Written by Mikel Andrews
You want to be in my wedding?
Okay. You can be my bridesmaid. This wedding is just for pretend—but you can be in my real one someday, okay?
You mean it?
Yeah I mean it. I swear it.
7 Years Ago
Mary had finally unpacked the last thing in her dorm room—a little hand-carved trinket that showed three girls standing on top of the word MAZATLAN. She’d purposefully put off taking it from the box even though her hand had grazed it several times throughout the afternoon. She kind of hoped it would’ve broke in the process. She shouldn’t have even packed it.
Mary remembered when Jess, Elise, and she had found the souvenirs in a marketplace in Mexico during a summer study abroad trip their sophomore year. At the time it seemed like fate. Three matching souvenirs depicting three girls on vacation. Three best friends, hands raised like they were about to dive into a waterfall.
The Holy Trinity.
Now, though, it was just a piece of wood that meant nothing.
Mary wondered what Jess was doing right then. At this hour, the girl was probably still in the gym, practicing her ass off. That was Jess. Never gave up, did she?
Giving up is my job.
Of course Mary still felt guilty for costing the girls their scholarship. Maybe Legs could find another way to get to college, but Jess? Damn. That girl was going to have to make a deal with the devil to find something by graduation.
She had to let it go. If Jess had been offered the scholarship that Mary had been offered, she’d have done the exact same thing.
“Hey, Pampers,” said a voice from the open doorway. Ali, the girl from 308 that had helped Mary find her room. “You done playing Susie Homemaker in here?”
Mary smiled. Pampers. She got that she was the baby of the floor—technically, she wasn’t finished with high school yet—but she was used to dishing out the nicknames.
“Yeah,” Mary replied, setting the trinket next to the room phone. “Just finished.”
“Good,” Ali said. “There’s a party at Kappa House and we’re about three shots behind.”
Mary fumbled over her words. “Oh, I—I don’t drink.”
“Yeah,” Ali laughed. “That’s what they all say.”
* * *
The frat party was about what she expected. A beautiful old house, gutted and filled in with neon beer signs and paraphernalia, bursting at the seams with drunk kids. She’d been to a party before. It was just like high school, except bigger, and people were slightly less worried their parents were going to barge in the front door.
What she hadn’t expected was the cute boy with the freckles that brought her a can of root beer. Even opened it for her.
Not every Kappa drinks booze, he’d said with a smile. Mary liked him instantly. His name was Toby. He was a photographer who covered concerts for the entertainment section of the campus paper, was the youngest of three boys, wasn’t a Bowie fan, but really dug Queen Bitch, and apparently carried around a pocket full of rohypnol.
Mary came to in an unfinished basement. Maybe the Kappa House, maybe not. Maybe the same night, maybe not. Maybe alive, maybe not.
The only thing she knew for sure was that the only piece of clothing left on her body was her bra, and the cute boy with freckles that didn’t drink booze was lapping away at a surgical slash to the left of her bellybutton. Strangely enough, her first thought was Where’s the knife?
Mary tried to scream, but her vocal cords hadn’t quite woken up yet. Neither had her arms or legs. Not that it mattered. Her wrists were tied to the headboard with tightly-wound sheets. Frozen, she watched as Toby smeared her blood over his sharply-pointed teeth with a freakishly long tongue. His eyes were pure white, like something that had lived in a cave all its life.
Silently, she prayed to be anywhere else. Prayed that she would die. Prayed that, at the very least, she could just fall back asleep.
Jess, she thought. I should have stayed.
As his tongue probed deeper into the wound, Mary could feel herself blacking out in place of the pain.
Just before she was gone entirely, there was a cracking sound. Splintering wood. She felt Toby’s body lift off of hers. Groggily, Mary turned her head towards the clatter. A girl in black leather stood in the doorway. Her hair was short, nearly buzzed, and Mary couldn’t tell if it was makeup around her eyes or lack of sleep.
Toby’s jaw unhinged and he screamed a high-pitch shriek in the girl’s direction.
