Augusta Morganti had a keen nose and a distinguished taste for expensive drinks. With a statuesque height and curves for miles, lustrous ivory skin, straight coffee-colored hair the texture of silk strands, and eyes that glowed like a tiger’s she was easily the most beautiful woman any had ever laid eyes upon.
Like most other women in our small town, I envied her beauty. But unlike them there was no way in hell I wanted to be like her.
I knew what she really was.
It was one of those Saturdays in March where the temperature hovered just above freezing – warm enough to rain, cold enough to keep the two feet of snow on the ground from completely melting, thus turning the countryside into a mud slurpee. The wetness of rain permeated my threshold, seeped into my house, into my socks somehow. I decided that if my feet were going to be cold at least my belly wasn’t so I slogged through the ankle-deep slushpuddles to McGonegal’s Bar to find some Jack Daniels or trouble, whichever came first.
“What’ll it be, Amanda?” The bartender Slim was gruff, the rain activating his rheumatism. We’d long since been on first-name basis.
“Oh, I think I’ll have a double shot of whiskey.” I patted the bartop resin in front of me as if to indicate where I wanted him to place it. Every year it seemed to get beat up, with bar fights and drunken lovers’ initials carving out the nights of revelry, immortalized in clear shellack until it was bumpy and battered, nearly a quarter of an inch thick on top of the original wood. “How’s the business been treating you, Slim?”
“How do you think. You’ve been here what, ten nights in a row now? You’d know better than I would.” He laughed-snorted. “Shit. That’s how it’s been. Shit! Shittier than shit, really. I’d take a giant pile of ripe dog shit right here over this!” He pounded his fat pointer finger on the shellack. “That fucker Elliot Delgado and his fancy winery are stealing my scene.”
“What’s your scene?” I asked calmly, entertaining myself on ol’ Slim’s behalf.
“You know, the hard-working, working-class folks like you, like us, the ones who fancy themselves tougher than rawhide. They all up and left but this was their land right here, their territory, and that fucker’s convinced them they should be all high society so he can milk the money out of ’em. So now they’re over there in their Sunday best, throwing cards and tossing back cheap wine in one of his bar rooms, not here, where they’re happy!”
“How do you think he’s seduced them like that? Some of those guys been coming here for years.” I was intrigued. Maybe I was missing out on some cool new scene. Should I double-cross ol’ Slim and go up there and check it out?
It was virtually empty here in McGonegal’s. Just me, two 50-something barflies cackling and flitting around their three greasy, skinny-assed, beer-gutted old Johns as they piddled with pool sticks to country music and tossed back piss-ale, and then some old deaf guy in the corner playing darts with himself between slugs of gin. Gawd, I could feel myself aging by the minute.
“I tell you what, that Augusta Morganti is behind this shit.” He whispered, as though ol’ deafy might hear him. “It’s wine from her winery he’s using to draw ’em in, it’s not even his own! But I can’t prove it.” He leaned on the word ‘wine’ as though it were a cuss word.
“Oh really. Gussie is behind this shit?” I scoffed. “And it’s really pissing you off, isn’t it?” He nodded. “Well how’d you like it if I went up and gathered some intel for you?” I hadn’t even had my whiskey yet, but all the better. I’d found entertainment first.
His eyes went big. “Would you?”
“I’d love to. I’ll be back before last call, and maybe if you’re lucky, I’ll bring your regulars back with me.
Oh, and hey, save that double shot for me.” I said, winking, and left for home to make myself look presentable. I had a score to settle.
I drove to Delgado’s winery, a high-class white building with iconic landscaping on the far side of town. A rose-laden trellis-lined entry studded with white christmas lights invite me into the Angelica Winery and Estates. I guess Angelica was Delgado’s dead wife, and he named the winery in her memory. She died in a auto crash with a diesel tanker or some terrible shit, couldn’t even identify her remains they were so mangled, the poor bastard.
It was a pretty fancy name for a wine bar featuring swill grown from moldy grapes out of swampy soil. I made my way through a sea of white tablecloths decked by well-dressed wannabes drinking overpriced slog and making terrible attempts at highbrow conversation.
A large bar lined the main room, filled with men in suit pants and partially unbuttoned dress shirts buying drinks for ladies dressed in their finest sluttery. The “Tasting Lounge” was through a door on the right, littered with tables and well-dressed wine snobs transfixed in scoffing over vintages and bodies. The “Dining Room” to the left invited the overly-vinted to rest in the hour of their drunkenness. Near the entrance to the Tasting Lounge was a door to the VIP Lounge.
