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The Remover

By Kenneth Kohl

Part 1

When I left my office, I already had a premonition that something awful was going to happen that evening. I am not psychic. I am quite perceptive, though, and the signs were easy to read. I had worked late – nine o’clock and already dark – and my ordinarily enjoyable walk to the parking lot struck me as a little bit menacing. I parked in a lot that was about a ten-minute walk from my office. In the early evening on a crisp autumn day, it is a pleasure to stroll there and take in the sights of downtown Indianapolis. Occasionally I would take a detour and walk along the canal, checking out the street art. This was past nightfall, though, and right in the middle of a hot and humid August. There were only two sorts of people in downtown Indy that night – those who had to be, and those who had no place else to go.

My walks always took me past the Wheeler Mission. There was a flashing neon sign reminding me that “Jesus Saves” every ten seconds. The mission was a magnet for the homeless. A lot of my sort of people ended up there, but some others as well. Addicts, mentals, criminals on the run and looking for a meal and a place to stay. According to the mission’s rules felons are usually turned in, so the police visited regularly. None of the city’s finest sitting outside that night; just a collection of bums waiting to scam some loose change off whoever happened to be out on this humid night.

One of the panhandlers called out to me. “Hey! Can I talk to you sir? Can I ask you a question? Are you afraid of homeless people?” He was young, maybe pushing thirty. He was clean-shaven and had a number of tattoos running up his arms and neck and ending just shy of the bottom of his dirty red baseball hat. The design hinted at a former stay in prison.

Every one of them always has a story. It is typically well practiced and smooth. A bum tells his story so many times that he begins to believe it himself. He gets into his character and will debate at length about why he needs money. The stories can get quite elaborate and sometimes amusing, if you have the time. However, unless you want to be followed all the way back to your car or to the door of your office it is best to say “No” or “Sorry.” That night, I was feeling antsy and just wanted the conversation to end quickly, so I opted for “Fuck you.”

Red Hat responded in kind. At first, he stopped in his tracks, looking somewhat stunned. Then he started following me. “You think you’re better than me? Don’t you walk away from me.” Then he grabbed at the back of my shirt. That is when I knew for sure that things were going to end badly.

I shrugged him off. I could have easily outrun him at that point, but I did not. I do not know if it was pride or arrogance; or if it was because I was tired, irritable and in an excessively bad mood. I did start walking faster, though. I hoped that he would tire of the game and go back to his roost outside the mission. I hoped that the situation would not go any further.

Then I saw a chance to end the game. There were two routes to my car – one being along a well-lit, albeit virtually deserted street and the other a slightly shorter route through a small alley behind the Robertson Parks church. I aimed myself toward the alley. I could still hear Red Hat shouting behind me, but I was doing my best to ignore him. “Where you going man? Stop! I want to talk to you,” he said. I had a good idea that when he saw me heading towards the alley, he thought that he had me beat. How stupid did he think I was? I knew that once we were alone, I would have the upper hand. I could either disappear into the shadows or, if necessary, kick his ass. What I did not know, however, was that he had a couple of friends waiting for him.

They must have seen us head off and circled around the block. It was as if they were expecting me to walk through that alley. For them, it was the perfect place for an ambush. I will have to admit that I was startled when I first saw them. I had allowed myself to get too distracted. Not only by Red Hat, but also by the anxiety that I had been experiencing since leaving my office. The two friends, dressed similarly and tattooed like Red Hat, stood at the far end of the alley. In addition to seeing their silhouettes, I could smell them from where I stood. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw them. Red Hat closed the distance behind me and pushed me further into the alley. Then the other two approached and boxed me in.

One of them pushed me and laughed. “What now, Chris?”

“Now we teach this little shit how to respect people,” Red Hat replied.

I had backed up against the wall of the church. “Trust me guys. Bad idea,” I said.

The one who had previously been quiet came forward and shoved me – hard – back into the wall. I remember feeling the back of my head bounce off the brick. Then he punched me in the stomach. As he drew back his arm to get ready for another swing, my arm flew out, and I grabbed his head, palming his face like a basketball. I pushed backward and twisted his head as he fell. That is when I saw Red Hat’s knife.

Red Hat had drawn his arm back as if he were going to pitch a softball underhand. He had the point of the knife aimed at me. He lunged, but I managed to grab his wrist and deflect his thrust. At this point, I could no longer see the first of his two friends – the first to punch me – but the other one landed another blow directly to my nose. That diverted my attention long enough for Red Hat to bring his knife around for another attempt. A thousand thoughts were racing through my mind. How could I have let myself be drawn into that situation? Why did they pick me? Why that night? How was it going to end? How was I going to handle the cleanup after it was over?

Between all the distractions and the surprise punch to the face, I must have missed seeing the knife until the last moment. It sunk deep into me. Low, directly below my ribs and angled upward into the place where a normal man would keep his liver. The guy had been in fights before. He was a pro. I felt pressure, but not any actual pain.

Then I felt myself becoming very hot and my vision faded to white.

When the numbness went away, I surveyed the scene in the alley. One of the guys – the one who managed to land a punch on my face – was running around the corner of the church screaming. Around me, there was blood all over the ground and even sprayed up onto the wall of the church. The guy whose face I had grabbed was lying prone nearby, his head cocked at an unnatural angle. His neck was clearly broken. Red Hat surprised me most. He was lying at my feet eyes open, mouth frozen in a perverse smile, and throat ripped open. He looked like he had had a date gone bad with a table saw.

And all I could think of was how long it had been since I had last eaten.

Part 2

Dear R.,

I can no longer trust my own decisions. As you hear my story, you will understand why. Right now, it will be enough to say that I cannot focus, my thoughts are racing, and my emotions are taking over. I am in no condition to make the sort of decision that is necessary, and so I am asking for your help.

I am putting my unconditional trust in you. For that to happen, you must trust me entirely – and the only way that can happen is if you know the truth.

At this point I have no doubt that you believe I’m insane and you might be right, to a point I believe that you’ll hear me out, though; if for no other reason than to find out how far gone I am. I sincerely believe that by the time I have said what I have to say, you will believe me – if not before then.

