The Vampire Recipe
By Tracy Dunham
Five o’clock closing time. Finally. Fall’s somber skies wrapped the old chocolate shop with a gray pall that no amount of sugar or cocoa could shake off. Untying her pink apron, Allis hurried to the front door to pull down the shade with its red “Fresh Chocolates Tomorrow” sign. Langie would be in later to stir up a fresh batch of her creative creations, but Allis was done. Sales today hadn’t been worth the effort to tally, but still, she put the money and receipts in the bank envelope and locked it in the drawer for Langie to pick up when she came in.
Business would pick up closer to Christmas. This lull seemed linked to the lowering skies and bitter winds, early this year. Normally, the bad weather waited until January to swoop in.
Zipping up her down coat, Allis hesitated as she thought she heard a knock. Probably just trash hitting the glass door she decided as she dug her gloves from her pockets. Again, louder this time. A definite rap against the glass, sending shivers down her back. At this rate, the idiot’s hand would shatter the glass, and that would really tick off her boss.
“Hold your horses,” she shouted, hunting for the key to the deadbolt in the cash drawer.
The rapping crescendoed into a frantic beating, sending the pulled canvas shade bouncing. Fumbling with the key in her gloved hands, Allis shouted “Cut it out. We’re closed. Come back tomorrow.”
Glass shards screamed through the air around her like an ice sheet sliding off a glacier. Heart pounding, Allis scrambled backwards, falling on her bottom. Eyes shut, hands in front of her face to protect herself from the shattered door, she wished she’d left five minutes early.
“Don’t hurt me! The cash is in the middle drawer behind the counter. Take it and leave me alone,” she cried, peeping through her gloves to see three large men dressed in black.
She’d expected them to wear masks, but their faces, cold and hard as that of the worst hardened criminal, stared at her with what she could only interpret as contempt.
“Where are the blood chocolates?” The man who growled was shorter than the other two, but a dark power cloaked him.
“What?” Allis thought she’d heard him wrong. “Like I said, take the money, just leave me alone. I won’t tell anyone I saw your faces. Please.” Her throat clogged with fear, she could barely get the words out.
“Blood chocolates, or the town is forfeit. You know the contract.” Swooping beside her, he knelt in the sea of shattered glass and tipped her face with one cold finger under her chin. “I don’t know you. Where is the chocolate maker?”
“Langie? She’ll . . . .” Allis’s voice froze in her throat as the speaker touched her lips.
“The man. The old man.” He removed his hand from her throat.
“You mean Langie’s grandfather? Dead. Last year. Langie took over.”
“Is she of the blood?”
Allis couldn’t imagine what on earth he was talking about. Nothing in her head was working correctly, and she couldn’t breathe. Even the small cuts from the shattered glass door that dotted her exposed skin were nothing compared to the panic that thrummed through her blood. She’d seen them. She’d heard them speak. She was a dead woman.
Hanging at the back of the three was the smallest man of all. Lifting his face from the shadows, he stared at her until she thought she was going to faint.
“Take her. Leave her to be a message to the chocolate maker. This Langie will know we mean business.”
By the time Langie arrived to make her evening’s batch of tomorrow’s business, Allis sprawled, bloodless and rag-dolled, on a bed of crushed glass.
Her throat ripped into a gaping hole.
* * * * *
Fist to her mouth to stifle a scream, Evalangie Delacroix knew she’d never be able to stand knowing she’d been the cause of her best friend’s murder. Ten years. It’d been ten years since they’d shown up. Her grandfather warned her they’d never leave the town alone, but Langie hadn’t believed him. After all, his generation lived in a past that bore the burdens of superstitions and omens no one considered the slightest bit credible if they had any sense at all. On his deathbed he’d made her swear she’d cook the blood chocolates and store them in case they came back. To make him happy, she’d raised her hand to God, never believing for a second she’d have to make good on her promise.
Even before he neared death, he’d told her tales about the bloodkillers who’d arrived to partake of their family recipe. In return, they never bothered the good folk of Wrightsville County. Not a soul lost his mortal life to the vampires. Now, she’d broken her sacred vow to a dying man, and because no blood chocolates reposed in her store room, Allis was dead.
