Monday, February 16, 2015

Growing Old Gratefully - Week 7 of 52round2

The last thing I remember is thinking to myself how much I regretted letting Todd drive us home.  We had all been drinking heavily, like there was no tomorrow, being dead set (excuse the tasteless pun) on one final blowout now that final exams were over.  Jason, Ricky, Todd, and I, friends, housemates, and classmates, had decided to party hearty at Hallorans on Buy-a-Pitcher-of-Beer-and-Get-One-Free night.  This last semester had been the toughest, and following graduation, all with lucrative job offers in hand, we would all be going our separate ways.  Of course, there were the usual ‘let’s keep in touch’, ‘we’ll have lunch once a week’, and ‘we’ll make sure to spend holidays together’, but we all knew we’d never speak to, or see, each other again.  It’s funny how life works that way.  It seemed somehow necessary to have one last night together.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be our last night for real.

I do remember Todd trying to sing along with some incoherent tune on the radio, laughing, and weaving all over the road.  When we first drove onto the bridge, the car started to slide and spin.  We hit the side railing hard, and as the car went through and carried us down to the shallow stream and rocks below, I could hear Jason and Ricky in the back crying, and Todd?  He was still laughing.  And me?  I prayed.  When we landed, I felt pain as I have never felt, then a warm blackness came over me.  Then, nothing.  Until now.

Light is all around me and I open my eyes.  Am I in Heaven, surrounded by angels who will enfold me soothingly in their massive wings?  Hardly.  I’m lying in a king size bed, propped up with three pillows under my head, covered by a multi-colored comforter, in a room that looks remarkably like my parents’ bedroom in the split level I grew up in.  There is an old guy sitting next to the bed reading a book.  I feel no pain, and there isn’t a scratch on me that I can see.  Was the night out and the accident all a dream, or is this some bizarre after-life illusion?

“Well, well, well, young man,” the man said and smiled.  Surely, those elongated incisors I’m seeing are the result of some type of psychological shock I’m experiencing.  “Good to see you coming around.  I was pretty sure I had gotten to you in time, but you never can tell with these things.”

I came to the conclusion that this must be Hell, or at least one of its entrances.  They make it look like you’re resting comfortably in a warm and cozy bedroom, and once you get up to check out the other rooms in the so-called house, that’s when the real heat hits you.

“I’m dead, aren’t I, and this is one of the gates to Hell, isn’t it.”  I wasn’t asking – I was stating facts.

The old man smiled broadly, his fangs now clearly visible.

“Hell?  How can you say a thing like that?  I’ve taken great care furnishing this place so it’s bright and cheerful and comfy, and you’re picking up such negativity?  My goodness, you young people these days, always looking for something dramatic and sinister.  No, son, this is not Hell and you most certainly are not dead - exactly.  I’m very sorry, but I can’t say the same about your three friends.  They had already passed on by the time I reached your vehicle, and you were barely there yourself.  I wasn’t sure if there would be time enough for me to pull you back, but apparently, there was and I’m so glad.  How are you feeling?  You’ve been out for almost two full days.  You really had me scared.”

My friends dead?  Me unconscious for two days?  What kind of nightmare have I found myself trapped in?

“Who are you and where am I?  My friends are…I mean, they didn’t…how did I…”

“Relax, boy.  I will explain everything to you, but you must promise me something.  I want you to remain calm and hear me out.  This is all going to sound very strange to you, but take it all in and reserve judgment.  Please remember that all I was trying to do was to help you.  Once you know the full story, I hope you’re not angry with me because I didn’t mean you any harm.  I just didn’t know what else I could do for you.”

Now, I really am frightened.  Why would I be angry with someone who obviously saved my life?  Oh no.  What if he’s some psychotic serial killer who trolls around accidents for survivors he can kidnap and bring back to his house and then torture?  I’m not tied to the bed, but I do feel weak.  I’ll bet there are bars on all the windows and steel doors front and back so I can’t escape.  If I come at him, he’ll probably use a stun gun on me or an electric rod or some contraption like that.  Or maybe I’m just delirious from the impact and images from all the bloody movies and TV shows I love to watch are flooding into my mind because I’ve got a closed head injury?  Isn’t that one of the symptoms – violent and paranoid thoughts?  Didn’t I see that on a documentary last week?  Take a deep breath, James, and let the old codger explain himself.  There’s plenty of time to have a full-blown panic attack later.

“I give you my word I won’t freak on you until you’re done.  No promises for afterward though.  Please do let me in on what is going on and what happened to my friends and I.”

The old guy looked as if he were taking a deep breath, but then again, he didn’t really seem to be breathing at all.  God, I hope years from now, I’m going to be able to look back on all this and laugh.

“First of all, my name is Norbert,” he began, closing the book he had been reading, laying it down on the nightstand next to the bed, and settling back in his chair.  “The town you are in is called Greenview, and is around 100 or so miles from where your accident occurred.”

