Trying - Again! - to Get My Groove Back

Week 37

Always a bit of extra work, trying to get back “on track” from a trip away. Thanks to my dear husband, I got a taste of why some people like to get away to southern climes during the winter. I also learned more about his work and the verbiage involved in hospital IT than I had known in the 30+ years of our marriage, and I was finally able to kick Sacramentary in the tail and get it moving again, so it was generally a good trip.

Now, back to teaching classes that have devolved into teaching to the sadistic GED test. And writing to save my sanity, or what’s left of it.

Anyway, I did promise the first two parts of The CPF, so here goes (and let’s hope the mercenary little weasels won’t find a buzz word to seize upon and block up my page with sales pitches again):

Chapter One

The Newborn

He summoned me by Post-it note! Derek Zanger came into my house in the dark of mid-spring night, used my pens and sticky-notes and slapped his summons in the middle of my computer screen.

I don’t know what made me want to hurl my Eggo waffle at the screen more. The summons itself (about as welcome as a traffic ticket), knowing that arrogant bloodsucker swept into my house in the (excuse the expression) dead of night to leave me a note, or knowing I had to obey the summons. Maybe all of the above, and I came within a curse word of having to clean maple syrup out of my office keyboard as I read this in loopy, nineteenth-century lawyer-script:

“Farmer – south gate, 9:30 p.m. You will be there.”

I should explain. My job, according to the contract renewed with a member of my family since 1840, is to “care for, maintain the peace of and do all towards the good and well-being of the residents of the Sayresville Cemetery” etc., etc. I don’t know if the founders considered the undead to be residents, but in a somewhat technical, legal sense they are. Ergo, to use the legalese, obeying a summons from the oldest vampire in the place landed squarely with two undead feet into my job description.

And so, on that mid-April night, just after sundown, I watched from a hundred feet away as Derek stood centered in the wrought-iron arch at that entrance of the cemetery waiting to “instruct” the newborn vampire.

The ritual did not begin well.

Derek had “secured” another expensive business suit and dress white shirt for the occasion. Probably courtesy of the hospital executive found dead in his tidy-whiteys in his back yard in Liverpool three days before. Derek wore his thick black hair slicked back from his high-cheek boned face, and I would bet he had only that week scored the solid gold, aviator-style, framed eyeglasses from one or more affluent victims. Still, he did not look happy. He had not planned for, nor wished for, another addition to his flock of nearly two dozen vampires. And yet, here he was, waiting at the south entrance for the most-recently buried but far from dead resident of the CPF.

And Ambr’ Pembroke was once again in his face.

I was a tad late and too far away to get much of the argument, but no one could mistake Ambr’s signature whining. Derek, his face already taut with annoyance, spat out his replies. He waved her away with his long-fingered hand, but she did not move. Finally, his right hand swept up and across his chest to backhand her in hopes of shutting off the relentless whine. But he paused. Ambr’ did not flinch most of us would. She leaned in with a half-smile, her face tilted to one side, inviting the blow that would probably break open her undead cheek.

“Get away from me,” he snarled. He turned his back to her.

Ambr’ stood seconds, perhaps minutes before she accepted that he would not turn back to her. She stomped back to the rest of the “family” in their divisions.

The six Old Guards (undead for at least a century) waited in the shadows around the headstones in Section H to the south This is the burial site for World War I and II soldiers who wanted no part of Arlington; and I think there is two or three deserters in there, if certain ghostly gossips are to be believed. The twelve mid-termers (undead for more than fifty years, but less than a century), including Ambr’ who had resumed her nightly visual adoration of their leader from afar, guarded the matching arch at the north entrance. These “elders” of the CPF undead community all kept a close watch on the hill that is Section A of the cemetery grounds, each one wanting to be the first to spy the newborn. Finally, the six newbies (50 years or less on the “night shift”) paced Section C.

