A Book Lovers Store!
October 16, 2020
by Will Raven
In the spirit of the Halloween season, here’s a spooky tale about a vampire that haunts a small rural town.
A pale sun rose against the aging willows and hillside graves at Whitby Cemetery. The gloomy morning mist had not yet evaporated.
The view from my car window was murky, but not so much as to hide the yellow police tape. Less than 24 hours ago, a caretaker discovered grave robbers had snatched the bodies of Edwin Brooks III and Lucy Wheeler. They had been buried three days before.
I learned that much reading the wire story that crossed the assignment editor’s desk at The Providence Times. As the paper’s police reporter, I had witnessed disturbing events. But this happened in my hometown.
With dread, I read on. I feared that Hemlock was once again under the influence of a sinister force—a monster I believe murdered my mother.
I asked my editor for a few days off to tend to family matters. He kindly obliged. I packed up, topped the tank on my trusted Plymouth Duster, and departed for Hemlock that night, stopping only once to gas up again and grab a cheeseburger at an all-night diner off Interstate 95.
I rolled into Hemlock at about six o’clock in the morning. I hadn’t been home in nearly 20 years. There was no reason to come back. Everyone I knew or cared about in the Godforsaken town had already died.
I still remembered the way to Whitby. There was no gate at the cemetery as the locals believed that the dead always welcomed visitors.
I parked on the cemetery’s shady side, near Winslow Creek where my mother is buried. I never knew my father. He left us when I was two years old.
Exhausted, I rested my eyes, if only for a few minutes, while the 225 slant-six engine idled. Soon the quickening dawn cast its light, giving me a much needed energy burst. I rolled down the window and took in the cool October air. Oddly, the birds were eerily silent at this early hour and a breeze blew crisp autumn leaves up the grassy knoll toward the disturbed graves.
I got out and walked up the crest toward the vandalized sites. I didn’t expect to see much, but I had to start somewhere.
I passed rows of gray tombstones. Glancing at the names, it dawned on me how many generations had been buried in Hemlock.
By any measure, Hemlock, Maryland was a peculiar farm community. Since the 1800s, many deep-rooted superstitions had been passed down. In those days, stories circulated that farmers believed their relatives rose from the grave to feast on the living. The bodies of suspected vampires were exhumed, their heads removed, and reburied. Then there was 1957, the year Hemlock went to hell.
I know many townsfolk believe in the supernatural and occult. Sadly, I am among them. I have my reasons.
Before my mind could drift back to the abject horror that still haunts me today, I came upon the criminal act that had brought me back to Whitby.
The disturbed graves were separated by a single row. Among the original town settlers, the Brooks and Wheeler families are buried next to each other.
To the right of each empty hole was a mound of loose soil and mangled roots. And to my surprise, a young women about my age sat on the grass with her feet dangling down one side of the Wheeler grave. She looked rather sadly into the empty plot.
Her wavy black hair partially covered a white dress that contrasted nicely with a tan sweater. She held a still fresh red rose in her left hand.
“Hello”, I said, in a friendly voice.
The woman looked up. Not startled, but not at ease either. Her eyes fixed on mine.
“Yes,” she said, faking a smile. It was obvious she had been crying.
“May I ask if you know anything about what happened here?
“My name is Henry Abbott. I grew up here in Hemlock,” I said, taking two steps closer.
The woman stared deeply into my face, as though I were some rare exhibit.
“Did you happen to attend Hope Elementary School?”
“Then we were in Mrs. Walker’s third-grade class together.”
I gazed again at the mysterious woman, trying to place her gentle face. I drew a blank.
“I’m Carmen Shaw,” she said in a drowsy way. Her brown, melancholy eyes widened.
Then it registered. It was the girl everyone called Creepy Carmen. I had always felt sorry for her. The school brats teased her constantly. They called her a witch. I never did. In my book, it was all too cruel.
