Ethan yawned. It had been a long night. The deliveries had taken him all over the suburbs, his legs aching from pedaling his electric bike, the motor gone, and the only horsepower the power in his throbbing legs. The lockdown didn’t stop people from being hungry, and Ethan was glad. Although some people could not work, he was still earning decent money delivering food to all parts in the suburbs, the special food from the Italian diner diner even more popular as the pandemic spread.
The closed sign had been turned outward as Ethan waited for the last delivery. He waved at the other delivery drivers as they bought in their satchels and put them on the counter before checking out for the night. He looked at the clock on the wall; it was close to midnight, and he was glad to be finishing. He had three assignments over the weekend. Unfortunately, computer science didn’t stop in a lockdown and his lecturers were not giving him any slack even though he was working double shifts on a weekend to pay his way. He massaged his thighs, working the lactic acid out of them, ready for the last run of the night.
His boss Vincent was behind the counter, fussing around with the last order. Ethan’s favorite order. Always on a Friday, and for the last six weeks, after the last guy had resigned and Ethan had got to take over the run. What a bonus.
Before Deepak resigned, he had been the envy of every delivery driver in the restaurant. He had snared the best tipper on the run, on any run. Everyone wanted that delivery. They were the best tippers at the restaurant, and everyone wanted to deliver to that suburb. But even by the high standard of the suburb these punters were up a notch, a guaranteed one hundred, straight up in hand, no tax. That was more than he was making sometimes in an entire shift, and so waiting back until midnight to deliver was not a problem. When Deepak left, and Vincent offered him the last run on Friday besides his other work, how could he say no?
He watched as Vincent sweated over the order, making sure that everything was perfect, moving things from the fridge into the large satchel, and then taping to seal the order completely.
“You don’t have to worry,” thought Ethan, “there’s no way I’m gonna steal that order.”
But he knew that other delivery drivers had been pinged and had been shown the door. And so, he didn’t mind that they sealed the delivery so he couldn’t see it, at least it made sure that he kept his job. And besides, why would he open the seal and risk that cushy tip every Friday.
Vincent handed over the order.
“Now,” he said, “you know the address.”
“Got it,” said Ethan.
“Orders been prepaid. Leave it at the front. The cash tip will be in the usual place for you. No need to knock or ring, just leave it and go.”
Ethan wasn’t asking questions. And easy 100 bucks was an easy 100 bucks. He lifted the heavy sloshing delivery, thanked Vincent, and waved goodnight for the evening. He pulled the door to and walked out into the warm night, putting the order under the back of his bike and making sure it was strapped in.
Once he was sure it was secure, he looked up at the full moon, and glad for a bit of moonlight, he donned his reflective vest, turned on the bike light, and headed off into the night.
He knew he had a ride ahead of him. The delivery place was in Sampson St, over in Sunderland, the best part of town. Everyone wanted to live there, and only the best people did. As he rode along the dimly lit streets, occasional cars swerved around him, and he hugged the gutter close, keeping good time as the wheels clicked around.
After half an hour of solid pedaling, he made it to the outskirts of Sunderland and wended his way along the streets, right here and left there, along the familiar trail. Then he reached the cul-de-sac, and as he coasted along, he marveled at the beautiful houses along the brightly lit street.
“Man,” he thought, “if I ever make it, this is where I want to live.”
The large houses were brightly festooned with lights, the front yards immaculate, grass and plants beautifully trimmed by gardeners and the occupants. Water fountains here, triple garages, Mercedes parked on the street as if no one cared they were going to be stolen. Hell, this was Sunderland, no one was gonna come into Sunderland and steal a Merc!
He rode along to number thirty, making his way to the large front gate and pressing the button. The old wrought-iron gates swung open. The brightly lit path led him down toward the stairs. He walked around the beautiful fountain that was in the courtyard, the statue of an Angel crushing a serpent silhouetted against the house. He stopped for a moment to stretch, breathing in the fragrant scent of Jasmine as it grew on the hedge surrounding the property.
He walked toward the steps, intent on leaving the package, taking the tip, and going straight home. The house lights were on, every room well lit. He walked up to the front door and placed the delivery in the receptacle that was always there. Made sure that it was neat, and then looked around for his tip. The usual envelope that was on the front door wasn’t there and he searched around the wide veranda, checking to see whether it fallen, or the wind had lifted and moved it. He walked down the steps and around the garden, but there was no sign.
“Come on,” he muttered, “I’m not riding all the way here for no tip.”
He skipped back up the front steps and looked at the doorbell. He knew Vincent had told him not to ring it, but was sure that the generous owner would be mortified if they didn’t give him his tip. One last look didn’t uncover it, and in high spirits on a warm summer evening, he rang the bell. He waited for a moment. Everything was quiet inside, and so he rang the bell again. There were lights on, as if there was someone home, but no one came to the door. He listened carefully for footsteps or any signs. He rang the doorbell again. Nothing.
“Maybe I’ll just give it up and head get out of here. One hundred bucks what am I gonna break my neck for one hundred bucks, I’ll just go home and get them to give it to me next time.”
