It was deer hunting season and the smell of blood was in the air. I have a really good sense of smell so I never miss opening day. It's obvious to me as soon as the first hunters come back from the woods with their kills in the backs of their rusty pickups.
That's the kind of town it is. Lots of hunters. When I first moved here, they'd whistle when they saw me. Guess I was exotic fresh meat to them. But they soon learned that I don't date local guys. I like my privacy too much for that. Why else move to a town called Silent?
It's quiet, like I'd hoped, but not as private as I'd thought. It's one of those small towns where everyone knows everyone and if anything changes, we notice.
Like a red jeep belonging to one of the mail carriers coming out of an abandoned old dirt road. What was she doing down there in the middle of her workday?
It's also the kind of town where you can wave someone over to talk to them if you want. I'm a curious creature, I confess, and that is precisely what I did.
I just had to ask who was getting mail down there. Everyone knew it led to a long-abandoned cabin. (In fact, I used to sneak out there occasionally for very private dates—it being hard to achieve anything like true privacy in a town like this, as I said.)
She pulled over and opened her window.
I smiled and leaned out the window of my pickup truck. "Has someone moved in?"
She shrugged. "Seems like it. They're getting packages."
"I didn't think you could drive all the way in."
"There's been some clearing and someone put an old mailbox on a pine tree a half-mile in. I was afraid I'd get stuck turning around, what with the mud from last night's rain, but I made it. Want your mail? I have it right here."
But I declined her offer. I wasn't going home, I was headed to work. Not to mention that I had in mind a little exploring first.
After she'd driven out of sight I turned my old pickup down the bumpy dirt road toward the maybe not so abandoned cottage. But I stopped when I reached the mailbox. The cottage was another quarter-mile in and I didn't want to be late opening the library.
The mailbox was rusty, probably an old one left in the woods and recently reclaimed. The nails holding it to the tree were shiny.
And it was unmarked. No name or address, so shall we say unofficial? I thought it would be okay to peek inside.
There was a package wrapped in brown paper and string. It had a return address that read,
The sender was presumably a bookstore because les livres means books in French. Probably an old one because Ville Marie is the oldest neighborhood in the city of Montreal.
It was addressed to:
Logging Road 17
A Mr. Keats was having a book delivered way out here? It seemed strange. Mysterious even. Especially if one had a talent for anagrams. I'm kind of obsessed with word games, I confess. You can go for hours some days without anyone coming into the library, so I have to entertain myself somehow, right? Anyway, it was probably just a coincidence that livres has all the same letters as silver. Not to mention that Keats can be reorganized to spell stake.
Why did I think of those two words in particular? Aside from being good at word puzzles, I must've been thinking about the sinister history of our isolated little town, which happens to make us strangely interested in vampires, whether we want to be or not. I guess I should tell you about it.
But first, a little about me. I'm Pyrma. I usually use she/her. And I'm definitely not from here originally, I guess that's obvious from my name—plus the fact I'm dark enough not to turn all pink and peely in summer like the locals do. I come from India originally but I've lived in many places. And I've been here in Silent, Vermont for long enough to remember when the trouble first began. The disappearances. The mysterious pinpoint punctures on the necks of the victims when and if they are found deep in the woods. And sometimes dead deer with similar injuries.
Not to mention the wild rumors about vampires.
Ridiculous, really, but you know how rumors spread, especially in small towns. I assured them vampires were fictional, and as their librarian, I trust I'm regarded as something of an expert on fiction, but the rumors continued.
So did the disappearances, although not as frequently. Someone apparently had a murderous urge to kill young women, then cover it up by making it look like the work of a vampire. I told the sheriff to talk to old Mr. Coffin, the undertaker. Can you believe that's his name? Anyway, he denied taking Dracula out six times in a row, but library cards don't lie and the sheriff is keeping an eye on him. I'm helpful like that. Try to be an outstanding citizen. (I wouldn't want anyone to start suspecting me, a relatively new immigrant, would I?)