The girl’s face made a disgusted frown. “You better bite that tongue of yours before I do it for you.”
Toby looked confused, but only for a second. In a flash, the girl brought his chin to her knee. The tongue flopped to the floor. As he squealed, the girl pulled a sharp piece of wood from her boot—the grip of a baseball bat?—and dropped the business end down through his back. Toby dropped beneath Mary’s line of sight. She thought she saw a glow at the edge of the mattress, but it might’ve been the drugs.
The room went silent.
The girl walked to the bed, and threw a sheet over Mary’s lower half. Then she went about undoing the knots around Mary’s wrists
“Sorry I wasn’t sooner,” she said remorsefully. “I wasn’t sure where he took you.”
Mary’s freed hands went to her throat. She coughed hoarsely. Her windpipe felt like it was coated with sandpaper.
The girl pulled a flask from a pocket and handed it to Mary. Mary shook her head.
“It’s all I got,” the girl told her. “Just enough to wet your whistle. The cottonmouth will wear off eventually.”
Reluctantly, Mary forced herself upright and took a swig. She grimaced and coughed, but this time there was sound. “Whiskey?”
“Holy Whiskey,” the girl said. “Just had it blessed this morning.”
“You—you had someone bless your booze?” Mary asked weakly.
“Yeah,” the girl answered. “Sort of a one-last-fuck-you in case I get bitten.”
The girl nodded. “Yeah. Vampires can’t get drunk like we can, but they found a loophole. Plus, the thinner the blood, the faster they can chug. So if they do get me, they won’t even know they’re drinkin’ holy til they’re about six pints deep.”
“Vampires,” Mary muttered.
“Yep.” The girl nodded at the flask. “And I can tell by the way you’re not bursting into flames, that creep didn’t make you into one yet. So, you know, go you.”
Tears flowed down Mary’s face. She didn’t want them to, but they weren’t going to hold back. She clutched the sheets closer to her abdomen. Her blood hadn’t completely soaked through, so that was a silver lining.
“It’s gonna be okay,” the girl soothed. “My name’s Candy, by the way.”
Mary sniffled. “Is that your real name?”
“Does it matter?”
It didn’t. This girl, whatever her name was, had saved her. Mary wished she’d been a little more punctual, sure, but mostly she just wished this had never happened to her. That it never happened to anyone. That these things didn’t exist.
She rubbed her thumb over the raised cross on the front of the flask. “I want to kill them. All of them. Every last one.” She took a long, burning pull from the flask.
“Do you want me to show you how?” Candy said quietly.
A Month Ago
Not only could she hear the phone vibrating, but she could feel it through the mattress. She groaned and groped at the nightstand, succeeding in only spilling the remains of an open Jameson bottle.
“Shit,” Mary growled.
No phone. The buzzing continued elsewhere. She still felt it. Her mouth tasted like stale tobacco and fire. She looked at the shirtless body lying to her right and jabbed a hard elbow into the guy’s back.
“Hmm?” he uttered.
“You’re on my phone,” she said. “Get off.” When he didn’t comply, she simply kicked him onto the floor. He woke fully, sending out a string of curses.
Mary ignored him and grabbed the phone. The caller ID said Jess. She blinked a couple of times, thinking the name would clarify itself into someone else. Honestly, she didn’t think that number was still in her contacts.
Mr. Last Call was still cussing her out. She looked at the digital clock on his side of the bed. Almost three in the morning. Why would Jess be calling her now?
Why would Jess be calling her at all?
“I have to take this,” she told him. “Get out.”
“This is my fucking apartment!” he hissed in her face.
She jerked forward, headbutting him out cold. “Thank you.” Mary hit Answer. “Hello?”
“I know,” Mary said. “What’s up?”
“I can’t sleep.”
“Look, I-I know this is weird. We haven’t talked in—God, what’s it been?”