I flashed back to a time when we were sitting around a small table. With no apparent reason, the pencil Carmen held in her left hand started shaking. The weird sensation frightened her.
Then, as though a strange force possessed her, Carmen began sketching a boy’s face with fine detail. All the while her eyes remained shut as her hand flowed about the page. Suddenly the creative impulse stopped.
Carmen’s eyes slowly opened. She lifted her pencil from the paper. With stunning detail, she had drawn Tommy Henson who sat at our table. The likeness was near perfect. It spooked Tommy so much he ran off. We were all shocked.
The next day a school bus struck and killed Tommy. Other sketches Carmen did foreshadowed death. No one wanted to be around “Creepy Carmen” fearing that she might doom them to a quick death.
“Carmen, yes, I do remember you,” I said. “I know those school days were rough for you.”
“Did you think I was some sort of freak too?”
“I honestly didn’t know what to think.”
“Well, I survived, mostly keeping to myself. I felt like a stray cat that nobody wanted.”
“So the stories were true. You could predict death.”
“My mom called them Deathsations. But it wasn’t something I could control. And the few episodes I did have were spread over many years. Most sketches I kept a secret.”
“Carmen, I don’t know what to say. You must have been lonely.”
“I didn’t have an episode for many years. But then last week it happened again.
“Is that why you’re here today?”
“Yes, I sketched Lucy Wheeler the night before she died. She was my best friend. Perhaps my only true friend.”
“How did she die?”
“The doctors said it was pernicious anemia. But how does a perfectly healthy young woman fall so quickly to such a rare blood disease?”
“You suspect foul play?”
“I believe a vampire hunts among us. Perhaps the same creature that put fear in our hearts when we were kids.”
“Did Lucy have any fang marks on her neck?” I asked.
“That’s the first thing I checked at the funeral. No puncture wounds.”
“Might the marks be covered with make-up?”
“A mortician’s beauty work to hide the truth,” Carmen said. “Perhaps I was fooled.”
“What about Edwin Brooks?”
“I never knew him, but he was only nineteen and he also died of so-called pernicious anemia.”
“So why did someone snatch the bodies, coffins too?” I asked.
“My theory is that Lucy and Mr. Brooks are now vampires,” Carmen said, dropping the crimson flower in the empty hole and getting on her feet.
“Sounds like you know a thing or two about the undead,” I said gravely.
Carmen nodded. “Say, why don’t you stop by Blackwell’s Bookstore later today. 150 Strauss Street. I have something to share with you.”
“A bookstore in Hemlock, now that’s news.”
“It opened about three months ago. I’m the store manager. All those years alone, I did lots of reading and the owner was impressed with my knowledge of literature.”
“Got any vampire books?” I asked, half joking.
“Matter of fact we do,” she said, cracking a smile.
The more I looked into Carmen’s warm face, the more I liked it. She had soft ivory skin, a narrow nose, dark eyebrows, and full lips.
“Okay, I’ll be by tomorrow afternoon,” I said. “In the meantime, I need to speak to the sheriff.”
“Old Sheriff Mercer won’t tell you much,” Carman said.
“Thought he would have retired by now. Do you trust him?,” I asked.
“Look, Mercer’s basically an honest guy, but he doesn’t want to stir up any blood-thirsty rumors about vampires.”
Carmen and I walked back to the parking lot, continuing our conversation about strange happenings in Hemlock. By now the sun had mostly lifted the early morning mist. We climbed into our cars and drove off.
Driving into town, it struck me how much it hadn’t changed. As I turned onto Nelson street, I noticed Blackwell’s Bookstore, with a large window display that showcased a collection of trendy books. A vintage sign with gold lettering bearing the store name stood out against a black wooden facade.
Just down the street was the Sheriff’s Department housed in an old red-brick building that had stood for a hundred years. A beefy man in uniform wearing a peaked cap with a gold star exited the front door. It was Sheriff Thomas Mercer.
