MAYBE IT'S THAT IT HAS A DOOR
Annie’s dolls were fighting again.
“Barbie, you’re a very selfish little girl and if you don’t wash the dishes, I’ll make you sleep in the crawlspace.”
A small hand gripped Barbie and she stood her ground. “No, I don’t want to sleep in the crawlspace! It’s scary in there!”
Another doll, held in another hand, shook angrily as it spoke. “Don’t you back-sass me, you little BITCH.”
“If Daddy were here you wouldn’t talk to me like this.”
“Your Daddy’s DEAD and you’re STUPID!”
“You’re mean and I’m not going to live with you anymore. Goodbye!” Barbie whacked her upturned arm into the other doll, and it flew away.
Annie blinked. The doll had flown through the door of the playhouse and landed on the shadowed lawn. It was dark. She’d been playing outside for so long that she hadn’t noticed the sun setting. She dropped Barbie and crept to the window.
Her lawn was a vast hundred-and-twenty square foot expanse of grass, ringed with a hillside leading up to a surrounding forest. Her house stood at the far side. She sat in the five by eight cedar playhouse her father had built for her and stared from its window with wide eyes. The yard was a bright and inviting space in the daytime, but in twilight its familiar shapes began to suggest hidden things. Only the very tops of the trees were lit by sunlight now, and the woods behind her house were deeply shadowed.
A pale oval floating in the forest. A face.
Annie felt a flush of cold spread in her chest. What was that? It was getting closer. She eyed her house’s back door. She gathered her feet beneath her to burst from the playhouse and run across the lawn, and looked again to the stranger. Her legs deadened beneath her and she stared. It wasn’t a stranger at all. She knew what it was immediately.
The vampire emerged from the forest and began to glide down the hill to her yard. Its feet trailed through the grass a good six inches above the ground. It was dressed all in black clothes and it wore a cape with a shiny red lining. The collar rose above its shoulders and framed the sharp white face. It looked just like every book and movie said vampires looked. Its mouth was closed in a prim pout. Annie didn’t see the fangs, but she knew they were there. It floated to the center of her yard, looked about, and finally turned to the playhouse.
“Hello,” it said. “Would you care to come out?” Annie shrank back against the far wall. The vampire smiled. There were the fangs, lighting at the edges of its grin. “It’s not too late to play. I know lots of games.” Its eyes were strange; it had black irises and red pupils that flashed in the little remaining light.
Annie found her voice. “No thank you.”
“It’s okay. It’s nice out here.”
Why was it trying to get her to step out onto the lawn? Why wasn’t it drinking her blood already? “The playhouse,” she gasped. “You can’t get me in my playhouse, you have to be invited!”
The vampire frowned. “I don’t suppose you want to invite me, then?”
“It was worth a try.” It floated up to the playhouse and ran a white hand along the roof. “This house was well-made. If it were just a regular tree fort we’d be playing already. I don’t know what it is but something makes this house a home. Maybe it’s that it has a door. Maybe it’s the shutters, or the chimney, or this adorable little mailbox.” The vampire read the name painted on the mailbox. “Annette. Hello Annette.”
“My daddy built this for me.” She paused. “He died last year.”
“I’m genuinely sorry to hear that.”
Anger bubbled in her, if only meekly. “No you’re not, you kill people. You don’t care.”
Its red eyes dipped. “That’s not true. I’m always saddened to see good blood go to waste. Do you know what morticians do with all that blood? It’s... well, it’s not something a child should hear about, but let me assure you that it’s terrible.” The vampire sat on the ground. “Why did you tell me about your father?”
Annie shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“It was the kind of thing that takes trust to say, which is why I’m confused. Considering what we are to each other.”
“I guess. I don’t really have anyone I can talk to. It just came out.”
It nodded. “I can understand that. Do you want to tell me about him?”
She bit her lip for a moment. Did she? To her surprise, she found that she really did. “He was the greatest ever. He hugged me every day and read me a story every night. He took me to the aquarium for my birthday. Then he married Karen and died in an accident and everything went rotten.”
“Karen is your stepmother?”
“You don’t like her.”
Annie picked up a slinky and began shuffling it absently between her hands. “She’s mean. She yells at me and calls me awful names. Daddy would never have married her if he knew how she treats me, I swear.”
“Life is hard sometimes,” the vampire said.
“What do you know about it? Are you even alive?”
“No. But I live.” It smiled again. The white of its teeth shone in the darkness. “I rise every evening and try to find blood to drink. Do you know how difficult it can be, trying to find a person that will invite you into their house? I go hungry a lot of the time.”
A shadow passed in front of the kitchen window. Karen would be yelling at her to come in soon and go to bed. A thought occurred to Annie. “You could eat Karen. If you wanted to.”
The vampire’s eyes twinkled like red Christmas lights. “That would solve both of our problems, wouldn’t it?”
The vampire stood. “You know what you have to say, then.”
“I invite you into the house. Go ahead.”
It grinned again and bowed like a gentleman before drifting up to the back door of the house. It turned the doorknob and went inside. Annie sat there, listening. She heard nothing but crickets and peepers.
After a long time, the vampire returned from the house. “Thank you, Annette. I feel much better. Do you?”
“I don’t know.” She didn’t feel much right now. “I think so.”
“I don’t imagine you won’t be leaving the playhouse until daybreak, so I brought you something.” It laid her pillow and blanket on the ground just outside of her door.
“Thanks,” she said.
“I’ll be off now. I’ve enjoyed meeting you, Annette. Have a good night.”
The vampire floated back into the woods and she spread her bedding about on the grassy floor of her playhouse. As she lay there she felt a kind of peace settle over her. She began to think.
She knew a lot of mean people.