Chapter 1

Yelena Solodnikova drove her black Mercedes Benz through the Hollywood Hills thinking of a man other than the one she was coming home to. That man’s name was Marcel and despite Yelena’s best efforts to love again, Marcel was still the only man who had ever been housed deeply within her heart. Back when they lived in Malibu, Marcel went for a run on the beach and never came back. It took Yelena more than a year to accept that Marcel would never return, and when she did, she moved out of their house, left the beach, and retreated to the hills.

An hour before she stepped into her car she had been sitting on a sofa in a corner office on the fourth floor of an architecturally unimaginative office building. Already into the hours of night, the floors of fluorescent lights were turned out, making the building’s glass appear black, with only the amber glow of the street lamps tapping against them. Only in that single office suite on the fourth floor did light shine from within, and even that was dim, its source being two incandescent bulbs, already soft and furthermore shaded.

As usual, Yelena was dressed in all black—a pencil skirt and a blouse that left her pale arms bare. Her youthful platinum blonde hair, which caused most observers to incorrectly conclude she had an excellent colorist, was worn up that night, held in place with two black chopsticks, each studded with a diamond. She wore diamond earrings as well, a diamond bracelet, and a wristwatch encrusted with diamonds. But around her neck she wore a simple silver chain with an asymmetrical heart-shaped pendant with an empty setting that held neither a diamond nor any gemstone at all.

Yelena was a woman who should have known she was exceptionally beautiful, but she never thought about it and certainly didn’t see it. She noticed stares she would receive from both men and women in public, but they would only force her to look away. She didn’t recognize when she was being admired, rather she saw the flaws she felt resided within her were visible and being scrutinized.

Though placed at her youthful age of twenty-four, she carried an elegance more commonly seen in an older woman. Her posture and grace suggested the background of a classically trained dancer which she had once been. She was twenty-three and actually en pointe when she first saw Marcel. He was sitting in the sixth row of a full auditorium, staring directly at her on a stage full of dancers of the Mariinsky Ballet, including the company’s etoile, who Yelena was not.

Yelena’s eyes were dark and serious. Her lashes were long and her eyebrows always appeared as if they had just been meticulously threaded. Her pallid skin was without hue but appeared flawless as though she powdered the entirety of her beautifully lithe body. Her lips were lusciously full and always perfectly lined with a deep red lipstick. I wish I looked like Yelena, but I don’t. Not remotely.

Sitting in a chair opposite Yelena was Dr. Sloane, her psychiatrist. I only met him once while sitting in his waiting room one night during Yelena’s session, but I’ve gotten to know him quite well since. At the time, Dr. Sloane was in his fifties. His socks always matched his ties which Yelena had noticed, but she didn’t realize her shrink was dressed by his wife until I told her. She got a good laugh out of it. His wife didn’t decorate Dr. Sloane’s office, however. It looked like it hadn’t been decorated in over thirty years. The furniture was comfortable but older and more worn than Yelena would have expected for her three-hundred and eighty dollars an hour.

“And today?”

“I had coffee,” Yelena answered softly, as was her nature.

Dr. Sloane jotted something down on his notepad. “Anything else?”

“No.”

“How would you say your energy level has been this week?

“Low. I barely made it here.”

“Yelena, what do you see as the end result when you choose not to eat?”

“I’ll die.”

“Is that what you want?”

Yelena shrugged. Dr. Sloane took more notes and then looked up at his patient until she finally looked back at him.

“When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see?”

“Nobody.”

“Do you believe you’re overweight?”

“No.”

“Then why avoid food?”

“We’ve covered this before. Guilt.”

“Yes. I recall. You feel guilty while you eat.”

“I feel guilty for needing to eat at all.”

Dr. Sloane hit the dead end they’d hit before. He changed the subject.

“Have you given any more thought to going back to ballet?”

“I haven’t thought of it at all.”

“It could be good for you. You said before you missed it.”

“I’m in no shape for it.”

“Physically or emotionally?”

“I haven’t finished grieving.”

“Are you willing to talk about Marcel today?”

Yelena shook her head. Another dead end.

“I see. Alright. Well, in our session last week, you mentioned a man you’ve been seeing recently. Andre, I believe. How are things with him?”

“Horrible.”

“Horrible in what sense?”

“He says he loves me.”

There wasn’t a lot of time left in the session after that. Yelena got up to leave while Dr. Sloane remained in his seat appearing contemplative. She knew she was his last patient of the day but decorum called for him to wait a customary ten minutes for her to leave his office before leaving himself, in order to maintain boundaries and keep their personal lives from mingling.

The parking garage was nearly empty, with spaces occupied only by her car and a Lexus SUV she knew belonged to Dr. Sloane. The lights of her car flashed as she unlocked it remotely before getting in. She started the engine and drove toward the garage exit, and inserted a credit card in the kiosk. The credit card was returned and the mechanical arm blocking her exit raised. Yelena drove out of the parking lot and once she was on the street, she quickly exceeded the speed limit as was her custom. Yelena loved to drive.

Sunset Boulevard was packed with people all done up and beautiful for a night on the town. Yelena hit every red light and watched them through her windshield, gliding through the crosswalks with smiles of anticipation on their faces. So many high heels and short skirts walking beside designer jeans and chiseled chins. Few looked for love; most looked for sex. The beautiful people of Los Angeles left their dreams of stardom for the daytime, while at their day jobs when they realized how little of what they wanted they actually had. At night, they were already the stars they dreamed of. Yelena finally made it through The Strip and headed into the hills.

Yelena’s house was large and well kept. It had many windows but tall Italian cypress trees, planted closely together, shielded the house from view from the street. As she pulled into the curved driveway, the larger of two garage doors opened. She parked inside and the door lowered behind her.

The interior of her house was spotless and filled with minimalist modern furniture that always looked too new and too expensive to be comfortable. Her walls, on the other hand, were maximally decorated with abstract art which she avidly collected. Yelena was especially partial to the Gesturalists.

Yelena placed her keys in a ceramic bowl that sat on a table where she also deposited her purse. She looked around the empty room wishing she were alone.

“It smells weird in here,” she said, knowing she’d be answered.

“Hey, that’s dinner!” a voice called from the kitchen. It was Andre.

Yelena entered the kitchen to greet him.

Andre was in his thirties, tall like Marcel was, and though he was model beautiful, in Yelena’s eyes he was not half as beautiful as Marcel had been. Andre wore an apron Yelena didn’t recognize over his stylish street clothes, and smiled wide when his eyes landed on Yelena. He had already told her he loved her. She sensed he imagined them being wed together forever and, because she had already discovered ways in which she could love him back, a sadness swept over her knowing it wouldn’t be long before she removed him from her life.

Andre kissed her. “I got here later than I wanted. Dinner won’t be ready for a little bit longer. Are you surprised?”

Yelena nodded her head.

“You see? This is why I needed keys.”

Knowing Andre’s tastes, Yelena knew the meal would be exquisite, but she didn’t recognize the aroma. Yelena rarely ate at home unless there were guests, which now included guests who had been given keys. To Yelena, fine dining was like sex. Both were pleasurable but deprivation of either wouldn’t kill her.

