Christopher Price roams the dark streets of Manhattan, terrified of his past, searching for a future. Dr. Willard Pull: dentist and concerned citizen. Blood lust sends them on a head-on collision. One of them is a serial killer. The other is a vampire.
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A Great Read! *****
“With all the sparkly, teenage vampire romance movies these days, it’s nice to read a novel that gets back to a vampire’s roots: deep, dark, and gothic. Christopher Price, the hero of the book, has to overcome a dark past, an uncertain future, and a really colorful enemy in order to live out his life in peace. It’s non-stop action, and layered with themes of redemption and sacrifice. It’s a great read.”
Cinematic Horror ****
“No sparkly vampires here! Hamilton’s tale is chock-full of action, with a very cinematic feel. At times I could almost see scenes unspooling on a big screen. Not wanting to create any spoilers, I found the segments in Wallachia to be some of the most fascinating.”
A Biting Read *****
“Action adventure? Check. Dark and tortured love story? Check. Vampire blood meals? Blood dripping in abundance. Plot twists “Pull” the reader’s attention deeper into the book. This book will make your next trip to the dentist much more traumatic than would normally be the case. Highly recommended.”
Vampire Fiction Done Right! *****
“John Hamilton has crafted a fast paced action/adventure/horror novel with characters that you actually care about. Price and his supporting players leap off the page, and draw you into their struggle. The action whirls around these people and you are swept up in the twisting plot with them. In a unique variation of the traditional vampire theme, Price is at odds with his vampire nature, and longs to redeem his soul. Not in a whiney-teen-angst-vampire way, but in an actual commitment to redemption and sacrifice. Night Touch is a very enjoyable read, and the gripping story kept the pages turning.”
By John C. Hamilton
Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the gray tomb-stone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy:
—Edgar Allan Poe
“Spirits of the Dead”
Old Hunyadi hobbled along the dirt path, his legs steadied by a cane and the guiding hand of his grandson. They emerged from the woods, fresh from their nightly stroll. They saw their village from across the meadow. White mist crept out of the forest, wrapping its arms around the farm fields. Radu, the boy, gripped his grandfather’s hand. Hunyadi looked down at the ten-year-old and smiled, his face crinkling. “It’s only the mist, Radu,” he said. “Good spirits from the mountains.” They moved through the vapor, which parted reluctantly and swirled around their ankles.
“No, grandpa,” the boy said, tugging his grandfather’s hand. The old man’s caciula, fur cap, fell off his head. Hunyadi chuckled, picked up his cap, then hurried to catch up to Radu. His pigskin shoes slapped on the well-worn path.
As they reached the nearest house on the outskirts of the village, the boy turned. He glanced toward the forest, his eyes darting back and forth. Something follows, Radu thought. High in the Wallachian hills bordering Transylvania, framed by the jagged alpine peaks of the Carpathians, the forest sat silent, dark and forbidding. “The Dragon,” Radu whispered. He shuddered and turned back toward the warm comfort of the village, tugging again at his grandfather’s hand.
“Our prince will not harm us, Radu,” said Hunyadi. “It’s the infidel Turk you should fear.” Hunyadi smiled, but then glanced nervously over his shoulder, toward the woods. Something had definitely frightened the boy.
Hunyadi’s eyes narrowed as he spotted smoke rising from the trees some distance away. “Wait.” The pair came to a halt just inside the village gates. They turned toward the dark forest. Silence gripped the village—the quiet before a storm. A lone dog howled once. People ceased their work and stood, watching and listening. Hunyadi scanned the timberline, his eyes darting back and forth, searching through the impenetrable woods. His big hand rested on the boy’s shoulder, gripping it tight.
Radu squirmed in pain. Hunyadi gripped tighter and hissed through his teeth, “Listen!”
They waited a few moments longer. Then, they heard it plainly: the sound of running feet crashing through the brush, rushing toward the village.
Somewhere in the distance a horse whinnied. A shrill, high-pitched shriek echoed through the trees.
“There!” Radu pointed to their left. A lone figure burst out of the woods, heading in their direction. It was a boy, not much older than Radu. “Mihail!” Radu took a step forward, wanting to bolt toward his friend, but Hunyadi held his grandson fast.
The boy Mihail ran quickly toward them, his clothes tattered and blood-streaked. Two arrows were stuck in his back, a third protruded from his right thigh. He ran mechanically, ignoring the arrows. Eyes wild with fear, the boy ran across the clearing toward the safety of the village. His hot breath left puffs of steam in the chill mountain air.
When his friend was no more than fifty yards from the main gate, Radu heard a noise like air being ripped apart. He watched as the boy stiffened, an arrow suddenly appearing through his right eye. He turned, screaming silently. Radu could see he had been shot clean through the back of his skull.
“Nu!” shouted Radu, stepping forward again, struggling against his grandfather.
“Radu! Get back!” Hunyadi grabbed his grandson and picked him up off the ground, the boy’s legs kicking, his face contorted in anger and horror.
The boy Mihail fell to his knees, feebly trying to pull the arrow from his eye socket. His whole body suddenly tensed, he gurgled once, then fell to the dirt.
