Norma Mae Rollins leaned against the steering wheel of her van. Her window shades were drawn. No sunbeams would touch her deathly white flesh which was slathered with SPF 100. Her flipflops lay on the floor. It was too hot to turn off the engine. She needed air conditioning and so did her homemade blood crackers with sundried tomato and basil goat cheese filling. Her canapes were in a cooler, but it crept toward a hundred degrees out there.
Human movies always showed vampires rising at sunset and going to sleep at sunrise. Maybe that schedule worked in an equatorial region, but not in Seattle. The sun wouldn’t set tonight until 8:56 pm. Norma assumed there were vampires — like the ones from movies—who were so wealthy, they didn’t need a job, but Norma had never met a one-percenter. Even the most ancient vampires in her coven could not afford to keep themselves and their enthralled humans in modern comfort without employment. Sure, compound interest helped, but Seattle was an expensive city.
Her friend and employee, Carlos Fisher Perez, lugged groceries up the stairs to an elderly werewolf’s townhouse. It wasn’t the most exciting job, but not all jobs were exciting. While Norma’s Cleaning Service was originally for vampires when hunting got a little messy, her company now ran all types of errands for the supernatural community. By hiring a shade, Norma was able to expand her hours and service list.
A shade (sometimes also called a zombie or revenant) had a slow, uneven gait, but even as his body slowly decomposed, Carlos was gifted with unnatural strength.
Their client ultimately planned on getting a ramp installed but was waiting on insurance and approval from his HOA. The old werewolf could no longer control his turning. It was not safe for others if he left his house with a senior’s group. Delivery people sensed a monster lived in the house and refused to climb the steps. They left packages on the sidewalk to be stolen before the old werewolf could collect them.
Carlos lifted the werewolf and his wheelchair and transported him securely into his home. He bounded down the stairs and scrambled into the passenger seat of the van. He tugged at his shirt to signal: “Damn, it’s hot” and tapped on the clock.
“Let’s see if we get one more job.”
Carlos shrugged and texted her a single word: buffet which echoed through her Bluetooth system in the phone’s robotic voice.
Norma had promised Derrik Miller — her former guardian, mentor and the vampire who made the vampire who created her — she would come home for the Sabbath Mass and Fellowship this week. However, that meant she was leaving money on the table. Something about sunshine made people stupid, especially when twilight was incapable of eliminating the heat of the day. Still Mass didn’t start until eleven. Afterward, they’d spend the night with Derrik, his enthralled human, Hugo, and Hugo’s elderly mother, Maria. Since the nights were so short, Carlos would take the van home, and Norma would spend the coming day with Derrik. Then, Carlos would pick her up tomorrow at twilight. There was no reason to hurry.
“Don’t worry; we’ll make it.”
Hope they have that shrimp again.
“The ones Marion made? Don’t know, but Derrik made ceviche. He asked if there was anything, you’d especially want in it.”
Hmmm. Maybe Maria is the reason Derrik asked me to come home this week? “Hey, did I mention she’s moving into a studio apartment down the hall from them once her lease is up?”
Carlos shook his head.
“There’s an empty enthralled studio for rent. Wait. You don’t think this is a trap to help her move, is it?”
If so, they better have beer.
Thinking she might be asked to do a favor for Maria and Hugo made her more willing to go, not less. She didn’t mind spending time with her vampire family as long as something was going on. Norma always attended the annual meetings and important Sabbaths such as initiations and weddings, but often skipped July when all everyone did was complain about the lousy sunshine. She was just happy she could bring Carlos, and everyone liked him well enough.
Norma’s phone rang.
Frightened, fast English spilled through the van’s Bluetooth system from a haunting melancholy voice. Possibly male.
“I heard you help everyone. I didn’t mean to do it. This woman won’t stop taking my picture. She claims she loves mermen. I don’t want to hurt her. I’m trying to help, but she won’t stop touching me. What do I do?”
“One job,” Norma mouthed and said, “First of all: who are you?”
Posidenchild, Posidendottier, or Posidenson were a merperson’s public name. Their private surnames were only used in their community.
“Where are you?”
Norma turned down Seneca until First Avenue and headed north. She glanced at the clock. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. She’s still with you?”
“Yeah, I pulled her from the water. She’s shivering … and it’s getting dark. Probably pretty cold for a human. Wait. Can vampires cross moving water?”
Carlos made a grunting sound which was a mix of hiccups and laughter.
“As long as Ballard Bridge is down.” Norma rolled her eyes at the old myth. “We assume her boat is wrecked.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t mean to do it. I’m not even a great singer.”
