Fiction Writing: Why Vampires Suck at Haunting – S. H. Marpel
I didn’t see it coming, but that wasn’t unusual. But I didn’t expect the ghost to try for my neck. I felt more than I saw, which was only a smoky shimmering.
A quick shrug and a yell got it off, and it disappeared. I rubbed my neck thoughtfully. No scratches or punctures, just a gnawed feeling. Lucky this time.
My yell brought Sal and Jude running into the former living room of the empty old Victorian house they had brought me to. Worry crossed both of their faces.
“What happened? You OK?” Sal sputtered out.
“Sure, just something trying to clamp onto my neck. But it went away as soon as I yelled.” I answered.
Jude cocked her head to the side. “Was it trying to take a bite out of you or just give you a hickey?”
Sal frowned. “I think we better get some research on this one. Time to get some data from the
Librarians.” She nodded to Jude, then the room shimmered and disappeared.
They reappeared in a house that was floor to ceiling books, the living room had tall ceilings and the shelves covered everything right up to the top, with only enough space at the bottom to keep the books off the floor. Or at least away from the stacks of books which need to be re-filed, or didn’t have a space. And the shelves were crammed solid from side to side, with occasional smallish books wedged sideways above the vertical ones. The hallways that ran off away from this mass of book shelves also had shelves in them. And what I could see of the rooms beyond them were also book-lined.
I saw no overstuffed chairs or lounges here, like modern libraries, only solid ladder-back chairs around sturdy tables, whose legs themselves were crammed with books stacked in between. Between wasn’t much, here. The aisles between the shelves were barely enough for a smallish person to navigate, and only one at a time.
An old newspaper library flag-stand had been revived with maps and large parchments hanging from their poles. One tabletop had been placed on top of a horizontal gray set of map drawers nearby. More maps and parchments were piled thick on its top also.
With all these books and paper, of course the place smelled of old book store mustiness. And so quiet that even dropping pins would make no noise. There was a hardwood floor, but covered with strip rugs of an oriental pattern in between the tables, only leaving the barest spaces under the tables themselves.
Jude, Sal, and I arrived in its largest open space. And that made me only wonder again how they did that and never appeared inside something. As it was, I bumped into a table and nearly upset a pile of books on it while catching my balance.
A red tabby cat meowed and pushed against his leg for petting, which I obliged. Taking Sal and Jude in with one look, it quickly sprinted off between the under-table stacks to lose itself again in the forest of book holders.
“So Hermione is the first to welcome you.” A wrinkled, and weathered old man appeared at my elbow, holding out a gnarled hand as greeting. “You can call me Ben. My full name is too long and convoluted for pronunciation in English. You must be John, the new guy. Heard a bit about you.”
I shook his hand and found the grip to be a vise, but brief. That surprised me, but Ben seemed not to notice my reaction.
“Sal, Jude. Glad you could come by again. Don’t see enough of you around. Granger has some brownies she’s just baked. Heard you were coming.” Ben then shuffled off again before Sal or Jude could reply.
Jude spoke first. “John, that’s Old Ben, whose one of the Librarians. I’m afraid he’s more at home with books than people. That’s the most I’ve heard him say in years, at least all at once. Granger is the other half to this pair and she should be…”
“Right here. Hi John, Sal, Jude.” A similarly wizened and wrinkled form showed up literally at my elbow, her gray head hardly higher than that joint. She grabbed my arm there and pulled it against her face. “Ah, so soft, but so strong. Jude likes them this way, and so do I. But she’s able to get more use out of your qualities than I can these days. Still, one can dream.”
Her hand was squeezing my elbow and pushing her body against my arm. I moved it up and away from her grip, where she then started cuddling my waist with the side of her face against my hip.
“Granger, I think he has some questions for you. You might want to let up so he can remember what they are.” Sal spoke firmly.
Jude came up and took Granger’s free hand, pulling her away from my side, and putting her on the other side of a table, where her face was just higher than the table top. Granger folded her arms on the table and rested her chin on them, not taking her dream-filled eyes off me.
