Short Story
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                  Family Reunion
                                            by Toni Stauffer

I’ve been walking along this highway for more than three hours.  I’m a cute
enough girl that catching a ride usually isn’t the problem. It’s the lack of traffic
at this time of night.
The black sky is clear and star-sprayed, an awe-inspiring sight and one I never
get see in the city.  When I had a car, I’d drive out to the country and find a
nice private place, stretch out on the hood and stare up at the heavens.  Now I
stretch out on the ground to do my star-gazing.  The view is just as good.
I stamp my feet, trying to stoke my internal furnace for warmth as hibernating
yellow grass and bits of gravel crunch beneath my heavy black boots.  
Headlights crest the small hill to my left and I grab my pack.  A white Lexus rolls
to a stop in front of me.  The old man driving looks harmless enough--slicked
back salt and pepper hair and clear-rimmed glasses.  He’s either a salesman
or a preacher; I’d rather ride with a salesman, but will take any ride I can get.
I shove my pack into the back and climb into the front where the heat is best.  
The man flashes me a dazzling dentured smile as his watery blue eyes lock
onto my breasts, his smile growing wider with appreciation.  I ignore his stare
and rub my hands together to take off the chill. “Thanks, it’s freezing out there.”
“No problem, little lady. Where are you headed?”
“St. Augustine.”
“Florida’s nice this time of year. Have you got family there?”
“That’s why I’m going. There's a family reunion.”
“I’m sorry, but I can only take you as far as Vidalia.”
“That’s fine.”
“So, what’s your name?”
“Cindy,” I lie.
“It’s a pleasure, Cindy. I’m Malcolm.”
“Good to meet you.”
I yawn and say, “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m really beat.  I’m going to try to
catch a nap.” I turn my back and nestle against the headrest.  The rhythmic
thump, thump, thump of the tires on the road lulls me to sleep.  Sometime later,
the sound of the engine dying wakes me.  I try to sit up, but the old man leans
over me and growls, “I think a ride all the way to Vidalia deserves at least a
blow job.”
“I don’t.” I jerk my knife from the inside of my right boot and turn to press the
blade against his throat hard enough to draw blood.  He squeals and jerks
back, his hands going up to protect his neck.
“You crazy, bitch!”
I have the urge to slit his throat from ear to ear, but instead, I blow the anger
out in a hot breath and pull the knife back.  The fear in his eyes disgusts me.  I
shove the knife back into my boot, grab my pack and get out.  The door slams
behind me and the old bastard wastes no time in leaving, his tires kicking up
dusty gravel in his wake.
That’s the problem with hitchhiking alone.  You have to know how to protect
yourself.  Most rides are pretty cool, but some are creeps.  It’s almost always
men that offer me rides.  The only woman I ever hitched a ride with spent two
hours telling me I’d go to hell if I didn’t get saved.  When the Holy Roller
stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break, I caught a ride with a nice, sane
trucker.
I can hear cars from the highway and begin walking in that direction.  It doesn’t
take long to get there.  I keep walking south and soon see an exit sign for
Macon, which puts me about six hours from St. Augustine.  But that is driving
time.  I’m beginning to wish I’d taken my grandmother’s offer of bus money.
A 1965 Mustang with glossy black paint and gleaming chrome come along and
stops.  The windows are tinted so dark that they have to be illegal.  The
passenger side window slides down, revealing a handsome man in his mid-
twenties with long, wavy black hair and dark eyes.  He’s wearing a white shirt
that’s open at the neck and a black blazer.  Smiling, he asks, “Need a lift?”
“Where are you headed?”
“St. Augustine.”
I really have lucked out. “Great. That’s where I need to go.”
“Hop in.”
I toss my stuff into the back and climb in. He pulls onto the highway and starts
south.
“Hi, my name’s Michael.”
“I’m Beth.” I silently curse myself for letting my real name slip.  I’ve never made
that mistake before.
“It’s nice to meet you, Beth.  So, why are you out here alone in the dark?"
"Bad habit."
He laughs, but then pauses and a weird look comes over his face, “Did you cut
yourself?”
The strangeness of the question puts me on guard. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, I thought I saw blood on you.”
I check myself and find a streak of the old man’s blood has dried on my right
forearm. I rub at it and the blood flakes off. “No, I’m fine.”
He nods, “Good.”
We shoot past a state trooper and blue lights flare into existence.
“Damn. You’d think I’d know better,” Michael growls. He winks at me, “Beautiful
girls are so distracting.”
Michael pulls over and put the window down as the trooper steps up.
The trooper shines his flashlight onto Michael's face, mine, and then back to
Michael. “What’s the hurry, sir?”
“Sorry officer, I’m just trying to get home before morning.”
“I need to see your License and registration, please.”
I expected Michael to reach for his wallet, but instead he says, “Just let me go
with a warning.”
The trooper seems in a daze and says, “I’ll let you go with a warning.”
