The heavy smell of earth and copper pulsates in the darkened room. She lies on the black sheets, her jugular ripped out. Blood soaking the mattress, dripping on the spotted floor with a hollow plik-plik-plik. The floor, the walls – everything spotted with crimson and brown. A scene of slaughter.
She looks taken aback – her mouth and eyes open in an expression of fake astonishment, like she entered a surprise party she already knew about. Her face only lit by a buzzing light bulb. I know her face but I am not sure.
The shadows around the corner of my eyes flicker and spiral around us as if her mutilated body is a vortex, while the buzzing of the light bulb roars painfully in my ears and the stench of blood makes me choke and gasp. In a feverish moment of terror, she sits up on the bed, moving choppily like an animatronic and grins at me with lifeless eyes. Her voice rattles through the hole in her neck. I recognise her voice but it seems heavily distorted. “Did you buy my favourite coffee?” she asks me, while tilting her head puppet-like to the side. Darkness swirls around me and presses on my chest with force, while I try to scream.
The lady from the DIY superstore looks up from her computer. She’s about 50 and with her strict glasses, she looks more like an English teacher. She wears big golden rings on her plumb fingers and her friendly impossibly wrinkly face smiles at me patiently. Years on tanning beds gave her a complexion that seems so unnatural that it’s almost cartoonish.
“What can I do for you, young man?”
Her voice sounds like four packets of cigarettes a day. Hoarse and raspy, but very nice. She probably reads amazingly husky bedtime stories to her grandchildren.
“I am looking for stakes.”
“Well, do you want to build a fence? What do you have in mind?”
“I want to kill a vampire.”
She looks at me over the rims of her glasses with her brown eyes.
“Hmmm, we’ve got stakes that are used for building backyard ponds. They should have the right size, I suppose. Would you follow me, please?”
She waddles next to me, leading me through a canyon of shelves under the cold superstore light. Her steps make noises on the greyish linoleum floor. Some jingle is playing. Then the voice of a cashier, requesting a colleague. The distorted voice reminds me of something. Something I have heard in a dream, maybe.
She bows down and rummages around in a shelf in the gardening section, while I stare at her auburn hair, wondering if it’s coloured or a wig. With a satisfied smile, she hands me a packet of stakes. Long, solid, wooden stakes, light but sharp in the end. Nice feeling in my hand. Simply hold it over the ribcage and one hard strike. It should be enough to crack the ribs open with a snapping sound and puncture a dead black heart, while blood sprays in fountains from the screaming fanged hole of a mouth.
I look at her.
“That is exactly what I’m looking for. Thanks.”
“That’s just great.” She smiles warmly at me. I fight the impulse to hug her, she reminds me of my grandmother, I realise.
“I’ll take these right away. Thank you very much.”
I turn around to walk to the checkout (maybe also to look for detergent), while another jingle echoes through the store.
“Good luck!” I hear her yelling behind me. I turn around and wave at her and she waves back, saying “take care of yourself.”
Aaron and Daniel’s faces look like masks in the orange light of the bar. I close my eyes and breathe in the thick air, a blend of cigarette smoke, perfume and anticipation. Noises of people talking, laughing, glasses clinking, Self Control by Laura Branigan is blasting from the speakers, some drunken girls sing along with it.
Daniel nudges Aaron with his elbow and nods in my direction.
“Are you alright?” He asks me.
“It’s a sign” I say.
Aaron and Daniel look at each other with that “here we go again” look on their faces but I pretend I don’t see it.
“What do you mean?” Daniel asks with that I-am-here-for-you-inflection that makes me want to smash his beer glass on his forehead.
“The song” I say.
They look at me with sad orange faces.
I sigh and explain it to them.
“The song is a sign from the vampire. It plays it to torment me. To tell me that it is coming for me. Listen to the lyrics. Through the wall something’s breaking.”
“Don’t think that has anything to do with your vampire” Aaron says smirking, Daniel probably kicking him under the table.
“Listen. I live among the creatures of the night.” It wants to tell me that it has its spies everywhere. Its children.”
“I am sure no one is spying on you” Daniel says tenderly but the rest of his assurances drown out as I am already scanning the room.
I let my eyes fly from the tipsy blonde flirting with a tall guy to the woman with the tattoo on her underarm to the bald guy with glasses laughing about something with his friend. The girls are still singing. I don’t feel a presence though.
“Listen, guys. I am going for a piss. Be right back.”
My friends look at me with an expression I can’t quite read.
A numb migraine is starting to build in my skull and I wash my face with cold water.
As I return my friends have put their jackets on. “Let’s call it a night. I’ll bring you home” Daniel says. Aaron has already left.
