by Peter Huston
Somewhere, thought Jeanne, there may exist a clean bus station. But it wasn’t this one. Even at night, the place was squalid, the people unwholesome, adrift and sickly. And she was here with William. William honed in on the worst aspects of any situation, absorbing the negative energies of wherever he happened to find himself. What way was that to spend eternity?
She followed William down a side street, into the darkness, seeking the people whose lives revolve around watching bus stations from hiding; those who hide from the light, hide from others and ultimately hide from themselves, observing and cowering in an ugly state of semi-survival, night by night, day by day, until, inevitably, comes one night that they just don’t make it anymore. They were William’s favorite sport.
Jeanne watched the man, half a head taller than her, gaunt, and pale. (Of course he was pale. But William had been known for being pale while still alive.) With those hollowed out cheekbones, the man had always looked like a vampire, even before, when he hadn’t been one. “William, must we?”
“But of course, my dear.” He turned and smiled, the crannies of his face half hidden, half exaggerated under the awkward lighting.
“But, William,” she said, her voice tired and chiding. “Hasn’t this game of yours worn thin yet?”
“Trolling for drug addicts?” William’s eyes filled with excitement as he spoke. “Why, it’s great sport indeed.”
“I would think this activity would have worn thin long ago, and besides,” she said, “it’s cannibalistic.”
“Cannibalistic? But that’s half the fun. For if there’s one thing an addict knows, it’s to never trust another addict.” She watched as William turned and headed further into the intermittent light and shadows, still grinning widely. Jeanne followed, half trotting, half tip-toeing as she worked her way through the trash and discards that cluttered the filthy alley.
“Hey mister, do you have money for food?” The woman’s voice came from the shadows. Weak and quavery, it sounded half-asleep yet worn near breaking.
“Money for food?” said William, sounding pleased. “Why you poor thing. You must be hungry indeed.” He fished in his pocket and soon held out money. “Here. Will twenty do? Take it. You need it.”
A woman rose from the shadows, and tentatively stretched out her hand. Dirty, unkempt, eyes unfocused and tired looking, jeans unwashed and the slogan on her t-shirt so faded as to be unrecognizable, her age was completely indeterminate. Twenty whole dollars in the outstretched hand of a stranger. “Twenty?” She hesitated, hand still half outstretched. “Er, thanks mister, but what do you expect for this?”
William made that rapid snorting noise that Jeanne had long ago learned to recognize as repressed laughter. “Expect for it? Why nothing at all, my dear. You remind me of my daughter, now long lost, too, on the streets. Take it.”
The woman hesitated, then snatched the money. “Thanks,” she muttered as she half-trotted down the alley with a shuffling gait.
William turned to Jeanne and grinned.
“William,” she said. “I’ve told you before, there are easier ways to feed.”
“Perhaps,” he said. “But no greater way to get the other thing I need.” And with a leer, off he followed, stalking the broken woman from a distance like a predator follows a wounded deer.
Jeanne sighed, wondering why he didn’t just straighten out and quit. Drugs, and the never-ending frantic search for the drug-thinned, chemically-altered, opiate-laced lifeblood of broken humans was an addiction that could so easily cause a person to waste an entire afterlife. “William,” she said. “Just remember, get what you need and get gone. This isn’t the time for elaborate games. Somewhere out there, there’s a vampire hunter.”
“Another one?” he cried. “This is tiring. When will they cancel that stupid TV show?” And then he was under a streetlight, following the woman out the alley, down a side street in a bad part of town, Jeanne following at the rear.
* * *
It was a struggle to hold William up as they walked, but Jeanne trudged on, gripping his arm tightly with both hands. “Are you proud of yourself?” she asked, her tone like a schoolteacher.
“What do you mean?” said William, his voice slurred.
“You’re a mess. You can hardly walk.”
“But you know why I do this, right?”
“I know why you say you do this.”
“I do this because I am a sensitive soul.”
