2010 Winners

Congratulations to the following writers who won the 2010 Sledgehammer prize packages!

First Place Individual: Josh Gross, “Toothpaste and Bumper Stickers”

First Place Team: Disciples of Ba’alat, “Varney’s Revenge”

Readers’ Choice: Bob Ferguson, “Riff Raff”

All winners will read their full stories at Wordstock this Saturday at noon at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. They’ll also be presented with their prize packages there, so don’t miss out on seeing all the goodies.

And of course, a great big thank-you goes out to all our sponsors who made this year’s prize packages worth over $6,000!

Varney’s Revenge

Varney’s Revenge

by The Disciples of Ba’alat

The moon shimmered through the sparse clouds that blanketed the Santa Monica Mountains. Its light glistened off the freshly fallen rain that wetted Hollywood Boulevard.  A mild wind swooped from the ocean to the west, adding just a hint of chill to the summer night.  But a little brisk air never kept Lisa and her friends from looking their best.

Four tan and fit women strutted confidently down the boulevard, their high heels clicking in unison.  Shapely legs protruded underneath close-fitting dresses of various shades and colors.   They were newly employed, a year or two out of college, and shared a small two-bedroom apartment in nearby Glendale.  Rent was cheap, and it seemed as if they had more time and money than they knew what to do with.  Now they were partying in Hollywood four or even five nights a week, occasionally rubbing elbows with the stars.  Like the guy who played the cigar store owner on “Suddenly Susan.”  OK, maybe he wasn’t exactly a star, but he did get to spend some time working with Brooke Shields.  You couldn’t exactly say he was a nobody.

As they approached the King King Club, Lisa noticed a dark, mysterious figure leaning casually against a Wells Fargo ATM.  He looked as if he was ready to attend a mid 19th century masquerade ball.  His pointy black boots had almost no heel, but looked as if they were freshly polished.  Some blend between pants and tights were tucked into the boots, black as well.  A long paisley overcoat of various dark earth tones with billowy sleeves hid most of a thigh-length purple velvet tunic.  A black waistcoat and top hat completed the unlikely ensemble.

“Good evening, ladies.”  There was just a trace of an accent in his voice that Lisa could not identify.  Irish?  Scottish?  Either way, Lisa liked it.  “Are you unchaperoned this evening?  If so it would do me great honor to accompany you.”

Lisa eyed the club only a half-block away.  She was anxious to get inside and see if any celebrities were there today.  But this overly formal man intrigued her.  She heard her friends giggle behind her.

“But where are my manners,” the man continued.  “Please allow me introduce myself.  I am Sir Francis Varney, traveler of the world, liaison of nobility, and admirer of beautiful young ladies such as yourself.”  He paused as he realized that his eloquent words were not having their desired effect.  “I am also a vampire.”

“You’re a vampire?” said Lisa.  “I guess that would explain why you’re so pale.”

“Ah, my dear, I am but a humble servant of the night.  Do you know about the sun’s damaging effects on the skin?  We could discuss this at great length tonight, as I believe I can save you a lifetime of wrinkles and concern from skin cancer.”

Just then a stretch limo with vanity plates that read ‘SCK BLD’ pulled up beside the implausible quintet.  The vampire was upset to see all four girls stare admiringly at the vehicle.  As the back window powered down, the sounds of Lady Gaga escaped into the streetscape.  A familiar looking face emerged into the night air.  He wore a cloak.

“Lisa, darling, vat on earth are you doing here?”

“Dracula!”  The girl practically beamed.  “It’s so good to see you.”

“I certainly hope you vern’t thinking of attending King King tonight.  Za DJ is just terrible.  He does not know how to mix his bass.  You vould be much better served accompanying me to Les Deux. Vaht you need is a fashionable ride.”  He seemed to notice the other vampire, almost as an afterthought.  “Varney, my neighbor.  Good to see you as vell.”  He opened the limo door and gestured for the four young women to enter.  “I vant to thank you for looking after my lovely companions tonight. Please consider me in your debt.”

As Lisa entered the limo, she turned to smile at Varney.  It was only then that Varney noticed the two almost-healed puncture wounds on the side of her neck.

