vibrating with indignation. It was dancing on the bat’s shoulder, hopping from leg to leg to leg until they tangled in the bat’s fur and the mosquito almost fell down, face-first.

“My mouth is perfectly clean,” he said when he had regained his balance.

The bat sighed.

“I know, Steven. You are a male mosquito. By the way, how will you deliver the blood? I’ve been wondering.”

“Well…” the mosquito murmured and stopped.

“Yes?” There was nothing but innocent curiosity in the bat’s voice.

“Well, I’ll have to shit it out, won’t I?” Steven snapped.

The bat’s body shook.

“Yes, very funny,” the mosquito said. “Stop shaking.”

“Sorry. I mean, I know you male guys don’t drink blood and I was wondering, you know, how it all feels and stuff, so—“

“Shut up, Bianca,” the mosquito said. “Come on, he’s done with his cigarette.”

“Since when do you give the orders?”

“Let’s just go and do the job.”

“Now you’re talking,” the bat said and swooped down in the gathering dusk. The mosquito rode on Bianca’s shoulder, gripping the fur as tightly as he could. When they were a couple of feet above the herder and his cows Steven let go and flew to the biggest cow.

As he settled on its nose and sunk his proboscis into the soft flesh, he heard a cry of surprise that quickly turned into one of pain. He heard flapping and shouting followed by a string of swearwords. Right on time – his belly was full and it was time to go. He pulled out his proboscis, said a silent goodbye to the cow and flew away.

Bianca was already perched on the old spot when Steven arrived, out of breath.

“I’m so full, I thought I’d burst halfway,” he said and sat heavily on the ground.

Bianca was busy spitting blood into a tiny plastic vial she’d left on the rock. She checked if the vial was full, licked her teeth and clumsily capped it with her claws.

“Hey, what about the cow’s blood?” Steven said.

“Oh, right. I forgot. It’s such a tiny amount,” Bianca said with a grin and uncapped the little bottle. “Alright, shit it out.”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t look,” the mosquito said, crawling to the bottle. He flitted up to the edge of its neck and settled with his rear end over it. “Are you looking?”

“Nope,” the bat said, eyes fixed firmly on the mosquito’s bottom. A huge grin exposed all her teeth.

The mosquito strained. A drop of blood formed on his bottom. He relaxed for a second and then strained again. The drop grew bigger.

“Done yet?” the bat asked.

“There’s a little more left,” the mosquito panted with the effort. He strained again. The drop fell into the vial with a plop. “There,” he said.

“Well done,” Bianca said and capped the vial again. She took it between her teeth and flapped her wings once. “Let’s go.”

“Wait,” the mosquito said and buzzed down.

“What are you doing!” the bat tried to hiss but hissing with a vial between your teeth proved impossible. She flapped to the edge of the rock and looked down. There was a sharp pop and a naked man appeared in mid-air. A heavy thump followed.

“Shit!” Bianca growled. She took the vial of blood out of her mouth and placed it on the ground. Then she dove from the cliff with another “Shit!”

The herder, who was still swearing and rubbing his neck, froze when a skinny naked man appeared out of nowhere and fell right in front of him. A moment later he unfroze and began swearing again. He kicked the naked man, who groaned and raised a trembling hand. The herder kicked him again, in the buttock, still shouting.

“Please,” the man said. “Please, stop doing this.”

The herder kicked him again, harder this time, and laughed out loud hysterically. The next thing he knew was that the earth must have moved from underneath his feet.

He was lying on his back, facing the sky. Something very heavy was pressing him down and was draining his energy. The herder heard a faint “No!” and shaped the word with his lips. He blacked out.

“No, Steven! Stop!” Bianca yelled again and pulled him from the man. Steven landed on his ass in the dirt. His mouth and chin were smeared with blood. He blinked and passed a hand over his lips.

“Oh.”

“Oh?” Bianca said. She was a slim, curvy woman with a face that was either the result of extensive plastic surgery or a rarely perfect combination of genes. A mass of shiny black hair framed that face. Bianca tossed it back and glared at Steven.

“Oh?”

She glanced at the herder and then fixed her eyes on Steven again.

“What the hell did you do?”

“I… I just wanted a taste. I kind of lost control,” the boy said and sat up, trying to wipe the blood away with one hand, covering his crotch with the other. “Do you have a tissue by any chance?”

Bianca rolled her eyes, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation.

“Where do you think I would have a tissue? In the back pocket of my ass?”

“Sorry, sorry,” Steven said and finally looked away. “I’ll just try to turn again.”

