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art by Alan Bao

Naughty or Nice?

An active member of SFWA and HWA, James S. Dorr has two collections from Dark Regions Press, Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret; one cat, Wednesday, from the Monroe County,Indiana animal shelter; and as of this August, from Sam's Dot Publishing, one collection of poems about vampires, Vamps: (A Retrospective). For more, he invites readers to his site at jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com.
Mignonette yawned and slowly pushed open the lid to her coffin, unsure what she would find. It was not her custom. But then her real name was not Mignonette either, not from her old life where she had had a name filled with consonants, hard for those in the West to pronounce, as in Paris where she lived now. But what was a name? She was what she was, and if she should call herself "Mignonette," the ones she consorted with seemed not to mind.
"It fits you well, ma chérie," one had said to her only the past week. "Your delicate features. You say you had moved here from Eastern Europe. Does that make you a Communist?"
She would laugh. Communist! If only it were so simple, what she was. She kissed him, then, on the cheek. Then full on the lips, and laughed again, her voice tinkling like silver bells. "A Communist indeed!" she had said. "If I were a Communist, would I do what I do?"
She had learned she should take money from these, her gentlemen, as if she were a shopkeeper or seller of services. She who had once been the heir to a title! But she also told them she must have a half-litre of blood before they left her, that this was her spécialité. It was much like her human friend Yvonne, who always used a whip, or blonde Marie who took cubes of ice and ran them up and down her men's spines until they shrieked from both pain and ecstasy.
It was a strange life, this life with les demi-mondaines of Paris--or, for Mignonette, perhaps she should say "unlife." She took to it well.
But the customs of Paris, ah, that was another thing.
Christmas. She had grown up centuries ago in a land of constant war, fighting against Turks, where there had been no time for such celebrating. And she had been brought up in the Eastern Rite anyway, back in the days she had gone to church.
Now churches were uncomfortable for her to even walk near, and crosses were something she shied away from. But these Christmas customs of modern Paris, they were not about church.
She stretched and then washed herself, taking off her corset briefly. Donning fresh linen. She put on stockings, the night was cold, but left off her shoes. She would not go out this night.
She had slept too long, she knew, but it was the custom. Marie had told her. That she must be in "bed" before midnight on Christmas Eve. She had written a letter well before then to this "Saint Nicolas"--she, a vampire, writing a saint!--and posted it, just as Marie had said. She had tried to explain, she was not really naughty, no matter what others might say of her kind. She was what she was. She tried not to kill people, not be too greedy--and never mind that one elderly client. How could she have known? Or that corrupt police detective who had attempted to shake down Yvonne. Did not les filles have to stick together?
And if she drank blood? Well, her clients seemed to like it, the kiss on the throat, the licking the red goodness as it welled out, but never too greedy. Always applying the antiseptic when it was over, reminding the gentlemen not to see her again for at least another two weeks, time to allow the blood cells to regenerate.
Did not the Red Cross do just the same thing as she, and not accompanied by pleasure as her act was?
She turned the lights up slightly and lit a fire in the fireplace as she had planned. Not too bright though--bright lights hurt her eyes. She saw the shadows under the small tree she had set in the corner, decorating it with yet more lights as Marie had told her. She had even found an all-night convenience store that would sell her a carton of milk, and poured out a glass full to put on the table in her second room. And a plate of cookies.
They persecuted her kind for drinking bodily fluids, and yet sold milk openly in their stores!
It was a strange world, and stranger still as her eyes adjusted more fully to the light. Were those shadows beneath the tree actually carefully wrapped and tied packages? And as for the cookies--how could one such as she know about cookies? What kinds a saint might like? She had settled finally for a kind of rum-flavored macaroon, reasoning that even saints were men. And if she could not find actual cognac, well, men liked rum too.
She remembered her letter. The things she had asked for. Her wishes were simple. She reached beneath the tree for one of the larger packages.
Yes, it even had her name written on it. She scarcely could believe it, and yet here it was. The stories Marie told about a fat gentleman, but a saint to boot, who left young girls presents simply because they asked. Provided, of course, they had been nice, not naughty, throughout the past year. Sort of a bribe, one might think of it--the saint part of this Saint Nicolas thing--but nevertheless, what a wonderful custom!
She ripped off the paper. She couldn't help herself. She was so excited, and... yes! It was the corset she had asked for, steel-boned and satin-lined, inside and out! Her old one had become overly tattered, she always slept in it during the day, as well as wearing it for the gentlemen she made appointments to visit at night. They liked how it looked, the way she looked in it, its feel against their skin as she lay on top of them, nuzzling their necks. "Le baiser pour moi, oui?" as she whispered to them. The "kiss" she received from them.
But as she kept it on during the days, too, in her coffin--it wore out a corset. Such a corset had saved her life once, the time that ill-tempered Dutchman had tried to drive a stake through her heart back when she still lived in Transylvania. He had not known the stake had been deflected, and she was good at pretending to be "dead." It was for this reason she had fled to Paris, making a life at first among its souillons--its common street trash--then clawed her way up, as a woman must do.
Yet, despite her nature, her doing what she must do, she never intended that anyone be harmed.
She ripped the wrappings off a second package--the gown she had asked for! Wispy, ethereal, strapless and raven black, the color she looked best in, setting off her moon pale shoulders! She tried it on, along with her new corset. It fit like a glove. She looked in the mirror--it was not true vampires cast no reflections. She pirouetted. She preened. She nearly wept.
This Nicolas, this saint understood! The smaller packages, black net stockings, a new brush to use for her hair with real turtle-shell inlays on its back. That pair of earrings she had admired so in the shop window, yet had been unable to buy for herself for what jewelry store keeps hours after dark?
And a note from "Santa."
"You have been a good enough girl, Mignonette," it said, "considering what you are. All of us must make allowances, yes? And next Christmas Eve, if you wish, you may wait up for when I come. I should enjoy myself seeing your new corset."
Mignonette couldn't help laughing at that: a saint, and yet a man as well. She knew the type. And she knew then and there that she would meet this Nicolas next Christmas Eve, even if he was a drinker of milk and eater of cookies!
She went at last to the second room in her simple basement Paris apartment and saw, on its table, the milk scarcely touched but the cookies all eaten. A lover of rum too--she would like this Nicolas! That was not all, though.
There on the table, next to the milk, was a carafe of fresh blood.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 21st, 2011


One thing sometimes leads to another. A couple of years back I was speculating about what items a vampiress might put on a list to Santa, and wrote a short poem called, simply enough, "The List." Then on Christmas Day last year (after opening my own gifts) the thought came to me, what would happen if Saint Nicholas actually brought her the presents she requested? But then, of course, I'd need some back story: who exactly is this petitioner and how, as a vampire, could she attempt to make the claim that she was really nice, not naughty? And what could have put the idea in her head to write a letter to a saint in the first place? "Naughty or Nice?" was the result, written December 25, 2010. The original poem "The List," incidentally, appears in my just-published collection Vamps (A Retrospective).

- James S. Dorr

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