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Another Group of Us
Sandy walked into Edgar’s, the heavy door to the bar swinging shut behind her. The place was obviously designed by someone who intended it to be majestic, with its glinting mahogany walls, brass fixtures, and slightly tacky burgundy cushions in the booths. But the place had lost its stiff feel long ago to the warm ruggedness the locals brought with them every night. The scent of skin and sweet-smelling hair pomade from the countless sweaty men that huddled on the barstools every evening hung in the air, but, it being midday, the paneled room was nearly empty. Shafts of light drifted through the front window and caught the endless rows of bottles and glasses behind the counter, turning them into tiny glinting statuettes. A slim, short figure was seated at a wine-colored barstool across the nearly deserted room, sipping something that looked a lot like orange juice. The girl was unusually small, dressed in a black tee shirt and belt. She wore enormous, baggy pants that hung off her tiny frame, and her bright pink hair seemed fluorescent in the dim light. A small silver hoop was pierced through one eyebrow, and a stud was lodged in the side of her nose.
“Oi, Billie,” Sandy called from the doorway. The girl looked up from her drink and squealed. Seconds later, she found herself splayed on the ground with the wind knocked out of her and a very little punk sitting on her chest.
“Jesus Christ, Billie.” She pushed her friend off her and stood up. “I just saw you this morning. You act like it’s been years.”
Billie jumped at her again, this time wrapping her in a fierce hug. She looked up at her, huge eyes shining. “I missed you Sandy,” she sighed happily, leaning her chin on Sandy’s ample chest. She squeezed harder and grinned, revealing two very sharp little canines.
Sandy touched a finger to Billie’s nose. “You need to get your fangs filed down again,” she said. “When was the last time you saw Rog?” She squirmed away from Billie’s death grip, shaking her friend off and making her way to the bar.
Billie followed. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him around for a while.”
Sandy turned and raised a dark eyebrow. Rog was a cheerful, spacey slacker with a serious soft spot for Billie. He was always around, particularly if she was close by.
“Okay, okay,” Billie said, looking embarrassed. Her cheeks turned the same color as her hair. “He’s around, and he keeps offering to do it for me. He’s like you. He says we all have to lay low, especially since there’s that group of crazies around school that think they’re hunters. But I don’t like doing it. It feels unnatural.”
Of course, Sandy knew the group Billie was talking about. They wore baggy black pants with chains and too much hair gel, apparently unaware that “goth” had stopped being a scene years ago. They wore huge crosses around their necks and squinted at everyone they passed in the hallways, as if they could sniff a vampire out. They were a bunch of nuts, obviously, the same sort of misfits that had sat in the back of Sandy’s high school cafeteria drawing pentagrams on their arms, and Sandy felt sort of bad for them. They had never been bad kids, and this group of losers probably wasn’t actually bad either, if a bit incompetent. But no matter how much she empathized, Sandy knew to be careful. If they actually did learn about their group, they could be trouble.
Sandy moved around the bar, disappearing behind the highly polished counter as she crouched down to rummage through the mini fridge. There were two things Tom, Sandy’s boyfriend who tended here, prided himself on more than anything; a spotlessly clean bar and the biggest selection of drinks anyone could imagine. He carried out both extremely well. “Rog is right. Would you rather have human teeth or a silver bullet in your head?” She resurfaced with a tall glass, bottles, and a can of tomato juice. “And now that we’re only drinking chicken blood, you really don’t have an excuse.” She began dumping the ingredients unceremoniously into the glass.
Billie squirmed on her bar stool, kicking her legs against the wood paneling on the side of the counter. “I know,” she sighed. “I’m just tired of chicken blood. It’s just not the same as a nice fat kid.” She eyed the drink Sandy was preparing. “Cheers to white trash parents.”
“That’s disgusting, Billie,” Sandy said, pushing a glass full of bright red liquid towards her friend. Honestly. Billie was the sweetest little thing Sandy had ever met, and usually acted like so; but there were times that she would say something so out of her wide-eyed character that Sandy wondered if there weren’t a few personalities running around in that little pink head. “Well, you might as well get used to downing chickens. If you start trying to catch kids again, you’re going to get put away. You’re lucky that last cop was kind of dumb and just thought you were trying to offer the kid drugs. I’m not bailing you out again.” The last time Billie had gotten in trouble with the law for her less-than-Orthodox feeding habits, Sandy had received a two A.M. phone call and had driven for forty-five minutes through the dark to pick her friend up, fuming the whole way. She noticed Billie eyeing her drink suspiciously. “Drink it. You’re going to need something stronger than orange juice.”
With some difficulty, Sandy hoisted herself onto the bar and sat cross-legged on the glossy counter. She glanced at the large glass window. The shutters were half down, and a strip of the sunny street outside was visible. She leaned in towards Billie and spoke quietly. “There are weird things going on at school,” she said. It’s almost summer, but the infirmary is overflowing. People are getting sick, and they’re not supposed to be.”
“So?” Billie knit her light brows. “Maybe it’s just a summer bug. It happens all the time.”
Sandy shook her head and looked back out the window. Students were walking by, holding ice cream cones and wearing flip-flops. Everyone smiled as they strolled under the May sun, and the scene looked like it had been cut straight out of a coloring book and brought to life. No one seemed the least bit worried about weird illnesses or a full infirmary in May. “You know Ryan Miller? The med student?” Billie nodded. “He’s been helping out at the nurse’s station recently because it’s been so packed. And he told me that the people that get sick don’t look normal.”
Billie’s eyes widened slightly. “What do you mean?”
Sandy leaned closer. “He says they’re pale. Not sick-pale. They look like they lost all the blood flow to their faces. And they’re losing all their extra weight overnight.” Sandy looked down at her chubby torso. Of course, the one symptom of the condition that seemed like a blessing didn’t affect her. She looked back up. “They look like corpses, Billie. And they just lay there, looking at the ceiling all day. They don’t talk or anything. They just stare.”
Billie’s eyes now looked like dinner plates. Did he say anything about their teeth?”
Sandy leaned back, shaking her head. “That’s why they’re not talking, Billie. They refuse to open their mouths.”
Billie’s bottom lip quivered. She looked like she might cry.
“But you know what?” Sandy leaned in again. “I’ll bet you anything that if they opened their mouths, we’d see one hell of a set of chompers that wasn’t there before.”
Billie stared at her. Then her shoulders slumped and she stared at the counter, tracing one finger across the glossy mahogany rim. Sandy took a long drink from her glass, then eyed it.” This is a pretty sucky replacement,” she sighed, tapping the glass’ side with one fingernail.
Billie nodded distractedly. After a few moments of silence, she looked back up at Sandy. Her voice was quiet and small. “So what’s going on?”
Sandy held her gaze. “I think there’s another group of us out there,” she said. And I think they’re trying to infect people.”