“Like hell you are!” Bianca yelled and kicked the herder. “You will help me hide this corpse and then you will wait here while I go get the car. Understand?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Yeah, sure. Sorry.”

“Start digging,” she said and pointed at the ground.

“What?” He stopped trying to wipe his lips and chin.

“Start. Digging.”

“But I don’t have a shovel,” he said.

“You have two.” Bianca looked pointedly at his hand. “I’ll go and put the blood away or it will start rotting.”

Before he could respond, she started running. Mid-stride the woman changed into a bat with a sharp “Pop!” and flew into the sky. Steven watched her disappear between the cracks of the cliffs and then he looked at his hands. He sighed. He got up and walked over to the herder.

The man smelled dead and he was dead, Steven established after trying—and failing—to find a pulse on the side of his neck that wasn’t torn open.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” the boy said and ran a bloody hand through his shaggy hair. He looked at his hands again. One of the cows mooed, startling him. Steven patted the ground first and then tried to stick his fingers into the soil. He succeeded. He laughed and pushed deeper.

The soil had the consistency of a soft cake. Steven threw two palmfuls out and dug into the ground again, moving faster. By the time he heard a car approach, he’d dug a human-sized hole about 10 feet deep. He got up, grinning, and looked around. Bianca, now fully dressed in hiking attire, appeared from behind the rock, carrying a pile of clothes.

“Hey!” Steven said. “I’m done.”

Bianca approached and threw the clothes down in the dirt.

“Thanks,” Steven said, remembering he was still naked. His hand went to his crotch again.

Bianca rolled her eyes.

“Really? You think you have something I haven’t seen before?”

“Um, no, not really.” He snatched a pair of boxer shorts from the pile and put them on as quickly as he could, almost falling down in the process as he tried to put both legs through one leg hole.

Bianca strolled to the edge of the grave and looked down.

“It’ll have to do,” she sighed. “Come on, put him in.”

Steven took the body by the ankles and dragged it to the grave. He aligned the corpse with the hole and kicked it in. Bianca peered in and nodded.

“Fill it in and throw some dirt on the blood stain over there.”

“What do you do for a living, boss people around?” Steven asked pleasantly before he began shoving back the earth he’d dug out.

“That’s exactly right, how did you guess?” Bianca said. She was standing nearby, her arms crossed, watching him work. “And what do you do, get paid to fuck up spectacularly?”

“I said I was sorry.”

“And I really couldn’t care less. If Ernesto finds out about the dead herder I’ll never get to do this again, not here. You won’t either but that’s your problem.”

“What? Really? For one dead herder?” Steven straightened up and squinted at her.

“Yes. Really. Blood is a finite resource. You take some but you don’t drain them or Cornucopia puts you on their black list.”

“Seriously?” His eyes widened.

Bianca frowned.

“What’s wrong with you? Do you have a crush on the big boss or something?”

Steven shoved in the last couple of palmfuls and rubbed his hands. He started trampling over the grave in a futile attempt to conceal the fact of the digging.

“Yes!” he snapped. After some hesitation he added more peacefully, “I mean not exactly. But I only wanted to become a vampire so I can work for Cornucopia.”

“Oh?” Bianca arched a perfect eyebrow. “As a bouncer maybe?”

“Very funny.” Steven made a face. “Do we have water?”

Bianca threw him the plastic bottle she’d been holding.

“So what do you want to do at Cornucopia, then?”

“Blood mixing,” he said, trying to wash one hand without the participation of the other. The soil and blood on his skin only got muddier. “Could you help me, perhaps?”

Bianca sauntered over and held the water bottle while he washed.

“I’m impressed,” she said.

“By what?” Steven shook his hands and wiped them on his shorts.

“By your ambition,” Bianca said, tapping the bottom of the empty bottle on her palm. “You can’t hold your working shape long enough to finish the job but you dream big. I can just picture you as a blood mixer at Cornucopia. Actually, I can picture you as chief blood mixer. You’ll get all the big party orders.”

Steven grunted and went to the pile of clothes. He picked up a gray T-shirt and shook it off before putting it on.

“So what was it you do?” he asked.

“Me? I have a chain of beauty salons. International chain,” Bianca said.

“Well done,” Steven said. “So this is a hobby, then?”

“What’s a hobby?”

“Collecting blood for a catering firm?”

“Oh.” She hesitated. “Yes, it is kind of a hobby.”

“A full-time hobby maybe?” Steven said, bending over to tie the laces of his hiking boots.

