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The Dim Gray Time Right Before Sunset
Bello had a hard head. Very hard, the type of hard that makes diamonds sheepish and granite straight faint away. From the moment of her birth, Bello manifested this cranial solidity, and it was the fact of this density that begat her name.
Normal children are born with soft skulls, structures of bone that, at the crown, are yielding and supple in their unfinished state, a forgiving flexibility imparted by the gods unto the infant dome that it might contract as it passes through the violent terrain of the birth canal, affording as easily as possible, the journey into the world of light. But not Bello’s. No, our dear Bello’s head was hard as a stump of seasoned hickory when she was born, a bulbous knot so dense it near bust her poor mother’s cervix like shattered glass. Such were the screams and wails of that poor contractive woman that people as far off as fifteen blocks called the hospital to complain.
So came the arrival of our heroine into this world, and so came her name—an appellation based upon those curdled maternal shrieks—conceived by her cop father, who wrote it as Bello upon the birth certificate for all to see. To be frank, his intent was to name her Bellow but, as literacy eluded him in much the same manner criminals regularly did, he spelled it wrong, and thus began the infant upon whose destiny this story resides, our Bello.
In the years that followed her naming, Bello grew up into an almost-lovely girl. At age sixteen, and for reasons too tedious to be bothered with, she moved from Phoenix to Seattle, and in particular, to a tiny suburb known as Plastic Spoon. It is at that point and in that small suburb that our tale earnestly begins:
Bello had grown to be a nice enough girl as far as that sort of thing goes. She was not particularly friendly—more inclined to bangs-curtained grunts than smiles that glinted winsomely in her dirt brown eyes—but she wasn't rude either. Her face was nearly pretty, and might occasionally have been called as much were she not so ever present with a scowl. As for her figure, she filled out an average one, nondescript at best, with average arms, average legs, and an average bust, which, like all busts, could never be so much so that the male of the species wouldn’t gaze upon it with debauched delight were it to be exposed by some fortuitous deluge, perhaps of a sudden rain or a dumped cooler of victorious Gatorade. However, to accommodate such sensory enhancements, Bello would have to wear a sheer t-shirt, a filmy blouse or some other auspicious apparel of the kind consciously feminine girls are wont to wear. But alas, Bello had no inclination for femininity of that kind and chose instead to flump about in bulky sweatshirts nearly all the time. With constancy almost beyond reckoning, Bello managed a perpetual state of ho-hum, and she traversed each and every day without the least care for presenting any sort of personal appeal. Were the world a garden, Bello stood as dandelion amongst the roses, lilies and eggplants.
At school, Bello was equally nondescript. She was neither jock nor nerd, genius nor imbecile. She had no care for theater, student politics or photography. She wasn’t even particularly fast at sending text messages, a deficiency that precluded her acceptance in even the bimbo society. Bello was an average student in every way. And while she certainly didn't sit during lectures drooling pools and doodling unicorns into her notebooks, neither did she stand out as especially inspired. In fact, the general gray of her mind fit perfectly with the ever-present gloom in the Seattle skies above, so much so, and with such singularity of design, that one might think she was the lovechild of the local deities Overcast and Sigh.
All that established, it so happened that our heroine found herself on her first day of her new Seattle school year seated next to an extravagantly beautiful specimen of manhood by the name of Cedward Mullen. Cedward was a tall and lean young man who moved with the sculpted balance of a predator, sinuous like a cat, yet urbane, something of a satin sheet rippling in a slow-motion breeze. He radiated a paradoxical sense of danger and safety with every motion, like a sun that might warm you with its grace or blast you to blackened crispness depending on its mood. He was, in a word, scrumptious. In addition, and quite augmenting his scrumptiousness, was his fantastically luxurious hair. It sprang from his perfectly shaped pate as if his head were the site of some great silkworm festival, a holy rite in which the fervent writhing masses bend forth in obsequious worship of an insect divinity, pressing their foreheads to their prayer mats and, with butts aloft, send gossamer strands of silk in waves across Cedward’s skull for the sighing delight of every female who ever had the fortune to gaze upon him. Oh, to be so sublime a specimen.
His eyes were luminous expressions of depth and woe, the irises colored somewhere between amber and caramel, a golden whorl of possibilities that promised the palpable expression of wonder and timelessness. Those perfect orbs bespoke hypnotic possibilities as they stared out from a porcelain face so translucent and pale it seemed the flesh of angels’ cheeks. Fragile that flesh seemed, but it lay across architecture of bone so perfectly designed that the translucence bespoke no mortal fragility but rather an incorporeal virility that nearly frightened her as might the discovery that the moon was about to come crashing into the Earth. His face expressed something beyond the warrior, a power so great it became soft again, softer and more poetic than the most perspicacious and sensible poet ever aspired to. There was no room, no chamber, alas, no great hall into which this fine specimen of manhood could enter without, as one, the females within must gasp, their heads all turned together as if by some spectral choreographer, intent on following his every lead.
