“Three guys are trying out for a position in the CIA,” Dale Bradford says, taking a healthy swig from his cold beer, “and all three of them are equally qualified. None of them are any better than the others, and the guys administering the tests don’t know which one to take. So they devise one more test. They take all three guys and put them in separate hotel rooms, and then take all three of their wives and put them in rooms away from their husbands. So everyone is off by themselves.
“Then they take a gun loaded with blanks and go to the first guy. ‘Here,’ they say, ‘we want you to take this gun and go to room 607 and kill your wife.’ The guy looks at the gun, and then shakes his head. ‘No, I won’t kill my wife. The job isn’t worth it.’ ‘Good that you tell us that now,’ they say, and then go to the second guy with the same story. Kill your wife and you’ve got the job. This guy takes the gun and goes into the room, but when he sees his wife he drops the gun and starts crying. He tells him that he’s not gonna be able to kill her. They all agree that it’s probably best that he doesn’t kill her, and he might have the job if he sticks around,” Dale pauses here in his story, eyeing the crowd of impatient faces staring back at him, begging him to complete the story. Willingly, he obliges:
“So they go to the third guy and give him the gun. ‘We want you to go into that room and shoot your wife.’ The last guy nods, takes the gun, and then goes into the room and closes the door. They hear a muffled conversation, and then two loud gunshots. There’s a moment of silence, and then they hear a tearing sound, a scream, a whacking sound, and then a really loud thud. The door opens, and the guy walks out of the room, covered in blood.
“‘What happened?’ they ask. ‘The gun was filled with blanks,’ the man replies, ‘so I had to use a curtain rod.’”
Dale finishes his story and takes another drink of his beer, smiling slightly at the round of applause and laughter from the gathered crowd. The beer is a Kilean’s Irish Red, paid for by his adoring fans. That’s how it always is for Dale; rarely did he buy drinks out of his own pocket.There is never any need. At his old bar he was the regular, the guy that everyone loved to listen to and buy for.
But everything had changed. The bar—the Lucky Rabbit—had been torn down three weeks ago. Apparently the owner was a cheap piece of crap (not the word that came to mind when Dale pictured Carl Flint, not by a long shot) that had pushed the IRS just a bit too far. It was like in the Loony Tunes cartoon when Bugs kept drawing lines in the sand for Elmer Fudd to cross, eventually leading him to the cliff and drawing that final line.
Dale could picture Carl diving over that line.
So Dale had been out of the club, searching for a new hangout to get wasted; it sure beat being lonely in his house. He worked for Smith and Sons, a road working company. It was back breaking work in the harsh glare of the sun, and Dale needed his hangout. He needed somewhere he could go to blow off a little steam. Somewhere that he could just kick back and relax and down a few mugs with friendly people.But most important, he needed somewhere to go where he was appreciated.
He had stumbled upon the Red completely by accident. It was in the seedier side of town, a place he never visited.Smith and Sons had taken a job to fix up one of the back roads—easy work, but pretty good pay—and Dale was stuck working a late shift. The contract was almost up, and they were nowhere near finished. It was a particularly draining day for the entire crew, so afterwards they had all gone into the closest bar to forget about the work and drain away their troubles. Dale had liked the place instantly: a large crowd (sixty percent men, the rest women), good music (rock and roll instead of dance garbage or pop; A Perfect Circle was playing Judith when they first entered), and cheap prices. So Dale had started coming just about every night after he finished his work.
The first few nights were the worst. No one in the bar knew who he was, so he was stuck buying his own drinks; it was hell.But it hadn’t taken long for him to become a regular and make friends. After that everything started changing and people had started listening to what he had to say, and if there was one thing Dale was good at, it was talking.
“Hey Dale, you got any more jokes for us?” one of the patrons (a scrawny little college kid with no muscle mass—but Dale isn’t judging) asks, drawing him from his thoughts. Dale thinks about it for a moment, which is quite a bit harder than it was earlier in the day, and then grins.
“Certainly,” he says. “Actually, this is more of a riddle. Let’s say you just turned forty years old, and you fell in love with a ten year old girl—”
“I’d say I have some pretty big issues,” the kid interrupts. That gets more than a few laughs, and Dale waits until they died down before continuing.
“So you are four times older than this little girl, so you can’t marry her.So you wait five years. She’s fifteen, and you are now forty-five. You’re only three times older than her. That’s still too much, so you wait another fifteen years.Now the little girl is thirty, and you’re sixty. Only two times older than her.”
“She’s catching up,” the kid observes.
