Aspects of a Traditional Vampire and the Need to Dispatch Same, by D. Krauss
Randall lived on a small two acre lot off the Enterprise Road, in a tiny house built in the 50s and never upgraded. No need; he was alone and spartan. He’d moved there some years ago for the isolation and quiet, which he did need.
Glen lived two miles up the New Brockton Road and down a gravel lane behind a cotton field, and was, also, isolated and quiet, except he’d lived this rural Alabama life since birth and had the mournful displeasure of watching his very large family precede him through various methods, such as the Vietnam War, both Iraq Wars, car accidents, and one to the overzealous ministrations of a particularly drunken Klan attack.
They knew each other by a chance remark Randall made when both happened to be in Wood’s Store, the little one room convenience shop run by a couple even more ancient than they, and one of the few places an old black man like Glen could get necessities without harassment. Randall was standing next to the ancient Nehi Grape Soda box located against the bare pine wall under a faded Massey Ferguson pin up calendar. “Knight to Queen’s four, checkmate,” he’d said when he located a YooHoo pop bottle, since those were rare anymore.
Glen, peering at some rather dated cans of tuna nearby, looked up in surprise. “You play chess?”
And so Glen and Randall started playing once a week, quickly expanding to three to four times as their camaraderie grew. They played at each other’s houses on a random schedule, splitting wins and losses just as randomly, which was the joy of being evenly matched. They spoke nothing of each other’s past and tragedies because the book of it was written clearly on their faces, and because that was then and this is now, the dwindling of their lives, and it was a pleasant way to pass what little time was left.
In the way of small towns and passed-by regions, they were tolerated. Two silly old men playing chess and driving around together in cars too old to bear much more use, seen at the Piggly-Wiggly in Enterprise gathering food and often on each other’s porches late at night, chess board and bottle of Jack between them. Old white men and old black men could mix because they were rather harmless together, but there were still peanut farmer traditions to uphold. “Coupla old queers,” Davis, the red-neckiest of all the peanut farmers, spat one day when both of them happened to be at Spencer’s, the three room convenience store (with gas pumps, no less) in the middle of Goodman. Glen had given him the disgusted look allowed by old black men at the end of their toleration of redneck culture, but Randall gave him something else. It was a look of disquietude, of promised violence with capability. Davis was made uncomfortable and muttered and walked off, uncertain, and the witnessing rednecks shied.
“You used to do something dangerous,” Glen summarized when they got into his duct-taped Buick Century and headed off for a two-man barbecue and all-night chess fest.
“Yes,” was all Randall said. It was the only time either of them alluded to the past.
But, apparently, it was known to those who made it their business to know and one morning the sheriff pulled into Randall’s drive, behind Glen’s Century. Glen and Randall were off to the left about two football fields away, examining the watermelon vines Randall was in the process of murdering. “What’d you do?” Glen asked Randall as they straightened and dusted off and suspiciously eyed the approaching khaki clad, straw-hatted and stereotypically overweight sheriff.
“Nothing. Maybe he’s here for you,” Randall pointed out. Glen snorted. Not since the fifties, when he or one of his brothers was the Sheriff’s regular guest, accused of something heinous like self-regard.
“Mornin’ gentlemen,” the sheriff squinted in the sun and took off his hat and wiped his brow, the comment including Glen because he was a new breed of lawman, or so he thought. “Hot ‘un. Those going to live?” he pointed at the vines. Randall just shrugged. Glen just stood. “Well, sulfur might help. Anyways,” he looked straight at Randall, “I’m wondering if I could call on your expertise.”
Randall nodded and Glen looked at him. The sheriff turned and Randall followed but he stopped and gestured at Glen, “Come on.” The sheriff frowned, which was all the incentive Glen needed, and he fell in step and got in the back of the patrol car, sweltering immediately because the windows didn’t come down and the air conditioning was broken. They drove out Damascus to where it joined the Elba Road and made a turn on a dusty farm trail, Glen watching the vortex behind them because it was like life disappearing. They pulled into Old Man McDaniel’s weedy barn yard and got out and walked past it and over a rise to see three or four men, one of them a deputy, standing over big dark lumps on the red peanut-stubbled ground. As they approached, the lumps became three dead boars.
