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Oil and Blood
“Here comes another customer,” Mark muttered, wiping the bike grease from his hands. He stared out the garage at the spattering of stars above desert sand. At their little outpost just beyond town, they had a perfect view of the night sky — and the highway by which all their customers arrived at the repair shop.
“Awful late to be getting work done,” Hank replied as he watched the biker cruise to a stop under the enormous fluorescent lights just beyond the door. “Hey, Stella, can you take care of this guy?”
“Sure thing.” Stella Bond would have wiped the dirt off on her designer jeans, but Stella never got dirty, not even after hours of working on motorcycles.
She was the youngest worker in the bike repair store at the tender age of sixteen, and the only full-time repair girl, for that matter. But Stella had no interest in motorcycles whatsoever. In fact, the only interest she had in anything even remotely related to combustible engines was the combustibly-hot Mark, Hank's apprentice. Stella was kind of pretty sure that she'd marry Mark someday, provided she could get him to ask her. But even though Mark didn't like any of the same things she did, barely looked in her direction, and thought she was crazy for never having read To Kill A Mockingbird, Stella was positive he was the one. She'd follow him to the ends of the Earth, if necessary, and nothing would ever tear her from him.
Oops — I guess I'm supposed to show, not tell.
Stella made sure to check if Mark was looking at her as she rose to meet their new customer. As it turns out, he was a little too absorbed in his work to even pay her any notice — but that was why she loved him.
“Hey, Stella!” Anne called. “Wait!”
“Oh, God,” Stella moaned. “Anne.”
Anne was the other girl who worked at Hank’s Motorcycle Repair, but unlike Stella, Anne was unbearably not-so-good-looking, and also not a full-time employee. At seventeen, a year older than Stella, she had also proved herself to be far less of a prodigy. She pulled her hair back in a messy ponytail and usually wore tattered sweatpants and her middle school softball T-shirts, which always wound up getting splotched with grease or oil. Currently, Anne was an intern meant to shadow Stella in an attempt to copy her brilliance. Stella, in turn, decided it was best just to ignore her, and generally, she did just that.
Stepping out into the cool night air, Stella found her customer waiting beside the pump. Even beneath the pale overhead lights, he looked unusually pale. His hair was slicked back in a dark pompadour, and he wore a foppish turtleneck and leather pants.
“Don't you get hot during the day?” Anne asked. “This is the desert.”
“I haven't had time to get too hot,” her customer replied. “I just woke up. This kind of clothing is a lot warmer when you travel the roads at night like I do.”
“You seem hot enough as it is,” Stella admitted. She fluttered her eyelashes coquettishly.
“Hold on,” Anne interrupted. “Why do you need to travel at night? What's wrong hitting the road during the day like everyone else?”
“Who cares?” Stella pushed Anne aside. “I'm the one taking care of your bike today,” she proudly explained, setting her hands on her womanly hips. “You'll have to sign a form in order to get any of the repair work done, which means I'll need your name and number, of course.”
“Baby,” the customer cooed, “you could have those any time you wanted.”
Stella giggled. Anne rolled her eyes and shoved the form into their customer's palms. Her hands brushed against his involuntarily, and she withdrew hers with a cry.
“Yeesh!” Anne yelled. “Your hands are freezing!”
“Like I said,” the biker replied, “it gets cold in the desert.”
“Biking all night under the stars . . .” sighed Stella. “You're so dreamy.”
“Stella!” Anne hissed. “What about Mark?”
But Stella didn’t answer — she was too busy staring into the biker’s hypnotizing eyes.
Anne groaned and directed her stare toward the biker. “What's your name, anyway? Who are you?”
Their customer seemed to turn even a shade paler, his skin practically glowing beneath the lights. “Me? Why, I'm, uh . . . Ted. As in Tedward.”
“Try Theodore,” Anne suggested. “Tedward sounds like you made it up.”
“Anne!” Stella gasped. “Don't insult his name like that!”
Anne groaned. “Okay, whatever. What work do you need done on the bike?”
“Oh, just give me a little more juice,” Ted suggested. “I filled up yesterday night, but I'm still a little hungry.”
“Unless you’re the one who needs the food,” Anne retorted, “personifying your engine is absurd.”
A frown crossed over Ted's smooth face, his eyes suddenly seeming to grow brighter.
“God, Anne, will you be quiet?” Stella demanded. “Why don't you go do something useful, like process Ted's form?”
Anne sighed. “Fine.” She grumbled all the way to the office, past where Mark was working on his own bike.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Anne mumbled. “Your stalker's just being an idiot again. She also seems to have found herself a stalker of her own — a real creep.”
From the garage, Anne and Mark watched as Stella knelt next to the bike, her back to Ted as she ran a regular maintenance check. What Stella couldn't see was the strange look in Ted's eyes — the way he leaned over her with an almost predatory expression, his long fingers flexing to grab something that he couldn't quite touch yet.
Stella, in a customary moment of grace, was dressed in a low-cut shirt that rode up in the back, revealing far more than Anne or Mark wanted to see. But that didn't seem to interest Ted; what he kept staring at was an area just past her shoulders. Stella suddenly tilted her head, her long brown hair baring her collarbone — and more importantly, her neck. Ted licked his lips, revealing a pair of long fangs.
“Holy cow,” Mark whispered. “He looks like a vampire, doesn't he?”
“Like Max Schreck in the flesh,” Anne commented. “With a pompadour.”
“I have a really bad feeling about this guy,” Anne confessed. “You go tell Hank. I'll see if I can fend him off in the meantime.”
“What could you do?” Max asked.
“I'll think of something,” Anne said.