“Just go and relax,” he said. “Take your shoes off. I’ll set the table.” Yelena was starving and the food smelled delicious but Yelena knew it wouldn’t be enough. It couldn’t be. That was impossible. She had to get some air and some space. She opened one of the French doors and stepped out onto the terrace and stood in the moonlight. She placed her hands on the broad balustrade. The stone felt cool on her normally cold skin, like marble in a mausoleum. That was comforting and her mind began to clear.

Like the other men she dated, Andre had asked about the heart with the missing gem around Yelena’s neck. The rich ones offered to replace the diamond, but she always declined their offers and refused to tell them more about it or even that she had purchased the piece of jewelry purposefully without a stone, telling the jeweler she planned to set it with an heirloom diamond. In truth, that empty heart that hung between her breasts was Marcel’s and she didn’t need any of these other men knowing how little of her they had even while holding her hand, kissing her lips, or even being inside of her. There would never be another Marcel. There could never be a second. Marcel had made her who she was and there was no undoing that. Yelena would never be severed from Marcel, not by love for someone else, nor by the tidal hatred for him that would periodically swell inside her.

Andre removed his apron and stepped out onto the terrace and, from behind her, placed his arms on Yelena’s hips.

“It’s cold out here,” he said, and he wrapped his arms around her warmly. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

“Nothing,” Yelena answered.

“I know you’ve been feeling a little worn out lately so I just wanted to do something nice.”

“I know. Thank you.”

“I was hoping we could go to a club later. You say you love to dance, yet we’ve never been.”

“I’m too tired tonight.”

“Well, it doesn’t have to be tonight. I just mean when you’re feeling up to it.”

“You’re so nice to me.”

“I love you.”

“Please don’t say that.”

“I know it’s not something you like to hear, Yelena, but it’s true. I love you.”

Yelena paused in thought for a long time and said nothing. Finally, she turned into Andre and embraced him tightly. “Make love to me then.”

“Right now? But dinner.”

“Later. Please, make love to me now.”

Andre nodded and scooped Yelena up and carried her back inside, past the kitchen, and down the hall to her bedroom, which was in the rear of the house. Through the large windows, the room was blanketed in moonlight and a panorama of city lights displayed itself in the distance below.

Andre put Yelena down and they stood before each other. He pulled her blouse over her head and dropped it on the floor. He turned her around and proceeded to unzip her pencil skirt until it also fell to the floor. He turned her back to face him, in her black lace bra and panties, and then went to his knees. She placed her hands on his shoulders as she stepped out of the fallen skirt and allowed him to remove her high heels. He set them aside and unfastened her garters and slid her stockings off and she stepped out of them as well. Andre stood. He was now much taller than she and he began to unbutton his shirt, removed it, revealing his muscular frame. Yelena unfastened her bra as Andre kicked off his shoes, unbuckled his belt, and then unbuttoned his jeans and let them fall to the floor. He lifted Yelena again and laid her back on the bed and then pulled off her panties. He removed his tight fitting boxer briefs and crawled on top of her, moving her smoothly up the bed until her head rested on a pillow.

They kissed. Slowly at first and then more vigorously. Andre’s hands caressed Yelena’s body and he began to kiss her neck, his lips slowly moving to her shoulders, her breasts, and then her stomach.

“No,” Yelena said and Andre looked up at her.

“No?” he asked.

“I just want to feel you inside me,” she said.

Andre pushed himself up and then knelt over her, opened her legs, and then lowered himself on top of her. His entry was painful to Yelena but she didn’t stop him. Instead she wrapped her arms around his back, pulling him closer to her body as he slid deeper inside her. He went slowly at first, and Yelena began to relax and let herself go as she became wet, and soon his rhythm quickened, and they made love like that, her arms still around him as he began to sweat. As Yelena eventually drew close to climax her body began to tense. From his breathing and the rapidity of his thrusts, she knew he was close as well.

Yelena couldn’t endure it any longer. Her thirst had grown to excess and she couldn’t concentrate on her orgasm any longer. “Stop,” she said.

Andre thrust once more and then stopped. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Just hold me,” she answered, and he held her in his arms while still inside her, lightly rocking his hips to maintain his erection and satisfy his unfinished lust.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered in his ear.

“It’s okay,” he sighed. “It’s okay,” he said again and squeezed her tighter, and slipped deeper inside her.

Yelena knew the moment had come. No matter how long it took in coming, it always felt like it arrived too early, and she already despised herself for it. She knew he was about to come and decided to let him finish. His mouth opened and it appeared as if he were struggling to exhale as he came inside her, releasing a deep moan, and then his chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath. She could feel the warmth of his semen inside her. She could tell by his panting that he had let all of himself go, but he continued to thrust with an erection that had not yet gone soft. He was doing this for her.

“Stop,” she whispered again.

“Did you come?” he asked her.

Yelena shook her head and saw the frustration in his face. He liked to please her or liked to think he pleased her. He wanted her to finish.

She put her hands on his chest and pushed back a little. She looked Andre in his bright blue eyes. “You don’t understand. Look at me. Know that I mean it when I say I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” he asked, confused.

“For letting you go.”

“I don’t understand. Letting me go?”

And with a strength Andre had never seen in his girlfriend before, and in one fluid motion, she quickly rolled him so that she was on top for an instant before the continuous roll forced Andre to fall over the edge of the bed, with Yelena still on top of him, landing on his back and hitting his head on the cherrywood floor.

He grunted on impact. His penis, now flaccid, slipped out of her. “What are you …”

But before he could finish his sentence, Yelena effortlessly pinned his shoulders to the floor and opened her mouth, revealing an elongated set of canines to Andre for the first time. She thrust her head forward and plunged her teeth into his jugular.

Andre’s eyes bulged in shock and though he was seven inches taller than she and weighed over two hundred pounds, Yelena’s strength, brought upon by her bloodlust, easily overpowered him.

She continued to feed until her thirst for human blood was satiated and Andre’s struggles were no more. Yelena came up for air with blood streaming down her chin and blood tears slipping from her eyes. But her tears didn’t fall because their relationship was now over. They didn’t even fall because Andre was now dead. They fell because she had finally killed him like she always knew she would.

She slid off of his body, which was still spurting blood from the throat, sat on the floor, pulled his body into her and held him. She ran her long fingers through his movie star hair. “I’m sorry,” Yelena said and felt his semen dripping out of her onto the floor where it was engulfed by his spilt blood.

She sat like that for a while, feeling at once sorrowful and satisfied, then stood and left Andre’s lifeless body leaking blood across the cherrywood and walked into the kitchen, still fully nude and blood smeared, and turned the oven off. She grabbed the notepad and heavy fountain pen she kept on the kitchen counter. She quickly wrote a note, entered the dining room, where the table had been set for two, and placed the note at the head of the table.

Berthold,
Dinner is in the oven. Eat it if you like. Just get it out of here. I’ll be out for the remainder of the night.
Yelena

Chapter 2

Quick pulses of harsh electro drum beats pounded inside the darkened night club. Laser lights spun and tumbled over the crowd, mostly goths, clad in black, who filled the fog covered dance floor, dancing separately and rarely touching each other. Yelena danced alone among them. She had her hair down and had traded her pencil skirt and sleeveless blouse for a full busted corset and a short skirt which showed much of her pale thighs over which she wore wide-ribbed fishnet stockings. Her black boots ran up the length of her legs to just below her knees. Her six inch platforms appeared difficult to walk in, let alone dance in, but Yelena brought a grace to the industrial music blaring as her body writhed and became wholly enveloped by the music so that she appeared lifted, her steps cushioned by the fog below her feet.

