by Kevin Z. Garvey
I was dreaming of Tatiana. We were two tiny black bats, she and I, flying in the night, swooping and soaring on Manhattan’s street-generated thermals. It was glorious…until some little brat stuck his head out a high rise widow and shot me with a pea shooter. Right between the eyes. Then he did it again, and again, each hard little pea bouncing off my head and falling into the twinkling void below.
I opened my eyes. And there was old Charlie Young, tapping his crooked, nicotine-stained forefinger against my forehead.
“Sleeping on the job, Georgie?”
I looked around, slightly confused. Shook my head to clear the cobwebs. “I must have dozed off.”
“Dozed off? Ha! You were out cold, snoring loud enough to wake the devil.”
I rubbed my eyes, surprised that my internal clock had failed me. “What time is it?”
“Quarter after four.”
Oh, so that was it. Old Charlie was early. He wasn’t due to relieve me until 5 AM.
“Why so early, Charlie? Damn.” Not only had Charlie roused me from a wonderful dream, his early arrival had given me no chance to brush my teeth and wash my face. I hated seeing people if I didn’t look my best, even a creep like him.
“Couldn’t sleep,” said Charlie. “Figured I’d keep you company.”
“Not surprised,” I said. “Your switch to day shift messed up your biorhythms.”
Charlie had been a night watchman for nearly fifty years. Last year he decided he wanted to finish out his career on the day shift, so he played the seniority card and got me bumped to the graveyard shift. At first I was pissed about the move, but then I looked on the bright side: now I was on the same schedule as Tatiana, the girl of my dreams.
Charlie was babbling about something but I wasn’t paying attention, not that he cared. He was making up for five decades of having no one to talk to and he’d chew my ear off for as long as I’d let him, whether I was listening or not.
I stood up and raised a finger. “I need to go wash my face.”
“Is it dirty? What have you been doing here all night, Georgie, besides sleeping on the job?”
I extracted my shaving kit from my gym bag.
“You’re a prissy one, ain’tcha.”
Ignoring the jibes, I headed to the bathroom. When I got back, it was like I’d never left.
“Aw, look at you,” Charlie said. “All dolled up, pretty as you please.”
“Did you come in early just to antagonize me?”
“I’m just funning with you, Georgie. Don’t get all bent out of shape.”
I put my shaving kit away while Charlie rambled on. I don’t even know what he was saying, because I’d learned to tune him out. But then he said a word that caught my ear.
“What was that?”
“Tatiana,” Charlie said with a smirk.
Just the way he said her name made me want to belt him one. “What about her?”
“Haven’t heard you mention her name lately. Thought maybe you two broke up.”
Charlie knew damn well that Tatiana and I didn’t break up, because we were never a couple. Not yet. But I was working on it.
“Lover’s spat?” he said.
I looked at my watch. Another half hour of torture before I could get out of this place.
“She’s playing hard to get,” said Charlie. “Real hard.” He snickered, and a fleck of spittle appeared on his mouth, like a maggot on a dead fish, only smellier. “She’s just stringing you along, Georgie.”
I sighed. Why oh why did I ever mention Tatiana to this troglodyte? Well, because I love her, that’s why.
“Maybe by the time you’re my age, you’ll get to hold her hand.”
I shrugged. That would be fine with me. For Tatiana I would wait an eternity–literally.
Charlie continued his taunt parade until precisely 5 AM, at which time I picked up my gym bag. “See you tomorrow.”
“What’s the rush?”
“We go through this every day, Charlie.”
“Well, it’s not like you got anything to do.”
“I’ve got plenty to do.”
“See? Nothing to do. Yet always in a hurry. Can I ask you a question?”
“Make it quick.”
“Are you a vampire, Georgie? Gotta get home before the sun comes up?”
I felt my face flush, but kept my composure. “If I were a vampire, your garlic breath would have killed me a long time ago. Good night, Charlie.”
I boarded the subway car, feeling humiliated. Old Charlie had a way of getting under my skin, and today he’d done a masterful job of it. It was the crack about vampires. Just the way he’d said it. It was as if he knew–not that I was a vampire, but that I wasn’t one. That I was just a wannabe.
Tatiana, you see, is a vampire. A beautiful and elegant creature of the night. She’s also my neighbor. East Ninth Street, fourth floor. We live across the hall from each other. I’d been trying to make time with her ever since she’d moved in a couple of years ago, but hadn’t had much luck. She’d refused every date request, and shot me down every time I asked her to bite me.
