Hi, all! I’m Alexandra Erin, author, humorist, blogger, and poet. Like most people you know, I need food, shelter, and other products and services to live. Traditional publishing for authors is such a crapshoot when it comes to actually making a living that even most big name successful authors give advice like “have a second job” or “marry someone rich” when asked the best way to do it. I recognized this years ago, and so resolved to forge my own path.
I was not just crowdfunding before it was cool, I was crowdfunding before there was a name for it, or convenient tools that automate the model. I’ve had a number of successes over the years doing things my own way. Now I’m focusing my efforts on Patreon in a big way, and I’m asking you to join me.
As blessed as I have been, the authors who do best in crowdfunding are usually those who have the exposure that comes from a successful career in traditional publishing. They have a following. They have a reputation for quality. They have a large fanbase ready to leap at the ability to pay them directly for their work instead of filtering their gratitude through a large and somewhat inefficient machine.
I’ve already made a name for myself as a social media commentator, blogger, and satirist. Starting today, I’m going to be making a name for myself as an author. Here, on my blog, I’m going to be sharing one previously published short story a day, every day, until the end of the month. If you support me on Patreon, you will get to read a brand new story like these each month, most months (allowing for the vicissitudes of life). The money you pay will support me in being able to continue writing the fiction, satire, and commentary that you enjoy.
Today’s selection is the first full-length story I ever submitted for publication, to a zine called The Edge of Propinquity, which published it in April 2007. This now-defunct zine was the original home of Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road, a variation on the phantom hitchhiker story. If you enjoy it, please consider showing your gratitude either by pledging support for further writing, chucking something in the tip jar, or even just spreading the word. Share the link, tell people you enjoyed the story, review it on your blog.
I Do Not Fight Monsters
By Alexandra Erin
My name is Gemma Saunders, and tonight, I’m putting a vampire to rest.
To be clear, I’m not a hero. I don’t have special powers. I don’t fight the monsters. I’m just a grief counselor. My training is in helping people say good-bye when the ones they love are gone.
How did I come to be standing in a graveyard at sundown, about to confront the undead with a priest and a sheriff for backup? It sounds like something out of an action movie, or at least someone else’s life. The answer’s surprisingly mundane. That doesn’t stop me from asking myself the question, though. This doesn’t seem like a job for someone like me.
It started in the second year of my practice, when I first became aware that the world is not entirely as advertised. One of my clients, Mr. Applethwaite, seemed to be having an extremely difficult time letting go of his departed wife, to the point where he wasn’t sure that she was entirely departed. I agreed to meet him at his house, thinking I could show him how his imagination was running away from him. But if it was, then it was running away from me, too.
So, it turned out there really was such a thing as ghosts. Who knew?
After a relatively brief and dignified period of screaming, I realized I could still help. What was a ghost, after all, but somebody who had unresolved issues with death, problems letting go? So, I helped the late Mrs. Applethwaite through her grieving process and poof!
Gone with the wind.
Every ghost wants something. Sometimes they want attention. Sometimes they just want someone to listen. Sometimes they need somebody to tell them that everything’s going to be fine and they should just head for the light.
I never feel comfortable telling somebody that. How do I know it’s true?
But I do have the numbers of a few very understanding priests in my Rolodex. They have no problem saying so.
I don’t do enough “spooky business” that I can quit my regular practice. How do you let potential clients find you without the rest of the world thinking you’re nuts? The internet’s been a real blessing in that department. I’ve found that if you don’t intentionally list your website anywhere, and don’t take out any advertising, then the only people who find you are the people who think to look for you.
Most of the people who find my site are looking for an exorcist, but I provide a more humane alternative. I’ve learned it is possible to force a spirit out or even “dissolve it” (whatever that means) through rituals and strength of faith or what could only be called magic. But that seems like a harsh way of dealing with somebody’s wife or mother, doesn’t it? It’s hell on the survivors, too.
Also, I charge less than a professional exorcist. More than my usual hourly rate, of course. But it’s specialized work.
So, how did this unorthodox but effective ghost busting business lead me to be standing in a rural cemetery at sunset, accompanied by a cop, a priest, and a wailing middle-aged woman? Well, after learning that ghosts are real, it should have come as no great surprise that certain other “things that go bump in the night” have a verifiable physical presence in our world, too.
Yeah. It should have, but it didn’t. My first demon caught me by surprise. So did my first vampire. Turns out, it’s easier to mistake those things for ghosts than you might think.
If a body is interred in holy ground, it cannot rise as a vampire. For a mythological being, that’s pretty simple mytho-logic.
But that doesn’t mean the dead body won’t become a vampire. Just that it can’t rise.
Instead, it spends the day trapped in unimaginable agony, and at night, its spirit (or whatever vampires have that make them a vampire) rises up out of the ground all mist-like as a specter.