Yelena longed to feel tears well up in her eyes as she danced to the angry music, but they never came, and that was a good thing as her blood tears would have been conspicuous. She wanted again to feel herself cry for killing Andre, for she knew him to have a good heart, a heart that loved her very much, but she couldn’t help what she was no matter how long or how hard she fought it. Yelena was an immortal with the desperate need to kill, surrounded by a public of unsuspecting prey, filled with those who would choose willingly to enter her life and love her.

Killing randoms was obviously easier than killing those she loved, but even so she still hated herself for it. Because she did not know her randoms and her self-esteem was so low, she had to assume all her victims to be better souls than she. She didn’t want to kill them. She didn’t want to kill at all. But there was her thirst. It had to be satisfied. As for those who loved her, she didn’t have to assume—she was certain they were more worthy of the lives they possessed than she was worthy of hers.

In addition to the bloodlust Yelena had to contend with, there was also the need for love and loving, for neither yearning left Yelena when she became a vampire. Instead it was her love who left—Marcel—the vampire who had made her part of their damned species.

This need for loving is what periodically brought victims close to Yelena’s heart. She could begin to find love for them, as she had with Andre, but she could never have brought herself around to remain with him forever. To do that would have meant making Andre a vampire as well, and she cared for him and each of her previous lovers too much to relegate any one of them to the same fate as her own. Every single one was better off dead, held in her embrace. Worse, Yelena knew in the depths of the most hidden places within her heart there was still no room for anyone other than Marcel, and she had not yet finished lamenting his abandonment of her. And so although Yelena had spent over a hundred and thirty years with Marcel, her subsequent relationships never made it past the three month mark.

It was the first kiss of a new lover that turned the hourglass over, curtailing the relationship as a whole and effectively shortening the life of her head-over-heels inamorato. With his lips upon hers, she could taste the blood pumping inside him and it would take vast amounts of strength to resist her bloodlust and let him live through another night of lovemaking. And though Yelena proved to have more willpower than most of her kind, considering the vast majority didn’t care to resist at all, ultimately she would always succumb to her hunger and lose her lover through her own teeth, adding him to the pile of beloved corpses that was the foundation of her guilt and what she disguised to her therapist, Dr. Sloane, as an eating disorder. And as part of that disorder, once Yelena fed, it was more likely she would binge, embarking upon a killing spree because, with the taste of blood still fresh on her palate, her resistance would fail her until it was finally outweighed by the self-reproach that followed the inevitable self-reflection.

I didn’t know any of this yet. I only learned much later how Yelena hated what she was because of the guilt that resulted from the murders required by her appetite. But by the time I learned and understood, it was too late.

Many pairs of eyes, both male and female, followed Yelena off the dance floor as the song changed to something less preferential. She headed to the bar where a black square napkin was placed before her by the bartender.

“Scotch, please,” Yelena said without yelling, but was still heard clearly between the ears of the bartender.

“Rocks?”

“Neat.”

Without asking, the bartender pulled a bottle from the top shelf which was still a lesser quality than what Yelena was accustomed to at home, but she appreciated him offering his best stock, even if the brown liquid was to be poured into a plastic cup.

As the bartender placed the cup on the napkin, Yelena’s eyes shifted to her right, in the direction of the man she felt approaching her from behind.

“Can I buy that for you?”

He had a nice voice. Yelena turned to him. He was young, probably early twenties, good looking, slightly androgynous, and wearing a tight fitting black shirt to ensure everyone in the club saw just how thinly delicate he was.

Still, Marcel was more beautiful.

“No, thank you,” Yelena said in response to his offer.

“I insist,” he said and slapped a twenty dollar bill on the bar. Yelena found that cocky and disliked him immediately. She knew at the very least he was hoping to get his dick sucked tonight. She picked up her drink and took a sip as the bartender took the twenty to the register and brought back four dollars in change, of which the young man put three in his pocket and left one on the bar for the bartender.

“My name is Blake,” the young man with the hopeful boner in his pants said. But even to him, Yelena was polite.

“Yelena,” she said and extended her hand, which he took, and in a most affected and dramatic fashion he kissed. He released her hand and she drank the remainder of her Scotch. She let it mingle with the warmth provided by Andre’s blood, and held onto its smokey oaken taste, before allowing it to slide down her throat, where the effects of the alcohol would warm her body.

“I’ve seen you here before,” Blake said next.

“Thank you for the drink,” Yelena said, and began to head back to the dance floor.

“Wait,” he said.

“What?”

“Can’t we talk a little bit at least?”

“No.”

He probably thought Yelena was a bitch.

“No? We can’t talk?”

“We don’t have to. You can just kiss me if you want.”

Blake’s expression changed positively as he placed his hand behind Yelena’s head, lacing his fingers through her hair. He pulled her prepossessing face toward him. His lips met hers and as his tongue probably tasted Scotch, Yelena’s tasted blood.

“Wanna get out of here?” Blake asked.

They drove separately, with Yelena following behind his black compact car which was covered with bumper stickers of gothic and industrial bands. They ended up outside Blake’s apartment building before the club closed. Blake couldn’t stop kissing her, even as he struggled to get his key in the lock and guide her upstairs to his apartment. Though Yelena felt nothing for him in her heart, she responded to his kisses and made herself appear as anxious as he to get his apartment door unlocked and into his bedroom. Not loving someone was a blessing to Yelena; it would be simpler to kill Blake and feed a second time in the same night.

The door opened and Blake flipped the lights on. His apartment was small and decorated almost entirely in black except for the tan carpet and white walls which undoubtedly were standard in his apartment building. One wall was covered in crucifixes, but Yelena felt sure Blake wasn’t Catholic, the crucifixes were just a goth thing to him. There was a framed photo on a low bookshelf that Yelena assumed to be a family portrait. His mother, father, brother, and sister all looked relatively normal and were dressed colorfully, and then there was Blake, dressed in all black and wearing heavy black eyeliner. Still the entire family smiled and appeared happy. Blake must have open minded parents, she thought. Good for him.

A poster from the film Let the Right One In hung on one of the walls. Yelena enjoyed that film as well and had watched it more than once. A framed diploma from the University of California, Santa Cruz hung on an opposite wall. Blake had majored in Linguistics and graduated only a year earlier.

Two blue parakeets sat perched in a bird cage. She wondered what their names were but didn’t ask. The cage appeared cleaner than his apartment which was far from neat. Empty alcohol bottles stood on the kitchen counter beside boxes of sugar cereals and a sink full of dirty dishes. Clothing was draped over much of the furniture. There was a faint odor in the room as well. Blake was in the habit of burning nag champa incense.

Yelena took all of this in as she continued to kiss him and he guided her toward the back of the apartment where she assumed his bedroom was located. She closed her eyes. She didn’t want to see anything more of the surroundings as it was filled with things that suggested a full life beyond the shallowness of a nightclub hookup and that might begin to weigh on her conscience and thereby give her second thoughts on killing him.

A knock at the front door stopped Blake in his tracks.

“What the fuck?” he said. Frustrated, he let out a deep breath. “Excuse me a sec.”

