David Draper

The September Selected Writer is David Draper

Feel free to email David at:



by David Draper

It was the click-click-click of rain against glass that revived her. Droplets the size of shot glasses hit the thick window of the hotel room and it seemed as if each one was trying to break in. Haven opened her eyes. She was naked. 

She loved to hear the rain, especially here, in Reno, in the desert. She loved the desert. Rain feeds, she was once told as a child. If that’s true, she remembered thinking, then rain in a desert; that must be what rain was meant for, because everything has to be fed. Somehow it made her think of God. And God Almighty, did her head hurt.

Twisted in the soft sheets of the enormous bed, the gray hum of early light through the curtains made her world seem like evening. But it couldn’t be. Could it? No. She squinted at her phone. 5:20 am. Eleven new text messages. Two from Mom, two from Nick and seven from her best friend, Claudia; each of her texts raunchier than the one before. Claudia signed off at 2am with “LOL, if he makes you breakfast in bed, I’m stealing him. Be safe.”

Haven smiled, then looked around the room. She was amazed how big it was. What was this, a suite? It was a bit threadbare, but still better than anything this native Nevadian had slept in since she moved to the capitol. Hell, her entire one-bedroom apartment could fit in its living room. This wasn’t like any hotel she’d ever known and Jesus, it was nice to sleep without her roommate’s baby crying and the wannabe DJ downstairs thumping his latest playlist. They were seven floors up with this whole place to themselves and they had never left. She and Aaron. Where was he? 

She stood up and slipped on some panties. Catching herself in the full-length mirror, she smiled. What a mess, but not bad for forty-four. Bit of a belly, but she still had her brain, her hips and her ass and that’s what mattered.

Her dark hair smelled of chlorine and she remembered the two of them skinny-dipping and drunkenly attempting back-flips. Haven smiled and pulled on her tank-top. It smelled like cigarettes. Now she knew she’d had fun. She had been trying to quit, but whenever she drank too much, kissed too much and essentially did anything too much, she ended up looking for smokes. Her mouth was dry, so Haven scanned the room for water, stubbing her toe on an empty tequila bottle. Yes, this was Reno. 

She had three other one-night-stands in her life, but this one was so good she couldn’t recall much about the regrettable fumbling of the others. Then again, as her Mom used to say after her third beer: “A one-night-stand is only a one-night-stand if there is no second-night-stand.”

Haven rubbed her temple. Even through her humming hangover, even thinking objectively, she hoped that their twenty-four hours together would continue. She shuffled into the beige-carpeted hallway towards the kitchen, softly calling, “Aaron?”

Aaron was a singer. One of hundreds in this town. Someone once said that if you throw a rock in Reno, in addition to a tourist, you’ll hit a blackjack dealer, a dancer, a DJ, a dishwasher, or a singer.

But Aaron was good. Real good. He headlined a tribute show four nights a week at The Diego, an off-strip hotel known for its glass-bottom spas and five-dollar tri-tip. Haven was a hostess at the Diego’s Sand Dollar Buffet and had attended eleven of his shows.

Aaron had been in town for only two months, but already three other hotels jockeyed to sign him for their next season. He was 42 and paunchy, but handsome in a head-turning way; a solid six feet tall with a filled-out face and blue eyes. He had dusky and unruly hair that became slick by the end of a set. Twenty songs, four costume changes and one guaranteed encore; when he was on stage, he delivered, he was him.

He was Elvis. 

The suite was empty, but it didn’t feel empty. Haven had a strange sensation that she was just late for something. Or early. A laptop was closed and the lights, the TV and everything was silent. No coffee was brewing. No breakfast was waiting. Nothing. Sorry, Claudia. 


She was introduced to Aaron by a lady name Sylvia. She was one of the Pai-Gow dealers who worked the graveyard shift. Or was she the night Concierge? Whatever role she played at the hotel was uncertain, but what was certain to Haven was Sylvia was the thinnest lady Haven had ever seen. Old, with age spots peppering her desert-tanned skin and a deep voice raspy from a lifetime of Virginia Slims.

Sylvia had a slight limp made better by a long aluminum cane. It had a handle-grip decorated by a half-star of cheap stained glass. They met for the first time in the ladies room after her 7 pm shift and clicked right away.

