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Greetings fellow adventurers,

Welcome to the Worlds of Mel Lee Newmin!  If you enjoy a rousing romp around the universe with or without a space craft, this is the place for you.  Enter if you dare and meet

  • Adagio Dimarco, linguistics professor captured by the alien nomen and held prisoner on a ship where he can’t even breathe, in Noman’s Land   available now on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/s?k=noman%27s+land&crid=1E6OOE6MQSP09&sprefix=noman%27s%2Caps%2C527&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-doa-p_1_7
  • Nick Severin II, diplomat, holding the balance between three universal powers, humanity, Gunera and Amaurau in Balance of Fortune   coming soon from Devil’s Party Press
  • Darias de Savois, crown prince of Arcelor and clandestine necromancer, forced at the age of twenty-four to lead his father’s armies against the forces of the Great Deceiver in Two Princes
  • Jaq Ariane, brothel owner in the prison colony of Lichenwald, in Captives of Ice and Magic
  • Zander First Ellicottson, cursed from birth to bring death to any who befriends him in Reave’s Curse

More worlds are taking shape with every day that passes.  Visit often to see how all my various creations evolve and grow.  Check in on the lives of your favorite people and leave your thoughts of where you think they should go next.

Come on in!  Let’s start exploring!

Gule is Flooded Out

The vampire woke with a crick in his back, not surprising given he was more than a century old and stood at over six feet tall, but mostly because he’d slept on a blanket atop hard sand. Scrubbing his talons through his shortly cropped blond hair, Niles Gule sat up with a yawn and oriented himself. He lay under a starry sky growing pink in the east. The deadly day star was threatening to poison him yet again.
With a scramble of arms and legs, he rose, brushed sand off the sweats he’d worn to sleep in and considered his surroundings. To the left pounded the Atlantic surf. To the right whispered salt grass waving in the breeze. Off in the bushes, something about the size of a dog rustled. But Niles didn’t fear it. Gumby the jumbie had decided to unexpectedly appear. The mischievous sprite, invisible to everyone but Niles, was already trying to start trouble by throwing sand on a nearby tent. Meanwhile, beneath Niles’ feet snored his companion, Walter Cooksey, still bundled against the chill in a worn sleeping bag.
Niles nudged Cooksey with a toe. “Wake up, Walter. This vacation was your idea.”
Cooksey startled awake with a snort. He blinked in fear at the vampire looming over him.
“Don’t eat me,” he pleaded.
Niles kicked sand at him. “I’ve swore off eating humans, Walter. Get up. You were the one who wanted an early start on crabbing.”
Cooksey blinked a few more times, then his eyes focused on the glowing sky over the ocean. “Oh crap!” He tore himself out of his bag and clambered to his feet. “Thanks for waking me.”
“No problem.”
Niles ventured to his pack and fished out a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt. Turning his back on Cooksey, he quickly stripped and dressed for a day of crabbing on the Delaware River.
He and Cooksey had taken a long weekend to drive from Baltimore to Delaware for a vacation away from the city. Why Cooksey, a man who viewed his coworker as a gay, lizard alien out to defeat humanity, desired to spend his vacation with said vampire remained something of a mystery. Why Niles had agreed to the trip was less so. He worked with Cooksey on a daily basis and needed the shy, not very bright, little man to stop viewing him as a reptilian. Cooksey had wandered down a deep rabbit hole created by some woman on the internet. For the past year, Cooksey had lived in terror of the vampire he worked with, and that was growing tiresome. Niles hoped spending some quality time engaging in Cooksey’s hobbies might reverse the damage the Shriner website had caused. Thus, he’d agreed to join Cooksey on a trip to Delaware for some crabbing and quality bonding.
Gumby waddled past, kicking up sand and humming to himself. He found an unguarded cooler near someone else’s tent, opened it, and rummaged gleefully through it. Bags of chips and a couple of sandwiches in foil went flying.
Cooksey stuffed his camping gear into his rucksack and tugged that onto his shoulders. He rattled his car keys. “Let’s get to crabbing!”
As Niles followed his friend across the sand to the parking area, he frowned. “Aren’t we crabbing here?”
Cooksey scowled. He tossed his rucksack into the back of his Toyota Rav4 then snatched Niles’ bag and threw that in too. “Of course not. Assateague is a federal park. You can’t crab here.”
“Then where will we be crabbing on this fine day?” Niles peered at the eastern horizon where the day star was minutes away from appearing. After he clambered into the Rav4, he slathered sunscreen over his face and hands, the only parts of his skin the sun would touch, then tamped an Australian cattleman’s hat onto his head and thrust wrap-around sunglasses over his eyes.
“I’ve got a special place,” Cooksey chortled.
“Of course you do.” Niles settled in the passenger seat. He sensed rather than saw Gumby pop into the back seat. The imp crooned, an indication he was growing hungry.
“Hit it, Walter,” Niles said, looking out at the mess Gumby had created of their neighbor’s campsite. “Before anyone wakes up.”
Cooksey grinned, fired up the engine, and set off along the flat, straight road down the spine of Assateague Island.
The island was unique in that it was a national park for its entire length. It was, furthermore, home to a herd of wild ponies, the ancestors of which swum ashore when a Spanish galleon foundered many centuries before. The tough little horses still called the island home, finding lush grazing in the salt marshes and haven from the mosquitoes on the windward beaches. The horses ranged the island unimpeded. Humans must give way to them.
Cooksey drove slowly, ever alert for the ponies or the small deer that also populated the island. Then they made the curve for the causeway, and they returned to the Delmarva peninsula.
“Where is this secret crabbing place?” Niles asked. He stared at the window as the sun rose sparkling over the Atlantic. Gumby crooned louder.
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret.”
They turned north onto Route 1 which ran the entire length of the peninsula. Soon the Toyota was humming happily even as Gumby complained.
“Stop at a grocery store when we pass one,” Niles said.
Cooksey squeaked in protest. “We’ll miss the best crabbing!”
“I’ll have an irate jumbie if we don’t find him food,” Niles retorted.
Cooksey’s face set in mutinous lines. “I’ll see what I can find.”
The little man obviously didn’t try very hard because for the next hour they sped along the four-lane highway amongst light traffic. Most folks were headed south towards the beaches on the opposite side of the road.
Cooksey exited Smyrna, but instead of turning inland towards the small city, he zoomed east towards the river. Niles growled low in his throat but by then they were coasting along Route 6 due east into the rising sun. Niles squinted against the glare even behind his sunglasses. Gumby crooned some more.
The countryside smoothed out into long, flat fields of corn and soybeans. Here and there sprinkled forest land, but much of Delaware was engaged in farming. Niles pressed his hand against his forehead and hoped Gumby could hold on until they reached the end of the ride. If they were lucky, Niles would find a small grocery store somewhere near Cooksey’s crabbing spot. Gumby only ate milk and bananas. When he became hungry, he also grew cranky. And a cranky jumbie was an unpleasant jumbie.
Cooksey stopped at a lone stop sign at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. Niles frowned at the fancy pole just beyond the stop that held two yellow flashing lights. A sign on the pole stated: “Road flooded ahead when lights flashing.”
“Someone must have forgotten to turn that off,” he commented when Cooksey drove past it. “We’ve been in a drought for the past month. Can’t be high water on the road today.”
Cooksey shrugged. “We did see thunderstorms north of us last night. Maybe they received a ton of rain here.”
Judging by the paltry, burnt corn stalks whizzing past, Niles doubted it, but he kept his own council.
The farmland abruptly ended. The road shot directly straight into a swamp. Instead of crops, a sea of cattails and grasses swayed in the early morning breeze. It stretched off almost to the horizon, broken only occasionally by stands of trees on higher plots of land. After a gentle bend, the road straightened alongside a water course. From his vantage point in the passenger seat, Niles could look on the ruffled surface of the water mere inches below the road.
“What idiot built a road so close to sea level?” he complained. In a few places the breeze sent small ripples of water onto the edges of the road.
“It’s a manmade causeway,” Cooksey explained. “They dug out the swamp to run this road through it.” He pointed to the water on either side of the road. “Those are the channels created by the dredging.”
“They should have made this causeway higher,” Niles commented, noting another spot where the water nearly touched the road. “This is a might too close for comfort.”
Cooksey shrugged and drove on.
Another five minutes of driving brought them to the shore of the Delaware. Here the land rose again enough for a small village of houses to cluster next to the banks. Cooksey pulled into an empty public parking area and shut off the engine.
“End of the road!” he sang. He popped out of the Rav4 and grabbed his crabbing gear from the back seat.
More slowly, Niles slid from the vehicle. A warm breeze ruffled his hair as he stood gazing at the expanse of the Delaware. At this point, the river was so wide he could barely make out the far side as a fringe of green on the horizon. Dark, murky water glistened in the sun.
Cooksey perambulated with his assorted equipment onto the long metal pier that thrust out over the water. Enjoying the view but not much else, Niles sauntered after him. Gumby hopped out of the Rav4 and trundled around the parking lot, seeking mayhem but not finding much because Cooksey and Niles were the first visitors that day.
With a contented sigh, Cooksey settled at the end of the pier, baited three fishing poles, and flung the lines out deep into the water.
“I thought you crabbed with crab traps,” Niles said, taking a seat beside him.
“In shallow water, I do,” his little buddy explained, never taking his eyes off his lines. “But out here the biggest, best crabs are in deep water. You can’t catch them with a trap.”
Niles humphed and settled down to wait. He nervously watched the shoreline where Gumby was trundling along the surf and playing with seashells.
“Maybe if I’m lucky, he’ll drown,” Niles muttered.
“Huh?” Cooksey twisted to see what his companion was complaining about.
“My jumbie,” Niles said. “Maybe he’ll fall in the river and drown.”
“I don’t think jumbies drown,” Cooksey said prosaically.
Niles planted his chin on his fist and heaved a heavy sigh.
With a cry of delight, Cooksey sprang up when the end of one of his fishing poles bobbed. Carefully, he reeled it in. Niles watched the battle between man and beast continue for almost ten minutes. He figured Cooksey knew what he was doing but he questioned the need for such caution. Finally, from the depths of the murk appeared a large, white shape.
Cooksey hustled to grab a net on a long pole. Then he carefully raised the fishing pole. The object on the end was a huge blue crab with its claw gripping a chicken neck.
“Gotta do it just right,” he murmured, maneuvering rod and pole to bring the net under the crab. “If I jerk him around too much, he’ll release, and I’ll lose him.”
Niles curiously watched while Cooksey eased the crab into the net. Then, with a cry of triumph, he pulled the crab in. A few minutes of disentangling the crab from the net and freeing the chicken neck ended with a large, blue crab scuttling about in the bottom of a bucket of water.
“Good job,” Niles said.
Cooksey beamed. He returned his line to the water and the wait began again.
A woman shrieked.
Stiffening, Niles squinted at the parking lot. He saw a woman dancing around and swatting at something. She continued to cry out in fear.
“Damn that jumbie!” Niles swore. He leaped to his feet and ran along the pier towards the woman.
As soon as his feet hit sand, the woman stopped screaming. She whirled around as if certain she’d be attacked again. Instead, Niles felt a sharp pain like rat’s teeth in his ankle. He cried out in surprise and danced on one foot while he tried to kick the invisible jumbie loose. Gumby, however, had his teeth firmly embedded in his master’s leg and like the crab, he wasn’t letting go. Niles danced around, swearing, while Gumby gnawed on his leg.
“You’re hungry. I get it,” Niles complained. “Let’s find you food.”
The woman had staggered away.
“Is there a grocery store near here?” Niles shouted.
The woman continued to backpedal. “Not here in Woodland. Closest one is in Smyrna,” she said. She turned tail and powerwalked into the small village.
That left Niles to deal with his jumbie alone. He tried to outrun it, but a jumbie didn’t travel through time and space like baryonic matter. He simply reappeared when Niles slowed to a walk. And the moment his vampire did so, Gumby clamped on again, demanding to be fed.
This continued for another hour. Niles escaped only to have Gumby find him and bite some more. Finally, Niles couldn’t take it anymore. He charged back up the pier and confronted Cooksey.
“We’ve got to head back to Smyrna,” he stated. “Before Gumby eats through my leg.”
Cooksey considered his haul of blue crabs. About ten big, juicy ones squirmed in his bucket. “Ok,” he sighed. “I guess I can call this a success.” He handed Niles his equipment. “Help me stow my stuff.”
Niles was more than happy to do so. He hastily collected Cooksey’s gear, and with full arms, half hopping one leg as he danced down the pier, he returned everything to the car. Cooksey followed with his crabs which he carefully stowed in the back seat foot well.
Niles drew a breath of relief when they were on the road out of Woodland. Seeming to know they were heading towards food, Gumby stopped gnawing on Niles and began playing with the crabs. He pulled one completely out of the bucket and allowed it to pitch Niles’ ear with his claw.
“Dammit!” Niles complained, swatting the jumbie.
Cooksey slammed on the brakes. Niles jerked forward. The crab’s claw wretched a bit of flesh from the vampire’s ear.
“What the hell!” Niles shouted. “What are you doing, Walter?”
Cooksey sat peering out the front windshield at the road ahead. “Um, Ghoul… we’ve got a problem.”
Niles turned forward, holding his ear to stop the clear ooze from running down his neck. He found himself staring not at a ribbon of asphalt shooting off into the marsh. Instead he was looking at a sea of gently rippling water.
“What the hell?” he repeated. “Where did that water come from?”
Cooksey grimaced. “Um… remember the flashing lights?”
Niles glared at him and the offending water.
“High tide,” he breathed in final understanding. “What idiot builds a road that floods at high tide?”
“The Delaware DOT apparently.”
“Did you not know about this?”
Cooksey shrugged. “I guess I came during low tide the last time.”
Still holding his ear with one hand, Niles fetched his phone and searched for water meters on Woodland Road, Delaware. There he found it. A complete website dedicated to the water levels on that stretch of road.
“For the love of God,” he moaned. “Says here its maximum depth is almost four feet deep.”
Cooksey stared at the water. “For how long?”
“Another two hours,” Niles growled.
His gaze filled with dread, Cooksey blinked at his vampire companion. “I guess we’re stuck.”
“Ya think?” Niles glared.
Deciding that sitting there in the middle of a flooded road didn’t make much sense, Cooksey backed up to a pull off that led to a boat landing for the estuary. A group of fishermen were settled along the banks of the flooding swamp with their lines in the water.
“Might as well make something of the day,” Cooksey chirped. He grabbed a pole and climbed out of the car.
Grumbling, Niles could only follow him. Gumby trailed behind, crooning his hunger.
While Cooksey greeted his fellow fishermen, Niles trolled around the small parking area, trying to stay one step ahead of his jumbie. Gumby, finding something new to torment, trundled over to the fishermen and began rooting through their gear. No one noticed until he started throwing bobbers into the water. Then shouts of protest followed by nervous complaint flowed when the fishermen realized something invisible was messing with their stuff. The five, heavyset men milled around, unwilling to approach the spirit ruining their picnic.
With a chortle of glee, Gumby retrieved a lone banana from one of the coolers. Cooing happily, he wandered off, munching on his find.
Niles rubbed his hand gratefully across his brow. Only then could he take a seat beside Cooksey. The other fishermen, seeing that whatever had been in their gear had vanished, stood mumbling about ghosts.
Serene, Cooksey simply fished through it all. He’d landed his catch of blue crabs. All was right with the world.
Niles could only sit and stew.
Friendships, he muttered. Their only purpose was to kill a vampire.

