by Will Raven
In the spirit of the Halloween season, here’s a spooky tale about a vampire that haunts a small rural town.
A pale sun rose against the aging willows and hillside graves at Whitby Cemetery. The gloomy morning mist had not yet evaporated.
The view from my car window was murky, but not so much as to hide the yellow police tape. Less than 24 hours ago, a caretaker discovered grave robbers had snatched the bodies of Edwin Brooks III and Lucy Wheeler. They had been buried three days before.
I learned that much reading the wire story that crossed the assignment editor’s desk at The Providence Times. As the paper’s police reporter, I had witnessed disturbing events. But this happened in my hometown.
With dread, I read on. I feared that Hemlock was once again under the influence of a sinister force—a monster I believe murdered my mother.
I asked my editor for a few days off to tend to family matters. He kindly obliged. I packed up, topped the tank on my trusted Plymouth Duster, and departed for Hemlock that night, stopping only once to gas up again and grab a cheeseburger at an all-night diner off Interstate 95.
I rolled into Hemlock at about six o’clock in the morning. I hadn’t been home in nearly 20 years. There was no reason to come back. Everyone I knew or cared about in the Godforsaken town had already died.
I still remembered the way to Whitby. There was no gate at the cemetery as the locals believed that the dead always welcomed visitors.
I parked on the cemetery’s shady side, near Winslow Creek where my mother is buried. I never knew my father. He left us when I was two years old.
Exhausted, I rested my eyes, if only for a few minutes, while the 225 slant-six engine idled. Soon the quickening dawn cast its light, giving me a much needed energy burst. I rolled down the window and took in the cool October air. Oddly, the birds were eerily silent at this early hour and a breeze blew crisp autumn leaves up the grassy knoll toward the disturbed graves.
I got out and walked up the crest toward the vandalized sites. I didn’t expect to see much, but I had to start somewhere.
I passed rows of gray tombstones. Glancing at the names, it dawned on me how many generations had been buried in Hemlock.
By any measure, Hemlock, Maryland was a peculiar farm community. Since the 1800s, many deep-rooted superstitions had been passed down. In those days, stories circulated that farmers believed their relatives rose from the grave to feast on the living. The bodies of suspected vampires were exhumed, their heads removed, and reburied. Then there was 1957, the year Hemlock went to hell.
I know many townsfolk believe in the supernatural and occult. Sadly, I am among them. I have my reasons.
Before my mind could drift back to the abject horror that still haunts me today, I came upon the criminal act that had brought me back to Whitby. The disturbed graves were separated by a single row. Among the original town settlers, the Brooks and Wheeler families are buried next to each other.
To the right of each empty hole was a mound of loose soil and mangled roots. And to my surprise, a young women about my age sat on the grass with her feet dangling down one side of the Wheeler grave. She looked rather sadly into the empty plot.
Her wavy black hair partially covered a white dress that contrasted nicely with a tan sweater. She held a still fresh red rose in her left hand.
“Hello”, I said, in a friendly voice.
The woman looked up. Not startled, but not at ease either. Her eyes fixed on mine.
“Yes,” she said, faking a smile. It was obvious she had been crying.
“May I ask if you know anything about what happened here?
“My name is Henry Abbott. I grew up here in Hemlock,” I said, taking two steps closer.
The woman stared deeply into my face, as though I were some rare exhibit.
“Did you happen to attend Hope Elementary School?”
“Then we were in Mrs. Walker’s third-grade class together.”
I gazed again at the mysterious woman, trying to place her gentle face. I drew a blank.
“I’m Carmen Shaw,” she said in a drowsy way. Her brown, melancholy eyes widened.
Then it registered. It was the girl everyone called Creepy Carmen. I had always felt sorry for her. The school brats teased her constantly. They called her a witch. I never did. In my book, it was all too cruel.
I flashed back to a time when we were sitting around a small table. With no apparent reason, the pencil Carmen held in her left hand started shaking. The weird sensation frightened her.
Then, as though a strange force possessed her, Carmen began sketching a boy’s face with fine detail. All the while her eyes remained shut as her hand flowed about the page. Suddenly the creative impulse stopped.
Carmen’s eyes slowly opened. She lifted her pencil from the paper. With stunning detail, she had drawn Tommy Henson who sat at our table. The likeness was near perfect. It spooked Tommy so much he ran off. We were all shocked.
The next day a school bus struck and killed Tommy. Other sketches Carmen did foreshadowed death. No one wanted to be around “Creepy Carmen” fearing that she might doom them to a quick death.
“Carmen, yes, I do remember you,” I said. “I know those school days were rough for you.”
“Did you think I was some sort of freak too?”
“I honestly didn’t know what to think.”
“Well, I survived, mostly keeping to myself. I felt like a stray cat that nobody wanted.”
