It’s a Scorcher, Part 1
Gale stood at the threshold of the vampire’s lair and questioned the soundness of his decision to come here. There were a million things he could be doing instead of pleading with his bladder to not embarrass him. He wasn’t even sure his pleas would be honored; his entire digestive track had decided that now was the time to protest the decisions of the brain. He had a moment of regret regarding eating tacos for dinner, and then the door opened and he was face-to-face with one of the world’s most dangerous predators. Who by the wry smile on her face knew exactly the effect she was having on the human in front of her.
“Don’t you fret none,” cooed Mrs. Abaroa, with the barest hint of her oversized canines peeking from underneath her ruby-red lips. “We fed early tonight because you were coming over. Please, come inside.” The vampire mistress, the juxtaposition of a succubus and a Southern Belle, moved a fraction of an inch to the side and Gale squeezed in past her ample bosoms. Her breath tickled the back of his neck as he slipped past her and into the house. His blood ran cold as a soft moan escaped the vampire’s lips. Gale suspected he now knew what a sentient chocolate bar would feel like.
It wasn’t normal for Gale to make house calls, but then again nothing about his line of work was normal. Or in popular demand, for that matter. Supernatural creatures were a secretive lot, with most of them unwilling to let a mere human know that they, too, suffered from maladies of the mind. Just like humans, they could be batshit crazy, even if they didn’t admit it.
But Gale knew better. There was a seedy underbelly of emotional and mental sickness plaguing the supernatural community, and nobody was taking it seriously or talking about it. He had endured ridicule and scorn from his peers, friends, and even his family. He had nonetheless opened the “Supernatural Psychological Agency,” or S.P.A. as he liked to call it, despite everyone’s insistence that it was a worthless endeavor; no elf or werewolf would ever seek a human’s help. He intended to prove them wrong, be a trailblazer and expose the problem of supernatural sickness. He would become a hero to the other-lifed. In the six months since he had opened his clinic, though, he’d only had three clients.
His first client had been a Garden Gnome who refused to keep rabbits out of the garden he was supposed to guard. A pair of elves who told him the old gnome was unhappy and needed a pep talk brought him in. Gale dove in with gusto, his excitement barely contained; he hastily shut the door on the elves as they left the clinic.
The problem began immediately. The gnome refused to talk, no matter what Gale asked or how he pleaded. His two years of community college and two years of state college hadn’t prepared him for such a recalcitrant patient. The gnome just sat in stony silence staring at the increasingly frustrated psychologist. Maybe he was a homophile – afraid or distrustful of humans. There was, after all, still a lot of anti-human sentiment in the supernatural community.
In desperation, Gale had tried a comforting pat on the grizzled gnome’s shoulder and was horrified when it had fallen from the chair and shattered into a hundred pieces on the laminate floor of his tiny office. For one heart-stopping moment, Gale was sure he had just murdered a fairy until the snickering and laughter from outside his window caught his attention. The elves that had brought the gnome in were doing a literal ROFL outside, holding their sides with tears streaming from their eyes. The gnome had been a fake; one of those human-made ceramic ornaments that had been so popular before the Reemergence.
His other two clients were almost as bad, but Gale was determined to persevere. Eventually, the supernatural community would need him, and he would be ready. And it looked like tonight was that night. Mr. and Mrs. Abaroa, distinguished vampires, had a problem and needed his help. Vampires weren’t known to be pranksters, so Gale was pretty sure this was a legitimate call. He hoped. They were know to be cruel and heartless hunters of humans, though. He could be a snack instead.
Gale had a moment of disappointment when he stepped inside. There were no stone walls, damp mortar, or iron maidens in the corner. It was just a house, albeit much more expensive than anything Gale could afford. Mrs. Abaroa led him through the foyer, past the kitchen, which still had that brand-new, unused, smell, and into a cozy parlor whereupon they both sat in ornate Victorian chairs.