Jude returned to my side in the space Granger had filled, but not touching me. She tilted her head and whispered in my ear, “This is where I start to protect both your and my reputations. Don’t worry, I’ll be close by.”
I again smelled her rose fragrance and was pleased to have something in my nose besides musty books and old people. This also brought a slight smile to my lips, as meeting these two wizened Librarians was a bit much to take in at once.
Sal spoke. “Granger, it looks like we met a vampire ghost. What do you have for us?”
Granger replied, “Sal, you know we have to start with Ghost Hunting 101 before anything else.”
Sal nodded, with a smile.
Granger continued. “John, this won’t take long, but these points are just the tip of the iceberg.
“1. Ghosts are incomplete somehow. They want to finish something, or want to tell people something, or are confused about something. It’s your job to figure out what or why and help them find it. All without getting killed in the process.
“2. They don’t create energy, they harvest it. So their appearance requires energy to maintain. You have little time to talk with them before they exhaust themselves and have to go get some more. One of the reasons they appear and disappear.
“3. That energy is the dark kind. Sadness, Anger, Hate, Terror and Fear are the most common. This is why they have to work at harvesting. And they’ll try to make you angry or afraid in order to keep going. That’s the fuel they need.
“4. Love is a more powerful energy, but it will dissolve the reason they are here. Rational thought is related and usually an approach to get them turned toward what they loved in their last life. Universal solvent, if you can get them to access it.
“5. Ghosts can hurt you physically if you let them. Often this is throwing things at you, although some have been known to spontaneously explode or combust things they target. So don’t get in their way.”
I tried to absorb these rules as best I could, although Granger rattled them off like a literal TV talking head on a 30 second infomercial.
“So that’s why you won’t see ghosts around churches but will around graveyards?” I asked.
Granger nodded, as much as her arms and the tabletop would allow. “That’s right. Unless it’s a fire-and-brimstone preacher who is using fear to keep his congregation on the ‘straight and narrow’. The modern mega-churches with their emphasis on ‘loving one another as they would want to be loved’ aren’t usually haunted. Graveyards are usually full of grief or the recently departed, so they are like battery packs for the non-departed. Abandoned graveyards are empty of ghosts for the same reason.
Ben appeared right behind Granger and laid a hand on one of her elbows. “But rock bands and carnivals are even better. Chills, thrills, and threatened violence. And movie houses where they routinely show violent movies.”
That said, Ben looked at Sal and nodded his head to his right, glancing that way and then back to Sal. He disappeared in that direction.
Sal turned toward where he nodded and walked down one of the thin passages between tables away from the conversation.
Granger spoke to continue Ben’s thought. “Which brings up people being haunted and possessed. Politicians are prone to attracting ghosts that will change their personalities. Mostly due to the lies they have to tell. Government centers are most known for being haunted. The greed and narcissism are the core problems these people have as their Achilles heels. Easy to turn to their “dark side” as they are already going that direction.”
I added, “And the wisdom of Twain’s comment, ‘Politicians and babies should be changed often and for the same reason.’”
Both Jude and Granger smiled at that. Jude moved her hand up to hold the inside of my elbow, which Granger followed with her eyes.
“And we have a smart one.” Granger said.
“Quite clever and talented, too.” Jude said as I saw out of my peripheral view her turning to admire my profile.
“Not to interrupt this adoration, but here’s some answers to what we came here for.” Sal had come in quietly, but now dropped a small stack of books on the table in front of me. And I was more than happy to move toward them. This gave my arms something better to do than being pawed.
Old Ben came up with another short stack and piled them next to her stack. “These are for when you’ve finished those.” And he turned away to vanish behind a free-standing shelf behind yet another table.
I started opening the top book of Sal’s stack. A small puff of dust rose to bring the musty smell to my nose, which wrinkled in return.
