Fiction | The Bloody Pub by Alanna Smith

The Bloody Pub

By Alanna Smith


My parents own The Bloody Pub. I know you’ve seen it—it’s in that crummy strip mall on the road between the police station and the old furniture warehouse, about two miles from the beach. The Pub takes up a double lot all the way at the end, next to the pizza place that Dad thinks is a front for the Mafia. The Pub looks pretty normal from the outside, with band flyers plastered to the window and the sign done up in fancy Celtic lettering.

That night, I was running late for my 8 o’clock shift. The sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon, but the early risers were already starting to arrive. They had clogged all the spaces in front of the Pub, so I had to swing my car into a space by the defunct laundromat. I jumped out, ran past the travel agency with its faded advertisements for the Bahamas, the locksmith, and Antony’s Deliteful Pizza before halting in front of the Pub’s dark wooden door. The silver knob shocked my hand gently as I slipped inside.

The interior vibe of the Pub doesn’t quite match its generic American exterior. A triple set of red velvet drapes smothers the big storefront window. The only lighting comes from neon beer signs, candles, and a dusty chandelier that my parents had shipped from Paris and retrofitted for electricity. Drops of candle wax cover the old maroon tablecloths, and tacky black-and-red striped wallpaper decorates the walls.

A few people waved as I strode to the back of the room. We mostly get regulars, so no one seemed annoyed that I was late. Fred Jaeger sat with his head plastered to the bar and Mike Doyle perched on a stool next to him, blinking sleep-bleared eyes. I hopped the counter, tossed my purse underneath, and donned my apron in a series of three swift, practiced movements. I turned to the guys as I tied the strings in a bow behind my back.

“What’ll it be tonight, gentlemen?”

Fred just snorted in his sleep, and Mike grinned. I flinched at the sight of his teeth. I always did, now.

Mike noticed, of course, and his sharp grin grew wider. “I’ll just have a glass of the regular,” he said. “And get us a cup of coffee for poor Freddy here. Long day in the shop today, and a full moon last night.”

I could feel Mike staring into my back as I opened the fridge and rooted through the messy collection of plastic bags and vials that Aaron was supposed to have organized the night before. Mike’s harmless, really, and Fred even more so—it wasn’t their fault that they gave me the creeps. I ran through the rules my parents drilled into my head three months ago when they gave me a job for my birthday: Keep smiling. The customer is always right—unless they try to bite. If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. And the big one, the hardest for me: don’t call anyone the f-word.

I located the right bag, uncapped it, and squeezed it into a glass, which I deposited in front of Mike.

“One pint universal, cold.”

Mike nodded in gratitude. I set an empty pot under the coffee machine, checked the grounds and filter, and then flipped the power switch. It would take a few minutes to brew, so I decided to pop into the kitchen.

“Charlie?” I called. “We’re running really low on O negative.”

His voice answered from inside the walk-in freezer. “Wish I could help, but I’m AB positive.”

“Very funny.” I hadn’t heard that one a million times before. “We are also out of AB positive, though. We’ll have to get some more before tomorrow.”

Charlie walked out of the freezer, wiping his hands on his apron. He left pale red smears on the white fabric as he frowned, wrinkling his big, bald forehead. “That’s odd,” he said. “I just donated two days ago. And there was almost no one here with the full moon last night.”

I shrugged. “Maybe someone accidentally tossed it with the expired stuff?”

Charlie shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like your parents, and you know Aaron always keeps away from your bar.”

“Where is he today?” I asked. “He should be taking orders already.”

The wrinkles in Charlie’s head deepened. “He called in sick an hour ago. Sounded awful, poor kid.”

I sighed. “Guess I’m on double duty tonight?”

“Guess so.” Charlie clapped his hands together. “I gotta get chopping. Big party coming in tonight. Pre-ordered eighteen ribeyes.”

He went back into the freezer as I departed the fluorescent white kitchen for the dimly lit dining room. I poured a cup of coffee and placed it in front of Fred as I surveyed the room. Hungry patrons occupied half a dozen tables already, and a glance at the calendar promised two more big parties in addition to “18 for Norbert.” I shoved a notepad and a much-gnawed pen into my apron.

Freaking Aaron…first time in two years that my parents took a weekend off, and we were understaffed. It was different when Clarissa was still around. She could bus tables, bartend, and babysit blindfolded—though that was only once, when we had a party of gorgon sisters come in. Thank God for Charlie. After the incident, I would’ve probably been doomed to spend the rest of my life under my parents’ protective gaze if it weren’t for him and his intimidating bulk. Not only was he a good bodyguard—he made the best damn onion rings on the Jersey shore, too.

#

For the most part, that night passed without any trouble. Only a minimal amount of steak juice sloshed onto my khakis. “18 for Norbert” was a boisterous W.A. group, celebrating someone’s hundredth full moon without incident—they emptied our Guinness reserves, but they left me a great tip. There was a lull in the flow of customers, as there normally is, around two in the morning. Mike and Fred had departed for the double feature at the drive-in and a bunch of the other regulars had moved to the back of the Pub for the pool tournament we hold every other Friday. 

I had grabbed a broom from the back closet and was about to start sweeping when someone came in and sat at the bar. It was a dark-haired man around my dad’s age, handsome, but with a distant expression on his face and a scar on his chin. He wore black leather gloves—an odd fashion accessory for June on the shore, but I’ve seen stranger. The neon signs behind me glinted fire red and ice blue off the tinted glasses that hid his eyes, but I could tell that he was staring at me.

“Good evening, sir. Anything I can get you?”