The fist in her mouth tasted of her own blood. She’d bitten through her skin to keep from screaming. Allis. How could this pale, limp figure be Allis?
“If you’ll step outside, I’ll see to her.” A male voice, deep and commanding her, cracked through the horror in her head.
Twirling, Langie jerked her cell phone out of her pocket and fumbled to open it. She had 911 on speed dial. Eyes blurry from tears, she couldn’t see clearly enough to even try to hit the right numbers.
“I was too late to save her, I’m so sorry.” His height overshadowed her. Wrapping her hands in his, he stopped her call.
Langie wished she’d turned on the overhead lights, but then she’d have seen Allis even more clearly. Better that she hadn’t. But the shadows prevented her from seeing his face clearly. All she knew was, she’d never met this man before.
“For the love of God, will you call the police? Who are you, what the hell did you mean, you could have saved her?” Langie stripped off her winter coat and spread it over Allis’ bloodless body. Trembling, she knelt on the glass-covered floor and closed Allis’ blank eyes.
“Are you Evalangie Delacroix? Granddaughter of Pericles Delacroix?”
Then he did the most extraordinary thing. Raising her bitten hand to his nose, he sniffed her skin like a hunting dog.
“No need to tell me. You’re one of his kin. Did you make the blood chocolates?”
Words were beyond her. How did he know about the blood chocolates? She could only shake her head in the negative.
“Good. Tell me how many were here?”
Dressed in a short leather jacket with a long dark scarf wrapped around his throat, he leaned in so closely she could smell his breath. Coffee. Sugar. Once more, all she was capable of was a small shake of her head.
“Did you see them?” he demanded once again.
Langie shook her head. Her brains felt as if they’d explode if she kept looking at Allis.
“Look, you can’t help her. We’ve got to go. They may be watching.” Touching her shoulder, he forced her to look at his face. Anger, concern, but mostly determination emanated from him in waves of heat. She felt his power as if it were a blanket wrapped around her.
“No!” She couldn’t leave Allis alone. This was all her fault. “I have to make the chocolates. In case they come back! I promised my grandfather.”
“That’s why you have to get out of here now. They’ll be back, count on it. Without your blood chocolates, they’ll lose their immunity to the only things that we can use to kill them.”
“And if they don’t get them, they’ll kill us all. That’s what my grandfather said. I didn’t believe him, but now . . .” She couldn’t look at Allis without crying even harder, so she stared at the stranger. His dark eyes. His dark skin. He’d come from somewhere sunny. Somewhere else where she wished she were right now.
The sun hadn’t shone in Wrightsville for a month now. Her skin felt sluggish and gray.
“You believe in them? In vampires? I don’t.” Stunned, she stopped for a second, aware of what she was saying. “I didn’t. But her throat. Allis’ throat. What would do this? Who? It has to be vampires.”
“Come with me now, you’re in shock. You need protection.”
“Me?” Staring at him, she realized she was biting her hand again. “But I can stop them. It doesn’t matter what they are, they’ll stop killing if they eat the chocolates.”
He shook her by the shoulders as if she were a child who wasn’t listening to an important warning. “You can’t. Don’t you see, you’re no match for whoever did this? Believe me, Ms. Delacroix, you need to get yourself out of here. Now.”
“You’re hurting me!” Somewhere deep inside her, she was grateful for the ache in her shoulders, her arms. At least she felt something other than freezing cold.
Sirens, faint but growing closer, sounded in the street. “Come now. You’ll be safe with me.” Throwing his coat over her shoulders, he hustled her through the shattered door.
“But I have to stay. I have to tell them it’s my fault, I didn’t make any blood chocolates in case they came.” Wailing with guilt, Langie let him pull her away from her chocolate shop. “Grandpere made me swear. I broke an oath to the dying. I deserve to pay.”
There, she’d said it. The bare truth. Scary as it was, she’d have to forfeit the rest of her life to placate and appease the beasts her grandfather said roamed the earth with impunity because of her family’s secret recipe for blood chocolates. If she didn’t . . . she couldn’t dwell on the consequences. Her heart beating so hard she thought she’d faint, she clutched the stranger’s sleeve, swaying.