He had put on a few pounds and still walked with a slight limp. He got it in a gunfight with a serial killer who escaped the state prison and was holing up in Hemlock.
I quickly pulled into the driveway, hoping to catch Mercer who was in a hurry. I got out of my car and started up the sidewalk.
“Hello, Sheriff Mercer,” I said calmly. He looked back with a guarded look.
“Yes sir, how can I help you?”
“You probably don’t remember me. I was just a boy the last time you saw me in 1957. I’m Henry Abbott.”
“Sue Abbott’s boy?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“So what brings you back?”
“What would you say if I believed Hemlock has got a vampire problem?” I asked.
“Why do you say that?” Mercer said, giving off a piercing look.
“Two young people in this town recently died of a so-called rare blood disease. Sound like a vampire to you?”
“Sounds like a coincidence.”
“Then tell me why we have two missing bodies over at Whitby Cemetery?” I asked, pressing the sheriff for a plausible answer.
“Why did Jack the Ripper kill those women in White Chapel? No one really knows,” Mercer said wryly and walked away.
The sheriff’s answer didn’t satisfy me. But I had no real evidence to back my claim. I felt drained and decided to catch some sleep at the Skylight Inn. I never stayed there before, but it had been around forever so it couldn’t be all that bad.
Exhausted, I slept soundly for six hours, waking at five o’clock in the afternoon. I grabbed a black cup of coffee and a chocolate doughnut in the lobby, trying to shake the feeling that my internal clock had been turned upside down.
Strauss Street was just a couple blocks away, so I walked to the bookstore. The moment I stepped in the sweet smell of books hit me. I immediately became impressed with the store’s carefully planned layout, with immaculate displays and cherry wood shelves filled with neatly arranged books. Near the back wall, I spotted Carmen unpacking a box of paperbacks.
I approached. Carmen saw me coming and smiled.
“Good afternoon,” I said.
“Welcome to Blackwell’s Bookstore,” she said, holding three new copies of Pride and Prejudice in her hand.
“This is quite a remarkable little bookshop,” I said.
“Thank you,” Carmen replied. “I put a lot of thought into the look and feel, but Blackwell put some big bucks into the rich décor.”
“Who is Blackwell?”
“Charles Blackwell is the owner, a rather strange, older man who walks with a cane. He pretty much lets me manage everything, even the ordering. He only comes in once a week to see how I’m doing and sign the checks.”
“Where’s he from? And why did he move to Hemlock?” I asked with a reporter’s curiosity.
“He used to own a independent book store in Boston, but got robbed at gunpoint one night. And so he wanted to get away to the peace and serenity of a small rural town.”
“You say he’s strange?”
“Just the way he talks as though he’s a character in a gothic novel.”
Carmen’s description reminded me of a high school English teacher I had who sounded like a walking Charles Dickens story.
“You mentioned that you had something to show me?” I asked.
“Come this way,” Carmen said, walking into the back storage room crammed wall-to-wall with overstock and returns. She grabbed her purse that hanged from an empty magazine rack. She opened it and pull out a folded, rather-worn sheet of paper.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s your mom. I sketched her the night before she died.”
I unfolded the paper and there was a lifelike portrait of my mother. Her gentle eyes. A slight nose. A sweet smile. Long flowing black hair.
“You had this all this time and never let anyone know?,” I asked, a bit bewildered.
“What was the point?” Carmen said. “It would only bring me heartache.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it in a negative way.”
Carmen took a deep breath. “It’s funny how I met your mom only once. She saw me fall off my bike outside school one day and helped me up.”
“That was my mom, a good and decent woman.”
“Sorry that you lost her.”
“After she died, I lived with my Aunt Sarah. She told me that my mom had died accidently falling down a flight of stairs at The Markham House,” I said somberly. “But the older I got, the less I believed it.”
“That’s more than I know and it’s more than The Herald ever reported,” Carmen said, referring to Hemlock’s small weekly tabloid that died years ago.
