The neighborhood was like one of those dark streets, where kids don’t go—a haunted block—a terrible shadow, in the sunlight. The Amazon driver dropped his packages at the corner. They were gone, the next morning, as if, somebody stole them, but nobody saw who did it. The people there, were invisible, like ghosts, that didn’t want to be seen. It was a place filled with sex offenders, x-convicts, and prostitutes who still worked the phone lines, but were too old to turn a trick. They were like leppers, who hid from each other. Their character was written on their faces like bad essays. The neighborhood was a graveyard—unkept, with tilted houses, like crypts. The creatures there, were the living dead. Their souls were waiting to leave, and they kept telling their bodies, “Let me go,” but their bodies were too weak to give permission. It was a horrible spot, a stain—a back alley, where drunkards are afraid to piss, but they do, anyway, because the place deserves to get pissed on.
This was the neighborhood where I grew-up, the summer after sixth grade.
There wasn’t much to do there, during the heat-wave, but kick aluminum cans around.
I was hanging, with the only kids close to my age—their dads were in prison—and mine, left my mother years ago.
The strange events of that summer began when I started to spot lost pet signs stapled to telephone poles.
One or two missing cats, is normal, but it was like the city pet population vanished overnight—every pole within three blocks was covered with missing pet signs.
“Our cats are gone,” Maddie said.
“What do you think happened to them?” I asked.
“I don’t know—maybe they got hit by a car.”
“Both of them?”
“You know what it is…” Brad said. “Some psychopath preparing to kill us all. First, he tortures cats—then…” Brad was looking at Maddie.
“Stop trying to scare me,” Maddie said.
We were walking down the street, when I spotted a swarm of flies.
“Is that a dead body?” Brad asked.
“Smells like one.”
“Smells different than death—but not far off…”
“Smells like science class,” I said. “Fermali…”
“Formaldehyde,” Maddie corrected.
“That’s what it smells like. Smells like when we dissected cats.”
“Don’t tell me somebody is trying to preserve neighborhood pets for a profit, and sell them to high schools around the country.”
The cat corpse was nothing but skin, bones, and flies.
“What happened to the blood?” Maddie asked.
“It’s been drained.”
“There’s two puncture holes next to the neck. Do you see it? Just like a snake bite.”
“Hey! What are you kids doing over there!?” Mr. Lions asked. He walked like a man on stilts. He was tall and wiry, so that he looked like a vulture that hadn’t eaten in three weeks. When Mr. Lions looked at us, he was hungry—a landowner who hated kids because they couldn’t pay rent. Aside from collecting, he loved to weed-eat.
“Blow it out your ass, old man,” Brad said.
“In Korea—I killed a couple kids about your age. They could pick-up a gun, and they did, so I had to—and in my old age, I see things… Doctors calls them flashbacks—I might be in Korea.”
“If that’s your idea of a threat, no wonder you lost the War,” Brad said.
Mr. Lions looked ready to kill. He went inside. Then he came out with his rifle.
But my friends were already three steps ahead of me.
“That son-of-a-bitch fired at us!”
“Are you hit?”
“What about you Maddie?”
She was lying on the ground with her eyes closed. “I’m okay,” she said.
We were in a grove of willow trees—it reminded me of what my mother tried to do last summer. She was going to church and insisted on taking me. The ladies were covering Proverbs—”Spare the rod and…” My mother took their advice, but instead of a stick, she used a willow branch. I figure it hurt twice as bad. I never liked Sunday school very much.
“You got a light?” Brad asked.
He pulled-out one of those coffin nails and put it between his teeth.
“Sorry bro—I quit.”
“What? Are you afraid of dying?”
“You could say that. What do you think is on the other side?”
“What do you think Maddie?”
“I don’t think about it. We’re not even in middle school yet.”
She looked at me, like I was a boy and she was a mature woman. Girls could be infuriating.