Still the village was gripped in silence. Hunyadi turned to flee toward his hut, struggling to carry Radu. Just then, the silence was broken by a single owl hoot. The creature, hidden somewhere in the trees, cried out repeatedly, urgently.
It was no bird.
Hunyadi put the boy down and ran as fast as his feeble legs could carry him. Radu stood there, mesmerized, paralyzed with fear.
“Radu!” The boy snapped out it, looking to his grandfather. The old man cried out, gesturing wildly. “Run!”
The earth trembled as Radu sprinted away. He looked back just as the timberline erupted in an onrush of cavalry. A line of sword and lance galloped toward the village, thundering hooves tearing up the ground.
Radu stumbled once, regained his footing, then sprinted toward his grandfather, who was already throwing open the heavy wooden door to their hut.
The onrush of Wallachian cavalry was swift and merciless. The village militia, if the pathetic handful of peasants could even be called such, were cut down almost instantly, their blood spilling into the dirt. The horsemen galloped into town, hacking and slashing their way through anything that moved, women and children included. A small girl stood in front of the onrush, sobbing, her parents lost in the panic. The line of cavalry surged forward, trampling her underneath sharp hooves. Townspeople caught in the open fled in terror as the horsemen began looting everything in sight, then setting fire to the houses.
Foot soldiers began slaughtering farm animals. Over the terrified squeals of pigs, black smoke billowed into the twilight air. Oily soot covered the village.
Inside their small hut, Radu and Hunyadi crouched in a corner of the room, farthest away from the door. Radu’s mother and father were there, quaking with fear. “Mama,” said Radu as she swept him into her arms. The family huddled together, flinching and crying out as the sounds of slaughter and destruction invaded their home.
Suddenly, the wooden door crashed inward, snapping off in splinters at the hinges. In strode five Wallachian soldiers, swords drawn, scowls on their battle-hardened faces. They scanned the room, eyes narrowing at the family cowering in the corner. After the briefest hesitation, the soldiers began looting everything not nailed down, especially the family’s stores of food and drink.
Radu’s father rose to his feet, imploring the soldiers to stop. “Please,” he begged, “We are your people.” Without uttering a word, a soldier stepped over and with a heavy gloved fist smashed Radu’s father in the stomach, sending him reeling back into the corner. Radu’s face twisted in hate. He stood, his small fists clenched. Hunyadi quickly grabbed the boy by the arm and jerked him back, clamping his mouth shut. Radu kicked and flailed, trying to free himself.
One of the soldiers, a higher-ranking officer, unsheathed his sword and turned toward the commotion. His men had been on forced march for over a week, fleeing through the countryside in retreat from a line of advancing Turkish infantry. They took what they needed from the peasants. If the peasants defied the army, they died. No mercy. This was holy war.
The officer raised his already bloodstained sword and stepped toward the family. Radu’s mother screamed.
“Hold,” boomed a voice from the doorway. Everyone turned as a massive figure stepped through the entry. Radu’s mother’s eyes went wide, her face turning alabaster.
“Vlad Tepes!” she hissed, crossing herself.
The towering man stood just inside the doorway, surveying the situation. The soldiers snapped to instant attention, gripped in sudden terror. The newcomer was powerfully built. He wore regal clothing and sported a heavy white mustache. His skin, what little could be seen under his black tunic, was sallow and pallid. He sucked in air through his mouth. Dusk light filtering through the doorway lit up his great teeth, which he gnashed and chewed, almost involuntarily. He blinked, cruel eyes adjusting to the dim light. Radu thought they looked like wells of darkness. There were no pupils, only round orbs of black, like an animal. Radu gasped when he finally comprehended who had just stepped into his home: Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia. The Impaler. Son of the Dragon. Dracula.
Vlad stepped into the room. “Burn everything,” he barked at the officer. “Leave nothing for the enemy.” The soldiers hurried away, not wishing to be in the same room with Vlad any longer then necessary.
The prince walked toward the family. They huddled close together, pressed back into the corner of the room, trying to avoid his gaze. Vlad smiled thinly, gesturing toward the soldiers. “Better than at the hands of the Turk, no?” The family stared back, silent and motionless. Vlad sighed.
“Now that my men are nearly finished,” he said, reaching down toward Hunyadi, “I too am thirsty.”
Vlad gripped the old man by his shirt. With powerful arms, he lifted Hunyadi clean off his feet. Radu’s grandfather could only whimper. He hovered there, arms pinned and legs kicking weakly, held face-to-face with his prince.
Suddenly, Vlad snarled, raising his upper lip and baring a set of razor-sharp fangs. He hissed, then plunged his teeth deep into the old man’s neck. Hunyadi shrieked as Vlad began ripping out chunks of flesh. Blood sprayed in great fountains, painting the walls. Vlad eagerly slurped up the warm fluid, feeding with a greedy frenzy.
Radu’s parents screamed in horror, paralyzed with fear. Radu reached into his tunic and pulled out a small knife.
“Strigoii! Devil!” he cried, leaping to his feet and rushing forward, knife held high. In his blind rage, Radu wasn’t even aware of the soldier stepping forward until he felt the hammer-like fist smash into his nose. Blood sprayed out as Radu crumpled, his knife clattering to the ground, forgotten in the excruciating pain.
