The heat was unsubstantial, even for this time of year. Granted, it wasn’t atypical for the summers in South Carolina to be intense but come on! This was ridiculous. Humidity was so thick in the air I felt like I was inhaling droplets of condensation with every breath.
My husband Hank and I needed to leave the house for a bit while we waited for the repairman to come fix our A/C. It was on the fritz, so the inside of our home felt like a toaster oven. We’d been waiting on him for hours and it would probably take him a while longer to arrive. If he didn’t show up today, we’d have to spend another night draped in wet towels to try and keep cool. In the meantime, we figured we’d visit our local donut shop.
Stepping through the front entrance of the shop, we hoped for some relief, but it wasn’t much cooler inside than out. Still, any form of alleviation was better than the alternative. We stood in a long line of customers. I noticed that everyone was ordering ice coffees. The high number of perspiring bodies in the room filled the interior with a pungent odour. I made an active effort to breathe through my mouth instead of my nose.
I looked up at Hank. His forehead had beads of sweat across it. His brown hair was unkempt and greasy. When our arms touched, the contact of our skin did not feel good. He felt too hot and sweaty to touch. I probably felt the same way to him. My tank top was soaked to the point that it looked as if I had just been swimming. My long, blonde hair was tied up in a messy bun on top of my head to give freedom to the back of my neck. Hank and I both shuffled to widen the space between us.
“I’m thinking the repairman isn’t going to come,” he said to me.
“Don’t say that. He’ll come.”
He pinched his nose with this thumb and index finger and sighed heavily. His eyes narrowed on me. “You’re such a freaking optimist.”
“Well, you’re too pessimistic!”
We had been fighting a lot lately. I think the heat was making us cranky. My cheeks and ears were burning so intensely they were flushing, and I could practically feel them glowing red. When a lady approached, we were not in the best mood to engage her.
“You guys hot?” she asked. That was a stupid question.
“No,” Hank scoffed, his voice dripping with sarcasm. I gave him a hard nudge with my elbow. “Ouch!”
“Be nice,” I snapped.
The woman was unphased by his rudeness.
“I’m not,” she said. Hank let out a short burst of laughter.
Like everyone else, she looked scruffy. She was middle aged with skin like crinkled paper, and her short, frizzy brown hair contained hints of silver. Her collared shirt and ankle length skirt appeared faded and dusty, giving her the look of a dishevelled librarian. I felt hot just looking at her.
“You’re not hot?” I questioned her. We both thought she was joking.
“No, I feel fine.”
Upon closer examination of her face, I realised she was right. She wasn’t sweating at all. Her pale cheeks and forehead were dry as a bone. Her hair didn’t contain any moisture. I considered for a moment that, if I were to blow a breath of air on her, dust particles would fly.
“How?” I asked, but she shrugged off my question. We took a step forward as the line moved up, and the lady stayed with us.
“Are you healthy?” she asked me. Hank and I exchanged a grimace. What a strange question.
“Umm… I think so. Why?” I answered, trying to be polite, though my voice shook a little with uncertainty.
“What is your blood type?” Her eyes were wide, interested. She seemed a bit too interested, if that made sense.
“Why are you asking?” Hank demanded.
“I’m just making conversation,” she said. We took another step forward. It was almost our turn to order.
“We don’t need your conversation,” he spoke firmly.
“You know, I was healthy once. I used to be normal like you guys…” she started. She continued rambling to us even when our turn came to place our order at the counter. Scratching his temple, the cashier’s eyes flicked from us to the lady. We angled ourselves so that our backs were to her, using body language to indicate that she was not with us. Still, she continued speaking.
“I remember I used to sweat like crazy during the summer heat. Now, I don’t know what’s going on. I just feel so different, you know?”
The cashier leaned forward over the counter, turning his ear to us, clearly trying to listen to our order above her voice. The whole situation was cringeworthy. I held a finger up as a polite to gesture for her to stop talking, but she did not pick up on it.
“Would you shut up?” Hank snapped. She ignored him.
“It’s like a good different. It’s hard to describe. I don’t feel hot, and I don’t need to drink water either.”
“So that’s two iced coffees and…” the cashier was repeating our order.
“I guess change isn’t always bad though, right? I mean, it happens to us all at some point.. Like puberty or something. Maybe that’s what I’m going through? Some sort of bodily change…”
“And a chocolate donut,” I clarified, raising my voice above hers.
“Okay, I got it,” the cashier assured us. “We’ll call you up when it’s ready. Next.”
The next person behind us stepped up to order when the strange lady did not. While waiting, my husband and I walked to the far corner on the opposite end of the shop, hoping to escape her. Not taking the hint, she followed, still talking. I felt like she was standing too close to me, so I took a step back, bumping into Hank. The sudden, hot contact of our bodies must have irritated him further.
