Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chekhov's Vampire (Act 1 Scene 1)

                I am strolling down a dusty drive way in the high plains of Wyoming. The tall, dry switch grass waves in a warm breeze as the unbearably warm sun sinks below the mountain peaks in the west in a glorious blaze of vibrant purples, reds, yellows and oranges. We had parked the car at the beginning of the drive and proceeded in on foot.
                "Why are we walking?" I asked Laura as we sauntered in.
                "The man we're coming to see is a bit paranoid." She answered and after a pause continued, "Well, he's a lot paranoid actually, believes the end of the world is coming any day now."
                "Okay, so he's afraid of people driving up why?" The two idea's did not connect for me.
                She shrugged, "Because, sometimes it's best not to think to much about what goes on in someone else's head."
                "But he is the world expert on vampires?" I wondered if a paranoid old man would really have the most accurate information.
                "Oh yes," Laura replied, "Or at least the most knowledgeable that will talk to us."
                "Why does he talk to us?"
                "I'm not sure about that either. I think he might think it helps him keep a low profile to be compliant. That the likes of us won't bother him if he aids us every once in a while, but then I don't really try to think like him so I'm not sure. It could all be an elaborate scheme to do something I've never thought of, I wouldn't put much past him." She shrugged.
                "Anything else I should know about him?" I liked to give her this question to bait out any details she might have with held until the right moment.
                She chewed the inside of her check, a habit she had while thinking. "Yeah, if he tries to goad you don't rise to him, and he doesn't see many people so don't expect too much from his conversation."
                Great, I thought a crazy confrontational old man, that's just who I want to spend my Saturday night with. We continued on in silence for another half mile, we passed some cows out to graze and closer to the house came upon a row of solar panels, between those and the windmills in the distance, I figured the place sold excess energy back to the power plant, between the money from that, the cows and the ample vegetable garden I saw the old man probably never had to leave his house.
                "Were's the water?" I asked, realizing he must have water access on the land.
                Laura nodded towards a green place off to the northwest "There I think. I think they share it." At least I thought it was greener, another ranch house was just visible past the water, aglow with electricity the distinct flashing of a television came from the windows facing towards us.
                The house in front of us was small, likely no more than three rooms, we mounted the two decaying front steps and Laura knocked just as the sun slipped behind the mountains. I monitored the stars while we waited, guessing at which was the north star. I was really beginning to wonder if the old man had taken today as his once in a decade day out when the door cracked open.
                I wondered how a man that lived surrounded by so much sunlight could be pale as death. His skin hung loosely at all his joints and his eyes sunk deep into his face.
                "Laura." His eyes slide onto me and held mine, I deemed it unwise to avoid the challenge.
                "Butch. This is David."
                I inclined my head ever so slightly as to be demure, but not break eye contact. I do not think I impressed him however.
                He turned and went inside leaving the door ajar so we could follow, I watched the back of his neck poking out above his T-shirt, counted every vertebra, and saw were his collar bone had once been broken. The room we entered had an old television, a couch and little else, a hot plate and sink marked the kitchen space, the entire area was eerily spotless. We followed the skeleton into the bedroom, he reached down and grabbed the bottom of the bed, some complex had gesture followed and the whole bed swung forward and up revealing a six-inch concrete slab covering a set of stairs into the basement.
                He entered and we continued along. Our little trio walked down the stairs for five or so minutes before the man commented, "I suppose you'll be wanting diner."
                "We ate in town, so we're not over hungry, some coffee or something would be nice though."
                The back of his head nodded and I noticed the wispy bald batches covering his head. We came into a large open concrete bunker, the harsh overhead lights shining down on us, the first room appeared to be a tea room for entertaining guests a long table with ten chairs, at the head of the table lay several papers and the man gestured for us to sit there. We took the places on either side of the head and the man continued through a door to the right of where we entered, peering through the door I observed several computer servers and with a shock realized, this old man might be crazy, but he might be a genius too.
                Laura and I sat at the table reading the file headings on the papers upside down, but not daring to search through them. Everything was detailed with a date, a website or IP address (or both,) at least one location, and several other notes that appeared to pertain to the man's filling system.
                I considered asking questions about our location, but ascertained by Laura's silence that she either did not know or did not desire to speak on the matter. After several minutes of silence, the man returned bearing a wood tray with three steaming cups and a plate of cookies. I accepted a cup and found it to be filled with coffee so thick you could stand a spoon up in it.
                "Thanks," I said anyway resolving to take very tiny sips to appear to drink, but not have to taste the bitter brew.
