Monday, December 3, 2018

Night Hours (A Mark Flyleaf Story)

Mark unlocked the glass front door of the Bureau of Fictional Character Placement and pushed his way in, letting it swing silently closed behind him. The waiting room was dimly lit by the single security light above Janice's vacant desk. She put in her time during the day; Mark didn't expect her to hang around for his night hours. She had, though, left an application on her desk with a memo saying that a new client had made an appointment to see him. He picked up the application and scanned the information. Then he turned and yelped, sending the memo into the air to flutter to the floor.

The grizzled old man standing silently behind the coffee table hadn't been there a moment before.

"Good evening," the old man said in a thick Hungarian accent.

Mark clutched the corner of the desk to steady himself. "Dammit, Vlad! I hate it when you do that!"

Vlad grinned, showing perfect white dentures that fit around two long, yellowed canines, the only two of his original teeth still intact. "It is what I do," he said, shrugging.

"Yeah yeah," Mark said. Vlad was one of Mark's first and most successful clients, and the one who convinced him to start keeping weekly evening hours. Of course, in those early days, Vlad would appear in his formal tuxedo, all decked out in a red-lined black cape and silk top hat. Lately, he'd been showing up in baggy shorts, faded T-shirts, and sandals. This night, he wore green cargo shorts and a faded blue T-shirt advertising K.C. and the Sunshine Band.

"Nice shirt, dude," Mark said sarcastically.

"You suck," Vlad replied.

"Bite me, old man."

"Don't you think I won't, you young whippersnapper!"

They both laughed familiarly as Vlad stepped around the coffee table and embraced Mark like a son. "It is good to see you again, my friend!"

"You, too." They broke the embrace. "How's the dating life going?" Mark asked. "Last time we talked, you had just started seeing that Heller woman."

"Helmer. Nora Helmer. Well," — with his accent, Vlad's double-u's sounded like vees — "you know how women are. One little hickey and they go all howler monkey on you." Vlad shook his head and sighed. "Women. Can't live with them . . . "

They strolled toward Mark's office door. "That's too bad," Mark said. "Whatever happened with that Havisham lady?"

"Miss Havisham? Zat crazy bitch nearly drove me insane. I very nearly exsanguinated her myself just to save whatever poor schmuck she might latch onto next. And they call me a vampyre?! In the end, though, I did not want to run the risk of making her even more immortal than she already is. But enough about women. You got any eggs for Fats?"

"Of course. Have a seat."

Vlad flinched when Mark flipped on the office's overhead lights.

Like the waiting room, Mark's office was perfectly clean and smelled of hospital chemicals. Vlad slid into the chair and Mark dropped into his desk chair and turned on his computer. While the CPU booted up, Mark opened a desk drawer and removed a small, disorganized stack of paper scraps covered in scribbles.

"Most of these are the usual," Mark said, riffling the memos. "Short stories. Last-minute B.S. book reports. There's a tenth grader in Minnesota who wants to work you into a school essay about his genealogy."

"Are we related?"

"I only work in fiction, remember?" Mark pulled one note out of the stack and offered it to Vlad. "Here's one you might be interested in. Seems some distant relative of your original employer wants to bring you back."

Vlad took the note. "What? She cannot find her own characters?"


"He, she, what's the difference? They are all cannibals. Literary cannibals!"

"And you would know something about cannibalism, wouldn't you?" Mark passed him the rest of the papers.

Vlad ignored the comment and flipped through the stack himself. "Still, there is something to say about family legacies. Of course, I never had family myself."

"There are a few in there that Stan sent down from the fourth floor, too."

"Fourth floor?"

"Graphic novels."

Vlad nodded, continuing through the notes. "Do you have other clients scheduled this evening?"

"Only one, but you know how you night people are about dropping in unannounced. Actually, you might know this fella. His name is, uh . . . " Mark picked up the application just as three soft raps sounded from the open office door.

Mark looked up. Framed in the open doorway, a pale but handsome young man with gold eyes whipped his head back to get his bangs above his thick eyebrows. His fingers were tucked into the front pockets of a pair of faded blue jeans. The red and green plaid shirt he wore over a tight maroon T-shirt barely disguised his tight abdominals and broad chest.

Mark stepped sideways to round the desk, stretching his hand out to welcome his new guest. "You must be—"

"You!" Vlad snapped. Though he remained seated, he had twisted his body around to get a good look at the boy in the doorway. "What are you doing here, you . . .," his voice became little more than a hiss, ". . . pretender?"

Mark, always somewhat flummoxed by unexpected lapses in decorum, put his hand on Vlad's shoulder. "Vlad! That's no way to treat—"

"To treat what?" Vlad hissed, never taking his eyes off the boy in the doorway.

"Well, one of my clients!"

"Calm down, old man," the boy said, holding out his palms and stepping into the room. "This has nothing to do with you."

Vlad stood slowly, glaring at the boy like a hyena facing down a lion. "Like hell it doesn't, you fraud!"

"What are you talking about?" Mark asked.

"This . . . boy . . . showed up at group therapy last night, claiming to be one of us."


"He means a vampire," the boy said. "And I am a vampire."

Vlad hissed explosively and veritably spat the word impostor.

"Vlad, calm down. Please." Mark decided to try a logical tack, and he asked the boy, "So you're a vampire?"


Vlad hissed again.

"You drink blood?"


"You're, um, allergic to garlic?"

He shrugged. "Maybe."

"You can't go out in the sunlight?"


"Ha!" shouted Vlad. "You know what happens to real vampyres who go into sunlight?"

Mark furrowed his brow; it was common knowledge: "You burn."

"Yes! Now ask this . . . this sham of a vampyre what happens to him in sunlight!"

Mark looked at the boy and cocked his eyebrow, silently asking the question.

The boy looked at the floor, rubbed the back of his neck, and mumbled something.

"I'm sorry?" Mark asked.

"I sparkle."

Mark was able to hold a spontaneous laugh in check, but he could feel his face turning red.

"You see?" Vlad asked. "Sparkle! What self-respecting vampyre sparkles in sunlight?"

"But I drink blood!" the boy protested.

Vlad went sarcastic. "Ooh! You drink blood! And you think that makes you vampyre? And whose blood do you drink?"

"Well, I'm a vegetarian," the boy answered.

Mark's confusion seemed to know no bounds. "So you drink, what? Vegetable blood? Like Bunnicula?"

"No. I only drink the blood of animals. Not humans."

"Bah! No human blood! Vampyres are supposed to be frightening. The scariest thing in the world! Audrey Two is more frightening than you." Vlad crossed his arms and looked away. He might have harumphed if he knew how.

"Audrey who?" the boy asked.

"Hmph. Noobs."

Mark couldn't hold back a snort this time. Hearing the Prince of Darkness, the leader of the undead, referencing Little Shop of Horrors and using a word like noob was simply too outrageous. "Vlad, this young man has an appointment. I really ought to help him find a job. I think you and I are finished here, aren't we?"

"A job? I have a job for this faux nosfera-tool. You send him to Doctor Seuss, yes?" Vlad raised his voice an octave in a childish whine. "'I will not suck a human's blood. I will not suck it in a flood. I do not cause the children fear because I'm not a real vampyre."

"Vlad!" Mark protested, but Vlad was gone. Mark looked up in time to see a thick mist floating out his office door, which slammed shut behind it.

Mark apologized to the young man and motioned him to sit down; then he rounded the desk and sat in front of his computer. "So, young man, what kind of story are you interested in being a part of?"

"Oh, I don't know. Anything." He flipped his hair up again. "I've heard the Pacific Northwest is pretty nice."