Stella squinted through the smoky haze. Damn if her drink wasn’t empty again. She leaned forward and signaled Kevin the bartender to hit her up again.
He cast her an appraising look as he dried a beer mug. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough tonight?”
“No. Not hardly.”
“Well, I do. Go on home, Stella.”
This wasn’t the first time Kevin had cut her off. Knowing there was no use arguing with him, Stella slapped down a few bills and nearly knocked over the bar stool as she stood to leave. She glanced around to make sure no one noticed, then straightened her dress and slung her purse onto her shoulder.
Stilettos clattering, she tottered out of the bar and took a moment to steady herself against the building. Stood up again. She checked her watch. One in the morning. Bastard was supposed to meet up with her hours ago. Fortunately, she only had to negotiate a few blocks in her treacherous heels and she’d be home.
Late at night, this old neighborhood cleared right out. She suspected that’s why her dates stood her up so often. The buildings were tired and run down, so the area just didn’t look like a party mecca. Even her old girlfriends had deserted her. They didn’t feel safe coming here, they said.
Well, fuck them. Rent was cheap, and she could walk to whatever she needed—the corner grocery, the salon. The bar. She never had any problems.
She sighed and started walking home. It wasn’t all that far, but she wondered if she shouldn’t bring flat shoes with her next time. The cracks in the sidewalk were pure hell on her favorite stilettos.
Stella hardly noticed the flutter of soft wings as, one by one, they gathered, clinging to the eaves and awnings along her way. She left the spill of blue neon from the bar and ventured into the night, punctuated by the occasional street lamp. As she turned right at the corner, she saw a couple of the lights on that side had been smashed into oblivion.
The increased darkness made it harder to see the cracks in the sidewalk. Stella slowed her pace to avoid catching her heel in one. She had trouble focusing, and admitted to herself that she might have had a drink too many.
Partway down the block, her heel caught and she stumbled, falling against the side of a building. Pain flashed in her hand as she scraped the skin on the rough brick surface. She leaned against the building and pressed her injured palm to halt the bleeding.
A shadow emerged from the alley only a few feet ahead of her. Still rubbing her hand, she noticed it, but made no effort to flee.
“Need some help?” The harsh voice was not that of a Good Samaritan. The shadow moved onto the sidewalk and stepped toward her. As he drew nearer, she could see he looked solid and strong beneath his T-shirt and jeans. She could also see the menacing sneer on his face.
Shaking her hand to erase the last traces of pain, she stepped away from the building, pulled her purse strap back up onto her shoulder, and continued walking home, right toward the man in the shadows. As she was about to pass by him, he grabbed her arm and spun her toward him.
As the man began to drag her into the alley, they came. They came on soft wings, like leathery butterflies of the night. Nearly soundless, they leapt from the ledges where they’d hung and fluttered down.
He released Stella and screamed as a cloud of bats engulfed him. They swarmed; they closed in, avoiding his flailing arms with ease. Soon they all dug their claws and teeth into his clothes, his flesh.
Stella smiled as they lifted him up, up into the night.
When he was gone from sight, she straightened her dress, hitched her purse strap back over her shoulder, and continued on home.
She loved her neighborhood and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.
*Originally published by DarkFuse, July 2013.