A little while ago I mentioned I’m working on a big project, and I guess there’s no reason to be so secretive about it. I’m just putting the finishing touches on a novel called THE DEVIL’S MOUTH, an action-horror-thriller starring the rockabilly vampire hunter Alex Rains. Just for the heck of it, I wrote up this little short story, (if it’s even that, I suppose it’s more accurately a vignette) to introduce you fine folks to my main character. So enjoy, and if you like it, please let me know.
Without further ado:
Vampire Highway, introducing Alex Rains
By Matt Kincade
The kid noticed a spot of dried blood on his jacket, and a bit more under his fingernails. He scratched the dark red flakes off the black leather, then pulled a switchblade from his jacket pocket and cleaned under his nails with the point of the blade. At that same moment headlights appeared, two white points on the desert horizon. He closed the knife and put it back in his pocket.
The night sky was ink-black, stippled with a thousand bright stars, a full moon painting the low desert hills in gray hues.
The car came closer, headlights illuminating an advancing blur of blacktop. Now the kid could hear the engine: the loud, throaty roar of a V8 with a four-barrel carb and a performance exhaust. The glow of the headlights reached him and the mesquite bushes he stood next to, casting his face into sharp contrast, throwing long shadows from the gravel at his feet. In the light his bleach-blonde hair was short and spiked, and his baby-face had a half-dozen piercings. A smear of dirt crossed his cheek. He stood up straight, smiled disarmingly, and put out his thumb.
Over the howl of the engine, he heard music. A driving four-by-four beat, piano, a saxophone. Some kind of bouncy 1950’s jukebox pop.
The engine surged when the driver downshifted. The car slowed and pulled to a stop fifty feet past the kid, then backed up even with him. The engine settled down into a husky idle.
The car was a classic beauty, a fever-dream of tail fins and chrome, white-wall tires, a black-and-white two-tone paint job. The music blaring from the cab was of the same era, a rollicking piano and a doo-wop chorus, laying it down fast and loose.
The kid put his hands on the passenger side window frame and leaned down to look inside the car.
The driver lowered the volume of the stereo and turned his head. The top half of the his face was hidden under the brim of a battered white cowboy hat. He wore a blue bowling shirt with a black collar, and crisp blue jeans. The bottom half of his face was lean and rounded, clean-shaven, with lips like a cherub garden statue.
“Nice car,” said the kid.
“Thanks,” said the driver. “Where y’all headed?”
The kid shrugged. “I don’t know. Wherever.”
“Well, I’m goin’ to Albuquerque. That work for you?”
“Hop on in.”
The kid opened the door and sat down on the wide bench seat, setting his backpack on the floorboards between his feet. As soon as he was inside, the driver floored it. The tires chirped and the car shot forward. The kid sprawled across the seat. He yelled, “Shit man, I didn’t even have the door closed!”
“Sorry ’bout that,” said the driver. The radio was still loud enough that he had to yell over it. He looked the kid over. “Goddamn, son,” he said, “You look like somethin’ the dogs dragged under the porch.”
“The hell’s that mean?” said the kid.
“You’re kinda dirty, that’s all. Got dirt on your face. Some in your hair, too. Been sleepin’ rough?”
“Yeah.” A single pair of headlights appeared on the horizon, grew large and glaring, then rushed past and disappeared behind them.
The driver nodded. “Well, I guess I been there. What’s your name, kid?”
“Johnny.” The kid glanced at the speedometer in the crazy retro dashboard. He swallowed.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Alex.”
Alex leaned back casually, his left hand hanging out the open window, his head tilted back just enough so he could see the road from below the curled brim of his hat. “I gotta ask,” he said, “what the heck are you doin’ out here in the middle of the desert, all alone in the middle of the night?”
“Well what happened is,” said Johnny, “I mean, it totally sucked. This guy, he gave me a ride, but he was like, on drugs or something.” he leaned insolently against the passenger door. “Wanted me to do weird sex stuff. Then he started to get all angry. I had to jump out of the car.”
“Shit, really?” Alex glanced at the kid again. “Crazy world, huh?” He noted the leather motorcycle jacket. “So, what are you, some kind of punk rocker?”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Something like that.”
“You like Elvis?”
Alex rested his right hand easily on top of the steering wheel, his left still hanging down below the level of the window. “You know, the King. Elvis Presley.”