In this section of the cemetery, the rumor runs that section was so named because most of the folks buried there died in the 1800s of cholera. This is factually not true. According my family records, most of the choleric bodies were burned, but still the story brings in a lot of curious visitors.

We all waited for what seemed too long a time. Immortal or not, it was past the vampires’ feeding time. The natives, as they said if “they” talked about the undead, were growing restless. Some of the midtermers were panting and all were on high alert. The newborn was not going to sneak past Derek and drag this out any longer. They’d pounce and feed on the unmannerly bloodsucker first.

“Where the fuck is he?” hissed a newbie. “I’m starving!”

“Language!” an Old Guard named Tessa tutted.

“And you suck, old hag!”

“We all suck, young man. That’s how we feed, or did you forget?”

“Shut up!” Derek snapped. He shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. We all tensed. If he started pacing, that meant the newborn would suffer. All undead eyes and one living pair of eyes fixed on the hill.

Now, the initiation process for each newborn vampire in the CPF is about the same. Or it has been the six times I’ve been summoned to “maintain the peace”. The newborn, in this case a man, sleeps for two to four days after being made by one or more vampires. Call it a gestation period; vampires are no more “made” immediately than humans are born spontaneously. Nature simply does not work that way. And it’s not an exact thing because, like the living, vampires “mature” and get hungry at different rates and hunger is what brings them up out of the ground. He claws or shoves or does whatever has to be done to disinter himself and starts the long trek. Up the broad backside of the hill flicking off the dirt and grass, over the crest and, flinching at the electric light, down the steep face of Section A to face Derek.

It’s not something any newborns look forward to doing.

If I think about it, it might have been easier to for a newborn to bolt in the early days. In the early spring of 1840, the a group of well-heeled men proclaimed themselves Board members and bought a hill and two acres from the back forty acres of Edmund Polehouse’s farm. They liked the hill because it swept up majestically with an oak tree at the top and promised to be The Spot for the best of society to rest eternally under ornate headstones facing the main thoroughfare of Mansfield Road. No walls or fences, no hedges and no neighbors.

Time, grave-robbing and kids gathering to smoke dope, of course, has changed all that. Nowadays to the south there is a line of generic shrubbery between the cemetery and the owner of the Ace Hardware store’s yard. My family’s house and the garage housing my grandfather’s late 1990s tank of a Chrysler cut off the north end. The Polehouse family sold more and more of their land until the whole forty-two acres became the CPF, with a busy state highway now stopping any westbound traffic.

And in front of Mansfield Road to the east we have the brick wall. I don’t know if it originally had white mortar or any mortar when it was built in 1888, but the current Board has taken great pride in modernizing it to resemble a two-hundred foot loaf of red brick bread, held together with pinkish tubing.

That was the location I was assigned to crouch and observe.

A hiss of excitement heralded the new arrival.

The newborn this night was in my grave site record books as Ian McNulty, aged fifty-two when he “died.” Coming down the hill, he looked older: thinning brown hair, at least a two-piece set of luggage under his watery blue eyes and a droopy, basset-hound expression. The story from the police who found him was that he had only moments earlier left a spray-tanning salon before he was “attacked” and bled out.

What the police report does not say is that two of Derek’s mid-termers, Helen and Nestor, were hunting at the strip mall and thought it would be fun to make a newborn vampire. They chose this guy. They also told anyone who would listen that the spray tanning solution gave them a hell of a buzz. Good for them, not great for their progeny.

Ian’s relations buried him in the same suit, down to the blood-stained dress shirt he’d worn to work that day. His skin had been orange from the tanning solution when Helen and Nestor “made” him, so the paling of the skin that comes with joining the undead had turned his skin a milky, pale orange. Think Dreamsicle.

“Ian McNulty!” Derek pronounced in a voice as loud as if he’d swallowed a bullhorn.

Ian flinched. His legs appeared to go soft. “What the f - ? Yes, that’s me.”

