Chapter 5: See You at the Zoo

A soft, repetitive pressure to my lips woke me as Sandy Paws pawed at my mouth and nose. When my eyes opened, she moved forward, nuzzled my forehead, and purred. I scratched her head, chuckling to myself and yawning. Then my nose wrinkled as the stench of fresh, unburied cat poop filled my bedroom. Sandy’s preferred method of asserting dominance over her mommy popped up every time I left her food bowl empty beyond feeding time. I scratched her eyebrows and kissed her forehead before getting up to feed her and make my coffee.

With my I Violate the Hays Code coffee mug filled with my favorite liquid personality enhancer, I returned to the bedroom to see my phone blowing up with text messages. It was almost two in the afternoon. Fuck! I overslept. I got in right before midnight, removed my makeup, and collapsed onto my bed. Sitting on my bed, I sipped my black coffee while scrolling through the string of texts Destiny left me this morning.

“Are you home yet?” Yes, I’m home.

“Are you awake yet? I guess you’re not since you didn’t answer my last text.” Those instincts are as sharp as ever, Des.

“Are you alive? I mean alive-alive, like are you still a human?” I chuckled at that one. Yes, I am still human.

“But did she taste your blood?” No, she didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer. I mean that seems forward for a first rendezvous, right?

“Did she introduce you to her family or any in her clan?” No. It was just us. And it was nice.

“Did you have sex? Was it kinky?” No, we didn’t do anything.

“Did you agree to remain in Austria and be her sex slave?” I blushed at that one.

“Okay, all kidding aside, did you have a good time, and are you safe? Also, we got the translation back from Hanau.”

I responded to that text. “Yes, I had a great time and got her number. And before you ask, yes, I gave her mine. No, we didn’t kiss, but we touched a few times. It felt nice. I’ll be in the office in an hour. See you then.”

A yawn pushed through my lips before I saw a single voicemail notification from a number in Austria that came in about two hours ago. Did she call me? The sun wasn’t down then, meaning it couldn’t be her. Could it? I checked the card she gave me, and it was her personal number. She called me. This had to be bad. Well, at least we had one good night.

“Samantha—no, Sam, I wanted to wish you a good morning, but I think I misjudged the time difference between our homes. I had a lovely time last night, and I would, should you be willing and available, like to see you again soon. I…” There was a pause that ended with a sigh. “Yes, Martin, I am ready for the meeting with the heads of the other families in my clan. Fine, I will drink mineral water instead of wine during this meeting. Forgive me, I must go. Chat soon?”

I fired off a quick text. “Hey! Just woke up. If you’re still up when I get off work, I’ll text you. I don’t know how long your meetings last. I’d like to have another night with you.” Cringing, I deleted the last sentence and replaced it. “I’d like to see you again too.”

I ate a quick lunch, dressed, and grabbed a large coffee on my way to the office. The end credits song from Fruits Basket—at least I think that’s the anime it was from—blared from inside my office. Destiny shoved a handful of soggy McDonalds’ fries into her mouth as I opened the door. A small plsatic statue of Powerpuff Girls villain Mojo Jojo stared at the office door. She silenced the music, and I smelled the ginger and honey of her tea. I smiled, remembering the undertones of Carmilla’s perfume.

“You look rested. Guess not waking until two will do that for you.”

I yawned into my coffee. “I don’t feel rested. And I got in before midnight.”

Destiny sipped her tea from her Zukara for Life mug. “So do I need to stock the fridge with a few different brands of synthoflavin until you find your favorite?”

I shook my head and rolled my eyes. Synthetic blood—one of the first products to hit the supernatural markets after the Treaty. This benefited those vampires who wanted to blend in with mortal society without risking being staked. It also helped vegan vampires gain sustenance without the moral dilemma of feeding on animals. Some brands mimicked Capri Sun bags, while others pretended to be soda or energy drinks.

“I’m not a vampire, Des. We didn’t even kiss.”

“So what all did you do? Sit and drink? That sounds dull.”

I sighed wistfully. “We had some wine, sure. But then we picnicked on the shore of Lake Constance, talked, and watched the sunrise. And then she called me this morning while I was asleep. So, about that translation?”

Destiny waved her hand in front of her face and then handed me an overstuffed brown envelope. “Here’s the translation. We’ll get to that, but first, let’s talk about how you… Oh! You used the Four Winds as a travel hub. Now if you just spent some time training and learning about teleportation magic…”

“No. No. I will not become a fucking wizard who can teleport anywhere in the fucking world whenever she wants to but doesn’t find the fucking time to spend with the people she loves. I won’t become like my fucking father.”

