The winding staircase him to a circular room in the castle dungeon. The air was damp and cool, like a well-built root cellar. But instead of the inviting fragrance of fruits and vegetables, a subtle odor, like the stench of a cat that died in a hidden crawlspace, hung in the air. The rotunda was windowless and completely devoid of furnishings except for an oblong box that sat in the center of the room. This is it! Thought Abraham Van Helsing. He had finally located Castle Dracula’s secret crypt and with only a few hours left until sunset.
As Van Helsing ran his calloused fingers over the lid of the coffin a chill flickered up his spine. With great care, he set his doctor’s bag on the floor. Van Helsing leaned against the coffin lid and pushed. The wooden cover stuttered across the rim and fell to the floor with a crash.
The vampire hunter squinted, straining to see the coffin’s contents. The soft, wavering light of the crypt’s sconces revealed a pale, bust mottled with loose dirt. Van Helsing gently brushed the soil to the edges of the coffin. Like an archaeologist dusting a fossil, his hand gradually uncovered the body of the infamous Count Dracula, deep in slumber.
Van Helsing studied the Count's face. Despite being centuries old his alabaster complexion was unmarred by even the shallowest wrinkle. Not a strand of gray interrupted the dense field of black hair on his head. On Dracula’s lower lip remained a trace of the source of his longevity: a drop of dried blood.
What foul fantasies does the devil dream? Wondered Van Helsing.
He knelt and parted the bag’s leather lips. The hunter withdrew a mallet, a stake, and a communion wafer. He laid the wafer in the nook below Dracula’s crossed arms. Van Helsing then set the tip of the stake over Dracula’s breast. He raised the mallet overhead and paused. With a few steady blows the Count will be destroyed, he thought, and Dracula’s curse should lift, freeing his victims from their undead purgatory.
The mallet cut the air with a whisper, driving the point of the stake between Dracula’s ribs. The Count immediately woke from his black dream, thrashing and shrieking. As planned the communion wafer had sapped Dracula’s immense strength (it was rumored he could pull a man’s head off and drink him like a bottle of wine). To the Count the wafer might as well have been a tombstone pressing on his chest.
Van Helsing bore down on the Count’s collarbone with his elbow. He steadied the stake and brought the hammer down again and again. Each blow elicited a scream from the creature that seemed to cover several octaves at once. When the head of the stake was pinned firmly against Dracula’s breast, the Count’s spasms trembled to a halt. His body went limp, and he surrendered a long exhale, as if the vampire's spirit were finally escaping his ancient body after nearly a millennium of unholy immortality. Slowly, the Count’s flesh grayed. His skin flaked and crumbled, like a newspaper tossed in a fire, until the Count was reduced to a pile of ash.
Van Helsing’s jaw drooped with a sigh. He pulled a flask of whiskey from his coat pocket, uncapped it, and took a long sip. In his heart he knew that Dracula’s victims had been freed.
Count Vidor awoke with a gasp that was immediately muffled by stale dirt caving into his mouth. The Count writhed, struggling to open the lid of his coffin. Vidor’s muscles spasmed as he pushed the lid to the floor with a loud, wooden clang. The Count leaned over the side of the coffin and vomited a mouthful of soil.
“Ivan!” called Vidor between hacks.
Several minutes passed before his manservant burst through the door, scuttling like a crab toward his ailing Lord.
“Master, Master!” said Ivan in his raspy tenor. “Are you alright?”
“Do I look alright, you fool?” The skin around his eyes tightened like clenched fists. “Bring me nourishment now!”
Ivan disappeared into the wine cellar across the hall and returned a minute later cupping a goblet with both hands. He crossed the room as if he were walking a tightrope, careful not to spill a single drop. Count Vidor was out of his coffin swiftly brushing the dirt off his tuxedo. The soil never seemed to cling to him as stubbornly as it did now.
“Here, Master, drink! Regain your strength,” said Ivan as he handed the golden chalice to his Lord.
Vidor leered at Ivan as he snatched the goblet from his hand. He lifted the cup to his thin lips and drank deeply.
