The next day, I sat in my room and debated what to do about my weird roommate.
On one hand, Zell was really thoughtful and always checking in to make sure I was ok. Plus, he was probably the most fun person I’d ever hung out with.
On the other hand, he had a lot of weird habits. Our fridge was full of mysterious liquids in bags, he frequently made comments about my neck, not to mention he had rendered someone unconscious last night… I couldn’t help wondering why I wasn’t allowed in his room. What dark secret was he hiding in there?
I wasn’t sure if I could trust my roommate. Should I move out? I thought to myself.
“BENJIII,” Zell suddenly shouted from downstairs. “What did you do to the kitchen?”
“It looks different,” he said. “It’s… bigger? And homier?”
“Yeah,” I told him, finally coming downstairs. “I’ve been fixing this place up, expanding the space, repairing appliances…”
“Well, the house looks amazing!” He replied with his winsome smile. “What do I owe you?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” I said, trying not to blush. “I enjoy being handy. Speaking of which, I have to fix the toilet…”
But he followed me to the bathroom and scolded me. “Benji, what are you doing?”
I frowned. “Uh, fixing the toilet? I thought we said that was a good thing?”
“Yeah, but not like that!” Zell sighed. “You’re gonna get your regular clothes all dirty and sweaty! At least wear your workout shirt or something-“
I guess he had a point.
I changed and Zell grinned. “There you go! Now we’re talking.”
But for some reason, he lingered beside me, watching me work, mumbling something just out of earshot.
“Hm, yeah, this is great. I could watch you do this all day.”
I finished and grabbed a drink of water to cool off. Zell was still watching me from the corner of his eye, muttering.
“… that is one tall drink of water-“
“Zell, what do you keep mumbling about?” I finally asked.
“Just that, uh, your shirt suits you, is all.” He blurted out.
“Oh! Thanks, Zell.” And my day felt a little brighter.
Later that afternoon, Zell stepped outside to collect the mail. “Ah, it’s that time of year again,” he muttered, then shouted through the door. “BENJIII! I HAVE TO TALK TO YOU!”
I bolted to him in a panic, but Zell calmly handed me an envelope.
“Ok, so, every couple of months my master, er, I mean, my… mentor… throws a mandatory dinner party, and this time, you’re invited. He wants to meet you.”
I hesitated. Earlier today, I had considered moving out because something about my roommate seemed off. But, for some reason, I felt differently now. “You know what, sure, I’ll go. It sounds like he’s important to you.”
Zell furrowed his brow. “My master is… well, it’s complicated. And his dinner parties are… well, you’ll see.”
So I changed into my best party outfit.
Zell came running up, frantically shaking his head. “Oh my god. No. NO! Bad Benji! You should never be seen in that outfit, here, try this on-“
He handed me a black outfit and a pair of elegant shoes.
“Oh yeah, much better,” he sighed. “Wait. One more thing-” He reached for my glasses.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed while I squinted at him.
“Thanks, Zell. I am now as blind as a bat.”
“Hey, don’t make fun of bats! They’ve actually got very good perception, unlike you right now, hehe-“
“Very funny, Zell. Make sure I don’t walk into any trees on the way over, all right?”
“Wait, your mentor lives here?” Zell had taken me to the creepy house at the end of the road- the one I never dared get close to on my runs. The air grew cold and stale, and the mists hung low over the gravestones.
“Yep!” said Zell. “In fact, he never leaves his house. Well, except for that one time, but I’d rather not talk about that…”
A group of folks- looking as confused as myself- lingered outside, but Zell marched in. I hung back for a moment. I had a bad feeling about this dinner party.
“It’ll all be fine- don’t worry,” Zell assured me.
“This way-” he said.
I caught Zell staring at something above the fireplace in the living room, and he chuckled to himself. But when I passed by, I didn’t see anything there.
But the party was surprisingly nice. The house was gorgeously decorated and warmly bathed in candlelight, the food was divine, and the motley group of guests were all relaxed and happily chatting. I told Zell I couldn’t wait for dessert.
“-ah, that reminds me,” he said. “I have to go find my master, er, my mentor.”
A cold, hushed voice rose up from the darkness as Zell entered the kitchen. “Zell,” said the Count, a pale, grim man wearing all black. “How nice to see you again and looking well, as always. You remember our tradition?”
“…do I have to do it?” Zell said quietly.
The Count narrowed his eyes. “It’s not a request, Zell. And it’s ‘master’ to you.”
I couldn’t see Zell, but I heard him shuffling around the kitchen, mixing things together.
I heard the creak of of an oven as someone pulled something out.
The Count smiled behind Zell. “Very good, Zell. You always made the most delicious cake.”
“Thank you, master.”
Zell re-emerged, placing a decadent chocolate cake on the table. “Dessert is served.”
It looked heavenly, and all the guests, including myself, grabbed a slice.
I had just taken my first bite when Zell cried out, “Wait, Benji, don’t eat th-“
But then a cold voice behind me cut him off. “Hold your tongue, Zell.”
“Oh sh-” I almost dropped my plate, turning to the gaunt man behind me. “You must be Mr. Straud, Zell’s mentor! I’m Zell’s roommate!”
“It’s Count Straud,” he corrected me. “Count Vladislaus Straud. So, you’re Zell’s new roommate? Sit. I’d like to have a word with you.”
I happily obliged. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted our neighbor, Caleb Vatore, glaring at the Count. I wondered why- after all, the Count was being very generous throwing us this elaborate party, no?
The Count stared icily at me from across the table. “I wanted to personally welcome you, ah-“
“Benji!” I said. “Benji Kim. And may I say, what a lovely home you have-“
The Count cut me off. “We can dispense with the pleasantries, Mr. Kim. How long have you known that Zell is a-“
“-he doesn’t,” Zell interrupted.
“Zell’s a what?” I asked, suddenly feeling groggy. I was vaguely aware that all of the other guests were missing. But I wasn’t thinking straight, my eyes were closing, and my head felt heavy, like it was filling with sand. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “I’m feeling a little off, excuse me-“
But then everything went dark.
“Vlad, why did you have to let him eat the cake-” Zell was whispering fiercely.
“Silence, Zell. You were saying, he doesn’t know you’re a vampire? Fascinating. I must say, you’ve chosen well, he will make a fine snack; I can smell his virgin blood from across the room-“
“No, Vlad, I’m not going to drink him, he’s my roommate-“
“-feh, your ‘roommate’! This is becoming absurd, Zell. When will you stop playing this childish game and move back in? You don’t need a roommate, I can provide everything for you- a home, the finest meals, young pretty things to keep you distracted-“
“When will you understand that I’m never moving back!” Zell shouted.
“When will you understand that I miss you!” The Count hissed back.
There was a tense silence.
Next thing I remember, Zell was gently shaking me awake.
“C’mon Benji, I’m taking you home.” He pulled me up.
“Aw, ok,” I said drowsily. “Wait, where are all the guests? Did they leave already?”
“Er, not exactly,” Zell said. “-but don’t worry about them, the other guests will all be fine… eventually.”
“Hmmm, ok Zell, whatever you say.” I could barely keep my eyes open.
“Zell, you’re not going to stay for our dinner?” murmured the Count, but Zell was already leaving.
“Goodbye, Vlad,” he said in a cold tone I had never heard him use before.
The Count chuckled. “You always say that, Zell, but then you come back.”
“You always do.”