“I’ll wait in the bedroom.” Yelena said, and retreated in the direction he had been guiding her. When she passed through his bedroom doorway, she didn’t turn on the lights. She could see perfectly well in the dark and illuminating the room would only make her visible to whoever was knocking at the front door, which would make Yelena an identifiable suspect when Blake disappeared.

The knocking became more desperate.

“I’m coming, dammit!” Blake shouted before opening the door.

In the doorway stood a young woman, pretty and very pregnant. She appeared distressed.

“Oh God. Blake, you’re home. My water broke. I need you to take me to the hospital.”

“Where’s Tim?”

“He’s on his way, but I think I should just go already.”

“He’ll be here soon, Nicole. You should wait for him.” And with that, Blake began to close the door on her. Nicole put her hand on the door, keeping it open.

“Wait. Don’t go!”

“I know Tim. I know he would want you to wait for him.”

Yelena watched the scene from the darkness of Blake’s bedroom. She was relieved he was being his asshole self again now that he was being cock-blocked. Yelena bit her lip softly as she anticipated the taste of Blake’s lifeblood in her mouth.

“Please, Blake. I need you.”

“Look. It’s late. And I got a good parking space. Trust me. Just wait here for Tim. Have you talked to him?”

“Yeah. On the phone. He’s hurrying.”

“There, you see?”

“Can you at least wait with me?”

“I’m kind of in the middle of something. Just be patient. Tim will be here.”

Nicole let out a pained groan and gripped her enlarged belly.

“Just go back inside and sit down. He won’t be long. I promise.” Blake began to close the door again.

“Stop,” Yelena said in a calm tone from the bedroom, but they both heard her clearly. Blake turned around and Nicole looked over his shoulder. Yelena stepped out of the darkened bedroom into the hallway and walked toward the front door.

“I’ll drive you,” Yelena said.

“What? Are you fucking serious?” Blake asked.

Yelena didn’t respond to him, she responded to Nicole instead. “My car is right outside.”

“Thank you. Thank you."

Yelena walked out the door and Blake slammed it behind her.

“Do you have a bag or anything?”

“Yeah, right inside the door,” Nicole said and reached inside her own apartment, which was directly across from Blake’s, and picked up a bag that was already packed. Yelena took the bag from her and helped her down the stairs of the apartment building.

Out on the street, the headlights of Yelena’s Mercedes flashed as the doors unlocked. Yelena placed the bag in the back seat and helped Nicole into the front, shut her door, and then went around to the driver’s side and got in and started the car.

“Thank you again,” Nicole said. “But please hurry.”

“I will,” Yelena responded, pulled away from the curb and floored it.

They sped through Hollywood and got lucky with the green lights. Nicole breathed quickly.

“How are you doing?”

Nicole just nodded her head and kept breathing.

“We’ll be there soon,” Yelena said, and she was right. Within minutes, Yelena’s Mercedes whipped into the hospital parking lot and sped to the emergency entrance.

Chapter 3

Over a carton of chocolate milk, I sat drawing Veronica, the cashier with her dead end affair with an anesthesiologist who used his status at the hospital to use her for sex, when Yelena stepped into the hospital cafeteria. She shone so radiantly that I pushed the large sheet of paper aside for a fresh sheet and began to draw Yelena immediately.

She only ordered a coffee but left a large tip which made Veronica register a look of surprise. Even though, at home, Yelena took her coffee with sugar and cream, she sat at a table up against a wall and drank it black. She had begun to feel the disappointment of being charitable to Nicole and not feeding off Blake as it was meant to be, and was therefore in no mood to make any extra effort to lighten or sweeten her coffee.

We were the only two sitting in the cafeteria because Veronica stood at her cash register and Howard, the janitor, mopped the floor. If I knew a way to show you how to see through my scribbles, I would show you, just so you could see how perfect Yelena looked that night, sitting in that visually boring white-walled cafeteria with its fluorescent lights and teal table tops.

Beautiful girls used to make me feel bad about my weirdly bony body, my too big nose, my thinned out hair, and glasses that always rested crookedly on my face. But one day a blessing came that lifted all those insecurities off of me—I overheard my doctors talking about how little time I had left. Technically, I guess I had been dying for years, but after I heard I was dying soon enough to make a guess in months, I stopped caring about my appearance and never wore anything but pajamas and my fluffy pig slippers. But with Yelena’s sheer beauty sitting across from me, those feelings returned and I was reminded to be embarrassed of how I looked—slobbish and sickly.

It didn’t take long for Yelena to notice she was being watched. Nor did it take her long to notice that she was being sketched. She stared back at me. Like I said, I already felt embarrassed of the way I looked in comparison to her, but to make things worse, I had black wax all over my fingers from the crayons I sketch with. She made me uncomfortable, so I had to say something.

“You don’t care if I draw you, do you?”

“Only a little.” Those were the first words Yelena ever said to me. I kept drawing, not taking my eyes off of her.

“You’re pretty,” I said, hoping it would make her mind me drawing her less.

“Thanks,” was all she offered in response.

“You don’t have to sit still. It won’t ruin the drawing or nothing.” I thought she was becoming impatient so I began drawing faster.

“May I see?” she asked.

I turned her scribble away from me and held it up for her to see. Her reaction wasn’t how most people react. Most people usually squint and stare at my scribbles and wonder if I’m underdeveloped for my age. But Yelena didn’t react like that at all.

“Abstract,” she said.

“Yeah, ‘cept it’s not done yet.”

I turned the paper back to me and looked at her portrait so far.

“Is your name Elena?” I asked.

Yelena paused, a little surprised, but then she said, “It would be if I dropped my Y.”

I looked at her scribble again. “Yelena. Yeah. You’re right.”

“How did you know my name?” she asked me.

“But I didn’t. I said it wrong.”

“You were so close.”

“You kinda just look like a Yelena to me.”

That answer didn’t satisfy her. She knew I was full of shit in some way, but she didn’t pursue it immediately.

I liked her already, so I wanted to show off. “Solodnikova. Did I pronounce it right?”

“How did you know that? We haven’t met. I would know.”

“You can guess my name if you want.”

“I wouldn’t even know how to guess. Now tell me how you knew my name.”

“You prolly shoulda guessed Orly. Then you coulda been right. Orly Bialek. Now you know my names too.”

“Let me see your drawing again.”

I turned the drawing again and showed her. She couldn’t see herself in it which made me smile because it felt like I had superpowers over someone who looked perfect and who wasn’t used to being impressed by anyone.

She looked up at the clock on the wall behind me.

“It’s past three a.m. You must be a night owl, Orly.”

“There’s less nurses upstairs when it’s night, so it’s easier to sneak out. I sleep when it’s visiting hours. Nobody visits anyway.”

“Your family doesn’t come to see you?”

“Pfffffttt. I haven’t had one of those in like three years. And they were just fosters. Fosters don’t like you that much when you get too old.”

“You’re not old.”

“I’m twelve.”

“Believe me, that’s not old.”

“Well, like when you’re sick on top of being old, it makes it hard for social workers to put you anywhere better than a group home.”

“Where are your birth parents?”

“I got taken away from them when I was six. They never got me back.”

“I’m sorry.”

I shrugged. “I don’t care anymore.”

“Are you very ill?”