“Yep. The question is: how long do you have to wait until she’s the same age as you?” There is another round of applause from this joke (once the fans catch on; an alcoholic crowd is very rarely and intelligent crowd), and three of the six listeners pat Dale on the back.
“That’s a nice one.”
“Abbot and Costello. Greatest comedians ever.”
“Yeah, especially the ‘Who’s on first’ gig. Pimp stuff,” another patron says. Dale half-smiles and sips his drink. Of course everyone thinks of that bit when they think of Abbot and Costello, but that isn’t the best thing those two did. Not even close, at least by Dale’s standards.
The bartender—a small man who seems to take intense pleasure in scrubbing his bar but does a good job of leaving his customers alone—sidles up to the congregation. “I’m about to close up,” he says.
“Jeez, is it really that late?” Dale asks.
“No, but it is that early.” Dale glances at his watch and sees that it is almost three in the morning. God, where does the time go? “I hate to run customers out, but I can’t get anyone to watch the bar, and I’ve gotta get some rest. One of my friends died recently and his funeral is tomorrow.”
“Whoa man, we don’t need your whole life story,” the college kid says, then laughs.Dale shoots him a glance, shutting the kid up pretty quick.
“Yeah, we’ll be on our way out then. See you tomorrow night then.”
The bartender nods and then slides away. Dale sighs—mostly to himself—and then stands up. Or at least he tries to; his legs are wobbly and weak from all the alcohol.“Hey, you are in no shape to drive,” one of his fans remarks. Dale only laughs. “Want me to give you a ride home?”
Dale considers it, briefly, and then shakes his head. If he’s too drunk to drive—which he is, even he is smart enough to realize that—then it would be an ever worse mistake to trust one of these bozos. “Nah, I’ll call a cab. I’m way out of the way. Thanks, though, means a lot.”
He turned towards the bartender (is his name Jim? Dale thinks it might be) and starts asking a question. He hasn’t even gotten more than a word in before Jim points towards the far wall towards the bathrooms. An old and decrepit pay phone lies situated between the two doors, invisible to anyone who doesn’t need to use it. He nods to the bartender and then goes to the phone. An ancient phone book sits beside the phone on a table, covered in dust, and Dale wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most of the names in the book are people who died a couple of years ago. The taxi numbers seem right, though, and his first try gets him a company that said a driver will pick him up on Sixth Avenue in about ten minutes.Not surprising; most companies don’t like working this section of town. As far as his car? Well he could just pick that up later, couldn’t he? He’d brought his broken down old beater (if he was going to crash in a drunken haze, it wasn’t going to be in his new Honda, which was parked safely in his garage). Tomorrow was his day off anyhow.
“Thanks,” he says to Jim, who is finishing cleanup. Everyone else has gone, and Jim seems to be in a hurry to get rid of Dale as well. Dale takes the cue and decides not to be a nuisance. Sixth Avenue is a short walk from here, anyways, and it is a beautiful night. The cool air will do a good job sobering him up.
He takes the back way out of the bar, which leads into an alley. The late evening—or early morning, however you look at it—air is chilly but clean, unlike the stale barroom air. Dale breathes fresh air in several times, relishing the taste, and then starts walking. It is a quiet time, when few cars travel the roads, and none seem very loud. It certainly isn’t as loud as these streets would be in the middle of the day in rush hour traffic. Even the dogs are asleep; there isn’t a single sound…
Except there is. Not long after he comes to the sidewalk and starts walking towards Sixth Avenue he begins hearing sounds. At the moment he can’t tell what they are. It is the sound of slurping, as if someone were drinking through a straw. It is distant, and Dale almost thinks he is imagining it.
As he walks the sound grows louder, and it is coming from his right, across the street. Curious—not to mention too drunk to know any better—he crosses over. The sound is coming from a nearby alley, and when he comes to the mouth of it he stops. Had he been sober, he would have run away right then and there, wanting nothing to do with the slurping sound.
At first he can’t see anything. It is, after all, a dark night. Then he sees them; it looks like a couple in a loving embrace, leaning against the wall; except something is wrong. The woman (pressed against the wall) has her head leaning against the wall and her eyes closed, not returning the embrace. The man has his lips pressed against her neck. And the slurping sound? What could that be from? Either I’m drunker than I thought, or that’s a vampire…
And that is when it happens. The woman—no more than thirty years old with strawberry blonde hair (even in the dim light he can see this)—lowers her head and opens her eyes. She looks—god help him—right at Dale, right into his eyes. And she starts screaming. Dale feels his legs loosen up and nearly falls down. He wants to open his mouth, to say something, anything, but he can’t. In all of his past dreams, he thought that when this situation arose he would rush to the rescue and risk his life to save the damsel in distress. Dale wants to run up to her and pull her from the vampire’s (if that was what it is) grasp and take her away to safety.