Since others are involved, I am putting their lives in your hands, too. You must never repeat this to anyone. I am laying a great burden on your shoulders; but you owe me. I do not need to remind you why.

Just about every form of life begins in an embryonic stage. Interestingly, when we are in our embryonic stage we have two hearts. Two hearts! Can you believe that? This heart primordia, as it is called, eventually fuses together into one heart with four chambers. Embryologists at the University of Indiana performed an experiment in the 1930s in which they kept the heart primordia from fusing in embryonic frogs. Amazingly, the frogs grew up with two hearts. They had extensive genetic damage, though, and did not live very long.

However, imagine for a moment that the same thing happened in nature, with greater success. Imagine that the heart primordia never fused in the embryo of an otherwise ordinary man. He could theoretically develop two hearts. Not that farfetched – humans have many redundant organs: two lungs, two kidneys, two eyes.

Are you with me so far?

The body is a system and that system normally runs at full capacity, so the addition of a second heart alone would not make much of a difference. However, there is an added potential. Suppose that this new creature (and I call it that because now we’ve taken a leap of faith and are no longer talking about your unremarkable homo sapiens) also develops a system that can exploit this additional power plant, much in the same way that an athlete can train his body to function at higher levels. It would require larger lungs, or perhaps even a third lung to provide additional oxygen. Other organs might be affected, altered, enhanced, or even eliminated. The result would be a creature possessing unimaginable strength, speed, and endurance.

You can see where I am going with this, can’t you? Such creatures do exist. This is as much of a fact as the sky is blue. I not only believe it, but I can prove it – will prove it – to you, in due time.

I wish that I were there with you now, so that I can more accurately gauge your reaction. I will have to rely on your inquisitive nature and assume that you will continue reading. Since I have told you this much already, I may as well elaborate further.

God, in all his goodness, had gone as far as to create these beings. Then Mother Nature threw in her own cruel little trick. You see, that second heart needs a way to get vital oxygen and nutrients to cells; and that way is through blood. Plasma to carry nutrients and red cells to carry oxygen. Blood is produced in bone marrow and spleen. An average, healthy man is blessed with just enough blood-producing tissue to sustain him. These creatures, however, being approximately the same size do not have the ability to produce any more blood cells than a normal man does. Yet their two hearts continue to feed their bodies in overdrive. Left in that state they would literally starve or suffocate.

Nature is also forgiving. Taking advantage of their physical mutation, they can absorb plasma and red cells from the ingestion of the blood of other living creatures. The mechanism by which this works is too specific to go into. It would not interest you anyway. Not at this point.

Therefore, these pseudo-men have evolved, exploiting their superhuman strength and abilities to become the perfect hunter – after all, other living creatures are not too keen on the idea of donating their own blood to sustain the lives of these things. I call them things because that is what “normal” men consider them to be. Fiends. Monsters.

I am certain that you know what these creatures are. This fabulous, complex, species; homo sanguineous; no less God’s children than their human brothers; hated; abhorred… have come to be called vampires.

Nevertheless, they are real. Moreover, I can prove it.

Part 3

There comes a time in every vampire’s seemingly endless life when he reaches an age at which he begins to question his choices, doubt his past actions, wonder what mistakes he will continue to make in his future. Call it a midlife crisis. At this point one of two things usually happens. A vampire can accept who and what he is, or he can go insane. The latter more often than not ends in some form of suicide.

Vampires are not immortal. I think that a more appropriate term would be un-mortal, if there were such a word. Immortal suggests that they live forever, and that is just one of many myths about vampires. They are not graced – or perhaps I should say cursed – with eternal life. However, they do live a very, very long time. That leads to the especially worst aspect of being a vampire. They are almost guaranteed to outlive everyone they love – the human ones anyway. Think about it: having to experience the death of all your friends, making new friends, and seeing them die also over and over and over again.

It is right around the time that they begin to lose their second generation of friends that they realize what has happened, and worse, that it will happen again. Think about that for a moment, and take my word for it that no matter how many funerals you have been to it does not ever get any easier. It helps to believe that there is an afterlife.

Having your friends die off is only one of the things that a vampire will think of when he hits this age. He begins to think of all the things he has missed. Sometimes he will choose never to enter a relationship with a human because he fears what will eventually happen. Then he will wonder if he made a mistake by deciding on following that path.

Then he thinks about what he is – what he truly is. What his base instinct and purpose in life is. He feels cheated that he has had to hide his true self for all the years he has been alive and that he will have to continue hiding it. He feels resentful that he will never be able to do what he really craves, what he hungers after – to hunt – without restraint.

Fulfilling one’s purpose in life is of ultimate importance to every man: vampire and human alike. A person with no aspirations has no reason to go on living. So, what is a vampire to do? His core desire, his meaning of life, is considered morally repulsive. Is it not? After living amongst humans for most of his life, he takes on their values and most vampires agree with acceptable human opinion. How is it that older vampires can hunt so easily with no heaviness on their consciences? It is during this midlife crisis that they begin to sort things out.

Most vampires, like most mortals, can eventually come to grips with whom and what they are. Some turn to religion. Sometimes it takes a good psychiatrist or regular sessions with a therapist to help them out. For most vampires, this means that they must abandon their empathy with mortals’ ideas of morality. (Not implying that vampires do not have their own set of moral standards.) This greatly increases the contentment with which they can live out the rest of their lives.

The bulk of the remainder can never come to terms with what they are and can never accept what they need to do to achieve peace of mind. All the inner turmoil eventually takes a toll on them body and soul. It breaks them. A lucky few can recover after a breakdown but the rest end up in institutions or commit suicide. Even among those who are institutionalized, some eventually end up killing themselves when they grasp the fact that a natural death and end to the pain is going to come very slowly.

Therefore, the world ends up with a whole bunch of vampires who are either happy or dead. It might sound callous, but the truth is that only elder vampires are happy ones; and while the idea of a bunch of happy vampires living amongst them might not make humans feel completely at ease, it is a whole lot better than the alternative.

