I have the coolest neighbor in all of San Myshuno.
No, not either of them.
I’m talking about Detective Saul Strider. His name is almost as cool as he is, and I’m not just saying that because my family is really big on alliteration.
He’s the coolest, right?
I’m pretty sure he’s the pinnacle of human manliness. Humanliness? The pinnacle of humanliness. He doesn’t smile or laugh much, but he just looks so cool not smiling and not laughing, you know? And he calls me “kid,” even though he knows I’m almost ten times older than he is. (His brother must’ve told him I’m a vampire, because he tells me to stay out of the sun all the time. And to avoid any garlicky foods from all the strange human food kiosks. And to not touch any electrical outlets with wet hands, but I don’t know what that has to do with being a vampire.)
I think he must really like me, too, because he’s always over here drinking coffee instead of hanging out with Reed and Mina.
Sometimes he asks if he can use my free “lightly used” futon, which is great, since I have my coffin anyway. It’s like we’re having a manly sleepover, except I’m awake while he’s asleep.
I’ve never had a best friend before (except for Count von Batstein), so I’m pretty happy that he’s my very first one. I think if I had a big brother instead of a big sister, he’d be like Saul, even though Saul is young enough to be my really, really younger brother. I always wished I had a brother, since I don’t remember my father. It’d be nice to have someone to talk about man stuff with, you know? The Birdsong brothers always talk about strange things when they blow bubbles–there’s no room for man stuff.
Saul says he’s “dead tired” all the time and he’s not even a vampire. Maybe I can ask him to help me with my jokes, since that one’s pretty great. I write new jokes on the computer every night and anonymous people on the internet have a lot to say about them, so I make sure to thank them for their constructive criticism and let them know that I’m already dead. Well, undead, remember, but I don’t think random internet strangers can really appreciate the distinction.
Sometimes Saul says he needs some “time to himself,” which is cool. I’m a good friend, so I just wait patiently outside the closed door until he’s ready to share his time again.
You know, it’s kind of weird, but even with all the excitement of city living and human life, I still miss things from Forgotten Hollow. Not Bianca, exactly—though she sent me a couple packages with those flavored plasma packs that she always swore would rot my fangs (and some new underwear, for some reason)—but I guess I missed the familiarity of my old unlife, you know? And my microphone, which I always liked to touch because it was cold and shiny like my forehead. But I didn’t really need it anymore, since I was done with the whole “aspiring comedian” thing.
I was going to get a job. A real one, for real humans—and especially real mans. Men. Real men.
A couple weeks after I moved in next door to him and shortly after we became super 100% best friends for all eternity, I finally worked up the courage to ask Saul if there were any openings at his workplace that I could maybe, possibly, you know…fill.
“You?” Saul said, his thick, manly brows almost touching as he looked at me. He was on his third cup of coffee, so I knew that was exactly when his mood would finally start to improve.
“Me,” I agreed, flashing him my most confident, manliest smile.
He looked kind of impressed. I think. It’s really hard to tell with him, but that’s one of the many things that contributes to his sheer humanliness.
“Kid, do you have any applicable skills? Or any skills at all?”
“I’m a vampire, remember? I have hidden skills.” So well hidden that I didn’t know what they were myself.
“Can you make coffee?”
“I can try?”
“Can you look busy when you’re not making coffee?”
“I think so?”
“Hell, I guess it would make my job easier to keep you there with me,” Saul said slowly, taking another swig from his mug. “You’re hired. Just…try to keep your head down and stick to the shadows, will you? Don’t think it’ll kill me to pull some more night shifts. And if it does…” He shrugged. “I could use the extra sleep.”
He thought I’d make his job easier! That was the same as saying I’d be really, really helpful. He had faith in me. “I love shadows,” I said eagerly. “I’m a vampire.”
“So I hear,” he said.
“Do I get a police costume?” I was kind of a fan of costumes now, after seeing how much fun Reed and Mina had with them. Though once I kind of walked in on them wearing costumes that I don’t think Bianca would’ve approved of.
