Jeff Kozzi

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Braced for the Bite

by Jeff Kozzi

As the waitress brought the drinks, a tropical rum mix for her and a Bloody Mary for him, Jennifer began to relax. She’d hesitated when this new neighbor had asked her out. While discriminating tastes did not stand among her strong suits, Lucas seemed more strange and more attractive than any other man in her long line of lovers. Elements of both intermingled too freely. Deep, penetrating, almost hypnotic eyes bored into hers with his every examination. She could admire the sharp angles to his facial features, but even his smile, so slight and toothless yet undeniable in its self-satisfaction, could not distract her from the deep eyes that drew hers.

His old-fashioned mannerisms had projected nothing but polite charm the entire evening. Yet the more Jennifer tallied the overwhelming positives of this man, the more cynical her thoughts grew. She’d learned to distrust the qualities of wealth, charm, attractiveness and unattachment whenever they meshed together so well. He’d opened every door for her, and, with seeming sincerity, remarked with pleasure on her appearance. It wasn’t until he said that her scent was "ravenousing" that her mental dork alert set off again. She shrugged the feeling off and attributed each new cynicism to her bloated, not-so-fresh feeling and disregarded all slowly rising fears and insecurities.

"You’ve never been married?"

That slight smile dimpled his cheek and showed just a hint of the points of canines pressed into his lower lip. "Eternally single."

"You live in that big penthouse all alone?"

"No one can live with me. My habits annoy anyone trying to live."

She decided to meet the challenge. "I haven’t found you annoying."

"You would." He shrugged and took a sip of the Bloody Mary. He savored the thick juice on his upper lip, then his pointed tongue lapped at the clinging excess in a motion too quick to be impolite. Jennifer could see how that might get annoying, over time.

She peered at him. His height made him seem thin. She checked his left hand for a pale section of finger that might give away the presence of a ring usually worn. But all his skin was pale, almost anemic.

"So what made you move to the U.S., and New York?" she asked as the waitress laid their plates out before them.

He probed his extra-rare porterhouse with his fork, delicately at first, then with more exuberance. Bloody juices flowed onto his plate. He smiled at the puddle then took up his knife. He brought his food to his mouth with his left hand rather than switching utensils and hands with every cut. He ignored the baked potato, the mixed vegetables, and the woman across from him. His deep eyes only focused on the red meat.

Jennifer ate more slowly. She watched him, thinking only of her mother’s oft-repeated cliche, "The way to a man’s stomach...." She chewed demurely. The thought occurred to her that he’d make a good movie date, because he wouldn’t be groping her while she wanted to watch the flick. At least as long as the popcorn lasted.

His attention to his main course wavered only when she guffawed rudely. The laugh suppressed to a giggle almost immediately, but then turned into a lingering, uncontainable bemusement. The barest hint of annoyance crossed his face as he rolled his eyes up to her. She squeezed her lips and tried biting her finger. Her sudden amusement drew his attention, but he didn’t release his utensils; his fingers tightened around them. His pallid countenance almost flushed with new self-consciousness.

"What," he asked, "is so outrageously funny?"

"Oh, nothing," she giggled.

His eyes bore into hers. The depths swirled around his pupils. Fire flickered. "No. Please tell me." He closed his lips in new tautness.

"It’s not polite..." Her last word hung, as if the rationale would continue, but she broke into another fit of hysterics instead.

He finally put down the silverware and stared at her. "Stop," he whispered.

She cooled under his gaze. The laughter declined to a controlled smile.

"Tell me," he whispered. "And do not, as you Americans say, ‘lie like a rug’."

Her smile broadened, but she found no more laughter forthcoming. "Your teeth," she said.

"I know my canines are abnormal," he said cooly, "and not at all comforting to the Londoners, or the Romanians before them."

"I’m sorry, Lucas."

As she remained under his edict not to lie, he accepted the apology.

"It’s not the canines," she smiled, "it’s the braces." With a surge of emotion too strong for his hypnotic command, she giggled again. "I’ve never seen anyone so old with braces!"

He pursed his lips, in a closed mouth gesture. "The braces are meant to correct a few problems, and make the fangs less prominent."

"It’s very brave."

"Thank you. This wasn’t how I intended to be entertaining to you tonight."

"Oh," she sighed. "You’ve kept me entertained. At least preoccupied." The floodgates of her seldom-heard honesty burst. "I think the haircut’s fine, but you’ve greased it back too much. This isn’t the fifties anymore, you know. You have a very stiff posture, and I can see how that might be annoying if you don’t let yourself relax. You need tanning sessions, because you look dead—I know it rains a lot in England, but your skin is, like, ridiculous."