Bianca sighed.

“All right, it is a full-time job. My business went under two years ago. Happy now?”

Steven straightened up and grinned.

“Yep. Let’s go.”

 

The car, a beat-up Nissan SUV, was parked half a mile down the road. Bianca sat behind the wheel and started the car.

“Where’s the blood?”

“Glove compartment,” Bianca said and made a U-turn, raising clouds of dust.

It was now fully dark and Bianca kept glancing at the clock on the dashboard as she sped down the road to La Paz.

“It’s okay,” Steven said. “Ernesto said midnight, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but I don’t want to be the last to report,” Bianca said, her eyes fixed on the road.

“We won’t be the last.” The boy laughed. “It’s not even eight yet!”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Oh, I see,” he said with a smirk. “So with all your experience you still get nervous on these little trips, eh?”

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “I just hate being late for anything.”

“Right, of course.” Steven nodded his head.

“Shut up.”

Half an hour later the two parked the car in front of the Bolivian Passport hotel and went up to room 9. Steven had wanted to carry the thermos flask with the vial but Bianca had insisted on taking it.

They went up the stairs to the second floor of the hotel, passing two women on their way down. The older woman nodded at Bianca, barely glancing at Steven. Bianca returned the nod.

Room 9 was at the far end of the corridor. Steven knocked on the door, which opened half a second later with a flourish. A middle-aged bald man with red-rimmed eyes and a salt-and-pepper beard glared at him. He had a boy in tow, about 15, who also glared at Steven.

“Uh, sorry,” Steven mumbled.

The bearded man growled and pushed past him. The boy followed without a second glance.

Bianca peeked into the room.

“May we come in?” she said.

“Come in,” a melodic male voice said.

Bianca nodded to Steven and went in, handing him the flask with a wink and a smile. Steven almost dropped the treasure but managed to regain control and followed her in, closing the door behind him. He gripped the flask as if his life depended on it.

The man sitting on the double bed was tall, dark, and handsome, dressed in a three-piece suit. There was a large cooler on the floor by his feet that looked out of place next to his shiny black shoes.

“Hello, you two,” Ernesto said with a smile and picked up the cooler. He opened it and looked at Bianca expectantly. She nodded to Steven and the boy passed the flask to Ernesto.

“All good?” Ernesto asked while he uncapped the flask and took out the vial.

“Yes, sir,” Steven said. “All went as planned.” His hands were trembling and he squeezed them into fists.

Bianca stepped forward.

“Herder’s alive, cattle’s alive, nobody saw us.”

“Great!” Ernesto said and placed the vial in a row of identical vials in the cooler. There seemed to be at least a hundred there. He closed the lid and put the cooler back down. “Well done. Go have fun now.”

Bianca gave him a meaningful look, arching that same brow. Ernesto saw her meaningful and raised her a blank plus another arched brow.

“Am I missing something?” he said, giving up the game.

“Yes. Our payment,” Bianca said sweetly.

“You get free dinner and accommodation for the night, don’t you?” the handsome man said.

“Plus $50 each,” Bianca said and smiled. Ernesto saw the teeth in that smile and sighed. He reached into his jeans pocket and took out a stack of bills held together by a silver money clip.

“Here,” he said and took out two 50s. Bianca took the bills and passed one to Steven.

“Pleasure doing business with you, Ernie,” she said and gave him a little wave. “Goodbye.”

Steven looked from Ernesto to Bianca. Ernesto ignored him.

“Uh, bye,” Steven said and followed Bianca out, resisting the urge to wave to the man who was no longer smiling.

“What the hell was that?” Steven hissed as they walked to the stairs.

“His usual trick,” Bianca said. “Ernesto is a tight ass and always tries to forget he owes us cash for the job. Missions, that’s how he calls it. As if he’s paying from his own bloody pocket. Some of the newbies buy it and Ernie goes home a few hundred bucks richer sometimes. ”

She huffed and shook her head.

“How long have you been doing this?” Steven asked. They were walking slowly down the stairs to the lobby, no more in a rush.

“About ten years. It did start as a hobby,” Bianca said. She led the way, allowing Steven to admire her rear side, which he did so thoroughly that at the end of the first flight he missed a step, lost his footing and rammed into that same rear end, instinctively wrapping his arms around Bianca.

She didn’t even sway. She unclasped his hands from her stomach, took a step back and turned to face the boy.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Steven raised his hands, palms out.

“Sorry, I just… I got distracted.”

Bianca laughed.

“Come on, I’m starving,” she said and continued down. Steven followed, eyes fixed on the steps.

