This was supposed to be a melancholy, sweet story set shortly after WWII. I had grand plans of people wiping tears from their eyes at the end and going out into the world with kinder, more tender feelings towards the people around them. (I always have unreasonably high hopes for my writing).
This is not that story.
People talk about characters that won’t do as they’re told–here is an entire story that simply wouldn’t do as it was told.
You know how to keep a vampire from biting you? Keep him talking.
They can’t talk very well with their incisors poking over their lower lips. Some misinformed people describe vampires as having sultry Transylvanian accents, but in reality, any vampire with his fangs extended just sounds…silly. You try talking with your lower jaw tucked back to keep from stabbing holes in your chin and see how menacing you sound.
They never told us about that in our Monster Safety and Etiquette classes at school. They mentioned garlic, crucifixes, and holy water, but I was the one who discovered the trick of talking to them.
We had one vampire in our neighborhood—Mr. McGinty. He lived at the end of the block in a tiny old house with a lawn full of rose beds. We kept our distance, but we’d all wave if we saw him out in his rose garden. Our mothers warned all of us kids to not to go by his house after dusk, and in our games throughout the neighborhood we occasionally ran across the odd bloodless squirrel corpse, left over from one of his snacks. But otherwise he did not trouble us, and we left him in peace.
But one Saturday evening I was making my way home from playing at the park. I must have been about eight. I’d gotten into an argument with my best friend and I was so preoccupied with composing all the clever retorts I should have said to her but didn’t that I took the wrong turn and found myself going past Mr. McGinty’s house at dusk.
I didn’t even realize it until I heard a footstep on the sidewalk behind me. I turned around to see him there, a hunched little man with a bald head, liver spots, and two, long white fangs slicing out of his mouth. His eyes were dark and shiny and his mouth was spread in a terrible facsimile of a smile.
Oddly enough, I didn’t feel frightened, but I must have been more than I realized because what came out of my mouth was, “Oh, Mr. McGinty, your roses are looking gorgeous tonight.”
An agony of indecision crossed over his features. Finally, his loneliness and his passion for his hobby won out over blood lust. He smiled, his fangs still extended, and slurred, “Ooo ‘ike dem?” He paused, retracted his teeth back into his mouth with an embarrassed air as if he’d been caught picking his nose, and continued, “Thank you, Gilly. I like a nice bright spot of color myself.”
“The purple ones are so unique,” I said, and when I saw his fangs sliding down out of his mouth again, hurriedly added, “How do you get them to bloom so well?”
“’Ell, akshully,” –the fangs slid back in—“I use a special bloom promoting trick of my own creation.”
“Oh? You came up with it yourself?” I continued to edge down the sidewalk and he came up to walk beside me, his hands clasped behind his back.
“It took several years, and a few happy accidents you know,” he edged closer to me. “The key,” the tip of a fang began to show, “iss ‘ee ‘oper ‘alance o’ acid—”
“I disagree!” I squeaked, feeling his breath on the side of my face. “I think they do better in an alkaline soil!”
He looked offended and sucked his teeth back in immediately. We were getting closer to my house. I could see the porch light was on. “No,” he said, “You don’t understand the science of it! They’re a plant that likes acidic soil, and what they do the very best with is coffee grounds. I always pour my coffee grounds into the soil to prepare it!”
He was also darting irritable glances towards my house and clearly becoming frustrated. His fangs slid out, fast and sharp.
“No!” I barked, “M-mouse droppings! You have to use mouse droppings!”
“I beg—pfhlfpfh—” he stabbed himself in the chin with his fangs and stretched his jaw trying to unstick them. “I beg your pardon?!” He finished, finally retracting the fangs again and leaving two gaping, bloodless holes in his chin. “Mouse droppings? That’s insane! Nobody uses mouse droppings to fertilize their roses! Why the effort of collecting enough droppings alone–”
“We do!” I shouted and broke into a full out sprint. At the same time, his fangs shot out, gleaming and wet, and he sprang for me with terrifying agility for a man so old and bent. But he was too late. I crossed into my yard, slammed the gate shut in his face and ran all the way up the garden walk to my porch. I turned around, puffing and panting to see him glaring at me over the edge of the fence. We stared at each other for a long moment, and then he turned and walked away.
He did not speak to me again and I never walked by his house if I could help it. Years passed. I grew up and moved out, and did not think about Mr. McGinty very often. One day I called my mother from college and she mentioned that he’d died.
“They actually found something for you in his house.” She said.
“What?” I said. “For me?”
“Yes—I can’t think why but he must have thought poorly of you for some reason. It was just a single, dried rose. And you know how lovely his rose gardens always were—well this was the puniest, most sickly looking rose I have ever seen, and it had a little tag: ‘Fertilized with mouse droppings. For Gilly.’”