It’s time for another seasonal tale. This time I’d like to share a different kind of vampire story with you. I remember how clearly Edmund’s voice spoke to me as I wrote it and because of that it holds a special place in my heart. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Edmund’s Story was originally published in The World Of Myth magazine in 2010.
My name is Edmund Howard, both names derived from the old English; Edmund meaning “happy defender” and Howard, “chief guardian,” both of which are invested with an irony that will become clear later on. I became what I am on a battlefield in the south of England long centuries ago. The exact date is unimportant; let it suffice to say Henry VIII had not yet begun collecting wives and be done with it. The details can be filled in with human imagination; one tale of conversion is much like another.
Anne Rice based all of her vampires on me. She took certain liberties, not the least of which was turning me into a Frenchman, but Louis, Lestat, Armand, and the others were all parts of me. I was the vampire she interviewed and most of what she turned into her literary legacy has happened to me at one time, in one form or another–with the notable exception of Lestat’s adventure with the Body Thief. I could never be so stupid as to fall for a trick like that one. Still, writers are expected to fabricate tales to enthrall their audience, and at least she stayed truthful on the salient bits, unlike some others I could name. While I have been able to see the sun without burning to ashes, I’m an exception, rather than the rule, and on those occasions my skin did not sparkle as if I’d been brushed with fairy dust. I am most assuredly a creature of the night, existing in the world of dark and shadows. After so many centuries, I can go for long periods of time without feeding or taking rest, but again, I am the exception which proves the rule.
Most vampires don’t survive long enough to get to this point. The initial feeding frenzy abates, followed by the thrill of the hunt, which later becomes a necessary diversion, until finally ennui settles in and existence loses its appeal altogether. When that happens, one has no choice but to act foolishly, doing things that will lead to the ultimate demise. I have seen this play reenacted many times, and I think most of us would not consider it an unhappy ending. What is a life without purpose, after all?
To that avoid that end, two hundred years after I became what I am–or it might have been three hundred, time is funny that way, especially when it appears it will go on forever– I challenged myself to find a hobby that would never become boring. One might wonder what would hold the interest of someone who had forever–I know I did–and after much consideration of the matter I decided to invest my energies in the ever-changing, always unique, sea of humanity. While some might argue that mankind is predictable, I have found that, taken individually, human beings hold the constant promise of surprise. Once a generation, I will seek out one who strikes me as having potential, to take under my wing and I become a sort of guardian angel to them (you should pardon the expression). Thus we arrive at the irony I spoke of earlier.
It was in Brooklyn, New York, in the summer of 1969, not long after I had risen for the night, but early enough that children still played in the streets, that I first saw Francine Scanlon. She was a beautiful child on the edge of womanhood, with red hair that glittered like rubies in the reflected lamplight and the incarnadine skin of someone who had spent more time in the sun than was wise. Even from my distant observation point I could see the laughter shimmer in her green eyes as she played with a younger, less striking version of herself. She turned a rope that had one end tied to a parking meter and sang some nonsensical chant while her sister attempted to jump in time. Each time her sister faltered, Francine would encourage her to try again. Her sister had no talent for jumping rope and tripped up after two or three successes each time, but Francine had the proverbial patience of a saint. This play went on for nearly an hour until the street was full dark, when a frowzy woman stuck her head out of a second storey window and yelled for the girls to come in.
Something about Francine called to me. It may only have been her resemblance to my long-dead daughter, Mary. She, too, had red hair and laughing green eyes, though I doubt she would ever have had Francine’s forbearance in lieu of what transpired. In ancient times red hair was thought a sign of the devil, but I have always been enamored of women with red hair. Mary’s mother had red hair, though it turned out she lacked the fiery spirit common to most redheads. While good-natured, even as a child, Mary did not suffer fools lightly and was just as likely to forge head first into the fray at perceived injustice as she was to look for help from another quarter, much to her mother’s dismay. What can I say? She was her father’s daughter and came by her temperament honestly.
Whatever it was, I began my silent guardianship of Francine after that first sighting, watching her grow and mature from a distance. I did not interfere with her day-to-day existence, nor try to influence her in any way. My intent when adopting a new ward (for lack of a better term) has always been to observe as unobtrusively as possible. Only a very few have been aware of my existence, though they tend to credit some obscure guardian angel with watching over them; I find amusing or annoying, depending on my mood. Even fewer have interacted with me directly. I find it best that way. Mankind, while enjoying the literary fantasy of vampires, really doesn’t want to come face-to-face with their reality. Staying in the shadows frees me from the tedium of explanations or cleaning up messy situations, and as I may have mentioned earlier, avoiding boredom is the reason I’ve lasted as long as I have.
Francine appeared to be doing well for herself, in spite of expectations. Her father had disappeared long before I spotted her, and Francine’s mother had let his desertion drag her down into quiet despair. The woman went to work to keep a roof over her daughters’ heads, but she also made a habit of imbibing to excess, and it fell to Francine to become a surrogate mother to her younger sister. Francine took this all with good grace, turning down a scholarship that would have left her sister to fend for herself, and taking night courses at a local college instead.
It took her a while but she earned a nursing degree and found a job in the hospital emergency room. Though you may think me ghoulish, I delighted in her chosen profession. I reveled in the opportunity to be around the blood and found the gore fascinating, even more so, the ways modern medicine has found to heal wounds and diseases that devastated the people of my time, my time being the time before I became what I am, of course. Also, I found a certain irony in my preference for the sanguinary being linked to her choice of career, in a manner of speaking.
