A man sat outside begging, his unwashed stench sometimes wafting in with the summer breeze through the open window. He sat holding a little tin cup in one hand, stretching it out as passersby passed by. Some, seeing him, with worried looks crossed the street, avoiding the threat of contracting his company, but most ignored the impertinent soul. No one paid much mind to beggars.
The smell of the man arose, that bit of fly in the otherwise ideal ointment of a summer evening. The sun had finally descended past the horizon, but still the rolling waves of its warmth filled the streets. Night did little to offset the oppressive heat, racing in its meagre moment to embrace the world with its cold darkness. And a servant of that darkness: the vampire awoke.
Through his paralyzed dreams, he had been hounded by a rotting corpse, and now recognizing the smell that, in his sleep, had foreshadowed this revenant’s vengeful appearance, he sought some cruel vengeance of his own against the beggar outside. Gazing down from his window, the vampire studied the transient.
His clothing was a quilt-work of odd patches, the cobbled remains of stolen and discarded articles ranging from torn rags to a gentleman’s waistcoat, which had seen better days. Upon his head the wrinkled remains of a crushed top hat, something which, in its prime, might have been found in the courtly audience of a ballet, resided, a sad degradation, what was once meant for honor now rubbish tossed onto the street.
The wind picked up, and a less than refreshing blast of air refreshed the vampire: his plan of sucking this man’s blood made moot as he failed to even stifle his gagging from this distance. Some other course would needs be sought. Wanting free of the growing stench, and finding his mind too muddled to think without a bite of the evening’s offerings, the vampire leapt from the window, his transmutable body liquefying, reshaping, and finally gliding through the air in the clichéd form of a bat.
The forthcoming supper provided the vampire a moment of clear thought away from the smell. Alone in the room of his latest victim, he sat upon the bedside gently running his finger along the defined jawline of the young girl. A foolish creature who, even at the threats and warnings of her doctor and parents, opened her window to gaze upon the lit city through her restless nights. She lay there, lovely and pale, pale as he, her face finally at ease now that she had passed.
It always touched him, the last visit. At the beginning he’d find them, he knew not how, but boys or girls, old men or children, he found their pining souls dying alone. Their longings were like beacons, lighthouses, guiding him to their harbor. She loved her baby brother, had been his nurse, and was ultimately helpless when his little lungs finally died. He could hear it in her dreams, the haunting sound of those little breaths struggling for life, and so he eased away her pain. Now the hurt was all gone; it only took five nights.
He would leave the window open, she would like that. Rising, he takes one last look upon the corpse. Be free, he thinks, and falling backwards reenters the night, gliding upon Nyx’ familiar winds. Full, his sluggish flight home, sailing over the city’s enchanting play of light and dark, lulls him into a meditative air, his mind wandering into dredged up memories. That corpse from his dream he knew. Von Ham. . . Hamburger? Houdini? Von something or other.
Even after ten years he feels the hairs upon his bat’s body standing up at the thought of Von Humbug. Hamilton? Hosea? Was it an ‘H’ or not? Suddenly, he turns, flying toward the countryside. As the dense interconnected apartments and mansion estates give way to the sparse huts with their flowing fields of grain and luscious spread out vineyards, he sees his shadow upon the ground cast by the brilliant moon expending all her light. Darting through a field, it slides out onto the still waters of a lake, a black mark upon heaven’s illuminated reflection below.
With a sigh, he contracts his wings, falling toward the gentle waves like a dart. Studying the ever approaching lake, he, for a thoughtless moment, searches for his reflection. With a laugh, he remembers himself in those last few inches before hitting the incompressible fluid. I have no reflections, he thinks as his whole body explodes, the little bits disintegrating into smaller and smaller fragments, until hovering over the famers’ reservoir, the curling wisps of a miasma form.
Floating through the air in this gaseous manner, he slowly approached the old vicarage. He’d find the name. In this more spiritual form, he stayed above the ground, not touching the sacred ground, filling the graveyard as a dense fog. It wasn’t hard to find. The grave had been exhumed, an open sore in the soft earth. The stone read clearly, Von Hyssop—so it was an H—but it was false advertising. “Here lies,” it reported. The earth had been dug up, and there was no one there.
There was, however, a stench. A terrible odor emanated from the pit. Even as a gas, he could smell it. The cloud rose, lifting into heaven. It drifted over the moon, condensing, darkening, into a pinprick, a small bat. The vampire flew to his home, wondering at the meaning of all this.
As he flew through his window, the smell assaulted him again. Hovering in his apartment, he slowly reformed, the figure of the bat stretching and contorting until he again stood there, a man, or at least shaped like one. The odor was everywhere, suffocating. It’s that bum, he thought to himself, that beggar. Stalking toward the window, he looked out over the street: There was no one. The dirty little man had left, but the smell, that stench, remained.
He stood there a moment, his hard eyes surveying the deserted cobblestones. No one, he whispered. The sorrows of the city came to him like a distant melody; he could hear the longing, unnoised cries of anguished hearts. They were the ones who would open their windows to him, he knew. He closed his, for a moment, but the odor overpowered him. Throwing them open, he let the cool air of the night hit his face.
“Stinks, doesn’t it,” the only too familiar voice said.
“Von,” he said, turning around. “Looking well.” The comment was not altogether true. The beggar stood, his crushed hat held in front of his face.
“Am I?” the guest replied, lowering his hat. The face was mostly gone, but maggots still housed themselves in the pockets of flesh which remained, their squirming white bodies sometimes pushing out of him and falling onto the floor.
“Looking, well, less dead than I hoped.”