SKYLAR, POSSIBLY DEAD AND NOT CARING FOR IT
“I told you this was a bad idea…it’s never going to work!”
Skylar’s eyes fluttered open. She was cold, hazy, in the dark, and possibly dead. She wondered vaguely if you were supposed to hear bickering when you died. How exactly she had gotten here–wherever that was–she really didn’t know.
“Who cares! I’m starving. When do we get breakfast?”
“Well, somebody finished off the A positive, so it will, no doubt, be a late breakfast. No manners, honestly, no manners at all!”
Skylar blinked, wondering if she had heard that right. It was at this time she realized that the cold, hard surface beneath her appeared to be a dusty, marble floor…which confused her greatly. Hadn’t she just been staring at a hideous, beer-stained carpet, trying to hold her liquor down?
“Focus! Everyone! We need to focus! Need I remind you all how important this is?”
“Do I need to remind you how important my dietary specifications are?”
“For heaven’s sake, we have at least four pints of B negative in the refrigerator!”
The outline of a person slowly came into focus. It was a boy…maybe around her age. And all at once, Skylar knew exactly what had happened. Some sleezeball had been hitting on her all night. And hadn’t her friend Trish warned her about what could happen at parties? Or even her parents, for that matter–as much as she hated to admit it–hadn’t they told her what could happen if a girl didn’t watch her drink carefully enough? Oh God, it was the goths, wasn’t it? That must have been what the weird bickering was about! She turned her attention back to the boy next to her…and started screaming and what was supposed to be punching, but was really more like flailing.
“Hey! What the heck!” he cried, trying to fend off her feeble attack. He wasn’t quite what she had expected to see. Dark, messy hair. Glasses. He looked like he belonged on The Big Bang Theory… Definitely not the sleezeball, and not exactly the guy who would drug a girl and take advantage. And certainly not one of the goth crowd either. Skylar took a shaky breath and pulled her clenched fists back into her personal space.
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
“Well, I’m Parker,” said a voice on Skylar’s other side.
She jerked her head in the direction of the newest voice. The boy she found herself staring at looked like he came right off the cover of Teen Vogue. His red hair was styled to perfection, each piece seeming to fall in precisely the right place to fully compliment his features. Despite the bizarre situation, he was looking at her with an incredibly confident, crooked grin.
Skylar felt like she should probably assault him too, just in case, but something about how his good looks stood out awkwardly in the dark room just made her stare and blink rather uncomprehendingly. Unlike the other guy, he certainly did strike her as the type that would drug a girl at a party; though, come to think of it, why would he need to when he looked that good?
“I’m Raymond,” said the first boy with the glasses. He sounded almost hurt that she had turned her attention to Parker. Skylar’s eyes glazed over; there was no way she had just woken up from a God-knew-what-drug-induced nap to be hit on by two strange guys in a strange place in the dark. Maybe she really was dead…
“Okay, whatever. What the hell did you guys do to me?” she demanded, trying to sound as tough and intimidating as possible. After all, she had watched Animal Planet enough times to know how important it was to make oneself seem unafraid.
“Hey, we’re not the problem here!” Raymond said as he took off his glasses, and, with a couple of spasmodic jerks, cleaned them on the front of his Doctor Who t-shirt. Well, he seemed as nervous as she was, so he probably wasn’t the culprit. She watched as he fumbled to put his glasses back on his face, and couldn’t help but notice that he was squinting and blinking rapidly like something was wrong with them. Of course, it wasn’t all that surprising, considering the lenses were full of scratches…
“Yeah, we don’t know how we got here either.” Parker leaned forward to look at Raymond, and, absently, reached for Raymond’s glasses, which were slightly askew. “Right?”
“Of course we don’t!” Raymond cried, looking defensive and smacking Parker’s hand.
“Oh, yes!” They all turned at the sound of a deep voice that belonged to someone other than the three of them. Skylar recognized it as one of the bickering voices she had heard when she first woke up. “Of course you don’t know how you got here.”
“If you would be so good as to move to the seats behind you that Renata so thoughtfully set up for you.” The three looked back and saw rows of fold-up chairs meticulously arranged from crumbling plaster wall to crumbling plaster wall. “All will be made clear.”
The three of them moved warily to the seats in the front row, and Skylar wondered if more people would be showing up soon. In front of them, just a few feet away, there was a rather dramatically backlit stage with two men and two women huddling around a microphone.
“And just what, exactly, will be made clear?” Raymond said, crossing his arms and leaning forward towards the four strange figures.
