By the time we killed all the vampires, the rains had started and we had to stay indoors. Rain poured down the large palm leaves making hundreds of small waterfalls. The ground saturated quickly and water rose over the bottom veranda step, then the second, then the third. We put sandbags in front of the door sills and crossed our fingers. Snakes crawled up the walls and took refuge in the attic. We listened to them slink across the ceiling. Lizards perched atop window frames and blinked. We watched each other for pallor, lengthening canines, narrowing pupils, red-rimmed eyes. There were no symptoms.
We lived on a hill overlooking the ocean, far enough away from the mainland and the large island that the local population was small. The volcano on the next island was quiet. Earthquakes and tsunamis don’t have seasons but the earth seemed calm. We told each other that was good; we didn’t need anything else to happen for a long time. But we kept our extra sharpened stakes near the front and rear doors and our sterling silver daggers in our belts just in case we were wrong. Just in case we needed to run out of the house suddenly. We were still looking over our shoulders.
We made jokes, brewed tea the long way, played an endless game of Monopoly which we took to calling Monotony, read each other snatches of stories (avoiding anything bordering on horror), and agreed not to read Gone with the Wind in case Scarlett was secretly a vampire.
Preferring to be together where we could each silently count heads and make sure no one was missing, we would fall asleep at all hours lying across chairs, on the floor, sprawled on the sofa. We went to the bathroom in pairs. We had no idea how long it would take for the sense of impending doom to wear off. We weren’t going anywhere until the rain stopped anyway because our old Jeep Wrangler wouldn’t make it through the high water at the bottom of our hill.
Over a cup of tea on the second day of rain, I told a story about my mother walking seven miles in a fur coat to get home in a blizzard. The coat was a hand-me-down from her mother-in-law. This was before the “fur is dead” era. My mother wore it every winter for ten years until the pelts broke apart at the elbows and couldn’t be sewn back together. But the story wasn’t about the coat.
In that blizzard, which dumped nearly three feet of snow in eight hours, she walked from downtown Baltimore up Charles Street into Roland Park, down Northern Parkway, across Falls Road and straight out Smith. It took her six hours. She deliberately picked the classy neighborhoods to walk through, she said. Hundreds of people were walking in the streets. It looked like a scene from War and Peace, she said, a throwback to when people had to rely on their own mobility. No cars could get through, the snow was too high. Snow piled up in front of cars as people waited at the foot of hills while cars that had made a run at the hill slid back down sideways. Men yelled, “Look out, look out.” People left their cars where they got stuck and the city towed thousands of them to lots under the Rt. 83 overpass downtown.
Trudging up the Roland Avenue thirty-degree incline, my mother noticed an older woman who was having trouble taking the hill. My mom walked up to the stranger, took her arm and started talking to her. The woman didn’t think there was anything odd with this behavior. It was as if the snow emergency created new rules for social interaction; the old stiff rules about how to behave when you first meet someone disappeared under the first foot of snow. When they parted forty minutes later, they felt like old friends. Except that they didn’t know each other’s names and never saw each other again.
I had no idea why I told that story when there were so many others I could have told. But I’d stopped questioning my motives at that point.
Molly told the story of the time she was sunbathing at her apartment pool, talking to the woman in the lounger next to her about Oprah Winfrey, and periodically scanning the pool for her young son playing in the shallow end when she saw a boy floating on his belly, face down in the water. Without thinking, she catapulted from her chair, jumped into the pool and pulled the child out of the water. He sputtered and cried, but he was alive. The woman she was talking to was his mother. She grabbed her son and shook him for embarrassing her. Molly took her towel and straw bag and left the pool.
Simon told us about the time he and his mother heard screaming in the street in their neighborhood one night. It was not a common occurrence. Without thinking, he grabbed the poker from the fireplace tool rack and his mother grabbed the flashlight she kept handy in the kitchen. They left their house, locked the door behind them, and walked quickly into the street calling out, “Where are you, we’re coming” as if they were superheroes and knew what they were doing.
They walked toward the screaming. No one else even opened their doors. They found a neighbor in her seventies standing weeping and shaking at the foot of the concrete stairs leading up to her townhouse, unable to move. They walked her up to the door.
Her husband of fifty years stood terrified and helpless in his living room with the front door open. “He took my purse,” she said, “he shoved me when I got out of the car and he took my purse.” Her husband embraced her as if she were made of glass. Simon and his mother left her there and walked home. For some reason, they didn’t think about any danger they might be in.