You see… every once in a while, one slips through the cracks. A vampire who goes mad but somehow ends up running loose like a kid in a candy shop. The most dangerous type of vampire that exists – perhaps even more feared than the Nosferatu – is a rogue.

So, how does one deal with a rogue? He must be disposed of. The question is “How do you go about hunting the most perfect hunter that nature has ever produced?”

“You’re certain it was a total blackout?”

“Yes. Completely. One minute I was walking through an alley and the next, I… I realized that I was somewhere else. And I don’t remember how I got there.” I said, appreciating the fact that I almost said something I would regret. Dr. Shelton knows that I have problems, but as far as she is concerned, they are related to a common mental disorder – a diagnosis of rapid cycling bipolar disorder with mixed episodes. “This can be a dangerous combination,” she once said.

She shifted in her seat. “Have you had any other psychotic episodes?”

“Never.”

That topic has always been a favorite of mine. First, you should understand that the word “psychotic” is not as bad as it sounds. Many people associate it with crazed killers and wild-eyed maniacs. It means nothing of the sort. “Psychotic” thinking merely refers to episodes that consist of a break with reality. Hearing voices, hallucinating, lost time. I say it’s a favorite topic but it’s more of a pet peeve, because the good doctor always starts her sessions with questions like “Have you been seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there?” It has become cliché to reply with “Um, doc, if I’m seeing and hearing them how would I know if they’re not there?”

“Now, you know that’s not true,” she said. “You’ve had plenty of blackouts and lost days preceding some of your hospitalizations. That’s why I ask. If there’s a psychotic break coming, we might be able to head it off.”

I had to choose my words carefully. “I meant, never like this one. It wasn’t just hazy; it was a total blackout. I… I did things that couldn’t remember.”

“You said that you were alone. How is it that you know what you did during your blackout? Friends? Witnesses?” Now she was writing. Writing is bad.

I gave up. “I… don’t know doctor. Don’t pay attention to anything I say. I don’t even trust myself lately. Maybe I’m just not getting enough sleep.” I took off my sunglasses. Even though I always wore them inside her office, she never questioned them. Probably chalked it up to an eccentricity. I am sure many of her patients had quirky habits. Now she saw the dilated and irregularly shaped pupils that I am always trying to hide.

She seemed startled. “Whoa… Sorry for being frank, but I’ve never seen anything like that before. What’s up with your eyes?” She leaned forward to get a better look.

“It’s a genetic condition. Makes my eyes really sensitive to light, that’s why I wear the glasses,” I explained. “What I’m trying to show you is the dark circles under my eyes. Lack of sleep, right?”

I could tell that my eyes fascinated her, but she feigned interest in our previous subject matter. “Yes. Well, I’ll get you some samples of Seroquel. It’s an antipsychotic, so it may prevent further episodes as well as help you sleep.”

When she left the room to get the samples, I let out a sigh. What had I hoped to achieve by visiting my psychiatrist? After what had happened in the alley that night, the only thing that had any possibility of helping would be talking to someone with whom I could be entirely honest. Someone in the same boat as me – well, sort of. I decided that the best person to approach for advice was my friend Johnny. There is a long history there, but suffice to say that he understands my plight in many ways. It looked like it was about time for a trip back to Ohio, where I had grown up.

Dr. Shelton returned with the promised sample. I could tell from her sidelong glances that she was still questioning my attempt to divert attention from the appearance of my eyes. “Here are some packets of Seroquel. These are 100 mg tablets, but you can take two or three at a time if you feel it’s necessary. I’d start off with one until you know what effect they have on you.”

“Thanks doctor. Three months, right?”

“Sure. Unless something else like this comes up before then. If that happens, I want to hear about it pronto.”
I was halfway out of her office door when I heard her take a deep breath. I should have just kept on walking and pretend that I did not hear her, but I stopped and waited.

“Oh, hang on. I wanted to talk to you about something out of the ordinary in your last blood work…” she began.

Those are four words that I hate to hear: “Out of the ordinary.” There is very little about me that is ordinary. Particularly to a human. Every time someone – especially doctors and police officers – utters those words, I cringe, expecting to have to invent some wild rationalization of why whatever they think is “out of the ordinary” really has a simple explanation. Sometimes the explanations are not good enough. There have been times when my explanation was so pitiful that it required me to move on to another city or town earlier than I had planned.

This time, it was not so bad. “Your liver enzymes look fine, but you have got one hell of a vitamin D deficiency, Christian. Don’t you ever get out in the sun?”

I found that so funny that I may have let out a little laugh. “No, not so much.”

“I’ll give you a scrip for a mega-dose, once a week for a couple of months. I suggest following up with your GP. Get a physical. It can’t hurt.”

Take a wild guess about what the number one leading cause of death in vampires is. It is not a stake through the heart. It is old age. Living in a culture so full of fictitious myths and legends, you might think of that as funny. It is important to separate the myths from the truth, though. Probably one of the biggest fabrications is that vampires live forever. Vampires certainly live much longer than humans, but far from forever.

Even the finest and strongest machines eventually break down. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, cataract, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension and even Alzheimer’s – when a vampire is afflicted by these diseases, he cannot hunt. If he cannot hunt, then he cannot feed. If he does not feed, then he cannot survive for very long. You will not find many nursing homes for aging vampires.

So, it is important to take care of yourself. The vitamin D deficiency that my doctor mentioned is not something that should be easily dismissed. Sunlight helps humans’ bodies create vitamin D naturally. It does not work that way for vampires. Why not? Perhaps it was nature’s form of population control. Modern medicine has allowed us to subvert that. While we do not burst into flames, like in the movies and stories, sunlight is very damaging to our bodies. Our skin and particularly our eyes are extremely sensitive to UV rays. We get sunburned easily and, despite our ability to recover from injuries quickly, skin damage is the most painful injury that I can think of. Aside from that being in the sun for too long makes us sick. Sick to our stomachs. Nauseous. Humans can experience the same thing and they call it sun poisoning, but with our sensitivity it hits harder and faster. It can cause fever, dizziness, and electrolytic imbalance. It can be incapacitating, and that is not good. Long story short: it is better for us to get our vitamin D in pill form.

