French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 18
New York City, 1980
Anna’s Muffin Shop was a small shop, with a large display case filled with many different kinds of muffins ranging from corn to chocolate as well as cupcakes and cookies. The walls were painted pink as a background for black silhouette figures that danced across the wall, figures with finger-wave hair and zoot suits. Apparently the shop had started up in the forties after World War II and had been around since, using special recipes from Anna’s grandmother’s cookbook. Customers could sit in, or hang out on the sidewalk café. The place had a special charm, and no one knew it was run by someone supernatural.
Tonight, John and Tina were on shift with Dylan, with Anna overseeing everything, and Paula and Henry working on homework in the back after their shift.
“We’re both working late tonight,” Tony Liberi said, holding his small son’s hand. “I’ve packed a bag of blood to get him though the evening, but that won’t keep him away from the cookies and spoiling his dinner tonight.”
Dylan remembered the little boy, Angelus, was a half-vampire — someone almost turned, but who’d managed to stay living. That meant he needed some amount of blood, and if he did die he’d rise as a full vampire, but for now he was otherwise a normal kid.
Leaning over the pastry case, Anna smiled at the boy. “Won’t be a problem, we have lots to distract him here with, don’t we, guys?”
“Sure we do!” said Paula, producing a set of crayons and paper.
“We’ve got a spinny chair in the back, too,” Dylan added.
“Fun as hell, if it don’t kill you first,” John said darkly from one of the cases.
Tina shyly smiled at the ebony-skinned man from her spot at the register. “We have some children’s books in the back, if Angie wants a story.”
Angelus beamed and dropped his father’s hand to run up to the case. “I want a cupcake, and a story in the spinny chair… Per favore. I’ll wash a dish for each one I eat!”
How could Dylan blame him? The place was a muffin shop and filled with nothing but pure temptation.
“Angelus!” Mr. Liberi snapped with a thick Italian accent as he grabbed the boy’s arm. “Watch your manners.”
Wide-eyed, the boy obediently nodded. “Yes, pappa, per favore and grazi!”
“Oh, it’s all right,” Anna said. “He did say ‘please’ and offered to work for his snacks. If all the people I knew were that polite, the world’d be a fine place.” Angelus smiled happily. Anna looked back to his father. “I’ll be able to contact you at your parents’ store, Tony?”
“Early on, yes. I’ll be doing their accounting tonight, then I’ll be picking up some files from some clients before I go back to my office. You have that number?” After seeing Anna nod, Tony turned Angelus to face him and dropped down to the boy’s level. The man was very tall, so even with Tony kneeling Angelus was forced to crane his head up to look into his father’s dark eyes. “You be a good boy, and listen to Anna. I’ll pick you up some anise cookies from grandmamma, eh? We’ll share them?”
Angelus made a face, but nodded. “Okay. Can we watch TV?”
“Anything you want, Angelo!” He patted the boy’s head affectionately.
Angelus grinned, showing tiny fangs, and hugged his father. Without hesitation, the man returned it and only after several moments stood up. “Susan will be at school this evening after work; she’ll pick him up at ten.”
Dylan wondered what it was like for human parents to change their entire sleeping cycle to fit their vampire children’s needs. The life-changes alone must have been painful. What did they tell their friends and family? How difficult was it for children like Angelus not to change their parents?
Dylan watched Anna circle the display case as she joined the boy and take his hand. Together they waved at Tony as he vanished out into the night.
It was only then that Angelus turned to Anna with a sigh. “Pappa really likes grandmama’s anise cookies, but I think they’re gross!” He emphasized the word by sticking out his tongue.
The fact he had said nothing to his father about not liking the cookies made the Texan realize the boy just wanted to please his father, just like every other child out there. Even cursed with vampirism, Angelus really wasn’t any different from any kid.
The realization was one more painful reminder of his sins. Kids, fathers, mothers… the monsters I killed might not have been monsters at all.
But now he was one of them. He smiled inwardly at the irony. Better to have had my eyes opened, I guess. Because you can’t make up for a sin you’ve never known. Throwing off the momentary darkness of mood, Dylan turned and went back to work.