My hands trembled as I spoke. I sat on the corner of Destiny’s desk, and she placed her hand on the small of my back. “It’s okay, Sam. I mean, if you use teleportation magic to visit your girlfriend, you’re using it to spend time with people you love.”

I shook my head as I opened the envelope containing the translation of Masilda Walser’s diary. “She’s not my girlfriend. We spent one evening together. That’s it.”

She whistled and scrolled through the text messages on her phone. “Well, according to this text message, you two exchanged phone numbers. Look, I’m not saying you should drive a U-Haul through a teleportation circle—if that were even possible. I mean, I guess if the circle were large enough it would be, right? Anyway, maybe you should consider this to speed up, simplify, and lower the cost of long distance dating. So what’s the translation say?”

“You haven’t read over it?” I pulled the pages from the envelope.

“Nah. I figured I’d wait for you.” And then, as she filled her mouth with Chicken McNuggets, she said, “Besides, UberEATS showed up.”

I nodded. Handing her half of what felt like half a ream of paper, we set about poring through the translation provided by some of Destiny’s former colleagues in Hanau. From the selections I read, my hunch seemed right. It was a liderc. Translating via Google was clunky and slow, but it seemed pretty accurate. I got the general sense of things, if not the full details. I turned the page to the last entry in my section, ready to put the case to bed.

And then Destiny whistled. “Hey, Sam, did you see this when you went through the original the other day?”

She pointed to one of the older entries in the stack, dated from after the one mentioning the making of a witch’s bottle to deal with the liderc. They gained some new neighbors in the house across the street, the O’Broins. A good Irish name. As I went through the entries, I noticed a moment from friendly neighbors who partied and drank together to a series of issues over the O’Broins’ sheep grazing in the Walsers’ yard to—holy fuckwaffles!—the Walsers’ son knocking up the O’Broins’ daughter and refusing to marry her. That was a huge deal back then, and I know quite a few Irish families for whom that would still be a major incident today.

Destiny and I shared a look that recognized that we were reading what would still be juicy gossip today, but my stomach turned sour, knowing what angered Irishmen can do. As the situation worsened, the O’Broins sent their daughter to a maternity home. Seems the young girl never returned home, as she died during childbirth. At that point, Connor O’Broin demanded restitution, which the Walsers refused. And hostilities grew until the O’Broins got caught writing something in Irish Gaelic on the western wall of the Walser home.

After that, things went to shit. The police ran the O’Broins out of town, which could have ended worse for them. But the Walsers started having more supernatural issues like those Cassie, her boyfriend, and I have experienced. This creature, which she described as a hungry dwarf, also started attacking the neighbors who shared property with the Walsers. Oh fuck. And then she described making another witch’s bottle with a Jovian Seal in order to control and bind this spirit.

“What the fuck did I just set free?”

“I don’t know, Sam. We’ve got to figure it out.” Destiny started typing an email. “And we’ve got to warn the Johnsons.”

As the waning moon floated in the night sky, six carriages drawn by dapple gray horses and two long, black limousines sat in Castle Karnstein’s front courtyard. Armed guards patrolled the area. The keep’s wooden double doors opened, and the eight family elders, some of them vampires whose age neared a millennium, exited along with their attendants. Martin, the Karnstein family’s estate steward, watched as they departed. When the last one left, he uncorked a bottle of an 1827 Sanguinovese from Vienna, poured it into a crystal decanter, and fetched a pair of glasses while the wine aerated. After half an hour, he places the glasses and the decanter on a silver tray and ascended the stone stairs to the drawing room where Countess Karnstein sat, slumped in one of the two burgundy crushed velvet and mahogany armchairs that sat before the stone hearth. He set the tray on the small side table, poured wine into the glasses, and handed Carmilla one glass before sitting in the other armchair.

“That was quite the meeting with the heads of the families, no?”

Carmilla exhaled, nodded, and drained half of her wine. She massaged her temples. “Thank you, Martin. Even after a century of leading my clan, these meetings are so draining.”

He nodded, sipping his own wine. “As a leader, you are a fledgling. It doesn’t help that you are centuries younger than they are and have proposed several unorthodox though forward-thinking changes to how our clan should operate. Give them time.”

