I’m dating this story in the spring of 1981, but the original is an undated typed manuscript. All I really know is that I wrote it some time in the period 1979-1982. It was originally untitled. I don’t remember how or why it came to me.
The car slowed as soon as it caught me in its headlights, and as it drove past I caught a glimpse of the driver looking me over. He pulled to the side of the road and stopped about 20 yards beyond me, and I ran to catch up.
“Where are you headed?” he asked when I opened the door.
“Los Angeles,” I said between breaths. I’m really quite out of shape. I should get more exercise.
“Got a ways to go then, don’t you? You won’t make it there tonight. Well, climb in. I can take you as far as Winslow.” I started to put my small knapsack into the back seat, but he put his hand over mine and said “Let me do that, I’ll have to make room for it.” He took the bag from me, but before putting it in the back he passed it up near his face. For an instant it was almost as if he was sniffing for a scent, but then he quickly reached over the seat, shoved aside a box, and stowed the knapsack beside it.
“I would say we’re in for a storm,” said the driver after we were back on the road. I murmured my agreement. A high wind was churning the clouds overhead. Occasional flashes of far-away lightning lit the horizon.
The driver went on. “You can’t see much of it, but up above those clouds there’s a full moon tonight. There is something about a full moon that affects people in odd ways — it just makes them go a little crazy, you know? Even on cloudy nights. Did you know there are statistics that show there are more car accidents on nights when the moon is full? And more suicides, and violent crimes of all sorts: rapes, muggings, beatings, murders.”
“I’d heard that,” I said. I was not in a very talkative mood. I was exhausted from traveling and extremely hungry, not having had a decent meal since leaving Detroit three days before. The driver, however, seemed willing to carry on the conversation without much help from me.
“And it’s not just humans that are affected,” he went on. “Cats fight and yowl all night. Wild animals attack campers in the woods. Birds lay their eggs in the air. And all kinds of strange creatures of the night come out of hiding and roam about. You know, there’s quite a lot of truth to some of the old superstitions about such things.”
“What, you mean witches and ghosts?” I asked.
He chuckled. “No, ghosts are what I would call a non-specific manifestation of the supernatural. They are vague and insubstantial, and therefore difficult to prove or disprove. A man hears a strange noise somewhere in the house, or thinks he sees something moving out of the corner of his eye. Or a door slams shut when there doesn’t seem to be any wind. Any of those things might be attributed to ghosts, just because they seem mysterious and there is nothing more specific to blame them on. Witches, on the other hand, are not very mysterious at all. They’re just ordinary people who work at ordinary jobs in ordinary towns. The only thing unusual about them is that they get together on weekends to light a few candles and do some chanting, and every now and then they might cast a spell to help someone lose weight. No, I’m talking about very specific monsters from the old folk tales, some of them semi-human.”
“Like werewolves,” I suggested.
“Well, yes,” he said, “except that they are completely imaginary. I’ve done a good deal of research on the matter and there is not a shred of evidence that werewolves ever actually existed. They were probably invented by some farmer’s wife to scare her children into coming home in time for supper. But vampires — they’re another story entirely. Vampires have been preying on the human race for centuries. Oh, there are a lot of misconceptions about them, to be sure. They can’t really turn themselves into bats, for instance. But they do exist, and they do live on blood. Human blood.”
“I’ll watch out for them the next time I’m in Transylvania,” I said drily.