But he can’t.
Instead he turns around and ran, sprinting as fast as he can (and staggering more than a bit) to try and escape the image. The screaming seems to be following him, and only after running for a few minutes does he realize that it is him. He is screaming at the top of his lungs.
He runs for about five minutes, and when he finally stops he finds himself at Sixth Avenue. A taxi is idling on the corner, and when he stumbles into view the car pulls up beside him. How did I get here? His mind asks, thinking there was no destination in his cowardice. His memory and subconscious must have led him to this place. The cab pulls right up next to him and he looks into the window.Gonna see a vampire in there, and it’s gonna smile with blood running down its lips, and it’s gonna ask me if I want a ride and—
“Hey, you look like hell,” the driver says, and is Dale relieved to see that it is a Mexican and not a vampire driving the car? As crazy as it sounds, he is very relieved. “Did you see a ghost or something?”
Dale tries to reply and can’t. He opens the door and slides into the backseat of the cab. “607 Beaver Street,” he says. His voice is weak, fragile.
“Are you okay?” the man asks, much more seriously this time. Dale almost laughs. Of course I’m alright. I just saw a woman being mauled by a vampire and then thought you were a vampire.
“Yeah. Just kinda late is all.”
“You’re telling me,” the driver says, yawning (isn’t ironic that people don’t actually start yawning until they think they’re tired?) and apparently decides Dale is okay after all. In fact, he seems to cast it out of his mind, preferring to discuss his niece, who happens to be a brilliant saxophonist. Dale lets him monopolize the conversation, happy to stay silent.He lets out an occasional grunt to pretend he is interested, but his mind is far away…
…Back with the girl in the alley. Of all the things to be worried about, the biggest is his pride (this is actually his mind avoiding the true issue of seeing a creature the world universally agrees doesn’t exist). He left the woman there all alone, and he had perhaps condemned her to death. How could he deal with such cowardice from himself when he had always believed that when the opportunity arose he would do the right thing?
It is around a twenty minute drive, and when Dale finally escapes from the cab it is about three thirty in the morning. He is exhausted out of his mind and doesn’t have any of the buzz he should from the alcohol he drank—terror is an excellent way of sobering people up, it seems. He is too tired to do anything except go to the restroom and collapse on his bed; he doesn’t even remove his shoes. The last thought he has before falling asleep is: I’m never going back to the Red ever again…
Light—brighter by far than any Dale had ever known—greets him the next morning.It is a steamy day, mid-summer, in Utah.That means cold nights and bright days, and unfortunately Dale’s room isn’t quite in the right place. The early morning sun shines directly into his room each and every morning. He has black drapes an inch thick hanging over those windows to keep the glare out, but with the Utah sun a bit of the light still shines in.
But that is nothing compared to what he is experiencing now. He had forgotten to close the drapes last night (couldn’t even remember why he’d opened them the day before) and the sun is flooding into the room in all its glory. Dale feels weak, hung-over, and more than a bit sick. He barely manages to roll to the side of the bed before he pukes (most of what comes out is beer, with a scattering of something that looks like spaghetti—he can’t even remember the last time he had spaghetti.) “Get a hang of yourself, Dale,” he says to the empty room.
Then the memory comes back. It is like a flood after a dam breaks open, pouring into him and wreaking its havoc.He sees the bar, dimly, and the surrounding faces of his admiring fans (all of which are ignorant morons who would laugh at anything, but this is only a passing thought in Dale’s mind) and then he sees the alley; the couple pressed up against the wall as inflamed lovers, the woman looking at him—through him—and then screaming.
And he sees, most clearly, that which he missed last night. In the haste of the moment he hadn’t noticed the vampire turn and look at him. Blood had been running down the vampire’s face in great rivers from its feeding. The vampire had noticed him, that much was for sure. As to what that might mean, Dale has no idea.
He takes a shower, long and hot, and when he gets out he feels considerably better.Things are already starting to disappear, seeming to flee with the hangover. Sure the memory is still there, but the feelings weren’t nearly as potent. It’s almost a dream now, something gone with the coming of light. Certainly the sense of cowardice and betrayal can’t stand up in the face of such a gorgeous day? He turns the coffee machine on, starting to wonder if maybe he had simply imagined the entire thing, and absently flips on the television.
