copyright (c) (copr) 1987, 1992, HTML 1995 all rights reserved by T.J. Hardman, Jr.

I have a strange tale to relate. I was traveling to Washington, DC, on business. I was scheduled to be in town for some time, so I took a place in the suburbs. I ride the subway to work every morning.

I'm riding on the subway, looking at my fellow travellers, categorizing them, and I see a very uncomfortable looking guy, obviously paranoid, judging from the way his eyes are flickering from passenger to passenger. A spy, maybe? No, a spy would be more cool... Just nuts, I guess, or a drug casualty. Then I notice (I say notice, because I guess I've been hearing it all along ) a quiet snapping sound from behind me, and a little white dot goes zipping past me... straight towards this flaky looking guy. It hit him in the face, and he started visibly.

I do not use drugs or alcohol, and this is not something I usually see.

So I start looking around, casually as I can, and I see that quite a few of the people on the train are up to the same trick, flicking their thumbs at this guy like kids flick marbles. These guys are good at this. They are hitting this guy regularly, judging by his reaction...

He starts sneezing, wheezing, and rubbing at his neck like it hurts him. He blows his nose, cranes his neck like he's trying to adjust it. He never stops looking around at all of the other riders. He looks mad as hell, getting totally paranoid... tendons are standing whitely out on his hands. I wonder if he knows what's going on? I guess he does, he must... Maybe that's why he's looking around like that.

I see then that he's looking at me. He seems to recognize me, perhaps mistaking me for someone he knows. Just for laughs, I hang my hand out in the aisle, and flick my thumbs at him. He glares at me, a particularly venomous look, and stands up as we pull into a station. He leaves in what amounts to a huff, still looking at me like I've turned into a bug-eyed monster. Anyway, he's off of the train, and everyone, and I mean everyone, checks the time, and then they go back to reading their papers. I am totally baffled. I turn around and ask the guy behind me, did you see that guy, what's with him?

The guy says, do I mean the vampire-man. My mouth drops open.

He says you must be new in town. I say, yeah, I am. What do you mean, vampire?

You know, he says. El Vampiro. Goddamn bloodsucker.

What's this? I ask, flicking my thumbs.

You don't know? he asks. Where you from, he wants to know.

Chicago, I lie.

OK, he says. Diffenbachia, beta-carboline, and Soma.


You know... Soma. They sell it for headaches, but it's a muscle relaxer. That's mainly what he's got going for him is muscles and bone structure.

I don't get it.

If we relax the shit out of him, he's weak, he's slow, his liver gets screwed up. If he goes into overdrive, his back goes out, and then if he keeps it up, he tears himself apart. The Def, the Diffenbachia, you know, the Mother-In-Law plant, it makes his throat close up, makes him choke. The beta-carboline, it's a chemical that induces fear. Learned that from the old Soviets.

Jesus, I say. That's goddamned cold.

Yeah, he grins savagely, as it should be.

Why don't they just take him out and shoot him?

He hasn't done anything.

So why do it to him?

He's a goddamned vampire! he hisses, scowling fiercely, and then mutters el vampiro, and begins pushing at his forehead as if his wires were too tight.

But you say he hasn't done anything.

Nothing we can pin on him, he says.

He is well and fashionably dressed, like almost everyone else in DC, wearing a long black trenchcoat. He also is black. I ask him what he does. He says he's an attorney, with some alphabet soup agency of the federal government.

Isn't he watched closely? I ask of him.

Of course, he says. Not my job, but I hear he's pretty good at dropping tails. Someone's killing a lot of people in this town, and there's less blood than there should be by the time the cops get there. That's right, one guy is doing it all. Here, he says, and hands me a little packet. Vampire repellent, he tells me. Keep it under your belt. Oh, my stop, he concludes.

He gets up, bracing himself against deceleration, holding on to the rail on top of my seat. His thumb recurves. The knuckle closest to the hand is huge, arthritic looking, and sits well away from the hand. From there, the long second leg of parallels the metacarpals, and the final joint bends backwards at almost 100 degrees. His nails are very broad, greatly curved, and appear to be extremely thick.

