“San Francisco sucks!” Xander snarled in an overly loud voice. I mentally willed him to keep it down as I felt the glare of huffy San Franciscans from every corner of the airplane. Unfortunately, he kept talking at the same volume, “I mean, how many posers can you cram into one city?” I glanced over at his black boots, black slacks, black belt, black shirt, enhanced black hair and chipping black fingernail polish and tried not to crack a smile, fully restraining myself from busting his chops. It had been a long trip and Xander was not a fan of irony, especially if it was directed at him. And, after all, it was Xander’s father, Mr. Mega-Lawyer, who was the unwitting sponsor of our trip by always paying off his son’s credit card debt without bothering to check on the purchases.
“For me it was the dog pooh,” sniffed Rini from where she nestled in her cozy seat by the window. She always looked a bit like one of those kittens with the flat faces and when she curled herself into a ball, it didn’t help. I was wedged in the middle seat, naturally. Rini went on, “I mean, don’t let your dog crap where you eat, right?” I had to agree with her. Downtown San Francisco seemed reasonably clean in the touristy spots, but we’d stayed at a cheap hotel in the heart of the Mission District. Once you got into the more residential areas, the City by the Bay was oddly smeared with feces. Rini went on, “Did you know that there are five dogs for every child in San Francisco?”
“Really?” I was surprised. “Is that true?” Rini stated emphatically that it was true. I had my doubts. I mean, it felt true, but I also knew that Rini liked to be the authority on everything, even if that meant flat out making things up. The flight attendant started her safety spiel, so I didn’t shake Rini down for where she’d found such an interesting statistic. I always pay attention to the safety instructions. I look for my nearest exit, even if it is behind me, I double check my seatbelt and I make sure everything around me is in an upright and locked position. It’s not like I’m afraid to fly or anything. But I do dread a few aeronautical possibilities, including plummeting to a fiery death, motion sickness, smelly people sitting next to me and the person in front of me fully reclining his or her seat. Besides that, I’m totally cool on a plane.
Xander fired up his iPod and turned up the volume, even though you’re not supposed to do that kind of stuff during takeoff. Normally, I’d have said something, but I really just wanted to get home with as little hassle as possible. We were all feeling crabby and discouraged. San Francisco had not quite been the Mecca for vampires that we’d anticipated.
Don’t get me wrong, there had been plenty of vampire clubs in the city by the bay. There were also a lot of vampire bars, vampire tours, vampire drycleaners, vampire gift shops and even a vampire tacoria. What there hadn’t been were any vampires. Or, at least, none that we could find. There were a ton of people posing as vampires, or as familiars, or even as vampire furries, which I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around. Essentially, there had been a lot of people hanging around dressed in black, sipping Bloody Mary cocktails and wearing fake fangs, but we discovered no legitimate presence of the undead.
New Orleans had been pretty much the same deal. The people were nice. There was a real southern southerness that I thought had its charm, but no vampires. I mean, none that made themselves known to us. It was quite the disappointment, but I’m not sure why. It’s not like Anne Rice has a direct line to the occult and that’s why she located all her stories there, right? At least, I didn’t think she did.
My name is Herbert Lehmer. Yeah, I know. I think it was some kind of practical joke my dad played before he decided to kick the bucket.
I like my last name because it’s kind of like those fuzzy creatures with the big eyes that hang out on Madagascar. But people are usually too fixated on my first name to pay too much attention to my last. Without fail, the first thing that flies out of people’s mouths is, “Oh, like Herbie the Love Bug?” After that they always laugh hysterically and look all pleased, like they’ve just said this amazingly original joke and have not, in fact, told a lame joke that I’ve heard two zillion times before. Every once in a blue moon, I hear, “Oh, like Herbert Hoover.” That’s not too great either, but at least it’s a change of pace and shows a sense of history.
Anyway, the whole Herbie the Love Bug thing got so bad that even Xander got sick of it by the time we hit middle school. That’s why when we started high school, he started calling me Sherbie, which is short for Sherbet. (Get it? Herbert, Sherbet. Yeah, it’s not really all that close, but whatever.) Anyway, it caught on and now I go by Sherbie, which I’m not in love with either, but I guess it’s the lesser of two evils. I’m definitely going to change my name when I go to college next year to something cool, like... uh... yeah, I don’t know yet, but something at least as cool as Xander, which he swears his parents gave him as a nickname, but I’m pretty sure he ripped off of Buffy.
Xander, Rini and I are vampire hunters. Well, we’re not exactly hunting them to stake them or anything like that. We just want to find some. It started out as kind of a joke, actually. We were reading so many vampire novels that we thought it might be fun to actually meet a couple. But where do you go to meet vampires? It’s not like you’re going to stumble over one at a midnight madness sale at the mall or anything. So at the end of our junior year, we decided we would hit a few of the more obvious vampire hot spots around the U.S. on our summer vacation and see if we could unearth any (so to speak). I know it sounds kind of nuts, but people get obsessed about all kinds of stuff. What about that first guy who became fixated with summiting Mount Everest? When a reporter asked him why he was so hell bent on getting to the top, he shouted back, “Because it’s there!” That’s kind of how I felt about vampires. I mean, if they were out there and they actually existed, I wanted to meet one. Maybe not even meet one, but at least see one. Kind of like a celebrity sighting, but where the celebrity possibly wants to kill you. I’m not sure we seriously thought we were ever going to find any vampires, but as long as Xander’s dad was willing to keep the funds flowing, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a summer.