I made my way straight to the center of the bar, my black stiletto heeled boots clicking powerfully across the granite floor, my short skirt and low top drawing eyes as I moved. On the chalkboard above the bar was scrawled the drink menu, and I studied it carefully. Tonight’s special was something called the Wicked Kiss of Youth. Intriguing.
“Can I buy you a drink?” an older man leaned close to my bare neck, the long hair that usually covered it pulled up in a chignon. His growl rattled low along my shorthairs like a kazoo and his cold fingers brushed admiringly against one of my long red earrings which jingled at his touch. This was my lucky day: I’d stumbled on a regular, a man experienced in this scene. His movements were smooth, cool, confident.
“Perhaps. What are you drinking?” I looked up into his eyes but the room was too dark to make out much about them. He smelled outwardly of Aqua Velva, but his breath and body betrayed the scent of a desperate wino whose liver was so saturated that it bathed his pores in a fine enamel of terpenes.
“I always drink the special, it’s a house secret recipe. They call it the Wicked Kiss of Youth. This one’s on me, not that you need youth – mmm, delicious.” He licked his lips predatorily, his mouth now so close to my ear that I could feel his breath.
I know as much about wine as a seamonkey. The tasting guides on the wall described flavors of raspberry, violet, salted pork, coffee. I swirled the glass the way I’ve seen the fancy folk do, and took a whiff. The swill in the cup he handed me smelled nothing like the description, rather more like fermented furniture varnish.
I held the glass in my hand, pondering its contents. Something seemed wrong about it. I leaned into my predator, letting my hand trace along the cold skin of his forearm with the lightness of a feather, playing him. “I’m looking for Miss Augusta Morganti. Do you know where I might be able to find her?” I licked my lips and then bit the lower one slightly, sliding my hand from his arm to his thigh.
“As it happens, I do. She’s in the VIP Lounge. She’s always there, it’s her palace. Would you like me to take you to her?”
“I would be most appreciative.” I leaned in for a cleavage flash just to seal the deal.
“Finish your drink first.” He nodded. I felt pangs of anxiety rise in urgent resistance against drinking the goblet of claret-colored swill. I am not a teetotaler, don’t get me wrong. I drink like a fish, but preferably whiskey or gin. Something in my guts, though, told me I didn’t like wine, and especially not this one.
“Oh, I should like to toast Miss Augusta with the beverage you bought me. I would be honored if you’d walk me down there yourself, on your arm.” I said, seeing this one was going to be difficult. I grasped his arm under mine and half led him away from the bar.
“As you wish, madam. My name is Arthur Bennett,” he introduced. “And yours?”
Amanda Watson.” I shouted over the noise of the loud bar. He graciously escorted me through the VIP bouncers to the basement, which, as my eyes adjusted to the dim flicker of candles, seemed more like a bondage club dungeon than a high class VIP room in a Winery and Estates.
Augusta Morganti herself stood at the head of the room. She was in a crimson dress, ruched at the shoulders with ruffles down the side, her gorgeous dark hair woven in a multitude of braids and tied in ribbons down her back, her eyes glowing with an odd over-exuberance, as though she might be on cocaine. I made my way across the shadows toward her.
“You! You… Arthur, what the hell are you doing bringing her down here?” Her voice was as shrill as I remember. Like a dentist’s tool boring through your molars, one by bloody one.
“I… She… she asked for you by name.” He stopped like a kicked dog. I continued walking.
“Leave us, Arthur.” She dismissed him and the others who crowded around her. They departed for the upper world.
“Augusta, I hear you’re causing a lot of problems for my friend Slim over at McGonegal’s Bar. Says you stole all his customers and hasn’t had good patronage in weeks.”
She laughed, her shrieking tone like two adjacent piano keys striking at once. “What are you going to do about it, you little bitch? Did you come here to beg me to send them back to that rat-infested little shithole? What are you going to do, get on your knees and beg me?”
“I haven’t seen one of his patrons here yet, so I actually wonder if your shit-swill didn’t turn them off of drinking entirely. I personally think this gargoyle piss you’re trying to pass off as an expensive cocktail tastes like furniture varnish.” I lied, I hadn’t actually drank the foulness yet.
Augusta laughed, her hair whipping over her shoulder. “Look around you, fool. They’re all down here, watching you. And soon you’ll be among them.” It was then that I caught the firelight on her sharp teeth.