Suddenly Vidor coughed, spraying blood onto Ivan’s tunic. “Blah!” he shouted, flinging the cup across the room. It clattered along the limestone floor and disappeared into the shadows. “What is this?” yelled the Count.
Ivan studied the red liquid that slowly streamed around his worn, leather boot. “It is blood, my Master,” he said, and then added quietly, “Your favorite.”
“It is not blood.”
“I swear, my Lord, it is.”
The count licked his lips and glanced sideways. “Well,” he said and then turned back to Ivan with needling eyes, “it tastes like someone left it sitting out in the sun!”
“I did no such thing, my Lord!”
“Oh really? Because I am reminded of last August when you pulled that dead goat from the bog, thinking I wouldn’t notice.”
Ivan flinched. “No, Sire! It is from a cow I slaughtered just this morning! I give you my word.”
The Count narrowed his brow. “Grass-fed?”
He cocked his head. “I think so.”
“Then it must have been past its prime! I need something younger.” Vidor pointed to the door. “Go find me a plump boy—ten year’s old at most!”
“Yes, Master,” said Ivan, bowing repeatedly as he backed out the door.
The Count huffed and shook his head. He crossed his arms and waited. Vidor was anxious to leave the crypt, but he did not want to run into the help after having just dismissed him in anger. That would be awkward. After the sound of Ivan’s footsteps on the staircase faded away the Count flung his cape over his shoulders and left the chamber.
As Vidor climbed the stairs leading to the ground floor of the castle keep he couldn’t help but notice that his feet felt unusually heavy. When he reached the top of the stairs he paused to catch his breath.
Two wolves sat chained to the wall, flanking the entrance that led down to Vidor’s sanctuary. They lowered their heads, but kept their eyes on the Count.
“Ah, my children of the night.” His voice dribbled warmly between his curled lips as if he were talking to his actual children. He went to pet the black-furred mongrel he called Lucky, but the wolf snapped its teeth at Vidor’s hand.
“Jesus!” cried the Count, zipping his fist away from the wolf’s mouth. “What the hell is your problem?” He looked to the other wolf, a grey-brown bitch named Anne, as if for sympathy, but she only growled at him.
The Count grimaced. He could control most of the vicious creatures of the wilderness, and he had shared a particularly strong bond with these two for years. Could they be mal-tempered from malnourishment, the Count wondered? Their ribs were visible beneath their mangy fur coats. He committed to the theory and promised Ivan a flogging for not feeding his babies regularly.
“Be good,” said Vidor caressing the back of his hand, “and I’ll give you the haunches of the boy Ivan returns with.”
What an evening, thought Vidor. He hadn’t been awake for more than a half hour and already the night was off to a terrible start. A crooked smile crept onto his face. He turned from his wolves and headed to the entrance of the great hall. The wolves’ yellow eyes tracked Vidor as he crossed the room. Lucky licked his chops. The Count stopped before the giant wooden doors to straighten his cape and slick back his coal-black hair. He filled his lungs with air and pushed open the heavy double-doors.
“My queens,” he purred, “I am in need of your—” Vidor stopped. The grand bed in the middle of the hall was empty except for its red satin sheets and dozen lace pillows. “My queens?” The Count’s voice floated to the ceiling. The tapping of his shoes on the stone floor as he crossed the hall was the only sound in the vast chamber. The tapestries still covered the windows. They could not have been turned to ash by the sun, he thought. He threw up the bedsheets and checked the cloisters—he even surveyed the ceiling (they had been known to hang from the rafters by their feet on occasion)—but the room was abandoned.
“Sire!” said Ivan from across the room. His forehead was greased with sweat.
The Count’s brow narrowed. “Where is my harem?” He yelled.
Ivan’s head twitched from one corner of the hall to the other with the punctuated rapidity of a chicken. “I—I don’t know, Master.”
“You don’t know? Imbecile! You are supposed to watch over them!”
Ivan cowered, bobbing up and down. “Forgive me, m-my Lord. They must be in hiding.”
The count tramped across the room with fists clenched. “Of all the blunders—one of them was a redhead, Ivan!
“My Lord, listen!” Ivan pleaded.
