by ML Kennedy
(Author’s Note: Chapter 2 has finally arrived, though this part has been 95% done for roughly three weeks. Chapter 1 is here, if you need a refresher.)
For a derelict vampire, the best part about winter north of the Mason-Dixon is the existence of snowbirds. People abandon perfectly nice houses for months at a time in order to avoid shoveling snow. Finding these empty houses isn’t terribly difficult. Paperboys usually forget to stop throwing the paper on the porch until there is a stack of four. The tricky part is slowly driving a van through a quiet neighborhood at night, and not looking like some sort of burglar or pederast.
I find a house that suits my needs surprisingly quickly. Perhaps my luck is about to change. I keep driving for a half mile, until there are no streetlights and nothing around but trees. I finish eating my store-bought liver, and cram all things useful into my new backpack. I end up having to shove a few potatoes in my coat pockets.
Suburbs and small towns don’t really have pedestrians. When everybody drives everywhere, walking becomes suspicious, let alone walking on the side of a dark road a couple of hours before dawn. If you’re in a big city, you can wander down the middle of the street in the middle of the night, shirtless and drinking blood out of a Gatorade bottle and nobody will find it odd. You can’t get away with that sort of thing in a Podunk town.
But like every restaurant will eventually have roaches, every town eventually has joggers. Running and walking breed mistrust, but jogging just breeds a mild level of innocuous contempt.
It takes me five minutes to get back to the house.
A couple of years ago, I kept a collection of garage door openers to help me get into these places. While that might sound like a great idea, it sucks in practice. I ditched them when one accidentally opened a neighbor’s door at four in the morning and their dog started barking like mad. Nowadays, I just carry a couple of bobby pins and an old library card for this sort of thing. Bobby pins are surprisingly good at any number of things, and library cards tend to be thinner and more flexible than credit cards when used as a shim.
The library card gets me into the snowbird’s garage with minimal effort. I check the light switch, and sure enough they didn’t bother shutting off the power. Working lights might mean food in the freezer, and maybe even heat.
The garage is well organized, with a toolbox for every tool, a shelf for everything else, and two cars gently tucked away for the winter. The door connecting the garage to the house isn’t even locked. I drop my bag onto the kitchen table and take a look around.
No pets or plants that need to be watched, so I shouldn‘t have to worry about being spotted by any variety of sitter. There are some frost covered boxes of foodstuffs in the freezer, and a fridge full of condiments. The living room has a large, fluffy couch a decent television and what must be three hundred movies on VHS. I check the thermostat in the hall; the heat is working and set to fifty-eight degrees. That’ll do.
The basement is big and dark and contains another freezer with somewhat less antiquated food. There is also a bookshelf overrun with canned goods. Some people never got out of that Cold War bomb shelter mentality.
You know what old people have in their houses? Answering machines. The only people still using answering machines are the ones who could never figure them out in the first place. Their away message indicates that they’ll be away for another week. How nice of them to give us all a window of the best time to burgle their home and rifle through their belongings.
Thank you, Jack and Barb.
Best of all, Jack and Barb are the type of people who keep their keys on a conspicuous hook in a central location.
I pocket one key labeled Barb’s car; it’ll save me the trouble of hotwiring that thing. Another tag catches my eye: lock box. It takes me three and a half minutes to find the lock box in the back of the snowbirds’ bedroom closet. For the most part, the box contains dental records, medical records, useless certificates, and various bits of superfluous paperwork trailing back to 1978.
But I also find a slip of paper containing the words “Safe Combination” and a set of directions on how to open said safe. (Spin it three times to start.)
I love old people.
I waste six minutes looking for their safe behind pictures and in various closets. Jack and Barb didn’t get that cute though. As it turns out, the safe is just underneath their bed. I’m surprised that wasn’t written down as well.
I pocket five hundred dollars in twenties and fifties in order to teach them an important lesson about theft proofing their home. I put everything back where it goes, shut off all the lights and head back towards the basement. Down there, it won’t be so conspicuous that this house is no longer empty.
I pull the string on a hanging light bulb, empty my new backpack onto an old card table, and take a seat on an easy chair that’s been clawed to shreds by a long dead cat.
I push aside my groceries and the kid’s peanut butter. I grab the wallet first. I pocket the cash and a couple of notes that the kid wrote with names and telephone numbers. There are only three names on the notes. Fuck. I should’ve kept the cell phone long enough to look at his contacts. The kid’s name is apparently Hugh Sommers, at least, according to his driver license, his Blockbuster video card, his Humana Insurance (still on his dad’s plan), and three credit cards. Hugh has a picture of himself at the junior prom standing next to a girl that looks like whassername from “Bones”. Stuck to the back of the photo is a business card.
Videos, Novelties, Swank.
It has a Chicago address. I see a road trip in my future. I take the card, still stuck to the photo, and toss the wallet full of ID onto a pile of laundry.
What else did Hugh have in his sack?
One obnoxiously large crucifix with a big miserable Jesus on it: Jack and Barb, I’ll leave that as my gift to you, for your hospitality.
One small bottle of Bohemian Absinth: Like regular absinthe, it’s distilled from wormwood and fairly dangerous to bloodsuckers. This isn’t enough to kill one, but could probably be used like a morning after pill for vampire infection.
One squirt gun full of (what I can only presume to be) Holy Water: Holy Water tends to have the distinct musty smell of Catholicism all over it. Maybe Jack and Barb have a grandson that could use this thing?
Three odd-looking meters of some sort: They look like the sort of things Tom Cruise would use to tell you how many thetans were trapped in your body. Each is labeled “Scantech Industries“, a business run by a conman named Siodmak out of a basement in LaPorte, Indiana. Nice guy, though.
One nasty-looking syringe: I figure the needle to be titanium, very thick but very sharp and made for puncturing vampire sternums. The syringe contains 10 cubic centimeters of liquefied mugwort. No vampire could survive this sort of stake to the heart. We’ll empty this one in the utility tub.
Numerous mirrors: I can see my reflection in them. Man it would be cool if I couldn’t.
One of those heavy duty flashlights that can also serve as a Billy club: A useful thing to carry.
A manila envelope: You know what’s weirder than seeing your name on a file you stole from a stranger? Not immediately recognizing your own name. Pictures of me, names and dates, photocopies of official-looking documents and all sorts of tiny printed paragraphs.
Hey, I was officially presumed dead until 1995. I didn’t know that.
There’s got to be 50 pages worth of notes here. I need a good day’s sleep before I can soak in that much information.
I rest my feet on the card table and pull the string to turn off the light. I am snoring within minutes.
It is about two hours later when the doorbell rings.
-M. L. Kennedy