Skylar couldn’t help but wonder if this was all just a crazy dream. Because the people up on the stage were the most bizarre people she had ever seen. One of the men was clutching the microphone like it was a sought after prize, and by the way the woman next to him was eyeing it, Skylar wondered if it was. The man was on the shorter side with olive-toned skin and wide, dark eyes and dark hair. Skylar couldn’t put her finger on it, but something about him was just…wrong. Perhaps it was the fact that he was so unnaturally still, or maybe it was the blood bag he was holding with his free hand. Even more suspiciously, the moment he realized she had seen it, he very casually slipped the bag in his loose, white pants pocket. Then he gave her an apologetic, little smile.
But if he was a bit strange, it was nothing compared to the other man, who was crowding in on his other side. The other man was taller, and might have looked intimidating if it weren’t for the fact that he was shaking and huddling close to the group, as if terrified of becoming separated. And that wasn’t the weirdest thing about him, either. He looked European, both physically and how he was dressed. Skylar was pretty sure no man west of the Atlantic was wearing linen pants. Not to mention the…what? Toolbelt? he had on around his waist. Skylar leaned forward to try to get a better look.
What the heck?
Was that a flashlight? And sunscreen, secured to the belt. There was definitely an umbrella. She was also pretty sure he had a deflated life jacket hanging around his neck. Which was obviously there to keep the bright orange whistle company. Skylar rubbed her eyes and looked at the guys on either side of her.
“What the hell?” Parker mouthed. Skylar just shook her head.
“Everything, of course.” That was the shorter man talking. Skylar had been so caught up in how strange everyone looked she had almost forgotten Raymond had asked a question.
The woman on the man’s other side shouldered him away and pulled the microphone towards her. “I believe I might be the best one to answer your questions,” she said, glaring at him. She was almost as tall as he was, and looked like someone out to win a Presidential election. Not to mention she had a ridiculous British accent on top of it all. Okay, so maybe she was out for Prime Minister. Everything about her was sharp and clean, from her immaculate white pantsuit to her razor-sharp bob. The man scowled at her, but, now that she had the mic, she didn’t seem to notice him anymore.
“Okaaay. Then who the hell are you people and what are we doing here?” Parker asked, glancing at Skylar and Raymond.
“Hey, what does he mean by ‘you people’?” the taller, European-looking man said, sounding somewhat indignant. And nervous. He began fidgeting with his strange belt and moved in even closer to the group, bumping the other man into the spiky ice-queen.
They both turned on him, “Juan! Personal space!”
“It’s alright, Juan,” the other woman cooed softly and patted his shoulder. Well, not so much “woman” as “girl” since she didn’t look much older than Skylar. She was the smallest of the group and definitely least threatening. She had blonde hair that was obviously very long, as it was braided and twisted around her head in the most ridiculously over-the-top style Skylar had ever seen outside of a movie. Both her top and long skirt were peach-colored and she had an almost cartoonishly serene smile on her face. “And Ophelia, do be a dear and give the amplifying device back to Androcles; he was doing just wonderfully, I thought.” The look of adoration she gave the man apparently called Androcles was enough to make Skylar want to vomit.
“Ophelia?” Raymond said, looking at his equally confused companions and then back at the stage. “What the hell kind of name is that? And Androcles? Seriously, Frank Miller called and said comic-con is next month.”
Skylar looked at him strangely. “What are you talking about? What’s a comic-con?”
Parker leaned over. “Don’t worry about it. Nothing important. It’s something that dudes who can’t get chicks go to. Obviously, I’ve never been.”
Skylar rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the stage…only to see the four weirdos staring intently at them, varying shades of bemusement on their faces. It only took a moment, though, before the shorter man, Androcles, seized the opportunity to steal back the precious microphone.
“I’m not sure who Frank Miller is or why he called, but that is quite an intelligent question,” he said, giving Raymond an approving nod, “and the answer to that question is rather the same as your other question. Which I will answer, most definitely. After, we have all had the opportunity to properly introduce ourselves, that is. Truly, what kind of manners would we be showing our new guests if we didn’t?” He took a deep breath and gave a bright, friendly smile. “Hello, new friends. My name is Androcles. I was born in 453 BC in the greatest city to have ever graced the Earth with her presence…Athens.” Skylar wasn’t sure if it was her imagination, but she was pretty sure she could see a tear in the strange man’s eye. She, Raymond and Parker all exchanged wondering glances.
“Uh, am I crazy, or did I just hear him say he’s from ancient Athens?” Raymond whispered.
“Dude,” Parker whispered back, “does he really think he’s a Roman?” The room went silent. Deathly, deathly silent.