                The man did not acknowledge me, but sat down and began addressing Laura, "I was beginning to wonder why you're lot hadn't come to me about this bunch." He motioned to the files in front of him.
                "We hadn't thought they were dangerous, rather obvious but nothing criminal until now." She responded.
                "Oh," he raised his eyebrows at this, or gave the impression that he raised his eyebrows, either he had never had much for eyebrows or they had been included in his male pattern baldness part of the reason his face gave the illusion of being a skull was a distinct lack of any human hair on his face.
                "Not that we knew of anyway," Laura lied, ITG had known the group operating in a remote region of New Mexico had criminal contacts if not actions, but had not been able to find appropriate cover placements in the area. "We're not interested in covering up the paranormal, you know that, Butch. Just documenting and dealing with any systemic issues." She continued.
                The man's eyes were hostile and dead as he whispered with an implicit yell, "Of course, I know that."
                The staring contest dragged on a few moments before he added "I don't see why your lot doesn't go public with all the data you have."
                Laura shrugged, "Because half of the people wouldn't believe us at all and the other half would believe us way too well. Sure these things happen, but some people would see them around every corner and down every dark ally, and they're not. The events we chronicle are actually quite rare."
                "Why don't you go public?" I addressed the man for the first time.
                His gaze swung to me and he looked me evenly in the eye throughout his answer, "No benefit. I do this for me, just give the information to you lot so you'll leave me to it. Plus vampires are not exactly what fiction authors would tell you, they're just corpses that forgot to die." He paused and seemed to think about his own words, "I suppose it's like she says, some people wouldn't believe you and some would believe too much."
                I let those comments go. I had been on the job with ITG for about two years now, only about one and a half years as a paranormal investigator. Already I saw that half the cases I was sent to investigate came back as nonsense from someone's over active imagination.
                "Anyway, this group is a bad lot." The man directed his voice at the files as he flipped through some of them. "I'm not sure how they got started; they have a lot of manpower and a large online presence, which of course I can mine for information quite well. I think they've converted the entire town they're holed up in, I wouldn't go in their unannounced anyway."
                "How are they surviving?" I asked I figured the vampires would eventually run themselves out of victims and therefor food.
                "Livestock, it was quite a ranching area. I'm not sure who's doing the daylight work for them, or maybe they're just getting by without it."
                "You don't think they have prisoners or chattels?" Laura inquired.
                He shook his head, "No they don't have the resources to hold a large living population, and I've had no mentions of prisons or anything related. Mind you they probably killed a good many innocent people."
                "What's it for?" Laura asked.
                "The communications suggest the original lot were international smugglers, I'm not sure if they've gone rouge or just expanded the base of operation."
                "Smuggling what?" I wondered.
                "Drugs I assume. A vampire is not using his body cavities so you can shove as much product in their as you want. You don't have to worry about it crossing into the blood and killing them and to get it out you just open one up and sew them back together, but it could have been other things too, diamonds, electronics to embargoed countries, maybe guns for all I know, it's all the same basic idea." He was calm and matter of fact about the situation.
                "Um wouldn't it hurt to get opened back up?" I wondered why even the undead would go along with this idea.
                "Apparently not, if you starve yourself of blood the nerve endings stop functioning and allow for easy recovery. So I've been told anyway, I haven't exactly tried it myself." The man smiled either amused by his statement or by my discomfort at it.
                "Look at it this way," Laura addressed me her hands on the table motioning as she talked. "When vampires drink blood, they become more like the living. The blood restores some bodily function and makes them more human like, but if starved of blood they lose most bodily function and become more corpse like. You starve them to make them corpses, cut them open take out what's inside and sew them back up, then you give a transfusion with synthetic human factors that will trick the body into increasing the rate of regeneration."
                I drew upon my anatomy knowledge learned while training to become a nurse, "Um, that doesn't seem like it would work too well."
                The man cackled shaking his whole skeletal body, "I'm not sure that it does either, but they think it does and maybe that's all that matters. Most vampires will also except payment of hopped up blood transfusions, these guys certainly seem to be doing so." he tapped the files in front of him neatly bringing us back on topic.
                "So who are the live ones they're working with then?" Laura asked.
                "That I'm not actually sure about," the man shook his head. "They only communicate with a minor Mexican drug cartel, but I looked into the cartel, and there's no way they can finance this. Especially not the blood transfusions. I've found where they're coming from by the way, so perhaps one of you medical lot can get in their and poison the supply." He opened a file and slide out a sheet of paper which Laura looked over.
                "Hmph, are you sure this is the blood supply?" She furrowed her brow.
                "Yeah," he nodded.
                "Well, I don't think we'll be going after this location, but thanks for the info." She handed back the sheet a troubled look swept across her face.