Radu held his face with both hands, blood streaming through his fingers. He tried scrambling away, but the soldier hit him again, this time in the stomach. Radu fell back, then was pinned with one knee by the soldier. Blinking back the mixture of blood and tears, he looked up and saw the man unsheathe a long dagger.
Radu wiped his eyes, trying to see clearly. He gazed past the dagger and into the soldier’s face. It was almost mechanical. Not a man; an animal. So now I die, Radu thought, oddly calm. The man snarled and jerked the knife down.
A strong arm swooped down and held the soldier’s hand fast, the dagger tip an inch from Radu’s throat.
“Not yet,” said Vlad.
The soldier looked up at his prince, then released Radu. The boy, now free, scrambled backwards into the arms of his father.
Vlad, still holding the lifeless corpse of Hunyadi in one bloody hand, stood staring at the family, his eyes scanning them, studying them. Radu’s parents were beyond rational thought, his mother reduced to hysterics. His father, through sobs of fear, choked out what words he could muster. “My Lord,” he begged. “Please… Let the boy live. He’s only a boy. Please, my Lord.”
Vlad stood there, thinking, his eyes narrowed to viper-like slits. He slowly nodded his head. “So be it. The boy lives.” He carelessly tossed Hunyadi’s corpse to the ground, then turned and gestured to one of the soldiers. “Kill the man instead.”
The soldiers dragged Radu’s father to the middle of the room, where they forced him to his knees. It happened so fast that Radu and his mother could only watch, horrified, as the sword whistled through the air and beheaded the poor peasant. Radu’s mother stood there, screaming hysterically, her hands raised and trembling, the blood of her husband spattered over her dress. A soldier grabbed her by the wrist and slapped her face hard with the back of his hand. He roughly tore her dress down the front, exposing her. She screamed again.
The next hit silenced her for good.
Radu stood in the middle of the room, smeared with blood, catatonic from the horror. Black smoke poured through the entryway as the soldiers dragged his mother’s unconscious body from the hut. Screams and shouts echoed in Radu’s ears. The red glow of fire illuminated the room. His eyes glassy, Radu trembled, unable to move.
Vlad slowly approached the boy and cupped his face with powerful hands. He leaned down and hissed, “Now, treasonous viper, you’ll wish you were dead, like your father.”
Vlad smiled and bared his bloody fangs.
New York City, Present Day
Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee—and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.
—Edgar Allan Poe
“Spirits of the Dead”
Christopher Price winced as the dental drill whirred away, grinding at his left canine tooth. The pain wasn’t so bad—the anesthetic had taken care of that. It was the smell, the odor of burning, ground tooth dust that sent shivers up and down his spine. That, and the constant pressure of the insistent drill. The jabbing and grating. And the noise! That high-pitched whine like a thousand hungry mosquitoes come to roost in his mouth.
Price tried distracting himself by gazing out the dirty window into the night sky. There wasn’t much to see, just the incessant rain that had plagued Manhattan for the past several days. The sky was black, pierced now and again by the yellow flash of a lightning bolt. The glow of headlights from cars two stories down fought to climb up into the dimly lit dentist’s office.
Price sat in an old leather patient’s chair, situated smack in the middle of an otherwise sparse room. A desk was in one corner, with a wooden cabinet perched on the wall next to it. A small sink and table sat along one wall, next to the window. Otherwise, the room was cobwebs and plaster walls, which at one point, perhaps during the Eisenhower administration, had been white, but were now a shade of something vaguely yellow.
The chair creaked and groaned every time Price shifted and fidgeted. Over the years, countless patients had pressed their bodies into the chair’s cold embrace. The brown leather was cracked and worn, peeling off completely in some spots.
Price scanned the ceiling. In an attempt, perhaps, to relax his patients, the dentist had pinned posters up there, directly overhead; a landscape of the Austrian Alps, a tiger, wildflowers in a sea of grass. A single fluorescent bulb on the ceiling flickered and sputtered, not much life left in it. Price frowned, then winced again as the dentist ground away. God, I hate dentists, he thought. Still, it’s good to have this done every now and again.
Price remembered the time in college when he’d found himself lost in Wangenstein Hall, the university’s medical school building. Wandering the labyrinthine corridors, late for his first day of an elective physiology class, Price had accidentally entered a dental training room. He remembered standing there in the doorway, frozen, as the noise from fifty dental drills exploded in his ears, future dentists practicing on plaster casts of teeth. The horror.
The university. What a joke, Price thought. Five years toiling through journalism school, mostly at night while working odd jobs during the day. And for what? Layoff after layoff as the publishing industry went into recession and never recovered, victim to television, the Internet, and the public’s reality TV-damaged brains. Everywhere he went, it was the same: no jobs. And even when a rare job opened, there were hundreds of applicants. Time to get out of this city, Price thought.
Price was tall, his feet hanging over the edge of the antiquated dentist’s chair. Behind his youthful appearance and muscular physique, there was a definite wariness to him. Sitting in the confines of the chair, he seemed ill at ease, almost feral. His steely eyes shifted nervously as the dentist finally straightened.