“To this day, I still don’t why an autopsy wasn’t performed.”
“Guess Sheriff Mercer didn’t consider it a wrongful death.”
“He may be the only one who knows what really happened to my mother and what went down at The Markham House that night in 57.”
“Whenever Mercer’s asked about it, he can’t recall anything. Like it was erased from his memory.”
“I don’t know who or what to believe,” I said. “But something smells sinister.”
“Something wicked is definitely in the air,” Carmen said, returning to the shopping floor. She walked over the to the horror and fantasy section.
Carmen pulled out a one-inch thick hardback, with a black and red illustrated dust cover featuring a bat with a short, flat face and fangs that dripped blood.
Written by Jason H. Walcott, PhD, the creepy-looking volume was entitled, “The Secret Lives of Vampires.” She scanned the table of contents and turned to page 266.
“Take a look at this,” she said, standing closer so I could read.
In a section on small town vampire lore was a quiltwork of letters and journal entries dating centuries.
A few lines into the page, I noticed a bold subhead about vampires in rural towns. Among the featured vamps was Alistair Verback. The surname immediately rattled me. I was only seven years old, but I distinctly remember my mother uttering “Verbeck” repeatedly in her sleep one night. When she awoke, she could not recall anything about it and all was forgotten.
I glanced at Carmen. She blinked and I read on.
COUNT ALISTAIR VERBECK
A news account and journal entry from two different time periods and places document the existence of a vampire known as Count Alistair Verbeck. The literature suggests he spread vampirism in small rural communities in New England.
THE TIMES-DISPATCH 9 OCTOBER 1917, STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS – ALLEGED GRAVE ROBBER ESCAPES
Alleged grave robber Count Alistair Verbeck escaped Copeland County Jailhouse last night, according to authorities. How he escaped is unknown, although an accomplice is suspected, said Sheriff Walter R. Scott.
Verbeck is charged with three counts of grave robbery. During a search at his home, formerly the Deacon Manor Inn, deputies found the victims stored in three black coffins in the cellar.
The Time-Dispatch has learned the deceased are Carrie Woodson, Martin Williams, and Maureen Devereux. All of the victims recently died of an unknown blood deficiency and were buried in Hyde Cemetery.
According to court records, Verbeck purchased the long vacated Victorian manor three months ago from Frederick Carson, a longtime Stockbridge resident and former railroad executive.
Verbeck has seldom been spotted around town, according to multiple villager interviews. His date of birth and previous residence are unknown to the Times-Dispatch.
ELIZABETH WEBSTER’s JOURNAL, 9 OCTOBER 1856, EXETER, RHODE ISLAND
Last night I had the sweetest dream as though a powerful narcotic had flowed through my veins, removing all sadness and filling my soul with wild euphoria.
As I write this entry, I can still vividly see his long, hypnotizing face with bright red eyes press against my cheek. His warm breath blanketed my face. His hot, wet tongue gently slid down my neck. I felt a sharp piercing of my skin and an eerie erotica followed.
I had been bitten by the Angel of Death. I know it was Count Verbeck. He desires me in the flesh, yet I fear his coming. He will no doubt return tonight under the light of a brilliant moon. And I will be smitten again, only to awaken drained, paler, and closer to death.
“Verbeck is our vampire,” I said, closing the book.
Carmen nodded. “When I read Verbeck’s name in the book, my left hand trembled. I tried to steady it but it just kept shaking. I kept flashing back to a sketch I did of Rachael Burke.”
“The name sounds familiar?” I said.
“She attended Hope Elementary too. She was in Mrs. Waller’s class. She died shortly after the sketch. The cause was reportedly pernicious anemia.”
“All of this must be connected,” I said. “And it all points to Verbeck.”
“I’d like to read more tonight.”
“Why don’t you take the book,” Carmen said softly so customers couldn’t hear.
“I’ll have it back tomorrow.”
“Does Frawley’s Hardware still close at 7 p.m. weeknights?