“Check out the bookmarks we left for you, otherwise we’ll be days reading these.” Sal pointed to the ribbons and papers sticking out of the book’s top edge.
“Days and days…” said Granger, who had returned to her dreamy-eying of me.
Old Ben appeared at her elbow and cleared his throat. Granger looked up and frowned at him and then toddled off as he followed, both of them quickly out of sight and sound somewhere in the massive, book-cluttered room.
Jude came up on my right while Sal moved up to my left. Both were reading the pages I’d pulled open at the first bookmark. Again, the paired fragrances of roses and violets were relief.
“Here’s the key point.” Sal pointed out with her finger to one line on the page in front of me. “Vampiric apparitions are valence-negative in personality, taking on the aspect of an overwhelming entity from their former life.”
“Oh, like cults and abusers. That’s pretty common. Adverse mindset shifts.” I said. “And so people you meet after years will seem to be completely different people and won’t even act like they recognize you.”
Sal nodded. “Yes, that’s sad. We are the composite of our closest associates, friends, and family. Like a mass ‘mind meld’.”
“But it doesn’t have to be sad, it can be inspiring.” I said. “Just depends on who you allow to be around you. Change who you deal with all the time and it can be…”
“Even romantic.” Jude finished, returning her hand to the inside of my elbow.
Sal continued. “That may be true, but our work is in the people who go ‘dark’ during their lives instead. Those are the ones that are most likely to be turned into ‘vampires’ after death.”
“What about the neck-nipping?” I asked.
Jude smiled. “Oh, you mean the bad sort of neck-nipping…”
Sal frowned and pointed out the next bookmark. “This should cover your question.”
I turned the book pages to that mark and began reading down the page. “Oh, we’ve got ‘transference of legends into behavior.’”
Sal said, “Meaning that they’ve probably been being told tales as children or watching too many B-grade horror movies.”
Jude spoke up. “And so they think that they need to dramatize what was being done by acting like a vampire is supposed to. Some ghost biting your neck just shows that they haven’t been a ghost for very long, since the neck-biting part of that legend only got widespread in 19th century Europe.”
Sal added. “And popularized in horror flicks, which dates them to the 19-teens,mostly based on Bram Stoker’s work. To be accurate, it’s not always the neck, although that’s the most common way to get to a good vein.”
Jude broke in. “There are some better veins inside the thigh, for instance.”
Sal cleared her throat. “As I was saying, the ‘vamp’ you encountered is late 19th or into the 20th century, probably.”
I closed and picked up the book I was reading, then slipped out of the Jude’s arm. Turning toward one of the more open areas, I found an Arts and Crafts style chair with enough cushions to relax into. Where I could read without any physical interruptions. The chair had a matched twin, separated by a short end table and faced by a book-cluttered coffee table, all of the same design.
Sal brought over the first of the short stacks from the table and set it on the coffee table, moving some other books to make table space. Selecting another volume from that stack, she took the twin chair, sinking into the cushions and her own book.
Across the cluttered coffee table was a matching couch, with the style’s wide wooden arms. Jude brought the other stack of books and placed them on the coffee table, near its center, making a space for them. She then sat in the middle of the couch with her own selected book, drawing up her legs beneath her for support.
All was quiet in the big room, three students of ancient and modern history, reading up on vampiric ghosts. I could imagine how we could comfortably spend endless hours, even centuries here. I suspected that two of us probably had.
Granger and Ben soon padded in, each carrying a tray of tea and biscuits respectively, that they cleared a space on that cluttered coffee table for. They then shuffled off again to the quiet library depths.
Occasionally, the two returned with more books as the afternoon continued.
Some hours later, the coffee table was piled with books, all read or perused. I was looking off into space, digesting what I had studied. Sal looked up after reading her last page, closing her book on one of her fingers as yet another bookmark. Jude was nearly stretched out completely on the couch, her elbowed arm holding up her head as she idly leafed through a picture book of vampire graphics. Ben and Granger had cleared off the food and drink trays and were out of sight, but around somewhere, within earshot for requests.
