3 AM Eternal part three

Tags

, ,

I stopped at an ATM for more cash in case I needed to bribe the motel desk clerk, but it turned out to be unnecessary. As I parked next to one of the palm trees wrapped in twinkling Christmas lights, a cab pulled up and deposited my mystery man. He hurried to his room and I rushed out of my car. “Hey, Vizzini!”

“How did you find me?” His pretty face hardened into a mask of anger and fear.

“I asked around.” Someone else was looking for him, I remembered. Not a friend, was my guess, based on his reaction.

He grabbed my arm and pulled me to his door. “Who do you work for?”

This guy must have been in serious trouble. “Turntable Magazine.”

He drew his brows together, his expression lightening. “For real?”

I nodded. “I write for Turntable.”

“What’s your name?”

“Nikki McGraw.”

“No shit!” A bright smile split his face. “I love your work.”

“Really?” I tried not to let it get to me, but hearing someone compliment my writing both never got old and didn’t happen often enough.

“I’ve been a subscriber for years. You’re one of my favorites. I make it a point to always read anything with your byline.”

“That’s so great! Thank you.”

“That Amy Winehouse profile you did. Great stuff.”

I beamed. “My first cover story.”

“And the Wade Sheppard profile, after his comeback as a songwriter.”

“That one was fun. He’s my favorite country artist.”

“And that last big profile you did, Samira. Love her music.”

“She was so much cooler and more relaxed than I was expecting, considering what a massive star she is.”

“That’s a hell of a job you’ve got there.”

I was afraid if we kept talking about my job, we’d never talk about his sparkling, so I tried to figure out the best way to move forward. Being honest seemed the way to go. “Look, I don’t mean to freak you out. It’s just that I saw you at a club a few nights ago. And then I found your picture in the Turntable archives. I’m slowly working on getting the old issues digitized. So there was this pic of you, from the Nineties. And you look like you haven’t aged. Not that you’ve aged really well, but like you haven’t aged at all.”

He said nothing, but his brows were back together and his mouth was set in a thin, hard line.

“So I thought you were a vampire. But obviously you’re not, what with being out in the sun and all. Plus you sparkle, and vampires, they don’t do that.”

“I’m not a vampire,” he murmured.

“So what are you? Look, it’s not like I’m going to write about you.” Okay, that was a total lie. More like, no reputable publication would touch anything I wrote about the supernatural. “I’ve had a couple of encounters with the supernatural, and I’m really curious about you. That’s all.”

He ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck. I waited for him to make up his mind. He said, “You mentioned coffee?”

I smiled. My spook meter was off the charts, but I had no sense of danger. Maybe that was because I had no sense, period, but I wanted to see how this played out. And I wanted to know who and what this guy was.

Larry didn’t sparkle under the unflattering light of the coffee shop a block over, which was a relief, but until our order was filled and we could speak in private, it weighed heavily on my thoughts. If he wasn’t a vampire, then what the hell was he? And how did this obviously supernatural being wind up with a name like Larry?

Armed with caffeine, we returned to the relative privacy of the street and headed toward the beach. I examined him carefully but the sparkle still hadn’t returned.

“I’m waiting for you to ask.” He grinned. “That is what you do, isn’t it? Ask questions.”

Maybe he was right – maybe the best thing to do was act like this was a regular interview. “What’s with the sparkling? Why isn’t it visible all the time? You turned it off deliberately, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, well, you caught me by surprise.” He sipped his coffee. “I slipped up because I was tired. Am tired. That’s why you were able to see through the dust to what I really look like.”

“Dust? It looked more like glitter.”

“Would you believe me if I told you it was pixie dust?”

I stopped in the middle of a crosswalk, mouth hanging open. My brain was still trying to catch up to the idea that there was more out there than just vampires. But pixie dust…I mean, really, pixie dust? “So, you’re like, a fairy?”

He gestured at the traffic light. “You might want to get out of the street. And I prefer elf.”

I hustled to keep up with him. “You mean like Legolas?”

He gave me a baleful look. “See a bow and arrow anywhere?”

“Look, I’m playing catch-up here. Give me a break, okay?”