Lucas shifted his eyes nervously. The restaurant patrons in their vicinity had all silenced from their conversation.

"That shirt’s luxurious and all," Jennifer continued, "and really matches your eyes, but you should wear it with darker pants. And you should dress yourself on a different angle—I don’t think that thing is even real—you look stuffed. And maybe that night cape is en vogue in London, but here in the States, it makes you look like a Calvin Klein model or an extra on the set of Will & Grace , if you catch my drift."

Lucas gripped his silverware again. He held them tightly. Some color actually flushed to his cheeks as she continued unbridled. None of the other diners stared, but no one around them spoke or ate. "No, I don’t think I ‘catch your drift’."

"I mean, you don’t find a burly Scotsman wearing his Irish skirt over here." When it was clear he still didn’t understand, she leaned forward. "It makes you look gay."

"Happy?"

"No, just gay. What, you live in a cave? Like, queer or homo."

He bristled, and cursed Ann Rice. "I see."

"And that’s really not good, especially with your skin. You need to get out in the daytime more—I’ve barely ever seen you leave your chic little penthouse—or people’ll see you with that cape and your white skin and your real thin body and think you have AIDS. You don’t, by any chance?"

Lucas’ eyes peered at the widening circumference of people who listened to Jennifer’s tirade then quickly said, "No. That is always a concern of mine."

"That’s good. I mean, you’ve got money, and you’re very attractive, and you say you’re single, but you’re so charming and polite, I figure you were either married or gay, or maybe even both."

He smiled, politely but toothlessly. "Neither."

"And I figured you were just going to make your moves tonight and that I’d never hear from you again. And that wouldn’t be good, not that I’d necessarily want or not want to see you again, but you’d be real piggy to make your moves tonight, because I’m at the worst of my rag and really filling my pad."

Several of the other diners coughed and hacked over their dinners. One man asked for his check.

"That’s quite all right," Lucas whispered. "Anything else?"

"Yeah. You could talk to me while you’re eating, at least in between bites. You can make a girl feel alone real quick. You have beautiful eyes, but you really, really need to do something about your breath. It smells like something died in there, a month or so ago. I haven’t decided if you’re a real dork yet. I keep thinking my mother would like you, and that’s not someone I’d really want to see again. And you should probably know, my breasts aren’t real and I won’t want dessert because I think I need to lose weight even though everyone except my mother says I look fine. It’s vanity. I’ll say something about my weight, and if you don’t disagree, I’ll get mad."

Lucas leaned forward at the table and locked eyes with her again with his strongest hypnosis. "Stop being so honest."

Jennifer sat for a moment, looking at him and around the table to the other guests. Both waitresses in their section of the restaurant were taking plates back for doggie-bags. She blushed wildly. "Did I just say everything I think I did? Honesty is so unlike me."

"Not at all," Lucas lied. He smiled warmly and resumed his meal in the silence that had preceded their conversation.

They went without dessert. Lucas admirably performed the expected routine regarding her weight when the waitress had asked about dessert. She excused herself for the bathroom while the waitress took Lucas’ credit card.

Lucas sniffled when Jennifer returned. She’d changed her mini-pad, thus had reduced the blood odor that he adored so well. He admired the high skirt and robust bosom beneath her silk shirt. She had topped off her lipstick and straightened her jewelry. Her gold chain led his eyes into the skirt and towards the once-secretly artificially enhanced mounds. He smiled his most debonair expression and offered an elbow not encumbered with his cape. She smiled approvingly.

His limo pulled to the front of the restaurant with perfect timing. Jennifer assumed he had called the car while she had been changing pads. The chauffeur, a hulking man who unsuccessfully tried to hide his ugliness beneath the rim of his cap, opened the door for them, and responded to her thanks with a gruff, monosyllabic utterance that made him sound more like a professional wrestler than a European manservant.

"Just drive, ‘Gor. The park." Lucas instructed. Then he raised the privacy shield.

Jennifer smiled with some discomfort. "You never said what you do."

"When?"

She smiled, assuming he didn’t understand an American idiom. "For a living."

"Oh. What you see is old money, wisely invested. I’m a trader."

"You never seem to leave home much."

"I do, almost nightly. I’m afraid I still haven’t acclimated to the time change. It’s almost been easier to just work nights here in the city that doesn’t sleep."

He placed his hand upon her bare knee.

She shivered to the cold touch.

"Do I scare you?" he asked.

"No."