Now they don't let girls walk home alone after dark, and they added a deputy sheriff so someone would be on call 24/7. There haven't been any new "incidents" as the mayor calls them for almost a year, aside from more deer.
Which is good because the mayor wants to "promote the town of Silent as a refuge for wealthy people fleeing city life" as she puts it, but so far her promotions haven't drawn anyone here. I think the news stories about the disappearances might be a problem, but if she wants to waste the town budget on advertising instead of giving me the funds needed to keep our library up to date, who am I to speak out?
Apparently, I'm nobody. And our town is definitely nowhere. It's not on most maps, and people complain they can't get here using their GPS apps. Kind of a perfect place for a vampire to hide if there really were vampires, but as I said, that's just fiction.
Speaking of fiction, everybody's asking for books about vampires at the library. I keep telling them those are just stories but if they want to hang garlic cloves in their windows and read about the Highgate Vampire, the Melrose Abby vampire, or Elizabeth Bathory, the so-called Blood Countess, I don't mind—but I've had to add a whole section of books about vampires because of increased demand. I've even added reference books about vampire myths and tales from around the world, but the local residents are not big travelers and those books rarely get checked out. (Their loss, if you ask me.)
After investigating the mysterious mailbox, I hurried into town. I like to do my reshelving on Mondays when visitors to the library are few and I usually have the place to myself. Except this time, I had the unpleasant feeling that someone was watching me. A kind of prickling sensation on the back of my neck.
I peaked out a front window and sure enough, there was a car I didn't recognize across the street. A black Jeep, an old-fashioned one. Someone was sitting in the driver's seat but I couldn't make out any details because they'd parked in the shade of a big oak tree.
I went back to work. Best not to be paranoid—although as someone who looks like I’m in my early twenties I suppose I ought to be afraid of being disappeared too.
Instead, I was curious. Very curious.
So after work I drove back out to the edge of town and parked near the turn for logging Road Number 17, being careful to pull my pickup out of sight behind a tall clump of blueberry bushes. Then I walked through the forest toward the old camp.
I approached so quietly that I came within yards of a family of deer, but I ignored them and kept going until I could see the cabin up ahead.
Someone had cleared the road and split and stacked a supply of firewood. There was even a fire in the woodstove—smoke was coming out of the chimney. But there wasn't a vehicle there. Maybe they've gone to town to shop for groceries, I thought.
Or maybe not. A freshly killed deer was swinging from a tree limb beside the cottage, hung upside down to drain it of blood, which is what hunters do when they want to butcher it for venison steaks.
I decided to take a closer look at the cottage.
First I peaked in a side window. Odd to see familiar white lace curtains in it. I told you I used to use it for occasional dates and I do like a nice environment so I'd cleaned it up and done some decorating, but that was years ago, before a storm-tossed big tree trunks across the access road. Whoever moved in was enjoying my curtains. But it was hard to see inside with those curtains drawn, so I tried the door.
It wasn't locked.
Inside, a table was set for two, complete with wine glasses full of deep red fluid, candles in silver holders, linen napkins, and bone china plates. I could hardly believe my eyes.
Or my nose. As I said, I have a refined sense of smell, and I knew at once that the deep red liquid in the wine glasses wasn't wine. It was fresh blood, probably from that newly shot deer. What the Hell?
"I parked out back," a deep male voice said, "so you wouldn't see my Jeep. Figured you'd be more likely to let yourself in that way. Do take a seat."
He was dressed in a black suit and shiny black boots. His tie was thin and black. So was he. A man of indeterminate age, bold nearly black eyes, and strong hands. I especially noticed the hands because they were holding a rifle. Probably the gun used to kill that deer. And it was aimed at me.
I sat down.
"So," he said. "You're Indian."
"I'm a US citizen," I corrected.
You came from India originally, so I hear, and yet yours isn't a typical name there, is it?
He sat down opposite me with the rifle laying on the table cloth, barrel pointed my way. "Pyrma Ve. I suppose everyone just accepted that?"
He shook his head. "Don't they know about anagrams around here?"
"Not a lot of wordplay," I said.
"But why advertise your presence?"