Bello was no exception in this, and as he entered the class and moved to sit next to her, the proximity of his beauty struck her mortal heart as that sort of thing inevitably will a young lass. Being the petulant sort that our poor Bello is, however, she refused to acknowledge it and, with something nearly snarling, she turned away and stared vacantly into her schoolbook. Another girl might have fancied tossing a beguiling smile or flitting a coquettish lash, but no, not Bello. Quite the opposite. In fact, the extent of Bello’s flirtation lay merely in the suppression of an urge to scratch the inside of her left nostril.
The other girls in the class were not so discrete. Several among them went to great lengths to tip towards Cedward as they dug into their backpacks for pencils they did not need, the reaching therein accommodating, with precise effort of spine and shoulders, the conspicuous yawning of blouse collars, which gaped provocatively and afforded Cedward free range to gaze upon a landscape of so much seemly young flesh, a veritable cleavage buffet meticulously presented for the slightest inclinations of his appetite.
But Cedward paid such sumptuous offerings little notice, for his own nostrils were all aquiver with the proximity to our sweet Bello sitting next to him. Something about her had bestirred his primeval parts. He leaned inconspicuously toward her, his finely chiseled face with its Clark Kent dimple and square-jawed masculinity scrunched imperceptibly as he hound-dogged the air and plucked the microbes of her aroma from the atmosphere like a bullfrog might snatch moths out of a gloomy autumn night. His nearly diaphanous eyelids drooped like draperies over the mesmeric portals of his eyes as her scent worked intoxicant upon him.
Bello paid him no mind. At least not for a while.
As the class wore on, Cedward continued to sniff and snuffle in Bello’s direction. His discretion slowly gave way to preternatural desire, and, after a time, the sound of his inhalations fell upon Bello’s ear too heavily to be ignored. She turned to him with eyes rolling in that way that best conveys teen annoyance and hissed, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I want to eat you,” said Cedward. “You smell like a double cheeseburger to my soul.”
“What the—?” She almost blurted the profanity aloud, but managed to hold it back. Even still, she’d been too loud to escape notice from the rest of the room.
“Bello, is there something I can help you with?” asked the teacher from the front of the class.
“No,” said Bello. It took even her only moments to realize the whole class was staring at them both, at her and Cedward—who now sat very close to her. Several of the girls were staring beams of hate at her. They ticked and made eye-rolls of their own in her direction; none of them making the slightest effort to conceal the torrential jealousies that crashed like Tsunamis upon the coastal towns of their proffered sexuality.
Bello loved it.
Though her acuity was too benign, her emotional core too vacant to allow her to understand what was happening to her, or, sadly, even enjoy it properly, Bello still reveled in the envy that washed upon her from the other girls. She bathed in it, baptized herself in a sense of joyous discovery that opened fissures of emotion heretofore unknown or even conceived by her hickory-encased mind. The bits of broken confidence that washed over her from the decimated places of those other girls’ hearts tumbled like warm socks in the drier of her heart. She turned back towards Cedward and moved both corners of her mouth towards her eyes. Not enough to show teeth, for an effort of that magnitude she had not yet found the fortitude, but she certainly saw the value of encouraging this beauteous man.
The effects of her effort paid off immediately, and by lunch time Bello found herself surrounded by the beautiful siblings of Cedward Mullen, the lot of them so pale and perfect not even matchless Bernini could have sculpted the least of them. There were four present: two sisters, Roseola and Malice, and two brothers, Dummit and Assper. They hovered around her with a magical air, and the great beauty of Roseola and Malice added the jealousy of the schoolboys to the hatred of the girls. And so Bello was all the happier.
Despite this attention from these beautiful, godlike people, Bello could not be happy for long. The worshipping adoration of Cedward over the following weeks was not enough for her. He brought her gifts, wrote her poetry, took her to expensive restaurants, but her heart could not be won. He showed her amazing places, took her on long hikes, and even appeared in her bedroom offering to shag her for hour upon hour with his inhuman speed and stamina, but still it was not enough. Finally, he’d given her everything he had, everything except his deepest secret, the secret of his immortality. For you see, Cedward was a vampire.
