Back to the Boneyard (caution: Ian's back!)
Back to the Boneyard
T.M.I., Part II
Behind me slouched the darkened and defaced shell of a Blockbuster Video store, closed the last two years by cable movie channels and grocery store competitors.
I knew the place. I had driven by this area once or twice, though at the moment I could not remember why. But I knew I was some seven miles from home. A distant church or other carillon chimed ten times. I had little hope of finding a public pay phone. I wasn’t even sure I had anything but lint in my pockets and panic in my brain.
“Jesus H. Christ! What are you doing here?” His voice sent me nearly out of my skin.
“Hi, Ian. Derek dropped me off.”
The tongue snaked. He shoved his hands in his suit coat pocket. In the parking lot light, he looked like a slightly stooped, orangy and balding version of Derek. “Asshole. Sometimes I wish I could get out of that ‘family.’ Fuckers!”
“Why can’t you?”
“I don’t know – shit! Means I’d have to move my grave and that’s a hassle. And I suppose – goddammit – there a rules and all that shit.” He smiled at me, without teeth. “Are you cold? Witches’ tits!”
“I’m fine,” I said. “And I’m impressed. You’re really hunting on your own?”
“Yeah. One of the few things that pompous ass Derek taught me was about turning a disadvantage into an advantage.”
Ian bit his tongue to control it. “I’ll show you. But do what I tell you. There are some nasty customers around here. Fuckers!”
Newbie vampires do not, as a rule, know their own strength. Ian thought he was taking me gently but firmly by the elbow. It felt as if he tried to rip my arm out of the shoulder socket as he pulled me into the shadows of the deserted store. His tongue flicked as he pressed or rather shoved me against a wall. “Stay here!” he ordered, with an index finger going to his parted lips. “Not one fucking sound!”
He stepped back into the parking lot’s cold, pinkish-white light. He hunched his shoulders forward and pretended to stumble around. With his tics, he looked like a drunk or dope fiend who had had more than his fill and could not find his way home. He muttered. He paced. He flailed his arm. He howled profanities to the sky.
And then they appeared, as if Ian’s performance had in fact summoned them. To this day, I do not know if he heard them down the badly-lit street or smelled them or what (the cheap cologne burned my nostrils across the parking lot). Or perhaps Ian understood the more aggressive hunting tactics among the denizens of this low income area.
He pretended not to see them behind him. They conferred outside the light’s reach and pointed shadowy fingers at him. Two laughed out loud. The one with what turned out to be an orange T-shirted back to Ian turned around to approach. He appeared to be about Ian’s height. He’d shaved his head to a glistening dome under the light, but allowed a long, Asian-style mustache to grow under a long, pointed nose that appeared a little off-center, as if it had been broken once or twice and badly set. His eyes glowed with black irises in the nighttime sky. He grinned with narrow lips and a full set of white teeth as he neared Ian, who still “performed.”
“Hey, my man, what’s wrong? You lost?”
“Shit! You scared me!” Ian yelped. His mouth twitched for a moment. He shoved his hands into his trouser pockets.
The local laid a tattooed hand on Ian’s shoulder. “Not safe for a…” he hesitated, looking over Ian’s unique coloring. “For a well-dressed man like you down here, or don’t you know that?”
Ian pressed his lips together to hold in a burst of language that would get anyone else stabbed or killed or beaten to death, but it burst from his lips with a loud, “Baaah!”
The local backed up a step. “You drunk, man?”
Ian smiled. “Never touch the stuff. Faggot!”
The local scowled. “Not that ain’t polite, you little suited-up cocksucker.” A flick of his wrist and he had a knife pointed at Ian’s side. “Best you give me your wallet. Now.”
Ian leapt at him. His pale orange hand flashed out to grab the knife hand. I heard the local’s wrist bones snap and crunch over his screams. In less time than it took for any of them or me to recognize, Ian grabbed the man’s ear and yanked it down and off before he buried his fangs into the local’s neck.
