The park was dark. There was warm dampness that flooded the area. Islands of orange light spotted a trail through the black velvet night. A lone figure jogged along the path. Blips of her flashed in the light before disappearing momentarily. Her feet smacked the ground with moist impacts. High above, a creature watched. It’s ears listening to the sound of her blood pump through her heart. It could taste her sweat. Though she disappeared into the darkness, it could still see her heat like board day. The creature deftly descended from the top of its perch in a tree. It soundlessly crawled till it was just above her path. It could hear her music player. Light pop hits thumped out a story about love and loss.
From the shadows of an oak, a figure stepped into her path. A thin man with missing teeth grabbed her arm and held a knife out. She struggled. She hit him. He grabbed her free arm and pulled her close. He screamed about money. Then he screamed. A clawed hand grabbed him from the sky by the crown of his head. It lifted him off the ground. He released the girl. She fell back a step but did not run. The man’s body disappeared into the night. Only his legs remained. They kicked feverishly for a few seconds before losing momentum. Then they slacked and dangled loosely. Then his body dropped limply to the ground. He was pale. Slow steady breaths raised his chest before falling.
“Hello?” the girl asked. Her mind raced. She could not outrun something like that. She did not know what kind of ‘That’ she was facing but decided to start with diplomacy. “Th-thank you.”
There was no immediate response. The night was calm. Quiet. There was a sound like metal raking on metal then the light post swayed heavily. Then silence. Slowly the normal night sounds of cicadas and crickets began anew. The sound of bats and the occasional owl faded back into the park. The girl placed her earbuds back in her ears but left the music off.
She started back at a light jog. She did not want to make any sudden movements. She attempted to keep her breaths slow, her pace constant. She could not hear over her own footfalls and sporadic breathing. The night sounds became sparser once more. She picked up her pace. She breathed heavier and broke into a run. The wind died down and the cicadas became quiet again. Now she was in a full sprint. She could see the entrance to the park. It let out into better lit streets with people and shops. She pulled in her arms and concentrated on throwing her feet out in front of her.
She came to a complete stop. Standing to the side of the park exit was a form. It was vaguely human shaped. Arms, legs, and eyes were all she could make out. Two pinpricks of red light reflecting in the lamps. When it knew she could see it, the figure tried to sink back into the shadows. It pushed against the shrubs of the fence surround. It looked for a way out.
“Hello?” she asked again. “Are you the one that saved me from that… person?”
It did not answer. It looked away frantically. Two long pointed ears drew up above its head. It leaped and cleared the surround. She rushed through the exit and saw the figure drop to all fours and scurry down the sidewalk till it leaped once more back into the park.
Doubling back, she went to where the thing had reentered. There was a thicket of trees and brush. Vines wrapped around trunks forming a tight wall of vegetation. She stopped to listen. Above her, she could hear a small voice, “Shit, shit, fuck, shit. Good going dummy.”
Taking her phone out, she swiped to the light app. Illuminating the tree she could make out a small framed teen about her age. He went stiff in the light but slowly turned toward the source. His eyes glowed in the light. He was breathing hard with an open fanged mouth.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi?” he replied weakly.
“I just wanted to say, thank you.”
“Oh, uh, yeah, it was nothing.”
They stood looking at one another for a moment. The air was muggy. Light traffic echoed off the park fence. A light breeze picked up.
The girl checked the time on her phone, “Oh, shoot. Uh, I have to get home. Uh, do you hang… er… uh, come around here often?”
“Uh, yeah,” the boy said nodding.
“Cool, well, I like jogging so I’ll probably see you around. Okay?”
“Yeah, okay. Cool.”
She smiled and started walking towards home. He smiled and blushed. Then he watched her walk towards the opposite side of the park. He lightly cursed and jumped down from the tree.
“Wait up,” he said. “Mind if I walk with you?”
The girl looked him up and down. He was thin, gaunt, and had pale pointed features. His dark chin-length hair tousled as he ran to her. He wore a simple black shirt and dark jeans. He was barefoot. “Sure, I’d like that,” she said. She had an athletic build and wore comfy running clothes. Her tan was still dark from the summer. Her hair was lighter than usual but still a dark chestnut. The pair walked the paths toward the suburbs.
“Thank you again,” she said, “I had pepper spray but he surprised me.”
“You did well. I would have stayed back if he didn’t have both your arms. There have been more guys like him lately. Are you new?”
“Yeah, I just moved in today. My dad works for Faustus Technologies.”
“Oh, the big factory looking place out in the middle of no-where?”
She laughed, “Isn’t that everywhere?”
He looked hurt for a moment, “Sorry, madam, that our humble berg is so beneath you.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she said before realizing he was joking.