The group around the dead boars looked up and McDaniel, short and Scot and mean and rednecky, glared at Glen but the upset in his eyes was already saturated. One of McDaniel’s sons, the one who was going to college, Joe, that’s right, moved uneasily on his feet, glad for the distraction. Glen saw why. The three boars were arranged in a circle, heads toward each other, fangs bared to the sky. Not a mark on them. Unnatural, and Glen stopped, uncertain. Randall broke the silent circle and kneeled, carefully examining each boar, duck-walking around them to pull back skin and push at fat and hide. Took about twenty minutes, then he stood and walked around the boars in an ever increasing spiral, his eyes locked on the ground, until he had passed around the men who watched but said nothing because if the sheriff brought him, then the old codger must know what he’s doing. Glen wondered a little more about Randall’s past.
“What time you find ’em?” Randall asked McDaniel.
“Sunrise,” said in a surprised voice because, well, ’round here, work started at daybreak.
“See anything else odd?”
McDaniel spat a stream of brown juice. “Ain’t that odd enough?” he said, his dribbling chin taking in the boars.
Randall smiled, “Did you see anything moving. Moving away, I mean, very fast.”
McDaniel snorted, “They’se daid, they’se ain’t moving nowhere,” the set of his face conveyed how stupid he thought the question was. The set of Randall’s conveyed the same sense about McDaniel. “Thanks,” he said, turned and headed back to the car.
“Thass it?” McDaniel called after, incredulous, bantam sized and just as belligerent and Glen eyed him as he fell in behind. “They’se blood all drained, ya know!”
“BFO,” Randall muttered as Glen took his shoulder and the sheriff hastened up, falling into step. “Coyots?” the sheriff puffed, wiping at his forehead as they made the rise and descended to the car.
“No,” Randall said. “First time you’ve seen this, I’m betting.”
“Any reports of missing people? Children, especially?”
“No more than usual,” said as they resumed their places in the car.
“Um,” Randall nodded. “Let me know when this happens again.”
“It’s going to happen again?” the sheriff pulled out and the dust swirled behind but Glen was too interested and leaned forward to listen.
“Yes,” Randall said, “and, each time it does, use your GPS and start mapping the locations. And let me know, immediately, if people start disappearing. In more than the usual way,” he added.
The sheriff blinked in puzzlement but knew more than Glen did about Randall’s past so said nothing. Glen didn’t either, until they were dropped off and the sheriff left and they had made their way back to the interrupted vines. “What’s BFO?”
“Brilliant Flash of the Obvious,” and Randall and he returned to saving plants.
It did happen again, three more times, and the sheriff came for Randall and Glen happened to be along for two of them. Boars, again, but cows on the third, arranged in a circle, drained. Rednecks chawed at the sheriff about gettin’ a posse up for them goddamn coyot’s and the sheriff looked at Randall who just shrugged and went back home.
“You said it ain’t coyote,” Glen observed.
It was midday and Randall craned a look at the molten, blazing sun. “Something very old, and very evil.”
A younger man would have said something incredulous or demanded explanations, but Glen had seen plenty over the years. “What we gonna do?”
Randall smiled at Glen’s inclusion. “Hope we get it before it gets us.”
The sun was just horrid, but Glen felt the cold rise in his soul. “We in trouble?”
Randall stopped smiling. “Yes.”
That very night, as it turned out. Glen was in a deep sleep, one filled with very bad images, the kind Maw Maw used to call H’aint touch, when something dead made an effort at your soul. The dread forced Glen out of his sleep and then paralyzed him as he realized the h’aint was still there. Right outside his bedroom window.
It was riding waves of moonlight and piling against the glass. It wanted in. There was a crack in the window, and given how liquid the thing was, should ooze through. But it didn’t. It wanted help. It wanted Glen to get out of bed and open the window and help it over the sill.
Which is exactly what Glen found himself doing moments later. “What the hell?” he asked himself as he fumbled at catches and handles. Took an effort to stop, and whatever pressed against the glass sorrowed and wept and Glen felt so sorry for it that he reached again. “No,” Maw Maw’s voice whispered in his ear. “Yes,” something cold and soulless whispered after. Glen slid to the floor, hands still grasping at the window, and laid there the rest of the night with angels and devils battling for control until there was a beam of sunrise and the cold, mournful thing shrieked and was gone.