“Nah, man,” said the kid, “that shit’s weak. Elvis sucks.”
“Sucks? Sucks? He’s the goddamned King, son. I mean, listen to this shit.” He nodded towards the radio. “This here’s the classic of classics. Blue Suede Shoes. 1956, RCA Records. Actually a Carl Perkins tune, but Elvis kind of stole the show.”
The passenger sighed. “Dude, I don’t care about your shitty music.”
“Course not. Why would you? What you listen to? Punk rock?”
“I guess. The Misfits. Black Flag. That kind of thing.”
“Never was much into that scene. Just too angry for me, you know? Rather be happy.”
“Whatever. I guess.”
“Where you from, Johnny?”
“Long ways from LA.” Alex tapped the steering wheel, as if remembering something. “Shit, you know what? You’re lucky I picked you up. You know there’s a serial killer loose around here?”
Johnny smiled, suddenly interested. “Shut up, really?”
“My hand to God. Police been goin’ crazy. They’ve been findin’ dead bodies and stolen cars all over the damned desert. Goin’ on now for a week or two. And you know the crazy part? Folks had their throats torn out. Every one of ’em. Looks like they been bit out.”
“That’s wild.” said Johnny, “Do they have a name for him?”
“You mean, like, do they know who he is?”
“No, like a serial killer name. Like BTK, or the Zodiac.”
“I think they’re goin’ with ‘the I-40 Killer.”
The kid groaned. “Oh my God, that’s weak sauce. I could come up with a better name. How about ‘The Night Terror’, or ‘Hell Mask’ or something.”
Alex laughed and shook his head. “Well, maybe you should suggest it to ’em.”
The kid nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe I will.”
“Ain’t that some crazy shit, though? What kind of a fella bites out another fellas’ throat? I mean, what is he, a vampire or somethin’?” Alex laughed and glanced at his passenger.
The kid looked sharply at Alex. “Why the fuck would you say that?”
Alex smiled easily. “No reason, kid. I’m just talkin’ out my ass. I mean, ain’t no such thing as vampires, right?”
“Right.” The kid studied Alex a little closer.
Alex nodded. “You know what’s even crazier?”
“That latest car they found, it was parked a hundred feet from where I picked you up.”
“No shit?” said the kid.
“I mean, that’s quite a coincidence, ain’t it?”
“I guess it is.”
“Turns out the car had a blown-out radiator. Wanna hear my crazy theory?”
The kid smirked. “No, not really.”
“My theory is, this vampire stole the car, but then it broke down here in the middle of the desert. What with the sun comin’ up, he did the only thing he could do. He dug a hole and buried his self in the desert.”
The kid laughed nervously. “You’re fuckin’ high, man.”
“I know, I know. It’s crazy. I been on the road too long.” Alex chuckled. “Say, what kind of jacket is that?”
The kid looked down at his motorcycle jacket. “What? I don’t know. Leather.”
“You don’t know? Damn, son. That there is a Schott Perfecto. I see the name on the buttons. That’s the o-riginal motorcycle jacket. They don’t come no better than that. Brando wore a Schott in The Wild Ones. The Ramones? Sex Pistols? Schott jackets. Hell, even Elvis had one.”
“Huh.” Said Johnny. “I just got it at a thrift shop.”
“Thrift shop, huh? Lucky find. Funny thing, one of those bodies the police found, he was missin’ a jacket just like that. Crazy, right?”
The kid paled. “How would you know a thing like that?”
Alex’s face went hard as stone. “Because I talked to the victim’s wife. She mentioned it was missing.”
“You know what, I’m sick of this shit.” The kid turned in his seat and reached for his jacket pocket.
“Keep your fuckin’ hands where I can see ’em.” Alex’s left hand rose into view above the driver’s side window sill, holding an odd-looking yellow pistol. He levelled it at the kid. “You know what this is?”
The kid froze. “That’s a Taser.”
“See, you ain’t so dumb after all. Let me tell you son, don’t matter if you’re a vampire. 50,000 volts is gonna ruin your whole fuckin’ day.”
“Wait,” the kid smiled, “you actually think I’m a vampire? That’s crazy, dude. There’s no such thing as vampires.”
“Spare me, kid. If you ain’t a vampire, I’m the Duke of Earl.”
