This story is by Brodny Iveans and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Hey J, working overnight again. Leftovers in the fridge, curfew at 9. Love you – Dad
Jeannette read the text again from her sidewalk table at Cafe Amrita. Work. Then why did her father just pass by, no badge, no gun, headed towards Central Park? It was a quarter to midnight, the streets were busy for this time of night. Cars rolled lazily around Douglass Circle. Drivers laid on their horns to motivate drunk pedestrians still loitering after the evening’s concert. Their response was invariably vulgar and incoherent but they moved along quickly enough, She entertained the idea of just going home, it was lucky “Officer Jeff” as her friends called him, didn’t see her on his way by. There was no need to tempt fate. On the other hand she was beginning to worry about him, he had been cold and distant the last few weeks. Maybe he was more upset than she thought about her moving out of state for college next month, he had also switched to the night shift recently and she knew the schedule was tough on him but this felt like more.
Jeannette fished a $20 out of her purse and slid it under a salt shaker before setting out after him. He was on the curb directly across from the park entrance. Head down, hands jammed deep in the pockets of his shabby Knicks jacket, he bounced anxiously foot to foot waiting for a break in traffic. Jeannette followed, descending the old stone steps after him and turning onto the cobblestone walkway. Inside, the noise from the street faded. She followed the winding path deeper into the park, it was deserted. Darkness held at bay only by dim yellow pools emanating from the antique gas lamps placed sparingly along the walk. The woods, however, were far from silent. Distant fountains babbled endlessly, above she heard birds call and respond with the high pitched warbles that gave them their name as they flew towards the North Woods where she had spent so many lazy Sundays with her father as a young girl.
Bushes rustled as several raccoons emerged chittering. They peered at her with black eyes before turning and ambling down the path. Wildlife was very common in the park, but the animals seemed overly active tonight. Along her walk she saw a few bullfrogs, mice, a stray cat and even some snails on the move- all blissfully unaware of each other. She had walked these paths hundreds of times before but tonight every chirp and croak frayed her nerves. Jeannette flipped up her hood against the slight chill in the air and thought of her father, tendrils of guilt ensnared her heart and mind. Money was tight, he tried to keep it from her but she knew he had been skipping meals. Her Stanford acceptance letter meant a new life for her, but more debt for him. Money aside, she was all he had. No other family, no close friends. She couldn’t leave him alone. She would tell him tonight, maybe that would take the edge off her breaking curfew.
“You” Her father’s voice came from nearby. Jeannette ducked behind a gnarled and knotty elm, she leaned around the corner to see her father sitting on a bench with a waterfall at his back and a crowd of docile park residents at his feet. An especially plump raccoon crawled into his lap and stood up, pawing Jeff’s shoulders like a toddler testing his legs for the first time. He stroked its back momentarily, then bowed his head as if telling the miniature bandit a secret. The raccoon shrieked then fell silent and her father tossed the limp carcass into the ravine below. Jeannette tried to swallow a scream of her own but it was too late. Her father and his menagerie snapped their heads in her direction. His eyes shone brilliantly, bluer than she’d ever seen, but darted around unfocused, crazed.
She retreated, cautiously, heart pounding “Dad…?” She whispered, shaking her head, trying desperately to dismiss the impostor before her. Jeff stood and smiled, his thin and bloodless lips peeling back to reveal elongated and ensanguined fangs. Jeannette ran. Stumbling left and right, she struggled to control her limbs. Vampire, it was all she could think, she had to get away, she had to tell…who? Who would even believe her and what would happen to her dad if they did? It was a problem for another time, she steadied herself and sprinted back towards the entrance. The path straightened and the old stone steps were dead ahead. She chanced a look over her shoulder and saw those preternatural eyes gaining on her and then, they were gone.
Her sprint slowed and stopped, she panted and scanned her surroundings for any sign of him. There was none. Had he finally recognized her? The entrance was close, she should get home and try to wrap her head around what happened. She turned towards the steps once more, beginning to relax when he landed on her back. An arm around her torso held her motionless. A hand over her mouth silenced her. He didn’t bite, instead he used a single fang to gash her neck. The blood flowed freely and Jeff drank as though it were the first and last meal of his life. Jeannette fought at first but now she felt fatigued and drowsy, she hardly noticed when Jeff dropped her to the ground. She heard her father retching and screaming her name from what seemed a great distance. He lay next to her, face streaked with bloody tears. His mouth moving frantically but Jeannette could no longer hear. She tried to reach out to him, to tell him it was ok but the words died on her lips. He always worried too much, she was fine, she could take care of herself. “I’ll see you soon,” she thought “I just need to rest a bit.” Jeannette’s eyes closed then and she slept.