“You eat drug addicts because you are a sensitive soul. Does this mysterious sensitivity also explain why you tend to focus those same predatory, sensitive energies on somehow preying upon the skankiest, dirtiest, puke-covered, garbage-headed drug-addicts you can possibly find?”
William stumbled and came to a halt, turned his head and struggled to focus his eyes on Jeanne, who, less than a foot away, still gripped his arm, steadying him carefully. Eventually, apparently satisfied that he could see her well enough to speak, he spoke. “I am,” he said, “indeed, a sensitive soul. I am, after all, a writer and a poet.”
“A writer and a poet,” she said. “I see, but, William, you stupid junkie who feeds on junkies, what have you done for the world lately?”
“I still write,” he said swaying as he did.
“And what happens to this writing, William?”
“Well, nothing much… They say it’s derivative.”
“Then don’t you think it’s about time you find another creative outlet?”
“Hmmmf,” he sputtered. “You forget that they say it’s derivative of myself. You see, these stupid publishers, these stupid unimaginative publishers, are unable to look beyond their own naïve and stupid little paradigms and see the world for what it really is. They think, you see, that I am dead.”
“You are dead, William. You’ve been dead for years. We both are. That’s what being a vampire’s all about. It comes with the territory, I’m afraid.”
“Ha!” he laughed. “Well then if I’m dead, then I don’t have to do nothing anymore. And when I was alive, I was, in fact, the author of over a dozen books, many award-winning, and innumerable poems. My work was translated into seventeen different languages, some illegally, and the cause of several ground-breaking obscenity trials.” He laughed some more. It was the sputtering, awkward, half laugh of a man (or vampire) heavily sedated.
Jeanne purposely let go of his arm, and, soon, he fell over, landing in the street with an audible thud. “Hey,” he said, “that wasn’t very nice.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Jeanne. “You’re dead. Remember?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Yes, you’re a writer. Now, William, hurry and get up and get straight. We’ve got to get home before dawn and besides, there’s a vampire hunter out here somewhere.”
“Hmmmf,” he sputtered. “I don’t like vampire hunters. They’re derivative. Not creative at all. Very few of them have had their work translated into seventeen languages.”
“That’s right, William. Very few. Now hurry and get to your feet.”
Awkwardly, he managed to rise and soon they were on their way.
* * *
The apartment was small. Curtains and blinds were tightly drawn to ward out the early morning sunlight. (When involved in a project, William habitually refused to go to sleep before noon or later for days at a stretch, staying up late until exhaustion finally overtook him. This was yet another inefficient personal trait that Jeanne regularly chided him for, but had long ago given up on ever correcting.) Its decorations, a wide assortment of collectibles, books, art works, objet d’art, and more, were, if not exactly ornate, then plentiful to the point of clutter, but cluttered in the sort of way where each individual item was somehow worthy of its own entire conversation. The result was that while the collective assemblage of sprawling knick-knacks, books and diverse items of interest was, perhaps, quite museum worthy, the overall effect was less evocative of the baroque than of border-pop kitsch.
“William,” said Jeanne, again using the same tired school teacher tone. “There is a corpse in the hallway closet.”
“Sorry,” said William calling from his office room down the hall. “I’ll take care of it later.”
“That’s not the point. I thought we’d discussed this sort of thing before, hadn’t we? No luring victims into the apartment. Now wasn’t that a rule we’d both agreed on? For mutual safety perhaps?”
William made the sound that indicated repressed laughter. “Well… there were special circumstances.”
“Oh really, and now who is he anyway?”
“Someone named Matt. He said he was interested in discussing writing with me. Said he wanted to be a writer himself.”
“So? You found a fan at last and what do you do? You eat him. That’s hardly the way to develop a fan base.”
