The Man in Apartment 3-A
 Kelli A. Wilkins

"My upstairs neighbor is a vampire. Albec Kosov is a real, honest to goodness, fangs and everything vampire."

Mills cocked one eyebrow and rubbed the top of his bald head. He glanced around the dark, almost deserted pub. The only other patrons were a couple in the far corner, too interested in each other to notice anything else.

"Okay pal, whatever you say." He wiped off the bar in front of his sandy-haired customer. The young man grabbed his wrist and stared into his eyes.

"No, I mean it."

Mills stepped back as the man released his hold. Something was off with this guy, way off. After tending bar for decades, he could read people. This guy wasn't drunk, but seemed spooked, shocked, like he'd found out something he shouldn't have. Mills nodded. Why not humor him? "Okay then, I'll bite." He smirked. "Why don't you tell me about it?"

"I moved here a few months ago. At first, everything seemed fine. I rented a two-room apartment. It's not much, a living room with cheap brown carpet, a kitchen, tiny bedroom, and small bathroom. It's enough of a place to live when I'm not at work.

"One night I stayed up late and heard my upstairs neighbor come in. No big deal, I think. I heard footsteps, heavy-heeled boots, like cowboy boots, walk across the floor. Then, little 'click click clicks,' dainty woman's steps behind them. They crossed the living room and went straight into the bedroom. Lucky guy, I think. Didn't hear anything else, except the bedroom window slide open." He sipped his drink and paused.

"The next night, the same thing happened, the boots, the heels, after about twenty minutes of silence, the window -- except this time I hear the guy come back in through the apartment door. I knew that because each apartment in the building is identical."

Mills leaned against the bar and rested his chin in his hand. "Uh-huh." He nodded. "The guy goes out and comes back in, so what?"

"So? He never left. He lives on the third floor. There are no balconies or fire escapes outside the building. The boots, the heels, the silence, the window. Then he comes back into the apartment. Where did the woman go? How? Seemed a little odd to me. A week goes by, the same thing boots, heels, silence, window, every night. Sometimes he comes back in. Sometimes he doesn't.

"One night I came in around three and heard voices upstairs for the first time. His resonated low, muffled, and deep. I couldn't make out any of the words. Her voice higher pitched, upset, and nervous. They were arguing or fighting about something and then -- abrupt silence. The nightly routine resumed, boots, heels, and window. I started thinking, what if something strange is going on in there? What if he's up to something illegal? I checked the newspapers for stories about murdered or abducted women, but there were none.

"After a while it occurred to me that I never saw this guy. What did he look like? I decided I needed to see him. I strolled up and down the third floor hallway when I got home and in the mornings before I went to work. I even stopped outside 3-A, his door. I thought up ways to get a look at him, wait by the front door until he came in, ask to use his telephone, borrow some milk, something to get us to meet.

"One day fate delivered it to me, literally. A large manila envelope addressed to Albec Kosov stuck out of my mailbox. Bulky and thick, the packet had no return address, only an illegible postmark. I held it in my hand, delighted, yet nervous at the same time. What if I went up there and he accused me of stealing it? What if he was a killer and there were bits of murdered women or blood all over? What would his apartment look like? Smell like? I was afraid, but I had to go up there to satisfy my curiosity."

Mills filled a wicker basket with pretzels and set it down on the bar. Tuesday nights were slow, he might as well play along. "Did it ever occur to you he might work nights?"

"I thought of that. I thought of a lot explanations, only none of them fit. Living in an apartment you hear things, you get to know your neighbors' patterns and habits. I never heard his shower run. Never heard a television. Never heard him in the other rooms. Nothing.

"I walked upstairs with the envelope. I was about to knock when the door opened and I stood face to face with a squat, five-foot-four toad-like guy with no neck. He made Boris Karloff look handsome.

"He grinned at me. His smile stretched his thin lips and frog face wide. Then he laughed.
"Come in please, I am Albec Kosov." His thick European accent sounded Romanian or Slovakian.

"I stepped inside. Heavy blinds were permanently fastened to the window. The ugly brown carpet had been ripped up, exposing the hardwood floors. A large, overstuffed emerald green sofa was pushed against one wall, and shelves and shelves of books covered the walls. The dark apartment smelled like exotic incense. Candles, some lit, some unlit, stood everywhere.
"I hope I didn't startle you. Would you care for a drink Charlie? I have wine, a beer perhaps?" He stared at me with his bulging, frog-like eyes. For a second, I thought they glowed. Then I blinked and they looked normal again.