© 2022 Newmin

Niles comments: True story, as always. Be careful when visiting Woodland Beach to time your travels accordingly. Twice a day, the only road in or out is submerged by the Duck Creek. If you miss your crossing, you’re stuck. Trust me on this one. Pay attention to the flashing sign.

Gule is Flooded Out

The vampire woke with a crick in his back, not surprising given he was more than a century old and stood at over six feet tall, but mostly because he’d slept on a blanket atop hard sand.  Scrubbing his talons through his shortly cropped blond hair, Niles Gule sat up with a yawn and oriented himself.  He lay under a starry sky growing pink in the east.  The deadly day star was threatening to poison him yet again.

With a scramble of arms and legs, he rose, brushed sand off the sweats he’d worn to sleep in and considered his surroundings.  To the left pounded the Atlantic surf.  To the right whispered salt grass waving in the breeze.  Off in the bushes, something about the size of a dog rustled.  But Niles didn’t fear it.  Gumby the jumbie had decided to unexpectedly appear.  The mischievous sprite, invisible to everyone but Niles, was already trying to start trouble by throwing sand on a nearby tent.  Meanwhile, beneath Niles’ feet snored his companion, Walter Cooksey, still bundled against the chill in a worn sleeping bag.

Niles nudged Cooksey with a toe.  “Wake up, Walter.  This vacation was your idea.”

Cooksey startled awake with a snort.  He blinked in fear at the vampire looming over him.

“Don’t eat me,” he pleaded.

Niles kicked sand at him.  “I’ve swore off eating humans, Walter.  Get up.  You were the one who wanted an early start on crabbing.”

Cooksey blinked a few more times, then his eyes focused on the glowing sky over the ocean.  “Oh crap!”  He tore himself out of his bag and clambered to his feet.  “Thanks for waking me.”

“No problem.”

 Niles ventured to his pack and fished out a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt.  Turning his back on Cooksey, he quickly stripped and dressed for a day of crabbing on the Delaware River. 

He and Cooksey had taken a long weekend to drive from Baltimore to Delaware for a vacation away from the city.  Why Cooksey, a man who viewed his coworker as a gay, lizard alien out to defeat humanity, desired to spend his vacation with said vampire remained something of a mystery.  Why Niles had agreed to the trip was less so.  He worked with Cooksey on a daily basis and needed the shy, not very bright, little man to stop viewing him as a reptilian.  Cooksey had wandered down a deep rabbit hole created by some woman on the internet.  For the past year, Cooksey had lived in terror of the vampire he worked with, and that was growing tiresome.  Niles hoped spending some quality time engaging in Cooksey’s hobbies might reverse the damage the Shriner website had caused.  Thus, he’d agreed to join Cooksey on a trip to Delaware for some crabbing and quality bonding.

Gumby waddled past, kicking up sand and humming to himself.  He found an unguarded cooler near someone else’s tent, opened it, and rummaged gleefully through it.  Bags of chips and a couple of sandwiches in foil went flying.

Cooksey stuffed his camping gear into his rucksack and tugged that onto his shoulders.  He rattled his car keys.  “Let’s get to crabbing!”

As Niles followed his friend across the sand to the parking area, he frowned.  “Aren’t we crabbing here?”

Cooksey scowled.  He tossed his rucksack into the back of his Toyota Rav4 then snatched Niles’ bag and threw that in too.  “Of course not.  Assateague is a federal park.  You can’t crab here.”

“Then where will we be crabbing on this fine day?”  Niles peered at the eastern horizon where the day star was minutes away from appearing.  After he clambered into the Rav4, he slathered sunscreen over his face and hands, the only parts of his skin the sun would touch, then tamped an Australian cattleman’s hat onto his head and thrust wrap-around sunglasses over his eyes.

“I’ve got a special place,” Cooksey chortled.

“Of course you do.”  Niles settled in the passenger seat.  He sensed rather than saw Gumby pop into the back seat.  The imp crooned, an indication he was growing hungry.

“Hit it, Walter,” Niles said, looking out at the mess Gumby had created of their neighbor’s campsite.  “Before anyone wakes up.”

Cooksey grinned, fired up the engine, and set off along the flat, straight road down the spine of Assateague Island.

The island was unique in that it was a national park for its entire length.  It was, furthermore, home to a herd of wild ponies, the ancestors of which swum ashore when a Spanish galleon foundered many centuries before.  The tough little horses still called the island home, finding lush grazing in the salt marshes and haven from the mosquitoes on the windward beaches.  The horses ranged the island unimpeded.  Humans must give way to them.

Cooksey drove slowly, ever alert for the ponies or the small deer that also populated the island.  Then they made the curve for the causeway, and they returned to the Delmarva peninsula.

“Where is this secret crabbing place?” Niles asked.  He stared at the window as the sun rose sparkling over the Atlantic.  Gumby crooned louder.

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret.”

They turned north onto Route 1 which ran the entire length of the peninsula.  Soon the Toyota was humming happily even as Gumby complained.

“Stop at a grocery store when we pass one,” Niles said.

Cooksey squeaked in protest.  “We’ll miss the best crabbing!”

“I’ll have an irate jumbie if we don’t find him food,” Niles retorted.

Cooksey’s face set in mutinous lines.  “I’ll see what I can find.”

The little man obviously didn’t try very hard because for the next hour they sped along the four-lane highway amongst light traffic.  Most folks were headed south towards the beaches on the opposite side of the road.

Cooksey exited Smyrna, but instead of turning inland towards the small city, he zoomed east towards the river.  Niles growled low in his throat but by then they were coasting along Route 6 due east into the rising sun.  Niles squinted against the glare even behind his sunglasses.  Gumby crooned some more.

The countryside smoothed out into long, flat fields of corn and soybeans.  Here and there sprinkled forest land, but much of Delaware was engaged in farming.  Niles pressed his hand against his forehead and hoped Gumby could hold on until they reached the end of the ride.  If they were lucky, Niles would find a small grocery store somewhere near Cooksey’s crabbing spot.  Gumby only ate milk and bananas.  When he became hungry, he also grew cranky.  And a cranky jumbie was an unpleasant jumbie.

Cooksey stopped at a lone stop sign at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere.  Niles frowned at the fancy pole just beyond the stop that held two yellow flashing lights.  A sign on the pole stated: “Road flooded ahead when lights flashing.”

“Someone must have forgotten to turn that off,” he commented when Cooksey drove past it.  “We’ve been in a drought for the past month.  Can’t be high water on the road today.”

Cooksey shrugged.  “We did see thunderstorms north of us last night.  Maybe they received a ton of rain here.”

Judging by the paltry, burnt corn stalks whizzing past, Niles doubted it, but he kept his own council.

The farmland abruptly ended.  The road shot directly straight into a swamp.  Instead of crops, a sea of cattails and grasses swayed in the early morning breeze.  It stretched off almost to the horizon, broken only occasionally by stands of trees on higher plots of land.  After a gentle bend, the road straightened alongside a water course.  From his vantage point in the passenger seat, Niles could look on the ruffled surface of the water mere inches below the road.

“What idiot built a road so close to sea level?” he complained.  In a few places the breeze sent small ripples of water onto the edges of the road.

“It’s a manmade causeway,” Cooksey explained.  “They dug out the swamp to run this road through it.”  He pointed to the water on either side of the road.  “Those are the channels created by the dredging.”

“They should have made this causeway higher,” Niles commented, noting another spot where the water nearly touched the road.  “This is a might too close for comfort.”

Cooksey shrugged and drove on.

Another five minutes of driving brought them to the shore of the Delaware.  Here the land rose again enough for a small village of houses to cluster next to the banks.  Cooksey pulled into an empty public parking area and shut off the engine.

“End of the road!” he sang.  He popped out of the Rav4 and grabbed his crabbing gear from the back seat. 

More slowly, Niles slid from the vehicle.  A warm breeze ruffled his hair as he stood gazing at the expanse of the Delaware.  At this point, the river was so wide he could barely make out the far side as a fringe of green on the horizon.  Dark, murky water glistened in the sun.

Cooksey perambulated with his assorted equipment onto the long metal pier that thrust out over the water.  Enjoying the view but not much else, Niles sauntered after him.  Gumby hopped out of the Rav4 and trundled around the parking lot, seeking mayhem but not finding much because Cooksey and Niles were the first visitors that day.

With a contented sigh, Cooksey settled at the end of the pier, baited three fishing poles, and flung the lines out deep into the water.

“I thought you crabbed with crab traps,” Niles said, taking a seat beside him.

“In shallow water, I do,” his little buddy explained, never taking his eyes off his lines.  “But out here the biggest, best crabs are in deep water.  You can’t catch them with a trap.”