Glen cried, then fell asleep.
When he woke, it was mid-morning. “Randall,” he whispered.
Glen made it to Randall’s in about five minutes. The front door was open. He found Randall curled up beside the bed, blankets pulled over him to keep out the light. It took quite an effort to rouse him, and Randall, pale, eyes completely black, no cornea, smiled mournfully, “I wasn’t as strong as you,” he whispered.
Glen managed to get him back into bed and covered, because the sunlight hurt Randall. “What do we do?” he asked.
“We have to find it, put a hawthorne stake through its heart, cut off its head, stuff that with garlic, then burn its hiding place.”
“Hawthorne? Ain’t none of that around here.”
Randall glanced at a cabinet. Glen opened it and found everything. “What did you used to do?” he asked, but Randall didn’t answer, cocked a dead eye towards the front of his house instead. “Sheriff’s here,” he said.
“Well, good mornin’” the Sheriff was surprised to see Glen open the door, and Glen knew Davis’ “old queers” comment was running through his head, but the Sheriff thought he was a new type of lawman so didn’t express it. “Is Mr. Morris in?”
“Hmm, you ain’t lookin’ too good yourself,” the Sheriff pushed his hat back. BFO, Glen thought. “Well, I got those coordinates for him.” He had an envelope in his hand.
“I can get it to him,” Glen reached but the Sheriff hesitated, because, new lawman or no, redneckery died hard. Glen ended up pulling it from his fingers and there was a flash of ‘Boy? Who you think you are?’ in the Sheriff’s eyes but he remembered he was new breed and gave it up. “Hope he’s feelin’ better,” he said as he once-overed Glen and, no doubt, was back on the ‘queers’ thought. “Oh, and tell him a couple of kids have disappeared, one of them Joe McDaniel.” The Sheriff left.
“Where is this?” Randall pointed at the part of the county map where lines and numbers converged. Glen examined it then sucked in his breath. “Cryman’s,” he whispered. “It’s the Cryman’s Hole.”
“What’s that?” Randall’s voice was a dead leaf skittering in the wind.
“Cryman comes outta his hole at night, looking for kids to eat. This where he lives,” Glen stabbed the map. “It’s a set of deep ravines, all switching back on each other.”
“So, this has been happening here for a while?”
“No, ain’t never happened. Was just a story the old folk told us kids to scare us and keep us outta that place. It’s dangerous.”
“So it knew the story and took advantage.” Randall didn’t have to explain what ‘it’ was. “You have to get me out there.”
“Because,” a voice out of skulls, out of darkness, “I’ll know exactly where it’s sleeping.”
Randall didn’t say anything. “I mean, how do I get you out there?” The sun was too hurtful.
“When the sun is the highest, I’ll be okay. For an hour.”
“That ain’t enough time.”
“Bring these blankets so you can wrap me up when the hour is over.”
Glen nodded, gathered everything. Got ready.
Somewhere at noon, Randall sprang out of bed, strong, eyes clear. “Let’s go,” he said. Glen, who’d fortified himself with coffee and Jack, rushed him outside, but Randall had to stop for a moment and push a deadening face to the sun, just for a moment. “Ah,” he whispered, “Goodbye,” and they piled into the Century and whipped out the yard.
Glen raced down the road and two-wheeled it onto Stewart’s back trail, smacking open the cow gate with the bumper and bouncing the shockless car over the wash, Randall actually laughing with the sport of it, until they crested a knoll. “There,” Glen pointed.
The land fell in layers, each one below the other, each covered with increasingly thick pine until the lowest was impenetrable. A mist hung over that part. Shouldn’t be.
The road ended in boulder and they could drive no further. Randall sprang from the car, vital, twenty years old again and life blasted from him in waves of power. “Ah!” he screamed it to the sun, at apogee, his arms out and embracing. He whirled on Glen. Those eyes.
Glen stepped back, fumbling for the cross around his neck. “Randall!”