“A police costume.”
“Yeah, like yours.”
“Kid, you’re not qualified to be a cadet, never mind a detective. You’ll be making coffee and helping me file paperwork. Mountains and mountains of paperwork. Might as well say you’re part of some, hell, I don’t know, ‘troubled youth’ program. You almost look the part.”
He thought I was troubled! I was pretty sure that was another way of saying cool and manly. My sister liked heroes who were “troubled” and muscular and could only be saved by a beautiful maiden’s pure love (accessible only by ripping off all her clothes). At least I could be one of those things. (No, not muscular.) And I hadn’t been called a youth since I turned a hundred!
“Thanks, Saul! I mean, Detective Strider. I’ll be the best police sidekick you ever had.”
He laughed. He actually laughed.
“Think it’s about time to ask the good old boss for a raise.”
He wanted to buy more cool man stuff and share it with me!
I was so excited the day before I started my first job that I could barely sleep. Saul hadn’t talked to me about my salary, or if I was even getting one at all. But every time asked how many simoleons I had left in the bank, Daya would just say I had “more than enough” for rent, utilities and plasma packs. I’d really have to write my great-aunt Letitia a really nice thank-you note the next time she sent me another savings bond. Learning how to be an independent, manly vampire wouldn’t have been possible without her–Reed and Mina always say the rent in San Myshuno is “insane.”
I arrived at the police station even before Saul did. I don’t know if he was going to take me there or not, but I wanted to show him that I was proactive, reliable and manly. I got to see real police officers and real criminals while I waited!
Everyone looked really busy and important. I knew I’d have to learn from their example so I wouldn’t disappoint Saul. I kept asking the lady at the front desk if she knew when Detective Strider would be there, and she threatened to have me arrested if I asked her again. I liked her; she was obviously like one of those no-nonsense, independent cop ladies on TV who always did what had to be done and then for some reason really, really wanted a baby all of a sudden.
When Saul finally got there three hours later, he didn’t waste time on idle chit-chat—or even saying hello. He was a man’s man, and a detective, and there was work to be done.
A detective had to be alert; lives were on the line in San Myshuno. I was pretty sure I saved over fifty lives that night. Maybe even a hundred.
My first night went off without a hitch: even Detective Strider said I didn’t screw up as badly as he expected, which for him is really high praise. My coffee “wasn’t the worst” he’d ever had, either! He told me I’d even be allowed to come back. My first real job! It was even better than being a comedian, because no one in the station laughed at my jokes and I was getting paid anyway. I think.
In the couple weeks after that, Detective Strider started to give me more and more responsibilities. We also had long, man-to-man chats at work sometimes.
Really long chats.
And now I was allowed to use the special police computers! They were kind of like my computer at home, except they were much smaller and didn’t give off any smoke while I used them. Detective Strider gave me lots of things to type up or organize or search through. I even had access to a magic box that turned up information about people in San Myshuno, kind of like how the one on my home computer spat out memes and vampire puns.
I might’ve tried to use it for my own selfish purposes once. Or twice. Or one hundred and thirty-seven times.
There were too many Pennies to find the one I was looking for, though. Could there really be so many humans named Penny in just one city? None of the pictures I saw looked anything like her; there weren’t nearly enough face-spots. And a lot of them looked kind of mean and angry. My Penny had been a little bit mean and angry too, but in a good way.
“Kid, you better not be watching any more videos of people eating shit they shouldn’t be,” Detective Strider said from the cubicle next to mine.
“But I’ve never seen a human eat three jars of mayonnaise and a whole bar of soap before,” I said.
“Think I’d rather go my entire life without seeing that.”
“Soooo, Detective…” I began. “Any interesting cases lately?” I really liked calling him Detective. And I kind of wanted to distract him while I closed the twenty-five different Penny-finding windows I had open.
“Depends—how do you feel about missing persons and over a hundred grand in water damage?”
“I love missing persons!” I said. “And water damage. The more, the better.”