The man with the bizarre tool belt and deflated life jacket started shaking and his eyes went wide as he glanced from Androcles to Parker. It was clear a terrible faux pas had been made. He ever so slowly took a couple of steps away from the strange group. Meanwhile, the girl with the ridiculously intricate hairstyle looked absolutely horror-stricken. “Oh, Andy, he didn’t mean that. We all know how much braver your ancestors were than the silly Romans.”
Androcles took a deep breath. “I will let that one pass.” Juan crossed himself and the rest of the group let out a collective sigh, shuffling back together. “Just this once.” Androcles gave the blonde woman a hard look, “Renata, we have been over this. Don’t. Call me. Andy.”
Most people would have been scared into submission, but the girl just stuck her lip out in a momentary pout and then batted her eyelashes dramatically. “I thought we had agreed that I would be the only one to call you that. We do, after all, share such a special bond.”
He closed his eyes and seemed to be counting. After about ten seconds, he looked up and took a deep breath. “Renata. I dislike the moniker. I implore you, cease insisting on it.”
Skylar’s jaw fell open…were the girl’s eyes seriously filling with tears? Even she wasn’t that dramatic.
Androcles glanced at the girl and sighed, though when he spoke his voice was gentle–and slightly pleading. “Oh please don’t look so hurt. We have company! This is supposed to be a joyous occasion! Whatever will they think if we all stand up here, letting ourselves get emotional?”
“Well, it’s just that,” she wiped her eyes, “I feel like you don’t care at all sometimes. It’s hurtful, really.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake!” the ice queen yanked the microphone away. “Renata! Get a hold of your self. You’re behaving like a foolish girl!”
“Now, now,” soothed Androcles, “there’s no need to be harsh.” Renata looked up at him, her eyes glowing, and all at once he was her hero again, and all was well.
The aspiring future prime minister shook her head and sent one more glare in Renata’s direction. “Honestly, I was simply trying to help. It’s actually rather embarrassing. Not that there’s really any help for– Juan! Come back here this instant!” Her gaze had snapped over to the other side of the room, and everyone else looked too.
The man named Juan was hunched over and had almost made it to a door in the back of the room. He froze, looking like someone who knew they had been caught, and his hand flew up to the bright orange whistle around his neck.
“Um, sorry, Ophelia,” he stammered, “you know how I feel about fighting. I’m just not a confrontational person!”
“For crying out loud, Juan, you were a soldier!” Androcles looked personally offended by that fact. He pointed sternly at the ground next to him, “Now get back here and stand your ground!”
Juan’s hand opened and the whistle bounced off his chest as it fell. “May I bring up that I wasn’t a very good one?”
“Oh, alright.” The poor, somewhat pathetic former soldier slunk miserably back to the group and hugged himself tightly.
“Good,” Androcles said, much more brightly. “Now, Juan. Why don’t you say hello to our new friends out there?”
Juan glanced up and eyed Skylar, Raymond and Parker warily, as if he thought they might jump up and attack him at any moment.
Skylar made a mental note that if these people ended up being psycho killers, she would definitely go for him.
“Hello,” he said, sounding anxious. “My name is…uh, Juan. Juan Martin, really.” He looked over at Androcles, who gave an approving nod. Then he took a deep breath. “I was born in Spain in the seventeenth century. As you’ve already heard, I was a soldier,” he paused and glanced reproachfully at Androcles, “a very bad, bad, cowardly soldier who ran away. See, I was stationed in one of the San Juan forts, here in North Carolina. It ended badly.”
“I would say ‘badly’ is quite an understatement,” said the suit under her breath.
Juan glanced over at her and visibly shuddered. “Yes, and who knows what would have happened if you didn’t come along and save me!” He smiled timidly and looked at her with obvious admiration.
“Oh for heavens sake, we certainly don’t need to get into that just now. We’ll be here all night!” she cried, shaking her head. Her sharp bob bounced back and forth. “I think that’s enough of your back-story.” She cleared her throat and looked out at the three seriously confused audience members. “Now, then. My name is Ophelia Popplewell. And, just to be clear, should someone so much as whisper the name Hamlet or Shakespeare, so help me God, I will rip their head right off!”
There was a moment of stunned silence from the three teenagers. “Okay,” Raymond said meekly after a long moment.
“Good. That would be unpleasant.” Like a switch had flipped, the anger vanished and she gave what was probably supposed to be a friendly smile, “Moving on! Rather like Juan, here, I was born in the seventeenth century, only I was born in England. I came to the new world shortly after my rebirth and settled with many others in a colony not far from here.”