“Don’t be so judgmental. It turns out he wasn’t really interested in my writings at all. Well, at least not the ones I wanted to share. All he wanted to talk about was the same old, same old ones that impressed everyone way back when. I tell you, it’s so frustrating sometimes. He said he could tell that I was big fan of myself. I mean myself before I died. Again he didn’t realize we were one and the same. I asked what he thought of the new stuff, the stuff I’ve recently done and all he could tell me was that the influences were obvious. At least he carefully danced around that word—derivative! That’s why I killed him quickly. I said, ‘Let’s talk about these writings.’ And I’d show him my latest works and he’d soon be trying to redirect the conversation to something that I did twenty years before I died. And I’d say, ‘Yes, but isn’t this new piece here better,’ and show him something I’d done lately but along the same lines of exploration.”
Jeanne gave him a hug. “Oh you poor thing. It seems I’m your only fan left, and even I’m deceased.”
William smiled. “Well, I had to bring at least one admirer over with me, when I changed, and you were always my biggest fan. But I’d thought if I became immortal I could simply create forever.” For a moment, William sat in silence, looking dejected.
“But then what happened?” prodded Jeanne.
As if startled, William sat up straight and looked at Jeanne with a leer. “Well, we were sitting here, discussing our writings. I showed him mine. He showed me his, and what meaningless, sophomoric, angst-drenched trash it was indeed, and then, finally, do you know what he did?”
“What did he do?” said Jeanne.
“That bastard looked me in the eye and he just said, and in such a condescending tone, ‘Sir, I respect your attempts at writing. I really do. I’m a writer myself,’ he said, that bastard. ‘But don’t you think it’s just a tad bit egotistical of you to claim to be outdoing the late, great William S. Burroughs?’ And he smiled as he said it, and then, then that bastard said, ‘Sir, I don’t know you well enough to really say this, but, one writer to another, don’t you think you should really try to find your own style? Burroughs was great in his day, unprecedented, groundbreaking even, but his strength was his very pushing of boundaries. Friend, you can’t copy that. Burrough’s time has come and gone and we must, as writers, each find our own muse and seek our own literary path.’ And then that cock-sucking bastard grinned at me like a fucking undertaker.”
“So you ate him?” said Jeanne.
“Yes, so I ate him,” said William. “And I’m glad I did.”
“Well, obviously you had a legitimate grudge, but that still doesn’t excuse leaving his corpse in the hall closet. Besides you know you have no one to blame for your publishing problems except yourself.”
“I’ll take care of the corpse tomorrow.”
“You’d done the research. You knew the way all the other undead writers handle their careers, but you just had to be different. Has death stopped Hubbard from being published? Far from it. Tolkien? Herbert pretends to be his own son, for goodness sake. You, too, could have been producing a never-ending stream of so-called ‘undiscovered’ and posthumous ‘lost’ works, but you just had to be different. You were the one who decided it would be ever-so creative to fake your own death. ‘Won’t it be creative?’ you’d said. You know you brought this problem on yourself.”
“Bah! An eternity spent spewing a never-ending stream of meaningless pulp sequels. Dead writings from dead men. They’re nothing but hacks. And, you have to admit, my so-called death was indeed quite spectacular. Very creative indeed. Pulp. Is that what you want from me?”
“But when Philip K. Dick became a vampire, he used the opportunity to get all his mainstream novels into print. Didn’t he? You could have done something like that.”
“Dick? That neurotic flake. He couldn’t take it, could he? Vampiric undeath and the guilt from endless feeding on mortals were just too much for him. One day he walked right out into the daylight and burst into flames like an exploding sun. Is that what you want from me?”
Jeanne’s reply was cold. “Maybe it was the drugs. He was an addict, you remember.”
William looked at her stone-faced. “But he was a very creative soul.”
Jeanne sighed. “William, what if someone should come? We’ve discussed this sort of thing before. We do not leave corpses in the apartment.”
“No one will come. I’ve installed a burglar alarm.”
“Electronics do seem to be your new thing. But why, pray tell, a burglar alarm?”
