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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Friendship Is Magic

Over the past four decades, Nina Kiriki Hoffman has sold adult and young adult novels to Ace, Atheneum, Avon, Gold Key, Pocket, Tachyon, and Viking, and the 350+ short stories she has sold have appeared in Asimov's, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Cicada, Weird Tales, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and many other magazines and anthologies. Wildside Press, Pulphouse Publishing, and Fairwood Press have published collections of her stories.

Her works have been finalists for the World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, and Endeavour awards. Her novel The Thread that Binds the Bones won a Horror Writers Association Stoker Award, and her short story "Trophy Wives" won a Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Award.

Nina does production work for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She has taught at the Clarion and Odyssey workshops, and she currently teaches short story classes through Lane Community College, Wordcrafters in Eugene, and Fairfield County Writers' Studio. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.

For a list of Nina's publications, check out: ofearna.us/books/hoffman.html.

After a long night of vampire slaying, Helen was looking forward to some team-building with her TV. She showered and changed into her comfy home clothes, pink sweats with cute animals on them. What should she binge-watch to settle herself down and get ready to sleep the day away? Something not job-related. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Yep, that would do it. She went in the kitchen and stuck a bag of Orville Redenbacher in the microwave and hit the popcorn button.
The doorbell rang.
Annoyed, she went to peek through the peephole in the second-floor apartment door. She planned not to answer. This was her me-time.
Standing outside was the one who got away: Dylan. Tall, pale, and undead, clothed not in the cerements of the grave but in a plaid shirt, denim overalls, and battered work boots. His hair was shaggy and dark and almost covered his eyes. He looked haggard, always a danger with vamps; it usually meant they hadn't fed recently.
She'd run into Dylan more than once. He'd never tried to bite her, and she'd never tried to slay him. She could slay most vamps without a twinge of conscience. The change turned them into evil killing machines, and if they had any intelligence, they became clever evil killing machines. Dylan was different.
They had ended up visiting the same mausoleum once, each standing on an opposite side, out of bite or stake range, just to talk. She ran into him in places where vamps hunted humans--lovers' lanes, bus stations, back alleys. She'd never seen him bite anyone; she didn't know how he kept his boyish complexion. Encountering him made a nice break in a night of hyperactivity. When she was with him, no other vamps would attack her. He was old and powerful.
She opened the door. "I'm not inviting you in."
"I understand," he said, taking a step back. "I'm just happy to see you without a stake in your hand."
"What do you want?" she asked.
The microwave beeped.
Dylan lifted his face, closed his eyes, and sniffed. "Popcorn," he said, lacing it with the tragedy of someone who could never eat popcorn again.
She was about to say something snotty when a shattering of glass sounded from the kitchen. They both turned toward it. There was a hissing sound, like a log being dragged across sand. Helen snatched snake tongs and a wooden stake out of the umbrella stand near the front door, where she kept a variety of slaying tools. You never knew when you wanted to grab something from a distance; snake tongs were great for that.
Dylan started forward, but slammed into her threshold. He looked like he had hit a glass wall.
Uninvited. "Hang on," Helen said, and headed toward the kitchen.
"But that's what I wanted to warn you about!" he cried. "The local vampire nest sent a fae after you!"
"What?" She was totally unprepared to face people from the fairy realm. She looked at the snake tongs. They were steel, right? That had iron in it, right? She knew a lot about a lot of things, but she wasn't strong on metallurgy. "Come in," she said to Dylan. It was a stupid thing to say. Never invite a vampire in, her mother had told her. Rule One. But tonight--
He strode over the threshold and stood beside her, radiating chill and ferocity.
She still had a stake in her hand, and she knew how to use it. She turned toward the kitchen. Dylan followed.
Vampires couldn't cross a threshold without an invitation, but fae folk were not so restrained.
The thing in her kitchen looked like a woman on top and a snake on the bottom, and it was naked. Its breasts defied gravity, and its hair was long, tangled, and red. It opened its carmine lips to reveal long fangs and a jaw that unhinged enough that it looked like it could swallow Helen's head.