“I have leukemia. Do you know what that is?”

“Cancer of the blood. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get too personal.”

“It’s okay,” I said, “I’m used to being sick by now. It’s called acute lymphoblastic leukemia if you wanna know everything. I like being able to say that word—lymphoblastic. It makes me feel smart.”

“I’m sure you’re a very smart girl.”

“Thanks for saying that.”

“It’s treatable, isn’t it? Your acute lymphoblastic leukemia?”

“Yeah. They make you do lots of chemo which sucks but at least I’ll be better soon.” That was the first lie I told Yelena.

Yelena didn’t say anything.

“You see that guy?” I asked, and motioned to Howard who was still mopping the floor, slowly, probably just so he could stare at Yelena longer.

Yelena didn’t turn to look, but she said, “Yes. What about him?”

I whispered, “He jacks off to his daughters.”

It was bad timing. Yelena was just taking a sip of her coffee and almost choked.

“What?” she asked.

“He’s never touched them or anything like that. He just thinks about them and plays with his ding dong. But that’s still super gross, don’t you think?”

“Did he tell you that?”

“No. I’ve just drawn him before.” I looked through the sheets of sketch paper scattered on my table until I found his scribble and showed it to Yelena.

“His name is Howard, but when he’s pretending to get with his daughters he calls himself…”

And that’s when I freaked out. I caught a glimpse of the bottom left corner of Yelena’s scribble and quickly began to gather up my black crayons and papers. I had never drawn someone like her who sat so close to me.

“He calls himself what?” Yelena asked.

“Nothing. I have to go,” I said. And I got up and ran out of the cafeteria. I could feel Veronica and Howard staring as I fled. I learned later that they looked to Yelena once I was gone for an explanation, but she didn’t give them one.

Call it fate, call it accidental, or call it my subconscious acting out, but I left the drawing of Yelena behind on the cafeteria table. Yelena hadn’t yet finished her coffee, but she stood up, grabbed the scribble and came after me.

I kept pressing the up button for the elevator. The door finally opened and I jumped in and pressed number four just as Yelena caught up to me.

“Wait. Orly, you forgot your…”

I freaked out. “Please don’t kill me!” I screamed at her.

Yelena stopped and stood stock still. She didn’t know what to say. But she knew she was found out. She knew I knew what she was. The elevator doors closed and I thought I was safe for a moment, until I realized she would see what floor the elevator stopped on. I pressed more buttons, but I had already passed the third floor, so my first stop would still be the fourth floor. I wasn’t sure if I should get off when the elevator doors opened, but I did and ran and hid in my room, hearing one of the nurses yell at me to get back in bed.

Yelena watched the numbers on the digital display above the elevator doors ascend. She saw that the first stop was the fourth floor, my floor, and then watched as it stopped on the fifth floor, seventh floor, eighth floor, and ninth floor, before descending to the third floor. She waited until it reached the first floor again, when it did the doors opened to an empty elevator car. Yelena didn’t step inside. She didn’t come after me. Instead, she looked at her diamond encrusted watch and saw sunrise was approaching. She left the hospital, taking with her the scribble that she knew, but couldn’t see, was her.

Yelena sped home faster than she technically needed too, but she was always cautious about the sunlight. She arrived well in time—it was still dark out and the birds who sung their night songs had still not yielded to the chirpers who announced the morning.

Yelena entered her house still holding the scribble and went straight to her bedroom. She glanced at the spot on the hardwood floor where she had killed and fed off of Andre. The floor was spotless, without any evidence of the murder. As throughout the rest of the house, excessively thick black coverings had already been lowered over her bedroom windows a half hour earlier as they were on a timer to fall, but never timed to rise. That Yelena would have to do manually, by pressing a sequence of buttons known only to her, on a remote control that commanded the window coverings for the entire house, and that she kept beside her bed on a nightstand.

She undressed, slipped into a black silk robe, and stood studying the scribble. She looked at herself in the mirror holding the scribble up beside her face. Nothing. Not nothing because she couldn’t see herself in the mirror. She could. That, like crosses, I learned was a myth. But even still, she saw no trace of herself in her scribble. Yelena could not see herself the way I saw her, and she certainly couldn’t see the way in which I saw through her. She placed the scribble on her bed which had been made. She would not be sleeping there tonight. She was too weary.

She picked up her cell phone and used the touchscreen to press the name at the top of her favorites and was answered with loud music and the chatter of a lively and drunk crowd through the other end of the connection. Hisato, her best friend, was having another one of his after parties. Hisato was thin, not short, but not tall either. He had black Japanese hair cut stylishly and he dressed fashionably. He was an ideal metrosexual. Unlike Yelena, Hisato had a loud voice and liked to use it.

“Vatican Holiday Inn,” Hisato answered into the phone.

“It’s me.”

“Bitch, when are you coming over?”

“It’s almost sunrise.”

“Sure, spoil my party. Missed you at the club tonight. They said you already left. What’s up with that?”

“I met someone.”

“Did you fuck him yet?”

“No. He was an asshole.”

“And your beloved Andre? Did he suddenly become polyamorously liberal?”

“He left me.”

There was a pause before Hisato spoke again.

“Good girl,” he said.

“Hisato, get off the phone! I wanna fuck you!” a female voice screeched in the background. Hisato ignored her.

“How are you handling it?” he asked Yelena.

“I said, get over here and finger me, now!” the guest squealed, but again he ignored her.

“You still there?”

“Go back to your party. I was just calling to see if you’d call to wake me.”

“Of course, sweets. I’m pretty coked up. I’ll be up for days. What time do you want me to wake you up?”

“Friday.”

“Today is Friday.”

“Next Friday.”

“Bitch, don’t you dare sleep the whole week away. Now’s when you should come out and play since you’re all Energizer Bunny.”

“Good night,” was all Yelena said. She heard her best friend blow her a kiss before she hung up.

Yelena went straight for her walk-in closet. Inside, she parted a row of black dresses and pushed on the wall behind it. The wall opened smoothly and silently, revealing a narrow secret passage, in which she stepped inside, turned and slid the dresses back in place and shut the secret door behind them. The walls of the passage were made of dark stone and quickly descended via a tall spiral staircase into a larger chamber below. There were no lights in this room, making navigation difficult, except for those immortally dead like Yelena who didn’t need light for darkness to be illuminated.

The contracting company that built this passageway and the chamber that existed below the foundation of the house thought it an unusual request, but not unheard of with other wealthy clientele purchasing custom homes. Yelena once told me that the richer you are the more eccentric you’re allowed to be.

In the center of the room were two coffins, one longer than the other. That had been Marcel’s. His coffin was the only thing she still possessed that had belonged to him. Barefoot on the cold stone floor, she went straight to her coffin, raised the lid, laid herself down within it, and pulled the lid shut over her. Yelena’s added weight was enough to depress a sensor below her coffin, activating a hidden audio system that softly played the recorded sounds of the Malibu ocean shore. The sound technician Yelena had hired to make the recording at dawn assumed he was producing a relaxation track, but what it really did for Yelena was compel her to cry herself to sleep.

Chapter 4

It was dark out. Yelena sat in her usual spot on the thyme colored sofa opposite Dr. Sloane who sat in his high backed chair looking at her. Yelena was dressed more casually than she ordinarily was, wearing a black Cinema Strange t-shirt, black leggings, and a pair of black Mary Jane platforms, but as always she wore her diamonds and the necklace with its empty setting.