“It’s this damn vampire hunter. Vampire hunter! Ptth! Nothing more than an irritating, imitative media parasite who should get a life of his own, carve out his own icon, and stop bothering his betters. I don’t have time for wasting on some idiotic fan-boy run amok who thinks he can find satisfaction and self-worth by running a stake through my heart. Ptah! Vampire hunters inspire vampire hunters who inspire vampire hunters. It’s like someone eating his own shit and then shitting it out and eating it over and over again until it just gets darker and stickier and tarrier.”
“William, don’t make me say it.”
“The D-word. You’ve used that image of people eating recycled shit before, and, in fact, did so long before you died.” From behind his chair, she put her arms around him and gave him a hug. “You know, William-dear. I’m only saying these things because you know I do care for you deeply.”
William tensed, gripped his arms together and then waved his hands in the air, shaking them like a soldier trying to surrender to the enemy. “I’m a very sensitive and creative soul, I tell you. I’ve got work to do. Things to create. Horizons to expand. Did I tell you I’ve found a new medium in which to work?”
“No,” cried Jeanne. “Now that is, indeed, interesting.”
“Yes, and like everything else these days, it’s going to be digitalized and computer-driven. A whole new field. I’m going to take some of these TV sit-coms, the most vapid, sappy, putrescent and unoriginally suburban, petty bourgeois value reinforcing one that I can possibly find, digitalize it and use a computer to inter-splice contrasting images. And I’m going to use the most repulsive images I can find. Kiddie porn, starving children in the Philippines, Mexican women doing donkeys. Nazi death camp imagery, the worst god-damn stuff I can find, the most nauseatingly, repulsively human imagery I can find, and I’m going to combine the two, contrasting them, into one new and original wholely repulsive mess. And then I’ll bypass these god-damn publishers who accuse my work of being derivative, derivative of myself, I might add, and just post it all on the internet. The world won’t know what’s hit it when they see what I come up with.”
Jeanne just stood there for a moment saying nothing. Then she spoke, choosing her words carefully. “William… William, my dear. That’s been done before. In fact, high school children do it all the time. And not only do they usually get ignored, but when they do get noticed, they’re more likely to get suspended from school, instead of being showered with positive attention from the art world.”
“Hmmmf!” William rose from his chair and threw a pen at the wall. “Well, I’ll just have to find a new creative outlet. For the moment, I’m going to go out and eat a junkie.”
“William… William, dear. Just wait until tomorrow. It’s daylight and it’s not safe to go junkie hunting.”
“Hmmmf!” Without further comment William stormed down the hallway to his coffin.
* * *
Two hours later the phone begin to ring. Each time the answering machine would turn on and record a message that never came. Just a click, a repetitive never-ending nuisance that went on long enough to wake the undead, until, finally, Jeanne decided enough was enough, and rose to answer it.
“Hello,” she said.
The voice on the phone was harsh, menacing, demanding, desperate yet cruel. “William, you god-damn blood sucker. You thought you could hide, lurking in your lair, emerging to prey upon the blood of the innocent, feeding upon women and children who’ve never done you wrong. Yet, know you now that justice is at hand. Your time is near. I know who you are and I know where you live and my name is justice, you undead feeder upon the innocent. When we meet, I shall show you no mercy.”
Jeanne cupped the phone with the palm of her hand and called down the hallway. “William, dear, the phone is for you.”
“Hunh? I’m sleeping,” muttered William. “Tell them to call back in the evening.”
“William, dear. I think this is the sort of thing you’d like to take care of yourself.”
“Is it important?”
“Well, it is to them and I think it’d be best if you spoke to them directly.”
“Is it a publisher?” The eagerness in his voice was obvious.
“No dear. It’s the vampire hunter.”
“The vampire hunter? Oh.”
Jeanne hated to disappoint him this way. Soon William was slowly stumbling down the unlit hallway.