He shook his finger at Ivan. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a redhead in Bulgaria?”
“Master, please! The villagers approach!”
The Count stared at the northern side of the room, as if his eyes could pierce through the wall. “A mob?”
Ivan shook his head.
His eyebrow arched. “Do they look vengeful?”
“They are carrying pitchforks and torches.”
The Count looked to the ceiling and cackled. “The fools would dare? Ivan! Did you fetch me my fat boy?” His voice bellowed through the rafters.
“My Lord, there was no time.”
The Count rolled his eyes and sighed. “No matter.” He pulled his cape across his breast and marched passed Ivan. “The rancid blood you fed me this evening should give me more than enough strength to deal with those peasants.”
As the Count headed to the door of the keep Ivan rolled the words “this evening” around inside his misshapen head. His simple mind took so long to process the statement that he did not realize his master was heading into certain peril until it was too late.
Vidor grasped the iron rung on the door and Ivan gasped. “Sire, wait! It’s not—”
But it was too late. The Count threw open the door and sunlight flooded over his body.
Vidor shrieked and fell to the floor. He pulled his cape over his head and scrambled away from the light. Ivan ran to his Lord. He grabbed the Count’s arm and pulled him into the safety of the shadows. When the count was out of the shaft of sunlight, Ivan helped his Master to his feet.
The Count looked at his servant with bulging eyes. He hadn’t seen sunlight in over 100 years and he hadn't felt it in more than 150. “It is—it is daytime,” he stammered, still processing the discovery. Vidor’s eyes crinkled. “Why was I awakened before twilight?” He said sternly.
Ivan shook his head and shrugged.
“Were you playing in the bell tower again?” It was more accusation than inquiry.
“No, sire, I wasn’t. I swear on my life.”
The Count stared into the beam of light that tainted the entranceway of his musty keep. His head tilted, as if imbalanced by a thought. He lifted his hand in front of his eyes and examined it, turning it from one side to the other. The sunlight had not seared his flesh. He felt his face. It too was smooth and unblemished. He should have been happy to not have been sun-scorched, but his fortune left a gnawing discomfort in the pit of his stomach.
He inched toward the doorway, taking care not to touch the ray of light blazing into the foyer. The Count raised his hand to his breast. He snapped his fingers in and out of the sunbeam like the tail of a whip. He examined his hand. There was no sunburn. Vidor flicked his hand in and out of the sun repeatedly. Again, it did not harm him. The Count stared into the glowing yellow shaft. Finally, he took a deep breath and stuck his hand into the sunlight, holding it there.
The Count’s jaw fell open. He studied his fingers. There was no searing flesh. No pain—not even a slight discomfort. Nothing. Vidor slowly pulled his hand into the shadows. Again he examined it and found no singed skin or watery blisters.
Half-hidden behind a stone pillar, Ivan watched.
The Count pressed his fist to his his mouth. He pointed to the sunlight and then to the shadows, and then back to the sunlight and back to the shadows. His eyebrow arched. Vidor held his breath and closed his eyes, and then stepped into the sunlight.
Ivan reached out. “Master, no!”
The Count opened one eye, and then the other. He looked himself up and down. There was no smoke rising from his body—no toasting skin. Not only was the sunlight harmless, but the mild warmth almost felt cozy on a crisp late-September day.
The Count stepped back into the keep. “What the hell is going on?” He said beneath his breath. He hadn’t been this confused since he was first turned by his Master. Vidor’s eyes blossomed. The Master! He thought. During his countless years as nosferatu, he might have encountered something!
Vidor closed his eyes. He lifted his hands to the sides of his head and massaged his temples.
Ivan ran to the Count. “Master, what are you doing?” he said tugging on his cape.
“Silence!” said the Count. “I am calling out to my Master, Count Dracula.” He snatched his cape from Ivan’s fingers. “I need complete concentration. Do not distract me!”
Ivan slunk away like a kicked mutt. The abuse he suffered under Count Vidor was constant, but this day was particularly excessive. If it weren’t for the hope that the vampire would one day pass his powers onto him, Ivan would have personally led the villagers to the crypt at noon years ago.
