One Kind Favor A man relates a strange story about losing his one true love to a vampire.

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Mar 30, 2015 No Comments ›› admin

FICTION
by Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note: This is the second story involving my hero, the Illusion, although he functions only as a plot device. For the record, the “Strange Café” was a real place, operated by two great aunts of mine in the fifties in Moody, Texas. I think it makes a wonderful and ‘moody’ venue for my stories that take place in Jamesport.

Jamesport, county seat of Commodore County. In the darkened streets of the oceanfront, people scurry even in the wee hours before dawn. Some go about their business openly; some events are shrouded in mystery. Tonight, one of the city’s darkest secrets will unfold.

In the back room of the Strange Café, the man known as the Illusion sat quietly waiting.

Presently, a bearded, middle-aged man entered the room, carrying a small bag, and without speaking, took a chair on the opposite side of the table. It was a blustery night, and both men were wearing long, dark overcoats; other than that, they could not have appeared more different. Under his coat, the Illusion wore a solid black business suit, and his face – though un-hooded – seemed hazy. The bearded man wore khaki trousers, a dark blue shirt and boots. He was of medium build and maybe forty-five years old. His face was pockmarked by — something, perhaps the reason for the growth of beard.

After a waiter delivered a glass of wine, he removed his overcoat, but the Illusion kept his on. The man allowed the coat to fall to the floor, and it draped itself across the bag like a tarpaulin.

After a while, the bearded man said softly, “Thank you for meeting me here. I assure you that your time will not be wasted.”

The masked man, who had his own glass, took a sip of the golden liquid inside and responded. “I should hope not. My time is short, and I’m anxious to hear your story.”

“Then I must remind you that if you are satisfied that what I’m about to tell you is true, you must do me one kind favor before the dawn.”

“You have my word.”

“Then let me begin.”

The bearded man took a longer sip, emptying the glass, and turned his head to see if a waiter might be near with the bottle. Seeing none, he turned to the other man and began his story in soft, understated tones.

###

My name is Marc Ludlow and I am a carpenter. For the first forty years of my life, I existed in near total obscurity, having few family members and even fewer friends. I never married, but there was one love in my life — a beautiful young woman named Maria Alvarez. As you know, she was the victim of a most brutal murder, and that is one of the reasons I asked the District Attorney to arrange this meeting. You see, I know who killed her and why. By the way — I can already see the question in the lines of your face — I did not kill Maria Alvarez, though I am far from guiltless. But let me start at the beginning.

The air was cool and clean the afternoon of Maria’s funeral. Even though we had broken apart years before, I still loved her with all my heart, and to watch as the casket was lowered into the soft, black earth was almost more than I could bear. On the drive back into Jamesport, I could only think of the times that I held her in my arms, and I fought back tears for as long as I could.

As the afternoon melted into evening and then to bitter darkness, I tried to avoid all thought of Maria, but I could not. After midnight, with sleep seemingly impossible, I rose from my bed, dressed, and returned to Jamesport Cemetery. Why? Why does any man pine after a woman that he can no longer possess, no matter what the reason? In most cases, it is no more than irreconcilable differences that split the two; in this case, the separation was enhanced by death. My dream, you see, was to win Maria back. That chance had now been stolen from me forever.

As I approached the graveyard, I could hear the normal sounds of the night. An owl hoot here and there; the soft rustle of wind in the leaves, but the only human sounds were the trampling of my own boots in the freshly dug earth that still surrounded Maria’s grave.

I stared at the small mound, tears once again welling up in my eyes, and pondering — who? Who could take a life so young, so full of promise? Oh yes, everyone knew that Maria’s death was not natural. I knew it better than most; as a close friend, I had been called to identify the body, and it was not a pretty sight. Maria’s olive complexion was replaced by an ashen tone, and the coroner explained that she had lost a lot of blood. Beyond that, little information was provided since the authorities were still searching for the killer.

On this darkest of nights, I was undeniably in an unstable frame of mind. But I was not too crazy to notice by the light of my lantern what appeared to be a disturbance on the gravesite, as if someone had tampered with it in the hours since the funeral. There were strange looking footprints in the dirt, but I told myself that they belonged to the attendants who lowered Maria’s casket into the ground. But did they?