The voices of merfolk were legend — even the poorest singers among them sang better than most vampires.
Slathering another layer of sunscreen over her face, she asked, “You’re not in the sandy part?”
“No. We’re hidden in the rocks.”
“Good. See you soon.”
At the next stoplight, she engaged the emergency brake and grabbed a floppy hat on the floor behind her seat. The light changed. She released her emergency brake, turned onto Denny and followed 15th Avenue Northwest toward Ballard.
rapping a beach towel around her arms to protect her from the sinking sun, Norma held a bottle of water and a basic first-aid kit and raced down the trail. The burning orb was still above the horizon, but soon it would be twilight, and she would be safe until it rose again.
The woman shivered beside Samuel on the most northern stretch of rocky beach. A sea lion sat beside them and barked at Norma’s approach. Pieces of the shattered hull of a rowboat lay on the rocks below.
Samuel’s sleek, muscular body was covered in a beautiful iridescent shade of algae green to camouflage him when in the water, and his full chest of tattoos was spectacular. He was a half meter longer than an average adult human (or vampire) male was tall. Trying to protect the woman from the breeze off the water, he twisted his long, shimmering finned tail around her and sat with his back to the Sound.
She was a human in her early thirties with sun-bleached reddish hair set in two messy braids for her day on the water. Her toned, tanned skin had a few patches of pink where she had been sunburned. She looked vaguely familiar, but Norma couldn’t place where she had seen her before.
“You’re just a kid.” With the expression of a befuddled puppy, Samuel cringed away from the painted fingernails running up his arm.
“Hi, Norma, I’m Ivy.” The woman raised her hand and waved drunkenly. Her brown eyes swam. “He won’t give me back my phone,” she pouted and ran her hand on his arm again. This was not right. Perhaps, Ivy was one of the ladies who got too interested in the film The Shape of Water and the subsequent flood of merman porn.
“I’m older than I look,” Norma answered Samuel. Outwardly, she appeared to be a fourteen-year-old, but Norma was reborn seventy years ago. While she could dress to look older when necessary, Seattle was a casual city. It was better to blend in. Her jeans had a ripped knee where the denim thinned. Her purple t-shirt had a cute zombie and read I see Undead People.
Norma sat beside them on a rock, still warm. She forced opened their minds in order to see their thoughts. Most vampires couldn’t read minds per se, as much as their predator prowess allowed them to sense the variations in their prey’s emotional state and automatic bodily responses.
Thanks to Derrik’s natural empathic gifts and his insistence upon education, his descendants read all species pretty well — even other vampires. When the coven found Norma, Derrik feared for her well-being due to her small stature and the scandal of her creation. Her instruction in vampire mind-tricks was even more complete: she could hypnotize, remove memories and instill panic. She had to work on dominating people.
Samuel was easy to read. He wanted to go home and forget all this happened. Ivy’s head was spinning with excitement she found a merman, but she was also high. She was confused about where her boat was. Weirdly, she wanted to be in a movie? Or people to like her movie? Maybe Ivy was an actress. She certainly was fit and pretty.
As the sun’s last rays fell under the horizon, Norma placed the beach towel around Ivy and looked her deep in the eyes.
“What’s your name again?” Norma asked, carefully establishing a mental connection.
“How much did you drink, Ivy?”
“I didn’t.” She giggled.
“I only use edibles.” Marijuana was legal in Washington State for recreational use.
“Did you have anything else to eat or drink?” Norma asked.
“Just crackers and water.”
“How much sun did you get today?”
“I was out all day.”
“Did you drive here?” Norma looked deeper into Ivy’s eyes.
“No, took the rowboat from Blue Ridge.”
No wonder Ivy had great arms. “Do you live in Blue Ridge, near the water?”
“You’re dehydrated. You may have heat exhaustion. You need to rest. You’re so exhausted you believe you saw a merman, but you saw a sea lion. A sea lion pushed your boat ashore and even barked to get help. I came to help you. Remember.” Norma opened the bottle of water and handed it to her. “It will sound crazy, but that’s how you know true. Fresh water, drink.”
Ivy took the bottle. She patted Norma’s leg. Her heartbeat echoed in Norma’s mind. She stretched her head back and gulped down the water. The pulse under her tanned throat enticed Norma’s hunger.
“Why would a sea lion help?” Samuel asked, momentarily breaking Norma’s connection with Ivy.
She reestablished the connection and answered them both: “You realize the sea lion may’ve thought you were something else and it acted from some strange instinct. Remember.”
“Remember,” Ivy repeated. “Sea lion.”
“Sleep. You’re tired.”
Ivy lay her head on a nearby rock.
