Vlad sat on a bench obviously designed to be uncomfortable. Centuries ago when his body circulated blood and his muscles were pliable, he’d have complained. Or, more likely, never submitted himself to such common appointments. He started to rise but a passing group of teenagers did a double take.
From pure reflex, he brought his forearm to his face hoping to hide his features behind the luxurious cape as he’d done so often. But that was long ago. A different time. He dropped his arm and shrank into his black hoodie. Drained skin, normally a ghastly gray, was submerged beneath three coats of SPF 150 which practically glowed inside the shadowed hood. His alluring eyes now trapped behind a pair of welding goggles. The cost of venturing forth in broad daylight.
“Dude! Mothball emos!” snickered the pack leader as the teenagers crawled past.
Vlad stared after them, memorizing the boy’s face. A tall, lanky kid. O positive. Boring, but perhaps, he thought, a decent dipping sauce for the food court pretzels whose aroma managed to tickle even his deadened senses.
A girl in the back, her jeans painted to her ass and a cropped t-shirt full to bursting, saw him looking. “Eeeew, gross.” She shook loose his stare and moved closer to her friends.
Vlad glared at the storefront in front of him, avoiding eye contact with the half-dressed mannequins in the window. Pink and black letters on the sign bordered with incandescent bulbs burned through his goggles. A woman exited the store, shopping bag in hand.
“So, Renfield, it has come to this,” Vlad muttered.
Renfield rubbed his hands together in glee. “Yess Master! Yess!” The accompanying smile was that of a mad man free of his straight jacket. The departing shopper clutched her bag to her chest, heels clicking rapidly away into the desolate mall.
“Stop it,” Vlad commanded. “You look like a pervert.”
The rat-faced man sunk into his tattered dinner jacket.
“And remind me, we need to update your wardrobe while we’re here. Your predecessor’s rags are inadequate. You need to get with the times. Blend in a bit.” Vlad pushed up his hoodie’s sleeves and exposed sunscreen caked arms.
A silence surrounded the two and Vlad focused on the woman’s retreating heels. Normally the sound would have driven him into pursuit, but now he only sighed, his chest falling into an empty slump.
“You remember Mina?” Vlad asked, his senses becoming unfocused. “Her ivory skin and raven hair. Those lips…”
Renfield rolled his eyes as he interrupted, “…of mulled cherry wine.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“No, Master,” Renfield replied and averted his gaze to a potted fern beside the bench. “It’s just, well, it’s been…” He began a count on his fingers, cycling through each hand several times before letting them fall limp. “Over a century, Master?”
“What is time when one is immortal?” Vlad mused.
“You’ve had other women since…”
“Other women!” Vlad bared his pointed teeth. “Other women? None compare to my Mina.”
“Oh, never!” Renfield hastily agreed. “But, perhaps, some came close?”
The ancient Nosferatu stuffed his gloved hands inside the pockets of his hoodie and bowed his head. “None.”
Renfield crept closer on the bench. “What of Alexandra? The fiery one with the big…”
“Pepper spray,” Vlad hissed. “You should remember these things, you dimwit. Every last servile thought should have been passed on from your predecessor, Renfield the Fifth.”
“Forgive me, Master, I am but an insect. Often the memories are slow to return.” As this particularly gruesome one finally surfaced across the many mortal iterations of his servitude, Renfield remarked, “Who would have thought yet another pungent plant could have caused such a rash…” He wilted under his Master’s glare and stammered, “Coraline? What of Coraline?”
“Oh, Beelzebub! Why bring her up at all? I’d never seen a girl so anxious to be bitten. They’re all that way now. No terror. No fear. It’s distracting. It makes it hard to…to feed.”
Renfield patted Vlad’s knee. “It happens to the best of us, Master.”
Vlad’s glare skewered Renfield’s hand and the servant pulled away, certain he would be killed there, on the spot. Dead like the indoor emporium where he sat. But the ferocious and feral visage of a creature of the night lasted only for an instant. Fangs disappeared behind tight lips and red eyes became overcast.
