When he drops by her house unexpectedly, a misanthropic teenager must play hostess to the one and only Florian Werther Bathory Byron, a vampire with a tragic life story, a luminous complexion, and a dangerous reluctance to actually kill anything he decides to eat.


3. Audience with the Vampire

"Goodness," said Florian, "That sounds serious. And aren't the cats supposed to be in - "

"Yes," I said, "$%#%! Excuse me."

And I whirled and ran up the stairs, two at a time. That had to have been Momow: there was a certain nails-on-a-blackboard edge to the sound which was unmistakable. He must have doubled back through the garden, I thought, and snuck in through the front door while Florian had had me distracted. And he was just vicious enough, in his present state of senility, to get himself into a fight which he couldn't win...

"Oh, don't worry about me," came Florian's voice from below. "I know my own way  to the west wing, you can come bring me dinner once you've got the two of them sorted out."

"Wait a minute," I cried, pausing in outrage on the landing, "What makes you think you can just start poking around? No, you wait for me right there for me to get back – Hey!"

I watched in disbelief as he strode off into the dark house, navigating between the sheet-draped islands of furniture in the parlor as though he lived there.

"Don't worry, " he called back, over his shoulder, with a wide smile that revealed every one of his teeth, white as porcelain: "I won't break anything!" And he winked at me.

I might have rushed down then, and an altercation of a much larger scale might have taken place, had not the renewed shrieks and low whining howls coming from upstairs claimed my full attention. I had to deal with the cats first – before anyone got hurt. After that, I would deal with him.

Momow, as I had expected, was the aggressor: he had made his way into my aunt's old sewing room, and was in the process of trying to dethrone the diabetic, balding Persian, Akasha, from her perch in the sill of the room's only south-facing window.

I didn't keep Akasha separately from the others – in the east wing where my own bedroom was – for her own safety. She weighed nearly thirteen pounds, and I could see Momow was already bleeding, missing a piece of his left ear. Why he'd chosen to seek her out and provoke her I don't know: perhaps out of a perverse desire to make my life more difficult. Or, more likely, after escaping being taken to the vet's, he had simply been primed for a fight, and had gone back into the house to find one.

As stealthily I could, I grabbed an old pillowcase from a wing chair and approached the pair. They were engaged in a duel of glances at the moment, Akasha peering down with rheumy fury from her windowsill, swelled up to twice her usual size, while Momow advanced slowly, his huge blue eyes dark and spiteful, his bony face contorted into a rictal hiss. He cast me only one contemptuous glance as I came up behind him, before turning his attention back to her.

He thought he had me cowed, I thought hotly, that I wouldn't dare tackle him: that I would just stand by while he did as he pleased. Well, he was wrong. I was sick of being led around by the nose.

I sprung with the open pillowcase, and by some miracle managed to shove him down to the bottom long enough to twist shut the top. He must have been exhausted, after so much exertion, though by the sound of the yowls he made and the way he writhed in the sack, before settling down into a sullen, bony blob at the bottom of it, with just the tips of his hind claws sticking out through the silk, you never would have guessed.

Akasha, far from being grateful for my intervention, merely let out an affronted growl from the sill and eyed me with great suspicion, as if she were trying to determine whether I was about to try and put her in a bag, too.

"Oh, fine," I muttered, taking a moment to inspect the bloody new scratches on my arms, courtesy of Momow, "Don't thank me or anything, your Highness, I'm just – damage control."

And bagged Siamese in hand, I set off for the west wing.

 When I got there the main hallway was empty, and I hurried down it, past the rows of long doors which opened onto individual bedrooms, to find that the cats had gathered in the sunroom. Enthroned in the midst of this motley congregation was Florian: he had drawn all the curtains, turned off all but a few of the electric lights, and pulled a velvet sofa out from the back wall to sleep on.

He had also removed his coat, and was in the process of pulling off his boots. The cats gathered round were watching him fixedly, from all poses and positions:  when I entered only Selene, a plump mottled tortoiseshell, gave up her place on the top of a climbing tree to come and twine  herself affectionately around my legs.