After some more time had gone by, and I had managed to convince myself that something was askew, I went for a shovel, returned, and began to dig. One foot, two feet, three, and finally six feet down, I reached the casket. Let me assure you that even at this point, after working myself into enough of a frenzy to go this far, I still had second thoughts. My love for Maria was deep, and if everything turned out to be in order — that is, if her corpse were inside the casket as it should be — then I would be forced to live with the fact that I had desecrated the grave of my only love. But I had gone this far, and now, there was no turning back.

As I felt for the clasps that would unlock the casket door, I went over the evidence in my mind: the tampered-with mound, the strange footprints, the dirt askew. But if there was a body inside, then what? Slowly, I opened the casket door, and saw that there was indeed a body inside.

I found myself looking into the dead, wide-eyed stare of an elderly man.

My first thought was that I had opened the wrong grave. I searched the body for a wallet, found one, and then shut the casket door and began to shovel dirt back into place as if my very existence depended on it. But the lantern light clearly illuminated the name of the occupant of the grave: it was, or should have been, my precious Maria. I returned home, still unable to rest, but convinced that Maria’s murder was no ordinary occurrence. I swore to find her killer.

###

As I told you at the beginning, I am a carpenter by trade, and while that made it a simple matter to craft the object in my bag, I am by no means qualified in the area of detective work.

However, one interesting clue emerged about a week later. Like me, Maria had only a small circle of friends, and I had been named to assist in the disposal of her personal effects. Among them was a letter — addressed to me. I have it with me here, and I will read it aloud for you:

Dear Marc,

Lately, I have had an eerie feeling, as if something strange is about to happen. The feeling is related, I’m sure, to the man I’ve been seeing. Alex is, well, different from anyone I’ve ever known. We met at a tavern on the waterfront at the edge of town. I found him fascinating and persuasive and agreed to let him take me home.

We sat by the fire, chatting, and then suddenly, I felt his hot breath against my cheek and I slowly turned my head toward him. His eyes seemed to glow like the burning embers in the fire. As he began to kiss me, I felt as if I had no will of my own. His left arm was wrapped around me, holding me tightly as he gently loosened the top button of my blouse with his free hand.

The kiss was deep and passionate and I could tell that my lower lip had begun to bleed. I made a weak effort to push him away. He looked into my eyes for just a moment, wiped my mouth with his hand, and then began to stroke my exposed neck. Before I knew it, his lips were there, kissing my neck with the same passion he had shown before. I felt a slight pain, but I didn’t care; Alex was now my master and could do with me as he pleased.

However, the dawn was breaking, and he explained that he should be leaving.

After he was gone, I put some ice on my lip and my neck to keep them from swelling, and decided that I would not see Alex again.

My dearest Marc, I know that you love me and that your desire is to hold me in your arms again. I want you to know that in the days that followed my encounter with Alex, I thought about you often. I knew that you would make a fine husband and that I would have a long and prosperous life with you. But as much as I tried, I could not get Alex off my mind. I began to go back to the tavern where we had met. Please understand, my darling, that I fought this urge, but it would not leave me alone. Alex was now my master and I was his slave.

It was only a matter of time before we met again.

We had a drink and then he took me to his apartment, a rather damp and dingy room in an old boarding house on the South side. On this night, he seemed to be in control of his emotions and his passions. He kissed me gently, sending a tingling sensation up my spine, but there was none of the ferventness of our prior encounter.

We talked, and he explained that he had fallen in love with me. He said that I was different from other women, and that he was different, too — that perhaps we were right for each other. I told him that I didn’t know what to think, that he scared me a little, and that I didn’t know if should see him again. That angered him, and he looked directly into my eyes again, calming me down. He told me that we were destined to be together for all eternity. I thought that was very romantic. We saw each other more often after that.

Then, only a few nights ago, he said he was almost ready. I wasn’t sure what he meant, and when I questioned him, he was silent for the longest time. Then he said some very odd things that I didn’t understand. He said that he had “fasted” for a long time and that the night we met had been the hardest. He said he had to “make do” with stray animals and the occasional prostitute, so that no one in Jamesport would suspect. He told me that soon, it would be possible for us to be together always — and that he would send someone to retrieve me for him — and then, we would go far away.

