“You have to talk to this one, Cindy. She thinks she’s a vampire.”
Prescott was a fat, overworked desk sergeant. He usually looked flushed and bloated, even in the precinct office’s fluorescent lights, but tonight he looked deathly. Hollowed.
What was different? It took me a second to spot it—fear. Nothing about Prescott had changed. The veteran cop facade hadn’t wavered for a second, but his eyes couldn’t hide the fear, even in front of me; a woman, a lady psychiatrist. He was that scared.
Cops are afraid of psychotics. They act tough, but real craziness scares them, makes them meaner. I know this. I’ve seen that angry fear in a cop’s eyes more than once, especially before getting the psychiatric help I needed.
Lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky…
Prescott drummed his fingers as I put away my juvenile case files. I don’t leave things lying around. I’m incapable. He knew that. Even though the girl had spooked him, Prescott was still impatient with my weaknesses, my nervous tics, my lingering disability. He took off before I finished, making me run to catch up as he strode toward the holding cell.
Lucky to be here, I told myself as we walked down the beige-and-gray corridor. It’s a cinderblock maze, but at least I’m on the right side of the walls this time. Lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky…
Prescott’s voice usually echoed off the concrete, but tonight he almost whispered. “Sixteen years old, we think. No ID and no records tied to Lilly Marston, the name she gave. Nothing on her but a prepaid cell phone to call her father. Black-and-white spotted her following homeless tweakers into the alleys off Oldtown. Worst place in the city, for God’s sake! They rolled in and cut her off, the tweakers scattered, and she started crying that she didn’t want to do it.”
“Wow. Did she think street junkies would actually trade drugs for sex?”
Prescott suddenly turned off toward the interview room and I quick-stepped to stay abreast. After a few steps, he exhaled and said, “She says she wasn’t turning tricks. She says she was hunting.”
I slowed as he approached the interview room door. His fear was contagious. I didn’t want to go in.
Prescott stopped with his hand on the knob. “Look, just do your job. If this kid needs court-ordered help, you have five minutes to figure it out. Her father is coming to get her.”
He opened the door.
She huddled cold and pale on a chair at the interview table. She was filthy. She was miserable. She was a nightmare staring at me through stringy hair. I started backpedaling, but Prescott pushed me between the shoulder blades. “Five minutes,” he hissed as he withdrew.
I jumped when the door locked behind him. My heart hammered high up in my chest.
Her eyes were as pale as water. I had to speak. I had to say something. I opened my mouth in hopes my training would take over.
“Hello, Lilly. I’m a counselor working for social services. I work with the police to help people who are in trouble.”
She stared. The eyes were already getting to me, burrowing into my head, but I continued in the practiced, professional voice that wasn’t quite my own.
“Do you know why you’re here, Lilly?”
“Why I’m here or why I was detained? Of course I know why I was detained. But I’m here, in this room, because the freaks in the holding cell were climbing the walls to get away from me.”
My knees were going. I had to lean on something, but the only chair was closer to the girl. I couldn’t go that way. I stepped back and leaned against the door.
“Why do you say that, Lilly? Do you think people dislike you?”
“They don’t dislike me. They’re afraid of me.”
“Why are they afraid of you, Lilly?”
“Tell me why you’re afraid of me.”
I couldn’t lie under that pale, icy gaze. “I’m afraid of my past, Lilly. I can’t help it. I’m afraid it might all happen again someday. I’m afraid because I used to be just like you.”
That pasty, filthy girl suddenly burst out laughing. It was much, much too loud, and it was all wrong, like a pipe organ’s shrieking imitation of mirth. It drove me to my knees.
“Poor crazy lady, you’ve never been like me,” she said.
I was dizzy and sickened. As I pulled myself up on the doorjamb, I realized what I’d seen on the way down: just a glimpse of Lilly laughing.
Her mouth was too wide, and it was full of fangs.
My madness hadn’t even given me enough time to cry. There had been no warning signs, no delusional patterns for almost four years. Florid hallucination with no change in medication, no escalation, no other symptoms.
It was unfair.
When I struggled upright and faced her, she was still smiling, and her mouth was a horror. It was no hallucination.
“My God, Lilly! What have you done to your teeth?”
She stood as if to bring that hideous smile toward me. I turned to the door and raised my hands to bang on it, to slam my fists against that steel door until Prescott buzzed me out.
I froze with my fists raised. I knew as one knows such things in nightmares that something even worse approached in the corridors beyond.
She whispered behind me. “Oh, you feel him too? Wow, you really are — umm, special.”
It was real. I wished it were all delusion, but it was real. As I backed away from the door, Lilly touched me on the shoulder. I wheeled on her with a shriek, and her cold, stinking fingers sealed my lips.
