The Greatest Vampire
Gary Cadwallader

Submitted for your approval: a tale of one relationship dying while several others, bonded in blood, are being born.

"Great vampires have always been women," my wife said. She nudged me in the darkness of the auditorium as Luchesa, Queen of Witches, Greatest of Vampires strode toward the lectern.

"What about Dracula?"

"The real Dracula was mortal," Carla whispered. "But look at her!" Carla's breath was hot in my ear. "She's magnificent."

And so she was, this Luchesa, who walked like a man but whose pale body made me ache. She stood tall and was sensuously thin, white as an albino. She captured her audience with quick movements and sparkling eyes. Her presence was ethereal.

Her clothes were businesslike. A gray felt suit and peach blouse. Small gray pumps emphasized shapely legs. Perhaps we were to imagine her working in a law firm downtown, but I kept sensing the clothes were a mask.

"Great women have always been vampires," I whispered to Carla, in a poor attempt at humor.

Carla dug her nails into my palm and looked at me sideways. She wanted to chew me out, but Luchesa saved me by starting her presentation.

Luchesa's eyes swept the crowd and locked too long with my own. I looked away dizzily and saw blood welling up from the floor. It splashed across my shoes and sopped into my socks. It was warm against my ankles.

A hallucination! I shook my head. Luchesa still looked at me. The air was heavy with steam and the smell of human entrails.

"That's a horrible thing to say!" Carla whispered.

"What?" Less than a second had passed and Carla had just answered me. Luchesa's eyes moved on. I mumbled an apology and sank into the chair. Was I in the presence of the real thing? I'd taken it for granted Luchesa was a fake... who wouldn't, besides Carla?

But my head hurt. Single words from Luchesa's speech came to me as images in a fog. Freedom: a wolf lunging through the gray woods, tracks like flower petals in the snow. Ritual: a den of serpents tangling in sexual frenzy. Blood: a vision of a Vietnamese child stepping on a popper. A small leg shoots up in the air, turning end over end and spattering me with a fine red mist, throwing blood across my lips and face.

I looked at Carla. Tiny droplets of blood, like beads of sweat, were in her hair. I reeled in the chair, which seemed miles wide. I bounced off the back and was propelled to the floor.

I'd never been a believer. Not like Carla. I could deny this a thousand ways. I got food poisoning at Don Choo-Choo's. Some bad acid from 1973 was coming back to haunt me. I was having a stroke.

But all excuses fled when I looked at Luchesa. If she wasn't a full-fledged witch -- or vampire -- then my brother Billy didn't burn up in a Huey helicopter and I didn't work as a computer programmer. Nothing was real. My mother was Einstein and nobody's old man ever drank too much. This woman was bad news.

Carla looked enraptured. She couldn't have missed the fact that I was hunkered on the floor, but she was hanging on Luchesa's every word, while a pounding headache kept me from calling out to her.

Carla had always been a believer. She still thought the Beatles were getting back together. I tried to tell her one of them was dead, but that didn't matter. "It won't be on this plane," she said. We were the couple about whom people said "opposites attract." People had been saying that for twenty years and it was still true today. All I wanted was another twenty years with my crazy wife.

Without Carla, I'm a shark. No feelings, no motivations beyond the primal, nothing. I need her spiritualism and astrology. I need her delving into the unknown to fill the emptiness in my soul. I'm not stupid, I know what people say: "Roger's all control, and Carla's -- Carla's a flake." We were the perfect yin and yang of couples. What one lacked, the other had in abundance. Carla gave me control. Without her I was the vampire.

So there was something familiar in Luchesa, something warlike in her thin body. She looked like starving children I'd seen in Vietnam, like fresh corpses beside the road. She had my attention like nothing had since a cobra had crawled across my chest while I lay half asleep in the jungle.

I knew her hallucinations, too. In college, the days were long and drugs were easy to find. After that was the war, and don't think we didn't try to fill our emptiness with whatever we could find.

Was Luchesa making some promise of eternal youth? That would tempt my Carla. Her disappointment with her own body usually came as a put-down of mine. I took it quietly; I had a paunch but didn't mind aging. Carla not only hated it -- she feared it.

"I'm sick," I mumbled and crawled to the aisle across the unmoving feet of strangers. Carla didn't notice. I saw rows and rows of glassy, unblinking eyes staring at Luchesa. No one watched me as I hurried to the door, not daring to look back.

The lights and fresh air of the lobby gave me the strength to make it to the toilet. I threw up. The white bowl was cool against my hands. The tiled floor sparkled with the extraordinary vision given to those with fever. My retching slowed, then stopped, and my eyesight returned to normal. I slicked the sweat from my forehead and rose with increasing strength. That had been a tough attack of... of what?

