Eau de Shelly
She wasn't what I would have expected in a vampire. I mean, it wasn't like I ever expected to run across one in the middle of the street – literally – in broad daylight – in real life. I only had time to register that I had hit something and look back in horror when she was there next to me in the car.
Did I scream? No, I didn't, but I did swerve right off the road. Bushes and trees flew past, and I remember an odd sensation of flying. It didn't make any sense, because obviously I wasn't doing any such thing. But I hardly felt it when the car finally hit a large rock and came to a shuddering halt. I must have blacked out for a second. When I came to, I climbed out, sat down on the muddy grass, and curled up into a ball.
The vampire, of course, transported herself unscathed from within the crumpled vehicle to leaning casually against a nearby tree – without even the customary snap of her fingers. She smiled at me calmly and showed her fangs – which, oddly enough, were not my first clue as to her species. My first clue was the fact that she wasn't dead, even though I had just basically flattened her with my car.
"Sorry," she said with an amused sparkle in her eyes. "Although I think maybe you should be apologizing, since you were the one after all who seemed to think I would look better as roadkill."
"Sorry." I obliged with a shiver of horror and turned away from the gleaming teeth she kept flashing at me. "I didn't see you until it was too late."
"Isn't that often how it happens?" she agreed sympathetically. Somehow the simple sentence struck me as prophetic and sent chills down my spine. It set my imagination to racing – she was apologizing beforehand for killing me. At any second she would leap upon me and sink her teeth into my delicate skin. I let my hair out of its ponytail and arranged it protectively around my neck.
"You're afraid," she smirked, noticing my action.
"No," I lied, sitting up straight. "Just startled. I didn't know that v – uh, you guys or whatever – were real." I cringed. Already I might be getting on her bad side. Well, if hitting her with my car wasn't enough to do that. "Sorry, I'm not sure how you like to be addressed. Do you all call yourselves the v-word?"
She looked highly amused. "Vampire?" A laugh escaped her lips, and a blast of cold air swept across my face even though it was probably nearly 100 degrees out. "You watch too many movies, human. We call each other by our names, of course. How typically anthropocentric of you. Do you think dogs think of themselves as 'pets,' or cows as 'steak,' too?"
I stuttered. "God, I – never actually –"
She laughed again. "I'm kidding! Yes, we call ourselves vampires. Why don't you just call me Shelly, though?"
My head was spinning, both from the recent impact and from the emotional rollercoaster that was Shelly, the vampire. "It's nice to meet you," I said, feeling like a brick had settled in my brain region.
She looked a little put-out at my response. "Uh-huh," she said after a pause. "And your name is…?" she prompted.
For a moment I considered lying, but I wasn't sure what that was going to accomplish. So I just told her. She was magnetic; I couldn't help it. If she told me to stick a straw in my neck in the next few minutes, I'd probably end up doing it. "It's Rani," I said.
"Ooh, pretty," Shelly said. "It sounds Indian." She grinned. "Oh wait, do you all refer to yourselves as the 'I-word'?"
I began to roll my eyes, but she was already moving on to the next topic. I wondered if she was just ADHD or something, or if maybe all vampires had an issue with hyperactivity.
"Wanna see something cool?" she asked, without giving me time to answer. She stood up and sort of jumped a little bit, and suddenly her long legs, which had been encased in wrinkled jeans, disappeared into the air. Her arms and torso shriveled into a furry little lump, and her graceful features transformed into a snouted visage with horn-like ears. Shelly bobbed around like this for a few seconds, then two webbed wings unfurled from the potato-shaped body and I understood.
"Oh, you're a bat," I said, feeling stupid.
Shelly squeaked in reply, but there was no way to infer what emotion she was communicating. Her tiny, ugly-but-somehow-cute face flitted around in front of me, grinning as her leathery wings sent little bursts of air toward me every time they beat. She did a few loops and curlicues, then her legs shot out from the furry potato body, her arms grew back, and her smiling face appeared again.
"Oh, you're a bat," she mimicked, laughing. "I love doing that."
I took a deep breath through the nose and laid back down in the grass with my eyes closed to process.
Long hair tickled my face after a minute. Shelly was bending over me.
"Do you wanna be a vampire?" she said, smiling way too big. Her fangs pressed into her lower lip.