The Count closed his eyes and stared into the void of his mind’s eyes. He had linked with Dracula a handful of times throughout the centuries. His master was strong and it typically only took a moment to make a connection, but now there was nothing but mute darkness.
Vidor opened his eyes. “He’s gone,” he said softly. Then, turning to Ivan, “He’s gone!” Everything was starting to make sense.
Just then there was a loud, hollow thud like a carrack bumping a dock. The Count looked across the courtyard to the castle gate just in time to see the center planks buckle.
His face blanked. “Oh shit,” he said.
There was another thud. As if coaxing himself to jump into an icy river, the count stepped into the sunlight. He looked back at Ivan. “To the tower!” He said.
Ivan and the Count ran across the dusty courtyard to the entranceway of the northern tower that flanked the gate. As the Count ran he tried to will himself into the form of a bat, but no matter how hard he concentrated his shape would not shift.
They raced up the tower to the beat of the battering ram and onto the turret. The Count leaned over the edge of the crenelated parapet and caught his breath. Thirty-two local villagers armed with farming tools and crucifixes were gathered outside the gate. The scent of fresh garlic wafted high above the mob. Normally garlic and crosses would have burned the Count’s skin and blinded his eyes, but now they did nothing. How strange, thought Vidor, to be so frightened of the sun and god—even food—for centuries, and to suddenly be immune to their effects.
How to handle this, mulled Vidor as he wiped the sweat from his brow. Throughout the decades staggered generations of local villagers had besieged his castle seeking to put an end to his depraved crimes, and each time the Count had called upon the local beasts and his harem to help him slaughter his attackers. He had put down the last insurrection—the grandparents of this group, he guessed—within a few hours. The battle had left Vidor with enough blood for a week, as well as the lupine great grandmother of Anne and Lucky. But that was back when he had his powers. This conflict would require a radically different approach.
“Heave!” yelled a villager in a yellowed button-down shirt and frayed straw hat.
Working together eight strong, young men carried a long oak log away from the castle gate. The man in the straw hat was about to give the signal to ram the gate when the Count interrupted.
“Peasants!" He yelled.
The villagers looked up. Their mouths gaped and their eyes bulged with fear.
The Count rubbed his chin as he reconsidered his choice of words. “Friends!” he said.
“The Lord of Flies,” whispered one villager.
“He’s awake,” said another.
“In daylight? How?”
“Are the legends untrue?”
“I am glad that you all happened to stop by today,” said the Count, “for I have an announcement.”
The people stared at their ageless tormentor warily. Few had ever seen him—only knowing of his existence through stories and the aftermath of his ascribed misdeeds. Whenever someone disappeared or turned up dead (most always desiccated), rumors of Count Vidor, the night stalker, would spread through the village like wildfire.
The Count raised his hand as if giving testimony. “I renounce my fraternity with the forces of darkness.”
“What’s he sayin’?” said a man with a red-beard holding a pitchfork.
The count continued. “From this day forward I will live with you in peace as your neighbor.”
The crowd continued to stare in dumbfounded silence.
“It must be some kinda trick!” yelled the peasant in the straw hat. “We must attack now while he is weakened by the sun’s light!”
“Wait!” said the Count. “Perhaps I am not making myself understood.” Vidor held out his arms. “I wish to make amends with you good people.”
“Make amends?” said a man wearing a felt hat. “You mean you’re gonna give back all the cattle you stole from us?”
Vidor pulled on the winged collar of his shirt. “That would be quite expensive, friend!”
The mob began to grumble.
“Friends, try to understand. When I slaughtered your cattle I was afflicted with the terrible disease known as vampirism. The British Medical Journal describes the predominant symptom of vampirism as ‘a bloodlust that causes one to involuntarily commit heinous acts. Note the word involuntarily.”
“You sayin’ you had no choice when you killed our cattle?”
“Correct, my friend. In fact you should be thankful I killed your cattle. For every cow I killed took the place of a precious human life. Right?”
The grumblings of the mob grew louder. The Count’s muscles tensed.
