Malcolm ‘Stakeman’ Gribble didn’t look like a vampire hunter. He looks like someone who lives in their mother’s basement, thought Aneira, as she watched him eat through the roadside diner’s misted window. He had long, greasy brown hair, milk bottle thick glasses, and he wore a XXXL t-shirt at least two XXs too small. And how can I take a vampire hunter called ‘Malcolm’ seriously?

Then again, Aneira was hardly an expert. She’d spent her second life avoiding them. Tonight though, she’d made an exception. After a century of waiting, the High Brood had a vacancy. But to take her rightful spot on the ruling council she needed the head of a vampire hunter. Aneira smiled and ran her tongue over her fangs. There couldn’t be an easier target than Gribble.

Aneira slid into his booth, her jeans squeaked on the cracked leather upholstery and her elbows searched for a space between the plates on the table. “Thank you for meeting me, Mr Gribble,” she said, trying not to gag on the stench of meat farts that hung in the air. “I’m Aneira Llewellyn, with Macabre Monthly.”

“I know who you are.” Gribble spoke through a mouthful of food. “It’s not often I get asked for an interview. Few take me seriously.”

“A freelance journalist who is too sceptical tends to be too broke.”

Gribble snorted and stuffed a slice of oily flatbread into his mouth.

Aneira placed her phone on the table and turned on its camera as the scent of garlic singed her nostrils. “Do you mind if I record this as evidence of our meeting? Easier than shorthand.”

“Be my guest,” he said, spitting flecks of food as he spoke.

Aneira stifled a retch. “So, tell me, how did you get into vampire hunting?”

“By chance actually.” Gribble wiped his greasy fingertips across his t-shirt, obscuring the already obscure band it advertised, and turned his attention to a steaming bowl of grey soup. “I didn’t plan on getting into the Game.”

Aneira arched an eyebrow. How ironic that their kinds used the same term for hunting each other. We will soon find out who is the superior player.

“I was attacked one night after competing in the National Championships.” Gribble stopped to slurp from the bowl, leaving Aneira mystified as to what sport he could possibly compete in, let alone at a national level. Even the act of eating had left him drenched in sweat. Gribble belched. “That’s good knoblauchsuppe.”

As if reading her thoughts – or expression – he clarified.

“The Gluttenbowl,” he said. “I am a competitive eater.” Gribble smiled as he gestured to the empty plates before them. “It’s where I got my nickname. Before I was Stakeman” — he stabbed the air then drove his knife into a bloody steak — ”I was Steakman.”

“How droll,” she said, as Gribble poured a paper tub of butter sauce over his meat.

“I always thought vampires were fairy tales,” said Gribble. “Until the monster who attacked me” — he mimed an explosion with his hands and a blob of sauce struck Aneira’s cheek — “turned to dust.”

Aneira flinched and wiped the garlic infused sauce from her face, doing her best to hide the searing pain as it burned a hole in her skin. I’m going to enjoy killing this oaf.

“I hope you aren’t offended, Mr Gribble—”

“Please, we’re friends, call me Stakeman.”

“Yes, of course… Stakeman.” Aneira cringed at saying his moniker aloud. It was like a bad D&D nickname that stuck. To mask her eye roll she looked him up and down. “Our readers will see a picture of you and think, well… they might find it hard to believe you kill vampires. Don’t they have superior strength and reflexes? What’s your secret?”

Gribble grinned and winked at Aneira. She wasn’t sure if he was flirting. Perhaps he thought she was flirting, having looked him up and down like that. Heaven’s spawn, I’d rather drink bat’s blood.

“Vampires might be faster and stronger than humans but… boy are they stupid.”

Aneira’s hackles rose at the insult from such an inferior specimen.

“That’s not to say it’s been easy.” Gribble pulled back his lank hair, revealing a neck full of scars that needed no explanation. “My gadgets and weapons evened the stakes. It’s a shame I left them in my hotel, I’d have shown you otherwise.”

“A shame indeed.”

Gribble was alone, defenceless, and she had no desire to watch him tackle the bowl of spaghetti he dragged toward him. Aneira smiled and prepared to pounce. At long last, it’s my time to join the High Brood.

Aneira dived across the table and sunk her teeth into Gribble’s fat neck. A spurt of blood shot into her mouth, hot and thick, and she closed her eyes, savouring the taste of victory.

But something was wrong.

Gribble was laughing.

Aneira’s throat and insides suddenly burned with righteous fury. The diner spun and she leaned back on the table but her hand slipped on a greasy plate and she fell to the floor, dragging the tablecloth and plates with her.

“My secret?” Gribble laughed like a cartoon villain while twin rivulets of blood dribbled down his neck. “Garlic with every meal.” Gribble slapped his belly and laughed harder. “My blood runs like a garlic geyser.”

Aneira convulsed; every muscle and fibre in her body betrayed her. Gribble bent down, so close she could smell the garlic on his clammy breath.

“First impressions are deceiving, dark one.”

A tired-looking waitress rushed over to help Aneira but Gribble held out his arm.

“She doesn’t need an EpiPen,” he said, “she needs a dustpan and brush.”

It was the worst catchphrase she had ever heard. And the last.

The reality of dying was not easier to accept the second time around, and Aneira burst into tears a moment before she burst into dust.

Joel C. Scoberg writes out of Swansea, Wales. This is his first appearance in Every Day Fiction.

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