"It's just a coincidence," I said. "Although a rather unfortunate one, all things considered..."
(Maybe I should explain, dear reader. You see, my full name just happens to be a perfect anagram for an old-fashioned spelling of, well, if you haven't noticed already, maybe I shouldn't point it out to you...)
"This gun," he said, "is loaded with silver bullets. Wine?"
"Uh, no thanks. I'm meeting someone for dinner in a little while. In fact, I really should be going." I stood.
I sat again. "I don't believe we've been introduced," I said. "Are you...?" But I stopped. I didn't want to let on that I'd read his mail.
"I'm that rarest of things, a vampire hunter," he said. "You may call me Hunter."
"And you drink blood?" I asked. "Are you sure you're not a vampire yourself?"
"The blood is for your benefit. You may as well enjoy your last meal."
"There have been reports of vampire killings for almost a decade in this area," he continued. "Didn't you think anyone would notice?"
"People definitely noticed," I said.
"We hunters tend to read the news rather carefully. It was just a matter of time. Why haven't you moved on?"
"Me? I like it here. And I'm the town librarian. It's a good job."
"I'm puzzled by that," he said. "Why a day job? Don't you find the sun a challenge?"
"If you'd aim that gun at least a little bit away from my chest, I'd be happy to explain," I offered.
He complied—but his finger was still on the trigger.
"I enjoy the sun," I said. "From which we can surmise that you have the wrong person. May I go now?"
"The first killing occurred within a month of your arrival," he said. "You were the only new resident that entire year, actually."
"I've always suspected the undertaker," I said.
"Whose name you wrote repeatedly on the library card for a copy of Dracula," he pointed out. (Damn, the man's research was thorough.) "You came here from the UK," he continued. "In fact, you left London right after a series of vampire sightings there."
"Is this how you accuse people? Correlations and coincidences?"
"Of course not." He raised an eyebrow. It made him look like a hawk. A very sharp-eyed, intelligent, and dangerous hawk. "I interviewed dozens of people over the past week, and I learned from those interviews that you were close to every one of the victims. You are in fact the single common thread weaving them together."
"I'm the town librarian!" I objected. "I know everyone."
"Not everyone. Mostly the serious readers. And that's the group from which all the victims come."
"Hmm." I examined him thoughtfully. "I think you're a lunatic," I said. "Do you go from town to town hunting people you think are vampires? Because that's pretty crazy if you ask me."
"I not only hunt them, I kill them. A dozen so far." He pointed the rifle at my middle region again. "You'll make it thirteen."
"That's an unlucky number. What's for dinner, aside from blood?"
"I'll have venison steak and salad once I'm done with you, but I'd rather not have to look at your corpse while I eat, so if you'd just stand slowly and go to the door..."
I stood again. "I don't think much of your hospitality," I said. "Give me that gun." I walked steadily toward him, my arm outstretched.
He let me get halfway to him before he pulled the trigger. BLAM!
He'd shot me! Right in the middle of my chest!
I held my hand to the wound. Hot blood was pumping out of it. I felt strangely dizzy.
I must've fallen over because next thing I remember he was standing over me, a big wooden hammer and stake in his hands.
"Sometimes with the strongest ones you have to stake them through the heart to finish the job," he said. "Hold still."
Right! Like you'd hold still while some vampire hunter tried to drive a stake into you? I got to my feet with as much dignity as I could muster. "I hadn't finished explaining," I said.
He looked startled but he recovered quickly, grabbing his gun up from the table and dropping the hammer and stake.
"I'm not bothered by sunlight, silver, or wooden stakes," I said, "because I'm not the vampire you think I am. Look at what you've done to my best white shirt!" I exclaimed, realizing there was a large bloodstain on it.
He shot me again.
This time I was ready for it and I recovered at once. "Do stop that," I said. "It's a waste of silver." I held out a hand to show him the two bullets. "And having to undo gunshot wounds makes me hungry."
"Shit," he said, taking a nervous step back.
"It's true that I'm from India originally," I said with a smile as I tossed his bullets on the table. "But I'm traveling under an assumed name. My real name is Vetala."
