As the last streaks of orange and pink faded from the horizon, I watched a woman cut past the duck pond in Grant Park, eyes glued to her phone. No matter how many classic stories involve creepy happenings in the dead of night—and trust me, I’ve read them all; how else would I have learned to survive this long?—dusk was the best time to hunt. If you wait too long after sunset, people start to actually take nighttime safety precautions, not to mention the social consequences of getting hangry from waiting too long to eat after you wake up.
I crouched behind an oak tree, perfectly positioned to snatch her after she crossed the bridge. Perfect, that is, if only a trio of red-cloaked figures hadn’t jumped out from under the far side of the bridge, surrounded her, and dragged her underneath into what I belatedly realized was the entrance to a dug-out tunnel. She made an awful racket. It was clear these guys were inexperienced, both from their operational sloppiness and those robes paired with greasy hair three decades out of date. That kind of thing really gives us a bad rap. At the very least, they needed to get over that old myth about reflections and actually look at how absurd they looked to anyone not living in a B-movie from the 90s. No, rather—at the least, they needed to find someplace other than my park to do whatever it was that they were doing. I wasn’t about to bust into their nest though. I had no idea how many more were down there, and I didn’t trust that tunnel’s structural integrity if it was anything like their grooming standards.
I slipped away and doubled back out of the park. I strolled away down Main Street with practiced nonchalance. I lingered for a moment in front of the library, studying the sign by the returns slot until a group of teens walking behind me had passed. Once I was alone, I bent down and flipped over the nearest stepping stone in the flower bed then continued on my way. The change would be practically invisible to most passersby, but I didn’t need them to notice—I only needed her.
A bell jingled overhead as I swung open the door to the corner store. The clerk didn’t even look up from the novel she was reading at the counter. I had maybe twenty-five minutes. I grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler in the back and the trashy magazine with the largest number of alarmist headlines on the cover.
I cut down the makeup aisle on a whim. The ad for a new shade caught my eye: “Pevensie Red.” It was the bright red of fresh blood, the type of shade that could just as well be dubbed “Overt Sexualization.” Decent marketing ploy though, for saps like me. I had read all the classics, after all, and it wasn’t lost on me that Susan was the only one who lived in the end. There’s no such thing as superstition once you know that magic is real. I leaned toward the dusty sampler mirror, applied a thick coat to my death-pale lips, and blotted it with the back corner of the magazine. Good enough.
As I dropped everything on the counter, the cashier sighed and tucked her book away. As she scanned and bagged each, my gaze wandered from the blue-violet veins faint under her wrists to the gentle slope of her neck, half hidden by the chopped ends of her overgrown bob. I could hear her heartbeat, languid; she was likely so bored with this job she could do it in her sleep. I swiped my card, thanked her, and headed out, checking the store hours on the door as I went. Closing was in two hours. I made a mental note to circle back to grab a bite to eat on my way home.
The graveyard was still when I arrived, but not silent. I could hear abrasion-blunted fingers clawing through fresh earth a couple feet down just off the main path. I ignored it—not my job.
The mausoleum was a basic affair: a short, squat box of marble encasing a shallow stairway down to a small interment room. I wasn’t interested in the inside, though. Enclosed spaces with single points of entry are a rookie move. After an easy jump from a granite stele, I crossed the gently sloping stone roof and settled in on the ledge, legs crossed and feet dangling.
Twenty minutes passed. Between reading about claims of secret royalty and the latest Bachelor scandal, I watched the hands, then arms, then head and torso writhe their way out of the patch of fresh earth.
Eventually, a young woman slipped through the graveyard gate, her long, bleached blond hair glowing in the moonlight despite whatever subtlety she had attempted with her all-black outfit.
The fresh vamp pulled himself the rest of the way out of the grave, and the two of them locked eyes. I tucked the magazine aside and leaned back on my palms. I could hear her heartbeat quicken as she dodged the vampire’s first, clumsy grab and struck back with her own pair of punches. I watched her muscles flex as she deflected his advances and launched herself to the side, forcing him to move just where she intended.
It was a rare joy to watch a hunter this skilled. My hunter. It had been a couple years since Meg was Chosen, after all; most don’t last much more than six months. But then, most don’t have me. That was another thing those rookie vamps would never understand: there’s no use killing what’s above you on the food chain if they’ll only be replaced by another, less familiar threat.
After a well-placed kick to the stomach, the vampire stumbled backward and collapsed against a neighboring headstone. Meg leaped forward and buried her wooden stake in his heart, making it look easy. I might have believed it really was simple, if I hadn’t been able to hear the strangled breath she drew as she struck, the crunch of his sternum, the slight vocalization and instant sigh of relief as her arm fell slack at her side. As the vampire disintegrated, specks of living death settling back into the churned soil, I almost felt bad for the bastard: all that digging for little more than thirty seconds back under the moonlight.
I heard Meg jump up onto the roof the same way I had but didn’t bother turning. She dropped her backpack and lowered herself to sit beside me on the edge. She stared at me for a moment, then, “You could have warned me.”
“About one new riser? And be accused of patronizing you?” I handed her the bottle of water. She didn’t respond, but I chose to read her guzzling of water as tacit acceptance.
As she capped the bottle, Meg sighed. She leaned her head onto my shoulder. “Is that really the only one? Your people are really slacking lately.”
“I don’t hear any others. Based on obits though, you might have a couple fresh ones day after tomorrow: Vaughn and Salinas.” I combed ice-cold fingers through her hair, straightening out the tangles left from her fight. As her hair fell back, her neck lay exposed in the moonlight. I noticed—appreciated—that she had done without her usual silver crucifix necklace tonight. She didn’t move. She was teasing me, and I didn’t even mind, much. “I didn’t signal for my health, though.”
“Fine, fine.” She sat up straight, shrugging my hand away. “What have you got?”
“I thought you’d never ask!” I said. She glared. “Oh, fine.” I told her about the pack in Grant Park. I left out my territorial grumpiness, and if she guessed at it, she at least gave me the dignity of ignoring it.
“Thanks. We’ve been tracking some cult chatter around the coming equinox, so it might be related. I’ll check it out.”
“What do you have for me this time?” I asked. She dug into her backpack and passed me a beat-up notebook with a few loose pages tucked inside and a pristine copy of The Divine Comedy. “Another essay? Really?”
“Symbiosis, bitch,” she said, laughing.
I rolled my eyes. “Well, I’ll have you know that Dante was way off with his delineations. The man didn’t even try to talk to any of us primary sources. I could actually write—”
“I swear, Cecily, if you sabotage this—”
“Yeah, yeah, you’ll stake me. Duly noted.”
“Good.” She zipped her bag and swung her legs up, preparing to stand. “Oh, and Cecily?” I glanced over as she knelt beside me. “That’s a good color on you. Really.”
“Thanks,” I said, only remembering the lipstick as the word came out, “It’s a good luck charm, I guess. Last girl standingand all that.”
She considered that a second, then leaned in. “Willing to share?”
Rina Quincy is a writer living in Washington, DC, with two loyal feline assistants. Follow her on Twitter: @RinaQuincy.