A parasitical being that subsists on the musings of human beings walks a fine line between predator and penitent when her latest choice of sustenance strikes an unexpected chord of compassion in this psychic vampire romance.
First appeared in November 2002, Issue #22 of Awe-Struck FLASH, the official newsletter of Awe-Struck E-Books, Inc.
© 2002 Gracie C. McKeever
Sloane got within five feet of the bench before the dog growled deep in its throat, standing vigilant and protective at its master's side, emitting a warning.
Normally, she liked dogs, especially big animals like the German Shepherd. They were excellent familiars. But this animal was defensive to the point of possessiveness.
Too weak to exercise her usual caution, she replied, "My…my name is Sloane." She was so hungry. Desperate. She hadn't factored in the dog. But now it was too late. Once she'd caught the scent of its owner she hadn't been able to resist all the colorful aromas and blends that rode the wind to her nostrils across the park grounds, sending her hunger into hyper-drive. She'd noticed him the previous day when she'd wandered onto the grounds during lunch hour. The memory of those first impressions had pangs gnawing her brain anew, so intense she thought she would O.D. on all the sensations.
He stuck out a hand. "Michael. Michael Weeks."
Sloane hesitated, unsure if she could sample even that small part of him without being tempted to go further. Finally, she put her hand in his, closed her eyes against the kaleidoscope emotions that teased her taste-buds, a preview of things to come once she took him, essence more rich and earthier than the park's Great Lawn, his musings a tantalizing mix of naive and worldly.
She saw his woman and child as clearly as if they were standing in front of her. Heard the loud blare of horns, grinding metal, breaking glass and screams on an expressway.
"Are you all right? You're trembling."
Perhaps she had been in this form too long, daily more susceptible to human weaknesses-desire, grief, love, nostalgia-though her kind wore and used casings for many years without ill effect and before needing to jump. She had appropriated this one only a few months ago, and the thought of relinquishing it disturbed her. Young and attractive, she wasn't beyond the admiring stares from the opposite sex; she liked the attention, had become fond of this body.
Seems she had already fallen prey-to vanity, sensuality-for someone who, without sight, couldn't appreciate her façade.
"Rusty and I were about to break into this brown bag. Would you like to share lunch with us?"
What the brown bag held could never sate her. "Sure."
In her thousand-year existence, Sloane had never felt this connected to a human-so attuned to a race-one who would share his sandwich with a perfect stranger.
She should never have let her hunger reach such emergent levels. She was too picky. Where her kind foraged and fed on what was available, Sloane only partook when the choices suited her, never settled for second best. Why settle for crumbs when a little self-control and patience could net her the mother lode? Of course, her discrimination had led to more than a few alarming dry spells, of which now was one.
"Hope you're not on a diet."
Rusty barked as Sloane brushed Michael's hand when she reached for the wrapped sandwich.
"Relax, Rusty, there's plenty." Michael chuckled, broke off a piece of his own sandwich and fed it to the dog. "She's not usually this unfriendly. Must be jealous." He smiled.
"A beautiful female other than herself has my attention."
She wished that were so, wanted him to see her inside and out, as she saw him. Wanted to savor him without draining him but didn't know how to accomplish it without--
Sloane smiled; for the first time all day, she wasn't.
"There's more than enough. Pay Rusty no mind. She's a glutton, much like her owner."
Sloane crouched in front of the dog, unwrapped her sandwich-rare roast beef piled high on rye bread-and offered it to the dog.
Rusty eyed her warily, teeth almost bared before Sloane reached down to pat her dark head. Rusty froze, then yelped and flipped onto her back, tongue lolling, panting as she exposed her belly to Sloane's touch, trusting and vulnerable.
"Sounds like you've made a friend," Michael said.
"I have." Sloane came to her feet, reached for one of Michael's hands.
As if he knew her mind, he proffered a hand and she took it between both of hers, held tight for one long agonizing moment of conversion, and led him towards her world. His head jerked up when he sensed what she was doing, agape with bewilderment. She felt his eyes reflexively widen behind the dark glasses. But he didn't recoil, just returned her firm grip.
"Michael, I want you to close your eyes now and don't open them until I leave."
She put a finger to his lips, fought touching him further, already at the brink. "Not until I leave." Sloane felt him close his eyes, sensed his chaotic thoughts-the anxiety, curiosity and hope. She closed her own eyes, needed to do this while she still had the will.
Michael reached out his other hand and Sloane took it, squeezed tight as she licked her lips and relished his memories-childhood flashes, teenage changes, adult tragedy-the joy, the turbulence, the pain. Warm, vibrant and fulfilling. He didn't disappoint her.
Michael gasped suddenly, collapsed against the bench and clutched his head when Sloane released him.
Rusty whined at their feet, glanced up at Sloane as if she were Brutus.
"It's okay girl. He'll be fine." She reached down, scratched the animal behind an ear before turning to go.
Sloane made it a few yards away before she felt Michael recover, felt his shock when he trained his mended eyes on her receding back.
"Oh my God, wait! Don't go!"
Sloane kept walking and didn't look back.
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