"Uh, sure," I muttered.

"Kosov handed me a crystal glass of thick, red wine. I stood there, too fascinated to refuse. What the hell was I doing?

""I suppose you're wondering how I know your name." He walked to the couch and motioned for me to sit down. That's when I heard it, the boots on wood. The sound snapped me out of my trance. I watched his black leather boots cross the floor. Kosov caught me staring at his feet.

""Do you like your new apartment?" he asked.

""Yes, Mis…Mister Kosov," I stammereed.

""Please, it's Albec to you, Charlie." He sipped his drink. It looked different than mine. "Now, what brings you up here?"

"I was at a loss for words. Was I supposed to tell him I'd been creeping around and listening to him at night? I felt the heavy envelope in my sweaty hand. "I got some of your mail." I handed it to him. His thick, wide fingers touched mine as he took the package. His hands were damp and chilly. He muttered a phrase that wasn't in English. I sipped my bitter wine."Do you live alone?" he asked.

""Yes," I answered, then wished I'd lied. I looked around the apartment. The door was covered with locks. What the hell are those for? I thought.

""I have a collection of rare, antique books. I'm afraid someone might break in one day," Kosov answered.

"I looked at him, confused. How had he known? I shook my head. "How long have you lived here?"

""Twenty-five years, same apartment."
""Wow, that's…"

""Nearly as long as you've been living, Charlie Harrington."

"I gazed at him in the half-lit room. Something about the way he spoke, the way he knew things, terrified me.
""One would think a young man such as yourself, so new to this area, would find better things to do than to monitor the nightly activities of your upstairs neighbor."

"An icy chill passed over me. He knew. All this time, he knew. He had expected me. I didn't know what to do next. From out of nowhere a telephone rang. I jumped. A reprieve.

"Kosov set his glass down on the dark wood coffee table and excused himself. I waited until he had gone into another room and then lifted the glass. The drink smelled salty. Little bits of black pulp swirled around in it. A demented Bloody Mary, I thought. I studied the fluid again. Strange, yet familiar, it thickened and clotted along the side of the glass. Repulsed, I put it back down, only to look up and see Kosov watching me.

""My, we are curious, aren't we?" the frog-man chastised.

"I froze. What could I do?"

Mills refilled Charlie's glass and shook his head. "You mean to tell me the guy actually drank blood? That's how you found out he's a vampire?" He chuckled.

"No." Charlie played with the bar napkin in front of him. The red and black lettering spelled out 'Bela's Brewery.' "Kosov explained it to me.

"I didn't know whether to laugh it off or to run. I couldn't decide, so I sat. Kosov plumped down next to me and draped one hand along the back of the sofa. His fingers strumming the material. "Would you like to try some?" He sipped from his glass and smirked. The liquid stained his thin lips crimson before his thick tongue licked it off. "You have a clever, inquisitive mind, Charlie. Have I satisfied your curiosity?"

"I stared at him and waited for him to let me leave.

""In my twenty-five years of living here, I have relied on the fact that apartment dwellers rarely, if ever, even consider each other alive. Most people go in and out of their tiny rat holes and scurry past each other in the halls, afraid to make eye contact, afraid of each other until they reach the safety of their little nests. But you, you're different… interested… inqunquisitive… even…devious. Rather admirable qualities I think," he chuckled.

"I stared at him. He's crazy, out of his mind, some kind of demented killer.

""Now now, Charlie, I never kill…unless provoked." He rose from the couch. "You modern day people are so unimaginative. Nothing original anymore. Hardly anyone is superstitious, or educated, or observant enough in the old ways to understand anything.
You blame strange happenings on mysterious cults, drug crazed hippies, or serial killers, while we walk and work among you in nightclubs, convenience stores, hospitals, anywhere there's a night shift. We go about our business, our eternal lives, almost like anyone else until there's a slip up. But even then, it's the fault of a terrorist or of a jealous ex-husband. You make it so much easier for us these days." Kosov smirked. "You provide us with our alibis."

"I sat there, convinced Kosov was a weirdo who watched too many horror movies. "Are you trying to tell me you're a vampire?"

"Kosov nodded. "Indeed. I like you, Charlie. You've got smarts and I think we could be good friends and even better neighbors."

""This is insane." I pointed a finger at the odd, little man. "You're a nut. That's all, a real nut. I don't know what the hell you've got going on here, but I'm leaving. Stay away from me!""