“It isn’t the same. They used to stand there. Doe eyed. Paralyzed with fright. Now they shout! Defy me! Spray produce! It’s humiliating.” The red glow of Vlad’s eyes resumed and the fingers of his gloved hand gripped then began to crush the recycled plastic bench. “And Hollywood. Cable television. Had I foreseen the coming fiasco I would have ripped out the heart of the man who made the talking pictures. How they spit on my heritage now with their sex-starved hooligans!” Vlad’s anger cycled to desperation and he hiked the hoodie up to his chest. “Abs, Renfield! They have abs! How is such nonsense even possible?”
Gray, mottled, rigor mortised flesh began to smoke under the feeble rays of sun penetrating the skylight.
“Now, now, Master,” Renfield pulled the hoodie free from Vlad’s loose grip, “abs aren’t everything.”
“No, of course not you imbecile!” Vlad swatted Renfield’s hands away. “But everything has changed. No more is the thrill of the chase. The soul blackening domination. The women of this day and age are entirely unreasonable.”
In Renfield’s mind, more memories swirled and faded. He reached for another name to test his Master with, but none came. In fact, in the five years he’d personally spent as servant to the great Master of Darkness, the Nosferatu Prime, Count Dracul, Vlad the Impaler, he’d never seen him dominate a poor, smitten, vulnerable woman to be his pet.
So far, Renfield’s errands had been trips to the blood bank. Vodka. Sangria mixes on the lean nights. But always drinks for one. The coffin turned down instead of the king-size bed.
His Master was becoming increasingly reckless. Wandering out in the day. Sleeping at night. On one desperate binge, he’d even attempted to enter an Olive Garden.
“Master. Might I presume to ask a question?”
Vlad barely acknowledged him.
“When exactly *was* the last time?” Renfield braced himself for his Master’s fury.
Vlad studied the floor and toyed with the string dangling from his hood. “Renfield, my devoted servant, indentured by the last scrap of your pathetic soul, I cannot recall.” The SPF150 cracked like dried mud over his frown. “That is why we’re here.”
Renfield, rarely privy to his Master’s schemes, followed Vlad’s gaze and stared in confusion at the brightly-lit sign. Half-dressed mannequins filled the windows. Photos of attractive women in nothing more than swatches of strung together cloth smiled at them. But they were not flesh and, most importantly, had no blood.
“Why here, Master?”
“For this.” Vlad pressed a piece of paper into Renfield’s palm. On it, an advertisement with a sleek egg-shaped container labeled Bootytastic Body Shimmer. “Go. Be quick about it.”
Renfield stood staring at the advertisement. He looked up at the cashier, who was either much taller than he or elevated on a platform behind the counter. Thin, her body sculpted in tight lines under a dark suit, she eyed him like she might a cockroach that had crawled out of her chickpea orzo salad.
“Can I help you?”
Unable to find the item from his Master’s note, Renfield had managed to stumble into a display of panties that more resembled spider webs than undergarments. Several customers had walked out as he disentangled himself and the cashier had taken up her imperious pose at the register. He raised the note, swatting at a pair of underwear that clung tenaciously to his sleeve.
The cashier, Lacey, or so her name tag said, wasn’t impressed. Nor did she for a second assume he was looking at her name tag. Her look hardened and she sucked in a breath, ready to deliver a scorching warning when Renfield blurted, “Bootytastic Body Shimmer.”
Her mouth froze, half-open.
Renfield nodded in quick bursts, emboldened by the words that had finally escaped his lips. “I am looking for Bootytastic Body Shimmer.”
Her expression did not change. She stood frozen for so long, Renfield glanced outside toward his Master to see if he’d performed some form of dark ritual on her. The only response was an impatient jab at his wrist. When Renfield looked back, Lacey seemed to have recovered. Without a word she grabbed a jar from a display on the counter and slapped it down with a fierce crack.
“Oh. Yes. There it is.” Renfield glanced at the display and blushed. “Looked all over.”
The burning stare continued.
“I’ll just…how much?”
She pointed at the price tag on the lid.
“Oh.” The display was well-stocked with only a few empty spots. Forty jars of Bootytastic Shimmer packed away in their sleek egg-shaped containers. “I’ll take them all.”