By C.B. Jones

(From Issue #2 August 2020)

The words wouldn’t come. He stared at the screen of his laptop, nothing but empty space on his word processing program except for a lone “the” he’d managed to write. His fingertips brushed at the keys, but never committed. It was like…like trying to squeeze a drop of piss out for a urine sample at the doctor’s when you’d already gone that day, he thought. Yes, it had gotten that bad and that was the best he could come up with: a urine sample metaphor.

For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what was going to happen or how he was going to start the final installment of his Vampire Villa saga. He did know that Tucker, the noble half-breed who had a penchant for eating bloody steaks, would have a final showdown with L’Troneous, the evil overseer of the night who sought to rule the human world. He also had to figure out what to do with Shiba, the nymphomaniac vamp who straddled the fence between the human and vampire worlds and whose true loyalties remained unknown. And what about Tucker’s forbidden werewoman love interest Valia? 

The Vampire Villa saga had been moderately successful for Eddie Palomar (Edward Palomar to his readers) in the genre of vampire fiction. It was by-the-numbers vampire stuff: blood sucking, vampire vixens, dark lords, evil beasts, but it paid the bills and the fans ate it up. The series had netted him a living and all sorts of strange ass from adoring female fans at various book signings across the country.

What Eddie hadn’t garnered from Vampire Villa was any amount of respect from the literary community, his colleagues, or his former classmates from the University of Iowa. He didn’t rightly care. One of his friends had once told him that “you had to pay your dues before you paid the rent”, but Eddie needed to pay the rent and Vampire Villa had been a pleasant meal ticket. Plus, he was doing what he loved—more or less. Sure, it wasn’t intellectually satisfying, but maybe he could venture on to more stimulating projects after he’d wrapped up the saga. First, he had to finish up this damned finale. 

He rubbed his temples vigorously, continuing to stare at the nothingness on his screen. He was exhausted and spent. It was hopeless; nothing was going to come out, at least not at the moment anyway. 

“Fuck it,” he sighed and shut off the computer, pushed his chair away, and stood up. It was time for a walk and a drink to clear his mind, sort stuff out.

He started off down Grant Street, the sun melting into the horizon as it slipped from view. He walked past the old white frame houses that were characteristic of his street. Most of them were in pretty good shape. Some could use a new paint job. The lawns were mostly yellow with barely any green showing—a late summer drought and the cool nights of autumn the cause.

He hoofed it for a couple more blocks and then turned onto Main Street, all the while sorting details out in his head. He spoke out loud every now and then.

“Okay, so we want Tucker to ultimately end up with Valia. And should he find a cure for the werewolfness? Or is he gonna have hot hairy animal sex every full moon? Or maybe Tucker should end up with Shiba. Shit. Make up your mind Eddie,” he said to himself.

Presently, he came to the only pub in the town of Anodyne Springs. The sign outside read: The Underwood, a nod to the large population of writers that lived in the town.

Anodyne Springs was a creative haven for writers, like one of those writing retreats where authors went for a week to get the inspiration flowing. The only difference being that Anodyne Springs was a permanent residence for them. That was part of the reason Eddie had decided to purchase real estate there. Most of the creative residents were horror novelists and purveyors of dark fiction, but there were others too. There had to be some invisible creative force that flowed through the town, especially with that many writers living there, being so close to one another. Maybe the thoughts flew around via osmosis from person to person, like water within a cell. 

If ever there was a time when Eddie felt ashamed of the subject matter he’d chosen as a writer, it was while tooling around the town of Anodyne Springs. Eddie wrote generic vampire novels; while just two blocks from his own house lived Jeremiah Tolles, an author who was reinventing the horror fiction genre with stream-of-consciousness short fiction. Mark Walsh lived just across the street and was constantly publishing investigative journalism pieces in prestigious national magazines and winning multitudes of awards. Tiera Willis also lived in town and wrote some of the best romance novels that Eddie had ever read, and he hated romance novels.

Most of the residents in town had read, or at least skimmed through Eddie’s work. It was an unspoken courtesy in Anodyne Springs to do so. Eddie had made notes while reviewing the others’ work and felt that his own was the most pedestrian in the whole town.