Sal asked, “Well, John, any questions?”
“I don’t think so. Well, there is one – any fireballs this time?”
“Not that we know of. This particular ghost has been seen off and on for the last five decades. Some reports say she is dressed in a long gown from the 1800’s. Most only feel the neck bite and then black out, to wake much later.”
“Any idea what causes the blackout?”
“Might be their fear being siphoned off all at once, the emotional drain.”
“Were the blackouts common to both male and female victims?”
“Good point. Mostly male, but then there is a higher percentage of male victims, so that’s not conclusive.”
Jude spoke up. “Looks like fear or terror is the common scene. All of these were alone and surprised by a sudden attack. Any who didn’t black out reported being hit on the head by a heavy object, sometimes resulting in a knock-out.”
I mused on this. “So maybe I should wear a hardhat?”
Sal replied, “Only if you don’t want to find this ghost at all. It only attacks the weak and vulnerable, usually.”
“So I might not be a target at all.”
Jude replied, “Well, the ghost came after you once already, but we’re thinking that dressing you as a goth nerd might work better.”
“Now costumes are a part of this?”
Sal answered, “Think of it as Sherlock Holmes in one of his many disguises.”
At this, I sighed. “Well, OK.” Getting to my feet, I asked, “Well, are we ready then?”
Jude rose. “Probably as much as we’ll ever be.”
Old Ben and Granger quietly emerged and began taking the piles of books back to where they’d found them.
Sal was standing now. “So, we’re ready, then. Let’s go.”
The room shimmered and they disappeared.
Jude, Sal, and I shimmered into the old Victorian mansion again. Dark, gloomy, and the old vacant house smell was present. Just empty rooms, faded wallpaper, and dark wood wainscoting completed the somber scene. Only ambient light from the fading day lit the rooms at all. And it struggled to pierce the dirty and smudged windows.
I went back to the position I met her earlier. Sal nodded to Jude and they retreated to their former space in a room beyond this one to wait.
It didn’t take long.
I felt a breath of air near me, waited for a count of three and then quickly turned.
In front of him was an apparition, formless whitish smoke.
“May I ask you just what you think you are doing? I asked the form.
At that, the form stopped in mid-air, still whispering around as smoke tends to do.
I continued. “Well, go ahead, show yourself. Don’t be impolite. I’ve come to see you.”
A face appeared in the form. Female, blanched white, with narrow black eyebrows, red-lined eyes around dark pupils, and blood-red lips.
“Yoouuu… I’ve come for yoouuu…” The specter gasped.
“I’m touched, I really am. Hope you didn’t have to travel very far. I mean I wouldn’t want you to go out of your way just for me.” John said with sincerity.
This stopped the ghost, who looked startled by someone who wasn’t afraid, but seemed actually respectful. And talked to her like a person.
“Do you have a name? Or what should I call you?” I asked.
“…Becca. They used to call me Becca.” The specter gasped.
“OK, Becca. That’s a nice name. Do you have a body to match that pretty face of yours?”
The smoke-shape filled out below the face with an 18th-century dark dress, something out of a Dickens story. Her hair also appeared, a dusky red, swirling down below her shoulders and in constant motion like Medusa’s snakes.
“Well, Becca. Thanks. I’m honestly impressed. Now, how can I help you today?”
Becca was puzzled at this. Her eyebrows puckered into a frown, and her lips pouted. “Why aren’t you afraid? You’re supposed to be afraid.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. But I just came to talk with you, not to fall down in a swoon or anything. You see, I just came to hear your life story.”
“My life story? What? Are you being honest with me? No one has asked for my story ever. Why is my life story interesting to you?”
“Because you are interesting to me. Frankly, I think you are too fetching to have to sneak up on people to bite them. Is it because you are too beautiful to scare them if you just asked politely?”
Becca frowned deeper at this. “You are being clever. Maybe too clever. Supposing I just bit you now and suck out your energy.”