“Be very polite and quiet while he’s here. Don’t let him know you’re — you know, special. Crazy. But don’t try to lie, either. At the same time, act like everything is just fine.”
She released me with an encouraging wink. I almost threw up.
The buzzer sounded, and Lilly shoved me aside. I was incapable of moving on my own.
Prescott stuck his head in. “Sorry, babe. You didn’t have five minutes. He’s here.” His face clouded as his eyes lit on Lilly standing beside me. “I told you to remain seated.”
“We were doing a role-play,” Lilly said. “I do a lot of drama and acting and stuff.”
“Uh-huh. Sure you do.” He smirked at Lilly. Seeing the girl beside me was all it took to get Prescott over his fear. He kept his feet in the hallway but swung his bulk into the room by hanging on the doorjamb like a gorilla. For Prescott, getting over his fear meant he had to be twice as overbearing to compensate.
I suddenly realized how much I hated him.
“And where do you study drama, honey? Which high school did you say you go to?”
A cold voice drifted in from the hallway. “My children are home-schooled. The dramatic arts make up a large part of their curriculum.”
Lilly raised her eyebrows expectantly.
Prescott stood straight. “Mr. Marston, I asked you to fill out the paperwork at the front desk.” He looked confused. “How did you get in here?”
The door opened wide and Marston stepped in past him. “I was curious. I have never been in a jail.” His smile was thin and tight. “But now my daughter has.”
His eyes were as pale as Lilly’s, but they were harder, like polished stones. She looked at the floor when he turned that pitiless gaze upon her. A normal girl would have blushed, but an insane voice in the back of my head said: Poor Lilly doesn’t have enough blood to blush. Not at this time of night.
The door swung shut behind him.
He turned to me. “And who is this?”
Again, the voice that wasn’t quite mine came out of my mouth. “Social services, just checking in.” I stuck out my hand. I smiled.
He stepped toward me. He was as pale as ivory in that grim fluorescent light. He was immaculately groomed, and he smelled of death and mint toothpaste. He took my hand in his cold, hard fingers, and he said, “Is there some sort of problem?”
“Lilly and I were just chatting,” I said. I smiled. I smiled for my life. I waited for him to release my hand.
Prescott said, “Mr. Marston, could you please wait for a few more minutes while—”
“We’re done, Sergeant.” My face hurt from smiling. I wanted to scream. “Lilly and I are done.”
Marston released me. Lilly wrinkled her nose and gave me a wry little grin. My fingers were cold, as if her father’s very touch had sucked the heat from them.
Marston turned back to Prescott. “Sergeant, may we go home now?”
Prescott put his hands on his hips and rocked on his heels. “I still have concerns about Lilly’s behavior. I can’t hold her because she wasn’t in violation of the juvenile curfew. You say she was on a legitimate errand?”
“She was to pick up dinner for us, yes.”
“I didn’t want to,” Lilly said.
Her father’s thin, brittle smile broadened a fraction. “Perhaps we will eat in tonight.”
Her expression clouded and she had opened her mouth to respond when Prescott interrupted: “So what about all this vampire nonsense?”
Marston looked at him briefly. When he turned back to Lilly, his pupils had widened, like a shark’s. I peed my pants a little.
“Yes, child,” Marston said. “What about all this vampire nonsense?”
Prescott waved a finger in the air. “That was weird. I mean, that was just weird. You were freaking me out, kid. It’s not right to tell the police that you’re a vampire and that you’re hunting tweakers. It’s not smart.”
“It’s not smart at all,” her father whispered. “Just wait till I get you home. I’ll just clean all this up first.”
Her father’s lips grew thinner and tighter. In the split-second before he showed us his horrible grin, I said, “Lilly, what do you really want to say to your father?”
He stared at me with jet-black eyes. Behind him, Prescott looked at the floor as if waiting for all the idiocy to end. Lilly crossed her arms and faced Marston.
“I don’t want to get dinner every night. Not for the whole family.”
“It makes you stronger.”
“I’m strong enough!” The volume was astounding.
Prescott reeled for a second before coming off the wall toward Lilly, but I broke in: “Lilly, what is the worst part? Why do you really object to getting dinner every night?”
She looked at her father, then at the floor.
I was strangely in my element. “Lilly, you can tell him, even if you think it’s silly. He’s listening.”
Marston was indeed listening. He was still as stone, focused on Lilly. He no longer pretended to breathe.
She said, “It’s the smell. The … the food smells. The smell gets in my clothes and in my hair.”
“We can’t go to the better places right now,” Marston said. “Maybe in summer.”
“And they leak.”
“Only if you’re rough with them.”
She rolled her eyes. “Not that. They leak, you know, from the bottom. The fragile ones do, when they’re shaken up.” She stared at him. “It gets on my clothes. It’s disgusting.”