Angelus followed Anna around whenever possible; Dylan couldn’t blame him, especially when she was cooking something. And there was almost always something cooking at Anna’s.
“My mama puts fresh blueberries in her muffins.” Angelus said standing on his tippy toes as Dylan poured a large bag of frozen berries into the muffin batter. Across from him, Anna washed her hands in the sink.
“I would use fresh blueberries, but they go bad too fast, so we have to use frozen ones,” she said.
“Besides, muffins made by mamas always taste better than ones bought in a store.” Dylan told Angelus. “No offense, Anna.”
The young-seeming woman placed several tins on the counter near the big metal bowl and laughed. “My mum was the worst cook. It took me forever to learn how. I used to make hard biscuits when I tried to make cakes.”
“Biscuits?’ Angelus wrinkled his nose as he leaned into the batter as the mixer stirred it. “It gets real purple. Does it taste sweet?”
“Not as sweet as cupcakes.”
Tina stuck her head into the kitchen and propped two trays in the sink. “Minami’s here, Anna, and we’re almost out of corn muffins.” The young lady took a deep breath and smiled. “This room smells real good.”
Tina was right, the room smelled of sugar, butter, and fresh baked cakes. Dylan switched off the mixer.
“I’ll be working on them once we’re done with the blueberry muffins.” Anna told her. “Have Paula take Minami to the back.”
“Can I go? We can play on the spinny chair!” Angelus’s dark eyes sparkled and he bounced to the door. “I made blueberry muffins, Tina! Might have even improved on the recipe by adding more butter. Pappa says butter makes everything taste better.”
Dylan hadn’t noticed that; he glanced at Anna who shrugged and mouthed, not that much.
She turned to Tina. “If Paula wants to tackle two in the office, I’m fine with it, but bring him right back if she decides it’s too much.”
Taking him by the hand, Tina led the boy out. “Paula don’t know what the words ‘too much’ mean! It’s not in her vocabulary!”
As they vanished out the door, Dylan lifted the bowl to the counter. “Takes a village to raise a child?”
“Yes. Though most young people today come from the school of thought of ‘sure, I love kids, they’re great with ketchup’, and have no clue or care what to do with them.” Anna lined the trays up and located a ladle. “In my day, we had communities and everyone looked out for each other.”
“Do you regret not having any?” It was only natural to ask the question, where he came from, most woman wanted children. Well, save for his sister.
“Not at all.” Anna replied crossing over to the bowl. “Delighted when they go home with mama and pappa. Fun having them around, but living with them? Too much energy, especially when they’re small. Eternal children? Bloody hell, I’d go mad.”
Dylan watched the blonde dish out batter and pour it into the pans as he mulled that over. “I don’t know. I’m a picket-fence kind of guy, wife, kids…”
“Well you won’t have any of that if you let yourself turn into a revenant,” Anna said, her features serious. “Revenants are cursed. They’re not like vampires, who can use their bodies for most activities, well save for eating. Revenants are corpses, ghosts with bodies, nothing actually works for them; they’re moving because the ghost drives the corpse, but there’s no life in it anymore.”
He hadn’t thought of that. Was he willing to give up on everything in life to kill Keith? Did he want a normal life? “Well the plan is that if I kill Keith, I’d be cured. Kill the thing that focuses my vengeance, the vengeance is over, no more revenant, right?”
“It can work that way, but it’s dangerous, and you might not be able to pull out of it, Dylan. That’s a dark path.” Anna paused as if thinking, then continued to pour mix into the pans. “The soul is like batter, Dylan. It is what you make it, and once you cook it, it stays that way.”
“Until someone eats it?” He leaned over her shoulder as she went to scoop another ladle of blueberry goo. He was so close; he smelled her lavender scented shampoo.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would anyone want to eat a revenant soul, they’re… Like eating stale muffins left out on the counter.”
“That’s not so bad; all you need to do is wrap it in a damp paper towel and shove it in the microwave for a few seconds, then it’s good again. You know, like recycling, you’re all on about that horseshit, why can’t you recycle a soul?” His father lived years fighting the monster curse inside of him. Dylan knew it was possible. The difference was, his father didn’t know people who understood how it worked.
“Why are you so difficult?” Anna demanded, but the way her mouth curved up and the slightly-choked sound told him she was trying to stifle laughter.
