Hunger

Blink’s Bar was one of those places I favored after a movie or a do-it-yourself dinn­er. Inside, they played thin, reedy music, the kind of stuff that used to be popular in the eighties—preferred by the oldies and the sentimental at heart; like me perhaps. Half the time I couldn’t hear anything anyway above the blanket of noise and anonymous chatter of guests. A little open square among the tables had room where I could dance if I wanted to, or just cling to someone warm and feminine. The drinks weren’t watered and the bartender would talk to me if he wasn’t busy. It was cheaper than a session with my shrink and delivered about the same kind of service.

Maybe it was the slow pace or the square atmosphere, but there were always a lot of young people hanging around. Some came to enjoy the novelty, liked the mood and the dated sounds, and many of them became regulars, proud to have discovered a real cool place.

That’s how I met Dan.

We were both checking out the feminine scenery after ordering. Mine was a bourbon and dry ginger ale, no ice. When the drinks arrived, he appeared to scrutinize the amber fluid in his glass, gave me a sidelong glance and shrugged.

“If I wanted a decent drink, I wouldn’t be here,” he decided and raised the tumbler in a salute.

He wore a gray corduroy blazer and black trousers. Clear blue eyes regarded me with amused cynicism. He wore his light brown hair, streaked with white, in a thick mop. He had the kind of rugged exterior that made women fall at his feet and men take orders from; lucky bastard.

I tried to suppress my jealousy and returned the salute, wondering what he did in his day job.

“Check,” I said with a grin and glanced briefly at the crowd. “Being in here is a diversion from what’s waiting for us outside.”

“You got that right,” he muttered, leaned against the bar and scanned the room.

The bar was a very good place to get picked up—by either sex.

“All the good ones are already taken, my boy,” I said.

“You must have been out of circulation, man!” His laugh was deep and lit his eyes. No pretense there and I began to warm to him. The eyes told me a lot about him. “The name is Dan,” he said and stuck out a meaty a hand.

“Frank,” I said and nodded.

His hand was cool and dry and we both maneuvered for a knuckle crusher. It was childish, but what the hell. He had the height and reach, but I only smiled as his expression changed from a confident smirk into a surprised grimace of pain. I let him go before he was reduced to squirming. Considering what I was, his grip was quite strong.

“Damn!” he grunted massaging his hand. “It’s been a while since I came off second best.”

“I’ll be around whenever you want a reminder.” We had a hearty chuckle and clicked glasses again.

Looking around, he suddenly jerked his head. “Frank! Take a look at that chassis, man.”

I followed his glance and almost missed her.

She wasn’t tall, but there was something about the way she stood, a power held in check that radiated from her and made me stare. Her black hair spilled across her shoulders and hung above a slim waist. Her oval face framed ebony eyes, a deli­cate nose and generous lips. I couldn’t see any makeup. She wore a brown knee-length dress that clung without being tight. She was attractive, but I had seen better. I could swear that for a second every male eye in the room was turned on her. Must have been my imagina­tion, but I decided not. Something about her made me take a second look and I recognized her. She was a hunter and I wondered what prey she’d catch tonight. It wouldn’t be me, that was certain, but I wasn’t hunting just then.

“Not bad,” I said offhandedly.

Dan shook his head and gave me a pitying grin. “You happen to leave your eyeballs at home or something? Step aside. This is man’s work, sonny.” Without taking his eyes off the woman, he placed the tumbler on the bar top and stood up.

Amused, I watched as he walked up to her and said something. She gave him a quizzical look, nodded and smiled. I took a sip and when I looked up, they were gone. Dan didn’t know it, but he was in for an interesting night, lucky stiff.

I forgot about them, figuring it was none of my business. Dan was a grown man and knew what he was doing, and the woman wouldn’t take too much out of him. The ordinary people around us provided what she and I needed to survive, and we had to be careful not to abuse our gift. I did remember the scowl hanging on the bartender’s face when he gave me a refill.

“You figure I should have warned him?” I demanded.

He merely grunted and walked off. To hell with him. I didn’t need a conscience. Dan might get some scar tissue of the heart, but what she’ll give him in return would even things out.

* * *

It was a few weeks later that I bumped into Dan again—and didn’t recognize him.

I was hanging against the bar for emotional support when this old guy quietly slipped in beside me. He had peppery hair worn kind of long and skin hanging off his jowls. He must have been powerful once. Now, he was just another old timer trying to recapture something he happened to leave behind in his youth.

“Pops,” I said pleasantly and nodded.

His blue eyes sparkled as he grinned. “How you doing, Frank?”

The voice was kind of familiar and I frowned. Then my jaw fell as I took in the gray corduroy blazer and dark trousers.

“Dan?” I asked, not believing my eyes, alarm bells clanging in my head.

“I always knew you were a pretty sharp boy, Frank,” he wheezed, nodding.

“What the hell happened to you? You look…” I trailed off, but deep down I knew, and the knowledge made me angry. Why did she do it? This wasn’t the kind of advertising any of us needed. Once ordinary people started noticing, we would become the hunted.