“Need to buy some things,” I said, looking at my watch.
“Okay, thanks for stopping by,” Carman said. “Hope to see you soon.”
I smiled and headed down to Frawley’s. The building’s interior had changed completely since I was a kid, but it still had the smell of grass fertilizer that permeated the store.
I bought a dozen wooden stakes, a heavy hammer, and a black canvas bag to hold the vampire hunting necessities. In my car trunk, I stored an oversized crucifix, a heavy-duty flashlight, a garlic string, and a bottle of holy water.
I was ready as anyone could be to kill a vampire. But would I find him?
On the way back to the motel, I stopped for some Chinese carry out at the Golden Dragon, another Hemlock mainstay. That night laying in my bed I thumbed through the vampire book.
I had seen many vampire movies and read Dracula in college. So I had a fair amount of knowledge about The Undead.
What I read that night removed any doubt in my mind about their authenticity. The book was filled with clippings, letters, telegrams, medical records, and police reports that showed how real and clever vampires are to have survived for centuries.
I had a sick feeling that Verbeck was a survivor. But why wasn’t there more recent information about him? Why had he gone into hiding or had he changed his identity?
I slept fitfully with those haunting questions on my mind. A few hours later, I was aroused by a nightmare that I had been buried alive in a coffin. I kept scratching and clawing the coffin lid until my nails bled.
The black wooden box was filled with earth and smelled rankly like rotting flesh. Suddenly the coffin opened and a menacing face with blazing red eyes and fangs aimed for my neck. That’s when I awoke in a cold sweat.
I sat perfect still for five minutes, until my pulse slowed. My lip trembled. I had an awful sensation that something bad was about to happen. Finally, near dawn I fell back asleep again, and didn’t wake until the afternoon.
I headed straight to Blackwell’s to see Carmen. Much to my surprise she was not there. Instead, a tall, thin man dressed in a fashioned black suit and red bowtie greeted me. I assumed it was Blackwell.
“Good day, sir, and welcome,” the man said in a throaty voice.
“Is Carmen Shaw working today,” I asked, looking into Blackwell’s wrinkled face.
“Unfortunately, Ms. Shaw called in ill today. May I help you?”
Blackwell saw the book I held under my armpit. I felt awkward telling him that I was returning a borrowed book, so I lied.
“Do you have this book? This is my copy, and I’d like to buy another one for my friend.”
Blackwell’s eyes widened. “What a fascinating read.”
He checked the title against a large inventory ledger.
“Why I think you’re in luck. We show two in stock.”
He grabbed a black and gold-tip cane from behind the counter and stepped onto the floor. He headed straight for the horror section, rocking back and forth as he walked.
“Vampires make an interesting read,” he said, with a devilish grin.
The comment seemed rather peculiar. “Perhaps, they are real,” I said, prodding.
Blackwell didn’t respond. He quickly scanned the section and found the book.
“We have a copy left,” he said, handing it over. “Oddly, we are missing one.”
“Perhaps its misplaced in the store somewhere?”
“Would you like to purchase that now or do you have other books you are interested in?”
“Actually, I can check out now.”
We made our way back to the front. Blackwell stopped for a moment to straighten a crooked book stack.
“Did you know that many people in this town believe that vampires exist?” I asked.
“Frankly, I know very little about this town,” he said, scanning the book price.
“Your total is $25.66, including tax.”
I paid in cash. I noticed Blackwell’s callous hands, covered with age spots, that appeared much older than his years.
“Would you like a bag for your books?” he asked.
He pulled out a plastic store bag from under the counter and slid the books and receipt inside.
“Thank you for shopping with us,” he said. “Do come again.”
I nodded, took the books, and left. The whole conversation with Blackwell had an ominous quality about it.
Down the street, I looked up Carmen’s number and address in the telephone directory at a booth outside the Gas-N-Go. I rang six times and no one answered.
