NOBODY wants to encounter a clown at midnight in an empty alley. The same can be said of a vampire. The clown, because he is out of place and thus threatening, and the vampire because he does fit in – but you don’t. Anyway, the whole thing always ends with blood on the pavement.
The vampire said nothing. His lips ware sewn together with strong black silk twine. He would starve, but not right away. The day before he had bitten someone. His victim would already be dead, but not for long. Vampires can’t have children. They have no natural progeny. But they feel the urge to continue their species. By means of converts. With blood. Their blood, infected with some rare but extremely virulent virus. Whomever they bite becomes their progeny.
Vampires are not my friends. I am a dentist. It’s a noble but underrated profession. People are afraid of me. Vampires, on the other hand, hate me. I don’t go about it carefully. I cut out their incisors, root and all, and then they starve. Unless they use a knife or a needle or any sharp implement to bleed their victims. Which, for a vampire, is shameful. The most proud will die, even if it takes them years, rather than demean themselves to ordinary slithering of throats, for which their clan expels them.
So they hate me.
The vampire in the alley was on his way to a slow death and could merely growl. He was tied up, some meters high, against a drainpipe. He could not loosen the twine that held his lips together, nor could he untangle the rope that bound his hands. No-one would help him. The other vampires had punished him, and humans would not come to the aid of a vampire.
He knew what he was in for. Three, maybe four years of agony. Slow dehydration. He would go mad halfway. Finally his empty hulk would be washed away by the rain.
Thus vampires punished other vampires.
I set off again, with the monster’s glare in my back. You never turn your back to them, except in this particular case.
People passed me in the broad street. They sported colourful masks, colourful clothes. Carnival. Somewhere in a small town – or perhaps a village – with a view on the Andes. Nameless. Who wants to give a name to small towns like these? If you’re nameless, you avoid attracting vampires. Except they were here anyway, somewhere, in the shadows, avoiding the fires the inhabitants had lit. Later, these fires dead, the vampires would feed.
Unless I found them first.
Jean-Christophe walked towards me. He was colourfully attired as well, defying the night. I wore my usual clothes: black linen pants and jacquet, white shirt, low boots of snake leather. He carried a bottle without a label. “Master,” he said. “A sip?”
He actually was French. Jean-Christophe Valtat with his full name, a proper writer, of books. That’s all I needed to know about him. He already resided in the village when I arrived, in a white house against a hill. He had it painted white because it reminded him of Greenland, where he had lived for some time.
A man in a clown suit passed by, with a retinue of young girls, defiantly shoeless. Music from a trio with violins and trumpet drifted behind them.
“A merry bunch,” JC said.
“They are,” I said. “This evening.”
He nodded, still watching the girls.
“They’re minors,” I reminded him. “Children.”
“It does not matter here,” he carelessly said. “I know of people who married their niece or their next door girl. Married, after a fashion. There wasn’t even a ceremony. And the girls were obviously underage.” He looked me in the face. “They don’t live as long as we do.”
I was familiar with the argument. It was common enough even in Paris, amongst sensible people. Jean Millemont, my most subtle master, kept two young girls in his house, and nobody pointed the finger at him. Later, when they would be of age, they would go their own way. Sufficiently prepared for the world at large. It did bother me, though. Children are not supposed to do adult things.
But let’s concentrate on the vampires. Who promulgate their own ethics.
“You’re a dreamer,” JC said. “You ought to live in the real world.”
As if he knew what the real world had in store for us. He who lived in a white house, had never met a vampire, could not sustain a permanent relation with an adult woman.
I considered all these festive, loud people around me. “They will keep us awake all night,” I said.
But I meant to say something entirely different.
“We will not sleep,” JC said, ignoring my unspoken words. “At least not tonight. Tonight the vampires will go hungry.”
“There’s the dark alleys,” I said. “And drunken people falling asleep.”
“The taste of blood with a high alcohol content is not very attractive to vampires,” JC said, displaying an expertise he had acquired from books. A group with banners passed us by. “On the other hand, it is always open season.” He drank deeply from the bottle.
The day after. The heat kept me inside. I worked on some letters, under the draft of the slow ventilator. I lit my third cigarette. The smoke kept the insects away. Breakfast had also been my lunch: a cup of coffee and a couple of biscuits with jam. Since arriving here, I had lost fourteen pounds.
