Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Silhouetted against the full moon, a bat flapped outside the closed bedroom window. Before Marie’s eyes, it dissolved into mist and oozed through the minute crack between the frame and the sill. Motionless on her bed, through slitted lids she watched the mist coalesce into a dark-haired, slender, young-looking man.

As he loomed over her, she thrust a silver cross on a chain around her neck into his face. He recoiled, hissing.

“How about that, I guessed right—you really are a vampire!” She couldn’t suppress the delight in her voice.

While he stood frozen in shock at her odd reaction, she sprang out of bed, dashed to the window, and hung a rosary from the latch to drape over the lower pane.

Whirling around, he snarled aloud at seeing his escape blocked.

“Don’t try to leave yet.” Marie plumped the pillows to lean against as she sat on the bed. After switching on the nightstand lamp, she donned her wire-rimmed bifocals and picked up a notepad and pen. “I have a ton of questions.”

He bared his teeth. “Foolish woman, why aren’t you afraid? I’m here to drink your blood.”

“Which you’ve already done at least three times.” She rubbed the tiny scabs on her throat. “You must not drain much at once, because I’m still in decent health. Wow, you have fangs just like in the movies.” No cape, though. He wore a black shirt and tight, black jeans. So he didn’t embrace popular culture cliches.

“Movies, bah!”

“Don’t hover like that. This could take a while.” She gestured toward the desk chair, and he grudgingly sat down. “As I said, I want to ask you some questions.”

“Why should I answer them? And how did you realize you were a vampire’s victim in this scientific age?” He spoke with a hint of a Spanish accent.

“I’m an anthropology professor. I teach a class in legends and superstitions, and I plan to include a unit on vampire lore.”

“You would expose me?” he growled.

Marie shook her head. “I’ll attribute anything you say to an anonymous informant.” She poised the pen over the notepad. “It’s the least you can do after stealing my blood.”

“Stealing? I take only what I need.”

“Do you need blood to survive? Would you die without it? And would animal blood work as well as human?”

“Yes, not exactly—fall into a state of suspended animation—and no. Animal blood serves in emergencies, but only as a stopgap.”

“Now, how many ounces do you drink per feeding?”

“How should I know? I don’t measure it.” He glanced at the window.

“You might as well cooperate. The sooner we finish the interview, the sooner I’ll remove the rosary. The door’s protected, too, by the way. Do all holy symbols repel you or only crosses?”

“That depends on the individual vampire’s background and beliefs. I was a Catholic in life.”

She jotted notes as he answered. “Do you sleep by day in a coffin lined with your native soil? And does sunlight kill you?’

He rubbed his forehead as if it pained him. “Please, one question at a time, woman. The sun only weakens us. As for native earth, I’m on it at all times. I’ve dwelt here since Spain ruled this land. And no need to lie in a coffin. That’s movie nonsense.”

“Can you change into other shapes besides bat and mist? How about a wolf? Does garlic affect you? Silver? Can you consume food or liquids other than blood?” She brightened up as a lesser known superstition occurred to her. “Do you have a compulsion to count small objects like grains or pebbles? If so, I could’ve saved myself some trouble and just trapped you by scattering rice on the floor.”

“Enough!” he roared, covering his ears.

“Come on, you owe me. What about your other powers? Do you have the strength of twenty men? If I weren’t wearing this cross, could you control my mind? How did you become a vampire? How does the transformation work? Does it hurt? How can a vampire be destroyed? Not that I would try.”

“No more questions! Let me out of this blasted room, and I swear I’ll never come near you again.”

“You promise?”

“My word of honor as a hidalgo. I’d rather be staked out under the desert sun at high noon than endure another minute of your blathering.”

Marie strode across the room, removed the cross, and opened the window. The vampire leaped into the air, transforming into a bat in the process, and soared into the night.

“Well, that clears up one issue—the pen is mightier than the stake.”

After the End of Civilization

Three months after the zombie apocalypse ended, the last man on Earth found the last woman on Earth.

Okay, he knew they probably weren’t the last people on Earth, but as far as Jeffrey Elwood, PhD, had discovered, they might be the last living people in central Maryland. The zombies, fortunately, hadn’t followed the typical horror-movie pattern. The highly infectious, fast-developing disease had spread to most of the planet’s non-immune population—which, according to news reports promulgated before civilization had collapsed, included almost everybody—within the first two weeks. The zombies hadn’t lingered for long, though. They’d literally disintegrated days after infection. On the positive side of the human species’ near-annihilation, there hadn’t been time for much looting or vandalism.

The sole survivor in his neighborhood, Jeffrey had stocked up on food, gasoline, and other supplies and connected his house wiring to a portable generator. Not bad, he figured, for a nearsighted, middle-aged, slightly chubby English professor. He’d read enough post-apocalyptic science fiction and watched enough TWILIGHT ZONE episodes to know the expected procedure. What would his late colleagues who’d sneered at popular culture think if they could see him now?

