Streetlights and neon signs glowed brightly, chasing away the darkness as if trying to refute the after-midnight hour. People spilled out bar doorways and milled up and down the street, laughing and boisterous. Melvin “Tigger” Jacobsen wove back and forth on the sidewalk, trying to avoid running into other Friday night revelers. It was a long walk home from Pioneer Square—two or three miles, he guessed. He hoped the walk would sober him up some. A stiff breeze blew off of Elliot Bay, making the air smell briny. It had been a warm day, but even in June, Seattle nights were chilly. Tigger shivered and crossed his bare arms, almost immediately uncrossing them so he could use them for balance. Getting drunk had seemed like a good idea a few hours earlier. Now he wondered what he’d been thinking. I’m over Harold—I’ve been over Harold for a long time. So why am I such a drunken slob tonight? Harold was his high school crush and the only boyfriend he’d ever had. They had gotten together during their freshman year of college, but the long-distance relationship had only lasted a few months. He had been heartbroken when Harold had left him for the girl who was tutoring him in math. That was more than two years ago. Harold was still dating Becky and Tigger was finally over his hurt and anger. Aren’t I? Tigger was brought out of his musings by a horn blaring. Suddenly his booze-soaked brain remembered that he’d left Jon behind at the bar. He had spent some time looking for his friend, but had finally left without him to escape the unwanted attention of another drunk patron. He will just have to get by without me for the rest of the evening. He paused on a street corner and pulled out his phone. Struggling to focus, he didn’t even try to compose a text message. Instead he pulled up his favorites list and, after a few moments of squinting to make the letters quit dancing, he managed to press the button for Jon. He started walking again as he listened to it ring. When it went to voicemail, he hung up. He’d try again in a little while. The crowds thinned as Tigger left the Pioneer Square area and soon the Seattle streets seemed deserted. Shadows loomed, darkening alleyways and shop entrances, making it difficult to discern depth and detail. Tigger stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk, barely catching himself before he went down. How many drinks did I have? Too many. He’d been drinking something pink and sweet that had come adorned with a little, bright plastic jungle animal hanging off of the rim. He still had a green tiger and a neon orange monkey in his pocket. Drowning your loneliness in alcohol is never a good idea, no matter how cute the drinks, his inner voice scolded him. Ignoring the voice, because it really wasn’t helping any, his mind went back to the question he’d been obsessing over for the past year: Why can’t I find a boyfriend? Maybe because no one wants a skinny virgin, the cynical voice in his head suggested. Tigger was shy, but there were plenty of guys who liked to flirt with him. He even dated sometimes, but nothing ever lasted beyond a third date. It’s me. I’m too picky, he thought. Something was always missing. Finding a guy who made his dick hard was not a problem—actually it was usually too much of a problem. But finding someone who made his heart flutter? That rarely happened. When it did, the guy was never interested in anything more than a quick fuck. Tigger refused to settle for that—not for his first time. He and Harold had fooled around plenty, but they had never “gone all the way.” Am I the only guy in the world who wants a relationship, or am I just attracted to the wrong kind of guys? He’d asked himself those questions before, too, and had decided that the answer to both was yes. Most guys his age did not want to be tied down, and the type of guy he was attracted to—big, muscular, dominant, and imposing—that type of guy, in particular, was not interested in a relationship. Tigger turned a corner and started the long walk up a steep hill, away from the waterfront. A few minutes later, his stomach rebelled. When he realized he was going to lose his dinner to the street, he dodged into the nearest alley. Shadows deepened as he made his way past the first dumpster on unsteady feet. The scent of rotting vegetation and decaying flesh assailed his senses, making the need to expel the contents of his stomach urgent. He put his hands against the nearest brick wall, leaned over, and emptied his guts onto the cobblestones. Why, oh why, did I drink so much? He felt like the worst kind of low-life, dead drunk and barfing his guts out in an alley. When his stomach settled, his head felt clearer. He spat repeatedly, wishing he had some water. Finally he gathered himself together and headed back toward the street. That’s when he heard quick footsteps behind him. He spun around and was hit with a wave of vertigo. Stumbling backwards, he wind-milled his arms to keep from going down. He didn’t fall. Instead, frigid hands grabbed him as if he weighed nothing and flung him against the wall of the building behind him. His head slammed into the brick and his world dimmed for a moment. A tall figure dressed all in black crowded him, boxing him in. He looked up, struggling to focus through the blinding pain. He found himself staring into a pair of eyes that were bottomless pits of utter darkness. There were no irises, only blackness. This can’t be real. No one has eyes like that! His chest tightened as terror gripped him, spreading through his body in a flash, tensing every muscle down to his toes. He felt like he had turned to stone, except his heart was slamming painfully into his rib cage, no doubt trying to get out so it could flee. The angular face, so close to his, was unnaturally pale, framed