“What the hell do you want from us, lady?” his voice was at a higher pitch of frustration than before. I could see flames in his eyes.
“…when I was a kid, I used to enjoy a refreshing swim in the pond during summers, but now it’s like I don’t need that refreshing feeling anymore. Isn’t that weird?”
“Okay, we get it! You’re not hot. Good for you!” his voice sharpened like a razor-sharp dagger to the ear when he shouted, “Leave us alone!”
I jolted at the harshness in his tone. I had never heard my husband sound this infuriated before, even when we argued. It was enough to startle everyone in the shop. I felt the eyes of other customers focus on us. My chest caved in on itself, my chin dipping inward. I placed a hand over my forehead, shadowing part of my eyes. If the heat wasn’t going to kill me, I could have died from humiliation right then. Unbelievably, the lady was still entirely unphased, continuing to babble.
“Just the other day I was at the pool, and I didn’t want to get in for some reason…”
“Stop talking,” I pleaded. I wasn’t going to try and be polite anymore. I removed my hand from above my eyes to peer up at Hank. His nostrils were flaring, and I could see a vein throbbing in his forehead. I was worried about him now and what he might do if his temper was pushed too far.
“Anyway, so what’s your blood type?” she asked him this time.
“Why do you keep asking that? What the fuck does it matter?!”
When our order was announced, I felt a huge sense of relief. Wasting no time, Hank grabbed my arm and pulled me with him to the counter. With our coffees and my donut in a brown paper bag, we exited the shop hastily. In the parking lot, we almost ran to our car. The woman was still following us.
“Don’t look at her,” Hank said sharply to me. He nudged my shoulder back so that I had to turn my head to look forward. Our stride toward our car was chaotic. The clopping of our flip flops against the pavement was erratic, speeding in quick bursts before slowing down again. Hank glanced behind us again.
“Is she still following us?” I asked him. Our breathing was hard and fast.
He answered my question with a dreaded, “Yes.”
I was tempted to look, but I knew we needed to focus on getting to the car as quickly as possible. Once inside, we locked the doors and I strapped my seatbelt on.
“Let’s get out of here,” I urged.
“Agreed,” he said.
I looked through the passenger window to check if I could still see her, but she was missing. Sometime during the scuffle of climbing into the car, we’d lost sight of her. Not being able to see her was more unnerving than when I knew exactly where she was.
“Where is she? Oh, my God, where is she?!” I asked, unthinkingly repeating the question over and over. “Where is that woman?” I had an uneasy feeling in my gut. The tension stiffened my spine.
“Who cares?!” he howled. “We’re getting out of here now!”
Blasting the A/C on maximum, he pulled the car into reverse, speeding out of the parking space. That’s when we heard the heart-wrenching thud. I glanced out the back window of the car.
“We ran her over! Oh, my God, we ran her over!” I shrilled.
“Shut up!” he shouted at me. Hank’s knuckles were white as he clenched the wheel. He slammed his foot against the gas pedal like he was about to flee the scene, but changed his mind and suddenly pressed on the brakes, jarring me in my seat.
“We need to check on her,” I said.
“Fine!” he was still angry but opened the door and jumped out after setting the car in park. I noticed that he hadn’t even had his seatbelt on. The key was left in the ignition and the door open, so I assumed he was anticipating a quick trip. I remained seated in the passenger seat, turning to watch through the back window as he maneuvered towards the woman who was lying across the hot, black pavement of the parking lot. I could not understand how she was not sizzling like an egg on a frying pan.
“Hey, lady. Are you okay? Lady?”
I overheard some muffled moaning. Then he reached down to grab her arm.
“I’m sorry, but what were you doing following us like that?”
He was pulling her to her feet when I decided to turn back and face forward in my seat. I figured he had the situation handled and she must have been alright if she was able to stand. That’s when I heard the devastating wail of Hank’s scream.
“Gah! What the hell?!”
Before I could turn back to look, he was already in the driver’s seat. He slammed the door shut and the woman was suddenly at his window, baring a pair of white fangs. She screamed this high-pitched, awful shriek. Her amber eyes glistened red in the sunlight, her veins glowing yellow under ivory skin. I heard another scream before realising, after a second, that the sound was coming from me.
Hank stomped on the gas pedal. I practically jumped out of my skin when the woman was suddenly standing in front of our car, hunched over in a predatory way, reminiscent of a lion stalking its pray. Her red eyes were intent on us. How fast did she move? It was like she just appeared from one place to the next.
Hank didn’t stomp on his brakes at the sight of her. Instead, he held his foot against the gas pedal as we collided into her. My eyes were wide with horror as the woman slammed onto the hood with enough force to cause a dent. He stomped on the brake for a second so that her body would roll off, then he hit the gas again. We felt the bump of the woman’s body under the wheels of the car as if we had just flown over a speed bump.
“Oh, shit!” I screeched. “You ran her over!”