“On second thought, maybe we can arrange some kind of repayment plan. Say two heads of cattle a year over the next ten years?”
The crowd’s volume lowered as they talked amongst themselves. The Count relaxed.
“And what about our daughters!” said a woman in a cape.
“Yeah,” said her husband shaking a tree branch he had fashioned into a club. “You stole our Gretchen from her bed in the middle of the night six years ago!”
The Count raised his index finger. “Yes, but,” he paused and cast a glance at Ivan who simply shrugged. “Yes, but—here’s the good news.” He smiled. “Anyone who I drained of blood will be restored to you just as they were. Isn’t that great!"
“And what about Gretchen's virginity?” said the girl’s father. “Will that be restored too!” he asked.
“Look, the important thing to keep in mind is that when you go home this evening, your loved ones will be there waiting for you. I think that is something we can all be happy about.”
The villagers mumbled to one another.
“We musn’t listen to Count Vidor!” said the man in the straw hat. “His words are foul lies!”
“Please, call me Kevin, friends—Kevin Vidor. You cannot be a Count unless you’re a vampire. That's the rule.”
“And what about me husband, Alvin?” said a woman with gnarled, yellow teeth. “Ya gutted ‘em like a deer on Christmas Eve!” She said and broke into tears.
The Count stared blankly for a moment. “Ok, next question. Yes, you have your hand raised,” Vidor said, pointing at a man who did not so much have his hand raised as he was holding up a lit torch.”
“My uncle came to visit from Gundore,” said the torch-bearer. “Ya ripped his head off and drank the blood gushing from his neck like he were a fountain!”
The count huffed. “Alright, listen here, idiots. If you had read even a basic anatomy text you would know that there is no way I can—”
Ivan cleared his throat loudly. The Count glanced at him. He pursed his lips and shook his head.
Vidor took a breath and feigned a smile. “I apologize, friends. Today has been very stressful. Look, I will be honest. Not everyone will be returning to you. Anyone who was disemboweled, drawn and quartered, had their head put on a pike, burned alive, used in the construction of my throne of human bones, fed to wolves, or etcetera cannot be restored. Unfortunately.”
The crowd's mix of voices took on an angry tone.
Vidor clasped his hands. “My merciful friends, you cannot take this so personally. Vampirism is a force of nature. You would not blame the leper when his nose falls off. Would you? Or the bear who maims your husband as he walks through the forest?"
The din of the mob rose to a climax. The people bared their teeth and shouted at the Count, shaking their crude farming tools.
“I am trying to tell you people that I am on your side now. I no longer have command over the powers of darkness! Why don’t we let bygones be bygones and move on with our lives?”
The crowd stared at him in silence. Finally, the peasant in the straw hat pointed at the Count. “He’s lost his dark powers! Let’s get him!”
The villagers roared. They reared the oak log and prepared to thrust. Vidor continued trying to reason with them, but was drowned out by the ruckus below. Again the mob rammed the door, and Vidor recognized the distinct sound of splintering wood. Once the villagers breached the gate they would soon be pouring through the outer wall.
“Come, Ivan!” he said. “We must escape!”
They raced down the tower staircase. As they crossed the bailey, Vidor heard a heavy thump. Some of the villagers had slipped through the split in the gate and removed the wooden crossbar that sealed the doors. The gate groaned as the mob pushed through.
“They’re headed for the keep!” Someone shouted. “After ‘em!”
As Vidor started down the staircase leading to the cellar, he jerked backward and fell onto the steps. The Count looked over his shoulder to find Lucky with the end of his cape clamped between his teeth. The Count yanked, but Lucky would not let go. Vidor snapped the fine chain that fastened the cape around his neck and freed himself. Lucky growled as he shook the cape from side to side.
“You stupid wolf!” said Vidor. He went to kick Lucky, but Ivan tugged at his sleeve.
“Please, Master, we must flee!”
They ran down the stairs and entered the wine cellar.
Ivan pulled a torch from a sconce.
The wine cellar was lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves containing a paltry collection of dusty bottles and empty oak casks. Beside the door a mangy dog hung by its shanks above a basin half-filled with blood. A few drops trickled from a slit in its throat.