Randall blinked, regarding him as an owl regards a mouse. He smiled, something lupine about it, and took a step forward. Glen shrank against the bumper. “If you could just FEEL this.” The gloat and frenzy on his face smacked Glen to the ground. “Just FEEL it!” Randall roared, ancient and dark, reaching out…
“No,” Randall whispered, covering his face with his hands. “You won’t have me. You won’t have us.” Glen watched the fight for Randall’s soul, clutching the cross which was more a comfort to him than a weapon during this Magic Hour. Randall fell to his knees, fingers that now bore claws tearing at his face, but there was no blood. Precious minutes passed before Randall gasped and staggered back to his feet, still twenty years old, but no longer voracious. “We’re running out of time,” he pointed at the sun. “Come on.” And he turned and bolted for the woods.
Glen was not twenty years old and was slowed by the equipment and gasped his way in the hot air, losing sight of Randall in seconds, but he knew where he was going. When he got there, the chill of the place stopped him. Unnatural. H’aint touched. Gloomy from the Spanish moss like a weave across the top of the pines, but no way even a deep hole like this was so cold.
Randall stood at the entrance to the Cryman’s, a narrow gap where two ravines almost touched. He was combative, because, standing in the entrance itself, was Joe McDaniel. Or what used to be Joe. “The master calls you,” the Joe thing hissed at Randall, and then glared past him at Glen. His sudden grin slavered into spit and old blood. “And you bring meat!” he took a predator’s step and Glen was paralyzed by the sheer evil blasting from Joe’s eyes.
Randall struck Joe, a blow so fast and vicious that Glen could barely follow it. Joe’s head exploded into flesh shreds and he bounced off the ravine wall, an animal scream ripping from his lips. “You hurt me!” Joe wailed, trying to put his scalp back together. “You are not turned,” Randall said to him, “Get out of my way, and you’ll be saved.”
Joe cowered in the entrance. “I don’t want salvation,” he moaned, but did nothing as Randall stepped over him. Glen hesitated, certain Joe would rip him apart, but all he did was nurse torn scalp as Glen pushed past, not even looking up. That’s what slavery does to you.
The Hole was dark, not only from the moss woven trees, but because the light fled. Turned its back, more accurately. The Hole widened out, forming almost a bowl, then came back on itself on the far end to another narrow entrance, the place where the Cryman slept. Randall was in the middle, at the widest part, stock still. He was staring at the Cryman’s Rest because something was there. Something insubstantial.
It was like a mist trying to form. Vaguely human, it wouldn’t define itself, just shimmered in and out of view, a cloud of fireflies trying to coordinate their flash, but failing. Cold came from it in waves, like the bottom of a newly dug grave. Glen gasped and took a step back as the waves hammered him. He never knew that air could lust like that.
“Don’t run,” Randall put out a warning hand, somehow reading Glen’s intent. “You’ll never make it.” He was full on the mist, concentrating, and there was a pulse between it and Randall, like a talk between distant birds. From the set of Randall’s shoulders, he was losing the discussion. Glen’s hands crept up to the cross.
“No,” Randall’s voice was a whisper in his ear, although he had not turned and there was no indication he spoke. “That won’t do you any good. Magic Hour,” and the voice indicated up, above the moss weave and Glen took an involuntary glance. They were still within noon, the spot of light marking the sun angling a bit more off center. “Shoot it,” the voice whispered as the pulse between Randall and the mist grow in intensity and the mist moved off the Cryman’s Door, coming for Randall.
Shoot a mist. Glen reached into his pocket and pulled out the .45 he’d kept after the Korean War. The mist stretched and sloped into a somewhat human shape as it reached out for Randall, who opened up for embrace. Glen put two rounds into what he figured was the heart. The mist screamed, roiling into itself, and Glen shot it two more times. More screams, nothing human in them, the plaintiff cry of something desperate to live. The mist fell heavy onto the red clay, and then rolled, wounded, back through the Cryman’s Door, whimpering. Joe, somewhere behind them, began an agonizing wail of grief. Randall collapsed.
Glen was instantly beside him, pulling him up by the shoulders. “No,” Randall gasped, “we’re not done. You’re not done.” He pointed at the Door, “Go in there. You’ll find it in a hole towards the back. Stake it through the heart. Cut off its head. Stuff the mouth with garlic. Scatter the earth you find it resting on. Then burn it.” That last a wheeze, and Randall folded into a fetal position.
