by phildini on October 25, 2015
This is a short story inspired by this post from Chuck Wendig, mashing up two other stories. Full reveal of the mashups at the bottom!
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Months of research, of hunting down leads, of following urban legends and whispered truths had paid off with this night, this potentially life-changing night.
It started with a rumor, heard at parties and in whispers throughout the year, growing strongest around Halloween, a rumor of an shadow figure draped equal parts in violence and elegance. A question that would be asked if the right people were sufficiently drunk with the other right people.
“You know there’s a vampire in San Francisco, right?”
It sounds crazy in my own head when I think about it. How cliche, to think of that book and the history around it, and try to extend that world into the real world. What a perfect representation of this city, to think that’s there’s a creature of cultured carnage who drifts among us, civilized on the outside with a tortured heart of evil inside.
My name is Susan Harper, I’m a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. Well, I like to say I’m a reporter for the Chronicle. Really, I’ve had just a few bylines in print, and most of my writing has been for the collection of blogs that catalog the former hippies and capitalist yuppies that make up the City by the Bay.
I’m known for tracking down urban legends and weird stories, pieces of San Francisco folklore that get passed in some new age oral tradition at parties and bars and in parlors. I hear about them, or they get sent to me, and I spend a few weeks to a few months tracking down the truth and the origin of these tales, then selling the story to whatever outlet will pay the most for it.
Emperor Norton’s Ghost, wandering around the Barbary Coast? That would be George, a lovely if eccentric man who works in theaters around the city and likes dressing up. The moans of dead gold miners, trapped under Nob Hill to haunt those who had gotten wealthy off their gold? A problem with the city’s natural water lines. That one required actually prying the manhole off a sewer entry, and almost getting arrested, but resulted in an official thank-you. Turns out the city didn’t know about the leak, and it almost disrupted the foundations under a city councilmember’s house. Oops.
My success record isn’t perfect, but I’ve been able to find an answer to most of the legends and weird occurrences that have persisted over the years. Except the damn vampire tale.
I kept hearing it, it felt like someone mentioned it at every party, and it rattled in my brain until I could think about nothing else. I started getting emails, tweets, forum posts asking me about it; I felt like the city itself was crying out in my dreams.
“You know there’s a vampire in San Francisco, right?”
The unspoken second question was always: “Is it really true?”
I reached a breaking point, put aside all the other stories I was working on, even got the Chronicle to put me on a small retainer to work on the story. Enough people were talking about it that I thought it would be two weeks, tops, until I had this story in the bag, and had leveraged the pageviews into a more solid gig with the paper. That was six months ago.
Days, weeks, then months went by and I had no proof, no shred of the origin of the legend. I began to doubt myself, doubt my sanity, doubt the sanity of the whole city, and became more and more certain that there was nothing there.
But the whispers! They never stopped! I expected an initial flood after people found out I was working the vampire story, but I wasn’t prepared for the constant typhoon. It seemed my investigation had opened a bottomless pit of shadows.
Normally, when an urban legend persists there’s some kernel of truth to the story. Somebody sees something, like, say, an old woman dressed all in grey walking along Ocean Beach in the fog, and the watcher is slightly drunk, or high, so they make up a story about the Grey Ghost of Ocean Beach or whatever. They tell their friends, and the legend spreads for a bit, or dies right there. If enough weird things happen that roughly match the outline of the story, the spread intensifies, and the story might enter the realm of city folklore. The best urban legends can carry on for years, told and re-told until everyone who could possibly be interested moves away, or dies, or the story is exposed by someone like me. The longest I had seen a piece of folklore live, without exposure, and still be taken seriously, was about twenty years, give or take. Enough time for a whole generation to come up and move on in our ever-changing city.
After digging into stories, and old journals, and hinted rumors in ancient newspapers and antique books, it looked like the Vampire story had been living, non-stop, in San Francisco for over a hundred years. Well before the publishing of that damn book, almost to the glory gold rush days themselves. When I was able to trace that line all the way back, I felt my first thrill of uncertainty, tinged with fear. The immensity of the story seemed to loom over me.
And yet! I still had no clear lead, no clear path. Rumored sightings, whispered stories, nothing concrete! Barely a consistent description, and one that could have matched most of the men in the Financial District. Pale, blond, lithe or muscular depending on who you asked. And always, always impeccably dressed. I would hear he had been at this party, or that gala, or this orgy (San Francisco being what it is), but never any proof, any evidence. Once, I got a text from a friend at party, who knew how long I had been searching: “HE’S HERE COME NOW”. I practically sprinted across town, not even remembering how I got there, and rushed into the club, only to find my friend looking like she was on the biggest high of her life, dreamy and moving slowly.