“Spit,” the man commanded, turning to replace a head on his drill. Price leaned over and spat into the stainless steel sink, bits of tooth whirling in the water and down the drain. The suction tube hanging in his mouth was next to useless. Price tried jamming the little clear plastic tube onto the connecting rubber hose, but air still leaked. He sighed, placed it back in his mouth, and leaned back. The dentist turned and stood over Price, the whirling drill held in one steady hand. With bright lights shining in Price’s eyes, the dentist was nothing more than a silhouette, a fearsome black shape.
Price sighed. So it’s come to this. Working a shitty night job, his landlord itching to evict him, and reduced to going to Dr. Pull’s All Night Dental Emporium for the Poor. But it would do for now. Soon all this will change.
“Ready?” asked the dentist. Price nodded and opened his mouth. He closed his eyes as Pull set to work on Price’s other canine tooth.
Hunched over his patient, Dr. Willard Pull meticulously filed down the tooth. He handled the steel dental instruments with pterodactyloid fingers, which were alarmingly long and clawlike.
Dr. Pull was an odd-looking man, middle aged but somehow older, certainly wiser than his years. A serious man, yet not without his own brand of dark humor. He was the one who always found delight in irony or absurdity; the annoying man who laughed in inappropriate places at the cinema or theater. He was a big man, but one couldn’t imagine him ever throwing his weight around. His pudgy face, hidden behind round, Coke-bottle lenses, seemed to have a thousand stories to tell, if only his dark mind would let them out. Trapped in a seedy dental practice catering to Manhattan’s poor and destitute, Dr. Pull hid his frustration in a place deep inside his soul, neatly packed away from the world. For now.
“It’s strange, you know,” said the dentist, whirring away at Price’s tooth.
Price opened his eyes. “Hngg?” Price gagged slightly; the damn hose had quit working again.
“These canines,” said Pull. “How did you live with this elongation? It’s good you came to me.”
Price settled back, apprehensive. “Hugn pfa.” The spit and tooth particles were building up fast. Price started gagging, his eyes crossed with the effort not to vomit. He gestured with his hand for Pull to stop, but the dentist single-mindedly kept to his task.
“Never seen a case like this,” said Pull, oblivious to Price’s predicament. “You know, you could have been in the movies. Would have saved a bundle on special effects.” Pull smiled and stole a glance out the window. “Yes. California. Lots of sun out there.”
Price felt the bile rise. He couldn’t choke it down anymore; he was sure he’d die if he sat in the chair one second longer. With a lurch, he sat up, gagging and spitting. Dr. Pull yanked the whirling drill back in surprise as Price leaned over and spat into the sink, gasping for breath.
When Price was through, Pull chuckled and said, “Lucky I didn’t hit your tongue with the drill. Would have tore it up good.”
Price leaned back, his face more white than its usual alabaster hue. “Let’s get this over with,” he muttered, putting the suction tube back in the corner of his mouth, though for what purpose he couldn’t fathom. It hissed uselessly in his ear, taunting him.
“Almost finished,” said Dr. Pull, leaning down, the drill revving in his hand. “Open.”
Price opened his mouth, closed his eyes tight, and endured the next few minutes, wondering if the man would ever finish. How long could it take to file down two teeth? Just when the spit was beginning to build up again, Dr. Pull leaned back. He shut off the drill, a smug grin on his face.
“All done,” Pull said, standing now and putting away his instruments. Price reached up and felt a tooth, then jerked his hand away as a sharp pain shot up his jawbone.
“Sorry about that,” said the dentist. “I had to file down deep, almost to the nerve. You’ll be cold-sensitive for awhile, too.”
Price slowly pulled himself up out of the dentist’s chair and stood, stretching his tired limbs. “Thanks for the warning. Painless you’re not.” He felt the tooth again, wincing. At least they were normal now. Again.
Dr. Pull looked at Price with a thin, close-mouthed smile. “On your way out,” he said coldly, “make an appointment with my receptionist.”
“Why?” said Price, surprised. “I thought we were done.”
“We need to cap those teeth.”
“Why not do it now?”
“Sorry,” he snapped. “Full house.” Dr. Pull wouldn’t even make eye contact with Price. He turned his back on him, pretending to work on his instruments. “People waiting. See you next time.”
Price stood a moment, staring at the back of Pull’s white lab coat. Then he slowly turned and walked toward the door leading to the front lobby. “Yeah, well, thanks.”
With an angry look, Dr. Pull turned and watched suspiciously as Price retreated from the room. When the door clicked shut, the dentist moved to the cabinet next to his desk and opened it. Inside was a macabre collection of wicked-looking instruments, many of them certainly antiques, all deserving a place in a dental chamber of horrors. Sharp blades and drills gleamed in the diffused light coming through the window.
Pull reached in and pulled a large black cape from its spot on the wall, just to the left of the instruments. With a flourish, he whirled it around his shoulders, then hunched down, protected by the shroud. Two beady eyes peered out, staring at the lobby door.
“Teeth like that,” hissed Pull, “and he comes to me for filing. To me!” The dentist grabbed a sharp drill and then slammed the cabinet door shut.
