First published in The Mammoth Book of Dracula
Robinson Publishing, UK. Carroll and Graf, US.
The leggy beauty wearing impossibly high stilettos pranced across the silver screen. Tall, raven-haired with bangs, midnight undergarments gracing her slim yet curvaceous figure, she seemed to be the only star of these unusual movies able to do anything more than hobble in the high patent-leather shoes. She undulated with a frolicsome grace that ignited him, and his ashes had been long cold.
Much to his amazement, humanity was changing. Five centuries he had walked the earth, nightly supping from the veins of these crass mortals. What he had imbibed contained not just vital nourishment for him, but the sum total of his cretinous victims’ values. He had come to see humans as less than insectoid, with nothing to offer but the blood. But now, oddly, he felt an unexpected infusion of life.
Vlad rewound the film around the reel and re-played the short black and white story. Many of these featured Lili St. Cyr, Tempest Storm, and Blaze Starr in movies like Varietease and Buxom Beautease. But more to his taste was the exquisite Miss Bettie Page! This Bettie was a marvel, the woman of his dreams, were he still capable of dreaming. Fetching, attractive, and most of all playful in her sensuality.
Females in his unnatural youth had expressed either violence towards him, or had proven too passive to retain his interest. Earlier, when life bubbled hot in his veins, when he had been full of passion, a warlord, fighting the Turks to retain his territory and his own countrymen for power, he demanded his women be subdued. Life had been brutal enough back then–his mortal death verified that fact. Why fight with a woman in the boudoir?
Oddly, immortality proved palatable. Yet over time he found himself less than enthralled with the ‘humanizing’ global changes. He was alone. Always. Stalking vapid prey through the streets of European and North American urban forests, offered neither sympathy nor empathy from the living. In the progressively dispassionate centuries, none whet his appetites. Existence became bland, resulting in ennui.
Such peasants! Worse than the Blow Flies feeding on corpses, they viewed his state of ungrace far too simplistically. No longer hell bent on destroying him, or beguilingly enamored, he lost interest in his sniveling soul-pale victims before he had drained the last drops of their vitae.
The two lovelies cavorted on screen, focused mostly on Bettie. Young and winsome, she coerced him to view himself an anachronism, and that he could not, would not tolerate! He was Vlad Tepesh! Prince of Wallachia! King of the Living Dead! Lord of the Darkest Night! And he would have more than banality. He would have love.
As if out of a mist this celluloid vision turned and faced him. He watched his pristine darling glide with the grace of a she-wolf. She played with the other, reveling in her role, whether as the giver or the receiver. Miss Page enjoyed herself to her naughty fullest. He longed for a woman who could enjoy herself. Who appeared sweet and alluring and kindle his intense passions. He deserved to enjoy himself. And, as always, he would have what he wanted!
The dark-haired beauty, who reminded him so much of his second wife, flirted with the camera lens. She seemed to stare right at him, a brazen, teasing look, one that he felt moved to tame. The other on screen punished her mildly–he would be more firm, that was certain. But even mild chastisement titillated him. This decade was truly a turning point in history, and like nothing else he had experienced. Oh, there had been French postcards, and those mild Victorian moving pictures at the turn of a previous century. And he’d encountered a sufficient share of ladies-of-the-night during his nocturnal wanderings. But never had he witnessed such verve, such panache, such…full-blown erotic expression on a woman as the one he saw before him now.
Beside him lay an assortment of publications and film canisters, all featuring Miss Page: girlie magazines with cheesecake shots; Cartoon and Model Parade No. 53; various calendars; Playboy Magazine, January 1955, featuring Bettie as the centerfold, photographed by Bunny Yeager…
Ah, Bunny Yeager. He remembered with pain spiking his still heart, the events of but one year ago.
It had taken some time to find Bettie, but when he did he acted at once. He discovered that Miss Page had gone to Florida, to be photographed by Yeager.
Specialized travel arrangements were made. He arrived in Miami at the end of an arduous journey which spanned several nights of riding on trains. Only to discover after much searching that she had gone that day to a remote tourist attraction called Rural Africa, some seventy miles north of the city.