Mills wiped off a glass with a white towel and arched an eyebrow. "So your neighbor confesses he's a vampire and you walk out on him?" He set the glass down and shrugged. "Kid, I've had guys come in here convinced they've seen Elvis at the market down the street, or they were Abraham Lincoln in a past life. Weirdoes, kid, the world's full of them. Don't you know better? People in cities never get involved with their neighbors. And besides, you're an average guy, you mean to tell me you believe in vampires in this day and age?"

Charlie shook his head. "I didn't, not at first. I thought what any rational person would think. Kosov's a nut or something. Before I wanted to see him, but now he came to see me." He sipped his drink.

"Two nights after I left Kosov's apartment, I heard a knock on my door. Kosov stood there dressed in black: black dress slacks, black vest, crimson dress shirt, and a long black overcoat draped over his shoulders. He looked fantastic and smelled even better. He smiled at me.
"Appearance is a very important thing, Charlie. I don't expect you'd invite me in?" He chuckled. "I'm headed out for the evening. Do you have a newspaper? I need to see the movie section."

"I reached into my apartment and grabbed the paper off the table near the door. I handed it to him and he studied it for a second. He gave the paper back to me. "Thank you. Good evening," he said, and walked down the hall.

"Three nights later, Kosov returned and interrupted my dinner. I answered the door with a slice of pizza in my hand. It was the kind with extra garlic crust.

"Why not play with his mind a little? I thought. "Want a bite?" I said, and thrust the garlic-laden wedge out to him. I expected him to run, hiss, and recoil in fear like Christopher Lee in those Hammer horror films. He didn't.

""Very funny. I told you Charlie, you amuse me," Kosov said, and bit into the slice. I made a point of looking at his mouth. His teeth looked normal.

""You still won't invite me in?" Kosov pouted, then gestured at the half-eaten slice of pizza. 
"Doesn't this count for anything?"

"I sighed. Maybe it would be better to appease him. The last thing I wanted was a nutty neighbor mad at me. "Alright. Come in for five minutes."

"Kosov stepped through the doorway with his long black overcoat flapping behind him. He settled himself on my sofa. "I need you to do me a favor." His round eyes looked up at me. "As I said, I've lived here for 25 years, and I suppose this had to happen eventually. Up until now, I've been able to stave off all kinds of annoying apartment repairs, to the walls, windows, ceilings, the usual maintenance. You know, the kind where the landlord allows total strangers to rummage through your possessions under the guise of renovation."

"He arched a dark, pointy eyebrow. "I'm afraid my luck has run out. I'm told there are crucial repairs that must be made to my apartment next week."

""So? Let them in and they'll be gone in a few hours. What's the big deal?" I shrugged.

""The company only schedules repairs between eight and five -- daylight hours, Charlie."

"I rolled my eyes and sighed. "You're always home during the day, you obviously don't work. What's the problem?" The sarcastic words escaped before I could stop myself.

""Charlie, you know I must rest during the day."

"The tone of his voice chilled me. I decided to stop playing games. "Give me a break, Kosov. This vampire crap has gone on long enough. You--" He stopped me with a furious look.

""Fine! As you wish." He rose and strode from the apartment without another word.

"I sat there for a few minutes, trying to understand. Obviously, I had offended him. He didn't seem like a bad guy, but enough was enough.

"A few hours later, I heard his nightly ritual, boots, heels, silence, but this time he made it different. I heard a high-pitched scream come from upstairs. I dashed out of my apartment and pounded on Kosov's door. It creaked open and I peered in.

"Kosov stood in the kitchen near the small sink with a large chunk of raw meat pressed to his face. He gnawed and slurped on it wildly. Fresh blood ran down his wrists and chin, and dripped into the white ceramic sink. Kosov turned toward me, and his eyes glowed red.
I must have passed out, because the next thing I knew I was lying on his couch. He stood over me smelling like oranges. His hands were clean.

""Are you alright?" Kosov asked. Bits of orange pulp stuck out from in between his two front teeth. The apartment smelled like citrus.

"My mind flashed back to him eating the meat, and the blood running down his chin. A thought entered my head. "An orange, Charlie, that's all you saw. Unless I wish it to be otherwise."

"A half-eaten orange was lying on the coffee table. Kosov stood and grabbed the piece of fruit. "Care for a bite, Charlie?" He wiped his chin with a handkerchief. A red smudge appeared on the white cloth.

"I jumped off the couch and ran for the door. The locks were bolted. I raced into the bedroom. I figured that if he kept going in and out of the window, he must have a ladder. I was wrong. He had something else.