I headed back to my car. Carmen lived about a mile outside town at 427 Tobin Road. I recalled it was near the old windmill.
I pulled up to her house, a small brick colonial with black shudders and a white picket fence. A red Volkswagen Beetle was parked in the driveway.
I rang the doorbell three times. Again, no answer. I started to leave when the door opened slightly. Carmen peeked outside.
“It’s Henry Abbott,” I announced.
“Please come in,” she said, waving me back.
Carmen’s face was as white as her long silk gown. Black circles lined her eyes.
“Can you help me over to the couch?” she asked softly.
Carmen put her arm over my shoulder. We moved to the sofa and sat down.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“Last night, I heard the grim flapping of wings against the windows. And I remember feeling a stinging of my skin, followed by wild hallucinations and a long, sweet dream,” she said. “But when I awoke, my body ached and all my energy was gone.”
I noticed two small teeth marks on Carmen’s neck and feared that Count Verbeck had paid her a visit.
“I looked in the mirror this morning and it made me feel nauseous. I saw the marks,” she said, touching her neck.
“Don’t worry. You’re not going to die,” I said.
“Look!” She pointed at a piece of paper on the table. To my surprise, it was a meticulous sketch of Carmen.”
“Was this a deathsation?”
“Yes. I’m afraid so,” she winced.
“Carmen, it’s going to be okay. I will destroy Verbeck first!” I said, firmly.
“You’re brave and kind, Henry Abbott,” she said. “But first we must find him.”
“Might Verbeck have come back to The Markham House?” I asked.
“Over the past 20 years, only two families had lived in that house. And both moved out within a year. But then, Mr. Blackwell purchased the property when he moved into town.“
“I came looking for you at the bookstore today and it was Blackwell who told me you were ill,” I said.
“You think Blackwell is our Count?” Carmen asked.“I’m not saying that, but this whole vampire scare started in that house.”
Carmen sighed. “But you may not like what you find?”
“I have to see what goes on inside those walls.”
“Then I’ll come with you,” she said, trying feebly to stand again.
“You are in no condition to go anywhere but to bed. We should call a doctor.”
Carmen didn’t have the strength to argue and instead looked toward the stairs.
“We both know a doctor can’t cure me,” she said. “Please take me up to my room.”
We climbed slowly upstairs and Carmen got into bed. There was a phone on the nightstand.
“I must go. But if there’s any trouble, call the sheriff’s office.”
“Don’t worry. It’s unlikely a vampire will come hunting during the day.”
“Don’t be so sure,” I said, thinking about the vampire lore I had just read.
“Just in case, I’ve got protection,” she said, pulling a large crucifix from under the mattress.
“I will be back this evening,” I said.
“In case I can’t make it down stairs tonight, take this,” Carmen said, digging out a front door key from her pocket.
I took the key and gave Carmen a kiss on the cheek.
“Be safe, Henry,” she said, sliding her blanket up closer to her face.
It would soon be dusk. So I checked over the vampire hunting bag again and drove off. The Markham House was about 30 minutes outside town.
The Queen Anne Victorian style home got its name from Isaac Markham, who in the 1890s had the wooden structure built atop a hill overlooking his sizable dairy farm.
In 1897, Markham’s wife and four kids died of what locals called “The Vampire Plague.” It was actually yellow fever brought on by mosquitos that infested nearby Lake Winestra.
A few days later, Markham went mad, slaughtering his livestock with an ax before hanging himself in the barn.
Over the years, much of the parcel was sold off for profit by the owners, none of whom lived long in the mansion. What remains is a 10-acre estate bordered by a rusting wrought-iron fence.
I soon reached a narrow gravel road leading to the house that had somehow withstood years of neglect and abandonment. The house was unwelcoming, unnerving to the bone.
I had only seen The Markham House once, driving by it from the main road with my mother. I vividly remember a dark cloud brooded above the castle-style towers and turrets. There was no cloud now, only frightening shadows from the looming dusk.