with straight, black, shoulder-length hair. A sharp, acrid smell permeated the air. He felt his eyes widen in a completely useless defense mechanism. Instinctively he put his hands up to push the apparition away. I must be hallucinating. I wonder if someone slipped a roofie into my drink. The creature—he couldn’t possibly be a man—grabbed his wrists with icy hands and yanked them over his head, forcing them against the rough wall. He heard himself whimper softly. The being’s hands were so cold they caused a chill to spread from his arms into his core. His body began to shake uncontrollably. The apparition’s thin lips curled into a cruel smile as the unfathomable eyes shifted downward. Tigger could feel his gaze travel slowly down his body as surely as if the creature had been caressing him with his eyes, undressing him. The hairs on the back of his neck and his arms stood on end, giving him the sensation of tiny bugs crawling over his skin. This can’t be happening. He then heard a snick and saw a switchblade his attacker’s hand, the bright steel reflecting the distant street light. Oh, god, this is it! He’s going to kill me now. He felt the cool blade against his cheek and he had to clamp down hard to stop himself from wetting his pants. Some distant part of his mind told him that it didn’t matter—he wouldn’t be embarrassed after he was dead. “Such a pretty face.” The man’s voice sounded like rustling leaves. He had an accent that Tigger had never heard. He slid the blade down the side of Tigger’s face, not cutting him, he was pretty sure; there was no pain. The knife slithered slowly down to his throat, to rest against his jugular. “It would be so easy,” the creature rasped, sliding the blade lightly across Tigger’s neck. Tigger was so frozen with terror he hadn’t taken a full breath for what seemed like minutes. Now he hoped he would pass out from lack of oxygen and save himself from having to witness his own death. “But I have other plans for you … yes,” the fiend rasped. “No easy death for you, my friend.” Tigger whimpered again and it sounded pitiful, even to himself. “Let’s see what that tiny body looks like.” The knife was suddenly no longer at his throat. Tigger took in a huge gasp of air and let it out in another whimper as the creature sliced the front of Tigger’s jeans and briefs wide open in a quick, long swipe that continued down one pant leg to his knee. Tigger felt the cool night air rush over his genitals. “Well, look at that,” the creature said. Moving the cold blade under Tigger’s balls, he used the flat of it to lift them up and bounce them gently a few times. A fresh wave of terror exploded within Tigger and the world began to fade out around him. All his muscles, which had been fully tense, suddenly went limp. He would have fallen if the creature hadn’t still had his hands pinned against the wall over his head. He heard himself moan softly as he sagged. Unfortunately he didn’t actually pass out and his head started to clear immediately. He wanted to close his eyes and pray, but some fierce part deep inside of him insisted that he pay attention so he wouldn’t miss a chance to escape. There won’t be an escape, his cynical mental voice told him. There is no way you can get away from a demon. He wasn’t sure what the creature was, but Tigger was positive he wasn’t a flesh-and-blood man. The demon had finished playing with his balls and moved the knife back to the top of his chest. Catching the edge of his tight T-shirt with the blade, he sliced slowly downward, the fabric falling open as he went. Tigger felt the sting of the knife biting into his bare skin. Looking down, he watched in horror as the monster sliced a shallow gash from his collarbone to his navel. Blood began to bead up in it. The sight of the blood caused something inside Tigger to shriek with terror. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He felt as if he were in a nightmare where he couldn’t scream or run. This can’t be real. Demons aren’t real. I must be dreaming. But the cut on his chest began to burn with an intensity that belied illusion. It felt all too real. The creature’s nostrils flared and his bottomless eyes began to glow with a faint amber light. He leaned over, stuck out a thin tongue, and licked the blood off Tigger’s chest in a long, slow swipe, letting out a low noise as if he was savoring something delicious. Tigger shuddered with horror at the demon’s touch. The monster’s tongue was as frigid as his hands, and the noise that he made shattered something deep inside Tigger—possibly his sanity. The scream that had been trapped within Tigger came out then, long and loud. The creature began to laugh, a cruel, chilling sound. But what plundered the last vestiges of Tigger’s wit was the glimpse of the fangs he saw in the demon’s mouth. His canines were long and sharp, and they glinted even in the meager light. Vampire! His brain identified the creature, but his reason had already fled and he couldn’t process what that meant. Something in the vampire’s face changed in that instant. He dropped Tigger’s hands and spun around. At the same time, Tigger heard a low whistling sound that ended in a quiet thwack. The vampire’s tall, thin body went rigid, and a heartbeat later all of the tension evaporated from it as he collapsed, falling to the ground as if he were suddenly boneless. Tigger found himself sitting on the cobblestones, his back to the wall, his knees pulled up to his chest, and his arms wrapped defensively around them. He didn’t remember his legs giving out on him. He was shivering violently. The sense of relief that enveloped him like a warm river was arrested in mid-flow as a huge shadow materialized out of the darkness, moving toward him at a rate that was too fast to be humanly possible.