“Why did you lie?” Steven asked.

“I’ve no idea what you mean.”

“But…”

Bianca stopped and turned again.

“Look, you’re a baby, okay? I have a soft spot for babies. Plus, like I said, I’d go on the black list, too, if anyone finds out you fucked up. I need this job.” She turned her back on him and continued down the steps.

“Okay,” Steven said. “Thanks.”

Bianca waved a dismissive hand without turning.

 

The hotel restaurant was to the right of the reception desk, separated from the lobby with a pair of thick glass doors. Bianca pushed those and went in. Steven hurried after her.

Bianca passed between tables, few of them occupied, and strode straight to the kitchen doors at the far end of the long room. Steven followed, trying to look purposeful, as if he had every right to go into the kitchen. He was a bit disappointed when none of the few patrons having dinner in the dimly lit restaurant paid him any attention.

There was a short corridor behind the double swinging door, with walls covered in red and white tiles in a chess pattern. The corridor ended with another double door. Bianca leaned on the wall and waited. A waiter emerged from the kitchen holding a tray full of food.

“You can’t…” the waiter started to say.

“Fetch me Marcello,” Bianca said and crossed her arms.

“But…” the waiter persisted.

Bianca sighed.

“Marcello!” she yelled. Steven jumped. The waiter almost dropped his tray.

“What?” Bianca said, looking them up and down.

“It was a bit sudden,” Steven said and cleared his throat.

“I don’t have time to argue with the personnel,” Bianca said glaring at the waiter, who gave her a hurt look, went around them and exited to the restaurant. A round face crowned with a white bandanna peeked through the door to the kitchen. The eyes fell on Bianca and the rough features lit up.

“Bianca!”

“Marcelito!” Bianca was all smiles now. She detached herself from the wall and strolled to the round-bellied man who’d slipped through the swinging doors.

He was quite a bit shorter than her but this didn’t stop him from pulling her face down to his and giving her a couple of loud smacks on the cheeks. Steven walked up to them and waited to be introduced.

“Who’s that?” Marcello asked when Bianca finally freed herself from his arms.

“That’s Steven, he’s new,” Bianca said.

Steven gave the bulky man an awkward wave.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hello, Steven,” the man said, looking him over. “You must be hungry.”

“We’re staving,” Bianca said before Steven could open his mouth.

Marcello nodded and raised an index finger. The waiter came back with an empty tray.

“All good, Barni?” Marcello said.

“Yes, Chef Ramirez, thank you.”

“Good, good,” Marcello said. “Go on.”

The waiter glared at Bianca whose face remained impassive and went back to the kitchen. A second later Marcello was in the corner and was tapping the wall. Bianca strolled over. Steven stayed where he was.

“Come on!” Bianca hissed.

Part of the wall slid to the left, revealing another, much narrower and darker corridor.

“Thanks, Marcelito,” Bianca said and slipped past the chef into the new corridor, planting a kiss on his forehead. “Come, Steven, before the whole kitchen sees us!”

Steven stood to attention and hurried after her.

“Thanks!” he told Marcello as he entered the corridor. There was light at the other end, about 500 feet from Steven. It looked like it was coming from the floor. There was no sign of Bianca.

“Sure,” Marcello said and tapped the wall again. The panel slid back leaving Steven in darkness save for the dim light ahead.

“Bianca?” he called, making a tentative step ahead. There was no answer. He took another step. The corridor seemed to be going down. Steven took another step and another.

“Bianca?” he yelled. His voice quavered.

“Yes! What is it?” The answer came from somewhere below the ground or so it sounded to Steven.

“Oh!” he said, grinning in the dark. He started walking. The corridor was definitely going down and the light was becoming bigger and brighter with every step. Eventually, Steven reached an open doorway to what looked like another restaurant. This one was smaller, though, and the people at the dark wooden tables had no plates in front of them. They had glasses, mugs, and tankards. Bianca waved to Steven from a table in the far corner.

“Shut the door!” someone growled.

“Oh. Sorry,” Steven said and turned to close the door before he hurried to the table.

“Hey!” he said. He was a little nervous from the casual glances he had collected on his brief way. “What’s this place?”

Bianca raised a hand signaling to someone behind Steven’s back. He looked around. The tables were small, seating four each, but he saw most of them were currently occupied by parties of two, like Bianca and him.

He caught sight of the bearded man and the boy, who were sitting in another corner of the place, drinking in silence. There was also that pair of women they passed on the stairs, sitting at a nearby table. The women were talking animatedly but quietly.