The house had eye-like, piercing windows and black double-entry doors that seemingly wanted to swallow you whole. Ivy crept up the walls onto the steeply pitched roofs. The antique grey paint had faded and chipped long ago. A wrap around porch surrounded the ailing frame, holding the evil within.
I wondered how such a once splendid gothic architecture had withstood years of abandonment. I slowed the car, scheming how I might approach The Markham House and who or what was inside.
I planned to drive around back and find entry there. I only hoped that I wasn’t being watched.
As I rounded the corner of the house, I spotted a shabby red barn. I stopped and opened the creaky doors and out flew a colony of bats. I covered my head as the nocturnal creatures flapped into the twilight sky
Parked inside was a vintage 1957 black Cadillac hearse with white curtains. I knew the year and model well. I’ll never forgot the chauffeur telling Aunt Sarah and I that we were the first family to ride in the new hearse fresh from the factory.
It was the perfect vehicle for transporting dead bodies and coffins, like those of Lucy Wheeler and Edwin Brooks.
I saw a stone stairwell leading to the cellar. I grabbed my bag and a tire iron from the trunk to pry the door free. I stepped in, waving my flashlight into the darkness. Time was running out.
In the fading daylight, I looked for a light switch. There wasn’t one. I heard squeaks and several rats scampered across the floor. In the distance, a door creaked open. I beamed the flashlight in the same direction. A shadowy figure moved closer.
My heart thumped in my throat as I realized it was Charles Blackwell. But he looked different, younger, stronger than he appeared in the book store.
Blackwell spoke. “You’re the one who returned the book.”
I searched my bag for the cross, quickly finding its distinctive shape.
“And who are you, really?” I asked, bracing myself for what may come.
Blackwell stepped closer. I flashed the cross, slowing him momentarily.
“You think that foolish holy toy will stop me, Blackwell said, as though he had built immunity to a virus.
Unnerving silence. Then Blackwell groaned and attacked. We struggled, but I was no match for his supreme strength. He grabbed my shoulder with one hand, then clutched my throat with the other. I gasped for air as he lifted me off the ground.
I thought death was near. I prayed with my final breaths. Then an unlikely angel appeared—it was Sheriff Mercer. He carried a long handle axe in his arms and had been seriously wounded. Blood flowed from his mid-section. He crept up behind Blackwell.
With a raw cry, Mercer planted the axe in Blackwell’s back. He release me, letting out a ghastly howl and dropped to his knees. I
Mercer cocked his weapon again and decapitated Blackwell with a ferocious swing. Blood sprayed. His head dropped to the ground. In the dim light, I could see Blackwell’s eyes twitch, then fade.
I watched in horror as Mercer turned to the headless vampire and raised his axe once more. This time burying it in his heart. More blood splattered that turned black.
Seconds later, Blackwell’s head and body began decaying. His skin shriveled and his facial features sunk into his skull. His once powerful body waisted away.
Mercer and I stared in sheer terror and delight. Bleeding more profusely now, Mercer collapsed. I hunched down next to him and put pressure on the wound.
“Listen carefully,” he said, touching my shirt.
Mercer’s breathing labored. His wound cut deep into his internal organs. Death was knocking.
“The real monster is in that room,” Mercer said, pointing shakily towards the door through which he and Blackwell came. “You must destroy it.”
“I will, I will Sheriff Mercer,” I said.
“Henry, I must tell you something that you might not want to hear,” he said.
I leaned closer. Mercer’s eyes softened.
“Back in 57, Count Verbeck killed your mother. In this very house, I drove a stake through her heart. She had become a vampire. Verbeck escaped before I could get him.”
The confession shocked my system, but I felt no ill will toward Mercer. It was a relief to finally hear the truth.
“Sheriff, you did what you had to do, and I’m sorry about what has happened,” I said.
“The bastard got me good,” Mercer said, looking at Blackwell’s head. “But he’s dust now.”