“AB positive.” His voice was a cracked whisper.

I reached for the handle of the fridge, but stopped when I remembered my conversation with Charlie earlier. “We’re actually all out. I can get you some universal, if you’d like.”

He frowned, but nodded. “Yes. Warm.”

I grabbed an appropriate bag from the fridge, hooked it into the blood warmer, and set it for 98.6. After a minute and twenty seconds of awkward fidgeting, the blood finished dribbling into an extra large coffee mug.

He didn’t thank me; instead he grabbed the mug and drained it. One pint gone in a matter of six seconds. He passed the mug back to me. “More.”

I repeated the process. I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. My parents were always wary when patrons were so…thirsty. I was so distracted that I knocked a pewter beer stein onto the floor. It just barely missed my sandaled foot and dented the floor. Served me right for not wearing closed-toe shoes. I bent down to pick it up, and when I stood, the man was gone. The only trace of him was a dirty mug and a crumpled handful of dollar bills beside it.

As I reached for the money, something tugged me forward, as if the man had literally vanished into thin air and had left a vacuum in the space where he had sat. The sensation was disorienting and nauseating. It sent me running to the back of the restaurant, past the pool players, and into the bathroom. I splashed some water onto my forehead and then caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. All of the blood had drained from my face, leaving me looking like the ghost of Mr. Phillips, our old janitor who still drifts in most Sunday nights. My hands shook as I gathered my wavy hair off my sweaty face into a bun. I didn’t leave until the room had stopped spinning and my breathing had returned to normal.

The pool game was just wrapping up. It looked like Robbie McMillan was the winner of the tournament yet again. He’s a big guy with a sweet smile, but I could tell from the shadows under his eyes and his unkempt beard that the previous night’s moon had been rough for him.

“That’s six tourneys in a row,” he said as I chalked his name onto the board on the wall. “One more until I get my card, right?”

“Yep! Good job, man. You sure they’re not letting you win?”

He smiled, and his friends laughed and clapped him on the back. I really wanted Robbie to win his free-beer-for-a-year card. He has a tough life—most of our patrons do. I really feel for them. Well, most of them. The sucky ones could suck it, so to speak, and if they weren’t my family’s biggest source of income, I would be happy if I never had to breathe their polluted air again. The air they couldn’t even be bothered to breathe. Freaks.

I noticed that the party of Irish Selkie tourists had finally left. They had just swum up from Atlantic City that evening, and they left me a big mess along with the tip. I was just starting to mop the floor when the front door flew open and he strolled in. We get a handful of guys like him every month, sweeping in with black capes, or black leather jackets, or black eyeliner, or sometimes, all of them at once. This guy started coming in a few weeks ago; he always avoided the bar and chose to sit at table D6 in the corner. I called him Captain Guyliner in my head.

This night was different. The guy sat down at the centermost seat of the bar, draped his arm over the back of the chair, and watched me over his shoulder. Since all he was doing was staring, I took my time cleaning up the puddles of saltwater and plucking seaweed off the chairs.

I was trying so hard to not pay attention to him that I barely noticed when I put my foot down in the bucket of murky water. It was unpleasantly warm, but I still shivered when I saw him grin at me out of the corner of my eye. I stood crane-legged and used the bottom of my apron to wipe my foot dry. Then, red-faced with embarrassment, I pushed the mop and bucket back to the supply closet. My sandal squelched with every step.

When I got back behind the bar, Captain Guyliner was still staring, elbows propped up on the custom-made mahogany surface. I risked a glance at him while wiping my hands on a fresh dishrag. This one was cute—not all of them are—but his eye makeup was applied a little too thickly and I wanted to take a pair of garden shears to his bangs. With that sense of style, he had to be around my age. Eighteen or nineteen tops. That red stare caught me and held me: there was something strange about his scarlet eyes. And trust me. I’ve seen some pretty weird peepers.

I swallowed, throat suddenly dry. “…thirsty?”

He didn’t do anything except grin, so I tried again. “See anything you like?” I asked, gesturing to the rows of bottles behind me, but regretted my choice of words as his grin grew wider. “We’ve got plenty of stuff in the fridge, too.”

He moved his chin off his hand as he answered. “I don’t drink…blood.”

Oh great—a vegetarian with a line so old I could almost hear the cobwebs on it.

But he wasn’t done: “And even if I did, you’re not my type.”

That stung a bit—and made my stomach turn—but all I said was, “If you’re interested, we have comedy nights every Tuesday.”

He flipped his hair out of his eyes with a flick of his chin. “Just grab me a V-13.”

I opened the fridge and grabbed a can of V-13—thirteen essential vitamins, plus electrolytes too!—off the top shelf. It might be the world’s answer to the blood supply problem, but most customers said it was like substituting Natty Light for Dogfish Head. Not that I would know, of course. I slid it down the bar top to him and he caught it.

“So, Allie,” he said, opening his drink, “where are your parents off to this weekend?”

That startled me. Not the fact that he knew my name, which is embroidered in silver on my apron. No, the fact that he knew that my parents were gone.

“How—I mean, why do you ask?”

“I didn’t see their car outside,” he said, with a chin flick towards the door. “Old-school red punch buggy is pretty hard to miss.”

I nodded. “I’m glad you’ve been keeping tabs on what car my parents drive. That’s not creepy.”

He shrugged and continued. “Are they off antique-shopping again?”

“What would make you think that?” If this were one of the regulars, I wouldn’t mind the nosiness. But this guy was too familiar, too fast.

“I was talking to your dad about it last week. He said they were maybe going to head to upstate New York?”