Mark didn't look convinced, but he didn't waste time arguing. He turned around and ran toward the office, and Anne braced herself to enter the fray once more. She pushed her glasses up her nose and was reminded of the delicious Italian food she’d had that evening as she made her way back under the lights. An idea struck her.
“Sorry about the wait,” she said as casually as she could.
“That's all right,” Ted said. He shot a glance at Stella from the corner of his eye. “I was just appreciating the view.”
Stella giggled wildly.
Anne tried to keep her hands from shaking. “Right. Well. Anyway, Stella, here you go.”
“Oh. Thanks, I guess.” Stella reached for the tool kit, but Anne pulled it aside at the last moment. Stella let out a cry of protest.
“Actually, why don't you let me try it?” Anne suggested. “It's been a while since I worked on this sort of thing.”
“Ted wants a real job, not one of your attempts,” Stella retorted.
“Do you really need two people for this sort of thing?” Ted asked cautiously. “Why can't you just let Stella handle this?”
Anne stuck her chin up and stared at Stella. “If you don't let me do this, I'll tell Hank about how you never let me get my chance at helping the customers. You remember what he said about letting everyone do their part, right?”
Stella frowned. “So go ahead and tell. Hank likes me best, anyway — everyone does.”
Anne tried her best not to roll her eyes.
“Listen, Stella,” she said. “It's been a long night. I just don't think we should waste too much of Ted's time, so why don't you just let me try this once? You'll get to chat with him some more by yourself—”
“You win,” Stella said suddenly, and she stood up.
After years of growing up into a perfect woman, the only curse she'd ever had was her adorable clumsiness, which could sometimes cause traffic accidents (for which she was never blamed). In this particular case, Stella had the misfortune to trip on the pointed front of her high-heeled shoe, which sent her careening forward onto the pavement. She caught herself, of course, but her knee split open and began to squirt blood onto the pavement. Stella's other unfortunate secret was her body's strange ability to expel far more blood than it should after even the smallest injuries. It wasn't hemophilia, or anything of the sort — it just conveniently made Stella's injuries look far worse than they actually were.
“Oh, no!” Stella gasped. “These are designer jeans!”
But Ted simply grinned — this was the juice he'd been looking for. He lunged forward, but Anne pushed him off. “Get away from her!” she yelled.
As he caught a whiff of her breath, Ted gagged and began to cough. “J-Jeez!” he gasped. “Y-your breath . . .!”
Stella grimaced. “Don't you brush your teeth, Anne?”
Anne grinned. “It's because I had garlic bread for dinner, isn't it?” she said. “I went out to eat at an Italian restaurant with Mark before our shift. You're a vampire, aren't you?”
Ted wheezed, his fingernails suddenly looking much more claw-like, and his eyes now bright red.
Stella could only stare in shock — but at Anne, not Ted.
“You what?” Stella demanded. “You — and Mark — out to eat?”
“Is that all you care about?” Anne shrieked. “He's trying to kill you!”
Ted dove for her.
Stella screamed unhelpfully. Anne threw her arms up in front of her face to shield herself. Hank appeared out of nowhere and took off his shirt.
Once again, some mystical force threw Ted to his back, where he writhed in even more pain than when he'd smelled Anne's garlic breath. She turned toward Hank, trying to figure out what he'd done, only to recognize the tattoo of a cross on his arm.
“So they're still scared of a cross after all!” she gasped. Then, she frowned. “That means Anne Rice lied to me.”
“Rats!” Ted shrieked. “How did you know who I was?”
Hank had Ted by the collar, gripping him with the arm that bore the tattoo. “Why don't you explain what you've been up to?” he said through his teeth. “Why'd you try to jump my girls like that?”
Ted grit his fanged teeth, letting out a hiss.
“Ew,” Stella said. “That so isn't like the sexy vampires I read about.”
“Stella, go back into the garage,” Hank ordered. “Anne, go call the cops.”
Anne followed a whining Stella back into the office.
Ted grimaced. “Not even you, a descendant of Van Helsing, could have stopped me if that girl couldn't have alerted you.”
“Van Helsing?” Hank repeated. “You kiddin' me? My family's Greek — there's not a drop of the vampire hunter in any of us.”
“Then . . . how?”
Hank grinned. “Dracula, man. Classic.”
Ted gagged. “Curse you, Bram Stoker . . .”
The police arrived within the half-hour. Ted tried to attack the officer that handcuffed him, but they had followed Anne's advice and brought garlic and crosses. Neither of them was exactly certain why this worked, but when they realized how it subdued their prisoner, they considered always carrying garlic on them while they were on the job.
The sun had almost cleared the distant mountains by the time Ted was finally shoved in the back of the squad car. Anne's eyes followed the car as it rode away, only to watch it suddenly veer onto the shoulder and stop completely just as sunlight had started to fill the sky.
“What just happened?” one officer yelled, jumping out of the car.
Where Ted had been sitting was a pompadour atop a pile of charred clothing and ash.
“I think he had a bad skin condition,” Hank lied. “Said he practically burst into flames when he went in the sun. I thought he was joking.”
“Man,” the first officer sighed. “He seems almost like a real-life vampire. The guys at the station won't believe this.”
“I'll bet they won't,” Anne agreed.
The case of Ted the Exploding Biker went down in local legend. High schoolers would tell it for decades, or for at least the last year and a half that Stella, Mark, and Anne were there. After the incident, Stella seemed more inclined to tripping and falling than ever, but no matter how many normal boys expressed concern for her, she kept glancing around in the hopes that some unbearably handsome corpse-like man would try to drink her blood. It wasn’t until later, after years of therapy, that she became careful neither to cut herself and decided never to work on motorcycles ever again. After all, she learned, few combinations are as dangerous as oil and blood.