Sylvia had noticed Haven at last night’s show, or rather she’d noticed Haven noticing Aaron. Haven had blushed when Sylvia said Aaron was there, at her table, right now. Go talk to him, she dared her. At first Haven brushed it off, but Sylvia was insistent. She had placed her crisp old hand on Haven’s shoulder, locked eyes and stated: Go talk to him. And she did. She did what Sylvia had asked. 

Haven felt like a schoolgirl walking up to Aaron, but after a deep breath, she rallied and got to work using her mid-life looks on this Nevada troubadour. But, to her surprise, after less than half a drink, she found that they were really getting along. He never made a move, and his eyes were fixed on hers and not her cleavage.

They talked for hours. They chatted about the usual things: work of course, and Vegas and Elvis, but what really dominated their conversation was all about her. He wanted to know about her life before Vegas, where she grew up, what her life was like as a young woman, her family, her old boyfriends, her youth, her dreams.

They left Sylvia and walked the hotel. They ate, drank and kissed. There was a stolen skinny-dip in the hotel pool, a naughty taxi ride to the canyon, tequila shots under the moon. Just the two of them. And he sang to her. In the middle of the night, beneath the stars. A private concert with Aaron, her very own Elvis. It was all just for her. 

And now, Haven parted the hotel curtains an inch and peeked through. The floor-to-ceiling glass was cold and misty. The sunrise must be close, she thought, but the rainstorm outside kept any reassuring dawn from view.

She padded into the large kitchen, her dry lips still aching for that water. Piles of well-worn notebooks and magazines were on the counter in the kitchen, by the stove. All of the notebooks had the same strange title on the cover — Fan Club Mailing List — while the magazines looked faded, decades old and vintage: Look, Seventeen, Tiger Beat, Teen Magazine, TV Guide, Movieland.

She pulled open the steel refrigerator and saw that it was mostly empty, except for two rows of glass bottles with metal caps. Haven leaned in a little.

They weren’t bottles after all. They were jars, glass jars filled with red wine. On a lower shelf, cords of orange tubing, wrapped in a figure-eight pattern, were rubber-banded together and arranged in two neat piles. Other than these items, the rest of the refrigerator, even the freezer, was cold and bare.

She carefully picked up one of the cold bundles of tubing and examined it under the tiny interior light. Surgical tubing?

“Haven?” The voice came from the bathroom near the kitchen. It sounded strange.

She realized that outside, the rain had stopped. Haven shut the fridge and scampered over, feeling giddy, until she saw Aaron’s bare feet half-in, half-out of the bathroom. They were shaking.

She rounded the corner and there he was, naked, on the floor, pulled into a fetal position. His pale and goose-bumped skin was covered in sweat.

“Aaron!” She crouched and went to wrap her hand behind his neck. She realized she still had the tubing and dropped it, placing her hand up to Aaron’s perspiring face. He was ice cold and shivering.

She could tell his chattering teeth were attempting to form words. “Aaron, what’s wrong?” she pleaded. “What’s happening?”

Drugs, she thought. He’s high. Strung out on something.

“Aaron, please. What can I do? Talk to me.”

Aaron’s eyes craned up at her, pupils large and dilated black, the size of nickels. His hand snapped up and gripped Haven’s. The tendons on his neck went rigid and, with effort, he managed one word to her: “Leave.” 

The raspy voice came from behind them. “She should be dead.”

Haven craned her neck and saw a figure glaring at them from the bathroom door. It was Sylvia. For an instant, Haven felt relieved. Help was here; she could help Aaron now, with Sylvia’s assistance.

But then, just as quickly, her ears rang and she heard something crunch, like egg shells being stepped on. It was the sound of her own jaw. She’d been hit by something hard, metal.

She tasted aluminum and the tile floor rushed up to meet her. She thudded on her right side, half under the ivory porcelain of the toilet. One of her teeth, pink with blood, ticked off the bottom of the sink and skidded to a stop by Aaron’s bare buttock.

Haven heard, then saw, that Sylvia was giggling. The older woman was holding that long cane in her pencil-yellow fingers, the same cane with the half-star of glass on the handle, only now there was blood on it. Before she passed out, a thought occurred to her: That’s my blood.

Haven had a dream. She stood alone in the Nevada desert, watching the sun sink below the burnt-orange plateau of her favorite place, her favorite place as a child, as an adult: Red Rock Canyon. Familiar music hovered around her without origin. It seemed to seep from the darkening world that encircled her, getting louder with each of her thudding heartbeats.