“Where is he?” I asked, yelling over the music.
“Wha?” she replied.
“The Vampire! You said he was here!”
“He… he was!” She looked around. “I don’t see him now, though.”
I never did know if she was just fucking with me, but I left the party feeling lower than I had ever felt. I got back to my apartment, stared at the snowdrifts of printouts and newspaper articles, dotted with rotting takeout boxes like flowers in the snow, and decided to pack it in. I would write the most unsatisfactory conclusion to six months of searching that I could imagine, the journalistic equivalent of a shrug emoji. I would fade back into the obscurity of San Francisco’s limitless pool of wannabe journalists, and keep making rent by writing copy for soon-to-fail startups.
I was sorting the last scraps of paper into trashbags and wishful-thinking storage boxes, with the first draft of my greatest shame sitting open on my laptop, when my cell phone rang. Despite my policy of never answering numbers where the caller ID says “Unknown”, I was looking for anything to distract myself from the disappointment and tedium. I picked up the call, and clear male voice with the barest hint of an Eastern European accent said:
“I hear you’ve been looking for me.”
“I.. What?” Not my most graceful response, but how do you answer that?
“I am under the impression that you would like to write a story about me.”
“A story about you? Who are you?”
“Ah, my apologies, I thought it would be obvious. I am the Vampire of San Francisco.” He paused, while my heart stopped beating for a moment. “The only one, as far as I know.”
My first thought was that some loony had got ahold of my number, and wanted his ego (hopefully only his ego) stroked by having an actual journalist listen to him for what would probably be hours. I’m normally pretty tight with my real cell phone number, but a few friends have it and one of them could have been convinced to give it to some rando. It wouldn’t be the first time, or probably the last.
Well, that’s not quite true. My first thought, if I’m being more honest, was a mixture of hope and fear and uncertainty. Hope that my story might not be dead after all, uncertainty about what my next step was, and fear that maybe the rumor was right.
“I can understand if you think this might be a deception, but I assure you I am being completely honest. I got your number from a mutual friend.”
“Are you reading my mind?” I mentally kicked myself for saying the first thing that came to mind. Probably should have been a bit more guarded than that, Susan. I’ll admit I was caught off-guard by his directness, and how close he was to what I was thinking.
The man claiming to be a vampire on the other end of the line laughed, and it was a full, throaty laugh that seemed genuine and slightly predatory.
“No, reading minds is not a gift of mine, and doing so over the phone would be a feat I’ve never heard of. You might say instead that I can think very, very quickly, and select the best outcome for any given situation. Were I in your place, I would also suspect this might be a ruse.”
“Why me?” Again with brain-mouth malfunction, Susan. Get it together. “I mean, why contact me now? If what you say is true, you’ve done an excellent job staying out of the spotlight for decades. Why expose yourself now?”
“Partially because you impress me,” the voice replied. “I’ve read all your work, and you show a thoroughness and intelligence that helps me believe I’ll get a good story out of our interview. As for why I’m granting such an interview, my reasons are my own. Say it’s boredom, if that satisfies you.”
Many thoughts in quick succession: a flush of pride at the idea that someone found my work worthy, a double-take at how quickly he had assumed we were going to interview, and a lingering suspicion at his motives.
“I will admit you’ve got my attention, Mr. Claims-to-be-a-Vampire. When and where would you like to meet?”
I swear I could hear him smile a fanged smile as he replied. “Excellent! It just so happens that the opening gala for the Museum of Modern Art is this Friday. Would eight o’clock work?”
Eight o’clock at the MoMA gala. How on earth was I going to get tickets? But if this guy was for real, I needed to take this interview. I’d bribe someone at the Chronicle’s Art and Culture desk if I had to. “Sounds great. How will I recognize you?”
“Oh, I’ll recognize you, Ms. Harper. Until Friday.” Thanks for that extra bout of creepyness, mystery man. The line went dead.
An interview with a… Good lord. My life actually is becoming that damn book. If he asks me to call him Louis or Lestat, I’m leaving and publishing the shrug.
I convinced myself the interview was credible, and was able to convince the editor I had been assigned at the Chronicle. She gave me the go-ahead on taking the interview, and gave me a memo to use as armor against the snooty stares of the arts and culture desk in acquiring a ticket to the gala. The only condition was that I take a photographer with me, some young kid from New York who was out here as part of an exchange. Paul something or another. I wasn’t thrilled about the photog, since I didn’t know if it would spook Mr. Vampire, but I figured having an extra to corroborate my story couldn’t hurt, and photographic evidence of San Francisco’s vampire might well get me that regular job I had been angling for.
