Eric Northman leaned in close to the microphone and sighed as he searched for how to say what was on his mind. He had been hosting Night Vision at WKDED in Shreveport for six months now. The show ran from midnight to 5AM Monday through Friday. His audience were people who worked the night shift and chronic insomniacs. His topics varied, often selected on the fly or triggered from some event that he had been forced to endure himself in his everyday life. He liked his show, he liked his town. He had been happy since he moved here from Los Angeles, abandoning an overdone market in an overdone town. No one would find him here and he was fine with that. He liked being just a voice on the airwaves. He could be anyone and everyone here and he liked that best of all. Everyone had more than one side to them and he needed space to be whoever the fuck he wanted to be.
“I was thinking today about life the universe and everything,” he said, his deep sexy voice traveling away and into the foggy night outside. He chuckled, “I know, you’re all surprised to hear that I was thinking, but it’s true. I found myself wondering about the greater mysteries of life. Who are we? What are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Is there a plan? Is it our plan or someone else’s? Are there things out there in the dark that we have yet to find, things that watch us, covet our hum drum lives and long to have that existence for themselves? Are there things that go bump in the night that we aren’t smart enough to be scared of?” He stopped and took a sip of his coffee before going on.
“When I get in this mood I sometimes think of something that I saw when I was a teenager. It was right after I had gotten my driver’s license and I had been coming home around midnight from a friend’s house. It was a deserted back road that crossed over a mountain, tight with curves, trees close on both sides of the road so the only light was from the headlights of the beat up piece of shit I was driving. It was a stick shift, and I had taught myself to drive it just a few weeks before.” He chuckled again, lost in his memories of his first truck and his early driving experiences. “I was still afraid to listen to the radio because I wouldn’t be able to hear the engine wind up telling me that I needed to shift up a gear. I was still nervous as hell about driving in general and driving a stick shift in specific. I was scared to stop on a hill, because I would ride the clutch to stop from rolling back, and the clutch was already worn when I got it. Every time I did it, I would ball up in a knot inside just knowing that it was going to give out or even worse I was going to panic like an idiot, stall it out and roll back into whatever unsuspecting soul who had the misfortune to be behind me.
“I was enjoying the drive that night, no one on the road but me, windows down sliding glass behind me open. It was midsummer and it had been hotter than hell all day, but now in the dark the air whipping around me was cool and refreshing. It dried the sweat on my body and made my shirt billow out a little and flutter, tickling against my skin. I was feeling oh so cool and proud of myself. You know that feeling you have when you’re a kid and you do something that you didn’t think you could? Or even better something that some know it all adult has told you that you can’t do.” He smiled at his invisible audience.
“Yeah, you know what I mean. Every one of us has been there at some point. Putting up with that is what makes those moments of accomplishment and freedom so freaking sweet.” He sipped his coffee again and wished he had a cigarette. He had quit five years ago, but the need, the desire to have one in his hand when he was behind the mic had never faded. Sometimes the taste of coffee, which could only be improved with a cigarette made the need almost unbearable, but he couldn’t quit the coffee, too. A man needed some pleasures, goddamnit! He had thought about getting one of those uber popular electronic cigarettes but knew it would just be a gateway drug back to the real thing.
“So, wind in my hair, foot to the floor, topping out at about a whopping 35MPH going up the mountain I was loving life. Seriously, I can recall very few times that I have felt anything near that level of perfection in this life. Maybe the first time I got laid. Yeah, maybe then, when it was all about me and I was too inexperienced to fully understand that I had some obligation to ensure my partner’s pleasure as well as my own.” Nodding to himself, feeling his lips curl into a smile as he recalled his sticky seventeen year old fumbling with Andrea. “Yeah, maybe then. Anyway, I was cruising along when suddenly on the side of that mountain road I saw a werewolf.” He raised his hand. “Now, I know some of you are rolling your eyes and dismissing me out of hand. You can do that. I will never know for sure if you turn the station right now, but I shit you not, it was a werewolf.
“It was huge and ugly. The fur was mottled in color black and brown and it moved with such contempt that it almost didn’t get out of the way. It moved like it hoped I would slow down, or that I would hit it so it could hit me back. But what I will never forget is the eyes. They glowed in my headlights, not like a regular glow, I mean like red in color, reflecting back something that wasn’t from the outside, no it was something on the inside. I knew, I felt like I was looking through a doorway into the face of something that would leave me unhinged if I looked too close. It felt…other. It felt like it didn’t belong in this world. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck and my gut twist just to see it. The wrongness of it, there on the side of the road, as if to say…you don’t know anything, anything of what goes on in the night.