“Well, mainly because you can’t. And you know it. I’m not afraid, I’m curious. I want to know how you do it and why. I want your life story. Truly. And I meant it when I said you look great.”
Becca smiled wistfully at this. “You are just flattering me to get what you want.”
“And is that a crime? I believe in being honest. To be frank, I wish I’d been around when you were still alive. We could have had some great talks. Maybe take in some movies. Gone on long walks around moonlit lakes. But that’s off the subject. Tell me about how it all started. What do you remember of how you died?”
Becca looked off in the distance above my head and to my left. “It wasn’t a good life. Hector had been criticizing me again, as usual. Nothing was good enough for him. We’d been married just a few years and I couldn’t do anything right. I felt tired all the time. And would dress up to be my prettiest when he came home. But he’d never say anything nice about my appearance. I’d make his favorite dishes and cook them exactly the way he wanted. All he had to say is how something was overdone or underdone or not seasoned right, or over seasoned. Never anything nice.”
Her eyes were misty and filling with tears.
“Then one night, I recognized the smell of his overcoat was a particular perfume. Not one of mine. I’d been to the shops that day to look for something that might appeal to him, and tried several out. So I recognized that new scent. That night when he came in, I… “ Becca looked off, distracted.
Suddenly Becca’s face turned dark, she opened her mouth and fangs grew out rapidly, almost extending into her lower jaw. She moved toward me with a look of pure hatred – and then vanished into smoke.
I felt a force move right through me, a pinch on my neck as it did.
Sal and Jude came back into the room suddenly, both with shocked faces, staring at my neck like something was horribly wrong.
I touched my neck, and looked at my hand. From fingertips to wrist, it was covered in red.
The room shimmered and resolved into a medical clinic. White walls, a single stainless operating table that held a thin white plastic pad covered by a thin white sheet. Stainless shelving with glass doors held bottles of medicine. A stainless rolling cart was nearby whose top held a narrow-lipped tray with stainless tools for patching humanoid conditions.
Sue and Jude were both white-faced and somber.
I was still holding my hand up in his vision, but now it was normal color, no trace of any red on it.
“Lay down on that.” ordered Sal as she pointed to the table. So I did, Sitting on it would raise me well above where they could work on me, so despite the discomfort, I obeyed.
Sal pulled on a pair of surgical gloves, making a snap as they fit into place. Jude turned on a bright light overhead and I shielded my eyes with my left hand, still holding might right up in the air for inspection. Same side as the “bite” I’d felt.
Sal turned my head over to the side. Jude had also put on gloves and now held my head in that position with one of them, the other grasping my right wrist.
They looked over my neck carefully, pushing and poking gently to see what had happened.
“Nothing there.” Sal said, sighing relief. Jude also relaxed, her grip on my head and wrist no longer rigid steel clamps. But both looked me over once more to be sure. Jude was looking directly into my eyes now.
“Looks like you survived this one. If she had actually gotten an artery going, we would have had just seconds to save your cute butt.’ Jude smiled at that. Her eyes sparkled again, which meant her world was back to normal.
Sal agreed. “We keep this room set up just for this. And luckily, we haven’t had to use it much.”
“‘Playing doctor’ isn’t our thing, and that would be unsanitary in here, anyway.” Jude smiled at her own joke.
“Well, then would you doctors let me loose now? This table isn’t the most comfortable.” I asked.
“Just one thing.” Jude let go of my wrist and grabbed my face with both hands, and planted a short kiss right on my lips. “There. Kiss and make it all better.”
Sal cleared her throat. Jude released her hands and I turned to face Sal, to see her disapproving frown. “Let’s save that for our own time, shall we? I seem to recall we were in the middle of a case.”
Jude moved away from the table. I heard her take off her gloves with a snick as the plastic snapped back on itself.
Sal looked into my eyes with attention. “Doesn’t look like you even got surprised by that. No symptoms of shock. You’re good to go.” She then moved away from the table and snicked off her own gloves.
