It’s the week before Christmas, but I’m just not feeling the spirit like I used to. Maybe it’s because of last year’s terrorist attacks and the war and the tragedies since then, the impending doom concerning Saddam Hussein, the horror of the serial snipers in the D.C. area in September and October... but I’m just not in the Christmas mood and I don’t think anyone else is either. This year Santa might hang up his sack. I’m sure the toy store warehouses I rob for my gifts would be glad to know that. Besides, who really believes in Santa Claus anymore? Nobody. To the few that do believe, I’m sorry, and I hope your holiday is nice despite the lack of mystery gifts.
Please disregard the above entry. I did go on my worldwide journey last night. I found Christmas in a stranger and a friend of mine, the two most unlikely persons to save Christmas. It’s a long story, so let me start at the beginning.
The night I wrote the last entry, December 17, my employer and friend Josh Gentry had a minor heart attack and was taken to the hospital. A loyal friend, I went to see how he was doing as soon as I heard. I lied and told the nurse I was his brother. I also used those special persuasive powers vampires possess to help her see things my way.
Josh was asleep, but in stable condition. I was glad to see that. Before I turned to leave, I noticed my friend’s roommate, another cardiac arrest victim whose heart attack had been much more severe than that of my friend. I looked at that gentleman and felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck. My mouth went dry. I knew exactly what was happening. I was in the presence of another vampire.
You must be thinking that as a man who travels around the world every year, I must run into others like me often. And you’re right. In fact, there were several vampires fighting in the wars I’d been in, on the opposite side. Several VC vampires, some blueblood bloodsuckers in the War of 1812, and even a few Nazi vampires during WWII. I’m sure that if Hitler had known he’d had immortals in his army he would have seen to it that all of his Aryans were turned into an unstoppable race. Thank God he never found out.
Another question on your mind must be, “If you met other vampires on opposing armies, how did you kill them?”Sunlight is merely a slow poison and a stake through the heart only ruins our shirts. So how do you destroy something that can regenerate after every small wound? Simple. You blow the thing apart. I always insisted on working with explosives and cannons because I knew that if I ever came across another vampire, that would be the only way to kill it. And I’ve destroyed my share of vampires. In fact, at the time I had never met a vampire I liked. All the ones I met were fighting for a negative cause. So when my senses told me that another vampire was in Josh Gentry’s room, I became very nervous.
I focused my sight to a higher plain because vampires can make themselves invisible... from humans, that is. You can’t hide from another vampire. Hovering over the bed of Josh Gentry’s roommate was a fine mist, seen only by my keen eyes. The mist began to disappear, and I had no idea where it was going. Then it struck me. The mist was entering the man’s body through his nostrils. I had never seen anything like this and was very curious. The man twitched, then the EKG jumped once before flat-lining. I called for a doctor or nurse, and was asked to step out of the room. I did as I was told, but I kept my eyes on that man’s nostrils, waiting for the mist to retreat. I soon got my wish as the mist drifted out of the room. I followed it downstairs and through the ambulance entrance into a dark alley.
I licked my lips and said,“Materialize. I know you’re there, I just want to see you.”
And just as I had asked, the thin gray mist collected itself into the shape of a man, then his outline became clearer and clearer until every tendril of vapor was gone and in its place was a creature whom, if seen on the street by the common man, would be confused for an average human being. Except for the way he was dressed.
He was extremely pale, as all vampires are (except one), and his gauntness was accentuated by the heavy black robes he wore. I was not alive during medieval times, but the robe worn by this figure definitely looked like something out of that era. The twentieth century brought about some comfortable clothing materials that I am ever so grateful for. The things I’d worn in the preceding years had been so ragged that I wouldn’t put them back on for a million dollars. Yet here was this man, a vampire, wearing something from the 1300s.
He looked at me and used his powers to look inside of me, as to find out who I was. He then asked in a deep, morose tone, “Are you really that surprised to find someone like you?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve seen other vampires before, but I’ve never seen one feed in the form of a vapor.”
A thin smile sent wrinkles through his dead face. “That’s not what I meant.”
I perked an eyebrow. “No? Then what did you mean?”