He could tell she didn’t want to discuss his path anymore; it would likely lead to another argument. Instead, Anna handed him the ladle.
“Since you obviously know so much about muffins, you can spoon in the rest and put them in the oven. I need to start the corn muffin batter.”
They finished the rest of the preparations in silence, but it wasn’t a cold, uncomfortable feeling; more of a companionable one. Their bond made it so that Dylan knew without asking that Anna cared about him, that even without speaking a word she was aware of him and glad of his presence. It made him feel like he really did belong here, somehow.
Finally he put the last pan into the sink to soak and headed towards the back room. A rumbling rattle warned him that things were not so peaceful back here.
“Clear the way, here comes the train!” Angelus called out, as he pushed a battered old black leather rolling chair down the hall leading to the storeroom and office. Petite Minami clung to the edge of the seat with one hand, and clutched Kitty with her other.
Dylan turned sideways, allowing the chair to race by, apron in hand, as the youngsters giggled and spun the chair around right before they reached the door leading to the café. “You pups better look out, someone might get hurt!” he called back at them, barely noticing as Paula came up next to him and took his apron.
“He regenerates and is practically indestructible, and she’s already dead; it’ll be kind of hard for them to get hurt. ” The skinchanger gave a smile as she pressed her back against the wall and added. “Incoming.”
Dylan barely had time to lean into the plaster before Angelus and Minami drove by, squealing with delight. “Who said I was talking about them getting hurt?” He looked at the laughing little girl. “Wasn’t she crying earlier?”
“She misses treats,” Paula confirmed. “Angie thought the chair was a good idea. So I let them take it into the hall for a game of rollercoaster.”
Twirling the chair Angelus stopped it near the office and Minami climbed down. “Your turn, Angelus-chan.” She handed him Kitty with a pale hand.
The boy took the plush and clambered on to the chair. “Go as fast as you can. I want to get real dizzy.”
She nodded and looked over to Paula as if looking for permission. “Onesan, can we spin in the office?”
“Sure.” Paula gestured for Dylan to follow. “But after Dylan logs out, he’s gotta go home.”
The girl’s dark eyes sparkled as she nodded to Dylan and started to push the chair toward the office. On it, Angelus watched them. “We can pretend we are in a tornado,” he told her, “spinning round and round.”
The girl nodded. “Tornado? Storm?.”
“Big funnel storm, like the Wiz!” Explained Angelus. He spun his fingers fast in the air in the air as he explained.
“Tatsumaki!” Angelus folded his arms around Kitty. “I don’t talk Japanese, but it sounds right to me.”
The sign-out sheet was on the wall with a dangling pencil. Dylan quickly logged out his name and the time. He had homework to do.
“Oniisan?” Minami’s voice called up to him. The Texan let the pencil fall from his fingers.
Turning to face the child, Dylan tried not to think of his past hunts. Minami was aware of people, unlike the other undead children he had seen. “Yes?”
“You are looking for the bad man, right? With Officer Knight-san?”
“Yeah.” He swallowed. The girl’s dark eyes were hopeful and bright.
The two kids exchanged looks. “Did he hurt you too?”
Closing his eyes, Dylan drew a breath. “Yes, he did. He’s a very bad man.” He resisted the temptation to question her about the man. He noticed both children appeared frightened for a moment. Dylan was a grown-up, at least to them; perhaps they had thought he’d be immune to Keith?
“When I grow up, I’m gonna whoop him good,” Angelus announced, balling his fist in front of his face. “Just like Batman.” Next to him, Minami nodded.
“Yeah, me too.” Dylan managed a smile at Angelus. He’s a brave runt, Dylan thought. A surge of anger rose like bile from his gut at the thought of Blackwell touching either child. Keith Blackwell was a monster. Dylan hated the idea of waiting to deal with the creep. He noticed Paula removing coloring books from one of the drawers. “Well, you kids have fun spinning and coloring. I’ve got studying to do.”
Dylan needed air; he didn’t want to go all angry in front of the kids. Feeling the revenant trying to rise within him, Dylan quickly slipped out of the room, barely aware of the chorus of goodbyes behind him.