by Diana Corbitt
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Smitty was in the restroom, but not in the way I’d envisioned him. The linebacker-sized guard sat slumped over the toilet in one of the stalls. Unlike the last time I’d seen him, Smitty wasn’t wearing his badge. Hell, he wasn’t even wearing his shirt.
“What the hell, Ozro? I’m not gay.”
Ozro smirked. “Oh, that. I took it off him. Being that this is your first time, things might get a little messy.”
Hiding my relief, I nodded and turned my attention to my first victim. Barely conscious, a tiny sparkling stream, the color of ripe cherries, trickled down the side of Smitty’s thick, bull neck.
It was beautiful, but the scent was even better. I whispered, “His blood... it kind of smells like... gingerbread.”
“Yeah, isn’t it great?” Ozro stepped into the stall and with little effort propped Smitty into an upright position. “Smells better than fresh-baked cookies.”
I crossed my arms. “So... how do we do this?” Although the scent of blood enticed me, the sight of the guy sitting half naked on a toilet was distracting to say the least.
Smitty’s eyes fluttered.
“Oh, man...” I slumped against the partition. “This is ridiculous, I can’t do this... and it stinks in here.”
“Yeah, I know. Your sense of smell has intensified too, but this is nothing. I’ve smelled gas station restrooms that make this one smell like a perfume shop,” he said, waving me on. “Don’t worry, Ty. Just step in closer. You’ll figure it out.”
Smitty’s legs stuck out in a “V”. I shuffled in between them and, like my first day in the majors, I had no clue what I was doing.
But Ozro was right, and as soon as I got close enough something inside my mouth clicked, and two “vampire teeth” extended downward.
“See that?” Ozro grinned. “It’s the equivalent to having your mouth water when you see a bowl of fried chicken.”
Nodding, I ran my tongue across their tips, testing their sharpness, and the disgusting reek of the men’s room faded along with the rest of the world. Before I was just hungry. Now I was ravenous.
Ozro stood back. “Go ahead, drink. It’s pretty much just like the movies in that respect.”
I widened my stance and leaned in, grasping the man’s shoulders. With only a thin layer of skin to protect it, the artery on Smitty’s neck throbbed, hypnotizing me with its constant rhythm. Blood.
I could hear it, and, boy, could I smell it. I licked my lips. You’d think I was looking at T-bone steak. Still, I hesitated.
“I don’t want to kill him, Ozro.”
“That’s the difference between reality and movies, Kid. Just get started. We’re in kind of a hurry, so I’ll explain as you go.”
I bent closer, and the succulent aroma drew me in, removing all doubt. Piercing the skin like so many needles, my teeth slipped easily into Smitty’s throat, and I gulped his blood, a hungry wolf.
It was even better than drinking from Ozro. Not so much the taste, but the bond created between me and the living being I held in my arms. As the man’s very existence poured into me, Ozro’s voice kept me focused. “Okay, the flow has to be slowing now. Do you feel it?”
I opened my eyes and nodded slightly, careful not to rip the hole in Smitty’s throat any larger than it already was. Ozro was right about the mess. Blood covered the entire bottom half of my face, and you could forget about Smitty’s chest.
“When you feel it slow, that’s when you need to stop. Pull out now, Ty.”
With a sigh, I let go, and my fangs retracted.
Ozro nipped the tip of his finger and wiped the blood over the gash I’d made on Smitty’s neck, erasing it. “There’s lesson two.”
“Yeah. Oh, here’s an even better trick.” Ozro turned back to Smitty and patted the man’s cheek. “Smitty, wake up.”
Smitty’s eyes blinked open, and he grinned up at Ozro. “Heeeeeey... how you doing?”
“Pretty good, Smitty. Hey, I’ve got something important to tell you, so look at me, okay?”
“Sure, sure.” The security guard gazed up sleepily.
“Smitty, you aren’t going to remember any of this, okay?”
“Any of what?”
Ozro ignored the question. “You fell asleep on the job, Smitty. Say it.”
“I fell asleep on the job.”
“And you feel a little bit guilty.”
“Sure. I was bad.” Smitty’s brow furrowed.
“Yeah, but that’s okay, because everything’s going to be great.”
Smitty’s smile returned. “It’s going to be great?”
“Yeah, it is, so go back to sleep now, okay?”
“Okay...” With Ozro’s comforting words, Smitty nodded off immediately, and in a few seconds he was snoring softly.
“Hey look,” I said, amazed at how easily Ozro had influenced the big man. “He’s smiling.”