She handed him the phone and William put the receiver to his ear slowly, like someone half asleep or half dead, which was only natural, for William was both. “Hello,” he said, voicing the word tentatively, apparently, for once, unsure of himself.
Jeanne could hear very little of the remaining conversation. Just an occasional something about “lurker in worm-eaten graveyards” or “evil feeder upon babies and other innocents” and, of course, a never ending stream of cliched, hackneyed phrases about “justice” and “retribution” and “cleansing the Earth of half-living fiends.” By the expression on his face, William appeared to be as bored with all this as she was.
“Well,” said William finally speaking into the receiver, “there is no choice but to settle this honorably using the code. Vampire and vampire hunter together. Each facing the other in a tradition that predates known history.” William paused. “What? Surely you know what I’m talking about. You aren’t new at this, are you? Why the code of demonic dueling has been around far longer than either of us. Probably longer than mankind itself. I’d think you’d at least have heard of it. What kind of vampire hunter are you, anyway?” Another pause. “Tomorrow soon after sunset will be fine. Nice to hear you’re getting into the spirit of this thing. Oh of course, bring all the stakes and weapons you want. I am a vampire after all. You’ll need your weapons, I’d think… Who are you calling a weak-kneed drug addict? Have you ever been published? Have you? I thought not. Well, you just bring your weapons then. My place will be fine. Well, yes, you just chose the time so under the code I choose the place. You did know that, didn’t you?” William paused and nodded his head a bit more, finally finishing with a smile. “Why thank you. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you and I look forward to finally meeting face to face.”
“How’d he find us?” asked Jeanne.
“Who knows?” said William. “It’s the information age. Privacy’s a thing of the past. Perhaps he somehow learned a bit about skip tracing. Perhaps he purchased a couple of Paladin Press how-to-be a detective books. Maybe he somehow gained access to my library card records. Or, maybe, one of those fine colleagues of ours, the ones who were so good to let us know a vampire hunter was in town in the first place, felt it would be in their best interests if this foolish media-inspired wannabe somehow learned where we live. In any case, that’s ultimately unimportant. What matters is that he’ll be here tomorrow.”
“Was that wise to invite him over, William? What shall we do when this vampire hunter arrives?”
“Relax.” He smiled showing his fangs. “He was coming anyway. At least, now we know when he’ll arrive and can plan accordingly.”
“You may have a point. But William, really now, ‘the dueling code of the vampires?’ Where did that come from?”
William smiled. “Relax,” he said.
* * *
The next day, not long after sunset, the moment arrived. The knock on the apartment door came.
“Who is it?” said Jeanne.
“It is I,” came the deep solemn voice from the far side of the door. “Marcus Finklewitz, Vampire Hunter. Remember that name for it is the last name you shall ever hear.”
Jeanne rolled her eyes and turned to where William waited with a pair of police officers. “That’s him officers,” said William. “I know that terrible voice anywhere. That’s the one. The crazy man who’s been stalking me for weeks. I don’t know how he decided I was a vampire, or even why. But he’s crazy. I’m telling you, officers, I’m so lucky to have you here. God bless the police department. Whatever would we do without you guys? Our brave boys in blue! It sure can be difficult sometimes being a major literary figure, I’m telling you. Thank god you’re here to protect me.”
The older police officer looked at William. “Literary figure?”
Jeanne intervened quickly. “Never mind officers. He was published long ago. The important thing is the crazy man outside.”
“Unh, okay,” said the cop, rubbing his nose and salt-and-pepper mustache with the back of his hand. “Well, then let’s open the door.” He drew his baton with his left hand and held the small canister of pepper spray with his right. His younger Hispanic looking partner followed suit and did likewise.
Jeanne opened the door to reveal a man standing there dressed in a long black trenchcoat, several long pointed stakes held in each outstretched hand. “Die minions of evil!” he shouted. “It is I, Marcus Finklewitz, Vampire hunter!”