So how do you kill a vampire besides waiting for him to get old? Well… the same way that you would kill anything. We are just a little more durable. I am certainly not a biologist, but as I understand it, our cells are rapidly reproducing. A deep cut that would require weeks to heal for a human may scar over within hours and completely disappear within a day. A punctured lung – perhaps impossible to repair in a mortal – may take a week.

What is usually the deciding factor in whether or not an animal – be it a vampire, a human or some lower life form – lives or dies is if it’s heart can withstand whatever trauma has been inflicted on its body and continue its job of pumping blood to nourish the body and brain. We have a slight advantage there. Even damage to one of our hearts, provided it is not too severe, can heal quickly. It is nice to have a backup.

So, I suppose that it is ironic that while arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, drowning or massive trauma are all things that can kill a vampire… a simple stake through the heart is one thing that will probably not.

Enough with the biology lesson. So, after a lengthy digression, Dr. Shelton’s comment about getting a physical exam struck me as funny in two ways. One being that I do not ordinarily like people poking around inside me. (A human doctor would most definitely not find what he was expecting.) In addition, I was treating myself for a host of diseases and maladies already. In addition to the psychotropic medications that Dr. Shelton had me on for treatment of bipolar disorder, I was taking another 13 different meds every day – including some for high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, other vitamin deficiencies, and a drug to halt the progression of rheumatoid arthritis: a potentially fatal disease for me.

When I was younger, years after discovering what I was, I was going through a difficult time. None of my friends knew that I was a vampire and I was not about to tell them. The one thing that I knew for sure was that human friends should never be told the truth about what I was. I had learned that the hard way on more than one occasion. Usually I had just been written off as a joker or even a truly insane kid. However, there was one time when some of the locals got wind of my bragging about being a vampire – early on, I thought that it was cool. Turns out that one or two of them really believed me and tied my family to some strange affairs going on about the village. We had been run out of town after receiving threats of physical harm. I think that people were looking for a scapegoat and we provided a convenient one, but I shudder to think what may have happened if things had progressed further.

During my adolescent years, I finally could not keep it bottled up any longer. I wrote a long letter to one of my friends and pleaded for his secrecy. I told Johnny everything. I mean everything! I had delivered the letter and waited. Days went by, giving me enough time to regret my rash decision. Just when I thought he had written me off as a fool, Johnny called me.

“Are you stupid? Nuts? What the hell are you telling all of this to me for?” he said.

I held the receiver of the phone away from my face while I took a deep breath. “Listen… I was, uh… I was going through a rough time and I’d been a little drunk, and…”

“Cut the shit, dude. I know that what you said is true. But, why are you telling me? Why are you telling anyone?”

“Um,” I could not believe what I was hearing. “Like I said, I was a little desperate and… the truth? You believed me?” I had not been prepared for this situation.

“Of course I believed you. I could smell it on you.”

“No, wait… Are we talking about alcohol now?”

I could imagine Johnny raising his eyebrows right about then. “No, bud. You’re a vampire. I know it. I could smell it. Sunglasses or not, I could see it in your eyes. If that’s not enough, I could just feel it. It’s been obvious since day one.”

“So… Are you..?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“So why didn’t I know? Why can’t I smell it? Why can’t I feel it?”

I could picture him shaking his head and rolling his eyes. “’Cuz you’re so young kemosabe. You haven’t gone through the change yet. Once you go through the change your senses will quicken, your strength will grow… Hell, maybe your IQ will go up a few points.

“You guys are so funny. All of you think that you’re alone – one little lonely vampire surrounded by a sea of humans who just. Don’t. Understand.” He faked a pout.

I was getting a little pissed off at his patronizing, but then I did a double take. “All of us? All of us who? Who else Johnny?”

“Bradley, Debbi, Tanya, Patrick, Ash (no surprise there), Billy… Ooh, Bill doesn’t know yet, so keep that under your hat. I mean, he knows that he’s a vampire; he just doesn’t know that we know. Ya’ know?”

I was speechless.

“Yeah. Let that soak in, bud. Just know this. We seek each other out. Whether you realize it or not, you will be drawn to others like you – friend or foe. It’s instinct.” He paused, as if waiting for my response. “What? Didn’t our group strike you as ‘weird’ in any way?”

It was like a fog lifting. Just like that, everything I had experienced the last fifteen years made sense.

So, Johnny became pretty much my closest friend. He and I shared other problems, also. We are both bipolar. Johnny had been saddled with a few other mental disorders too. I considered him a mentor also, because of his advanced age and experiences. He was the oldest in our group and – perhaps due to his unusual mind – had a special gift for seeing things that others could not. He was better than any trained therapist I had ever seen. That was the reason that I had went to him with my latest problem. I did not think that Dr. Shelton or any therapist that she recommended could have been as helpful as Johnny could. In addition to his unique insight, I could be completely honest with him. If I had ever tried to explain the whole vampire thing to a doctor or therapist we would never make it past “Tell me about your mother,” before I ended up in a psych ward. He or she would assume that I was delusional. It had happened before.

Despite Johnny’s consideration, I had some unease approaching him about this problem. I was somewhat embarrassed to admit what was happening. Lord knows that I have done many things that deserved more shame; nevertheless, that was how I felt. All the same, I attempted to put that aside and dove into my story.

Johnny was short and compact, yet very muscular. He built himself up being a drummer for the last who-knows-how-many years. He was not the troll he was made out to be by some, but he was not exactly easy on the eyes either. On the day I visited, he was dressed in shorts and a tank top – standard uniform for him. At least he was wearing pants. Johnny is a legend in his own time for not wearing pants. We met in his one-room flat in Streetsboro. He reclined on a mattress on the floor, arms behind his head, trying unsuccessfully to refrain from smartass comments while I spilled my guts.

“So, here’s how it is, bud. I’ve got this problem.”

“You got that right,” he laughed. I did say that he was trying unsuccessfully.

“Seriously, man. There’s been this ‘thing’ going on. More than one thing. I don’t know… It’s been driving me nuts and now it’s starting to scare me.”