“Suddenly, what had been cool on my hot body became cold and I was shivering. Suddenly, I was sure I would do something stupid and stall out there and it would come after me. I panicked and let up on the gas, not wanting to hit it, but definitely not wanting to stop. I down shifted and pushed the accelerator down almost the floor causing the valves in my old truck to bang hard. That made me panic even more. I wanted to close the windows but was afraid to try and let go of the stick shift or the steering wheel.
“As I got closer it slunk off into the trees and disappeared into the inky black night. I left the windows alone and drove for home with adrenaline coursing through me, making me shake even harder than the cold feeling that had settled into my very bones. By the time I was home in bed I had started trying to convince myself that I had imagined the whole thing. Most of the time even now I let myself believe that. I sleep better that way. But sometimes though, when I am busying thinking my deep thoughts I go back to that night, to that moment and I still feel it in my bones, the wrongness of what I saw. I think of how that does not fit in with the images we reinforce every day of what this world contains. I think that we only think we know everything and that arrogance will be the end of us on some back road when we least expect it.” He sighed then, and looked at the clock.
“It’s 1AM and this The Northman coming to you live from WKDED in Shreveport. Do you have a story like that you want to share? Put on the coffee and give me a call at 555-WDED. Coming up now we have a new one from Alice + The Machine, What Kind of Man and then we have a word from our friends down at the Gas-N-Sip, your all-purpose stop and go shop, located on the corner of Summerville and Third. Stop in today for gas and a sip!”
He pressed the button to start the music and then sat back in his chair. Glancing at the phone lines he saw three of the six lit up. He glanced out the studio window to see his producer Lafayette Reynolds on the phone setting up his callers. From the look on his face Eric had stirred the crazy pot just right with his story. That suspicion was confirmed when Lafayette flipped him off and rolled his eyes as he talked whoever was on the other line. Eric chuckled.
“I done told you, not to do that shit!” Lafayette’s voice filled the studio. “You start up with some weird shit like that and get them to start calling in. You only get to talk to the ones that can form sentences! And why is that? Hmmm?”
“Because you protect me from the crazy,” Eric said in a tone that indicated he was having this conversation for about the thousandth time now.
“Damn right! Don’t you do this no more! I mean it!” Lafayette went back the phone lines and continued to roll his eyes so hard that Eric thought he might have to whack his head on the board to get them come back to their rightful positions.
He ran his hands through his hair. He didn’t plan these things, he just opened his mouth and the words came out. He had been doing this job now for almost ten years, first in Los Angeles and now here and he was good at it. When he listened and spoke the words that felt like they needed speaking he reached people. Fuck, sometimes maybe he even helped them a little. That was why he did this. That why he wanted to keep doing this.
It wasn’t always the weird shit, the paranormal shit, sometimes it was just everyday ordinary people shit and that was fine too as long as he was able to speak the words he felt like he needed to speak when he needed to speak them. That was part of why he left Los Angeles. The station he had worked at there had wanted him to stick more mainstream topics and cater to a certain demographic. He had been wildly popular even on the night shift and they had paid him well, but he felt his freedom slowly being squeezed off, first with their censure of his topics and then with the ideas of how he needed to monopolize on his GQ good looks to promote the station during the day.
Eric Northman was not a day person. He also didn’t give two shits about how marketable his appearance was, he was more than meat and the way they treated him made him feel like he needed a shower whenever he went into the studio there. So, he had started looking for a job. He had found this one, on the other side of the country where the station manager told him he could do whatever the fuck he wanted to do from midnight to 5 Monday through Friday. This time he had gotten it in his contract, no daylight appearances, and no promotional pictures of him to drive ratings. He did his show, he recorded ads for local businesses and then he went home. Period. The pay cut had hurt like a mutherfucker, but money wasn’t everything.
Lafayette liked to have something to bitch about, so despite his theatrics over the kind of callers he was fielding right now he was loving every minute of it. What the fuck else was he going to do at 1AM on a Tuesday morning?
The commercial came to an end and the On Air light came back on above the door. “Let’s take some callers now and see anyone else out there has a story to share. Caller you are on Night Vision with The Northman, what’s on your mind tonight?”
“Northman,” a female voice came over the line. Eric immediately rolled his eyes and cut a glance at Lafayette who was holding up a sign that said, ‘pay back, here’s your bitch!’.
“Lorena,” Eric said trying to sound professional and not disgusted by the sound of her voice. She had been calling in for a month and he told Lafayette to stop putting her calls through. At first he had thought she was just a fan of the show but he had quickly learned that she was fangirling for him and not Night Vision. She had asked him out both on and off the air, promised him things that he found more nauseating than titillating. He knew crazy psycho trouble when he heard it and he wanted to give it a wide fucking berth as he traveled on and around it.