Jesus. I wished I could press pause on time because that is not the type of question you can just spring on someone and expect an immediate response. Seriously, was Shelly unaware of some norms, or was something else up with her? I wondered how long she had been a vampire, and if that could have affected her cognition. She was still staring at me expectantly.
Okay, logically, I knew I didn't want to be a vampire. Definitely not. For one thing, I hadn't even come to terms with the fact they were real yet. For another thing, not that I was an expert, there were a lot of side effects that came with being a vampire. Immortality, an all-blood diet, weakness to sunlight, all that. Possible extreme loopy-ness.
On the other hand, Shelly was so pretty and so persuasive and I had just met her (hit her with your car, Rani, remember?) and I would do anything for her. Her long hair hung around my face and her eyes sparkled as they looked into mine and her lips were shiny as she smiled down at me. Logically, I knew I was under her spell. High on Eau de Shelly. Not thinking straight in any sense of the word. But my heart told me that none of that mattered. Maybe I could be a vampire if she really wanted me to.
However, my hesitation had been answer enough for Shelly.
"I was just being silly, oh my god," she said, leaning away from me. "Chill out." She walked over to my crumpled car and sat down on the hood, which was hissing slightly and leaking radiator fluid. From her new vantage point she smiled again, but her eyes were colder. The heady feeling was gone, either because of the distance or because of her mood change. But I decided either way I liked it better before, when she was nice and I was a tiny bit intoxicated.
"So get this, Rani," she said. "Before I was a vampire, I was a cheerleader. And everybody had like this stereotype they thought I was – stupid, slutty, anorexic, party girl, bully. Literally the most two-dimensional, vapid stock character you could put in a high school B-movie. And now people still have stereotypes about me – evil, pale, drinks blood, allergic to garlic, red eyes, sparkly, can be killed by a wooden stake –"
"You were a cheerleader?" I remembered the urban legend around the girl from our high school who disappeared sophomore year. I was in college now, but apparently the kids there still whispered a highly exaggerated version of events. Like, go figure if she was the one –
"You're missing the point!" Shelly interrupted my thoughts. "I'm trying to say don't be scared of me. When I was a cheerleader I made good grades, I had pretty good body image, and maybe I had a drink every now and then but I wasn't an alcoholic. Everyone just assumed I was going to be fucking Regina George because they never bothered to get to know anything about me other than my cheerleading outfit. Same token, vampires aren't all the same. Just because I look pale and I have pointy teeth doesn't mean I'm going to rip your throat out any chance I get. I'm not some bloodthirsty monster with no self-control. High school guys are bad enough as it is."
I couldn't help but laugh. "Okay, you have a point there," I said. I was happy to see that her smile this time reluctantly reached her eyes. "And I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions," I told her. "Although you ought to cut me some slack since I think I hit my head when we took that shortcut off the road. Plus, I just found out vampires exist. It's kind of a lot to take in."
"Aw, let me see your head," Shelly said. She switched to bat form and zoomed over to me, then back to normal.
"Wow, show off," I said. "That was completely unnecessary."
"But it's fun!" Shelly laughed. "It's way better than gymnastics."
She pulled my hair back and started feeling around my scalp. Once again I began to feel hazy and sleepy, like the one time I tried alcohol back when I was fifteen. I hadn't liked it, but it made me feel warm and floppy. This was the same but better.
Shelly brushed against my neck and I nearly bit my tongue. "Ooh," she said, a sing-song tone to her voice. "Got a boyfriend?"
I felt my skin turning red as I remembered the bruise mark near my jaw. "No," I said. "Boys are bloodthirsty monsters, remember?" I tried to say it jokingly, but it came out all weird.
"Oh yeah?" Her fingertips, cold and dead, were still feeling around for lumps and bruises on my skull, but her voice had gone soft and quiet. I wished I could see her expression. "So nobody interesting enough, or…?"
"Sort of." I shrugged, feeling uncomfortable. Why was I talking to a vampire about my love life, anyway? "Boys never have been that interesting."
"So…a girlfriend?" Shelly pressed on, hesitant but clearly still curious. "That cute little love bite had to come from somewhere, and it wasn't me. I would have bit a little deeper." She laughed, but I think she felt like the comment was weird, too.
At this point I had no idea what was going on. "Um, yeah," I practically choked out. "Her name's Jessica. We're not, like, serious or anything." I said it all in a rush. I wasn't sure why I was so scared. Homophobic vampires weren't a thing, right? They were part of an ostracized group, too, so if anything, they'd get it. No – it was more like I was afraid I was going to hurt Shelly's feelings. But that didn't make any sense to me.