Michael grins and says, “Thank you, officer.” He pulls back out onto the road
and hits the gas.
I look back and see the trooper standing where we left him, looking lost.
Michael smiles, “It’s amazing what the power of suggestion can do.” He pauses
and gives me a worried look, “What’s wrong?”
Panic feels like a crazed bird fluttering against my ribs, but I force myself to
breathe and slow my racing heart, “Nothing that was just…kind of weird.  For a
second there, I thought you were like a vampire.”
He gives me a funny look. “Vampire?”
“Yeah, you know how Count Dracula hypnotized people with that creepy stare?”
He laughs, “Oh, yeah. Well, I’m no vampire, but I do give ghost tours around St.
Augustine. I know a vampire story. Want to hear it?”
“Sure.”
“There was a young Spanish naval officer under the command of Don Pedro
Menendez de Aviles, just after St. Augustine had been settled in 1566. We’ll
call him Federico.”
“Federico was standing guard one night when a beautiful woman with golden
hair walked out of the forest.  The woman told him her name was Violette.  In
the end, he followed her in the forest and discovered she was really a vampire.”
I stretch in my seat and say, “Sounds like love.  So, then what happened?”
“She turned him into a vampire and they stowed away on a ship sailing back to
Spain.  He lost control of his hunger and slaughtered some of the sailors.  The
crew became suspicious and searched the hold.  They discovered Violette.  
Federico could hear her screams as they exposed her to the sun, but could not
move to help her.  Fortunately for him, they assumed their problem solved and
stopped searching.  He made it to Spain, but they say he returned to St.
Augustine and can sometimes be seen walking on the edge of town where he
first met the beautiful Violette.”        
“Good story,” I say.
We continue talking, small talk really, and occasionally Michael tries to find out
more about me, but I keep my answers simple and vague.  When we reach St.
Augustine, I ask him to take me south to where my grandmother lives, just
outside the city limits.
He tells me, “I enjoyed our trip together.  Perhaps we shall meet again
sometime.”
“That would be nice.   We’re having a cookout tomorrow night.  Can you
come?  Maybe after, we can go somewhere, just the two of us.”
“That sounds fun.  I should be able to come.  What time?”
“7:30 sound okay?”
“Perfect.”
We neared the turnoff. “Just drop me here.  My grandmother is a light sleeper
and I want to surprise her.”
“Sure.”
I give him the address and he kisses my hand before leaving.  I walk down the
dark road to my grandmother’s house that sits nestled behind a group of palm
trees.  The sky has changed from pitch black to pale purple as dawn
approaches.   Always an early riser, my grandmother sits in one of the rockers
on the porch.  I walk up the steps and put my hands in hers.
She grins up at me. “Oh, good, you made it. I was worried.”
“I always make it.”
“And I always worry.”
“Are the others here?” I ask.
She nods, “Most of them. Your brother will be here tomorrow.”
“Good.  By the way, we may be having company tomorrow night.”
She raises a brow, “Oh? Who?”
“It’s a surprise.”
She laughs. “You are the strangest child, Beth.”
“It runs in the family.”
She waves me off, “You’re tired. Go on in and go to bed.”
I lean over and give her a kiss.  Her cheek feels satiny and she smells of wood
smoke and lavender.  Once inside, I leave my pack by the door, walk upstairs
to one of the spare rooms and fall into bed.  Normally, I would shower first to rid
myself of road dirt, but all I want at the moment is a warm bed and sleep.
The next day I greet family and help prepare for the cook out.  My brother
Travis and several of our cousins arrive on motorcycles.  We spend the
afternoon sharing stories and preparing food.  Dusk comes and the moon, full
and luminous, begins its slow ascent above the trees, castings a soft glow on
glossy palm leaves.
I wait on the porch for Michael.  He doesn’t disappoint when he arrives right on
time.  He steps out of the car and I have to admit he looks very handsome in
blue jeans and a black button down.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come.” I say as I take his hand.
“How could I resist an invitation from such a beautiful lady?”
“My family’s in the back yard.”
I lead him around the house to where everyone is gathered around the fire.  
Michael gives me a terrified look, “No…”
He turns and runs.  I drop to the ground as the change begins.  It has been
hard to hold it off for so long.
My brother, an enormous black wolf, snarls as he chases Michael, closing the
distance with long, leaping strides.  Michael is fast, but Travis keeps up.  He
grabs Michael by the back of his right leg and severs his hamstring.  Michael
shrieks and falls as the rest of my family catches up.  Vampires have incredible
strength and speed, but are no match for werewolves when away from the dark
alleys of the city.  He manages to toss a few of my brethren before they tear
him to pieces.
I throw my white-furred head back and sing in triumph to mother moon.  My
family joins in, their muzzles stained with blood.  They lift their heads and join
their voices with mine.
My name is Bethany Redman, but I’m also Moon Shadow, daughter of Sly
Foot.  I am a werewolf and I really, really hate vampires.  

                                                                            
                                                                            -END-
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