I suppose we were looking for the roots of our bravery, about which we thought there were no earlier clues. Survival seemed to be what drove our behavior, and fury, but everyone wanted to survive. No other group on our island that we knew of organized themselves to kill the vampires. Everyone else hid and hoped for the best, hoped they wouldn’t be next, and rationalized that only bad people, wild people were attacked.
The vampires arrived by boat from the big island just after sunset as if they were tourists. We didn’t notice they were different from anyone else for a while except that they seemed really old, stooped, and furrowed, more like the folks you expect to spend the winter in Miami. The men wore their polyester pants pulled up high over their bellies. Their chests were concave. They wore black socks and sandals. The women’s breasts sat like melons on their prominent bellies. They were loud and took photographs of themselves standing on the beach, their backs to the waves, with the moon’s reflection on the ocean making a path to the horizon. They stayed in the hotel near the beach like most of the tourists and left everyone else alone.
Dan was the first person to notice something odd. Dan ran a cafe on the main road near the beach. One evening the tourist he had taken to calling Herman sat down at one of the outdoor tables and ordered a Cosmo. The guy was wearing Herman’s clothes but he seemed taller, a bit younger, and he was wearing his pants at his hips. Dan said it was like having a déjà vu moment except that something was slightly off. He couldn’t put his finger on it until one of the women joined Herman. She seemed to have lost twenty years. She was now lusciously curved, her hair was pulled back in a pony tail, and her skin was smooth. She winked at him. His skin crawled.
Soon after this, bodies started washing up on the beach. They had been sucked dry and resembled inner tubes with the air let out. Twelve hours in the Pacific didn’t help the police identify what killed them. At first the coroner thought they were attacked while swimming in the ocean at night but there were no shark bites. Then he thought he saw man-of-war or box jelly fish stinger marks on their necks but that turned out not to be the case. The victims were mainly men in their twenties but occasionally there was one child and a woman. The killings seemed opportunistic rather than planned. Officials were baffled.
In the first week, five bodies were found. Locals were stunned and stood in groups when they came into town, talking about the deaths. The first victims were some of the surfer bums who found their way to the island every year and basically lived on the beach until they took off for the next big wave island. In the second week, there were ten more bodies. This time, they were locals, folks who worked late nights in the tourist businesses that lined the beach road.
By the third week, the snowbirds looked like elites on yachts in the Mediterranean—sleek, tanned, and toned. Twenty more people were dead. The sheriff was tearing out his hair trying to find the killers, because there had to be more than one lunatic to pull off this number of murders. Muttering to himself over coffee at Dinah’s counter in the deli, he looked unusually pale. Dinah tried to get him to eat something, even toast, but he said his stomach hurt. Dinah patted his arm.
We figured it out a week later when Dan was killed. The night he went missing, he called me and told me about the most recent transformation of our odd tourists. “No spa is making this happen,” he said. “This can’t be done with plastic surgery. These people have got to be vampires.” He laughed as if he had said something ludicrous. I wasn’t smiling.
“The one they call Gloria came on to me this evening, wagging her tongue at me when I served her drink.” He paused and I could almost hear him grinning. “You should see the boobs on this babe. They make you think of falling into a down pillow.” He laughed. “I wanted to sink my face into them.”
Maybe he died happy.
We went to see the sheriff the morning after Dan didn’t come home from the cafe. His body was brought in by the surf a few hours later. For whatever reason, it hadn’t occurred to the vampires that if they were trying to hide the bodies, they had to haul them out beyond the reef.
Dan was found by a shell hunter early in the morning when the tide was out. He looked like all the others, shrunken, diminished, except this time the victim was our friend and that made it different. We felt helpless. Our hearts burned. When we got home from identifying the body, Molly walked into the bathroom, buried her face in a towel and started screaming. The sound went on for hours. It drowned out any quiet sobbing. Her screaming spoke for us all.
When Molly came out of the bathroom, she stood in the center of the living room and said, “We have to get those fuckers. We have to kill them all.”
None of us had a moment’s doubt this was our mission. No one said anything about the law handling this or maybe the murderers weren’t the people we thought. It was just a question of how we would do it. A quick Internet search provided the mechanics; there was even a kit we could buy. We bought ten kits, one for each of the monsters so we wouldn’t run out of weapons. Simon came up with the plan. We would have to get up much earlier in the morning than normal. No one complained.