Carmilla’s sigh glided into a growling groan as her head flopped onto her left shoulder. “I’m too young. I’m a woman—no, a little girl in her father’s chair—too progressive, disrespectful of our history and traditions. They have neither forgiven me for nor forgotten about what happened to Annalena and Elisa. As if I have forgotten my mistake that cost me my dearest sister and my love. I am too much of me and not enough of my father.”

Martin paused before responding. “You are young, my Countess. Your indiscretion and the ensuing riot that led to your sister’s death and the burning of much of the village of Karnsburg was nearly two centuries ago, but for our kind—especially those of us who have either neared or surpassed a millennium in age—two centuries feels like only a few weeks. For you, two centuries comprises most of your vampiric life. For those who are…”

“Stuck in the Nineteenth Century.”

Carmilla rolled her eyes as Martin spoke. He bit his tongue and nodded. He sipped his wine as she sighed again. “Yes. Well, then you can see how your forward-thinking mindset could scare them.”

“Does it scare you, Martin?” Her voice trembled as she spoke, turning her face toward him. Her eyes remained unblinking as her lip trembled.

He softened his stern, ancient face. “At first, your progressive outlook did concern me. I have had the benefit of being at your side, watching as your passions have matured and become tempered by knowledge, witnessed as you have grown skilled as a negotiator and a compromiser, and done much good to help a greater number of people than either your father or your grandfather has helped. Give them time, my Countess. They will come around.”

Carmilla snorted and then drained her glass. Martin refilled it. Carmilla despised the emotions meeting with the heads of the families in the Karnstein-Bertholt clan evoked. The wine glass trembled as she choked its stem. She stared into the burgundy velvet surface of the blood wine. I was careful. Annalena was alive when I left her bedroom before sunrise. I know she was, but I was mistaken, apparently. I lost her and my dear sister for that lapse in judgment. And I have paid dearly for that mistake—even after I returned from my imprisonment in Romania.

The allegretto from Schubert’s Piano Sonata in C Major sounded from Carmilla’s office. Surprised that someone would send her a text message, she rose and walked to the office. She smiled to see Samantha Hain’s name attached to the text message that said, “Hey, just got home from work. If you’d like to talk, I’m available.”

Carmilla typed the words, “May I call you,” into her phone but deleted it before she sent it. She stared at the message, her mind racing between her desire to respond and her fear of repeating the mistake that ended Annalena’s life. She failed to notice Martin read the message over her shoulder as he stood behind her, a wineglass in his hand. He sipped his wine in silence for five minutes before he moved to face her.

“So, have we entered the phase of the modern relationship where we pine while refusing to speak to her?”

Carmilla narrowed her eyes and glared. “I am not refusing to speak to her, Martin. I am merely contemplating both the proper response and the best form of delivery for that response.”

Martin sat in the mahogany chair in front of Carmilla’s desk and drained his glass. He nodded, placed the glass on her desk, and folded his arms in his lap. “Then, my Countess, please humor me by reminding my forgetful, ancient mind how you felt upon returning from your rendezvous with Miss Hain on Friday.”

“I told you, Martin. I had a lovely time with Samantha.” She sipped her wine and avoided his gaze.

“Ah, of course,” he said. “I should probably speak with Herr Doktor Bertholt then, as my memory appears to be failing me. I recall you dancing around the castle, staying awake well into the daylight hours, and sketching Miss Hain’s face from memory. But I suppose one could assume those are signs of what was merely a lovely time.”

Carmilla sighed. Her voice softened to a whisper. “I did have a lovely time, Martin. Your memory is as sharp as your tongue. I am going to contact her. I am. It is—I only wish—I do not want to remind her of how much older than her I am by calling while text messaging is so impersonal.”

“Can you accomplish all you desire by sending text messages?”

“I can convey the information I wish to send, yes.”

Martin raised a single eyebrow. “Can you accomplish all you desire by sending text messages?”

“I can…” Carmilla’s voice trailed to silence. After a brief pause, she said, “I cannot hear her voice.”

Martin rose and collected both empty wine glasses. He bowed, and, as he turned to exit her office, he said, “Then you have your answer. I will grant you privacy.”

He closed the door behind him. Carmilla called Sam. The phone rang once. Carmilla waited. It rang twice. She must not be near her phone. Three times. This was a bad idea. I should end the call. Four times. She was only being polite. She slid the phone away from her ear and then heard Sam’s voice.

“Hello. Carmilla? Is that you?”

“Yes!” Carmilla paused, focused, and lowered her voice. “Yes, Samantha—Sam—is it acceptable to call you? I can switch to text messaging if you would prefer that.”