I don’t know why a man who loves me so should frighten me this way. But I have made up my kind that I do not wish to go away with Alex, and I intend to tell him of my decision at our next encounter. I only hope that I have not already gone too far.

As for the two of us, I know that we shall meet again soon.

All my love,
Maria

###

Marc Ludlow was fighting back tears as he recounted the story of his precious Maria. No one knew for sure what had taken place at the ultimate meeting of Alex and Maria, but whatever it was, Maria had not survived.

By this time, the waiter had refreshed Mr. Ludlow’s drink and he took a long, lingering sip, then glanced at the bag, now covered by his coat. After a while, he resumed his story.

###

As you can well imagine, I was quite shocked by this note. All at once, I had learned that Maria might very well have come back to me — and, that she was murdered by this man she referred to as “Alex.”

I began to put two and two together. The man that Alex said he would send to retrieve Maria — could that have been the man I found in her casket? In looking through his pocketbook, I discovered that he was a retired factory worker who supplemented his pension with odd jobs. I also came across a scribbled address. Could that be the place where the corpse was to be delivered? With that thought in mind, I paid a visit to the address, and found a dilapidated apartment building called “The Gabel House.” With some trepidation, I knocked on the door.

The proprietor confirmed the residence of a mister Alexander Jones in apartment 21.

It was all coming together. Alexander Jones — a name that chilled me to my bones — had done this terrible thing, and soon, I would confront him. But I would have to wait, for the landlord told me that Mr. Jones’ business kept him away during the day, and I would have to return after sunset if I wished to see him.

By the time I returned that evening, I was spoiling for a fight. The thought of this Alexander Jones taking the life of my precious Maria because she had rejected his advances was more than I could take. I brought a pistol with me, but my first thought was to rip Mr. Jones apart with my bare hands. I ascended the stairs to apartment 21, firmly took the doorknocker with my hand – and SLAMMED it three times as hard as I could. With an audible creak, the door opened, and I found myself face to face with Alexander Jones.

He was big — a handsome hulk of a man, unlikely to be intimidated by anyone, and in a deep, gruff voice, asked me, “What do you want?”

“I’m here about Maria Alvarez,” I said. “What did you do to her?”

He said nothing, and then I realized that his right hand was clutching my throat. He pulled me into the room, and tossed me against the wall so hard that I almost lost consciousness. As he came for me again, I knew that I was no match for this kind of strength, and so I reached into my coat pocket for the gun. I fired off a shot, and I’m sure I hit him, but it didn’t matter.

He took the gun away and slung it aside. He held my shoulder and slapped me in face with the back of his right hand. My body was going limp as he took my coat off and began to unbutton my shirt. I tried to fight back, but when I looked into his glowing red eyes, I lost all the will to resist him.

His face descended on me and I felt a small tingle as he penetrated my neck and began drinking hungrily from my vein. I was about to lose consciousness when I heard someone at the door.

Alexander Jones stopped for a moment and gazed at the locked door. He knew that I was no longer a threat to him, but he was wary about who might have heard the gunshot. He called out, “Who is it?” There was no answer. After a moment, he turned and took a step back toward me. I tried to rise and run, but I was far too weak. Then there was yet another knock at the door. Jones just stood there and stared, first at the door, then at me.

The knock turned into a pounding. The door began to give. Jones stepped back and picked up my limp body with one hand as if to use it as a shield. Then, the door blew open, and there stood Maria. Beautiful Maria, still wearing her burial shroud, her face all chalky white. In her hands she held two pieces of flat steel, one just shorter than the other. She gave me a quick look to see if I was still alive before her red eyes met those of Alexander Jones.

He threw me to the floor and took a step toward her. “At last, you’ve returned,” he said as his mouth produced a bloody smile.

Maria looked back at me and asked, “Are you all right?” Then she turned to Jones and held the flat pieces of steel high above her head. Realization sat in on Alexander Jones and he knew that Maria would never be his. He prepared to lunge. She brought the pieces of steel down and slapped them together with a tremendous clink, forming a crucifix. Jones fell to the floor, and Maria’s own legs began to wobble.

