Inside Drops of Crimson

 
 
   
 

In This Issue

 
 
 
 

The Initiation Rites and
Incantations of the Vampire Killers Junior Auxiliary

 
 

by Catherine Schaff-Stump

“I am so sorry,” I said, even though I wasn’t remotely sorry, “but I think you are wrong. I am so sure your parents would have a friend who is a vampire.”

Vince looked at me across the Monopoly board, his cheeks red with anger or embarrassment. If it were me, it would be embarrassment. We were sitting cross-legged in my room on the floor killing time. The adults were downstairs talking about cool stuff, like killing the undead, and we were playing Monopoly. I blamed Vince. He was about my age, but he had no interest in learning how to stake the damned. Vince would pretend to listen to my dad and his dad. They’d all say, “Fine boy, that Vince. He’s coming along. He’ll make a great slayer of the undead some day.” Blah, blah, blah. His heart wasn’t in it, not like mine was.

Anyway, so they can have adult conversation, they usually send us to my room and Vince always wants to play Monopoly. Actually, he’s kicking my butt, so I’m kind of glad we’re changing the subject. Maybe we’ll forget about the game. Vince said in that quiet Vince voice of his, “Your parents know vampires.”

“Know of vampires. Big difference. It’s not like they’re my father’s best friends. He’s—”

“Reginald Rath, vampire killer.” Vince rolled his eyes, like being a slayer of spawn of Satan and protector of the waking world was the equivalent of picking your nose in class. “I know already. Okay, if my parents don’t have a friend who’s a vampire, explain this.” He advanced a piece of gross yellowed paper past go. The old writing on it had rusted, the color of really old blood, or ink, whichever. The note was short, sweet, and to the point.

“I want to suck your blood, Brewster.”

I studied it with my highly trained eye for the supernatural. For most of my ten years I had been honing myself to be the perfect monster-hunting machine. To follow in the footsteps of my parents was my first and best goal. I would be Abigail Rath, vampire slayer and protector against the supernatural, humanity’s first line of defense. I didn’t notice any particularly sinister overtones. “This is not too scary here, Vince.”

Vince’s eyes twinkled. He was a little younger than me. When he got that look in his eyes, I thought he looked like a weasel. “No? My dad gets these notes every once in a while in the mail. I found this one in an old box of papers. Yesterday, I got this note in the mail myself.”

I grabbed the second note. It was printed on white paper that hurt your eyes. The writing was brilliant red, like the kind of red you notice on an English paper when the teacher gives you a C, which is much worse than blood.

“Hey Vince,

Hope you’re doing well. Give my regards to your mom and dad. I think it’s about time you met me, your dad’s old friend Manic Ned. I can show you some really cool stuff.

Three guesses about what I do for a living. Number one, I’m not a vampire hunter, like that has-been Reginald Rath. Number two, I’m definitely into bats, fangs, and nightlife. Number three, I’m not a punk singer in a new Irish band.  Guess that means that I have to be…well, you figure it out.

See you soon,

Manic Ned”

I made up my mind not to like this Ned. “This is really aggravating!” I said.

“Yeah,” Vince agreed. “I think he’s a vampire, and –”

“How dare he call my father a has been! He’s the greatest vampire hunter that has ever lived!”

Vince ignored me. The problem with Vince is he never pays attention to the important issues. “I decided to ask my mom and dad about Ned, but their reaction made me decide to back off. They acted, I don’t know, like they were guilty or something. I thought I would show it to you and see what you thought we should do. If he’s really a vampire, I suppose we don’t have much choice, do we?”

This, I thought, was a foolish question. “Of course we don’t have much choice. We have to stake him. It’s what you do. Besides,” I scrutinized the note for more obvious clues, “with a name like Manic Ned he sounds like a serious blood sucker. This is serious. Did you learn anything from your parents?”

“Just that Manic Ned was this guy they used to go to high school with. He was into all sorts of monster stuff. Mom said he was a real geek. Then, he just went away after Dad killed the guy across the street.”

“Your dad killed the guy across the street?”

“He was a vampire! Your dad helped him!”

I tried to find that piece of data in my mental files. “Oh yeah, that guy. Vampires shouldn’t try to settle in the suburbs.”

“So,” said Vince, “do you think we can find Manic Ned before he finds me?”

“He didn’t leave much to go on, that’s for sure. Nevertheless, I remain confident that we can. You really don’t want your parents to know?”