Okay, slightly less creepy then. “Yeah, they went just for the weekend. To check out some estate sales and stuff. But me and the guys have a good handle on the place.”

“Why do your parents like antiques so much?”

“Well, they use them to decorate the Pub, obviously.” He looked interested, and since his cute outweighed his creepy, I went on. “And I think they want to start up a store. To help pay for my sister to go…to go to school.”

“Where does she go?”

“A little place in Pennsylvania.”

“Ahh, Pennsylvania.” He said it with an exaggerated fake accent. “Vat a vonderful place.”

I tried not to gag.

“Is that your sister?” He pointed at one of the photos hanging on the wall behind the bar.

It sat under several framed generations of my family, from my parents to great-great grandpa Albert, fresh off the boat. It had been taken almost eight years ago, when I was ten and Clarissa was halfway through high school. We sat between our parents on our front porch: Clarissa’s hair was the same color as our mom’s, orange as the jack-o-lantern at our feet. Mine was blond, like our dad’s. When I visited Clarissa for Easter, her face had been entirely hidden behind a wild mane of those red tangles. The nurses said that she wouldn’t let anyone close enough to her to brush it.

“Yeah, that’s her. That was a couple of Halloweens ago.”

“I see. You both made tasty-looking M&Ms. Especially your sister.”

My fists clenched at my side. “Don’t talk about Clarissa like that.” I tried to control my anger, I really did, but it slipped out anyway. “Freak.”

If he was surprised at me dropping the f-bomb, he did a good job at hiding it. “It’s funny,” he said. “Looking at where you work, it’s pretty easy to get under your skin.” He stood up and put a five-dollar bill on the bar. “I’ll be seeing you, Allie.”

#

The Pub closes at 4 o’clock on weekend mornings. By the time I shooed the last singing patrons out the door, I was dead on my feet. Figuratively.

After cleaning up, I knocked on the kitchen door to say goodbye to Charlie. There was no answer, so I pushed the door open and walked into deafening silence. It was odd, since Charlie always listens to Beethoven’s 5th while working. He insists that it keeps him awake.

“Charlie?” I peeked into the freezer. No one in there but four cows, in pieces. I continued down the short passage into the kitchen proper.

Charlie lay by the open dishwasher, white as the tiles beneath him. I thought that he was sleeping or meditating on the cool floor. It wouldn’t be the first time. The machine was filled with dirty dishes, so I stepped over his prostrate form to close it. That was when I felt something drip onto the back of my neck. I looked up to see a thin splattered line of red on the ceiling.

I looked at my chef again as an awful, cold numbness started to creep into my throat. He certainly wasn’t breathing, and his eyes stared up past the lighting fixture. There were raw gashes on his neck, but otherwise, Charlie’s big body was unmarked. He clenched a bloody steak knife in one fist. I knelt down and put two fingers on his still warm wrist. Nothing.

It was then that I noticed that the back door was open. Charlie never unlocked that door anymore. A delivery guy accidentally broke its protective ward, and my parents had never gotten around to replacing it. If it was open, anyone or anything could get in. I felt as if somebody had force-fed me battery acid. My stomach turned, and the burning paralysis of fear replaced the numbness that had begun to spread through my limbs. I inched toward the door, intending to slam it closed. A trail of red droplets led up to doorway, and in the darkness outside, something moved.

The room lurched as I spun away from Charlie’s body. The hallway seemed impossibly long as I ran, sandals slapping on the tile, and my mind made grotesque shapes out of the shadows when I reached the dining room. I halted in front of the office door, but my shaking fingers were unable to unclasp the chain from around my neck. Someone—something?—was moving in the kitchen. The steady stomp of deliberate, heavy footfalls leaked through the door. I bent down to the doorknob, forcing shaking hands to turn the heavy silver key that I always wore under my apron to unlock the door.

I stumbled into the office and slammed the iron door behind me; I threw all seven deadbolts and stood there, waiting. The footsteps got louder. The intruder was in the dining room now. My parents had a crossbow locked in their desk, but they didn’t trust me with that key. My phone was still tucked in my bag beneath the bar. The door was my only line of defense. My bladder threatened to fail me. I didn’t want to end up like Charlie. Or worse: like Clarissa.

The footsteps stopped right outside the door. The silver knob rattled, and then something screamed, long and high. It was followed by the breaking of glass, the crashing of furniture, and finally, after many long minutes, the muffled slamming of the back door.

I spent the rest of the night curled up in a ball under the desk.

#

In the morning, I had to move the body. I’d barely slept, so as soon as the sun peeked into the stained glass window of the office, I crawled out from under the desk. I undid the deadbolts and peered through the crack between the door and the iron door frame—the coast was clear. I slipped out and dashed to the kitchen.

I had a basic grasp of the protocol for this sort of situation—it was like the second lesson we had studied in health class—but I couldn’t remember the details of Charlie’s will, so I decided to err on the side of caution. I had a feeling that my parents would be pretty unhappy if they came back home to find that I had decapitated our chef, especially if he preferred a second chance.

Dragging Charlie into the freezer was much tougher than I’d anticipated. Standing, he was a mountain of a man; prone in rigor mortis on the floor, he was more like a glacier; icy to the touch, and slow to move. I tried to use a wooden spoon to pry the knife out of his fist. It was my only real clue as to who did this. The makeshift lever splintered and broke. I was much more successful with a pair of grill tongs and a can of olive oil. I wrapped the knife, which was now simultaneously sticky with blood and unpleasantly slick, in some wax paper, and went back to trying to pull Charlie across the floor. After ten minutes, I’d only managed to scoot Charlie across four rows of tiles, so I expedited the process by pouring a generous trail of extra virgin from his feet to the door of the freezer. Once he was inside, I threw the rusty bolt on the door and shoved a barstool under the handle.

