In a small room, walled in by bookshelves, beneath a solitary square of fluorescent light, two men scrutinized one another from opposite ends of an imitation Persian rug. Dr. Hank Frye leaned back in his rolling office chair, legs crossed, a clipboard resting on his knee. His dark, curly hair, streaked with grey and thicker on the sides than on top, lay in place out of habit rather than from gel or spray. Friendly eyes peered through round-rimmed glasses, and he smiled beneath a thick moustache. He tapped on the clipboard with a pen, holding a steaming mug in his free hand.
“Don’t tell my wife,” he said, taking a sip. “I’m not supposed to have anything but ice water. Some new diet she read about. Your body burns all your excess calories heating up the water. So far, the only difference I’ve noticed is that I have to go take a leak a lot more often.” Hank had hoped the joke would elicit a smile from the young man sitting across from him. It did not. “Well, Brian,” he said, putting aside the mug. “I’m Dr. Frye, but it’d be fine with me if you wanted to call me Hank.”
Brian Alderman didn’t reply.
Hank tried to read his face, his body language, the emotion in the younger man’s eyes—eyes the color of bitter chocolate, eyes nearly black. What he saw in their depths might have been anger or hatred or mistrust, but Hank thought that, more than anything else, they reflected deep, concealed fear.
“You know, Brian, this will go a lot easier if you’re willing to talk to me.”
The younger man smirked. “Why should I give a damn about making your job easier?”
“Because my job is to help you,” Hank answered.
“Is that right?” Brian asked, his tone dripping venom.
“I am on your side here, Brian.”
“Yeah?” Brian leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. “The way I see it, you’re either gonna say I’m crazy, in which case I spend the next several years in this shithole asylum, or else you’ll say that I’m totally sane, in which case I go to jail. So how are you going to be helping me, Hank?”
Hank sighed. Good, he thought. At least I’ve got him talking. “I’ll be keeping you out of prison,” he said. “If you don’t really belong there.” He flipped a page on the clipboard. “There’s nothing on your record that suggests a history of violent or destructive behavior. Which tells me you had a very specific reason for doing what you did.” He met Brian’s gaze, smiled. “Care to tell me about it?”
“Don’t you already have that in my ‘record,’ too?”
“I’ve learned not to trust police depositions,” Hank answered. “They tend to be rather sketchy.”
Brian leaned forward, staring at Hank, not blinking or diverting his gaze. Then he smiled. “Okay, Hank. I’ll tell you.” He slid down in his chair, brought his ankle up to rest on his knee. “I was killing a vampire.”
“A vampire,” Hank repeated.
“Not killing, really,” Brian said, clasping his hands behind his head. “Since vampires aren’t alive, not in the physical sense. But you already know that much, don’t you?”
“I know what you told the police,” Hank said. “They thought you were, ‘condescending’ is the word they used.”
“It was like talking to a bunch of retards. I hope all cops aren’t that stupid.”
“They didn’t have the mental faculties to follow what you were saying?” Hank asked.
“That’s a nice way of putting it.”
“Try me, then,” Hank said.
Again, Brian gave him that intense stare. “Alright. Do you know anything about vampires, other than what you’ve seen in old monster movies?”
“I will assume that you do,” Hank said.
“I made it a point to learn,” Brian said. “The information is out there, if you’re willing to look for it.”
“What did you learn, Brian?” Hank asked, his voice serious and calm.
“They’re not animated corpses,” Brian said. “And they don’t drink blood. They’re more like ghosts, spirits. And they feed off psychic energy. They’re parasites.”
“But you directed your attack against an actual body,” Hank said.
“They remain connected to their physical bodies. Like it’s an anchor. Destroy the corpse and the vampire can’t survive.”
“And how did you know that this body, in particular, was connected to a vampire?” Hank asked.
“I followed it one night,” Brian said.
“Yeah. I saw it descend into that particular grave. They aren’t supposed to be burying people in that cemetery anymore, you know? It’s a historic landmark. I guess the guy’s family had a lot of money or something. Anyway, that’s how I knew.”
“Did anyone else see this?”
Brian hesitated. “Most people can’t see them at all.”
“Anything on any of the other planes. Etheric, Astral, Spiritual.”
“But you can?” Hank asked.
“Most of the time,” Brian said.
“What else do you see, other than vampires?”
More hesitation. “Lots of things.”
“And do they see you?” Hank asked.
“No,” Brian answered. “They don’t. Not unless I come into direct contact with them. And I have to do that on purpose.”