“Oh! My cousins are Baptists!” Skylar announced suddenly.
Ophelia looked at her coolly for a moment. “Good for them. Unfortunately for my neighbors, I got a bit peckish.” More silence as she waited for the teens to put together what she meant. “You may have noticed that the Roanoke colony is no more.”
“Oh, God,” groaned Parker, “does that mean what I think it means?”
“Yeah!” hissed Raymond back, “they’re all nuts!”
Skylar glanced at the boys, still trying to figure out what the hell “peckish” even meant. She was pretty sure she had never heard the word during any episodes of Jersey Shore. “Um,” she said finally, “I’m not sure I understand. Did they move or something?”
Ophelia gave her another long, cool stare. “No, little girl, they did not. I ate them. Do consider expanding your vocabulary a bit?”
Skylar’s eyes went wide and she was pretty sure she had heard that wrong. “Ate them? Like…Hannibal Lector?”
Parker laughed and leaned over to Skylar. “Yeah, and she’s going to fry you up next.”
Skylar was just about to punch him in the arm, but Raymond did it for him. “Dude! Not funny. Have you been listening? These people are seriously wacko enough to really do that!”
Ophelia’s brow was wrinkled with confusion. “Hannibal Lector?” She looked at the group, “who is that?” The four of them looked out at the teens and appeared to be waiting for an explanation.
“Seriously?” Raymond said. “Everyone knows who that is. What, have you been living under a rock?”
The girl named Renata, with the over-the-top hairdo, blinked at him. “Well, not exactly. Mostly caves and abandoned houses.” She glanced over at her companions and then looked back at the teens brightly. “Until now, that is. Once we became immune to the hazards of the sun, we realized we could join right in with all of the fun again.” She giggled suddenly, like a little girl at her first tea party. “You humans never do anything fun at night.”
“Maybe you don’t,” Parker said, waggling his eyebrows and elbowing Raymond conspiratorially. Skylar just rolled her eyes.
The woman tilted her head to the side and looked at him innocently. “Why, what do you do for fun at night?”
“Okaay,” moving on,” Androcles jumped in, “Renata, why don’t you introduce yourself now?”
“Oh, well. My name is Renata Scordato and I was born in Italy in the thirteenth century, the daughter of a kindly nobleman and his lovely wife.” The three exchanged looks; this was going to take a while, wasn’t it? “Life was good to me and my family until, one day,” one hand flew up her chest dramatically, “tragedy struck! I was riding my horse, as daintily as ever, when something startled the poor thing, and I was borne uncontrollably away. As a lady, I was not prepared to bring a wild creature under control, and after a terrifying ride, I was thrown to the ground. My injuries brought me to the point of death and I could feel life slipping away. But then!” a slight sheen of tears covered her eyes, “I saw him.” She gave Androcles an emotional smile. He, on the other hand, stared firmly ahead at some fixed point on the back wall, not one muscle in his face moving, his eyes giving nothing away. “I knew, immediately, that I was destined to spend eternity with him. And, when he turned me,” she clasped Androcles’ unresponding arm, “I knew he felt the same way. And we’ve been together ever since!”
“Yes,” Androcles murmured, gently pulling his arm free and blinking his glazed-over eyes, “something like that.”
“Oh, no, it was just like that!” she exclaimed, a dreamy expression on her perfect face. “I knew from the moment I saw him that we were destined to be together forever. Isn’t that right, Andy?”
His jaw clenched and he closed his eyes for a moment, as if trying to keep himself from throwing her right off the tiny platform. Then, he took a deep breath. “It does appear that fate has decided that, yes.” His eyes remained fixed ahead. “And what a long time forever has turned out to be…”
“Yes, yes, soul mates and true love. We’ve heard this a million times!” Ophelia burst out, looking somewhat queasy. “These poor children don’t need to listen to your entire life story, Renata. Now, I believe we should move on to more important things. Such as informing them of why they are here?” She looked expectantly at her strange companions.
“Yes,” Androcles cleared his throat, “yes, of course. You, my dear children, are the beginning of a new era for the four of us. It is you who will bring us into our glorious new future, yours and ours together. Now is a time for great joy and celebration for all of us.”
Skylar raised her hand.
“Yes?” Androcles asked hesitantly, as if he wasn’t sure why she was waving her arm in the air.
“Um…what does that mean?”
“Oh, dear lord,” Ophelia murmured, “it’s a good thing she’s not supposed to be the smart one…”
“Ophelia,” scolded Androcles gently, “be kind.” He looked back out at the teens. “You see, we,” dramatic pause, “are vampires!”