In the hard fluorescent glare of the men's room, my vampire theory didn't hold up. Just nonsense. I must have been out of my mind.

"You okay, buddy?" A hand touched my shoulder. A well-fed, bearded man with a nose like a red cauliflower was looking at me. "Your wife sent me in to get you. You okay?"

"Yeah, sure." I patted his sleeve and walked to the door. I felt his jaundiced eyes following me. "Really," I said. "Just something I ate."

He grunted. That was something he could understand. His hand found its way to his ample belly and stroked it absently.

I walked out into a darkened lobby that smelled of cigarette smoke and orange soda. That didn't seem right at all. I saw the glow of Carla's white dress among the shadows before I saw her face.

"Where the hell you been?" she started in on me. "The lecture's been over for forty-five minutes, and I wanted to go talk with Luchesa. You've ruined -- "

"Wait -- what do you mean the lecture's over? She just started five minutes ago."

"You're nuts. Did you fall asleep in there? I swear, if you've been drinking..."

"No, of course not. I haven't had time to get a drink!"

"You've had almost four hours. Don't play stupid! Luchesa talked for three hours with a break in the middle. And I been waiting out here for God knows how long! I finally sent the manager in to check and out you come like nothing happened? Well, listen mister, I'm pissed!"

"Baby, I was sick." Could I have fallen asleep?

Carla looked skeptical. "You're never sick."

"I know. And I'm freaked out, okay? I don't know what's happening, but I blacked out or something."

She put her arm around me. "Did you fall down?"

"No. Are you sure it's been that long? I know, of course you are, sorry -- I did throw up."

"Maybe you passed out."

"No, I'm sure. I threw up, then I came right out. I just lost four hours somewhere."

"That's crazy."

Carla, the ditz, was calling me crazy. "Is this some kind of role reversal?" I asked.

She laughed. "Let's get home to bed. I'll drive."

That night we had the greatest sex of our twenty years together... and then I saw Luchesa outside our second-story window.

She floated as in a dream and my vision was blurred. It could have been a dream. Except for the sound. I don't hear sounds in my dreams.

Luchesa was beside Carla and they were caressing. Luchesa stared at me with amber, metallic eyes. She bared her fangs and sank them into Carla's soft neck. I tried to scream a warning but found myself floundering under waves of shock. Luchesa was overloading my nervous system with swells of sensation.

Sound and feeling and imbalance struck me, forcing me out of the bed and onto my knees. I struggled to raise my head and it was like putting my face into a campfire. The heat seemed to peel my skin away. And the smell brought a picture to my mind. It was a picture of small fingers, chopped and placed neatly in a bowl of vinegar, their bloody nails all pointing at me accusingly.

I looked at Carla and she was sinking into herself. The life was draining out of her. Her beautiful skin, which had been so hot and soft moments ago, looked like dried tapioca on concrete.

And Luchesa threw back her head and roared. She was a lion and I was less worthy than carrion. She slit her own throat with a sharp thumbnail and pressed Carla's lips to it. And Carla began to suck.

That sound petrified me. That sucking. That awful adult suckling that only the terribly hungry can make. And I wet myself with tears and urine, and I trembled with fever until, mercifully, Luchesa let me pass from her hypnotism into unconsciousness.

"Darling," my Carla said, "what are you doing on the floor?"

I unwound like an ancient cat, sore and stretching. My head was bruised, my neck was stiff. I looked at her with bleary vision. "What happened?"

"You were on the floor."

"No, I mean last night. What happened last night?"

"I slept like a log."

I stood up and nearly fell across the bed. "I had the strangest dream... about Luchesa." I pulled Carla's robe away from her neck. No marks.

"Roger, what are you doing, silly?"

"Never mind," I said. "It was just a dream... I guess. But it was so real."

"And that's how you ended up on the floor?"

"Forget it. Let's get some breakfast."

On weekends, we did a few chores around the house and then went to a movie. But Carla suggested we drive to St. Louis, maybe take in the zoo, go to a riverboat. It sounded good to me and I wanted to get out of the house.

So we drove for five hours and had lunch along the way. It was a nice, calm trip. I enjoyed the scenery, the river, everything. That is, until we got there and Carla asked me to buy a newspaper.

Somehow, she knew exactly what page to turn to. She found the ad for "Luchesa, Queen of Witches, Greatest of Vampires" on page twenty-four.

"This is where I want to go," she said.