The specter is bound to the vicinity of its grave, though as it kills and feeds, it gains strength. And range. And eventually it’ll either be able to enthrall some poor sap and get its grave dug up, or it’ll grow strong enough to break out of the ground itself. That’s especially likely if the land’s not particularly consecrated in the first place.
Municipal graveyards are the worst in this respect. Private family plots and Catholic cemeteries tend to be the best. The Catholics love them some ritual.
I don’t know all this from personal experience, by the way. As I said, I don’t fight the monsters and my usual plan for dealing with vampires is to avoid them. But once I first dipped my toe in to the occult, I started noticing other things, and weird people with even more hidden knowledge kept coming my way. Kind of like how when you learn a word for the first time, and then it seems like you see it everywhere.
Anyway, I plan to avoid the issue of graves entirely by having my body cremated. I think it would be mandatory, except then the people in charge would have to tell everybody else what they know.
So, the upshot is that a specter isn’t quite as dangerous as a full-fledged vampire, especially if it’s never managed to lure somebody close enough to feed. At that point, the thing’s almost literally stuck with “one foot in the grave”. As far as I knew, the specter of Mrs. Annabelle Murray hadn’t gotten to anybody, but I was playing it safe. We showed up before the sun set and Father Mike, my bona fide priest, immediately made a circle of consecrated host around the grave and then set his stuff up a good fifteen yards back from that. Just close enough that we could be sure the specter would manifest. The rest of us were behind him.
Holy water would have worked just as well, and with less protestation from the padre, but I like a line that everybody could clearly see. A line I could point to and say, “Do not cross.” It wasn’t my idea to have anybody here but me and the priest. Well, I would have preferred it was just him, but I was collecting for the job so I had to make sure it was done right.
The situation was this: a vampire had run amok in the small town of Fabersville a short time ago, and while somebody had eventually dealt with it, one of its first victims had gone unnoticed and was buried without any of the prescribed “treatments”. Because the experience left the whole town a little wary of graveyards, nobody immediately noticed the specter of a 73-year-old grandmother. It was her daughter, Mrs. Anne Murray Schneider, who made the discovery.
Rather than having her saintly mother’s body dug up, decapitated, and burnt. And sparking a panic in the process, she sought out an alternative solution, and found me. I had a cleaner, friendlier solution: have a priest repeat the funeral mass in the specter’s presence. The mystic types believe that it’s some spiritual component of the prayers that forces the unholy presence out. Maybe it’s my professional bias, but I believe this just reminds the human component that it’s supposed to be dead and so it lays down quietly. Either way, it seems to work, especially when the subject was known to be devout in life, as Mrs. Murray was.
The only wrinkle was that Mrs. Schneider insisted on being there. She was the one signing my paycheck, so I couldn’t refuse her. I wasn’t too thrilled when she showed up with Sheriff Henry Hascomb at her side, either.
“It only seemed right to let the authorities know,” had been her explanation. Me, I had a hard time thinking of a county sheriff as the authorities. The authorities were grim, efficient men with matching suits, sunglasses, and personalities. If a supernatural problem was bad enough that they had to intervene, they’d come in and clean the situation up, and next year Rand-McNally would be selling a map with one less dot on it and nobody would ask why.
But the sheriff had been the one responsible for dealing with the vampire that caused the present situation, so I wasn’t entirely against his presence. I wasn’t entirely for it. Father Mike I could trust not to do anything fatally stupid. The daughter of the person whose face the specter was using, though? I have to admit, I was a little less sure about her. The sheriff’s simply an x-factor to me. Who knew how he’d react if things took an unexpected turn?
And that brings us up to the here and now.
“You sure this’ll work?” the sheriff asks me dubiously. The sun is fast sinking from sight.
“The ceremony or the circle?” I ask.
“The circle, definitely. If the ceremony doesn’t, nothing will stop you from coming back in the morning and doing the usual thing,” I say. I don’t elaborate, but Mrs. Schneider wails louder, anyway. “It won’t be able to cross the ring of hosts, and as long as nobody gets within arm’s length of that line we’ll all be safe as houses.”
“So it can reach across?” he asks me.
“I’m not sure,” I admit.
“Seems like it would be a good thing to know.”
“I’ve never been curious enough to find out,” I tell him.
Father Mike is watching the skyline. “Should I begin?” he asks when the last sliver of the red disk disappears.
“Let’s wait until our guest of honor makes her presence known,” I say. If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering if it’s because the specter showed up halfway through the prayers. I don’t say that out loud, of course.
We don’t have long to wait. The cemetery is on a hill, and the fog which settled on the surrounding land starts to creep upwards, settling around us. It’s eerie as hell, but it’s just set-dressing.
