Sally startles wide awake. It’s still dark. Her heart is beating too fast and she can’t catch her breath. Maybe there was a sound. Maybe she’s been dreaming. But she feels uneasy and wrong. Shiloh is asleep beside her and she soothes herself by stroking his fur. As a professional dog trainer, she knows she should be teaching him to sleep on his own bed, but she loves the company. Plus, she just feels safer with him close by.
Still, she’s not going to be able to fall back asleep. She gets up and pulls on her sweat pants and a fuzzy sweater. Shiloh yawns and stretches, then pads behind her down the hall. Sally goes to make coffee and realizes, with a groan, that she is out. She was going to buy some yesterday but totally forgot.
The clock reads just past 5 am. Hell. The corner store is open. She’ll just walk Shiloh in that direction and grab a cup of coffee to hold her until she can go shopping. She’ll make it a grande. She thinks about combing her hair and washing her face but decides not to bother. Who’s going to see her? Anybody in the corner store at 5 am isn’t going to matter.
It’s a short walk and would be pleasant, if only Sally had some coffee. Dawn is coming soon; the sky is light but the sun is still not up. Shiloh is delighted, nosing at everything and stopping to pee on every possible object. Sally gives him free time until they approach the store. Then she makes him sit and heel, shortening up the leash. He’s only been with her a few weeks and isn’t as well trained as he ought to be. He needs the experience of public places and the store will be empty, so she takes him inside with her.
Amy, behind the counter, looks up and smiles. “Hey Sally. You’re early.”
“Desperate need for coffee,” Sally says. “the usual.”
“You got it.” Amy gets out a cup and turns toward the espresso maker, but just then the door dings and a man walks in.
He’s alarmingly handsome, with sleek black hair and chiseled features. He is also dressed in a tuxedo. Sally shrugs and turns her eyes back to the holy grail of coffee. Maybe the dude was at a wedding and stayed out all night partying.
Shiloh growls and tugs at his leash. “Sit,” Sally commands, and the big black dog reluctantly complies, but continues to growl.
Unfortunately, Amy is still standing there with the coffee cup in her hands, mouth slightly agape, watching the strange man move through the store. When he strides back up to the counter with his purchases, Sally’s coffee is still unmade.
“Pardon me,” he says, and barges to the counter in front of her, laying down a tarp and a coil of rope. The box of cookies in his other hand never makes it to the counter. Shiloh grabs it, tearing at the cardboard with his teeth, shaking his head from side to side as if making a kill and growling all the while.
Sally is too shocked to interfere. Just as the box tears open and cookies begin to spill out onto the floor, the door dings and an old homeless woman shuffles in, carrying a beat up guitar. Maisey. Everybody in town knows her. Sally has put coins in the woman’s hat more than once when she plays for money.
“Oh, dear,” Maisy says.
Shiloh pauses, his mouth full of stolen cookies. Maisey bends and picks up the soggy, torn box and the uneaten cookies. She pats the dog, who immediately stops growling and begins licking her hands.
This is Shiloh’s normal behavior and Sally feels uneasy about the man in the tux, given the dog’s reaction.
“Get your dog under control, lady,” the man says.
“How about next time you don’t feed him? Idiot.”
“I’m an idiot? Your freaking dog grabbed the cookies right out of my hand.”
Sally rolls her eyes. Tightens her hold on the leash because Shiloh has started lunging and barking. Amy, could you please get me my coffee, already?”
The man crowds her away from the counter. “I’m in a hurry. Let me pay for my stuff and get out of here. Except for the cookies. Damn dog ate them.”
Amy looks at him, uncertainly. “Somebody needs to pay for them.”
“Not going to be me,” the man says. He grabs Sally’s shoulder. “Her dog ate the cookies. She should pay for them.”
Sally cringes away from the man’s touch. Even through her sweater his skin feels cold. He’s very pale, she thinks. As if he’s ill. Or dead. She shivers, then looks up to see if Amy is making coffee yet.
She sees herself framed in the mirror behind the counter – but with a shock of terror realizes that even though the man’s hand is still on her shoulder and he should be right beside her in the mirror, she sees only herself and aisles of shelves stretching away behind her.
Sally’s grandmother has always told her that her family are all born to be vampire hunters. She’s heard the stories since she was a little girl and always thought of them as fairy tales. Both of her parents are dead and not around to tell her differently. For the first time she wonders if the stories might be true.
Coffee or no coffee, she decides to get herself out of the store. But when she moves toward the door, the man blocks her. “You need to pay for the cookies.”
“Get out of my way,” Sally says. “Shiloh, down boy.” The dog is lunging so hard she grabs him by the collar to get better control.
The man stares soulfully into her eyes and she sees that his are perfectly black, with no pupil. He intones in a hypnotic voice, “You will pay for the cookies.” His voice has a strange effect. She feels like her body is weighted by lead. Moving would be so very difficult. The man’s nostrils widen as he bends his head and sniffs at her. “You smell delicious.” He bends down, his mouth open, preparing to bite her neck.
Sally knows she should scream, move, shove him, but she can’t seem to do any of these things. Her hand loosens on Shiloh’s collar and the dog presses between them, leaping upward toward the man’s throat. The man stumbles backward and Sally is freed from her hypnotic state.
She sees fear on the man’s face, but it’s Shiloh’s collar he’s staring at, not the dog’s snapping jaws. She follows his gaze and sees the cross her grandmother had insisted on hanging there.
“Every hunter has a guardian. Shiloh is yours,” the old woman had said.
Sally had removed the cross, but grandmother threw a fit, her agitation increasing to the point of hysterics, and Sally had returned the cross to Shiloh’s collar to restore peace and sanity.
Now she slips the collar off the dog’s neck, holding the cross up in front of the vampire’s face. Shiloh sinks his teeth into a tuxedo covered thigh. Maisey the street lady smashes her guitar over his head. The vampire jerks looks from the dog, leaving black fabric and skin behind. He covers his head with his hands and runs out the door just as the sun comes up.
Smoke rises from his skin and he shrieks horribly. It last only a few seconds, and then nothing is left but a black tuxedo.
“Good dog,” Sally says. She buys cookies for everybody. Maisey paws through the pockets of the tuxedo and comes up with a thick stack of thousand dollar bills. She offers to share, but Amy and Sally both refuse. “Buy a new guitar and a house to live in,” Sally says. “You’ve earned it.”
As she and Shiloh head toward home her eyes are open to a whole new realm that she didn’t know existed. Adventure sparks through her blood. Work to do. Vampires to slay. Only then does she realize she still hasn’t had that cup of coffee.