In honor of this spooky season, I'm sharing an excerpt from the first Damned Lies book, about hunting a vampire. The first half will be today and the second half tomorrow. Since it's a Damned Lies book, I'll put the profanity warning up here. Enjoy!
August, 1994 - The Middle of Nowhere
"So when do we kill the vampire?" I asked.
The sun was going down and we were in the middle of nowhere. Sister Nancy said the vampire lived in an abandoned church a few dusty roads off the highway.
"You don't have to help," she said again.
"But I want to help," I said enthusiastically.
She sighed, which I know some of you, My Dear Readers, are also doing.
You're sitting here thinking, "Oh, he would never volunteer to help kill a vampire. I wouldn't." You'd think I would be too scared, too weirded out, or think the nun too crazy for me to help out. You'd think there would be reasons and excuses and nervousness, all in the name of somehow avoiding the task. And you would be wrong. Because of course I want to kill a vampire.
Dear Reader, imagine if you will, that you were asked by a friend if you wanted to kill a vampire. Out of the blue, your friend rings at your door and quite seriously asks your help in ridding the world of a vicious creature of the night. And you might imagine your response to be a mere shake of the head. Maybe some mumbled excuse: "No, I think I am going to stay home, watch television, surf the internet, go on that website and down vote people I don't agree with, then go to bed early, safe in my own bed and away from vampires. Also, vampires don't exist." And in your imagination, you stay at home, allowing cognitive dissonance to do its work. You decide your friend is crazy. You decide you never would want to kill a vampire.
And to you I say: Bullshit.
You are a liar.
For the moment, let's ignore the talk of whether vampires exist or not. Your friend has asked you to kill a vampire. He or she has got the sharpened wooden stakes, the various undead hunting tools, even the exact the location of the vamp. You are just requested to be a ride along. All the decisions are already made, you just have to decide whether you will accompany them. Are you going to just pass up an opportunity like this? Are you going to shake your head and have yet another uneventful and forgettable evening? Are you going to deny your soul as a reader, a dreamer, a fantasist, an escapist? Will you betray your imagination?
You've read all those books of fights and fantasies, of epic journeys and twisted thrillers, of heroes and villains, of the light and the dark. And whether you admit it or not, you've wished for that adventure. You've wished that those things are at least partly real. Why would you keep reading them, why would you keep loving them, why would you keep injecting your imagination with such amazing stories, if you never, in some part of yourself, ever wanted them to be at least somewhat real?
Dear Reader, are you telling me that if one night, a trusted friend showed up at your door, and called upon your trust to dispose of a vampire, you'd refuse the idea?
No, you wouldn't.
Not if you were honest with yourself. Let go of your weird feelings, your fear, any ideas of your friend being crazy. Let go of your inertia, your reluctance, and that little voice that always tells you that you can't do things. Forget that voice that gives you weak reasons for keeping to the status quo of your life. This is a unique moment, that voice does not apply. Your friend wants you to go kill a vampire.
What do you say?
You'd say, "Fuck yeah! I want to stab a motherfucking vampire in his motherfucking heart!"
Because one day, you're going to be somewhere, whether it's in front of friends, your kids, a late night bar, or on your death bed, and the moment is going to happen. For once in your life, you'll have the rapt attention of everyone in the room. Everyone's going to be looking at you, waiting for whatever profound words you are willing to say. It's a fleeting moment. You open your mouth... and what do you say? What do you truly say to that group of people? You can't just give them another story about a fish you caught, a plane you missed, a lover that got away. That's not this moment.
And in that moment, you'll have the story of how you sought to kill a vampire. It doesn't matter if they believe, it doesn't matter if the vampire ended up being real or fake. It doesn't matter if you followed your friend to the destination and discovered your friend was crazy and you needed to talk them through their breakdown. The actual story or its conclusion don't really matter for this. You'll have the story of how you killed a vampire (or tried to), and they'll all listen. Even those who think you're lying will still listen until the story ends.
Because you killed a motherfucking vampire.
Nancy didn't quite appreciate my unique form of enthusiasm. She also kept telling me to stop cursing. Repeatedly. Besides criticizing my language, she kept suggesting that I was not taking the task seriously, despite my assurances. It was when we arrived at our destination and she was retrieving gear from the trunk that she must have finally believed me. She gave me the duffle bag of tools and then handed me an axe. Nothing shows trust like handing someone a brutally lethal weapon.