Gale was uncomfortable in the stiff-backed chair, his usual slouch denied by the right angle of the seat, and fidgeted for a moment. He gave up trying to find comfort, electing instead to fold his hands on his lap. He figured that, at least, looked professional.
I’m afraid we don’t have any … accommodations … for humans in this house.
“I would dearly love to make you some tea,” drawled Mrs. Abaroa in her Southern accent, “but I’m afraid we don’t have any … accommodations … for humans in this house.” She had the good grace to blush, for which Gale was grateful until he realized that the blush belonged to someone else. He suppressed a shudder and willed his heart to stop beating so loudly; it had to be tempting to the preternatural senses of the vampire.
“That’s, um, okay, Mrs. Abaroa.” Gale grabbed a pen and pad from his satchel, dropping both twice as he fumbled them to his lap. He took a calming breath, “Why don’t we just get right to it. You were pretty circumspect on the phone; do you mind telling me why I’m here?”
Mrs. Abaroa cocked her head to the side, listening. Her predatory eyes never left Gales jugular, negating the effects of his calming breath. “My husband just arrived; he fed as well. It’s best if we wait on him.”
On cue, Mr. Abaroa walked into the parlor. He was shorter than Gale expected, but sported wide shoulders and a square jaw. His hair was cut short, his nose a smidge too big for his face, and his eyes were dark embers set deep inside his skull. Height notwithstanding, he was terrifying to Gale. He exuded menace and that was a trait only extremely old vampires possessed. Mr. Abaroa was at least a thousand years old.
“Who the hell is this?” Mr. Abaroa rumbled with an accent that Gale couldn’t place.
Mrs. Abaroa stood and gave her husband a peck on the cheek. “This is Gale Simmons, the psychologist I told you about. You remember, the one who might be able to help Cynthia.”
“He’s a man.”
“Yes, dear,” said Mrs. Abaroa in a patient voice. “He is a human.”
“No, I mean he’s a man.”
A look of mild confusion crossed Mrs. Abaroa’s face, “He is.”
“But he has a girl’s name.”
“I, ah, I understand the confusion, Mr. Abaroa,” Gale interjected quickly. “My name is not Gail, G-A-I-L, but Gale, G-A-L-E, as in the wind that blows.”
Mr. Abaroa glared at Gale for a moment then fell into a chair, slouching in a way that Gale couldn’t hope to emulate, “Damned silly name for a man to have.”
“I blame my parents,” said Gale with lame humor, instantly regretting it as Mr. Abaroa turned his glare on him again.
I could kill them for you if you like. Seems to me they should be punished for trying to make their child a dandy.
“I could kill them for you if you like,” said Mr. Abaroa. “Seems to me they should be punished for trying to make their child a dandy.”
“Ahhhhhh. Ummmm.” Gale was a loss for words.
“He’s jesting, Mr. Simmons. Aren’t you, dear?” laughed Mrs. Abaroa, maybe a trite too nervously. “Your parents are quite safe from us, and neither of us has a problem with you being gay.”
“But I’m not…” Gale gave up. Some conversations never went anywhere useful.
“Let’s get this over with,” said Mr. Abaroa. “I’m not comfortable with this, but we don’t know what else to do.”
Gale took a deep breath, “Right. Now, ah, that you’re both here would you mind telling me why I’m here?”
“You have to understand, Mr. Simmons,” said Mrs. Abaroa, “this is a very … private … matter. If word of this got out, it could ruin our reputation.”
“And I’d have to kill you,” said Mr. Abaroa.
“Super,” said Gale, determined to not let the shaking of his hand show, and failing. “Patient/Doctor confidentiality is one of the bulwarks of modern law. Nothing short of a legitimate court order could unseal anything that is said or done between us. You, ah, can trust me to keep your confidence, because my reputation, license to practice, and livelihood is on the line, too.”
“And you know I’ll kill you, too, right?”
