This story, I need not tell, for eyes other than human may be watching. They will not want this story told, and I promised I would never tell it. But fear wanes like a full moon, or a gaping wound, and now things don’t seem so real. Now, with 25 years of telling myself it was all a tale, I can look at the hammer and the spike, and convince my mind it was all just the whiskey and the raving of a lunatic.
We will call him Steve. I think that might actually be his name. I can’t tell you where I met him. He drove a Monte Carlo, one of the old ones with a hood large enough to play ball on and an engine that sounded like a raging monster. His windows didn’t work, and the winter wind was harsh and terrible. He strapped down a tarp when he parked, after he would pick me up in my fifteenth year to take me to his house to play Dungeons and Dragons.
The road to his house was pitted and pocked. It was a minefield of potholes and fissures, and he had them all memorized. In the dark or day, he could weave down the road and miss every one, speeding much faster than any other could on this road. He snaked this way and that, his foot buried in the floor, as he swerved through the minefield and to the turn that could not be seen. The first time he turned into his driveway, I gasped and my stomach dropped, as he turned for the trees that skirted the road. It was there, a crack, nothing more, a cut of gravel that sat completely hidden in the heavy brush. It bore no markers. It was impossible to see, unless you knew where it was, and shortly into this slit of a road sat an angry muscle car, parked, pointed out and ready.
The road wound, thrashing backward and forth, as it made its way to the side of the river to flank it perfectly. He pulled his tarp from his trunk and strapped it down. As he worked, I saw on the river a boat, with a motor far too large, and a huge bundle of goods tied within the craft.
When we reached the house, I saw that the stairs had been hewn with a great sledge, cracking them terribly and making them nearly impassable. It took me many minutes to traverse the flight, as I had to find just the right foot hold and balance my body just so. Steve hopped and twirled, stepping lightly and perfectly, and racing to the top as if he had every turn memorized.
We got to the door and he began to unlock it, seven locks, dead bolts. He opened the door to find a second one just a foot in, seven locks, dead bolts. Things were beginning to take shape in my head, fear budding in my mind.
When the door had been opened, he turned to me with a solemn look. “Put your hand on my back and follow my steps perfectly. Do not turn off the path I set.” He stepped in and closed the door, locking all fourteen locks behind him. I placed my hand on his back, and I could see the outline of the door across the room from me. I let him lead me, and he turned left, away from the door and out into the rest of the room. We twisted and turned, snaking our way through the room. I could feel around me all sorts of objects. They crowded in, pulled tight and oppressive. When we reached the door, seven more locks, and we were inside. I turned and looked at the floor behind me, seeing a room piled high with ropes and metal. To walk straight to the door would have sounded off a raucous alarm. He closed the door to the room and bolted it tight.
Halfway through our D&D game, a door hidden in the wall broke open, and Steve’s roommate stepped out. He was a beast of a man, hairy and burly. His arms were thick as trunks, his height nearly impossible. His hair was wild and salted, his beard a sty. He carried a bottle of whisky in his hand, and when he looked at me, he snarled. He whistled and a hound padded out into the room.
To call it a wolf would have been inaccurate. It possessed a wolf-like head, but the body of a mastiff. It stared at me, with one eye black and cold, and one blue with a white crescent whirling around the pupil. It snarled at me as it loomed over me, and when it sniffed my skin, I felt such utter and horrible fear that I almost lost control of my bladder. There was something not right about this hound, something of trauma that spoke of a thing it had seen that it would never forget. It was haunted like the veteran of some war. It padded away from me, and only then did I see that the man towering over me was putting away a great hunting knife.
He said very little. He was obviously drunk, and visibly dangerous, and I fought to keep my eyes off him to curb his wrath. He snapped out at Steve, “What did I say about visitors?” His tone was aggressive, and my heart stopped dead in my chest.
“Stake likes him,” Steve said. He, too, was visibly shaken. The man looked at his dog and back to me, and he nodded.
He turned for his hidden door and was gone.
That was the first time I met the man. He never let Steve introduce him, and when I tried to tell him my name, he would not stay to hear it. I came to call him Shadowed, for a pall hung over him, of some great deed that had been done to him, or that he himself had done, that scarred his mind. I knew I was unwelcome, but Steve was persistent that we could always play at his house. So I started coming over quite a bit, and Shadowed, he started not minding me so much.
A few other friends came around, and we were supposed to play a game one night, but beer kind of took over and the game pittered out. Shadowed drank heavy of his whiskey, his eyes swooping from one face to the next, his face brooding and suspicious. It was deep into the night when another of my friends said something Shadowed didn’t like, and he whistled. Stake jumped, and in less than a breath, my friend was down, the hound’s jaws around his throat.