The sunlight was going down, and the woods were red, like blood, and I thought about that bloodless corpse we found in the ditch.
“We should go home, before it gets dark,” Brad suggested.
“Yeah,” Maddie agreed.
It wasn’t long, before we found the street again, and passed the haunted house. It was empty, ever since the murder-suicide, three summers ago.
Now—a light was on in the living room.
“There’s people in there,” Brad said.
“Are you sure? – they don’t look human.”
“Why do you say that?”
“The shadows on their skin.”
“They’re talking,” Maddie observed.
“Just because they talk, doesn’t make them human,” Brad said wisely. “Haven’t you ever been on the subway?”
“What do you mean?”
“They aren’t real.”
“You want to bet?”
“How can you be sure?” I asked.
“Do you remember when I dug two graves for Mr. Lions three weeks ago?”
“Well—he paid me two hundred dollars. It was a lot of work, for next to no money, so I got to thinking… What about those graves that have been in this village since the puritans?”
“You didn’t,” Maddie said in a hushed voice.
“I did. I was looking for treasure. I promised myself, I would rebury the body. I didn’t think I would find anything.”
“Well, did you?” Maddie asked.
“I found a skeleton lying on piles of gold—so much gold, it took five goes with the wheelbarrow to get the treasure home. I took all night, and finished, just before dawn. The skeleton had a stick in its sternum. I removed it. The stake was what killed him, I think. Anyway, when I went to return my last load, I came back—and the skeleton was missing. I thought Mr. Lions was playing a crazy joke on me, but my gut, told me otherwise. I threw up. I thought about that skeleton—its incisors were two inches long. Shortly, thereafter, people’s pets began to disappear. I didn’t want to say anything, because nobody would believe me, and if they did, I would have to return the gold.”
“Where is it now?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Brad—the gold might be cursed.”
“I never thought of that—okay, okay—it’s in my mother’s Junker.”
“Your mother’s, what?”
“In her GMC. It seemed like a safe place because there’s no engine in it. It hasn’t been on the road in 15 years.”
“And you’re saying that you awakened a Vampire who was—good and dead?” Maddie asked.
“Yeah. Dead, but not good.”
“Then why are there four of them in there?”
“When a vampire bites a human, it makes another.”
“Then, why haven’t they bitten more people?”
“Because they wizened up, I guess. A vampire doesn’t like to eat another vampire. They’re cannibalistic by nature, but they need living blood, to look like the living. They’re rationing themselves—because when they eat each other—they really look like hell—and if too many people become vampires, there’ll be nobody left to drink—and that’s why they’re eating cats.”
“What about the fermi…”
“Formaldehyde,” Maddie corrected.
“The stuff in Science class?” I asked.
“I’ve been working on that…” Brad said. “Maybe, they want the town to believe cats and dogs are disappearing in the name of science.”
Then, those red eyes, looked out, into the night, and saw me, which made my heart stop beating. They weren’t laser eyes or drunk bloodshot eyes, but the eyes of hell—a close cousin of the demon, that latches onto you, and takes over your spirit. I was feeling light-headed, like I might pass-out, and then I realized, I was holding my breath.
“We should get out of here,” Brad suggested.
“I don’t know why we’re still hanging around,” Maddie said.
“Because, you and I both know, those vampires are going to kill everyone we love, unless we do something about it.”
“Well, what can we do?” Brad asked.
“Shove a stake through their hearts.”
“All of them?”
“All of them,” I said.
Brad began to break branches off the tree. I handed my pocketknife to him, and we began to sharpen spears.
Maddie just looked at us, like we were nuts.
“Those things saw us… Don’t you think we should get out of here?”
“We have to finish what I started,” Brad said.
“Hey, do you feel something funny?” Maddie asked.
“It just got colder—much colder,” I said.
“The moon disappeared. Where did it go? It was there.” Brad was pointing at empty space, when a white head bobbed back and forth across the field. It had teeth and a red mouth.
