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Pale Trash - the first of Pique's tormented tales

Pique staff have penned three spooky stories for you this year. Curl up in front of the fire and read them by candlelight, or read them out loud to the kids. We hope you have a spooktacular night.

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The people of Pine Grove call him "Brad," but I know better. His real name is Radu Tepes (the "Third," if you can believe it) and he's about 577 years old.

You'd think that immortality is a secret you'd want to keep to yourself, but old B-Rad wasn't very careful about his history. He'd always drop little hints about his true identity, like comparing the sunset at Pine Grove to the ones he remembers from growing up in the Carpathian Mountains — "I mean, south Detroit... or wherever..." — or railing on about how the piles of dead termites rooted out of the gazebo by the fumigator reminded him of the horrors at "Tirgoviste." He called money "dinars." And when I came by his trailer with his census form, under "title" Brad scrawled the word "Pasha," before scratching it out and writing "Mister."

Then there's the fact that Brad had a bit of a drinking problem. He wasn't the only one at the trailer park with that affliction, and I've been known to lose the odd day or week to the bottle myself, but Brad was really strange when he went on his benders. He'd start screaming things in Romanian or Latin or Turkish, and one time I saw him chasing a raccoon into the woods with a ruby-encrusted scimitar. And he'd go off on rants about his brother Vlad, his father, also Vlad, or some guy named Ottoman Sipahi.

And I never saw him out and about during the day. Not once.

That's when I decided to look a few things up on Wikipedia...

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pretty soon I knew two things for sure about Brad. The first is that Brad Templeton's real name is Radu Tepes, younger brother to Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Count F-ing Dracula! The second is that he'll tell you pretty much anything after half a bottle of rye whiskey. And I mean anything...

Being between newspaper jobs, and living three trailers down from Brad's battered fifth wheel, I had an idea: I would interview a real-life vampire and sell it somewhere to get back on my feet.

There was nothing, I told myself at the time, that was particularly wrong with this plan.

At least until I discovered that Vlad only showed up as an amorphous blur on video cameras — so much for all that YouTube money I was hoping to get. His voice didn't even record properly, which also cut radio out of the big picture. That left me with writing an article, which pays less, and without much art to go with it because I can't seem to take Brad's picture either.

In the process of researching my article, I discovered that befriending a demon who lives off the blood of raccoons and rats definitely has its downsides.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

I dropped by Brad's house early in the evening, just after sundown, to watch some football and drink some Canadian Club and ginger. When I thought he was drunk enough during the Plays of the Day later on that night, I asked him if he had a girlfriend. He grinned shyly.

"They's a couple of girls I've been dropping in on at nights, but I try not to get too attached, you know?" he said. "Bite 'em a third time and you've got yourself an immortal pain in the ass following you around forever. I just don't like to be tied down."

We'd gotten past the whole vampire thing a few weeks earlier. It was a funny story, if you don't account for the perspective of that poor deer I hit with my car on the way back from the liquor store..."

Is that why you faked your death? You don't want to be tied down?"

"Sort of," he said, pushing his wide-brimmed No Fear hat to one side of his head to scratch at his overgrown sideburns. "Vlad and me went our separate ways way back — him to Order of the Dragon, me to the Sultan, and we fought for 20 years over the same patch of ground. Nasty, bloody business.

One day I was lopping heads off in battle with my trusty scimitar, and I started wondering what the hell I was doing. I decided right then and there that I didn't want to do that anymore. I liked people. I even liked my brother, once. And I'd never even seen Paris, or been further west than Constantinople. So I packed up my shit and went for a long walk."

"You walked?"

"Yup. I seriously just bummed around Europe for 300 years until I wound up in the New World here. Believe it or not a guy can get tired of it all."

Speaking of tired, I asked him if he slept in a coffin during the day.

"Aw, hell no! That's my brother's thing. All silk shirts and "la-de-da," puttin' on that fake accent of his. Too good to sleep in a box of dirt, that one! I made my own bed, nice and wide, and lined with sand so I can really stretch out."

I changed the subject again. I wanted to know more about Dracula.

"So you didn't get along with your brother?"

"Sometimes we got along famously. Not during the big battle over Wallachia, that's for sure, but afterwards we'd meet from time to time and it was OK. He was all about castles and servants and had probably 10 wives to feed by then. He liked the high life, Vlad, and it was getting out of hand. The villagers were up in arms and everything. So I told him, Vladdy, you need to simplify — throw that Renfield weirdo off a boat and lock a few of those wives out of the keep at sunrise. Keep a low profile and you'll have less stress and live longer."

"Sounds like good advice."

"But did he listen? Nope. Idiot went to England in pursuit of some lady and got his head chopped off by her husband and that Van Helsing guy."

Suddenly Brad stood up and started screaming at the television. "Go! Go! Go! Yeahhhhh! Touchdown!" The Seattle Seahawks had scored on a punt return. "I had ten bucks on that game!" crowed the Lord of the Undead.

After the sports highlights, Brad wanted to go out and look in on a girl he was seeing on Lot 14. But she must have figured out something was strange about Brad because when we arrived we found a crucifix hanging over the front door and about a hundred cloves of garlic.