He smiled. His fangs and braces glittered in the passing lights, all dimmed by the limousine’s darkened glass. "Are you cold?"

"Maybe a little."

"I can make it warm for you."

She laughed at the metaphor. She hadn’t felt cold until his icy hand froze to her knee.

The limo pulled over to the curb by the park. The front door opened and closed. The driver’s brutish form strolled away. Jennifer’s eyes flickered to her door; as best as she could tell in the darkness, it was still unlocked.

"May I kiss you, dear Guenevere?"

"‘Jennifer’," she huffed. Figures, she thought, that the first guy I meet that’s polite enough to ask for a kiss can’t get my name right. And has dog breath.

He had leaned close to her. Her nose twisted against the rotted smell. "I was trying to sound mysteriously European."

"Sure."

He rubbed his hand from her knee to her thigh and leaned forward to gently kiss her cheek. His lips were cold, but she knew almost immediately that it was better this way, without his cadaver-breath right in her face.

"That’s nice," she whispered as a shiver ran up her spine.

She felt his tongue against her cheek as his kiss deepened. He nibbled lightly as his lips crawled down her face, towards her neck. He took her hand and placed it on his thigh. "I like you, Jen," he whispered.

"I should tell you tonight’s not a good night."

He whispered in her ear, "It’s all right. I like you just as you are, tonight." His hand started fingering its way up her thighs.

She gripped his arms, then his sides. He felt cold all over. Of course the only thing of his that wasn’t icy was something she didn’t want in her face, his breath. But she wondered if perhaps he had heated up in other areas. Slowly, her hands wandered down his ribcage.

His lips had worked their way to her neck, right at the corner of her collarbone.

Her hands reached the waistline of his pants. She massaged the icy stomach below his navel, and wondered why anyone would have named oranges after a belly button. She gave a brief thought to his attention on her neck, and satisfied herself that as long as he licked and nibbled but didn’t inhale, she wouldn’t have to explain any new marks at work. Her boss could be so jealous. She would flaunt her life outside of work only after her promotion.

He kissed and massaged her neck with his tongue.

Never having been one to feel guilty about being easy, she was more than willing to fornicate in her condition if he was. She unfastened the top of her skirt. Just lifting the fabric from below would have made her feel cheap. He rose to meet her.

His lips climbed higher from her collarbone, rising to meet her pulse. He didn’t notice that, hooked on a wire of his braces, her triple-braid gold necklace followed.

She wasn’t sure if this was actually warm, but it wasn’t quite so cold as everything else.

He opened his mouth wider. The protruding teeth sunk against her skin while his hands twisted the cross-seam of her panties open. The pad dropped on the seat. He planned to savor it later.

She reached into his whites and gripped the top.

Her skin dented a little deeper. He massaged the surrounding area with his tongue.

Something didn’t feel right. Things squished and slid in her hand differently than experience had taught her to expect. Then she remembered her college sociology and remembered that Europeans often treated their newborns less Biblically.

He leaned into her. His fangs broke her skin.

She yelped and tried to pull away.

He hoisted himself up and above her, driving his fangs further into her neck.

His coldness seemed to infect her throat. She struggled beneath him, trying to push him off. His strength denied her.

He closed his lips around his target and drew her into his mouth. The necklace bunched in the corner of his lips.

If she couldn’t match his strength, she’d exploit his weakness. She slid her hand down the stiff incline and squeezed.

His nerves weren’t quite as dead as he liked to think. He felt the pain, and reacted to it.

Unfortunately, Jennifer hadn’t thought of a common response to pain. She screamed as he bit down harder on her neck. Her heart slammed beneath the silicone as she tried to push herself out from under him. Desperately, she backed away. Her left hand groped for the door while her right squeezed his icebergs harder. His teeth sunk deeper.

Her hand found the door release. It wagged open before her and cut into the path of a motorcycle passing on the right of the one-way street. The door slammed shut again, catching a length of her hair between it and the frame. The motorcyclist hurled over the car and onto the hood.

The car that the biker had been passing veered away from the accident and into a new one with another car.

Cursing profanely, the biker began hammering on the windshield.

Lucas’ fangs sunk deeper. Jennifer reached for the door again. Her voice turned shrill as she screamed for help. The sounds of two motorists screaming at each other ceased with the additional crash of a third car. Then both voices resumed against the new interloper.

"Luscious!" Lucas slurped.

The pounding against the windshield silenced. The limousine shook as the motorcyclist dropped his boots onto the street.

Lucas gurgled something else. Jennifer tried kneeing him.

The door swung open behind her. She fell out of the car.