"The pitch-black room stank like rotted meat. I flipped on the lights. A dim bulb cast shadows against the walls of the almost empty room. An oblong object stood up against the far wall. A coffin! I turned and bumped into Kosov. He gazed at me with strange, sparkling eyes.

""I didn't do anything to anyone, Charlie. I just thought it would be a good way to trick you into coming up here." He grinned.

"I stared at the coffin, and then stared back at him. All of a sudden, I knew. This wasn't some kind of sick joke. It was real. "This is insane."

""Hard to comprehend, I know. Now will you grant me my favor?" Kosov leaned close and rested a hand on my shoulder. It felt like 200 pounds of frozen lead.

"I agreed."

Mills straightened out a stack of napkins on the bar. "So, what was the favor, Renfield?" he joked, and poured another drink.

"He wanted me to stand guard over his apartment while the maintenance workers were there. Kosov would be in his bedroom, 'asleep' like any other day. I wasn't to allow the workers out of my sight, or anywhere near the bedroom. I waited most of the day, anxiously looking out the window for a sign of them.

"Finally, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the workers arrived in a red truck with "Previma Plumbing" written on the side. Three men got out. It seemed like it was a family-run business. The man in charge with gray hair looked older, and the younger men might have been his sons. I buzzed them in. They seemed surprised when I answered Kosov's door.

""Oh, we have wrong apartment number," the older man said with a thick, but familiar European accent.

""No. This is the right place. Apartment 3-A." I nodded and invited them in.

"The older man wandered around and inspected the apartment. The younger workers went into the bathroom and fiddled about under the sink. After a few minutes, they went over to the kitchen faucet, took the drain apart, and made a lot of noise. I kept an eye on them and pretended to 'help' by asking a lot of questions. Every time I approached them, they got annoyed.

""Why you not go? Leave, get something to eat." The older man suggested. "We finish here faster if you go, stay out of our way. Be done when you come back."

""I'll stay," I answered. I didn't want any trouble from Kosov.

Two hours later, they still hadn't done any real work. They jittered and jammered in their foreign tongue for a while, then one of the young men asked to use the phone. I followed him into the living room and watched, bemused, as he made a great presentation of looking for the right telephone number. He apologized profusely and said he needed to call and order a part. I suggested that he might want to come back tomorrow. It was after five o'clock, and starting to get dark.

"All of a sudden, there was a commotion near the bedroom. The young worker dropped the phone. He darted toward the back of the apartment ahead of me, and pulled a large wooden spike from his toolbox. I caught up with him in the hallway when he stopped short. The toolbox fell out of his grip and clattered to the floor. The bedroom door was open.

"Kosov stood in the doorway. He held a worker in each hand, suspending them by the neck six inches above the floor. Long, clear nails dug into their throats, making small, purple crescents in their flesh. His eyes glowed like hot coals. His lips were curled back into a sneer, exposing long, sharp fangs.

"The workers muttered something in their native language as they struggled. Kosov hissed, and a foul stench filled the room. The man in front of me sprinted to the window and reached for the blinds. I clobbered him hard in the back of the head with his toolbox, and he slumped to the floor. The other two men yelped and flailed wildly. One of them wet himself. I stared at Kosov, the vampire.

"He focused his eyes on me. "Favor granted, Charlie. You may go now." His voice sounded thick and gruff.

"My knees trembled as I left. I glanced back long enough to watch Kosov's fangs rip into the skin of the older man before the bedroom door closed on its own. I ran to my apartment and slumped against the locked door."

Mills stood behind the bar with his arms folded across his chest. "And?"

"And what?" Charlie gulped his drink.

"Well, what happened next?"

"After I stopped shaking, I got the hell out of there. I drove to the library and made a real nuisance of myself with the librarian."

"Doing what?" Mills asked.

"Research. There is no Previma Plumbing company in the entire state. The envelope I delivered to Kosov was a tip-off. He knew what they were, vampire hunters coming for him. He just needed someone there for security."

"You don't say." Mills smiled. "So now what happens to your nocturnal neighbor? Do you go to the cops?"

Charlie shook his head. "Cops? For what?" He scowled. "Do you think there'll be any evidence left? I'm sure he's taken care of everything by now. Besides, who the hell would believe me?"

Mills poured another whiskey into Charlie's empty glass. "This is on the house."

"What for?"

"A reward. You did fine, kid. It's not every day a mortal helps one of us out." Mills laughed, exposing a set of long fangs.

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