Now, keep reading. Part II. DONE.
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“I See Monsters”
By Sara Dobie
I passed a tightly spaced row of plantation homes mid-way up Church Street. I shook off the familiarity, knowing I’d walked those streets before as a young mortal woman—knowing I’d walked them with my gentleman. But times had been different then. I had been different then. Gardens were still blooming to my right, so I stepped up onto the sidewalk for a better look. It was mid-October. Soon, the flowers would wilt and close. The leaves would dry and curl light brown on the edges. It would become “jacket weather,” and humans would put on coats and matching hats to walk the streets. I always wore a jacket—my black bomber—so that when I ran into people in bars, they wouldn’t turn and stare. So they would not turn and think to themselves, “My goodness, that stunning woman has no blood running through her veins. And my, isn’t she pale?” I lost myself in the gardens and wrought iron on Church Street and extended my hand down until my open palm hit each wrung in the fence as I walked past, humming my little song.
I heard the growl before I saw the dog, and I pulled my hand back from the fence. Dogs didn’t like vampires. I’d been tussled and bit by one before—a Wolfhound with gaping jaws that tore at my flesh and pulled skin loose. I had been healed within moments by my preternatural blood, but the inconvenience had been troubling. Never one to lose a fight, though, I took a step toward the fence and growled back, down into the face of a mid-size white Labrador. Its shoulders tensed around its skull, but it didn’t back down. It showed me fangs, so I returned the favor, until there was a voice, raining down from the second story balcony. “Caleb!” it said, commanding and masculine.
I ducked down against the fence, embarrassed to be seen fighting with a mortal’s animal. There was movement up there on that wooden balcony with the off-white banisters, and a light went on, illuminating the green grass and overwhelming early fall foliage. I glanced up as the dog—Caleb—scurried toward the voice. Someone was coming down the fire escape, hitched up to the side of the three-story home that was even older than me. That someone stepped into the spilled bit of light at the edge of the yard and kneeled down to put wide palms on the sides of Caleb’s face. “What is it, boy?” I could hear from where I stood.
I stepped forward, pushing my slim face between two rungs in the wrought iron fence because I knew this man. This man was Nathan, and I would recognize him for eternity. He had short, straight hair the color of caramel right before it melts. I couldn’t see his eyes in the early evening light, but I knew they were brown—a dark brown that my mother had never trusted. But how could she have known what he had intended? Nathan was taller than a man of his lacking grace should have been, carrying around his two-left-feet that gave him an oddly attractive tendency to curl his slim shoulders forward and walk with an awkward bounce in his step. Even with this awkwardness, he had a smile that he saved for only me—straight white teeth that would peek out over a half smirk on the right side of his mouth. That smile could have gotten me to say “Yes” to anything.
I leaned my chest against the wrought iron and took hold of the fence to my left and right. As if trying to pull myself through—just to touch Nathan for a moment—I pressed harder. Caleb looked back at my shadow and barked twice, and I closed my eyes because I knew Nathan was dead. Nathan had been dead for eighty years.
“Come on, boy,” said this strange man’s voice across the garden. “Let’s get you food.”
I opened my eyes, because I heard Nathan in his voice. In those few words, I could hear my Nathan. With my eyes open, I could see my Nathan. But my Nathan was dead, so who was this imposter? I hissed low enough so that only Caleb could hear the sound, and the dog ran back toward the fence at my feet. By the time the imposter arrived, putting a harsh hand on Caleb’s collar, I had slipped around the corner of the next plantation house over. It didn’t mean I could not smell the imposter. I smelled his blood, and I knew he was young—perhaps no more than my mortal age. He was the age I hunted as an immortal, before the blood had begun to sour with smoke and drink. He smelled fresh, as an expensive steak mid-rare would smell to a human. This imposter was healthy and vibrant, and he had no right to look and move like Nathan. He had no right to exist in the city of my birth and mortal death. And at the same time, how I wanted to touch his skin. As I stood, hiding in the darkness, I could hear the imposter’s heart. I could feel the warmth of him like heat from an open oven. I wanted that warmth in my mouth, but I put a hand to my lips when I realized—what if the imposter tasted like Nathan, as well?
“Caleb, come on,” I heard him say, not three feet from me. His voice wasn’t commanding anymore. There was trepidation—hesitation, as if he feared turning his back on the dark to face into the light from his balcony. As if he could smell me, too, but what did I smell like? Dirty water and moss? Rotting flesh? Death?
I knew the imposter had left, because I no longer felt his heat. I no longer heard his heart. I stepped away from the cold, antique siding and reached for the wrought iron once again. I pulled myself up on my toes and took a deep breath, as if scent could satiate a thirst for blood. I could have killed him right there, but I hadn’t been prepared. His resemblance to Nathan had thrown me off, I told myself. I would come back the following night and kill the imposter. Nathan was long dead, and even a resemblance was no longer allowed to walk the earth.
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