A Horde of Gummies

Idea: It was October 2015, and I knew I had to come up with an idea for Nanowrimo—and be quick about it. I knew I’d be pressed for time, so it had to be something I didn’t care too much about. It had to be something laughable. It had to be a great experimental undertaking. Thus, it became the second time I tried to write a romance. But a simple romance simply wouldn’t do—it had to be a vampire romance. Because why not? The twist is that there is a vampire couple and a human couple and not a vampire-human couple. Hah. So there.

Process: First, setting—somewhere I knew that wasn’t in my hometown. I’d spent a few weeks in Buffalo(NY) and it had an interesting atmosphere so I chose that. Next, character—I spent that time in schools so I made the main character a schoolteacher. Who may or may not be based in some ways off a real person. Last, vampire twist—the love interest is not a vampire-hunter, instead he deals with a rat-like creature from the same world, called Gummies. Voila. All the makings for a romance…. right.

It was somewhat fun but also painful to write, but when I went back to read it from the beginning I actually… really… liked it….

Edited: Not really.

gummy book cover

cover created in Photoshop

———————— Read some ! ————————

Nothing interesting ever happens in Buffalo.

“Do you have any plans for the summer?”

Shaquia didn’t look up from the copy machine. “Lesson planning.”

“Your plans are to make plans?” her co-worker teased.

“Pretty much. If I do most of it over the summer it’s not such a trial during school.” Pulling test copies off the machine, Shaquia finally looked up and started at his proximity. Mike was the 7th/8th-grade Social Studies teacher, and had written his college thesis on how smell affects personal bubbles. So when he leaned in to sniff her hair it was only slightly weird.

“Lavender,” he noted, nodding approvingly.

“I thought the vanilla smell was stronger,” she said, then moved out of the way so he could make his copies. Only after she’d given up the position did she realize she’d left the original test in the copier. Mike opened the top of the machine, moved her copy to the table next to him, and put his sheet down. Shaquia stared at her piece of paper, trying to decide how she could reach around him without things getting awkward.

“I’m doing a road trip with some buddies,” Mike said, pressing the ‘5’ button. He’s not a tester, Shaquia noted. He’s confident that he set it up just right. If he did, it would get him out of her way faster. “We’re going down through New York City, all the way to Florida, and on the way back we’ll go around through Philadelphia.”

The first copy came out. 1 of 5. “That sounds interesting.”

“Should be fun. 4 guys in one Subaru, though—it just screams ‘we don’t have girlfriends or we’d be doing other things all summer’, right?”

Oh Lord. 4 of 5. “Will you visit Mount Vernon?”

“Where?”

The last copy came out, but he was waiting for her. She indicated the tray and he picked up his copies, looked at them, then laughed. “I always forget to give extra room for the title. We need one of those scanner copiers.”

While he fixed his paper, Shaquia rolled her eyes and let out a breath. “George Washington’s estate. In Virginia, near Alexandria. Not the Egyptian Alexandria of course, the Virginia one.”

Instead of hitting ‘5’ again, he looked at her. “Oh yeah. You ever been there?”

“No. I’ve never been out of New York.”

“What, never?”

“Will you pass me my sheet?”

“Huh? Oh. Sure. Here you go.”

“Thank you.” She put it on top of her stack. “Have fun on your road trip.”

“Thanks. If I don’t see you before then, have a good time… lesson planning. Say, have you ever been to the Blackthorn pub?”

“I don’t really drink. ‘Bye.” She darted out of the office before he could say anything else. When she reached the end of the hallway and turned the corner, she let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Then she whacked her sheaf of paper against her forehead. “Stupid, stupid. Gah.”

The stupidity she referred to was how a good-looking guy had just tried to ask her out and she’d completely swat him down. Not that she particularly wanted to go on a date with Mike. They chatted every so often and from what she’d seen of his classes he was a good teacher, but he kind of annoyed her and she knew if she went on a date thinking, above all, ‘He’s annoying’, it was not going to go well. This was how she justified her actions back there, and all of this was part of her stupidity.