The train stops, rather lurchingly, as he strides faultlessly to the door. He queues up first in line, and straightens his tie, collar and cuffs and hitches his belt all in about one second. The door slides open, and he strides out, barely allowing the doors to clear his wide shoulders, which he holds quite well back. His posture, like his attire, is impeccable. I get off at the end of the line. I return to my security townhome, and firmly lock the gate, and set the alarms.

Vampires. Jeeze.

Undeclared race wars. Conviction without trial, cruel and unusual punishment of an individual who has reputedly done nothing prosecutable to anyone, all on the basis of allegations that he is a legendary or mythical being? How many amendments to the Constitution are we throwing out the window, Mr. Modern and Equal Black Attorney?

I think about Washington DC, with the highest rate of unsolved murders in the nation, all ostensibly drug related. I wonder if that's really the case here in The Nation's Capital, the center of control and administration, where no one is allowed to possess or even own a handgun. A sleepy southern town which has no reason to exist except that George Washington wanted it across the river from his farm.

If there really are vampires, or such creatures as could give rise to such legends, what could they be, other than a co-evolved species of hominid adapted to nocturnal predation upon other hominids? Perhaps with rapid healing abilities, superior strength and reflexes? Perhaps only a handgun wound to the head would be a certain defense for an unlucky human.

I've been trying to flick objects of varying sizes and densities at a target, a foot wide square of flypaper strips. Maybe if I'd learned young enough, or had been practicing for decades, maybe I could hit the center spot five times out of ten. I'm talking about from ten feet away...

I tried a bit of this stuff on myself, and it is definitely some kind of nasty stuff. I spent the next twenty minutes with slow, powerful cramps twisting my spine, and for the next hour or so, I was seized by a nameless dread. When I was in college, I had heard of The Fear, a proscribed Soviet torture chemical mostly used in the dreaded psychiatric prisons. Nobody ever voluntarily uses it twice.

A week later, I noticed the telltale fingernail striations of arsenic poisoning. I went to the drugstore and bought the components of Marsh's test, and tested the "vampire repellent". Arsenic positive... that would explain the poor guy's complexion, and his debilitated posture.

Some of the folks flicking slow murder at a skinny, sickly-looking white boy were firing bank shots nearly thirty feet, rebounding shots that were all, or almost all, hitting the mark. Cliches come to my mind. Cliches may be old, or trite, but they have their value. Cliches express complex thought in simple, common terms.

I've been back into town a few times, and I've noticed: People making strange gestures. Not any sign language I know of, and my mother was deaf, and taught the deaf. I sign rather well, myself. Sign language between spies? Can't be that many spies in town. We're talking majority here. How long would spies last, anyway, against "vampires"? Perhaps there really are no ordinary people in the espionage business. Or perhaps a capital populatated exclusively by "vampires" would be a simple effective defense against penetration by Cold War enemies who were, after all, central European whites, indistinguishable from the majority of Americans. But are they taking orders, or giving them?

I saw a DC officer ticketing a jaywalker twenty yards from a crack corner. The out-of-towner was aghast, his New Jersey accent strident above the noise of traffic... then a cruiser pulled up... the Jerseyite protested that jaywalking wasn't an arrestable offense (I've looked it up... it isn't.) The cop threw him in, just grabbed him under the armpit and threw him in... the Jerseyite wasn't a small man, and the cop wasn't large - but the cop just picked him up and threw him in. I saw bright blood, and a protruding rib... and the cruiser just sped off, and as I stared sidelong through my dark glasses, I saw the cops in the cruiser doing... something... to the man. It didn't look like first aid. As the cop walked on, the crack dealers grinned... showing teeth most of the way back to their small pointy ears. I waited a bit, then caught the next bus.

There are as many people on the streets at night as there are during the day, all young, all hip, all well and fashionably dressed. Even in the dimly lit bars their pupils barely dilate. They are very hard to see in the dark corners... and in the light, they are often rather pale. There is something strange about their hands.

Many, if not most of the non-tourists in town have very strange thumbs... and a powerful ridge of muscle to operate the little fingers. There is something... variant... about the shoulder structures.