He followed. Information in this less-congested city was easy to obtain and he located her cabin within a complex. There he awaited her return. She did return, but rather than retire, she proceeded to a larger, main building. He watched her through a window, talking animatedly with several others, dining, relaxing, sewing out on the verandah a small leopard-skin garment–one of the adorable outfits she wore–while socializing continued. And all the while, his ardor grew. She was as effervescent in the flesh as on the screen. He determined that this night she would be his!
Finally, just after 1:00 a.m., she left the main structure for her nearby cottage. This was the first time he had found her alone. He watched her walk along the path, as stunned as a novice lover, unable to approach, fearful of rejection. She entered her residence and bolted the door.
He rebuked himself. How had he been reduced to this! He, a Voivode, ruler of Transylvania, Destroyer of both Ottoman invaders and betrayers who called themselves countrymen! His childish hesitation now meant that she was inaccessible. He could not gain admittance without an invitation, and without contact with Miss Page, he would not receive one.
The frustration drove him to a window at the back. He peered inside through a break in the Venetian blinds and watched her undress for bed. The sight of her sublime physique stunned him to silence. Such beauty felt unearthly, as if a cloud parted and this angel had fallen from heaven–did they know she was missing? Unaware, his talons clawed the screen over the window. Only when she turned, a delicious look of terror streaking her features, did he realize what he had done.
Quick to remedy the situation, he decided that when she came to the window, he would catch her eye and instill the thought in her mind to open the window to admit him. He pulled the screen away for a better contact.
She snatch an article of clothing with which to cover herself and hurried toward him until she was so close he could only see her navel. He paused, waiting for the blind to lift.
“Mister, I’ll give you two seconds to get away from this window or I’ll blow your brains out!”
Startled by her booming voice, he had no idea she possessed a weapon. The pistol would not harm him, of course, but the noise would draw others.
His sense returned and he retreated, biding his time until the following night when he would find a way to meet her outdoors, to look into her eyes, to capture her will and make her his own.
But the following evening she was gone. Inquiries assured him that the photo shoot had been completed and Miss Page had returned to New York. He felt devastated, thwarted like a mere schoolboy, unable to accept this failure. He must return to New York and plot out a further opportunity.
The film spun off the feeder reel again. This was his favorite film, but he liked the others as well, the ones with the girls play-spanking each other. The one where Miss Page helped tie another to an Oak. Miss Page was a woman of unusual thespian talents. She excelled as both the discipliner and the disciplined, and that he found exceptional. He especially enjoyed that odd contraption, so like a Medieval instrument of torture, on which a woman tied Miss Page upright, spread-eagled, only to pull on both ends of the rope and lift the enchanting Bettie off the ground.
Four centuries of seduction of increasingly insipid mortals had left him a tad jaded; his libido had grown as quiet as had his once-beating heart. And now, at this juncture in history, in this foreign metropolis, he was revived. Had he been capable of tears, he might have cried them.
A glance out the window and he sensed the night quiver. He felt youthful, driven by something other than pure bloodlust. This New York was the hub of the universe. The dawn, as it were, of a proverbial new dusk teeming with human beings.
Finding blood was never a problem. Finding Miss Page alone had been. She was popular, always busy, always accompanied. Two years of effort on his part had resulted in constant vexation. But he sensed that time, though eternal, held an urgency he had not experienced for centuries, and he valued that galvanizing tension.
He snapped off the projector and grabbed up his cane to embark upon a new search for Miss Bettie Page.
Irving Klaw’s secret studio, Vlad had recently learned, lay close by in a warehouse. Rumor had it, Klaw was shooting Teaserama, and Vlad hastened to make his way there before the filming was completed.
En route, he stopped at a kiosk to flip through a new publication with still photos from Strip-o-Rama, one of her films. There was the sparkling Miss Page, in all her titillating glory! This era was indeed marvelous. Nothing left to the imagination. He felt he had finally come home in a sense, returning full-circle to the core of existence. Finally society was opening. Like the wounds of pierced artery, lifeblood gushed forth for all to drink at will. And at the centre, Miss Page, a woman into whom he seriously wanted to sink his fangs.
“She’s a doll, alright. Have a gander at that, Bub.” The rat-like man who ran the kiosk thumbed at a calendar hanging from the back wall.