“Not if it’s going to bother them.”

I tossed the note back to him and knocked some houses off Boardwalk in the process. Easy come, easy go. “Then we’d better not tell my dad. You know what he thinks of your folks. Not that my dad couldn’t handle this Count Ned. Mom is out too, but I think she can help us.”

“Wouldn’t she tell your dad?”

“I’m not going to tell her. We’re just going to visit her lab.” Vince looked at me blankly. “To use her chemicals? To trace the letter?”

His tone was skeptical. “You can do that?

I shrugged. “How hard can it be?”

***

Vince came over the next day after school. He attended the local public school, so he always got home a little earlier than I did. Mom decided I would attend a proper private school for girls of breeding, or something like that. I even had elocution lessons. I didn’t complain too much. My uniform was awesome, and the teachers were really smart. I did miss getting to wear jeans and play football, but I could do that at home, so it was all good.

My mom dressed like the stereotypical librarian, hair pulled back sharply from her head, and tiny pince-nez perched on her nose. She asked me what we were planning to do that afternoon.

“Chemistry experiments,” I said, helping myself to a cookie. Vince nodded vigorously. Yes, that was us, two young persons in constant pursuit of knowledge. Mom approved.

Vince and I went to Mom’s study, which wasn’t in anyway to be confused with Dad’s study. Dad’s study had lots of old movie posters, a row of horror DVDs, and a huge stack of books on vampire lore, actual and fictional. Dad’s prize possession was his cross bow, which he kept locked in a cedar chest. He’d show it to me and say that some day he’d pass it on to some young vampire hunter who showed promise. I figure he meant Vince, but I really wanted it.

On the other hand, Mom’s study was full of comfortable overstuffed furniture. She had bunches of books and a bust of Pallas Athena. A table near the window had weird science lab equipment on it, and there were also various magical braziers and bottles. Mom said she was an armchair occultist, but her books also showed how to do the simplest of spells. I planned to use one of these simple spells to find Manic Ned.     

Vince produced the note from his back pocket. He carefully handed the specimen to me. I placed it in a copper bowl and turned my attention to my mother’s tatty old spell tome, conveniently located on a shelf under the table. The location spell was very easy; I put a dab of one chemical in the brazier, then another, and then lit the whole mess on fire. Vince opened the window an inch.

As the fire hit the chemicals, the bowl erupted into a cloud of toxic gray smoke. It smelled like the pits of hell, or really smelly socks. We ran out of the room, tears streaming from our eyes, coughing. I could imagine Mom downstairs, tolerantly opening the parlor window, and permissively approving of how much knowledge we were gaining as we proceeded to blow up the house. I love my parents. “Sorry, Vince,” I choked out after a century of coughing. “I don’t think it worked.”

“It’s cool,” said Vince with that weasel look. “Manic Ned sent me his address today.”

I shook his shoulders. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You really wanted to cast that spell. I wasn’t going to stop you.”

I slugged him on the shoulder. He slugged me back.

***     

Manic Ned hadn’t picked much of a location for a sinister undead monster. The downtown YMCA was probably dangerous for muggers and stuff, but wouldn’t have been very a very secretive hideout for a vampire. How did he manage with his coffin? What was he going to do about his Renfield type servant? Could the servant be the desk clerk? Luckily, we were going in broad daylight, so we didn’t have to worry too much about Ned fanging us.

We skipped school to take care of this little problem. I never skip school, but this was a calculated career move in my case, one designed to impress my parents. I think my parents didn’t want me slaying a vampire until I was in my teens, and I think Vince’s parents didn’t want him slaying vampires at all. We decided to show the folks that we could be vampire killers and uphold the family name and all that. Provided we could locate Ned’s coffin before he woke up.

The desk clerk squinted at us like we were from Mars, especially me in my school uniform. “Hi,” said Vince suavely, “we’re looking for Ned?”

“Ned?” the old guy echoed.

“Yeah. Ned—uh—” It suddenly occurred to both of us that we didn’t have a last name for Ned. We couldn’t describe the guy. “Manic Ned,” Vince said firmly.

I covered my face. “Manic Ned,” the man said in that tone that adults use to show us kids that we’re idiots.

“Yes,” I said firmly, backing up Vince. “Manic Ned.”

“Oh,” said the clerk. “I know Manic Ned. What do you kids want with him?”

“He’s an old friend of my dad’s,” said Vince.

