by C. E. Stokes
Bridal magazines invaded the wooden kitchen table,
spilled onto the chairs and covered every available
surface. Colorful sticky notes poked out from dog-earred
pages. The neat script of his fiancee marked ideas for
the big day that loomed closer and closer.
John hesitated in the doorway and winced at her
loose-fitting pink scrubs. Once a ring appeared on her
finger, the curve hugging shirts vanished only to be
replaced with bag-like scrubs.
He slid one foot back towards the front door.
With luck, he'd make it outside before his bride-to-be
Julie lifted her head off her arms and glared at him.
Indents from the thick magazine marred her smooth cheek.
"This would be easier if your mother wasn't the devil!"
She shoved the magazine away and flopped back in the
chair. The magazine slid across the table and
collided with a stack of rejected publications.
The pile teetered but stayed upright.
"Remember, she'll be your mother-in-law after the
wedding." His observation earned him a scowl.
In two steps, John was next to her. Picking up
her hand, he tugged her up and into a hug.She sighed
against his chest, the tension bleeding out under his
hands. His palms rubbed the tight muscles of her
He wondered how long he'd have to hold her this time
until she calmed down.
"She's making me reconsider the whole wedding.
Can't we just live in in sin instead?" Julie
groaned and burrowed deeper into his chest.
Wisps of her blonde hair tickled his nose. His
hands swept up her spine to her delicate neck. His
fingers lingered, tracing the knobs of bones under her
The faint smell of floral lotion she wore tickled his
nose. He fought off the urge to sneeze and focused
on the subtle hint of the scent that belonged purely to
her. It teased him, drifting up from under the
Saliva pooled in his mouth.
He swallowed and tipped his chin closer to the
top of her head.
"It's stress, my pet. All brides go through
moments of doubt. Maybe you're simply
overreacting." He murmured against her hair.
She stiffened against him.
Probably not his best approach. He opened his
eyes and forced his thoughts back on topic. His
hands moved up and down her back. This time the
tension didn't leave her muscles.
"What'd she do this time?" He tried again. The
tantalizing smell of her teased his senses.
She pulled away and paced across the kitchen
"Every day- no, every hour! She sends me long detailed
messages about how the wedding should be." her
hands fluttered around her face as she tread across the
linoleum. "And I mean everything; what music the
DJ should play, pictures of all sorts of cakes and
different menu selections. And get this, today she
sent me a picture of what dress I should wear.
Some frumpy, frilly thing that makes me look like a
He flinched as her voice hit octaves reserved for
Oblivious to his wince, Julie dragged the laptop toward
her and pecked at the keys. After pink tipped
fingernails brushed her hair out of her face, she
gestured to the screen.
"It's definitely cupcake like. You'd look
delicious." He resisted the urge to lick his lips.
"That's not helpful." She tossed her ponytail
over her shoulder with a huff.
John stepped up behind her, his hands settling on her
shoulders. Most days the caresses calmed her down.
Today, the didn't have the desired effect.
"Mother wants to be part of our special day." His
voice was low and, he hoped, soothing.
"Yeah, right. She can't be bothered to meet me.
Or talk to me even though she's trying to dictate my
wedding. Oh. I meant, our wedding." Julie
flushed a delightful shade of pink.
"I made reservations at 'Happy Tuna'. A nice
relaxing dinner will take your mind off everything.
After I drop you off, I'll go home and call mother.
Get her to back off. All right?" He grinned in
response to the small smile appearing on her lips.
"I'd prefer to talk to her myself. Why won't she
talk on the phone if nothing else?" The smile faded.
John worried he'd have to keep rubbing her.
With a sigh, she brushed his hands away and headed down
"Dinner sounds great. Give me ten minutes to
change." She tossed a flirty smile over her
shoulder and headed down the hall.
After being part of Julie's life for almost a year,
John knew that ten minutes was often a hopeful estimate
instead of an exact time. Besides, no matter how
much time she took, her recent choices in attire would
still hide her delectable curves.
He smiled anyway, in case she turned around.
After the sound of her footsteps faded up the carpeted
stairs, John let out the breath he'd been holding.
He pulled one of the magazines closer. Thumbing through
it, he skimmed the frivolous headlines and photos of
beaming brides. The wedding idea had been a
brilliant one. It kept her distracted and out of
his hair. He could bear with it a little while
longer if it kept her out of his hair.
After a meal that included no mention of his mother,
John drove Julie home. He hopped out of the car
and scurried over to open the passenger door. With
a giggle, Julie extended her hand. He helped her
out of the car.
She stumbled off balance, grabbing him by the shoulders
to regain her balance. He grabbed her by the waist
before she fell over. Perhaps the wine had been a
Julie rose up on tiptoes and tilted her head back.