Mercer released a final breath and died. I closed his eyes. He was a good and decent man that deserved far better than he got in the end.
I had to move quickly before the moon began its nightly ascent. The door to the next room was open and I feared what may be waiting for me there.
I approached cautiously, shining my flashlight into the room. It was a small space—cold, musty, and mostly empty, except for three coffins at the rear. In a weird way, the space had the flavor of a dark funeral parlor.
A large black casket with a glistening gold V emblazoned on its side stood a foot above the others. Verbeck was surely inside the elevated coffin, and I had a horrible sensation that it would open at any second.
I had to destroy Verbeck then and now. The others could wait. I stepped over his polished coffin that had an unholy glow. The wood was cold, sinister to the touch. Like it had been carved from a tortured tree. I was about to open the lid when my head began hurting.
From within the coffin, Verbeck tried to control my mind. But my hatred for him was strong. With one hand pushing down on the lid, I took the holy water from my bag and sprinkled it on the coffin. The wood burned and scarred with each drop. I could hear Verbeck tossing inside.
I released the lid and reached back into my sack. I clutched the hammer with my left hand and the stake with my right.
Verbeck popped up with an angry snarl. We appeared Nosferatu like—a hideous monster with ivory fangs and a bald head with multiple sarcomas and tiny craters. He had pointed ears, a bent noise, and a stubby neck.
Verbeck’s blazing red eyes, filled with death and destruction, locked with mine. In that frightening instant and with a firm hand, I plunged the stake into his heart, pounding it deep into the organ’s dark chambers. The beast let out a blasphemous howl like a suffering animal. His body shook and twisted in wild convulsions.
“No!,” the vampire cried, raising his arms to halt me. But I raised the hammer high and drove the stake in once more.
“This one’s for my mother,” I yelled, savagely driving the pointed stick in a final time.
Verbeck looked at me in disgust. Blood flowed from the sides of his mouth. His cold hand seized my left arm. In a brittle voice, he spoke his final words.
“You pitiful man. You think you have destroyed me,” he said, choking on his blood. “But each night I will live forever in a thousand other creatures of the night.”
Verbeck’s eyes turned gray, blank, and lifeless. The pale glow around the coffin dimmed. His leathery skin that had aged over centuries blistered and rotted away. His once might body decomposed. I could hear his bones crumbling to dust.
Verbeck had departed. I was exhausted, but wasted no time in destroying the other vampires. First Edwin Brooks III and then, Lucy Wheeler. As I hammered the stake into her heart, I thought about Carmen and how sad she was to lose her close friend.
I left Markham House alive–thanks to Sheriff Mercer. Driving back I felt relieved that the dark cloud hanging over Hemlock had finally lifted.
By the time I arrived at Carmen’s house, night had come. I rang the bell and Carmen opened the door. She looked much better.
“Thank God you’re okay,” she said, warmly.
“I’m fine, but Blackwell killed Sheriff Mercer. And it was Mercer who saved me.”
In the light, I saw the color in Carmen’s cheeks had returned and the marks on her neck were gone.
“What about Blackwell?” she asked.
“I destroyed him and Count Verbeck, too. Blackwell was actually just a henchman, a Renfield for Verbeck.
“That would explain my latest Deathsation,” she said. “It came on like a fever shortly after you left.
Carmen went into the kitchen and returned with the sketch in hand.
“Is this the monster you killed?” she asked, grimly.
“That’s Count Verbeck, alright.”
A chill ran up my spine looking once again at his revolting face.
“And I want to show you something else,” she said, handing me blank piece of paper.
“What’s this?” I asked, looking at the empty white sheet.
“That was me. The Deathsation sketch. Somehow it just vanished.”
“And so have the fang marks on your neck,” I said, smiling. At that moment, we kissed.
We had been through a lot together. But the nightmare was finally over, and we were both alive. There was peace again in the peculiar Town of Hemlock.
Copyright © 2020. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, used for fictional purposes.
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