I washed my hands in the industrial-sized sink and tried to form a coherent plan in my head. It was almost nine, which meant I had roughly twelve hours until sunset, when Charlie would start to reanimate as the Pub’s first undead chef.

The bastard had slashed the tires on my car. And had smashed the windows. And—this one really got me—had scratched the words “You’re next” into the hood of my baby. I wanted to cry. Was nothing sacred anymore? I held my cell phone in one hand, retrieved from its spot under the bar, and a little ragged business card in the other. I’d dialed the number on it fifteen minutes ago, and was now staring anxiously at the main road. No one had driven past except for a few police cruisers and a station wagon with a pile of boogie boards tied to the roof, heading towards the beach. After a few more minutes of waiting, a powder blue truck pulled into the parking lot. As it got closer, I could see the rust under the peeling paint. It stopped next to my battered baby. The driver’s door opened, and out jumped Mike Doyle.

It was sunny out, shaping up to be a hot day, but Mike was dressed in white grease-stained coveralls with a custom high collar, and an off-kilter Yankees cap was jammed over the top of his ears. A pair of designer shades covered almost half of his face.

He walked up to me, hands in his pockets. “What’s going on, Allie?”

I pointed. “Everything.”

Mike stepped around to the front of my car. If the small portion of his skin that I could see could have turned any paler, it would have. Instead, he uttered some choice words and kicked one of the deflated tires.

“Allie,” he said, voice low, “What happened last night, exactly?”

I hadn’t told him much over the phone. I swallowed and blinked as Mike lifted the hood of my car, reflecting sunlight directly into my eyes. “Umm…someone raided the fridge, made a big mess, and, uhh…drained Charlie.”

The hood dropped with a slam. “What?” Mike looked around, and back at me. His voice dropped to a whisper, ever though there was no one else there. “You didn’t call the cops yet, did you?” he asked, jerking his head towards the police station down the road.

I shook my head so hard that little wisps of hair flew out of my bun and floated down around my face. That was one of my parents’ biggest rules. Don’t involve the police in Pub-related incidents. They were slightly bigoted on a good day, and their ‘stake first, ask questions later’ inclination always caused more harm than good.

Mike seemed to relax, but not by much. “What happened?”

I explained the events of the previous night.

“God, Allie. I’ll come back here with Fred after my shift, see what we can do.” He gestured towards my car. “But I’m gonna have to bring your car into the shop. I’ll give you a lift home. It’ll be safer than being around when Charlie wakes up.”

My stomach dropped at the thought of being stuck in the confined cab of the truck with… “No, Mike, I’m going to stay here. My parents would be upset if I left the Pub in this condition, and they’d be more upset if I inconvenienced you guys.” He looked reluctant, so I tried again. “I’ll be fine. Really. I’ll call a cab before sunset.”

Mike nodded slowly and started backing away towards his truck.

I remembered something. “Hey, Mike, wait right there a sec.” I ran down to the Pub, went inside to grab the wax paper bundle off the bar top, and hurried outside with it, unwrapping it as I went. “Can you tell me what blood type this is?”

He took the knife and licked the tip. “AB positive—with a hint of olive oil. From Charlie’s attacker?”

My hands shook as I took the knife back, and I nodded. Despite the sunglasses, I could feel Mike’s stare, and felt cold even as the sun beat down on my head. I couldn’t think of too many regulars who had AB positive and the preference that went along with it. It was a pretty rare type.

“Be careful, Allie. Watch out for who did this. And please make sure you’re not around Charlie when he…comes back to us. I know your parents would hate to lose another daughter.”

He said it gently, but in that moment, I wanted to scream, to stab him through his unfeeling heart. I wanted to grab the stupid sunglasses off his face and stomp on them and laugh as he stumbled around blindly in the light. But most of all I wanted to cry, to sob in Clarissa’s arms like I had on the day our Grandpa died. If it wasn’t for freaks like Mike and his friends, she would still be here—but now she was gone too.

So instead I turned on my heels and walked back inside without a word.

#

According to my phone, I had made exactly seventeen calls to my parents in the last four hours, but it went right to voicemail every time. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. My parents aren’t really technology people. Their cell was probably sitting on the nightstand of whatever historical bed & breakfast they were using for their antique-hunting out base. I texted them too, just in case, but kept the messages vague. There was no point in completely freaking them out. For restaurant owners, they’re surprisingly lax about communication. My dad trusts that Charlie will keep everything in order, my mom trusts in some New-Agey crap that everything will be alright. They had both trusted Clarissa, too, but there was no way they would ever trust me if I didn’t get this sorted out.

It took Mike a little while to drive away. He spent about ten minutes in the parking lot hooking my car up to his truck and making some phone calls before leaving. The Pub looked like a classy slaughterhouse. The intruder had pulled every bag, vial, and bottle out of the fridge, and had smashed, stomped on, or just chucked them at the walls. Scrubbing away the bloodstains was no problem; I just dreaded taking tally of how much stock had been destroyed. I also had to peel flaky blackened skin off the knobs to the front and office doors. Somebody now had burned palms like the bad guy in Indiana Jones.

I used the occasion to take the heavy drapes down from the picture window and beat several months of filth, fur, and fairy dust out of them, and I polished the bar until it shone like a mirror. I had a small lunch of peanuts and stale pretzels because it was too hot to stoke up the deep fryer and I couldn’t bring myself to step inside the freezer to grab a hamburger or something. And after unsuccessfully trying to mop the oil off the kitchen tiles, I took a nap.