Her eyes fluttered shut and she pursed her lips.
He'd forgotten "goodnight" meant more petting.
"I know we agreed to wait...but with the wedding so
close..." She glanced up through her lashes.
His arms tightened around her waist. After a deep
breath, he found his voice.
"We've waited this long, my pet. The wedding
night will be that much sweeter. "With one finger, he
traced the smooth curve of her cheek down toward her
Her breath caught. In the dim light of the porch,
her pupils dilated. The scent of her desire
mingled with the faint innocent scent that was purely
He kissed her one last time before turning to leave.
"I love you. Don't forget to call your mother!"
Her voice followed him down the sidewalk.
Gritting his teeth, he waved over his shoulder.
The front door closed behind her.
He expelled the breath he'd been holding. Once in
the privacy of the car, he cursed and jabbed the keys in
the ignition. Without a backward glance, he
shifted the car into drive and headed home.
A short drive from Julie's house, his house waited.
Bushes swayed in the night breeze. Faint lights
from his neighboring homes flickered through the shrubs.
With no sidewalks in this neighborhood, no nosy people
wandered passed his home.
He strolled up the front walk. Crickets chirped
around the house, falling silent at his approach.
Once inside, he tossed the keys into a bowl on the small
table next to the door.
Darkness filled the small house. His movements
echoed through the empty rooms. Furniture was an
unnecessary luxury in this charade.
Once in the kitchen, he clicked on the lights.
Brightness reflected off the pristine granite counter
tops. He filled a glass at the sink. A long
drink washed the taste of raw fish out of his mouth.
The water tasted crisp and clean.
Much like he imagined Julie would taste.
Thoughts of his fiance reminded him what he needed
to do. He couldn't avoid the problem forever.
Time to talk to mother.
The clink of the glass against marble echoed through
the empty kitchen. He exhaled and headed toward
the basement door.The light switched on with a click.
Bare boards of the staircase creaked under his weight.
At the bottom, he kicked off his shoes. The
leather loafers scraped across the cement floor and
stopped near the wall. He reached down and jerked
off his socks. The chill of the floor oozed into
the soles of his feet. He wiggled his toes with a
sigh of relief.
He padded toward the back of the basement. His feet
made no sound.
Bare bulbs cast bright pools of white light on the
floor. He reached up and tapped one. It swung back
and forth, making his shadow dance against the bare
cinder block wall.
A simple wooden door waited on the far wall. A
heavy metal padlock hung off a heavy metal brace across
He veered left, stopping in front the wall. With
one finger, he traced over the blocks. The tough stone
scraped his skin. One block shifted under his hand. He
dug his fingers on either side of it and rocked it back
and forth. The block came free with the little rocking
motions. Dust poofed out in little clouds.
Once it came free, he propped the block against the
wall. Hunching over, he peered into the hole.
A silver key nestled in the crevice. Pinching it
between thumb and forefinger, he turned to the solid oak
door. Tumblers clicked under the key. The
door opened on well-oiled hinges. Between one step
and the next, black smoke rose from under his feet.
It swirled around him, creeping over his legs and up to
his waist. Splitting into several tendrils, the
smoke wrapped around each arm before creeping over his
neck and face.
The illusion cracked apart with a pop. The pieces
tumbled to the ground, blinking out of existence before
hitting the floor. The smoke vanished in the blink
of an eye.
Free of the confining disguise, he scratched under his
arm. That itch had been crazy for hours.
Finally reaching it was a relief. His forked
tongue crept out to trace one jutting fang.
Toenails clicked against the cement only to stop once
he reached the center of the room.
With a careless wave of his hand, he lit the
candles with a faint surge of power. Flickering
lights bounced off the pentagram etched in the floor.
He dropped to his knees. Arms outspread, he
turned his face toward the bare boards lining the
Guttural words bounced off the walls of the cramped
room. In the center of the circle, dark black
smoke rose. Wisps expanded only to roll back from
the edges of the circle. After one last swell, the
smoke collapsed on itself into a humanoid figure.
The leathery skin creature crouched in the circle.
Large almond eyes, the color of whiskey, regarded him.
Saggy breasts swayed with each breath. Guttural
words, in the same language he chanted, hissed out
between a mouthful of fangs.
He held up one hand to cut off her tirade.
"You need to leave Julie alone. Do you know how
hard it is to find a virgin in today's world?" He
hissed at her.
She squatted, her knees spread wide. Her words
"And stop tormenting her. I won't have you
scaring her off."
Her eyes narrowed. Her low growl filled the room.
She scuttled back against the far boundary of the
The demon known as John snarled back. "I mean it,
Mother. After all, weren't you the one who taught
me not to play with my food?"