After a long hesitation, Victor’s elbows lowered and he relaxed his hold on the python. He held its face before his own.
“Hmm. Maybe later,” he said.
The snake flicked it tongue in and out. Victor put the snake back in the sink with the other, and then took off his socks. He stretched one out lengthways, then stretched the cuff. Holding the sock with his left hand, he used his right to scoop up one of the snakes and then, with patient effort, threaded it into the opening of the sock. Once the head was in, Victor was able to stuff the rest in easier, though for each length of serpent he fed into the sock half a length wriggled back out. He sealed the opening with a knot and held up the sock, examining it. The snake was cramped but able to move, and the thin material allowed a flow of air.
“Not so bad,” said Victor. “Kind of like a hammock. A hell of a lot better than living in the pipes, anyway. Now for your buddy.”
He took his other sock and repeated the process with the other snake.
Standing barefoot in the kitchen, each hand carrying a sock with an albino snake inside, Victor looked pleased. A deep, metallic knock, like a bell, rang out, sending vibrations through the walls. The electric lights dimmed, like twilight. Victor spun around and looked out the door to the dining room.
“What was that?”
The deep sound rang out again; the Spam cans rattled.
“Oh sh**,” said Victor, checking the glowing hands on his watch. “Oh no, no, no, I forgot the time—midnight already!”
He ran out of the kitchen and through the dining room, where the candlelight had also faded to near-darkness. The toll sounded a third time. Still clutching his socks with the snakes in them, Victor inched open the door to the room where the dreaded painting stood. He peeked into the gloom that seemed to have enveloped the whole house; he saw the portrait, and the faint glint it cast in the mirror on the other side of the room. He took a step back.
With a snapping front kick from Victor’s naked left foot the door swung open. He sprinted out across the cold wooden floor, staying close to the wall on his left. The officer in the painting caught sight of Victor’s reflection immediately and burst from the canvas, wearing a devilish grin. Fangs stretched down over the officer’s lower lip and he grew taller with each gliding step he took. With frightening speed he crossed the floor, closing in on Victor before he had run halfway across the room. Victor hurled the socks ahead of him; they slid over the floorboards, coming to a halt near the fireplace. The fourth toll sounded and echoed from wall to wall; Victor fled like Cinderella from the ball. The officer from the painting (now in full vampire form) entered within a stride of his prey, and reached out a grotesque, clawed hand. As an icy finger scratched down Victor’s shoulder, he gave an involuntary yelp and launched himself full-length onto the floor as though diving into home plate. He slid past the doorway leading to the mansion’s entry, and out of the vampire’s view in the mirror. Victor scurried to the corner ahead of him and made it to the wall. The bell rang: toll five. He turned around, gasping, eyes wide and fists raised—but the vampire had abandoned the chase. Victor saw the fiend’s shadowy figure returning across the room with its back to him, toward the painting. It shrunk to its human size and stepped into the canvas, resuming its place, captured in the portrait.
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