“Like when you, um, attacked the corpse?”
“So why try to destroy it if it doesn’t pose any threat to you?” Hank continued.
“That specific vampire killed my foster father.”
“I see,” Hank said.
“Funny thing is,” Brian said. “I don’t think it was after him. I think it was looking for me.”
“And why would you think that?”
“I woke up and saw the damn thing floating around my bedroom, like it was looking for something. But it never came near me. Then it passed through the wall. I assumed it was gone, so I went back to sleep. The next morning, Bill was dead.”
“Your foster father?”
“But wasn’t the cause of death ruled a massive heart attack?”
“Massive heart attack brought on by having his soul sucked out by a vampire, maybe,” Brian said. “Bill was a dick most of the time. But he was the closest thing to family I had left.”
“I’m sorry,” Hank said.
Brian ran a hand through his dark, shaggy hair. “Vampires can’t travel far from their physical bodies,” he said. “So I started watching all the boneyards in the area.”
“That’s one of the things you learned?” Hank asked.
“Yeah. They can’t cross water, they can’t pass through metal. Finally I caught sight of it and followed it back to its grave.”
“Okay,” Hank said. “So tell me about the attack on yourself.”
“What about it?”
“You survived,” Hank said. “Why didn’t it kill you like it did your foster father?”
“Beats the hell out of me,” Brian said.
“Of course, your foster father had a pre-existing heart condition, didn’t he?” Hank asked.
Brian sneered. “Look, I’m not stupid enough to think you’d actually buy any of this,” he said. “So you get to decide if I’m schizo or just a creative liar.”
Hank lay aside the clipboard. “I don’t think you’re a liar, Brian.”
“Then I guess I should make myself comfortable here,” Brian said.
“North Florida Regional is a fine hospital,” Hank said. “With lots of fine people who want to help you.”
“Lucky me,” Brian said.
“Okay, then,” Hank said. “Same time tomorrow.”
Hank opened the door for him, and Brian preceded the psychiatrist out into a large communal room, into which several hallways converged. Couches and chairs, occupied by a few patients, were arranged beneath a television set mounted high on a wall. To one side of a nurses’ station, orderlies dressed in pale green scrubs milled about, while a uniformed security guard fed coins into a snack machine.
“Almost lunchtime,” Hank said. “Hang out and watch some TV till then, if you want. Get to know some of the other guests.”
Brian watched the group before him. They looked normal enough, these people, but he knew none of them had been put where they were for being normal. How many of them were really disturbed, he wondered, and how many were like him?
Brian knew he was not insane. He wished it were that simple. Crazy people they could cure. There was no cure for what was wrong with him.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath. Opening them, he let his gaze shift out of focus, staring into space. Then he could see them. The demons. At least he assumed they were demons. Like serpents composed of dark smoke, they emanated from the backs of the patients’ heads, or, perhaps, had attached themselves there. Each of the patients had one. They sagged behind the patients, as if attached to something on their opposing side that couldn’t be seen, their farther ends missing, vanishing from sight. Other things floated amidst the group like germs viewed through a microscope, insubstantial, jellyfish-like things, things like disembodied organs trailing ropes of intestine. Brian could smell a hint of rotting meat. He squeezed his eyes closed and held his breath.
The voice catching his attention, Brian opened his eyes. He saw an old man dancing through the room, carrying a plastic bowl of what looked to be water. He would dip his fingers into the bowl, then flip droplets out into the air.
“Ice cream!” he said each time. The other patients paid him little attention. “Ice cream!”
Turning, his sight fell on Brian and he froze. The bowl dropped to his feet, spilling the water. His eyes wide, he took a step forward. He began to smile.
“What are you looking at?” Brian demanded.
“Dave, this is Brian.” Hank Frye patted Brian on the shoulder. “He’s going to be staying with us for a while. Brian, meet Dave. He’s one of our favorites around here.”
“Oh,” Dave said, his smile fading. “Nice to meet you.”
Brian nodded in reply.
The old man turned away, picking up his empty bowl. For some reason, he looked dejected.
“Freak,” Brian muttered.
“You’ll like Dave,” Hank said, giving Brian’s shoulder another pat. “He’s quite the character.”
Brian acknowledged Hank with a cool indifference, and the doctor moved on his way. Rubbing his eyes, Brian tried again to see past the physical plane, taking another astral survey of the institution that was to serve as his new home. Brian blinked, trying again.
But the demons were gone.