Jess snorted. “Yeah. Well, I—well, here’s the thing—it’s just—”
“Out with it, Butterscotch,” Mary said. She couldn’t believe how fast the nickname came back to her, or how easily it rolled off her tongue. It’s what Jess’s hair reminded her of. Butterscotch and chocolate, melted.
Jess snorted again. “I’m getting married.”
Mary hid her inhalation. “Oh. Congrats, I guess.”
“Soon,” Jess went on. “Too soon. And—and I wasn’t going to ask—look, I know it’s dumb, but I can’t stop thinking about that day.”
Mary found a cigarette and lit it. “What day?”
“The day we met,” Jess explained. “By the creek.”
“Yeah, and—well, you probably don’t remember—but I swore you’d be in my wedding.”
Mary blew smoke out between her lips, waiting. “Are you drunk or something?”
Jess laughed. “Not nearly enough.”
Mary laughed. She’d almost forgotten what it sounded like. “Jess, you don’t have to do this. That was a long time ago. A really long time ago. And what I did—breaking up the band—I know that sucked, but—”
“Those things I said, when we were at Perks. The day you told us you were leaving,” Jess interrupted. “I should’ve been happy for you. And, frankly, if I’d have gone to Macalester, I never would’ve met Eric. So, technically, I wouldn’t even be getting married if it wasn’t for you.”
Mary laughed again—she’d have to mark this date on a calendar. “Jess, that’s—come on—”
“Mary, you saved my life down at the creek, do you get that? The current had me, I felt it,” Jess said. Her voice wavered and cracked. “I—I was already saying goodbye to my parents when I felt your hand.”
Holding in a puff of smoke, Mary bit her lip.
Jess didn’t wait for her. “I want you in my wedding. I want you there, Mary. Please. I can’t make you my Maid of Honor like I said I would—that’s already Danica—and I know it’s late notice, but—I need you there, Mary. You were my best friend. Are.”
Mary sighed. “I—look, I’ll think about it, okay?”
“I’ll take it,” Jess laughed. “Thank you. You know, at the very least, you could make the bachelorette party.”
Mary huffed. “That’s a definite no.”
“Oh, come on,” Jess pressed. “Elise will be there. And Danica found this little party bus that’s going to take us around our old stomping ground.”
“Yeah, and all the little surrounding hick towns. Doesn’t that sound like too much fun?”
“Cloyingly,” Mary said flatly.
Jess’s sigh crackled through the earpiece. “Alright, I don’t need to put any more on your plate. I just—more than anything, I needed to say I’m sorry. How I acted and how I was—that’s not me anymore.”
“It wasn’t you then, Butterscotch,” Mary answered. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Yeah. Look, don’t be a stranger, Mary. Keep in touch. And think about what I asked.”
Mary nodded, swallowing a lump in her throat. “Night, Jess.”
The call was over a good five minutes before Mary moved. Her cigarette burned almost all the way to her lips. She stood up, seeing shooting stars in the dark. She fumbled for the bottle of Jameson and swigged what was left. She stared at the guy on the floor, snoring away with his pants around his ankles.
“No,” she told him, shaking her head. “There’s no chance in hell I’m going.”
She heard the clicks of the bathroom door locking behind her the instant it closed. She smiled. Good girl. Mary knew the minute she’d seen Natalie standing awkwardly in her black party dress that she liked her. Something about her reminded Mary of herself when she was much younger.
Her smile disappeared.
Head in the game.
She could hear the shrieks and screams of the vamps in the bar. Nails on a chalkboard. She was over it now after so many years. Now that bloodcurdling sound that came up out of their empty lungs was just annoying. A gnat in your ear when you’re trying to sleep.
But this was a lot of gnats, even for Mary. She’d never seen so many vamps in one place.
Beyond the bathroom hallway, the bar was a storm of activity. Pretty boys in pretty shirts swarmed over every surface. They hung from the rafters, they perched on the banisters. They swirled around the beautiful unconscious girl they’d strung up from a light fixture above a pool table.
Jess had scratches all over her face. Cuts. Her jaw hung slack. Was it broken?