“Frankly, I thought you’d handle this better. You sounded pretty sure about the existence of vampires, so I thought you were, you know, in the know.”

“I know plenty. I know how to kill vampires.”

He raised his arms to indicate the daylight. “As I said, I’m not a vampire.”

“No. You’re an elf.” I tried to wrap my head around this, and the best way to do it was to get into journalist mode and ask questions. “Can you prove it?”

Larry the elf nodded then steered me toward a park bench in a strip of grass at the edge of the beach. We sat on the far side, facing the ocean. Waves lapped gently at the shore. Early morning joggers filled the sidewalk that skirted the sand. I took a sip of my now lukewarm coffee and nearly spit it out when I realized I’d forgotten to put sugar and creamer in it.

“I’m not sure if you’ll accept this as proof, but here you go.” He glanced around then reached for my hand, pausing to ask for permission with a look. I nodded and let him take my hand. He held it palm up in his left hand. With the forefinger of his right hand, he traced the lines on my skin, as if he was going to read my palm. Heat transferred from his skin to mine, along with a faint electric charge. He moved the tip of his finger in spirals and whirls. A glittery blue line appeared on my palm.

I gasped softly. Heat sank into my flesh everywhere the color touched. Circles and zig-zags and curlicues, until my hand glowed a watery blue and tingled with warmth. Sunlight turned my palm into a mini twinkling disco ball. Something underneath the warmth slid into my skin and worked its way deep into my flesh, a sensation strange and otherworldly.

A sensation that made my blood sing.

“What is that?” It came out a whisper.

“Magic,” said the elf. “Pure, undiluted magic.” He grinned. “It’s also pixie dust. Some people call it that, anyway. It’s elvish magic, and I use it to look human.” He shrugged. “No big deal.”

I didn’t even know what questions to ask, so I just stared at my palm. The glittery blue spread through my veins, lighting them up from the inside as the magic traveled up my arm. Soon my whole body felt warmer, oddly lighter, and full of something I didn’t know how to describe.

Larry took his hand away from mine. Gradually the warmth dissipated, but that strange sensation lingered. I flexed my hand, almost disappointed that the blue was now gone. “Tell me about elves,” I said.

“That’s a bit too broad a topic, don’t you think? About like trying to explain all of the mortal race in a few sentences.”

He had a point. “Okay, tell me about yourself. Are you immortal?”

“You ask that in such a matter of fact way.”

“I guess it’s just kind of cool to be around a supernatural person and not be terrified they’re going to kill me.” But then, what did I know about elves? Not a thing. “You’re not going to try to kill me, are you?” I tried to make it sound light-hearted but truthfully, I was nervous.

He ducked his head, and the action seemed designed more to bring attention to his Cheshire Cat smile than hide it. “Don’t worry. I’m a lover, not a killer. I am intrigued by your casual acceptance of things that would send most people running away screaming.”

“I can’t get answers if I run away screaming.”

“Curious one, are you?”

I shrugged. “I’m a writer. Curiosity is my fatal flaw. I want to know things, understand things. Understand people.”

“And elves, too.” It wasn’t a question.

“Absolutely.”

He turned to face the ocean, watching the waves in silence for several minutes. Sometimes waiting patiently was the best way to get an interview subject to talk. I took in the view and the morning air and did my best to relax.

“I love mortal music,” he said. “There’s an immediacy to it, a kind of passion that only manifests in people who know they have a short time to live. Elvish music has its own serene beauty, but it can’t compete with what’s created here, on this side.”

I would have liked three days to unpack that and craft coherent follow-up questions. “Do you visit often?”

“As often as I can, which isn’t nearly often enough.” Melancholy tinged his voice.

“Okay, I.” I tapped my hands on the bench on either side of my lap. “I have so many questions, but I don’t know how much time you’re willing to give me. What you’re willing to talk about. Why you’re willing to speak to me. When I interview music business people, there’s usually some parameters set beforehand. What’s off-limits, what in particular the subject wants to focus on first. I can talk to Grammy winners and roadies, but I still don’t know how to talk to, uh.”

“Supernatural beings?”

