True Blood season six premiere dark and indestructible Bill Compton.

True Blood season six premiere dark and indestructible Bill Compton.

Vampires Don’t Sparkle by Michael West: A Blood-soaked Bonanza

VDS-Cover-SmallI have to admit that I had given up on the world of vampire literature. Thanks to a suburban housewife in America, vampires had become a race of sulking, bloodless, pedophiles who glittered in the sun like cheap dime store jewellery.

In the sun??

Growing up on a steady diet of Hammer Horror (and yes the capitals are required) and discovering films like Near Dark, The Hunger, Fright Night, et al; I was disgusted at the thought of a “tween” vampire written by someone who did not even like vampires. It was a joke with a bloodless punchline that left a foul taste in one’s mouth.

I had given up hope of ever reading a vampire tale that would affect me so much that I had to sleep with the light on and nervously peer into darkened corners or jump, heart pounding, at every creak and pop as the house settles for the night.

But…

I had not counted on Horror Master (again the capitals are required) Michael West to collect such an array of brilliantly bloody and violent “old-fashioned” vampires. Vampires who: cannot walk in the sun and don’t look like a tawdry bit of moving glitter dust when they do, rip out throats, are cruel and vicious, have super-human strength and require a stake, and a hammer to kill.

It appears that I am not alone in my disgust at the current fad of foppish, shiny, reflective pompadour wearing sweetie-cakes who’d rather starve than rip out a throat and glut themselves on human blood. It appears that Mr West also longed for the more “traditional” Dracula type vampire and set out to find a collection of short stories where the vampires don’t sparkle…they kill.

He offers, for our entertainment and enjoyment (and terror) fifteen different stories about blood ingesting, super-human creatures who yearn for your blood from fifteen different contemporary authors. There is even a robot vampire!  But all these stories have one thing in common, apart from the fact that all the vampires in them are actually scary and would not appeal to any “tween” that I know of; these stories suffer from originality. 

They also have a wonderful Dionysian pathos that is admirable. I will admit that when I finished this blood-drenched work of art I felt (apart from uneasy about the fact that night had fallen) quite sated; akin to a tick or leech or even a mosquito after a long leisurely feast of blood from a victim.  Because the vampire is a blood sucking creature whose bodily fluid intake and exchange is as primal as the act of sex.

Michael West prefaces this collection of stories stating two things. The first is his dismay about what vampires have become in popular fiction. The second is his personal catharsis in dealing with two people who are near and dear to him being stricken with cancer.

One was a good friend and colleague who lost her battle against the horrible disease, the second is his wife, who has won her fight against this merciless killer. It is because of his personal involvement that he has donated a portion of the proceeds from the sales of this collection. He will be doing the same for his future anthologies.

If you love  more traditional vampires grab this book with both hands and read it. In a world of 2 and 3 star books and vampires who really aren’t, this collection is a real 5 star glorious bloodsucking creature of the night read.

I will leave you with Michael’s own statement about the book: “Stephenie Meyer stole this monster from Bram Stoker. We’re stealin’ it back!”

Michael with Elvira Mistress of the Dark...
Michael with Elvira Mistress of the Dark…

The Old Man’s Hands

The old man sat in a row of empty chairs in the waiting area of the bus station. He was the only live occupant in an area filled with dust bunnies, cobwebs, and deserted candy wrappers. Every time the entrance door opened with a sigh, pushed by the swirling ubiquitous wind, the bunnies and wrappers would shuffle away from the door and then slide back when the wind died. The cobwebs moved, in a kind of sympathetic sway to and fro; shakily as if they were so fragile that to move too much would make them lose their anchor and sail away.

The wind did not appear to bother the old man. He sat looking at his hands. Hands that despite being wrinkled and liver spotted were huge. They were cracked with blunt sausage fingers, the nails were cut to the quick but still showing a touch of year’s worn grime under the nails themselves that no amount of scraping or brushing was going to remove. Sometimes he would make a fist. Both hands curled up like a bare-knuckle boxer. He would turn them this way and that, still scrutinizing them as though he had never seen them before.

The wind pushed the door open again and Sam behind the ticket counter looked up for what must have been the hundredth time. He seemed incapable of not looking. He would raise his eyes and cock his head quizzically and if he’d been a dog, one ear would have cocked forward. As his eyes drifted back down to the crossword puzzle in front of him, they detoured to the big old man who seemed so fascinated by his own hands.

Footsteps came up behind Sam and he spoke without looking. “Hey Leanne.”

“Hey Sam.” Leanne headed to the only other chair behind the ticket counter. “Slow day, huh?”

Sam nodded slowly, still concentrating on his crossword, which was almost finished. “Oh yeah; if it wasn’t for Mohammed Ali’s cousin over there, this place would be dead.”

“Who?” Leanne glanced over at the old man in the waiting area.