I sat up, touching my neck. “Thanks to your care, anyway. Nice to know you’ve thought this out.”
“Not our first rodeo.” Sal replied.
“Not by a long shot.” Jude added.
I slid down off the table and touched my neck again. “No mark, huh? So what was that?”
“Manifestation based on our own fears.” Sal said. “We were thinking that something like that might happen and so what we feared appeared for us.”
“That’s the trick to all these scenes.” Jude added. “It’s the observer syndrome. What you expect to see is what you will find. Like all Science experiments. All Astronomy. The four-minute mile. You have to think it’s possible for it to happen, and you find whatever you put your faith in.”
“Oh, that’s right out of metaphysics.” I said. “Even the old Beatitudes, ‘Seek and you will find.’”
Both women nodded. Sue spoke first, “‘What goes around comes around.’ ‘Nothing new that hasn’t already been written.’”
“That’s back to the old mindset stacking concept. Whatever you believe to be true and take action on will then show up as fact. William James type of stuff.” I said.
“We just have to work on getting you proofed up against these type of accidents. Obviously, you – and we – were open to the possibility of ghosts being able to affect you. So a vampire ghost would then be able to give you a bite.” Jude said.
“Which means we are still early on with this training. And that your training has to continue before we take on any of the more serious ones.” Sal added.
“That’s why we had a house that was completely empty of furniture? Nothing that could be thrown at me like a poltergeist?” I asked.
“Exactly.” Sal said.
“Wouldn’t want to have to give you stitches instead of kisses.” Jude added.
I looked at Jude. She continued, “And I’d rather give kisses over stitches any time.”
Sal asked, “If you two are finished mooning at each other, then let’s get back to the Library to sort this out.”
Jude was red-faced, but nodded in agreement.
I just grinned at the two of them. This job was going to be interesting, for sure.
Sal nodded to Jude. The room again shimmered.
When we arrived, it was to a large, long exercise room. No books in sight anywhere.
We were standing on a solid wood floor next to a big padded mat, common to wrestling and competitions where someone could be thrown to the ground. The walls were lined with various equipment and weapons. Stacks of thicker foam mats were on one end, near portable pommel horses and balance beams. To the opposite end were an extensive array of hand-held weapons, with shining blades, sharp points, and always in pairs. Many smaller throwing knives and implements were displayed next to throwing targets and manikins.
The air was cool, and clean. There was a slight scent of sawdust, and oiled wood in it.
“I thought you said Library. No books here, obviously.” I observed.
“This is another room of the Library. Underneath the one we were in before.” Sal replied. “We’re here to practice. And you can practice many things here. Until you learn to teleport at will, just let us know when you want to practice something and we’ll bring you here.”
“Otherwise, my wide open pastures will probably do.” I added.
“Or your cabin.” Added Jude with a raised eyebrow.
Sal continued, “Jude get into position – I mean, over there in throwing distance.”
Jude nodded, disappearing. Then reappeared about twenty feet away.
Sal turned to me. “You mentioned William James before. Can you recall that quote?”
“His quote is a long one, about ‘acting as if something is real and it will become real.’ Claude M. Bristol shortened it to ‘…faith becomes father to fact.’” I answered.
Sal nodded. “That is the exact point of transference. And why vampiric mythology continues. All superstitions are based on belief. And belief is always self-generated. The reason for all this study of vampiric legends was to simply debunk your beliefs. But you aren’t alone in this. Obviously, Jude and I still have some agreement with those ideas, or they wouldn’t have become fact for us. Or so that idea goes.”
Jude added, “To cure that, I’m going to go over there and start throwing things at you and you can spend time ducking or getting hit until you quit believing that these things can hit you.”
I protested, “Wait, you’re going to beat me up by throwing things at me until I decide to I don’t believe you can?”
Jude nodded. “That’s the gist of it.”