**************

The sun was just cresting over the mountains to the east and bathing the Hollywood Hills neighborhood in a soft light as Varney pulled his 1995 Acura Legend into his driveway.  He sat for a moment and stared through his tinted windows at Dracula’s house.  Perhaps palace was a better word describe it.  A dozen men in tidy brown uniforms swarmed across his yard.  Some were mowing grass, others pruning shrubs or pulling weeds.  Yet another was polishing a bronze statue of Dracula, placed less than discreetly in the middle of the turnaround.

Varney pivoted his head and observed his own unkempt yard.  Crabgrass poked through in several patches that were not shaded from the southern sun.  A Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can protruded from his shrubbery, likely a memento from Dracula’s last party left by a drunken guest.  All things considered, his smaller yard needed those twelve men’s attention much more than Dracula’s.

Varney knew he should spend the morning working on his lawn, but the sun was already getting too high for comfort.

He emerged from his car with speed and purpose, moving as a blur until he found solace in the shade of his awning.  He tapped a button on his keyless remote, activating his car alarm.  A neighbor in a silk bathrobe waved from across the street, morning paper in her other hand.

“Morning Varney!”

“Good morning Michelle.  I prefer ‘Sir Francis’ if you don’t mind.”

The middle-aged woman look perplexed.  She shrugged her shoulders.  “Varney is so much easier.  Warmer too.  You should stick with Varney.”  And with that she scurried back into her air-conditioned house.

Varney.  He had been known to everyone in the neighborhood as Sir Francis until he moved in next door.  It was a calculated attempt to undermine his influence.  And it had worked.  Dracula had swooped into the neighborhood five years ago like a bat out of hell, and Varney had been paying the price ever since.   His Memorial Day neighborhood barbeque was upstaged by the release of Dracula’s latest biography-  Bloody Fangs: How a humble vampire from Romania conquered Hollywood. All the attention he used to glean from his neighbors was now fully thrust upon that cape-wearing wannabe.  He was not longer Sir Francis, even in his own mind.

Varney sank into his Lay-Z-Boy and grabbed the remote control for his TV.  News- floods in Pakistan.  Something about the Kardashians.  Live cricket from England, maybe I’ll come back to this.

A vampire movie?

It was obvious before he even hit the information button on the remote that this was yet another film about Dracula.  Black cape, formal wear, slicked-back hair.  The look had become such an archetype for vampires that any vampire who wore a top hat was no longer taken seriously.  The picture shrunk into the corner of the screen as the information on the movie was presented.  Dracula AD 1972.  Varney had never heard of this movie.  But was that Saruman from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy playing Dracula?

Varney stared at the wet bar he kept stocked for his human guests.  It was times like these when he wished he could drink.  He glanced over at the coffee table  by his leather recliner and decided to open his mail from the day before.   He picked it up and looked through it casually.  Phone bill, a bank statement, advertised specials for the supermarket, and an official looking letter from the State of California.  Curious, he tore it open with the fingernail of his pinkie in one fluid motion.  As he unfolded the papers he felt a pang of frustration as he remembered an incident a few weeks ago, hurrying to get home before dawn.  He had to go hunting in Arcadia, about twenty miles east, and there had been an accident on Highway 210 on his return drive.  By the time he reached town he was blasting around blind corners and running stoplights to beat the rising sun.  Now he was looking at a photo of his’95 Legend, license plate DGT526Y, in the middle of the intersection of Fairfax and Fountain Ave.  In the drivers seat where Varney should have been a pair of RayBans seemed to be suspended in the air above the filled-out form of a white shirt and black overcoat.  Stamped in bold red letters at the bottom of the citation the words “CERTIFIED VAMPIRE” glared at him.   A legal substitute for a positive photo ID.  Varney resisted the urge to tear the paper to shreds, but he knew that wouldn’t make the expensive ticket go away.  Instead he set it back down on the coffee table and sank into his comfortable chair and lamented his situation.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago even, Varney had money.  Lots of it.  Centuries and centuries of preying upon the wealthy, stealing inheritances from mostly deserving offspring, making prudent investments, interest compounding upon interest and so on and so forth.  And then… Enron.  Varney ignored his instincts with Enron.  He had ridden the Microsoft train and his financial adviser was convinced this was another big ride in the making.  “If you didn’t have that sinful conservative streak in you, Varney, I’d throw all your eggs in that basket,” Tacker had said, ”trust me, Varney, that basket’s gonna be big enough they’ll each have their own silk pillow to rest on till you need ‘em.”