“The old man sitting over there with those big old boxer’s hands.” Sam nodded in the direction of the bus station’s only occupant in the waiting area.

“Has he come up to the counter,” Leanne asked.

“Nope,” Sam said, still more interested in finishing his crossword than talking about the old man. “I don’t even know when he came in. I just looked up and he was there. Made me jump, I don’t mind telling you.” Sam put down his pencil, “The next bus ain’t due for another two hours and he’s been here at least that long already.”

“Well, you know Sam, you could have tried asking him what he wanted.” Leanne’s tone was dry. “He might have grandkids coming in to visit or a son or daughter coming home.” She shook her head in disgust, “But I suppose that would have taken you away from your precious crossword.”

Reaching in his back pocket, Sam pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose, loudly, and then spent a couple of seconds sniffing and wiping the end of his nose. “Well, if it was that damned important to him he would have said something wouldn’t he? Besides, he ain’t hurting anything and he’s been real quiet. He hasn’t moved from that chair. Just keeps looking at his hands like he’s never seen ’em before.”

Without folding it, Sam shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket. Glancing back down to his crossword, he scowled. “Hey Leanne, what’s a three-letter word for old sailor?”

“Tar.”

Leanne and Sam both jumped as the old man said it again, “Tar.” They looked at each other, struggling not to laugh nervously; Leanne checking the crotch of her jeans because she could have sworn she’d wet herself just now. Sam nodded and said, “Thanks Old Timer.”

The old man grunted and went back to inspecting his hands.

Leanne leaned close to Sam and whispered, “Jesus, Joseph and Mary, he just scared the shit out of me!” Sam leaned back and putting his hands behind his head to crack his knuckles, nodded. “Me too.”

“Didn’t he sound kind of familiar? You know, like someone you know, or is that just me.”

“He just sounded old and gravelly. Like he has rocks in his throat or chest; in a few more years he’ll start sounding all wheezy and whispery. I mean look at him, he must be 90 if he’s a day.”

The wind blew again this time it was a real howler. Wailing and gusting aggressively the wind smacked the entrance door open. Sand, litter and the odd scorpion were blown into the waiting room. The dust bunnies and empty candy wrappers swirled up and away from the old man’s row and for a second looked like a miniature dust devil. The cobwebs strained against their anchored ends and held on. Clenching his fists, the old man did not move one bit. Even his clothes seemed to be unaware of the wind and dust that was swirling around.

“Leanne!” Sam pointed to the still open door. “Go close that damned thing before it breaks and put the latch on. There are two of us here now we can close up and watch for the bus. I don’t want to be stepping on scorpions and tarantulas in here!”

Leanne bolted from her seat and with her eyes squinted against the grit in the air she slammed the door shut and turned the bolt. “Is that good enough for you, your highness?”

Sam didn’t even bother looking up. “Great. Wonderful. Put yourself up for a commendation. I’ve got a whole drawer full of gold stars. Why don’t you pin one on your ass.” Leanne, shot him the finger and Sam chuckled. “Yes dear, I know I’m number one. Thank you for remembering.”

“George C Scott.” Leanne jumped and whirled around. The old man was looking at her with eyes that looked kind and tired. “That’s who folks tell me I sound like.” Leanne smiled. “That’s it! That’s who you sound like. My boy was watching some cartoon where he did the voice. You sound just like him.” He redirected his eyes to his hands and seemed to forget she was there. Leanne watched him for a moment thinking he might say something else, but he remained mute.

Spinning around she headed back toward the counter. Just as she reached the counter, Sam looked up and past her.

The old man rose slowly from his chair. As he got to his feet he reached behind him with both hands as though he were going to massage his back. His hands reappeared with two of the biggest guns Sam had ever seen. They made Dirty Harry‘s .44 Magnum look like a pea shooter.

Sam’s eyes widened, “Leanne, Look…” Sam’s face erupted in a geyser of blood and bone and flesh, his body toppled backward on the chair and only stopped when it met the floor. His pencil was still gripped in his right hand and it marked the floor a bit as he twitched once or twice.

Leanne felt someone punch her in the back, hard, as though she’d been hit by a baseball bat; she automatically looked down and saw a section of her spine blow out of her stomach. It was the last thing she saw as she lost consciousness and fell to join Sam’s lifeless body on the floor. The big old man walked slowly up to the two dead bus station employees.

He stood looking at them and put the guns back in his waistband behind his back. He leaned over Sam and cleared his throat. Sounding just like George C. Scott he said, “Shooter’s hands sonny, not boxers, shooters.” He turned on his heel and strode out the entrance leaving the door to swing in the wind.

