He banged on the door for ten minutes before getting an answer. The owner jerked it open and looked up at him with little sleepiness despite the hour. Her expression was all seventy-year-old discontent in a satin perm cap. A silver chain kept the door from opening more than an inch.
“Madame,” he begged into the crack. “May I please come in for just a moment?”
“No. Think just because mine’s the only door on the boulevard without a crucifix over it that you can traipse in?”
He adjusted the brim of his hat and pulled his lapels over his pale cheeks.
“I don’t mean to bother you Madame, but it’s quite cold out and sunrise is near.”
It was. The sky was vaguely purple with coming dawn.
“You’re not the kind that sparkles, then?”
“Are you the kind that bites voluptuous women?” She scrunched up her nose, an act that somehow doubled the liver spots on her face. “Keep in mind I have sickle-cell anemia. The Lancet says it’s havoc on undead bowels.”
“No. I’m civilized. I ate on Saturday, and I tipped well.”
“But you are the kind that needs me to let you in?”
“How does everyone around here know about us? We’re purposefully subtle.”
She fixed the bobby pins in her cap. “You hold your convention here every year. It didn’t take long to realize the November vagrants stole more than wallets.”
The vampire put a hand over his heart.
“I swear I’m a law-abiding citizen. It’s just that my keycard doesn’t work anymore at the hotel. I must have touched static for a second and now my door won’t open. Because I don’t have photo ID, they don’t believe I’m the one who rented the room. They kicked me out of the lobby two hours ago.”
“And you’ve just been wandering around?”
“Yes,” he said, trying to look pathetic despite being two feet taller than her. At the same moment that he bowed his head all sad-like, her nose turned up all opportunistic-like.
“Okay then. What do you have on you?”
“I beg your pardon?”
She gestured through the crack in the door, rubbing a thumb on an arthritic forefinger. “Cash? Relics? Antique watches?”
He fumbled in his coat. Soon he presented a sleek leather wallet and a pink iPhone.
“Pink?” she inquired.
“My familiar got it for me. She likes everything pink, even her–”
“I’m sure she does. What about the rings?”
He examined his own hand for a moment before realizing she meant the gold bands on his middle and forefingers. They were plain.
“I’d sooner die! Those are my only mementos of the master that turned me.”
“Probably worth fifty at a pawn shop. How much in the wallet?”
With the first rays of morning light streaming over the buildings, he had no choice but to empty it, revealing a stack of singles. Shaving was back in fashion, leaving the lycan strip clubs very disappointing this year.
“Alright,” said the old woman. “The cash and the rings, and I’ll let you in.”
“My master was the only man who ever–”
She pulled the doorknob and he only just got his fingers into the crack to stop it from closing. The sudden motion jarred his lapel. His cheek sizzled until he brought up his free arm to shield his face.
“Please, Madame. Have mercy.”
“Are you the strong kind of vampire?” she asked without looking at him.
“I’m not going to cause trouble, Madame. I just need lodging until dusk. I’ll sleep in a closet.”
“I asked if you were the strong kind of vampire.”
“All right, yes. I could bench press a motorcycle. Please let me in.”
“I have some furniture in the basement I want moved. I’ll take the cash and iPhone, and you promise to move all my shelves. Keep your rings.”
The vampire clapped his hands.
“A thousand thanks, Madame. I’ll tell every vampire I know that yours is a considerate doorstep.”
“Keep it down,” she said, unhooking the chain. “I’ve got two of you sleeping upstairs already and I don’t want them knowing I let you keep the jewelry. Get to the basement. There are a lot of shelves.”
He stepped through the door. It felt much warmer inside. He couldn’t tell why until he saw that all the curtains were already closed. With protective plastic over the sofa and faded pictures on the walls, it felt more like a mausoleum than a house. It was like home.
His host trudged to a door beneath the stairs, presumably leading to the basement. He remained at the door for a moment, removing his hat and licking his lips.
“You know, Madame, white people don’t often get sickle cell anemia.”
“You know, punk, old women often wear crosses to bed.”
She tugged a silver chain from under the neck of her nightdress.
He hung his things in the closet and trudged to the basement. It beat hiding in a public bathroom stall again.
John Wiswell writes in any genre he can wrap his mind around and has published with Alienskin Magazine, BURST, Short-Story.Me, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, and has been nominated for Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web. He puts up something new every day on The Bathroom Monologues, available at www.johnwiswell.blogspot.com.