Against his better judgment he let Tacker put seventy five percent of his stocks in Enron, and the day it atrophied to a dollar all Tacker could say was,” It’s never a sure thing, Varney, it’s all a gamble.  And you can’t win if you don’t play.  Speaking of getting back in the game, I’ve got a bead on this company called Amazon, I really think this could be their year, Var-” but Varney hung up on him and never talked to him again.  He liquified his remaining assets and put them into an interest bearing checking account in the Hills of Hollywood Community Credit Union, where it has remained since, earning a modest but consistent 4.5 percent interest.  Plus now he gets his ATM fees reversed, up to ten a month.

Varney then turned to the advertising flier.  He skimmed through it, noting nothing of interest, but then he froze.  The back page supermarket advertisement had a picture of Dracula in the upper right hand corner smiling his big, toothy grin, with the caption” Sparkle, don’t Sizzle, even when it Drizzles!” splashed across the page.  A few squeeze bottles lined the bottom of the ad, some on their side, some standing up on their tops.  “Twilight Delight, SPF 30” the bottles read.   Human sunscreen infused with glittery highlights.   “That capitalistic parasite!”  Varney yelled to the walls.   Something needed to be done.  His instincts told him Dracula would only get more popular, more wealthy, more absolutely annoying.  He could move, but he was there first!  A childish thought, Varney knew, but didn’t care.  He liked his little house, and he shouldn’t have to be forced to move because his neighbor is a  party crazed blood sucker.  The wheels of revenge began to turn.

**************

There is a dedicated cadre of “blood brothers” bound together, not just by their thirst for the red nectar, but a mutual hatred for Dracula that runs deep and ancient as the Mariana Trench.

Through the centuries they utilized many forms of communication to coordinate plots against their common enemy-horseback messengers, bird couriers , Pony Express, the US Postal Service-each new incarnation seemingly slower than the previous.  With the advent of the internet, however, and online social networking, the heightened speed of collaboration on dastardly schemes invigorated their desire and capability for revenge.  Varney needed to vent his frustrations about the insidious Twilight Delight ad.  He knew misery loved company, and what better vehicle to commiserate than Facebook.  He logged on and began pounding on the keyboard, steam still blasting from his ears in hot rage.

My old friends, he typed, I cannot take it any longer.  I have decided to take action against Dracula.  It has come to my attention he is capitalizing on the ‘Twilight’ saga, selling his own brand of glittery sun block, so teenage girls everywhere can sparkle in the sun like their favorite pansy vampire from those horrid tales.  To make a mockery, much less a disgustingly huge profit, of an event that would destroy us forever should not be tolerated.  A vampire should know better.  It seems to rest on me, as his neighbor, to be the one to teach him. He sent his message.  Lord Ruthven replied almost immediately.  “Must be playing his X-box 360 live,” Varney thought as he opened Ruthven’s response.

I commend your dedication to the old ways, Varney.  I will be with you in mind, wishing I could be there in body as well.  Oh, by the way, I heard from his publicist that Dickula’s getting paid big bucks to make a personal appearance on Larry King Live.  Not to cause undue pressure on you, friend, but it would be a true joy to see him rendered unable to attend.  Best wishes on your endeavors,

Lord Ruthven.

Varney typed another message:  I have an idea that might make his life a little less glamorous. Keep checking your messages for the latest updates.  I’ll be in touch. He clicked send.

**************

After returning from another night of unsuccessful hunting, Varney hung his overcoat in the closet, and tossed his top hat on the antique coat rack by the door.  He walked into his living room to finish the nights as he always did – watching television. He plopped down in his brown cracked leather Laz-y-Boy, and started up a DVD he enjoyed watching from time to time:  Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Gary, who lived on the other side of Dracula’s obscene residence,  was the only remaining neighbor who still addressed him by his proper title, Sir Francis Varney.  He suspected it was Oldman’s incessant thespian nature and British heritage that compelled him to such formalities.  But he tolerated him nonetheless, and when Oldman stopped by to get some advice on playing Dracula’s part in the movie, Varney obliged, as Dracula himself was too busy running lines with that hack Keanu Reeves. “Hah,” Varney thought, “they should’ve called it Dracula and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”  He then selected the last scene from the start up menu and watched as Van Helsing crushed Dracula to dust.