The sound of my phone ringing from across the room roused me. I jumped off my favorite napping surface, the pool table, and dashed over to grab my cell from the bar. Too late. It had already stopped ringing. And my voicemail was full. I called back immediately. And then again. No answer. Knowing my parents, they were probably somewhere with terrible reception.

I dialed a number into my phone and waited until the person on the other end of the line picked up.

“Hey, Aaron?”

“…yeah?”

Charlie had been right. Aaron did sound awful. His voice was a raspy whisper.

“We had an accident at the Pub last night. I think I’m going to stay closed tonight, so don’t worry about coming in.”

“Alright.” And then he hung up.

Poor Aaron. My parents hired him about a year after the incident. He was no Clarissa, but he did a good enough job, and he’d never taken a sick day before.

I placed a “Closed” sign on the front door and surveyed the dining room. It was almost 7:30, and the sun was lower in the sky. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen the Pub illuminated like this. The tables cast long shadows on the wooden floor, and something sparkled over tables A1 and A2. I stepped over to take a closer look. It was a collection of glass witch balls that my parents had bought from a local artist a few years before. Catching the rays of the sun, they seemed to glow from within. They had been Clarissa’s favorite feature of the whole Pub. I brushed one of them with my fingers; as it swayed back and forth it sent bright shards of light across the room, violet and aquamarine and deep orange. As I admired it, something caught my eye in the iridescent glass: a reflection. I whipped around. Someone was staring at me through the window. It was too late to hide; whoever it was had their hands and face pressed to the window, and they started to wave as soon as they saw me looking.

I couldn’t tell who it was at first, but as I stepped closer, I realized: it was him. The goth guy from the night before. He had a motorcycle helmet on over his bangs, and mirrored aviators obscured what I was sure was another abuse of eyeliner, but he was recognizable enough. From the way he kept pointing and gesturing, I guessed that he wanted to come inside. And silly thing that I can be, I went over and opened the door.

He stood there, fiddling with the cuffs of his leather jacket.

“What do you want?”

“I saw your car being towed a few hours ago. And, when I was riding past just now, I saw that the curtains were down. So umm, I just wanted to…” He drifted off and shifted his weight from one booted foot to the other. “Can I come in? It’s really hot out here.”

“Umm, no.” A thought popped into my head. “Grab the handle.” I pointed at the silver doorknob.

He gave me a funny look, but he grabbed it. Nothing happened: no screaming, no sizzling flesh. Not my culprit, apparently.

“Okay, you’re good.”

“That a door ward?” he asked. He took off his helmet and held it under his arm.

“Pretty effective one, usually. Special silver. Checks for elevated levels of certain hormones or something. It’s supposed to keep the nasties out. You know, the ones who like their drinks extra fresh,” I said. “So why are you here, exactly? We are closed, you know.” I crossed my arms and did my best to look intimidating.

He had taken off his shades, but he avoided my eyes by staring at the ground. “I just wanted to see if you were okay. Because…well, it was just that your car looked pretty wrecked.”

I was slightly taken aback by the tone of concern that entered into his voice. “Well, I’m okay, I guess. I mean, physically, at least.”

He looked relieved. “And umm, also, I wanted to apologize. For how rude I was last night.”

“Okay. Thank you. And I’m sorry for calling you a fre—you know, the f-word.” A few moments of awkward silence passed, so to break it—and because my stomach was rumbling—I asked: “Are you hungry?” I regretted the question, realizing that everything from the fridge, including the cans of V-13, had been used to splatter-paint the walls and floor of the Pub, and the meat freezer was now a “Do Not Disturb” zone.

He surprised me, though, and nodded. “Sure. Want pizza? My treat.”

#

A few minutes later we were sitting in a corner booth in Antony’s Deliteful Pizza. It didn’t seem like a Mafia business, unless the sweet old lady taking our orders had a Tommy gun concealed under her floral-print dress. After spending almost twenty-four hours in the Pub, stepping into this restaurant was a relief. Everything about it, from the little broken bell over the door to the oversized prints of Tuscany lining the walls, was nice and clean and conventional. There was even a family finishing up what looked like a birthday celebration.  I’d almost allowed myself to relax by the time our waitress placed a plastic basket of toasted bread and butter packets in front of us.

Salvador. That was really his name. I knew that for a fact, since I’d demanded his ID with the righteous authority of a bartender as soon as we’d sat down. He grabbed a piece of bread and began to munch on it, eyes downcast. His license had told me several other interesting things, though. That he was eighteen like me, for example, and mostly human. And that the natural color of his hair and, more importantly, his eyes, was brown.

“So, Salvador,” I said, “any reason you go around wearing red contact lenses?”

He continued to stare at the table, but he answered. “Because I don’t like wearing glasses?” He met my eyes briefly and gave a little smile.

I couldn’t help it. I smiled back. And then mentally slapped myself. I was supposed to be interrogating this guy, not letting him charm me. “It would seem like you’re pretending to be something that you’re not.”

His smile faded. “Not pretending entirely. I’m half-and-half. My mom’s human, from Puerto Rico, but my father…” For a moment, it looked as if a storm-cloud passed over his face, but it dissipated. “So these”—he pointed to his pointed canines—“are real, but like, non-functional, and these”—he pointed to his eyes—“you’re right, are contacts. To help me look the part.”

“But I still don’t understand why you come into the Pub all the time dressed like a creeper,” I said.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

The look he gave me made my cheeks burn and my stomach flutter – but I was determined to stay strong. “No, not really.”