Eddie worried about this as he entered The Underwood. What writer that he felt inferior to would he run into today? As of right now, the bar was empty except for the bartender. Eddie ordered a beer and sat at the bar while the portly bald man behind the counter struck up a conversation.

“How’s the book coming along?” 

“Meh. Got a little case of writer’s block,” Eddie replied. 

“Well, it’ll come to you. They all come here every now and then. Even the best. Although you’re not the first I’ve had this week.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I guess it’s been bad here lately. I’ve had a few complaining of writer’s block. I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate me telling on them, but you’re not the only one.”
Eddie agreed. He wouldn’t want anyone in Anodyne Springs knowing about his creative drought. How hard is it to finish that thing, Palomar? You just have the good vampire win and get the girl, they’d laugh. 

Light burst into the bar. Eddie squinted to see who it was. Long toned legs sprouted from underneath a dark mini skirt, tapering down to arched heeled feet. Feminine hands with soft pink fingernails removed a pair of sunglasses from a pretty face. It was Tiera Willis in all her blonde glory.

“Well, well, well. If it ain’t my little bloodsucking friend,” she said playfully.

“How’s it going Tiera?” Eddie said.

“Well, and yourself? How’s the latest installment? Oooh…isn’t this the big finale?” she asked as she sat on a stool beside him.

“It sucks,” he replied.

“Ha! Is that a pun? Are you getting clever on me?”

Eddie eyeballed her from the ankles up, made sure she noticed. “I’m gonna be getting something on you,” he said. He knew her well enough that this remark wouldn’t offend her.

She laughed but didn’t appear embarrassed. “Touché, Mr. Palomar. Why don’t you buy me a drink for that chauvinistic statement?”

Eddie acquiesced, ordered another beer and a vodka gimlet for the romance novelist. They continued their playful banter for a while. Eddie wanted to get to the meat though. He wanted to know if she was experiencing any writer’s block. 

“Um, so how’s your writing going?” he asked between swallows of his beer.

“Oh, had enough flirting? You wanna talk shop now?”

“Yes.”

“It’s going…I’m trucking right along. Will be finished with this one by next week or so.”

“Hmm,” Eddie said. 

He had been hoping that she was experiencing the same problem, and maybe they could work it out together. He looked up at her long blonde hair, her pale blue eyes, her lips. Maybe they still could work it out together. He always figured her as a tease, but she wrote her novels like a gal with experience. He didn’t know why he’d never made an approach before, but their interaction today certainly led him to believe that he could keep up with the little romance writer. They’d never had such a flirty interaction like this before. Maybe because Eddie had never encountered her alone. She’d always been with other writers when he’d talked to her and he’d never had her full attention. Today was different, and Eddie figured he just might have a chance

He took that chance.

“How about tomorrow night I take you out for a celebration?”
”Oh, a celebration, huh? And what exactly is it that we are celebrating?”

“We are celebrating the fact that by tomorrow night I will be done with the first chapter of the last vampire book that I am ever going to write.”

But the laptop’s keys remained untouched the whole night long and on into the next morning.

***

He awoke in the middle of the night—back stiff as a board, upright in bed. His heart rattled around in his chest like an activated alarm clock. He flicked the lights on and looked around the room, breathing heavily. What a nightmare that was, he thought. I’m still in my room and everything’s okay, just a dream. What was the dream though? The images of his nightmare began to evaporate. Quick, got to write that down! I can use it.

He jumped out of bed and searched frantically through his office for a piece of paper and a pencil. While disoriented and still half asleep, he began scrawling the remnants of his dream down onto a piece of paper, yet remained unaware of anything he wrote. He seemed as if he was still dreaming or perhaps he was possessed. His frantic scribbling slowed to a halt. He looked down at what he had written and collapsed at his desk, deep in slumber.

The next morning, he woke up with his head still resting on the desk, confused as to how he got there. He hadn’t drunk that much at the bar. He remembered going to sleep in his bed. He had a vague memory of writing something in the night. He looked down at the piece of paper on his desk. There were no words, just a drawing of a craggy oak tree with a thick trunk and gnarled leafless limbs.