“So the stories were true. You could predict death.”
“My mom called them Deathsations. But it wasn’t something I could control. And the few episodes I did have were spread over many years. Most sketches I kept a secret.”
“Carmen, I don’t know what to say. You must have been lonely.”
“I didn’t have an episode for many years. But then last week it happened again.
“Is that why you’re here today?”
“Yes, I sketched Lucy Wheeler the night before she died. She was my best friend. Perhaps my only true friend.”
“How did she die?”
“The doctors said it was pernicious anemia. But how does a perfectly healthy young woman fall so quickly to such a rare blood disease?”
“You suspect foul play?”
“I believe a vampire hunts among us. Perhaps the same creature that put fear in our hearts when we were kids.”
“Did Lucy have any fang marks on her neck?” I asked.
“That’s the first thing I checked at the funeral. No puncture wounds.”
“Might the marks be covered with make-up?”
“A mortician’s beauty work to hide the truth,” Carmen said. “Perhaps I was fooled.”
“What about Edwin Brooks?”
“I never knew him, but he was only nineteen and he also died of so-called pernicious anemia.”
“So why did someone snatch the bodies, coffins too?” I asked.
“My theory is that Lucy and Mr. Brooks are now vampires,” Carmen said, dropping the crimson flower in the empty hole and getting on her feet.
“Sounds like you know a thing or two about the undead,” I said gravely.
Carmen nodded. “Say, why don’t you stop by Blackwell’s Bookstore later today. 150 Strauss Street. I have something to share with you.”
“A bookstore in Hemlock, now that’s news.”
“It opened about three months ago. I’m the store manager. All those years alone, I did lots of reading and the owner was impressed with my knowledge of literature. He hired me on the spot.”
“Got any vampire books?” I asked, half joking.
“Matter of fact we do,” she said, cracking a smile.
The more I looked into Carmen’s warm face, the more I liked it. She had soft ivory skin, a narrow nose, dark eyebrows, and full lips.
“Okay, I’ll be by tomorrow afternoon,” I said. “In the meantime, I need to speak to the sheriff.”
“Old Sheriff Mercer won’t tell you much,” Carman said.
“Thought he would have retired by now. Do you trust him?,” I asked.
“Look, Mercer’s basically an honest guy, but he doesn’t want to stir up any blood-thirsty rumors about vampires.”
Carmen and I walked back to the parking lot, continuing our conversation about strange happenings in Hemlock. By now the sun had mostly lifted the early morning mist. We climbed into our cars and drove off.
Driving into town, it struck me how much it hadn’t changed. As I turned onto Nelson street, I noticed Blackwell’s Bookstore, with a large window display that showcased a collection of trendy books. A vintage sign with gold lettering bearing the store name stood out against a black wooden facade.
Just down the street was the Sheriff’s Department housed in an old red-brick building that had stood for a hundred years. A beefy man in uniform wearing a peaked cap with a gold star exited the front door. It was Sheriff Thomas Mercer.
He had put on a few pounds and still walked with a slight limp. He got it in a gunfight with a serial killer who escaped the state prison and was holing up in Hemlock.
I quickly pulled into the driveway, hoping to catch Mercer who was in a hurry. I got out of my car and started up the sidewalk.
“Hello, Sheriff Mercer,” I said calmly. He looked back with a guarded look.
“Yes sir, how can I help you?”
“You probably don’t remember me. I was just a boy the last time you saw me in 1957. I’m Henry Abbott.”
“Sue Abbott’s boy?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“So what brings you back?”
“What would you say if I believed Hemlock has got a vampire problem?” I asked.
“Why do you say that?” Mercer said, giving off a piercing look.
“Two young people in this town recently died of a so-called rare blood disease. Sound like a vampire to you?”
“Sounds like a coincidence.”
“Then tell me why we have two missing bodies over at Whitby Cemetery?” I asked, pressing the sheriff for a plausible answer.
“Why did Jack the Ripper kill those women in White Chapel? No one really knows,” Mercer said wryly and walked away.
The sheriff’s answer didn’t satisfy me. But I had no real evidence to back my claim. I felt drained and decided to catch some sleep at the Skylight Inn. I never stayed there before, but it had been around forever so it couldn’t be all that bad.
Exhausted, I slept soundly for six hours, waking at five o’clock in the afternoon. I grabbed a black cup of coffee and a chocolate doughnut in the lobby, trying to shake the feeling that my internal clock had been turned upside down.
Strauss Street was just a couple blocks away, so I walked to the bookstore. The moment I stepped in the sweet smell of books hit me. I immediately became impressed with the store’s carefully planned layout, with immaculate displays and cherry wood shelves filled with neatly arranged books. Near the back wall, I spotted Carmen unpacking a box of paperbacks.