There was a subtlety about her voice that I found odd. I looked at her and knew why we'd come to St. Louis. It was the next stop on the vampire train.

"We can't," I began. "It's impossible," I stammered.

I sputtered like a dying '73 Bel Air. I searched for reasons we couldn't go. There had to be one that didn't involve the very things I didn't want to talk about, the supernatural events in our bedroom. Finally, I just yelled. "I won't have it!"

She looked at me like I was a dog. She challenged me with her eyes to give her the real reason. But she stayed absolutely silent and left the next move to me.

"And that's that!"

She slapped me hard across the face. My teeth felt like they would fall out. And I bit my lip.

"What the hell you do that for?"

She hit me again.

I doubled up my fist and she looked me straight in the eye. I'd never hit her in twenty years. I wanted to then, but I didn't. I feared that once I started.... No, no, I couldn't hit her.

"You're so full of shit you squeak," I said, and turned away.

We didn't talk much that afternoon. We found a motel room. We ate dinner. I watched the clock, waiting for eight, when the show would start. What was it going to be like this time?

I never found out. Carla sneaked out while I was in the bathroom. I heard the car starting and knew she'd left me to wait in the motel.

I spent the next several hours in a state of agitated denial. Nothing's wrong, I thought, pacing the floor. It didn't really happen. I passed out, then I had a bad dream. That's all. Carla's only into this vampire business because she's nuts. Crazy Carla, the ditz. She even called herself that.

But as the hour grew later, I worked up to full panic. She's leaving me. With that thought I saw a truth more frightening than the supernatural. I'm not worried that she's in danger, or even in love... I'm worried because I don't want to be alone.

I had to do something. I called for a rental car and headed for the theater.

I don't know what I expected to find on that deserted street. All the people had gone home, the show was over. Hot wind blew off the river. The theater was locked up and I was out of places to look. I began cruising, like a mother looking for her lost kid. Driving up and down without hope of seeing a sign. But you have to keep moving because you're so worried.

And I found a restaurant that looked right. Not for Carla maybe, but it had Luchesa written all over it. A classy place, darkened and smelling of red wine and redder meat.

They were there.

I think they wanted me to find them. They were in a booth close to the front. I could see them from the window. I got out of the car and pressed my face to the glass. None of the diners paid any attention to me.

Only Luchesa saw me. She smiled. Her canine teeth were razor sharp. She found Carla's hand and bit a huge, ragged hole in it between the thumb and first finger. Blood ran down Carla's arm. Luchesa looked up, lips and teeth bloody, then held Carla's hand over her wine glass and slowly filled it with blood. I screamed. I hammered on the glass. No one even looked up.

I scrambled for the door and lost sight of them for a moment. I rushed in past a maître d' who grabbed at my shirt. A table spilled over. People began to scream.

A man cursed me and his wife laughed. I found the booth, but it was empty. The glass of blood was gone. There were no blood stains on the tablecloth. It was as if I had dreamed it all.

They threw me out into the street and I fell to my hands and knees in the gutter. The concrete tore my pants. A rat ran across my hand. I could smell the river sweating in the distance. I saw a bum urinating against a trash bin. The wind screamed in my ear, "She's gone."

I picked myself and limped to the car. Back at the motel, the few things Carla had brought were gone. She'd left a note: "Don't try to find me, Roger. I don't love you anymore." It was on amber motel stationary with a picture of the St. Louis Arch.

I sat on the bed and stared into space for two hours.

Finally, I decided to go after her. I didn't care if she loved me, that wasn't the point. What I cared about was whether she was alive or not. Was she some kind of walking dead now?

I went back to the theater and broke in through a side door. I turned furniture over and tore up the lobby until I found what I wanted, a pamphlet showing Luchesa's next stop. Indianapolis. She was headed straight east on I-70. I was going to catch her.

It was past two in the morning by the time I crossed into Indiana, and I was wondering some pretty strange stuff. Like, was it legal to kill a vampire? Did they have rights under the Constitution? Should I even go after Carla? Maybe being a vampire was her choice and I shouldn't interfere.

I was all mixed up, but I kept driving. One thing was clear to me: I didn't need a wooden stake to kill Luchesa. She wouldn't have bothered with all those hypnotic fireworks unless she was afraid of me. No, a gun would do, or a heavy pipe... maybe I could even strangle her, as long as I didn't let her get to my mind.

The stars were painfully bright, and I was alone on the road. A farmer's light shone off to the left a mile or so ahead. My headlights outlined corn growing right up to the shoulder. I saw more stars than I'd seen in years. Under other circumstances, it would have been a wonderful night.