“Is that stick ready?” I asked.
Brad threw it at the vampire and stuck the thing in the chest. Immediately, its flesh sizzled and drizzled, into the field. It smelled like formaldehyde.
“There’s going to be more of them…” I said, and then, out of the woods, walked the vampires—more than four of them—dozens.
“What do we do?” Brad asked. “There’s nowhere to run.”
“The house,” I said.
“But it’s occupied.”
“Bring your sticks—it’s the only safe place.”
“Vampires don’t have manners—we’d better just enter,” Maddie suggested.
When we got inside, a vampire had a tall glass in one hand, and its fangs ready.
I gave it the spear, and it died.
The next swiped at me with its long fingernails—yellow, they were, as if they belonged to a smoker. She got her claws into me, when Maddie gave her the wooden spear, and the vampiress melted into the carpet, like a microwaved chimichanga.
The last one, had its back turned to us. It could’ve been meditating, but I knew it wasn’t, because vampires are the opposite of spiritual.
It turned around—all mouth and disgusting breath—jumping onto Brad, and sinking her teeth into his carotid artery, like an alcoholic at a Kegger party.
Maddie jammed her stick into the back of its head—and the creature went brain dead—it hissed, like air deflating from a flat tire.
Brad turned vampire. I had to kill him. It was the hardest thing to do—murdering my best friend, but his soul would be safe. I jammed my spear into his heart, and he expired.
I thought it was the end. The vampires were knocking on the sides of the house, when a searchlight lit-up the field and the voice of Mr. Lions came over the megaphone with a roar.
“This is my war, and I’m going to win!”
Mr. Lions turned-up the rock-n-roll, pulling a silver six-gun from his holster.
The lyrics, “I’m on a highway to hell,” Blared into the silence, like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard.
The vampires were dancing to the music like disco, while Lions shot them, as if they were fish in a barrel. The steam from their expiring bodies, was creating a mist in the air, as thick as fog. Suddenly, the lyrics transitioned into, “Breaking the Law…Breaking the Law.”
It was impossible to see or hear, anything, and the hands kept slapping the sides of the house.
Then flames shot into the field like a dragon.
“He’s got a flamethrower,” I said.
“Left over from the Korean War?” Maddie asked.
“No—I think it’s the one he uses to tar-proof his houses.”
There was cackling over the demonic screams. “It takes a meaner monster,” I said.
Then the flames dissipated and the slapping stopped.
“He must’ve killed them all.”
“Then, where is Mr. Lions?” Maddie asked.
In response, there was knocking at the door.
“Should I open it?”
“Vampires don’t knock,” Maddie said.
I opened it.
Lions stood there, in his full glory.
“Every last one of those beasts is dead,” he said triumphantly. “Be careful to venture into the mist—you don’t want to breath-in a vampire—it’s worse than smoking—it’ll steal your soul.”
“It smells like formaldehyde and you’ve been breathing-in that vampire air this whole time.”
“Sure,” Lions said. “But I’ve been wearing my Korean War gas mask. Strange, though—I think there might be a hole in it.”
At that moment, I noticed his eyes—the windows to his soul were full of hell.
“Quick Maddie, hand me the stake!”
“What are you doing?” Lions asked.
But before he could say another word, I jammed it into his heart, and he keeled over, sinking beneath the soil.
“Quick—close the door!” Maddie said. “We don’t want to breathe that stuff in.”
We waited, until daylight. I thought the dawn would never come—and with the sunrise, the fog burned away.
“It’s safe now,” I said.
“How are we going to explain this?” Maddie asked.
“What about the cursed gold?”
“We burry it.”
“But it’s gold!” Maddie said.
“I know it’s gold, but it will steal your soul.”
We walked to Brad’s house and buried him on top of his treasure.
Shortly thereafter, he went missing, just like the missing pets, and Maddie and I never talked about this again.