                "No problem," the man growled looking pleases. I began to suspect that every piece of information he gave us was intended to illicit a reaction. Maybe he was not really a vampire hunter maybe he was hunting us. I shed this train of thought, not even two years in the field and I was already becoming paranoid.
                "The rest of the files come at a price, now what have you got for me?" The man asked, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms, the sharp points of his elbows jutting out of his T-shirt sleeves.
                "What do you need?" Laura asked, "We can give you more computer parts anytime. Cement if you want it too." She gestured at the room we sat in.
                I knew the negotiations would not involve me and went back to studying the room. It was a perfect square cement box. At least one hundred feet under ground with four identical wooden doors leading out of each wall. After considering for a moment, I was pretty sure of which door I came in from, but realized it would be hard to tell without the table in the middle. This was probably some how a part of the man's doomsday defense, or defense against whatever he thought might be storming his house, apparently not us since he let us in, but I doubted he would have man qualms about shooting Laura and myself if it came down to it.
                "Fine that will do," the man and Laura agreed to their terms and I was glad it had not taken too long.
                He began spinning folders around to face us. "I total their number at 274, but that could change between now and then. Their knowledge of vampiric abilities and life are based solely on Hollywood movies," The man's face stretched into a demented sort of smile and he either wheezed or giggled, "They will be sorely disappointed I'm sure. They spend a lot of time trying to unlock their untapped physical strength and psychic abilities. They're impatient and impulsive," His face turned sour like curdled milk, "But whoever made them knows, and they know they know. Not the drug cartel, but whoever made the first one, they're not even sure of that anymore they seem to be self perpetuating at this point."
                "Tell me what you know about the incident we mentioned," Laura said.
                "Ah yes," He pulled one of the lower folders and nudged it over in front of her, "Apparently the drug cartel doesn't know anything useful about them either. They sent one to assassinate a police chief across the border who had been giving them trouble. He succeeded, but was shot several times, brought to a hospital and declared dead. After being brought down for autopsy, he decided it would be a good idea to get up and walk away. It wasn't he sustained several more life ending injuries, if he held his consciousness to the body after that it was his choice and a poor one, they cremated him after autopsy."
                "Cremations seem off the books for a murder," I put in.
                "Yeah well people are superstitious, and if a dead body gets up and starts walking around you want to try and make sure it's dead the next time, even if you don't know why." Butch glanced side long at me, I was not sure if this was meant to be a comment on them or a warning to me.
                                "Yeah well people are superstitious, and if a dead body gets up and starts walking around you want to try and make sure it's dead the next time, even if you don't know why." Butch glanced side long at me, I was not sure if this was meant to be a comment on them or a warning to me.
                "What do you mean it's his choice to hold onto his body?" I asked.
                "Well it is his choice. Look vampires are just corpses that forgot they should be corpses. But if a vampire wants to remember he's a corpse at any point in time he's free to do so. Any vampire can just lie down and die. If I had sustained multiple fatal gun shoot wounds and was being held in a hostile environment I'd probably do that, but then some people are more afraid of death than others. Anyway I don't think his conscious survived the cremation." The man rattled these things off without emotion, but I pondered the horror of being burned alive.
                "So basically what you're telling me is this lot should be push overs, relatively?" Laura asked.
                The man wobbled his head back and forth, "Basically, assuming you can avoid the cartel lot. They have a good stash of guns from what I gather. But are not on sight much, they kind of just send in orders and goods their likely afraid of the dead ones."
                "Right, which files can I take?" Laura asked shuffling some of the papers together. The two of them ordered the materials, about three-quarters of which were coming back with us.
                "How long did it take you to build all this?" I blurted out, I had been wondering it so long I could not contain the question.
                The man smiled his deathly smile, "I'm still building it. You can never be too prepared for the end."
                "Why are you tracking vampires if you're so concerned with the end of the world?" I had been contemplating this too.
                "Heehee, they'll be the only ones left. I'd like to know my future neighbors."
                Laura pulled all the papers together, "This one?" She pointed at a door.
                The man nodded, "Until the end." He said as a good-bye.
                "Until the end." Laura answered and we exited the bunker, he did not come with us.
                Once outside I pondered aloud to Laura, "How much stuff has he got stashed away down there, I mean, how much food can one man eat?" I motioned to the garden we were walking past.
                Laura faced me with astonishment written on her face, "One man I don't know, but he does." She jabbed a finger back at the house. "But one vampire can't eat any of this," she motioned back at the garden, "Let me give you a piece of advice, if the world ever does end. Stay the hell away from here."

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