Back in her classroom, she began cleaning up for the day. The end of school was approaching, but there was always so much to do. Copying, grading, lesson planning, deciding what parts of the blackboard to erase and what to leave, contemplating again how much nicer it might be to have a whiteboard instead—even better, one of those smart boards….

“If I always make excuses, I’m never going to find a guy. Right, Joan?”

The large white rat, saintly named after the Roman Catholic martyr, looked away from her water tube for a moment, as if she’d understood. Shaquia tapped her nose, then walked over to the cage to find the spreadsheet titled ‘Anthropomorphism’ and filled out an entry for ‘Joan understands my social troubles’ indicated by ‘she stopped drinking’. Joan, who knew whenever this sheet was used meant she got a treat, moved to the other edge of her cage and waited for Shaquia to deliver.

Rat-duties fulfilled, Shaquia finished gathering her things, and left, saying goodbye to the cleaning lady at the door. The heat and humidity of a Buffalo summer hit her as she stepped into the parking lot. There was only one more week of school, then she could spend the rest of the summer in her air-conditioned apartment, in her mom’s sometimes air-conditioned house, or in air-conditioned coffee shops, with minimal exposure in between. Today was another 20 min bus ride home, however, and the buses were barely tolerable. Even though she knew the schedule, knew the bus wouldn’t come for another 10 minutes, Shaquia watched intently for it to appear from around the corner. Again she contemplated walking home—it was still light out—although the bus was likely to pass her on the way. So instead she took out the test, reviewing it one more time. They’d already done all the Common Core testing the week before, so this test didn’t mean much. It was Shaquia’s own creation, focusing on the things she wanted the kids to remember, and it fit in to a summer packet she would give her students. The packet had a few articles and copies from an old textbook Shaquia was not allowed to use, some games, and a couple coloring sheets. 3rd-graders liked coloring. They would choose that first, identifying it as the easiest part of their homework. The second sheet, however, was color by number, and the number could only be found by doing the reading. It was her first time trying that, so Shaquia couldn’t wait until the end of summer so she could see if it worked. Summer was such a long time, if the kids remembered anything it was a success. When she handed out the packets, she’d also tell them that if they scored high enough on the ‘What do you remember?’ test at the start of school, they would get a sticker. Kids go gaga for stickers. Shaquia liked them too. It was a little easier when she taught 1st grade, as those little guys would do absolutely anything for a sticker, but the 3rd-graders were fairly cooperative. A couple of months ago the principal had discussed Shaquia moving up to teach 7th/8th-grade History—which was her specialty—and changed his mind only because another teacher was transferred from a different school in the district. Shaquia expected she was transferred because she was a mediocre teacher who didn’t know her subject matter and they figured shuffling her off to Shaquia’s school was the best course. It’s what happens when you’re near the bottom of the totem pole. But it turned out well for Shaquia so she wasn’t going to complain.

The bus came around the corner. Shaquia stood up, put the test away, and boarded the bus like she had many times before. She took her window seat near the front and watched the houses go by. More siding had fallen off of that one. The orange house had more graffiti on the side; it appeared to be more uninhabited than ever. Some shopping carts crowded in front of a stop sign. The bus had to go around in a circle to get through a string of one-way streets. It passed some run-down store fronts, people selling drugs on the corner, then went into another dilapidated neighborhood. The scene got only somewhat better before Shaquia got off, thanking the driver as usual.

“Have a lovely day,” he said as usual.

“You too,” she replied as usual.

The couple at the bus stop who had been waiting now boarded the bus, talking about the gang murders that happened a few days ago. Shaquia turned away and walked to her apartment building. The building manager was there, overseeing electrical work. “How was school?” she asked.

Shaquia shrugged. “As usual.”

“Nothing interesting happen today?”

It was a regular banter between them. Shaquia smiled sadly. “Nothing interesting ever happens in Buffalo.”