Vidor placed his hands on his hips and glared at Ivan. “A grass-fed cow? Is that so?”
Ivan shrugged and chuckled nervously. “It was standing near a cow.”
“You lying little—” Vidor was interrupted by the sound of the keep’s door tearing from its hinges.
Ivan and Vidor looked at each other with protruding eyes. The pair bolted toward a lone wine rack at the far end of the room. A single green bottle lay in its lowermost cradle. Ivan pulled the grimy bottle from the shelf. He inserted it into a cradle on the middle-left side of the rack and twisted. A click sounded and the shelf began to shudder. Slowly the rack slid across the floor with a screech revealing a secret passage leading into a darkened tunnel. The Count grabbed his own torch, and then he and Ivan fled the castle. As they ran down the roughly-hewn tunnel the sound of angry voices slowly muted as the wine rack slid back into place.
“What if we were to steal babes and bathe in their blood on the night of a full moon?”
“I don’t think so, Ivan.”
They hadn’t traveled more than a few miles through the Csarna Valley and already Ivan was dissembling the Count’s patience. He continued to think up macabre methods in which to re-contract the vampire virus.
“We could—we could sacrifice virgins to Lucifer in a blood ritual.”
“No.” Vidor stopped to locate the sun’s position through the thick canopy of deciduous trees. “I think Gundore is a few more miles to the south.”
“Then what if we exhumed the bodies of the dead priests and—”
The Count threw up his hands. He turned to Ivan. “What is wrong with you?” He paused and took a breath. “Look, this arrangement isn’t working anymore.”
“Master, what do you mean?”
Vidor exhaled deeply. “I mean, I am no longer in need of your services, Ivan.”
“Sire, you jest?”
“Becoming human has robbed me of certain,” Vidor paused, folding his lips together “immoral desires. I don’t wish to hurt anyone anymore. You, however, you’re, well” he winced, “evil. And quite frankly it creeps me out.”
Ivan gasped. “But sire, think of all we have been through together!”
“Yes, that is the problem. We did awful, awful things I never want to relive. Ivan, I’m sorry, but I would suggest you find alternative employment.”
Ivan grimaced. His breathing sped up. “I am in disbelief! I have done everything for you! Everything! And you have never once been grateful!”
"Well, that alludes to a whole other issue regarding your low self-esteem."
"Shut up! You have betrayed me!"
“Ivan, vampirism is like a dis—”
“Save it for the dirt farmers! May you stew for eternity in the belly of the behemoth, Kevin!” Ivan headed in the other direction. “A pox on thee!”
“Come on now, Ivan,” he called after him. “There’s no reason to end on a flat note!”
Without looking back, Ivan swatted the air as if Vidor’s appeal were a fly buzzing around his head.
Vidor shook his head as he watched Ivan disappear into the crowd of trees. Suddenly a wolf howled in the distance. Vidor’s eyes widened. He continued on to Gundore as fast as the forest’s undergrowth allowed him.
The pale orange sun kissed the horizon. Kevin wiped the sweat off his tanned brow and then threw one last handful of corn to the pigs. He opened the gate to the pen just wide enough so that he could squeeze through without any swine following after him. Kevin latched the gate and headed toward the farmhouse.
“Don’t forget ta wata the mud tomorrow morn, Kevin!” said the farm manager from the stable window. He leaned his head out and spit a few inches in front of Kevin’s boot.
Kevin nodded without looking at him. How he wished he could have his powers back for an evening, if only to eviscerate his miserable boss.
He headed up the dirt road that led to the forest on the western edge of town. After a mile on the wooded road Vidor reached a disused barn that sat behind a bend of trees just off the path. Kevin approached the weathered double-doors that fit the barn like a pair of bucked teeth.
He issued the secret knock—three quick raps followed by a pause and then a fourth. A moment later a panel on one of the doors slid open. “Yeah, whataya want?”
Kevin rolled his eyes. “Only dogs have fangs,” he said joylessly.
The panel slid closed. The door unbolted and cracked open. As Kevin slid inside, a haggard old woman in a soiled robe eyed him from tip to tip. Kevin nodded and dropped a denar into the dented tin cup she held in her hand.
