Freeway Noise

Charla peered between the pallid faces pressed against her window. They blocked what she needed to see.

Vampires can't poke a nose hair into your house unless you invite them ( ... invite me ... hissed a face as she squinted). But vampires meant no trips to the corner for forgotten milk, no ordering late-night pizza. And yes, she finally saw it. Behind the dim shapes creeping across the darkened lawn, there they were: trash cans not at the curb. "Aw, toss my felchin' salad!"

The faces watched Charla with hungry longing as she checked Sundroid. Sunrise was at 7:14:04, the app told her, so she set a "Put out trash" alarm for 7:15. What a pain.

As she pulled the shades their nails clawed an annoyingly creepy skritch. She didn't even bother flipping them off. But they irritated her as much as the noise from the freeway a lousy half block away (in the daytime, that is; it was quiet at the moment because no sane person drove at night). The vamps drove you from outer rooms just like freeway noise did.

Her brow wrinkled. An idea fluttered around the edges of her thoughts.

"You're brooding," Tomás called from the doorway of the inner sanctum. "Come eat instead?"

"I miss camping," she said as she walked through the living room, hoping the idea would solidify. "Sure, a tent's your 'home.' But what fun's camping if you can't sit around the campfire, roast marshmallows?" What was it, what? she thought, not looking at Tomás as he quietly led her to the sound-proofed door.

"Come on," he urged. "Nice music and just wait'll you taste this lasagna." Dozens of vampires called after them as they passed through the padded door into the center of the house, away from voices and claws. Charla gave up trying to grab the elusive idea; it would just have to come on its own.

Quiet string music filled the inner sanctum. The garlicky lasagna gleamed in the candles' glow. Here you could pretend that vampires were not crawling on the roof, or pressed like moths against every inch of outer wall.

Charla lifted her glass. "Tomie, to health and long life in a world infested with felching pests."

"Language!" he teased shyly, ready to apologize if she took offense.

Right then fists pounded on the front door, audible even through the soundproofing. Tomás winced. Desperate voices screamed "Help, please!" But nobody fell for that trick anymore.

Charla slammed a fist on the table. Silverware rattled. Tomás froze with a piece of lasagna just over her plate.

"This is a felching invasion!" she snarled. "They're worse than advertising!" Carefully Tomás nodded, his sensitive face neutral, waiting.

Charla froze. Her eyes gleamed. She had it, she had it!

"Tomie," she said slowly, "Their noise is an invasion of our home, isn't it?"

He put the lasagna on her plate, alarm bells ringing. "Yeah, invasion. But what are you going to do about it?"

She stood slowly, eyes blazing. "Get your smart phone ready. This'll either work or it won't."

Tomás gripped her arm, winced as her arm jerked. "Charlie! What are you about to do?!"

"Follow me and see what I'm going to do!" she cried. "And roll that camcorder." She ran toward the front door. Tomás followed her, filled with foreboding, cursing as he started the calc app instead of the camcorder.

The door shook with the pounding. Seven evil faces pressed against the glass. As they saw her, they grinned hungrily.

And then Charla ripped open the front door!

Tomás gasped. A deadly silence slammed down, broken only by soft hissing. Charla glared at the night creatures crowding her doorstep, pressing up to the invisible line where the door had been.

"Now hear this," she yelled at the vampires. "You're invading my home with your noise!"

And the hissing stopped.

A single voice started to say, "Come out to us then --" but cut off with a high whistle. When she slammed the door, it was quiet. They pressed like dogs against every window but could only stare.

Only then did she see that Tomás was trembling, his face white. "You took a horrible chance!" he gasped. "You could have been killed, ripped apart!" His eyes were glassy, like he was seeing it happen.

"Ah, you worry too much," she said, flapping a hand. Then more intensely, "You got the video?" He held up the phone in a trembling hand.

She smiled. "Upload that sucker." She turned to face the vampires and shouted, "Viral by 9:00!" She made her lips into an "O" and moved her tongue in and out, making slurping sounds.

Charla and Tomás dragged stuffed chairs to the former reading nook window and ate side by side, Tomás still shaking but not knowing how to ask for comfort. Hungry faces pressed against the glass watching them. This time Charla didn't even go through the drama and thrill of ripping open the door. She just said quietly, "The sanctity of our home includes our view." Disappointed, the faces melted away, leaving the moonlit garden visible for the first time in ages.

It didn't matter that every shadow held five vampires. Until morning, the world would be as peaceful as a grave. Charla lifted her glass and delivered her final thought.

"I wish," she said wistfully, "that the damn freeway noise was as easy to get rid of."

Teasing Him Out

My little brother was the tough one. I never got used to the pale faces pressed against every window but he did.

I had to pull the shade down over my bedroom window and still I knew they were out there, just a couple of feet from my face. I'd have moved my bed to the middle of the room but it was built into the wall. So I took to hauling off the blankets and sleeping on the floor.

Not Alec. He kept his bed right by the window. I hated to go into his room at night. He'd tink his finger on the glass, make faces at the vampires outside and drive them into a frenzy. They'd writhe against the glass and make like they were going to smash it with their fists, they'd hiss and show their fangs and their red tongues. He'd laugh at their dire threats and coaxing.