I had to close my opened mouth. These ladies were serious about this. That’s what I get for studying stuff and not testing it. Well, I guess there’s a time for everything. “OK. Anything else I should know?”
Sal said, “John, the ground rules are to take it simple at first. Jude isn’t going to throw sharpened stakes or daggers at you, but just the various apparitions you might run into from this vampire ghost. Your job is to make them vanish. And to the degree you quit believing that something is real, looking at it for exactly what it is, and believing in your own abilities, you’ll then be able to quit being hit with these things.”
Jude added, “And we will be helping you as well, since we have to believe that you can avoid getting hit. That you can make things vanish by your own beliefs.”
“So you two are going to practice believing in me?”
“That’s the point. Ready?”
Then I got hit on the side of the head with something that felt like a thawed steak. And smelled like it.
“Well, you said you were ready…”
“OK, Jude. Let’s try that again, but maybe something smaller?”
A meatball came flying my way, and I ducked. Only to find another one coming in low that I had to quickly jump back from. Which ran me into a third meatball as I was standing again.
I put my hand up. “Whoa. Can we cut this back a bit?” I tried to wipe off the bits and juice of that last one, only to find that I had to wipe my hands on my jeans. A white towel then struck my head, covering my face.
I used it and then stuck one end of it into a back pocket. Might be needing it later.
Jude was smiling.
“Glad you’re thinking this is so funny.”
“Oh come on. You have to admit it is, at least in a slapstick sort of way. OK, we’ll go back simple apparitions.”
Now a bat was furiously flying right at me. I put my hand out and it passed right through my hand and my head.
Another came right after that and I hardly flinched when it went through.
Then another and another, until I wasn’t flinching at all.
The next one looked entirely real and faster than the others, about double their size. But had a small red clown nose on it. I just had to laugh. It dissipated instead of flowing through.
Jude was smiling again. “Thought you’d like that hint. It was already larger than any usual bat and that should have given it away. But you’re getting the point. It didn’t even get into you. Let’s try again.”
And the afternoon went on (at least I thought it was an afternoon, since time was a bit odd these days.) Eventually no apparition Jude could throw at me had any effect. They passed through without me flinching, or dispersed before arriving.
At last, she called it quits. “OK Sal, your turn.”
Sal popped in where Jude had been standing.
And was replaced by Becca.
Wearing that same dark 18th-century dress with lace collars and tailored to fit her form. Swirling black Medusa hair about her head. Blood red lips. Everything I had seen just hours before.
My eyes didn’t want to believe that. “Becca?”
She started walking toward me. “Hector, I need you. I’ve always needed you. Like now as ever before. You know I can’t live without you…”
“Jude, where did Sal go? What is this?” Only Jude and Sal were both gone. I looked around the exercise room and there was only Becca and me.
Meanwhile, Becca had crossed half the distance between us and still coming with a steady pace.
“Hector? What’s wrong? Wait, you aren’t Hector, you’re…” Her face went into a pure hate-filled look, with eyes blazing. Her body morphed back into smoke and started picking up speed. Her mouth gaped open and her teeth extended.
At that I started laughing. Big laughter, honestly thought this was funny.
Becca stopped at that point, looking confused. Then turned into smoke and disappeared.
Jude took her place, a few steps in front of me. I was still smiling.
She closed the distance with a few quick steps, then threw her arms around my neck, kissing me solidly. My arms found their way around her waist and back, if only for balance, which encouraged her to continue. As if she really needed any…
Finally, I pushed her away.
Jude still kept her wrists and hands around the back of my neck, smiling into my eyes.
“It’s all a matter of what you want to believe, isn’t it?”
At that, Jude morphed into a smiling Sal, and then into a gap-faced, wizened Granger.
I pushed who or whatever it was away from me and took a few steps back, pulling the towel out of my pocket to wipe my mouth.
And Jude returned, standing where I was before.
Sal spoke, from a position by my elbow. “Well, we girls had to have some fun, didn’t we?”
“Point well taken.” I said.