He sat up and looked concerned. “Scare you? Scare you? What’s up?”

So, I went into it from the beginning – at least from the time I first noticed it. About six months prior, I remember sitting at home watching the news on television. I was in an especially sour mood that day. The talking heads were going on about some bonehead gangbanger who showed up at a wedding uninvited and started shooting into a crowd. He hit a four-year-old kid in the head – didn’t kill her, thank God. I hate to hear about kids getting hurt. It is a real sore spot for me. I got so annoyed, angry, pissed off, that I began shaking. I remember thinking “Stupid animals! They all get what they deserve! They’re not anything like us. They’re nothing more than cattle!” That was really unlike me. I had collected a good-sized set of morals in the decade of Catholic education that I had been given. I was very sympathetic toward humans, unlike some vampires.

Vampires, like humans, are typically divided by region and race. The Vourdalak, for example, regard themselves as cultured and refined beyond what they consider to be their more animalistic brothers and sisters. They comprise most of the royal lineage in Romania. The Strigoiu of Moldavia are mostly gifted artists. The Liugat of Albania and Nachtzehrer of Bavaria go through life much the same as humans. All of these races generally respect the lives of humans and consider them equals. They rarely feed on unwilling humans and when they do, it is discreet and practical. I make a point of saying “unwilling humans” because there are those who are aware of the existence of vampires and – for one reason or another – willingly choose to provide blood.

There are others though, who have a complete disregard for humans. Vampires who consider humans a lower life form – much like livestock, whose sole existence is meant to provide nourishment for them. The Krvopijac – or unholy – of Bulgaria are one such race. They are strictly nightbreed, never appearing in daylight. The Brukolak originating in Greece are a particularly nasty sort. They are considered excommunicate, and shunned by most other vampires. They are emotionally and mentally unstable.

Then there is the Nosferatu. The old ones. A true embodiment of some of the stereotypes attributed to vampires. They may be truly immortal. At least no one can think of a Nosferatu ever being born or ever dying. They are monsters. Evil incarnate.

Yet even these spiteful creatures are very careful with their feeding habits. Letting humans become aware of their existence would be detrimental to survival in many ways. They would be sought out, they would reveal the existence of other vampires, humans would be more alert to their existence, and ultimately it would have damaging consequences on the entire species. Because of these reasons, to be careless when hunting may well bring down the wrath of other vampires as well as humans.

Being a descendant of both Vourdalak and Brukolak lineage, I have always been careful to watch for signs of the instability inherent with my more animalistic bloodline. I believe, however, that one’s behavior is a product of their upbringing and circumstances, not something determined solely by genetics. Therefore, you can understand why the sort of outburst of rage that day concerned me.

Johnny rolled his eyes. “Pfft. So, what’s the big deal? We all get angry sometimes.”

“Not me. Not like this.”

“You sure it’s not just a bipolar thing? You still taking your meds?”

“Johnny, you more than anyone should know about ‘bipolar things.’ And yes – I’m taking my meds and they’ve been working great.”

He pondered that for a bit, then said “Okay then. Chalk it up to a bad day and forget about it.”

“J, what about the whiteout? And… It wasn’t just a bad day. That wasn’t the only time it’s happened.”

That grabbed his attention. I told him about some of the other times, ending with my experience in the alley with the homeless guys. Just remembering the episode made my stomach feel uneasy. Yet, it stirred some other feelings in me. Something dark.

“Peas and rice, man! Sounds like those dudes had it coming. CJ, how old are you anyway?”

“I don’t really know,” I lied. Many vampires did not, but I knew the exact date I was born. I was 243 years, eight weeks, and seven days old. “Around 240, I guess.”

Johnny started nodding and smiling as if he had just solved the riddle of the sphinx. “Yep. Yep. You’re going through ‘the change.’”

“’The change.’ I thought that was menopause.”

“Ha ha. No. Yeah. Your senses are sharpening, you’re growing stronger, and your hunger is increasing. ‘The change.’ Sort of like going over the hill. You’re becoming less like a human and more like a vampire.”

I had heard about it. I knew it would come one day, but it seemed so far off. I was kind of in shock. “So, what happens now?” I sighed.

“Go with it, dude. You can’t stop it, so let it happen. Just be careful. You know? You’re…” He trailed off, obviously embarrassed.

“Yeah, yeah. Brukolak. I get it.” Seems like people always see me as Brukolak, even though I’m not – not entirely.

“I can’t explain the white-outs; but everyone is different. Maybe that’s just the way it is with you half-breeds.” Johnny looked surprised that he had let that slip out: “Half-breeds.” I knew that he did not mean it in a bad way, though. “Umm…”

“S’okay.”

“Just don’t get sloppy. I know you’re careful. You cleaned up after the thing with the homeless guys, right?” He took my hesitancy as a bad sign. “Right?”

I was somewhat embarrassed, and it seemed like the words just would not come out. “One got away.”

“Jesus!” He slapped his thigh. “You know how it works! Don’t tell me that you couldn’t catch him.”

“He was running away. I can’t hunt down an innocent human.”

“But he wasn’t innocent. You said so yourself.”

“Yeah. But still…”

He shook his head. “It’s time for you to toughen up, man. You’re not gonna’ make it with an attitude like that.”

“I am what I am, Johnny. I can’t just go around killing whoever – whenever it suits my needs.”

“Dude. God made you what you are. He will understand. He’ll forgive you.”

“It’s not that. It’s…”

But maybe it was that. As I said, I went through ten years of Catholic upbringing. Those Ten Commandments are driven into you. Thou shall not kill – that was a biggie. Yeah, I know that might sound surprising: A Catholic vampire; vampires being the minions of Satan and all – just another stereotype. I mean, if the stories about Lilith were true, then perhaps… But all that aside, vampires can have religion. Why not? We are ultimately mortal creatures (in an organic sense), just like humans. We are born and we die. The process is just a bit slower. The prospect of an afterlife sounds good to me.

If that surprises you, it will knock your socks off to know that there are clergymen who are vampires, too. Not a shock to me, but it crushes any thoughts of satanic ties that one may have.