"Pretty name," Shelly said, her voice suddenly bland. She dropped her hands from my head and stepped away. "You seem fine."
"Uh, good," I said.
"So, do you think Jessica's out looking for you?" Shelly asked, looking at her nails. "Do you think if you disappeared she'd search until she found you, or do you think she'd give up on you right away and move on because you guys weren't serious enough yet?" She raised an eyebrow. "You never know with some people. They can be cold and selfish as hell, and you don't find out till it counts, you know?"
"What the fuck," I said, standing up. "Where did that come from?" She was slouching, eyes glowing with an unspoken challenge. I walked right up to her. "Maybe there was a reason you had a reputation for being a bitch back in high school," I said, biting out the words. "Jessica's a good person. She's not you. I know we haven't been together long, but you can't have a relationship without trust. Especially when –" my voice caught. "Well, when you're not sure who's going to be okay with you holding hands in public." I frowned. "Besides, I can just call AAA. The wreck's not that big a deal, and it's not like I've been gone for days. Why are you trying to start all this fucking drama?"
Shelly looked like she was going to say something else, but she let out a long breath instead. It wisped around my face, smelling like the ice in the back of a freezer. Not really bad – just dead.
"Wait, are you just projecting all this? Did you get abandoned by someone?" I asked. It was a nosy question, but if she was going to ignore social norms then so was I. "Did you, like, get lost in the woods, become a vampire, and spend ages waiting for whoever to come find you, only they never did?" Yeah, that was the urban legend from high school. It was stupid, but so are all urban legends.
"Not that it's any of your fucking business, but more or less," Shelly snapped.
I blinked. "Oh…I didn't think that was actually going to be real. But okay." I shut my mouth and peered at her inquisitively, having suddenly seen in her in a new light. This was an abrupt realization. Shelly was, in all likelihood, the girl from my high school – I might have even known her. My anger dissipated in the face of my curiosity. "Who turned you into a…how did you become one?" I asked. "Are there more vampires around here?"
"Can we not talk about it?" she said, a pained wrinkle appearing in her pale forehead. "It doesn't matter. And I'm sorry for saying that stuff about your girlfriend or whatever."
I shrugged it off. "Did you go to Maple Ridge High? Before you were – you know?"
"I said I don't want to talk about it." Shelly glared at me, and this time she was up in my personal space. I could feel Eau de Shelly again in waves, but instead of a pleasant buzz, it was like a burn at the back of my throat and the ends of my nerves. She squared her shoulders, and I realized how much taller she was than me. I didn't quite have the presence of mind to be afraid, but I probably should have. In a fluid movement, Shelly shoved me backwards onto the ground.
My head hit the grass and dented into the soft mud. It probably would have hurt a lot more otherwise. She was leaning over me again as my ears rang from the impact, but instead of the sweet, too-bright smile she had worn before, her eyes were sharp and her mouth was twisted in a grimace. I barely had time to wonder if I should start panicking.
"Wanna be a vampire?" she asked, but it didn't really sound like a question.
I took a deep breath and lay very still, feeling her hair on my shoulders and her breath on my face. "Shelly…" I began.
"Nobody asked me," she said. "Nobody smiled and made friends and said, Hey this could be cool but it's no big deal if you're not into it. Instead it was just deserts for a skanky stuck-up bitch who wouldn't put out."
My mouth was dry. I swallowed loudly and looked away from her piercing stare as turmoil bubbled in my stomach. There was a guy at our school I remembered very clearly saying something similar to me. I had ignored him as an arrogant creep. Shelly hadn't had that privilege.
"I was a fucking virgin," she said. "But I got to swap one v-word for another, I guess. And I was so damn unlikeable, apparently, that when my bloody body got left in the woods by my knight in shining rental tuxedo, nobody even noticed! I got to lie there, completely conscious as I bled out, basically died, and then came back as a vampire with the knowledge that no one had come looking for me." She stopped, reached out, and yanked at my hair till my neck was exposed. "Not even the few people I had hoped could see there was more to me."
I began to sniffle, my breath coming fast. "Wait, Shelly," I whispered. "Please…"
"I don't have to ask," she said, her mouth practically on my skin. "In fact, I can make you want it. Funny thing I found out I can do."