“Yeah.” A good question for myself was, did I want to make this a habit, the whole talking to supernaturals thing? It didn’t seem like a smart idea. A safe idea. But then, I’d chosen the life of a writer, of all things, so what did I know about smart or safe or practical or any of those things we’re supposed to grow up to be?

The elf lapsed into a long period of quiet again, while I did my best not to fidget.

“I won’t share secrets about my world, or how to get there,” he said. “I won’t tell you anything that could identify me.” He gave me a significant look. “Like you said, you’re a writer. So let’s not pretend you’re not going to write about this.”

Embarrassment flamed my cheeks. “I can guarantee Turntable won’t touch anything I write about this kind of stuff.” Maybe it was wrong not to mention my little blog that nobody read, but I kept quiet about it anyway. “Is there anything you’re willing to share about elves, in a general sense?”

“We love music. Love to dance.” He cocked an eyebrow. “What can I say? Some stereotypes are true.”

“So you come here for the music? How long have you been doing that?”

“I saw Paganini at La Scala in 1813.”

“Oh, my God. Tell me everything.” I laughed, excitement bubbling in me like I’d drunk too much soda.

“I’ll make you a deal.” He cocked an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you some of my stories if you tell me some of yours.”

“You want to know about working at Turntable?”

“Hey, I’m out in the audience. The dance floor. And that’s great, I love it. But you.” He leveled his forefinger at me. “You’ve got a backstage pass.”

That left me taken aback. It didn’t seem like an adequate trade, my few years of stories versus his two hundred. He seemed genuinely keen to hear about modern music, too. I held out my hand. “You’ve got a deal.” We shook, and then dived right into talking.

Shit. I mean, seriously, shit. Two hundred years. I didn’t know which to be more impressed with, his lifespan or all the music he might have had a front row seat for in that time. Our conversation flowed easily as he told me about his favorite concerts, musicians he’d met, and his more recent affection for the festival circuit. He loved it all: classical, jazz, blues, rock and pop and disco and punk. I took notes as best I could but mostly I just listened.

And yawned. Exhaustion was catching up with me and I needed sleep. We made plans to meet for dinner, where I promised to share behind the scenes details from some of my favorite articles and profiles I’d written. Then I drove home in a bleary haze.

An elf. Elves were real, which was a damn sight better than finding out vampires were real. Even better, he had a two hundred year history of being a music fan, and he was willing to share his stories with me.

<- Part Two

Part Four ->

Advertisements

3 AM Eternal part two

Tags

, ,

The difference between throwing up and nearly throwing up is miles of anxious anticipation. The former is, okay, I barfed, it’s over, now I’ll start feeling better. But the latter is one sick, twisting wave after another of, oh shit I’m gonna barf, oh god I feel terrible, my stomach is doing somersaults please make it stop oh god oh god make it stop. When you can’t get it out of your system, you can’t feel better. Your insides feel like laundry that’s constantly being turned inside out and back again and it never fucking stops.

My hands shook as I opened a bottle of water and took a sip. I’d been nauseous for an hour, sitting on the floor because my rickety chair felt too high off the ground. Too exposed, as opposed to practically hiding underneath the table. Unsafe.

Everything felt unsafe.

Here’s the thing: vampires are not sexy. They are not mysterious, romantic creatures searching high schools for their immortal beloved. Vampires are monsters, and they want to suck your blood. And also torture you, maim you, break your mind and body and soul into tiny jagged pieces before they kill you. My introduction to the supernatural world was a set of vampire fangs bearing down on me. That’s not something you forget. I wanted to, but my nightmares wouldn’t let me.

Maybe I was wrong about the guy from the party. Maybe it wasn’t the same person in the picture. Maybe a combination of superior genetics and expensive cosmetic surgery made him look as if he hadn’t aged. Maybe a hundred other reasons that didn’t involve this guy being a vampire.

I mean, it’s not like it was rare to find people in Southern California who went to great lengths to look as youthful as they could for as long as possible. Plastic surgery, fillers, special diets and workout routines – all common, and not just for the show business types. Plus, some people really were winners of the genetic lottery. Take John Stamos, for instance. Dude barely aged. I saw him at an In’N’Out once a few years ago and he looked better than ever. And it was in the daytime, so I knew he definitely wasn’t a vampire. That part of vampire mythology was true, the sun would fry their murderous asses.