Piano. Ticking guitar. It was an Elvis Presley song: Can’t Help Falling in Love. In the dream, she wanted to smile, but quickly realized smiling and safety and sanity were all somehow very wrong now, even here. She should be afraid. She shouldn’t move. Couldn’t move.

Then she felt the ground shudder and something gripped her ankle. Bony, vise-like hands tugged at her; thin appendages that should never have been as strong as they felt, oozed from the black earth below her. A rotting gray corpse had her by the leg, its wet mouth yawning open, hissing out the silent stench of bile. Haven watched as yellow cracked teeth burst apart, revealing fangs, ivory knives that closed and clenched in their unrelenting duty to drag her to a crimson, beckoning Hell.

She tried to scream, but gagged. She gasped for air and coughed. There was the taste of blood. She forced herself to blink her eyes open and awoke. 

Sylvia had dragged Haven to the kitchen by the leg. Haven was on her stomach, face flat against the slate tile floor. Her head throbbed. Icy pain emanated from her mouth and teeth. She tried to move, but couldn’t.

In front of her were kitchen shears, snipped orange tubing, and Sylvia’s aluminum cane, still stained with her own blood. Music was playing, echoing around the room, the same Elvis song from her dream. But someone was singing it, humming to it, following each note, each lyric: “Take my hand, take my whole life too…” 

It was Sylvia who sang, on the far side of the room. She was crouched over Aaron, lifting a glass to his lips. Wine? The same red wine from the refrigerator? Aaron coughed and seemed to turn away, resisting.

“Drink, my King,” Sylvia whispered. “Feed. Like this.” She raised the glass to her own lips and sipped eagerly, eyes closed in appreciation, and what looked like ecstasy. Haven saw the wine slip past Sylvia’s maw and drip down her wrinkled chin, following the lines of her neck. Even from her vantage point, Haven could tell the liquid didn’t flow like wine; it inched slowly down her skin in tiny rivers, thick like paint.

Syrupy. Coagulated. Like blood.

Haven’s mind raced in shock at the sight. Sylvia was drinking…swallowing…blood.

She thought of those jars in the refrigerator as she gazed wide-eyed at Sylvia feeding. The old crone’s neck undulated with each gulp, her tawny wrinkled skin rippling like wet parchment as she drank the gore, and drank heartily. Haven twisted away, almost unconsciously, disgusted and terrified. Her bare shoulder brushed against something cold and metal. The kitchen shears. 

Shall I stay? Would it be a sin?…” Sylvia trilled the words to Aaron, her thin lips smeared with red cruelty. Still appearing weak, Aaron gazed up at his dark minstrel, at the beady eyes boring into his. The deep brown of Sylvia’s pupils widened and became brighter, until they shined like bright amber. Any gray in her hair disappeared and faded to a shade of rich brown; she was becoming younger before his eyes.

Sylvia continued her lullaby, mouth yawning horribly wide, lips cracking, gums bleeding. Painlessly, her jaw dislocated with a wet pop and she sang, “…if I can’t help falling in love…

The top row of her yellowed teeth erupted in bloodied enamel and in their place, pale fangs grew in rapture. The last two words spilled out in a grotesque lisp: “…with you.

Haven knew that she was in mortal danger. If she were to save herself, she had to act now.

She raised the kitchen shears and sank them deep into Sylvia’s back, to their hilt. Sylvia roared in agony and reacted. Her arm arced back in a half-circle and struck Haven fully on her side. The force of it sent her tumbling into the air and across the room. She hit the curtains covering the hotel room glass hard, sending a thundering tremor across the entire floor-length window. It convulsed from the shock-wave, but did not break.

Haven heard Aaron shout her name. Sylvia stood up and craned her arm over her shoulder, insect-like, searching for the handle of the kitchen shears that were drilled into her. Aaron managed to sit up and started for Haven, but Sylvia hissed and shoved him back to the floor with her boot.

“Her!” she screeched.

Sylvia leaned down and gripped Aaron by the jaw, her fingers and thumb strangely elongated, wrapped tight around his face, the pale digits reaching each ear and squeezing. “I am the one who has cared for you, kept you safe, fed you, loved you. Do you want that to end?”

Aaron looked up at her, fear replacing weakness and pain. She was beautiful now, decades younger, but any radiance that once was, or ever could have been, was now overwhelmed by rage. She snapped at him and repeated her howl, “Do you want to die?”

Aaron managed a word, his answer barely escaping her grip, as if she were trying to prevent it: “Yes.”

