by Christopher Stires

“Daddy!” she cried.

I was scribbling research notes at my desk when I heard her call out for me.  Immediately, without hesitation, I jumped up and dashed down the hall to her bedroom.  All eight years and fifty pounds of her latched onto me like a vise-grip as I knelt beside her bed.  I could feel her little body trembling against my breast and her little fingers digging into my wounded arm.

“What’s wrong, pumpkin?” I asked, stroking her hair.

She answered, but her reply was muffled by my shirt.  It took a moment for me to understand what she was saying.

“What’s under the bed?”

“D-Dracula,” she whispered.

I hugged her closer and wished my wife wasn’t away for the night, visiting her mother.  She was much better at this than I was.  She wouldn’t have let Katie watch that old horror movie earlier.  But I’d thought watching Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi was a much better idea than watching the latest atrocities on CNN.  Why didn’t kids come with an owner’s manual?

“There’s no Dracula,” I said.  “He’s make-believe.”

She shook her head.  “He came out of the c-closet and slipped under the bed.  He wanted to suck the blood from my toes.”

Slowly, ever so slowly, I eased from her death-hug and peered under the bed.  When I straightened up, Katie had her knees up to her quivering chin and her covers coiled tightly around her.

I smiled my best I’m-here-and-you’re-safe smile.  “Nothing under there except one dirty sock, two Pokemon cards, and a colony of dust bunnies.”

“He was there.”  Her voice was so sure.  I wished I could be so positive in my beliefs.

“Dracula was a character created by Bram Stroker.  Frankenstein’s monster was made up by Mary Shelley.  It’s all make-believe.”

“He wasn’t real, Daddy?”

“No.  Pretend.  Like Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

“Grammy believes in ghosts.”

“Your grammy needs…”  I stopped myself before I said something that I would regret.  Something that would have me sleeping on the sofa when Katie repeated it to her mother.  “What’s my job, honey?”

Katie peered at me with her big, deep-blue eyes.  “You write stories.”

“That’s right.  I make up tales about goblins and spooks and aliens from outer space.  I write stories just like—”

“—Stephen King and Dean Koontz,” she finished.  She knew my routine better than I did.  “You tell lies for fun and profit.”

“That’s right.”  I kissed her forehead.

“Mommy says you take unnecessary risks when you do research.  Like when you went to the Carpet Mountains.”

“Carpathian,” I corrected.

“What’s a risk?”

When did she overhear that argument?  “Mommy worries too much.”

Katie snuggled down under her covers.  “I’m okay now, Daddy.  I’m glad you’re home.  Will you leave the hall light on, please?”

“Yes.”

I walked back to my tiny study, rubbing the bite-scar on my arm. The full moon would rise in two days.  There are no vampires.  There are no werewolves.  There are no…

Christopher Stires lives in Riverside CA with his wife, Annie, and stepdaughter, Katie.  His stories have appeared in Pirate WritingsBurning SkyDeadboltMindmaresParchment Symbols, and Vampire Dan’s Story Emporium.