"I'll let you, I'll let you," I gasped, "Just please let me tell Jessica goodbye. You can do anything you want if you just let me say goodbye to her."
I think I meant it. Before, Shelly had me bewitched and I wasn't thinking clearly when I thought I could be a vampire. I was thinking more about her soft hair and bright eyes. Now, however, I knew that if I was going to die – or un-die – I wanted to make sure I didn't go the way Shelly had gone.
First, I was going to choose it. She wasn't going to fog my mind to make me choose it; I was going to be totally clear-headed.
Second, I was going to let the person I cared about know that it wasn't her fault and make sure we got the chance to say goodbye.
"Please just let me call Jessica," I said.
"Fucking Jessica," Shelly barked, her voice breaking a little. Abruptly, she released my hair and jumped back so that she was sitting on her heels. I wriggled away from her as quickly as I could and pulled my limbs in close to my body. My pulse was throbbing at my throat, as if she had magically drawn all of my blood to that point.
She was sitting with her arms limp in her lap, shoulders slumped. "You didn't even remember me," she said.
"You went to my school –"
"No, you don't really know me. I'm just that girl who disappeared. I'm just a tragic story to you. I imagined that I could make you…want me." She broke off as tears threatened to overwhelm her.
"I don't understand," I said. "What do you mean?"
"I wanted you," she said. "I liked you. You were always so normal and nice and I thought maybe for once somebody wouldn't judge me by appearances. And I knew you were…I heard that you liked girls."
"I never even talked to you," I said in flat incomprehension.
Shelly nodded, her cheeks wet and shiny. The irrelevant thought passed through my mind that I never considered that vampires could cry. "God, I know," she continued. "It's so stupid. But then I saw you again, and I hoped there was a chance that I could…I don't know, change things, make you see me for who I really am, make you stay."
I stayed silent, afraid that any answer I gave would either be twisted as an affirmation or as a harsh denial. I didn't want to incur her wrath again. However, I was once again seeing her in a new light. I understood that she desperately wanted love. Why she had sought it from me was bewildering, because I couldn't recall having a single interaction with pre-V Shelly. Still, there had been more to cheerleader Shelly, and there was obviously a lot more to vampire Shelly than just violence. And I could show her I recognized that. That was what she wanted anyway – not some fake, forced love.
But then she said, more quietly, "I have this power now, too. I really don't have to ask. I really could make you."
My eyes fell shut and I held my breath. Whatever was coming, I told myself to be ready.
"But it wouldn't be real." The words were barely audible. They were swallowed up by the forest with barely enough time for me to process them. Then, Shelly stood up and rubbed at her face. A normal person's eyes would be red from crying; hers were rimmed with a silvery-pearl color. She bent over and offered me her icy hand and helped me up from the ground. I grasped it hesitantly, ready to fight or run if I needed to.
Just then, my phone started ringing. I could have jumped a mile into the air. Shelly dropped my hand like it was a snake, but she was smiling faintly. I grabbed the phone out of my pocket and slid the lock open.
The picture on my screen was of Jessica, her head leaning against mine, her straight teeth shining out of her wide smile, her warm summer skin glowing in the light of an afternoon sun.
"Hey," I said, trying to keep my voice even.
She resonated through the phone's speakers. "Oh my god, you've been gone for hours! I thought you were supposed to be back at like noon! I was gonna call the cops!"
"I ran into an old friend," I said, and looked around for Shelly.
She was gone. Probably morphed into a bat while my back was turned and just took off. I felt a horrible aching feeling in my gut at her absence, because I felt like something good had been about to happen. I wanted to say something inspiring to her, something that would change her immortal life. That was probably pretty arrogant of me, to imagine that there was anything I could say in response to Shelly's past, but I knew that something had started to happen. I couldn't take credit for it, but I hated leaving things unresolved the way we did.
Maybe I just wanted a clean, happy ending for my own benefit.
I got off the phone with Jessica and stood alone in the forest, feeling a bruise growing on the back of my head. I wondered if it was from the wreck or from Shelly tackling me. The car was still smoking a little, and definitely wasn't in any shape to be driven home. Everything looked exactly the same. Honestly, I seriously weighed the idea that I imagined the whole thing, or dreamed it while I was blacked out, but I could still feel her – that buzz in my veins. I was going home to Jessica, but Eau de Shelly was going to stay on my clothes.