NIGHTLIFE: Book 1, Chapter 1
Most kids don’t believe in fairy tales very long. Once they hit six or seven they put away Cinderella and her shoe fetish, the Three Little Pigs with their violation of building codes, Miss Muffet and her well shaped tuffet; all forgotten or discounted. And maybe that’s the way it has to be. To survive in the world you have to give up the fantasies, the make believe. The only trouble is that it’s not all make believe. Some parts of the fairy tales are all too real, all too true. There might not be a Red but there is a Big Bad Wolf. No Snow White, but definitely an Evil Queen. No obnoxiously cute blond tots, but a child eating witch… yeah. Oh yeah.
There are monsters among us. There always have been and there always will be. I’ve known that since I can remember, just like I’ve always known I was one. Well, half of one anyway. Not that I looked that way. Regardless of what inherited nastiness I might have on the inside, on the outside I was all human. In fact Niko had said, and pretty damn frequently, that I had more human qualities than I had good sense. There was no one like your brother to remind you no matter how godawful that you thought your problems were, you were still his punk ass kid brother. If I wanted to beat up on myself, I’d have to go through him first. Niko was such a Boy-Scout. Albeit a Boy-Scout with a lethal turn and a merit badge in deadly weapons.
Niko, for all his fascination with sharp, pointy things, was all human. Not a drop of monster blood in him anywhere. Of course his father could barely be classified as human in my book, but technically the man met the definition. Worthless bastard. Niko had been two weeks old when his dear old dad had taken off. He’d seen him no more than three times in his entire life. There were some true parenting skills at work. Three times. Hell, I’d seen mine more than that.
Yeah, I’d seen mine all the time, at least once a month. It watched me. There were no father and son chats, no invites to see the monster cousins, no interaction of any sort. There was just a shadowed figure lurking in an alley as I passed. Or maybe a silhouette with lithe, sinuous lines and sharp, sharp teeth cast against my window at night. Of course it wasn’t like it was wearing a name tag that said ‘Dad’ on it or left me birthday presents topped with a bow tied with unnaturally long, clawed fingers. So I had no proof it was my demonic sperm donor, but come on. When your mother is quick to tell you you’re a freak, an abomination that should’ve been aborted on cheap bathroom tile, you have to think… why else would this monster be stalking me? Funny, that monster had more interest in me than my mother ever had.
Over the years I got used to it, the shadowing. A couple of times I tried to approach it; curiosity, morbid death wish, who knew? But it always disappeared, melting into the darkness. Mostly I was relieved. It was one thing to be part monster, another altogether to embrace that less-than-Mayflower heritage. Then when I was fourteen that all changed. After that I didn’t look for monsters.
I ran from them.
Actually we ran from them, Niko and I. For three years that felt more like thirty, we ran. Ran until it was a way of life. It wasn’t the kind of life Niko deserved. But did he listen to me when I told him so? Shit. Hardly. My brother had made a career out of trying to protect me. Talk about your minimum wage, no benefits occupations.
Sort of like the one I had now, I thought glumly. Dumping the mop back in the battered bucket, I swirled it around once in the gray foul smelling water then flopped it back on the scarred wooden floor. You’d be amazed at how much vomit a bar full of drunks could produce. I was, at first. Now I was just amazed how damn long it took to clean it up. Not to mention how bad it smelled. You think you’d get used to the smell after a few months of all but swimming in the stuff. Yeah, you’d think, but you’d be dead wrong. It was rather ironic that the fake ID that aged me up from nineteen to twenty-one had me cleaning up alcoholic chunks rather than spewing it myself.
“Cal, I’m heading out. Close up for me?”
I cast a jaundiced look over my shoulder. Good old ‘close up for me’ Meredith. You could always put your faith in her; that is, the faith that she would leave you high and dry to duck out early. “Yeah. Yeah.” I waved her off. One day I’d tell her to bite me and stick around to do her job, but I was guessing that day would come when she was wearing a top that was a little less tight or a shade less low cut. “Want me to walk you out?”
“No, the boyfriend’s outside.” She tugged at my short pony-tail as she headed towards the door. “See you tomorrow.” And then she was gone, her long cascading red hair and curving figure lingering in the air to dazzle the eye like a fluorescent afterimage. Meredith was all about a look. She’d sculpted herself with all the passion and precision of any artist. I doubt she had a clue what her original hair color was or her original breast size for that matter. She was a walking, talking advertisement for better living through cosmetic surgery. Forget milk, it’s plastic that does a body good.
And despite ninety nine percent of it being artificial, it was a damn good body. Fantasizing about it made the unpleasant chore of mopping up human bodily fluids pass a little faster. I actually didn’t mind pulling close up duty at the bar. After bartending all night it was kind of nice to be surrounded by nothing but silence and empty space. I was beginning to think working at a bar was ruining my appreciation of a good party. Drunk people were starting to lose their charm; hell, they were even starting to lose their comedic ways. You can only watch a wasted guy fall off a barstool and crack his head open so many times before it’s just not funny anymore. Well, not as funny anyway.