Truthfully, Mary was surprised Jess was still alive. After all, these things had a bad temper and not a lot going on in the morality department. If they wanted something, they took it.
Mary winced. The scar on her stomach burned cold.
Slinking across the back wall, she made her way to an old-time jukebox. Across the bar, was its digital brother, touchscreen glowing and blinking, begging for money.
Would’ve been perfect if it wasn’t surrounded.
Mary wasn’t even sure if the old jukebox was functioning. Maybe it was just a fancy lamp now. Either way, she wasn’t getting to the newer model. Not discretely anyway. She didn’t doubt her ability to cut a path across the bar, taking them out one at a time, but that would defeat the purpose. A slow burn like that would only give them the chance to take turns draining Jess while Mary fought her way to the pool table.
No, she needed their undivided attention. All of them. All at once. Her only shot was to light a flare. Get all the moths with one flame. She just had to pick the right one.
Mary scanned over the yellowed inserts, reading song title after song title.
Total Eclipse of the Heart? She Works Hard for the Money? Come on Eileen?
Jesus, when was the last time this thing was updated?
Her eyes landed on one.
Oh, God. She sighed. It’ll have to do.
She popped in a couple quarters and hit G9. The jukebox shook out its cobwebs and the song started.
Their shrieks stopped like a record skip. Heads turned quick. If they were human, their necks would’ve snapped in two.
Mary smiled. “Hi, boys.”
She plucked the sparkly pink BRIDE tiara from the inside pocket of her leather jacket. She didn’t remember the exact bar that she’d nabbed the gaudy thing from Jess, but it was early on. Jess hadn’t even noticed.
Mary placed the tiara on her head, tucking it carefully between fiery red strands. Cold, white eyes stared at her from every direction, starting round then narrowing to slits.
“I think you got the wrong girl,” Mary told them, nodding at Jess. “Aren’t you looking for me?”
All the pretty boys with their pretty teeth swarmed her, leaving Jess dangling in the green glow of the billiards table. From above, they dropped in, landing like cats. The hopped off bar tables. They poured into the empty spaces of the bar, filling the place like a flood of popped collars and creamy skin.
Mary adjusted the tiara and brandished her favorite weapon. A little wood souvenir from a trip she barely remembered. She palmed it like a brass knuckle, so that three hand-carved girls, stained red from repeated use, pushed between her fingers.
As the chorus closed in, her staked fist connected with the head of the pack, gouging his pearly white eyes with a sickening, satisfying smack.
“Greetings from Mazatlan, bitch.”
After that, instinct took over.
Mary swept through them, whirling like a dust devil. She ducked a punch and used the crouch to retrieve a knife from her boot, skyrocketing up from the floor, and severing a jugular with the blade.
Candy had taught her that nothing was more effective than a wooden stake to the heart. Whether it was some mystical connection to the elemental material, or they just had an allergy to oak, a stake to the heart could take them down quick.
But it wasn’t the only way to kill them.
Vampires ran on blood. It was their fuel. Bleed them out and you empty their tank, just like a human. Except most humans didn’t keep on coming once they were stuck, that part was different. But Candy assured her that it was searingly painful for a vamp to feel his life drain away from a bleed-out. A hundred times worse than it felt for a human.
As Candy put it: Imagine going to bed hungry. Starving, like you haven’t eaten in weeks. And then, just before you fall asleep, someone pours acid down your throat.
So even though it was a little more risky, Mary liked using the knife.
She chucked it into another throat, and roundhoused it deeper, cartwheeling over the fallen body to get it back.
Oh yeah. Mary really liked the knife.
She moved through them like running through a forest. They were just obstacles to her, not threats. Speed bumps, not roadblocks.
But even a speed bump could take a off a hubcap or two.
Mary felt long nails graze her face, stinging her cheeks like saltwater. But most of those fingers ended up stumps. She liked playing with them, cat and mouse, but sometimes she straight-up planted her little souvenir right in their fucking chests, taking an extra moment to watch the white hot glow appear at the back of their screaming throats.