“Come to me and receive my instructions.” Derek spoke as if he addressed a court of law, which he had done before his death a hundred and twenty-two years ago. A few of the mid-termers snickered.

“Hell, no! I mean, I’d really rather – shit! – not. Fuck it!” His head snapped to one side. He reached out as if to grasp something, then jerked his hands back.

Derek strode over to him and shoved the newborn to his knees. “Shut your mouth and obey me!” Ian held up his orange ice cream hands in surrender. Derek yanked the newborn’s head the same side that bore Helen and Nestor’s marks. He bared Ian’s neck and bit hard. Ian whimpered. How much Derek drank depended entirely on how angry he was. And he was furious, so, as I said, the newborn suffered. He writhed and sobbed and cursed, but did nothing to stop his master.

Derek shoved Ian back onto the grass when he had finished. He looked startled and almost smiled at first. Apparently, the tanning solution did offer the predator a nice buzz. But Derek shook his head and resumed his scowl. He leaned down until he was pointy nose to Ian’s softer, rounder nose.

“This is my abode,” he hissed, spraying Ian’s face with his own blood. “You obey me. You hunt where I say and when I say. You kill when I say and you let live when I say. If you do not, I will end you.”

Helen and Nestor shifted their feet. They’d heard the same threat two days ago when Ian had been buried and the truth was known. “Ending” is very messy, very painful. I had to replace the gravel along two paths towards Sections G and F the last time Derek tore the head off one of his “family.”

Derek leaned down until he was nose to nose with Ian. “Do you understand, Ian McNulty?”

Ian’s head twitched to one side. “Y-yes – shithead!”

“What did you say?” Derek demanded.

“I said yes. Faggot!” Ian’s tongue snaked out.

Nestor and Helen looked around with wide eyes. This was not looking good for them and their choices were reduced to two: run back to their resting places or bulldoze through the newbies and over the wall. Nestor stepped on my foot, then jumped two feet back into her when I yelped. They both fell back against Ambr’, who glared at me as if it were my fault her worship of Derek had been interrupted.

Derek did not seem to hear us. He stared at Ian. “What is wrong with you?”

If the pole lights did not deceive my eyes, Ian was crying. “Tourette’s Syndrome. Shit! Had since I was a kid. I can’t always stop it. Hell no, I can’t!”

Some of the newbies tittered. Derek turned to glare them into silence. Several of the Old Guard yawned out loud. Some checked their watches, waiting for dismissal.

“Go hunt in Jamesville,” Derek said. He brushed off his sleeves and hands as if touching Ian had dirtied him. “And kill whomever you take.” Ian was up and scuttling towards the arch without a second command. “Helen and Nestor!”

Everyone froze. Ambr’ licked her lips. The newbies actually quivered with hope of an easy feed.

Derek turned to face them. “Helen and Nestor, you made this newborn. You are responsible for him.”

Many a pair of vampire shoulders sank in disappointment when he waved the rest of them on their way to hunt and feed.

The mid-termers and newbies made it a point, once they were on their way to Derek and the south arch, to shove me this way and that. But they always shoved past me, or tried to knock me down when I stood in or near their path. I used to think they were showing me a rough kind of affection, acknowledging me as part of the “family.” Sometime later, I realized they were being jerks. And “maintaining the peace” did not allow me to shove back.

“Grace Farmer.” Derek stood in front of me. He’d crossed the hundred feet between us in less than a second. I jumped a little in surprise, but I could look up into his black eyes without fear. I knew too much about him.

Specifically: Derek Zanger, scion of a wealthy family in Old Virginia, born circa 1850, where he grew up rich and spoiled. He attended a New York university where, on paper, he studied law, but, in truth, he majored in gambling and alcohol. Somewhere in between poker hands and bottle after bottle of bourbon, he married and had three children.