Another pair, a man and a young girl, sat at the table next to the women’s. Those two looked extremely happy. As Simon watched, the girl downed the last contents of her tea mug.

“What do you want to drink?” Bianca asked.

“Oh, I’m not really…” He looked up and met the icy blue gaze of an ancient woman standing by their table. He hadn’t heard her approach.

The woman’s chestnut-colored skin was stretched so tightly over the prominent bones of her face that she looked like a living mummy. Her hair was thick and white, falling in long waves over her boney frame. She was dressed in a black sweater and black pants.

“Yes?” the woman croaked.

“This is Steven, he’s new,” Bianca explained. The woman shrugged.

“Can I have a glass of B+?” Steven asked, unable to take his eyes off the old woman.

“Everyone’s asking for B+ today,” the woman complained to Bianca. “I’ve only got one girl left. Here.”

From somewhere under her sweater the woman pulled out a tablet and tapped it with a crooked finger before turning the screen to them. There was a video playing – a video of a young woman in her underwear, chained to the floor of a stone-tiled cell. The girl was crying, pulling at her chains, and probably begging for her life. Her lips were moving but the video had no sound.

“What… what is this?” Simon asked, unable to avert his eyes from the image on the tablet’s screen.

“That’s my last B+!” the old woman barked. “You want her? I have excellent A-, too.”

She started tapping the tablet again.

“Oh, that’s okay, I can…” Simon started. He gulped.

“B+ it is,” Bianca told the woman. “Ernesto is paying, Isabella, so give the boy what he wants even if he’s not sure he wants it.”

The woman huffed.

“Ernesto never pays for anything. Anna’s paying for all of you, the boss of Cornucopia herself!” she said. Bianca patted her arm. With a grunt, the woman turned on her heels and walked off. Steven watched as she went through a rough wooden door behind the table where the man and the girl sat, slamming it behind her.

“Does she really hold people in cells?” he asked.

Bianca shrugged.

“She has to get the blood from somewhere. She feeds them well until it’s time to drain them and she tries to catch ones without families. At least not big families,” she added after a while.

“It’s a bit shocking,” Steven admitted. “I’ve only ever drank blood from blood banks. Until today, that is. I don’t know what came over me, I—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Bianca said, waving a dismissive hand. “It happens more often than you think and it’s not just babies like you that do it.”

“Is Isabella a vampire too?”

“Oh, yes,” Bianca said and glanced at the door behind which the old woman had disappeared. “But something went wrong, so she ages. She’s about six hundred, I think.”

Steven gaped.

“What? Things happen,” Bianca said, shrugging. “So, how did you become a vampire?”

Someone behind the door started screaming. Steven almost jumped out of his skin. Nobody else paid any attention. The screaming suddenly stopped.

Steven looked at Bianca wide-eyed. She shrugged again.

“Isabella doesn’t believe in keeping inventory. She drains her catch completely.”

“But…”

“Yeah, I know, it’s not very humane. Isabella sells the leftovers to locals who can’t afford catering, if you know what I mean.”

“Right,” Steven said, nodding. He ran a trembling hand through his hair.

“So?” Bianca prompted.

“Sorry? Oh. I volunteered,” Steven said.

“You volunteered?

“Yeah. I worked as a sous chef at the London office of Cornucopia. I was in the human business and I didn’t even know there was non-human business.” He chuckled.

“Interesting,” Bianca said. She tapped her nails on the table and glanced at the door again. “I’ve heard Penny is very good at keeping the two separate.”

“Oh, she is,” Steven said. “But one day, I mean night, of course, I accidentally saw her feed and—“

The door in the corner opened and Isabella emerged carrying a tray full of glasses. She plodded to their table, took one of the glasses from the tray and placed it in front of Steven, who drew back as if the contents of the glass were dangerous. She took another and put it in front of Bianca, who lit up.

“B+,” the woman said and made to move on but Bianca grabbed her by the elbow.

“Just a second,” she said and took one more glass from the tray. “We don’t want anything to go to waste, do we?”

Isabella glared at her. Bianca let go of the woman’s elbow and smiled. Isabella went away. Bianca sipped from the first glass.

“Oh… Thanks!” Steven called after her. He sniffed the glass.

“Warm and fresh,” Bianca said, smacking her lips. “Drink up. And tell me the story.”

Steven took a sip.

“That’s great!”

“I know. That’s why she drains them. You know overstressed blood is sour.”

“Yeah,” he said, sniffing the glass again. “Why are you so interested in my story?”