We were standing at carousel number nine of Cleveland Hopkins waiting for the machine to spit out my luggage. Xander had his army surplus green duffle bag. Rini had her old hard-cover suitcase that she’d spray painted black and stenciled all over with white skulls. Very Emily Le Strange, although Rini denied it. I, of course, was still waiting for my grandmother’s flowered roll away case. It was cringe worthy on many levels.
I noticed Xander had subtly adjusted his posture. He slouched slightly to the side, let his head hang, and then looked up through his bangs to gaze at something in the middle distance. Uber James Dean. Xander managed to pull it off as if he was looking at nothing, just having deep thoughts about the far away adventures he would be having if he wasn’t stuck waiting for a flowered suitcase at Hopkins International. I casually let my eyes slide across the room. There had to be cute girls somewhere close at hand. Otherwise Xander wouldn’t have broken out his middle distance gazing Tyrone Power eyes.
Yep, there they were, off to the left. Three of them. Long hair, short skirts, tank tops, flip flops. They had definitely spotted Xander because they were whispering to each other and glancing repeatedly in our direction. It’s not like they were his type or anything, but he posed for them anyway, not wanting to go unnoticed. As if anyone could avoid noticing him. Xander was tall, lean meat on a big frame. His artificially blackened hair and pale, flawless skin only served to emphasize his electric blue eyes. If he wasn’t one of my best friends, I would have absolutely hated the guy.
“Cleveland sucks,” Xander snarled, giving just a hint of Elvis lip.
“Huh?” Rini jerked her head up, her concentration broken from the luggage carousel that had briefly hypnotized her while she tried to pry a sesame seed out of her braces. “Wait a minute. I thought you said San Francisco sucked?”
“I never said that. San Francisco’s cool. I’ll probably move there after college.”
Rini didn’t catch on that the conversation was being staged for someone else’s benefit. “I thought you were going to move to New York to be a writer?”
“Yeah, I’m gonna do that too. I really just want to get out there and live life, you know? Not be tied down.”
I saw comprehension filling Rini’s eyes. She glanced quickly around the baggage claim and found the girls, who were avidly eavesdropping. “What do you mean, not be tied down?” Rini raised the volume of her voice perceptibly. “I thought you said you were desperately looking for a girlfriend? Someone you could love and pamper and spend every second of your time with.” Looking up, she acted like she was seeing the cute girls for the first time. “Hey, there are some cute girls over there! Why don’t you go talk to them? Maybe one of them will want to be your girlfriend.”
Sometimes I absolutely love Rini.
My luggage came spitting out of the chute at that exact moment and Xander yanked it off the carousel and thrust it at me. “Sherbie, take your damn bag. Let’s go.” Xander quickly hoisted his duffel onto one of his broad shoulders and half jogged across baggage claim. The girls giggled and madly tossed their hair as he went past. They reminded me of a flock of startled birds, dithering about, but not really going anywhere. When I walked by, of course, I didn’t ruffle a single feather, but I was used to that.
There was actually one girl at baggage claim who looked at me. She was standing with some friends, but they weren’t part of the hot mini-skirts or anything. She was more of a washed out elf in jeans that were a size too big. She had dark, stringy hair pulled into a pony tail and she didn’t so much check me out as glare at me as if I’d just bumped into her without apologizing. Xander got hot girls tossing their hair; I got unwarranted dirty looks from cranky chicks.
We made our way over to long term parking and piled into Xander’s cream colored Dodge Dart. His dad would have bought him any car he wanted, but Xander went for the Dart. Something about the uncoolness of it making it cool. Of course he got the two door, convertible 1969 model, with the significantly smaller back seat, which was where I was usually wedged. I’m a lot taller than Rini, but Xander always insists she gets to sit up front because she’s a girl.
Xander took the valley on the way home. I personally find the Cleveland Metroparks a little spooky after the sun goes down, but he insisted they were atmospheric. It was quiet with no one else was around and Xander had the Dart’s top down, naturally. At first I was feeling tense about it, imagining the eyes of God knows what staring down at us from the trees. But soon the sultry summer breezes and gentle chirp of crickets lulled me into enjoying the ride.
That was until a bunch of kids in a car careened up behind us with their brights on. I turned around and tried to signal them that they were blinding us, but that just made them drive closer. I swear their bumper was practically touching ours. “What the hell are they doing?” Xander barked, gripping the steering wheel tightly to keep the Dart on the road. “What’s their problem?”