Which is how we get here, to this night, to the opening gala at the Museum of Modern Art in glorious, sunny, foggy San Francisco, with me in my best dress and some photographer from New York in a fairly smart tux at my side. I’d spent most of the week complete unsure of what I was getting myself into. Every piece of folklore and weirdness I’ve chased down has either faded away as people lost interest, or been debunked. Here was a man claiming to be the embodiment of a legend over a hundred years old, and I couldn’t tell you going into the gala if I thought he was real or fake.
He had called on Monday. By Tuesday morning somehow all my friends, and it seemed most of the city, knew I was interviewing the vampire. I study rumor for a living and I still get surprised at how fast news travels. Everyone I knew was calling to see if it was true, offer me advice, or offer me a warning. The truly surprising thing was how small the number of skeptics was.
All of this, the months of confusion and hunting, the whirlwind of rumor and the calm, predatory nature of the voice on the end of the line, led me to be more nervous than I can remember being as I walked in the large glass doors at the front of the MoMA.
There’s this thing I do, when I’m presented with something that overloads my rational mind. My brain seems to slow down, and make one of those photo-mosaics out of what I’m seeing. It’s like I’m taking hyper-accurate pictures of a thousand little details, and only once I’ve got all the details will the I see the whole scene. I call it my “reporter’s sense”, and it’s served me well as I try to navigate the world of urban fantasies.
The gala was a sensory overload, and I found my reporter’s sense kicking in as a I tried to process everything I was seeing. There was the Mayor, standing with the chief curator of the museum, each of their spouses dressed to the nines and flashing bright smiles for the camera. There was the chief of police, sharing a drink with a councilwoman, and my brain annotated the detail that they were rumored to be having an affair. Between the groups of urban aristocracy and political dignitaries was Donald Peregrine, the venture capitalist. The open secret of San Francisco was that most of the political machine and new money in the city owed him favors, and that real policy in the city was set by him.
Off in the corner, never far from the bar, was the Arts & Culture Editor for the Chronicle, who I’m sure would pretend like I didn’t exist all night long.
As the picture of the gala came together in my mind, one piece of the mosaic stood out. Off in the corner, uniquely apart from the crowd, stood a man who was almost certainly my interview. He was dressed in an impeccable suit that appeared dark as night on first glance, but revealed itself to be grey with darkest red accessories when I focused in. His face was pale, paler than you normally find under the California sun, and his hair was silver-speckled blond that seemed to halo his head. Standing as he was, with the enormous Mark Rothko painting at his back, he presented a striking image, like a modern-day king holding court.
I turned to the photog to snap a photo that would be the centerpiece for sure (he had to have staged himself like that, right?), but Paul whoever from New York had disappeared. Great. Guess it’s just me and Mr. Vampire then.
I walked across the gala with a purpose, my eyes fixed firmly on the man who was staring at me and now grinning a smile that looked nothing so much like a jungle cat. A small group of partiers crossed in front of me, blocking my view of him, and when they passed he was gone. Of course. Mr. Vampire wants to play hide and seek.
I reached the point where he had been standing, and spun in a slow circle, trying to see if I could spot him. I caught a flash of brilliant hair and dark suit turning a corner down the hall and nearly sprinted after him.
Through the upper echelons of the city’s elite I ducked and weaved, trying to keep a smile on my face so I wouldn’t be stopped with awkward questions. My mysterious quarry led me through galleries and showcases, up and down stairs, through parts of the museum I had never seen, until I was thoroughly lost. Some rational part of my brain screamed at me to stop letting this man, who at his most harmless had convinced himself he was a dangerous predator, lead me into who knows what.
That part of my brain was outweighed by the part that had spent six months chasing mist, and who really enjoyed seeing the byline “Susan Harper” in print.
Finally, I found Mr. Vampire in a small, dim, dead-end gallery on one of the upper floors, lounging casually on one of those strange couch-benches they have for gazing at art.
“Ms. Harper,” he said as I approached. “I’m so pleased you accepted my invitation. I’m sure you have many questions. Please, won’t you have a seat?” He indicated the cushioned section next to him, and I hesitated at the familiarity of his gesture. The only thing I knew about this man was that he dressed immaculately, claimed to be a vampire, and had led me to a corner of the building where I suspected help would be a long time coming.
He saw my hesitation and chuckled. “I’m only here to meet you, Ms. Harper. My intentions are strictly honorable.” He patted the cushion again, and I found myself subconsciously leaning closer, my body rebelling against my mind. Luckily, my will held and I remained standing. A fire twinkled in his eyes and his smile grew more feral.
“Suit yourself. Would you like to begin?”
