I love this time of year-- the sun's down by like five p.m,
and when it's freezing out, people are less likely to question an icy-cold handshake. Yup, winter was made for vampires. . . aside from a pesky religious holiday or two, of course. Even then, the more secular parts, I got no problem with. I actually like seeing trees all lit up, and when I see those Santas on the street corners ringing those bells, I always try to drop in a few coins, if I got 'em. Long as I keep away from the crosses and skip Midnight Mass, Christmas is no big deal for me, right?
There's just this one little thing; I'm all lined up to play Joseph in the Live Creche display this orphanage has got going.
Rita, the project co-ordinator, was a cheerful, heavyset woman with wire-rimmed glasses and short, messy hair the most unnatural shade of red. You get used to her tendency to greet everyone, friend and stranger alike, with a hug.
"Baby, we need to get you a nice, warm coat-- every time I see you, you're like a block of ice!"
"Nah, this one's fine, Rita, but thanks for the concern."
"Okay, well, we're all running a little late today, so--"
"Oh, you mean it's not just me this time?"
Rita laughed and playfully shoved me.
"Oh, hurry up and get into your costume so we can get started!"
It's not really all that hard to do the whole Live Creche
thing-- basically, the narrator tells the story, and we just kinda
follow along. I don't even really have any lines. At the end, we
hang around the manger set a while so people can file past and gawk.
Of course, there's no pay, but everyone gets a hot cup of coffee after,
and the feeling of having done one's good deed for the day. There was just one commonly heard gripe:
"Man, I wish my costume was warmer," complained Michael, well-
named for playing our angel. "I'm freezing my bum off out there!"
"Take it easy, Mike, it's just for one more night," said Alice,
our very beautiful but barely legal Mary, as she covered her historically inaccurate blue-streaked hair.
"All right, now, you know I pride myself on authenticity"
Rita announced, "so take off the watches, glasses, cell phones,
headphones, long johns, and anything else they didn't have in Ancient Bethlehem!"
Of course, we all knew that, seeing as we'd done the display daily for the past week, but she always liked to remind us, just in case. Something about their angel getting a call from his boss in the middle of last year's performance. Whatever. I got rid of the cell Tracy was making me carry after that whole baby-sitting fiasco, and haven't so much as touched another since.
Turns out Rita was worrying herself unnecessarily, as usual.
There were no cells or watches in Ancient Bethlehem that night. All marks were hit, all lines remembered, and for once none of the animals in the manger acted out or took a dump in front of the audience! It was about the most perfect performance she or any of us could've hoped for.
"Vachon?" came a voice from the gawking crowd.
Not this, I silently pled to any god who might listen. Not now.
I took a deep breath and looked up into Tracy's blue eyes,
grown impossibly large with surprise.
"Vachon, what are you doing here?"
"Playing Joseph," I answered simply, not missing a beat.
"Well, I can see that, but why?"
"Um, 'Joe', hate to cut into your chat time, but we're still supposed to be acting here," Alice whispered harshly.
"Look, I'll be done here in a few minutes," I told Tracy. "We can talk then."
"Oh, we will," she promised. "And don't even try pulling one of your vanishing acts, either, 'cause I know where you live."
She followed the crowd out of the manger display, and I breathed a sigh of relief to be (at least temporarily) out of her scrutiny.
"She a friend, or a girlfriend?" Alice asked quietly, while still maintaining her pious Virgin Mother air.
"Oh, she's. . . something. . ." I replied ambiguously.
Alice nudged me lightly, a soft smile gracing her lovely young face.
"You're an enigma wrapped in a riddle, Javier," she said softly, "with a little bit of mystery on the side."
I offered her my best roguish smile, but left the flirtation
at that. I knew how things would have ended up, and call me crazy,
but feeding on a girl you met working a charity creche seemed like the worst kind of karma, to me. Even worse, since she was playing Mary.
Soon the last of the crowd trickled out, save the lone young blonde who'd parked herself by the gate. Her black leather coat was buttoned against the cold, with her hands thrust deep into her pockets.
I accepted the offered post-performance coffee just this once,
and carried it outside to Tracy.
"I didn't know how you liked it, so I brought a little of everything," I said, handing over a pocket full of assorted sweeteners and creamers.
"This a bribe?" she asked, seeming only half-joking.
"Well, I would rather you didn't tell anybody you saw me here,
but no, this is just me offering a cold friend a hot cup of joe. If you'd rather I didn't--"
"Speaking of joe," Tracy interrupted, "you still haven't told me what you were doing here, acting in a Live Creche, of all places!"
"I think you just answered your own question."
"You're scoping the place out, looking for some tasty little orphans to snack on?" she assumed. "Maybe a nun or two?"
I couldn't believe she'd even ask that!
"So that's what you think?"
"I honestly don't know what to think!" she fumed, before asking in a harsh whisper, "Do they know what you are?"
I blinked at her question. "Why would they?"