Gale’s colon decided it really wanted to be elsewhere and let everyone know it. “Yes, Mr. Abaroa; I know you’ll kill me too.”
“Stop scaring the human, dear.” Mrs. Abaroa grabbed her husband’s hand, “We have a serious problem and, once you understand it, you’ll know why we can’t let other supernaturals know about it.”
“Okay,” said Gale, briefly winning the contest of wills with his colon, “Are you two having marital issues? Intimacy problems? I can imagine that after a few hundred years the novelty wears off and you need, ah, shall we say, ‘help’ in the bedroom.”
“MR. SIMMONS,” said Mrs. Abaroa. “I have no idea what you are talking about and I’d thank you to let us tell you what the problem is.”
“Ah, yes, of course Mrs. Abaroa.” Gale took a shaky breath, “My, ah, apologies. Please continue.” He caught the thoughtful expression on Mr. Abaroa’s face, in stark contrast to Mrs. Abaroa’s red-faced indignation. He reminded himself to find a way to have a private conversation with Mr. Abaroa. Then decided that was probably a bad idea.
“It’s our daughter, Cynthia,” said Mrs. Abaroa, bringing Gale back into the conversation.
“Vampires can have children?”
“No,” scowled Mr. Abaroa. “As newlyweds, we decided we wanted a child, so we turned a young human female.”
“Wait,” said Gale as he leaned forward in his chair, “You made an immortal child that will never age, one you’ll have to care for forever?”
Mr. And Mrs. Abaroa exchanged a glance. A silent conversation passed between them and Gale wondered momentarily if Anne Rice had been right and vampires could communicate telepathically.
“This is not something we discuss with humans,” said Mrs. Abaroa, “but you’re a professional and sworn to secrecy.” She was looking for agreement, so Gale nodded.
“We are not immortal,” said Mr. Abaroa in a conspiratorial whisper. “True immortality is a myth. Nothing lives forever. We are just extremely long-lived. I have been a vampire for twelve hundred years and have the appearance of a forty-five-year-old man. I was twenty when I turned. We age about one year for every fifty human years.”
Gale nodded. It made sense, but made little difference other than the fact that their daughter wouldn’t stay a teenager forever. They were practically immortal from his standpoint.
“How old is your daughter?” he asked.
“She was sixteen-years-old when we turned her,” said Mrs. Abaroa.
“And that was when?”
“Fifty-seven years ago.”
Gale did the mental math, forgot the subtract the remainder, started again, and concluded, “So she’s seventeen now. That’s a rough age for human teen-agers, but they get through it in just a couple of years. Your daughter is smack dab in the middle of a three-hundred year puberty cycle.”
A sudden thought hit Gale; did vampire women have periods? How long did they last? A year of PMS; it was a wonder vampires even married. He wisely decided not to pursue this line of thought.
“I’ll be honest,” said Mr. Abaroa, “we didn’t plan this out very well. That girl is driving us crazy, and I am not sure we can handle her like this for another year, much less hundreds of years. I may just have to stake her.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” admonished Mrs. Abaroa, “Don’t you remember what your teenaged years were like? What were you doing when you were seventeen?”
“I was a Cordoban soldier in the Battle of Pancorbo,” said Mr. Abaroa. “None of this teen angst shit Cynthia is afflicting us with.”
“Yes dear,” said Mrs. Abaroa, patting his hand, “but not all of us are barbarians.”
“I’m hardly a barbarian,” huffed Mr. Abaroa.
Gale could see the beginning of a recurring argument flaring up between the two. “Ah, so what is wrong with Cynthia?”
Both vampires stared at Gale for a second, and then released their irritation as one.
Cynthia burns herself.
“Cynthia burns herself,” whispered Mrs. Abaroa, her face again red with some dead human’s blood.
The silence was as loud as a car crash isn’t. Something profound had just been confessed, but Gale had no idea what.
“Like on the stove?”