Gustavo, who managed the house, stayed out of the sun, as I did. He checked provisions and wrote a list of things to buy later that day. Like the other villagers he was still sleepy at this hour. His wife had pushed him out of bed, since I expected him to show up. He also did the laundry and cooked my dinner. He made sure the house was locked up in the evening. In exchange I paid him handsomely and made sure the vampires did not bother his family.
They had no children.
Not any more.
“The vampire,” he said, without introduction. He stood behind me, in my room.
“In the alley. The punished one.”
“O,” I said. The whole village knew about that. They usually knew more than I did. Certainly they knew the things nobody talked about.
“The people who live in the alley want him out of the way.”
“He will disappear by himself,” I said, without irony. I kept my back to him.“That may take years,” he said.
Time passed slowly here. What is a year in a country like this, where mountains formed a hundred million years ago and the first humans arrived tens of thousands of years ago?
“They want to use the alley,” he insisted.
“He is punished,” I said, not looking at him.
“This is not our business, señor. It has nothing to do with the people from the area, who are now too afraid to use the alley.”
I wanted to tell him: the vampire is helpless and no longer poses any danger. But to them he was still a menace. And you don’t interfere with the business of vampires. This one didn’t hang there by coincidence.
“They don’t want him there,” Gustavo said.
I sighed. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said, and turned away.
Damn insolent of him! “As soon as possible,” I said, again without looking at him.
It was around seven in the afternoon and the sun was disappearing behind the mountains. The light failed slowly, but too fast for me. The vampire with the sewn lips looked at me, full of hate. And hunger. So soon already.
I was safe. None of his kind would pass in the alley.
He wore a suit of dark blue velours, white socks, no shoes, grey silken shirt. The colours faded in the disappearing light. He smelled of ash from an old fire. He smelled of another world.
I had asked Gustavo for a ladder. Somebody had left it at the end of the alley.
In the distance I could hear men and women making love.
My options were few. His hands were firmly bound. I was in no danger, even when releasing him from the drainpipe.
What would I do with him?He would not go back to his kind. I had some vague assumption about the sort of transgression he had committed, which had led to his punishment. He would not go back to his kind.
Killing him would not be difficult. The classical method sufficed: a wooden stake through the chest. Quick and efficient. Then there would be the body, which I could throw on one of the fires.
And yet it would not be all that easy.
The ones that fell in my hands, lost their teeth. Eventually they would die because of my treatment. I had no reservations as to their fate. We will never be able to exterminate them, but we can keep them under control.
It is only a matter of eliminating their progeny.
But they were destined to disappear, as a species. In the end. They know as much. They know that people like me will be responsible for their extinction.
Even here, in the arsehole of civilisation.
I climbed the ladder. When I reached him, he turned his head towards me and hissed through his lips. There was still some fight in him.
Then he turned his head away. He looked intensely at something in the alley. The hateful expression on his face changed into something else. Fear, maybe.
I glanced down. In the alley, a few paces from the ladder, stood the clown.
“Still hanging there,” Gustavo ascertained.
“An unexpected complication,” I said.
Gustavo did not insist. He appreciated my otherness. I was a stranger and as such was allowed my peculiarities.
I would not be able to explain. The clown had arrived too soon. It was not yet midnight. He stood there, looking up at us, the vampire and me, as if appreciating an abstract work of art.
Nobody knows what clowns think, once they wear their make-up. Maybe we were in fact an abstract work of art to them.
Nevertheless, the situation had suddenly changed.
Even if the clown is too early, and appears well in advance of midnight, you’re in trouble.
I dismounted the ladder and by the time I reached the bottom he was gone again, as always. He never acted out of character: appearing, observing, and disappearing. By itself that was more than enough.
I left the ladder at the end of the alley and hurried home.
Gustavo was early that morning, which was not his habit. I knew why he was early. People had been looking in the alley already.
“I’ll try again soon,” I promised.
“Maybe it is too difficult,” he said, as if considering another option.
“It is not too difficult,” I said.
“Can señor Valtat not do it?”
“Leave him out of it,” I said.
Señor Valtat! As if he is a saint!
Gustavo shook his head. He brought me breakfast, and then he disappeared again. He would return later that day. The neighbourhood would know that I would try again.
I saw JC at noon, under the awning of a bar in the centre of the village, where men drank their coffee. “So you didn’t go through with it,” he said.
“An unexpected complication,” I said.
“What you need,” he said, “is a hunting party. We trap a few of them, and you pull their teeth. You’ll feel better at once.”