He had dealt with fans before in Los Angeles. He knew how to handle them and how not to. Even the slightest encouragement was too much. He had to be firm but professional. He heard her take a breath but he cut her off. “Do you have a story to share on the supernatural tonight, Lorena?”
“As a matter of fact I do, Northman. I wanted to talk about vampires.”
“OK, what about them?”
“Do you think they are real?”
“This is your call Lorena, so the question is what do you think?” She laughed, making the hair stand up on his neck.
“I think that I might call back tomorrow night and ask you again.”
“All right, Lorena, thanks for calling.” He disconnected the crazy woman and moved on to the next caller. The rest of the night went on without incident. He had a few crack pots that wanted to talk about everything from UFO’s to government conspiracies, but even so at the end of the night he felt like he had produced an interesting show that let people air out their concerns and thoughts even if their ideas were way out in left field as far as he was concerned. It could have gone better, but it could have gone worse, too.
He handed the mic off to Jamie and Jeff for their morning show, told Lafayette good night and headed out in the thin remainder of night, stretching his long frame and yawning as he crossed the parking lot to his car. He was wondering if he should stop at the Waffle House for some breakfast before heading back to his place when someone grabbed him from behind and spun him around.
“What the fuck?” He was facing a small brunette woman, not bad looking but quite strong. In the dim lights of the parking lot he thought he saw fangs in her mouth, but dismissed it as a trick of the light. When she spoke he felt a chill run over him.
“Lorena” he said, dread in his voice. She smiled wider to be recognized and rubbed her body against his.
“Right in one. You are as clever as you are handsome.” Fucking crazy fangirls. He jerked his arm from her grasp and looked around for the security guard that was supposed to be out here. He was nowhere to be seen. Figures. Rather than carry on and accidentally encourage her further he turned and started moving for his car again. Somehow she got in front of him again. “Not so fast, sexy. I have something I want to show you.”
“Not interested,” he ground out through a locked jaw, contemplating how bad it would be to throat punch a woman and then drive away. When I grow up I wanna be that kind of asshole, he thought as he accepted that he was not the kind of guy to strike a woman. Her smile widened again and this time she turned her head so the dim light reflected on her fangs. This bitch had fangs, and apparently disposable income if she could pay for that kind of dental work. He looked in her eyes, preparing to gentle her down from the edge of Crazy Land and he felt his desire to get away from her fade.
“Yes, you are interested. You are so interested you are going to let me taste you. Then we will spend the night deciding what happens next.” Everything sounded very far away now and he felt his body relax in her grasp. “You desire me, Northman, more than any woman you have ever wanted before. You’re hard for me now, so hard it hurts.” Distantly he felt his body respond to her words and he was compelled to pull her close and kiss her as he rubbed himself against her. “Yes, like that, lover,” she moaned as he moved to kiss her neck. He was about to pick her up and press himself between her legs when he felt a sharp pain in his neck and then a slow draining sensation that took him even further from the parking lot outside the WKDED.
Suddenly there beside them was another woman. He saw a hand reach in and light up, covered in red flames a split second before it wrapped around Lorena’s neck. A sharp shrill scream split the night and his fugue when Lorena screamed and jerked away from him, trying to escape the woman. “Let me go!” she screamed as her head caught fire and her face started to burn.
Eric fell back, landing hard on his ass, a look of dreamy terror on his face. The woman held Lorena as she jerked, burning and screaming. He saw a look of pure savage joy on the woman’s face as Lorena burned. Distantly, he thought he should do something, even if it was only run away, but even that was beyond him. Before his very eyes Lorena burned, faster and faster until there was nothing of her left but a pile of ash at the woman’s feet. She turned to him then waved a hand and he thought he heard her say, “Sleep.” His eyes closed and he was out.
The alarm clock woke him at 6PM the next night just like it always did. He got up and showered, just like he always did. He shaved just like he always did before pulling on his black jeans and t-shirt, just like he always did. He fixed himself some toast and a cup of coffee and sat down to channel surf just like he always did. He kept feeling like he was forgetting something important but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out what it was.
He went to the grocery store. He ran a couple of errands. He came home and put the groceries away still feeling like he was forgetting something. In the moments when his mind was caught up in the tasks he was performing a question would rise to the surface. It played over and over like song lyric stuck in his mind, he heard it but he wasn’t listening.
Before he got to the studio he was saying it out loud, not thinking of it, and still not hearing it either. He was stuck on a loop. It was burning up from the depths of his brain, occasionally accompanied by random images of fire, and blond hair. He was humming it when he sat down in his studio chair. Over and over his mind was asking the same question.
Why did she save me?
But any memory of who she was, or what she had saved him from was just not there. The memories had been taken from him and now he could only pick at the empty space they left behind.