It was while Francine was still going to school, but not long before she got her degree, that she met Vincent Figaro. He was a policeman, impudent and bold, who brazenly accosted her on the street as she walked home one evening after class to ask her to go out with him. He was Italian, with the dark good looks and cocky self-confidence that so many women have found admirable throughout history. To my amazement, Francine agreed and it wasn’t long before she and “Vinny” had set their wedding date.
I should not have been so irked by her actions. The very fact that human beings are prone to such foolishness and unpredictability is what has held my interest for so long, but I had grown fond of Francine, and Vincent had a subdued aura of violence that screamed to my senses so loudly I could not believe that Francine did not sense the contumelious nature that lurked just beneath his easy smile. They do say love is blind, so I suppose that must explain it.
It did not take long for Vincent to show his true colors. Francine’s recently acquired ineptitude resulted in bruises, sprains, and the occasional black eye. If her friends and coworkers suspected her husband’s perfidy, none of them ever mentioned it to her. Once, her sister tried to broach the subject, but Francine managed to convince her that the bruise on her throat was the result of Vincent having had a vivid dream involving the apprehension of a particularly nasty felon, a one-time event rather than an ongoing problem.
You may be asking yourself how I come to know so many intimate details when I claim to go unnoticed (unless, of course, I choose not to). Let me say, without delving too far into particulars, that vampires have many talents that humans know nothing about, and a vampire as old as I am acquires a good many more than what is common among the general vampire populace. For example, I am capable of standing beside you without your knowing it. You might possibly sense your hackles rise or a sudden chill run up your spine–the phrase “a goose walked over my grave” comes up often in these cases, but you would have to be extremely sensitive even for that to happen– or I distracted by other things at the time. Rare, but it does happen.
In any case, even with Francine’s saintly patience, I continued to be astonished–and perturbed–by her steadfast belief in her husband’s love for her, and puzzled for many hours over why she stayed with him, risking her life (and later on, her child’s life) to his capricious ire. Any reasonable person would have come to the conclusion that a man who abuses his wife to such a degree does not hold any true affection for her. Even before my sempiternal existence began, it was common for many men to physically punish their wives, but in that respect, I suppose, I was a man many years ahead of my time. I have always found it most distasteful to display such a lack of self control as to lay hands on women and children just because one is capable of it.
By the time Francine had decided that enough was enough, her son was nearly ten years old. Vincent made the mistake of doing more damage to her face than could easily be explained away as the result of walking into a door or tripping over the cat. Even at that, I believe what finally drove her to action was the look on her young son’s face when he came home from school and saw her sitting at the kitchen table in her blood-soaked blouse with the ice pack covering half her face. That evening while Vincent was at work, Francine called an abuse hot line and within twenty-four hours, she and her son were secreted away by a group of caring strangers in the hope of beginning a new life, far from the violence and pain of the old one. They were given new names (in another ironic twist of fate, Francine became Mary), along with a source of income and a place to live, a thousand miles from their home in Brooklyn.
I followed, naturally, curious to see how things would turn out. Florida was not particularly to my liking. Had I blood running through my veins, I could not have tolerated the insects, which were large and seemingly insatiable; fortunately, I do not. Francine’s son was enrolled in school and she found employment as a visiting health aid, a job much beneath her nurse’s status, largely consisting of checking blood pressures, changing sheets and making sure the patients had what they needed to survive until the next visit. Things were difficult, but life was improving for them. However the need to keep secreted from Vincent was a constant gremlin that niggled at Francine, who worried that with his police contacts he would somehow find them. In spite of this, by the time six months had passed, she had managed to make a few friends and slowly began the titivations that would turn their new apartment into a home.
Then came the night that Francine’s worst nightmare became reality.
Her son was gone on a weekend camping trip with a friend, and she had accepted a dinner invitation from a pleasant young man, as different in appearance and temperament from her husband as a man could be. She looked exquisite in an emerald green dress that suited her natural coloring and slender figure to perfection, and a glimmer of light shone again in her eyes. It was the first time in a very long while that I had seen a resemblance to the beautiful young woman who had played jump rope in the street with her little sister. To borrow an expression that is not technically accurate, but true nonetheless, it warmed my heart to see Francine happy. Alas, this turned out to be an ephemeral pleasure for us both.
When she returned home that night, Francine walked into her bedroom and flipped on the light to find Vincent waiting for her. He sat on her bed, smoking a cigarette, with pillows propping him against the headboard. The hand closest to the side of the bed raised a baseball bat with casual menace. He spoke to her in a voice of purest evil, usually given to characters like me in films and theatricals. “You stole my son, Francine. MY son. You shouldn’t have done that. I’m going to make sure you don’t ever try that again.”
He rose from the bed then and the paralysis that had momentarily fallen over Francine lifted. She turned and ran, but had I not been there, it would have done her no good at all. I let her pass me in the shadowed hall, but stepped forward when Vincent would have grabbed her by the hair. With one hand I grabbed him by the throat and held him up against the wall. His legs dangled inches from the floor and his eyes rolled wide in shock. Clearly, he wasn’t used to being the one pinned to the wall. I grinned maliciously, exposing my fangs, as I repeated his earlier words to Francine. “You shouldn’t have done that. I’m going to make sure you don’t ever try that again.” I was gratified to see the shock turn to fear.
It was quick work and the deed was done before Francine had a chance to call the police. She was frightened when she saw me carrying Vincent’s carcass, but as I said earlier, I have many talents and it wasn’t long before I had calmed her. Vincent would never hurt her again; he would disappear without a trace. I would take care of everything.
I used my talents to ensure that what she had seen dissolved into her subconscious mind, and only the freedom of knowing she didn’t have to worry about Vincent anymore remained. Then I slipped back into my world of shadowed observation, where I remain content to watch Francine and her new family grow and thrive.
I hope she lives a very long life. Even devils like a happy ending now and again.