But after my move to the night shift, I decided I would try to win her affection by living as she lived: nocturnally, like Nosferatu. I even went so far as to buy a coffin–a nice mahogany job–and I slept in it every day, all day. I was hoping to show Tatiana that I could live the vampire lifestyle, so that she’d turn me into one. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet worked up the nerve to tell her about my new sleeping arrangement–it’s hard to drop something like that into casual conversation–but it was definitely on my to-do list.
As the train rolled along, I lost myself in thoughts of Tatiana. So sweet, she was. Such a vision of loveliness. Pale skin, dark eyes. A raven-haired beauty with a body to die for. Mmm mmm good. Like soup. No, better than soup. Chicken a la King. Oh, the things I would do to her if only she’d give me the time of night.
I was so into thinking about Tatiana, and the things I would do to her, that I nearly missed my stop. At the last second, I bounced off my seat and rushed to the subway car exit, getting there just before the doors fully closed. Prying the doors open, I slipped out onto the platform. As the train pulled away the conductor, who had his head hanging out a window, shot me a dirty look. His mug reminded me of old Charlie’s and I had to resist the urge to slap him as he passed by.
It was still dark out when I hit the street and began the walk across town to my apartment. I was still bothered by old Charlie’s vampire crack, but the brisk night air helped to clear my head. As I reached my block, I smoothed my hair and put a little spring into my step. There was always a chance of bumping into Tatiana. I had to be ready.
And then I saw her.
She was approaching our apartment building from the opposite end of the street. I slowed my pace, wanting to get the timing just right. We met at the door.
“Hi, Tatiana,” .
“Funny meeting you here.”
Tatiana entered the vestibule and started up the stairs. I was right behind her. On the way up, I tried to think of something to say, but couldn’t concentrate. I was mesmerized, rendered speechless by the hypnotic swaying of her buttocks as she climbed the steps.
By the time we reached the fourth floor landing, I was beside myself. I felt I had blown a perfect opportunity to make some time with the girl of my dreams. I decided to throw caution to the wind.
“Hey,” I said. “You have a second? I want to show you something.”
Tatiana put the key in her lock. “I’m kind of busy, George.”
“It’ll just take a second. Please.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I’d rather show you, but since you asked…I got a new casket.”
“Yeah. You know, a coffin.”
“You have a coffin in your apartment?”
“Of course. Doesn’t everyone?”
Tatiana looked at me like I was crazy. “Why?” she asked.
“Just take a peek at it,” I said. “She’s a beauty.”
She sighed and took a step towards me. I quickly took out my key, and with a slightly trembling hand, fitted it into the lock.
I opened the door and entered the apartment. Looking behind me, I saw that Tatiana was tentative, but I beckoned her inside, and smiled as she stepped daintily over the threshold. This was a major milestone for me. Never before had Tatiana’s tender toes stepped foot inside my humble abode.
“Wow, it’s spotless,” she observed, looking around the place.
“Tatiana, I don’t know what you were expecting, but I’m a man of refinement and taste. Not a slob.”
“So where’s the coffin?”
I led her to the casket. It was a beauty. Very expensive, very classy.
“What do you think?” I said, gesturing along its length.
Tatiana gave it a once over. “It’s nice,” she said. “But I still don’t get why it’s in here. What do you use it for?”
I spread my hands. “What do you think I use it for? The same reason as you–to sleep in.”
Tatiana stared at me for a long moment. God, she was beautiful. That face–it was the face of an angel. But her eyes were boring into mine with such intensity that I had to look away.
“George, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re not a vampire.”
“Not yet,” I said, giving her a knowing smile.
She shook her head. “Sorry. No way.”
“We’ve had this conversation before, George. I’m not turning you. Period.”
“Okay, fine. But–”
“And I’m not going out with you either.” She turned towards the door.
“Tatiana, wait! I get it, you’re not interested in me. I accept that. Just tell me why. What is it about me that turns you off?”
Tatiana looked at me for a moment, in the same appraising way she had at the coffin.
“You really want to know?”
The way she said it made me kind of not want to know, but I soldiered on. “Yes.”
“Because you’re not…real.”
I patted my arms and chest. “I’m not?”
“You know what I mean. Like the whole vampire thing. Why can’t you just be yourself?”
“Do you have any beer?” she said. “I could really use a beer right now.”
I was stunned. Did Tatiana just ask me for a beer in my own apartment? Was such a thing even possible? Yes, yes it was.
“I do have beer,” I said, running to the kitchen. I grabbed two cans from the fridge, and went to the cupboard for a couple of glasses.