“Quick, Marc, the hammer and stake…”

I forced myself to my feet and found the items that she had left just outside the door.
Maria had fallen atop Jones, still fighting to hold the crucifix together. I pushed her aside just enough to place the stake over the heart of Alexander Jones. I brought the hammer down as hard as I could. Jones’ face began to wrinkle and the red glow in his eyes went out. When I was sure he was finished, I uncrossed the pieces of steel.

It took Maria a few moments to recover. “We’ve got to get away from here,” she exclaimed. Already sirens were wailing in the distance. I was too weak to run, but her strength had returned and it was enormous. She carried me with one arm while retrieving the hammer and the stake with the other. We disappeared into the night.

When Maria had found a secluded alleyway, she stopped to rest and talk.

“When Alex said he wanted to be together for eternity, he was not exaggerating,” she said. “He explained it all on our last night together. Alex had been a vampire for more than two hundred years. He had gone by many names and had lived in many places. He had survived all that time by taking the blood of animals and prostitutes. He didn’t want to make any more vampires and so he placed a stake through the hearts of his human victims.”

“But he didn’t do that with you,” I said.

“He loved me, Marc. And when he saw how easily I came under his spell, he decided at last that he would take a companion. He hired the old man to bring me back to him, knowing that it would be too risky for him to dig up my grave himself. But I crossed over too soon, and when the old man opened the casket, I was hungry.”

“So you took his blood and buried him there in your place.”

“Yes. And then I began a journey to find you, hoping I wouldn’t be too late.”

I had regained some of my strength by then, and I took Maria in my arms and began to kiss her. I raised my chin and placed her lips upon my neck. “Let me join you, Maria,” I begged as I gave myself to her.

She took a sip of blood and then stopped. “No. I can’t. Alexander Jones has returned to dust by now, and that means only one vampire remains — me. We can spend the rest of the night together, but you must make me a solemn promise.”

I knew what she meant. If Maria made me into a vampire, and we proceeded to feast on the citizens of Jamesport, where would it end? I made the solemn vow, and at the first hint of dawn, she held the stake against her own heart and, taking no delight, I brought the hammer down.

###

“That’s my story, and that’s why this entire episode will end tonight. The authorities will find no more bloodless animals and no more ladies of the evening with wooden stakes through their hearts.”

The Illusion showed no emotion. “A strange story indeed, Mr. Ludlow. And, if true, it leaves no room for murder charges against you since both of the people you killed were already dead. A most interesting legal quandary.”

“Yes, I suppose it could be. But I have no intention of subjecting myself to any court action.”

“Suppose I have surrounded the room with police?”

“I don’t think that you have. Your reputation is that of a man of mystery as well as a man of honor. That means I must ask you this: did you find my story to be plausible? If so, then I must call in the favor that you owe me.”

At that, Marc Ludlow bared his teeth, showing four lethal fangs — and he allowed his eyes to glow red in the darkness.

“It’s true, all right,” he hissed. “Maria turned to dust in my arms as the morning sun arose. But I had lost so much blood that I could not survive without feeding. I slithered into a dark place to avoid the sun. Soon I walked the night, doing just what Alexander Jones had done to survive. Maria was right. It seems that there is always one vampire remaining in Jamesport. The cycle must be broken.”

“Then I assume I know what you carry in your bag.”

Ludlow reached into the bag and pulled out a hammer, handing it to the Illusion. He knelt to the floor and held the stake over his own heart.

“Don’t worry. I won’t feel it but for a moment. Then, I’ll turn to dust, and you can be on your way.”

“If you’re sure…”

“I’m sure. It’s the only way.”

The Illusion brought the hammer down with a vengeance. Ludlow coughed gently, and his hands fell limply from the stake. In a moment it was over. The waiter entered the room a few moments later to refill their glasses, but he found only a small pile of dust on the floor.

###

The full moon shone over Jamesport Cemetery that night and all was quiet. All, that is, except for a constant, muffled sound of rapping. A beating of hands against a casket door as if someone was trying to escape from the grave that once belonged to Maria Alvarez. It seems that there is always one vampire remaining in Jamesport.

THE END

© 2015 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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