It took a few moments for Price’s eyes to adjust to the dim lobby light. The shoddy looking reception area was more poorly lit than even Dr. Pull’s office, if that was possible. A neon sign from a Chinese take-out joint across the street caused the room to flash in glowing red, making it look even seedier than it already was.
Only one other patient waited in the lobby, a dirty looking man with an ice pack pressed firmly against his jaw. He was some sort of vagrant, homeless perhaps, with tattered clothes that smelled of mildew and vomit. The man sat in the corner, moaning softly and rocking back and forth, ignoring the copies of outdated Field & Stream magazines on the table next to him. The only other sound in the room was that of an ancient ceiling fan, which rotated slowly with a thump, thump, thump.
Price crossed to the other side of the room to the receptionist’s station. The woman behind the desk sat, head down, working on some sort of schedule book. Price stood there, waiting to see how long it would take before she noticed him. When it was apparent he could stand there all night, he finally lost patience and cleared his throat loudly. The woman looked up, annoyed. “Yes?” she said. Just then the phone rang, making Price jump with surprise. “One minute.” The woman took the call, turning her back on Price.
Checking his watch, Price sighed. He reached down to retrieve one of Dr. Pull’s business cards. The cards stuck together, and when he tried separating them, he cut his index finger on the edge. Wincing, Price squeezed the wound until a small droplet of blood appeared. The drop acted like a tiny prism. Price held it up to his eye, fascinated, watching the light play across its crimson surface. He was sure he’d never seen anything quite so beautiful.
The man in the corner moaned again. Price stole a glance at the vagrant. He absentmindedly sucked his finger, relishing the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.
The receptionist abruptly slammed down the phone. “All finished, Mr. Price?” she said, adjusting her blouse.
Price turned back toward her. “For now, Miss…” He looked down at her nameplate. “…Cooper. I need to schedule some cap work.”
“Hmmm,” she said, scanning her appointment book. Price watched as one perfectly manicured red fingernail went down the list of days. Miss Cooper was a severe-looking young woman, with tight lips and a well-rounded body reined in by her straitjacket-like uniform. It felt to Price like she could burst at any moment. “How about next Tuesday? Eight o’clock?”
“Sure. How much for tonight?”
The man in the corner moaned a bit louder as Price extracted his wallet from his coat and handed over the money. Miss Cooper raised her eyebrows when she saw the wad of cash left in Price’s wallet. “Shouldn’t carry that much money around in New York,” she said. “You could get hurt.”
“Thanks,” said Price. He wrote down the date and time on Dr. Pull’s card, then pocketed it. “I’ll be careful.” He turned to go.
“See you next Tuesday, honey.” Miss Cooper licked her lips, watching Price walk away.
Price stopped in front of the vagrant and knelt down, staring into the man’s bloodshot eyes. “Here,” he said, “Looks like you could use this.” The vagrant looked down in surprise at the pair of twenties in his hand.
“Bless you, son,” the man said, but frowned in confusion as Price stood and walked away without a word.
When Price reached the front door, he turned and saw Miss Cooper staring at him, a hungry look on her face. He walked out hurriedly, down the stairs and into the night.
Miss Cooper looked up as the vagrant creaked to his feet and approached the desk, the ice pack still planted firmly on his jaw. Just then the intercom buzzed. She looked up at him and smiled, pearly white teeth gleaming in the dim light.
“Okay, Mr. Bergen. Dr. Pull’s all set for you.”
The man looked down sheepishly, then back up to meet her eyes. His brow was creased with worry lines. “I can’t pay you everything tonight. But my tooth, it’s…” The vagrant winced in pain. “Can’t wait any more.”
Honey oozed from Miss Cooper’s voice. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. The doctor’s very understanding. You’ll have plenty of time to pay.” A smile crept onto Bergen’s mouth, his face brightening. “Now run along,” said Miss Cooper. “The doctor will make that nasty pain go away.”
The door opened and there stood Dr. Pull, beckoning. Miss Cooper watched, like a cat, as the vagrant shuffled off into the waiting arms of the good doctor.
In a dark alley somewhere in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village, two wet dogs fought over a bone. They snapped and snarled, baring their fangs and circling one another. A group of drunken vagrants and crackheads cheered the dogs on, betting to see which would make off with the prize. The larger dog, some sort of Mastiff mix, finally maneuvered into position and then swooped down, gripping the smaller dog’s neck in its massive jaws. The other dog howled, shuddering and scrambling to escape. The larger dog gave no quarter, clamping down harder, breaking through the skin; its yellow eyes burned with hate. Finally, the smaller dog yelped once, then went limp. A cheer went up among the crowd as the victor finally released its prey, then seized the prize: a decaying pork chop, not fit for rats. The dog snatched up the bone and scurried off into a dark side alley.
Price, the collar of his black trench coat turned up to protect him from the wind, and to hide his face, made his way past the scene. He stepped gingerly over a drunk passed out in the middle of the alley, then around an overturned dumpster. He wrinkled his nose as he made his way quickly past; the stench of rotting trash and human waste permeated the air.
At the end of the alley, a man stood waiting in the shadows under the protection of a tattered awning. He huddled close to the side of the building as the sky began raining once again. The man fidgeted, nervous and impatient. He checked his watch, then wrapped his arms around his midsection, protection against the autumn wind. Hearing footsteps splashing toward him, the man peered into the dark alley, squinting to see through the murk. “Price?” he said softly. “That you?”