Varney cringed as he heard a familiar sound – the thump, thump, thumping bass of Dracula’s stretch limo pulling up after a night at the club, filled with hangers-on and party-goers.  Probably went to that pretentious vampire lover’s club, Pure, Varney thought.  Dracula thinks he is so much better than the rest of us, only feeding on organically sustained high-brow blood. He seems to have forgotten his days prowling around behind the YMCA.  I’ll remind him of those less ‘pure’ times. He reached for his iPhone and used his restaurant finder app to locate the nearest Pizza Hut. “Good evening.  Do you still make that Garlic Lover’s pizza?” he asked.

Right on time, thirty minutes later, Varney looked out his living room window and saw a beat up teal Chevrolet Cavalier with a Pizza Hut cabbie topper pull into Dracula’s driveway.  A teenage boy staggered up the walkway to the door,  struggling to carry 10 large pizza boxes.  Dracula  emerged from within his house and approached the boy, just as a sudden breeze wafted a blast of garlic, assaulting his olfactory senses.

“Vat is dees? I did not order anything this evening,” he said, holding back the urge to vomit.

The boy looked past Dracula and saw the crowd of party-goers. “Maybe one of your guests ordered the pizzas,” the boy replied, looking nervous.

Dracula was about to angrily turn the boy away when a drunken raver came up behind him, noticing the stack of pizza boxes.  “Hey, C. Drak!  Nice work on the pizzas, man!” The partier brushed past Dracula and relieved the delivery boy of his burden and returned back into the house.  Dracula expelled a sigh of contempt and turned to the boy and said,” Very vell, young man.  It seems I owe you some money.  Come in, come in, enjoy the party while I retrieve my checkbook.  Do you accept checks?”

The boy followed Dracula inside as the party-goers cheered Dracula for the pizzas being devoured.  From the perch in his living room Varney chuckled, “Hah, no blood sucking from your Pure groupies tonight mother fucker, huh? Not after all of that garlic seeps into their bloodstreams.”

After re-watching the last scene again, Varney clicked off the television and turned to head upstairs to retire for the evening.  As he passed the stairwell window a flash of teal caught his eye. The delivery boy’s car was still parked in the entry to Dracula’s turnabout. He had delivered the pizzas nearly two hours ago.  A sinking feeling flooded his consciousness.  Varney realized his mistake.

When Dracula hosted a party, the blood of all guests would be sampled, providing enough blood to satiate him.  He had intended for the pizzas to taint the blood of Dracula’s guests, but he had unknowingly delivered an alternative meal.  Varney had taken away Dracula’s sample platter only to give him a young, tender main course.

**************

The music thumped.  It shook his walls, rattled the glasses in his kitchen pantry, and pressed against his windows in rhythmic vibration.  Damn that Dracula!  Did he ever get tired of throwing these obnoxious parties?  Only two evenings after the pizza delivery instance Dracula was at it yet again.

How could the other neighbors tolerate that music shaking their walls through all hours of the night.

But Varney knew why they tolerated it.  They were hangers-on, every last one of them.  Even Gary Oldman would bend over backwards before he would dare complain about the noise.

Varney lay in bed as the music pummeled the air around him.  He did not need to sleep, vampires don’t really need rest.  But he had always liked the idea of it.  He was one of the few vampires he knew who actually had bothered to buy a bed.  At first he thought he would use it to seduce the ladies.

Not every woman was keen on getting busy on the couch or the living room floor.  But with time he grew to enjoy the idea of lying in bed.   It made him feel like he was in pulse with the rest of the neighborhood.   They were all in their beds, and so was he.  It was communal.  Granted, all the humans were happily dreaming away, whereas Varney stared at the ceiling and lost himself in thought.  But at least it was similar to what the neighbors were doing.  And there was never anything worthwhile on TV late at night anyway.

A drunken party goer ran screaming with glee within a foot or two of his bedroom window.  Varney bolted upright and stared at the darkened shape as it sprinted along his house.  The screaming stopped.  Through the thicket of music Varney could make out the faint sounds of urine watering his azaleas.

“Vera, look at me!” screamed the muffled voice through the double-paned glass.  “I’m urinating on a vampire’s garden!”

Varney stared at his black Sanyo alarm clock.  The red numbers and letters screamed back at him.  4:47 A.M. For some reason he did not turn away.  He knew if he stared at the clock long enough it would eventually turn to 4:48.  He shifted his position in bed, moving his feet to one corner and his head to the opposite corner so that he would not have to strain his neck to view the clock.

4:47 A.M.

