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
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
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
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,
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
“He was a vampire! Your dad helped
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
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
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
“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
“Yes,” I said firmly, backing up Vince.
“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
“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.
“We’re looking for a guy named Manic
“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
Vince eyed my backpack. “Do you have
anything in there that will open the door?”
“What do you think?” I said. “I am a
“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
“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
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.
“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
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
“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
“Do you want me to take you home?” he
“Are you trying to outbrave me, Vince?”
“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
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
“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
“No, sir,” said Mr. Polite. “We’ve
“Yes,” I said pointedly. “Have you?”
Ned laughed. “I don’t think your friend
“No,” said Vince, “it’s nothing
personal. That’s just her way. She thinks she knows
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
I protested. “That would be a really
“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
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
“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
“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
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.