In the eyes of many Christians, there has been a long-lasting battle between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. But the way I see it, Santa Claus is the image of aspirit of giving. Sure, some people call that a false idol, but then you could say that about role models such as athletes, musicians, authors of children’s books, and famous illusionists. Especially those who dabble in what people believe to be magic. But there’s nothing negative about it, it’s all part of the wonder of childhood. Fascination with Santa Claus and magic in general is all part of being young. In my opinion, it all ends way too quickly.
But some ultra-conservatives think that teaching children about fictitious magic is wrong because it leads to witchcraft and the Pagan religions. These people are concerned with the souls of our youth and don’t want them choosing the religion that most appeals to them. Seeing how that is why I came to America in the first place, this is a sore spot with me. It’s not just Americans who have the right to whatever religion pleases them, it’s everyone. I think there comes a point in everyone’s life when he or she has to choose whether or not to believe in the one true God. If that person chooses to ignore this, then it’s his or her loss. But up until that moment, they should be comfortable in whatever form of worship they want to take part in. That being said, I want it to be made perfectly clear that there is no quarrel between Jesus and Santa Claus… except for the little matter that I am damned from the sunlight for being a vampire. But I don’t blame Jesus for that, Heavens no!
But I digress. The point is, Santa and Jesus are on the same page. Santa and Woden, the being known to the Pagans as the Holly King, on the other hand… now that’s a different story altogether.
I bear no ill will toward Pagans, despite being a former Puritan. For the most part, they’re just misunderstood. Now this guy I ran into in the swamps of Louisiana Saturday night, he was one nasty customer. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
Hurricane Katrina did a number on New Orleans over the summer, orphaning thousands of children and destroying the homes of even more. Needless to say, it was particularly difficult for me to deliver in that region this year, what with all that mess. And I don’t just mean what Mother Nature did. The emotional mess was even worse than the physical mess.
I was using my extrasensory gifts to track down the children and give a little something here and there, and it was when I sensed a child in a swamp… with another vampire… that I became nervous.
Last year, I met Isabella Fittilucci and her daughter Maria, and the two of them loved each other very much. But as I homed in on this child near New Orleans, I didn’t sense love. I sensed fear and all-encompassing dread.
I floated down near some trees out of the child’s view and materialized. I then stepped out toward the little boy. He ran toward me and wrapped his little arms around my leg, screaming incoherently. The poor little guy couldn’t have been more than four. I offered a thin smile and asked him, “What’s wrong?”
He continued to scream, and before I could make any discernible words out, I was flung backward by an enormous blow. My vampire senses must be getting rusty. I knew the guy was in the area, but I should have seen that bump coming. The little boy lost his grip from my leg and fell down as I flew backward. I heard a raspy voice say, “This is no time to play good Samaritan. You go now.”
I had landed in some mud, so I wiped my hands on a dry patch of my pants, saying, “You picked the wrong Samaritan to start a fight with, Buster.”
Then I saw him for the first time. And then I noticed the smell. To tell you the truth, I don’t know which was worse. I honestly felt a chill when I saw him. Anyway, he looked ancient, which was uncommon with vampires. Most of us don’t bother feeding on the elderly, it just doesn’t seem right to deprive someone of the right to die of old age, a commodity we unfortunately lack. His face was sunken, wrinkled, and covered with fine wispy white hair; his eyes were cold and piercing; and the top of his head was bald and smooth and adorned with what looked like a prickly thorn bush.
I shook my head at his appearance and asked, “What exactly are you supposed to be?”
As if his answer were the most natural thing in the world, he replied, “I am Woden, the Holly King. I awaken from my slumber during the Pagan year of darkness to feed. And you have interrupted my feeding.”
I laughed as the intended victim ran screaming through the trees. I scoffed, “A Pagan god? On Christmas Eve? You’ve got to be kidding, right?”
He answered with another powerful blow to my chest. I was quickly beginning to wear thin of this guy.
I didn’t bother brushing myself off this time. I lunged for his feet, knocking him down. I grabbed that ridiculous thorn bush from the top of his head and gouged into his throat with it, tearing away at the flesh before he could recover from the shock long enough to escape.
As he gasped and clawed and my hands, I realized that this particular vampire was pretty much a novice. He hadn’t been immortal long, or else he would have been able to put up more of a fight. My guess was that he had never even battled another vampire before, therefore not knowing how to make use of his powers.
I asked him as he struggled, “Who made an old man like you a vampire? Huh? Tell me and I’ll let you go!”
He gasped, “Warren Cushman.”