He was late. Kevin tiptoed into the main hall of the barn, trying not to distract anyone. When he was a vampire he could move as quietly as a growing shadow, but that was then.
A man with a bald head wreathed by long black hair was wrapping up his sharing session. “I think I miss the power and wealth the most,” he said. “But that part of my life is over, and I've accepted it. I just try to take things one day at a time.”
The crowd clapped lethargically as the man stepped off the stage.
The chairman stood up in the front row and faced the crowd. “Thank you for sharing that with us, Vladislav. Remember, you don’t have to see the whole staircase at once, just the first step, one step at a time. Humanity is a journey, not a destination. Alright, who’s next?” he said scanning the room. "I see some new faces tonight." Kevin tried to hide behind a wooden pillar. "How about you, sir? In the brown vest."
Kevin cursed under his breath. It was only his first meeting and he had hadn’t planned to speak. He shuffled to the front of the room and climbed onto the makeshift stage with an inaudible sigh. “Hello, friends. My name is Kevin V.”
“Hi, Kevin,” said the crowd in unison.
He cleared his throat. “Being cured of vampirism has been hard to accept. I lost my castle. I lost my servants. My harem. Everything.” He looked around the room at the dimly lit faces. Were any of his victims here, he wondered. “At first I was in denial. I thought there might be a way to re-infect myself. For months I prayed to Lucifer, begging him to return my powers to me.” A few attendees nodded. “I continued to drink the blood of any animal I came across—rats, dogs, cats—but that did nothing. And it tasted awful.” Some in the crowd chuckled. Many of them had tried the same thing. “At my lowest point I intentionally disturbed a cave of vampire bats, hoping they would bite me. A few did, but nothing came of it—except a three-day fever. That was when I realized I had hit rock-bottom.” His eyes fell on the worn, oak floorboards. “I knew I needed help if I was going to get on with my life.” Kevin looked to the chairman. “What else am I supposed to say?”
“Anything else you’d like to share,” said the chairman. “Or nothing at all. It is up to you.”
“I think that that’s good for now.”
Kevin was accompanied off stage by applause and even a couple hear hears. (The group liked to show extra support to newcomers.) He took a seat beside a young woman in a green dress sitting on a bale of hay.
“That was a lovely speech,” said the maiden.
Kevin flashed a gentle smile. “Thanks.” He squinted at her. “Do I know you?”
The woman smiled. “Yes. You used to be my master. You bit me on my way home from the market and left me to turn in a cornfield. Remember?”
Kevin chuckled. His cheeks flushed. “Oh, right. Sorry about that. I was,” he hesitated, “a vampire, you know?”
She pushed a strand of blond hair behind her ear. “Anything a vampire lets go of has claw marks all over it.” It was a common statement among former vampires.
“I’m Kevin,” he said holding out his hand.
She shook it. “Esmerelda.”
“Esmerelda. Were you able to reunite with your family after you were cured? Parents? Siblings?” He cleared his throat. “Husband?”
“My husband died a few years ago. Pneumonia.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you. In a way I might have been lucky.”
“How do you mean?”
“If I hadn't been a vampire, I might have died along with him.”
Vidor nodded. “That’s a good way to look at it.” The conversation lulled for a moment and then Kevin spoke up. “Do you have plans after the meeting?”
Esmeralda blushed and looked at the floor. “No.”
“Would you like to accompany me to the Angry Boar? I would like to buy you a pint of ale—an apology for draining your blood those many years ago."
“I would like that,” she said.
Taking her hand he helped Esmerelda to her feet.
“That’s all for tonight,” said the chairman. “I’ll see you all next week, unless of course if you had other plans,” said the chairman. The former vampires streamed out of the barn. “And remember, it’s not vampire-ism, it’s vampire-wasm.”
Esmerelda leaned her head against Kevin’s shoulder as he escorted her to the Angry Boar. His skin blotted with goosebumps. Suddenly Kevin remembered a side-effect of humanity: affection.
He smiled. Maybe being human isn’t that bad after all, he thought.