“I don’t need a glass,” she said. “The can is fine.”
“Not half as fine as you,” I said, surprising myself with a line.
Tatiana laughed. She laughed! It was the first time I’d ever heard that sound from her. And it was like music to my ears. Better than music. It was as if the ghost of Beethoven had climbed inside my head with his grand piano and starting playing Ode to Joy.
I handed Tatiana her beer and we both took a long pull. As we drank I marveled at the fact that here we were, Tatiana and I, having drinks together in my apartment. What could be better than that? Actually, I could think of something, but I dared not dream it. Not yet, anyway.
The spell was broken when Tatiana pulled the can from her lips and stared at it.
“Coors?” she said. “Really?”
“Not a fan of domestic beer?”
“It has nothing to do with the beer, George. It’s the can.”
She laughed again, but this time it wasn’t so musical. Beethoven had taken a hike. I felt my face grow hot.
“You prefer bottles?” I said weakly.
“Coors, George? The silver bullet? Isn’t that what they call these cans?”
“Is it?” I scrunched up my face, like I was thinking. “Now that I think about it, yeah, I do believe that’s what they call them.” I forced a chuckle. “Silly marketers. Calling them silver when they know they’re made of aluminum.”
Tatiana was shaking her head. “This is exactly what I mean, George, about you not being yourself.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,”
“Yes, you do.”
“I don’t. Really.”
Tatiana walked to the table, and stood with her back to me. I tried not to stare at her rump, but couldn’t help myself. It was like a drug. Addictive. Like crack.
She put the can down and turned to face me.
“George, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Just be yourself, okay? For once. Please?”
“But Tatiana, I am being myself.”
She shook her head, and her dark locks swayed sensually. “I want to see the real you, George. Can you show me?”
I swallowed hard. “Are you saying you want me to take my clothes off?”
Tatiana smiled. “Tell you what. Let’s make it a date.” She pulled out her cell phone. “I’ll check my calendar.”
Make it a date? Was I hearing her right? I do believe I was, and I should have been overjoyed, but there was something else there…a subtle menace in her statement. I felt butterflies hatching in my stomach.
As Tatiana fiddled with her phone, I gazed upon her presence. My God, she was perfect. A national treasure. Velvet.
“Ah, there it is,” she said. She closed her phone and looked at me. “Three nights from now, George. Same time. Deal?”
Three nights from now? The butterflies turned to lead.
I tried to speak but no words came out.
I nodded dumbly.
She smiled. “Good. See you then.” She walked to the door, shaking that thing of hers, and was gone.
I went to the door and peeped out the peephole. I watched her open and close her door, then stared out at the empty hallway for a few minutes, a dull ache in my gut.
I’d been dreaming of a date with Tatiana for years, and now that I had one, I was sick over it. Because it wasn’t the kind of date I wanted, not the kind romantic interlude that I had envisioned.
I sighed. Three days. I didn’t need to check my calendar to know why she’d picked that date.
I went over to the table and picked up Tatiana’s beer. There was lipstick around the opening, where her precious lips had pressed against the metal. On impulse, I kissed the lipstick mark, imagining that it was Tatiana’s sweet mouth. It tasted good, so I did it again. But this time, I inexplicably plunged my tongue into the can’s opening. It went so deep that it actually got wedged in there. Panicking, I yanked the can away from my mouth, stifling a scream as the sharp metal cut my tongue, drawing blood.
Great, I thought, just great.
I drank the rest of Tatiana’s beer, ignoring the pain of the alcohol on my tongue, then drained the rest of mine. By this time dawn was breaking. I looked over at my casket and shook my head. What a fool I’d been, sleeping in that thing. I had thought the gesture would melt Tatiana’s heart, but instead she found it ridiculous. Now she probably thought I was a complete jackass.
And maybe I was. Because only a jackass would think that Tatiana was somehow in my league. She wasn’t. She was a refined and elegant creature of the night, while I was just some lonely pervert who French-kissed beer cans.
The alcohol was making me drowsy by this time, and I thought about sleeping in my own bed, but opted for the coffin. I couldn’t bring myself to let the dream die, even though it appeared to be dead already. I climbed inside and closed the lid.
A few seconds later I popped open the lid and hopped out. I strode purposefully across the room, picked up Tatiana’s beer can, kissed it on the mouth (no tongue this time) and said, “Good night, Tatiana.”
Hey, I figured, if I’m gonna go perv, I may as well go all the way.
