Excerpt

Sydney – Present Day “Cheers,” the bartender said to his last patron of the night, a heavy-set man sitting opposite him, wearing a suit with loosened tie and top collar, his shoulders dampened by the weather. “A fucked up end to a fucked up day.” “I’ll drink to that,” the man replied as they chinked their shot glasses together. Feeling the fiery liquid drop down their throats, the flow of conversation began to ease, unlike the roar of the rain outside. “You tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine,” the stranger said, tapping the bar with his glass. Liberally filling his own glass as well, the bartender recalled the major events of the day. “Well, let’s see. Surprise inspection this morning, sick calls from my two only staff, whole day without a break, dodgy customers, scuffles in the bar, police called… And the best thing is, I get to wake up and come back to this shithole tomorrow.”

“Ain’t life a bunch of roses?” the customer replied solemnly, raising his glass in a toast and downing it in one.

“And chocolates,” the bartender agreed. “So what’s your story, champ? I gotta say, I was this close to telling you where to go when you came in, but just the look on your face… Christ, you looked like death warmed up.”

With a crash, the man dropped his glass to the floor. “There we go again,” the bartender said, quickly gesturing to the man’s expression. “What the hell’s happened?” The man shuddered, apologising, and placed his head in his hands.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Anyway, it’s a long story.”

“Try me, for Christ’s sake. I’ve only got a set amount of glasses.” The man managed a short chuckle and the barman thrust another shot glass of whiskey in front of him. He accepted it with a shaking hand and drank up. When he placed the glass back down on the bar, the hand was much steadier. He loosened his tie once more, even though it was clearly not tormenting his throat. The bartender was patient. Finally, after a long sigh, the man spoke.

“Have you ever seen anyone die?” Not quite sure what he’d been expecting—certainly not this—the barman took a minute before replying.

“No, can’t say that I have.”

“What about horror movies…ever get into them?” The bartender took a quick glance at the heavy man, his face curious. He quickly decided to answer the strange question, sure that it led to a point.

“Me and the missus were crazy about them as kids. Well, truth be told it was more me. You know the old hold-her-when-she-gets-scared move…” he replied with a smirk, remembering those nights at the drive-in, when her views of him being her knight in shining armour led to much more than just cuddling her in the back seat.

“What would you do for her when she finds out they’re real?”

“What, you mean horror movies?” The bartender, more concerned now, placed both hands on the bar and studied the man opposite him.

“Sorry mate, but are you going to start making sense anytime soon?”

“Okay, listen. I was walking home from work tonight, like I always do. I take the same route pretty much every day as I have for the past seventeen years. I know the neighbourhood well, everyone’s familiar, you know how it is. Well, tonight, something was off. I knew I ought to hurry on home, but I didn’t. My stomach felt unsettled, so I decided maybe I needed a drink and then I could head home.”

“Okay. I’m with you so far.”

“I went to check out this bar I’d heard about from the young hot shots I work with. They said all kinds of crazy shit goes on there. Real ‘underground stuff’.” “What…like drugs?”

“That’s what I thought they must have meant at first. But now I know they were talking about something…really underground.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“I went in…” he continued, indicating with a finger that he was getting to his point. “Ordered a drink and sat down. This place was unlike anything I’d ever seen before… Yet at the same time, it really was just like any other night club. Dark, misty as hell but I didn’t see any smoke machines, and with music that I’m too old to get into. But the women were unbelievable. Especially this one… Man, you should have seen her. Dark red hair, a real wine colour. The place was packed, but as she moved through the crowd, time seemed to slow down. Every eye was on her, you know? Gorgeous thing. A goddess. Just looking at her, you couldn’t even imagine what she would do to you in the sack because it would be so much better than your wildest dreams. She moved like she was a queen surrounded by servants, everyone parted for her to make her way past. And she left, just like that. “Anyway, I dunno what came over me, but I stupidly tried to search for her until I caught another one in my sights. Not as stunning as the first, not by a long shot. She looked like she had just come out of an 80’s rock music video. Short blonde hair, and seemed like a pocket rocket…I like them,” he half chuckled. “I tried to get her attention, when all of a sudden she looked straight at me and stared and beckoned me over. I couldn’t move. I could not believe my luck. Just then, this little arsehole beside me decides to walk over to her. Bloke was so pissed it was like he was in…a trance or something. He could barely walk straight.” He shook his head before continuing. “I admit it. I’d had a few, and I decided if I couldn’t score a root, a fight would be the next best thing. So I waited to see what they would be up to, when I saw them both go out the back door. I moved through the dancers but when I got to the door, a bouncer appeared out of nowhere and stopped me. He said, “You really don’t want to go out there.” “By this time, I was both pissed and pissed off. I shot my mouth off a little at him, and I thought I was gonna get kicked out. He just stepped aside and said, ‘As you wish, sir’ and let me stroll outside.”

The stranger stopped then, apparently lost in thought. The look on his face, though, was not one of contemplation. It was one of horror.

“What did you see?” the bartender asked, the hairs on his arm starting to rise.

“I should’ve listened to him,” he whispered. “I should’ve stayed inside, or just gone home. God, why didn’t I just go home?” he finished, speaking only to himself now.

The bartender could think of nothing to say, and so refilled the man’s glass. But not his own this time. He waited for the rest of the story.

