A Vampire Scorned
A Vampire Scorned
Charlie released me to press the power button on the TV remote so that it turned off. This was a good thing. His constrictor-like grip of my torso had me nearly gasping for breath as Beth lectured on and on. I wriggled my shoulders and shook my arms to restart the blood flow.
Charlie whistled. “That is one loony granny.”
“That’s Ambr’. She put those twisted words in Beth’s head to come out her mouth when and where Ambr’ wanted. I told you what she did to Beth that same night, or rather morning we…”
He leaned forward. “I remember. Here’s the thing, though. Can you prove it?”
“By whose standard of reasonable doubt?”
“If you’re talking about police –“
“Not a chance! First, we’d have to get past convincing them that we have vampires in the CPF.” I got up and moved to my desk. There had to be papers to organize or file or something. But I found nothing in such need. Not even a wayward paperclip, dammit.
“Grace, I think –“
I held up a hand. “Please do not tell me to let it go and come to bed. I’m not tired.” I looked out the front screen door. The night was humid, but not overly hot. Still, no children played outside. No teenagers gathered and roamed Mansfield Road. Not even Mrs. Schnosburg stood in her front doorway to scan the neighborhood for wrongdoers. Or maybe a little gossip. Blue-white light glowed from most front room windows, as if the whole block had gone in to watch some major event on television. As if. I turned to Charlie.
“Nobody’s out tonight. Not even Mrs. S. across the street.”
“It looks like they’re all in watching TV. You don’t think -?”
Charlie took a moment to follow my thoughts. He got up from the sofa and came to put hands on my shoulders. “Grace, it’s a side show. Two steps away from a freak show. That is, as long as Ambr’ stays off to the side with her mouth shut.”
“And the chances of that are minimal.”
I came up to the balls of my feet to brush his lips with mine. “I need to walk.”
“Let me get my shoes. That gravel will be the death of my feet.”
Some people and their choice of words.
I led, which might explain why no man – not my grandfather, not my father when he was around, and not Charlie – ever asked me to dance. We crossed the back yard and started on the edge of the Potter’s Field towards the back of the hill. I had hopes that a different path might yield some different thoughts.
It did, but I would not call the thoughts particularly good.
We had a canopy of deep blue and more stars than I’d seen in a long time. Charlie kept his left arm around my waist and used his right arm and hand to point out Orion, his belt and his sword. I had my right arm around his waist. I pointed out the oldest family plots and the soldier’s burial sites, including the Civil War teenager who had shot himself in the foot and developed gangrene. We were alone in that quiet. At first.
We heard yelling as close as the gravel path between Sections D and E. I knew Derek’s voice and the strident, jaw-clenching tones of Ambr’ Cadwallader from the Cadwallader Mausoleum.
“You were seen, Ambr’. That is forbidden.”
“Oh now you care what I do, Derek? How convenient! You ignore me all summer and now you think you can swoop in and judge.”
“Don’t exaggerate. I’ve ignored you before.”
Ambr’ made a sound like a sob. “Do you think I haven’t noticed that? You made love to me once, Derek.”
“Yes, I did. In 1932.”
“You made love to me. Then you made me into this. And then you ignored me unless you wanted somebody drained or one of your other children ended. Then you saw me and you used me. You always use me, Derek!” Sounds of weeping.
Note: I have no idea if vampire tears are the usual salt water or blood. The CPF vampires are uniformly private about weeping. It may be one of Derek’s Home Rules, but he may have had complaints about the gore.
“Oh, have done with the dramatics! You bore me when you do that. You know you do.”
Ambr’ snuffled so loudly I almost giggled. “Yes, I know. But do you know what it’s like to need your approval night after night after night for eight decades? Do you know how sick I feel when you won’t give me the slightest affirmation? Do you know how it makes me want to run out into the sunlight and burn up when you criticize my work? My work, Derek!”
Derek was silent for a time. I hoped he would find some gallantry and soothe her.
“How could I know? As you say, these are your feelings.”
So much for gallantry among the undead. Even Charlie sighed.
The next snuffle could have sucked the vines off the walls. It echoed like an elephant inhaling water off the crypt walls. “So you admit it. You don’t care how I feel. Me, your child, your lover.”
“It was one night, Ambr’.”
“And that’s all. But it isn’t, is it? I mean, you don’t give a damn what I do until I start to get someone else’s attention. Someone else’s admiration. Then you care. It hurts your pride, doesn’t it, Derek? I have followers now, and you can’t stand it.”
“Save the petulance for your flock of sheep, Ambr’. You have exposed us all with your procession and all these other antics. You were seen.”
