I stalked her for five nights.
It is easy to pick up her trail at Movie Gallery when she comes off shift at 11pm, two hours after dusk. She changes out of her red and yellow polo shirt and into something stringy and tight, much more appropriate for the sticky Jackson heat. From there, I follow her to a Formica-and-polyester diner where she meet with a gaggle of teenagers to drink sodas and onion rings and dish. She keeps her dark hair in pigtails and her eyes painted with thick liner. Her shiny pink lipstick has to be constantly reapplied.
Her name was Savannah, that typical Southern name meant to conjure alluring images of the Confederacy, and of dripping, humid parties beneath oak trees and blooming crepe myrtles. Her cheeks are rosy under a bronze complexion and her eyes are as thick and dark as nighttime on the swamp. I didn’t care about these things in the beginning. To me, her beauty was secondary to the unadulterated blood flowing just below her skin.
When her friends break for the night, my Savannah drives her rusting Chevy to the Natchez Trace bike path. It is the deepest part of the night when she pulls on old sneakers and a sport bra, then sets out to run. I jog after her, careful not to expend too much energy so that I’d have to feed before I’ve watched long enough.
I need them young, before the blood is poisoned with ibuprofen and alcohol. It’s never been easy for me. I’ve been hunting only since the mid 1980s and any kid can find any drug to taint themselves. One sip and I’m dizzy or tripping. It isn’t worth it to hit fast – that’s why I watch.
After Savannah finishes her run, she heads to the narrow modular house she lives in with an old drunk she calls Poppy. She creeps in and showers, then reads or writes in a green diary until the sky is gray. As she falls to sleep, I hide.
Every night is the same, and I was convinced she was pure. Perfect.
Max, a bloodsucker who appears as young and beautiful as me but who is older by more than a century, once laughed at me when he found me skulking around in shadows up in Detroit.
“Date them,” he said. “It’s easier.”
“Hiding bodies. You could get away with it, too” he sipped his Coke. “That baby face, and big blue eyes. You look like a star quarterback.”
I’d been a star quarterback.
“If you date one, you can make sure she doesn’t drink or snort or smoke anything long enough to take your fill. Or get it in doses. I used the same girl for almost three months before she was too weak to be any fun.”
“Fun?” I cracked the knuckle of my right forefinger. Old habit. “Like having fun with my granddaughter.”
Max laughed. His teeth were whiter than porcelain. He must’ve seen a dentist. “I am one hundred and sixty-three years old, Dove. If you find a human appropriately similar in age, do let me know.”
I imagined dating Savannah as I tracked her home on the fifth night. What would we talk about? Presidential politics? Hematology? I doubted she was interested in the same things as me. If I had lived, I would be thirty-eight. She was 17. I was modern enough to think that was a crime, no matter how high school I looked. It wasn’t like my brain stunted when I started sucking blood. (I recognize that murder is also a crime, and I don’t know what that says about me, or my society, that it was an easier taboo for me to overcome.)
At the mod-home park, I snuck close enough to realize her Poppy was awake. He threw something into the wall. The smoke alarm shrieked and Savannah stumbled back down the concrete porch steps. She dashed across the yard and disappeared into the darkness of the pine forest between the park and Highway 20. Her feet slid on grass damp from an afternoon storm, and the pine scent was so think I lost track of her strawberry shampoo. But I could hear her crying and the scrape of her shoes as she kicked at piles of needles and pinecones. The trees were like prison bars jutting out of the ground.
Adrenaline tingled in my fingers as I realize this was it. Tonight I would twist her arm behind her back and bow her spine until her artery stood out in her neck. I would drink until I burst and then leave her body at the foot of a pine tree. Her Poppy would not come, even when they called from Movie Gallery to find out why she was absent. It would be days. I would be far gone.
Savannah sucked in breath and froze. I leaned into the shadow of a thick trunk and watched. She bent, staring at something near her feet. It fluttered. A bird – broken and cheeping terror. Reaching out a finger, she touched its back.
The bird flapped its wings and Savannah faltered back. I saw tears running down her burnished cheeks. Her lips pressed into a line and with a swift jerk of her foot, she kicked the bird high into the air. It slammed into a tree only a few steps from me. Savannah turned away, a gargling moan trailing behind her as she ran.
But I did not follow.
My heart fluttered like the broken wings of that bird: I was suddenly, irrevocably in love.