“…late last night on the corner of Grace Avenue. So far the police have not taken anyone into custody for the murder of Barbara Hennel, but we will bring you more as the situation progresses.The killer is presumed to be the same one who recently roamed the streets of Andin Valley in Texas; the wounds are the same. It seems that whoever is doing it cuts the throat of the victim, drains their blood, and washes them off before leaving the body. If there are any small children in the room we strongly encourage they leave the room…” A little late, Dale thinks. You talk about cutting throats with children in the room; why not let them see the picture?
And then he understands.
The reporter—a sexy blonde who looks about as real as a Barbie doll—pauses in her speech, still holding the microphone in her death grip. Dale glanced at the TV just in time to see her stupid smile disappear and a picture flash on the screen. It is gone in under a second, but it is enough for Dale’s mind however, to draw up an image in his mind. Once again he sees the woman (in the lover’s embrace) pressed against the wall, looking at him and screaming. He is holding a coffee mug in his hand and he set it down so he won’t drop it. His hands are shaking.
That’s definitely the same girl. What’s he do, drain the blood and then cut the throat so the cops won’t know? Jesus.
No you idiot, he just toys with her a bit before slicing her open. Maybe he was raping her. That slurping sound? Well think about it, if he was hanging all over her and he’s…you know…then that sound would make perfect sense, wouldn’t it? Now get a hold of yourself and stop acting like a little girl.
And to his credit Dale does. He even manages to pour himself a cup of coffee (he forgets the creamer and sugar) before he hears a knocking at his door. The mug falls from his grasp and crashes on the floor, spilling coffee everywhere. Dale takes a deep breath (stop acting like a little girl) and then goes to the door. He looks through the keyhole and sees the mailman standing there, holding a package in his hand. Dale turns the knob, flashing the brightest grin he can muster.
“Hey, I wasn’t sure anyone was home,” the mailman lies, smiling indifferently.It’s a lot easier to pretend not to hear things (like a mug breaking on the floor for instance) than it is to get involved. “Sign here please.”
Dale takes the board—his hands are still shaking—and signs his name on the dotted line. “Thanks,” he manages, taking the package. The mailman gives a curt nod of his head and strides away, leaving Dale alone with his newly acquired package. It is incredibly light, seeming little more than a feather, and Dale can’t imagine what’s inside it. Maybe it’s the severed finger of the woman, sent to him as a sort of warning…
Suddenly, more than anything, Dale doesn’t want the package. He wants it to be gone, out of his life, vamoose.Instead of opening the package where he is he takes it back to the kitchen and sets it on the table. He pours himself another cup of coffee, this time remembering the additives, and looks at the box. Should he get a knife to open the box? That seems like a good idea. He searches through the drawers until he finds a six inch dagger, better suited for stabbing thieves than opening packages, but it seems less than adequate.He spends another minute or so gathering his courage—he seems to be in short order of that anymore—and then slices the box open.
Blood doesn’t come pouring out of the openings when he unfolds the top, and neither does a bat come flying out to latch onto his face. In fact, the only thing he finds inside the box is a letter, folded and resting on the bottom of the box. Why not ship it in an envelope like normal people? Somehow the lone letter in the box is more frightening than a severed finger.
With trembling fingers he reaches in and pulls it out.
Less than ten minutes later he is in his car driving around twenty miles over the speed limit, desperate to get out of town.
What had the letter said to so push Dale over the edge? Let’s slip the letter—neatly refolded in Dale’s pocket—out and take a glance for ourselves:
Dear Dale Bradford,
I am terribly sorry about sending the letter in a box, but it seemed the only way to make sure you received it.Time is of the essence, and I needed to be sure you got the letter early enough in the day to escape. You have been spotted, you see, and now the vampires will hunt you down. You need my help to get you out of the mess you have stumbled into, and I need yours to help battle against the creatures.
You must get out of Utah, in any way that you can. If you should choose to drive, do not head for Texas, head west, and if you choose to fly, then under no circumstances head to New York. That is their headquarters, and if you go there you will die.I am sorry to be so upfront with you, but as I said, time is short. I would highly suggest taking Interstate Thirty-Five and heading for Arizona, but I will follow you wherever you go. There is no need to leave me any evidence of your destination, and the less trace the better. Don’t worry about your job or anything else, just get out of town.
The less you carry the better.Good luck.
It is written in a flowing script that is difficult to distinguish, and it takes several re-readings before we can make all the words out. Dale tried to pass the letter off as a joke, but failed.It seems beyond imagining that this is just a hoax, and considering what he had seen last night (not to mention the image he’d seen this morning) getting out of town seems like a well planned idea. He pushes the car along just a little bit faster, past the point of desperation now, along the freeway. He is on Interstate Thirty-Five heading towards Arizona, not really caring where he ends up.