It took me a minute to find my voice, but when I did so I started with the basics. “Well, since it wouldn’t exactly read well to call you Mr. Claims-to-be-a-vampire, what is your name?”
“You can call me Drake, and I’m not merely claiming to be a vampire, I am indeed a vampire.”
“Just Drake for now, Ms. Harper. Any last name I gave you at this point would perforce be a lie, and I would hate to start our conversation on falsehoods.”
“Ok, let’s start at the beginning. You say you’re a vampire. Were you born one?”
“Hah! No, no-one I know was born a vampire. I was born a poor peasant in what is now Eastern Europe.”
“When were you born?”
“Time has not always been so accurately measured as it is now, but around the time of the Crusades.”
“The Crusades,” I said, disbelief in my voice. “Like, the Charlemagne, Holy Roman Empire Crusades?”
“Yes.” Drake said simply.
“O…k. How did you become a vampire?”
“Ah!” Drake said, brightening, “that tale will take some time!”
Drake stood to begin his tale of dark rituals and frightened villagers, of his transformation into something out of nightmare, of his lonely years wandering as a monster, of his slow re-integration into society, and of his travels around the world before making his home in San Francisco. As he told his tale, he began to pace around the room, his face and hands animated to punctuate the highs and lows of his story, and I didn’t notice until his voice was winding down that he had been pacing closer, and closer, until he was just a breath away from me.
Up close, I could see glimpses of his teeth, I would swear they were pointed, and the closer he came the less I seemed able to think clearly. As his story was ending, with the tale of his increasing loneliness and how it had caused him to reach out to a young reporter who might understand, I saw his head began to lower towards my neck.
It was all I could do to softly say “What about your honorable intentions?”, to which he replied “Your life for my story seems an honorable trade to me…”. Then his lips were on my neck and-
The skylight above us shattered, and glass rained down on the couch where I was now very glad I had chosen not to sit. Drake’s head snapped around to look, and suddenly I could think clearly again.
A figure, dressed in a tight black suit from head to toe, slid upside-down through the skylight, hanging on what seemed to be a rope made of silver thread.
“Hey. This guy bothering you?” the figure said.
Drake snarled, and moved faster than I would’ve thought possible, going straight from standing to leaping at the masked figure in a blink. A shot of some silver-greyish goo fired from a a device at the figure’s wrist, and hit Drake square in the face. Drake paused to claw it off, and the masked man fired another string of the stuff at Drake’s feet, binding him to the marble floor.
The man in black dropped to the floor, and fired a few more blasts at Drake’s arms and legs, partially mummifying the vampire where he stood. Walking past the snarling and straining Drake, the masked man said “Ok Not-feratu, stay put. I’m going to check on that nice reporter you were trying to snack on.”
Walking up to me, he asked “Are you alright miss? Did he hurt you?”
“Me? I’m fine,” I said. Another helpful aspect of my honed reporter instincts: I can delay shock-processing until I’m back at my apartment, preferably with a bottle of scotch. Tonight was going to be hell on my liquor cabinet. “What about you? Who ARE you?”
“Me? I’m just your friendly neighborhood… hmm.” The man paused. “This isn’t really my neighborhood, is it?”
As he was pondering, Drake burst out of his bonds with a roar, snarled in our direction, and leapt straight up through the skylight. The man in black sighed, and said “Next time, load the shooters with garlic. Check.” He started running towards the center of the room, yelled back at me “Good luck with the story!”, then also jumped straight through the skylight and into the night.
Only after Drake and the mysterious stranger had left did security arrive, and the best answer I could give them about what happened was “Earthquake. Didn’t you feel it?” I still got escorted from the party, while the Arts & Culture Editor tried to kill me with his brain.
I got back to my apartment, stared down at the draft of my story, and eventually pieced it into something that would read well, even if it was mostly fiction. I mixed enough truth with fantasy to be believable, even if I didn’t believe the truth myself. I had spent my whole career disproving myths and legends, and it turned out vampires and super-human masked crusaders actually existed in the world. The story, a cobbled-together city-interest piece about Eastern European cults and the power of rumor, was enough to please my editor, and the mystery surrounding the myth made the piece my most popular ever. The whispers about what actually transpired at the gala didn’t hurt the story’s popularity, by any stretch.
For most, the vampire story was put to bed, and I started hearing about the Vampire of San Francisco less and less. I’m not sure what actually happened between Drake and the masked man that night, but now I have an answer when people ask. “You know there’s a vampire in San Francisco, right?”
“I heard he died,” I reply.
Thanks for reading! This story was a mashup of Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire" and Marvel's Spiderman. Hope you enjoyed it, please leave feedback in the comments!