Johnny waved me off. “No biggie, man. Just think about it. Keep it in mind the next time something like this happens. And if this guy makes trouble for you, you’ve gotta’ take care of him. ‘kay?”

“Yes, O wise one. Not that I don’t enjoy our time together, but I gotta’ jet. I’m stopping by to visit someone… someone special before I head back home.”

I had not been visiting her as often as I would have liked to, so I always made the most of my visits back to my old haunt. I was just about out of the door when Johnny said something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Oh, hey. Have you heard anything about that serial killer?”

“The what?”

“Serial killer. Indianapolis. Know anything about it?”

For some reason, I felt as if he were accusing me. I knew he was not, but that is how it came across to me. Then – even though I was surprised to hear the news – I faked surprise. I mean obviously faked it. I do not know how to describe it. I guess I just went a little over the top in reacting to this bombshell.

“No way. No way! I would have heard something about it.”

“It’s all happened over the last couple of days. I know you. You can go for weeks without turning on the television.”

Knitting my eyebrows, I said, “It’s possible. So, don’t keep me in suspense. What’s up?”

Johnny sat down again. “I know what you’re thinking. I highly doubt that it’s one of us. Not you and me… us. One of our kind. They’re not your average kills and there was no apparent motive – feeding or otherwise. Nasty business. The police just started using the term ‘serial killer’ after they found the third victim. I just wondered if you could fill me in on anything the news isn’t covering. I guess the police aren’t releasing all of the details until they have a suspect.”

“Nasty? How nasty?” Not that I really wanted to know.

“Two women and then just yesterday… are you sure you want to hear this?”

I nodded nervously. I had butterflies in my stomach.

“Yesterday they found a kid. Hard to tell how old yet, but pretty obviously a kid.”

“Hard to tell?”

“Yeah. Arms and head were… Other…” his Adam’s apple bobbed, “Pieces ripped out. All the same. It’s like they were torn apart. Like someone just went psycho on them. They considered an animal attack but nothing’s been missing in any of the cases. All body parts accounted for, just not in the right places. Know what I mean?”
“Shit.”

“Yeah! Be careful when you go back there, bud. I know that you’re a night person. Don’t be walking the streets in the wee hours.”

“Deal.” There was not much else to say. Once again… a kid. It was not something I wanted to think about. I would have to check it out, obviously. Johnny had a flair for the dramatic but I had a feeling that he was pretty much spot on with his description of the attacks. No death should be dismissed lightly, and especially not one so horrendous. Nevertheless, after 243 years – much more so for Johnny – a person has experienced pretty much everything. He has had the chance to see the ugliest side of the world. So, we were not dismissing the issue that easily. Nevertheless, it was not anything to marvel at. I gave Johnny a knowing look and with a hug, a hand bump and a peace sign I excused myself.

Johnny shot me a sympathetic look. “Give her my best, man.”

“I will, Johnny. I will.”

Part 4

As I drove south on the shady two-lane road alongside the canal, the memories began to flood back. A few were bitter but most were good. I found myself wishing that it were autumn. That would have made it just perfect. The Cuyahoga Valley National Park, just “the valley” to me, is always beautiful. Every season puts its own decoration on it but autumn is my personal favorite. It is my favorite time of year. Not just the colors of the autumn leaves, but the smells, the cool air, and the memories all of it brings back.

I had just passed the aqueduct, which carries the canal over Tinker’s Creek. That was my usual landmark. The cemetery was becoming more and more difficult to find, especially since the national park service took over what had formerly been called the Valley Natural Recreation Area. Much of the area was returning to its original state, signs of civilization disappearing. I pulled the car over as close to the guardrail as I could get and began looking for the small bridge over the canal. It was not in very good condition, but venturing it was a better option than wading through the four-foot deep brackish water. They had closed off the feeder chutes to the canal, so fresh river water from the Cuyahoga was not replenishing the murky canal water regularly. Most of the year it remained that way, gathering silt and algae. They only opened the chutes twice a year to top off the canal water since it seeps out over time. The last of those occasions was in the spring so the water had been stagnant for almost six months.

The bridge was a little overgrown with vegetation, but easily passable on foot. Once I crossed the canal, the path was easy enough to find. The doubtless constant trips by children and teenagers searching for the legendary “haunted cemetery” had kept the plant life from growing along the trail. I was soon standing at the base of the hill leading up to the graveyard. It was a steep hill and a long walk, a little too long for some. It should have been no trouble for me. Nevertheless, my legs felt weak on the way up. I spoke about memories earlier. There were no good memories along this path or at the cemetery. However, that fact never deterred me from making the trip.

An Ottawa tribe originally occupied the land at the top of the hill. In the late 1700s, they moved from the area. Other tribes may have driven them off or perhaps it was the influence of the arriving white settlers. In the spring of 1786, Moravian missionaries came upon the abandoned settlement and decided to make it their temporary home while they regrouped and accumulated supplies before continuing their journey west. They named the settlement Pilgerruh, which is German for “pilgrim’s rest.” The Moravians planted crops, built cabins, and even raised a church. Something strange happened, though, because only ten months later, without warning, they gathered at the banks of a nearby creek and walked away leaving everything behind.

Ten years later, the land was purchased by the Connecticut Western Reserve Land Company and prepared for settlement by the influx of English and European pioneers leaving New England. I suppose it was sometime during this period that my parents arrived there.

The pioneers continued to lay their dead to rest in the same place where the Moravians buried theirs, and likely the same place that the Ottawa used before that. The cemetery has had many names: Terra Vista, Hillside, Tinker’s Creek cemetery. Growing up there I had heard its original name of Pilgerruh, and that is what it has been to me ever since.

Before long, I had reached the top of the hill. I crossed an open field toward a small grove of trees. Before the trees lay 24 tombstones in various states of disrepair. Some had been desecrated by disrespecting teenagers and others by time. An assessment of the stones would reveal 35 names. In these old pioneer cemeteries, one always must assume, though, that some stones have sunk into the ground and others may have been taken by some misguided sort of “collector.” Still, the town historian would estimate the number of dead as no more than 50. I know differently. After all, I had been visiting this place regularly for almost 200 years. I know that the site had also been used as a mass grave for Irish immigrants who had been killed or had died throughout the construction of the Ohio Canal. No one thought that their graves were important enough for even one small marker.