So. Now that I’d firmly established, to myself at least, that John Stamos was not a blood-sucking creature of the night, I felt slightly less nauseous. Really, there was no need for me to feel sick and scared. It’s not like the guy from the party was here in the archives with me.

I got up from the floor, looked at my laptop. Saw the maybe-vampire’s smiling face beaming out at me from some nineties rave. Sank back to the floor, trying not to hyperventilate.

God damn screen saver picked a hell of a time to glitch.

I’d known on an intellectual level that there were vampires out there. Identifying an actual vampire suspect was a whole different ballgame. What should I do? Who should I call? There was no 1-800-Vampirebusters.

I knew a hunter, but I couldn’t stand the idea of calling him. He’d walked away from the life, from the violence and darkness. The thought of asking him to return to that was anathema. Even if I just asked for advice or local contacts, he might feel compelled to come out to LA. He had a strong sense of duty and loyalty, and while those were wonderful qualities, my loyalty to him meant I wanted him to stay safe and happy.

So I was on my own.

Surely there were other hunters, but I had no idea how to find one. First things first, though: I had to locate this mystery man and see if he really was a vampire.

I’d get to that just as soon as I was through hiding under my desk.

Always order a drink before asking a bartender for information. Since I was looking for a vampire and brain-melting fear always made me thirsty, it was an easy rule to follow this time. I paid for my beer and declined the change, which gave the bartender a good tip. He thanked me with a smile and I took out my phone.

“Hey, I was at that record label party last night. Weren’t you working?” I already knew the answer, which is always the best place for a journalist to start when questioning someone.

He nodded. “I work most of the big events.”

“I was wondering if you might know who this is.” I held up my phone. “We only got a chance to talk for a few minutes but he said some really interesting stuff that I think would be great for a story I’m working on. I’d love to get some quotes from him on the record.”

The bartender looked at my phone. “On the record quotes? That’s what you want from the guy?” He raised his eyebrows and gave me a look that had me cursing my lame cover story.

“He seemed very knowledgeable.” God, I sucked at this.

The bartender chuckled. “Well, I guess he must have some real special knowledge. You’re the second person to ask about this guy today.”

Hmm. “Who was the other person?”

“This real intense looking dude. The sex on a stick type, but kind of scary, too.” He wagged those expressive eyebrows. “Didn’t give his name but he did pay me more than you.”

Okay, so maybe that tip wasn’t so great. I sighed and forked over a twenty. He eyed it disdainfully. I made a face. “Look, I’m a writer. Cut a broke girl some slack.”

He rolled his eyes and pocketed the twenty. “The guy you’re looking for has been coming in a lot lately. I know from some of the girls who wait tables that he lives in that motel three blocks north. At least, that’s what he told them.”

“Any of them go back to his room with him?”

He shrugged. “I ain’t their daddy. If they did, they had no complaints.”

“So nobody.” I stopped, not sure how to ask what I wanted to know. Would the bartender freak out if I asked if anyone had gone missing or passed out in the bathroom from blood loss? “You ever hear anything weird about him? Anything suspicious?”

“He’s just a guy who likes to dance and flirt. People like him.” Another shrug. “Except for you and Sex Stick.”

“Hey, I just want to talk to him for a story. But, you know, a girl can’t be too careful.”

“Nobody’s ever had any complaints about him, and we take care of that shit here.”

I took a sip of my beer then climbed down from the barstool. “Three blocks north, you said?”

“Yep.” He grinned. “I told the scary guy to look in Culver City.”

“But you’re telling me the right place?”

“You’re not scary, and neither is the dude you’re looking for.”

I got crowded out by a late rush of lunchtime customers, but I didn’t know what else to ask without sounding crazy anyway, so I left.

I headed north, in no hurry. If this guy was a vampire I’d be more likely to find him at night. Maybe that’s why I’d come here asking questions in the daytime, my subconscious trying to keep me alive. Or just being a coward. Either way, I felt safe in the sunshine.

