Bats fluttered and swooped above the trees of the small island, darting shadows against the charcoal sky. Beneath the shelter of the trees stood shingled beach houses, long deserted by their human inhabitants.
Bats had claimed the island years before. Bats and the Eternal Ones, the ones who could transform themselves, become bats when the need arose.
The island was reachable only by boat, and this discouraged most people from building on it. Those who had built summer houses were driven away by the bats, murdered by those masquerading as bats, or had given up their nectar and had become Eternals themselves.
Now, Gabri waited in a darkened house. He had claimed part of the house as his own, having spread the ancient burial dirt on the floorboards and placed the carefully polished, dark wood coffin against the eastern wall, the safe wall.
Leaning heavily against the window frame, he stared out through the open window at the diving bats that the moonlight revealed.
Gabri sighed, unable to keep a pleased smile from spreading across his face. The air was warm and heavy, the way he liked it. The flutter of bat wings provided a pleasant background for his thoughts.
Thoughts of how he had ruined Jessica’s chances to win the bet. Thoughts of April, of fresh nectar.
He had sampled the nectar so gingerly, so carefully. His thirst was barely slaked.
But the summer was young.
He had reason to be patient.
Poor, impatient Jessica.
He was thinking of her as the bat floated down to the window. He pulled his head back as the creature, screeching like a fire alarm, buzzed by his face. It landed lightly on the floor and began to whir about, faster and faster, until it appeared as only a shadowy whirlwind.
A few seconds later Jessica emerged from the whirlwind, ruby droplets of blood still clinging to her full lips. She angrily tossed back her mane of hair and advanced on Gabri. “Wipe that disgusting smile off your face.”
Gabri made no attempt to change his expression.
“What’s the matter, Jessica? A little too much to drink?” He snickered at perhaps the only joke he had ever made.
Jessica raised her hands and lurched forward as if to attack him, groaning in anger. He stood his ground, his features narrowing. “Calm down. What’s the big deal? You’re a loser, that’s all.”
She glared at him, balling her hands into fists, too overcome by anger to speak.
“At least you’re not thirsty,” he said.
“Shut up, Gabri,” she snarled. “Just shut up.” She crossed her arms tightly in front of her chest, shuddering with anger, her teeth clenched, her face suddenly old, as if her anger were revealing her years.
He stood calmly at the window as she paced, enjoying her anger, enjoying her defeat, his victory. “Don’t be a poor loser,” he said softly as bats fluttered and screeched outside the window.
“I’m not a loser!” Jessica declared, stopping inches in front of him. “You’re a cheater, Gabri. You play a dirty game.”
His dark eyes widened in mock innocence. “Me? What did I do?”
“First you bit the girl to distract Todd,” she reminded him, her face nearly in his, neither of them willing to back up. “Then you interrupt us, you fly overhead, you get me nervous and cause me to accidentally bite Todd too deeply.”
He laughed. “I made you nervous?”
“Stop laughing!” she screamed. “I killed that boy—for no reason! Just because you were determined to win our bet.”
“At least you had your fill of the nectar,” Gabri replied with a sneer. “What are you complaining about, Jessica?”
“It wasn’t part of the bet, Gabri.”
“Stop being a sore loser,” he snapped, suddenly impatient, pushing himself away from the window. “All’s fair in love and war, you know.”
“I’m not a loser. You’re going to be the loser,” she insisted vehemently, following him, her coppery hair flowing behind her as she moved.
He laughed scornfully. “How can I lose? I have only two more encounters with April to go, two more tastes, and I will win.” He walked to the coffin against the wall and, seeing the sky begin to brighten as dawn approached, pulled open the lid.
“But my victim—” she started.
“Your unfortunate victim is dead,” Gabri said with a sneer. “Your clumsiness killed him. You must concede defeat.”
“No way,” Jessica insisted, following him to his coffin. “I am not defeated. I am still going to win. I will simply choose a new victim.”
Gabri began to lower himself into the coffin. “A new victim? Get serious.”
“I am serious,” Jessica said, finally calm, finally rid of her anger.
She had an idea, an idea that was restoring her hope as it vanquished her fury.
“I am very serious, Gabri,” she told him as she slowly lowered the coffin lid over his reclining figure. “Todd’s friend Matt will be my victim. He will do nicely. In fact . . .” She smiled for the first time that night, letting him see her smile before she let the lid fall. “In fact—Matt will be easy prey.”