“Yeah, I know. I look like hell and I feel like I’m pushing eighty.” He raised a finger and ordered a drink. He didn’t say anything, just stared into space as he waited for that drink. I let him have his moment.

The bartender shook his head as he slid the tumbler across the top.

“On the house,” he growled and stomped away, but not before giving me an accusing glare. I pursed my lips. How was I to know she would do this to Dan? Secretly, I burned with guilt, remembering her. She had that wild look in her eyes I should have recognized.

“Don’t mind him,” I told Dan. “He’s just sore at the world.”

“Can’t blame him. Let’s find a quiet place,” Dan grunted and we carried our drinks to an empty table tucked into a dark corner. The music followed us, but I didn’t mind. Looking at him, I still couldn’t believe it. It had been a while since I’d hunted, but even when I did, I never took too much. We were supposed to leave something behind, or the victim would never recover.

“Dan?”

“I know, I know,” he said tiredly. “I’m dying.”

“Dying? From what?” I demanded, but I knew. The signs were all there. She shouldn’t have done it.

He smiled and his eyes lit up. “Would you believe love?”

“Come on, Dan. I’m serious.”

“So am I.”

When he looked at me, there was no pretense, no regrets. “It was her.”

He didn’t have to explain. “How?” But I knew that too. He shook his head and shrugged.

“I don’t know. There was something about her that made her differ­ent from any other woman I ever knew. And she made herself like that for me. She wanted me bad. I could tell, and she didn’t hold back. Neither did I.”

“What are you talking about?”

There was a wistful smile on his face and some of the years seemed to fall away. I could see a face before he became old. Then he looked at me, an old and weary man.

“When I picked her up, or maybe she did the picking. It doesn’t matter. Anyway, we both knew where it would lead to. She had me captivated, or bewitched. I don’t know.”

“Yeah, you were taken in by her, all right. I saw.”

He snorted and took a quick gulp. “It’s not that. She was pretty, but nothing spectacular. What I mean is, when she looked at me, I knew that I was the only man in the world for her. And that’s a powerful weapon, my boy. I was hers and I knew it, and something in the back of my mind told me to get the hell out of there in a hurry, but it was too late. My hormones were doing my thinking for me.”

“So you were swept off your feet. A one-night stand.”

“Sure, except it lasted three weeks. Then one morning, I looked in the mirror and saw a stranger. She was gone and her things with her. And in those three weeks, I lived a lifetime.”

He looked at me, eyes glistening and a shiver ran down my spine. Obviously, she has gone rogue. That wasn’t good, not good at all.

“And you know something? I didn’t care. I didn’t! Who knows, maybe she left that with me as some kind of compensation.”

I twirled my tumbler, brooding. “You still haven’t told me what happened, Dan.”

“I don’t know what happened! All I know, as I grew weaker, she grew stronger, more radiant, more compelling. When we made love, I could feel my strength draining from me. Frank, making love to that woman was like losing yourself.”

“You did,” I said dryly, knowing exactly what happened. “But, Dan, you know what you’re saying? How do you know she made you old? You could have caught something…” I trailed off. I was making lame conversation and knew it. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this!

“You know she did. I can see it in your eyes, Frank,” he said gently and I looked away, surprised at the pain I felt, seeing him reduced to this. “All women take something from you when you love. This one just took a bit more than most.”

Yeah, his life.

* * *

A week later, he was dead.

And I was beginning to have doubts. Sure, he was suddenly old and then he was dead, but there were a lot of other plausible explanations for that. Weren’t there? I wasn’t fooling myself as I sighed in disgust. Something would have to be done, and it looked like I was the one to do it. I hoped I was up to it.

It was a cool evening and the wind keened softly through the al­leys. A thin fog began to drift in, shrouding the city lights in a soft blanket. I never meant to drop in for a drink that night, but I’d had a long day and the thought of making my own dinner didn’t hold much appeal.

I was just finishing my drink when silence settled around me as she slid onto the bar stool next to me. She ordered something in a low contralto voice. Our eyes met and I could feel my face tense.

She wore that same brown dress and her eyes seemed to widen as I looked into them. They were completely opaque and I couldn’t see any reflection in them. Her hair was tied in a knot above her head, extenuating her features. She touched the corner of her mouth with the tip of a small tongue and smiled slowly.

“Hi,” she husked, revealing even teeth, not recognizing me for what I was. I would need that to protect me. “You look like I remind you of someone.”

“You do remind me of someone,” I said after a moment, drinking in her face. Her power radiated from her and I fought not to sink under her spell, remembering what I had to do.

“It must have been a painful reminder. Perhaps I should leave?”

“No,” I said firmly, wanting her to think I was merely another man. “It was a memory of a thing long ago.”

She smiled, the charm exuding from her making me wary. We were the same, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t take me if I wasn’t careful. For a moment, I wanted to ask her about Dan. Luckily, I had enough sense to keep my mouth shut. For what I intended, I had to keep my wits about me, or I could end up like Dan. And that just wouldn’t do.

With another smile that didn’t touch her eyes, she placed a small hand on my arm.