Lucas gasped. Blood dribbled from his mouth as Jennifer’s momentum carried him out of the car with her. The biker grabbed Jennifer’s arms and swung her away from the limo. Trapped to the woman by the link of his braces to her necklace, Lucas helplessly chased after her. As the biker swung her protectively, Lucas scrambled after them.

A crowd had gathered to spectate at the misery of motorists facing heightened insurance premiums. Nearly everyone turned to the tangle of biker and vamp and vampire as Jennifer and Lucas orbited a tight circle around the biker’s massive belly. The biker stood dumbfounded for a few moments, then finally drove his arm between Lucas and Jennifer. She continued pushing away from Lucas. Her necklace snapped, freeing them both. She threw herself against the limo, covering her bloody wound with her hand.

The necklace dangled from Lucas’ mouth. His eyes probed the crowd while blood ran down his chin. The charm affixed to the necklace dropped to the joint of the clasp. It shook as Lucas tried to work the necklace out of his braces. When the charm touched his neck, he screamed. His hand shot for the wound, inadvertently batting the necklace. The charm, a small cross given to Jennifer on her confirmation, bounced to his cheek and inflicted another quick burn.

Motorists, biker, and spectators all watched in disbelief as Jennifer pointed to Lucas and screamed accusations. One of the women in the crowd tried waving for Jennifer’s attention then brushed her own thigh. Jennifer remained oblivious to the message, but more of the crowd turned from Lucas to his date’s mostly-bare thigh, on which a used tampon seemed to be glued.

Hurried drivers caught behind the accident began blaring their horns.

Lucas had taken to running from himself in circles. Every motion bounced the jewelry threaded in his teeth. The cross burned his ashen skin at each point of contact. Lucas tried shielding his face with his hand, but burned himself further every time he tried grasping his enemy. He yelped and ran circles like a dog chasing his tail. Finally his motions dropped his open pants to his ankles. He tripped himself in his efforts to escape. He landed on his side, with the cross between his cheek and the pavement. He screamed more horridly than before and bounced to his back. The necklace looped over itself and brought the cross down on the center of his neck. Skin burned with the hiss of escaping steam. Lucas yelped, then rolled forward to his hands and knees and tried to work the necklace out of his braces. Too hurried, he bumbled his efforts and tangled the chain worse than before.

Astonished spectators edged towards the vampire, whose deathly white face had been pockmarked with small black burns. Jennifer poked her head around the wall of the biker. For his part, he stood motionless, enjoying this pretty girl’s hands on his oversized waist.

As the mob neared, Lucas eyed them nervously. He tried commanding them to stop, but not enough met his eyes for his hypnosis to take effect. Many were concentrating on his briefly-clad lower body.

Then someone declared, "Look! He’s getting off on this!" and the crowd lunged.

Lucas leapt to his feet but tripped over his pants again. The crowd loomed over him. "That’s not on purpose! I’m dead, after all!" Lucas asked, trying to cover himself while he backed away from the crowd on his hands and knees. His every motion brought another touch of the cross. He yelped with each burn. He flashed his teeth and hissed. Some of the crowd stopped and second-guessed themselves, wondering if they had really just seen the glint of braces.

The crowd began jeering. Some threw things.

"He tried to hurt me!" Jennifer whined to the biker. She noticed the misplaced pad and shook it off her leg.

The biker swaggered forward. "I’ll hurt him for ya, babe. ‘Side’s, he hurt my bike!"

With a surge of courage against pain, Lucas grasped the cross and a length of chain closer to his mouth and yanked in opposite directions. The flesh of his palm smoked as the cross burned into his hand. He threw the smoking charm at the crowd, then kicked off his pants. With calls against the vampire’s escape, the crowd charged. Lucas streaked towards the gates of the park, then jumped. Lucas’ features blurred as the biker, leading the mob, grasped for him.

Lucas’ undignified wail became a screeching hiss as his body reproportioned and darkened. Tight, leathery wings overcame his arms. He used his last leap as a launch into the air. His clothes fell to the street. He flapped frantically away, an eye towards the crowd and a gold necklace entwined in his braces. Had he kept his eyes on his flight, he might have seen the shadow of the short-eared owl’s three-and-a-half-foot wingspan descend over him before the bird’s talons sunk into his furry back and pinched one of his wings to his side. Before he could will himself back to human form, the predatory owl transferred him to its beak and shook him viciously.

The last thing the vampire realized before the owl’s center talon pierced his heart and its beak plucked off his head was that the damned chain had finally fallen from his teeth.

-30-

This story was originally published in the Spring 2005 issue of

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