“I don’t know!” I shouted back, doing my best to wave them off. There were obviously several girls in the car because I could hear them shrieking with the delight of terrorizing us. After catching a few snatches of their words above the cackling, I began to get a bad feeling, like they were waiting until the road drew closer to the river and then they were going to ram us.
Xander stomped on the gas and the other car fell back a few yards. For a brief moment, I thought maybe they had decided to leave us alone, until I heard them rev their engine. They were just giving themselves space to get up to ramming speed. The car came hurtling at us again and I knew they weren’t going to stop. We were as good as dead.
Xander wrenched the dart’s wheel abruptly to the left propelling us up a small lane to Wooster Road and we shot out of the Metroparks. The other car wasn’t expecting this maneuver, apparently, and they missed the turn. I thought maybe they’d pull a U-turn or something, but I didn’t see any headlights, so I guess they kept going, barreling through the valley.
Once we knew we were in the clear, Xander pulled the Dart over to regain his composure. “What the hell?” he slammed his fist into the leather seat. “What the fuck was that? They were they trying to kill us.”
“Maybe it was someone you used to date?” Rini suggested as she unclenched herself from the tiny ball she had formed in the passenger’s seat.
“No,” Xander protested a bit too loudly. “I don’t… I mean, I wouldn’t… I mean, those chicks were really trying to kill us. And I’ve never, you know… done anything that warranted killing.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Xander said, vehemently.
Rini shrugged, “If you say so.”
Xander pulled the Dart up in front of the post WWII bungalow that I shared with my grandmother. Almost every light in the house was on, but that’s the way Grandma liked it. She wanted to make it perfectly clear that people were home. She felt it dissuaded robbers, but I think it really only jacked up our electricity bill. Besides, what were they going to steal? The dusty hook rug wall hanging of a pony? The radio Grandma’s had since the seventies? I did have a nice collection of vintage jackets that I’d managed to score over the years from my dedication to thrift store shopping, but I doubted thieves cased a house based on the availability of classic menswear.
“I’m thinking L.A. next time,” Xander said as Rini got up to release me from the backseat. The top was still down, so I could have just hopped out, but Xander doesn’t like it if I stand on the upholstery.
“Why would vampires be living in L.A.?” I wondered aloud as I unfolded myself. “It’s sunny all the time there, isn’t it?”
“I still say they’ve got to be somewhere in New York,” I heard Rini say as Xander unlocked the trunk and I hauled my suitcase out. “I mean that’s where you find all the cool clothes and all the nightlife. If you think about it, it’s the only American city that really makes any sense.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Xander replied. “I’ll do some more research, but I’m still feeling L.A.”
Rini snickered a little. “I think you want to go there to try and get discovered. Wear a tight sweater and sit at the counter at Schwab’s, kind of thing.”
“You want to be the next Robert Pattinson,” I laughed.
Xander snorted as he hopped back into the car, “I do not. That guy’s a poser.”
“Why is he a poser?” Rini demanded with a little more force than the comment seemed to warrant. I had my suspicions that Rini was harboring a secret crush on the actor. After all, she’d seen Twilight like a zillion times.
“He just is.”
“I don’t want to talk about it right now,” Xander groused. “I’m tired from crazy chicks trying to run us off the road.”
I crouched down next to the car to talk in a lowered voice, just in case Grandma was in the kitchen and had the window open. “Thanks for the trip, Xander.”
“Yeah, no problem. Remember, Young Lords at the Agora Saturday night.” The Agora show had been sold out for weeks and we didn’t have tickets, but for Xander that was never a problem. Say what you will about him, but the guy was incredibly generous with his dad’s money.
“Okay,” I stood up. “See ya.” Something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. It was a car sneaking up on us with the lights off. It was the car. The girls must have somehow followed us. “What the hell?” I blurted.
A girl was hanging out of the open window of the car. She had a black ski mask covering her face. “You’re next,” she pointed at me. I felt something hit my chest. It was a sharp, then dull pain. As I looked down, confused, the car peeled off.
Xander was instantly out of the Dart and by my side. “Are you okay? What’d they throw at you?”
The front of my black vintage blazer was slimy and wet. I had a flash of panic thinking they’d somehow shot me and that my brain hadn’t yet registered the pain of my guts spilling onto the sidewalk. “I don’t know,” I brushed away the goo. The slime felt familiar. “An egg. A bloody egg.”
“What?” Rini got out of the car and Xander bent down to examine my jacket.
“They just egged me, but it’s red.” I viewed my stained hands under the streetlamp. “Gross.”
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?”Xander straightened himself.
“I’m fine,” I said, feeling more bewildered than anything else. “I hope it doesn’t stain. This is my favorite jacket.”
“Run cold water on it,” Rini advised. “Don’t use hot. That’ll just cook it on there.”
“Okay,” I scrapped off as much of the slime as I could and flicked it on the tree lawn. Bending over, I wiped my palms on the grass.
“Well, if you’re all right, then we’re taking off,” Xander said as he turned to get back in his car. “What do you think she meant by ‘you’re next’?”
Standing up, I grabbed Grandma’s suitcase. “I don’t know. Next to go to the drycleaner.”
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