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View from the Porch

"You look lonely."

He glanced up at the woman, who had slithered behind him while he distracted himself counting stars. She seemed familiar, but he couldn't place her. She had a shy face that seemed inclined to blush with little preamble and carefully trimmed blonde hair that gravity held flat despite her attempts at layering. Of course, he had seen her around at the party, but she didn't register as more than that until now. She was just another college student he had seen in the background of this existence without remembering. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he thought he knew he name.

Returning his gaze to the stars, he sighed, "I am not lonely, only momentarily alone." Sensing her backing up, he continued, "But I wouldn't mind your company."

She smiled sweetly, drunkenly. "Why are you in the cold, Will? Come be social inside." She sits on the dewy gray bench next to him. The combination of the half-drained glass of red wine in her hand and the autumn chill after the mugginess of the party succeeded in making her light-headed. She took another small sip of the wine once she was confident the world wasn't going to slip out from under her. The warmth of liquor grew her courage, and this was enough to propelling her on.

He gave her a wry half-grin. "I needed a breather before someone started vomiting in there. That always seems to happen at these sorts of parties. And, as you've apparently noticed, it's a spell cooler here." As he said this, a breeze caught him and he hugged his brown vinyl jacket to him tighter. The invitation for the party stated that the guest should dress well, but he had no interest in that. He noticed that his present companion was wearing a fuzzy blue tank top and enticingly tight leopard print jeans. Knowing that she had scorned the invitation's only requirement in such a charming way caused him to warm slightly to her.

His gaze did not go unnoticed or, secretly, unappreciated. She stammered nervously, "Actually, Matt just did. Puke, I mean. All over himself and the living room. His friends made him change out of his clothes, which was good. They put him in a pirate outfit, though. When I saw him hitting himself in the head with a plastic sword over and over again, I decided it was time to get some air." He laughed quietly at this and she grew bolder, "And I noticed that you leave a few minutes ago. Hey, would you like something to drink?" He cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Damn, I'm blushing, aren't I? Guess I'm earning my name."

A clue, he thought, as to what her name might be. Blush? No, that's ridiculous. Red? No real person is named Red, only truckers and prostitutes. Ruby? No, he reasoned, Rubies are older and wear a great deal of eye-shadow. Scarlet? Yes, that was it. Scarlet Todd. It fit her. She even reminded him of Scarlet O'Hara, something in the way in which she carried herself with both anxiety and confidence.

"No, thank you, Scarlet. I'd rather keep my wits about me." He realized he had somewhat offended her, as she bore the all the earmarks of a social drinker. To make amends, he touched her hand and red Dixie cup in a gesture to asked for a taste of her wine, which she gave. "Mm, this is rather sweet. Still, I think I'll refrain for now."

She nodded without thinking, only stopping when she realized his touch had weakened her resolve, which she promptly restored by sipped heavily from her cup. She liked how it remained warm from where he had sipped from it and rotated the glass to she could drink from the same place. Noticing that he began to look off at the stars again, she tried to reinvigorate the conversation and return his attention to her, where she firmly hoped it belonged.

"Who are you here with?"

"I'm not really here with anyone, in the sense you mean. I came with Liz Bathory, but I haven't the slightest clue where she has gone off too... Probably in the bathroom." He softly laughed to himself, not bothering to explain to Scarlet. "And yourself?"

"Oh, I came here with Covany, but she has left me when her boyfriend showed up. In fact, she was my ride home... Do you think Liz could drive me home?" She didn't actually know who Liz was, probably the brunette girl she saw him around campus with a few weeks ago. Scarlet mused that Liz, if that was indeed who the girl was, looked like a bitch. Still, she would take a sober bitch with a car any day of the week. Scarlet was fairly sure she wasn't in any condition to drive home, given that this was her fourth glass of wine. "Has your friend been drinking, do you think?"

Will smirked. "No. Not alcohol at least. I'm fairly sure she'll be spending the night here, though. Which leaves us both in the same boat. No way back to campus and it is getting late. Would you mind terribly my walking you home? I swear, I'm good company."

She blinked a few times, making sure she had heard him correctly. She took stock of her senses. It certainly sounded like he had asked to walk her home, but it was well over a mile back to campus and the night wasn't getting any warmer. Then again, the mere thought that he took this sort of notice of her warmed her considerably. "I suppose I wouldn't mind. But it's kind of cold..."

Before she could finish her protest, Will had enshrouded her in his jacket. The archaic and cinematic gesture flushed her cheeks anew, the benefits of which was not lost on Will. Without announcing their departure to anyone else, they left the well-lit refuge of the porch and ventured toward the college.

As Will assured her safety, Scarlet agreed to take a more scenic route home. Will said the dying leaves made the trees look like fires reaching toward the moon. When he asked her to sit with him under one of the most colorful trees, she honestly wondered if she was just dreaming all of this. Reality intruded when she stumbled to the ground and cut her hand on a jagged rock. The pain left her as Will gently kissed the blood away. She was stunned at this. He was far more romantic than she had been equipped to believe. When she felt his lips on her neck, she could have simple died. Once his sharp canine teeth penetrated the skin on her neck, she had only a struggling moment to realize that she just had.

Will was grateful, as always, at the relative ease of getting college girls. And the relative ease with which blood wiped off vinyl.

Author's Note 2013/06/12: Really, Former Me? "Liz Bathory" in the bathroom? You thought you were clever, I bet. Vampire fiction is a bit too easy to write, since all the tropes are pounded into Western culture, so one must be careful about it. It is very easy to be lazy about it and I think it is obvious pretty early on that Will is not a savory character.
I remember this story from a creative writing class, though I have no idea what the prompt might have been. It was not well received. The teacher gave it a C, which was perhaps generous. This does demonstrate a technique I remain fond of, starting a story with an unidentified character saying something with might hook the reader and later prove ironic.
Beyond that, I think the best gift a creative writing professor can give their students is detailing exactly why a story doesn't work. This one is dragged down by the head-hopping. Ideally, this should be entirely from Scarlet's (third person, limited omniscient) perspective. After they leave the party, the story switches from showing to telling, which is a shame. The walk home might be a more interesting bit of the story and I may have to revise to add this at some later point.
Editing these stories, it seems like I have a motif of predators giving their victims jackets. This wasn't remotely intentional, but I welcome future biographers to suss out the symbolic value. Obviously, it is meant to be comforting, covering the victim's vulnerability while exposing your own, and dresses the victim in the clothing of the predator, but I don't know why the image stuck me so strongly that it repeated. Even Columbine features a man taking off his coat to protect a woman, though it is notable that he puts it beneath them rather than on her. Thus, she does escape him. Once the coat is on the other character properly, they are trapped.
I think Scarlet and her roommate Covany are real (I did not make up that name, despite this being vampire fiction) and were associates of the woman I then dated, though I can't remember them enough to figure out why I decided to have them star in this story. I vaguely remember the party that spawned this, though no one ended up dead at its close. Someone named Matt did vomit on himself and then end up dressed as a pirate, which ought to count for something.


Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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