One night, in her room, after trying once more to seduce her with his perfectly sculpted body, dreamy eyes and poetic soul, he’d had enough of her rejections. Pulling back from yet another kiss that led nowhere, he asked her, “Why, Bello, why? Why won’t you let me love you? Why can’t you enjoy this thing that we have?”
“I don’t know,” she said, scratching the side of her face.
“But you want me don’t you?”
“I guess,” she replied.
“You guess? But you must. Just look. See your bosom there, your breasts send delicate buds reaching through your blouse in response to my touch; the twin buttons of your arousal give the truth of your desire. So why do you resist?”
“Actually, about that,” said Bello looking down at her chest. “That’s because I’m freezing. Dude, I’ll be honest, your lips are cold as hell. Kissing you is like kissing the side of my pickup truck in February. No offense.”
And that’s when it came out. “Ah, Bello. My beloved Bello. You have the secret of me at last. I must confess it then, for I can keep nothing from you. I am…” he paused, making one of those dramatic silences that you expect in lame movies and the like, “… I am a vampire.”
“Oh,” said Bello. “Well, that explains the teeth. I was wondering about that. You aren’t one of those weirdoes that files them down and then drinks sheep’s blood are you? Because, you know, that’s lame.”
“No. I am a true vampire, and, Bello, I love you. I am immortal and want to be with you forever. The cheeseburger scent that courses through your veins is unaccountable. I can’t resist you. I, since being turned to a vampire over a century ago, have not smelled or tasted anything in all these long years until you. My whole life has been an empty eternity of unscented, unflavored nothingness. But now there is you to fill me, to give me something tangible of life. Oh to languor in the greasy beef-and-cheddar of your olfactory radiance. Please, Bello. I will do anything to have you.”
“Hmm. Let me think on that. Right now I have to clip my toenails. Plus, I think Oprah’s new show is coming on. That Rosie O’Donnell is just so funny.”
“Please Bello.” He made a show of opening his shirt so she could see his bare flesh, the ripple of his washboard abs. He flipped on a light and posed for her, allowing the light to wash upon his porcelain hue and reveal the rainbow sparkles in his skin, each beam of it refracting as if he’d been sprinkled by the dust of a thousand gleaming jewels.
“Please what?” she said, picking lint out from under the nail of her left big toe and frowning at the yellowish hue that seemed to be thickening there.
“Look at me. I sparkle,” Cedward said, even pointing at his chest in case she’d missed the spectacular display.
“Oh, yes. That’s very nice,” she said, glancing up. She pulled off her other sock and began examining those toes for lint residue and signs of further fungal trespass. She’d promised her father she’d go to the beach with his best friend’s son tomorrow, and even Bello understood that fugly toes were a fashion no-no at sandy waterside events.
Eventually Cedward got the hint and left. His disappointment at being unable to woo the mediocre lass put him in a funk. Such is the greater woe of a frustrated vampire alone, whose cold blood pumps not at will into those fissured members that mortal men enjoy, the turgid playthings from which gratification may readily be beaten when amorous sentiments receive no willing outlet. No, ready relief of that kind is not for the undead, and so instead did the wildlife of the region suffer the beatings of Cedward’s private agony. Many bears and mountain lions died for his unrequited urge, herds and flocks and packs of them, all throttled indirectly by the hands of Bello’s indifference.
Speaking of wildlife, during this period of Cedward’s absence, Bello found herself unencumbered by his suffocating presence, and so it was that she was able to attend the prearranged picnic her father had put her upon without incident. That’s where she discovered that vampires were not the only magical creatures living around Seattle.
She arrived at the beach party and was greeted by a tall, dark figure with long black hair that flowed over his bare shoulders like rainwater and shimmered with a gloss normally saved for moonlit raven’s wings. He too walked with a predatory grace, though not with the same urbane presence of Cedward Mullen’s gait. His was purely animal, bestial, wild, hence the whole “speaking of wildlife” thing in that last paragraph. Yes, this magnificent creature of a boy was the werewolf known as Flakeob Flack. Dumb as a rock, his vapidity rivaled only Bello’s for purity and the two of them hit it off instantly. Flakeob took to Bello like that bit of cellophane takes to your sleeve when you are trying to unwrap a new DVD, and he followed her around like a dog the entire time she was at the beach.
“I’m a werewolf,” he told her straight off, which is how she found out by the way.
“That’s nice,” she said. “You have nice abs. Do you work out?”
“No, it’s my dog genes. Dogs are naturally strong, although not as strong as cats if you go pound for pound.”