Sam blushed and bit her lower lip when Carmilla said her full name. She ran her fingers through her hair. “No, it’s good to hear your voice. Maybe next time we could use FaceTime or Skype so we could see each other. So how was your meeting?”

They talked long into the night, sharing information about their days and general thoughts on life. The discussion shifted to family, and both mentioned missing their parents—even if they both shared a strained relationship with their father. Carmilla missed her sister as much as Sam missed her mother. Carmilla smiled and twirled her hair when Sam laughed. Sam’s smile beamed when Carmilla reminisced about how she used to sneak out of the castle to play with village girls or wander the mountains and forests.

“Those forests sound gorgeous,” Sam said. While they talked, she made herself a grilled cheese sandwich and a thermos of tomato soup. “I mean, that beach by the lake we picnicked at on Friday was gorgeous, so I can only imagine how much I’d love the forests around it.”

Carmilla smiled. “I would love to show you more of my country, if you were so willing.”

“Oh, I’m willing.” Sam’s words displayed exuberant excitement. “It’s just that I’ve got some court dates for my clients and a strange development in my Full Moon Special that needs some attention. But—I don’t know if you’d be able to get over here and be out during the day—our zoo just announced the birth of snow leopard cubs who’ll make their public debut in a week. We’ve also got a growing art scene, and gallery showings are after sunset.”

“I appreciate your offering of a nocturnal event, Sam. However, I can walk about during the day. I am weakened and have a history of fainting. It was so much easier to enjoy the events of the mortal world when corsets were in fashion. Perhaps an afternoon at the zoo and an evening at an art gallery?”

Sam’s thoughts wandered to images of Carmilla, corseted and in a Victorian ball gown. Her drifting thoughts led to a silence after Carmilla finished speaking. “Oh, sorry, my mind wandered to a cors—to my cat needing attention. That sounds awesome. I can free up time during the week if you need me to, but would next Saturday be okay?”

“Next Saturday? I think that will work for me, yes. I look forward to seeing you again.”

Dressed in a black tank top and leopard print leggings, Sam took advantage of the quiet streets during Sunday morning church services to meet Destiny for a peaceful workout at Steinway Goldstar Gym and Fitness Center. Destiny wore a gray and white tee shirt, purple and black leggings, and a black baseball hat with a smiling Pikachu embroidered onto the front panels. They walked into the massive fitness center, populated by a handful of middle-aged women on elliptical machines and two working with free weights. The televisions throughout the fitness center showed one of the annoying dating reality shows on VH1. They walked to a pair of treadmills and began their warmup walk.

After a few minutes of walking, Destiny looked to her left and smirked. “So, Sam, I was thinking you should reconsider your father’s idea about joining the Astrum Argentum.”

“Fuck no. I don’t need magical training beyond what I have. Why would you even suggest that?”

“Hear me out.” Destiny held up her hand as she picked up her pace. “You get training in magic, which will help you, and you know it. Then, you start dating a cute witch. You move in with her. When people ask, you can tell them that you’re ‘just broommates.’” She burst into gleeful cackles.

Sam’s face, apart from her furrowed brow, remained emotionless. She sighed and then shook her head. “Do I want to know where you heard that from?”

Destiny laughed for five minutes before calming down enough to respond. “Oh, I called Janus Johnson to see if they were okay, and he told me that one when mentioning that Rayna’s new girlfriend just U-Hauled into her place.”

“Good for them. I’ll have to go by and say hello.” Sam chuckled. “I’m surprised Rayna didn’t come over while I was at the Waters’ house.”

Destiny nodded. “Yeah, she does like her gossip. Seems they waited four dates before moving in together. Isn’t that like five years of dating in lesbian?”

“Ha ha ha.” Sam rolled her eyes. “Some of us take it slow and don’t rush to move in together.”

Destiny increased her pace to a jog. She focused on her breathing as her heart rate increased. “Speaking of relationships that have only had a few dates,” Destiny said, “When are you heading back to the Four Winds for your second date?”

Sam matched Destiny’s jogging pace, but her heavy, rapid breathing proved harder to mask. “We don’t have a second date. We haven’t had a date yet.”

Her chest heaving and her eyes rolling, Destiny shook her head. “Then what did you call that picnic by the lake?”

“She didn’t call it a date.” Sam wiped sweat from her forehead. “We had a nice evening. It just wasn’t a date.”

A growl emerged from Destiny’s lips as she screamed silently. “We’ve been over this before, so I won’t repeat myself.” She licked at the salty sweat beads that fell onto her lips. “So I guess this was a one and done?”