“Well, I guess you’re going to have a long wait. Ed doesn’t usually come home until ten or so. I could take a message, tell him you came by?”

“Okay,” said Vince. “We’ll drop by later.” I couldn’t think of what else to do either. We ended up in the laundry room trying to get out of the building. The floor was coated in fuzz, and a man with no socks was watching his laundry spiral in between glances at a ripped Field and Stream.

“Wuzzup?”

“We’re looking for a guy named Manic Ned?”

“Second floor,” said the man, with his nose back in the magazine. “Ned’s room is the one with Bela Lugosi on the door.”

The air in the stairwell felt chalky and my skin felt damp. “Do you think he’s up there?” I asked.

Vince eyed my backpack. “Do you have anything in there that will open the door?”

“What do you think?” I said. “I am a professional.”

“Good.” We entered a narrow white hallway and appreciated the irony of the granddaddy of vampires covered the gouged, wooden, dead bolted door.

“There’s no way you can pick a deadbolt,” I said. Vince knocked. “What do you think you’re doing? What if he’s in there?”

“Hey,” said Vince, “he did want to see me.”

“I think you’re forgetting we’re here to stake him before he fangs us!”  That’s when I noticed the door had opened a tiny bit. Obviously, this was not a vampire who was concerned about security.

Manic Ned’s room was pretty messy. Clothing was strewn about. Comics littered the table, as did bottles of Coke and a half melted candle. As if he could drink Coke! There was no coffin and no Ned. “He’s not here,” I said. “Makes sense. This place is not well protected for the undead. He’s probably shacked up some graveyard, waiting to drop by this evening. He roosts at the Y. Lots of transients downtown, right? Ned can find out if a person is going to be noticed or not and drain them dry. A supermarket of lost souls. A dairy of blood for the damned.”

“Knock it off, Abby,” said Vince. He was glancing at some of the titles of the comic books. “You sound like your dad.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that, Vince Brewster!” I sifted through Ned’s clothes for clues. “Your problem is that you don't take any of this seriously. You’re never going to make an effective vampire hunter if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on around you.”

“Who said I wanted to be a vampire hunter?”

I pointed at him, wanting him to know I meant business. “Do you have any idea what a great responsibility it is to carry on the age honored tradition of protecting the world from unseen forces? Do you know that my father and my mother consider you to be gifted, and that you could use your skills triumphantly in the heated battle between good and evil? Do you have any idea what you’re throwing away if you don’t become a vampire killer? I can’t believe that you’re willing to give up something you’re so well suited for so you can have a normal life.” I sneered out the words normal life.

Vince’s eyebrows rose. “Your father says I’m good?”

“A natural,” I admitted reluctantly. “The best.”

“Wow,” was all he said for a few seconds. “I—it just never felt right for me…to be a vampire killer…it seems like an odd thing to write a book report about. You? You’re going to be a vampire slayer when you grow up?”

What did he suppose? “Of course I am! And you should be too, if you had any sense, if you wanted to use your God given gifts!” That was Dad talking, but I figured any ally in the hunt against evil. Vince was oddly quiet the rest of the night.

***

Twilight fell, and I have to admit I felt a little nervous about going back to the Y. Vince grimly sipped the dregs of his root beer float. I noticed that we both had cold fries on our plate. It was almost like the longer the fries lasted, the longer we could put off our inevitable encounter with the undead. The grumble of Vince’s straw as it hit dead bottom made me start. “More fries?” I offered.

“No. Should we go?”

I lowered my eyes, examining the metallic flecks in the tabletop Formica. “I don’t want to.”

“No way,” said Vince.

“I—well, it’s my first, and I—” I readied myself for Vince’s ridicule. I would have teased him mercilessly if he’d said that to me. Laughing loud and long, I would have called him a chicken. Vince didn’t laugh. He took money out of his wallet and started counting out the bill.

“Do you want me to take you home?” he asked seriously.         

“Are you trying to outbrave me, Vince?”

“No.”  

“I’ll go with you then,” I said. “You can’t go alone.”

“It’s okay to be scared, Abby.”

“I’m not scared!” I said sharply. “I’m just nervous!”

Vince sighed. “If you say so. Should we have some sort of plan?”

“We hide in his room and stake him just before he leaves at dawn.”

“You don’t think he’d notice us?”

“Not if we hide really well.”

“Abby, the room is tiny.”

“We’ll hide in the bathroom.”

“Abby!”