Unsure whether or not to believe him, Bello took up a foot-long bit of driftwood and hurled it into the gently crashing surf. Flakeob took off like a shot, his bipedal legs pumping, his tawny bare feet flinging sand in their wake as he sprinted towards the waves. Bello stared at his dreamy, muscular back as he ran, the inverted triangle of it tapering from wide shoulders down to a narrow waist, the whole of it dark tanned and bifurcated compellingly by the recessed line of his spine, so deeply carved into his muscular case as to give shadow even in the wan light of the overcast Seattle sky.
As he neared the water, eyes locked on the floating bit of wood, he leapt into the air, intent on attaining his wooden prey in a singular bound. He flew to it, his chiseled and manly body shifting as he did, transforming into a giant wolf, a werebeast of the most ancient sort, which landed chest deep with a splash and growled. His great head, broad as a bull’s and with a snout as long as a crocodile’s, plunged into the briny sea and took the driftwood in its toothy maw. Snap it went, and bits of splinters erupted like black sparks, flying outward and then falling, extinguished, forever lost in the hiss of so much white foam.
“Shit!” he growled, though the words did not translate properly to Bello’s ears. He trotted back to her, and deposited, a bit forlornly, the crumpled remnants of her driftwood stick, a sodden seeming vomit of frothy tree bark. She picked it up between thumb and forefinger as he shifted back to his human form.
“Eww,” she said, holding it at arm’s length and watching long threads of dog spit droop from it like melting spider webs. “Frickin’ gross, dude.”
“Yes, that’s a problem with us werewolves,” Flakeob admitted. “Can’t be helped. You should see the screen doors at the house. We slime the crap out of them whenever we shake our heads. Kind of a bitch living in Seattle. We’re always wet, so, it never ends. And watch out for slick hardwood floors, I’m telling you. It’s brutal.”
“I bet,” she said, letting the mangled piece of flotsam fall back into the sand. She couldn’t help but notice he smelled like a wet carpet too.
“So, what do werewolves do for fun?” she asked, trying to distract herself from the smell.
“Oh, we do a bit of everything. Sometimes we eat people. Sometimes we work on cars or motorcycles. Sometimes we kill vampires when we can.”
“Vampire killing, eh? Why’s that?”
“Well,” said Flakeob, “my people, the Lap Bush clan, go back a long way in these parts. Long before the white man, and way before any asshole vampires showed up.” From there he went into a long-ass story that Bello tuned out until it was nearly done.
“… and so it was through our incredibly powerful tongues that my ancestors were able to pleasure the river goddess in such a way that she gave us our werewolf abilities. That’s why we are known as the Lap Bush tribe.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” thought Bello, thinking on how cold Cedward’s mouth was whenever he kissed her.
“It is,” said Flakeob, inspired by the resumption of her interest in him. He grinned a wolfish grin at her, his dark unibrow arcing down between canine eyes suggestively. “I’ll show you, if you like.”
She stared back into the brown dogpiles of his eyes and felt the animal lust emanating from them unabashed, a pure need that asked no apology for its carnality. The muscles above his mouth on one side quivered at the brink of a snarl, the glint of his teeth showing how devilish was his desire to prove to her the greatness of the Lap Bush blood coursing at speed through his every last vein. But she said, “No.”
“What do you mean, no?” he said. Had he still been in wolf form his tail, among other things, would have drooped, made flaccid by her frigidity.
“I mean, no,” said she. “That’s not what I want.”
“Well what do you want?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Cedward asked me the same thing. I still don’t know.”
“Cedward,” Flakeob spat. “Cedward is a vampire.”
“Yes, I know. He told me.”
“He told you?”
“Of course he told me. Why wouldn’t he?”
“Because it is his one mortal secret.”
“Well, I’m special like that.”
“Indeed,” muttered Flakeob. “But I cannot share you.”
“I cannot share you,” he repeated. “I must have you for my own. I will not allow that vampire to touch you again.”
For the first time in the whole story, Bello felt something stirring in her loins. From her loins all the way up to that thick, hard head of hers, she began to have an inkling of what it was she wanted in her life.
“Say that again,” she commanded him.
“Say what?” His dark, dog eyes blinked at her honestly as dogs so often do.
“That thing about not wanting Cedward to touch me. It gave me a tingly feeling in my pants just now. Say that again.”
Flakeob repeated the challenge, even added to it, expressing with animal passion his desire for her and his utter detestation at the merest thought that the vile vampire, Cedward Mullen, might lay the least of his cold fingers upon Bello’s blood-warmed flesh. “I simply cannot allow it,” he finished. “I will die first.”
It was all Bello could do to hide the fact that her whole body suddenly became racked with orgasm at the speaking of those last four words. She fell to the sand and writhed about—which was not particularly adept work for someone trying to hide her feelings, but, when it was done, she made a show of acting like she’d suddenly been stricken with a chill, and, simpleton that he was, Flakeob bought her story despite contrary evidence provided by his facile nose.