I loosened my grip. I had heard the name before, but wasn’t aware he was a vampire. He was a millionaire political lobbyist who backed several candidates for high office… from behind closed doors, of course. According to all the money magazines, he himself was an enigma. No one ever really saw him. But I made a special note to do so.
I told this self-appointed Holly King, “I’m going to let you live. You crawl off into the swamp and heal yourself by feeding on the blood of animals. But if I come around here next Christmas and hear that you’ve been killing children? You and I are going to tangle again, and next time I won’t be so merciful. Savvy?”
He nodded, still clutching at his throat, trying to pull out the thorns. And that’s how I left him.
Speaking of leaving, that’s what I’m about to do. It’s already dark outside and I’m rested up from last night’s journey. I’m off to see this Warren Cushman character in New York. Reporters say that his penthouse is heavily guarded, but I’ll just see for myself. If Santa Claus can’t get in, nobody can.
Well, I don’t think Mr. Cushman will be a problem for me anymore.
I almost didn’t make my way through his security; they were vampires, too. But I played it nice, I told them that a mutual acquaintance had steered me toward Mr. Cushman, and that he and I have a lot in common. They didn’t have to ask what that was, they could sense it. Of course, they seemed stupid to me, so I suspect they wanted to ask anyway… but they didn’t.
The security guards led me to the main room of the penthouse, where he was… entertaining guests. There were naked ladies everywhere; it looked like something from one of those Dusk Till Dawn movies... which isn’t a bad analogy.
Anyway, I looked at Warren Cushman and wasn’t the least bit surprised in his appearance. He was a rotund fellow in a blue suit and red tie, with thin brown hair and a ruddy complexion; apparently he had just fed. His grin faded as he saw me.
He asked, “Can I help you?” in a snotty voice.
I leaned in closer to him and asked,“Do you think we can talk in private?” Then I lowered my voice even further and added, “Or do you want all of these attractive young ladies to know that they’re dancing with a vampire?”
He frowned, then gestured toward his office. We stepped inside and he asked, “Who are you and how did you come by that information? And how much do you expect me to pay you to keep this quiet?”
I smirked. “My name’s Nick Dasher, I’m another vampire as you probably noticed. And your money’s no good here, Cushman. I didn’t come here for extortion. I just thought I’d inquire as to why you turned an old man in New Orleans who now calls himself Woden.”
He returned the smirk and said, “How did you think I made all my money, Mr. Dasher?”
I shrugged. “You’re probably old enough to have created your own fortunes over the years.”
He laughed. “No, I didn’t create my own fortunes, I purchased them with a bite.”
This took me by surprise. I cast a wary eye at him and asked, “Do you want to run that by me again?”
“Immortality,” he said, “is something that man will pay a great price for. Especially old and dying men like Mr. Washington. Or, if he prefers, Woden. He had acquired a great fortune as a war profiteer, which he doubled playing the stock market, and he was willing to part with it all for just one bite.”
I shook my head. That was the most disgusting thing I’d ever heard. “You create more vampires for money?”
“Money makes the world go ’round, Mr. Dasher. It’s not just the expensive material things I can afford. Do you know that a few years ago, I nearly put my own man into the White House? Can you imagine what a vampire could accomplish if the puppet whose strings he pulls is President?”
I grimaced. “World domination is your game, then?”
His eyes widened. “Oh no! Not at all! I enjoy the little things the human race has to offer far too much to take over as the dominant species. But it would be a great boost to my ego to know that I, a creature doomed to live an eternity in darkness, control the most powerful nation in the world.”
I smiled benignly. “I just bet it would. Only three years till the next election, I suppose you’ll try your hand again then?”
He grinned. “Undoubtedly.”
I paused, but then asked, “I don’t suppose you have a business card, do you? I have some human friends who might like to meet you. They bother the hell out of me to bring them over, but that’s a heavy burden on me, you know?”
“Oh, I understand completely, Mr. Dasher. Here’s my card, tell your friends to call this number to contact me about this particular business proposition.”
I was pleased to see that not only were his name and number on the business card, but so were the words “Vampire For Hire.” I smiled and shook his hand. “It was nice chatting with you, Mr. Cushman. I’ll be sure to send one of my friends your way.”
And I will, too. Just moments ago, I put the business card in an envelope and dropped it in the mailbox. No return address or any hint of who sent it, just an anonymous tip-off to Jerry Tolbin. The creep killed my good friend Rich, and I swore that if I ever saw him again, I’d kill him… and I will. But first, I think I’ll let him take care of my “vampire for hire” problem. I don’t think I’ll be running into any more Wodens.