I turned my head and looked around the room. My eyes had adjusted further to the darkness, and I saw what I had ignored before: large iron cages, as big as train cars, probably at least 10 of them filled the cavernous room, containing shadowy forms with glowing red eyes, red like a rat’s eyes in the dark.
Hissing, they were hissing at me. It was not a human sound.
God, suddenly I realized what they must be: vampire spawn, caged and hungry and waiting to get fed, or be fed on. What I knew of Augusta was true: she didn’t just feed on the attention and affection of the town, she literally fed on the town. How many were here was unknown.
“One word and I can have these gates open. They’re hungry. I don’t need to tell you they’ll rip you limb from limb before you can even scream.”
“You know, Gussie, I was there when you were bitten…” I trailed off mockingly, reminding her of the day when we were 16 when she locked me in the bell tower in our town church as a prank. The joke was on her though. She’s the one who was bitten by the swarm of bats hiding in the broom closet. “You know I know your weakness….” I toyed with her.
“You’re a fool! I have no weaknesses! Can you not see how much I’ve fed?” She pointed to the cages. “I can no longer die, but you can! Your flesh is very tasty.” She paused, looking for a distraction “What is that you have there?” She pointed to the goblet I held.
“It’s the house special, the Wicked Kiss of Youth.”
“Ah, Angelica’s blood, very good. I trust you are christened then, you alcoholic sop. Drink up, my precious, for I will feed on you next and then I’ll let the spawn at you.”
Angelica’s alive?” I derailed her.
“Of course she is, her blood is ‘the sweetest wine one has ever tasted.’ It’s all over the local dining reviews, or don’t you know how to read? Of course, those folks are on my side, but so is the whole town.” She chuckled, as if it were funny to her. “You were always such the simpleton, and so was she. Angelica was a traitor for loving the man I loved. Now I have her as my eternal servant, making expensive bloodwine for me, and I have Elliot all to myself. Did you not know your drink there has christened you as spawn? It contains her blood.”
“Delicious. Delicious swill of gargoyle piss and slattern blood.” I raised the glass. “You know, I’m so glad I was the one locked in the tower while you were practically eaten by bats. You got what you deserved.” I spat.
Augusta flew toward me, her eyes wide with rage, her fingernails ready to rip the skin off my face. I was ready for her, though. I saw it coming, this time.
I pulled the golden dagger from my cleavage. The handle was smoothly polished hawthorne, and the blade had been soaking for years in consecrated water. Her claws dug deep into my shoulders as I pitched the dagger with all my might into the place where her heart should have been. It was difficult to sink the blade into her ribcage, and it crackled and finally hit its mark with a schlick. She gasped in response to the cold intrusion, backpedaling away from me, but now I had her.
“Who’s the simpleton now? Vampire on a stick. That sounds like a tasty dish.” I whispered with a faux seductive voice in her ear.
“You bitch!” Was the hiss I heard as she crumpled into a pile of dust.
I glanced around the room, the eyes of vampire spawn tracking me. The whole damn town could have been there, for all I could count. What the hell was I going to do with an army of vampire spawn? It’s not like I could just leave them. You know the ol’ adage: Once a vampire spawn, always a vampire spawn. I’d learned before: clean up your messes. In desperation, I grabbed a candle and began to light the dry old wood of the cellar ablaze: empty wine vats, tables, and barrels took the flame like kindling, and flames licked up the old oak floor joists to graze across the floorboards above.
Man, this place was not up to code.
At this rate, the building would burn to the ground in a few minutes’ time.
The spawn did not take kindly to being engulfed in flames. As barrels began exploding behind me from the vaporizing liquor residue within them, I calmly alighted the stairs back to the bar. The din was so noisy between the yelling of drunken banter and the blare of extravagant jazz music that even if every spawn and Augusta Morganti herself had screamed together in unison to the percussion of exploding wine barrels, no one would have heard them.
“The house special, please.” I instructed the bartender, laying down a fifty spot. Sometimes you just have to experience the wild side, I told myself, knowing the vampire to which I would have been enslaved was now dead. You never know when you’ll get another chance.
I strode with my glass out of Angelica Winery and Estates, turning to look back into the flames as the floor caved in and all the building was swallowed into the fiery bowels of hell. I took a sip while admiring my work. It actually wasn’t half bad.
Such a pity. I guess I’d just have to tell Slim it was going to be the few of us after all.
Wicked Kiss of Youth
- 2 shots of Vinho do Porto
- 2 shots Vanilla Skyy Vodka
- 1 shot Chambord
- 1/2 shot human blood treated with heparin
If desired, garnish with an apple slice and a raspberry on a cocktail pick