Every time Mary saw that light, it was like she got a little piece of herself back. A little sliver of who she was at seventeen. Before college. Before the Kappa House. Before Toby.
She sent her knife through a pair of cheeks, laterally, slashing a grin impossibly wide.
I loved volleyball. And geometry.
She put a spiked fist up through a chin.
I loved car rides down Main Street going nowhere on a Friday night.
She slashed an artery.
I loved dancing on the hood of Elise’s car at midnight—
Shattered fangs on the edge of a table.
—listening to whatever tape was in the deck—
Bent a knee the wrong way.
—Jess screaming the lyrics, holding both my hands like a total freak—
Mary took another head clean off. “You took that from me!”
Even though her goal was the pool table, she never made a move towards Jess. She could play aloof a few more minutes. She’d done it all night, hadn’t she? The vamps had eyes everywhere. The bus driver. The old timer at the first bar. The bartender at the second. This route had been completely staked out.
No pun intended.
Mary was almost to the pool table. She’d danced another few rounds, tying up her loose ends. The cat always got tired of its mice.
One last mouse scurried in between her and Jess. The vamp’s lower jaw was missing, its fangs hanging above the void like icicles. Not even Mary knew where the other half of its mouth was. She must’ve really been in the zone. Somehow the asshole still managed to hiss in her face, spattering her with hot blood.
She wiped it away. “Hey, Smiley? I thought I told you—not the moneymaker.”
Her knife-grip arced over her head buried in the top of his skull. She didn’t stop until he was pinned to the floor, her frame hunched over him as she screamed.
As her cry died out, she dialed back to a whisper.
“Just so we’re clear,” she told the writhing vamp, “that was for Candy. She really hated you fuckers.”
From there, Mary leaped nimbly onto the felt surface of the pool table. She looked at the grisly meatpacking plant behind her and decided not to wake Jess up quite yet. Mary wondered if she’d blacked out from the drinks they were feeding her, passed out from fear, or if they’d drugged her. She untangled Jess’s wrists from the complex coil of the lamp wire.
Jess in her arms, Mary hopped down from the table and carried the girl back to the bathroom hallway, stepping over heads like she was sneaking through a pumpkin patch.
With a moan, Jess came to. “Mary?”
“Keep your eyes shut, Jess.”
Jess seemed to slip out of consciousness again, but then muttered. “You came back for me.”
Jess swallowed drily. “You always do.” Then her head rolled back. Mary just kept trudging towards the bathroom door. Hopefully Natalie had kept it secure.
She knocked with the toe of her boot. “Open up!”
“Who is it?” Natalie.
“The Tooth Fairy,” Mary replied, hefting Jess. “Open the goddamn door, Nat.”
The locks clinked and clacked and finally the door swung open. The girls’ faces all went white when they saw Mary painted in red, but they quickly forgot when they saw Jess. They swarmed her, tugging her from Mary’s reluctant grip and laying her gently on the cold tile floor. Elise sobbed into Jess’s butterscotch curls. Danica held her throat, and let thick mascara tears roll down her cheeks. Natalie just fell to her knees.
Mary thought about throwing Danica against a mirror and drilling her with questions, but her voicebox probably wasn’t up to answering anyway. Plus, the way Elise was repeating I’m so sorry made Mary wonder if she’d been barking up the wrong tree.
“Did they leave?” Natalie asked.
Mary shrugged. “More or less.”
Natalie nodded. “Thank you. You saved my sister.”
Elise came up for air. She looked at Mary. “Yes, thank you. Thank God you were here.”
Mary looked away. “Not so sure about that.”
Elise’s face scrunched up with another rack of sobs. “You’re a good friend, Mary.”
Good friend? Mary looked at Danica’s throat. At Natalie’s bloody knees. At Elise shaking. At Jess unconscious on a bathroom floor in a hick bar in the middle of nowhere.
“Yeah,” she said, clearing her throat. “Sure I am.”