Fuck it.  Varney threw off the covers and paddled over to his nightstand, where he pulled his cell phone from the charger.  He cycled through his extensive list of contacts until he found the number he was looking for.  He knew Larry would not be up yet, but drastic times called for drastic measures.

“Hello?” queried a sleepy voice.

“Larry it’s me, Sir Francis Varney.”

There was a pause on the line.  “Who?”

Varney.  The vampire.”

“Oh, Varney!  What time is it?”

Varney ignored the question.  “I need you to accompany me to the grocery store.”

Another pause.  “Why?”

“I assure you Larry; I would not ask were it not of the utmost importance.  Shall I pick you up in ten minutes?”

There was yet another pause.  “I’ve got work in three hours.  I still need to shower…”

“Your employment in the field of security brokering is both commendable and imperative.  I will have you home from the Safeway in plenty of time to return to your morning routine.  And if you do prove to be tardy I will be more than willing to make a phone call to your employer on your behalf.”

“But-“

“Excellent.  I will be there in ten minutes.  Be ready.”  Varney hung up before Larry could refuse.

Nine minutes later Varney pulled his 1995 Acura Legend into Larry’s driveway.  He waited two minutes with the engine idling, and was about to storm the door when he saw Larry stumble outside.

Larry dropped his keys as he attempted to lock the door behind him.  As he bent over to retrieve them, Varney noticed that Larry’s formerly desirable ass had added a few pounds recently.  Varney thought about humans.  The years were rarely kind to them.  They gained weight, acquired wrinkles and stress like they were collectibles.  Fifteen years ago Varney would have slept with Larry.  He used to go to the gym three times a week.  He was never the most charming person, but for a human his personality had always proved palatable to Varney.  Now the vampire wondered if maintaining his “friendship” with the security broker was still worthwhile.   He thought of the task at hand and the help needed to accomplish it, and decided it was.

“Larry, so good to see you.  It’s been too long.”

“Uh, yeah,” mumbled, wiping sleep from his eyes.

Varney pulled out of the driveway and proceeded to double the speed limit down the residential street.  He reached over and turned up his stereo.

“Do you mind if I turn this Bauhaus down?”

Varney stared at Larry as if he had just grown a third arm.  “You don’t like Peter Murphy?”

“It’s not that…“  He paused.  “It’s just a little dark for me.”

“But I am a vampire.  Vampyr.  A creature of the night.  I, too, am ‘a little dark.’ “  He made air quotes with his fingers as he spoke.

“The last time I was in Dracula’s car he was playing Modest Mouse.  And he’s a vampire too.”

“Count Dracula does not have the extensive history that I possess.  My formidable years took place long before his existence, in a time of great peril and turmoil.”

Larry looked uncertain and sounded skeptical.   “Are you trying to tell me you’re older than Dracula?”

Varney slapped his forehead with his palm, causing his carefully coiffed hair to frazzle.  His eyes burned with intensity.  “I am Sir Francis Varney!  Traveler of lands!  Confidant of kings!  Sieghton! Mortimer!  Vampire of Legends!  I was in full glory before Dracula’s father was even born.  It’s all there in Wikipedia!  Look it up dammit!  Look it up!”

**************

Varney shielded his eyes from the fluorescent lighting of the produce isle.  Why these imbeciles insisted on flooding their fruits and vegetables with such intensive lighting was a mystery to him. In front of him the cilantro glistened from manufactured mist while the sprinkler above the green bell peppers dripped with condensation.  Larry leaned tiredly against the romaine lettuce bin.

“Excuse me Miss?  Is this all the garlic you have to sell?”

The Safeway clerk eyed Varney’s black trench coat and gloves suspiciously.  Who would wear such a thing in the middle of summer?  She seemed to reach the decision that Varney’s presence posed her no immediate danger.

“There’s the organic bin over there,” she pointed warily.

“But that’s $5.99 a pound!”

The clerk shrugged her shoulders and took a slow, half-step back, hoping Varney would not notice.

“Is there another Safeway nearby?” asked Varney.

“There’s one a few miles down Del Coro Road,” she offered.

“No way,” interjected Larry.  “I don’t have time to drive all over town looking for garlic.”

Varney narrowed his eyes at the security broker, also causing him to take a step back and avert his gaze.  The vampire thrust the shopping basket in his gut.

“Fine.  Fill this with all the garlic they have.  Conventional and organic.  I’ll meet you in the checkout.”