Miss Page on a beach wearing a sparse swimsuit in the sunshine–oh how she caused him to long for the sun! Smiling her engaging, teasing smile, her lithe body with the come-hither tilt of her hips–
He turned toward the man. One glance at those rodent eyes and the creature was made nearly dumb, only murmuring, “Go ahead. Take it, mister.”
Vlad threw the photoplay volume at the vendor. He did not need these cheap imitations. By sunrise, he would possess the flesh and blood woman of his desires.
Klaw’s building lay hidden in the warehouse district, surrounded by abattoirs and dry goods wholesalers. Vlad had been here before, many times, searching for Bettie. But as dumb luck would have it, either she was elsewhere, or accompanied by a gaggle of friends. Even when he’d staked out this area nightly when Teaserama began filming, he could not find Klaw’s studio, or her alone. Tonight, though, he was determined. Tonight he would gain admittance to the building, then to the studio. And finally to Miss Page herself. That, or others would depart this life in the process!
He waited until he saw someone head towards the entrance. No sooner had they opened the main door than he was behind, catching the door before it closed, calling out.
The young man delivering sandwiches from a delicatessen turned, a startled look denting his freckly face. It took no time for Vlad to imbue the proper words in his brain, and the youth soon repeated the magic phrase, “Sure, come on in.”
Once inside, Vlad followed the youth through the warehouse’s maze of doors. Some sported signs: Friedman’s Fruitcakes; The Button Hole; Crown Cork and Can… Eventually, he wandered the several stories alone, disregarding doors which obviously did not house a film studio on the other side, pressing his ear to the ones that gave little or no indication of what lay within. Finally, after much searching, he heard voices.
“Don’t worry, Paula, we’ll gonna be okay. Just gimme a big smile for keeps..” This accompanied by the sound of what might have been a shutter clicking.
It was do or die the true death. He knocked and heard “Damn!”
The man who appeared at the crack the door opened was of ordinary height, with a dark moustache and intense, red-rimmed eyes. “Yeah?” he said suspiciously.
“I am searching for Bettie Page.”
“You and a two thousand other guys,” he said. “What’s your business with her?”
It took only seconds to mesmerize this plump man holding a box camera to gain admittance.
Within lay the film studio in one large space, or what remained of it. The area was almost barren. Boxes had been packed and stacked near the door. Cameras and tripods were propped against the wall. Empty film canisters littered the room. A woman in midlife wanted to know, “Irving, who’s this guy?”
The man named Irving shook his head, as if waking from sleep.
“He a fed?” she asked.
“Nah, Sis. He don’t look the type,” Irving said.
Vlad interjected, “I am searching for Miss Page. Where may I find her?”
“That’s anybody’s guess. She took off last week, like all the others, probably in hiding God knows where. Just after they started in on us big time.”
“Make yourself clear!” Vlad demanded, impatience rising alongside the fear gnawing up his spine.
“You know, the federal government? Don’t you read the papers?”
The woman moved closer. “The House Un-American Activities Committee. They figure we film smut and that ain’t exactly American or something.”
“Meaning?” Vlad asked, but after five centuries walking the earth, he already understood.
“Meaning,” the man said, “they shut us down. What they didn’t confiscate we had to burn, like negatives. That there copy is all that’s left.”
Vlad walked to the isolated canister the man pointed at and picked it up. The label read: Teaserama. All that remained of Bettie Page.
“Hey! You can’t take that!” the man shouted, as Vlad walked to the door, cradling the film-holder against his stone-cold heart.
One look from the Prince of Darkness, a look not intended to mesmerize, a look that conveyed a depth of pain no mortal could bear to see for long, caused Irving Klaw to say softly–and Vlad knew it was not out of terror but out of empathy–“I snuck the original to Friedman. That’s the last of her. Take it. You need her more than most.”
And Vlad did.
Award-winning author and editor Nancy Kilpatrick has published 23 novels, 3 novellas, over 220 short stories, 6 collections, and has edited 15 anthologies. She wrote the non-fiction book The goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined, and the graphic novel Nancy Kilpatrick’s Vampyr Theater. Much of her work has been translated into 9 languages.Her most recent project is the six-book novel series Thrones of Blood, the final volume #6 coming soon in print and ebook. The series has been optioned for film and TV.
Occasional Blog: http://nancykilpatrickwriter.blogspot.ca/
Amazon author Page: amazon.com/author/www.nancykilpatrick.com