We agreed to travel together, whether we were going to get supplies or food or help keep the cafe open. There was safety in numbers, we figured. We agreed to never go outside when it was dark. We didn’t even take the garbage out to the road alone.
By the time DHL delivered our kits, another twenty people had been killed. Only a few thousand people lived on our island. At this rate, the vampires would decimate the entire population. The sheriff put a bullet through his head. It was up to us. We had to act. Most shops were closed now. There was a sign on the pumps at the gas station: CREDIT CARD ONLY, PUMP YOUR OWN.
On Tuesday, we got up at5 a.m., put on our silver vests with our t-shirts over them, tucked two silver daggers in our belts, put the stakes in Dan’s golf bag and loaded into the Jeep. It didn’t strike us as incongruous that we were also wearing shorts and flip-flops. Fear made our mouths dry. Molly vomited over the side of the vehicle.
We got to the hotel at six. Light was beginning to glow over the mountains on the east side of the island. We needed to wait until it was fully light. At least we thought so, based on the instructions that came with the kit. We assumed our targets had been up late and would be dead to the world when we broke into their rooms. Simon wondered out loud if drinking blood gave you a hangover. We shushed him. We wanted them to be inert. We didn’t want to think of them as human. What we had to do was hard enough without thinking of them as normal people.
There was no one behind the desk in the hotel. Molly used the computer to find their rooms. They were the only guests left. Maybe the sheriff should have started there. It was too late for second guessing now. They were on the top floor in the presidential suite, not that any president had ever stayed there. It seemed curious to us that with all the space in the hotel they preferred to be in one room.
We took the stairs. There were only five floors and we were young. We thought the elevator might make noise. We wanted them asleep. We imagined them sprawled across beds and sofas and divans or hanging from the ceiling. We weren’t prepared for what we found.
We used the universal key card we found at the reception desk and opened the door. The blackout curtains were drawn. Simon strode across the room and pulled the curtains to the balcony open. Light flooded the rooms. There were ten vampires. They were naked. Their skin seemed to sizzle in the light. They appeared to have fallen asleep mid-orgy. Herman’s penis was still in Gloria’s mouth. They looked like they were teenagers again. We found four more in the bathroom in the soaking tub, their limbs entangled. They gave new meaning to the words blood lust. There were four in various positions on the king-sized bed. We were glad now that they hadn’t stayed on their boat. The rocking would have pushed us over the edge. As it was, it was tough holding onto our insides.
Without talking, we flipped them over on their backs. They didn’t resist at all. That information about light not being good for them must have been right. With a look at each other, we drove stakes through the hearts of the first three and then cut their heads off with the silver daggers. That took a while. Molly kept gagging. Without talking, we moved on to the next three and then the next. I killed the last one. Lightning flashed up my arm when I drove the stake through his heart. There was an astonishing amount of blood. Blood washed over our feet and sloshed up past our ankles. It sprayed on our faces and arms. It was as if the blood of all their victims poured out of them. I kept thinking that we should have worn rubber gloves, that we should have worn boots, rubber aprons, masks, goggles. What if their blood gave us AIDS?
Leaving the stakes in their hearts, we washed the daggers and our hands and faces in the bathroom. We took the elevator down, too exhausted to walk down the stairs. When we reached the pool area, we showered in our clothes in the outdoor shower meant for rinsing off sand. We stood in the sun for a while and then took another round of showers. We were waiting for something else to happen. We waited until noon. No one showed up. The real test would come at night. If there were any vampires left, they would find us.
Realizing we were ravenous, we raided the hotel kitchen, making sandwiches and taking sodas and fruit. We ate at one of the poolside tables that overlooked the ocean. Bright sun warmed skin. It was a calm day, with few clouds and a clear blue sky. The ocean sparkled.
We drove home and fell asleep in the living room where we first sat down and woke with a start at dusk. We waited without talking. Nothing happened but the regular beating of our hearts, the slow movement of blood through our veins, the inhalation and exhalation of air from our lungs. I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I looked five years younger. That afternoon, the rains started. I stood outside for a long time letting the rain wash me.
Ginny Fite is the author of the mysteries Cromwell’s Folly, No Good Deed Left Undone, and Lying, Cheating & Occasionally Murder, and the political thriller No End of Bad. Her degrees are from Rutgers University and Johns Hopkins University and she has studied at the School for Women Healers and the Maryland Poetry Therapy Institute.