“Wait, is this why you dragged me out of bed, to shop?  What the hell, Varney!  You want me to grab a few frozen dinners and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, too?   I got to be at work in less than three hours!”

Varney took a step towards Larry and intensified his stare.

“Would you rather I fed on a warmer source, Larry?”  Varney grabbed the side of his neck firmly, rubbing his thumb over Larry’s jugular.   Larry trembled.  “No, I didn’t think so.  Now go, fetch me the garlic.”

**************

The checkout clerk stared with uncertainty at the shopping basket before him.  The plastic blue basket was overstuffed with a heaping mound of garlic.  More than a family of 12 would need in a year.  On top sat three precariously positioned pairs of latex dishwashing gloves.

“Sir,” the clerk asked sleepily.  “Did you mix the organic garlic with the conventional?

Varney narrowed his eyes at the clerk.  He glanced at the sliver nametag fastened above the left breast pocket of his uniform.  Larry looked off in the distance, hoping to remain out of this conversation.

“Listen Armando,” snapped Varney.  “I cannot be expected to organize my purchases as such. It is incumbent upon you as an assistant  to the proprietor of this operation to know your merchandise and charge me accordingly”

Armando stared down at the mass of garlic before him as he dissected the customer’s words.

He carefully removed the latex gloves and slid them over the scanner.  “But some of the stickers have fallen off,” he stated.

Varney smiled and leaned forward.  “I assure you that any garlic without a sticker is conventional.”  He gave Armando a conspiratorial wink as he swiped his debit card.

Armando sighed as he separated out the garlic.  The store had opened twelve minutes ago and it was shaping up to be one of his worst days on the job in months.  “Do you have a Safeway Club card?”

“I believe I do.”

**************

Varney cringed as he ran the last of the garlic though this Kitchen Aid 700 Watt food processor.  The stench of nine and a half pounds of puréed garlic was causing his eyes to water and his stomach to churn.  He leaned his head back, hoping to avoid the noxious fumes.

Larry had served his purpose.  Without him Varney couldn’t have possibly handled the large quantity of garlic by himself without repulsion.  That is, of course, without the large latex gloves he had also purchased.  The old security broker helped Varney unload the sack of garlic onto the kitchen counter before Varney sped him back home.

The microwave clock told him it was 10:27 A.M.  Perfect.  Dracula would be doing his call-in radio program until noon, and usually got home at least an hour after.  Most of the other neighbors would be at work, except for that nosy Gary Oldman.  You would think he would be able to land another role by now, rather than reading porn wrapped inside the morning paper by his pool in his bathrobe all day.

Varney dumped the last of the garlic into the bucket.  He then pulled out the T-shirt cannon he had bought that morning.  Varney had been to five shops before he finally found someone who both had the cannon in stock and was willing to sell it to him.  Who knew buying a T-shirt cannon would prove so difficult?

The vampire pulled open a kitchen drawer and removed a new bottle of Count Dracula’s Sunscreen for Vampires: SPF 190.  He was loathe to admit it, but the Draculotion was the only sunscreen that kept him safe from the sun for more than ten minutes after a dose.  He slathered the white lotion on his face and neck, digging deep below his collar just to be safe.

Minutes later Varney was in Dracula’s back yard.  He studied the surroundings.  The ash tree would be his best bet.  The vampire carefully inserted eye-bolts from the top of the awning to the corner of the house where nearest the tree.  He used his Leatherman to puncture a small hole in the awning.  He then painstakingly threaded his fishing line through the eye-bolts, and attached one end to the screen door.  Finally he climbed the tree, where he fastened the other end of the fishing line to the T-shirt cannon stuffed with puréed garlic.  He selected his brown duct tape from his tool kit, as the color nearly matched the shade of the tree, and wrapped in several times around the limb.

Varney flashed a huge smile as he surveyed his work.  The trap was set, now it was just a matter of waiting.

Waiting sucks, thought Varney.  He checked his digital watch.  11:31 p.m. He had been hiding in Dracula’s shrubs with his Sony digital camcorder for nearly an hour, waiting for him to emerge though his sliding patio door.  Against his better instincts, the vampire selected a small pebble and threw it against the patio door.  He missed badly, and the pebble bounced nearly silently off the stucco exterior.

“Blast!”