Now he looked even more worried, and he should have been. "You're a demon?" He asked, his eyes wide. (I guess he'd read up on vampires from around the world. The Vetala are definitely one of the scariest and most powerful.)
"That body. Is it yours?"
"If I really am an ancient demon, then of course I would simply take a body when I found one I liked. Maybe this one was from a victim in Bombay just before I went to London. If so, she was a good choice, don't you think?" I smiled even more widely and let him get a good look at my unusually long, fang-like incisors. (Those I'd grown after taking over the young woman's body, of course.)
"You can think of me as a sort of super vampire," I said. "I truly am immortal. However, you will be dying very shortly—but not quite as soon if you'll just..." I gestured towards the kitchen.
"You want me to cook you dinner?" He looked surprised.
"Absolutely! Venison is a personal favorite. I like mine rare."
"Are you serious?"
I let my fangs slide out a little more.
"I'll get the pan hot," he said, hurrying over to the camp stove. (It ran on propane gas from a tank so all he had to do was turn the valve on, then light it with a match.)
I watched him working with his back to me. He was busy prepping the venison steaks.
"Hey!" I shouted. "Turn it off!" I could smell gas. He'd only pretended to light the stove. In fact, he was allowing the gas to hiss out into the room. "Were you planning to wait until the room filled, then strike a match and blow both of us up?" I demanded.
He shrugged. "I came here to kill you. One way or another."
I sighed. It had seemed like a nice idea to sit down to a freshly cooked meal by candlelight, but I had a frozen Salisbury steak dinner back at my apartment that I could put in the microwave. The question was not what to eat for dinner, but what to do with him.
"On second thought," I said, picking up his rifle and aiming it at him, "turn the gas on again and toss me the box of matches."
BLAM! I shot the floor between his boots.
"Don't get excited," he said, turning the gas on and tossing the matches to me.
"That's right. Now go ahead and prep the salad. Those are salad greens in the bag, right?"
"And put the steaks in the pan."
"It's not hot. I should light the burner first," he said.
"Use your imagination," I said. "I'm just going to step outside now," I added as I backed toward the door. "But I'll keep you in sight through the window!"
He stayed there at the kitchen counter as I went around to the nearest window. It was smelling strongly of gas by now. I struck a match and tossed it but it went out before it got through the window. Shit.
I thought about it. All I needed was a spark, right? So I aimed at the stove and let off a round. BLA-BOOM!!! I was knocked backward onto the pine-needle-covered ground. And the cottage? It was a ball of flame.
I hurried through the woods to where I'd left my truck, then drove straight home. It was a cool evening so I lit my woodstove and burned my shirt in it. I might be a demon who could heal their own bullet wounds, but even I couldn't get bullet holes and blood stains out of a white silk blouse. Too bad. I really liked that shirt.
And then it was time for a well-earned dinner. Not a Salisbury steak frozen meal from Weight Watchers. No need to go into the freezer when you've got something better. (Okay, I lied to you about that too. I lie about a lot of things.)
For dinner, I'd set aside some fresh meat. Very fresh. A teenage boy I found hitchhiking early that morning. He was still taped to a chair where I'd left him and did he wriggle and squirm when he saw me coming at him with my fangs out!
As I said, I had a dinner date. That wasn't a lie. And since my 'guest' had been hitchhiking to Quebec and wasn't from around here, no one would connect his disappearance with me. Certainly not the vampire hunter.
Too bad the old cabin burned down. When the Sheriff discovers it—which I estimate won't be for a few days because no one lives nearby—he'll attribute the death to a cooking accident. Some city slicker who didn't know how to use a camp stove.
As for me? I'm still enjoying my life as a small-town librarian, and this new idea of picking up hitchhikers should take the heat off for a while. I like it here in Silent. No need to move on. At least not yet.
Say, would you like to come for dinner sometime? I really am a very good cook!
Alex Hiam is the author of Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key and Silent Lee and the Oxford Adventure available at Amazon. (C) 2021