I rounded a corner at eighty and saw Carla standing in the road. She had on a white full-length nightgown and her skin was yellow in my lights.

I pulled the car hard to the left and jammed on the brakes. The car jumped into the air and flipped over. The car turned over once -- twice -- and landed upright, facing backwards in the median.

Carla was gone.

The car wouldn't start and I had a headache that wouldn't quit, but I seemed unhurt. The doors were jammed shut, but I pulled myself out through the window even with the broken glass everywhere.

"There was no reason for that!" I yelled. Damn women had ruined a perfectly good car. "I'll wring your chicken necks!" And I waved a fist at the sky.

I thought I heard giggling in the cornfield. It scared the hell out of me. Ain't going in there, I thought. I'll walk until I come to a house. Let `em fight on my terms. And I set off for the lights I'd seen just down the road.

I came down the farmhouse road into the circle of light and saw a man on the porch with a shotgun. He was about fifty and balding. White hair rimmed the sides of his head. He had on red plastic glasses, an orange checkered bathrobe, and those brown slippers men used to wear in the fifties. Skinny white ankles showed under his pink pajamas.

"That your car back a ways," he said. It wasn't a question. "Those vampires do it?"

I stopped. The shotgun -- a Mossberg, Marine issue -- was pointed at my chest. This old boy had been in a war, too. One of his legs was plastic and metal; the foot inside the slipper was flesh-colored, but smooth as glass.

"They took my wife," I said.

He grunted and hobbled down from the porch. "She's gone, mister. Come with me." He walked away from the house expecting me to follow.

I thought he was going to kill me. I thought I didn't care. It might be a good thing.

He led me to a foul-smelling barn and slid back a heavy door. The door was big enough to drive a tractor through and I heard animal noises inside. He flipped a switch and blazing light blinded me for a moment. This is it, I thought.

"They done this," he said. "There was two. Reckon your wife was one." He pointed into a horse stall, expecting me to turn my back on him and have a look.

My heart thumped as I looked inside.

"Jesus!" I screamed, and began to throw up.

We were having coffee in his kitchen when he asked me to do it. I didn't want to, but it seemed like I owed him. My wife was part of this, after all.

"Take the gun," he said. "Make it quick if you can."

So I went into that barn that smelled like cats had been using it for an outhouse, turned out the light, and waited for my night vision to return. And I stalked his poor nine-year-old granddaughter like some gook in the bush. Only she couldn't go anywhere, because he had her chained in the horse stall.

She was still making that awful sound, the same sound I'd heard the night Luchesa had visited our bedroom. And the last of three white lambs was dying in her arms as she tore at its neck and spilled the blood down her throat. The other two mutilated corpses lay at her bare feet. The chain, bloodied and strained to its limit, was around her left foot. She had on white cotton panties and a sleeveless t-shirt, stained red with lamb's blood.

And I murdered that poor little girl. I shot her through the neck, blast after blast, until what was left of her head came off. It looked like a slaughterhouse in there.

And I buried the body away from the head, like the old man told me to, with the body behind the barn and the head across the highway. I prayed over both mounds. I prayed God would forgive me for killing a child. I prayed God would forgive Carla for making the child into a vampire. And I prayed I'd find Luchesa and kill her, because I knew she'd hurt the child just to slow me down.

I went back to the old man's house. There was a note in the kitchen along with a K-bar fighting knife and a greasy blue Colt .45 automatic. There were three thousand dollars wrapped up in the note.


You did the right thing. You may not believe it in the morning, but it was right. Do me one more favor... I can't face my son and tell him how his daughter died, and it seems I can't do this myself. The police will be after you when they find the bodies and your car, so take the shotgun, the money and the rest and kill those blood-suckers for me. Please. One Marine for another.

Semper Fi.

I thought about what he wrote for a long time. And then I silently went upstairs and found him asleep. I slit his throat with the K-bar -- it seemed like a good way to die. By then it was dawn and I took his truck and headed for Indianapolis.

I'm gonna find Carla, if the cops don't find me first. And I'll kill her. Luchesa too. Then I'll do myself. I suppose they'll say another vet went nuts.

Maybe I am. I killed a nine-year-old girl and an old man I didn't even know. Now I'm after my wife. If that ain't nuts, I don't know what is.

Gary Cadwallader ( lives in Blue Springs, Missouri. When not taking one of his four children to football practice or cheerleading, he works for a major hospital complex in Kansas City. He is editor of the eZine Clique of the Tomb Beetle.

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 6, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1996 Gary Cadwallader.