It wasn't quite a medieval battleaxe, but it wasn't just a cheap Home Depot hand axe either. It had a single blade and a fairly long haft. It wasn't a sharpened wooden stake as I expected, but as Nancy explained, in vampire hunting stakes are a necessary tool but hard to defend yourself with. They're short and take a lot of force to penetrate a ribcage, which is difficult if the vampire is all up in your grill trying to kill you. Axes, on the other hand, can dismember, decapitate, and otherwise cause some serious damage. A vampire who loses his head is just as incapacitated as one stabbed in the heart with a wooden stake, so an axe is a good weapon of choice.
I was also ready if some treants wanted to throw down.
We had parked within view of the church, but not too close. The ground was barren and dusty, the occasional patch of dead weeds sticking up; kind of familiar for me that summer. The building was a crumbling ruin that wasn't bigger than a house, but to be fair, it looked like it never was a very big church to begin with. It was definitely old - it could have been an old missionary church or some other historical thing that I couldn't recognize due to neglectful years falling asleep during Social Studies class. There was technically a cemetery around the church, but at this point, it was just a bunch of worn out grave markers poking out of dead earth.
The sun was going down, the sunlight becoming a stale yellow that would soon turn gold and then red. Time was running out if we wanted to take the vampire unaware.
I had asked why we didn't wait until tomorrow. Nancy explained that she also would prefer more daylight, but she would not risk another innocent life taken due to her inaction. Churchly duty and all.
Around the church there technically was a fence, which when new would have been about three feet tall and made of wrought iron. But, time had not been good to that fence. At best, the rods were fallen over, at worst they were twisted, rusted, or missing. Occasionally a lone twisted rod jutted up about a foot from the ground, but that was rare. We easily stepped over the fence to the church doors. The only risk would have been tetanus.
The doors opened with a groaning creak, kicking up a cloud of dust. I expected to hear Toccata and Fugue in D Minor erupt out of an old pipe organ, but alas, this old church held neither an organ nor any Bach. Any windows the building had, stained glass or otherwise, had long since broken and were boarded over, allowing just minor cracks of light from the setting sun. What few pews there were left had rotted away, leaving small piles of decayed wood. Any cross or crucifix had long since been removed, a blank space left on the large wall above the pulpit. The main original feature still left was the large elevated altar and its steps. Made of stone, it had survived where the rest of the building had been ravaged by time and vandals. On top of the altar was a black coffin.
By this point in my journey, I had seen a lot of things. Crazy things that nobody would believe: ghosts, giant robots, magicians, walking houses, and more. In addition, I had barely slept in the past few days, so I was a little loopy. Because of all that, I was completely willing to believe this really was a vampire. Even if the bulk of my journey was some elaborate hallucination that had stretched for months, it was a consistent, so I wasn't about to doubt it just yet. In the same way, I didn't doubt this was a vampire. If Sister Nancy thought it was, that was fine for me. I'm sure I was about to find out for sure.
Besides, I wanted to kill a goddamn vampire.
Note: I'm not using profanity here. Vampires are damned by God. Goddamn vampire is a correct literal description. Motherfucking vampire is just profanity.
At Nancy's direction, I put down my axe so I could push open the coffin. Nancy was ready with a stake and mallet. I took a deep breath, and lifted the coffin lid.
It was empty.
I let out my breath and let myself sink into confusion. I stepped back and turned to Nancy.
"Well, where is he?" I asked.
She narrowed her eyes and quickly turned around, scanning the room. I did too, particularly looking up since that's the familiar horror movie trick. Unfortunately (or luckily), there was no vampire in the rafters.
Nancy was not happy. She looked around quickly, noting by the light, as I did, that the sun was almost setting. Neither of us said anything, but we both shared the same feeling that we'd rather not leave, tail between our legs, and come back tomorrow. Worse, the vampire would probably know we were here and flee to another location.
"Are you sure he's here?" I asked.
"I know he is here," she said. I must have looked at her oddly, so she continued. "I just do, okay?"
"Special nun powers. Got it."
She turned back to coffin and gave it a long look. With a shove that was much stronger than I would have guessed, she pushed the coffin off the altar. It tumbled to the ground... loudly. I swung around to see if someone heard it, but the church was silent. Dead silent.
"Was that really necessary?" I asked. "I mean, I'm frustrated to but -"
"Help me with this!" she said. I saw that she had put down her stake and was grabbing at the edge of the altar. I grabbed the edge of it, feeling my nails grip the stone. "Lift and push!" she said between gritted teeth.
I did as she asked, wondering if it was futile, but to my surprise, the top of the altar lifted. Once we had it up, we used our shaking muscles and pushed it over the other side. The lid fell to one side and shattered into pieces of stone.
