Thursday, August 6, 2015

Short Story Week, Part III: The Unfortunate Undead, by Jim Nemeth

We close our week of short stories with this piece by writer and film historian, Jim Nemeth.  In 1993, Nemeth won 1st Prize in a national magazine’s short story writing contest for which novelists Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch were judges; his piece was subsequently published in a special issue. Winning held special meaning for Nemeth, as Robert Bloch remains his favorite writer and main literary influence. Nemeth has had articles and reviews printed in a variety of magazines, including Filmfax and Mad About Movies. He is currently co-writing a book that will examine the literary origins of numerous classic fantasy films.

Nemeth works as a business analyst/technical writer in the biotechnology field. A long-time community activist, Nemeth is particularly committed to the causes of cancer research and HIV/AIDS. He is equally passionate about his involvement in animal rescue.

Old One awoke from his trance-like slumber and rose from his coffin. Then, as he had done every night for countless centuries, he walked toward the entrance of the cave that was his home. The cave, set high in a tall, snow-covered mountain, overlooked a populous village which the vampire nightly claimed as his feeding ground.

Old One smiled as he looked down on the valley below him. As he continued to gaze, however, the smile quickly melted into a frown. Something is wrong, he thought to himself. Something is not quite right. The village below looked the same to him as it did every night, and yet something was…different.

A brief moment passed before he realized what was troubling him. “No lights,” he whispered into the night air. Here it was, nightfall, yet there was not one torch or fire to be seen lit down in his little village.

“Where are the torches?” he asked of no one. Any other night he could rise, look down below, and see hundreds of little pinpoints of light burning within the huts. They usually lit the night as if the village were visited by a plague of fireflies. But tonight, there was…nothing.

Still puzzled, Old One strained his vampiric senses to the limit. With his keen hearing, he could hear that many of the peasants were outside of their huts.

Outside? After dark? The vampire felt a vague uneasiness creep over him. But they always lock themselves up long before nightfall, Old One reflected. They’re always too terrified to go near their doors or windows until sunrise is upon them! Yet here they are, abandoning the protection of their homes, the safety that the crosses, the garlic, and the other hated items afforded them. Why?

“Could they have finally mustered courage in numbers to try to track me down?” he asked himself. Although he knew his location was quite unreachable by any normal means, his question shot a momentary chill of fear through him.

Old One’s acute senses next became aware of a strong scent, one reaching up to him from the valley far below. It was a scent he was quite familiar with. It was the smell of fear. The villagers were afraid of something. They were scared! Their fear of the vampire had been replaced this night, but Old One did not know by what.

The vampire gazed out at the horizon as he tried to formulate answers to the mysteries below. As he did so, the night itself gave him cause to wonder.

“It’s lighter than it should be,” he whispered to himself. But just last night was the first night of the time of the missing moon!” Having had centuries in which to observe the lunar patterns, he knew that the moon should be gone tonight. It should be completely dark!

Yet, there was light of some sort! Very little, to be sure, but enough to cast an eerie illumination over the entire valley floor. In all his years, Old One had never seen such a strange phenomenon. It sent a shiver running through his unliving body. No wonder the villagers were afraid! Old One wanted to see the cause of this weird luminescence but sensed that the source was on the other side of the mountain, out of his current range of sight.

A quickening dread began to settle upon the ancient vampire. It had been many decades since he had felt this unsettled. And here, tonight, there were too many puzzles, too many questions for which he had no answers.

A moment passed and Old One began to gain control over his racing mind. It was at this same moment, however, that yet another question entered his consciousness. A question that, coming upon everything else, sent his mind reeling into an uncontrollable panic.

“Why am I not thirsty?” he shouted into the cold night. Every evening, every night he would wake and have the thirst upon him. The inhuman, burning thirst that could be satisfied only one way. But now, he felt nothing. NOTHING! “It’s as if I’d drunk but an hour ago!” he screamed, this time so loud that he was sure that even the villagers below had heard his tortured cry.

Gripped by fear, Old One determined that he had to take action of some kind. He intuitively felt that his unnatural existence depended upon his finding answers to the puzzles that were torturing him. He decided to go immediately to the village. Once there, he would find a villager apart from any group and seize him. Before taking the fool’s life, he would force the wretch to tell him what the strange events meant. “They have to know what is happening,” he tried to reason with himself. “They must know!”

The vampire instantly transformed to his aerial shape and took to the sky. No sooner was he airborne than he realized something was wrong. Very wrong. For the first time since prior to becoming an Undead, he felt…warm. Too warm. Hot. Burning! Almost as if the sun…THE SUN! But, it couldn’t be! It couldn’t…

Old One’s consciousness ceased to exist, as did his body, as his fleshless skeleton plummeted to earth.

The villagers, being a simple and uneducated people, never knew exactly why the vampire’s attacks stopped as of that fateful day. They simply assumed that the vampire had fled from their midst on that awful day of terror. The day the villagers thought that the world was coming to an end. For the villagers, like Old One, had never experienced a total eclipse of the sun.

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