Niles humphed and settled down to wait.  He nervously watched the shoreline where Gumby was trundling along the surf and playing with seashells.

“Maybe if I’m lucky, he’ll drown,” Niles muttered.

“Huh?”  Cooksey twisted to see what his companion was complaining about.

“My jumbie,” Niles said.  “Maybe he’ll fall in the river and drown.”

“I don’t think jumbies drown,” Cooksey said prosaically. 

Niles planted his chin on his fist and heaved a heavy sigh.

With a cry of delight, Cooksey sprang up when the end of one of his fishing poles bobbed.  Carefully, he reeled it in.  Niles watched the battle between man and beast continue for almost ten minutes.  He figured Cooksey knew what he was doing but he questioned the need for such caution.  Finally, from the depths of the murk appeared a large, white shape.

Cooksey hustled to grab a net on a long pole.  Then he carefully raised the fishing pole.  The object on the end was a huge blue crab with its claw gripping a chicken neck.

“Gotta do it just right,” he murmured, maneuvering rod and pole to bring the net under the crab.  “If I jerk him around too much, he’ll release, and I’ll lose him.”

Niles curiously watched while Cooksey eased the crab into the net.  Then, with a cry of triumph, he pulled the crab in.  A few minutes of disentangling the crab from the net and freeing the chicken neck ended with a large, blue crab scuttling about in the bottom of a bucket of water.

“Good job,” Niles said.

Cooksey beamed.  He returned his line to the water and the wait began again.

A woman shrieked. 

Stiffening, Niles squinted at the parking lot.  He saw a woman dancing around and swatting at something.  She continued to cry out in fear.

“Damn that jumbie!” Niles swore.  He leaped to his feet and ran along the pier towards the woman.

As soon as his feet hit sand, the woman stopped screaming.  She whirled around as if certain she’d be attacked again.  Instead, Niles felt a sharp pain like rat’s teeth in his ankle.  He cried out in surprise and danced on one foot while he tried to kick the invisible jumbie loose.  Gumby, however, had his teeth firmly embedded in his master’s leg and like the crab, he wasn’t letting go.  Niles danced around, swearing, while Gumby gnawed on his leg.

“You’re hungry.  I get it,” Niles complained.  “Let’s find you food.”

The woman had staggered away.

“Is there a grocery store near here?” Niles shouted.

The woman continued to backpedal.  “Not here in Woodland.  Closest one is in Smyrna,” she said.  She turned tail and powerwalked into the small village.

That left Niles to deal with his jumbie alone.  He tried to outrun it, but a jumbie didn’t travel through time and space like baryonic matter.  He simply reappeared when Niles slowed to a walk.  And the moment his vampire did so, Gumby clamped on again, demanding to be fed.

This continued for another hour.  Niles escaped only to have Gumby find him and bite some more.  Finally, Niles couldn’t take it anymore.  He charged back up the pier and confronted Cooksey.

“We’ve got to head back to Smyrna,” he stated.  “Before Gumby eats through my leg.”

Cooksey considered his haul of blue crabs.  About ten big, juicy ones squirmed in his bucket.  “Ok,” he sighed.  “I guess I can call this a success.”  He handed Niles his equipment.  “Help me stow my stuff.”

Niles was more than happy to do so.  He hastily collected Cooksey’s gear, and with full arms, half hopping one leg as he danced down the pier, he returned everything to the car.  Cooksey followed with his crabs which he carefully stowed in the back seat foot well.

Niles drew a breath of relief when they were on the road out of Woodland.  Seeming to know they were heading towards food, Gumby stopped gnawing on Niles and began playing with the crabs.  He pulled one completely out of the bucket and allowed it to pitch Niles’ ear with his claw.

“Dammit!” Niles complained, swatting the jumbie. 

Cooksey slammed on the brakes.  Niles jerked forward.  The crab’s claw wretched a bit of flesh from the vampire’s ear.

“What the hell!” Niles shouted.  “What are you doing, Walter?”

Cooksey sat peering out the front windshield at the road ahead. “Um, Ghoul… we’ve got a problem.”

Niles turned forward, holding his ear to stop the clear ooze from running down his neck.  He found himself staring not at a ribbon of asphalt shooting off into the marsh.  Instead he was looking at a sea of gently rippling water.

“What the hell?” he repeated.  “Where did that water come from?”

Cooksey grimaced.  “Um… remember the flashing lights?”

Niles glared at him and the offending water.

“High tide,” he breathed in final understanding.  “What idiot builds a road that floods at high tide?”

“The Delaware DOT apparently.”

“Did you not know about this?”

Cooksey shrugged.  “I guess I came during low tide the last time.”

Still holding his ear with one hand, Niles fetched his phone and searched for water meters on Woodland Road, Delaware.  There he found it.  A complete website dedicated to the water levels on that stretch of road.

“For the love of God,” he moaned.  “Says here its maximum depth is almost four feet deep.”

Cooksey stared at the water.  “For how long?”

“Another two hours,” Niles growled.

His gaze filled with dread, Cooksey blinked at his vampire companion.  “I guess we’re stuck.”

“Ya think?”  Niles glared.

Deciding that sitting there in the middle of a flooded road didn’t make much sense, Cooksey backed up to a pull off that led to a boat landing for the estuary.  A group of fishermen were settled along the banks of the flooding swamp with their lines in the water.

“Might as well make something of the day,” Cooksey chirped.  He grabbed a pole and climbed out of the car.

Grumbling, Niles could only follow him.  Gumby trailed behind, crooning his hunger.

While Cooksey greeted his fellow fishermen, Niles trolled around the small parking area, trying to stay one step ahead of his jumbie.  Gumby, finding something new to torment, trundled over to the fishermen and began rooting through their gear.  No one noticed until he started throwing bobbers into the water.  Then shouts of protest followed by nervous complaint flowed when the fishermen realized something invisible was messing with their stuff.  The five, heavyset men milled around, unwilling to approach the spirit ruining their picnic.

With a chortle of glee, Gumby retrieved a lone banana from one of the coolers.  Cooing happily, he wandered off, munching on his find.

Niles rubbed his hand gratefully across his brow.  Only then could he take a seat beside Cooksey.  The other fishermen, seeing that whatever had been in their gear had vanished, stood mumbling about ghosts.

Serene, Cooksey simply fished through it all.  He’d landed his catch of blue crabs.  All was right with the world.

Niles could only sit and stew.

Friendships, he muttered.  Their only purpose was to kill a vampire.

© 2022 Newmin

Niles comments:  True story, as always.  Be careful when visiting Woodland Beach to time your travels accordingly.  Twice a day, the only road in or out is submerged by the Duck Creek.  If you miss your crossing, you’re stuck.  Trust me on this one.  Pay attention to the flashing sign.

Gule Digs His Own Rabbit Hole

The meeting held all the hush and secrecy of a high-level conclave of spies.  Niles Gule, resident vampire of Baltimore, sat in a conference room on the second floor of police headquarters at three in the morning.  Joining him were uniformed officer Jonas Williams and Skeet Robard, a twenty-something geek just loosed after serving five years for computer fraud.  Normally, Niles would have met with an informant in one of the interview rooms off the detectives’ bullpen, but tonight’s meeting needed to remain off the record.

The floor was dark and silent but for the three individuals huddled around Robard’s laptop.  The slender Black man with a funky bob of curly short hair that gave him the look of a teenager worked the machine with flashing fingers. 

“All I’m asking is you don’t send me up for doing this shit,” he complained.  “I just finished my nickel, bro.”

Williams lifted a brow and gave Robard a baleful look.  “We got you covered.”

“What exactly am I doing?” Robard asked.

Niles pointed a slender, white, taloned finger at the computer screen.  “We need you to hack into Sherry Shriner’s website and implant some information in a way the webmaster won’t notice.”

“Pfft!”  Robard’s thin face scowled.  “You called me into the hive of police for that?  Any sly from Russia can do it!”

“We don’t know any slies from Russia,” Niles retorted.  “We know you.”

Robard snapped his lips shut.  “What you want put in there?”

Williams edged a piece of paper towards the hacker.  “Insert some links to those websites.  Make the titles sound like the rest of Shriner’s links.”

Robard’s face screwed up in disgust.  “You read the shit on this website?  Zombie death plague gonna git ya.  Deep State memos reveal ten years of aliens in the White House.  Come on, man!  This stuff is just bonehead stupid.  You’re insulting my intelligence.”

Niles leaned closer.  “No, we’re asking you to save a friend’s life.”

Williams growled low in his throat.  “Just add the damned links, Skeet, or I’ll find another nickel in your browsing history.”

Robard reared back.  His eyes flashed.  But when Williams glared back steadily, he melted.  “Shit!  You’d do it, too, wouldn’t you, bastard?”

“Uh huh.”

“Ain’t no justice,” muttered the hacker.  He snatched the bit of paper from Williams and started typing lines into what was unintelligible code to Niles’ eye.

“I’ll tuck it in here, right next to Fake Jews Going to War Against the Masons, Buckle up Folks!”  He shook his head while he grumbled under his breath.  “Who comes up with this shit?  And people think us from the hood is crazy.”

“Not into conspiracy theories?” Niles asked as he watched Robard type.

“Fuck that!  I got enough problems without adding no fake Jews into the mix.”  Robard’s eyes remained fixed on the screen.  He fingered the list of websites.  “What are these?  I ain’t breaking no laws, am I?”

Williams huffed.  “Like that would stop you.”  At Robard’s bark of complaint, Williams added, “There’s no law about adding content to someone else’s website.  At least, I think there isn’t.  It’s just some stuff we want our buddy to read.  But he won’t read it if we ask him to.  We need this Shriner chick to direct him to it.”

“Then he’ll read it?” Robard asked, still typing.

“We hope so,” Niles sighed.

“Your bro is fucked in the head,” Robard commented.  “Reading this shit.”

“He is indeed,” Niles replied.

Robard typed for several more minutes.  “I’ll spread these around a bit,” he said, finally getting into the spirit of the task.  “I think your Join the Anti-Zombie Taskforce! will tuck in real nice beside this here photo of Hillary Clinton.  And Vampire Brigade:  We Need Volunteers! seems like it should follow Washington is FULL of Aliens in Human Form and Soul Scalped Humans!  Has a kind a poetic flare to my way of thinking.”

“Now you’re getting the vibe,” Williams praised.  “Make it look seamless.”

Robard shot Williams a look.  “I am an artiste,” he stated.  “I know my trade.”  He flicked his fingers at the pair of officers to shoo them away.  “Just leave me be.  I know what you’s want.”

Williams sat back to let the little man do his thing.  Meanwhile, Niles watched as link after link suddenly appeared on the website in all sorts of random places.

“What are we linking to?” he asked Williams.

The big man grunted.  “I asked my cousin Suzie to dummy up a bunch of blog postings and news articles.  She writes for Baltimore Magazine.  Figured she’d be good at it.”

“What do these articles say?”

“They appear to come from legit sources.  WaPo, the New York Times, Politico.”  Williams grinned evilly.  “She did a great job making a couple look like honest-to-god videos from OAN and Newsmax.  It should be enough to convince Cooks they’re the real deal.”

Niles sighed.  “Yes, spread your lies far enough and people can’t tell what’s real and what’s fake.  That’s the whole problem of the internet, Jonas.  What do the articles say?”

Williams shrugged.  “Just a bunch of stuff to put the seeds of doubt in Cook’s mind about the rest of the crap on this Shriner website.  Some of the stuff Suzie and I made up is so batshit crazy, even Cook’s won’t believe it’s true.  I did a little research into that fella in PA who either killed himself or had his girl do it.  Wondering why he fell out of the cult.  Turns out, Shriner posted something the dude knew for a complete fact was wrong.  Caused him to call into question everything else she posted.  The rosy glasses were torn from his eyes, and he broke from the cult.”

“Only to kill himself weeks later,” Niles complained.  “We don’t want that to happen to Walter.”