Within the altar itself was the sleeping body of a vampire. Clever.
In an affront to vampires across fiction history, this vampire broke all stereotypes. He was not dressed to the nines. He was not sporting a thick Dracula mustache nor a Bela Lugosi widow's peak. He didn't look like a distinguished aristocrat, starving poet, troubled artist, or hell, even the type who'd go to a high school and hit on some teenage girl. I didn't see claws or teeth, nor telltale bloodstains. His eyes were closed, so I could not look into the eyes of blackest evil myself. It was hard to get beyond my disappointment that he looked just like some dude.
And for those wondering, "Well, if he looked just like some guy, maybe he wasn't a vampire and Sister Nancy is a crazy person asking you to assist her in murder," I offer this counter argument: What was some guy doing in a abandoned church in the middle of nowhere sleeping in an altar with a coffin on top? I know some people like to be really Goth, but this is above and beyond even Peter Murphy's Gothly duties.
So far, the vampire hadn't moved, despite the time I took to have that monologue and Nancy's prompting. She had me hold the stake for her. I kept a loose grip to make sure it was straight and right over his heart while she could hammer the mallet with greater force. She mentioned that tapping the stake through a vampire's heart with lots of small hits didn't work out well.
She began to utter some Christian litany as she held the mallet high. I didn't recognize it, but it was filled with a lot of "Oh Lord"s, "thy servant"s, and "righteousness"es. I'm pretty sure it's well documented in the vampire hunter manual, but since I had yet to join the union, I did not know it. With her voice reaching a fevered pitch, she completed the prayer and slammed the mallet down.
The stake only went halfway in.
I'm sure there are many "just the tip" jokes to be made here, but there was no time to think of them. There was an immediate scream and the vampire's eyes flashed open. They were red and demonic, but not quite the blackest evil. The stake still half embedded in his heart, the vampire reached up with both hands and pushed both Nancy and myself with his superhuman strength. We went flying and landed a few feet away.
The vampire ceased his screeching scream and stood up in the altar. He hissed at us, then leapt upwards. Now we really were searching the rafters for a vampire. Since that was the worst lit place due to the light coming in from boarded windows, I scrambled to pull out our flashlights. Sister Nancy lit a flare and dropped it at our feet, outdoing me in badass ways to deal with darkness.
Outside I heard the wind pick up. I knew for sure that the wind had been calm when we arrived. Now it was suddenly blowing like in a storm, the intensity increasing with every second. I shined the flashlights in the rafters, but still had not found the vampire. Sister Nancy had pulled out a wicked looking crossbow.
Soon the wind was howling around the church. "Check outside!" ordered Nancy, while she aimed the crossbow and her flashlight above us.
I went to one of the boarded up windows and looked outside. The sky was red - when I could actually see it. The wind was picking up the dirt from the barren ground and turning it into whirling clouds of earth. The car looked okay, but with all the wind and dirt, it looked like it was very far away.
"It's a goddamn sandstorm out there!" I called back to her.
"Watch your language!" she shouted back.
I tried to look beyond the dust in the few moments where the dust did not blow. Something was happening. I strained to see. It took me a moment, but I thought I saw the shadows of people in the clouds of dirt and wind. I tried rubbing my eyes for a better view, but that just got more dirt in them.
I was straining to see a distant shadow when suddenly the dirt cleared for just a moment and I discovered one of the people was just a few feet in front of the window. I saw him very clearly.
I jumped back in fear and called to Nancy. "Umm, I just saw a dead guy."
I had seen a desiccated face, exposed bone, rotted clothing. I'm not going to bullshit you with some account of how I could not believe my eyes, ignoring obvious signs of death. This was clearly a dead guy, and it was obviously he had been dead for a very long time. That just did not seem to keep him from shambling towards the church.
I ran to the other side of the church and checked that window.
"There are more over here!" I shouted. I could see one of them pulling itself out of the ground next to a decayed grave marker.
"Some vampires are able to desecrate the rest of the departed and raise them as mindless slaves," said Nancy, her eyes and crossbow still fixed at the ceiling. "He means to keep us busy with them while he escapes or attacks in the confusion. We must not give him the chance! I need you to hold them off while I deal with the vampire."
"Hold them off?" I asked.
"Hack them apart," she said. "I hear hitting them in the head works well."
I picked up my axe. Something felt right about this. It was like my life was made for this moment. I declared this feeling out loud: "Fuck yeah, zombies."
Continued here tomorrow!