"Mow." she said, and gave the lump at the bottom of the pillow case an exploratory bat with her left paw.

"Mrrrroooooaaah," complained Momow loudly, in a much less good-tempered tone.

"Oh my," said Florian, dropping his last boot onto the floor, and eying me with some concern. "You're not just going to - let him go in here, are you? After he caused all that trouble?"

"Why not? He lives here." I set down the pillowcase on the floor, so Momow could find his own way out: this he did with considerable haste. "You're the uninvited guest."

"But not unwelcome, I hope. Here, kitty, kitty." Florian reached out and wiggled his fingers a bit: the gesture seemed half-hearted, at best.

Momow cast him a contemptuous glance, and began to wash his own nether regions with consummate attention.

"That one is much less friendly than I remember," said Florian. "He must be a different cat. In fact, they all must be. As I recall they all used to adore me. Cordelia often commented on it."

I glanced around. None of the cats seemed very set on approaching him right now, but maybe that was because he hadn't yet invited them.

"Look," I said, "I want to get one thing straight. "You can't stay here longer than one night. If you do, I'm going to call the police."

"Fair enough, Bill. But.... well, don't you think that's a bit excessive? After all, I knew Cordelia a great deal longer than you."

"I don't care if you knew my aunt biblically, she's dead now, and this is my house."

"You might want to double check with your lawyer about that," he said lightly. "How old are you, anyway?

"That's none of your business," I snapped.

"Certainly too young to be living in a house all by yourself. Wherever are your parents? And wherever did you get those scratches?"

"Where-ever do you think?"

Florian stood and strode over to me, looked down at my folded arms with interest. He lifted one hand and ran a pale finger lightly over the injuries: he had taken off the gloves and the touch of skin on skin, the first human contact I'd had in weeks, made me shiver.

Or maybe that was just because his fingers were freezing. Like, dead cold.

"They look painful," said Florian. "Have you put something on them? No, of course you haven't. Sit down," he said, and he went back to to the couch and dove into his bag. He tossed out at least six bottles of SPF 50 and various BB Creams before he finally unearthed a small, wrinkled tube of Neosporin.

"I'm fine," I protested, "I don't need help."

"Of course you do," he said, and the next thing I knew I was seated on the couch, quiet and red-faced, while he put antibiotic cream on my arms. My mother had used to do that for me, when I was much younger than I was then. But a stranger doing it - and a stranger like Florian at that - was painful and peculiar.

To distract myself, I began to count the sun spots, minor lines, and points of discoloration on his forehead. There were at least six, despite the BBCream, but not one clogged pore! I decided he must must be at least thirty, and was about to point this out, when he finished with his ministrations, and leaned back.

"Now that's taken care of," he said, "Let me tell you a story before bed."

"No thank you," I said, "You've done quite enough for today, thank you very much."

He looked hurt. I felt as if I'd just kicked a kitten.

"It's not a children's story," he said. "Really, Sabilla, I tell stories for a living. That's what Cordelia really kept me around for. And you'll like this story. There's murder and mayhem and a hero who's very much like me."

As he pleaded with me, his lovely eyes were starting to shine. He looked beautiful and pitiful at once, and it bewildered me. To tell the truth, I was rather embarrassed by his displays of emotion. He was behaving like a teenager - something I had always tried to avoid at all costs - or like he thought that real life were a play where you scored points with other people by putting on a show.

"Please, Bill. If you can make it through my story without being moved once, I'll leave right after. How's that?"

"Oh, fine," I snapped, sitting down again. "If you promise you'll go at the end of it!"

"I swear by Cordelia's garter, I will go if you haven't shed a tear," he said, "Thank you. Thank you, Bill. It's been such a long time since anyone cared enough to listen -"

"Just start already," I said irritably, as Selene jumped up onto my lap and began to make herself at home. "I'm not going to be here all night."

"Of course. Ahem. Let me see..."

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