***

“Gotta do this right. Gotta do it the old-fashioned way,” Eddie said to himself as he looked around the office. “I just need the right tools.”

He slammed the front door on his way out and rambled off to the grocery store, running halfway and spending the other half catching his breath. They had a small office supply section situated by the cleaning supplies. Here he picked up five bottles of ink, a calligraphy pen, and a pad of line-free paper. He bolted back to his house, eager to start. 

***

He sat at his desk, holding his newly purchased pen gingerly. The drawing from his dream sat next to the pad of paper on the desk. He’d made gentle strokes with the pen like an artist with a brush, but all he had written was a title for the new book. “VAMPIRE VILLA: THE MILLENNIUM OAK” was etched on the paper pad in a flowing old English font. He pantomimed writing motions, tracing letters in the space above the paper. Still nothing would come. His eyes shifted over to the drawing of the tree. The dream—the nightmare, that was the key. There was something there and in his sleepy stupor last night, he had known this. He had tried to capture it and failed. He would have to dream again, and this time get the dream onto paper and recorded forever.

He looked at his watch to see how much time he had before bed. He was far from tired and it was only 6:00 in the evening. 6:00? Shit. He still had to get ready for his date with Tiera and meet her down at Rustler’s Steak House at seven.

He launched himself from the desk, took a shower, shaved, and got dressed. He kept his appearance casual, but slightly dressy. He figured that this would help his chances. A little before 7, he drove down to Rustler’s Steak House, the only restaurant in town and a damn good one at that. It wouldn’t be a fancy date—eating at Rustler’s was a rustic affair with aged wooden planks for floors and cowboy western stuff hanging on the walls. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a better cooked steak in these United States.

He was slightly early, so he took a table for two and waited for Tiera. Soon, she was through the front door marching up to the table as if she already knew exactly where he was. Eddie stared at her as she walked up. She was wearing tight jeans and a black top, radiating. Damn, he thought. She sure was something to look at.

“Oh, I need a drink. I was absolutely worthless today. I didn’t get a single fucking thing done. Not a word,” she said as she sat down.

“Well, I hope you like your drinks cold and in brown bottles, because that’s all they’ve got.”

“Anything with alcohol. I’ll take whatever. You know sometimes you just don’t have it. Sometimes the words just don’t come.” 

Eddie grimaced as she said the last line. The conversation then moved on to other things from here and he was grateful. He didn’t want her to know that he hadn’t gotten anything accomplished, that they didn’t have any reason to celebrate. In fact, she may have forgotten that they were supposed to be celebrating and that this was just a simple date.

They ordered a pail full of ice with bottled beer in it and a couple of steaks. Unlike his protagonist, Tucker, Eddie liked his steaks well done, like shoe leather. Tiera had a go at him with this, told him that he was wasting a perfectly good cut of meat. She wasn’t shy in the food department either and ordered a rib eye, served a little bit rare. He got a little hot watching her eat it and wondered how she kept her figure. He knew the answer to that question as soon as it arose. He had seen her plenty of times jogging up Grant Street, wearing nothing but shorts and a sports bra. Cocktease indeed. 

They finished up dinner and Eddie paid. It had been a pleasant enough night. All talks of writing had ceased after the initial greeting and they kept things light and playful like before. He walked her to her car, and she turned to him. He kissed her hard on the mouth, tasting the breath mints they had picked up from the cash register, moved his hand to the small of her back. 

Eddie declined her offer of a nightcap back at her place. He had work to do and he knew what a drink with her would lead to. If he fell asleep at her place the dream might not come. He wanted to keep everything like before, a recreation of the same environment he was in when the nightmare came, and he needed his own bed. 

She seemed disappointed, but he told her he’d take a rain check for tomorrow.

He went home and watched TV until he began to feel tired. He then carefully set a pad of paper and his pen and ink on the nightstand. He knew that what he was planning was practically impossible. How many awesome dreams had he awoken from to which he’d wanted to return? Too many to count and this wasn’t a dream. This was a nightmare, and these things reoccurred all the time. Didn’t they?