“They had gone into what looked like on old cool room. Dim, flickering lights, empty shelves everywhere, so I hid behind one. The blonde had the guy against the wall opposite the door, about fifteen feet away from me. She was on her knees, going for it like a champion. Never seen a bitch move her head so fast. Even in the dark, I could see the bloke’s eyes were rolling in his head, moaning, loving every second of it.”

“Who wouldn’t?” the bartender interrupted, with a careless smile, clearly mistaking the trembling in his voice, mistaking it for lust instead of fear.

“I just stood there. I don’t even know why. It seemed like ages to me before I decided to just turn around and walk inside again. What was I hoping to do anyway? That’s when I heard the guy scream.”

“Wow. She must’ve been good, huh?” The bartender forced a laugh. He was already worried that wasn’t the case. “No…” the man replied, not looking up from his empty glass. “That wasn’t him getting off. I could never have believed a grown man could make such a…howl.”

“You saw what happened…?” the bartender asked. The heavy man nodded slowly. “I turned around…” The bartender put his hands on either side of his empty glass. The heavy man was staring as if through the bartender. The bartender pressed him. “Yeah and?”

“She still had him in her mouth, but she was standing up…and he was on the ground.” The bartender had been trying to grasp what the man was telling him when suddenly, the scene played out in his head. He scrunched his face.

“Are you fair dinkum? You’re telling me you saw a guy get his cock bitten off in a nightclub?”

“No,” the stranger replied, finally looking up at the bartender, face pale and hands shaking once again. “I’m telling you I saw her bite it off and hold it up so the blood went down her throat! She was licking at the drips and laughing at the guy screaming on the floor! Salivating! Do you think I’d make this shit up? I know how it sounds but I know what I saw!”

The bartender was stunned into silence by the sudden outburst, and was uncertain how to respond. But upon seeing the tears leak out of the man’s eyes, his heart went out to him.

“Look, I’m sorry mate. It sounds like you’ve had a long and stressful day. I mean, I believe you think you may have seen something, but think about it—if that chick really was some kind of a…a—”

“Vampire,” the stranger finished. “Right. Hence the horror reference.” The bartender clicked his fingers, the man’s earlier question making sense. “But, look. If that was the case, don’t you think the cops would be on to that place already? Hell, you’d think even the army would be. The government too, maybe. She’d never be able to get away with something like that. There has to be some kind of explanation. Yeah, okay, this world and even Sydney has some fucked up people in it, but not real monsters. This stuff just doesn’t happen. Tell me, if you were in my shoes, would you believe me? Or if she really was a nosvetu or whatever, do you think she would’ve let you out alive?”

Struggling for an answer, the man finally submitted. “No. I ran before I could find out.”

“Ok then,” the bartender said, relieved, patting the man on the shoulder. “Look, I’ve gotta do some things out back. Won’t take too long. Then I’ll call you a cab to take you home. My shout, yeah?” The man gave a helpless nod. This, the bartender assumed, was the best he could hope for.

*

Had the bartender not turned around at that exact moment and left the man alone, he would have seen the shadow appear outside the window. It disappeared just as quickly as it came. The door opened without a sound. The ground trembled as a truck roared past, causing the lights to flicker briefly and when they came on again, long fingers were slowly crawling up either side of the man’s face like spider’s legs. But he couldn’t see anyone in the mirror he stared into. Just the hands. The owner of the fingers was behind and under him and the bar patron was too fearful to turn his head. Only the thought of screaming entered his mind before his mouth was clamped shut and the blonde creature that he had wanted in the nightclub, that he had seen brutalise and kill the unknown young punk and that had followed him all the way here, revealed herself, straddling him.

“Thought he would never leave,” she whispered. The only portion of the bottom half of her face that was not covered in blood was her ivory white, inch-long fangs. “So you want me do you?” she continued, using her free hand to slowly scratch the side of his head, drawing blood. “That’s funny, ‘coz I want you too,” she said, licking the wounds she had made on his head, before growling, “In the worst way.”

He tried to scream, but she was too powerful. His fear seemed only to excite her more. The beautiful, deadly demon smiled at the new tears that streamed from his eyes, the mucus crawling from his nostrils, sped along by his erratic, quickened breaths. The vampire grabbed a nearby schooner glass and rested it on his chest, studying him.

“So it’s an explanation you’re looking for? I’ve got one for you. What you saw was real. We’re real.” She leaned back and stared at him with a fanged smile. Her iris’ turned black and the man knew her next words would be the last he would ever hear. “And now you’re fucked.”

With that she swiped at his throat with her fingers, the skin ripping open with ridiculous ease as blood gushed from the gaping mass of muscle and sinew. The last image he saw was her triumphant smile as she placed the glass under the flow and filled it to the brim, giggling.

*

“All right, let’s see about that taxi,” said the bartender, coming up from the basement. “We’ll just call—”

He stopped short, taking in the sight. The man was still in his chair, staring at the ceiling. His head was only supported by a few rear neck muscles and his spinal cord. His entire front was dark crimson, the same colour as the huge puddle on the floor. The barman, violently sick, turned his head to see the door wide open. He distinctly remembered locking it after he’d let the now-dead man in. When the police arrived, he was unable to explain why the security camera footage went to static at just the time he was away from the main barroom only to return to normal just as he re-entered the frame. He did not explain to his wife why he was so late that night, or why he insisted she pack their bags to leave the next morning, directly violating the instructions given to him by the police.

He could have explained. To her, to the police. He could have told them the story the man told him before he died. But he didn’t, because he didn’t believe. He didn’t want to.

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