The next step, of course, was the quest for fellow survivors. To drive around checking houses block by block would take forever. Besides, he wanted to find compatible people, not wild-eyed, gun-waving survivalists. Although the internet and cell service no longer existed, luckily he had the faculty directory of his former university on his computer. After months of disappointing in-person reconnaissance of promising addresses, he discovered Dr. Susan McCarthy, a biology professor, in a rowhouse less than twenty miles from his home.

After Jeffrey allayed her suspicions with his faculty ID, she invited him in. A tall, angular woman of about forty, she wore bifocals and had collar-length, medium brown hair.

While she didn’t own a generator, rooftop solar panels produced enough electricity to power a few appliances. She supplemented them with camping gear, for which she’d stored plenty of propane. She’d prepared for winter by stockpiling wood in the garage for the fireplace.

Admitting that, like him, she’d grown tired of having nobody to talk to, she asked him to stay for dinner. “I have a battery-operated radio and a CB rig,” she mentioned as they set the table, grilled steaks, and opened wine, “but I haven’t picked up anything except static since the second week.”

They discovered common reading interests and discussed books and movies over the meal, happy to drop the subject of the worldwide catastrophe in favor of its fictional counterparts. After they’d polished off the wine, Susan brought out a bottle of sherry and poured a glass for each of them. 

As a lifelong science-fiction reader, Jeffrey knew what ought to come next. He cleared his throat a couple of times and started to reach for her hand but drew back, as he worked up the courage to broach the vital topic. “We don’t know whether there’s anybody else left in this region or even the whole state or country. I believe it’s our duty to repopulate the world—well, the greater Baltimore area, anyway.” His face heated with embarrassment.

Susan shook her head with a wry smile. “Not happening. I had my tubes tied after my divorce six years ago.”

“Then the human race is doomed! Or at least the Maryland contingent of it.”

“If it depended on us,” she said, “it would be doomed anyway. One breeding pair is nowhere near enough for a founding population.”

Casting his thoughts over the next phase prescribed by fiction and film, he said, “Then shouldn’t we search for other survivors to restart civilization?”

“Can you realistically imagine the two of us trekking across a devastated continent, gathering a band of complete strangers, and convincing them we’re qualified to lead a community of intrepid pioneers?”

“Well. . . .”

“Me, neither.” She lifted the bottle. “More sherry?”


Heiress Apparent

Bev was sitting on the couch with the tortoiseshell cat, Ishtar, when her husband, Joel, staggered into the house. With a dazed expression, he collapsed onto the other end of the sofa. “I just had the weirdest experience on the way to the parking lot.”

Bev leaned toward him with an encouraging nod.

“While I was cutting through the native plant garden, as usual, a procession of cats crossed in front of me.”

“A what? Cats don’t process.”

“Well, unless I fell asleep at the computer or somebody drugged my latte, these did. They marched in a double line from one side of the path to the other. They were yowling, like cats do, but it sounded almost like singing.”

“That’s weird, all right.” She stroked Ishtar, who uncurled from her sleeping position and rubbed against Bev’s hand.

“You haven’t heard the strangest part yet. There were six walking in the middle of the column on their hind legs, carrying a miniature coffin with a tiny crown on top.”

Ishtar raised her head and perked up her ears.

Bev patted his hand. “Are you sure you didn’t fall asleep at the computer?”

He nodded. “Believe me, that’s the first thing I thought of. I tried to wake up. Didn’t happen. I unfroze enough to ask what the hell was going on. Not that I expected an answer.”

“Don’t tell me you got one?”

“A half-grown kitten near the end of the line said, ‘It’s the funeral of Her Majesty Thomasina the Dagger-Fanged, of course.’ An adult swatted him and told him to shut up. Then the procession moved on and disappeared under the trees.”

Before Bev could gather her thoughts to comment, Ishtar stood up, stretched, and flexed her claws. “So old Thomasina finally died? Then I’m Queen of the Cats!”

Bev gaped at her. “You can talk?”

Ishtar blinked at her. “Meow. Purr. Mew.”

“Quit messing with us,” Joel said. “I know what I saw back there, and I’m not dreaming now either. You just spoke English.”

With a disgruntled hiss, Ishtar sat down. “Okay, I can talk. Want to make something of it?”

Bev found her voice. “I guess now that you’ve inherited the crown, you’ll be leaving us. We’ll miss you.”

The cat flicked her tail dismissively. “Live outside in the heat, cold, rain, and snow, eating vermin and garbage scraps? Waste half my time settling squabbles on the Feline Council? And the other half defending myself against challengers? Not to mention toms who don’t understand the word ‘spayed’? No, thanks. Let my sisters fight over the crown.” She licked a paw. “But now that the talking secret is out of the bag, so to speak, I have a few conditions.”

Joel frowned. “Conditions?”

Ishtar’s ears slanted back “First off, clean the litter box every day, for Bast’s sake.”

“Reasonable,” he muttered.

“And that dry food from the discount mart doesn’t meet my standards. Also, buy one of those water-dispensing fountains.”

Bev asked, “How do you know about those?”

“When I lie on your lap all day while you’re working at the computer, you think I haven’t been listening? One more thing, I’m sure there’s room on the rear deck to install a catio…”