I approached. Carmen saw me coming and smiled.
“Good afternoon,” I said.
“Welcome to Blackwell’s Bookstore,” she said, holding three new copies of Pride and Prejudice in her hand.
“This is quite a remarkable little bookshop,” I said.
“Thank you,” Carmen replied. “I put a lot of thought into the look and feel, but Blackwell put some big bucks into the rich décor.”
“Who is Blackwell?”
“Charles Blackwell is the owner, a rather strange, older man who walks with a cane. He pretty much lets me manage everything, even the ordering. He only comes in once a week to see how I’m doing and sign the checks.”
“Where’s he from? And why did he move to Hemlock?” I asked with a reporter’s curiosity.
“He used to own a independent book store in Boston, but got robbed at gunpoint one night. And so he wanted to get away to the peace and serenity of a small rural town.”
“You say he’s strange?”
“Just the way he talks as though he’s a character in a gothic novel.”
Carmen’s description reminded me of a high school English teacher I had who sounded like a walking Charles Dickens story.
“You mentioned that you had something to show me?” I asked.
“Come this way,” Carmen said, walking into the back storage room crammed wall-to-wall with overstock and returns. She grabbed her purse that hanged from an empty magazine rack. She opened it and pull out a folded, rather-worn sheet of paper.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s your mom. I sketched her the night before she died.”
I unfolded the paper and there was a lifelike portrait of my mother. Her gentle eyes. A slight nose. A sweet smile. Long flowing black hair.
“You had this all this time and never let anyone know?,” I asked, a bit bewildered.
“What was the point?” Carmen said. “It would only bring me heartache.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it in a negative way.”
Carmen took a deep breath. “It’s funny how I met your mom only once. She saw me fall off my bike outside school one day and helped me up.”
“That was my mom, a good and decent woman.”
“Sorry that you lost her.”
“After she died, I lived with my Aunt Sarah. She told me that my mom had died accidently falling down a flight of stairs at The Markham House,” I said somberly. “But the older I got, the less I believed it.”
“That’s more than I know and it’s more than The Herald ever reported,” Carmen said, referring to Hemlock’s small weekly tabloid that died years ago.
“To this day, I still don’t why an autopsy wasn’t performed.”
“Guess Sheriff Mercer didn’t consider it a wrongful death.”
“He may be the only one who knows what really happened to my mother and what went down at The Markham House that night in 57.”
“Whenever Mercer’s asked about it, he can’t recall anything. Like it was erased from his memory.”
“I don’t know who or what to believe,” I said. “But something smells sinister.”
“Something wicked is definitely in the air,” Carmen said, returning to the shopping floor. She walked over the to the horror and fantasy section.
Carmen pulled out a one-inch thick hardback, with a black and red illustrated dust cover featuring a bat with a short, flat face and fangs that dripped blood.
Written by Jason H. Walcott, PhD, the creepy-looking volume was entitled, “The Secret Lives of Vampires.” She scanned the table of contents and turned to page 266.
“Take a look at this,” she said, standing closer so I could read.
In a section on small town vampire lore was a quiltwork of letters and journal entries dating centuries.
A few lines into the page, I noticed a bold subhead about vampires in rural towns. Among the featured vamps was Alistair Verback. The surname immediately rattled me.
I was only seven years old, but I distinctly remember my mother uttering “Verbeck” repeatedly in her sleep one night. When she awoke, she could not recall anything about it and all was forgotten. I glanced at Carmen. She blinked and I read on.
COUNT ALISTAIR VERBECK
A news account and journal entry from two different time periods and places document the existence of a vampire known as Count Alistair Verbeck. The literature suggests he spread vampirism in small rural communities in New England.
THE TIMES-DISPATCH 9 OCTOBER 1917, STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS – ALLEGED GRAVE ROBBER ESCAPES
Alleged grave robber Count Alistair Verbeck escaped Copeland County Jailhouse last night, according to authorities. How he escaped is unknown, although an accomplice is suspected, said Sheriff Walter R. Scott.
Verbeck is charged with three counts of grave robbery. During a search at his home, formerly the Deacon Manor Inn, deputies found the victims stored in three black coffins in the cellar.
The Time-Dispatch has learned the deceased are Carrie Woodson, Martin Williams, and Maureen Devereux. All of the victims recently died of an unknown blood deficiency and were buried in Hyde Cemetery.
According to court records, Verbeck purchased the long vacated Victorian manor three months ago from Frederick Carson, a longtime Stockbridge resident and former railroad executive.
Verbeck has seldom been spotted around town, according to multiple villager interviews. His date of birth and previous residence are unknown to the Times-Dispatch.
ELIZABETH WEBSTER’s JOURNAL, 9 OCTOBER 1856, EXETER, RHODE ISLAND
Last night I had the sweetest dream as though a powerful narcotic had flowed through my veins, removing all sadness and filling my soul with wild euphoria.