Price emerged into the light, rain streaking his face, his hair hanging down like slick black eels. He walked under the awning, turned his collar down, then brushed water from his coat.
“You got the cash?” the man asked, looking nervously both ways down the alley.
“It’s here,” said Price, his voice even and serious. “And you?”
The man pulled a large brown paper bag from under his coat and handed it to Price. “The money,” he demanded.
Price extracted his wallet and unfolded a wad of cash, handing it over. He winced as he saw how little was left in his possession. The man took the money greedily and immediately began counting. As he did so, Price gripped the paper bag in his hand, feeling the weight. Something liquid inside jostled and made a squishing sound.
“Okay, it’s all here,” the man said, jamming the rolled-up wad of cash into his coat pocket.
“What time next week?”
“This is the end of the line, Price.”
Price froze. “What?”
“Things are too hot now. I think my supervisor’s on to me.”
The man turned to go. Price gripped him by the arm, whispering urgently. “What am I supposed to do now?”
The man shrugged. “Listen, if the cops ever catch me selling this shit…”
As if on cue, a vehicle charged into the alley, siren blaring and lights flashing. Price and the other man stared into the blinding headlights, frozen like deer caught in the middle of the highway.
A door to their left opened, flooding the alley with light. The vehicle made a screeching turn and roared into a garage. Medical personnel appeared out of nowhere and rushed to the waiting ambulance, its red and yellow lights still flashing.
Price heard a high-pitched beeping noise and stepped back in alarm. The man opened his coat and turned off a pager clipped to his belt. He wore hospital greens and had a stethoscope slung around his neck. A nametag read “Dr. Dows.” The man began running toward the waiting ambulance as Price watched, still stunned. The doctor turned and waved, a grin plastered on his face. “Thanks, Price! Happy trails!”
Price stood there, gripping the paper bag, as the man disappeared inside the hospital. The rain beat down harder, snapping Price out of his stupor. He clutched his precious package close to his body and hurried out of the ally, slinking off into the dark city.
“You’ll feel a little stick here,” said Dr. Pull, jabbing a needle into the gums of his last patient for the evening, the unfortunate transient with the toothache. The man winced as Pull injected the pain-numbing medicine. “This won’t take long,” said Pull, hovering over the man like a spider pondering a fly thrashing in its web. Without much thought of gentleness or care, Dr. Pull extracted the needle and chose another site, jabbing with ferocity this time.
“Ow!” said the man, jerking his body. Pull grabbed one arm and held the man tight in the chair.
“It’s all right,” said the dentist soothingly. “You’ll be numb soon.” The man settled back, though his eyes were wide with apprehension.
“Hate Novocain,” he said finally. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead.
“We’re using Lidocaine, actually,” said Pull, continuing his work. “Nobody uses Novocain anymore. When’s the last time you saw a dentist?” Pull glared down at the man the way dentists do when they’ve got you in their clutches. You say you brush three times a day and floss after every meal, but the dentist knows. You can’t hide your bleeding gums from him. The man looked away, embarrassed.
“It’s all the same stuff, anyway,” said Dr. Pull, continuing his lecture. “Synthetic versions of the coca bush alkaloids.” The man looked up, puzzled. Pull smiled thinly. “Cocaine.”
“Oh,” said the man, his mouth now filled with cotton rolls and stainless steel.
“And you shouldn’t hate it, Mr… What was your name again?”
“Bergen, that’s right. You shouldn’t hate lidocaine, Mr. Bergen, what with the nasty abscess you’ve got here.”
Dr. Pull extracted the needle again and straightened up. The man licked his lips, his eyes furrowed with worry. “Are my whips swowen?”
Pull absentmindedly looked at his watch and frowned. Not much time, he thought. Where the hell is she?
Dr. Pull looked down at Mr. Bergen with scorn. The man’s clothes were ratty and tattered, his hair slicked back and greasy. The stench was unbelievable, a mixture of alcohol, body odor and vomit. These people live like animals, he thought. They deserve what I give them.
Dr. Pull wrinkled his nose and reached down, pinching Bergen on the cheek. “Can you feel that?”
“How about this?” Pull gripped harder, squeezing Bergen’s whole jaw.
Dr. Pull stood up, putting on a blood-red facemask. “Sorry,” he said, his voice muffled behind the mask. “Better let the juice sit a minute. Believe me, you don’t want to feel any pain for this.” Pull crossed the room to his desk, opened a drawer and pulled out his black cape, donning it with the flick of a wrist.
Mr. Bergen settled back to wait, more nervous than ever. His eyes shifted to Dr. Pull, who was now seated at his desk. The dentist was working intently on a sculpture, his hands flying over the clay, molding and shaping. Bergen couldn’t quite make out what it was. He squinted, trying to see better in the dim light. Then he gasped as his brain finally registered Pull’s creation: The sculpture was a head with two faces. One, a sensitive human, the face angelic, serene. On the opposite side, now staring back at Bergen, was a killer ape, long fangs exposed in a feral snarl. Bergen twisted back in his seat, shutting his eyes tight.