The silence that followed was legendary. Skylar, Parker and Raymond all looked at each other, each trying to figure out if they had heard that right, if they were the ones who were crazy, or if they had somehow ended up on one of those hidden camera reality TV shows.
It was Raymond who finally spoke up. “Uh, sorry to burst your bubble there, Andy, but vampires aren’t real. Not to mention, you look nothing like a real vampire–if they were, hypothetically, real. I’ve seen Buffy, and you are definitely not the real deal.”
Renata shot a confused look to Androcles and mouthed, “Buffy?”
But Androcles didn’t even appear to be paying attention to her. His mouth was a thin line and he appeared to be struggling to keep his voice level. “You are a very special guest…and, well, a genius, for which we are eternally grateful. However, I will only ask one more time. Do not. Call. Me. Andy. As for your other concerns, we foresaw that you might have some difficulty believing us. And so…” To the teens’ combined, mind-numbing horror, he pulled out a gun. “I, for one, would never consider using such a pointlessly modern insult to true weaponry, but,” he extended the weapon to Ophelia, “perhaps you would do the honor?”
Ophelia sniffed disdainfully. “The mind is the most powerful weapon a person could wield. Anything else is merely a prop. I don’t even understand your having that young man acquire it for us…”
“And besides,” Renata put in, “a lady should never lay hand on a weapon.”
“Juan?” Androcles pushed the gun into his hands, “you have, by far, had the most experience with firearms.”
Juan’s eyes went wide with fear, and he began shaking uncontrollably as he looked down at the object in his hands as though he had just been handed a live grenade. He shook his head. “No, I can’t. You know how I feel about weapons! This is dangerous! It could backfire! What if it backfires?”
Androcles groaned and shook his head. “Juan, we have been over this a thousand times, you are immortal! It wouldn’t matter if it did, which I’m sure it won’t. Now, just go on and show these dear children that we are telling them the truth!”
Juan stared at Androcles pleadingly for a moment, but soon seemed to realize that he wasn’t going to get out of this. He swallowed hard and pointed the gun out away from the group on the stage.
“Um, okay. Is that thing real?” Parker asked, jumping up out of his seat. “I can’t die today! Please, don’t kill me. If you’re going to kill anyone, why don’t you knock off one of these two. I have a date tonight! With Jessica freaking Miller! Do you know how many guys get to go out with Jessica Miller? None!”
“Carry on, Juan,” Androcles said calmly.
Juan stretched the gun as far away from himself as he could, gripping it tightly with both hands. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, and then pulled the trigger with a scream of panic. The teens screamed right along with him. After several seconds of wild gunshots, Juan seemed to realize that he should probably take his finger off the trigger.
“What…what happened?” Juan demanded angrily, “it’s not supposed to do that! Why did it shoot lots of times?” he dropped the gun on the ground and kicked it away.
“It’s an automatic,” Raymond explained, and Skylar thought that it was kind of a stupid thing to say considering that his shirt was soaking through with blood. He looked down and finally seemed to notice what was going on, and began clawing at his chest and screaming, “He killed me! I’m dead! He shot me and I’m dead!”
Both Skylar and Parker were gazing at him in horror. Skylar then glanced around frantically, wondering if there might be any possible chance of escape before she ended up like Raymond; it was a miracle and a half that she hadn’t already been hit.
Androcles, Ophelia and Renata all stared at Raymond calmly, and it was almost like they were waiting for something. Juan was busy pulling out a travel sized container of Purell from his tool belt and sanitizing his hands, muttering to himself and shaking his head rapidly back and forth.
After a few seconds, Raymond stopped yelling and stood completely still, staring down at his chest in both shock and wonderment.
“Wh-why isn’t he dead?” asked Skylar, her voice trembling.
“Because he, like the two of you, are vampires just as we are, and therefore cannot be killed,” Androcles smiled benevolently.
“Except,” muttered Juan, still sanitizing his hands furiously, “by stakes, fire, or sunlight, except not sunlight anymore maybe. Oh, or someone could cut your head off or rip your heart out, and I’m sure there are lots of other things that haven’t been discovered yet.”
But no one was paying attention to Juan anymore. Skylar, Parker and the not-dead-even-though-he-should-have-been-dead Raymond all stared at each other, completely terrified. These people may have been crazy, but they seemed to be telling the truth. As unbelievable as it was, it was all starting to make sense; the blood bag, the weird origin stories, the social awkwardness, and of course the outdated names…they totally could be vampires. Which, all three teenagers realized, would mean that they totally could be too.
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