“I’ll make you forget her,” she whispered. “There will only be us—forever.”

I believed her. I slipped some notes on the bar and stood up. We made our way between the tables and walked out.

I had a fairly large apartment not far from downtown. It was a ten-minute drive. While the car hummed to itself, she didn’t say anything. She just sat there, the silence broken by the whisper of tires and the traffic around us. I felt strangely content and at peace, warm in her presence. I didn’t want to spoil it with hollow words or too much introspection. Besides, no one said I couldn’t have a little fun while I dealt with her.

She touched my arm and I glanced at her outline, her face in shadow. On impulse, I pulled over, and for a while, we listened to the throb of the engine as we kissed deeply.

“I don’t even know your name,” I said softly, trying to make out her features.

She seemed to hesitate, then turned her head. “Kaneel.”

The air seemed to tremble as I savored the sound. “Mine’s—”

“Frank, I know.”

I was pleased that she knew. I leaned toward her and brushed her soft lips with mine.

When I reached home, I pulled into the curb and helped her out. We walked up the steps into a gloomy foyer. The elevator sighed to a stop and the doors slid away. Our foot­steps were soundless in the thick pile as we walked slowly down the corri­dor. I gave her a brief smile as I fitted the key into the lock of my door.

I hung my jacket and found her in the lounge, eying the rows of books lining dark shelves and little trinkets that cluttered the rest of the furni­ture. I kept the place neat. That always went down well with the ladies.

“You have a very nice place, Frank.” She flashed me a grin and opened one of the two bedroom doors. She didn’t turn on the lights.

I walked slowly toward her. She had her back to me, outlined in black against the backdrop of outside lights. Gently, I placed my hands on her shoulders and felt her stiffen as my arms slid down her body. Then she turned and melted against me.

Her lips were soft and cool against mine. Fire ran down my back as our tongues touched. I looked into the black pools of her eyes, cold and unblinking.

The zipper hardly made a sound as I moved it down her back. I pulled at her shoulder straps and the dress caught at the swell of her breasts. She was breathing rapidly, her chest straining against me, fingers working on the buttons of my shirt.

My head was whirling and I couldn’t do anything to stop it even if I wanted to, which I didn’t. Then her cool flesh was against mine, hair spilling across her shoulders, arms around my neck.

“You’re mine,” she whispered against my ear as I picked her up, desire welling within me even as part of me thought black thoughts. She had it coming to her.

* * *

I figured I had about four days.

At least I had none of that crap that goes with old age: rheumatism, stiff joints and constant pain. I was just old and a little senile maybe. But that wasn’t an affliction of only the old. I’d get over it. I had done this twice before and it always passed, but there is a risk. I knew of somebody who did this and didn’t make it. I could easily have happened to me if had I given into temptation.

She stayed for five days, then left suddenly. One morning, I woke up and she was gone, leaving only the memories. I knew what Dan must have gone through, suspecting the truth, but still willing to pay the price. For what she had to give, any man would. I did, a bit of it anyway.

I took some time off work and waited. She came back on the eight day.

Her hair was white, streaked with gray and her face had gone all wrinkly and dry. The eyes were still compelling, but some fire had gone out of them.

I knew how she felt.

“You bastard!” she croaked as I opened the door.

“Come in, Kaneel,” I said easily, enjoying how she looked.

“You knew what I was and you still did it! Why?”

The smile slipped off my face and I stared at her, my eyes cold. “You took too much.”

“I gave them a lifetime of love!”

“You took too much! We need the life force ordinary people give us to survive, but you turned that need into a sport. You took everything they had, not giving them a chance to recover. You risked having us exposed, and that’s something I couldn’t let you do.”

“And who are you to set yourself up as my judge? You are a hunter like me, preying on them just like I did.”

“Yes, I preyed on them, but I never took more than they could give. You took Dan, knowing what you were doing was against our code, but you did it anyway. You used him and discarded him like a broken toy. For that’s what he was to you, simply to make yourself more powerful. No, Kaneel, you brought this on yourself.”

She broke then, sobs racking her body as she buried her face in her hands. The power was still in her and it touched me. For a moment, I felt sorry for her, but only for a moment. Those tears would have worked on anyone else, but I wasn’t just anyone.

Finally, she lifted her head, her face wet. “I really cared for you, Frank. You weren’t like the others. Maybe because I sensed something, I couldn’t go through with it.”

“Is that why you left me after only five days?”

She nodded, her eyes swimming, pleading.

I shook my head and smiled. “I wish I could believe you, Kaneel. But I felt your unease, your doubts. You were beginning to suspect what I was. You left to save yourself.”

“I don’t want to die!”

I knew she meant that, but it was too late. It had been too late the minute Dan died.

I felt better the next day. My hair was getting some of its color back and my skin tone was firmer. It would take some time before I was my old, mean self again, but that was all right. I could wait. Waiting was easy when you had all the time in the world.

Three days later, they found her body behind Blink’s Bar, a wistful smile on her face.

This story appeared in an anthology Monster Attack, released in November 2014, edited by Samie Sands.

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Copyright © Stefan Vucak 2017