Sam shook her head. Sweat stung her eyes. “No. She’s coming here to see the new leopard cubs at the zoo with me and maybe hit an art gallery later that evening.”

Destiny’s eyes shot wide. She choked on her breath. “So you’re seeing her again? That’s a date, Sam. You don’t have to call it one for it to be one.”

“I don’t want to make any more of it than what it is. I—I don’t want to jinx it.” Sam sipped from her water bottle.

Destiny sighed and softened her gaze. She nodded, smiling, as she reached over and touched Sam’s forearm. “I get that, Sam. I really do. It’s just, well, you seemed so happy talking about her both after you met her and after your non-date first date. Just watch your neck, okay?”

Sam spat the water onto the treadmill and coughed. “It’s just our second time seeing each other. Do you think she’s going to eat me or something?”

Destiny looked around and lowered her voice as she said, “You know what she is, Sam. And I’ve done some digging—well, I asked dad to do some digging, since I can’t access the case files anymore—and it turns out that there’s an old legend from Karnsburg about her draining a young girl dry or something while a lot of other girls died of mysterious causes. But they killed the Carmilla in those stories, so I don’t know if it’s the same person.”

“Did the Grimms take any action because of this?”

Destiny shook her head. “I couldn’t find anything. Dad said that after they killed that Carmilla, most of the town caught fire in a freak lightning storm. Best he can figure is that since the town suffered so much from the fire and that the vampire was ‘dead,’ nothing needed to be done. Your Carmilla seems super progressive, so it may just be a family name.”

“She’s not my Carmilla.” Not that I wouldn’t mind her claiming me as her girlfriend. Sam paused as she thought about their night on the shore of Lake Constance and wondered how Carmilla would dress to visit a zoo. “I mean, I guess you could say that we’re friends, but that’s it.”

Destiny spun around and walked backwards on the treadmill, folded her arms, and shot her best “Disbelieving Mom” stare. “Look, I’m not saying you should buy a sheer Victorian nightgown and practice running through the dimly lit halls of an Austrian castle while your vampire lover chases you. Just be careful, and use those investigator instincts. Okay?”

She’s not coming. We agreed to meet outside the zoo at six, and she’s only got twelve minutes until then. She said she could handle the daylight. What—what if she can only handle the daylight in Europe? What if our daylight is brighter or hotter? I mean, Butcher’s Bend is closer to the Equator than Austria is, so that could be the reason she’s not here. She knows I’ll be sitting under the oaks and wearing a sleeveless navy and white gingham fit and flare dress.

“There you are.” Sam jumped as the familiar Austrian voice emerged from the silence behind her.

She spun and saw Carmilla hiding her laughter behind a black lace glove. Black cat eye sunglasses decorated with silver filigree hid the Countess’ eyes, and a floppy, wide-brimmed black hat provided shade from the sweltering July sun. Carmilla amplified the shade by holding a black lace parasol above her head. She wore a tailored white silk wrap dress with lace sleeves and a high slit over her right leg, and as she moved her gloved hand away from her pale face, Sam saw her warm smile shift as she tried to conceal her fangs.

She has such a pretty smile. Sam crossed her arms and shot Carmilla a playful glare. “It’s not nice sneaking up on a lady from behind. I thought at your age you would have moved beyond such things.”

Carmilla chuckled. “Well, the warm joy of youth’s simple pleasures has recently been rekindled. You seemed lost in your thoughts, so I doubt you would have noticed had I sat beside you on this bench.”

Sam nodded, conceding the point. “True. I’m glad you’re here. I know this probably isn’t your kind of thing.”

Carmilla shrugged. “The sun here is angrier than it is at home, and I feel like I am walking through a damp, suffocating gauze.”

Sam giggled. “Yeah, the humidity’s a bitch—even after you get used to it. So, are you ready?”

Carmilla nodded, extending her right arm. “I am, and you look lovely. Your dress flatters your shoulders nicely. Shall we?”

Sam blinked and swallowed hard, blushing. She wrapped her arm in Carmilla’s and smiled. “I’ve already got our tickets.”

Sam smiled through her nervousness as they walked, arm and arm, through the wooden gate designed to resemble an idealized Hollywood jungle village wall. She marveled at Carmilla’s ability to ignore the uncomfortable and disapproving stares their display of affection garnered from several zoo-goers. I guess she’s used to the stares. Do you think she’s dealt with worse? Fuck! She lived through the Victorian era, so she probably saw some horrific stuff done to queer women. I wish I had her confidence.