He chuckled. “You know how boring eternal life can be. We cannot simply go on living normal lives like those we feed upon. It would drive us mad. We have to have some other purpose to our immortal lives.”
“I live like any other man,” I said.
He chuckled again and set his black eyes on mine. “Sure you do... Mr. Dasher. Clever name considering what you do every December twenty-fourth.”
I grimaced. “So you know what I do. Good, I get tired of keeping it to myself. What’s your point?”
“Being Santa Claus is your raison d’etre. If you couldn’t do the things that that immortal legend does, you’d probably go insane. There are others who do the same thing. They haven’t become Santa Claus, that’s unique. But they live as gods in Egypt, or oracles in Asia. They crave worship. They feel that, as vampires, they deserve things that the average man cannot have. Children love you at this time of year. They may not know you personally, but they pour their hearts out to your legend, and you revel in it. Tell the truth.”
I shrugged. “I like making children happy. Is that wrong?”
He flashed a cold smile. “And they love you for it. Admit it, you get your jollies from it.”
I sighed. “Look, I started doing it for my son and recently something happened that brought about a lot of bad memories so now I’m considering giving it up. I did it to make my son happy. I don’t do it for kicks.”
“Do you mind if I call you Nick?”
“That’s my name, that’s what it’s there for. What’s yours?”
This time he shrugged. “I don’t have a name. I haven’t been seen as anything other than Death since the time of Bubonic Plague.”
My eyes widened. “You’ve been doing this that long?”
“It’s all I have left. The plague took my family, so, as Death, I deliver peace to end the suffering of those who pray to die. I feed within their hearts, killing them quickly. The man in the hospital just now was dying anyway, and I needed to feed.”
I scowled at him. “So you play God to feed your bloodlust?”
“Not God, Nick, Death. One could easily say that you are playing God by delivering to the children that which they want most.”
I had no answer for that.
“We need these personas, you know. You may have started playing Santa Claus for your son, but now you do it for yourself Immortality wouldn’t be worth living without it.”
I sighed. “Maybe you’re right.”
He stepped toward me and without even realizing I was doing it, I stepped back from him. He laughed, “You are the last person who should fear Death, Nick. I just wanted to tell you something.”
“Go to Atlanta. There’s a club there called The Slow Drip. It’s a gothic bar for young people, but a few of our kind frequent there. Go ask to speak to a man named Ernest Bronson. You’ll like him. You two have a lot in common.”
“Okay, I’ll go on Christmas Eve.”
“No,” he said. “Go tonight. Now.”
“I’ve got to work in a little while.”
“Call in sick. Talk to Ernest tonight. I think you just might change your mind about staying in on Christmas Eve.”
I sighed again. “Fine, I’ll go tonight. But as late as it is I probably won’t beat the sunrise driving back.”
“Fly. Save time.” And with that, he stepped back and simply drifted apart as a haze on the cold night air.
I took a deep breath, then did the same, catching the wind north toward Atlanta.
I was there within an hour. I reformed into human shape and asked the first person I saw if he knew where The Slow Drip was. He didn’t. In fact, the next four people I asked didn’t know where it was either. I was starting to feel annoyed, like the Grim Reaper had sent me on a wild goose chase. But the fifth person I found, a young lady with about a dozen facial piercings, pale skin, and dyed black hair, knew exactly where I could find The Slow Drip. Apparently it was a place that shied away from daylight. I made a guess that the owner was a vampire.
When I finally got there, it was worse than I had imagined. Barely dressed or naked teenagers danced on the floor, couples clad in black sitting in the dark corners shooting up heroin or drawing each other’s blood and licking it as it leaked from the wound.
I looked at every individual and didn’t see a single vampire. Not an immortal one anyway. Then I looked to the bar and saw a man with spiked bleached blond hair wearing a black tee and slacks with a white blazer. He wanted to stand out from the others. This had to be my guy.
I walked up to the bar and shouted as to be heard over the music, “Are you Ernest Bronson?”
He smiled and nodded. He then said,“Let’s go to a table in the back so we can talk in private.”
He stood up and walked behind the bar, where there was a door that led down several concrete steps. I followed him and shut the door behind me. In this subterranean room, the booming music was nothing more than a minor pulse on the wall.