But he needed that money now. And who knows if next week they weren’t gonna order or something would go wrong, and he’d miss out. So, he walked around the veranda, to the side door and wrapped on it. Rap Rap Rap.
There was still silence inside. He walked further around into the darker reaches of the veranda, peering into the windows, and seeing inside for the first time. The house was immaculate, inside and out. He could see great Persian rugs; an ornate fan was spinning in the middle of the room. Large leather lounges festooned with pillows. There were tapestries on the wall, pricey artwork.
“Whoa,” he thought, “these people have got some money. Where the hell are they?”
As he was peering through the window, he heard the front door open and, taking a deep breath, scampered back around at the front of the house. There was a woman there, dressed in an impeccable black suit with blood red lipstick. Her skin was pale, her black hair immaculately combed.
“Hello,” she said, smiling at him. “I see that we have forgotten to leave your tip. Please accept my humble apologies.”
As she spoke, she opened the door and stepped out, lifting the package.
“You have been a very good delivery driver, prompt and reliable, and you must be tired and thirsty. Such a long journey. Please come in, I’ll fetch you some water while I get your tip.”
She seemed so friendly, and Ethan was filled with anticipation. And he was thirsty.
He followed her inside the house, and she closed the door behind them, carrying the delivery meal down to the kitchen table where there was a family waiting. A middle-aged man greeted him, his grey hair immaculately combed back, dressed in a tailored grey suit.
“Thank you so much for being our delivery driver. You are without doubt the best delivery driver that we have ever had, wouldn’t you agree, Constance?”
“Absolutely, Henry,” said the immaculately dressed lady, smiling again.
Behind them, three teenage children laughed. He could see two girls and a boy, beautifully dressed, their skin pale as they sat at the table, awaiting their meal.
“Now let me see,” said the lady, opening the drawers in the kitchen. “I put your tip somewhere here. In a special envelope.”
“Would you care for some water,” asked the man, gliding to the sink and filling a large glass with ice and water before Ethan replied.
“Come,” he said, smiling, his perfect white teeth gleaming. “Join us and rest before your journey home.”
The man put his hand behind Ethan’s back and guided him effortlessly to the table, ensuring he was comfortable before placing the glass in front of him.
“Please, drink, you must be thirsty.”
Ethan took a sip of the cool water. It was refreshing and as he sipped; he realised how thirsty he had been, finishing half the glass before he set it down.
The three children were smiling at him, watching his movements as he drank.
“Hello,” said one of the girls, “my name is Verity, and this is my sister Beth, and my brother Andreas.”
“Pleased to meet you,” replied Ethan.
Their smiles broadened as he spoke, their pale skin and cat like green eyes mesmerizing in the light. Ethan felt a sense of calm as they smiled at him.
Behind them was a delivery bike, just like his, neatly parked in the corner. He wondered if they did deliveries as well.
“Tell us about yourself,” said Beth, we’d like to get to know you.”
“Not much to tell,” said Ethan, felling self-conscious.
He started by giving them a few details, where he went to school, his interests not wanting to give too much away. But before long he was telling them everything about himself, he wanted to tell them. He kept nothing from them, and they listened intently, nodding and smiling as he spoke.
As she talked, the man brought the meal over to the table and opened it; he lifted the packages out carefully, distributing him one by one to the children. Ethan watched as he took out the opaque cylindrical containers. The youngest child, Andreas, put a straw into his container and sucked hungrily, greedily. The man put his hand up.
“Wait until your mother joins us, please and our guest has been accommodated.”
He stopped sucking on the straw and sat back, and as Ethan watched, a red liquid dribbled down his chin. It landed on the table and his sister leaned over, wiping it with her finger before the younger sibling could get to it, and then hungrily wiping the liquid on her lolling tongue. The man frowned and then smiled again, gleaming teeth more prominent in the dining room light.
“We don’t want to offend our guest, do we? He has been so accommodating in giving is information so freely. So that we could be certain it was safe.”
“You see,” said the immaculately dressed lady, “delivering special deliveries is a unique occupation and your predecessor Deepak was very good at this job. But he became greedy, and he threatened us. We don’t like being threatened. And so, we had to deal with Deepak.”
The hair stood on the back of Ethan’s neck.
“The damn problem is that during this pandemic everyone is at home, no-one wandering at night, so little opportunity for us.”
The children giggled.
“And relying on stored food supply is never satisfying for long. Is it children?”
The children giggled again, their eyes becoming catlike, their fangs bared.
“Unfortunately, dealing with Deepak meant we tasted fresh blood. And once you’ve had fresh blood, it is very hard to settle for less.”
As Ethan realised, he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. He tried to stand, but could not move, his muscles paralysed. He watched in horror as the three children stood one by one and crept toward him.
The immaculately dressed women moved close. Ethan could feel her icy breath on the back of his neck.
“Now let’s not crowd, children, there will be plenty for everyone. Darling, would you like to go first?”
“No,” said the man, “please precious you take the first taste.”
Ethan’s eyes widened as his head was pulled back, his neck exposed. And as he felt the teeth nibble and then plunge, the warmth of the blood spurting onto his flesh, the last thing he heard was the children hissing and giggling, as they crowded close to feed.
Credit : SK Falconer
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