Jason V Brock has been widely published in magazines, comics and anthologies such as Dark Scribe Press’s Butcher Knives & Body Counts; Bluewater comics' mini-series Tales from William F. Nolan's Dark Universe; Animal Magnetism; Calliope Literary Supplement; Ethereal Tales; Black Wings II; Like Water for Quarks; San Diego Comic-Con International’s Souvenir Book; Dark Discoveries (where he serves as Managing Editor/Art Director); Fangoria; Weird Fiction Review; American Rationalist and several other venues around the world, in a variety of languages. A collaborator with esteemed critic S. T. Joshi, Brock is currently finishing multiple novels.
“We'll never make it on time now,” the newest subway passenger, George, lamented as he checked his wristwatch.
Moving quickly past a razor-boned, nearly nude Goth couple osculating next to the entry, he walked by the requisite sleeping derelicts and a few other nosy individuals on his way to the rear of the ramshackle car. As he plopped onto a hard plastic seat, he made a muffled sound of irritation. George glanced around the foul, narrow compartment, his sallow expression approximating a grumpy hatchet fish. Finally settling in for the ride, his tall, thin frame protruded from the uncomfortable bench like a wire coat hanger.
After a lengthy pause there was a loud buzzing, followed by the sudden release of vapor, as though a pressure cooker was about to explode. The grimy doors closed with a shriek in the ripe air of the car; outside, he noticed a few latecomers milling on the platform as the train departed.
Impulsively looking at his watch once more, he purposely lit a cigarette in defiance of the torn, pornographically defaced No Smoking sign.
These meetings at the Home Office are such a pain in the ass…
Studying the other riders as he took a long drag from his next to last smoke, he saw no one that he recognized: the amorous Alternative couple; the gaggle of mephitic, fitfully napping winos; some old crone with a black veil staring out of the window, her gnarled hands stroking a large white rat; a dazed looking, finely dressed older man streaming blood from his temple.
“Quite the motley crew.” His leg hopped nervously as he huffed a small cloud from the corner of his mouth. The old train lurched suddenly, causing the tunnel lamps to flicker. George stared from a barely open porthole near his head as the locomotive gathered speed, starting to daydream as graffiti adorned pillars and torn movie posters flashed by in mesmerizing smears of color.
“About time we were underway… Just my luck to catch an overdue train.” Another startling jolt caused him to break away from his thoughts; glancing around in annoyance, it was then that he noticed the reflection of a young man in ragged military regalia and dark sunglasses watching him from across the aisle.
He turned to face the man, voice edged as he spoke over the noise of the subway: “How goes it? The name's George.”
The youth smiled cryptically. “Mm. They used to tease me about my coat, you know.”
George was unfazed by the non sequitur. “Oh, really? Was I wondering about that?” He crushed out his cigarette, bemusedly peering through the bluish haze at the strange young man: Takes all kinds, I s’pose... George: “Who would do such a thing?”
“Pipe down!” one of the drunks shouted, looking at them with bloodshot eyes. “Got a long night comin' up!” His head dropped back onto the seat with a muted clunk.
“The other children,” the young man said, not missing a beat, dreamily shaking his head. “I guess,” he added as an afterthought, “it was because I was so different from all the other kids. Since I drank blood, I mean.” He pulled his shades down, regarding George. “Oh, sorry, how rude of me. Timothy -- my name's Timothy.” The pointed redness of his tongue flicked from his mouth and was gone.
The next platform bell whizzed by; the whole car rocked as the subway barreled through the underground, metal wheels screeching. George checked his watch again; the stranger –- Timothy -- was still scrutinizing him over his sunglasses, a faint smile frosting his ruby lips.
After a couple few moments of noisy boredom, George finally asked: “So… How exactly did you become -- what do you call it? ‘Vampire’? ‘Nosferatu’? What’s the correct terminology these days?”
Timothy snorted, caught off guard. “Vampire is good, I guess!” There was a pause as he sorted through what to say next, or perhaps how to say it best. At last: “What I'm about to tell you is a mostly true story…”
# # #
The day was an interesting one, especially for twelve-year-old Timothy Lipscomb.