He sat down behind a round table and gestured for me to do the same. Smiling, he asked, “So how did you find out about me?”
I smirked. “Death sent me.”
Bronson laughed. “That guy’s got issues. But I don’t suppose we’re much different. So tell me about yourself. I don’t look inside people like he does, I think it’s too much like rape.”
I flinched at that last word, thinking of Marie.
“Sorry if I struck a nerve,” he said.
“No, it’s okay,” I said.
“Well, you know I’m Ernest Bronson, how about you? What’s your name?”
I stuck my hand out, and he shook it.“Nick Dasher, pleased to meet you.”
He grinned. “Nick Dasher? As in Saint Nick and Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Dondor and Blitzen?”
I smiled. “That’s right. Formerly Rudy Kringle.”
He laughed. “That’s cute! So, like Death, you took on an immortal legend’s duties. That’s neat.”
I nodded. “Death gave me the impression that you did also.”
He smiled. “Yeah, I give out candy and goodies to the children each year.”
He sighed with a smirk. “Think about my initials.”
I burst out laughing. “Good lord! You’re the Easter Bunny?”
He grumbled, “I’m not a bunny. I was born Ethan Brandle, and I like keeping my initials. It’s a minor inconvenience that I’m thought of as a bunny, when other cultures recognize me as a goddess named Ishtar or Ostara. Too bad I’m a guy, I’d love to get recognition as a deity!”
I laughed again. “Yeah, I bet.”
“So how do you feel about being a saint?”
“I’m no saint. I’m a vampire, I feed on human blood. I just so happen to enjoy giving to children on Christmas.”
“Yeah, I feel ya.”
I took a closer look at him and noticed a tan. “Why aren’t you pale like the rest of us?”
“I don’t want to be confused for one of the wannabes upstairs. It’s spray-on.”
I laughed again. “You know you’re in the twenty-first century when a vampire can get an artificial tan.”
“Hey, I did it in the late twentieth too,” he said with a grin.
A thought suddenly struck me and I burst out laughing.
“If anyone upstairs were to hear that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were sitting at the same table having a conversation, they’d think we were mad!”
“Don’t forget,” he said, “we were paired up by the Grim Reaper. And I’m not a bunny.”
We had a fit of giggles for a minute, then when I got my breath back, I asked, “So how did you come to be the Easter... goddess?” I laughed again.
Grinning, he said, “I’d rather be called a bunny than a goddess. A god, sure. But not a goddess. I’m quite proud of my manhood, thank you very much. Anyway, I was bitten in New York during the first year of the Great Depression and lost my family. I decided to liven up the holiday I had died just prior to for my son and daughter, Lincoln and Gloria. They were eight and six at the time. I lived the rest of the year as a bum, sleeping in dumpsters during the daytime and feeding off other homeless people at night. They didn’t mind dying, they had nothing to lose. Every Easter of my kids’ childhood I’d use money I begged off the street to buy them candy and toys. After a while, their friends got jealous, so I started giving to more and more. By the time they were grown, I had gotten so used to it, I couldn’t give up. Even when I moved down here in the fifties and opened this place. Back then it was a beatnik coffeehouse. In the sixties it became a hash bar for hippies. In the seventies it was a disco, and in the eighties it was a trendy health club. Then the nineties brought on the gothic craze and I was happy to supply the aspiring vampires with a place to hang. But despite the dark pretenses, I’m still generous to the kids. You get the idea.”
I nodded. “That’s very similar to how I became... who I am. I died in 1746 and had to leave my family alone except on Christmas.”
“Wow, that’s a long time. Not as long as Death, but you’re older than the American Constitution!”
I smirked. “I fought at two battles of the Revolutionary War. I fought in just about every other war after that, too. You turned in the thirties, did you fight in World War Two?”
“No, I was still living like a bum at the time. My son, Linc, fought in the war. He died at Normandy, twenty years old. It broke my
“Could have been worse,” I said. “You could have been fighting at his side when he fell. My boy, Robert, died at Concord.”
“True. Linc died, but Gloria went on to do some great things. She was even in a beauty pageant. Her mother died in a traffic accident, but I’m happy to say that Gloria lived her life to its fullest and died in 1996 at a very nice age, seventy-three. Natural causes.”