Blood sprayed up Ian’s face. Then it poured down the orange tee shirt while the man screamed and cried and finally fell to his knees. Ian drank deep and noisy. His companions’ faced twisted, but they remained fleshly statutes in dim light, their faces frozen in horror.
Ian lifted his head and let the local collapse at his feet. Then the group opened their mouths as one and screamed. They pushed and fought and fell over each other, trying to get away into the comfort of the pitch-black streets. Ian gave them and their panicky retreat the benefit of his raised middle finger. Then he returned to me.
He strutted toward me at the corner of the empty store and flung his arms wide to show off his state. He wore the man’s blood from the tip of his nose to the fourth button of his dress white shirt. And his mouth, his fangs still dripped with gore. And he flipped the torn-off ear between his fingers like a prized coin, over and over, lobe over shell over lobe. My knees went soft. I had to hold onto the stucco plaster wall to stay upright.
“Hungry?”he joked. He wiped up a swath of blood from his face and neck. “Want some?”
I turned away and vomited. Then I wanted to leave my skin behind and run like the wind when he put his bloody hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry – jackass! Are you all right?”
“No. I need to go home.”
Ian did not grab my sweater and shirt. He lifted me into his arms before flying me over the same aerial path Derek had used to bring me to the parking lot, back to the CPF. He set me down so gently, my eyes stung with tears. Ian hung his head.
“Sorry. I wanted to show you – “
“I know,” I stopped him. “It’s good for you that you can go it alone.”
He licked at the blood still dripping near his mouth. He rolled it over and over in his mouth, like a sommelier testing a new wine. “Smoker,” he told me. “Smoker and –“ he made a sour face – “eats, or should I say ‘ate’? too much Taco Bell. Some methamphetamines, but not enough to kill him quite yet.” Ian shrugged. “I could say he’d have died in jail or on the street and nobody would care much. Now he’ll be famous among his own. Maybe even become an urban legend.”
I studied him. These were the first several sentences I had heard him speak with clarity and articulation, and, more importantly, without a single tic. “Ian, may I ask you something?”
“Sure – bitch!”
So I had made him nervous again. “Are you happy, Ian?”
He frowned. “Shit! You mean am I living a more fulfilled life now as a vampire than I was before?”
“Yes, I think that’s what I mean.”
He shrugged. “I don’t think that is really an option for me anymore, do you?”
When I did not reply, he jerked his head to the side, swore at the top of his lungs and turned into a blur sweeping up and over the Section A hill.
“Bit chilly for you to be out without a sweater, isn’t it?”
Even a familiar voice can make you jump and be grateful your skin isn’t fastened on with Velcro.
Missy sidled up to me. Mischa swept up on the other side.
It certainly is chilly now, I told myself, but fought the shiver of having the two of them surrounding me. “Not yet. Going to be hotter before it gets cooler.” I veered to the left to find some warm summer air. I needed to walk and headed for the Potter’s Field, not Missy and Mischa’s favorite place. “Nameless riff-raff” and all that snobbery.
They hung back, a little too willingly to mind, thought, until we were at the north end of the Field. Then Mischa came up so quickly beside me that her elbow passed through my side. I shivered and turned away. A few steps later, Missy swooped through my other side, forcing me to turn the other way. Then Mischa dove into the ground and rose up in front of me. A familiar brass plaque lay beneath her opaque feet: “Indigent, died 1841. John 11:25.”
“What’s this?” I asked. “Why are you herding me to David’s grave?”
They looked at each other. I expected a Solidarity Move. Instead, they let their spectral chins rest on their spectral chests in unison. “She’s found us out, Missy,” Mischa said. “We’d better confess.”
Missy, head still hanging with a shamed expression I could not quite believe, drifted over to the grave and pointed down. “The mowers left that.” I groped around what looked like black and gray grass to me. My fingers caught something flat and smooth: a square of fabric the size of my hand. I turned the flashlight on towards it.