Timothy, apparently, was a vampire; though a well-known proclamation on his part, there were other, more concrete reasons that his friends regarded him with both enthrallment and foreboding.
Timothy did the strangest things -- one day going to school with his hair standing on end, the next day shaved bald; sometimes painting his face half red and the other half black, much to the consternation of his teachers. Once, he brought a ‘head’ to school -- it looked real, very real -- but it was actually some sculpted piece of his own creation; its rotted ‘flesh’ constructed of colored tissues, string and corn flakes held together with mortician’s wax.
This monstrosity, and others like it, occupied his fancy far more than boring homework assignments or studying for tests. Whenever his parents confiscated such items, it only encouraged him to redouble their grotesque appearance upon re-issue.
Other things stood out -- he was the possessor of a peculiar "fashion sense": sometimes wearing his shirts backwards, or one buttoned to another; there were instances of sundry bizarre hats, and even helmets being donned; one particularly strange bit of attire was an old blue Civil War-era military overcoat that extended beyond his knees.
Timothy was also an interesting physical specimen, all spooky eyes, veiny, pale skin and spindly fingers. He took perverse pride in the fact that he was born with a complete set of teeth, so long that the very tips were visible even with his mouth closed; he would also gladly demonstrate, to the horrified squeals of all, that he had a hollow tongue -- not unlike the proboscis of a butterfly.
In spite of all, though, these attributes were not the reason that today was so different from the myriad other fine days that preceded it. Indeed, on this particularly crisp fall day, Timothy had at last decided to boldly assert what he knew to be the truth about his nature: Today, he would finally satiate his thirst for human blood. It was a momentous decision, and not the least bit casual. Unintentional, perhaps, but not without forethought; all he needed was a victim…
And here fate was to lend a hand.
Lilith Burgess, everyone agreed, was a demented old bat and should have stopped teaching the day that she started, over thirty-six years previous; unfortunately, she was the only school teacher in rural Kellen, North Carolina, and she would have to do.
Ms. Burgess was a superstitious woman: she did not like Timothy, and made no bones about it. Frequently she punished him for looking at her crooked, reasoning that such a peculiar and strange-looking individual should be disciplined with more… malice than his comrades. Such was the case on this auspicious day.
“Timothy,” Ms. Burgess had snapped, “dust these and be quick about it.”
It came as no surprise to anyone, of course, that Timothy had to stay after school and dust the chalkboard erasers. She thrust the objects into his cold hands, scraping his overly-long fingernails. The youngster made a low, hissing sound.
“See here, boy! That's enough of that!” She hobbled from the darkening room.
Timothy sneered after her in disgust. “Stupid old bitty…” After a few minutes of choking on chalk dust, his mind seized upon a novel idea, one that he was astounded had never occurred to him before.
Ms. Burgess! I'll get rid of her and satisfy my need for blood at the same time… He chortled to himself at the simplicity of his scheme, tossing the erasers and climbing a rickety bookcase. Secreting himself precariously on the topmost shelf, he waited, overjoyed at the prospect of terrorizing the old woman… Just as he was getting bored, Ms. Burgess made a reappearance.
The room was very empty indeed when she tottered in.
Silence. The gathering nightfall spooked her; a growl of thunder vibrated the building. She pulled her shawl around her elbows as she scanned the dark room. “Are you here, boy? If you're tryin' to scare me, I'll tell your parents!”
The only response was a gust of wind as the storm drew closer. The old woman crept forward, leaning on her cane, eyes wide.
Suddenly, directly above, there was a cracking sound, like a glacier thawing; some –- thing -- dropped from the ceiling like an obscene and uncoordinated spider, screaming as it fell.
Ms. Burgess shrieked, grabbing her breast as the creature landed on some desks.
“Lord! Timothy! Are you injured?” she warbled in a cracked, breathless voice.
The boy sprang up, lunging toward her as he held his bruised ribs beneath ripped coveralls.