One night he even cut open his finger, a little nick with a razor blade. I was sitting right there; I'd come in to ask him for one of his CDs, and I gasped. I think he was doing it more to tease me than them. He held up the finger with the glistening red line, let them see it.

"Jesus, Alec, don't, oh don't..." I moaned with the fear.

Their bodies shook the walls and windows, they slammed so hard. But never hard enough to break in, they couldn't. We were in our house and we were safe. He walked over and held his finger against the window, painted a little blood "x."

"Come out, bring your flesh to us! Be warned, snipe! We suck you dry if you set one foot out of your house. We will remember you!" Their voices snarled on and on.

Alec grinned at me, then put the cut finger in his mouth and sucked, made a dramatic "yuck!" face as he swallowed. The vampires became silent and their eyes blazed.

Then one of the vampires looked at me. He was older than the others and his face was fatter. With a chill that that crawled through my skin, I heard his thin cold voice whisper, "Open the window and push him out to us."

I turned so fast I tripped as I stumbled to my own room. Alec laughed and called after me, "What did he say?"

Shaking in the dark, crying with the fear, I turned on the overhead light and my bedside lamp. I knew they were outside my own window even though I couldn't see them through the shade. The skritching of fingernails started. I retreated to the very center of the room.

I only saw the vampire who first said it one more time, but once the idea had been suggested, they never dropped it. Night after night they whispered at my window ... send him out to us, young one ... we will catch you one day ... you can never be careful enough forever ... send him out to us and we will spare you...

They never said it again while Alec was around. They raged at him and threatened him, but always a few pairs of red eyes would be on me.

Days went by and we had our normal lives. Cold cereal for breakfast and fresh mornings with only footprints left. Mom and Dad drove us to school even though it was two and a half blocks.

Where did they all go in the daytime? You never saw a corpse: anyone they caught was either drained and turned into one of them, or eaten to the last stitch of clothing. When we got home, we could play outside but the unbreakable rule was: back home an hour before sunset, no exceptions, ever. Except Alec would come dancing in the door fifteen minutes before sunset, saying "Chill out dudes," as Mom and Dad raged at him, weak with relief.

Then the sun went down and the world outside our lighted islands belonged to them, and the whispering at my window would start up again.

On my 12th birthday, Alec gave me a nice card that he made himself. He wasn't always a jerk. We made popcorn and settled in the living room to watch old movies. I was watching him, a nervous hum in my belly, not thinking anything in particular.

Mom and Dad had a great movie collection and I picked one that I thought would be too grown-up for him, thinking he might whine for a kid movie. But he watched it with me.

It was a French film with subtitles. In one of the first scenes, an uncle offers to sing at a big family gathering. They all say no. So he says, "Alright then, I'll show you my ass." And does it.

Alec got that mischievous look. "I'm going to moon those vampires," he announced.

I felt a jolt of terror. He saw it, his eyes said "Wimp" and maybe that made him up the ante. "I'll just open the front door to do it. They can't come in if I don't invite them."

Suddenly I pictured him standing in the doorway, me right behind him and tried to squash the thought that came to me. He sprinted to the door. I grabbed at him but confused thoughts were fighting in my head. If I gave him just a little push...

He snapped open the deadbolt. I pulled at him, shouting "NOO, don't!" From upstairs, Mom's voice screamed, "What are you two doing???" Slippers and boots clumped down the stairs.

Alec got the door open and there they were. Cold, thin bodies filled the doorway. Alec turned, ripped down his pants and underpants, and mooned them just like he said he would. Three of them looked at me.

I quivered in perfect terror and couldn't move. But I twitched against Alec. His balance shifted just a snitch, and his white butt protruded an inch, maybe two, past the line of the door. Outside the house.

In a forever that was over in a roaring instant, they pulled him out. The mischief whipped from his face and it gaped in horror.

He vanished into the pressing hoard.

An animal snarling and a spray of blood filled the air but not a drop came inside. Hungry vampires caught even the spraying mist, sucked it up, smacked their lips. I leaned against the edge of the open door. In a minute I would pass out...

Hot hands pulled at me and I knew I was dead. But it was my parents pulling me safely inside. The door slipped from my grip and drifted shut with a click. But not before I saw--

Mom's arms held me tight and Dad stroked my hair with hands that trembled. My nerves were stretched, feeling for the tiniest nick of a hard word. My skin cringed at the familiar sound of Mom's breath, her "Tell me exactly what happened." I wished I could see if any look passed between them. They were both so calm!

But then Mom said, "Where's Alec?" Oh my God, they hadn't seen!

I had to be the one to tell them. Mom staggered when she got it and Dad wouldn't look at me.

But there was one thing I didn't tell anybody for years. It was in that instant just before the door closed. There was the older vampire who had started it, grinning at me.

Just before the door clicked shut, he gave me a wink and a thumbs up.

I could never ask Mom or Dad if they saw it.

I think they were a little colder to me after that, but how can I know?

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