Williams nodded.  “Agreed.  That’s why I’m asking my little inside source here to make some other adjustments to this website.  Shriner controls her group through a chatroom.  The members can talk to each other about how the orgone wars are going.  Fortify their brotherhood, as it were.  What happened to the dude in PA is, Shriner turned her membership on him like a pack of wolves on a wounded deer.  He was getting attacked from all sides.  People started posting photos of his house, threatening to kill him.  It was ugly.  So my thought was, let’s make sure Cooks don’t fall into the same hole.”

“How? Niles asked.

Williams pointed at Robard.  “He’s redirecting the chatroom links to one we control.  Anyone Cooks chats with will be one of us, telling him Shriner’s full of shit and they’re revolting against her.  They’re gonna provide proof of her lies.  So not only will he read some of it in the postings, but he’ll get reinforcement from the fake chatroom.”

Niles sat back and folded his arms.  “Jonas!  I had no idea you were so devious.”

Williams grinned.  “I know.  Great, ain’t it?”

For almost an hour, Robard clicked on his keyboard, inserting the various links, postings, fake television screen grabs and audio recordings.  When he was finished, Niles admitted he couldn’t tell which items were original and which were insertions.

“It’s a handy thing this bitch don’t manage a decent website,” Robard commented as he finished.  “This page is such a freaking mess; you could tuck the Titanic in here and she probably wouldn’t notice.  Damn, folks need to take some coding courses.”

Williams laughed and slapped Robard on the shoulder.  “You are indeed an artist, Skeet.  Nice job.”

Skeet grunted.  “Yeah, well.  Remember it the next time you bust me for something.”

“Don’t do anything I would have to bust you for,” Williams shot back.

“Shit that!” muttered the hacker.

“Mission accomplished,” Williams said to Niles.

“Yep,” agreed the vampire.  “Let’s hope it works.”

Niles’ partner, Mariella Cruz, gave him the stink eye. 

“What did you boys do to snap Walter out of his weird funk?”

Niles considered the precinct where the night shift was getting underway.  Not only had Cooksey not avoided Niles like he suffered an alien disease, but he deliberately sat beside him in the evening briefing.  The little man’s pale blue eyes kept sharp watch on Niles’ every move.  He typed notes into his pocket computer whenever Niles spoke.  While Niles was grateful he was no longer persona non grata with Cooksey, he found the almost constant surveillance unnerving.

Cruz twisted a pen in the air.  “He’s back to talking to people and isn’t nearly as jumpy as he was.”  Her dark eyes twinkled.  “And he’s taken a sudden shining to you, Niles.  He’s been all over you of late.”

Niles nodded thoughtfully.  “Indeed.”

“Why the big change?”

“Williams and I redirected Walter’s attention away from that crazy website and cult into a more positive direction.  Convinced him that woman was lying to him.”  He glanced under his desk.  “No more orgone hiding near me.”

As he straightened, Niles spotted Cooksey near the watercooler.  While the man pretended to grab a cup of water, he tried to surreptitiously study Niles, doing a poor job of it.

“He’s watching you again,” Cruz commented.

“Yeah.”  Now Niles was getting the willies.  Something wasn’t right.  What had Williams imbedded in that website?

Suspicion sent Niles back to Shriner’s website and the bogus postings Robard had added.  Working from memory, Niles chased down the link to Vampire Brigade:  We Need Volunteers!  As he read the linked article, he felt a burning anger begin to turn his eyes yellow. 

“That sonofabitch,” he muttered.

Cruz leaned towards him.  “What now?”

Niles closed the website and folded his arms.  His eyes continued to glow.  “Williams!  He didn’t just implant links to convince Walter the website was full of crap.  He’s convinced the little guy to join the Vampire Brigade!”

Cruz arched a brow.  “What’s that?”

“An organization that documents every move any vampire makes so that we can be neutralized and eradicated.”

“There’s no such thing as a vampire brigade,” Cruz laughed.

Niles’ narrowed his eyes as he glared at Williams and Cooksey across the room.  “Apparently, there is now.”

Williams caught his eye.  The big man noted the yellow glow of anger in his co-worker’s gaze.  It drew a grin and a twinkle to his own gray eyes.  Williams tipped his head and sauntered off, smug pleasure oozing from every pore.

“Damn Williams!” Niles hissed.  “He got me again.”

© 2021 Newmin

Links to Mel’s books:

Gule Under Glass

Zajzon’s sensitive nose quivered.  Not because he’d just placed another corpse in the carefully arranged display in a weed and trash filled empty lot but because he smelled another vampire.  Stiffening, he raked his gaze around the block of tired, ill-used factories and empty streets, seeking the threat.    He could feel eyes boring into his back which sent him whirling around, talons extended, ready to defend himself and his turf.  Nothing.

Baltimore drowsed in the quiet of pandemic darkness as night ebbed from the city.  In the east, dawn pinked the sky, promising a new, cloudless day.  At such an early hour in that blighted neighborhood, little moved except the homeless, prostitutes, drug addicts, and the occasional vampire.  Vampires, however, had become scarce in the Crab Cake Capital of the World.  Once, the city on the Chesapeake had been awash with the blood-sucking creatures.  Indeed, the real estate site Redfin had declared Baltimore the best city in the country for the vampirically inclined.  Not so anymore.  Because of a single vampire’s crusade against his own people.

The fact that another vampire ranged near filled Zajzon with dread, although he doubted what he sensed was the alpha lord who’d laid claim to the city.  Zajzon had kept sharp tabs on that particular vampire and knew exactly where he was tonight.  So this was something different.

Refusing to be distracted, Zajzon focused on his work.  He considered his display of corpses, designed specifically to prick the nerves of that alpha, before he addressed the issue of someone watching his activities.  The five bodies rested as if asleep in a line across the shattered concrete of the lot, their hands carefully crossed over their chests.  Zajzon smiled.  A poignant jab that, he thought.  Mr. Gule would recognize the taunt and it would infuriate him.

At the sound of human voices, Zajzon withdrew to his safe zone.  He’d already selected his spot to view the festivities, a basement in an abandoned warehouse with ground-level glazed windows looking out on the lot.  After scenting the air a second time and not catching another whiff of vampire, he decided he could proceed with his plan.  With a pleased grin, he slipped to safety just as a group of drunken young men tottered into the lot.

With careless agility, Zajzon nipped down a set of concrete stairs and through a door he’d previously assured would grant him access to the basement.  A quick survey of the musty space told him it remained abandoned, although it was so huge, anything could hide within its depths.  Zajzon shifted to the window to watch events unfold.

The group of humans stumbled towards Zajzon’s display.  They were so drunk, they didn’t even see the bodies in the dim light of the rising sun until they tripped on them.  Like falling dominoes, one after another stumbled over the corpses and collapsed in a heap on top of them.  The realization that they’d landed on a pile of dead people cut through their alcoholic haze and suddenly shouts of surprise filled the morning air.  With a scramble of arms and legs, the lads scattered from Zajzon’s display and tumbled to sit on their butts amongst the weeds, gasping for air.

“What the fuck!” one of them exclaimed.  “Are those dead people?”

“Shit!  I think so!” panted another.

The one with the most wits tugged a cellphone out of his jean’s pocket and stabbed it with a finger.

“What are you doing, man?” a buddy complained.

“Calling the cops!  What do you think?”  The young man refused to be deterred from performing his civic duty. 

While his pals debated the wisdom of calling attention to themselves, the alert one reported the discovery.  Then they waited in a confused gaggle as far from the pile as they could without leaving the lot.  After ten minutes, the wail of sirens cut through the cool air and a series of cop cars raged to the crime scene. 

Zajzon watched with glee as uniformed officers poured forth.  They corralled the young men and began questioning them.  Meanwhile, a small, blue Fiat careened into the lot and skidded to a stop.  Zajzon licked his fangs with anticipation.

As he expected, a dark haired, spunky woman popped from the car first, followed by her partner, who unfolded himself more carefully.  As the form straightened, Zajzon grinned.

At his full height, Niles Gule stood over six feet tall.  Like all his vampire brethren, he was long and lean, ashen faced and a little gaunt.  Like the majority of vampires, he dressed with care in a tailored suit that fit his body to perfection.  The only oddities to his appearance were his brilliantly blue eyes and corn colored, neatly shorn hair.  Vampires tended towards the dark end of the hair and eye charts.  With his pale coloring, Niles stood out in a crowd.

The catch of a breath in his ear sent Zajzon almost leaping for the ceiling.  He whirled around, talons at the ready to rend and destroy, only to find a familiar face inches from his.  Lira grinned, revealing long, white fangs against a mouth painted with black lipstick.  Her lovely face was as pale as moonlight, her hair dark cloud of soot to match her eyes. 

Zajzon swore as his throbbing heart slowed its mad thumping.  “Are you insane?” he hissed.  “I might have killed you.”

Lira flicked a talon against his icy cheek.  “Not you, my love.  I’d have killed you first.”  Her eyes trended towards the window.  With a murmur of appreciation, she edged to the glass and peered out.  Zajzon joined her.

Gule and his partner, a human named Cruz, had approached the corpses.  While the woman interrogated the four drunks, Gule stood over the display, studying it with those amazing eyes.  A shiver ran down Zajzon’s spine as he watched that cold, calm face consider the tableau.  He could imagine the calculation running through the vampire’s mind at the sight by his feet.

“Yum,” murmured Lira.

Zajzon caught his breath.  “Yum?” he repeated.

Lira purred.  “Yes.  Yum.  That’s him, isn’t it?”  She pointed a delicate white finger at the distant vampire.  “The Lord of Baltimore.”

“Yes.”  The word grated through Zajzon’s teeth.

“Like I said.  Yum.”  Lisa tittered.  “He is something, isn’t he?”

“No!”  Zajzon hated the jealous tenor in his voice, but he couldn’t disguise it.

Lira leaned against the glass while her eyes caressed Gule.  “It’s hard to explain,” she murmured.  “I’ve always wondered what makes one vampire an alpha and another not.  I still haven’t come up with an answer.  But I’ll say this.  I know one when I see one.  He’s got it, whatever it is.”

“He’s a human lover,” Zajzon growled.  “A disgrace to our race.”

Lira quirked a brow.  “Why?  Because he carved out a territory using human labor?  I’d call that brilliant.  Why deal with feeding a flight of lesser vampires when you can use your own food source to aid you?”

“He doesn’t eat them.”  Zajzon humped his shoulders against the wall, unwilling to watch Gule now that Lira had taken all the fun out of it.  “He eats beef mostly.”

Lira shrugged.  “Then he’s even smarter than I would have thought.”  At Zajzon’s scowl, she said, “He doesn’t stir up human hatred of vampires that way.  They outnumber us thousands to one, love.  If we didn’t skulk in the night and possess superior strength over them, humans would have wiped us out ages ago.  He’s found a way to hold a territory without battling its local population.”  Her eyes drifted back to the scene in the lot.  “Look at him.  He walks among them without fear of attack.  Can’t you see it?  They respect him.  He’s won over even humans.”  Her breath sighed with longing.

Seeing Lira moon over a turncoat vampire filled Zajzon with rage.  “I’ll cut his throat and take his damned city!”

Lira’s dark eyes flicked towards him.  “Be careful, love.  You seem to forget.  His father’s a powerful lord, too.”

Zajzon snorted.  “In Toronto.”

Her eyes drifted back to the window.  “I’ve heard they’ve got a unique bond.  Odd, really.  Who ever heard of a vampire coming to know his offspring, let alone doting on it?  Do you really want to take on not only the alpha of Baltimore, but a vampire with the power of Gastondal?”

“If I have to.”  The words grated between Zajzon’s teeth.

Lira’s smile softened.  “I shall enjoy watching that particular show.”

“I intend to finish this,” Zajzon promised as Lira drifted away.  “I will conquer Baltimore.”

“I wish you luck with that.”  The words skittered through the cold darkness.  Lira had already vanished.

Zajzon’s body stiffened with rage.  He glared through the window as the ever urbane Gule worked the crime scene, never once losing his composure though he faced the work of a rival vampire.  Zajzon seethed with hate.

He cursed as he withdrew from the window and muttered of his revenge as he left the building, never realizing another pair of ears also listened.