A week had passed before she came out of her coffin, fully rested, but inside she still felt a blood starved weariness that Dr. Sloane labeled depression and inquired as to whether Yelena was still taking the four hundred and fifty milligrams of Wellbutrin XL and sixty milligrams of Cymbalta he prescribed her to take daily. She said yes, even though she had skipped both during the week she slept in her coffin. Antidepressants made no difference in her life while she lay in her coffin, but she took it otherwise so her psychiatrist didn’t need to know any better. They talked about me for the first time during that session.

“It’s like she knew exactly what a bad person I am. She screamed her lungs out at me and ran off.”

“What did she scream?”

“‘Please don’t love me,’” Yelena answered.

“That’s a strange thing to say, let alone scream.”

“I was stunned. It’s like she saw right through me. She knew right off I was a bad Valentine.”

“Can you explain what you mean by that?”

Yelena was referring to killing those she loves, but she didn’t answer Dr. Sloane that way. She changed the subject instead. “Here, what do you think of this?”

Yelena turned over the scribble from where it lay on the sofa beside her. She leaned forward and handed it to to Dr. Sloane who studied it.

“Not exactly a Rorschach. Not that I put a lot of stock into ink blot tests. What do you think it means?”

“I don’t know. It’s supposed to be me. I feel like I should give it back to her.”

Dr. Sloane glanced at the scribble once more before returning it to Yelena. “I don’t know if that would be the best idea.”

“I know. I guess I’ll just keep it. I’ll frame it and hang it. I’ve already titled it ‘Deplorable Yelena.’”

“You’re placing a lot of power in the hands of a child. How old did you say she was?”

“I didn’t say. She said she was twelve.”

“You said she didn’t have a family. Perhaps what she yelled stemmed from a fear of intimacy. Something you would have in common.”

“She has leukemia.”

“That’s unfortunate.”

“That’s fucked up is what it is.”

“It sounds like you care about this little girl.”

Yelena thought about that for a moment and then shook her head.

“No. She said she’s getting better and I’ll never see her again.”

“How are things going with Andre?”

“They’re not. We’re over. And I’m fine with it.”

Dr. Sloane nodded his head. Not long after that, their session time was up. Yelena paid him in cash and left his office and headed to the parking garage.

Four chocolate covered strawberry magnets affixed the scribble I had done of Yelena to her otherwise vacant steel finished refrigerator door. She had bought the strawberries just for me as she had not yet decided on a frame and where to hang the scribble in her house. Her refrigerator was always stocked for appearance’s sake but even so, it was always filled with tastes Yelena preferred. Berthold was tasked to ensure that. He did the grocery shopping for Yelena weekly, visiting small mom and pop stores, as instructed, and always buying more than would fit in her refrigerator or pantry. The significant excesses of his purchases, upon Yelena’s orders, were donated anonymously to a local soup kitchen on skid row.

These foods and beverages, with their pleasing tastes, would never satisfy the hunger of a vampire or provide the sustenance necessary to keep one alive, but with their heightened vampiric senses, selected tastes were a delightful pleasure that provided a much needed variance from the slight range of tastes amongst human blood.

Yelena sat at her kitchen table, in near darkness, staring at the scribble from a distance with a nearly empty glass of red wine that had been poured from a bottle that was a century old and had just been uncorked. Like with her Scotch, Yelena preferred the numbing effect wine created in her brain.

From elsewhere in her house, Yelena heard a dull thud and then another. She stopped staring at the scribble, got up, still holding her glass of wine, and walked toward her bedroom.

Strewn across her bed and fully nude were three beautiful women. This was Corinne, Darcy, and Grace. They were her best friend’s lovers and he had made them all immortal. They were all fast asleep, in a postcoital slumber with blood still smeared across their lips. A mass of blood also stained the sheets and the floor leading to the master bathroom.

The sound again. Yelena walked across the blood covered floor toward the bathroom naturally as if its damp consistency was the result of a recent mopping.

Hisato stood over the enormous oblong bathtub wearing a useless and ruined blood soaked apron, holding a cleaver with one hand and with the other he struggled to pry open a black plastic trash bag with the toes of an amputated foot. The tub was littered with limbs, male torsos, and faces with heads of hair that were gelled with blood to their lifeless expressions. Blood ran down the sides of the tub to the floor and mixed with the blood that had been smeared while dragging the bodies up and into the tub in order to make use of its drain. It was quite the mess.

Hisato turned to her. He even had blood splatters across his usually pristine and perfect Japanese face.

“Rub a dub dub. Three frat boys in a tub,” he said.

“You don’t have to do that. You’re guests. Berthold will clean it up.”

“I like doing it.”

“Such a sadist.”

“Such a cunt.” Hisato winked at her. “I’ll let him carry the bags and clean the tub.”

Yelena was lost in thought, looking at her best friend.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Yelena answered, but in truth she was staring at the apron Hisato had ruined. It was the same apron that had appeared in her house the last night Andre came over to cook dinner for her.

“I opened some wine. Come sit with me.”

Hisato dropped the cleaver, removed the apron and put it in the trash bag. “Sorry about the apron. Trust me, you didn’t want it. I don’t think any of those pricks ever heard of colonics.”

“That’s foul.”

“But it was full of wit and shit.” Hisato could be gross like that.

He noticed the apron had not saved his silk shirt from the blood bath. He unbuttoned it and took it off and chucked it in the tub, leaving him shirtless, revealing his delicate frame.

Back in the kitchen, Yelena resumed her seat and Hisato sat opposite her and poured them both a glass of wine.

“It’ll be daybreak soon,” she said.

“Sorry we stayed so late.”

“It’s fine.”

“The girls make fishing easy, don’t they?”

“Who were they?”

“Fuck if I know. The girls picked them up.”

“You don’t know anything about them?”

“If you’re gonna start that guilt trip again, I’ll just go to sleep.”

“No, don’t,” Yelena said. She hoped Hisato would spill some details about the frat boys that could make her feel guilty for having fed on them and repress the binge she felt coming on. Hisato and his girls fed regularly but, unlike Yelena, they fed evenly.

“Fucking Greeks at a goth club,” Hisato chuckled.

Yelena snickered in her head too but she didn’t show it. Instead she took another sip of wine.

Right then, Corinne entered the kitchen, still fully nude. She was tall and had long brown hair that was so dark that in the dimly lit kitchen it appeared black. She walked to the refrigerator.

“Do you have anything to eat?”

“Refrigerator,” Yelena answered.

“I’ve got to get this taste out of my mouth. My guy’s stuff tasted weird.”

Corinne opened the refrigerator door. “Oooh! Truffles!” she exclaimed and popped one in her mouth. She chewed it slowly, savoring it, her fierce green eyes rolling up into her head. After her moment of bliss had passed, she looked back inside the refrigerator, and from the top shelf she removed a bottle of peppermint infused mineral water, opened it, and drank straight from the bottle, and left it, still quite full, on the kitchen counter. As she shut the refrigerator door, her eyes landed on my scribble.

“What’s this supposed to be?”

Hisato didn’t turn to look to see what Corinne was referring to, but Yelena answered.