“Lucky gal,” I remarked.
He nodded, saying, “Yep. In forty-nine, after my wife died, I resumed life as an average man. I became Elroy Buttle, a bailiff at night court. I had been a lawyer before my mortal death, and I wanted to stay close to the legal action.”
“Were you in ’Nam?”
He smiled. “I didn’t last thirty minutes in the jungle. I played dead so my body could be brought back home.”
“Yeah, me too.” I began feeling more comfortable. It was strange, as I’d never met any vampires who were nice to me. Not that Death had been particularly nice, but he meant me no harm; nor did Ernest.
“You seem nervous,” he said.
“It’s just that the only other vampires I’ve ever met were trying to kill me from the other side of a battlefield.”
His eyes lit up. “You mean you’ve never met any of our celebrities?”
Ernest grinned and sang, “The Lizard King didn’t say he could do anything for nothing.”
My jaw dropped. “He’s a vampire?”
“He’s been in my club before! Think about it, only two people supposedly saw his body, the doctor that signed the death certificate wasn’t a real doctor, and his coffin was nailed shut. It was easy for him to fake it.”
The mention of a coffin being nailed shut made me think of Marie again and I shuddered once more. Trying to take my mind off of it, I asked, “What other celebrities do we have?”
He leaned in closer. “Remember that rumor about Edgar Allan Poe dying of rabies?”
“He never had rabies. It was bloodlust.”
I laughed. “You’re kidding? I love Poe!”
“We all do, he’s a great guy. And he loves the classic Universal horror flicks, and just about anything with Vincent Price. In fact, the reason Price was in so many of his movies was because the man himself insisted on his favorite actor bringing his stories to life.”
“Wow. Is Vincent Price a vampire too?”
“No. Sadly, Vincent is gone. He was offered the life, but after starring in The Last Man On Earth, he decided that life as a vampire would be a lousy one. He wasn’t completely wrong, either.”
“What about Elvis? Is he one of us?”
Ernest laughed. “No, the king is gone, but not forgotten.”
We talked some more, about our mortal lives as Puritan huntsman Arthur Tennyson and New York attorney Ethan Brandle, about our children and their lives, and we realized just how much we did have in common, and we became fast friends. We spent most of this past week together, but that first night was the best.
He looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it was nearly six o’clock. “Sun’ll be up soon.”
“Yeah, I’ve got to head back home before it rises.”
He slapped at the air. “Forget about it, stay here for the day. I’ve got an extra bed in the back.”
“You live here?”
“Yeah, it’s cheaper that way. Remember, I was a lawyer and a New York bum once.”
I laughed. “Okay, thanks.”
“No problem. One thing, though. A question.”
“Why did Death ask you to see me? He doesn’t usually steer people my way, especially people from far off.”
I sighed. “I guess he thought you might make me change my mind.”
“Change your mind about what?”
“I’m considering staying home this Christmas.”
He jumped out of his seat. “What?”
“I started doing it for my son, and he’s been dead for over two hundred years, so I really don’t see any reason to keep at it.”
He shook his head and said, “Your son? Nick, do you have any idea how many sons and daughters you have? All those kids you deliver presents to love you. One of your nicknames is Father Christmas for a reason, you know. You deliver to orphanages,
“Of course I do,” I said. “My boy was brought up in an orphanage.”
“There you go. You’re the only parent those kids have, and you only visit them one day out of the year. I wonder how they would feel if that one visit didn’t happen. I go around every Easter because I don’t want the weight on my chest of being the guy who ruined a holiday for the children. Is that what you want to be? The Grinch who stole Christmas?”
I licked my lips. “They’re all my children, huh?”
“That’s right, Father Christmas!”
I smiled and shook his hand again.“Thank you, Ernest.”
“Does that mean you changed your mind about making your rounds on Christmas Eve?”
I smirked. “That’s right, Ishtar.”
He laughed. “Go to bed, I gotta close things upstairs.”
After spending most of the past week with him, I did make my rounds last night. And that’s how the Grim Reaper and the Easter Bunny saved Christmas in 2002. Strange but true.