Go in there? Glen stared at the Cryman’s Door, a place he’d never had the courage to enter when he was a brazen big mouthed ten-year-old. Malevolence oozed from it, anger, too. “Go,” Randall whispered, “or we’ll all die. Or worse, never die.”
It was, like Randall said, buried in a hole in the back where sunlight could not reach. Randall had not warned him about the three children scattered around the hole, their throats torn out. Glen recognized one of them as part of the Chapman brood off towards Elba, and that made him mad because they were good kids. “You sonofabitch,” he snarled as he swept back the covering dirt and stared at the thing. Looked human, some white man dressed in a shirt and slacks, the four holes from the .45 arranged around its torso and spouting black chunks of what used to be blood. The eyes weren’t human, though. Not at all.
“Don’t look at it!” Randall’s whisper in his ear, but, those eyes. So ancient. So lifeless, the eyes of a wolf forever in stalk, centuries of murder and hunting pooled in blood and singing with the joy of it. The scent and the pursuit and the terror and the ungodly ecstasy of the fear and dominance and you are all mine, you are prey, fall before me…
Glen slid to his knees, the eyes triumphant and pounding him back, master, I serve, I am for you, Randall’s whispers frantic but unintelligible now and the Master sat up and his fangs bared and his arms reached…
And its eyes said hurry, we are running out of time.
Glen’s head snapped up. “You sure are, you bastard,” and his arms flowed and he struck the stake hard and true and the thing screamed and screamed and clawed and tore at him as he hammered and hammered until it was pinned to the clay hole and he tore off its head with the machete and slammed that onto the still-moving torso and yanked open the teeth that still tried to get his blood and stuffed it with the garlic and reached down and scattered the black, blood drenched earth the thing settled on and squeezed out the lighter fluid and dropped the match…
It went up like paper. Old and dead and dry, writhing in more flame than what Glen could have caused, the burning arms trying to put the head back in its place but the fire invested it, turning blue and stinking of sulfur and the Pit and there was one last scream and a roar and an explosion of spark that dazzled Glen and it was gone.
“Help me,” Randall’s whisper in his ear. Glen rushed out. Randall was still curled on the clay, a hand raised, finger pointing at the sun.
Magic Hour was over.
“Dammit!” Glen rushed to him as purifying sunlight sought Randall and he began to smoke. Glen wrapped him in the blanket, tight, throwing on the comforter to cover exposed flesh, laying on top of him. “It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine,” he spoke through the layers.
“Get me out of here,” a burnt whisper pleaded.
Glen helped the blankets to its feet, shuffling along. Joe was gone, his screams diminishing in the distance. He got Randall out of the Cryman’s and up the levels and they were on the plain, the car just ahead, blazing in the full sun. “We’re almost there,” he whispered to the blankets.
A surge of movement, and Glen was flung to the ground, barely missing the front bumper and a good crack on the head. He spun on the wiregrass and saw the blankets standing tall and strong. With purpose.
“I cannot live like this,” Randall called out.
“No,” Glen said.
“I cannot.” There was a pause, mournful. “I can’t become one.” There was a big movement and the blankets were flung away. “No!” Glen scrambled to his feet, but he was too late.
It was like the sun was horrified at what it beheld, a crimson eyed Randall, black veins popped along his entire face, squirming worms desperate for blood, teeth poked through his lips like a wild boar’s. The sun slapped it down hard, pouring fire and light and cleansing, cleansing. The white hot light burst out of Randall’s chest and he screamed, half pain, half relief, throwing his arms wide as he supernovaed and blasted the land, the wave of heat and evil throwing Glen across the car.
When he came to, Glen scattered Randall’s ashes in the breeze, then drove away.
D. Krauss is a former military man currently residing in the Shenandoah Valley. He’s been, at various times: a cottonpicker, a sod buster, a surgical orderly, the guy who paints the little white line down the middle of the road, a weatherman, and a gun-totin’ door-kickin’ lawman. He’s been married over 38 years and has a wildman bass player for a son.
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Tags: D. Krauss, friendship, horror, vampires