Short Story
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                             The Gift
                                         By Rose Titus

 Nicollette awakened slowly at dusk.  Her eyes, accustomed to darkness,
opened to see the burgundy colored velvet gown she was to wear this night.  
It had been left for her, hanging from a peg on the wall.  She almost regretted
volunteering herself, but there was no going back.

 She wore the faded, slightly worn jeans and charcoal grey cashmere
sweater that she had on when she fell down into oblivion at dawn several
hours ago.  She would prefer it if she could simply get up, put on her
sneakers, comb out her long brown hair, and go do what she had to do.
 But no.  She was expected to dress for the ridiculous event.

 She got up and went to inspect the gown that was lent to her.  Why she
agreed to go out wearing this, she still did not know.  Oh well, she sighed…  It
was some sort of tradition that local people still felt was important.

 “Nickie!” They called her from down below.

 They were trying to make her hurry.

 “What?  I’m getting dressed!”

 Finally she descended the stairs to the lower floor of the old mansion where
they all resided and drifted down into the living room where everyone in the
household was waiting to see her off.  She heard the drone of the old
television in the corner kept to a low volume for those who wanted to read.  
They all looked up and looked her over.

 “Not bad,” said Curtis.  Then he went back to reading his book.

 “Thanks, Curt.”

 Irving also looked away from the television briefly, “How old is that dress?  I
think we’ve seen it before.”

 “Thanks, Irv.”

 “Looks perfect on you, dear,” said Emily, who was the oldest, and who was
around when the strange tradition started.  She went back to her needlepoint.

 “You are wearing sneakers with that dress?”  It was Michaela, always the
expert on fashion.

 “They won’t get close enough to notice.  Besides, it’s too long for me.  No
one will be able to see my feet anyway.  And I’m not wearing my good shoes
out in the barren wilderness.”

 “Well, you look fabulous, then,” Michaela said with a smirk.

 “You’re turn will be next,” she replied tartly.

 Michaela laughed, “Then I hope it won’t be too soon.  Aren’t you going to
wear a cape?” she teased, “It’s a must!”

 “No,” she said simply.  “That’s taking this thing just too far.”

 “Wear my fur stole, then,” Emily offered, “It will look good on you.”

 “I don’t think people like furs much these days, Em,” she sighed.  “I’d better
just march myself out and go and get this nonsense over with.”

 “Have fun,” mumbled Curtis.

 And so she went, hoping to get the foolishness over and done with as
quickly and efficiently as possible.  She exited the large old house and went
down the path that led into the forest.
 Jeffrey stood off in the distance and warily watched the goat that had been
tethered to an old dead tree.  He and his twelve year old son Marvin hid
behind a row of bushes, hoping they could not be seen.  The sun was slowly
fading from the sky…

 “It’s almost time,” he said, sounding slightly anxious.

 It was the boy’s first time out, but when he was older, the time would come to
take his father’s place.

 “Do they come every time?” asked the boy, his eyes wide with anticipation.

 “Every time that I’ve been here, yes,” he reassured the boy, “And every
time, it’s a different one that comes.”

 The boy asked again how it all started.  He already knew, but wanted to
hear it all over again…

 “Well, son,” he began slowly, because he loved to tell it as much as his boy
loved to hear it, “A long time ago, after the Third World War, when all the
cities were devastated, and people came out here from far away, and settled
in this land to escape the radiation and chemical poisons…  the vampires
were already here.  No one knows how long they had been here, or where
they originally came from, but when people came here to farm, they were
already here.  At first, people thought they all should be destroyed.  But then
one man, my great-great-great, and I don’t know how many greats,
grandfather, decided to try to coexist instead of killing them all.  So for the
past two hundred years, each winter solstice, we leave a goat or a sheep out
at the edge of the forest to satisfy their terrible and never ending hunger,” he
emphasized the words terrible and never ending for effect, to enjoy seeing
the spooked look on Marvin’s young face, “And then they won’t need to hunt
people.  And for all this time, no one in the village has ever been attacked,
not ever!”

 “Not ever?”

 “No, not ever, because of what we do!  And some day, son, you’re going to
have to take my place when you’re older.”

 “Look, dad…”

 “Shhh.  Don’t make any noise.”

 There, at the edge of the forest, a beautiful and mysterious vampiress
appeared, drifting slowly from out of the dark row of trees, draped in a flowing
wine red gown.

 Marvin stared in amazement, almost not believing the scene was real.  He
watched as the apparition seized hold of the goat’s tether and lead it away
back into the darkness.  Father and son watched silently as she wandered
into the woods, pulling along the goat.

 “Why didn’t she, you know, drink its…”

 “She’s bringing it back to their lair.”

 “Oh!” and Marvin realized he felt sorry for the goat.  “She was kind of pretty,
I guess.”

 “I know, son, but let’s not get too close.  Come on.  It’s getting dark.  And
they’ll all be out soon.”

 Nicollette completed her mission and returned with the goat.  She looked it
over and found that it appeared to be old and probably no longer wanted by
whichever farmer had decided to abandon it.  She led it to the fenced in
enclosure where all the rest of the livestock were kept.  The people who had
come to stay long ago didn’t realize that her kind had for centuries before
become successful at hunting wildlife for their survival.  The occasional
domestic animal was useful when nothing could be captured; however, that
was not the main source for blood.  They cared for the animals the best they
could, and sometimes, the animals did become a source of food when wild
game could not be found.

 The paddock was beginning to get crowded again, she noticed.  Yet the
people kept sending their unwanted farm animals.  The habit had been going
on for quite some time and now they kept what appeared to be a motley
herd.  Behind the fenced in enclosure were several goats, sheep, a few cows,
and a pony that shuffled along with a slight limp.  An old golden retriever had
even arrived a few years ago and had taken up residence in one of the barns
they needed to construct after the people began their yearly give away.
 She released the goat into the enclosure and shut the gate and turned to
see Curtis standing there casually with his hands in his pockets.

 “Well, once again, it’s done,” he said.

 “I just don’t know why those people keep on doing this.  I guess maybe it
makes them feel important, or something.  Oh well.  At least now I can get out
of this ridiculous dress.”

 He looked at her and then looked at the abandoned animals behind the
fence, “They seem to believe that they are giving some sort of gift each year;
but I have often wondered if it’s really us that truly give them something
meaningful by appearing to come and take it.  So, Nickie, you are therefore
correct.  And each year, we dress up, go out in the cold, and make a show of
accepting it, whether we need it or not.  Why?  Because it makes someone
feel important.”

 And as they walked together back to the house she considered what he said
and realized he was right, and that the amazement in the boy’s eyes perhaps
made the short journey worth it.
About Rose Titus

Rose Titus works two
jobs to support her
writing habit.  She exists
somewhere in a suburb
in cold, dreary New
England, with three pain
in the arse cats and a
very out of date
Macintosh.  She also
has a restored classic
Buick that gets her to
the grocery store.

Her work has previously
appeared in Lost
Worlds, Lynx Eye, Bog
Gob, Mausoleum,
Midnight Times, Blood
Moon Rising, The Bugle,
Weird Terrain, Descend,
and Wicked Wheels.