On our silent way through the warm summer night I carefully look behind me every few meters and check the black edges of the street lights.
“We’re worried about you” Daniel finally says.
“What do you mean?”
“Your talk about being hunted by ... you know. It freaks me the fuck out. You sound paranoid.”
“I know” I say and it sounds more desperate that I want it to sound. “but it’s just this overwhelming feeling ... like everybody is in on it, you know. When I saw the vampire for the first time I knew it would come back for me. For Mia.”
“Look I know you’ve been through a lot. And I know you want to protect your girlfriend but you obsess about stuff ... things that aren’t there anymore. Maybe it’s all in your head.”
“Yeah I know” I say while watching the empty street corners. “I think Mia can protect herself pretty good ... I just want to be prepared in case it happens again. I am having these bad dreams. And this feeling. I see people staring at me from the windows of cars and buses. They ... know. I feel their stares. They all work for the vampire.”
To my own surprise I feel tears welling in my eyes. I feel tremendously sad and to my surprise, for Daniel because he can not possibly understand what I am talking about. He has not seen what Mia and I have seen. At the same time I envy his ignorance.
“Hey, man” Daniel says softly. “Just try to relax, okay?”
We sit down on a bench and he hands me a cigarette.
“You’re right” I say.
Daniel smiles. “Exactly. And now let’s talk about something else.”
“I’m sorry for freaking you out in the bar.”
Daniel laughs “you should feel sorry for Aaron, he really was pissed off.”
It’s good to hear him laughing and I laugh along, wiping the tears from my eyes.
Daniel turns around. “Oh look, we’ve got company.”
It’s one of the drunk girls from the bar. I can smell her perfume from here. She awkwardly stumbles through the light cones of the street lights. Her feet are bare.
“Are you alright?” Daniel shouts.
“Yeaah, lost my shoes.” She yells back. She’s probably ten metres away from us.
“Well, have a good night, then.” He waves at her.
She stops and turns to us. She smiles and waves back. She doesn’t stop though. About twelve seconds must have passed and she still smiles and waves like a gif that endlessly repeats itself.
“I don’t like this” I say more to myself than to Daniel and I realise that I have stood up.
As she is standing in the middle of the dim cone of light, still smiling and waving, her posture changes. For a second it seems like her silhouette blurs and resharpens. Her hair floats around her head like she’s underwater. Her body is shaking in weird spasms.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here” Daniel says and I can hear fear making his voice shake. His cigarette dangles from his lower lip.
The girl or the thing posing as a girl is now closer to us and just stares at me. Her eyes make my heart pound frantically against my ribs. Her eyes are not human.
Daniel grabs me by the shoulder and just like that she has disappeared from sight. Vanished like smoke. But her voice is floating through the night air. She’s softly whispering. Her singing whisper turns into screaming. Her voice is distorted.
I arrive at Mia’s place and I ring the doorbell, hands still shaking. Daniel ran off in blind panic. She opens the door and her surprised smile turns into a worried frown when she registers the immensity of my fear.
“Jesus Christ, what’s going on with you?”
I hold her close to me, arms and legs still shaking like crazy.
“We have protect ourselves,” I suddenly say and run off into her kitchen to get a knife or something.
She screams “Will you relax for fuck’s sake? What is going on with you? You’re scaring me.”
“I saw one of its children” I say. Mia stumbles back and anxiously clutches her sleeve, tears forming in her eyes.
I breathe out. “We. Have. To. Go. Now.” Every word like a gunshot echoing through the room.
Slumping down on a chair in the kitchen, holding my head in my hands, migraine feverishly pounding in my skull, Mia walks towards me and hugs me. “What will we do now?” I say nothing.
“First I will turn this music off,” she says and walks over to the kitchen radio. The beat of Laura Branigan’s Self Control starts playing.
“Turn that fucking thing off!” I scream and hysteria makes my voice crack.
As I wake up, Mia’s head is pressed against my chest and my arm that is wrapped around her neck has gone dead. I try to move it slightly, she stirs and mumbles and as the blood rushes back, a tingling sensation creeps through it. I had nightmares about blood splattered rooms again.
Dim morning light and chirping birds outside her window. I get up and grab a kitchen knife and wrap a dishcloth around its blade, the wooden stakes, a hammer, a flashlight and put it all in my backpack. As I rummage around the room, Mia wakes up and sits up in bed alertly, her Bambi eyes wide open.
“Where are you going?”
“Killing a vampire.”
“Don’t leave me here by myself.”