2 Weeks Ago
They burst into the bathroom giggling, Mary and him. At least it was clean. Cleanish. He kissed his way up her throat. He didn’t have to circle yes on a note for Mary to know that he wanted her. Bad. He clutched her rear and pushed her up onto the wash basin, immediately hiking up her skirt.
She stayed his hand. “Easy, boy.” She didn’t get a name. She rarely did.
She put a heel on his chest and gave him a playful kick onto the floor.
He stared up at her, confused.
Slowly, deliberately, Mary sauntered to the door and locked it. Then she found the dimmer switch on the light panel and turned it all the way up. The room grew uncomfortably bright.
The man shielded his eyes. “What the hell?”
“Sssh,” she hissed. “This is how I like it.”
She pulled her flask from her pocket, feeling the familiar cross on the exterior. She took a large pull but didn’t swallow. She stepped over him, and planted herself on his crotch forcefully.
He grunted, unsure whether to love it or hate it.
Mary leaned in close, their noses almost touching. Then she spit whiskey in his face.
“I get that a lot.”
The boils began to appear on his skin almost instantly. She cinched his arms to his sides with her thighs. His eyes rolled back to the whites and his fangs grew in, splitting his gums. His Gene Simmons tongue lashed like it held a jackknife.
“This is how it’s going to work, bloodsucker,” Mary told him. “I ask, you answer. You don’t answer, I spit. I run out of whiskey, conversation’s over and I go ask somebody who’s still alive—are we clear?”
Mary shook her head. “That’s not very ladylike.” She filled her mouth with Holy Jameson and sprayed it on his face like napalm. He screamed and fought her grip.
“What’s the Last Stop?” she demanded.
“Go to hell!”
Mary grinned a sinister grin. Instead of pouring the whiskey into her mouth, she pushed the vamp’s head back and poured it into his right nostril.
His shriek sent a crack through the mirror.
“You’re wasting whiskey,” Mary told him. “The Last Stop. Talk.”
He growled—or gurgled. “It’s a bus service we own. A party bus.”
Mary’s insides turned cold. “Party bus.”
“Yeah, you know,” he went on. “Picks up college kids, takes’em around to small town bars, drives’em back to campus.”
“And sometimes it doesn’t.”
The vampire grinned. “And sometimes it doesn’t.”
“What’s so special about this one?” Mary demanded. “Why are all the vamps talking about it?”
“Last Stop booked a bachelorette party,” he coughed. “There’s nothing sweeter than a bride before her wedding, and everyone wants a taste. There won’t be a feeding like this for years.”
It took every ounce of restraint not to finish him right there. In due time, of course, but she thought she might still need more intel. First, though, Mary had a phone call to make.
She rose, keeping the flask pressed to his face with her boot. “Not a peep.” The spout dangled precariously above his left eye.
Mary swiped through her call log while the vamp squirmed underfoot. Jess’s name should’ve still been at the top. Bingo. “Pick up, pick up.“
I have to warn her. She’s walking into a slaughterhouse–
Jess answered on the third ring. “Hello?”
“Jess, it’s Mary,” she said. “There’s something I have to tell you–your bachelorette party–”
Mary stared down at the burned face struggling beneath her heel.
There won’t be a feeding like this for years.
Her voice rearranged in her throat. She sighed into the receiver. “Is it too late to RSVP?”
Jess’s squeal nearly blew out the phone speaker. The girl was waxing endless niceties and thank-yous. Mary felt her stomach churn.
“Yeah, okay,” she told Jess. “And how ’bout we keep it classy? Black dresses all around? Perfect. Okay, I gotta run. I’m…on a date.”
The call ended. Mary popped a squat on the vamp, putting her knee into his gut.
He groaned, then forced a laugh. “Using your friends as bait? That’s cold, even for a hunter.”
“They’re not my friends.” Not anymore. “One last question.”
“What’s that?” he rasped.
Mary groped for something in her inside pocket. “Have you ever been to Mazatlan?”