Long minutes passed. Bergen could hear Dr. Pull sculpting away behind him, working madly on his insane sculpture. An urgent voice inside his head told Bergen to flee. He wanted to bolt from the chair and dash for the door, but the pain in his tooth stopped him. Relax, he told himself.
Finally, Dr. Pull got up from his desk, crossed the room, and sat back down on the stool next to Bergen, hovering over the man. “Open,” he commanded.
“Wha’s wi da cape?” asked Bergen.
“Just part of the total care you receive at Dr. Pull’s all-night dental emporium, Mr. Bergen.” Pull poked at Bergen’s bad molar with a dental probe, exploring the cavity with interest. “Tsk, tsk. Rotten to the pulp. We’ll be doing some serious drilling tonight.” Pull clicked the probe on the outside of the tooth. “Did you know that tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body? No? Ironic, isn’t it?”
“Teeth are like people, Mr. Bergen. Tough on the outside. Soft and weak inside, prey to all sorts of diseases and infirmity. A tooth looks strong and pearly white. But inside torment rages. It festers, bubbles and boils, eaten away from within. It’s almost like your soul’s been taken over. And sometimes the only way to heal is to kill it.” Pull prodded the tooth again, jabbing hard. “Like this one.”
Bergen’s face went white. “Oot canal?” he asked, his voice quavering.
“I’m afraid so,” said Pull, standing up. “Perhaps even something more radical. Ah, Miss Cooper at last.”
Bergen looked over as the receptionist entered the room. She switched off the lobby lights behind her and then shut the door. “All locked up, Doctor,” she said, striding toward the pair. As she walked, she stared right into Bergen’s eyes. She reached up and undid the first few buttons of her crisp white blouse. The fabric sprang away as her breasts gained some measure of freedom. Bergen stared, wide eyed.
“Miss Cooper will assist me this evening,” said Dr. Pull, arranging his drilling equipment on a stainless steel tray. “Is that alright with you?” Bergen nodded his endorsement, his jaw dropping as Miss Cooper sauntered up to the chair. She unbuttoned the rest of her blouse and let it drop to the floor. She then reached over and took a scalpel from Dr. Pull’s tray and slit open her bra, exposing herself to Bergen. The poor man could only sit there, not believing his eyes.
Behind him Dr. Pull revved up his dental drill, like an auto racer testing his engine, itching for the white flag. He pulled his chair close to Bergen’s head. “Ah, good. Your mouth’s already open.” He inserted the drill, probing, getting ready. “Miss Cooper?”
Bergen’s eyes bugged out as Miss Cooper hitched up her skirt. She wore nothing underneath. She stared into Bergen’s eyes and licked her lips. Then she leaned down and placed her hands on the man’s arms, pinning him to the chair. She swung one long leg over the chair and straddled him, grinding her pelvis into his crotch. She arched her back, mouth open, and sighed.
Bergen moaned, stunned at what was happening to him. The dentist pulled the overhead light closer to his face, blinding him. Bergen rolled his eyes up and watched Dr. Pull sitting there, studying him. Then he glanced back down as Miss Cooper continued her gyrations. Trying to concentrate between her and the dentist, Bergen was completely dazed. Then the drill behind him started whirring at high speed.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Bergen,” said Pull with a smile. “This shouldn’t hurt.”
Dr. Pull gripped Bergen’s head with one hand, pinning him to the chair. Then he jabbed savagely at the man’s tooth. White smoke poured out of his mouth.
Bergen screamed and jerked free. “Uck! You said it oudn’t urt, you bastard!”
Dr. Pull flew into a hair-trigger rage, his face contorted and twitching. “I’ll show you pain, you little shit!”
Pull plunged the drill into Bergen’s soft neck. Bergen shrieked. He writhed in pain as the drill dug deeper. Pull twisted and rotated the drill, his powerful hands gripping Bergen’s head and pressing the drill forward. He carved a wide swathe of flesh, cutting down deep to Bergen’s juggler vein. Blood flew everywhere, splattering Miss Cooper and Dr. Pull both. Finally, Pull withdrew the drill and then rammed a suction hose into the wound. The crimson fluid stained the transparent tubing as it was sucked down, collecting in a large plastic bag at the foot of the chair.
Miss Cooper moaned loudly and cried out in pleasure, her hips gyrating wildly. The dying man twitched involuntarily, going into seizure. Miss Cooper rubbed her naked skin with blood-smeared fingers. Pull watched her, his facemask puffing in and out as he hyperventilated with excitement. He gripped the suction and twisted again, keeping it deeply embedded in the victim’s neck.
After another minute, Bergen finally stopped twitching. The only sounds in the room now were the heavy breathing of Dr. Pull and Miss Cooper, and the hissing of the suction as it finished its grisly work.
Dr. Pull sat back and pulled his mask off. He inhaled deeply, reveling in the moment.
One more thing to do. As Miss Cooper climbed off the chair, Dr. Pull opened the corpse’s mouth and inserted a rusty pair of pliers. After a few tugs, he finally popped a lateral incisor from Bergen’s jaw.
Pull held up the bloody tooth and examined it, a grin spreading across his face.
