An excerpt from my book “The Lighthouse”:
Randall met me at the door that evening with a smile, a vigorous (though chilly) handshake and a boisterous,
“Hello, hello, friend Josh! Welcome to our mini-mansion. Do you want a drink?”
“Do you have Mountain Dew?” I asked.
“Yes, we do. Candida says she can’t survive without it or chocolate. I understand her addiction, since I have my own.” He grinned with his eyebrows drawn together.
An image flashed through my mind of Randall pouring blood from a vial–or maybe from his own veins–into a can of pop. “Could I–have that in a glass–a clear glass, please?”
Randall frowned for a moment in confusion, but then he said, “All right, whatever you wish.”
“I’ll get it for you,” Candida said. She bounded off down the hallway to the kitchen. At least she was still bouncy and vibrant, which I had always loved about her.
Randall offered me the loveseat. He sat in a wicker chair adjacent to it. I hoped he didn’t notice as I swept my gaze over the seat before sitting down. Nope, no blood or–um–emissions from him and Candida–um–christening the house’s furniture. Another image flashed through my mind: Candida naked in his arms. I got a wincing headache.
“So–um–who are you?” I asked.
“Mr. Candida, Randall Ankh.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Ankh? The Egyptian symbol for life?”
“Yes. Unusual name, isn’t it? My parents changed their last name to it. They held great stock in symbolism and loved to study ancient Egypt. This idol of Set came from them.”
He put his hand on a small stone statue of a two-legged, muscular being with a dog-like face, long ears and a loincloth. Candida allowing an idol in her house was odd enough, but wasn’t Set supposed to be evil, killing his own brother Osiris?
Candida bounced back into the room with a tall glass of Mountain Dew, nearly splashing it on me as she handed it to me.
“And what is your last name?” Randall asked.
I flinched. I meant my question to be more probing, a way to get him to confess, “Yes, I am a vampire, and my last name is ironic considering the death and destruction I bring.” But he turned it right around on me before it had a chance to work. Not that I knew how it could work, anyway.
“Hilfe. It’s German for ‘help.’ You know, in case you hear anybody say, ‘Hilf mich,’ that’s what they mean: ‘Help me.’”
He did not seem to notice my subtle barb. “Any friend of Candida’s is a friend of mine, and she tells me you’re one of her best. I had to let you into our house because she would not stop talking about you. Perhaps I should be jealous.” His eye flashed red, then went back to steel gray. “When you get a treasure like Candida, you don’t want to let her go.”
Didn’t I know it.
I scratched my eyebrow, probably a nervous tic. I found Randall more disconcerting the more amiable he seemed.
“Oh, you haven’t even touched your drink,” Candida chirped from beside the wicker chair.
The doorbell rang. I jumped. Some of my drink splashed. Candida called out “hello” when Randall trotted to the door and opened it. A few “heys” showed it was an old friend of Randall’s. This friend walked in, another pale-faced young man, though black. His clothes were dark blue, well-cut and expensive. I’m not much of a judge of male looks, but he seemed to be in the same category as Denzel Washington or Billy Dee Williams. That meant he caused lust in any woman of any race. That meant I was the ugly one in this house.
“Josh, Candida, this is Vincent,” Randall said. “Shall I get you a drink?” he asked Vincent.
“Oh, yes, the usual,” Vincent said. “I’ve had nothing to drink all evening.”
Randall trotted off.
“Are you a friend of Randall’s?” Vincent asked.
“No, Candida’s,” I said.
“How long have you known her?”
“I’ve only just met her, myself. So this is she, the beautiful Candida.” He nodded at her in a way so smooth and chivalric it made me jealous.
Candida flushed and grinned back at him boldly. My likelihood of catching her eye was getting worse all the time.
Randall returned with a wineglass full of a sanguine liquid. Wine, yes, it must be red wine. Yet when Vincent drank it, it made bloody stains on the side of the glass. No, no, it’s wine, it’s got to be wine. My head felt light. I turned my gaze to the Mountain Dew, hoping to get the image out of my head. I had to get the phantom, iron taste of blood out of my mouth. I took a sip. I couldn’t stop myself; I imagined the liquid going down my throat was not Dew, but blood. I gagged. My head spun. Candida leaped to my side.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I gazed at her without speaking. Through fuzzy vision I turned to Vincent and then Randall, who sat there with his eyebrows drawn together in what looked like concern. He was so pale, so–
I had to get out of there. “I’m sorry, Candida; I’m not feeling well. I have to go home.”
“Don’t be silly. We can take care of you here.” She stroked my hair. All my nerve endings begged me to stay and let her keep doing that, but I could not do it.
“No, really, I’d much rather be in my own room.”
I jumped up, grabbed my coat and ran out of the house, never minding how dizzy I was. Candida soon ran after me, throwing on her coat and carrying my glass of pop.
“You forgot this,” she said. “I’ll walk you back to campus and make sure you get to your room all right.”
I hugged her. How I wanted to stay nestled in her softness. “It’s sweet of you, but I can’t let you walk back by yourself in the dark. This is the city, after all.”
She smiled, kissed my cheek, handed me the glass and turned back.
As I walked, I drew in deep breaths of the chill air, blowing them out and watching the vapor. Back in my room, the glass sat untouched on top of the little box of a refrigerator in my room. My roommate was all too happy to take it off my hands, and I was all too happy to let him. I cleaned and returned the glass in the morning.
Though I loved Dew, it was many months before I could drink it again, especially from a glass.
–From “Candida” in my book The Lighthouse, e-book available for $3 here and here