After a pause, the kid smiled wide, showing off his fangs. “Okay, so what if I am? The fuck do you know about it, anyway?”
“I know plenty. More’n you, likely.”
The kid made an incredulous face. “Who the fuck are you, man?”
“My name’s Alex Rains. And if you was any kind of vampire that was even worth my trouble, you woulda heard of me.”
The kid snorted.“You don’t look so tough to me.”
“Right back at you, kid. I’ve killed vamps that was already old when Hannibal was shoppin’ for elephants. You think I’m afraid of a little pissant baby vamp like you, well then you just go ahead and make a move.”
“What the fuck do you want from me?”
“Other than seein’ your headless body in a shallow desert grave? I want to know who made you.”
After a pause, the kid said, “I don’t know.”
“you don’t know?”
“No, man. It was just some girl at a party.” The kid shifted in his seat.
“Where was this party at?”
“Silver Lake. In LA. I don’t remember the address.” He shifted again, almost imperceptibly, tensing against the passenger side door.
“I wouldn’t try it.” Said Alex. “Course, then again, maybe I would. You’re a vampire. Maybe you could get the drop on me, ‘fore I could pull this trigger. Maybe.”
“You don’t look that scary. You’re just a fucking human.”
Alex smiled. “You ain’t wrong.”
The kid snarled, baring his needle-sharp fangs. “I could take you.”
“Maybe you could.”
Neither one moved for a minute. Alex drove one-handed, his left hand resting easily in the crook of his right, the Taser aimed at the kid. He watched the road as he drove.
The kid braced his feet against the floorboards. He breathed heavily. A sheen of sweat stood out on his face. His eyes flicked from the Taser to the vampire hunter’s face, and back to the Taser. He licked his lips.
Alex nodded his head and tapped the steering wheel in time with the music.
The kid lunged for the Taser.
Alex fired. The Taser’s two barbed prongs hit the kid in the face. He closed his eyes and let out a sputtering scream. Alex pulled the trigger and lit the kid up. The vampire screamed for real this time. He spasmed in the passenger seat.
“I done told you,” said Alex. He reached across the kid and opened the passenger side door. As he leaned back he slid one snakeskin cowboy boot up onto the bench seat and kicked the kid out the door.
The car was going a good 95 miles per hour. The vampire hit the pavement and spun crazily, a pinwheel of flailing arms and legs and shredded skin. He bounced and spun and bounced and spun, finally grinding to a bloody stop.
Tires screamed, and the old car slid into a perfect bootlegger’s turn, whipping around a hundred-eighty degrees. The headlights found the kid just as he was picking himself up off the ground. He heard that big American engine rev, and then the howl of burning rubber. The headlights grew larger and larger.
With a solid crunch, the kid bounced off the car’s front bumper.
He lay in the middle of the road and groaned. His leg was at an obscene angle, slivers of bone poking through his jeans.
Alex got out of the car holding a sword, a long, graceful curve of Japanese steel. He stood silhouetted in the headlights. Rubber smoke drifted across the road.
“Now son,” Alex said, “I believe I asked you a question. And I’m gonna need that jacket.”
The kid bared his fangs. He hissed weakly and crawled towards the darkness at the edge of the road.
Alex stood motionless and watched the vampire crawl away. After a moment he sighed, rolled a crick out of his neck, and followed at a walk.
The empty car sat idling in the middle of the road, doors open, the headlights bright, the dome light on. On the stereo, Elvis Presley and the TCB band hammered through the first verse of “Don’t Be Cruel.”
A coyote howled.
Alex reappeared in the headlights. Blood dripped from his sword. He carried a black leather jacket slung over his shoulder. He dropped the jacket over the car’s hood and retrieved a red bandanna from the glove box. In one long, smooth draw, he wiped the blood from his blade, then dropped the bandanna to the ground. He sheathed the sword and tossed it into the back seat.
He sat in the driver’s seat and pulled a notebook and a pen out of the glove box. In a strong, messy hand, he wrote, “Rachel Miller, Silver Lake, Los Angeles.”
Alex closed the door and put the car in gear. The ipod attached to the stereo, set to shuffle, decided to play “Blue Suede Shoes” one more time.
“One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and a go cat go…”
The vampire hunter revved the engine and the car rocked on its springs. He peeled out in a wide half circle, pointing the old Ford back towards the west, and disappeared into the darkness.