Michael E. Smith copyright 2013-01-08

Scars and Diapers…

Today I had the thrill of getting a cyst removed from my back. The excitement level of this minor operation was minimal, so I didn’t have to worry about a jolt of high blood pressure kicking me off. Apart from a “slight scratch” as the doctor described it and some “prodding around” he removed something so small that an ant would have turned up his nose at it. (If an ant had a nose that is)

Two stitches later and I was released into the world once again. One more scar to add to my ever-growing collection. The joke around the Smith house is that I’ve got enough scars, impressive and not-so-impressive that I could change my name to Colonel Quaritch, the suitably nasty alpha male in Avatar.

For the record I do have a few. I have a scar on my right knee that I got (along with either 16 or 32 stitches. My memory says 32, but since it tends to exaggerate, it’s probably 16 or even six) from being scared silly by an old man who couldn’t see me on the path or even hear me, let alone harm me. But he scared the hell out of me and I ran like the Devil was chasing my ass. I tripped and opened my knee to the bone (or cap I guess).

What was funny was how I came to be on the path to town that day and my discovery of my injury.

Back in the old days when I was a wee lad of 7 women used old-fashioned cloth diapers (nappies, if you’re English) with diaper pins. *Just a side note about diaper pins. I think that these self-injuring giant clothes pins were the main reason that “throw away” diapers became the rage. Every time you went to thread the pin through the diaper to close it, your fingers automatically got skewered. There were a few folks who never stuck their fingers with the damned things, but no one I knew ever changed a diaper unharmed.*

My brother who had made his entrance into the world just a short time before was doing what every baby does when they first arrive. He was going through diapers at a rapid rate. Our mother had run out of, not diapers, but pins. I was sent to run the half mile or so to the town centre and get a pack. In those day’s you could even walk outside by yourself at 7 years of age in the dark. (Though not likely, we had curfews back then, by God!)

This task was deemed urgent, no pins no diaper for my baby brother, I left in what I was wearing. I don’t remember the shirt I had on, but I do remember I was wearing white blue jeans. I even seem to remember that they were Levis. I scarpered out the front door and headed off at a pretty good pace to town. As I walked in front of the now deserted High School (it was summer) I spied the “old man.”

All the town kids were terrified of him. He wore a black fedora hat and a long black coat, even in blazing heat of the summer. He wore black “clodhopper” boots and used a cane to walk. He rarely looked up when he walked and he mumbled to himself. I was scared of him because he kicked my dog. Scamper got in his way once, tail wagging and trying to be friendly. The old chap immediately kicked the dog a good yard down the path. Scamper squealed with pain and hi-tailed it back to the house. I yelled at the old man for kicking my dog, but he never paused or even looked at me. He just continued down the path looking at the ground.

My dad said that the old man was half blind and pretty much completely deaf. He said that Scamper probably frightened him and that was why he kicked the dog. I remember dad had a talk with him later the same day about the incident and the old fellow spoke in a very loud tone and said, “I didn’t kick your damn dog sonny, now get out of my way.”

Dad came back shaking his head and chuckling. He told me to make sure that Scamper stayed away from the old man. I didn’t think it was amusing or forgivable. I thought the old man was mean and would probably kick me if he got the chance.

That’s why I ran away from him yelling (no words but if I was to translate, it was a YAAAAAAAAH sound). Just as I started to slow myself down, I tripped and did a face plant in the rock and dirt path I’d been sprinting on. I got back up and brushed the dirt off as I ran.

I didn’t slow down till I got to the old general store (Boy, I sure do miss those). I found a packet of diaper pins and brought them up to the counter. I handed them to the lady at the till and gave her my quarter for them and as she handed me my change she nodded her head towards my jeans and asked, “Have you been painting?”

“No,” I replied, “Why?”

She pointed to my right knee and said, “It looks like you got some red paint on your knee. It looks pretty fresh too. Did you brush against something on the way here?”

I looked down at my white jeans and found that from the knee down they were red. My knee was pumping out freshets of blood.

“No, I fell.” I put the change in my pocket. “I’d better get home, these pins are an emergency.”

The lady smiled and said, “You’d better get your mom to look at your knee.”

I thanked her and told her that I would.

I took the back way home so I wouldn’t run into the scary old man. I ran into the house with the diaper pins held out to my mom. She noticed the red jeans right away. As she was a bit harassed, she wasn’t too pleased to see that I’d injured my knee, “Running away from a harmless deaf and blind old man.”

With the sigh of overworked mothers everywhere she then declared that we would have to go see our GP and see if it needed stitches. “You’d better hope you need stitches, buster. I really don’t have time for this.”

Of course I did need stitches so I never found out what would have happened if I didn’t. Not a lot I don’t imagine. My mother to this day remembers the incident and feels guilty that she’d made the, “You’d better hope you need stitches,” remark. On the day, she felt so bad about it that she stopped and got us both a fudgesicle –my favourite.

Not all my scars have such a “quaint” back story. Nor do they hold much in the way of pleasant memory. A lot of them didn’t even get stitches although I’ll wager they probably should have. But what every scar I have does is show that my life has quite often been exciting, scary, painful and for a couple of them at least, fun.