And Sal gave me a peck on my cheek. Still smiling. But Jude still had the bigger smile.
They turned to look at each other and the room shimmered again.
The Victorian house shimmered back into view.
Like I had any choice in the matter.
Sal and Jude were both smiling, still. Even I had to admit that was a bit funny. So I smiled sheepishly myself.
Jude took Sal’s hand. “Act Three. We’ll be next door if you need us.” And they made their exit to wherever they were going to wait.
I didn’t have long myself, though. The smoky apparition showed again.
“Hi, Becca. Feeling better now?”
Becca showed only her face in dark smoky wisps. It was still angry, bloodshot eyes and gleaming fangs. “What do you want now?”
“I just wanted to find the rest of your story.” I answered cheerfully. “You were telling me about Hector and found he had been cheating on you. But you didn’t tell me the rest of the story. How did he handle it?”
Becca calmed down and became thoughtful again. Her full body appeared again. Her coloring returned to her normal human face. She pulled a white lace-edged handkerchief from one of her long sleeves and then brought to her chin, expecting to use it.
“Hector denied everything at first. And said I was hallucinating again, letting my imagination get the better of him. At that I reached up and pulled a blond hair off his collar. Pointing this out just made him go into a rage. He put both hands around my throat and pushed me back against the railing. He was talking incoherently at that point, repeating the different pet phrases he had used to criticize me before.”
She dabbed her eyes. “But this time, they had no effect on me. I stared him down. ‘Calm as a cucumber’ was probably the phrase that fit. I knew I had him. And he knew it, too. But he was pushing me against the stair railing so hard that we both heard it crack. His last words to me were, ‘I’ll be rid of you yet. You can’t continue to suck the blood out of my life. Begone!’ And then shoved me hard enough to break the railing and fall through the stairwell to the entryway below. I screamed as I fell.”
Becca’s eyes were clear now, looking down. “Then I saw myself on the floor, staring back as I had when I was on that landing. Hector took his time going down the stairs and went into the den on the ground floor. He came back with his his reading glasses in one hand and some papers in the other. He then calmly opened the front door to call out for help, like he had just discovered an accident.”
Looking back into my eyes, Becca continued. “So Hector was the vampire in this story, not me. I’d always blamed myself for how our relationship had turned out, but the only real mistake I’d made was having accepted him to begin with. He had been sucking the life out of me all along.”
At this she smiled. “You are such a nice young man. Whatever brought you here to talk to me?”
I answered. “Someone asked me to come and talk with you. They thought you might need someone to help you with your problems.”
Becca replied. “And that you did. Thank you. Very much.”
With that, she looked off into the distance, smiled even broader, and vanished. Despite the sun setting, the room brightened like clouds had parted. A rosy glow came in through the windows.
At that, Sal and Jude came in, smiling. They both hugged me.
And the room shimmered once more…
I found myself alone, back inside my cabin, standing next to my desk again. There was a hot cup of coffee steaming on it. Raising it to my lips, I again tasted my favorite chicory blend and the sweet honey taste.
The laptop chimed that an email had arrived. Pulling out my smartphone, I thumbed up the display with my free hand. Another payment for services rendered.
I smiled, and sat in my rolling chair. This was a story I needed to write while the details were fresh. Glancing up at the laptop screen corner, I saw that I had been returned as promised within seconds of leaving.
Smiling broader, I sat the cup down and turned to start typing. Then I noticed the small off-white envelope on top of my legal pad. There was no address on it, only my handwritten name. When I opened it, I found a hand-laid matching beige notepaper inside, folded over with the ragged edge out.
There was a kiss of lipstick there. And the words, “John, thanks. It’s been a great time. Looking forward to our next adventure.” It was signed “With love, Jude. And Sal.”
There was a smell of both roses and violets on the paper.
Still smiling, I returned the note to its envelope. And started typing…
Published today, available soon at your favorite online book outlet: https://www.books2read.com/u/3J0P5J
Also published on Medium.