“A hundred or so what?”  I was beginning to hit panic mode head on.

“Now, you promised to hear me out, James.  Oh, and by the way, the reason I know your name is from your license in your wallet.  In case you’re wondering, your wallet is on the dresser and everything is intact.  Your license is there, your credit cards, and cash.  I’m no thief, as you will soon understand.  It had fallen out of your pocket when you were thrown from the car, and when I looked inside, I knew it was yours from the picture on the license, of course, so I brought it along so you would have it for whenever you leave.  May I continue?”

I nodded.  I was confused, but less fearful; his ‘whenever you leave’ comment was responsible for that.

“There is no subtle way to tell you about me, or about what occurred, so I’m simply going to spit it out, so to speak.  I am a vampire.  While I never harm anyone, I do need blood now and again to survive, so I pilfer from blood banks.  I never take the rare stuff because I wouldn’t want anyone to die because I took what they needed, so I only take the types that are plentiful in supply.  You’re already looking at me as if I’m an old kook who escaped from the nursing home he was locked up in, but I assure you, you will see that I am telling the truth.  First, though, let me get to your accident and you and your friends.

“I don’t want to raise any suspicions here in town, or draw any attention to myself, since I’m very happy here.  It’s a small town and everybody knows everybody.  They believe I’m some old fella who retired from the corporate world and came here to have a quiet life and work part time to make ends meet.  I have a job, you see.  I take care of the grounds at the local cemetery, and don’t roll your eyes about that either.  While it’s true that I can move about in daylight, I am stronger in the night, and that was the only night job that was available.  I don’t desecrate graves or hide the bodies of my victims under coffins.  All I do is landscaping work.  The grave digging and burials are handled by the funeral home staff.  I couldn’t do that kind of work.  Graves creep me out.”

This is too much, even for me.

“Anyway, I earn enough to get by nicely and my house is all paid for.  When I was turned – became a vamp, I had retired from the corporate world and I had a nice nest egg.  Once I was on my own, I found this town, bought this little house and settled down.  How it happened to me is of no consequence, I remember very little of it, and the one who made me moved on.  None of this is like the movies, you see.  He didn’t stay with me or want me as a companion.  He was young and rebellious, bitter about the fact that someone had turned him, and he did it to me on a dare from the pack he was hanging with.  Some do that, I’ve found.  The ones who are made when they’re young group together like a gang and move from town to town and kill and terrify.  It’s awful, and it gives the rest of us a bad name.

“I’m way off here.  Forgive me.  You want to know about you and your friends.  As I said, I steal from blood banks.  I don’t need blood every day; usually a bit twice a week will keep me going, so I don’t need to take too much.  I never take from here though or towns close by.  I can travel long distances in a very short time, so I usually go to the cities because there’s always more than enough blood to go around.  I was on my way back home, taking my time through that area since it’s very peaceful there, when I noticed a car weaving this way and that and I was worried.  That bridge, with its curves, is tricky enough during the day, but at night?  You were an accident waiting to happen, and sure enough, when I saw the car go through the railing and fall to the rocks, I hurried to see if perhaps there was something I could do.

“I was concerned the car might catch on fire and wanted to make sure no one was inside in case that happened.  But the car just landed on its roof, and the tires kept spinning.  All the glass was broken, but I didn’t see any gas leaking, so I looked closer.  The two in the back seat were obviously already dead.  Shards of glass had gone though both of them, and the driver had gone through the windshield and his face was…”

I wanted to cry, but no tears would come.

“I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t be telling you all this.  I know this won’t be much comfort, but I believe they died on impact and didn’t suffer.  It all happened very quickly.  You had been thrown from the car and were about fifteen to twenty feet away, lying on your back.  Your seatbelt had been torn from the car and you still had part of the shoulder harness on.  You were barely breathing, but I found a pulse and knew I had to try to save you.  There was no way I was going to just walk away and leave you there to die.  I fed you some of my own blood, brought you back here, and hoped for the best.  It seems as though I was successful, I’m happy to say; although, you may not be when you hear the rest.”

“Why wouldn’t I be grateful to you for saving my life?  I can’t believe Jason and Ricky and Todd…all gone.  Where are they?  Did an ambulance take them to a hospital?  I want to be able to attend their funerals.  Were their families notified?  How can I…”

“It’s not quite that simple, son.  I did call the police and tell them I witnessed an accident and gave them the location.  I’m sure it has all been taken care of.  The thing is though, where you’re concerned, that’s going to be a bit tough to explain.  When I made you, it healed all your wounds because that’s how it works.  Now, you’ll stay just as you are for all time, as I will stay as I am for all time.  If your friends experienced such horrific injur…well, how can you not having so much as a scratch be explained?  Too, you were not at the scene when the police arrived.  I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mess of this whole situation.  I hope you can forgive me for causing you so much trouble.  I just couldn’t turn my back on you and let you die.”