He glanced around in the dark.  There were no other small pebbles in Dracula’s well manicured back yard.  He picked up a decorative cobble the size of his fist.  It was all he could find.

The rock hit the patio door with a thunderous boom.  A spider web crack sprang to life on the glass, causing Varney to convulse with silent laughter.

Dracula came roaring out into the night.  “Who threw this?  Do you know who I am?”

Varney stared in dismay at the limb of the ash tree holding his hidden T-shirt cannon, still loaded and charged.    The branch hung from the weight of the gun, flaccid and useless.  Varney silent cursed and shook his head.  The vampire was unscathed, and certainly not covered in garlic.  Why had the cannon not detonated?  He waited until Dracula angrily stormed back into his house before leaving.  He dare not check on the cannon tonight.  Perhaps tomorrow he would try it again.

**************

Varney stared out of his living room window.  He was absolutely drenched in that torrid Draculotion after having spent two hours mowing his lawn.  He knew he should shower off the sunscreen, but for some reason he felt compelled to rest for a moment first.  It was what humans would do.

He spotted something through the dirty glass. Dracula was on his back patio, inspecting the damage to his sliding glass door from the previous night.  It appeared he had forgone his namesake sunscreen in favor of a black-out vampire umbrella.  Would he find the T-shirt cannon?  Sure enough, something glistening in the sun caught the count’s eye.  Varney watched in dismay as he discovered the fishing wire, and began to trace its course back up the ash tree to the limb that held the garlic-loaded weapon.

Perhaps the fool will fall out of the tree and hurt himself.  Varney hurriedly ran to his closet and grabbed his camcorder.  Most likely nothing would happen to the count, but Varney would curse himself if he missed an opportunity.  “What you need is a nice, embarrassing video old friend,” he said to the window.

Pressed against the ground next to the shrubs Varney felt like a hooligan.  Was the small chance that Dracula might climb the tree and hurt himself really worth this ordeal?  What if one of the neighbors saw him?  He glanced behind him and observed that Gary Oldman’s house was clearly visible from his current position.  Hopefully Gary was sleeping in this morning.

Varney watched through the viewfinder as Dracula discovered the T-shirt cannon.  He cautiously tested a foot against a crevice in the trunk, then seemed to think better of the idea.  Instead the vampire grabbed a long branch from the ground and circled around to the front of the cannon where it was closest to the ground.  He poked cautiously at the machination, apparently unsure of its purpose.

Suddenly the branch gave way with the extra weight.  The cannon fell to the ground, and the world exploded in garlic.  The impact must have jolted the trigger.  Even from 30 yards away, Varney could smell the toxic herb.  Dracula must have taken a direct hit, as his face and chest were covered in the purée.

The vampire dropped his umbrella and fell to the ground, belly-up and spread eagle, wailing like a child.  Smoke gushed from his exposed skin.  He attempted to rise but there was no strength in his limbs.  The sunlight burned through his meager robe, leaving it singed against his smoldering skin.

The count tried in vain to reach for his umbrella, but a breeze swooped in through the valley and carried it just out of reach.

Varney watch in a mixture of curiosity and horror and Dracula shrunk into a pile of dust.  So this is what it looks like when a vampire dies.  All these decades of existence, and Varney had never witnessed such an event.  He looked down at the skin on his own hands.  A faint wisp of smoke was beginning to circle around the skin.  His realized his sunscreen was wearing off, and scampered back inside his house.

After washing off the remainder of the sunscreen, Varney booted up his laptop.  He posted his newly filmed snuff video to an anonymous account on YouTube, and then posted a link to the video on his Facebook account.  Within the next few minutes there were already five thousand views of the video on You-Tube, and his vampire cohorts from around the world gave his Facebook link a thumbs up.  For the first time in five years, Varney was feeling optimistic about his life at 324 S. San Rafael Dr.

For a little while.

**************

It wasn’t long before the world descended upon Dracula’s estate.  TV vans, cable news reporters, helicopters buzzing overhead twenty four hours a day.  On the third day after Dracula perished in the sun, Gary Oldman was set to give a poignant press conference on the front steps of Dracula’s home in tribute to the fallen media darling.  A news van, apparently late for the speech, screeched down the street in total disregard of the neighborhood speed limit.  Varney watched through his window in dismay as the eighteen foot van attempted to squeeze into a sixteen feet of asphalt in front of his lawn.  After running over his sunflower, the van knocked over Varney’s mailbox.  The driver stopped and looked out of his window to see what he had hit.  The newsman shrugged and proceeded to back further over the mailbox, rendering it completely inaccessible.

