★ ★ ★ ★


By Carolyn Divish

Outside an all-night Piggly Wiggly, you watch a chubby lady in a pink housedress throw a box of sugary cereal into her cart and round the bend. Hidden in the humid Tuscaloosa night, you go unnoticed. You lick your lips, thinking that she must have five, maybe six liters in her. A substantial meal. You can barely remember the last time the taste of blood passed your lips.

Trying to calm yourself, you think of a mouthful of a woolen scarf.  Of old lady neck waddles. Of Old Spice-scented skin. You think of anything but the succulent flesh inhabiting the store. Anything but the red fluid flowing plentifully through her heart. Your tongue feels the tips of your fangs. You think they used to be sharper.

Through the glass, you see the sole cashier popping her gum and bouncing a tennis ball up and down, up and down. Although aware of your presence, she avoids eye contact, surely sensing the power in your gaze. Only a teen, the dark-haired girl is wary, a worthy adversary, ever vigilant. You will have to act quickly when you have an opportunity.

Not that you need a lot of time. You can drain the chubby lady before the curlers in her hair pling down to the Formica floor, her hair loosened into soft ringlets. Your eyes will convince her it was what she wanted, death in the aisle between boxed stuffing mixes and jars of red sauce. It will be easy.

You only need the cashier to invite you in.

You move closer to the entrance, taking in the full view of the store, as if seated in the orchestra section of a grand theater. The florescent lights illuminate everything completely. The deli. The bakery. The gleaming veggies piled high in bins. Everything is bathed in the full spectrum light. Except you, on the outside, keeping vigil with the shadows.

You will the young cashier to look at you, but she resists, a demonstration of her fortitude.

The doors begin to part. As they slide open, the freshly scented air spills around you. You think that this is your opportunity. If only she will issue you the invite you came for.

At the meat section, the chubby lady puts a finger to pursed lips as she inspects roasts, deep-red meat wrapped against black Styrofoam. She scratches her thigh.

You pause to watch the cashier as she bounces her tennis ball against the floor. The tan smock masking the contours of her slim body.

“You going in, son?” A man asks. His cane prods your ankle. “Ain’t lived eighty-two years to die in front of the Piggly Wiggly.”

“Where do you want to die, old man?” you hiss.

This is your chance. The old man is not your first choice, but he will do. An appetizer to the main course, perhaps. Kicking away his wooden cane, you drop the man to the ground gently, to avoid bruising, a careless waste of food.

“Hey! What’s the idea?” The man demands angrily, unable to comprehend his impending doom. His fingers strain across the concrete for his cane. On his forearm, a hula girl tattoo dances with his effort.

“I’m a,” you say, leaning in close, tilting to show off your fangs, “vampire.”

You wait for the moment of delicious fear to take root. His eyes to widen with alarm. The gasp of expectation. The recoil.

Instead, his brow furrows in confusion. On his arm, the hula girl stops dancing. “A vampire? Son, you ain’t even got real fangs.” He dares to look closer. “Those even your teeth? Or them plastic doohickeys?”

You are distracted by movement inside. The cashier has turned to look toward the doors. Her attention is drawn to your actions.

“It is time,” you hiss, bending low toward the arterial flow at his neck.

The old man’s strength surprises you. He is hardly struggling, yet holding you back as if you weigh nothing.

You are clearly weakened, in need of nourishment. You crane your open mouth towards his warm neck.

“Bub,” the old man laughs, “are you trying to kiss me?”

You rocket back, ferociously baring your teeth. He should be cowering in fear. You will relish this sacrifice above all others.

Boing. A tennis ball whacks your temple and springs off toward the parking lot. You are momentarily stunned. Tennis balls are unexpectedly painful.

You snarl at the cashier, who has approached unnoticed and holds another tennis ball ready to pitch. “For fuck’s sake, Frank. You’re not a vampire. Come on in, Clyde.” She stresses the old man’s name, making her invitation clear.

She glares at you.

The old man collects his cane and rises unsteadily to his feet, shuffling toward the door. “I still got it. My wife, she don’t believe me. Every time I’m at the grocery, someone hits on me.” The old man picks up a hand basket, chuckling to himself as he shakes his head. “Modern romance, I don’t get it.”

The doors whoosh shut, severing you from your prey.

Through the glass, you seek the chubby lady’s gaze. One look into your eyes is all it will take for her to succumb to your will. You pour your remaining energy into your gaze.

“Aw Frank, enough with the eyes already. You are such a dork.” The cashier’s body rocks with her exaggerated eye roll. “You know you don’t need an invite. You can just walk right in those doors like any other customer. Sheesh.”

You notice a softening in her voice. The cashier is falling under your spell. Now is the time to act and she will issue you your invitation. You press your fingers against the stationary doors.

The cashier clasps her hands over her mouth. Her laugh is evidence she is succumbing to your power.  “Go home, okay? Don’t make me call the police.”

A moment later, a second tennis ball thwacks the sliding door making it rumble on its tracks. The ball ricochets into the dark of the parking lot.

“Go home, Frank! Don’t forget the calculus test tomorrow,” she says, arching an eyebrow in her familiar way, both alluring and knowing.  “Can’t get by as a faux-pire forever.”

Your lips curl into a wolfish grin as you recede into the darkness.

Leaving the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly with your intended still inside, you know your hunger must still be satisfied. At the SpeedyMart, where you secured your welcome long ago, you make your selection.

The clerk bobs his head respectfully.

“Still stalking that cashier, I see. She’s cute.” He winks, handing your change and candy bar through the Plexiglas opening. “See you tomorrow night, then.”

“Nah, I’m done with the Piggly Wiggly,” you say, spitting out the terrible plastic teeth. “I got my invitation.”

You hold up the tennis ball that you found in the parking lot. In neat felt tip pen under where she had written her phone number, the cashier had added, “You win, Frank. Call me.”

Carolyn Divish lives in Indianapolis, IN, where she received an MFA from Butler University. Her work has appeared in Jack and Jill Children’s Magazine, Coachella Review, Silver Birch Press, Punchnel’s, Mythic Indy Anthology, and elsewhere. She wishes she was a faster writer and a faster runner, but it’s hard to run with a notebook and pen.