As I write this entry, I can still vividly see his long, hypnotizing face with bright red eyes press against my cheek. His warm breath blanketed my face. His hot, wet tongue gently slid down my neck. I felt a sharp piercing of my skin and an eerie erotica followed.
I had been bitten by the Angel of Death. I know it was Count Verbeck. He desires me in the flesh, yet I fear his coming. He will no doubt return tonight under the light of a brilliant moon. And I will be smitten again, only to awaken drained, paler, and closer to death.
“Verbeck is our vampire,” I said, closing the book.
Carmen nodded. “When I read Verbeck’s name in the book, my left hand trembled. I tried to steady it but it just kept shaking. I kept flashing back to a sketch I did of Rachael Burke.”
“The name sounds familiar?” I said.
“She attended Hope Elementary too. She was in Mrs. Waller’s class. She died shortly after the sketch. The cause was reportedly pernicious anemia.”
“All of this must be connected,” I said. “And it all points to Verbeck.”
“I’d like to read more tonight.”
“Why don’t you take the book,” Carmen said softly so customers couldn’t hear.
“I’ll have it back tomorrow.”
“Does Frawley’s Hardware still close at 7 p.m. weeknights?
“Need to buy some things,” I said, looking at my watch.
“Okay, thanks for stopping by,” Carman said. “Hope to see you soon.”
I smiled and headed down to Frawley’s. The building’s interior had changed completely since I was a kid, but it still had the smell of grass fertilizer that permeated the store.
I bought a dozen wooden stakes, a heavy hammer, and a black canvas bag to hold the vampire hunting necessities. In my car trunk, I stored an oversized crucifix, a heavy-duty flashlight, a garlic string, and a bottle of holy water.
I was ready as anyone could be to kill a vampire. But would I find him?
On the way back to the motel, I stopped for some Chinese carry out at the Golden Dragon, another Hemlock mainstay. That night laying in my bed I thumbed through the vampire book.
I had seen many vampire movies and read Dracula in college. So I had a fair amount of knowledge about The Undead.
What I read that night removed any doubt in my mind about their authenticity. The book was filled with clippings, letters, telegrams, medical records, and police reports that showed how real and clever vampires are to have survived for centuries.
I had a sick feeling that Verbeck was a survivor. But why wasn’t there more recent information about him? Why had he gone into hiding or had he changed his identity?
I slept fitfully with those haunting questions on my mind. A few hours later, I was aroused by a nightmare that I had been buried alive in a coffin. I kept scratching and clawing the coffin lid until my nails bled.
The black wooden box was filled with earth and smelled rankly like rotting flesh. Suddenly the coffin opened and a menacing face with blazing red eyes and fangs aimed for my neck. That’s when I awoke in a cold sweat.
I sat perfect still for five minutes, until my pulse slowed. My lip trembled. I had an awful sensation that something bad was about to happen. Finally, near dawn I fell back asleep again, and didn’t wake until the afternoon.
I headed straight to Blackwell’s to see Carmen. Much to my surprise she was not there. Instead, a tall, thin man dressed in a fashioned black suit and red bowtie greeted me. I assumed it was Blackwell.
“Good day, sir, and welcome,” the man said in a throaty voice.
“Is Carmen Shaw working today,” I asked, looking into Blackwell’s wrinkled face.
“Unfortunately, Ms. Shaw called in ill today. May I help you?”
Blackwell saw the book I held under my armpit. I felt awkward telling him that I was returning a borrowed book, so I lied.
“Do you have this book? This is my copy, and I’d like to buy another one for my friend.”
Blackwell’s eyes widened. “What a fascinating read.”
He checked the title against a large inventory ledger.
“Why I think you’re in luck. We show two in stock.”
He grabbed a black and gold-tip cane from behind the counter and stepped onto the floor. He headed straight for the horror section, rocking back and forth as he walked.
“Vampires make an interesting read,” he said, with a devilish grin.
The comment seemed rather peculiar. “Perhaps, they are real,” I said, prodding.
Blackwell didn’t respond. He quickly scanned the section and found the book.
“We have a copy left,” he said, handing it over. “Oddly, we are missing one.”
“Perhaps it's misplaced in the store somewhere?”
“Would you like to purchase that now or do you have other books you are interested in?”
“Actually, I can check out now.”
We made our way back to the front. Blackwell stopped for a moment to straighten a crooked book stack.
“Did you know that many people in this town believe that vampires exist?” I asked.
“Frankly, I know very little about this town,” he said, scanning the book price.
“Your total is $25.66, including tax.”
I paid in cash. I noticed Blackwell’s callous hands, covered with age spots, that appeared much older than his years.
“Would you like a bag for your books?” he asked.