Sia’s heart fluttered, and her feet pounded the grey stone pavement as she slowed her pace. She craned her neck and searched through the twilight of parked cars, the newly built forty-foot condominium, and into post-World War II brown stacked office buildings.
The Lights Out Theater doors flew open, and Sia leaped back. Patrons poured out onto the streets. She sighed as men dressed in suits with vests and neckties and bow ties and women in sequined floor-length gowns and empire dresses smiled as they passed her.
Why Sia had run, she couldn’t say. There was, of course, the story in the L.O.T. Standard about a philanthropist found dead at an abandoned distillery with only two holes in his neck. Today, Sia saw a second story about an award-winning fifty-year-old female photojournalist who documented the refugee crisis at a camp near a border town and had washed ashore off Guinevere’s Lake. The article said that drowning was most likely the cause of the woman’s death—except puncture wounds were also found on the woman’s neck.
Sia, come with me . . .
Sia blinked at the long-haired man. Her hand trembled as she fought to pull it away from the ice-cold fingers wrapped around her fingers. His dark hair shone as he took a step forward and the light from streetlights faded, and the voices from theater-goers dissipated. And then they were somewhere else—
She wanted to say something. But all she could do was gulp and open and close her mouth. Then, as the man ran a finger along her neck, she croaked, “Why me?”
“Why not you?” he said.
Sia’s muscles in her throat loosened, and she whispered, “I’m no one.”
He smiled and pulled his hand away from her neck. “You are someone,” he said as he stepped away from her.
“Did you kill the man they found at the distillery and the photojournalist by the lake?” Sia asked as she trembled.
“Why would you care? You did not know them.” His eyes fluttered like ravens in the night sky as he slid a claw-like nail along his red lips. “They were no ones,” he said.
Sia’s cheeks flushed with rage. “She was an award-winning photojournalist who documented over-crowded living conditions at a refugee camp—and he gave scholarships to a handful of troubled kids every year that gave them a chance to go to college or university!”
The man with dark eyes, dark hair, and long fingernails lifted his chin. “And you?”
Sia shrank back. “I’m no one.”
His manicured eyebrows lifted. “What about your volunteer work at the SPCA?”
“I get to play with puppies and kittens. That’s hardly volunteer work.”
His smile widened, and white fangs flashed. He stared at Sia. “And what of your volunteer work at the Women’s Shelter?”
Sia stood there, not knowing what to say. “How do you know about that?”
There was a flash of something—an arm, a hand, or maybe eyes. They were her eyes. Closed and gone. Sia had a sense there was nothing in front of her, behind her, with her, around her—
Sia shoved him away. Or she tried to but couldn’t because her arms were weak as if she’d lifted a fridge and carried it up a hundred steps.
Then there was warmth and light. Sia lurched forward and threw the blanket off her that covered her arms. Awake, she tapped her neck as she stared at the red drapes with gold edging that hid whatever was on stage.
Seated in a black leather chair, a woman with salt and pepper hair leaned into a younger man with brown hair and blue eyes. He tugged at his sleeves and glanced at Sia over his shoulder. They looked familiar.
Sia saw the man again with the long dark hair and cape. He stood close by with arms crossed behind his back. She straightened herself in her seat, stood up, and marched toward the man.
With only a few steps between them, she said, “Did you kill them?”
“No, I did not.” His voice dripped with calm.“I wrote stories about them and gave them to you to read.”
“Why?” Sia said, confused. She hesitated and added, “How?”
“Because they felt like you do—that they were no one,” he said while he circled her.
“Why would I kill them?” he asked as he lifted his chin and tilted his head.
“You’re . . . ,” Sia hesitated, “. . . a part of the dark world.”
He raised his nose and laughed. “You’re right.” His canine pointed teeth gleamed from the crystal chandelier lights that hung from the ceiling. “Tell me, did you read about their murders anywhere else besides in the L.O.T. Standard?” He said this as he stretched out his hands and looked up to the balcony seats, the lights, and the shuttered red and gold curtain on stage . . .
Sia shifted. Stunned, she pulled out her phone from her back pocket and punched at the keys: Award-Winning Photo Journalist Murdered in Creeping Town. Only one article came up: The one that announced the woman’s award. Sia held her phone, and then she remembered the title of the other article she’d read: Creeping Town Philanthropist Found Dead at Distillery. But, again, she found nothing—except for articles about the philanthropist and the kids he’d helped.
Sia frowned at the couple as they turned around. The woman smiled and said, “Yaroslav!” Even though Sia and the vampire had been there for at least ten minutes, it was the first time the woman greeted them—or had said anything to them.
“Hello! Did you enjoy tonight’s show?” Yaroslav asked.
“It was terrifying!” she said as she threw her head back and laughed. The man seated beside her smiled and fiddled with his tie.
“This is Sia,” Yaroslav said as he gently placed a hand on her back. “Would you mind explaining some things to her? I have more work to do tonight . . .”
“Sure thing, Yaroslav!” the photojournalist said.
Yaroslav leaned next to Sia and whispered, “Do not believe all the fairy tales told to you as a child. They weren’t all true,” he said. Then, he turned away, strode to the exit sign, spun around, his cape swung around him with his turn, and he said, “Welcome to the Lights Out Theater! No membership fee. And it’s open to you for your lifetime!” His eyes widened, he twirled again, and then . . . he was gone.
The woman slapped her knee and laughed. “Does he ever like to play up the vampire thing!” Sia stood in front of the woman and chewed her thumbnail. The photojournalist’s smile disappeared, and with a shrug, she said, “He finds people who think they don’t matter. And he tells us we do. So the membership to Lights Out Theater is our reward—and reminder—that we’re important.”