"Well, don't you think it's kinda inappropriate for a va--"
"Ah, here we go again with that 'v'-word. . ."
"For. . . somebody like you. . . to be acting as Joseph?"
I shrugged. "Been good enough for the part these past forty years."
Tracy's jaw dropped.
"Forty years? I can't-- Why've--"
"Look, it's tradition, all right? Every year, wherever I am in
the world, I find some quiet little orphanage or children's hospital,
and I do their Live Creche."
Now it was Tracy's turn to blink.
"I guess you could say I got a soft spot for orphans and little sick kids."
Christmas was just another day for me, centuries and a species away from religion. There in that sleepy Southern town, it hardly felt like winter, anyway, with temps around 40 and not a trace of ice or snow yet the whole time we'd been there.
Granted, we'd only been in town a couple of weeks, but time always seems to pass slower in places like that.
Just killing time, we'd all gone down to the drive-in on the eve of Christmas Eve to catch a late showing of Love Me Tender. We must've been quite the sight, with Screed in the coonskin cap he'd made himself and me in my greased hair and leather jacket, sitting in the same car with Urs in her pink floral swing dress with its puffy crinoline slip and fashionable Peter Pan collar, and Bourbon the very picture of 1950s masculinity in his dark flannel suit and hat.
In the car beside us sat an attractive young brunette in a yellow dotted dress, who bore more than a passing resemblance to Audrey Hepburn. As we were in the sparsely-occupied back row, less likely to attract unwanted attention, Bourbon decided to pay the young woman a visit.
"Does such a beautiful lady as you not have a husband?" he asked in the French accent women always seemed to find so sexy.
"Not anymore," she replied sadly. "I lost him four years ago in Korea."
"So sorry to hear that. I'm sure he was a very brave man."
"The best and bravest," the lady agreed.
Any decent man, vampire or no, would've left her alone at that.
But once Bourbon had a woman set in his sights, nothing could deter him.
"You should know I was once a soldier myself," he pressed on.
"Really? Were you also in the war?"
"Not the war of which you speak."
The young woman tilted her head, large brown eyes blinking questioningly.
"You mean you're old enough to have fought the Germans?"
Bourbon leaned in close, answering in a sultry whisper, "Even older than that."
The woman let out a small cry as he moved in for the kill, and a small form stirred from under a blanket in the back seat.
"Mama?" the little boy said groggily as he sat up. But once he saw what was happening, his little voice grew urgent. "Mama!"
"Joseph," her weak voice barely managed to squeak out, "go."
In those days, children did as they were told right away and without question. So, with tears in his eyes, the little boy slipped out of the car and ran as best his little braced legs could carry him.
A security guard who'd heard the screams met him just a few
parking slots away, and after briefly checking the child for injuries,
rushed to help the mother. By the time he got there, she was dead.
Her attacker was gone, and likewise, the old Chevy sitting next to her car had been suddenly and mysteriously abandoned.
Bourbon never ran with our crew after that.
"Vachon? Hello? Earth to Vachon?"
Tracy laughed. "You seemed to kinda zone out there for a minute. Really creepy-- almost reminded me of my partner."
"Sorry, Trace. I just. . . Old memories, you know?"
"About forty years, I'm guessing," she said. "Care to share?"
I was saved from having to answer when the doors opened and our cast and crew began to file out.
"Javier!" Rita rushed over, getting winded in the effort, to tell me, "Great news-- we've officially surpassed our fundraising goal for the season, for the first time in years! And we owe it all to the finest crop of young volunteers we've ever had!"
"That's great, Rita," I said, silently accepting her enthusiastic hug. "But it's really your thing for historical accuracy that did it."
"Well, whatever the reason, I know a whole lot of orphans who are gonna have it a whole lot better this winter, and I'm glad you got to be part of that," she said. "Now get on home and out of this cold before you catch your death of pneumonia!"
Tracy smirked knowingly, but I just answered, "I will."
"Merry Christmas, Javier," Rita said, hugging me one last time for the road.
I actually hugged back, just that once.
"Merry Christmas, Rita. Take care."
Tracy stared at me strangely the entire way as I walked her to her car.
"What?" I asked finally.
Tracy smiled. "I just never expected this from you, Vachon-
doing the Lord's work. A va--"
I placed a finger to her lips.
"Not that word."
"Now you're just mocking me."
I smiled faintly and gave her a small peck on the lips,
fighting both her attempt and my own desire to turn it into more.
"You'd better go home and try to catch some sleep now," I advised. "Santa's coming."
Then, before she could even open her mouth to make some witty retort, I was gone.
?005 Naia Zifu, all rights reserved.
Vachon and Tracy are FK characters I don't own rights to. As always,
I'm not trying to make money off others' ideas.
This Vaqdreams Christmas challenge was, oddly enough, only finished in time for the New Year --;; . pokes slackerly self Ah well,
hopefully it'll be well-received, anyway, in spite of its lateness!