He sighed. “Don’t you recognize me?”

“From somewhere other than the Pub, you mean?”

He nodded.

I studied his face, trying to see past the eyeliner and bangs. That strong chin, those broad shoulders. “Sorry dude, not seeing it.”

He looked a little disappointed. But then the pizza arrived.

It was good pizza. Really good. Deliteful, actually. We ate four slices apiece; it was the first real meal I had eaten since lunchtime the day before. It was nice to feel energy spread back through my limbs. It made me chipper enough to smile and wave at the little birthday girl as her family herded her toward the door. 

Salvador leaned back, arms crossed over his chest. “So, have you heard from your parents? They having fun on their trip?”

“Yeah, they’re doing great.”

“Unlike you.”

“Excuse me?”

“You have bags under your eyes, your hair’s a mess, and you’re wearing the same clothes I saw you in yesterday. I’m guessing you spent the night at the Pub?”

It was my turn to stare at the table. Behind me, a bell began to chime as the door opened, and our waitress started talking to someone.

“Does it have something to do with whoever wrecked your car?” Sal asked.

“Yeah,” I mumbled. “We had a bit of an incident last night.”

Sal began to ask, “What sort of—” when several things happened at once.

Our waitress started to scream in Italian, and a giant of a man – Antony, presumably – burst out of the kitchen with a cleaver in one hand and a rolling pin in the other. I whipped my head around to see what the fuss was about just as the old lady whipped a shotgun out of somewhere and aimed it at a figure in the doorway. The little broken silver bell was ringing like crazy. A little voice in my head said, What an annoying door ward!

I recognized the figure immediately.

“Aaron! Why aren’t you home? You look terrible.”

He stepped forward. The old woman screamed at him and raised her gun. Antony gave me a sideways glance from where he stood in the aisle, a glance that definitely said Silenzio!

As I looked closer, I could see why. The figure might have looked like Aaron. Might have even worn the same ragged green Converse sneakers as Aaron. But the deathly pallor, the blank dark stare, the rust-brown stains on his Surf Shack t-shirt…that was not Aaron anymore. He’d never go surfing in the sunlight again. The dorky waiter that I knew, the one who was saving up his tips for a trip to Hawaii, who never did anything more illegal than smoking the occasional joint behind the Pub, was gone, replaced by a thing.

And he was fast. Almost before I could blink, he’d leapt at the old woman, and I heard a roar as the gun went off. Antony waved his cleaver wildly towards the kitchen door, bellowing, “Correte! Correte!”

Within the next second, Sal had grabbed my hand, and we were running for the kitchen. The images and sounds swirled through my head as we ran: hanging braids of garlic, more gun retorts, a bubbling pot of red sauce overflowing onto the stove burners. Sal threw himself at the backdoor, and then we were out into the warm evening air. I tried to turn to the left, assuming that we were heading for the back entrance of the Pub. Instead, Sal pulled me to the right, towards a grassy embankment.

“Where are we going?” I half whispered, half shouted at him.

We reached the hill, and he turned to look at me. “Trust me,” he said, before clambering upwards.

I knew that I had no choice.

He led me to a side entrance of the big furniture warehouse. I’d grown up seeing it almost every day, but I’d never actually been inside it. He pulled a strangely-shaped piece of metal from his pocket and used it to open the door. The sound of gunshots had ceased a few moments before, so I hurried inside after him. It was as dark as a glass of Guinness inside, and I held onto the back of his leather jacket as we navigated around unseen obstacles. I banged my knee on what must have been an ottoman, and I had to bite my lips shut to keep from cursing out loud.

After about five minutes, I was able to see fuzzy shadows by the dim glow of the red EXIT signs scattered around the huge room. Sal led me to what looked like a large canopy bed, and indicated that I should crawl under it.

“We should be safe here. I’m guessing he’s going to look for us in the Pub first. I’ll be right back,” he said. “I’m going to go check the repairs counter for supplies. Maybe they have some broken chair legs or something. Stay right here.”

He dropped the dust ruffle of the bed in front of my face, and then he was gone.

#

Time slows down in the dark. It’s like dropping a clock into a bucket of tar. I had no way of telling how long Sal had been gone. My only watch was sitting, broken, on my dresser at home, and my cell phone was inside my purse, which was, of course, still inside the Pub. The darkness and silence pressed against my head like thick sludge. All I could hear were my shallow breaths and the sound of blood being pumped to my head. Finally, I could bear it no longer. I pulled up the lacy fabric in front of me and shoved my face out into the open air.

From my vantage point on the floor, the shadowy furniture around me could have been a menacing forest, or an army of monsters. The wardrobe-like shape might have actually been a hunchbacked ogre; the spindly floor-lamp might really have been a necromanced skeleton. The shadows all seemed to be moving closer and closer, trying to surround me, to asphyxiate me, to consume me. I felt the paralysis of my childhood fears creeping slowly into my limbs. I needed Clarissa. Clarissa who used to check my closet every night for the monsters that existed only in my story books. Clarissa who would sit on my bed and sing to me until I fell asleep. Clarissa, my big sister who I loved above everything else in the world. And in the end, it wasn’t make-believe monsters that she saved me from. It was the real ones.

It was not until little dribbles of saltwater ran into my mouth that I realized I was crying. My impaired vision became even more blurry, and I struggled to keep from sniffling. I heard soft footsteps approaching from the direction where Sal had disappeared. I wiped my face with the back of one hand, and whispered into the void: “Sal? Is that you?”