The sleep wouldn’t come and so the dreams didn’t come. Inevitably, the words didn’t come.

***

He spent the next day depressed and tired. He hadn’t slept all night long and this was now his longest running case of writer’s block. He caught a few half naps throughout the day, but he was never fully asleep. He sat on his porch and smoked cigarettes, a habit of which he’d been tapering off. Not today, he thought. He drank a couple of beers, skimmed through some of the earlier installments of his series, and watched the clock. The time dripped by slower than his thoughts. He was absolutely miserable. What the hell was he supposed to do now? 

Evening crept up on him and the air turned twilight blue. The lights of the neighborhood began to flicker on. Another day and nothing, he thought. He would have punched his fist through a wall had he not felt so utterly defeated. 

There was an urgent knock on his door. He answered and was greeted by a heavenly vision. Tiera Willis stood there in a long coat, clutching the fabric across the front of her body. She had done something special with her hair and makeup, and while he was no expert on such matters, he could tell she was made up differently than normal. Her face looked even more striking and bold than it had at dinner the night before. With her lips big and soft, different shades of makeup drew out the color of her eyes. Her hair shimmered in the porch light.

“I,” she announced, “need some inspiration.”

She stepped into the doorway and he scooted back. He felt himself getting aroused. She cast the coat aside and let it fall to the ground to reveal she was wearing nothing but lingerie underneath. It was black and lacy and sexy and who was he kidding trying to resist any longer?

***

It was the best sex of his life. She didn’t write the passionate love scenes in her romance novels, she merely copied down the events from her own life onto the page. She must have. This was even better. 

They moved together quick and hard and everything flowed together and when they finished, he could do nothing but fall onto the bed, exhausted. Sleep at last, perchance to dream.

***

The first thing that reached his awareness was a dull, mechanical humming. He only saw blackness, but he could hear the humming perfectly. The blackness soon brightened, light hit his eyes, and a scene came into view. Sitting on the top of a hill was the thick black oak tree with the jagged naked limbs from his drawing. It was juxtaposed against a sick looking sky, illuminated by the rays of a sunset. Clouds filled the air like tufts of pastel pink insulation. They seemed to pulse rhythmically and that’s when Eddie noticed the sound. What sounded like a metronome in a bag of Jell-O joined the ubiquitous mechanical humming. It was loud, like a big squishy heartbeat in Eddie’s ears. His own pulse was out of control, but the rhythmic beating continued slowly and steadily.

There was no free will in this dream—he couldn’t look behind him, couldn’t turn and run. Eddie was only along for the ride as he felt himself walk up the hill towards the oak tree. The oak was all that there was. He inched closer and closer and then kneeled before the tree.

At the juncture of the tree trunk and where the branches divided, there was a spot. The tree’s black bark was peeling back and graying at the edges, revealing the green of the unexposed tree underneath. In the meat of the new tree there was a slit that looked like a wound. A viscous, sap-like substance the color of lava oozed out and ran down the side of the tree. 

Eddie reached out and touched the wound. It was warm and wet, the texture of the tree felt like skin. He stuck his fingers into the hole. It felt more like something one would find on an animal or human than a plant, an orifice of some kind. The insides of the hole were smooth and shiny like a wet Zip-Loc bag. He dug his fingers deeper into the hole until his whole hand was swallowed. Then he stuck his other hand in and began to peel the slit apart. The wound stretched and grew until it was an opening maw, big enough for a person to crawl through. Strings of the orange sap stretched between both sides of the opening.

The hole didn’t extend to the other side of the tree as one might expect. It opened up into someplace entirely different. Eddie peered into the vastness the opening revealed, his eyes wide and his heart catching in his throat.

***

He awoke just as he had the other night: upright in bed, heart pounding violently, disoriented. This time, however, he was prepared. He snatched up the pen and pad of paper. Ink was flung all over the bed as he clumsily opened the bottle and dipped the pen in. He began to write, not knowing exactly what he was writing, possessed like he’d been before. The words were no more than a smeared scrawl, but they were legible, the dream stuff being recorded to the page. He continued his frenzy of writing until there was no more left to write. 