© 2021 Newmin

Gule Feels the Heat

The sun may have set but the unrelenting heat remained unrelenting.  It vibrated off every paved or stoned surface of the city in shimmering waves. Buildings appeared to dance, light poles to squirm and tires melted onto the pavement.   All of Baltimore seethed in a steam bath made worse by evaporation off the harbor. 

Tempers in the city ran high.  After three days of sweltering in the year’s worst heatwave, the populace had turned on its own, demanding an all-hands-on-deck call for the police department.

Detectives Niles Gule, resident vampire, and Mariella Cruz, hot-headed Latina, volunteered in the effort to keep the streets calm, because any crimes committed in the heat of the night would turn into cases added to their brimming caseloads by morning.  Best to nip problems off at the bud.

At the call from dispatch about a riot on North Central Avenue, the pair headed into the Monument East neighborhood to assist.  As usual, Cruz drove too fast, cut corners too close, and damn near killed four pedestrians by the time she screeched to a halt on a stretch of the avenue lined by 19th century row homes. 

Bathed in the glow of streetlights, they saw a milling mass of humanity in a knot further up the block.  As he unfolded himself from Cruz’s tiny blue Fiat and rose to his full, towering six foot seven, Niles heard shouting and screams.  He normally went unarmed except for his vampire hunting knife, so he rested his hand on the hilt as he proceeded forward.  Cruz laid her hand on her pistol, but kept it holstered.

“What’s the deal?” she shouted. 

Her voice could rocket to the moon, but this crowd was having none of that.  They ignored her.

Escaping from the mob pawed a disheveled Officer Jonas Williams.  The giant man, nearly as tall as Niles but twice as thick, was red faced and huffing.  Something dark stained the front of his uniform, but in the low light, Niles couldn’t tell what it was.  He sniffed, checking for blood, but only smelled chemically treated water.

“That’s the fourth fire hydrant they’ve opened up!” Williams groused, brushing water off his chest.  “I’m getting sick of swimming with my clothes on.”

Niles lifted a brow.  “Better for the city that way.  Do you really want to go swimming in the street without your clothes on?”

Williams’ big mitt fisted, and his gray eyes narrowed.  Then they widened again.  Stepping close to the vampire, he ran a finger along Niles’ neck above his collar and tie.

“You aren’t sweating!”  Williams threw his arms out to the side.  “It’s a freaking 96 degrees at night, and you’re as dewy as a spring flower.”

Niles took a step back, unused to humans touching him.  “I’m a vampire, Jonas.  We don’t sweat.”

“You don’t get cold,” Williams complained.  “You don’t sweat.  Your hair is always perfect, and your clothes are always clean.  God, I hate vampires!”

Niles shrugged.  He was what he was and couldn’t change it.  He deliberately rattled his hands through his short, corn-colored hair to muss it.  “There.  Not perfect.”

Williams growled and threatened once again to punch him.

“Oh, for the love of Saint Mary!” Cruz sighed, cutting Williams off before he belted her vampire.

She shoved the giant man aside and waded into the fray, trying to reach the source of the issue, the hydrant that spewed water at a furious rate. 

Ever well dressed and fastidious even during a heatwave, Niles shuddered at the thought of soaking his fine Italian suit.  At the same time, he didn’t like the mood of the crowd when they ascertained the lady was out to ruin their fun.  Poor Walter Cooksey, Williams’ partner, a small, fat, balding man, was held in the air by a thug of monstrous proportions.  The behemoth wasn’t hurting the little man; he was merely holding him out of the way and destroying what ego poor Cooksey had left.

Niles sighed.  He decided to take matters into his own hands.

Cupping his long, taloned fingers around his mouth, he yelled go home in the Vanapir Home Tongue.  This was an ear shattering, high pitched squeal and brought everyone in the street to a sudden halt.

Having gotten their attention, Niles brandished his fangs, knowing they would glow bright white in the streetlight, and growled low in his throat.

People bolted in all directions.  Within moments, the street was clear except for an old woman with a walker and the police presence, including Cooksey who was dropped on his butt on the sidewalk.  Her face set with determination, the old woman was speeding away from the scene of the crime at approximately 1/10 mile per hour. 

With a shake of his head, Niles took chase, caught her in two of his long strides, and blocked her path.

“Would you like a ride home?” he offered.

The woman sniffed as she gazed up, up, up at him.  “Not if you’re going to arrest me first!”  She tried to shove the walker around him.

“Grandma?”  Williams’ voice rose several octaves.

The woman flinched and raced faster, forcing Niles to walk slowly backwards to keep her in his sights.  “Go away, Jonas!” she hissed, not looking at the policeman.  “I’m not here.”

Williams jogged to her side and grasped her arm, bringing her escape attempt to an end.  “Grandma.”  He softened his tone.  “What are you doing out here at this time of night?”

“It’s hot!”  the woman complained.  “That damned retirement home doesn’t run the air conditioning enough.  Saving money.”  This was said with a sneer.

Williams kept his grip.  “I’ll talk to them.  You shouldn’t be wandering the streets in the middle of the night.  You might get mugged.”

Grandma Williams humphed and tried to free herself.

Williams gazed down at his grandmother with horror.  She was wearing only a thin, sleeveless nightdress and was soaked to the skin, turning the material transparent.  Such a view might have been indecent, but her near nakedness wasn’t what shocked Niles.  No, he was shocked by the fact that her entire body was covered in tattoos that wouldn’t be apparent if she was dressed.  Williams, too, saw the artwork and must not have known about it because his mouth gaped open.

“Grandma!”  That higher octave had returned.  “You’ve got Satanic tattoos?  On your chest?  What the hell?”

Grandma Williams huffed.  “Exactly, Jonas.  What the hell.  That’s the statement I’m making.”

“How long have you been tatted?”

“Since the 60s!”  Although Williams held her arm and Niles blocked her path, she continued to trudge ineffectually forward, like a toy running its nose into a wall.

Williams gazed skyward.  “I had no idea.”

“There’s a lot about me you don’t know, young man.” 

“Let’s get her to the car,” Niles said, turning her.  “Time to go home, Mrs. Williams.”

Leaving Grandma Williams to the care of her grandson, Niles trotted back to the hydrant.

It still gushed water onto the street.  Cruz stood in the spray getting soaked with a joyous look on her face.

“Cruz?” Niles asked, peering at her from a safe distance.  “You ok?”

Cruz nodded.  “I haven’t felt this refreshed in days!”  She stretched her arms into the water.  “It’s also helping to wake me up.”

“Why do you need waking up?”

Cruz threw her arms in the air.  “This city is an oven, Niles!  Can’t  you feel the heat?”

Niles nodded.  “Sure.”

Cruz glared.  “Well, during the day, it’s been close to 100.  That pathetic little air conditioner in my window only makes things barely tolerable.  I can’t sleep.  I just lie there, stewing in my own sweat.”

That concept was alien to the vampire.  He’d never sweated a single drop.  He couldn’t imagine heat disturbing his dormancy.  “Why didn’t you say something?  My apartment blasts AC.  It gets downright frigid sometimes.”

Cruz almost melted into him at the thought.  Her hands gripped the lapels of his jacket.  “Can I sleep there tomorrow?  I just need one good day of rest!  Just one day!”

Niles didn’t even think about it.  “Sure.  Come over any time.”

Her expression of joy turned sultry.  “You’ve got a nice big bed too.”

And that’s when Niles knew he’d been caught.

“Indeed,” he murmured. 

And plotted how to get himself out of her web.

© 2019 Newmin

Gule is Taken For a Ride

Niles could have done without the blazing sun because sunshine and vampires didn’t mix.  He was, furthermore, tired and cranky because he was out well past his bed time.  On that humid afternoon, thunder rumbled in the distance, promising an evening storm, but the sky directly above him was blue with scattered, puffy clouds.  He could feel his face melting in the heat beneath its twenty layers of sunscreen.  Yes, he was a vampire, and no, vampires weren’t creatures of daylight, but Niles had adapted to surviving beneath the sun if required.  He wore a wide brimmed Aussie stock hat atop his short, blond locks.  Blackout, wrap-around sunglasses protected his delicate blue eyes.  Although the temperatures had soared into the nineties, his tall, thin body was covered with blue jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt with its collar flipped at a rakish angle.  People thought he was trying to be stylish.  He was merely keeping his neck from frying.

His feet tromped through the thick grass as he made his way down the gentle incline between the rows of parked horse trailers, his gaze sweeping over the steady buzz of activity.  He saw only youngsters, as it should be since this was a US Pony Club rally.  The Pony Club was an organization dedicated to teaching horsemanship to children.  Once an event began, parents were barred from interfering.  The kids were expected to set up their stable area, tend to their horses and equipment, and ride as individuals or teams in various equestrian events with only a handful of adult volunteers to keep them on track.

Niles, being a vampire, was neither a member of a club, nor related to anyone who was.  Instead, he was there to escort his boss’s ten-year-old daughter to this rally.  Ordinarily Tan or his wife attended the rallies with their daughter, but their youngest son was in the hospital and needed constant care.  Tan had wheedled Niles into chaperoning his daughter.  As he squinted against the blazing sunlight, Niles’ mind twisted all the ways he would demand recompense for his troubles.  It made a delicious list.

“I sure appreciate your helping out.” Emily’s perky voice invaded his thoughts.

Niles continued walking, enjoying the fact that the head of the Blue Mountain Pony Club could keep up with his long strides.  Emily wasn’t quite as tall as he was, but what she lacked in height she made up for in energy.  She was a dynamo who left him breathless.

Niles glanced at his clipboard which held the results of his sweep through the trailer area.  The rally organizers were short volunteers.  Niles had been drafted into Horse Management, which meant he’d visited each club’s area and reviewed it for safety and required equipment.  He’d been contemplating turning in his tallies and finding a shady spot to take a nap when Emily flagged him down not knowing he was a grumpy, sleepy vampire.

“Loose shoe,” she said as they arrived at Blue Mountain’s area.  “Hold Peppy while I check it out.”

With a sigh, Niles placed his clipboard on a tack trunk then followed Emily to where a young lady held both the chestnut Peppy and her own pony Trigger, a little Shetland dun.

“Where’s his rider?” Niles asked as he took the reins from Madelyn so the eleven-year-old didn’t have to hold two horses.

“She went to find her parents.”  This came from Lexi who walked up leading her own pony, Skippy, a pretty chestnut with a white star ablaze on his face.  Like the rest of the girls on the team, she was smartly turned out in proper English riding attire, crisp white shirt, fawn colored jodhpurs, carefully shined boots and riding helmet.

“Your arm band, Lexi!”  Brooklyn pointed at her teammate’s arm.  “You won’t pass formal inspection.  You know how Miss Ann is.  She won’t let you ride without it.”

Lexi twisted her arm to find the emergency notification band missing.  “Oh crap!  The band must have broken again.  Here!”  She dropped Skippy’s reins into Niles’ left hand, leaving the surly vampire holding two horses.  With Brooklyn, she raced to the equipment box to find a backup arm band.

A deep rumble swept over the field.  The two horses Niles held shied but he was able to control them.  Trigger, the little dun pony, threw up his head and whinnied, dragging Madelyn, his rider, several feet before she settled him down.

“What was that?” Emily asked, straightening.  She’d been holding Peppy’s rear left hoof as she inspected the loose shoe.

“Thunder?” Lexi offered as she shoved a new arm band up her arm.

Niles’ sensitive ears hummed from the strange sound.  It hadn’t been thunder.  Thunder didn’t make his insides threaten to turn into water.  The rumble had a resonance that almost hurt.  The horses felt it too.  Both Peppy and Skippy shifted uneasily.  Emily had to release Peppy’s foot and step back to avoid being trampled.

A breathless Maddy jogged up.  “Mom’s coming.  She’s calling a farrier.  Do you think I’ll be able to ride?”

Emily never got the chance to answer.

From out of the south west, a group of dark objects roared just above the trees.  Niles had a brief second to register that they were fighter jets before they were over the field.  The roar of the engines drowned out the shrieks of surprise from the kids and whinnies of terror from the horses.  Skippy threw up his head and rolled his eyes.  Niles tightened his grip on the reins to hold him. 

