by Christi Nogle
Legend has it that the vampire is a species of shape-shifter, morphing into a bat—or an ambulatory dead person, or a demon of some kind. I have learned that the truth is far more squalid.
The humanoid form that one thinks of as a vampire is merely a parasitic growth upon the vampire’s insectile body. For obvious reasons, vampires have often chosen to grow and train these tumors into the approximate shape and size of a youthful human being. The rough shaping of the body is accomplished within an ingenious coffin-mold, but even with expert craft, these bodies are plain and loose. Only the creatures’ hypnotic powers can transform these body-blanks into the colorful, graceful, and sexually magnetic beings that we commonly think of as vampires.
The image of the vampire is a collaboration between these creatures and ourselves, you see.
I came upon one of their excised tumors at the beach, of all places. A cold, quiet morning, the first of a three-day vacation, I’d had my walk without meeting more than a handful of pedestrians and was on the boardwalk headed back to my room when I saw it upon a bench, legs splayed, gray and limp and already losing its shape. The cherry-red sequined dress still held in its waist, but the head and shoulders slumped. The legs spread out upon the seat. It might have seemed to me a quite statuesque and glamorous woman only an hour before.
I knew it was no usual woman because the auburn wig hung loose. The vampire had knocked the wig aside on its way out of the head and not bothered to replace it. I lifted the wig and saw the space where the thing had lived. Push a palm down into wet clay and then grasp at the clay, remove your hand gently, and you will see more or less what I saw: The vampire’s limbs (tentacles?) channel down into the tumor’s limbs in order to animate the body. I realize now that the vampire’s nervous system presumably pushes out into the tumor as well, though I could not see any smaller channels. Likely those holes had filled in as part of the general loss of shape.
I wish I could have been calm and patient enough to witness the decomposition. Would it have lost its human shape entirely? Would it have festered and rotted or dehydrated and floated away on air? As I stood looking inside the head, however, I felt a chill of fear. Someone watched me. I was certain. Whether I had an inkling of the vampire itself or expected another tourist, police—I didn’t know. I knew only that I had to leave the scene.
Because I had no way of knowing whether the watcher had seen me push aside the wig, no way to tell if they knew I knew, I pretended to have been trying to speak to the thing on the bench.
“Ma’am?” I said loudly, “Are you all right?”
I pushed at a shoulder (oh so cold and like mattress foam to the touch). Even more loudly than before, I said, “Drunk” and scoffed to show my disapproval. I went on my way, grumbling about the drunk woman.
The feeling of being watched did not leave me. I ruined the rest of that day and the next thinking that the creature who had inhabited the head had been watching, that it knew I knew. Why had it abandoned its home? What did it want? I began to intuit the truth, and from the negative space of the head created a vision of the creature so like a fleshy spider.
Surely some of them lived all the time in their small forms, the better to drop down from a ceiling beam or a tree to take us by the throat.
I stayed in the room eating terrible room service and, once, a take-out pizza. Whenever I ate, I calmed, and the memory kept coming to me of a commercial I’d seen as a child. I’d wanted the toy so badly, a set of plastic molds in which you’d press colorful clay to make people. Were the vampires’ coffins just the same as those molds? In my calmest moments, I longed to see inside their lair.
That last morning, I resolved to make the most of the day. I examined the bench, which was clean with no residue. I strolled on the beach, had a double-scoop ice cream for lunch, and then wandered through the shops all afternoon buying taffy and a few baubles for friends. I napped. The idea came that I might go out that night, meet someone and, with any luck, bring her back to the room.
On my afternoon walk I’d come upon a little bar just a few blocks away, a small place with many televisions playing sports. After a shower, I walked there and was relieved to open the door to perhaps two-dozen tourists, mostly men, all quite unattractive, friendly, and loud. I have never liked watching sports on the television, but I joined in and had a couple of beers. Oldies music played. All was warm and cozy then, and a few women arrived. After an hour there were twice as many people in the bar.
A group of four pretty women sat at a table by the gas fire. I wished for one of them to look my way, but they never did. And then she sat down beside me: a tourist with straight blonde hair and a dimpled, pouty face. Very cute. She wore an oversized blazer over a sundress.
Sweet, too. She spoke of her little dog back home, how she missed him. She was on vacation by herself, just as I was. The room grew ever louder, and we had to keep our faces close to talk. She drank red wine. I’d moved to rum and Coke and was getting quite warm. She, starting to perspire, shrugged off her blazer to show beautiful shoulders and collarbones. I thought of the empty-headed thing on the bench. I wondered.
My hand on the back of her stool, I caught at a strand of her hair.
“Ouch,” she said, and her eyes went large, but she was a good sport. She laughed.
“Sorry,” I said. It hadn’t been an accident.
She was turned, her knees touching the side of my leg.
“I just had to check,” I said. I still thought we were flirting.
“Check what?” she said, her face full of humor for a moment before that pout came back—no, not a pout. Her lips were pursing into a long shrill whistle.
And the couple right near us—gorgeous couple, I hadn’t noticed them before—and the pretty women at the far table, and a dozen others all stopped and stared in our direction. Some of the televisions went off though the music droned on.
“He knows,” the blonde woman growled, staring straight at me, and then, more loudly, “Listen, he knows.” She laughed then.
The vampires revealed themselves, their teeth snapping down and eyes glowing. I thought of wolves. All four of the pretty women rose from their table, grasping onto the people nearby. The attractive couple turned away from each other, grabbing at strangers. Someone screamed. Blood sprayed onto the bar. The door stood open, people rushing toward it into the vampires’ waiting arms.
Back against the bar, I was frozen as in a nightmare.
First they revealed themselves—their fangs, their eyes. They pierced the people closest to them, killed them, grabbed onto more. Next, they dropped their glamour. All those still standing were the formless dead-eyed things, like people carved from potato. Damp like potato, too. Some of them still grabbed onto people crawling to the door. Blood still flowed.
Next, they crawled out of the bodies—the tumors—which slumped and fell. Not all of them came out of the heads; some came out of faces and clawed their way out of bellies. The remaining few humans struggled to get outside, but the door was blocked with bodies. The vampires latched on and sucked, their backs rounding like ticks’ bellies.
Humans still screamed outside, human music still played, but mine was the only human form left standing in the bar. The spiderlike, handlike, scissory things crawled toward me. Red and pearly gray and black.
Their speaking was in my head—must have always been in my head. Those things don’t have vocal cords; they only whistle.
Crawling all over me, whistling and poking, they said in many voices, You want to know? You want to see? The coffins and the lair? Walk us there.
A sharp pain in my side and then nothing. A slice at the back of my neck and then nothing. My body was numb. It was not my body anymore.
Walk us there, and a throaty laugh.
AUTHOR BIO: Christi Nogle’s fiction has appeared in publications such as Pseudopod, Vastarien, Tales to Terrify, and Three-lobed Burning Eye. Her debut novel, Beulah, is out now from Cemetery Gates Media. Follow her at christinogle.com or on Twitter @christinogle
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