“I'm a vampire!” he wheezed, chasing the old lady around in circles as she swatted at him with her cane.
“Lord, help me!” Ms. Burgess shrieked, whacking him on the head.
“Hey, that hurts! Stop it! I just need to drink your blood…"
“Lord, help me away from this demon child!”
The old woman screamed as blackness finally engulfed the room…
# # #
“...I finally cornered her,” Timothy continued. He paused dramatically.
“And?” George prodded, genuinely amused.
“And,” the monster said, a grin starting on his pale features. “She kicked me in the crotch right when I was going to bite her…” The banging of the subway absorbed their chuckles.
“That's when I knew I was a vampire for sure--”
One of the drunks made a muted screaming sound in his sleep. Another vagabond sat up quickly, his dirty face slick with sweat. He stared at them a moment, then blurted out: “Kid, who's not a vampire? A witch? An accountant? Whatever? Anyways, my advice: SHUT! UP!”
“Why don't you just mind your business, huh? You don't own this damned car…” George responded, glaring at the rude man.
“Freak,” the vagrant muttered as he turned over, drawing his filth-encrusted jacket over his head.
The other passengers found this noisy exchange mildly interesting: the old crone muttered a curse and gestured; the young couple looked up for a moment, then resumed their carnal activities; the finely dressed man with the bloody head wound slumped forward, as though listening.
Timothy studied his very long nails, anxiously glancing at George from beneath waxy eyebrows. Loud snoring now accompanied the rock of the train. After a few more strained moments he said, almost too loudly: “I know how it sounds, and I can understand why you wouldn't believe me. No one ever does…” The passenger car shifted, metal wheels clicking in a mesmerizing rhythm.
“Oh, no,” George said, shaking his head and smiling. “I believe you all right. You see, I'm different, too. Not a vampire, mind you -- ghoul would be more appropriate, I suppose, since I eat flesh… Dead, alive -- all goes to the same place…” He smacked his belly, which grumbled in retort.
Timothy gasped, pulling his sunglasses from his face, his pale features reddening. “I-I'm sorry; here I've been prattling on like some know-it-all! I didn't realize… Anyway, I guess we've all got something we have to deal with!”
George smiled, his leg hopping in time to the train's commotion. "That's quite all right -- you can't really tell with me, everyone says so… boy, are they surprised come dinnertime!”
“No… No, you can't tell…” Timothy eyed George with unspoken skepticism before putting his glasses back on. “Well, why don't you explain to me how you came to be one -- are you self-proclaimed like me, or… How does that happen, exactly?”
“Hmmm…” George checked his watch. Their train was not due to arrive at the Dis Terminal for another hour yet. Lighting his last cigarette, he sucked the smoke in deeply, eyes furtive, contemplative.
“What the hell. I guess I was about ten years old when I first began to feel -- different, y’know?”
Timothy the vampire settled back in his seat, vaguely smiling, eyelids heavy behind his sunglasses. He seemed drowsy, as though he enjoyed the sound of the angular ghoul man’s clipped voice. As the passenger car swayed gently from side-to-side, they both relaxed as George detailed his own colorful childhood, his unusual job -- Shop Steward for Gravediggers Union Local 1313 -- his personal coming to terms with his odd –- condition.
“Life is a strange thing, sometimes,” George mused, checking his watch again. “You can never reallyanticipate how your actions will truly impact others… Or even yourself for that matter.”
“Yes,” Timothy agreed. “I am what I am… I was born this way, and it took me years to be able to really be comfortable with that truth… To fully accept it." The vampire smiled wistfully as the other man ground out his cigarette.
George the ghoul smirked, understanding the sentiment. "Yes… And not worry about whether other people can accept who – or what – you are. Like you, I learned a long time back that everyone has to be big enough to confront their own fears, deal with the consequences of their actions… And to know and understand their limitations and innate abilities." He checked his watch once more: Not much longer until we reach the terminal…
The train compartment, rocking and silent, was getting hotter by the moment.
(C) 2011 Jason V. Brock
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.