Peppy was having none of it.  He whinnied in fear and reared.  That set off Trigger who shook his head savagely to free himself from Madelyn.  Brooklyn raced to grab her pony, Kayla, who was still tied to the trailer but snorting and trying to break free.  Niles steeled himself, holding Skippy who was trying to bolt to the left and Peppy who wanted to go right.  He saw Trigger rip himself free from Madelyn and he hastily tramped his foot on the trailing lead rope before the little dun could take off.

The group of fighter jets must have hit the speed of sound because Niles was buffeted by a tremendous boom that knocked him off his feet.  Peppy and Skippy each reared.  Only Niles’ incredible strength kept him hanging on as he landed with a whoosh of lost breath on his back.  Somehow Trigger’s lead rope wrapped around his ankle and tightened as the pony backed away, dragging Niles with him several feet before he gave up.

As he lay winded, trying to regain his wits, clutching two stampeding ponies and praying he didn’t get trampled, Niles heard pandemonium overtake the rally grounds as other ponies broke free and ran.  He heard the cries of “loose horse!” from several directions.

The odd trembling sensation finally left him as the fighter jets out of Annapolis tore off to the north.  A peace like the calm after a storm settled over the rally grounds except for the continued rounding up of loose horses.

Brooklyn had hung on to Kayla.  Maddy grabbed Peppy from Niles and started to soothe him while Lexi took Skippy.

Niles sat up, still trying to get his breath back.

Emily made sure the three larger ponies were settled and their owners were ok.  Then she stood over Niles with her hands on her hips.

“Seriously, Mr. Gule,” she said in a condemning voice.  “You should know Pony Club rules.  No holding a pony with your foot.”

Niles started to protest.  Emily cut him off.

She winked.

Gule Feels The Siren’s Call

Ordinarily, Niles Gule relished enjoying a stop at the specialty coffee machine Walter Cooksey had set up in the lunchroom.  Being a coffee connoisseur, Cooksey assured that a wide selection of delectable brews awaited the often-strung-out members of Baltimore’s police department night shift.  Niles would slip into the room, select his personal vice, mocha java, and savor sipping a cup in the small, quiet space while he recharged his batteries.  However, since Hollywood in the form of Gaylord Bright, television producer, had come to the Crab Cake Capital of the World, Niles had not found a moment’s peace.  Tonight was no exception.

While Niles tapped his toe and sniffed eagerly at the aroma of chocolate wafting from the brew machine, a fellow detective on the force sauntered into the room.  Deshawn Jackson’s broad, black face fought to hide a grin of pleasure as the man pretended to root through drawers for stir sticks.  Niles handed him one from the container atop the counter.  Where they’d always been.  And Jackson knew it.

“So I have this idea…” Jackson began, accepting the stir stick then immediately tossing it into the trash.

Niles groaned.  Here it comes.

“For the show,” Jackson continued.  “I think a great episode would include us of the emergency services department storming Dracula’s castle with wooden stakes, garlic, silver, crosses…whatever it would take to kill a batch of vampires.  Our whole department could act as extras for the storming.”

Niles bit down hard on his fangs to keep himself from blurting something rude.  Bright had merely offered to hire Niles as a consultant for the proposed television show A Fang to Remember, featuring vampires in Baltimore.  Niles’ task, should he even accept the position, and so far he had not, would be as technical advisor to the show, explaining the true facts of vampiredom to keep the show as realistic as possible.  He would not appear on screen, nor did he have any say in the actual scripts or the hiring of extras.  However, Baltimore’s finest didn’t see things that way.  Since word had broken, pretty much the entire department had been angling for roles in the show.

He decided he’d better remain polite with a co-worker.  “As far as I know, Dracula doesn’t make an appearance on the show.  And we don’t have any castles in Baltimore we could storm with stakes, pitch forks, or anything else.”

Jackson scowled.  “Aw!  You know what I mean!  We’ve got Uplands Mansion.  That would make a great vampire hangout.”

Niles froze then forced himself to sip coffee.  He prayed Jackson merely obtained the idea about Uplands from seeing the place.  Niles hoped the detective hadn’t discovered that Niles’ own father tended to hang out at the abandoned mansion when visiting his son in the city on the Chesapeake.  Uplands Mansion was indeed a vampire castle.

Niles opted for a smile.  “You know?  That’s a great idea.  I’ll mention it to Mr. Bright next time I see him.”

Jackson’s face broke into a huge grin.  He slapped his vampire co-worker on the shoulder and wandered away.

For ten minutes, Niles enjoyed his cuppa in solitude.  After rinsing his mug with its cute cartoon of a vampire and bats and the words Caution, I Bite and replacing it on the rack, Niles set out for his desk in the detective’s bullpen.  As he walked, he found his boss, the diminutive Tan Lo, trying hard to keep up with him.

“Hey, Niles!” the man panted.  “I was wondering…”

Niles held up a hand to forestall the request.  “I’ll put in a word with Bright about using our crew on the show.”

Lo’s face became all smiles.  “Wonderful!  You’re always thinking one step ahead of everyone else.  Carry on.”  The sergeant darted left and disappeared.

Niles rolled his eyes skyward.  Carry on my ass.

He reached his desk in safety only to find his partner, Mariella Cruz, staring at him with starry eyes.

He held up his hand again.  “I’ll ask Bright if he can use your mother as an extra.”

Cruz beamed.  “You’re too good to me.”

“Yes, I know.”

Niles turned his attention to his computer.  His fingers led him to his favorite dark web search engine.  Time to dig into Lenny the Brute’s car theft ring. 

A shadow sidled up to his desk.  Niles tried to ignore it, but the human didn’t move.  When a minute of typing didn’t discourage his latest annoyance, Niles glanced up to find John Krewelski smiling patiently.

“Yes?”

Krewelski stood with his hands behind his back as he rocked on his heels. “I’m not sure if you know this, but during my undergrad years at Columbia, I acted on stage in five different student performances.”

Niles planted his chin on his hand.  “You don’t say?”

Krewelski nodded vigorously.  “I did.  Received rave reviews for my spin as the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Niles waited, smiling politely.

Deterred but not dissuaded by the vampire’s failure to react to his electrifying announcement, Krewelski cleared his throat.  He whipped his hands out from behind his back to reveal a sheaf of papers.  “I also wrote several plays.  A local theater group even staged one.”  When Niles didn’t accept the papers, Krewelski set it on his desk.  “This was a little something I wrote while attending the Police Academy.  It’s about an ex-con vampire turning state’s evidence for a parole.  Funny, isn’t it?  That I’d write about vampires twenty years ago, before I knew they really existed?”

“Hilarious,” Niles stated in a monotone.

Krewelski poked the papers with a finger then backed away.  “Well, anyhow, I thought I’d dust the old manuscript off.  If you can manage to hand it to that tv producer, I’d be obliged.”

Niles pretended to smile.  He rolled the papers up, slipped a rubber band around them, and dropped them into a drawer.  “I will do that the next time I see Bright.  Promise.”

His words brought a glow to the detective’s face.  He grinned and pranced off.

Cruz lifted a brow.  “Are you really going to give Bright that manuscript?”

Niles shrugged.  “I dunno.  I still haven’t decided if I should accept the job.”

“Niles!”  Cruz pouted.  “You have to!  For the sake of your police brethren, if not for your friends.”

Niles scowled.  “I don’t owe my friends anything.”

“Then think of Baltimore,” Cruz prodded.  “Having this show here will help with the economy.  It will bring jobs and might give extra income to some of us on the force.  The show Homicide, Life on the Streets brought a lot of visibility of our little city.”

Niles considered the television show from some years back.  “Yeah, a lot of unpleasant visibility.  It certainly didn’t paint Baltimore in a pretty light.”

Cruz stuck her tongue out at the vampire then turned her attention to her case notes.

Another shadow moved from the hallway into the bullpen.  Figueroa, yet another detective, eyed Niles and Cruz before striding towards them.

Slamming his palms on his desk, Niles leaped to his feet.  “I think I’ve had enough of being hit on for roles and manuscripts.  I’m heading for Marino’s Car Sales.”

Startled, Cruz scrambled to gather her keys and purse while she rose to follow.  “Do you think that’s Lenny’s next target?”

“I have no idea.  I just need to escape this place.”  He darted around Figueroa before the wiry detective could make his own personal pitch for stardom.

Niles marched for the elevator and slammed his fist at the button. Cruz joined him but didn’t speak, sensing his anger.  One did not ruffle an angry vampire.  She gazed at him with large, liquid brown eyes, willing him to act.

Huffing, Niles finally surrendered.  He could withstand many things, but he couldn’t withstand disappointing his partner.  His hand dug for his cellphone.  He thumbed it on, entered a series of numbers with just his thumb and pulled it to his ear.

“Mr. Bright?  Niles Gule here.  About that offer…”  He fell silent.  “We could meet in Fell’s Point.  On the boulevard.  Tables in front of the Abbey Grill.  Thirty minutes?  I’ll be there.”  He hung up and jangled the phone at her.  “Satisfied?”

Cruz’s face gleamed like that of the Madonna in certain paintings.  She hugged his side.  “You’re a good vampire, Niles.”

Niles humphed but didn’t answer.

The couple decided to walk to Fell’s Point through the dark murk of a Baltimorean summer night.  The local area drowsed in heavy silence.  Only the skitter of rats in the trash came to Niles’ predatory hearing.  Far off, he heard sirens wail and he glanced at his phone for updates.  But the alarm merely related to a fire somewhere near Monument.

Given the lateness of the hour, Fell’s Point’s activity ran at low ebb.  Niles found a table in the plaza in front of the Abbey Grill and settled himself to wait.  Cruz landed across from him.  Her eyes swept the plaza, forever on alert for malfeasance.

“Must be nice to be a vampire and never worry about being attacked,” she sighed.

Niles lifted a brow.  “I worry every minute of every day.  I never know when one of you people is going to flip out and come hunting a vampire scalp.”

She twisted, surprise lighting her face.  “I never thought of that.”

He answered her with a grunt.

The pair exchanged views on the best way to take down Lenny the Brute’s theft ring while they awaited Hollywood’s appearance.  After almost an hour, Niles huffed with impatience and glared at his phone.  No text or phone call from Gaylord Bright.

“One wonders if he was talking Pacific time,” the vampire grumbled.

“He’s Hollywood, Niles.”  Cruz smiled dreamily.  “Those people only work on their own time.”

“Yeah.  Unreality.”

Cruz laughed.

They waited another ten minutes before the familiar lines of a long, black limo appeared making the turn into the plaza.  The car stopped and the chauffeur exited.  He held open the door for his passenger.

Gaylord Bright stood studying Niles warily while he buttoned his jacket, which was some sort of odd single-breasted thing with darts and shearing.  That night he sported blue framed eyeglasses and he’d added a chained pocket watch to his ensemble.  His shoes gleamed with a polish to put naval recruits to shame.

His smile, however, wavered as he approached the vampire at the table.  “Good evening.”

Niles rose and offered his hand, figuring the producer must know his touch would be icy.  Bright accepted the greeting with a mere brush of his fingers before he withdrew his hand.

“I’ve given your offer lots of thought,” Niles began.  “And with the encouragement of pretty much every person I know, I’ve decided to accept your offer.  I’ll work as technical advisor on A Fang to Remember.”

Bright coughed and shifted his weight uncomfortably.  “I’m glad to hear it, Mr. Gule.  But I’m afraid I’m going to rescind my offer.”

Niles started.  “Rescind it?  Why?  Did the show get cancelled?”

Bright shook his head while he waved that aside.  “Oh no!  The Paranormal Network is determined to launch it for the fall season.  We’re definitely a go.”

“Then what happened?” Cruz asked.  Her face had fallen at the dreadful news.

Another cough.  “Um… well…”  Bright cleared his throat.  “While you were making up your mind, I received an offer from another vampire to take the job of technical advisor.  And since he claims he’s older than you, he knows more about your society than you do.”

“Another vampire?” Niles blurted.  “Who would dare step on my toes?”

Bright shrugged as he waved towards his vehicle.  “He says the two of you are friends.”