Ozro nodded and glanced down at my blood-soaked shirt. “You know, that thing’s already ruined. Why don’t you take it off and wipe away that mess on his neck?”
* * *
After we placed Smitty back behind his desk and straightened up the locker-room, Ozro threw the bloody towels and clothes in one of the washing machines used to clean the team’s uniforms, and we walked out to the field.
Life is weird. I mean, one minute I’m thinking about killing myself, and the next, I’m a baby vampire carrying a bucket of balls down a tunnel at two o’clock in the morning.
You might not believe it, but I was actually happy about the way things were going. I mean, I didn’t have any real family, and besides the guys on the team, no real friends either. Aside from the ponytail, Ozro was a really cool guy. I decided to tell him.
“Ozro, you’re a great teacher. Becoming a vampire would have been a drag if I had to kill people every day, but this isn’t so bad.”
“Vampires are good people, kid. It’s the media that’s given us such a bad reputation. Folks are raised on all that movie garbage and they think it’s all true.
“Smitty will just wake up sprawled across his desk and think he caught some flu bug. Sure, he’ll feel a little weak for a day or so, but since he wasn’t caught sleeping on the job, he’ll just count his blessings and put it behind him.”
“Cool. I can live with that.”
At the end of the tunnel was the ramp leading up to the dugout, and I stopped. “Dude, I have no idea where the electrical panel is for the field lights. How are we going to see anything?”
Ozro stood aside and waved me through. “Oh, I think you’ll see all right.”
Talk about an understatement. The walk to the pitcher’s mound left me breathless... or at least it would have if I could still breathe.
“Whoa. Everything is like high definition... better... like Blu-ray!”
“Hell, Kid, what you are experiencing is just the tip of the iceberg. You’re going to love being a vampire.”
I stared up at the empty seats, amazed at how clearly I could see every scratch and scrape, even up in the nosebleed section. Even though I no longer needed air to survive, I still had my sense of smell, and I spun in circles, taking in a thousand scents.
“Not only can I smell the grass and the dirt, but other things too, like those giant pretzels they make up on the third deck, and... ew! The dumpsters out back, and they emptied those hours ago.”
Like an indulgent father, Ozro smiled and nodded. “Yeah, sorry about the garbage. After a while, you’ll learn to block that out.”
I stared in the direction of the right field bleachers. “Look at that, “I said, pointing. “See that red brick building out there across the street? Check out the far left window on the top floor.”
“What about it?”
“The curtains are open. I can see inside.”
“So?” Ozro grinned and followed my gaze.
“There, on the far wall, the bookcase with the bowling trophy on the top shelf.”
“Yeah, I see it.” Ozro chuckled and squeezed my shoulder. “That trophy has a little plaque at the bottom. Can you read it?”
I squinted and then grinned. “Most Improved Bowler, 2004.”
“That’s my boy.” We high-fived, both pleased with what we had achieved, and then Ozro walked off towards home plate with the radar gun. “Now, let’s see how being a vampire translates into your pitching.”
I stepped onto the mound and adjusted my glove. “Oh, we forgot to bring you a catcher’s mitt.”
Ozro squatted down and aimed the radar gun my way. “That’s okay. Just focus on throwing it into my hand. If you can see that trophy, you can sure see that.”
“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get hurt? I could throw pretty fast before, and now ...”
“Son, I’ll be six hundred and fifty-three years old next month. Nothing you can throw is going to hurt me.” He held up his right hand and smiled. “But I can’t say the same for your regular catcher.”
I dug a ball out of the bucket and looked at it with my new, vampire eyes. Everything about it mesmerized me: a smudge of dirt, the contrast in texture and color, even the way that red thread snaked its way through the holes, joining those two peanut-shaped leather strips together and forming my favorite thing on Earth, a baseball. And not just any old ball, but one with beauty so infinite, you would think I was examining it under a microscope. I held it to my nose, and the images of a dozen players came to me as clearly as if they were standing there in front of me.
“Come on, Ty. We’re burning moonlight.”
I woke up from my little trance and grinned. “Sorry, it’s just that...”
“You don’t have to explain it to me, Kid. After all these years, I still catch myself doing it from time to time, especially in museums. Remind me to tell you about when I looked at one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings close up. Now put on your game face, and let’s see what you’ve got.”
“Okay,” I told him, doing a few stretching exercises. “I’m going to throw a few easy ones, just to warm up.” As I went into my windup, I worried that Ozro might not be able to handle my throws. I mean the guy was a big talker, but he’d never caught a fastball from a big leaguer before, and on my best days I’d been known to hit ninety-five.