“What’s he going to use the bathroom for? We’ll just stay in there until morning and pow! Stake through the heart. Cool, right?”

“He may bring his victim back to his room. His victim might need the bathroom.”

“It’s my theory that Ned does not kill in his room. There were no signs of blood. My father says blood always gets into everything.”

“Okay,” said Vince slowly. “That’s a plan.  How about this one? We wait by the clerk’s desk, and the clerk calls Ned to see us.”

“Vince!” How could anyone be so naïve? “He’ll fang us for sure! My plan makes more sense. It’s the classic movie ambush plan.”

“It won’t work. We’ll die for sure.”

“Shaking hands with the vampire won’t keep us alive!”

Vince put his right fist in his left palm. “All right,” he said, “we’ll see whose plan we use.

Rock, paper, scissors was the best way in the fourth grade to settle disputes of a weighty nature. To my shame, Vince won. His paper covered my rock easily. “Fine. We’ll do it your way, But if we die, and I become a vampire, my parents will never live that down. Never.”

***

Manic Ned came through the door at 10:30. No doubt my mom and dad were having kittens about where I was. They had good reason to be worried, Their daughter was out hunting monsters on a school night. I’m sure Vince’s parents weren’t thrilled either. There would be panicked phone calls to each other’s houses and the discovery that we’d both lied and were involved in some sort of plot. Perhaps it would be better if Ned killed us.

We were not expecting a vampire like this guy. He was rail thin, wearing army fatigues and a black t-shirt with some band like Metallica printed on it. He had a shock of short red hair and his skin was pale, like, well, undeath.

“Hey, Ed,” the desk clerk said, “These kids are here to see you.”

Vince extended a hand to the enemy. “Hello, I’m Vince.” I clutched my backpack.

Ned exploded into a toothy grin. He grabbed Vince’s hand and pumped his arm. “Nice to meetcha. Got my notes I see!”

Vince cricked his neck toward me. “This is a friend of mine.”

The vampire extended his hand to me. I tightened my grip on my bag.  Ned rubbed his chin. “So, Vince, can I get you and your friend something to eat. You hungry?”

“No, sir,” said Mr. Polite. “We’ve eaten.

“Yes,” I said pointedly.  “Have you?”

Ned laughed. “I don’t think your friend likes me.”

“No,” said Vince, “it’s nothing personal. That’s just her way. She thinks she knows everything about…everything.”

I glowered at Vince. Make nice with the vampires indeed! Well, we’d just see what Ned’s next move was, then. I’d be ready.

“You guys want to come up to my room? Talk? Reminisce? Whatever it is you do with your dad’s old friends?”

I protested. “That would be a really bad idea.”

“Sure, Ned.” Vince’s patience with me was wearing thin, I could tell. Dork. He was forgetting vampire safety 101. Going off to Ned’s room meant death for one or the both of us.

“How about,” said Ned, “I give you my word, Abby, that nothing will happen except talking?”

“The word of a vamp—”

“What she means,” said Vince, “is that she really doesn’t know you, and well, you know, you have to be cautious in this day and age.”

“Is there something wrong here?” Ned asked. “We don’t want to use the V word? What?”

I pulled my crucifix out of my backpack, the one that Dad had bought me when I was eight after I wandered around the house for two weeks with intertwined popsicle sticks, yelling, “Be gone, demons of the night!” At least that’s how Mom tells the story. “What do you think of this?”

Ned sprang halfway across the room. The desk clerk eyed the cross lazily. Vince ripped it from my hands and stuffed it back into my bag.

“Careful kids,” said the clerk. “Ned doesn’t go for that stuff.”

Ned was wild-eyed. “What else do you have in the bag, Abby?”

“All sorts of things to deal with you, creature of the night!” Dad would have been really proud of my delivery.

The clerk and Ned laughed. “Well, I guess I’m a goner,” said Ned. “Do you have a really cool hammer and stake set in there?”

I puffed my chest out. I had appropriated the necessary equipment from my father. “Yes. Yes I do.”

Vince smiled a bit. “I guess you showed them,” he said.

I was so mad I plopped down in a chair, seething. Later, I would slug Vince.

