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The First Vampire's Curse
Shortly before my shift ended. Blake announced that I was to join a night drug raid. Like times before, the red lanterns of our steam buggies flashed across the dock while mounted limelights threw ugly blotches of artificial sunlight on the steamship. Rumors said this steamer held five tons of illegal drugs and contraband. Guns drawn, a squad of policemen, Sergeant Blake, Deputy Simmons, and I stormed the gangplank and fanned out like blue fog over the ship's decks and holds. While Blake and I raced up the ladders to the bridge to arrest the captain and first mate, Simmons and the squad went to seize the contraband below decks.
Inside the bridge, I saw nothing but shadows, deadly shadows. Two sailors sprang out from the dark, knives drawn, slashing. I spun sideways and blocked the sailor nearest me. His blade snapped against the leather undercoat I wore. His momentum carried him into the bulkhead with sufficient force to stun an average human. Instead of falling to the floor unconscious, he turned, face scowling, fangs bared. I'd never seen vampire fangs up close. I drew my revolver and fired at his fangs. His skull exploded. His body flared into green fire like magician's flash paper. Ashes floated to the floor. This was my first contact with the creatures who hid in the dark and gloom of the night.
The sailor battling Blake backed away with a desperate look in his eyes. He leapt at the control room windows, shattering them, and fell to the metal deck, flesh and bone breaking and dissolving into green flame.
"I didn't suspect the undead. I thought this was a human gang," Blake said.
"They barely put up a fight. I always heard that vampires were hard to kill."
"They are. These two were dead but not quickened."
"I don't understand. They had the fangs and the moves of vampires."
"Vampires don't get all their powers until they feed under a full moon. These two sailors were probably turned on the voyage here. I doubt they would feed on their mates. Most likely, they kept the rest of the crew in line. There's an older and more powerful vampire behind this."
A patrolman down on the main deck held twenty sailors at gunpoint while two more patrolmen applied iron restraints. Foolishly, one of them stared too long at the scorch marks. Getting distracted, losing focus, failing to anticipate, a collection of bad moves that will always result in trouble. The sailors jumped him and tried to escape. Fists flew against billy clubs. Angry voices screamed out alarms and vulgarities. The patrolmen beat them down.
A lone figure, a rat-bag, took the opportunity and ran from his concealment through a hatch on the port side of the steamship toward the gangway. Three policemen blocked the rat-bag's path. Bad move. In a blur of movement, one policeman lay dead, his neck spraying blood. The second's policeman's body fell back, and his decapitated head rolled across the deck. The third policeman lay screaming with one side of his face ripped away. The rat-bag ran at a fourth policeman guarding the gangplank and knocked him over the railing. The policeman's death-screams echoed like the banshee's cry before his face hit the dock twenty feet below.
One policeman remained between the rat-bag and freedom at the end of the gangplank. He had the presence of mind to slide under the blurring runner while firing two big 45-caliber revolvers, cowboy style. The runner crumpled into a tight ball and landed, knives out. The policeman countered with switchblades in both hands. He repeatedly slashed at the rat-bag until limelight caught them both, freezing their images in the almost sun-like puddle of light. The splattered blood glittered dark red as the rat-bag burst into green flame and turned to ash. The policeman, his torso ripped open, entrails spilling out, collapsed and died.
Saved by the limelight, I thought. I too disliked the sun but not for undead reasons. I was a flaming-red, ginger boy. I tolerated the sun and the bullying I took from other children. As I grew older, I discovered the colored oils that hid my fair skin from verbal and solar abuse. I resented my body being forced to be and feel dark and swarthy, but I learned to use my differences every day at the gym. Gaining muscle helped me hide my shame, my sensitivity to light in a world of sun-worshippers. I became a paragon of male musculature and the strongest weightlifter at the gym. I used my knowledge of metals, leathers, steam, and firearms to advance myself in society.
"Was he quickened?" I asked Blake.
"Not at all! Bullets and knives won't kill a vampire. The only reason not to quicken a vampire in moonlight is to keep them subservient."
A third scuffle stopped our discussion. Stupidly, the policemen guarding the crew let their attention wander a second time. The prisoners, being scurvy bastards, fought with the policemen a second time. Somehow, they had deck tools as weapons. Sergeant Blake shot two of the sailors. Those deaths ended the rebellion. Blake harrumphed, evidently unsatisfied.
"Deputy Simmons has turned this raid into shambles. First Rule of taking more prisoners than men is don't take your eyes off of them. I expected better of him," Blake said and left the bridge.
I bundled the Captain's log along with his charts and made my way down to the main deck. An embarrassed Deputy Simmons stood, apologizing to Blake at the bottom of the ladder. He smelled of vomit and failure. He spoke fast, embarrassed and guilt-ridden.