So who was this scary, sexy, intense guy who was also looking for the same man? A vampire hunter? My friend Elvis certainly wasn’t the only one out there, so if there was a bloodsucking monster hitting up the LA bars and clubs for meals, it made sense that a hunter would, you know, be on the hunt. So maybe I didn’t have to worry. The hunter would find the vampire, and that would be the end of that.

Except for one thing.

The bartender said he wasn’t scary. In my experience, bartenders are generally good judges of character. With one look, they can tell if a person is going to be trouble. Waitresses, too. The maybe-vampire didn’t seem to be avoiding anyone who might be able to ring an alarm, throw him out of the bar, warn potential victims to stay away.

I’d meant to walk slowly but I get hyper when I’m nervous, so I found myself at the motel sooner than anticipated. Pink stucco and palm trees with Christmas lights still wrapped around their trunks gave the place a sort of low-rent charm. I stood at the edge of the parking lot, within sight of the office. I had his picture, and some cash left to bribe a clerk. I could get his room number. I could…

I could turn around and hustle back the way I came, scared to death of coming in contact with a vampire again.

I’m a writer, not a vampire hunter, I told myself. Didn’t mean I was a coward. Just meant I knew my limits. And taking on a monster all by myself, with no training and no weapons, that was a hard limit.

Fangs filled my nightmares. Pearl-white. Yellowed with age. Dripping with blood. Normal human canines elongating into inch-long weapons ending with a tip sharp as a needle. Fangs, and blood, and screaming.

I gave up on sleep around three in the morning. Not the first time for a night like this since I found out vampires were real and not looking to date teenagers. Turn them into a snack, sure, but not date. The nightmares were bad enough, but the endless loop of images that played in my head even while awake was wearing me down. I had never been bitten. So why did I feel this way? Why did this knowledge haunt me? It seemed absurd, considering I hadn’t experienced any serious violence. Witnessed some, yes, but I was never physically hurt. And since I was never physically hurt, there was no reason for me to be acting like a victim of violence who was now experiencing PTSD, right?

No.

No, I didn’t have PTSD. PTSD was serious, I knew, because I’d had it as a kid, not that I ever talked about it with anyone. Having your perception of the whole world pulled out from under you was rough, yeah, but surely not bad enough to trigger another bout of PTSD.

There was nothing wrong with me. Nothing at all. Nothing wrong, nothing wrong, nothing…

The clatter of breaking porcelain forced my brain out of the loop it was caught in. I stood frozen in place for a long moment, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. A single light shone in the room. My kitchen. I was standing in my kitchen, a broken coffee mug at my feet. I didn’t remember dropping it. I scrubbed my face with my hands. In those brief seconds that my eyes were closed, bright white fangs filled the darkness.

I dropped to the floor to clean up the broken mug. Balanced the jagged shards carefully in one hand, but not carefully enough. A slight sting announced a fresh cut on my palm. Blood glowed on my skin and the white porcelain. My heart slammed against my rib cage and my breath ratcheted up to an uneven panting. I willed myself to focus on the immediate task.

I stood slowly, forcing one foot in front of the other. My hands trembled as I carried the broken mug to the trash can but I didn’t drop it again. I cleaned up the cut, relieved to find it wasn’t that bad. My body shook and my heart hammered and an indistinct screaming filled my head, but I did what I needed to do.

Why didn’t that feel like enough? Why did it still feel like weakness, like failure?

I didn’t recognize the woman who stared back at me in the bathroom mirror. She looked exhausted. Haunted. Scared of…of everything. That wasn’t me. That couldn’t be me. I wouldn’t let it be me, not after I’d fought so hard to make myself into who I am. I didn’t know how to get myself back, but I had to try.

Thirty minutes later, I left home freshly showered, dressed, and made up. No matter what time it was, you could always find someplace to go in L.A. I hit the road with the windows down and the stereo up. Red and amber car lights turned the freeway into a digital painting of an endless night full of life. A dry wind carried the faint hint of smoke from a distant fire. I drove aimlessly for a while, letting one song after another propel me along until I parked at a tiny after-hours place not far from the ocean.