A lot of the people here walk that cocky homeboy strut. Others glide silently by me as I eat my burger in Dupont Circle at high noon, light glinting off of their UV-protected mirror shades... and their predatory gait reminds me of well-fed lions... I also saw what was evidently a modified version of the popular quarter-watt infrared-laser cigarette lighter... pointed directly into the side of a man's eyes... when the man turned in that direction, the other was already walking away with the device pocketed... an excellent sleight of hand routine, but fearfully practical, too much so for my tastes. I saw the man walk into a moving bus, which sped through suddenly conspicuously absent traffic, coming directly out of his conveniently-placed new blind spot.

I bought a pair of mirrored wraparound sunglasses.

On the train today, I saw more signing and silent lipspeech... like my mother and I often used to communicate when signing might not have been polite... I caught some of it... and looked at the man next to me. He was regarding me calmly, but my pulse quickened, for he was looking directly sideways at me - without turning his head. His eye was rotated at more than 90 degrees from the forward plane... In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king, and this man could get his one eye focused directly where I have limited peripheral vision at best. Now I can no longer ignore the unusual zygomatic arch placement I've seen so often here in the Nation's Capitol. I can also no longer ignore the variances in the location of the foramen magnum, nor in the temporomandibular joint.

His eye was so strange... as I looked away I thought I glimpsed his cornea, which had been greatly curved, flattening as if he were able, by some muscular action, to change the curvature, using it as a secondary lens, and it seemed to change colors, even as I watched.

On another train, I saw a - I don't know what I saw; I can no longer think of these beings which seem to have occupied my Nation's Capital as human - ...person purse his lips, revealing a short piece of drinking-straw which he blew through, firing a small dart of some sort into the neck of the man (this one _was_ a Man) who absently scratched his neck, and shortly thereafter fell into a deep sleep. The person who had fired the dart gave me an amused look, as if daring me to do anything about this activity of his. I got off of the train, and struggled not to run to my rental car.

I'm thinking about Mr. Modern and Equal light-skinned black attorney with a peculiar, well-thought-out, indeed, almost rehearsed story to tell, and with no respect for the most basic laws of the land, thinking about his funny simian hands, animalistic claws, lightning gestures and savage toothy grin. Cliches... and more cliches. I've been thinking, and thinking... Red Herrings. Stalking-horses. I'm thinking about that guy on the train, about pots calling kettles black. What I really think is about being thrown to the wolves. My neck hurts, and it's getting harder to breathe, and I'm so afraid.

I've been around town, in and out, and the bus drivers all call me by name, and the foreigners all point and whisper when they see me board. I've seen something totally new, some sort of crystalline injector that look like clear monofilament, inserted into people's scalps, necks, wrists or elbows, which seem to result in some sort of suggestible state, though once I thought I saw someone drop stone dead after the application of such a device. Will I be next? Or do they have something more sinister in store for me?

The striations on my fingernails have deepened, and my food in my locked security townhouse tested positive for arsenic for a week, and then didn't test positive. In the meantime, I've been eating out of cans, or I was until I saw that nobody in my usual store was buying any canned goods. As I picked out a can of tuna, several... individuals turned and smiled at me. They let me see a lot of teeth, anyway. I bought the tuna, not wanting to look suspicious... I thought I saw something like a dark-colored hypodermic vanishing up the sleeve of the cashier as she weighed my bag of oranges. I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a very small amount of food that I am afraid to eat.

I used the Marsh's test on some arsenical rat poison I had bought, and it didn't indicate, so I can't even get a reliable test in this town. My skin has taken on a grayish-white tone, and in the sunlight, I look like a dead thing.

Today, I watched, terrified, on the train, as they flicked their slow poisons at me, and watched an out-of-towner listen credulously to a tale told of me and my crimes... and on the street today, pointed fingers followed me, and so did the whispers... whispers saying: "El Vampiro... Vampire/Man."

I hope I can be brave, and hold together long enough to think this through... I think they may know I've been thinking.

I'm thinking of leaving the country.

I wish I could leave the planet.

(copyright 1992, T.J. Hardman, Jr. all rights reserved.) Please leave me mail and tell me what you think. And don't forget to send more tourists to Washington, DC. The last ones were right tasty. And we particularly find the way they squirmed to be most amusing. Thank you for continuing to vote.
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