OK, quick note: the thing about vampires not having a reflection in the mirror and, by extension, not showing up on camera? Largely superstition. They are solid. Changeable solids, according to Derek, but solid. I count the times Derek has preened and stroked his black locks in my bedroom mirror as evidence. The illusion of invisibility is, as they say, all in the fragile minds of the living.
To return to the domestic dispute:
“Deal with it. Take your hand off my arm. I have a meeting to go to.”
“I warn you, Ambr’ – “
“Warn away! Warn my parents and that little box over there? That’s a rabbit somebody buried here without my permission. Warn it, why don’t you? Maybe it will care. I know my path. I know what I believe – “
The sound of a slap and cry shook the gates.
It was at this point, as in nearly every silly movie when the bad guys are being overheard that someone steps on a twig and snaps it. I can’t say for sure if it was me or Charlie. Perhaps both. Not that it mattered, because he grabbed my hand and we ran to hide behind the oak on top of the hill. Common sense would have sent us back into the house and under the bed. But I can only say we were stupidly human; we both wanted to know how the argument would end.
There came only silence and no movement. Not even a night owl hooting or cricket chirping. No ghosts roaming, no teenagers staggering and swearing. We waited five, ten minutes before relaxing.
Charlie sighed and kissed the top of my head. We paused under the oak tree at the top of the hill.
“Is it too sentimental to say this is where I first saw you?” I asked.
“Then I won’t say it.”
“But you just – okay, ha-ha.” He dug his left hand fingers into my ribs. I waited, hoping for more. “You are…unique, Grace Farmer.” Not exactly a Shakespearean sonnet, but it was all I could get. He frowned. “Is there a breeze or did the temperature just drop?”
Hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. “Oh shit,” I said. “Derek, this is not the time – “
“How dare you, you little whore!” Ambr’ managed to get fingernails on a chalkboard and a bullhorn into one screech. She swept up the hill. The pole light made her wince for the briefest of moments. Then she was in our faces, her breath stinking of old blood and un-brushed fangs. Her left cheekbone made a sucking sound as a recent purple-red bruise healed itself as we watched. “Who told you that you should run to Derek and fill his head with lies?”
“Not lies,” I said. I might have dug my fingers into his side a little too hard. He flinched. “I only told him what I saw and what I thought.”
It has occurred to me since that night, that perhaps someone should have recorded Ambr’ sobbing then laughing on a wax disk and saved it for future cartoon villainesses and horror movies as a stock sound effect.
“You think?” she cackled. “That implies you have a brain. And where might that organ be located? Between your legs, I’d say!”
I blinked, searching for a Grandma Rose breath. “Most people I know use that implication with men,” I said. I looked up at Charlie. “No offense, sweetheart.”
He grinned. “None taken, my love.”
Yeah, our timing for endearments stank.
Ambr’ pretended to gag. “You make me sick.” She laid cold, moist fingers on my throat. I didn’t have to pretend to gag. “But you will not tell any more lies.”
Charlie knocked her arm away from me. Then he pulled me back and stepped between Ambr’ and me. “You’ll have to go through me first.”
Remember what I said about Ambr’s laugh? Put that on replay. She clapped slowly, her scowl turned to a mocking smirk. “Oh bravo, hero of the cemetery!” she sneered. “Or should I say, grave digger and robber who wants to fornicate his way into becoming a kept man?”
I could not see Charlie’s face, but his jaw worked furiously. I heard his teeth grinding. I imagined the snapping turtle face. My arms tried to go around his waist from the back, but he pushed them away. I stepped out and to the side.
“Go find your drug dealer du jour, Ambr’,” I said. “You’re not getting anything here.”
She studied me for a moment. “You don’t know, do you, poor little Gracie?”
“I know enough.” I tried to get between them, but Charlie shoved me hard. I staggered back two steps.
“Your lover steals from the dead!” Ambr’ said. Her triumphant smile was particularly ugly. “Haven’t you heard about all the robberies? He and that slimy little friend of his dig graves and then re-dig them for the rings and –“ She let out a yelp when Charlie moved forward fast enough to slap her again where the bruise had just healed.
“Shut your mouth!” he hissed.
Ambr’ clapped a hand to her cheek. Her eyes blazed first at him, then back to me. “Oh, you will pay for this, Grace Farmer! You and your lover will pay!”
And she was gone, leaving a definite chill in the air behind her.
Charlie turned to me, but I held him off with a raised hand. “Not yet. I have to think this through.” I walked away from him.
He followed me into the house, sitting on one of the island stools in the kitchen while I made instant coffee for myself. “Full disclosure, huh? Muddy boots, sunrise burials,” I said more to myself. “And Rudy?”
