Day five of my Ten Excerpts in Ten Days brings us to my story, Interview With The Barber. A mainstay of the dark fantasy and horror tales through the centuries has been the legend of the vampire -- immortals who feed on human blood to maintain their own lives.
We've seen evil vampires, funny vampires, even sparkly vampires, but I daresay you've not seen one like Robert Presley. And you can read the full tale Interview With The Barber in my collection THE ALCHEMIST & OTHER DARK TALES, on sale now for just 99 cents.
And now, from Interview With The Barber...
I decided the only way to figure out what was going on was to do a little spying. I drove by the shop Friday night long after Presley had closed and gone home. I checked around the building in the dark with my cheap key chain flashlight and found two small windows in the back, completely hidden by two overgrown bushes.
The next night – Presley keeps his shop open late on Saturdays – I parked at an abandoned grocery store a mile down the road and walked to his shop as dusk fell. It was dark by the time I reached his place, so I snuck between a few cars parked in the lot then slipped around the building. I ducked in between the bushes and peered through the windows.
For the next hour I watched Presley cutting away, a seemingly permanent half-smile on his face, his mouth moving with his idle barbershop conversation. I couldn't hear him, but I was sure he was telling more of his jokes and stories, relating the town gossip some of his customers from earlier in the day had told him.
Another half-hour passed and there were just two people left with Presley – an old gruff of a man with a bushy gray beard, dressed in dirty overalls, was climbing into the barber's chair and a younger man, probably my age, was sitting in the waiting section flipping through a magazine.
The old guy sat in the chair, Presley decked him out in the barber's apron and started cutting away at his hair, his mouth moving in what was no doubt a monotonous litany of meaningless chit-chat. I prepared to leave, disgusted with myself for having wasted the evening. Then it happened.
Presley stepped away from the old guy, put his clippers and comb on the shelf and then stepped back to the chair. The old man never moved. The young guy sat still, the magazine slipping from his hands to the floor. He made no move to retrieve it.
Presley stood with his arms by his sides. His mouth twitched, his whole face convulsed. His mouth stretched wider than humanly possible, his lower lip peeled back, and two giant insect-like mandibles protruded through his gums, growing upward over his top lip, giving his lower face a bug-like appearance.
Presley leaned over the old man, moved the beard aside and slid the two mandibles through the man's skin, into his neck. I lost track of time, watching as Presley drank the man’s blood. He stood, pulled a tissue from his pocket, dabbed a little blood from the man's neck and let the man's beard fall back into place. He stepped toward the young man in the waiting chair. I wanted to scream, to smash through the windows and warn the man, but I watched. Somehow, I had the presence of mind to glance at my watch this time, just as Presley began draining the blood from his second victim. When he finished I looked at the watch again – it seemed as if he had been there long enough to drain the man dry, but he had been drinking the victim's blood for less than ten minutes.
Presley again pulled the tissue from his pocket, dabbed at the man's neck, then bent over, picked up the magazine and placed it in the man's hands. Presley walked back to his shelf, picked up his hair-cutting utensils and turned back to the room. When he did his face had returned to normal – the round, full, flushed face of a man who had just fed. He walked to the bearded man, began snipping at his hair, his mouth moving again, no doubt with more gossip. A minute later the bearded man was talking, the young man flipping the magazine pages.
I sat on the cool, barren patch of dirt under the bush, not sure what to do.
What could I do? No one would believe me if I tried to tell what I'd seen. I had to confront Presley. Tell him I knew what he was. I would do it Monday.
I slept little that night and the next. I was nervous about confronting him, afraid to fall asleep, some little fear deep inside me said he already knew what I had seen, that he'd burst through the door to my apartment any moment. He never did, but by Monday I was exhausted from thinking, and worrying, about it all weekend. It took all the concentration I could muster to get through the day.
After work I drove to Presley's barbershop. Standing outside the door I checked through my coat pockets for what must have been the fiftieth time to make sure I had everything. I took a deep breath, opened the door and stepped in. He was sitting in his own barber’s chair, alone, looking as if he expected my visit.
“Back so soon? I must not be cuttin’ your hair short enough.” He chuckled as he spoke, a laugh that once seemed a simple country chortle. Now my skin crawled at the sound.
“I’m not here for a haircut,” I said, my mouth dry, my voice quivering.
Presley stood, stepped to the side of the chair and patted the brown vinyl cover.
“Climb on up and–”
“No!” I screamed, cutting him off in mid-sentence.
He grew quiet. I paused, not sure what to do next. Presley stepped back in front of his chair, slowly sat down and smiled broadly.
“Well, then, what can I do for you?” he asked.
I waited, still not sure what to say. I jerked my hand from my coat pocket, a small crucifix held clenched in my fist.
“I know what you are,” I said, my voice little more than a whisper. I stretched my arm in front of me and stepped toward Presley. “I know what you are,” I repeated, my voice stronger.
The smile faded from Presley’s face. He stared at me, a blank stare like that of a corpse with its eyes still open. The shop grew quieter. Even the traffic from the highway outside faded, the only sound that of my breathing.
Presley burst out laughing. Not the country-boy chuckle I’d come to know over the past several weeks, but a hard-edged soulless laugh.
The sound startled me. I flinched, then stiffened in a show of false bravado.
Presley laughed harder, tears welling in his eyes. He reached out and brought his hand down over top of the crucifix, pulling it from my hand. “And just what do you think I am?”
To read the rest of Interview with the Barber, and to get the entire collection THE ALCHEMIST & OTHER DARK TALES, for just 99 cents, for your Kindle go here. To download to your Nook go here.