Sylvia released him and his head fell backward and cracked to the floor. She yanked the shears from her back and dropped them on the floor, dark blood spattering the tile. She stared down at Aaron. “Look at you” she lectured, “That’s how I found you. On the floor. Your bathroom floor. Half-dead. Heart barely beating, dying from a life of sin.”

Sylvia paused and her eyes seemed to swell with thick red tears, which she wiped away, smearing her cheeks red like paint. She stepped to the kitchen counter, swept away the fanzines and gripped the pile of notebooks, throwing the fanning, sputtering paper at Aaron. Each page of each notebook had hundreds of names, hundreds of addresses. “I couldn’t let them down, I had to save their bloated failure of a legend.”

Sylvia let the last notebook fall from her grip, its words and pages blotched with red gore. “I saved you, Aaron. I raised you. And you thank me by wanting to die?” she snarled. “Well, you already did, Honey. You died at Graceland. And you were reborn — by me.”

Aaron shook his head and tried to push himself away from her, but Sylvia lifted a foot and stepped on his chest, pressing down hard, denying any escape. “You’re not allowed to die.”

In an instant, Sylvia gripped a jar of blood and bent down, one firm hand squeezing Aaron’s mouth open. His lips and face contorted, fighting her, but she poured it in, unrelenting, splashing scarlet plasma into his open mouth. “I won’t let you die, you hear me?”

Haven couldn’t watch anymore. “Help!” she screamed. She was slumped in agony against the curtains, something within her obviously broken. Her pelvis maybe, ribs. She coughed blood from the effort, but managed to scream again and scream loud.

Sylvia stepped off Aaron and turned her attention to the other woman. Haven watched Sylvia’s approach. No longer the bent crone from the casino, Sylvia was now in her thirties, with cream skin and monstrously bright eyes that shone grotesquely through her sandy hair, hair that was curled in a wispy sixties-era bouffant. To Haven, Sylvia seemed a beautiful creature from another era, a television beauty pageant with the lust of a serial killer.

She sashayed towards Haven, mascara-made eyes wet with blood and leered at the struggling cripple before her with a deep and dark intent. Haven watched as all of Sylvia’s new beauty turned cruel. Eyes narrowing, the smell of excrement escorted Sylvia when her wet mouth yawned open, the size of a drain pipe, black and putrid and framed by rows of yellowed teeth.

Terrified, Haven desperately inched herself backward, each movement painted in agony, except for her legs. She noticed she couldn’t feel her legs. They laid there, her own flesh, long pink appendages made strange. Haven tried to move them, but she had no control, no feeling. The thought of her paralysis made her scream, but it was bullied into silence by Sylvia’s laughter. 

“You think you’re special?” Sylvia hissed. “You’re one of thousands.”

Wincing with pain, Haven reached up with her one working arm and gripped the window curtain, balling it up in her fist. She was desperate to pull herself up, to avoid the horror that was Sylvia. The curtain seemed to hold her weight and she strained to make her legs find the strength to stand, to at least get under her.

Sylvia stepped closer and wheezed, “Only I know what’s best for him.” She was so close that red spittle sprayed Haven’s face and she could smell rank death with each word from Sylvia’s mouth. “And he needs to feed.”

Haven screamed. She heaved at the curtain, trying to rise, but her weight was too much. The rings that held it tight failed and shattered, segments of cracked plastic rained down on both of them. Haven fell, the window curtain yanked downward around her. Morning sunlight blazed into the room and Haven felt a rush of warmth and light that instantly became a painful heat.

Even though the curtains had landed on around her face, there was a blinding glare of auburn and a rush of sound. She tried to roll away, to untangle herself. Was she on fire? Haven panicked and flayed her arms, tossing away the curtain.

Then she saw it. She saw flames, but she wasn’t the one on fire. Sylvia was. 

An invisible heat had hit Sylvia like a fire-hose, peeling her skin away in blackening tatters, unraveling it, exposing the muscle underneath. In an instant her flame-washed flesh went from pink to white to grey to black, charring to the core of bone. Sylvia managed an instant of a scream, but her inhale drew the fire inside her and any cry of agony succumbed to flame. Haven watched Sylvia burn and burn intensely, as if her very veins and arteries were filled with an unseen gasoline. Sylvia was not a woman anymore, she was not even the thing with teeth that stalked Haven. She was now only fuel. Fuel for a fire that fed on her. 

