Calvin once complained that there were not enough vampire hunters in the world. No, that's not true. Calvin complained about that not once, but something much closer to every day. I think he missed a Tuesday once when he had laryngitis and then there was that incident with the pina coladas. The less said about that, the better.
Calvin and I had been friends ever since grade school. And, actually, when it comes right down to it, that's not one hundred percent true either. We'd been friends since a few minutes before grade school when we were both standing in the rain waiting for the bus. We were the only two children whose mothers hadn't come out to stand with them. Even at that young age, we recognized that meant we should stick together.
We stayed friends throughout our school years but drifted apart some after high school. He'd been more of a jock and had no serious academic aspirations to begin with. I'd gone off to one of the state colleges with thoughts of being an accountant. A couple years later, though, I washed out of college (here we turn back to the pina coladas) and moved back to my hometown. Not the suburbs we'd grown up in, but Calvin's new neighborhood, a dreary corner of the city which urban renewal hasn't quite caught up with yet.
For the first week or so I'd stayed with Calvin. We quickly determined that friendship, sanity... well, continued life... depended on not spending quite so much time together. We could spend hours together in a bar or watching a football game or just hanging out at one of our places and drinking the night away. All of that was fine as long as we each had our own space to return to when the time came. So I found my own apartment and not long after we both started work at a packaged-foods warehouse not far from where our separate apartments were situated. We were both able to settle into a nice, easy routine.
But that's neither here nor there. We were talking about Calvin's perpetual griping about vampire hunters — to wit, the lack thereof. This complaint would usually be voiced for the first time on any given day briefly after we met on the sidewalk outside my apartment building. 9:45 sharp, every night, Sunday through Thursday, so we could be to the warehouse on time.
Oh, sure, on any given evening there might be a few minutes of "Nasty weather!" or "Did you see the game?" or whatever passed for conversation when you've only been awake for 15 minutes or so. But inevitably (laryngitis aside) the talk would turn to Dr. Van Helsing's spiritual proteges.
If you ask me, it's really an odd thing for Calvin to go on about so. It's not like there are vampires lurking around every corner, even if that's hard to tell by looking at the news-stand or on TV. Some of the less-reputable news outlets find some way to have news about the Ongoing Vampiric Threat on the front page almost every day. An actual vampire attack makes headline news across the country.
I suppose this sort of thing isn't without precedent. Consider shark attacks. They make pretty big news too and from the the occasional sensational piece — Terror on the Beach or some-such — you would get the idea that a swim in the Gulf should void your life insurance policy. A big problem, right? Well, I remember reading once that more beach-goers die from digging too deep a hole in the sand and having it collapse on them than die from shark attacks. I suppose, in some way, it's like that. Someone dying in a simple accident is mundane but a vicious, bloody death at the hands of another thinking creature captures the imagination. Jaws gets the headlines and so do vampires.
So I've been listening to this particular obsession for going on six years now and on the whole, I'd say I was extraordinarily patient. Six years is a long time to think about vampire hunters. It's not something I care to think about for so much as six minutes. But we humor our friends. We talk about them behind their backs but we humor them. So I'm not sure quite what it was that made me lose it that Thursday evening.
Well, OK, the hangover probably was a big part of it. And the hundred bucks I'd lost playing poker. And the clever putdown the blonde in the miniskirt had tossed my way.
We were walking down Fremont and getting ready to turn onto 20th. We're talking about the football games coming up that weekend. He had a few dollars on the Packers and I was giving him grief about it. Good times. There was a little lull in the conversation.
"Did you see that article about the vampire in Missouri?"
A non-committal grunt seemed safest.
"They said that he was seen outside a shopping mall after closing hours. You know, casing out the place? Some rent-a-cop tried to apprehend him but he did that mist thing."
The grunt hadn't worked so well the first time, but I gave it another go.
"Talked about adding more security, but what's the use in that? Twice as many guys with walkie-talkies aren't any more use than what they had before. Besides, he got away clean so he can just pick a new target."
I figured that the idea of "third time's a charm" wasn't likely to work for non-committal grunts, so I tried a "Darn shame."
"I just wish that for once someone could tell me why this world doesn't have more real, professional, honest-to-God vampire hunters."
I stopped. Right there, next to a fire hydrant, I stopped.
"Calvin," I said in the most reasonable voice I could manage with a hangover. "If this means so much to you, why don't you take up the job yourself?"
We'd all like to have superpowers, right? Calvin was my friend, the best one I had, and I figured I'd offended him deeply. I'd taken his pet peeve and shoved it right back in his face. At that moment, I wanted the superpower to erase the last ten seconds. A conversational "do-over." I waited for his comeback.
He gave me an eye and grunted. Non-committally.
For the rest of the day I thought I'd dodged a bullet. He didn't give me any grief about it during our lunch break. It was when I couldn't find him Saturday night that I got concerned. And when he wasn't there for our walk to work Sunday night, I got a real sick feeling that stayed with me.
I really wish he hadn't taken my suggestion seriously. Vampire hunting is a lousy job. The pay stinks, you're constantly traveling, and when you get right down to it there's not that much work to do. Not real work, at least. Chasing down figments of shopping mall security guards' imaginations is the better part of most of your days.
We had a good deal back at the warehouse. Neither of us had a problem with heavy lifting, we got paid on time and enough to have some good times, and the supervisors were cool. In all the time we worked there, I don't remember them ever ripping anyone's head off. And that's speaking figuratively. In Calvin's new job, getting your head ripped off was a literal occupational hazard.
I mean it; I really wish he hadn't taken that stupid comment of mine seriously. Everything could have stayed the same. But he went off to apprentice with some fellow in Chicago for a something like eight months. And that was the end of the good times. That was, oh, just about a year ago.
As it turns out, situations being what they are, I quit the warehouse as well a few months back. And in those same last few months I've moved four times. It's gotten to be a real pain. I guess Calvin just knows me too well because, for the life of me (and I mean that), I just can't seem to hide from the guy.
Michael Haynes is a database developer from Columbus, Ohio. He splits his spare time between reading, writing, and spending time with his wife and children. His website is www.michaelhaynes.info.