I threw him an easy lob, seventy tops, and my jaw dropped. Watching Ozro catch a ball was like watching a praying mantis snag a mosquito.
Ozro ignored me and looked at the radar gun. “Ninety-seven miles per hour. Not bad.”
“Ninety-seven? Seriously?” This vampire thing was looking better and better.
“Forget about pulling a muscle, Kid. You can’t do it, so let’s quit fooling around. As my old friend, Satchel Paige, used to say, put a little mustard on it.”
Okay, if he wanted mustard, I’d give him mustard. I reached back and gave him all I had. The ball surged forward, smacking Ozro’s waiting hand into his chest with a crack that echoed across the field and knocked him backward into the dirt, sending the radar gun flying.
Holy crap, had I killed him? Had the ball actually gone into his chest?
I stood there, unsure of what to do. Calling 911 didn’t seem like an option, and I didn’t know any other vampires. I decided to go have a closer look, and as I trotted across the grass, a grinning Ozro had rolled onto his stomach and was reaching across the dirt for the radar gun. “Now that’s what I’m talking about: one-seventy-six.” He sat up, flexing his hand. “It put a nice little tingle into my fingers, and I didn’t have to move one inch to catch it.”
“One-seventy-six!?” I slammed my glove in the dirt. “Hell, yeah! Let’s go again. I bet I can get it up to one-eighty, or maybe even two hundred.”
Looking half as pleased as I expected him to, Ozro dropped the radar gun and walked over to me. “Tyson, you know you can’t throw that way in front of people.”
“Aw, man! I mean, I know you’re right, but...”
“But you can throw a hundred, maybe even a hundred and eight. Aroldis Chapman threw 106 for the Reds not too long ago, so there’s no reason you can’t throw 107. You could have the record, son.”
At the thought of owning the world’s record, I brightened. “Oh, man, that would be so awesome.”
“That’s the attitude I’m looking for.” Ozro slapped me on the back. “Now let’s throw a few more, just to get your speed and accuracy down. Then we’ll call it a night. Dawn’s coming, and you need your sleep.”
* * *
After eight hours closed up with fifty-odd pairs of shoes, I threw open the closet door and thrashed my way out into the bedroom. I’d turned my nose up at Ozro’s suggestion that we both sleep under the bed. Big mistake. I bent down beside the bed to tell him so, but found nothing under there but my old glove and some more baseballs.
Where was he? For a few seconds, I panicked. What if Ozro ditched me? Left me to figure out this whole vampire thing by myself?
Then I heard him. My vampire senses kicked in, and from all the way down the hall and halfway across the living room, I heard his footsteps crossing the carpet on his way towards the balcony. Compared to that, the actual sound of the big glass door sliding open was like nails on a chalkboard.
Relieved, I grabbed my cell phone and called my decorator. After a bit of negotiation, she promised I’d have extra thick curtains covering my bedroom windows in less than 48 hours. I smiled and thanked her. No more closets for me. Soon I would be sleeping in my bed instead of under it.
I found Ozro out on the balcony watching the final rays of sunlight drop behind the concrete horizon of Chicago. It was almost eight.
Once all the light had gone, we stepped back inside. Usually, I reserved the black leather La-Z-Boy for myself, but I decided to leave it for Ozro. Instead, I flopped down onto the sofa and searched for the baseball I kept hidden between the cushions. Despite how well the whole vampire pitcher thing was working out, a few things still bothered me.
“Hey,” I said, flipping the baseball back and forth. “Uh, do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
Ozro sat forward, elbows on knees, hands clasped. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t. Shoot.”
“First of all, what the hell am I supposed to tell people when they ask me why I can’t come out in the daylight anymore?”
“Tell them you were turned into a vampire.”
I tipped my head to the side and waited.
Ozro laughed. “Okay, tell them you’ve come down with a rare skin allergy, and sunlight gives you a rash. You’ve had it for a while, but it’s getting worse.”
It was a believable excuse. Hopefully Ozro would answer all my questions so easily. “But some games are during the day. How am I going to pitch then?”
“You’re not. You’re only pitching night games. You’re on a five-man rotation. They’ll see how phenomenal you pitch now and make concessions. In fact, there’s no reason you can’t pitch every other day, or even two or three games in a row. It’s bizarre but not illegal. You’ll practice at night too. When a guy throws like you do, they’ll work with him. Believe me.”
“Okay, that’s probably true, but even night games start before sunset. What do we do then?”
Ozro pressed his lips together and looked back out the window. “Well, I... uh...”
Copyright © 2014 by Diana Corbitt