I skipped the bar and went straight to the dance floor. A sinuous rhythm wrapped itself around my limbs and carried me out of my own head, and thank God for that. I’d had enough of being afraid, of hiding from the dark. At least here in the music I felt at home, at ease in my own skin for a little while. Gold and green light flashed like fireflies across the dance floor. Half exhausted bodies swayed to an endless beat. Awareness of time fell away and all my worries and fears ground down to nothing beneath my constantly moving feet.

I didn’t recognize him at first. He moved in the darkness between the flashes of light, there and then not in my peripheral vision. He’d changed his blond hair to ice blue but there was no mistaking that bone structure once I got a decent look at him. My limbs wanted to freeze but I fought the impulse and kept dancing as my spook meter edged into the yellow.

I lost him as the music dipped and stuttered into a new track. His dance partner was still in view, though, so I didn’t worry about her getting dragged off to be exsanguinated in a bathroom stall. I gave up all pretense of dancing and searched the crowd for the mystery man. Three different shades of blue hair, but no glacial locks to be seen. After several minutes of looking, I gave up and headed for the bar. I was about to order when a flash of blue appeared in the corner of my eye.

It was him, headed for the exit. I followed, too close to be considered discreet but a loopy kind of nervous recklessness ping-ponged through me and pushed me on. He paused at the door and handed a ticket to the coat check girl. I pretended to be next in line while I got a better look at him.

Dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt with a yellow smiley face designed to look like spray paint and oh shit, he had a reflection! Right there in the star-shaped decorative mirror next to the coat check.

Did real vampires have reflections? It seemed like that knowledge was somewhere in my head, but I couldn’t find it right then. And oh my Gawd, I actually opened my mouth to ask but thankfully snapped it shut when the girl brought a leather jacket to him. He slipped it on and headed for the door.

If I followed any further, I could be putting myself in serious danger. So I hesitated, my feet moving in a restless shuffle toward the exit while my curiosity and my instincts argued. He opened the door, weak morning sunlight spilling in a triangle across the floor. I froze, expecting him to turn back. Vampires could be awake during the day, but they couldn’t be out in sunlight. That tidbit hadn’t gotten lost in my spooked brain. I waited, holding my breath.

Out the door he went, into the sun. I followed slowly, confused, beginning to feel like an idiot for thinking this guy might have been a vampire. A light rain made the morning light glow. He turned his face upward, smiling into the rain. His pale skin gleamed faintly as if covered with a fine layer of glitter. No. Not covered. As if his flesh was made that way.

He sparkled. He fucking sparkled.

So, definitely not a vampire. Good to know. But then, what the hell was he?

Something was happening to his skin, his face. Some trick of the light and the rain and the early hour. His cheekbones, already prominent, sharpened to knife edges. Color rippled through his hair, shades of red and gold and auburn. Most remarkable were his ears, which curved up to elegant points.

Actually, most remarkable was that his appearance flickered back and forth, from what I’d seen inside the club to something strange and beautiful and definitely supernatural. Like a radio with its reception going in and out. A battery slowly running out of juice.

What was he? I had to know. In a scant handful of seconds, a decision was made somewhere deep inside me, fueled by curiosity and a lack of good sense.

“Hey,” I called out to him.

He looked up, startled, a deer in the headlights look in his eyes. Like the flip of a switch, his appearance returned to normal.

“Would you like to get some coffee?”

He turned on a dime, going from wary to a panty melting grin. “Sure.”

I walked toward him slowly, a part of my brain screaming at me to not be so reckless. “You can tell me about yourself.”

His grin faltered and wariness returned to his eyes. “What would you like to know?”

“How the EDM scene now compares to the rave scene in the Nineties, for starters.” I took my phone out of my tiny handbag and showed him the old photo of himself. “How old you are. What’s your secret for never aging?” I made a show of looking up at the sky, brighter with sunlight by the moment as the rain petered away to nothing. “Since you’re not a vampire.”

“Well, shit.”

“I just want to talk.”

He bit his lip, eyes cutting all over the place. Finally he settled on a spot past my shoulder and pointed. “What in the world can that be?”

“Huh?” And like a fool, I looked while he took off running. I didn’t bother to give chase since I knew where he was staying. Plus, I was too busy feeling like an idiot.

<- Part One

Part Three ->