Then I skulked back to my coffin, climbed in, closed the lid and lay still in the pitch blackness, sucking on my bleeding tongue and feeling sorry for myself, until at last I fell asleep.
“I have a date with Tatiana in two days.”
“I told you I was going to get a date with her.”
Old Charlie gave me a searching look, trying to see if I was lying, but the truth was I did have a date coming up with Tatiana. That’s how I’d come to think of it, as a real date. Although I’d fallen asleep dejectedly, I had awakened with a fresh perspective. If Tatiana wanted to see the real me, it meant that she was interested in me, that she found me interesting, that there was some interest there.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” said old Charlie. He was smiling but it wasn’t a happy smile. It was the kind of smile you might see on the face of somebody who had declined to participate in a group lotto purchase at work and was now odd man out when the group won the jackpot.
“Are you happy for me?” I said, gloating.
“For you? Yes. For poor Tatiana, hell no!”
“So where you taking her? Mickey D’s?”
“Well, we’re meeting at my place so we’ll probably just hang out there. Know what I mean?”
The look on Old Charlie’s face was priceless. He knew what I meant all right.
I gathered up my stuff. It was five minutes after five.
“Hate to tell you this,” old Charlie said, mischief in his bloodshot eyes. “This will be your first and last date with her.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because if she’s even a tenth of the woman you say she is, she’s way too good for you, Georgie.”
“We’ll see about that.” I turned to go.
“Off so soon?”
“What’s the big rush?”
I smiled. “You addressed that issue yesterday.”
Charlie’s bushy gray uni-brow furrowed to the point where it looked like a hairy caterpillar walking across his face. “Say what now?”
“I’m a vampire, Charlie. Like you said yesterday. I gotta get home before the sun comes up.”
With that, I turned on my heel and walked to door, chin up shoulders back. Feeling good. Feeling immortal.
Like a vampire.
I lay inside my coffin, snuggled up with Tatiana’s beer can, trying to coax sleep to come. But I knew it was useless. It was the day before our date and I was like a kid waiting for Santa Claus. Oh well, I’d just have to catch some shut eye at work, if it came to that.
I thought about my upcoming date. I knew, of course, that it would be brief, since it was occurring just before dawn, which meant that I wouldn’t have much time to melt Tatiana’s heart. I had to make every second count. Over the past twenty four hours I had grown more confident that I could pull this thing off. If she wanted to see the real me, I would show her. And I believed that once Tatiana got to know me better, I’d be able to convince her to turn me into a vampire. Afterwards, we’d live happily ever after, swooping and soaring, just like in my dreams.
I spent the day lying in the dark, cuddling with my soon-to-be lover’s beer can, picturing she and I walking down the aisle, then making love on our honeymoon. It was better than sleep.
Charlie was late. The one day I needed him to be on time. At five after five, I was a nervous wreck. By ten after I was falling apart. When he showed up a minute later, I didn’t know whether to kiss him or kick him in the nuts.
I did neither. I bolted out of there without a word.
“What’s wrong with your eye?”
“Your left eye. It’s watery and bloodshot.”
I rubbed my eye. “I don’t know,” I said. Actually, I did know. I’d had it pressed up against the peephole for the past twenty minutes, waiting for her to come out. And now here she was.
“So,” I said, “here we are.”
Tatiana looked around the place. “I don’t know, George. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“It’s a fine idea. Let me get you a beer.”
I hustled to the kitchen and took two bottles of Heineken out of the refrigerator. No more Coors for me. Ever. I popped the caps and handed Tatiana a bottle. I held mine out for a toast but she didn’t notice.
After a long drink of beer, she said, “So. Have you thought about what I said?”
“What you said about what?”
“About you being yourself.”
“I am myself.”
“Really, I am.”
Tatiana walked to the window and opened the blinds. I shrank away. If I had any doubts about why she’d picked this day for our date, they were gone now.
“Come here, George.”
“It’s a little chilly,” I said.
“The window’s closed. Come here. Be yourself.”
I stood stock still. Why was I having so much difficulty with this? What was I running from? If Tatiana wanted to see the real me, I needed to show her. It was that simple. Do it, George, I told myself. Do it!
“Coming,” I said, and boldly strode to the window. I stood next to Tatiana and looked up at the sky.
There was still time before sunrise, and the sky was inky black. Except for the moon. The full moon, shining brightly. I stared at its brilliance for a moment, then turned to Tatiana. “There. Happy now?”
“I will be in a minute.”