"I'm sorry sir. We found drugs in the hold. However,É" He took a breath to quell his nerves. "But," he stammered, "there was another reason for this ship to sail." Simmons put a handkerchief up to his mouth. He stifled his gorge, struggling to keep it down. "I saw it, sir. It's horrible. I don't want to see it again, sir." His eyes crossed in queasiness. A grimace, a swallow, desperation bulging his cheeks. "It's in the forward hold." His voice squeaked and struggled so as not to lose his composure. "It's awful. That's why I wasn't on deck to handle the prisoners." He dashed for the railing, made ugly noises, dry heaves - - only spittle and bile being forced out of his body and into the ocean. Blake rolled his eyes in disapproval. Simmons returned, nearly in tears and wiping his mouth with a soiled handkerchief.
Sergeant Blake stood disturbed and angry.
"What was more important than illegal drugs?" he growled. Simmons jaw clenched, his cheeks quivered. He knew what came next - - Take the Sergeant to the hold.
"I can't face that again. Please don't make me go there."
If we weren't on duty and in sight of uniformed officers and prisoners, I think Simmons would have fallen to his knees begging. All he could add was: "Janisson can take you. I never thought anything wouldÉ" before he returned to the railing to retch more.
Janisson was about my age with a dark, spotty complexion, rounded shoulders, beer gut, and unkempt hair. He stepped forward, laughing at Deputy Simmons. "I'll get technicians to collect his spew for evidence. If you would follow me, sir."
The steamship's interior was a claustrophobic rat's nest of narrow passages, tiny cabins and cargo holds. Steep ladders, shipping containers packed too close, minimal lighting. The passage was slow and Janisson talked, filling us in on his view of the raid and Deputy Simmons' queasiness.
"He oughta learn to control that stomach of his. We had to create a special box of evidence bags just for Deputy Simmons. Must be the sixth time he's launched."
"What is it that we're going to see?" I asked, hoping for some information that might be meaningful to this raid and the drugs onboard. My hope died an ugly death in the words that poured from Janisson's mouth.
"Why when I was a wee sprout, me Da taught me butchering. I started helping him ta castrate and gut goats and sheep at seven. Ya gotta learn early not to let the smells and blood bother ye even when you are-gh elbow deep in the carcass's entrails. Now I'll bet that Deputy Simmons grew up in one of those clean and disinfected households. Hell and brimstones, sir, it was a sorry day at our house when we didn't have a stinking bucket of offal, guts, and bones waiting for the renderers at the back door."
"What does that have to do with this ship and vampires?" I asked.
"They call it a vampire death sentence. Not the worst bloody thing I've ever seen, but Simmons, well, I think it was the dangling genitals that got to him. That boy must love his man parts. Me, I've castrated so many pigs and steers and lambs that the thought of having someone yank your scrote out and slash it away with a knife don't matters. Just have a sure hand and fast slice with a sharp knife and them things is prairie oysters for breakfast. Real good too when they are fried in butter with some onions. Now some consider that Bacon fat is better. They are the food of the gods. It don't make no difference what they was before when you're fryin' em now. I told him so. That was when he lost it. Never did stop heaving after that."
Do they make them any stupider than this moron? I thought, wondering why he felt that any of his flagrant and lurid monologue of personal cruelty and gut-wrenching information was in any way pertinent.
"Officer Janisson, have you ever worked for the Macbeth family?" I asked. Blake gave me an evil stare.
"Can't say as I have. I done some work for the MacDougals and last year and a McIlrath as a teenager. I remember working the cider festival up at the Macintosh Orchards, but I can't recall any Macbeth," Janisson stroked his chin. My mockery went unnoticed.
We turned into a passageway where a patrolman guarded the hatch to a cargo hold. Janisson led us inside. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw.
Two of the evil creatures lay imprisoned; their bodies naked, spreadeagled and splayed backward, hands and feet trapped in hard but uncured concrete blocks. Silver-plated shackles glinted in the harsh artificial light. Their bodies appeared unnaturally smooth and sexless. I concluded their castration was the reason for Simmons' queasy stomach, but I as I walked to see their faces, I saw that someone sewed their genitals onto their lips so they couldn't talk. If I had not seen the stitches, I wouldn't have believed the barbarity of it. Revolted, I understood why the pigeon-livered Simmons' breakfast, lunch, and dinner was splattered through the ship's passages and his subsequent inattention resulted in the deaths of several patrolmen.