When he grinned, his taut skin pulled across his cheeks and forehead pulled back to reveal his fangs. His face was like a Halloween mask. His laugh came in short chortles and a snort.
“That’s not what I meant at all.” She used her hands trying to catch the words she meant to say.
He stopped her, “No need to defend that. This is pretty much nowhere. I mean, even the Smith-Mart closes at 8:00.”
“I heard there was an awesome bar,” she said trying to sound positive.
“Well, besides you probably not being old enough to drink, I really wouldn’t call it a bar. It’s a converted chicken coop that serves lite beers in little red cups.”
They both laughed. She asked him, “How old are you, exactly?”
He thought for a moment then started to say, “Like in human years?”
“Then, I guess like… 22? I don’t really keep track. In vampire years I’m closer to 16.”
They walked a while longer. They came to the exit closest to her neighborhood. They stopped for a moment just outside. She asked, “Would you like to follow me for the rest of the way? It’s not far.”
“Sure,” he said.
He took a few steady steps outside the park and they turned toward the dimly lit neighborhoods. Loosely packed houses with large yards separated by fences ran either side of a long sidewalk. It seemed to disappear into the night infinitely. Dogs barked at the pair. The boy hissed back. They became deathly quiet.
“So, uh, how old are you?”
“Just turned 18. I’m a senior at Erin High.”
“Cool, cool, I finished there. Well, like a while ago.”
“Cool, it seems nice. I don’t start till Monday, but I saw the building.”
They walked on.
“So, I’m sorry,” she started to say, “but that was so awesome. With the mugger. Are you a superhero?”
“What? No, uh, I’ve never actually drunk human blood before.”
“Oh, wow, so this was kind of a big deal for you then?”
He coughed, “Yeah, I’m not supposed to drink humans. I’m technically not even registered with Metahuman Services.”
“Are you… illegal?”
“Nah, I was born here but I just never registered. I guess my… dad… was in trouble or something. After the war that is. My mom doesn’t talk about it but I guess they were refugees.”
“I’m sorry, that had to be tough.” She tried to think of everything she knew about the last great war. She could recall dates and places but nothing that she could think of to add. Instead, she said, “You are like a superhero.”
He blushed, his ears knocked back against his head, “Me? No. I just don’t like bullies.”
“You were amazing! You could do a lot of good in the world,” she said a bit too loud.
He ran his fingers through his hair, “Well, I don’t know about the world. Maybe I could just start here. Keep it local.”
“I like it, obtainable. You can catch litterers, speeders, and maybe the occasional mugger.”
“Someone has to do it.”
They walked a spell longer.
She tried to form a sentence without being rude. She started to say something, but he started first. They both stopped to let the other talk. They started trying to let the other go first. Finally, she jumped in, “So why are your ears… so long? And flexible? Is that a vampire thing?”
“What, these?” he wiggled his ears back and forth. She giggled, and he answered, “Well, you are what you eat. My mom and I, besides regular food we hunt deer. It makes my ears longer and eyes reflect in light.”
“Weird,” the girl choked on the word. “I mean, it’s not weird.”
He held his hands out, “I understand. It’s not like humans. It’s cool.”
“Do you feel any different after that guy?”
He thought for a while. “I don’t know. It takes time.”
She nodded. Gesturing toward an Early American two-story house, she stopped. “This is me.”
He nodded, “It’s nice. I like this, uh, neighborhood.”
They stood awkwardly for a moment on the sidewalk. He stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. She wrapped up her earbuds and looked at the porch swing. They both started to say something at the same time. He motioned towards her with his open palm. She said, “It was nice meeting you. Maybe we can see each other again?”
He nodded, “Yeah, I would like that.”
They both smiled and started to go their separate ways. She was halfway up the walk and turned back suddenly. She said, “Wait, what was your name?”
The street was empty. In the distance, dogs barked. A warm breeze blew loose trash along the street.
“Who’s name?” a voice asked from the front porch. A man in his early fifties was standing half out the front door.
The girl panicked a moment and held her phone up to her ear and said, “What was your name, sir? No, uh, sorry, I don’t recognize that name. You must have the wrong number.” She made a show of putting her phone away. “Hey, dad.”
“Hey, sport. Have a good run?”
“Oh yeah, the park is pretty great.”
“Did you have any trouble?”
She looked back down the empty streets. “No, no trouble at all.”
He put an arm around her, “You know, I think you are really gonna like it here. It’s not so bad.”
The pair walked inside the house. High above the yard, two reflective eyes watched them enter the house. A creature smiled a toothy fanged grin. With a rush of speed, the boy flew into the night with a jump.