Exclusive Excerpt from Vampire Claus
by Robert Winter
On a cold winter’s night, Taviano scaled what passed in America for an historic building. From its roof, he hurtled to the belfry atop St. Stephen’s Catholic church. Rising out of a crouch, he turned slowly to survey the Boston streets below.
A recent snowfall had left rooftops and trees in the park across the road limned in white. Strands of lights wove in and out of metal window guards and dripped from ledges like icicles. Gold tinsel crowns and stars dangled from lampposts. Through windows, Christmas trees glistened.
Moved by the season—and sentimentality, he supposed—Taviano had come to a place he’d never before visited in many decades of wandering. As happened in recent years, though, when Christmas neared he longed for his childhood in Naples. In the nearby town of Quincy, he’d overheard references to Boston’s Little Italy. He therefore found himself in the North End to seek out those descended from his erstwhile countrymen.
He listened for a reaction from the passersby some thirty feet below. No one had noticed his body soaring overhead. Not surprising, since the Christmas bustle caught up most of the people crowding the streets. With any luck, he’d be able to relax for one night. He’d like to avoid whatever vampire claimed the area as its hunting ground, and continue to dodge the attention of any humans.
Low temperatures had everyone below on Hanover Street bundled in coats and scarves. His own thin black shirt and trousers—ideal for quick movement but not for passing unseen—would invite comment should someone spot him. A single observer would pose no trouble. He’d simply modify a memory or two and be on his way. But using preternatural gifts meant relaxing his tight control on the demon that shared his body. He hadn’t fed it in a few days for lack of a deserving victim. Hunger would make it more difficult to influence.
Far better if he could escape notice in the first place.
From inside St. Stephen’s voices rose, singing their devotion. It was “Silent Night” though he’d learned the song with different words. It was barely eight-thirty and he could identify forty-seven adults and children in the nave below. The scent of incense drifted to him, mixed with candle wax, communion wine, and boughs of evergreen.
Christmas customs had greatly changed over the decades. That was something he knew mainly from spying through windows and listening to radio and television programs. Even the rituals of Mass were different than when he’d last been inside a church. Lurking on the outside was as close as he could come. But other traditions had changed only slightly. He imagined the altar draped in white and purple as the priest led the celebration of the Nativity.
Peering down through a glass window of the belfry to see if he was right, he caught his own reflection. Thick black hair lay mussed from the bitter wind, and dark eyes glittered unnaturally like chips of obsidian. His full lips looked mischievous, belying his reserve.
Scruff perpetually darkened his cheeks. He’d been three days without shaving the night he was turned into the creature that stared back at him. Even if he bothered with a razor, the beard returned promptly. He’d heard often when he was alive that he was handsome. Still, symmetrical features and olive skin did not disguise that he was something other than human.
No, even if entering a church were not forbidden, he didn’t belong there anymore. No matter how much he missed it. Continue reading