Moreover, even restrained so savagely, the vampires radiated auras like the fetid mists you find over dung heaps and graveyards. Perception corrupted and creating doubt; Mists bringing fear and making men recoil. A terror filling the mind and heart with despair. A sensation like unto death.
Behind the mutilated vampires, in the very rear of the cargo hold, a bare-chested longshoreman muscled from hard work and not exercise, a typical dockworker, stood chained to a bulkhead. He had ugly scars on his face and arms and rattled his handcuffs against the stanchion.
"What aberrant hell wrought this mess?" Blake demanded of the sailor.
"Tell your damned Mutton Shunters to release me, and I'll tell you what the goings on is," the fellow said.
"How do we know you're not one of the gang and lying about everything?" Blake asked. He picked up a pointy slat from a wooden crate.
"No vampire would betray his own, but I'm as human as you are, excepting, I know the location of their safe houses. I'll take you there as revenge on these bastards for what they done to my mates. I was aiming to hoist them into the sea myself. Beard the lion in his privates, so to speak."
Without warning, Blake rammed the wooden slat into the longshoreman's chest. His body dissolved in green flame and smoldering combustion.
"How did you know?" I asked.
"Rudimentary, if you understand vampires. This wasn't revenge. Revenge is an execution, a stake like I delivered. Whereas this is a vampire execution ritual; death without death." He paused for a breath. "If a vampire kills his maker, his Sire as they call it, he dies. These two turned the sailors on this ship. Another vampire made that longshoreman and not many days ago, not since the last Full Moon."
None of this made much sense, but Blake continued.
"Vampires don't stake their own. Men stake vampires to kill them. Vampires shy away from stake death because it is not only anathema but also psychosis-inducing. To vampires, killing takes the form of an un-death for the un-dead - - a living burial at sea. Some part of them stays alive even when the flesh rots from their bones. So when I see two vampires chained to cement blocks, I know it's a rebellion inside the vampire gang or a factional war between old vampires," Blake raised the wooden slat over his head and with a mighty thrust, plunged it into the nearest vampire's chest. I ducked as green fire exploded and surrounded Blake and the concrete blocks. When I looked again, tiny curls of smoke lingered around his clothing.
He held another wood slat for me to use.
"It's time you dispatched one of the undead."
I took the makeshift stake and went over to the other vampire. I could see the fear of death in its eyes. What sort of life would these creatures have at the bottom of the ocean as flesh rotted and bones disjointed? I hoped that I'd never find out. As I ran the slat through its heart, I felt its mind screaming in agony as the green fire ripped the soul from the undead body leaving nothing but wisps of vanity in the evaporative annihilation, and final oblivion.
Thrills ended. Mundanity restored. We had police work to do.
Blake and I spent the rest of the night questioning the sailors on the ship. They were a suspicious lot of swabbies who ratted out their captain. They'd seen the first mate, and several crewmen turned to vampires. We learned sufficient information to determine the identities of the two dead vampires and their criminal plans.
*** *** ***
Back at the station house, the smells of coffee, cheap cologne, and gun oil arrived with the day shift and made my report writing hell. Blake pulled me into one of the interrogation rooms so we could speak privately.
"What are you doing right now?"
"I only have Janisson's transfer to complete."
"Good riddance to that blunderbuss."
"After that, the gym and my apartment to get a few hours sleep." I was tired of all this paper tosh and stupidly frank. Blake didn't seem to notice.
"Last night was a disaster. Simmons turned out to be a meater, Janisson a total asshole. Mayor Nettlefold was in high-dungeon this morning about six dead policemen. I convinced them that you would be the best choice to replace Simmons. You will become the leader of the department's anti-vampire crime squad. It will mean being undercover as a criminal, but you're bright, unencumbered by love, not many friends, and I hope ambitious enough to accept the advancement," he said. I sputtered and stammered my reply. The suddenness surprised me.
"I never expected to be offered a detail of my own. I'm honored."
"Keep it under your hat for the rest of the day. I must make some special arrangements. Meet me here at sunset. One more thing, Vampires can smell colognes, fragrant soaps, and that awful oil you use to hide your red hair and ruddy complexion. It's time to smell like a man. Get to a steam room and sweat that horse-manure skin-darkening crap off of your body. Embrace being natural and looking reddish and having body odor." He turned abruptly and left.
Intrigued at the promotion, I finished my reports and went to the gym. For the first time in my career, I was myself with flaming red hair and pale complexion. I went to lunch, explained my clothing needs to Wei-Shan Feng at the Chinese Laundry and napped until sunset.
Sunset the unreality, and darkness, hiding the bright, turning the roads to the color of clotted blood, and the corners into shadows filled with trepidation and unease.