He stops for lunch late in the day, not really hungry but knowing he needs the energy. He considers stopping at a small out of the way diner and getting a nice meal, and then changes his mind. There seems to be no shortage of fast-food restaurants in the area, and sitting in one place for an extended amount of time doesn’t seem like the best philosophy.He stops at a Burger King and gets a Whopper value meal, not particularly interested in the value.The food is stale and greasy, but fulfilling. At least he has his energy back.
He continues driving down the interstate, feeling himself getting drowsy—it is five o’clock in the afternoon, and this is probably the longest extended period of time he’s ever driven. He keeps imagining coffins sitting in the basement of some old bar or empty rundown building, and once it gets dark those coffins will open won’t they? The vampires will be out, prowling the street and searching for him, probably finding signs of his passing everywhere—
The car collapses and bounces several times, as though it had run over a very large pothole. But it doesn’t recover, and the air is filled with the sound of scraping metal. He pulls over to the side of the road as quickly as he can and turns the car off. With a deep breath and a number of curses he steps out of the car and glances at his tires. Both of them are flat, and when he does a circuit around the rest of the car he sees that those are flat as well. What the--? He glances back at the road and sees a sheet of mesh sitting there across it, long and thin nails pointing up towards the sky. He has no doubt that those nails had absolutely demolished his tires, but why?Why were they out here on the highway (a surprisingly empty highway, but this observation won’t come to him for another minute or so) in the first place?
And then he realizes it. He slips the letter out of his pocket and begins pouring it over. Someone has led him here, and in his haste—and stupidity—he has followed blindly. “Oh god,” he says, wondering a few things. The main thing he is wondering is how far he is from the nearest town, and a quick glance at a map (he always keeps one stored in the glove compartment of his car) informs him that he is only fifty or so miles from the nearest gas station.The second thing is whether or not he can ride anywhere on his rims. But he isn’t stupid, and he knows that he won’t get more than a mile on those rims; he has a spare, and suddenly wishes he had four.
And the last thing he is worried about is when it gets dark out here.Probably in another two hours, three if he was lucky. His mind—now more terrified than ever—is trying to figure out how much longer he has to live before the vampires get a hold of him. Maybe four hours, maybe less…
That’s if there are vampires and you didn’t just imagine them.
Oh they’re real, why else would someone have sent the letter?
As a joke?
A joke? Is that the best you can come up with? Who could come up with a joke like this?Hey, maybe they got the news reporter in on this one too. And maybe they got that girl to fake her own death, huh?
Dale can’t believe that this started less than twenty four hours ago.
He is pulled back from his inward struggle a minute or so later when he sees an approaching car. Of course, you imbecile. People travel these roads. Maybe these people can take you into the nearest town where you can rent a car and use it to get away. Not to Arizona anymore, can’t trust the letter bearer, but maybe somewhere else.Better move that wire mesh off the road.Wouldn’t want these people stranded too, especially if they’re going to give you a ride.
Dale quickly pulls the mesh off the road, careful to keep his hands clear of the nails, and waits for the car. The closer it gets, however, the further his stomach seems to sink. Something doesn’t seem right. He has the intense feeling that the car isn’t just traveling this road by coincidence, but is rather coming for him. He considers, for only a moment, running away and trying to escape before the car gets to him. It would be a futile effort, he realizes; the car could be on him before he could find a hiding place, and where would he hide in this desert? The car comes to a stop a few feet in front of him and two men get out, one large and one small.
They come up to him and the big one grins. “Mr. Dale Bradford I should assume,” he says. “Easiest chase we’ve ever had to deal with.”
“Ch…Chase?” he whispers.
“You saw something you weren’t supposed to, Mr. Bradford, and we can’t just let you wander the streets on your own. We’ve got our jobs to do, and we mean to do them right. And our job right now is to take you to New York and—”
“So the letter was truthful about that at least,” Dale says. The small man frowns.
“What letter?” Dale only shakes his head. The big man steps forward and grabs his arms, and the small one goes through his pockets, coming out with the folded paper. He skims over it quickly, gradually turning pale. “I think we might have a serious issue here,” he says finally, handing it to the big man. “We’d better show this to the boss.”
Big man skims it over and then issues a steady stream of curses. “Why do we always have to bring the bad news?” He turns to Dale. “God man, I’m sorry to have to do this, but…”
He steps forward and pulls something—it looks like a syringe—out of his pocket. Now Dale tries to run away, but the big man is faster than he looks. He jabs the needle in Dale’s back before he even makes it three steps. Dale’s eyes grow heavy and he collapses to the ground like so many sacks of potatoes. The last thing he hears is, “Jeez this guy’s heavy,” though he can’t feel anyone lifting him up.