“I like stories,” Bianca said innocently. She drained the first glass and picked up the second one. “Isabella! Another one, please!”

“Will you tell me yours?” Steven asked with a crooked smile that made him look even younger.

“Sure. I bit my boyfriend’s cock off to punish him for cheating on me, he turned out to be a vampire, bit me, drained me, I turned. End of story. Now you.”

“What?” Steven murmured. He let go of the glass and put his hand on his crotch.

Bianca laughed.

“Every single time,” she said. “Biting men’s cocks off is not a habit, I promise.”

“Right. Of course it isn’t.”

“Your turn,” she said.

With some effort, Steven put his hand back on the table and shifted in his seat.

“I was out for a drink with friends, I was walking home, it was late and I kind of stumbled upon Penny in an alley.”

“Really? And she let you live?”

Isabella brought another glass to Bianca and took the empty one, grumbling something indistinctive.

“She did, yeah. The next day when I admitted I’d seen her and I wanted to become like her.”

“Oh, so she didn’t actually see you see her feed?” said Bianca and sipped from the second glass. “This is some quality blood.”

“No, I, I ran away.” Steven cleared his throat.

“I’m impressed,” Bianca said, clasping her hands and resting her chin on them.

“I don’t know. I was just quiet, I guess.” Steven said. He shifted again and swallowed hard. Bianca was looking at him with a smile.

“Really,” she said.

“Um, yeah.”

“You’re one very lucky baby vampire,” Bianca said.

“I’d rather you stopped calling me a baby,” Steven said and drained his glass. “I’m 25.”

Bianca’s smile widened and softened. She folded her arms on the table.

“How about you prove to me that you’re not a baby?”

“I’m sorry?”

She sighed.

“Let’s go up to my room and…” Her nostrils flared.

“And?” Steven said in what could have been a teasing voice in someone with more experience. It took him a while to notice that Bianca was staring past him. She was trembling like a cat ready for a fight. Steven turned and his nose finally caught up. His nostrils filled with the heavy smell of earth. A smell so heavy it pinned him to the chair.

“Is that the herder?” he whispered.

Someone was standing at the door, a short figure dressed in filthy khakis and a dark hoodie that covered their face. The smell radiating from the figure had everyone in the room temporarily frozen.

“Bianca?”

“Shut up,” she said through clenched teeth. “I need to turn.”

“Do I? What’s that, who is he? She?” he added when the figure pushed back the hood, revealing the face of a girl no more than 20.

“She’s a golem,” Bianca hissed. She spoke as if she was having trouble articulating. “When she starts killing, turn. If you can.”

Steven nodded with an effort, his eyes fixed on the girl. She stood still for a while, sizing up the targets or preparing for the first blow. Then she moved so fast, she became a blur, spattering blood everywhere.

“Now!” Bianca said and a soft pop marked her transformation into the tiny vampire bat. She flew under the table.

Steven concentrated and turned into a mosquito a second before the bloody blur reached the table where the two women had sat, right next to theirs. He slipped under the table and perched on Bianca’s shoulder.

“What do we do now?” he buzzed in her ear.

“We wait. And we hope she doesn’t count her victims.”

“Why didn’t they fight back?” Steven asked.

“We can’t. The smell immobilizes us. Now shut up.”

Blood and body parts rained around them for a while. Then everything went quiet for a second before Bianca and Steven heard the girl’s feet squelching in the blood. She was leaving. They waited a few more minutes under the table.

“Go check,” Bianca whispered.

The mosquito buzzed out. Bianca shifted her weight from one leg to the other and spread her wings, ready to fly away if something went wrong. A loud thump told her this had become the case.

Bianca looked around. The table she was hiding under was close to a dark corner. She could hide there unless the golem could smell her. She’d just begun crawling to the corner when a hand shot out from nowhere as far as she could see and snatched her. Bianca shrieked.

The golem lifted the hand with the bat, which was trying to bite it and failing, and examined it.

“What, do you know many vampire bats?” Bianca yelled and managed to sink her front teeth into the hand that was holding her. She heard a crunching sound and her jaw slackened. Piece of her teeth remained stuck in the golem’s flesh. Bianca gaped, the pain catching up with her. The golem squeezed.

“Whah?” Bianca managed. “Whah?”

The golem grinned and unzipped its bloody hoodie. There was a T-shirt under it, a black one with a bright yellow inscription. It said “I Hate Bloodsuckers.” The golem squeezed harder, cutting off Bianca’s last scream.

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