Blake sat in his office away from the night shift. He handed me a black-edged, formal card. It resembled death cards like used at mortuaries and was signed Dracula, Lord of the Undead, Prince of Transylvania.
"Dracula? Someone calls themselves Dracula? Does he know anything about crime or is he a specialist on bats?" I asked. Blake scowled.
"This man is the opportunity we need to break the backs of the biggest crime gangs in the city. His plan requires placing a man deep undercover to collect information."
"Do we go in loaded with silver bullets and stakes?" I asked, too arrogant and self-assured.
Undercover operatives and snitches are the life's blood of any detective's work. A criminal in an interrogation room might help by not dying but deep inside, in the criminal's heart of hearts, lives a criminal. Criminals never tell all, only what's necessary to get a deal. Turning a gang member nearly always brings a drug gang to justice because the turned crook reveals more to the prosecutors. The brass ring of information is placing a law enforcement officer undercover. That policeman almost guarantees ultimate control of the gang and a ratcheting down of crime.
The Chiefs of Police never gave outsiders like me assignments like this.
The address on the card led me to an old estate in the used, reused and unfashionable neighborhood of town. This was a neighborhood of paid watchers. I could feel eyes on me. If indeed this housed a vampire, how could the undead command such behavior of the living? The steam buggy stopped, and I eyed the thick, ugly iron gate that protected a strip of dead grass all around the old mansion. The Latin inscription on the iron gate read - - Death awaits he that passes through uninvited.
"Cheery sentiment," I said as I opened the gate. It sang in an un-oiled soprano loud enough to summon cats from the dead.
Gaslights flickered to life behind the stained glass windows to illuminate lurid and bloody historical scenes - - the Russian slaughter of the Germans in WW2, Vlad Tepes impaling an entire town, a multiple hanging set in some ancient time, and an Iron Maiden dripping blood; all, hateful and ridiculous versions of history.
At the front door, a tall, elegant man in black and silver clothing waited.
"Sergeant William Edward Blake detective par-excellence and Andrew Fraser his the redheaded Adonis; I've been expecting you. Please, come in and share my humble manse." He shook hands with Blake like an old friend.
"Adonis?" I blushed, unsure of what to do with such a compliment. I knew that I looked good, but I was uncomfortable attracting the attention of a vampire. It was time for rude police procedurals to deflect the remark: "This is official duty, sir. What do we call you?"
"Impertinent young man, my name is Erdo Revinbaark. I'm the Councilman in this District, and I have enough influence to make sure you direct steamer traffic for the rest of your life if I wish. Before you ask any more stupid questions about me, let me inform you that I'm not the leader of the crime syndicate. I'm its patron," he said. I stepped back, startled by his egotistical imperiousness.
He snapped his fingers at an over-muscled and idle-eyed butler who had the look of a street goon. I noticed the butler's collar pinched his neck making him sweat; the living sweat, vampires don't.
"Refreshments will be served in the front parlor," the butler announced, marching to a door on the left of the foyer, and opening it to reveal a stateroom filled with leather chairs, a bar, side tables, humidors, dead animal trophies, those tall, stained glass windows, and two wooden bookcases.
I watched Blake and Revinbaark light cigars and puff them into the air. They talked in whispers as the butler poured three brandies from a decanter and stepped back into the shadows. Brandy would steady my nerves. I drank all three. Blake frowned rather dourly, and Revinbaark broke the silence and addressed me.
"Well, I'm glad you came, young man. Sergeant Blake and I need someone to go undercoverÉ" The barest hint of red flushed his cheeks, confirming the rumors about vampires. There was blood in those veins, just not living blood. "Éas leader of the organized crime syndicate."
I sat silent, stunned at the proposal. Blake continued explaining. "That is our solution to stop distribution of the new drugs in the city. Those two vampires we executed on the freighter planned to introduce a new and hazardous psychotropic drug to the city." Blake looked to Revinbaark to finish.
"These hooligans and fools did so without seeking approval of the bosses. The penalty for that is death, vampiric death. You see, proper and upright society might justify brothels for the docks, after-hours drinking, gambling for those so inclined, illegal alcoholic beverages and opium. Those are publicly palatable crimes. But the rampant distribution of hallucinogens will not be condoned," Revinbaark said.
"You will be the fire from our spark," Blake said.
Confused and bewildered, I shook my head negatively.
"How could I possibly survive running a vampire gang?" I asked what I thought should be the most obvious question. Blake and Revinbaark looked amused. The butler grabbed me and pinned my arms behind me. I tried to break free, but before I could, Revinbaark was at my throat. I felt fangs penetrate my veins and blood drain from my body. The world died in blackness.