“It’s actually supposed to be me.”

“Hmmm. I don’t see it. You know, I’m telling you, I could live just fine without modern art.”

That annoyed Yelena. Clearly Corinne wasn’t perceptive enough to notice her current surroundings, as Yelena’s walls were covered in modern and post-modern art. Yelena didn’t have a problem with any of Hisato’s girls, but she didn’t find any one of them to be exceptionally bright, though she didn’t make a remark because she couldn’t see herself in my scribble either.

“This guy I used to date,” Corinne continued, “used to drag me to all these art shows where it just looked like someone pissed paint on a wall. And everyone just stood there staring at it. Total waste of time.”

“But how did he taste?” Hisato asked, still not turning, still facing Yelena.

“Yumsies, of course,” Corinne answered.

“Cuddlebug, tell me again how it was a waste of time,” Hisato replied.

“Whatever. Come to bed, lover,” she said before walking out of the kitchen and heading back to the bedroom where Darcy and Grace still slept.

“She’s right you know,” Hisato said to Yelena. “You do like a lot of crap.”

“Like you’d know what was good.”

“Bitch, just because I don’t spend every other night at some stuck up art gallery, doesn’t mean I don’t recognize absolute shit when I see it. They call anything art these days, including that muck on your refrigerator you keep staring over my shoulder to get another look at. I got five bags of frat boy stew in your tub. If I hung a little card next to it that said mixed media, some rich fuck would buy it for his living room.”

“You know, that reminds me, I got an email last night for a gallery opening downtown.”

“Hell no. Count me out.”

“I didn’t even ask you yet.”

“Let’s talk about something more important.”

“Like what?”

“Like when are you going to get a new plaything?”

“Marcel was never a plaything.”

“I’m not saying he was. I wouldn’t want you to have that kinda shit again.”

“I won’t. I can’t.”

“Baby cakes, you gotta learn to love without being ruled by it. Just have fun.”

“You don’t love any of those girls.”

“I love all of them.”

“You let them fuck other guys, including your Greeks.”

“I’m letting them have fun. As long as we feed, I don’t really care.”

“Exactly, you don’t care.”

“If Marcel cared, he wouldn’t have run off.”

“Get out.”

“You fucking serious?”

“Yeah. Get the fuck out.”

“The sun is coming up.”

“I said get out.”

Hisato sighed. “I can’t move.”

She took another sip of her wine. Yelena came from a stronger bloodline and had more than a hundred years seniority over her best friend, both of which made her mental abilities stronger than his, while his relative youth and weaker line made his resistance ineffective. In this way she was able to restrict his movement and hold him in place in the chair opposite her.

Hisato smiled, “You’re such a bitch.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Show off.”

“Yes. I am. I want to make sure I have your attention. Do I have it?”

“Yeah, you fucking have it.”

“Good. You’re my best friend, but don’t talk about Marcel like that. Not ever. You don’t know what we had.”

Hisato didn’t answer.

“Did you hear me?”

“Yes, I fucking heard you. You and Marcel, me no talkie. Now will you let me fucking go?”

“Why? Where do you want to go?”

“Nowhere. I just want another fucking glass of wine.”

“Help yourself,” Yelena answered and then released him and got up. “I’ll be downstairs. You’ll have to settle for my bed. I sold all of my guest coffins on Craigslist.”

Standing before the two coffins, a relief washed over Yelena. She was glad to be in her own company again. She genuinely cared a lot for her best friend, but his carefree attitude toward killing the innocent was something she could only handle in doses as it would always recall her own guilt. Being what she was, it was a curse to possess a conscience. She looked at Marcel’s coffin and reflected upon the curse she carried and how it had been contagious. Marcel wasn’t plagued with the guilt Yelena felt when they first met. Marcel had been just like the others, killing instinctively and passionately without remorse. Yelena had given the curse to Marcel, the contagion passed from her to him through her private thoughts which she finally shared. She felt her feelings become his feelings, and he disappeared, never to come back. He had made her immortal and she had ruined him by giving him her insight to what she unwillingly accepted as the nature of their undead existence.

She rested her hand on Marcel’s coffin, wishing he would come back to her, wishing he could come back so that she could undo what she had done to him. She would invent a revelation that would show him that it was all a falsehood, that a conscience was something they shed when they changed, just as they had discarded any notion of aging. That it was an imagined characteristic of their species as much as the feathered wings of a swan upon their backs would be. They could do without reflecting and kill freely, feeding until drunk on the blood of the dying. She would tell him that lie until he believed her, just to have him back at her side even if it meant being resigned to an eternity of isolated self-loathing.

Yelena abandoned her wishes before she stepped inside, pulled the lid over her, and laid herself to rest. There was no room for hope within the confines of her coffin.

Chapter 5

The gallery was already alive with flocks of energized patrons when Yelena arrived alone. The art was mostly magnificent and mostly priced accordingly. Yelena took her time inspecting the life-size sculptures that stood in the middle of the floor. As she walked around and between them her attention was repeatedly diverted by jugular after jugular in the crowd of art snobs mingling around her. The mixture of frat boy bloods had already left her palate, but having fed just last night, her appetite was as great as ever. A vertigo of panicked hunger began to overtake her. The throats she ached to feel between her teeth began to spin and tumble within her wide field of vision. She struggled to clear her mind so that her canines would not begin to extend. She turned away only to be confronted by another artery and her struggle intensified.

Someone in this room will have to die tonight, she thought, and this thought sickened her. She knew no one here which meant there was no one to hate. She always hoped for the chance to hate because she believed hatred would have the potential to subdue her guilt, but Yelena didn’t hate anyone. As a vampire, it was best to keep acquaintances within your own kind. Making friends with outsiders meant you had to relocate often, as it created complications, most notably through comments about appearing eternally youthful. At least here, in the land of botox and plastic surgery, there was room to make the occasional acquaintance with someone living.

She turned again and saw the darkness of night through the front door that just opened with the entrance of new patrons. She pushed her way through the crowd, inhaling the scents of their perfumes, colognes, and blood, and headed straight for this exit. It would be darker outside. Cooler. Most importantly, it would be emptier, which is what she truly needed to escape her thirst to kill. As she made her way through the throngs of people, she made sure not to smile back at the faces who smiled at her, as her teeth, now fully elongated, would reveal the true nature of her appetite.

Near the exit, she brushed past a handsome man with a beautiful date who had just entered the room. The man grabbed Yelena’s arm.

“Yelena,” he said.

Yelena turned to him. Over the past two centuries, she had developed a practiced ability to talk without opening her mouth wide enough to showcase her canines.“Nathan,” Yelena said, acknowledging him. Nathan was an art collector she first encountered at an art show that had been a disappointment. He tried to take her home that night, but Yelena had not fed for weeks and politely declined. She crossed paths with him on a few other art related occasions, including an auction where he outbid her, much to her distaste, and it had then crossed her mind that had she killed him previously she would be taking the painting home with her, having been the new highest bidder. Once I asked her why she didn’t kill him following the auction and take the painting, to which she replied, “I’m a murderer, not a thief.”

Tonight, Nathan didn’t notice the panic on Yelena’s face and kept talking. “I should have guessed you’d be here. You’re not leaving already?”

“It’s too crowded tonight.”

“It’s an opening. Free champagne makes everyone a connoisseur.”

