Victor didn’t hear the music anymore. Not with his ears, at least; they’d quit on him a long while back. More recently the fleshy seashells that people called ears had dropped off, first the right, then the left. Victor pulled a stocking cap down over the place where they’d been, and no one ever questioned it. It was cold in the van.
Still, another part of Victor heard every endlessly repeating note, singing along in a childish chorus of voices: See see, my playmate, come out and play with me… And they did, too. By the dozens on sunny days, one by one when it was cool.
It was cool today, an October day, and things were pleasantly eerie between the baring of the trees and the graying of the sky. It was no kind of day for ice cream, but he crept from street to street in the van, trawling for children like a mackerel fisher with baited lines. Sooner or later, one would bite.
And if everything went just right, he would bite back. It would have to happen soon; only three sno-cones remained and another finger was feeling brittle, threatening to let go like a loose tooth. It was his middle finger, this time. He thought he’d miss it most of all.
A child approached the van just after noon. A little girl in a shockingly yellow dress, it was no one he had seen before. Excellent, he thought, licking his lips before he saw a woman watching from the house’s shadowy porch, eliminating any chance of snatching the girl. He’d seen her before, stalking around in long black dresses like a Halloween witch. Was the girl her daughter?
He stopped the van anyway.
And bring your dollies three. Climb up my apple tree.
When the girl neared, Victor saw fear in her eyes. His van looked odd, he knew, like it had feasted on the corpses of other ice cream trucks, assimilating them into its patchwork exterior. His sign was faded a light blue, prices years out of date. Still, most children never noticed any of it in their blind rush for sugar. It wasn’t until they saw his sallow face and missing fingers that young ones became afraid, old ones mocking, and the rest probingly curious. “What happened to your hand?” they’d ask.
Pray you never find out, he’d reply, grinning to show the gaps in his yellow teeth.
The little girl looked back to the woman under the eaves. She waved a flowy sleeve, and the girl stumbled forward, waving a dollar bill. “I want a sno-cone,” she said, looking everywhere but into his eyes.
It happened, sometimes, that children would ask for them. With older kids, Victor would point to the horribly-out-of-date sign, but with young ones like this he just handed them something else and hoped for the best. It usually worked.
But not this time. “I want a sno-cone, not an ice cream sandwich.”
“I don’t have sno-cones.”
“Yes you do. I know you do.”
Victor looked up from the girl toward the fake witch lady, but the porch was deserted. The music played insistently in Victor’s head. Slide down my rainbow, into my cellar door, and we’ll be jolly friends, forever more, moremoremore moremoremoremore.
He sensed her in the van just before feeling the blade at his back. He raised his hands and turned slowly around while she held the knife on him. The witch’s long black hair obscured her eyes, but not their malice.
He’d expected one like himself. Finding the blood of virgins was an increasingly difficult task, regularly obtaining that blood without getting caught even more so. Even Victor had gone without more times than he could count—as his missing body parts attested. So if one of them had a proven strategy, the easiest thing for others to do was simply to kill and usurp. Many had already tried taking Victor’s ice cream route.
But the woman who faced him was human, young even, and up close he found her black lace and velvet even more passé and overdone.
“I know what you are,” she said.
“Yeah,” he laughed, showing his rotten grin. “I know what you are too.”
“I have come to drink from the chalice of immortality,” she said.
Victor laughed again. “Don’t gotta be so dramatic. And you won’t find no chalices here.”
“Fine then,” the woman said, clearly irked. “I’m gonna drink your blood, asshole.”
“You sure you wanna do that?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Just look at me,” Victor said. He swiveled one still-raised hand around and pulled three of its four remaining fingers down, leaving the middle finger pointed to the ceiling. It wobbled, then hinged forward at the knuckle and fell to the floor. “Immortality’s not like those Twilight movies you kids love.”
She lunged at him then, holding him against a cooler of popsicles. She pressed her knife to his throat and drank until nothing more flowed, then she squeezed him like a toothpaste tube to suck out what remained. When she was finished she dropped the empty sack of Victor’s body and stepped over it into the driver’s seat. As she did she saw that the girl she’d used to distract Victor—her first victim, she’d thought—had run off. Oh well, she thought. There’ll be others.
She felt uncomfortably full, but the first thing she had to do was silence the insidious music. It had infuriated her for years, endlessly repeating through the neighborhood, sticking in her head for hours at a time. It was stuck there now, and it would be, on and off, for the rest of her immortal life.
She hummed along, hearing the words with her budding new senses. See see, my enemy, come out and play with me. I’ll bring my bulldogs three. Climb up my poison tree. Slide down my razorblade, into my dungeon door.
And we’ll be enemies, forever more, more, shut the door.
Emily C. Skaftun lives in Seattle with her husband and their child, a cat who thinks he’s a tiger. When she’s not teaching or writing, she dabbles in roller derby and flying trapeze. Emily has an MFA in Creative Writing and is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, and FLURB. Look for new works in 2013 in The Colored Lens and After Death, an anthology.
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