Ned had Ted, the desk clerk bring us some sodas. We were supposed to be slaying Manic Ned the vampire. Instead, I was sipping an orange crush and Vince was just having a high old time. Ned told Vince about what a goofball his dad was in high school. Vince asked Ned how he became a vampire. Apparently he’d been fanged by that suburban vampire that Vince’s dad had killed. Later, my dad had tried to kill Ned.       “He missed the right spot,” said Ned. “To be fair, it was Rath’s first stake. Since I was totally prepared to suck him dry, I guess he had the right to defend himself. Still, I’d like to see the old fella before he croaks, just to scare the shit out him.”

I bristled. Vince cut me off when I opened my mouth. “So, why did you want to see me?”

“Obviously, you know what I am. You brought your friend who’s a Reginald Rath wannabe. You know, Abby, I used to have the coolest collection of monster hunting stuff. Anyway, I wanted to meet Martin’s kid. I get lonely sometimes. It’s been fifteen years and I still look exactly the same. I feel like Peter Pan, except,” he revealed way too many teeth again, “I have different plans for Wendy. I wanted to see if you had ever thought about living forever.”

“He has not! Vince doesn't have the time of day for your kind!”

“I’m talking to Vince, not you!” The snarl in Ned’s voice was that cranky wolfish growl that vampires are known for when they are hacked off. “What about it, Vince?”

“No,” said Vince.  “Since I plan on being a vampire slayer, I think I have a conflict of interest. Thanks for considering me, though.”

Ned smiled knowingly. “Its her, isn’t it? You can’t build a career around what the woman you love does, Vince. You’ve got to follow your own destiny.”

“It’s not her,” said Vince, blushing. “It’s me. I hear I’m a natural. Abby’s dad says so.”

“My dad,” I interjected. “Reginald Rath, vampire slayer.”

“Oops,” said Ned, “looks like I got my foot caught in my fangs. I knew there was something about you I didn’t like. Reconsider my offer, Vince.” Ned was putting on the vampire mojo, with the echoey voice, and the vampire bright eyes.

“Fight it, Vince!” I started fumbling in my pack for the vial of holy water that I had Jo Kemp, our pastor’s daughter, bless on the playground.

Vince was pretty resistant and pretty direct. “No way. My parents wouldn’t like it much, and I don’t want to kill people to get by. I won’t become a vampire.”

Ned coiled in the chair like a spring. Once more, I decided to brandish the crucifix. “Put that down!” yelled Ned.

“Don’t try anything!” My Crush can tipped and sticky soda burbled onto the floor.

“Now, you three simmer down!” All of us, a vampire-hunting tableau, saw that Ted was holding a baseball bat in his hands, silver, probably with a steel core. “I am not going to have anyone biting anyone down here. This is a Christian organization and when you moved in, Ned, you agreed that you wouldn’t do any desecrating here. You two, you aren’t going to get anywhere riling him up with flowery language. Now, Ned, are you going to play nice, or am I going to have to show you what I learned as an MP during the Big War?”

Ned tested him. I could tell he was testing because his voice cracked with uncertainty. “I could take you out. I could kill you, old man.”

“You wouldn’t want to. You like it here too much. I kind of hope you like me.”

Ned shoulders sagged. “Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll call it a night. Pretty cool moves, Brewster. Good night, Abigail Rath, vampire killer. Maybe, you’ll change your mind, Vince? You’ll know where to find me.”

Vince shook his hand. “It was—um—interesting.” He watched him go. “Do you think he’ll attack us on the way home?”

“I don’t,” said Ted. “People here are often on the verge of turning one direction or another. Ned’ll turn around. Deep down Ned is a very lonely guy. But he’s also a nice guy.”

“That’s what you think!” I scoffed. “You’re playing with fire.” Vince slugged me in the arm.

“Maybe I don’t know his kind like you do,” said Ted. “I think he likes me and he isn’t going to mess with me. Still,” he thumped the bat solidly in his meaty palm. “I’m gonna keep this around.”

“Good idea,” said Vince.

We made it home without any attacks, that is, until we got home. When Dad heard my version of the story, he said that I had done as well as any vampire hunter under the circumstances and that we should have hidden in the bathroom and staked him when the sun came up. Our parents didn’t exactly ground us, but they did let us stick around for the serious discussions after dessert, mostly so they could make sure that we didn’t hatch up future schemes of our own.

 

About the Author

 

Catherine Schaff-Stump

By day, Catherine Schaff-Stump is an English teacher at a community college.  In the evening and on the weekends, not only does Catherine fight crime, but she also writes fiction of the fantastic.  You can find out more about her and her escapades on her website.

   
Copyright (c) 2008 Drops of Crimson. All rights reserved.