Startled by this sudden onset of animate sensation, so foreign to her in every physical, emotional and intellectual experience, Bello rushed home soon after and lay on her bed trying to work it out. What had happened to her? What was it that had so struck that ecstasy in her? Flakeob hadn’t touched her, hadn’t done anything to her. No wolfish tongue had wound its way around the insides of her womanhood. No anything of physicality had so much as brushed her slightest erotic zone, nothing had even chanced to graze the splittest end of the least long strand of her mud-brown hair. Nothing. So what was it?
She would not figure it out until the following evening when Cedward Mullen arrived. He showed up in the middle of the night as he often did, appearing in her room in such a manner that any other girl would have called the police and had the audacious stalker hauled off to jail. She blinked and there he was, standing over her, gazing down at her with want in his shifting eyes.
“I smell dog on you,” he said.
“You two sure spend a lot of time thinking with your noses,” she said. “Both of you. What happens when you find yourself downwind of an outhouse? That’s got to drive you crazy.”
“What do you mean ‘you two?’” he demanded. Even dim Bello could tell by his tone that he already knew about whom she spoke.
“Flakeob,” she reported defiantly. “He likes how I smell too. It must be a thing with mythical creatures.”
“Any man would respond to you as I do were he to have my gifts. You are an intoxicant. A siren singing silently on the wind. You mesmerize with every breath, every wisp of air, every eddy of atmosphere includes the whisper of your scent. It is divine.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before. Listen, Flakeob says he will kill you if you try to touch me again. So, I don’t want you to come around here anymore.” She grinned a wolfish grin of her own at him, but hid it behind a coy maneuver with her hair.
Besotted beyond the magnificent wisdom he’d collected through the course of over a hundred years, the insight and knowledge accumulated by endless waking days of mornings, noons and nights spent reading literally everything written by the greatest humanists of humanity, time spent soaking in the studied truths of love, desire and deceit as played out and over in philosophy, history and the arts, endlessly examined through and through by the most brilliant people in all recorded time… despite all of this, he managed to miss her purpose completely and said, “Why, I’ll kill that mutt if it’s the last thing I ever do.”
And so began a long and ferocious series of battles that waged for months and even years. Cedward Mullen, the gorgeous and immortal vampire threw himself, and his entire family, at the throats of the Lap Bush werewolf clan. Many wolves were killed, their magical essence torn asunder by the undead power of vampire strength. More amazingly, the immortal vampires died too, thus throwing into question what the hell the word “immortal” really means. They fought day in and day out, the blood and bone flying, the dismembered limbs heaping in piles like the used parts warehouse at a Frankenstein factory.
With almost magical ability of her own, Bello found a way to be present at every fight. She silently reveled in the violence, and her body was endlessly racked by spasms of unbridled ecstasy with each gout of blood that spurted upon the ground. Each snap of limb where werewolf teeth tore vampire limbs clean out, she gasped and shuddered and nearly lost consciousness as her eyes rolled helplessly up into the cavernous recesses of her skull. As sinewy wolf bodies flew through the air, flung by undead might into trees where the crush of lycanthropic spines made toothpicks of great redwoods and mulch of so much bark, she writhed and tortured in rapturous joy. Yes, Bello found a way to know when and where each part of this war would be waged, and to every battle Bello came.
For a while.
But then she got bored.
Eventually the greatest creatures on earth battling for her love grew wearisome, and she sought something new. Who else could she get to fight for her banal charms, she wondered. Who else could she get to die for her? Certainly no normal human man would do for her anymore. The death of a mere mortal? Pshaw. She could have as much fun stepping on an ant.
Frustrated, tired, she strode across the latest battlefield, stepping past the panting wounded and bleeding death, and climbed upon a rock. She tipped her average face up towards the sky. A singular circle of perfect blue opened in the ever-present gray as she looked on, seemingly at her unspoken command. The window of it afforded her a glimpse into the azure mist that is serves as humanity’s gateway into the galaxy.
“God,” she muttered. “I’m bored. Who will fight for me now?”
And then she knew.
But, alas, that is a story for another day. The story when all the gods of all the religions of all time came upon the Earth and sundered it for her, nay, not merely sundered the Earth, but the whole of creation, a universe torn in twain by the thunderous exchange of whole pantheons of divinity, all of them, Good and Evil, locked in tempestuous contest for the attention of this one, simple, block-headed girl. Our Bello. Perhaps that will sate her. Perhaps that is what she needs, for short of that, she will never know happiness. I guess.
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