2 Two

    I walked home, even though it was late. Or I guess it would be more accurate to say that I walked home because it was late. There was no uncomfortably glaring sun, no full crowds of chattering people. There were people out, but they huddled together as they walked, talking quietly, not looking around them. At night people believed in monsters, and at night, monsters could hide nearby until they were ready to be seen.

    But there was another, bigger reason why I enjoyed my walk from the psychologist's office on Tenth Street to my apartment on Thirty-First: the normal, human woman I used to be never could've enjoyed it. She wouldn't be out at this hour alone, and if she was out, waiting for a well-lit bus or a lonely taxi, she would stand with one hand on her purse, the other gripped around a can of pepper spray, and all the time, she would be thinking, I'll squeeze the nozzle and nothing will happen. I'll struggle, and he'll still get me. If he wants my bag, he can have it. He can have anything. I can replace it. But he won't just want my cash and credit cards and earrings. And I'll fight but it won't make a difference.

    And her eyes would try to take in everything at once. She would be looking around like an animal in the street. Like prey. And every predator would be able to tell, just by the way she couldn't stand still, just by the way that she shivered on warm nights, that this woman was a victim waiting to be victimized. And it wouldn't have been hard at all.

    She probably would've fumbled getting the pepper spray out of her purse. If she needed to use the pepper spray, she would've realized it too late, or she would've pressed the top down and popped it out of her hands and into the street.

    She was afraid, so afraid, that even when she got on that well-lit bus, even when she was locked up tight in her own apartment (three locks on the front door, two on the bedroom, a phone by the bed, the closet light on), she would be too scared to close her eyes. That kind of fear never left a woman who knew how vulnerable she was. That kind of fear wakes you up at night, imagining, not vampires and under-the-bed ogres-children's monsters-but the sound the deadbolt makes sliding open, the sound of footsteps in the hallway.

    She was why I walked at night.

    I pitied and loved her like a sister too young to fight with, and I weirdly wished that she could see me now, see how I didn't bother looking around as I walked, how I didn't reach a careful hand to my pocket to make sure my money and keys were still there, how I only tied my dark brown hair to the sides in pigtails, to keep it out of the way.

    I wished she could see me enjoying my walk and the night and San Antonio's daytime businesses closing while others came to life, passing so many people with such endless mundane reasons for being out at this hour. They didn't notice me. I didn't look like a predator. And they didn't notice me for any other reason. I lacked the glamour of movie vampires. And my hair was in pigtails. It's hard to look glamorous in pigtails.

    I passed dark alleys. I nodded at tall men walking alone. I crossed in and out of "bad" parts of town. I lived, now, in a "bad" part of town, in a cheap apartment with six locks on the door. I never locked one.

    Tonight, I smiled as I walked, remembering that young sister and enjoying things that I often forgot to enjoy, not just my stroll, but my tatty Converse shoes, my jeans, my green Hogan's Heroes T-shirt and dark jacket. God, did I used to endure high heels? And panty hose? I almost laughed out loud.

    And then my favorite part of that dark night stalked up behind me and grabbed me around the neck. Finally.

    I yelped, "What are you doing? Let me go!"

    He laughed, and I laughed too, which confused him. I went limp.

    "What the **-"

    Then I jolted my legs straight and sent my head into his chin.

    He let go. They always let go.

    I didn't want a scene tonight, so I grabbed his throat and dragged him into the alley he'd slinked out of. He made gasping, choking sounds and grappled at my hand. His face started going red, and he kicked, trying to get his feet under him again.

    This, this was what I really wanted that other Annie to see.

    The man's eyes went wide, and when one of my teeth scraped his wrist, he screamed like he was on fire.

    It didn't hurt that bad. Like a paper cut and just deep enough that a drop of blood beaded on the surface. No severed arteries, no gory squirting. When you order caviar, you don't cram your mouth with it and smear it all over your face. You don't let it fall to the ground and get all in the carpet.

    You savor. You eat every bite as though you are intimately aware of how much each teaspoon costs.

    Another thing, you don't spare a moment's thought for the little eggs' suffering. You don't think about the fish crying in the ocean because Paula and Jimmy and Wendy and Paco and Rob and Angelina are gone forever. Because they're food. They were created to be eaten. You were created to eat them.

    With similar convictions, I licked the little cut and sucked it slowly. His heart was still racing, so the blood had that fresh, fast taste. I wondered if adrenaline made the blood taste like that.

    Will would know. No creature alive had more fascination with itself than he did. You pull him out of the library, turn your back for one minute, and you find him in the lab. I tried to get him to join a bowling league, take some business classes, even get a penpal, but he was hopelessly focused. Poor guy.

    The creep twisted and started crying like an agitated little goat.

    The neck is nice, warm, but also kind of personal. The wrist is better when you're after the blood and don't want more contact than is necessary. I couldn't imagine pressing my face up so close to the creep's, burying my lips in his neck like a lover. In fact, he smelled bad enough that I was no longer enjoying my meal as much as I had been.

    I drank until there were only dribblings of blood left in the veins. He had stopped twitching and crying at some point, but the smell hadn't faded. I imagined it would just get worse from now on.

    I took a Zippo from my back pocket and lit the front of his shirt. In a world in which forensic scientists were near-superheroes, at least on television, my kind couldn't be too careful.

    Luckily, no one paid too much attention to charred thieves in alleys.

    I licked my lips, straightened my clothes, and turned my back on the growing flames.
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