"Good god, what is that thing?" Helen asked Dylan.
"Not sure," he said. "What are you?" he asked the fae.
"Lamia," it said. "Come to eat you up."
"That's not very nice," said Helen. She thought about her arcane studies. She had read about lamias. "And not in your job description, either. Aren't you a child-eater?"
The lamia wailed and shook its hands, then surged forward, mouth wide.
Helen blocked it with the snake tongs. The lamia shrieked as the cold steel wedged against its chest between its breasts and sizzled.
Dylan bared his fangs and strode forward. Why was he always striding? Why couldn't he walk, like a normal person?
Helen jabbed the tongs against the lamia, leaving strips of seared flesh and a stink of cooked meat. "Get out," she said.
The lamia gripped the snake tongs, shrieking in pain as its hands scorched from the iron in the steel, and tried to wrest them away from Helen.
Dylan gripped the lamia's shoulders and bit its carotid, and it shrieked again. Horrible sucking noises came from Dylan. Helen kept a firm grip on the snake tongs, keeping the lamia distant. What she was doing looked ultra-painful, and her belly cramped. Usually she could slay a vamp and it would poof into dust. She wasn't in the torture business.
The lamia's struggles grew weaker. Its head lolled back. Dylan took a last big suck and then picked it up. It was much paler than it had been, maybe even dead. He threw it out the kitchen window. A delayed thump sounded after the two-story drop.
Helen ran to the window and looked down. No neighbors on the street. Whew. The lamia melted in the sun until only a dark stain was left on the sidewalk.
Wait. Sunshine. Outside, and coming in the window. And Dylan was a vampire.
She turned to him. "How come you aren't burning?"
"I have special circumstances," he said, standing there half in sun.
Okay. That was different from anything she knew. Then again, so was he.
"Got a board anywhere?" Dylan asked.
Helen glanced around, then went in the living room and grabbed the yard-sale table she used as a worktable. She handed it to Dylan.
"Okay if I break off the legs? Or I guess we could leave them on," he said. He took the table into the kitchen and pressed the top against the open window. It covered it nicely. The legs stuck out and would interfere with dishwashing.
"Huh," Helen said. She had paid five dollars for the table. Oh, well. She opened the tool drawer and got out a hammer and some really long nails. "Go ahead."
He took off the table's legs and nailed its top to the window frame. Helen got a broom and a dustpan and swept up the broken glass, then picked the pieces out of the sink with a sponge. "Did you drain her all the way down?" she asked. Dylan looked flushed and healthy.
"I tried. Not sure it killed her. Her blood was smoky and strange. I've never drained a fae before. I wonder if there will be side effects."
"How did you know she was coming?"
"Rumors and whispers. You've slaughtered a lot of vampires from Antinonus's nest, and he wants very much to stop you from taking more. He cooked up this scheme."
"And you came to warn me," she said.
"I'm not a fan of Antoninus. He treats his subjects very badly."
"But--" She glanced at the boarded-up window. "How did you get here when you should be sleeping the sleep of death?"
He bit his lower lip and stared at the ceiling. "I, well, I have one of my hidey holes in the basement of this building. Right next to the laundry room. I don't need as much sleep as most vampires.... You're not going to go there when I'm dead to the world and stake me, are you?"
"Why haven't you ever tried to kill me?" she asked.
"Why haven't you ever tried to kill me?" he asked.
They stared at each other. Dylan smiled a crooked smile that showed the tip of a fang. "You're more fun to talk to than to eat."
Helen cocked her head, then grinned. "You're more fun to talk to than to kill."
She got a bowl down from the cupboard, opened the microwave, and tore open the bag of popcorn. She poured it in the bowl. "How do you feel about My Little Pony?" she asked.
"Love it," he said. "Twilight Sparkle's my favorite."
"Come on," she said, and they went to the living room and flopped down together on the saggy, plaid-blanket-covered couch. Helen grabbed the remote in one hand and a big handful of popcorn in the other. Okay. Her team could include the TV and Dylan. She hit the ON button.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 2nd, 2021

Author Comments

Carol Dannhauser of the Fairfield Country Writers' Studio in Connecticut has been leading prompt sessions on Tuesdays, where a number of writers show up in a Zoom meeting. Carol gives us a starting sentence, and we write for fifteen minutes. She introduces a new thing, and we write another fifteen minutes. One more new thing, and another writing sprint. "Friendship Is Magic" emerged from one of these sessions that started out with the line, "Finally, she grabbed the remote off the coffee table and sat in her favorite chair."

- Nina Kiriki Hoffman
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