Something had to be done with this media circus. Since Dracula’s death there were nothing but reruns of Bram Stoker’s damn Dracula movie, commercials for Dracula memorabilia, and even the one station he had come to rely on for balanced thoughtful news the one place he could hear of the world carnage and not Dracula – NPR – was playing, no LOOPING,  Dracula’s interviews with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

In a bold move Varney walked across the driveway to where a teary eyed Gary was standing and clasped him in a one armed embrace.  This had to come to an end, all of it.

He leaned over the sea of microphones ready to tell the world that he was older than Dracula, taught the damned child what it was like to be a vampire. To tell the world that while they wept for Dracula that they could instead embrace him, he is the Original Vampire, he was here first!!

Yet Gary collected himself quickly and spoke first.

Gary’s watery snort echoed through the mics, and he smiled at Varney and said, “Dracula’s best friend, people!”  Cheers from the crowd.  “Here he is braving the sun to be here.” another watery snort, “Amazing the love you have for him to be here, God bless you. This here, people,” Gary said addressing the crowd of onlookers that Varney now realized took up the entire street and neighboring lawns, “is Dracula’s best friend and protégée.   Dracula taught him everything he knows, he taught him so well that I consulted with him on the movie when Dracula couldn’t.” Turning back to Varney, but talking loud enough for the world to hear, “I know how much Dracula meant to you so I’m glad you are here for this.” Gary said, voice warbling.

Varney couldn’t believe his ears, this was not happening. He was too stunned to interrupt.

“The president of the United States called me this morning and  wanted me to tell the nation on his behalf that the day Dracula died will live on forever and in our hearts as well as our calendars. That day will now be known as Dracula Day. “  An eruption of applause and hoots.  “I have a surprise my self, people.  I bought this property from escrow and will transform Dracula’s house into a museum so that all his fans can take a pilgrimage here, so his legacy can be witnesses by the masses!!” he said triumphantly.

Varney felt the world tilt, it could not get worse.  How could it have gone so badly?  The merchandise, the 24/7 media coverage, a holiday, and now a house that his degenerate fans to flock to!?

“That damn You-Tube!” he growled under his breath.

“And -” Gary said and turned, biting his fist trying to stem the tide of emotion, “And, Dracula’s statue, a glorious monument even in life, will now be illuminated all hours of the night to pay homage to one of the world’s most beloved icons.”

**************

Varney’s cell phone rang.  Again.  Varney stared in dismay at the caller ID.  Another unlisted number.  Ever since Dracula’s death Sir Francis had been hounded by calls from the media.  What was Dracula really like?  How wild were his parties?  Is it true about Dracula and Sandra Bullock?

Against his better judgment, Varney answered the call.  After all, he was a gentleman.

“Good evening, you have reached the phone of Sir Francis Varney.  How may I be of assistance?”

“Um, is this Varney?  Varney the Vampire?”

“My surname is Varney young man.  And whom might you be?”

There was a pause on the line while the caller seemed to collect his thoughts.  “Mr. Varney-“

Sir Varney.”

Another pause.  “Yes, this is Harold Miller from the Larry King Show.  I know this is awkward timing with the death of your friend Count Dracula and all.  But we need a replacement for his spot on the show and we feel if we approach the interview in a dignified man-“

“I’ll do it.”

The only things worse than the glare of the studio lighting was the up-close and personal view of Larry King’s skin.  My God, is this what he really looks like in person?  Wrinkled, saggy skin hung loosely from his jowls, seemingly attempting to reach his suspenders for some unknown reason.

Caked-on TV makeup muted the atrocities of his damnable pores somewhat, but this was offset by the stench and unsightliness of his hair gel attempting to keep his unruly mane from revealing the liver spots plastered across his head.

At last the producer motioned for the beginning of the show.  Some lights dimmed while others seemed to intensify.  The director counted down with his fingers, and the venerable Larry King turned towards his guest.

“We have with us tonight, Barney the Vampire-”

“Varney.  Sir Francis Varney.  I’m in Wikipedia.  Look it up.”

© 2010 Bobbi Shadel, Chris Lytsell, Adam Stonewall, Rebecca Banks, Karen Owen

“Varney’s Revenge” won the 2010 First Place Team prize.

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