There’s nothing in the records that indicate how or why he came to the melodramatic and clichéd crossroads of repenting his evil ways. All I found relevant in the local archives of the time was a poster board advertisement of a religious revival out by one of the Finger Lakes hosted by the Reverend Julius Belcher. I also found a daguerreotype of Belcher online: large best describes him from a massive head, bushy hair on top and beard below large eyes, a long narrow nose and very thick lips. Along with the image I found only a single article on his “ministry.” Seems to have consisted largely of travel, impromptu sermons and mass baptisms in local waters. And all of the above at night because, you guessed it, Belcher was also a vampire. Go figure.

As for Derek, it has taken me six years and the kind of cajoling and flattering that makes me puke thinking back on it to get him to tell me the story of his “making.” He related it in approximately these words:

Anxious to reunite with his rigidly pious wife and his three children, Derek went out to pray, repent and be baptized in the bitter cold waters of the lake. He was not the only sinner thirsting for redemption that weekend in September 1893, mind you. The newspaper reports counted over a hundred people coming to the tents, donning white baptismal robes and entering the lake waters to be baptized by the muscular and very hairy preacher. But Derek was the only “found sheep” who “died” that night.

Reverend Belcher held him back from the mass baptisms, saving the “Best” for last. Considering the time of year and how cold that lake can get, the burly and very hairy minister had to have super-human endurance to last the two hours of standing waist-deep in freezing water and plunging nearly a hundred white-robed people into those waters before he beckoned Derek to come to him.

The hirsute Belcher took Derek in his thick arms. “The last indeed be first,” the preacher announced to all on the shore. He lowered Derek under the cold waters and repeated, “The last shall indeed be first. My first.” He raised the shivering sinner and clutched Derek to his chest. Then Belcher bit into Derek’s neck.

Derek would never admit to making a sound or thinking a thought as Belcher sucked him dry. But he would admit to feeding with high delight on the blood of the first wet old woman Reverend Belcher could catch. Derek described the woman’s agonies as if he were describing the swatting of a pesky mosquito.

Beyond this point in the story, he has been very tight-lipped (not a pleasant picture, given his bulging canine fangs). The most that he will say of what followed his transformation would be to curse his stingy wife for burying him in such a cheaply-made pine box in Section B of the “fashionable” cemetery of the day in Sayresville.

Thus vampirism came to the CPF.

Since he had no elder to initiate him, Derek invented all the rituals along with the rules to sustain what he liked and the procedures for eliminating what he didn’t. So far, the procedures hadn’t included eliminating me. I grew up believing he viewed my family and me as something useful, if distasteful.

“Grace Farmer. Or should I say, Baumann?” I’ve heard that in literature vampires have attractive, almost erotic smiles. These authors never met this vampire. For all his luxurious black hair and high, olive-skinned cheek bones, Derek still had Ian’s blood ringing his lips and that smile looked like bad clown makeup. I felt queasy.

“It’s been Farmer since the sinking of the Lusitania and you know it,” I said, crossing my arms.

“How do you like our new arrival?”

I watched Helen and Nestor try to steer Ian through the gate. His legs were still weak and Nestor had to keep yelling at him, “Keep your fucking tongue inside your fucking mouth!”

“He’ll never hunt on his own,” I said.

Derek frowned. “Why do you say that?”

“First, he’s on the timid side. Second, he’s got what are called complex tics including his choice of language. He’ll send rats scurrying with those shout-outs, not to mention any humans that are still conscious.”

Derek shrugged. “It’s not my problem.”

“Will be if they’re seen and/or caught.”

“That,” he hissed, bringing his face in close enough for me to smell Ian’s drying blood, “will never happen. I won’t have it. I will summon you to watch an ending first.”

“Thanks, but I’ve seen enough of animals eating their own on C-SPAN. Are we done here or are there more festivities tonight? I’ve really got to get to bed. Busy day tomorrow.”

“Is it?” He bared his teeth in another ugly smile. “Another one of your disgusting Jewish holidays?”