My question was rudely answered by two hands grabbing me by the wrists and yanking me out from under the bed. I had no time to scream before a rough palm covered my mouth, and a strong grip locked my arms to my chest. I was forced to breathe through my nose, and I regretted it instantly: all I could smell was burnt flesh. I knew whose skin I had cleaned off the doorknob earlier.

Aaron’s voice spoke close to my ear, and I tried not to gag at his roadkill breath. “Don’t struggle, Allie. This will all be over soon.”

That was one command I could definitely not follow. I thrashed against him, trying to free my arms. He laughed, and I felt his nose brush against my neck. I panicked, and redoubled my efforts, but it was no use: he was too strong.

I caught a glimpse of something glinting to my right, and then someone—Sal—shouted, “Duck!”

I let my body fall half a second before something connected with Aaron’s head like an aluminum bat connecting with a baseball. His grip slackened and he dropped to the floor. Sal caught hold of me, and we were off.

I held onto his hand as if my life depended on it—because, frankly, it did. One trip-up over an innocuous footstool would spell disaster. “How can you see where we’re going?” I tried to ask, breath ragged.

“I can see pretty well in the dark. Something I inherited from my father.” He didn’t sound winded at all.

We flew out the door of the warehouse, crossed the parking lot, and just avoided tumbling down the hill that separated Frank’s Furniture Funhouse from the strip mall. After the darkness, the street lights hurt my eyes. Sal had what looked like a wrought-iron table leg in his hand; I guess he couldn’t find any makeshift stakes. Our feet slapped against the pavement in sync as we ran past the laundromat, the locksmith, and the travel agency. I barely had time to acknowledge the empty police car parked outside of Antony’s smoking pizza parlor before we threw ourselves through the front door of The Bloody Pub.

“If we hole up in the office, we should definitely be safe,” I said, reaching for my key necklace.

The necklace that was no longer there.

That key didn’t only grant access to my parents’ office. It also opened the back door. Aaron didn’t have his own key. But if he had grabbed mine in the warehouse…

“Oh no,” I said, almost to myself. I turned away from Sal and dashed through the dim restaurant to the kitchen door, ignoring his shouts for me to stop.

The kitchen light was still on, because I hadn’t bothered to turn it off before I left. I grabbed the bar stool that I had shoved against the freezer door and hurried with it to the back of the kitchen, hoping to barricade the back door. I was just a step away when the door slammed open, rattling the pots and pans where they hung from the ceiling. I threw the stool towards him and tried to run, but for the second time in less than fifteen minutes, Aaron caught me in an awful embrace. With one hand he held my wrists behind my back; with the other, fingers digging into my chin, he drew my face close to his. I squeezed my eyes shut.

“Open your eyes!” he shouted. When I refused, he squeezed my wrists together so tightly that I thought my fingers would pop off.

I may be a strong-willed person, but I have a very low pain tolerance. I did open my eyes, and the pressure on my wrists lessened. Doing my best to avoid his stare, I inspected my former coworker. He looked awful. His skin was white as a three day-old dead fish, and his hair was greasy and matted. His lips were cracked, and crusted with what I could only assume was Charlie’s blood. He had several long cuts on his cheeks. Charlie must have slashed at Aaron with the steak knife in a failed attempt to defend himself.

“What…” I swallowed, trying not to lose my voice as I stalled for time. “What did you do to the pizza place people?”

“Oh, them?” He laughed, a rasping, unholy sound. “I didn’t hurt them too much. They weren’t who I was after. Maybe if you hadn’t run away, you could have saved them some pain. Same for the cop that came to check on them.” His laughter broke into coughs, and I tried to turn away. He growled—actually growled—and twisted my face so that I was forced to stare directly into his eyes.

The look in his eyes was a look that I had seen only once in my life, and I had hoped to never see again. It brought me memories of pain, of Clarissa screaming and fighting a hopeless battle. It was a look full of darkness and pain and despair, and most of all, hunger. His red irises were all but blacked out by his dilated pupils. I realized the implication of what he said.

“Who you were after? Do you mean me? But why? I’m your co-wor—friend,” I corrected, thinking of just how long we had known each other.

He pulled me so close that we were nose to nose. “Because when they came looking for you, they found me instead. They took my blood and my dreams, and they said if I didn’t bring you to them, they would take my life too.”

“They already took your life, Aaron.” The pain in his eyes was unbearable.

“Do you know what it’s like to feel like this, Allie? So powerful and so sick, and so thirsty, constantly thirsty? Because you will soon.”

At the end of the hall, I heard the door thrown open, and someone—not Sal—called out: “Get your hands off her, asshole!”

Aaron took no heed, obviously. His words became a whisper. “All it will take is a little bite. You won’t feel a thing. And then you’ll understand.”

As his head lowered to my neck, I whispered into his ear: “I’m sorry, but I’m not your type.” And then I kneed him in the groin.

Human or otherwise, they all go down the same.

As Aaron collapsed to the floor, I saw the towering shape of Robbie McMillan filling the back doorway. I turned; crowding around the doorway to the dining room were several familiar faces, including Mike and Fred. They beckoned to me, and I moved towards them slowly – my body was shaking so much that it was difficult to put one foot in front of the other. I had just passed the freezer door when Aaron called out to me, wheezing with pain.

“Don’t you want to know who attacked your sister? Don’t you want to know the real reason that he did it?”

I paused, and that was all the time he needed. He jumped up from the tiles and sped towards me. And then two miraculous things happened.