“A fence we use.”
“Were you planning to tell me? Ever?”
I don’t know even now what hurt more: the answer or the quick way he gave it. I could have asked him if he likes lemon in his tea. I could not look at him. “I have to figure out what to do.”
“Do nothing. The job’s drying up anyway. People leaving their valuables to their kids and all. Eulalie Plutarch was the last big haul –“
“I thought you left her alone!” I was shouting now.
“I lied!” He jumped off the stool, sending it clattering to the floor. “I needed the money, Grace! Do you know how little book-packing pays? And grave-digging? C’mon! You can’t walk down the streets in Sayresville or Liverpool or Syracuse without knocking into four or five of unemployed gravediggers every two blocks! And when you can get it, they pay piece work!” He took a noisy breath before hollering on. “I slept in the storeroom, Grace! Before that, I slept in the car. That’s where I went when I wasn’t with you. I couldn’t afford even a room. Those fat-ass landlords are charging nearly a thousand a month for one fucking room! I was lucky Jerry knew how to steal gas from the pumps. So, yeah, we stole and fenced what we stole. Can’t you understand I needed-“ he stopped because my expression had not changed. “No, you can’t. You’ve had your house and your job and everything you’ve ever wanted all your life, haven’t you?” He threw his arms wide. “Even your kept man!”
“Oh, yeah I have everything,” I sniped. “Except parents, love, children, somebody to be honest with me.”
He waved the whole idea off. “Don’t give me that! How much haven’t you told me about Ambr’ and what you do in the cemetery at night?”
“I’ve done nothing that would put either one of us in jail! And all I have kept from you is to protect you from what you don’t understand.”
He stared. “That’s what you’re worried about? Going to jail? Well, don’t. They wouldn’t have anything on you.”
“Only accessory after the fact if I don’t report what I know. I’m sure Derek would tell you the same thing.”
Charlie threw up his hands. “Derek. Always fucking Derek. I swear to God, you and Ambr’ are two of a kind! You’re both just bitches in heat over him.”
I threw the cooled coffee in his face. I wanted to scream at him to get out. To take his clothes and his muddy boots and his junker of a car and leave. But I could not push the words out of my mouth.
And yet Charlie understood me. “Don’t bother,” he said. “I’m going. Keep the clothes.”
I wanted to burn the bedding and most of my nighttime tee shirts the next day, but the City Commissioners had put in a ban on open burning within city limits about five years ago. They had leaves and grass clippings mostly in mind when they passed the regulation, but the writing included “rubbish and disposables” in the list of unburnable substances. I stripped the bed and slept naked through four humid nights until I found the imprints of the mattress buttons in red on my legs and arms.
I drove to eat my meals outside the house.
I answered the telephone and entered the days’ activities without thinking much.
I let the mowers mow without checking for loose headstones or spattered grass.
I stopped watching/hearing the morning news.
I think Missy tried to comfort me with her story of a husband who let her writhe on her bed in pain instead of taking her to the hospital for her appendix. “At least, I died at home,” she said with something like a smile.
The new Section I and second Potter’s Field required new access roads through the main cemetery. The good people of Sayresville who lived beside the main cemetery were not about to cede easement rights for it, so the Board and City Commissioners had to go to court over eminent domain or some such legal thumb screw.
And Treasurer Meecham chose me to confide in about the whole war of words and public opinion. His nightly phone calls were lengthy and repetitious, but I maintained the peace and let him blather. That is, until Mrs. Meecham grabbed the phone from him.
“Who is this?” she demanded.
“Amazing Grace Farmer,” I answered. Don’t ask me why.
“Oh, it’s you. My husband is drunk.”
“He drinks every night now. I can’t understand why.”
I could. “Perhaps if you take him up to bed.”
She made a sound one revulsion short of vomiting. “I will not! Isn’t that for his mistress to do?”
“I have no idea.” I hung up on her.
Three nights after Charlie stormed out of my house and presumably life, Missy and Mischa were nowhere to be seen from the house’s open windows. Lallie and Rin had the sense to stay in the cool ground on such a sweatbox of a night. Not one window or door along the street stood open, offering the sounds of other human beings, crude and violent as they might be. From far along Mansfield as I could hear, air conditioning units hummed, sputtered and hummed again.
I turned on the TV. Even a pointless situation comedy included the sounds of human voices. I didn’t need to understand the dumbed-down dialogue. I wanted to hear the sound, not the words.
Susan flashed on the screen. “Breaking news tonight that our viewers will want to hear! Murder in Myrtle Hill! A gang of grave robbers turned on their own! One man is dead and two are in custody Details at eleven!”