“Hold it right there, buddy,” said the lead cop. “Back off.”
“Take this, spawn of Satan,” cried Marcus Finklewitz. “I am a vampire hunter. Police uniform or not, I know your true face, Bloodsucker.” Shifting the stakes to one hand only, the vampire hunter quickly reached in his pocket and tossed a half-filled, loosely tied condom of clear liquid at the police officer, which burst and splashed over the dark blue uniform. “Holy water!” cried the vampire hunter. “Prepare to burn.”
“You stupid dipshit,” cried the cop. “I’m wet.” The police officer steadied the pepper spray canister, depressed his thumb and let the liquid spray over Finklewitz’s face. Finklewitz began to scream and rub his eyes as he stumbled, half-blind, gasping for breath. “Stupid crazy-assed dipshit,” said the cop. “Cuff him, Santos.” Turning to William, the cop said, “Sorry about this mister. Make you wonder sometimes, what’s wrong with the world that all these half-baked wackadoos are out on the streets. It’s the liberals who don’t have the backbone to keep them in the mental hospitals that does it.”
“Yes, officer. It’s sad indeed,” said William. “Those nasty liberals and all.”
The police officer turned his head to watch Santos dragging the now-handcuffed screaming vampire hunter down the apartment stairs. “Hey don’t drop him like that, Santos. We got in trouble for that last week, you know.” With a snicker, he turned back to William and began speaking. “Yeesh. It’s bad enough that the kook thinks vampires are real, much less than he’s going to attack someone about it. But at least we’ve got him now. If it’s not too much trouble, it’d help if you could come down to the station and fill out some paper work on what happened.”
“Er. Officer,” said William. “Can we fill out that paper work at night?”
The officer looked at him funny. “Of course,” said the officer. “I do work the night shift after all. And the sooner the better.”
“Very well, officer,” said William. “We’ll be by the station shortly.” And with that, the police officer turned and headed down the stairs where the sound of a screaming, pepper-sprayed vampire-hunter wannabe had been joined by several mysterious thuds as if someone had somehow fallen down a short flight of stairs.
The police officer’s voice was a bit quieter as it came from the base of the stairs. “Oh, what a pity,” he could be heard to say. “It looks like the vampire hunter fell down by accident. Well, we’ve got to take him back to the station anyway.” Jeanne and William heard another thud, another scream and the sound of the building’s front doors slamming open and shut as the cops left.
With a contented sigh, William looked at Billie. “You know, my dear.”
“Somehow during all this, I had an inspiration. Perhaps even an epiphany. Undoubtedly it’s of literary significance. I was thinking that if one were to simply take a long enough novel, and remove occasional words, yet, and this is the significant change, the thing that makes this ever-so significantly different than what I did back during my ‘cut-up’ phase when alive, I WILL KEEP THE WORD ORDER EXACTLY THE SAME! You see, I shall simply remove words as necessary, and sometimes even entire sentences, paragraphs or pages. And, when I’m done, and the remaining words are read in sequence, then, my dear, we shall have a work of immeasurable literary significance. And do you know what will only add to the beauty of this project?”
“No William,” said Jeanne, her voice dull and showing little interest.
“What shall make this project, this work of creation truly exquisite, is if I choose my target piece with appropriate care! I must use the eye of an artist and a counter-cultural icon. Something plebian, dull, uninteresting and without the least bit of inherent worth or interest. Some Danielle Steele or some Sidney Sheldon perhaps. Maybe a Harlequin Romance, those pieces of petty bourgeois, heterosexist trash. At least if I can find one sufficiently long enough. Remove enough words from the middle of such a thing, keeping the sequence intact, and I think, that, ultimately, I shall prove that subversive thought can be found anywhere. That shall be my sub-text.” He stood there grinning broadly.
“William,” said Jeanne. “I think it’s been done.” She waited, knowing that soon he would be suggesting that they go trolling for junkies. It’s what he always did at these times.