“What kind of damned fool supernatural psychiatrist is he,” said Mr. Abaroa, “who doesn’t know how a vampire burns herself?” Mr. Abaroa glared at Gale from his chair.
“The human kind,” said Gale. He was beginning to realize that Mr. Abaroa’s glares were somewhat less threatening that he wanted them to be.
“She exposes herself to the sun intentionally,” explained Mrs. Abaroa softly. “Mostly her arms, but sometimes her legs or back. It’s always somewhere she can hide it, though.”
She was the vampire equivalent of a cutter, Gale realized. He said as much.
“She can’t cut herself,” said Mr. Abaroa, “she heals too fast and we don’t feel pain from a cut. Only the sun can cause the pain and lasting distress she craves. She seems to be addicted to it, or she wishes to die and is working up the courage to actually kill herself.”
“Ah, right. She’s not a cutter, she burns herself, but it sounds very similar to human cutters.”
“She damn near scorches the skin right off her arms, is what she does,” said Mr. Abaroa. He wrinkled his nose, “And the smell afterwards….”
Gale nodded as he scribbled in his notebook. “She’s a scorcher, then.” He mentally patted himself on the back for coming up with the name; this would be one for the books. He looked up owlishly from his pad at the Abaroas, “Is this something vampire teens do often? Have you asked other vampire parents how they deal with similar?”
Mr. Abaroa gripped his seat arms, causing distress cracks to appear on them and on Mrs. Abaroa’s face, “No, you damned fool; it’s not normal and we can’t talk to other vampires about it. We already told you this.”
A blood-red tear fell down Mrs. Abaroa’s cheeks. “Please, Mr. Simmons. We can’t let other supernaturals know about this, and we have nowhere else to turn. We love our daughter, and she needs help.”
Gale nodded, feeling her plea tug at his heartstrings, and afraid that she would want a taste of them, “Teenaged self-injury is nothing to take lightly. It’s the outward sign of a significant emotional problem with the child. In order to stop the cutting, we need to get to the triggers and causes of it. I’ll need to talk to Cynthia, alone, to see if I can help.”
Mr. Abaroa stood up, looming over Gale and making him aware of his vulnerable position, “Can you help, Mr. Simmons? You seem like an idiot to me.”
Gale stood as well, not feeling even slightly more comfortable as he stood almost half a foot over the vampire, “I can’t promise anything, but I, ah, have trained for this, and it’s tragically common with human teens. I have thousands of cases I can review, and, ah, the collective knowledge of the entire field in which I practice. I promise to do my best.”
“That’s all we can hope for,” said Mrs. Abaroa in her Southern accent. “You certainly can’t make it worse. Will you return tomorrow evening at the same time? We’ll make sure Cynthia is well-fed.”
“I’d feel more comfortable if you brought her to my clinic. I have tools, games, and artifacts there designed to help a patient like Cynthia be at ease and, ah, learn to trust me.” Plus, he could have a squirt gun filled with holy-water ready and on hand.
“Very well,” said Mrs. Abaroa, leading him to the door. “Tomorrow night at your clinic. Understand that only Cynthia will come; it would be bad for us to be seen so close to the human border or within human territory. Three of us would never make it unseen, but we can make sure Cynthia arrives.”
Supernaturals crossed the border all the time, although it was much more rare for a human to be in supernatural territory, as Gale was this evening. He blinked in mild confusion as he walked out of the house, not understanding the issue of the entire family coming to his clinic. But he didn’t argue; he would much rather deal with only one vampire at a time anyway.
The door shut and Gale let out a long breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. It was only now, after the fact, that he understood how deep into the lion’s den he had just stumbled. As far as he knew, he was the only human to have ever been invited into a vampire’s house and to have left both human and alive.
On weak legs, he crawled into his rusty Datsun and drove across the border and to his apartment. His bladder and colon decided to cease their complaining as the darkness of the supernatural side transitioned into the electric lights of the human side.
Tomorrow, he would have his first real client. And he had no idea what to do about it.