“Oh, hell with it.” Without a by-your-leave, he hoisted her over his shoulder as if she weighed nothing.
“Let me down! What’re you doing?” Kidnapped, she was being kidnapped. Probably he was taking her so he could kill her, just as he’d killed Allis, and she’d been standing there over Allis’ body, talking to him. Screaming, she tried to claw at his face, but her hands disappeared inside his too-long sleeves.
“Saving your life, you nitwit. I’m a vampire killer, believe me, you don’t want to hang around here. They’ll be back.”
Her shivering wouldn’t stop. “They won’t kill me. All they want is their chocolate.”
“And I’m making sure you don’t cook any. Quit fighting, get in and buckle up.” Swinging open the door to a battered Jeep, he dropped her in the passenger’s seat.
She didn’t know why, but she believed him.
“Look, I still don’t believe in vamps, not really. I have to talk to the police, so whoever you are. . .”
“Barrett Allen. Not buyin’ it, so be a good girl and hold on for the ride.” He hopped into the driver’s seat as Langie jerked on the door handle.
“Child locks. Buckle up and sit tight. I’m taking you someplace safe, where they won’t find you.”
She could have sworn he was amused at her antics. “It’s a federal crime to kidnap anyone.”
“Have at it. Oh, one problem. I work for the Feds. Officially.”
“Liar.” But one more glance at his face, and she knew he was telling the truth.
Driving fast, he navigated the small streets of Wrightsville as if he’d grown up there. Red and orange maple leaves fluttered like burning moths in the gutters as he accelerated. Langie watched them swirl into a death spiral as they passed, wondering how frightened Allis had been at the end. Had she known what was going to happen? Was she in horrible pain?
“Don’t think about it.” He reached out for her hand and gave it a quick squeeze.
“I can’t help it. She was my friend. I needed a break, and she offered to give me a couple of hours off a few days a week.” The lump in Langie’s throat hurt so badly she couldn’t breathe.
“They don’t care who they hurt. What they want is all that matters to them. Your grandfather didn’t explain them to you, did he?” Jerking the wheel, he sent the truck lurching to the gutter on the opposite side of the street as a cat darted away from the front wheels. “Watch out, kitty, they’ll drink anything warm and alive.”
Shivering, Langie shut her eyes, but all she saw was Allis’ pale face and blank eyes. Better to keep them open. Turning in her seat so she could see her kidnapper more clearly, she noticed for the first time that, on an objective level, Barrett Allen was handsome. Too dark for her taste, but Allis liked dark men. No, she couldn’t think of Allis in the present tense anymore.
“The police will know it’s my coat over Allis. They’ll think I killed her. We have to go back, so I can explain.”
“No need to explain anything to them. They’ll burn her corpse so it can’t be made undead. They might be a bit rusty, but they know the protocol.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Maybe if she kicked at Barrett, she’d be able to wrest control of the truck away from him. Wiggling closer, she tried to decide where it would hurt the most that she could reach.
“Wrightsville’s finest. They’ve been waiting for this moment since your grandfather died. I’m surprised he didn’t tell you the whole story.”
“He was dying. He didn’t have time.” Scooting back into her original position, she figured she’d hear his delusional stories and decide what to do when the truck slowed down. He had to run out of gas sometime. “What should he have told me?”
Another sharp curve threw Langie to the extent of her seatbelt’s reach, close to his right shoulder. Jerking herself upright, she wondered if the heat burning through her skin came from delayed reaction to Allis’ murder, or being near Barrett.
“Later. You need protection. When they realize you aren’t making their little treats, they’ll come lookin’. And it won’t be pretty.”
She tried a reasonable tone of voice. “So I’ll bake them some chocolates, they’ll go away, and everyone will be safe.”
“Until they show up again. Or, just to play a little game, what if they decide to take you with them? Keep you chained to the stove, so to speak? Baking those goodies until you’re dead?”
“Then they’re out of luck. When I die, so do the chocolates. No one else in my family left to take over.”
“How do you make them?”
Stiffening beside him, Langie crossed her arms on her waist and hugged herself tight. She’d sworn over and over to her grandpere that she’d never divulge the recipe. Never. Not if it meant his death or hers.