I grab her by the shoulders and say: “Stay at home. Do not open the door. For nobody. I’ll be right back.”
She kisses me on the lips.
With very final click, her door closes behind me and I look around.
Everything’s quiet. No sound at all. No one to be seen.
I slowly step outside and look around while the deafening silence swallows my steps.
A crow croaks on a roof and looks at me, tilting its head.
The streets are deserted as if a virus wiped out humanity and electricity hangs in the air like right before a thunderstorm. As plastic bags swirl and dance around me in the empty streets I realise that leaving Mia alone was a mistake but I press on. Dream logic. I pass the local supermarket and an empty shopping cart rolls around on the parking lot, but only when I walk past it.
The feeling of being watched is palpable and my teeth clench so hard that my jaw hurts.
From afar I see a figure shambling towards me. A giant. His head is cropped short on the sides but he has a ponytail. His muscly arms are covered in old and washed out prison tattoos and he wears a biker jacket with the logo of a local outlaw motorcycle gang on its back.
So, this is who it’s sending me to finish me off, I think.
As he sees me he, his steps fasten and my legs twitch and spasm in the adrenaline rush. I don’t want to die, I think and prepare for a cold blade to puncture my lungs.
He approaches me and I see that teardrops are running down his face and cling to his beard.
“Please,” he begs me.
He smells like ammonia and I see that he pissed his pants.
“Please, don’t leave me,” he whispers and his huge hand painfully grabs my shoulder.
He blubbers and stammers like a child.
“Don’t let me be alone with it. Please.”
He collapses right in front of me and sobs uncontrolled.
Undoubtedly, he has met the vampire, so I must be close.
I leave him there sobbing and march on.
The streets are deserted but a couple of meters into the city centre I see the first smashed cars. Their windshields are silver spider webs of cracks, the hood of one Mercedes is completely torn off. A tram is lying on the rails, pushed-over like some toy. Sparks of electricity fizz and pop and fly around, where the cable is torn in two. Not a soul in sight. I observe the scene of destruction and check anxiously for the stakes in my backpack.
I notice a perfectly white parking ticket flapping being crammed under a wiper. I walk towards it with a queasy feeling in my gut because I already know. I tug it very carefully between index finger and thumb as if it was radioactive or poisonous. I recognise its handwriting immediately. In accurate sharp black letters the vampire wrote:
PICK UP THE PHONE. LEFT.
Immediately a phone starts ringing to the left of me with some old school ringing sound. I turn my head and it’s coming from an empty coffee shop the front window of which had been smashed to pieces. I walk towards it, the shrill ringing angrily piercing the absolute quiet. Exactly in the center of a table to the left sits a red rotary dial telephone and rings so loud that I almost imagine it jumping up annoyedly and down like in those cartoons that were broadcast before the vampire took over all stations of my television, showing me my death.
I take a deep breath and pick up the cool plastic handle. There’s silence on the other end. Not even breathing.
“Are you there?” I hear myself say with a shaking voice but from far away.
“Yes.” Its distorted voice is nightmare made audible. Seeping through the holes of the handle like black ooze hissing with cold electricity. The hair on my back raises. It’s the voice of murder.
“Are you coming to kill me?” The voice asks, not a hint of amusement in it because amusement would make it sound human.
“Yes. Where are you?”
“Buying your gilfriend’s favourite coffee.”
I choke back tears. I don’t want it to see that it gets to me but I just can’t handle it anymore. The words remind me of something terrible but I don’t know what.
“How do you want to kill me?” The voice drones on heavily distorted. Like some malfunctioning asthmatic robot.
“I bought stakes.”
The sound coming from the telephone that has turned into a rift between worlds could be identified as laughter or some perverse mutation of it.
“Like in the movies?” it asks after a pause.
“That’s how you kill vampires, right?”
“I am not a vampire. Vampire is just a human concept that you’ve chosen to make me comprehensible. I am entirely something else.”
“I don’t give a fuck. I want this to end. Show yourself” I say with some very badly faked courage.
“Meet me at Mia’s house,” the voice says.
There’s a sharp crack in the line and then a cold but friendly female voice is saying:
“Please hold the line” and Self Control starts playing.
“Please hold the line” and Self Control starts playing.
I slam the phone down and run run run as fas as I can back to Mia’s house. Running along the smashed cars, tilted street lamps, claw marks on concrete. Panic is flaring through my veins. I pass the supermarket and the biker guy whose head is now separated from his body. No, it sits on his shoulders. Reality flickers and blurs as I follow the vampire’s trail.
I arrive at Mia’s house and the door is still locked. As I enter her darkened room, it smells heavy. Like earth and copper.