The first was that Aaron slipped in a puddle of olive oil that I had tried and failed to mop up. With his legs kicking and arms wheeling, it would have been comical if not for the second event. Which was the splintering and breaking of the rusted hinges and lock of the freezer door as some brute force slammed against it from the inside. Charlie stood among the wreckage. Aaron started screaming, and he tried to slip-slide his way across the kitchen. Charlie caught him before he made it even three feet. I looked away. Aaron’s screams were quickly replaced by much more disturbing sounds.

The onlookers rushed past me to restrain Charlie—I understand that the recently reanimated can be a bit disoriented—and I stumbled out into the dining room. My energy reserves were drained, and I was on the verge of losing consciousness before someone caught me in strong arms and held me close.

#

My memories of the rest of the night are pretty hazy. I was dimly aware of Mike telling me that he had reached my parents, and that they would be back home first thing in the morning. He also said not to worry, but that he and the guys would clean up Charlie’s mess. I think I gave him a huge hug, which definitely surprised him, and I didn’t feel disgusted. I’d call that progress on my part. I guess he called all the guys that afternoon, telling them that the Pub might need some extra security. 

I remember Sal leading me outside, plopping a helmet on my head, and telling me to hold on tight as the night air began to speed past my face. And I remember falling asleep somewhere outside to the sound of waves crashing against the shore.

#

I awoke to the sound of shrieking seagulls. The ground beneath me was uneven; I cracked open my eyes to see that I was lying on a maroon surface that looked suspiciously like one of the tablecloths from the Pub. Someone was sitting next to me on a leather jacket, knees pulled up against his chest.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m glad to see you’re awake. I was just about to wake you up. I didn’t want you to miss this.”

I blinked a few times and yawned. Then I stretched out my limbs and pushed myself up into a sitting position. Sal was facing forward, towards the honey-streaked clouds just above the top of the waves. I looked up and down the beach; we weren’t alone. I could see maybe three or four other people fishing, doing yoga, or just standing in the water. I glanced at Sal’s face. He looked so calm. He must have scrubbed his makeup off, and removed his contact lenses, because his face was smooth and tan, and he wore a pair of tortoiseshell glasses. I felt a faint glimmer of recognition.

“I feel like I’ve seen you in the yearbook before,” I said. “Are you in drama club or something?”

He gave a nod and a slight smile. “And I’m on the swim team. Captain, actually.”

I approved. Very much. “Why couldn’t you just come up to me and talk to me normally?”

“How’s a guy supposed to talk to the most interesting girl in school when she doesn’t even acknowledge his existence? I needed to get you to notice me somehow. I guess I went a little overboard.”

“Most people at school don’t acknowledge me. But you certainly have my attention now.”

“I’m glad,” he said. “I was hoping that, being at the Pub, there’d be people who understood about my dad and everything—who could explain some stuff. Because most people at school don’t know. That’s not their world. It scares them.”

“It scares me too,” I said, “but I live it every day. Maybe we could help each other out.”

A few moments passed. The sun began to peek over the horizon, turning the waves and clouds golden-orange. A pod of dolphins slipped through the water, and farther out, I could see the silhouette of a sailboat.

Sal cleared his throat. “Umm, Allie… I heard what Aaron said to you, about your sister, and…well, I knew you were lying to me on Friday night, about your sister being at school. ‘Cause I’ve heard rumors from my friends and stuff. But anyways, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry. I don’t know everything, but I know enough to understand how you must feel.”

I found myself leaning against him. He put his arm around me. “Clarissa was my best friend. And I was there when it happened, three years ago. Some weirdo attacked us in the parking lot. He grabbed me first, had just gotten his teeth in when Clarissa decked him.” I pointed to the slight, silvery scar on my neck. “He grabbed her by the hair. I can still hear her screaming for me to run in my head. Charlie ran out of the Pub with a cleaver, actually managed to chop off one of the guy’s fingers, and the guy ran. But it was still too late. The doctors don’t know if it was from the blood loss or the shock of it all, but Clarissa’s mind is gone. But there’s a little place in Pennsylvania we found. They research these kinds of cases—they might be able to help her one day.”

“Too bad Aaron got…” Sal swallowed his words and coughed. “He might have been able to help, if he really knew what he said he did. And besides, that’s not the only mystery we have to solve now.”

“Yeah.” I nodded in agreement. “We have to figure out who turned Aaron into a monster in the first place. And why they were looking for me.” Even as I said it, I remembered the mysterious man from Friday night who had tried to order some AB positive. “And I think I might know where to start…”

The sun was fully in the sky now, and the waves glinted with light. I suddenly realized how filthy I was. Not only had I not showered for two days, but I was covered in sweat, dust, olive oil, and—this was gross—a good smattering of Aaron. There was no way my parents could see me like this when they got back. I would never be allowed to have a weekend to myself again. I unbuckled my sandals and stood up, loving, as always, the sensation of sand between my toes. I grabbed Sal’s hands and pulled him up next to me.

“What are we doing?” he asked.

“Going for a swim.”

We ran down to the water, holding hands. As we ran, I thought that I saw a black-clad figure watching us from a bench down the beach, but when I looked again, he was gone. As I waded into the cool saltwater, I tried to rationalize that it was only my imagination.

But in my life, it never is.


About the Author:

Alanna Smith is a copywriter by day and an M.F.A. candidate at Emerson College by night. After receiving her B.A. in creative writing from Providence College, she moved to Nepal, where she spent nine months teaching English on a Fulbright grant. She’s been hooked on travel ever since, and uses her sometimes crazy adventures to inspire her writing. She currently lives in Boston with two harps, seven sets of D&D dice, and an entire display case of Han Solo memorabilia. Follow her on Instagram at alanna.travels

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