I can accept everything Norbert has been telling me, and oddly, I am beginning to believe this whole vampire thing.  I’ve looked myself over and I don’t have a scratch.  How could that be?  I am in no pain and have no broken bones.  I ran my tongue over my teeth and my incisors are long and sharp like Norbert’s.  Is it possible that I am now a vampire?  One of the living dead?  He did say it’s nothing like the movies.  I wondered what that meant.

“You said it wasn’t like the movies.  What did you mean?”

Norbert smiled.

“The movies always make everything look so colorful.  Forget stakes through the heart.  If someone should stake you, just pull it out.  It won’t do you any harm.  Holy water can make you weaker though and subject to capture.  Those packs of young hooligans like to splash it on and cage you up and then leave town.  That happened to me once when they came through here.  I went almost a week without a drop of blood and I could barely keep my eyes open.  I wouldn’t have withered away to dust or anything, but when some construction workers found me in the abandoned building outside of town, I begged them to take me home.  I said I had medicine there and was able to nourish myself back to health.

“None of them have come through here for quite some time, and hopefully, won’t ever again.  They killed some of my friends and damaged a lot of property.  We’re so far off from the highway, we don’t even get tourists that stop here.  That’s mainly why I chose this town.  The people are nice and there’s no crime and everyone pulls together to help one another.  It’s the perfect place to spend my days.  I’m not sure how long I can stay though since I never get any older.  That’s sure to raise some red flags at some point and I’ll have to move on and find another town.  But it’s only been a few years since I moved here, so I’ve still got plenty of time.  You probably would want to go though.  There’s not a lot of excitement here for a young fella like you.

“Let me give you some advice though, if I may.  Don’t get hooked up with any of those wild ones.  They do nothing but cause pain and destruction wherever they go and they are never welcome anywhere.  Even though they travel together, there’s no loyalty among them.  If one falls by the wayside or gets trapped somewhere, the rest leave him behind.  They don’t care at all about each other.  That’s no way to spend your days, and you’ve got plenty of days ahead of you.  To be honest with you, I don’t know how many I’ve got.  The sun doesn’t hurt me and I haven’t run into anything that really does me any harm.  I’m thinking possibly that one day, I will just cease to be, and that would be alright.  I’m content and have friends and my life is good.  The thought of going on forever kind of upsets me.”

Wow.  This has been a lot to take in.  I’m not sure where to go from here.  It would be difficult to go back to my life because I wouldn’t know how to explain how I came to survive the crash and walk away from it unscathed.  I had an offer to join a brokerage firm in New York City, but there’s no way I could step into that now.  Being around young people would suit me, but I have no desire to join a pack of roving killers.  Vampire or not, I don’t believe I could ever kill anyone, not even if it meant my own survival.  I wonder if I’ll be able to get by with a few sips a couple of times a week like Norbert does.  The blood bank thing sounds like something I could get used to.  Funny, but the thought of drinking blood doesn’t repulse me at all, and that’s a good thing.  What to do now…

“I see confusion in your eyes, son,” Norbert said.  “Take your time.  You’re welcome to stay here until you decide what you want to do.  There’s plenty of room, and we can just tell folks in town that you’re my nephew that recently graduated from college and you came to visit your old uncle.  You’ll like them all, and while there’s no wild clubs or nightlife to speak of, there’s a wonderful library and we get all the movie channels on the television.  There’s festivals here and different town events, and…  I’m getting way ahead of myself.  I’m sure you won’t want to be here that long, but like I said, you’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like.  It’s nice having you here, James.  Make yourself at home.

“Oh, I forgot to mention.  We can eat regular food too.  There’s a wonderful diner downtown and there’s always friends to sit and chat with.  We can eat anything and it all tastes wonderful, but you need to supplement with a few sips of fresh blood here and there.  I’ve got plenty.  I made a run not too long ago, and you’re welcome to share.  Do you feel up to heading to town for a bite?  I can’t believe I just said that.  Forgive me.”

Norbert laughed that warm laugh of his.  Warm?  Believe it or not, it was.

“Norbert, I don’t want you to think that I want to stay because I feel some sort of obligation.  I know you saved my life – you really gave me another, and I thank you for that.  I’m used to the fast pace of cities, forming no attachments so as not to end up tied down, and never wanting to know my neighbor’s name in case they’d end up wanting something from me.  All of a sudden, that kind of existence has lost its appeal for me.  Since it’s alright with you, I’d like to stay.  Maybe I could keep you company when you do your landscaping, or maybe I could even get a job here in town too and help you out with the bills.  You took me in and you gave me a second chance.  I’d very much like to do it right this time around.”

Norbert got up and went to his closet and got me some jeans and a shirt.

“Feel like a burger and fries, James?  We can walk into town and have lunch at Joline’s.  We’ll have a quick drink of some O-positive before we go and it will last you until Friday.  Welcome, son.  Welcome home.”

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