"Hoo-whee miss!" said Brad. "That's a lot of garlic!"

"You get the hell out of here, ya damn succubus!" yelled the woman inside. "I ain't givin' you a drop more of my blood. Ruined a good pillowcase last time you stopped by! Now shoo! Get!"

"C'mon Destiny, we can work it out. Look into my eyes and tell me you don't want me. Look deep into my eyes..."

I left then, not wanting to get involved in a lovers' squabble. I found out that she squirted him with holy water when he tried to get in through the window, and he had a hell of a welt on his face the next evening when I stopped by.

"Well, it's over," he said morosely. "Darlene got a Doberman and one of them portable UV lights now. She doesn't want to see me no more..."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

It's October. Brad likes the fall because the nights are longer.

"I just like to be outdoors, you know?" he says, and pats his round stomach. "I go a bit hungry because everything good to eat is hibernatin', but then I could stand to lose a couple of pounds."

"You never eat, you know, people?" I ask him. It was a question I had been dancing around for months. I expected him to deny it right away, but he got a wistful look in his eyes.

"I've done it," he said, "loads of times. But I ain't proud of it. First time was when I was wounded by my shitheel brother in a battle, he cut me near in half with that two-handed sword of his and I needed a lot of blood. We had a few prisoners, Order of the Dragon guys, and a few Templars, and they was as good as tortured to death anyway. What I did for them was a mercy."

"How did two brothers wind up on opposite sides of the battle?"

"Ha! My father was an idiot. He lost a huge battle and both Vlad and I were sent to the Sultan as hostages. I converted to Islam a little later and ended up fighting for the Sultan while my brother went home to daddy. Hell, I was the original Cat Stevens, and why not? All the cross ever did for me was burn off a layer of skin. Vlad stayed with the pope, but he used to wear this other kind of cross to be safe, like four triangles pointing at each other, because a regular silver cross would set him on fire. And I told you how he liked them silk shirts of his!

"But, like I said, I'm a people person. I've borrowed a bit of blood here and there, mostly from ladies I've been friendly with, but I've never used the venom on 'em. Never infected anybody. Truthfully, I've never found someone whose company I'd like to share forever and ever."

I felt that wasn't the whole truth, and recalled the way his eyes got a little wider when I asked him if he'd ever eaten anyone. But he hadn't tried to eat me yet, and hadn't eaten anyone else at Pine Grove that I knew of. I even went down to the police station and did some research, and it turned out that there hadn't been an unsolved murder or missing person in this part of the world in a dozen years. Before Brad arrived, anyway.

How does one spend eternity, I wondered.

"I'll get restless and I'll go out into the world for a few decades," he answered. "Then I get tired and find a place like this to hole up for a spell. I watch Nascar. There are worse ways to live your life."

He takes a sip of his rye and ginger, and shudders.

"Much worse," he says quietly. "Much, much worse."

I ask Brad if he's feeling restless. I've noticed that he's gone more nights than he's home, that his usually dirty home was even dirtier than usual. I wondered if he was planning to leave.

He looks me in the eye and says, "When the time comes, buddy, you'll know. I can promise you that."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brad calls it "the thirst," and says it's worse than being drunk. "Sometimes," he says, "It feels like I'm not the one in charge. So I head out into the woods and God help anything I stumble on."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Two hunters are missing about ten clicks north of Pine Grove, a father and son from the city. It's entirely possibly they drowned, their boat was found upside down in some reeds. I join the search team and guess what I find? A battered No Fear hat snagged onto a bush.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

I awake to find Brad sitting in my trailer, facing me. He looks awful. His face is haggard and his clothes are stained brown in patches.

"What are you doing here?" I ask, trying to keep my voice calm. "What's up?"

He takes a swig out of a bottle of whiskey. No mixer.

"Remember I told you that I don't like to be tied down? That I never met anyone I'd like to spend eternity with?"

I ease my hand under my pillow, feeling for the silver letter opener I stashed under there. It was the cheapest silver thing I could find that could be used as a weapon. But it was gone. I do a quick scan of the room and see it on the table beside Brad.

Why, I ask myself, didn't I put a crucifix under there? I closed my eyes for a second and sighed.

"I remember you saying something like that," I answered, trying to keep my voice calm.

"Well that's not exactly true," he says to me. "A man needs a few friends around. Mine keep dying on me."

"Look, Brad—"

But that's all I get out, and suddenly he's on me. I try to scream but he jams a hand over my mouth. I try to throw him off but he's so strong. So incredibly strong...

The last thing I hear before I lose consciousness is Brad, speaking quietly, his breath on my neck. It smells like pickled eggs and whiskey.

"Hold still buddy. This won't hurt a bit."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

That was October. It's December now. Brad and I have decided it's time to leave. Pine Grove is a little too small to hide two vampires, and it's been a while since he's seen the Carpathians.

Brad is good company. He's in such high spirits now that he's found a friend to spend eternity with.

As for me? I'm not angry anymore. Really I'm not. I get to live forever and I was always more of a night person anyway. I'll never get sick, I'll never break a bone, and there's nothing in the world I need to be afraid of.

Except for the thirst, that is. It's every bit as bad as Brad said it would be.

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