“No,” I said. My neck hurt looking up at him and he was giving me a pain somewhere else as well. “Eulalie Plutarch’s funeral is tomorrow afternoon. They’re sending Varney and Trumbull to mow the grass tomorrow morning. I might, and I mean might, have time to clean up after the mowers in Section B before the funeral. But you know those two will knock over the headstone and turn Old Sharpe loose after sundown. I’ll probably be up half the night trying to get him back in his grave.”

Derek groaned. “You need to stake that old spook.”

Ever the politically incorrect 19th century man. “You. Can’t. Stake. A ghost,” I said. “It can’t be done.”

“Then pour cement under the headstone so they can’t knock it out of place.”

I shook my head. “The Board won’t pay for that and what there are of the old fart’s relatives don’t want to acknowledge him, let alone pay for any maintenance to his grave. I’d pay for it myself, but that gets into union regs and all sorts of legal issues.”

Derek made a noise I interpreted as scoffing laughter. The sound reminded me of a German shepherd barking. “I understand legal issues. I was a lawyer.”

I threw up my hands. “About a hundred and twenty years ago! The law’s a bit different these days. You’d better go feed. Your mood does improve after you feed.”

I won’t repeat what he said before he stalked off down Mansfield Road.

I really did not care. It was after ten and I had my nightly routine to follow.

I crossed the “skirt” of Section A to the two-story house my many-times great grandfather Jacob had insisted be part of his compensation for serving as the CPF’s first gravedigger and caretaker. The Board of Directors of the CPF has grudgingly kept up the outside of the place, replacing the original clapboards with lemon yellow siding several years ago, coughing up for three asphalt roofs over the last century and a half, mostly, I believe, because we have always refused to take the yellow sign with big black letters that read “Cemetery Office” down from the front door. Some appearances, the Board felt, had to be kept up to societal standards.

However, the rest we Farmers have had to do ourselves. The original stairs to the second floor were built right in the middle of the parlor, which led all the Farmers I have record of to make one side a sitting room with sofa, and in later generations, a television; and the other side the cemetery office with a monster of a wooden desk and old leather chair that I believe my great-grandfather Jack purchased after World War I. That is, it feels that old and cranky to my seated form.

Sliding doors beside the office lead to a tiny dining room so that the rest of the back of the house consists of a country kitchen. My grandparents updated the appliances more than ten years ago, but at least I have an island and reasonably modern appliances. I’m not complaining. For all the cooking I do, it’s more than enough.

Going back to the night of Ian’s initiation, I locked both the back and front doors once I was inside, mostly to keep the live intruders out (Derek had once again proved I couldn’t do much about the dead and undead kind). I wound my grandfather’s old cuckoo clock, which twitters merrily on the hour, over the fire place next to my desk.

I checked that Grandma Rose’s porcelain lamp in the front room/office and kitchen sink light in the back were turned on for the night. Then I took myself upstairs to the only bedroom I’ve ever had.

It’s not huge, maybe twelve by twelve feet with one window overlooking the driveway, garage and the CPF beyond. Five years ago, I painted the walls a snow white over the cotton candy pink my grandparents chose for me when I was born. Some of the pink shows through, but it keeps the white from appearing too cold. My full-size bed is next to the door to the bathroom and I have two almost green stuffed chairs that belonged to my great grandmother Rivvy with an end table and lamp between them in one corner.

The best feature of my room, I must say is the shelf that is four inches deep and sits atop the wainscot along three of the walls. I have filled every inch of those shelves with my romance novel collection.

How many do I have? I have no idea, but I don’t read anything else. When one falls apart, and sadly they do, I bury it in the back yard, then, after a week, I replace it or find another at the used book store down on Egret Road.

That night I changed into a T-shirt that I believed I would never wear outside but liked too much to throw away and began my hunt for a good read.

I half-muttered, half-chanted the Shema as if Grandma Rose still sat next to me listening as we faced the blue-black sky studded with start out the north window towards the CPF. Then I fell asleep on top of my covers after reading half way through an old favorite, His Arms Around Me.

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