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.
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, 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.”
“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?”