Yelena’s eyes narrowed on Nathan’s throat. She bit her lip with one of her top incisors causing a canine to slip out over her bottom lip, but Nathan was too busy looking over Yelena’s shoulder at the crowd behind her to notice.

“Well look, before you go,” he continued, “I want to introduce you to—“

But Yelena pushed past him before he could finish introducing his date and stepped out into the night air. She headed straight for the parking lot, to the valet stand, where a number of valets were parking cars. One of them addressed her.

“Your ticket, miss?”

His throat looked delectable.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” he said, on second glance, taking in her beauty, and turned to another valet, “Phil, black Mercedes S.”

Phil nodded his head and grabbed the keys. His throat looked even better. Hunger pained Yelena as she stood among these young men with their beautifully exposed arteries.

“It’ll be just a quick moment, miss,” Phil said and turned to run off to fetch her vehicle.

“Wait.”

Phil stopped and both he and the head valet stared at her.

“No. I don’t want my car yet.” And without offering any explanation, Yelena walked off in a hurry, down the sidewalk, and turned down the first alleyway she came to, to where it was darker and, more importantly, devoid of public prey.

Yelena took a deep breath and kept walking. She had done it. She had restrained herself from murdering and thereby spared herself from subsequent feelings of guilt. The alley emptied into a lonely street with shops closed for the night, their roll-up doors rolled down and locked, and no pedestrians. As she walked along the vacant sidewalk, she calmed as her thirst for blood subsided.

Further ahead, a brightly lit shop poured its white light onto the street. Yelena expected to march right past it, counting on there being people inside, yet when she arrived, the shop, through its large glass windows, appeared empty. Empty that is, except for the art that hung on the walls. It was another gallery. Yelena was slightly surprised she was not acquainted with it. It looked like a professional gallery in terms of the spacious clean white walls and great lighting, but in the moment of a glance, Yelena assessed that the work was done by multiple artists and none were too great. All were amateurish if not childish. She took a step forward to leave, and the slight change in her position allowed her a glimpse of the back wall where she immediately recognized one of my scribbles. Her weight shifted in the opposite direction as she turned and stepped back and stood before the glass again, staring inside. Once she realized what she had seen was another scribble, she placed her hand on the door handle, pulled the door open and stepped inside the gallery.

Yelena headed directly toward the rear wall until she sensed someone in a back storeroom whose footsteps soon approached into the gallery showroom. A woman in her forties appeared from behind a curtained room. Her hair was plain, bordering on frumpy, and her clothing tasteless, bordering on hideous, for what Yelena expected see in a gallery owner, or even gallery staff. It was on par with the art hanging on the walls. Unfortunately, in addition to her horrid style and bad hair, she was also chatty.

“Welcome to the Clover Gallery. Is this your first visit?”

“Yes. Actually it is.”

“Well, again, welcome. My name is Doreen.”

“Are you the gallery owner?”

“Oh, no. I am a volunteer. You see, right now the gallery has a very special exhibit going on. For two weeks every December, the Clover Gallery donates its walls to our younger artists who have special needs. You’ll find their work is quite inspirational.”

“What kind of special needs do you mean, exactly?”

Although there was no one else in the gallery, Doreen lowered her voice. “Terminal illnesses mostly. It’s very sad. But we do what we can. It really means a whole lot to the youngsters to be able to say their art was hung in a real honest to goodness art gallery.”

“Hung before they die. Is that what you mean?”

Doreen swallowed. Yelena watched the movement in her throat and concluded she was here alone. “Well, yes. But we’re always hopeful. That’s all you can really do. Stay positive. You know what I mean?”

Yelena didn’t nod or say anything. Her eyes were fixed on the back wall, upon my scribbles.

“Well, I’ll let you look around. If there’s anything you need, please let me know.”

Yelena nodded, thanked her, and Doreen walked off slowly, slightly lingering, hoping to be needed.

In order not to appear obviously with a single purpose in mind, Yelena strolled the gallery, browsing the pieces, but not spending too much time with any of them until she stood before my four drawings, on four squares of white paper, hung two by two, on the back wall. She noted that all of them were done in black crayon, just like her portrait that hung on her refrigerator. Printed on a small white card, which was mounted to the wall to the right of the scribbles, was my name, Orly Bialek.

“So she didn’t lie about her name,” Yelena thought.

Below my name on that card were the titles of my four drawings.

Serial Killer, Smack Dealer, Con Man, Rapist.

Yelena stood there for over thirty minutes. She knew the scribbles were portraits of people just like the one she possessed that told me she was a vampire. She stared into these new scribbles, trying to see what I see, and wondering if the people they portrayed really were the things I proclaimed them to be through their titles.

She felt Doreen approaching. She had forgotten about her completely.

“Excuse me, miss.”

Yelena turned.

“Just to let you know, we’ll be closing in about ten minutes.”

Yelena nodded and Doreen began to move away again. “Wait,” Yelena said.

Doreen turned back to her. Yelena interpreted Doreen was grateful for the opportunity to speak to someone.

“Do you ever sell any of these works?” Yelena asked.

Doreen answered excitedly. “Why, yes. Yes, we do. All the pieces are for sale, if that’s what you mean. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a sale yet this year, but we have in the past, and let me tell you, it is a real treat for the artist. Usually though, the children’s parents or relatives come to purchase something of their child’s before the exhibition closes. Does this artist’s work interest you?”

“They have interesting titles.”

“Yes. Yes, they do. I’ll admit, we were surprised by her choice in titles when we hung them. Worse, she’s written elaborate stories on the back, definitely too graphic for the public eye. She has quite the imagination for creating characters. She’s even gone so far as to give them addresses and what looks like daily routines. Some of them quite disturbing, if you want to know the truth. I can’t imagine what that girl’s been through. It’s truly sad. Tragic even. But we chose to hang her work despite her titles because we feel it’s important never to censor an artist, even when they’re still only a child.”

Yelena quickly considered the possibilities of possessing these pieces, which were essentially calling cards of other evil doers, complete with their whereabouts, and how they might help her satisfy her bloodlust while, at the same time, assuage her guilt.

“I’d like to purchase her work.”

“Marvelous! She’ll be so excited. Which piece were you interested in?”

“All of them.”

“Marvelous! Oh, I already said that, didn’t I? Each piece in the gallery is priced at thirty-five dollars. All the proceeds are given to the artists to spend on something special for themselves. You’ll excuse me for a moment, won’t you?”

Yelena nodded and Doreen walked off and disappeared again behind the curtain. Moments later, she returned with a sheet of red dot stickers.

“You’re going to mark them as purchased?”

“Why, yes, of course. Hopefully it will encourage other buyers.”

Yelena frowned. “I was hoping to take them with me.”

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry, that just isn’t possible. All the works must remain on display for the duration of the exhibit. We run until Christmas Eve, and then we’re closed through the rest of the year, but you can pick them up when the gallery reopens on January third.

“I can’t take just one?”

“No. I’m sorry. It would leave a gaping hole amongst the other drawings.”

“I’d like to buy all the pieces in the gallery.”

Doreen gasped. “All of them?”

“Yes. Mark all of them as purchased. But I need to take one with me now.”

“Well, I guess that can be arranged. Was there one in particular you had in mind?”

“Rapist.”

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