“Uh huh. Remind me the next time your birthday rolls around.” I’d just turned three hundred and he was already thinking about my next unbirthday! “But you’re strictly on desk jobs only, kid. Boss’d kill me otherwise. Don’t want you getting attacked by wild animals on the job.”
“But I’ve only seen pigeons,” I said. “And a really big raccoon.”
He shrugged. “Can’t be too careful,” he said. “Not when a new couch is on the line.”
Detective Strider really did have a great sense of humor. It was so dry that you almost couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, which I think is a good skill for every comedian to have. It just makes everything funnier, you know? Like everything is a joke, even when it’s not.
When it was time to go home that morning, I felt a bit sad. I liked being surrounded by the bustle of human activity, and spending all that time with Saul and his co-workers. I was lucky to be able to go to work every night with my best friend. And I felt helpful, you know? I was productive and useful (when I wasn’t watching food-eating videos or searching for Penny), even if I’d secretly rather be practicing new jokes instead. At least my job was better than performing for stuffed animals in my sister’s basement. Wasn’t it?
After work, I fell asleep almost the second my head hit the bottom of my coffin. Now I could finally understand why Saul was so tired all the time. I slept…
I tossed and turned in my coffin, but didn’t get up. Saul was right: I shouldn’t watch weird food-eating videos before bed. It gave me weird dreams sometimes.
The same place you always look.
Well, now I couldn’t fall back asleep. I rubbed sleepily at my eyes and climbed out of my coffin.
Weird dream. That’s all it was, right? It was still daylight. It’s not like I could even go outside…
Luckily, the Birdsong brothers and I had hauled a free sun-protection umbrella onto my balcony. Just in case I wanted to, you know, watch the birds sing sometimes. I decided that maybe I wanted to watch some birds sing, even if it was sometime in the afternoon now.
I rubbed at my eyes again. Was that…?
I used my extra-sharp vampiric vision, like Bianca did when she was trying to check if I really did brush my fangs every night.
Penny…? And Lysander? But they didn’t look right. But what if it was them? It wouldn’t hurt to just casually sort of bump into them, maybe—and get a better look while I was at it, right?
I rushed to put on my cool city vampire clothes, hoping desperately that they’d stay there long enough for me to see them both. If it really was them, I wanted Penny to think I was amazingly manly and cool, but I also wanted Lysander to be proud of me when I told him about my awesome new job and how I was a 100% independent vampire now. He’d kind of been like a brother to me, in a way, even if he was closer to my sister’s minion. At least he’d been a very nice, polite minion. He was still family, you know?
I was shocked when I rounded the corner of the club where I’d met Penny so long ago and saw Saul talking to both of them.
“Hey, kid,” Saul said to a “kid” that definitely wasn’t me.
“Hey, Detective Strider,” the Other Kid said. “Been a while.”
“You staying out of trouble?”
“Trying to,” she said. “For real, this time.”
Saul laughed. He almost never laughed, unless something was really, really funny. I was jealous. But then I did get the better look I was after…
“Penny!” I yelled. “Lysander!”
“Huh?” Penny said, no recognition in her eyes when she glanced over at me. Her hair was longer now—much longer—but I’d still recognize those face-spots anywhere.
My heart sank. And then…my skin burned.
“Uh, Detective Strider…?” she said. “I think that freak over there is kind of on fire. Literally.”
Saul sighed. That instantly made me feel better; he was always sighing in front of me. “Knew it was only a matter of time,” he said.
Smoke rose from my icy flesh. I was quickly starting to smell even worse than my computer an hour after I turned it on. And then there was the pain…
So, so much pain.
And then I was bodily hauled off my feet and thrown over the shoulder of the manliest human alive. I dizzily watched the cracks in the ground as I bounced up and down to the rhythm of Saul’s manly footsteps.
“Master Byron?” a voice—Lysander’s—asked incredulously.
“Wait,” Penny’s voice said. “That weird wannabe comedian?”
She remembered me.
And that was my very last thought before I passed out in Saul’s manly arms, grinning uncontrollably despite the terrible, terrible pain.