“Ah, that’s another misconception,” said the driver. “It’s true that vampires originated in Europe, and they reached their peak there during the years of the black death. But they have been in America since the early 1600’s. One made the trip over from England aboard a ship filled with women headed for the Jamestown colony. It was no coincidence that Jamestown suffered a devastating plague a few months later. Vampires are filthy, murderous beings. Imagine a creature so vile that its mere presence can wipe out a small community. Wherever they go they bring sickness, pestilence, insanity, death. They delight in spreading disease, traveling with rats, cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes, poisonous spiders and lizards. They gravitate to large cities where they can go unnoticed. You can recognize a city infected with vampires by the gloomy pall that hangs over it: the streets are dirty and filled with garbage, the water is dark and foul-tasting, the atmosphere is poisonous. The inhabitants are nervous and hostile; they trust no one. And how can they, when the very air is filled with fear? But the vampires thrive in it. By day they sleep in basements or in cold, dank apartment buildings. At night they crawl out of their hiding places and skulk through the streets of the ghettos. They suck the blood of children and old people, and when their victims sicken and die it’s blamed on the rats, or malnutrition. And no one suspects the truth, because the vampire blends so perfectly into the atmosphere of death and despair which he himself has created.”
I looked over at the driver and saw that he was becoming quite agitated, gripping the steering wheel tightly and accelerating way beyond the speed limit. He was making me rather nervous as well, so I cast about for something to say to calm him down.
“These vampires,” I said, “There can’t be very many of them. I’ve traveled a lot and I don’t believe I’ve ever met up with one.”
“They are more common than you might think,” he replied. “Nearly every large city in this country has at least one, often as many as five or six. But they are very clever, and careful to avoid recognition. They avoid daylight or any well-lit building, so as not to let anyone see them clearly. They are solitary creatures, rarely associating with humans or even each other. When they have to mingle with humans, they dress and act like ordinary people, but they speak as little as possible, and above all, never show their teeth. And of course, they are aided by the fact that almost nobody believes they exist. To Americans, vampires are a joke, a silly superstition.”
“Still,” he went on, “there are ways to detect them. They generally have a European, aristocratic look about them, even when dressed as you are in jeans and sneakers. They are always quite pale, and very cold to the touch. And they carry a characteristic odor, the odor of death. It may be quite faint, but it permeates them and everything they touch, and they can never get rid of it completely. But the most powerful clue is the strange darkness that comes over one when a vampire is near. A vampire is a soulless creature, the very essence of evil, and about them there is a feeling, not so much of a presence, but of a supernatural absence. A vampire is a disruption of nature itself! Those of us who are attuned can sense the disruption. It’s a chilling feeling, a biting sensation, prickly, like a thousand needles sticking into your flesh. Your skin crawls, your hair stands on end, you sweat, you shiver, your stomach churns, your eyes burn, and you shudder as your soul is dragged down and buried in the putrid overpowering stench of the obscene abomination of the vampire!”
He was shouting and waving his arms, and the car was weaving about on the road at a tremendous speed. I was alarmed. I pressed myself against the car door, trying to stay as far from him as possible. There was a minute of silence, and then he spoke again, quietly, through clenched teeth.
“You probably wonder how I know so much about them. I am a member of a small organization devoted to the destruction of vampires. Together we have spent years studying them and we are perfecting our methods of seeking out and exterminating the vile monstrosities. Vampires never die naturally; they live for centuries unless they are killed. And they are exceedingly difficult to kill. It’s not true that daylight destroys them — oh, if only it were that simple! They can sustain all kinds of physical injuries without suffering any permanent harm. Cut off a vampire’s arm and it will just grow back; cut its throat and it will soon heal. No, we have found that the only sure way to kill a vampire is to puncture its heart. Our group has liquidated many of them this way, and we have found it to be quite permanent.” He looked at me with an odd gleam in his eye. “I myself,” he said, “have personally impaled three vampires.”
“Why don’t you let me off here, ” I said hastily. “I just remembered I have someone to see in that town we just passed.”
The driver smiled and nodded, and pulled the car over to the shoulder. I started to reach back to retrieve my knapsack, but he clamped a powerful hand over my arm, pinning it to the back of the seat.
“You know,” he said playfully, “some say that only a silver stake will kill a vampire, but I have found that tempered steel works just as well.” I looked down and saw that his other hand held an 8-inch hunting knife. At that instant I knew I had only one choice.
I lunged and bit him on the throat.
I suffered no permanent damage in the ensuing struggle. It was mostly self-defense, of course. But it had been so long since my last decent meal.