As if she sensed the growing fear in Sam’s mind, Carmilla leaned over and whispered into her ear. “Pay them no mind. The masses despise that which they cannot have—a moment of true happiness amidst the darkness of life. However, if you fear their retaliation, I will release your arm.”

Moment of happiness? Really?

Sam slid closer and squeezed Carmilla’s arm with her right hand. She smiled and shook her head. “No. Happiness is nice.”

They walked through the Butcher’s Bend Zoological Sanctuary and Park. The Zoo Rail pulled into the station beside the gift shop, and two dozen children of various ages disembarked and ran toward the shop, sweaty and exhausted parents chasing after them. Carmilla smiled at the children, musing on the energy and simple joys of youth. A wistful sigh escaped her ruby lips. Sam rolled her eyes as she overheard a mother telling her son that sometimes girls who are close friends hold hands like they are boyfriend and girlfriend, but they are “just friends and nothing more.”

Midway through the Asian animal exhibit, between the orangutans and the elephants, Carmilla spotted the Jungle Tea Room. “A tea room. That would have been a lovely place to meet.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think about it.” Sam shrugged as they moved closer and listened as the zoo employee explained the matriarchal social patterns of Asian elephants. “Can you—I know you can drink tea—but can you taste tea?”

“It would be a formality here. There are special blends of tea designed for my kind to enjoy; however, I doubt that this zoo would have any.”

“I doubt it.” Sam squeezed Carmilla’s arm. “But we do have a restaurant near here that specializes supernatural dietary needs. And it’s air conditioned, so I thought we might grab a snack there before the gallery—if you’re still up for that.”

Carmilla nodded. “I would appreciate a small meal after the soggy heat of this day, and, yes, I would love to see what art is in your gallery. You mentioned a local artist showing their work, did you not?”

Sam nodded and grinned. “Yeah, their name is Arin Zed. I don’t know much about them, but my friend Laura Kelsington is a member of the Butcher’s Bend Arts Council. She knows everything about any art event in the city. Anything you want to know, she’ll have the answer.”

They moved through the crowds around the elephants and into the zoo’s aviary, a large free-flight cage housing birds from Africa, Asia, and both North and South America. After watching a red-tailed hawk swoop and snatch a mouse in its beak, Carmilla recounted her father’s failed attempts at teaching her falconry. Carmilla laughed as she recalled her fear as the bird flew toward her, musing that watching the bird hunt was a beautiful sight. They chuckled together.

Carmilla lost her balance. Sam caught her as she stumbled. Sam wrapped her arm around Carmilla’s waist and guided her to a shady park bench. As Carmilla fanned herself, Sam bought her a bottle of water.

“It might not do much, but it’s cold and wet,” Sam said, offering a concerned smile.

Carmilla sipped the cool water. She smiled. “Thank you. I have never been one to drink enough water.”

“Does this happen often? I mean, I’m glad we can meet while the sun’s out, but I don’t want you endangering your health.”

The vampire smiled and nodded, patting the bench. “Let us sit for a while. To answer your question, it happens with regularity during daylight hours. Summers are the worst for me. My hunger becomes more intolerable when I remain awake during the day, and my temper can flare.”

“So, can all you know day-walk?” Sam inched closer to Carmilla as they shared the bench.

Carmilla shook her head. “No. All of my line possess that ability, but others, such as Vlad Dracula, burn to ash in the sun.”

Sam noted the joy in Carmilla’s voice as she spoke of Dracula’s demise. The setting sun painted the sky in swaths of red, gold, and orange. Sam’s earrings glinted in the shifting sunlight. Carmilla smiled. Sam blushed, and a stray curl leaped from behind her left ear.

“Is there something on my face,” she asked.

“Oh, forgive me,” Carmilla said, tucking the curl behind Sam’s ear. Sam inhaled sharply. “The sunlight reflected in your eyes, reminding me of this citrine and tourmaline choker my mother wore.’‘

Sam smiled and wrapped her hand around Carmilla’s, pressing the vampire’s palm against her face. Sam bit her lip and made eye contact. Carmilla’s hand slid behind Sam’s head, her fingers sliding into her hair. Sam’s breath rate increased, and she tilted her head. Carmilla leaned in. Sam closed her eyes.

And then both heard a distorted male voice emerge from the speakers and say, “Zoo-goers, this is your reminder that we close in half an hour. Please make your way to the exit. Thank you for your patronage.”

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