It didn’t take a minute. In just seconds I felt my body begin to tremble. From inside myself, from a deep dark place, I felt the beast rising. Bones, tendons and ligaments stretched and groaned to accommodate the creature within. In an instant I went from being something human to something far from it.
I looked over at Tatiana. She was enthralled with my transformation. She watched as my teeth turned to fangs, my nails turned to claws, and my hair turned to thick, coarse fur.
The moon was shining on me, empowering me. I howled at it, howled like the wolf I was.
“That’s much better,” said Tatiana.
I looked down at my clawed hands. “You really think so?”
“This is who you are, George. It’s the real you.”
A werewolf does not need the moon to transform, of course. We can shape-shift at will. However, in the presence of a full moon, we have no choice. It had been years since I’d transformed, voluntarily or involuntarily. In my day to day life, I avoided the moon as ardently as vampires avoid the sun. Which is not too difficult in Manhattan, even for a night watchman, because in the city you can easily hide from the moon by taking subways and ducking around high rises.
In fact it had been so long since I’d been a werewolf, I’d almost forgotten how it felt. My senses were heightened, especially my sense of smell. The air was alive with scents. I could smell Tatiana’s perfume, her shampoo, her body, everything. Her scent was so powerful it made me dizzy.
“Stop sniffing me like a hound,” she said.
“Sorry,” I said sheepishly, but in wolf’s clothing.
She looked at her watch. “I better be going.”
“But you just got here.”
“The sun will be up soon.”
“Listen, Tatiana. Now that you see the real me, how about a date. A real date.”
“Afraid not, George. It just wouldn’t work.”
“Well,” she said, looking me up and down. “You’re a werewolf.”
“I know I’m a werewolf. That’s the real me. The one you wanted to see.”
“But I can’t date werewolves.”
She shrugged. “It’s my parents. They’re from the old country, and they have that old country way of thinking. I guess you could call them racists, but that’s just the way they are. I’m a vampire and you’re a werewolf. They wouldn’t approve.”
“Approve? They wouldn’t even have to know.”
“I tell my parents everything, George. Sorry.”
With that, she turned on her heel and left the apartment. I didn’t follow her to the door this time, didn’t peep out the peephole. I was too stunned to move.
Still standing by the window, I felt the electric rays of the moon shining down on me. I looked up at the lunar surface and howled in frustration. This was like some sort of bizarre Romeo and Juliet story, only far more tragic.
I stepped away from the window and shape-shifted back into my human form. I picked up my bottle of beer and drained it. Then I picked up Tatiana’s bottle. There was lipstick on the mouth of it, but this time, instead of turning me on, the stain enraged me. I threw the bottle across the room, where it shattered against my coffin, spilling beer everywhere. I didn’t even think about cleaning up the mess.
I watched the beer dribble down the sides of my coffin. Just looking at that stupid mahogany box made me sick to my stomach. No way would I ever sleep in that thing again. I vowed to get rid of it, to sell it on Craigslist or something.
I drank a few more bottles of beer as I tried to come to grips with my situation. My dream had just died. It was over between me and Tatiana, over before it even began. What was I going to do now?
Well, the first thing I would do, I told myself, would be to stop pretending. It was time to end the charade. I was not a vampire, and never would be. No longer would I hide from the sun. It was time to live my life in daylight.
But how? Thanks to old Charlie, I was stuck on nights.
Old Charlie. How could I face that miserable old coot after this debacle? I couldn’t. He’d know in an instant that my date was a disaster. I would have to quit.
Then I thought, no, why should I quit? Screw old Charlie. He was the one who had started this whole mess. If not for his pulling rank, I’d still have my fantasies intact. I’d still have hope. Instead, thanks to him, I’d wasted nearly a year of my life sleeping in a cramped and stuffy coffin, only to get shot down hard. You did this to me, Charlie, I thought. You stole my shift, and ruined my life. Well, now it was time to right that wrong.
I went to the mirror and studied my reflection. It was amazing how ordinary I looked while in my human form. There was no way anyone could tell that a monster lived inside me, a hungry, savage monster. But deep down, that’s who I was. That was the real me. And no longer would I deny it to myself or anyone else. It was time that the world saw me for who I really was.
Turning from the mirror, I checked the clock. There was still time to get downtown, time enough to pay Charlie a visit before the regulars showed up. He would be glad to see me, of course, thinking he had another opportunity to chew my ear off. But this time, instead of letting him chew mine, I’d chew his.
And I wouldn’t stop chewing until there was an opening on the day shift.
Originally published at InfectiveInk