It had been a good night.
Christopher Price flicked on his apartment lights and walked in, shutting the door tight behind him. He peeled off his black trench coat, shook the water off, and hung it on a hook behind the door. Clutching his brown paper bag, he crossed the room toward the kitchen.
Price’s apartment was small, but clean and uncluttered. The furnishings were sparse, almost Zen-like in their simplicity. A futon was spread out in one corner of the living room. A small antique desk held a notepad and pen, a phone, and a pile of bills. No laptop, no answering machine. Price didn’t spend much time here.
Outside the third-story window New York was getting a pounding by the same thunderstorm that had haunted the city all day. Lightning flashed across the horizon, followed by sonic booms that echoed down the vast canyons of Manhattan.
Price entered the kitchen, a room as sparse as the others. He opened the refrigerator door and sighed, peering into the pale light. What a night, he thought. At least I have the night off.
The refrigerator was mostly empty, except for a handful of vegetables, a package of hamburger, and a half-empty carafe of . . . blood. After staring a few moments, Price finally grabbed the container and shut the refrigerator door. He moved to the well-worn kitchen table and set the carafe down. He sat down on a rickety chair and stared at the container. With a sudden movement, Price turned the paper bag upside down and emptied it onto the table. Out fell several plastic bags of whole blood. The dark-red containers plopped down with a squishy sound, lying there like giant bloated leaches.
Price picked up a bag, punctured it with a kitchen knife, then emptied it into the carafe, adding it to the crimson fluid already there. He tossed the now-empty bag into an open trash container, where it mingled with several other empties.
Price grasped the carafe and swirled the liquid inside, mixing it well. He gazed through the glass as the blood stained the sides. Raising the glass to his lips, he hesitated a moment, then swallowed. He grimaced at the taste. After slamming the carafe back down, he wiped his lips with his sleeve. Even after 500 years, Price had never gotten used to the sharp, metallic taste of blood. Never. Especially warm blood.
Price went to the cupboard and pulled out a small bottle of Tabasco and, upon reflection, a liter of Vodka. Bloody Mary, indeed. He mixed the concoction with the blood and took another sip. Needs to be chilled, he thought.
Price opened the freezer, grabbed a handful of ice cubes, and dropped them in a tall glass. He poured the bloody mixture onto the ice, then lifted the glass and drank again. He smiled. Not too bad. Then an ice cube bumped up against one of his newly ground canine teeth. He flinched in pain and jerked his arm back, spilling droplets of red liquid on his shirt.
Price went to a mirror above the sink and opened his mouth, examining the troublesome teeth. He gently rubbed his gums with one finger, trying to soothe them. Price squinted and looked close at the fangs. Were they longer already? Was that even possible? Price frowned at the pale visage in the mirror. Then a sly grin broke out on his face. Can’t see their reflections. Yeah, right.
Price’s cell chirped. He checked his watch and frowned. Already past 11:00 p.m. That could only mean one irritating thing. He flipped open the phone. “Hi, Rachel, what’s up?” Rachel McCallum was one of Price’s coworkers at the service. If she was on tonight, it might make what was coming easier to swallow.
“Let me guess,” he said, picking up his glass, “Phil’s sick again. That’s twice this week, Rachel. You know it’s my night off.” Price absentmindedly swizzled the drink with his index finger. “No. It’s all right. I could use the money. You’re on tonight? Wanna share a cab? Great. See you in fifteen.”
Price pocketed his cell and slurped the blood off his finger, watching absentmindedly as rain pelted the window. He set the drink down, then went to a hall closet and extracted a security guard jacket. Just as he slipped it over his shoulders, lightning struck nearby, probably the apartment building itself. There was a brief flash, then a thunderous roar as the apartment walls shook. The power went out, plunging the room into darkness. Price whirled as one of the windows popped open. Rain sprayed onto the carpeting. He took a step forward, then froze as lightning lit up the room again. Price cried out, struck with terror.
There, by the window, just for a moment, was Vlad the Impaler, in all his horrific glory. Great, yellow fangs gnashed down, and gushes of blood dribbled down his chin.
Price took a step back, looked down, and pressed his palms into his eyes sockets. He looked up again. The Impaler was gone, leaving behind only the wind and rain.
Price slowly crept to the window and with trembling hands shut it tight. He’d had these visions before. Are they really visions? Maybe phantoms? Whatever they were, they never stayed more than an instant, just long enough to terrify him. And as St. Andrew’s Eve drew nearer, the visions, or phantoms, had come more frequently.
Price locked the window. Standing in a pool of wet carpet, he gazed out at the city for a brief moment. St. Andrew’s Eve. Again.
Suddenly the power came back online. The lights stuttered, then snapped back on. Price went to the table and picked up the glass of blood. He studied it, watching the light pierce the crimson liquid. In Price’s mind, the light grew brighter, brilliant as a red sun. A force in his inner core rose to meet the terrible light, pushing up like some ghastly creature at the bottom of a slime-coated pit. Price despaired as he felt himself yield to the force, allowing it take over his body, his soul. It was inescapable.
Price snarled, raised the glass to trembling lips, and knocked the blood down in three ravenous gulps.
End of Excerpt
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