Sylvia’s body fell and broke apart into charred pieces that skidded across the kitchen, trailing smoldering tails of black. The room had become gray with acrid smoke, painting the room in mist. There was an artificial scream. It was the high pitched pulse of the hotel’s fire alarm.

Haven squinted, her eyes watering from pain and the sting of smoke. She tried to shout, but only spit blood on herself. Her mind raced…panicked. She couldn’t move, couldn’t talk. What had she witnessed? Who would help her? Could anyone get to her before she died?

Her heart thudded in her chest irregularly, like it was fighting the death to come. The corners of her vision were turning dark, when she felt someone kneel over her. It was Aaron. He was saying something, talking to her, but she couldn’t hear him. She felt his firm hand on her face and it felt warm and wet and steady. Her mouth filled with blood and she gagged trying to speak to him, when his hand came up and covered her mouth. It was hard to breathe.

She didn’t understand why or what he was doing. He seemed to repeat a word over and over, but his voice was drowned out by the piercing wail of the hotel fire alarm. He had forced open her mouth, blood pouring through his fingers, down her face, her eyes. Her throat filled with blood and she shook at him, trying to cough, to gag, but he only held her down harder and shouted that one word she couldn’t hear through the deafening siren. Was he choking her?

She was helpless and could do nothing but swallow, swallow gulps of thick blood. Her body shook and her insides screamed, pain radiating through each inch of her like a shock-wave. She blinked her eyes wide open and looked up at Aaron. Her world was becoming silent and he was staring at her, into her. Gorgeous, handsome.

He was alive, in all its meaning. He was hers and he felt warm, he felt safe and he repeated the word again to Haven, but he didn’t need to shout it anymore, everything else had faded away and she could hear him perfectly. 

He just whispered it: Drink.


Haven could always tell when a show was Sold Out. There was a feeling in the air, a hum. Sure, she could log in and confirm it, but looking out over the Las Vegas crowd was better. The hall at Caesar's Palace held 20,000 at capacity and damned if every single one of them wasn’t singing along with her husband. 

“I said, Aaron is amazing!” said the girl. Haven nodded and smiled. She knew the girl must have had to yell that over the music and crowd noise, but Haven could hear her just fine. Her auditory senses had changed dramatically and she had learned to control them months ago, like she was doing now.

Those senses and the others that grew since that night in Reno had served her well, because according to the girl’s heartbeat and body temperature, Haven could tell the young girl was very excited. Any earlier nervousness about being invited to a private viewing room backstage was gone. Three loud booms thudded, making the girl spill her champagne. White light shined through the viewing glass with each boom, filling the room in coordinated bursts of silver. The second encore was over. 

The girl was beaming. “Wow, so great! My ears are ringing!” She laughed and filled her glass again with champagne. “That cover of Radiohead was amazing. And Heartbreak Hotel, done like The Cure? That was amazing. I think I said amazing already! Wow. I would never have thought that Elvis could be so with it. Even punk.”

The girl laughed, then asked, “How many of those other songs were originals?” Haven held up five fingers and the girl fell back on the couch, smiling and drinking. She sat up sharply, swiped at her long hair and asked another question. “Is he coming straight here?” 

“Yes, he’ll be here soon,” Haven replied. 

“Are you sure I can’t take just one picture?” the girl asked. 

Haven held up the phone she had taken from the girl hours ago and answered. “No photos, no mirrors. You knew the rules. Don’t worry, I’ll send you plenty of photos.” 

“Amazing. My Aunt is never gonna believe this,” The girl slurred. “She thinks Elvis is old school. Apparently not!”

Haven watched the young girl drink and said, “Save some for Aaron, sweetie. He always wants a drink after a show.” 

Outside, a drum roll of thunder roared and Haven knew the rain was coming. Even two floors into the casino, she could hear it. Rain feeds, she thought to herself, and rain in a desert is what rain was meant for, because everything has to be fed. Somehow that made her think of God. 

And God Almighty, was she thirsty.

After a brief semi-career as an underpaid (or more often unpaid) screenwriter, David took a huge break from writing to take a day job he can be proud of. In 2015, David picked up pen again and started writing short horror fiction and blogs, with tales featured on HorrorAddicts.net and ShadowsattheDoor.com as well as horror anthologies from Allegory Magazine, Dark Corner Books and Bride of Chaos Publishers. He is a current Staff Writer for ModernHorrors.com. He raises a glass to all writers, especially horror writers, while tweeting as @DrunkDracula on Twitter.