“That woman can’t be human. She’s a monster,” he explained. He drove like a maniac, speeding onto the main road, distancing us from this daytime nightmare as fast as possible. “Call the police right now!”
I complied, pulling my cell phone out from my jean short pocket. My hands were shaking. I found it difficult to press the buttons. I was also nervously watching my husband’s driving as we weaved in and out of lanes, speeding past other cars. Whimpering escaped me uncontrollably. Assuming I could dial the emergency number, I wasn’t sure if I would be capable of speaking.
“Honey, pull yourself together,” he said.
“I’m trying!” my voice cracked.
When a car in front of us pulled to a stop at a red light, Hank was forced to slam on the brakes. I lurched forward, thankful for my seatbelt stopping me from slamming my head into the dashboard. There was an eerie feeling as we waited at the traffic light. Our surroundings were silent but, inside the car, our breathing was loud, bursting in and out. The tension and fear felt thick between us. I guessed we were both trying to mentally process things.
I noticed Hank was shaking with his hands tight on the wheel. His elbow jerked uncontrollably, a random nervous-tick response in his body that startled me. Then I saw his arm, cut up and bleeding.
“What… What happened to you?” my voice was trembling.
“She bit me.”
“What?” I gasped.
Suddenly there was a figure of a man standing at the crosswalk in front of our cars. He was wearing a black hooded jacket and jeans. In this weather? He had just appeared there. My husband and I both reacted with a jolt at his sudden manifestation.
Within a split second, the man was at the driver’s side door of the car in front of us. We watched in horror as he opened it and pulled the driver out. The driver was an average looking guy wearing a t-shirt and shorts. He was wiggling desperately to release himself from the hooded man’s grip, but to no avail. The poor man was pinned against the road as a pair of fangs penetrated his neck. We flinched in our seats at the piercing sound of the victim’s helpless screams.
The flushed red colouring of the skin on the guy’s arms and legs seemed to be fading quickly. It was as if the juices inside were being drained out of him. Then his body fell limp like a doll’s. I felt sick.
“Oh, fuck no,” my husband uttered. He swerved our car onto the sidewalk and around the empty vehicle in front. Then he floored it through the red light we had been waiting for. It was time to escape before we became the hooded man’s next target.
“How many of these monsters are out here?” I asked in disbelief. Hank didn’t have an answer. His eyes were focused on the road ahead, trying to get us home.
He repeated his earlier instruction. “Call 9-1-1.” Sometime in the shock of witnessing a man’s murder, my cell phone ended up on the floor. I had to bend down to pick it up, using one hand to brace myself against the dashboard. I leaned back in my seat with the phone and shakily dialled the number.
A busy signal.
“Are you calling?”
“Yes, the line is busy.”
After what seemed like forever, we pulled into our suburb and parked the car in our driveway. The sight of our house was a relief after the hell we had just been through. We took a moment to lean back in our seats and just breathe.
“Are you okay?” he asked me after a long moment of silence.
“Uhh… a little shaken.” That was an understatement. “How about you?”
A white van with a company insignia on it pulled up and parked on the street in front of our house.
“The A/C repairman is here,” I said.
“Okay. I’ll greet him. You keep calling the police.” He stepped out of the car but paused before shutting his door. “Eat your donut. Get some sugar in you.”
I looked at my face in the rear-view mirror. I looked pale as a ghost, and I was still shaking. I opened the package, but my donut had already melted and looked unappetising. I turned on the radio to see if there was any news or updates about what was going on, but all that came on was the sound of static. Somehow, I sensed that calling the police would be a fruitless endeavour at this point. Something greater was happening in the world, something we couldn’t understand. I pulled the key out of the ignition and stepped out of the car. When I entered through the front door of our inferno house, I could hear my husband arguing with the repairman in the living room.
“What do you mean you don’t think our A/C is broken? Can’t you feel how freaking hot it is in here?”
“Sorry, sir, your house feels fine to me. I don’t see what’s wrong with it.”
The two men looked to me as I entered the room. Seeing Hank next to the man side by side was alarming. Hank was completely flushed, red in his face, his arms, and his legs. Dried blood blotched along his arm. His plain t-shirt and shorts were soaked to the brim with sweat. His hair was wet like he had just been in the shower. Meanwhile, the repairman next to him looked normal, standing in a perfectly dry uniform with his toolbox in hand, not a single drop of sweat on him. I remembered what the monster lady had said back in the donut shop about how she didn’t need to drink water.
“Hello, sir,” I said as calmly as I could manage, “may I offer you a glass of water?”
“No thanks,” he said, “I’m okay.”
About The Author
SJ Walker is a mother and a new voice in the literary landscape. She graduated summa cum laude with her BA in Psychology and is currently studying to obtain her MFA in Creative Writing. She has a small scattering of publications, with a preference for writing tales of dark fantasy.
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