As I passed between the stones, I read many familiar names. There was the familiar broken stone that marked the final resting place of Roger Comstock. He was the first white man buried at Pilgerruh. Died in 1810 at the age of 40. His stone reads:

“Adieu, to all things here below,
Vain world, I leave thy fleeting toys.
Adieu to sin, fear, pain and woe,
And welcome bright eternal joys.”

In a way, it makes me angry that a person can imagine such comforting thoughts, when I am incapable of it. The concept of death is alien to me, and the concept of an afterlife continues to elude me. After seeing what I have seen, experiencing what I have experienced in my long life I have lost the faith in God that I had when I was a child. Perhaps I can discover it again someday.

Therefore, it was, with these thoughts going through my head that I came upon the object marking the purpose of my visit. It was dirty gray in color with chipped edges and a missing corner. It had once been white – bright, shiny white – marble and cost a good deal of money. The text on it is eroded, but still readable after all these years:

Mary Frances Gillenwater-Carmack 1771 – 1813
Christian Jonathan Carmack 1766 –

Every time I look at it – and I have looked at it many times – the first thought that comes into my mind is “Do people wonder what happened to Christian? Did someone forget to chisel in the date of his death? Or is he buried elsewhere? Or did he abandon her?” Every time I come to the same conclusion. Though it may not make much sense I reason that yes, he had abandoned her. If not in life then in death. I abandoned her.

Mary Frances was 14 years old when we first became friends, 17 when we married. I had been 22 years old at the time. Really twenty-two. I say that because after reaching maturity my ageing had slowed significantly. I would end up having to pass myself off as being in my twenties for the next sixty-odd years.

Mary was my first human friend, my first love, my wife, and regrettably, the first loved one that death had taken away from me. Mary Frances passed away at the age of 42, afflicted by rheumatic fever. In some twisted way, I had always considered her lucky. While she knew the truth about me and about what I was, it remained a secret to others. Soon it would have become harder for her to explain away her husband’s youthful looks.

I imagine that it must have been difficult for her. I told Mary the truth about myself years before we married. It took almost six months before she truly believed me. There was the matter of “fangs” of course. Where were they? After listening to all of the folklore about vampires, people had imagined us to have two-inch long teeth that we would use to pierce the throats of our victims. In reality, my canine teeth – barely one quarter of an inch longer than the others – were not as convincing. Others had always assumed that the slightly pronounced, slightly sharper canines on both top and bottom were an ordinary trait in people from our portion of the Eurasian Steppe – whichever portion that may be.

Over time, she learned all the truths about me, and over the twenty-five years of our marriage, she learned just about everything that I knew. Remember that I myself was still “growing up.” She discovered how vampires live at the same time that I did. Mary Frances never pointed out any of my differences or compared me to humans at any time. Life for us was completely ordinary as if nature had intended it to be that way. If all humans and vampires could get along that way, we would not have to hide our identities and mortals could dispel their fears.

I looked down at her grave. If I could trade, I would – happily. At least that way I would know that (if there were an afterlife) we would be together soon. As it is, I would be destined to walk the earth for at least another 450 years. Close enough to an eternity. Would she even remember me? Well, all theology and semantics aside that is a ridiculous question.

And so, as it had been for the past 196 years, I began our one-sided conversation.

“Hello again Mary Frances. My Love.” I was morose, but after this long, there were no more tears left. “I’m in a real pickle this time. Johnny says that it’s a mid-life crisis but I’m just not so convinced. I think there may be something wrong with me… I mean, more wrong with me. God knows that there’s already enough about me that’s wide off the mark.

“But this time I’m worried. Not worried about my physical health but my mental health. Well, not even that really. I’ve been dealing with mental health issues all my life too. Maybe it’s better to say ‘emotional’ health.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Am I a good person? I mean really, decently, morally good? I killed two men a few days ago. It’s not the first time it’s happened and I realize that sometimes there’s no choice, but this time… this time it was like I wasn’t even in control. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It must have been instinct. Johnny said that we change as we get older. Our true nature begins revealing itself. We begin acting more instinctively. I’m not so sure that I’m comfortable with that.

“I don’t know. I thought of moving on – leaving Indy. Maybe coming home, but… wherever I go, there I am.” I sighed. “I think I’ll stay in town for a while, though. Catch up with old friends. Visit some of the old places. You know, stuff that’ll depress me more.” I laughed to myself. However, if you saw the look on my face, you would have known that I was only half joking.

I lie down on the grass, put my arms behind my head, and closed my eyes. The sun was already at the horizon, so I could afford to spend some more time outside. “Mind if I hang out here a while longer?”

A cemetery is probably the last place that most people would want to spend the night. Nevertheless, for some reason, being here – next to her – was so comforting. In less than ten minutes, I had fallen asleep.

I dreamt about flies. Big, black flies swarming around a carcass of some deceased animal. Disgusting, really. I always awoke from these dreams with a feeling of sadness. Not your average run-of-the-mill melancholy, either. Unless you are afflicted with manic-depressive disorder, I do not think that you could ever really understand the wretchedness of it. When I got into a mood like this it could take me days before I could bring myself to function normally again.

It is always the feeling of the futility of life that is the worst part. I can ask the everlasting question: “What is the meaning of life?” However, I think I already know the answer. There is no meaning. I am no different from any other animal on earth. I survive only because there is no other choice. I am part of the life cycle of the planet. I waste space and resources for my given time and then I die, decay, and return to the earth.

What is the point? While I can admit that my life is worthless, I still do not want to die; especially in my current absence of belief in God or an afterlife. Couple that with the fact that I’m still jealous of those mortals around me who do believe in God and who do live “normal” lives – living and dying along with their friends and loved ones, instead of watching them come and go.

The thought of it is overwhelming. It makes me want to lie down and stop… stop thinking, stop doing… just stop.