“One that keeps these vamps alive a lot longer than they should be. How about adding a little something to kill them, while you’re at it?”
She wanted to laugh. “Not possible.”
“You sure?” Clicking his headlights to their high beams, he turned onto a dirt road, cluttered with years of leaves and broken limbs, hidden between a thick copse of old grown oaks and scrub brush.
“Look, I’m feeling better. Thanks for getting me out of there. I really didn’t want to have to talk to the cops about Allis, but I’m ready to go home.”
He shook his head. “No can do. I need to keep the vamps away from you. They’ll kill you without thinking twice.”
“No, they won’t. They’ll never get their chocolates without me.”
“They’ll find someone else to stir up a batch. Your family doesn’t have the market cornered.” He swept her face quickly to gauge her reaction.
“There’s only me. There might be others, somewhere in the world, but as far as I know, I’m it. The recipe dies with me.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he muttered as the headlamps illuminated an old cabin tucked behind huge American boxwoods. “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”
He parked beside the front door and switched off the ignition. Trees crowded the cabin as if trying to hide it.
“Of course I do. My grandpere showed me how to make them. I just haven’t done it myself, not yet. You’re the one who doesn’t know what you’re doing.” Unbuckling, she braced herself to run as soon as he opened the door to let her out.
“The sad part is, I do. It’d be so much easier to kill you. Believe me when I say, it’s been discussed.”
The flush of heat dropped so quickly she felt frozen to her seat. “What did you say?”
Dark eyes swept her from her waist up to her face and back again. “You heard me. Surely you must know that if you’re dead, the vamps in this clan are vulnerable. They’ll be destroyed, one by one, eventually. When all the chocolate makers are gone, the vamps won’t be able to withstand us anymore.”
“But until they are, innocent people will die. Wrightsville with turn into a ghost town.”
“Or a town of the living dead. They were kind to your friend, they left her to die.”
So cold. She was freezing. Teeth chattering, she rubbed her hands over her face, trying to feel her skin. He was right. Grandpere warned her there were things worse than death if the vamps wanted to get really ugly.
Opening her door, Barrett reached up and took her hands in his. “Delayed shock. Come on, let’s get you beside the fire. I’ll have it going in no time.”
“Where are we?” she chattered. “I don’t know this place.”
“Trade secret.” He almost smiled.
She let him lead her to the door, which was locked with a series of deadbolts and an alarm that looked suspiciously new and like they belonged on an apartment in a high crime neighborhood. No one in Wrightsville used locks like those. They didn’t need to. Kids still rode their bikes down Main Street during rush hour, such as it was, and neighbors expected neighbors to help themselves to sugar or baking soda if they ran out in the middle of baking a cake.
“There’re blankets on the sofa, wrap up while I get the generator going. If you know how to start a fire, have at it. Or leave it for me.”
Standing in the middle of the small room, she realized the decrepit exterior was mean to deceive. Inside, everything smelled new, with a brightly braided rug and clean hearth adding to its welcoming feel. No mold or musty old smells marred the cozy room. Stacks of split oak rested in a neat box to one side of the hearth. If this were a fairy tale, she’d landed in the good fairy’s house.
But Barrett Allen possessed no fairy godmother qualities. Before she could dart for the door, she heard the many locks snick shut. He’d made sure she couldn’t escape. What did he intend on doing with her? She’d made herself more than clear – it was her duty to feed the vampires to save the town. And he’d admitted he thought she might be better off dead than making a batch of blood chocolates.
If he’d been going to kill her, he could have done it by now. Slitting her throat and throwing her body over Allis’ would have been easy. She’d been a mess. Unable to think, to act. But not anymore. Now, her thinking was shooting down the track at a hundred miles an hour. He meant to keep her from doing what she’d sworn to do. No way could she allow him to do that.
Jerking aside the chintz curtains beside the fireplace, she stepped back. A solid wall lay hidden behind the fabric, the logs as thick as any in the room. Testing the door to the other side of the room, she checked out the small bathroom. Not a window, not a vent in sight. Fingers poking and prodding, she sought a chink, a crack, any sign the cabin possessed another way in or out.
Only the door. The door he’d locked to keep her in. She should be very afraid, so why wasn’t she?
* * * * *