Woven, whitish and fraying. I did not recognize it.
“The skinny, mean one dropped it the last time they were here. You know, to dig up more bodies?” Missy offered. Her gaze had left her toes and gone off towards the main cemetery.
“Varney dropped this?”
Mischa’s gaze followed Missy’s. “Yes, and obviously we can’t pick it up, so we thought you might want to leave it for him.”
“What is it?”
“No idea,” Mischa said. It sounded like the first honest thing she’d said all night. “Maybe what’s left of a handkerchief?”
“I’ll bet he’s really missing it,” Missy said. “He might have to blow his nose on his hands – or worse! On us!”
I rubbed the fabric between my thumb and forefinger. It felt dry and old, older than Varney. Older than any anything of my grandparents’ clothing. “If he’s in the habit of blowing his nose into century-old cloth, maybe.”
Their heads turned towards each other. “Perhaps it was his grandmother’s and he’s sentimental.”
I swallowed a laugh. “I doubt it. More likely one of his union cleaning cloths. It feels like the original cleaning cloth. Circa 1840. But, supposing it is his, how would I leave it for him?”
“I believe he leaves a jacket in the shed with all those horrible machines,” Missy said. “You could put it in his pocket and no one be the wiser.”
“Why wouldn’t I just hand it to him the next time they come to mow?”
Mischa did not miss a beat. “You wouldn’t want to embarrass him in front of that other revolting lout would you? The one who makes kissy noises at the little girls going to school? Men can be so stupid around each other, you know.”
I turned towards them. I did not move until they turned to look at me. “You realize I don’t believe a word of what you’ve said.”
“What else could it be?” Mischa shrugged.
“I’ll probably think of at least twelve other things by morning, but I don’t think you’ll let me go back to my bed without ‘depositing’ this scrap.”
They did in fact follow me until I tucked the old shmatteh in the side pocket of Varney’s greasy red windbreaker inside the carriage house.
“Well!” Missy gave an exaggerated and completely airless yawn. “I’m ready for bed – oh Heavens, not them again!”
I followed her gaze towards Section G and the skirt of Section A. Under the street light at the south entrance, four feminine forms had gathered. Two of the newbies and four recently-turned midtermers from Derek’s vampire family. One had short curls, two waist-length hair in various shades of brown and gray, and one had shaved her head entirely. Their clothes varied from their burial garb, modest dresses for all, to the shaved-head’s tiered maxi skirt and peasant blouse. The last was complaining.
“This was ‘in’ when I died! And that was forty years ago! It’s the 21st century and now they’re wearing it all again, thinking they invented this shit!”
I felt icy breath on my shoulder. Missy. “Ambrites,” she whispered.
“The new vampires Ambr’ talked into joining her little crusade.”
“We thought it sounded better than ‘Cadwalladerites,’” Mischa said.
“And she talked them into joining her little campaign, whatever it is?”
Missy shrugged. “Talked, blackmailed, threatened. You never know with Ambr’.”
“It’s all about voting or something. However, we refused to join her,” Mischa told us.
“You never voted in your life,” I pointed out.
“I did!” Missy said. “I never knew much about politics, but on Election Day, I asked my husband which way I should vote and he told me.”
I shook my head. “I think you’d fit right in with the Ambrites.”
On the dull, suffocatingly hot days towards Septembers past, I find I have often wondered in my journal if my relationship with Missy and Mischa borders on sado-masochism. I insult them and, yes, occasionally go out of my way to offend or hurt them. And they always come back to me. When Missy huffed and disappeared into the unlit part of Section A that night, with Mischa close behind, I supposed I’d done it again.
I do not know how I kept myself together enough to perform my nightly routine. I do know that I did not turn on the alarm clock and that I fell asleep on top of the bedclothes and without a book open on my belly.