Steve jumped to his feet. He started talking fast, his arms waving wild as Shadowed struggled to his feet and pulled his knife. Shadowed spoke to my friend, trapped in Stake’s jaws, in a strange language that none but him knew. When there was no visible effect, he dropped back into his chair, gripped his whiskey again and quaffed deep.
Long moments ticked out of silence and fear before Shadowed looked at us and shook his head. “You don’t know,” he said, as tears tracked down his face. “You can’t imagine.”
I was for the door. I wanted out. Let one of the other guys take me home. I had had my fill of hounds and drunk madmen. But when I asked, I was ignored, and I was treated to a story I wish I had never heard.
Shadowed looked at my friend, as Stakes let him up, and he shook his head. “I thought you were one of them,” he said.
“One of what?” my friend stammered.
“A dragon?” I asked.
“No, idiot,” he snapped, “a vampire.”
Everyone laughed, except Shadowed and Steve. Our laughs died quickly in the face of their fear.
“Tell us,” I said. I did not want to know. I did not want this man’s story, did not want to hear what he would say. This terrifying, haunted man, with a veteran of a dog and a knife stuck in his belt, had a past I did not need to hear. But as stories have long been my drug of choice, I was helpless to stop myself from pleading for his tale. He looked at me with wet eyes and stared for a long time. I silently begged him to stay quiet. I begged for him to deny me. But after long still moments, I realized why he would tell us.
It was his c0nfession. He had seen too much, had done too much, and he ached to have it cleared from his shoulders. He looked at me and nodded, and with a great swig of his bottle, he began.
He told us of his crew: a scientist, a priest, a former football player that played for the St. Louis Rams, and a book store owner. They had been brought together, and it had been explained to them. They had been dragged through the proof of it, and had seen firsthand the darkness they would be arrayed against. Shadowed told us they were given a weapon, and as he was the only one left alive, he had kept it when he had run, when he had searched for a hole too deep for them to find and too bound up for them to reach.
He went into his room then and was gone for a long time. No one spoke. No one moved. We did not know what manner of weapon he would pull out from what hole, but we knew that, though we needed to see it, we didn’t want to lay eye to it.
When he came back out, he held up a hammer. The head was the size of a coke can, and it sat on top of a three-foot-long iron handle. The head was carved of tarnished silver, and it looked heavier than any hammer I had ever seen. When he held it up and waved it before us, the muscle of his forearm bulged and rolled like a bag full of snakes. He held it up, pointing to the glyphs carved around the head of the weapon, saying they were symbols of great power and they would keep him safe as long as he held it.
He reached into the room again and pulled out a nail. It had a five-inch-wide head that had been dipped in steel. It was three feet long, and tapered to a fine point that had been fitted with a steel spike that made it so it would not dull and it would not break. The bulk of the nail was wooden, and the steel nail head looked to have been dented from many blows with the mighty hammer.
It was not the hammer that locked me up in ice cold terror. It was not the glyphs of power or the steel-dipped head of the stake the man carried. It was the length of the wooden stake, and the stains that could not be washed away, the blood that had soaked into the wood.
One of two realities were suddenly made clear to me. Shadowed was either a madman, who had killed an innocent person, truly convinced that person was a vampire, or Shadowed and his hound Stake were the last surviving members of a crew that had killed at least one real vampire.
He looked at us and back to his weapons. His mouth worked furiously for a moment before he shook his head and wept. “It made a sound when it died. It—” He held a curled hand over his mouth and stared at some unnameable horror we could not see, but could feel all around us. “A sound unlike anything this world knows. A sound that stains,” he said. Stake pulled close to his master and whimpered. I drew back in horror and stared, unable to take my eyes from the man’s fear, unable to contain my own.
When we left Shadowed, he was crying. Steve said we would not be coming back to that house. Within a week, Shadowed had kicked Steve out. Steve came by my house one last time before moving to the desert, said that Shadowed was locking himself up, said he didn’t want a roommate anymore, and never wanted to see any of us again.
“Don’t ever go back,” he said. “He is not safe. Never tell what you saw there that night. Never let out his secret.” I vowed then that I never would.
I will not post this. It is too terrifying to think that any of this could be real. I will not post it, but I need to, need to say it all out loud and hear the ridiculousness of it all. Too long, I have held tight to this story, listening in the dark watches of the night for a foot fall in the hall. They do not exist. Vampires are a tale for the young, an old venerated tale that has been told so many times, as if it were truth, so many times, that it might be more than a myth.
But it isn’t, so I’m safe.