I can appreciate the thinking of suicide victims. While it has never struck me to attempt killing myself there are times when I would do just about anything to make thoughts like these stop racing through my head.

And people wonder why I am depressed.

I woke up in a panic, flailing at my left ear. A fly had crawled in and was buzzing and jigging its way around trying to get out. Bugs give me the creeps. The fly found its way out and buzzed away – probably crossing its little fly heart with its little fly leg whilst thanking its own little fly god. Forgive the sarcasm.

I felt wetness in my hair. I assumed it was from the damp grass but it also felt sticky. As I drew my hand back and it came into focus, I discovered what had attracted the fly in the first place. Blood. Half congealed and diluted with the morning dew by now, I could not really tell how fresh it was – or where it had come from. If it had been my own, I would certainly have been able to smell it. I could not tell, though, if it was human or not. It could not be, could it?

I stood up and assessed myself. My shirt was torn. It and my pants had blood on them, not an obscene amount, but still unexpected. I was dazed – still in the cemetery. I must have spent the night there. Most of the night anyway. Obviously, I had gone somewhere. Where had the blood come from?

My heart pounding, I began walking toward the path leading away from the cemetery. Halfway there, I noticed a crumpled form lying on the ground ahead. As I moved closer, I discovered that it was a coyote. Or rather, the remains of a coyote. I finally had a reasonable explanation for the blood and condition of my clothes.

Coyotes do not usually travel in packs, but they sometimes form small families of four to six. Stumbling upon a lone or injured animal while hunting, they will circle and work together to bring it down. Granted, they will not usually go after something the size of a full-grown man. However, if I seemed to be lame and they were hungry enough then the possibility existed that they would seize the opportunity. With the diminishing area of wilderness in the valley, the animals were forced to choose between a more challenging hunt and excursions into urban areas.

My pulse slowed and my head began to clear. The fact that I had no memory of what happened during the night was disturbing, but at least I had reason to believe that I had not done anything more terrible than defend myself.

I dusted myself off and arranged my torn shirt as best as I could, then headed for the rise marking the top of the hill. The walk down should be easier than the walk up – always is. I glanced at my cell phone to see what time it was – a little after 6am – and was startled when it began to ring. Johnny’s name was on the screen.

“Hey bud! Made it home safe, I hope.”

I yawned and stretched. “Actually, I haven’t left yet. You’ll never believe what happened.”

“You heard?” he said excitedly.

“Heard what? I was there. Here. Uh, long story. What are you talking about?”

“Another attack. A dude and his dog. Same modus operandi.” He stretched out those last two words.

“Another one! When? I probably would have heard by now if I’d gotten back in time.”

“Umm… no, man. It didn’t happen in Indy. It happened here.”

I stopped walking. My heart skipped a beat and my mouth went so dry that I could not swallow. Fortunately, he did not wait for an answer.

“Yeah. Right down by the canal, on the towpath. The police are guessing the guy was out walking his dog around dusk last night. If you were still up there visiting Mary Frances you might have run into him yourself.”

I could not help but think that he was accusing me. If so, was he right? What the hell was going on?

“Dude, you can tell me to go pound salt if you want and I’ll leave this be, but… I think we need to talk.”

“I’ll head over right after I clean up.”

“Clean u… oh. Okay, see ya’ when I see ya’.”

It looked like I would be staying in Ohio for a while longer.”

Driving back to the hotel, I was tempted to turn right and stop where the action was occurring. I slowed down as I drove by the scene. Slow enough to get a peek, but not so slow that someone would notice my appearance.

Five police cars, an ambulance, the coroner, and two unmarked police cars (which I assumed to be detectives) had gathered in the parking lot near the trailhead at Lock 39. There was also a crowd of people gathered – rubberneckers who had come to see the carnage. Although I disliked people who made asses of themselves and had no respect for the dead, this time I was tempted to join them. Had I not been covered in mud and gore, I probably would have joined them.

My curiosity did get the best of me, however, and I turned around at the nearest cross street and doubled back. I passed the scene again, still not getting any better of a look than the first time. I continued down the road to the next trailhead. When I got there and after a quick look around to make sure that no one saw me, I made a dash for the marsh on the other side of the towpath. My plan was to make my way back to Lock 39 hidden from view.

I got back to the crime scene within minutes. I had expected something gruesome, but from my excellent vantage point, I had a sharp view of something far more horrific than I had imagined. There were still pieces of flesh distributed on and around the path, and there were two officers standing in the canal with nets attempting to sieve out any more evidence that may have fallen in. They would have to drain the canal soon to continue with the investigation. Quickly too, or the catfish that I know inhabit the canal would be stealing it away literally by the mouthful.

It was almost impossible to tell what I was looking at. Were it not for the clothing still wrapped around some mangled limbs I would not have recognized it as a man. From the looks of it – and a distinct smell – the man’s dog had been included in the attack. Even though it may sound callous, I felt more sympathy for the dog than I did for the man. Humans communicate, they deliberate, and they make choices. Dogs just follow along blindly trusting their entire lives to their masters. It is hard to explain. It ticked me off, though. Killing dogs is taboo to our kind. Even the Brukolak avoid harming dogs.

The police would probably eventually pass this incident off as some sort of bizarre animal attack. There were black bear repopulating the area – supposedly, though none had been seen yet. However, in their hearts, people would know that even a bear would not be capable of this degree of a massacre. It would provide a convenient excuse, though. Even when something cannot be explained, peoples need a sense of closure will allow them to accept even the lamest of theories. I knew better, though. This was clearly a display of violence that could easily be attributed to a pissed off vampire.

These chapters are excerpted from the book The Remover, available on Amazon.
Edited by Steve Hovland

Kenneth Kohl has published several short stories and articles for literary magazines, e-zines, and podcasts as well as two full-length novels. Kenneth lives in Columbus, Ohio with his beautiful wife, two sons, and an energetic shepherd dog named Daisy. When he is not at his computer working on his next novel, he is probably hiking, biking, or traveling the world. Kenneth's anthologies and novels may be found on Amazon or most local bookstores.