Niles stepped towards the limousine as a long, thin leg extended from the back seat.  It was followed by an equally thin body. At first, Niles didn’t recognize the individual.  He wore a suit so new Niles could smell the chemicals from the fabric production still lingering over it.  Like Bright, the suit was so trendy, it was obnoxious.  Slim fit black trousers, a well-fitted black jacket with tulip sleeves and a silver waist coat completed the picture of a wealthy, elegant man.  Then he ducked his head out of the car to reveal silver white hair in a man-bun atop his head.

He grinned, fangs gleaming in a ghastly white face.  Dark eyes shimmered.

Niles’ expression went from confused to furious.

“Marrenstan?” he yelped.  He whirled on Bright.  “You’re hiring Marrenstan?”

Bright nodded happily.  “He jumped at the offer.  Didn’t hesitate.  I think he’s a better choice given his connections.”

“Connections?” Niles repeated.  “What connections does Marrenstan claim he has?”

The tiny vampire, so old he’d arrived on Earth with the original ship, chattered his fangs on his lower teeth.  He attempted a smile to cool the anger of his vampire lord.

“Apologies!  Apologies!”  He bobbed and rubbed his hands together, obsequious mannerisms designed to indicate he viewed Niles as his superior.  “I tell Bright about Bela.  That buy me job.”

Niles’ expression screwed into confusion.  “Bela?  Who’s Bela?”

More teeth chattering.  Marrenstan was scared but holding his ground.  “Lugosi.”  He nodded fervently.  “Decades ago, Bela Lugosi and I were pals.  I taught him English, and he taught me Hungarian.”

“Which explains why he could never speak good English!” Niles snapped.

Marrenstan hung his head before lifting it again.  “I helped on his sets too.”  He lifted his taloned hands in a clawing motion and stalked in a circle.  “I teach him vampire attack walk.”

“No one attacks like that!”  Niles couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “Are you telling me the ridiculous caricature of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was your idea?”

Again Marrenstan nodded.  His grin glowed in the dark.

“Oh for the love of…”  Niles sank onto the seat he’d vacated and planted his face in his hands.

“I’m glad that’s all cleared up,” Bright said with a clap.  “I appreciate you taking time out of your day to discuss this opportunity, but we’ve decided to go in a different direction.  Best of luck to you, Mr. Gule.”

Niles growled, brandishing his fangs.

Bright gulped.  He edged towards the limousine.  “I thought you said he was tame!” he snapped at Marrenstan.

Marrenstan shrugged.  “Only when not angry.”

Bright’s face blanched.  “Is he angry?”

Marrenstan considered Niles’ brilliant blue eyes which now glowed yellow.

“Oh yes!” he said as Bright ducked into the limo.  “Yellow eyes.  He is very angry.”

Marrenstan threw himself into the limo just as Niles lunged to claw his eyes out.

Bright slammed the door closed and the limo pulled away leaving Niles seething on the sidewalk.

“Can you believe that?” he complained.

Cruz sidled up alongside him.  She slipped a hand around his arm.  “Perhaps it’s all for the better.”  She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder.  “I would have hated to see Hollywood ruin you.”

Niles huffed.  “As if.”

Cruz was philosophical about it.  “If God had wanted you in Hollywood, He would have made it happen.”

“I don’t believe in gods,” Niles grumped.  He drew a heavy sigh.  “So now what?”

Cruz shrugged.  “Let’s tackle Lenny the Brute.”

“Did you catch that old fossil’s man bun?”  Niles voice rose several octaves.  “What does he think he is?  A century old?”

Cruz tugged.  “Forget it, Niles.  Water under the bridge.”

“There’ll be water under the bridge all right,” the vampire growled.  “And vampire lymph along with it.”

Still seething, Niles allowed Cruz to lead him in search of criminals to arrest.

But Niles was a vampire. 

And vampires scheme.

© 2022 Newmin with assistance from Martin Weiss.

Gule is All Tied Up

The murk off the sullen waters of the Inner Harbor suffused much of downtown Baltimore with the stink of rotting fish on that sultry summer night.  Maryland summers tended towards muggy days and soupy nights which the steam from the harbor did nothing to alleviate.  Niles Gule, however, being a vampire, didn’t sweat and therefore didn’t notice the heavy feeling in the air.  His mind was chasing an assortment of issues: three open robberies, two gangland murders, and the revving up of Lenny the Brute’s car theft ring.  His gaze was turned inwards as he mounted the steps to the brightly lit headquarters for the city’s struggling police department.

The first clue something had shifted in the atmosphere came when Niles arrived at the metal detectors protecting the building.  Graffen manned the station that night.  He was a hugely overweight Black man who took no guff from anyone, least of all what he considered a prissy, probably gay, police detective.  Normally, he gave Niles the stink eye and demanded he empty all his pockets into the little plastic tray.  But not tonight.  Tonight, the Gorgon did something that stunned Niles into freezing.  He smiled.

Niles’ blue eyes studied that grin of pale white teeth glowing against dark skin while his mind rifled reasons for the sudden change to Graffen’s demeanor.

“Good evening, Mr. Gule!” the big man nearly sang in his incredibly deep, resonant voice.  “You’re looking exceptionally fine tonight.  New tie?”

Niles flicked a look at his Jerry Garcia Teal Poet tie with its swirling blue and pink abstract art.  Definitely not new and not the sort of tie one would ordinarily forget.

“Um… no.  But thank you,” he murmured.  He began stripping off his Rolex.

“No need for that!” Graffen chuckled.  The rumble could have forewarned of an earthquake.  “I know who you are.  Go through.”

Niles frowned as he stepped through the metal detector.  It chirped, making note not only of his Rolex, but the gold cross he wore around his neck and the silver knife he wore strapped to his hip.  Graffen jovially waved at him to ignore the sound and continue into the building.

“You have a successful evening, sir,” Graffen said, all smiles.  “Don’t forget any unforgettable characters you encounter along the way.”

His frown deepening, Niles waved his thanks and strode to the elevator.  As he waited for the car to appear, he noted his boss, the diminutive Tan Lo rushing to catch it.

“Evening, Niles,” the Sergeant greeted, a beaming smile shining in his dark-skinned face.  “You’re looking exceptionally nice tonight.  Is that a new tie?”

The frown nearly drove both of Niles’ eyes together.  He flapped his tie with long white fingers.  “No.  It’s on the older side.”

“They all have names, don’t they?” Lo asked.  He hopped onto the car with Niles and spun around.

“Yes.  This one is Teal Poet.”  Niles stabbed the up button with a taloned finger.

“I’ve always liked your taste in ties.”

“You can buy them at Kohl’s,” Niles explained.  What the heck was going on?

“They are distinctive,” Lo said, rocking on his heels while the elevator rose.  “Makes you stand out.  Always liked them.”

“Thank you,” the vampire murmured.

The door opened and Lo ushered Niles out first.  “I’ll be in my office if you need anything,” he offered over his shoulder.  His tone held a hopeful note.

“Don’t think I’ll need it but thank you.”  Niles continued to the detective’s bullpen while his mind toyed with explanations behind his boss’s strange behavior.

As he stepped into the bullpen, Niles found himself face to face with his frenemy Jonas Williams.  The giant, gray-eyed man of Polish extraction towered as tall as Niles and blocked the doorway.

“Hey, Niles!  Good evening to you.”

Niles slammed on the brakes, not just because Williams blocked his path but because in the five years Niles had worked for the Baltimore PD, Williams had never once used his personal name.  He called the department’s resident vampire Ghoul, usually with a shot of distaste.

“Are you going to compliment me on my tie?” Niles asked.

Williams drew back with a puckered brow.  “No.  Although it is a nice one.  Nope, Cooks and I just thought we’d offer to assist you in your current project.”  He threw his arm around his partner, the short, chubby, balding Walter Cooksey who hovered at his side. 

“Chasing down Lenny the Brute?” Niles retorted. 

Williams was all smiles.  “Nah!”  He poked the vampire’s chest with a fist.  “You know what I’m talking about.”

Niles sidled around the big man and headed for his desk.  “No, actually I don’t.”

Williams pranced after him, startling Niles who didn’t think a giant Polack could prance.  “Come on, Ghoul!  Everyone’s talking about it.  Your new gig!  Hollywood, baby!”  He stuck out his chest and beamed.  “Me and Cooks would make great cop pals for you.”

Niles groaned.  He flopped into his chair with a resigned sigh.  “I haven’t accepted the job, Jonas.  And even if I do, I’d just be a consultant for the show.  The production lead for A Fang to Remember wants to his show to be as realistic as possible.  No silly vampire lore.  Just the straight scoop.  He wants to hire me to consult on the scripts.  I won’t appear on camera.”

Williams managed to slither up against the vampire’s desk with belying smoothness.  “To be expected,” he said.  “A vampire probably wouldn’t show up on camera anyway.  Like you don’t appear in mirrors.”

With a roll of his eyes, Niles stuck his hand into a drawer and retrieved a small hand mirror.  He flashed it at himself, revealing his face.  “Just a wives’ tale, Jonas.  I appear in mirrors and on camera same as you.”

His comments deflated the officer somewhat, but Williams puffed back up again quickly.  “Yeah, but you’re still a consultant.  You can recommend changes to the show to make it more realistic.”  He thumbed towards himself.  “Like hiring actual police officers as extras.  Give the show some authentic Baltimore flavor.”

“How about I dust Old Bay over the tapes, and we call it a day?”  Niles rooted through the pile of message slips left on his desk from dayshift.

“Ghoul!”  The howl now returned to conveying all its normal annoyance.  How quickly had Williams lost control of his façade.  “How can you turn your back on a buddy?”

Niles nearly choked.  One name he would not give Williams was buddy.

Little Cooksey poked his partner.  “Let him chew on it with those fangs for a while, Jonas.  We’ve got work to do.”

Williams started.  “Since when do you want to hustle…”  His words choked off when he noted the general shade of green in Cooksey’s complexion.  “Ah man!  Are you still ruminating over that stupid lizard people website shit?  Cooks!  The Ghoul is a ghoul, but trust me, he ain’t a lizard.”  He leaned towards Niles.  “I can come up with a cartload of other things to call you, but lizard ain’t one of them.”

Cooksey’s face grew mulish.  “I’ve read the data, Jonas.  You should visit the website.”

Williams rolled his eyes.  He grabbed his partner by the arm and hauled him away from Niles’ desk.  “Give my idea some thought,” he threw over his shoulder.  “One friend to another.”

Niles scowled at the big man’s back.  Yeah, suddenly they were friends when he possessed something Williams wanted.  Figures.

Determined to forget about Hollywood and television shows, Niles focused his attention on his computer.  Time to start his night.

Then his partner Mariella Cruz stormed into the room.  Momma Cruz, swathed in a brilliant muumuu printed with parrots and jungle leaves, waddled in after her.

Niles stiffened, wondering what drew the big-hearted lady from her lair.

“Evening Niles,” Cruz crooned as she sailed to her desk.

Momma Cruz edged close.  She plastered a wide smile onto her face.  “Buenos noches, senor Gule!”  She leaned in.  “What a lovely tie!”

Niles planted his forehead in his palm and groaned.

© 2022 Newmin with assistance from Martin Weiss

Gule is a Wanted Vampire

With a whistle on his lips and a spring in his step, the vampire Niles Gule shouldered through the main entrance to Baltimore’s central police precinct.  Warm humid air, thick with the funk from the fetid waters of the Inner Harbor, trailed after him into the air-conditioned space.  Niles flashed his badge before dumping it and his silver, vampire hunting knife, into the plastic basket at the reception desk.  He then stepped through the metal detector without triggering the alarm and with a grin, retrieved his belongings.  The sour faced, hugely overweight police officer who manned the desk, gazed at him with dull eyes.

“Beautiful evening,” Niles said, trying to cheer up that doleful expression.

The officer blinked at him.  His expression didn’t change.

“Well it is,” Niles added as he swung past. 

“Fruitcake,” muttered the officer just loud enough for Niles to hear.

Niles shook his head in despair.  He’d been chipping away at the block of disinterested ice that forever guarded the door to the precinct.  Unfortunately, his campaign appeared to be flagging.