I woke on a marble slab in a cemetery with new ears that heard the moaning of the damned, the scampering of animal feet, and the sighs of the earth. I heard no heartbeat in my chest, no blood rushing through my veins, no air flowing in and out of my lungs. I stared at statues that suddenly had eyes that moved. Gargoyles, once mere sculptures of fantasy, licked their lips with forked tongues. The clouds broke above me to reveal the full moon. Hunger filled my mind with bloody thoughts.
I could hear hearts full of blood, fresh blood, precious blood, living blood beating nearby. The Butler gripped two sailors from the drug ship. I lusted for life-giving, red blood. Men do not lust for the blood of other men, but my body, my base desires, the animal that lurks within, burned with bloodlust. I could not resist. Without doubt or hesitation, I fed my hunger. Their bodies shriveled while their blood seared my body with new powers. I feasted on both sailors and stood staring at the moon, my bloodlust satisfied. The butler dropped the lifeless bodies into a grave.
I became aware that Revinbaark and Blake stood behind me.
"Welcome to the new world of the undead. You will find that you have full and spectacularly great powers since you quickened under the full moon." Revinbaark puffed out his chest and smiled with evil and bloody visage. Blake, smug and satisfied, puffed a cigar.
"The gang meets in the dockyards within the hour. You will fight to become the leader. You will win. You will be the most powerful gang leader in the city's history. You will be our man in control of it all," Blake said. He was nonchalant, blas, and damn sure of his plan. I wasn't.
"Did you ever think of asking me if I wanted to die and become a vampire?"
"Why? It's in your blood, your genes, your red hair, and complexion. Your fiery nature called out to me, made love to my mind and spoke to my soul. You were born to be a vampire."
"And if I don't do what you want?" I asked. The butler stepped forward with a crossbow fitted with a silver arrow.
"You'll die before you move a foot. You aren't the first vampire I've dispatched, and you won't be the last,\."
I considered my choices: criminal darkness and boredom without love, or the grave. I agreed to their proposition. They gave me black leather boots, a studded shirt, and a jacket. I felt like a lob, a total Sam, an ignorant loud-mouthed Blab as we walked to the steam buggy.
"What if the toughs are loyal to the current leader?" They laughed.
"The humans are loyal to the strongest," Revinbaark said.
"What if this gang leader has found another patron?"
My skepticism brought a sharp rebuke.
"No one but the Lord of Hosts who cursed me and drove me from the land can command me. I am the first vampire made and cannot die."
I put my head in my hands. Too many cryptic revelations and epiphanies, I didn't need riddles.
"What if I turn on you? What if I go in there and command them to kill you and then rape and pillage to my desires. What could stop me from becoming the same vile and evil scum that I destroy? What could you two do? One of you is a broken down old man with gray hair and the other a crooked policeman with a fancy tongue and polite manners."
They looked at each other and laughed. The old man stretched a hand and finger and touched my chest. My dead heart felt pain. Pain like every cell of my body being ripped apart. Death Incarnate was in that hand, and no power on earth could resist it.
"Young man, what you feel is my crime. I created the sin of murder. I revel in that sin and all its glory and all its pomps. For it, I bear a curse. A curse that will last beyond eternity. If you wish to take that burden onto your shoulders, kill me."
In my heart of hearts, in my soul, I knew the truth of his words. There must be maggots before flies to eat the carrion or all is vanity. We walked to Revinbaark's steam carriage. It was a massive affair with passenger seats set facing each other. The Butler drove. Revinbaark and Blake sat opposite me.
"I need weapons." Blake pointed to a wooden chest. It contained enough wooden stakes to kill and a harness to hold them. Their simple plan: kill or be killed, baptism in blood. I looked at the buildings passing by through the isinglass panes and contemplated my destiny while I prepared the weapons.
At the thugs' hideout, a warehouse in the dock area, A self-styled captain vampire and six deputies, each devoted to a different vice, ruled by fear, blackmail, and bloodlust. I had youth, training, newfound powers, and wooden stakes. The fight lasted a few scant minutes and when it ended, the would-be kings of crime, such piffling fools as they were, lay dead.
I made the living men call me King Red and took control of all vice and corruption in the city. As vampires only age in the dark recesses of their soul, I will remain in power for decades, even centuries. I no longer have time to waste on ethics, God, good and evil, morality. The city will have acceptable vice and acceptable crime.
The future is illusion. Each month when the moon is full, I partake of the hot blood of a living victim. That is my portion of the curse of the undead, to slaughter my brother man and covet his blood; my night of eternal youth and un-aging horror. Everything beyond my death has become pointless, aimless, and hollow. Beyond death, all is now meaningless and vain.
4700 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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