The real show begins when fog of a thicker sort begins rising from the bare, hard earth in front of Mrs. Murray’s tombstone. The grass doesn’t always wither and die over a vampire’s grave, by the way, but it’s still a decent warning sign. I’ve seen exactly four specters before. One of them made its entrance with a fully formed ghostly hand rising up out of the earth followed by an arm and the rest of it. Very theatrical. The other three rose vaporously and then coalesced into a human-like form. Mrs. Murray’s specter did that, as well.
I watch her rise, but I try not to look too closely at the image that forms. She looks, appropriately enough, like somebody’s grandmother.
It, I mean. Not she. The specter is not a person.
I signal to Father Mike, who lights his censer and then begins reading. We’d talked about this before and decided it was best to just plow through it. The more time Mrs. Schneider had to spend in the presence of the specter, the worse it was likely to be for her. And the more dangerous for the rest of us. She could grieve later.
The specter of Mrs. Murray shows delight at seeing us arrayed all around us, but the kindly old woman’s face twists into a mask of inarticulate rage when it encounters the barrier presented by the circle. It claws at it like it’s a physical wall, pain and want etched over its increasingly inhuman features.
Henry undoes the snap on his holster.
Father Mike begins chanting louder and faster.
Mrs. Schneider makes a weird strangled sort of cry.
“That’s not your mother,” I tell her as firmly as I can, but she doesn’t look convinced.
“You have to be strong, Anne,” Henry tells her. “Your mother would want you to be strong. We’re doing this for her.”
That’s when the whole thing goes downhill faster than urine flows down a pant leg (and I swear that metaphor came out of nowhere.) None of the specters I’ve dealt with have been able to speak. I’ve never heard of one that could before it tasted blood. Somehow, this one finds its voice.
“They’re hurting me,” it croaks in a very small and faraway voice that somehow carries all the way to us.
Everybody freezes. Wouldn’t you know it; it’s Mrs. Schneider who snaps out of it first. She darts past us, shoves Father Mike I watch him fall backwards over his little tripod censer. I see his head hit a tombstone with a meaty thwack. I watch Mrs. Schneider running towards the waiting, eager arms of the specter, crying “Mommy!” all the while.
“Shoot her!” I yell at Henry, who already has his gun in his hand. I scream it; in fact, in the embarrassing scream-yourself-hoarse-before-you-even-start-screaming voice most of never use after the time when we’re twelve and we tell our parents we hate them. “Shoot her! Shoot her!”
The stupid ass shoots the specter. The specter! He empties his clip uselessly into the swirling fog. I don’t count the shots. I don’t even know how many a gun like that would hold. I don’t fight monsters. I only know it’s empty because he keeps pulling the trigger and nothing else comes out.
As Mrs. Schneider kicks up gravel and leaves with every footfall, it’s pointless to hope she’ll somehow neatly step across the outside of the circle. No, she plows a big hole in the line of little white disks, which is all the specter needs to leave its grave and come after us. That, and a little blood.
There’s a theory I’ve heard that new vampires go after their own family members first because blood that is of their own blood gives them more power. Once again, I don’t know for sure and I’m not feeling experimental. After it has its initial taste, it’s got a choice between two victims who are already down and not going anywhere, and two that still have the potential to get away.
When Henry sees me take off running, he comes to his senses and takes off himself. He’s a little bit faster than me. Then I catch the toe of my boot on one of those stupid marble plaques that everybody uses now, and he becomes a lot faster than me.
“Wait!” I yell. “Wait!”
He stops and turns back, a sheepish look on his face. I limp-stagger-run up to him. He offers me his arm.
Survival Rule #23: When you and a friend are running from a ravenous beastie, you don’t have to outrun the beastie. You just have to outrun the friend.
Henry Hascomb isn’t even my friend.
I kick him in the groin and shove him aside, then hobble as fast as I can down the hill. He screams at me, and then, he’s just screaming, but it’s okay because I’m at my car. For one stupid moment I slap my pockets to find my keys before I realize they’re already jangling in my hand. It’s all a blur after that. I just drive.
I drive until the sun comes up, then I stop at the side of the country highway and sit there, shaking. I have no idea where I am. The gas light is on and I have no idea when I last passed a gas station or where one will be coming up. My brain can’t convince my hands to let go of the wheel. I’m going to have to call somebody, I know. I’m going to have to find somebody who can deal with the thing, now loose in the cemetery. And the bodies it will have hidden away as safely as it can; the bodies that will soon be corporeal vampires.
Did it get enough power from three victims to break out of the ground itself?
Or will it have to wait until the others rise to help it?
I don’t know. Somebody will have to find out, though.
For now, I think I’m just going to pass out.
I’m not a hero. I don’t have special powers.
I do not fight monsters.
This story along with two others in my patron preview line-up may also be found in The Lands of Passing Through, a short story collection available as a DRM-free ebook on Amazon Kindle, Nook, and as a multi-format bundle directly from the author.