“Don’t bother, Ghoul,” stated the giant uniformed officer Jonas Williams who waited for the elevator.  “Officer Graffen there hasn’t smiled in seventeen years.  He sure as hell aint gonna smile for a prissy-dressed, honky detective who wields a sissy knife instead of a pistol.”

Niles scowled as he considered his suit.  Italian, as always.  Custom tailored exactly to his tall, rangy frame.  Pocket square in place.  Jerry Garcia tie loudly proclaiming something, not that Niles knew what.

“I think I dress nicely,” he protested.

Williams harrumphed as he stomped into the elevator car and stabbed the button for the fifth floor.  “You dress like a Wall Street stockbroker, Ghoul.  We’s here are in Baltimore.  The festering pile of crab shells that calls itself a city.”

“I happen to like Baltimore,” Niles replied.

Another grunt. “Then you’re an idiot.”

Nile left his frenemy when the elevator reached his floor.  He turned left into the detective’s bullpen while Williams headed right. 

The bullpen drowsed in nightshift quiet.  Only Niles and his partner Mariella Cruz worked nights for the detective’s division, leaving them with a nicely empty space in which to work.  As he strolled up to his desk, he found Cruz already seated at her desk.  The dark-haired, lovely Latina wore a scowl on her face while she tapped a pen against her laminate desktop.

“Good evening, Mari,” Niles sang, dropping her a peck on the forehead before swinging around to settle behind his desk.

His partner lifted an eyebrow.  “My, someone’s in perky spirits.  What’s with the jaunt in your step, Niles?”

Niles shrugged.  “Summer has arrived and the weather’s fine.”

She stabbed at him with her pen.  “You hate summer because the days are so long.”

Niles chuckled.  “True.”

Cruz’s dark eyes developed an adamantine glint.  “Could it be you’ve found yourself some fun on the side?” she queried.

Niles frowned.  “Fun on the side of what?”

Cruz’s icy demeanor refused to thaw.  “Us, Niles.  On the side of us.”

Niles’ hands scrambled with a snowfall of pink message slips coating his desk.  All were calls that had arrived during the daylight hours.  Mrs. Rondale, who handled the switchboard on dayshift, liked to use the old-fashioned pink slips to jot messages rather than shoot off emails.  Brandishing her book of carbon copies, she insisted no one could deny she’d informed them of whatever they claimed she’d failed to tell them.  However, her handwriting left much to be desired.  Niles tried sorting the giant mess into something akin to order.

While he did so, never looking up, he murmured, “Why would I develop something outside of us, Mari?”

“Because you can?” his partner sniped.  “Because you’re a tall, cool drink of water half the women in this city are dying to bag?”

Niles froze in his sorting.  “Do they understand I’m a vampire?”

“No.  But that wouldn’t shake off half of them.”  Cruz gazed at him with suspicious eyes.  “Who’s Holly?”

Niles returned to sorting.  “I don’t know.  Who is Holly?”

Cruz stretched across the two desks to pluck one of the pink slips.  “This chick.  She called you something like fifty times yesterday, judging by all the message slips.”

Niles began piling all the messages from Miss Wood.  By the time he’d found them all, he counted twenty calls.  Squinting, he tried to make out what Mrs. Rondale had scratched as notes.  “Return call but no number.  How’m I supposed to do that without a number?”

“Maybe Miss Wood figured you had her number memorized.” 

Niles gazed up at Cruz, noting the stiff posture and accusing expression.  “I don’t know any Miss Wood.  Or Mrs. Wood.  Or Mr. Wood for that matter.  I don’t know what this is about.”  He placed a paperclip around the stack of messages.  “And I never will unless this person leaves a phone number.”

“Hmmm….”  Cruz settled back in her chair, but doubt continued to paint her cocoa features suspicious.

Niles pounced on one of the slips.  “Jed Boniface returned my call.  Says he’s willing to talk.”  He waved it at Cruz.  “Would you like to join me, or do you intend to spend the rest of the night stewing over something that isn’t even real?”

Cruz’s luscious red lips opened in protest, but she shut them again mutinously.  She stuffed her cellphone into her pocket as she rose.

The pair rode the elevator back to the ground floor in tense silence.  Niles chose to become annoyed by his partner’s lack of trust.  Cruz chose to remain annoyed by her partner’s lack of an adequate response to her suspicions.

“Let’s walk,” Niles snapped when they stepped outside into the steamy heat of a Baltimore summer night.

“Any particular reason why?” Cruz asked, falling into step beside him, taking two jogging strides to each of his longer, easier strides.

“I’d like to work off some petulance,” Niles answered.  “I’d been having such a lovely evening before it’s arrival.”

“Very insightful,” his partner replied.  “I’m impressed you understand when you’re being petulant.”

My petulance isn’t what I’m trying to walk off,” Niles growled.

Cruz muttered but didn’t answer.  Her pride would not allow her to argue with her partner.

Together, the pair set off along Lombard St, heading towards Little Italy.  The Inner Harbor churned with activity.  Shadowy figures moved along the promenade.  Lights and music poured from The Cheesecake Factory and the Tra Na Nog which appeared to be handling a booming business based on the crowds milling around their doors.  The couple drew little in the way of looks as they turned left to follow the promenade past the supposed World Trade Center of Baltimore and then the piers and across President Street.  Little Italy also buzzed.  Most of the small restaurants had taken up frontage on the sidewalks during the pandemic.  Now that Americans had discovered the joys of al fresco dining, they weren’t turning back.  More music filled the air.

“Niles,” Cruz murmured.

“Oh, ready to apologize for casting aspersions on my character?” Niles retorted.

Cruz slammed on the brakes, forcing her partner to stop with a sigh and spin around.  She planted her hands on her hips.  “I didn’t cast anything, let alone aspersions.  I merely tried to ascertain why some woman called you fifty times today.”

“She probably has information about one of those cold case files we’ve been working on.”

Cruz huffed.

Niles lifted his hands from his sides.  “Can we move on already?  I’m not cheating on you with some woman.”

“Ok.  For the sake of this evening’s peace, I’ll accept that.  For now.”  His suspicious little Latina didn’t look particularly mollified.  “Now, riddle me this.  Why are we being followed?”

Niles started.  His brilliant blue eyes hastily studied the streetscape, but he saw little to alarm him.  Diners laughed and chatted over glasses of chianti.  Their cutlery rang against china and glass.  The rich smell of garlic and onions almost made Niles gag.  He preferred the murk of the harbor. 

“We’re being followed?” he repeated.

Cruz started walking again.  “Yep.  Black limo.  It followed us here then kept driving when I stopped.”

Niles maintained an easy stride alongside her, but his eyes continued to sweep around the block.  Fortunately, the shopkeepers had strung thousands of electric lights from one side of the street to the other, creating a festive, well-lit atmosphere.  Niles didn’t need to strain to examine every human on that street.  He didn’t notice a limo or any other car following them.

They turned at Sabatino’s and ventured along High Street towards Boniface’s small watch repair shop.  As they walked, Niles continued to study the cars that swished past.  Toyota Highlander.  Ford Escort.  Subaru Outback.  No limo.

Cruz’s hand clutched Niles’ sleeve.  “It just turned onto High ahead of us.”

Niles didn’t break stride.  He watched as the long, sleek limo slid smoothly past them in the opposite direction.  His sharp, predator’s vision caught the uniformed chauffeur staring directly ahead and the white, moon shaped face of someone looking through the back, smoky window.  He couldn’t determine even gender of that face.

The limo disappeared behind them.

“I’m telling you, that limo has been following us,” Cruz grated.  “I saw it over at HQ.  And at the promenade.  Now it’s here.”

“Maybe it’s just some rich people trying to find Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse.”  Niles momentarily lost his train of thought as he considered the elegant restaurant that still boasted prime beef on its menu.  He licked his lips.

“I’m telling you we’re being followed,” Cruz insisted.

Niles decided to accept her instincts.  He’d seldom found Cruz wrong.  That woman’s second sense didn’t fail her often.  When they reached Boniface’s shop, he stopped to fiddle as if trying to remove a stone from his shoe.  He used the moment to scan the sidewalk.  High Street wasn’t as well-lit as the main drag.  Here shadows lurked in places where the street and shop lights couldn’t reach.  His eyes probed the darkness.

Two dark figures approached them in a hurry.

Instinct sent Niles straightening with his hand to his knife.  He drew and brandished it before the pair of men could assault them.

“Hold it right there,” he hissed, the silver knife glinting in the light of Boniface’s store.

One of the men halted and held his hands up in a placating gesture.  The other continued until he’d circled around the two detectives.  Neither Cruz nor Niles cared for the position they found themselves in.  Cruz darted to Niles’ back, her hand resting on her holster.

“We don’t want trouble,” she warned. 

“Neither do we,” stated the first man.  Belying his words however, he drew a silver knife like the one Niles carried.  He lifted it towards Niles, indicating he knew Niles was a vampire.

“What do you want?” Niles demanded.

“We’re told to hold you here.”  The man’s face gave no hint of emotion.

“Why?” demanded Cruz.  Her hand twitched on the butt of her gun.  The man she faced also brandished a silver knife. 

Neither man answered.  Instead, they waited, holding Niles and Cruz in position between them.  Just as Niles was considering launching himself at the man closest to him, the limo appeared.  It cruised to a stop alongside them, and the passenger door opened.

“Get in,” ordered the man facing Niles.

“And if I don’t?” Niles shot back.

His opponent didn’t blink.  “You’ll regret it.”

Niles growled and brandished his fangs. They gleamed white in the streetlights.  Long and sharp and dangerous.  To his surprise, his opponent didn’t even flinch.  The man must have expected facing down an angry vampire.

A voice spoke from within the limo.  “Perfect!  You found him!  Delightful!  Please, Mr. Gule.  Step inside.”

Niles continued to brandish his fangs as he leaned towards the limo.  His hand didn’t lower the knife.  “Who are you?  What do you want with me?”

A hand gestured.  “Step inside.  Let’s chat.”

“Is this vampire business?” Niles demanded.  He didn’t smell a vampire.  Whoever awaited in the limo was human, wearing an overdose of Pierre Cardin cologne. 

“Indeed yes,” said the voice.  “We’ve been looking for you all over Baltimore.”

Niles glanced at Cruz.  “Let me handle this.  You chat up Mr. Boniface.”

“Hell no!” Cruz shot back.  “I am not abandoning my partner.”

“If it’s vampire business…”

“It’s my business.”  Cruz was adamant.

With a shrug, Niles turned to the limo.  “Buy one, get one free,” he said.  “She won’t budge.”

“That’s fine,” said limo man.  “We’ve got room.”

Still Niles hesitated.  He didn’t trust a couple of humans toting silver knives.  If they were vampire hunters, they’d picked one that would fight back.

“Please, Mr. Gule,” the voice cajoled.  “It’s perfectly safe.  Didn’t you get my messages?”

Niles bucked backwards.  “What messages?”

“I must have called the precinct twenty times today,” said the voice.  “Asked to be put through to you but the operator refused to do so.”

“That’s because you called during the day, and we work nights.”  Now Niles was frowning.  If these people were vampire hunters, surely, they would guess his work hours.

“Yes.  I realize that.”

“You’re not Miss Wood,” Cruz spat. 

The voice sounded amused.  “Um… no.  I’m Gaylord Bright.”

“The person who left twenty messages was a Holly Wood,” Cruz insisted.

Bright barked a laugh. The man finally stuck his head out of the darkness of the limo to reveal a young white man with slicked back dark brown hair, bar sideburns, a small, neat goatee, and funky purple framed eyeglasses.  “Ah.  No.  I believe the message was supposed to be Bright from Hollywood.”

“Hollywood?” Niles blurted.  “As in California?”

Bright nodded.  “I’m a television producer.  Working on a new idea.  Please, can we talk?”

Niles glanced at Cruz.  She shrugged.

“Should we believe him?” Niles asked.

Cruz sized up the supposed Hollywood producer, from his highly polished wingtips, his gleaming white socks, and too short pants, to his swirling, multicolored tie, purple glasses, and too hip haircut.

“Yeah.  He looks like Hollywood to me,” she stated.

© 2022 Newmin with assistance from Martin Weiss