“Sleep,” Norma said.
Ivy closed her eyes.
“Let me see that phone, Samuel.”
Norma took down Ivy’s address. She deleted several pictures of the merman. She went to permanently delete and removed them again. She hoped there weren’t any other backups.
She tapped on the connected social media apps on Ivy’s phone. She checked Facebook which apparently Ivy rarely used. She checked Twitter which fortunately Ivy primarily used for work; she had not posted or tweeted. On Instagram, Norma deleted a post which showed the outline of a merman singing and replaced it with a photo of a sea lion singing. She erased a video which caught the haunting music. She kept the images of the “shipwreck” as there were a few of Ivy’s followers questioning her whereabouts.
Norma whispered in Ivy’s ear, “Who saved you?”
“A sea lion,” Ivy whispered, still half in a trance. “But why does the sea lion wear tattoos?”
“It isn’t tattooed; its blond hair darkens as it matures. Perhaps that’s why it was interested in your boat. It was playing,” Norma said, “You lost your phone in the water. You were posting to Instagram and lost it.”
“I lost my phone in the water,” Ivy replied. “What are you? Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
“Just a teenager. I spotted your crash from the beach and went to get help.”
“Help from the beach,” Ivy repeated. Her head fell backward. Norma cradled her head and rested it upon the ground. She snored lightly.
“So that’s it?” Samuel asked.
“Yeah. Three hundred dollars please.”
“I don’t have it on me. I mean I just went out.”
She handed him her card. “I take credit, debit, or you can pay me online.”
Samuel rose on his tail to tower above her. “What does a kid like you need three hundred dollars for anyway?”
Since Norma opened her business six decades ago, new customers always questioned her need for money. “I have a mortgage and a car payment like anybody. Living offshore, you have no idea how high Seattle property taxes are.”
“There’s plenty of Posidensons.” He edged toward the water.
Carlos walked down from the sidewalk. His feet shuffled in the sand. He lifted his phone and took a photograph.
Samuel turned, his fangs bared, long claws expanded from his webbed fingers as he flexed. He was taller than Carlos, but when Carlos set his dead, vacant stare upon anyone, they were suddenly aware of the lean, muscular Latin man whose shoulders appeared to be hewn from solid oak. Of course, there was also all the flesh-eating stereotypes associated with the walking undead.
“True, but only one has your specific arrangement of tattoos. I’m pretty sure the next Posidenson who needs my help wouldn’t be all that forgiving to you when he discovers why I won’t work for him. My fees are clearly posted on my website and flyers. If you need installments, say so. We can set something up.”
Samuel laughed nervously as Carlos grew closer. Norma knew he’d pay. Clients always paid.
“I should’ve drowned her.” He growled.
Norma knew he didn’t mean it. Merfolk didn’t look kindly on merfolk who went around drowning less capable swimmers such as humans. Not only was this a terrible stereotype about their species, but it also brought curious humans closer to discovering their underwater cities.
“Online is okay?” Samuel said, “Could we split it over three months? $100 tonight, $100 on the last of the month. The $100 two weeks later on my payday.”
“That’ll be fine.” Norma snapped Ivy’s phone in half.
“Thanks for your help. I shouldn’t have to change my activities for humanity. They don’t hide. Why should we be forced to? If anybody should pay, it’s Ivy.”
“I agree, but I don’t make the rules. You called me. I came to help. If I can get something from her, I’ll give you the exact amount as a discount. Speaking of humanity, I need to get Ivy home.”
“What are you going to do with her?” Samuel asked.
“Put her in a cab.”
“Oh, I thought you ate them.” He sounded disappointed.
“Sometimes I do, but if I ate her, I’d be higher than a kite and unable to drive around Seattle saving people from themselves.” She spoke in half-truths to uphold her vampire street cred. “And you don’t want to see a shade high. They go all Dawn of the Dead on you.”
Carlos gently woke Ivy and lifted her to her feet.
“Oh, you’re a brute!” Ivy giggled and kissed him.
The former luchador turned his head, so her lips grazed only his cheek.
Norma knew it bothered him how people of all types judged and interacted with them based on their outer-shells. He despised people who harassed them. Some humans, werewolves or vampires saw a “tough looking Mexican dude” and thought nothing of picking fights with him or asking if he was a day laborer. Straight women and gay men sometimes made sexual advances. People didn’t see the guy who loved his cats and used his commute time on the Sounder from Tacoma to Seattle to indulge in reading or watching his favorite BookTubers.
A lesser shade might have ripped open Ivy’s throat and eaten her alive, but Carlos didn’t do drugs.
Plus, he wanted to save room for the buffet.
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