Prescott stepped forward. “Look, you can work this out at home. I’m worried about a juvenile following a bunch of creeps into an alley in the worst part of town. Social services doesn’t seem worried, but I am.”
Marston’s smile returned. “You seem worried about a great many issues that do not concern you, Sergeant.”
“You know,” I said, “this might be the best thing that ever happened to your family.”
All eyes were on me. Most of them were dead. My skin crawled. “Lilly has your full attention. What she did to get that attention was not very wise, and everyone here would agree with that — right, Lilly?”
She nodded without looking at her father.
“In a way, that’s okay, because wisdom isn’t her job. It’s yours, Mr. Marston. You have all the wisdom and all the love your family needs. They need your guidance to develop their own wisdom. You have to be a wall, a firm and loving wall, and you have to know when to say no.”
He looked somber. I had him.
“And you also know what else you have to do.”
His eyes narrowed at me, but I smiled back, nodding. He looked at me for several seconds. My eyelid began to twitch and the blood roared in my head, but I kept smiling.
He turned to Lilly. “Angel, I’m sorry if I put too much on your shoulders, but you’re the youngest, and I want you to take your rightful place in the family. I push you because … I push you because you’re the best. The best of us all. I’m sorry I’ve never told you that.”
Lilly put her hand to her mouth. Her eyes brimmed with pinkish tears.
“We can talk about it tonight. The rest of the family has already gone. Eating out this evening. Let’s have dinner, just the two of us.” He smiled. “Two entrées.”
I had failed. My mouth went dry. I was a dead woman.
“I don’t know what an entrée is,” Lilly said.
Prescott sighed. “It’s French, kid. So much for homeschooling. It means a main dish, not an appetizer.” He took Marston by the shoulder. “Look, we’ve got things to do here. First of all, you aren’t taking this minor to dinner or anywhere else until I establish her identity and yours. For all I know, Lilly Marston is just some stupid name she made up.”
Something like a growl issued from Lilly’s throat.
“On top of that, unless you and I come to an agreement about how this young lady needs to dress and bathe and cut this crazy vampire bullshit and observe the juvenile curfew, I’m lodging my own complaint with social services.” He shot me a disgusted glance. “A social services supervisor.”
Lilly said softly, “Daddy, maybe only one entrée to start,” and then that dead, grimy little angel cut her eyes at Prescott.
He frowned. “Are you sure?”
“Unh!” She locked her knees straight and pointed to herself with both crusted forefingers. “The best! Remember? Like, a minute ago? The best?”
Marston laughed aloud. It was unpleasant. I had to look away.
“As you wish, dear, but let’s be quick about it.” His smile was poised to split his face. “I’m ready for dinner now.”
Then the real miracle happened. For the first time in my life, I was in perfect control. Everything came together in that moment. I rattled out a story about needing to pick up medications before the pharmacy closed. It was a purposely crazed, deliberately personal and exactingly incoherent tale, just overlong enough that even Marston’s icy eyes glazed.
“Okay, okay. Geez, just do what you have to do.” Prescott buzzed me out with the remote on his belt. The door clicked, and he held it open for me.
I turned to Lilly. “It was so nice to meet you, dear. Good luck with your studies.” I hugged the cold, filthy body.
She hugged back with arms like iron chains; vertebrae cracked and popped so subtly that only she and I could hear. Her face was pressed into my throat, and I heard her inhale rhythmically, sniffing my throat for the blood coursing through my arteries.
A thin trickle of urine ran down toward my sock. At that moment, I was just grateful for the warmth.
The fragile ones leak from the bottom when they’re shaken up.
We certainly do.
That horrible wound of a mouth was centimeters from my jugular, the cracked and lifeless lips brushing my throat. Lilly whispered to me with a voice like rushing wind, a voice that stank of the grave: “Good job, crazy lady.”
She released me, and I did not fall. I continued to smile. I gave her father a brisk but lingering handshake. I took out a rival associate’s business card. My fingers didn’t tremble at all as I pretended to dither over whether he needed my card, seeing that he was blessed with such a bright, well-adjusted child, but I gave it to him anyway. He accepted it without a glance.
He seemed distracted by Prescott, fat, jowly, bubbling-with-life Prescott waiting for me to leave so he could tell Marston how to raise his daughter.
Prescott neither looked at me nor spoke as I walked out. The interview room door clicked shut behind me.
We never even said goodbye.
Lucky to be here, I thought as I walked the beige-and-gray corridors for the last time. It’s a cinderblock maze, but at least I’m on the right side of the walls. Lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky…
James Kendley was once Danse Macabre’s senior editor. “The Delinquent” appeared previously in SNM Horror Magazine