Eddie didn’t read over what he’d written. He simply left the pad at the foot of the bed. He collapsed into sleep once again, the nightmare recorded onto the pages and out of his head for the moment.

***

There was a crash at the kitchen table, the breaking of glass. The sunlight sifted through the blinds and Eddie rolled over groggily, tangled up in the sheets. Tiera was not at his side. She must have gotten up and made some coffee, possibly dropping a mug in the process. Eddie managed to get out of bed and make his way into the kitchen. He felt he could use a cup of coffee himself. That would wake him up. He also wanted to see Tiera and see what she had to say, maybe some validation about the night before. 

He staggered down the hall into the kitchen. The first thing that he saw was his pad of paper open and sitting on the kitchen table. The black inky letters looked menacing.

Sonuvabitch! The dream transcription, he thought. He vaguely remembered writing it but couldn’t remember at all what had gotten scribbled. Had she read it? How embarrassing. No telling what I wrote in the wee hours of the night. His eyes moved down the floor and traced up the pair of crooked legs that connected to Tiera Willis. The pale legs were bent at an odd angle over the seat of the overturned chair. There was a spilled cup of coffee at her side. Her head was facing the wall with her face flat on the hardwood floor, an inch or so of tongue resting out of the corner of her mouth. The veins in her forehead were showing, slightly bulged. Her eyelids were halfway open, revealing only the whites.

Eddie rushed over to her side, yelled her name. She didn’t move. He felt her neck for a pulse, not really knowing what he was doing. Her skin was cold—freezing actually—like she’d been in a freezer. He gave her a little shake, repeated her name. 

“Oh God,” he said, standing up. 

He had to call someone. A fucking ambulance might be a good start. 

He started towards the phone, but his eyes caught the pad of paper that sat on the kitchen table. What was in it? What had happened to Tiera? Had she started to read any of it before she collapsed? How far did she get? Eddie reached out for the paper, held it up to his face, and began to read.

***

It had been three days since anyone had seen them. They were last seen at Rustler’s Steak House, enjoying a nice steak dinner together. Normally, there would be no assumption of foul play, but things had been different around Anodyne Springs lately. Now there was a report of two authors missing and with the neighbors reporting a smell emanating from the Palomar residence.

Detective Elliot Jordan drove down Grant Street towards Edward Palomar’s house. He cursed himself for having the misfortune of being handed this job from the Chief. He had never been a fan of driving out to the bohemian haven of Anodyne Springs. The town gave him the creeps, all of those horror writers buzzing around. Who knew what freaky shit they were up to behind closed doors?

He pulled into the driveway of the Palomar residence, parking behind a gray sedan. He walked up the porch, knocked on the door and rang the doorbell for good measure. There was no answer. He knocked harder, called out Mr. Palomar’s name. 

He tried the doorknob. It was open. As he stepped inside, his nostrils were assaulted by the rank smell of death. It was going to be bad. His stomach turned and he felt lead in his guts. He readied his firearm—just in case. He crept through the living room and saw nothing. The smell grew stronger the further he got into the house. The silence that filled the air may have made him feel worse. He made his cautious trek into what looked like a dining room that opened up into the kitchen. He saw a body lying on an overturned chair. 

It was obviously Tiera Willis, one of the missing persons. She was wearing a man’s T-shirt and it was clear that she was wearing nothing underneath, the fabric pooling around her midsection as her body lying twisted on the floor. Her skin was a pallid blue and void of any other color. Her jaw was agape, and her blank eyes stared at the wall. Areas of her face were turning dark and gray. He was thankful that the past few days hadn’t been too hot. 

He continued to search the house and walked down the bedroom hall. The bedroom revealed nothing except an unmade bed and a lacy black bra on the floor. There was still one room left in the house to check.

He found Edward Palomar with his forehead resting on the oak desk in his office. There were black markings like tattoos all over his arms and face. Scratches too. Smudges of what looked like oil and dried blood were smeared all over his skin. 

The lines of the ink tattoos that had been carved into Palomar’s skin formed bizarre characters and letters. If they were from a language, it was one he had never seen. 

What did it all mean?

A spilt bottle of ink was on the desk, wet ink all over the place. The ink was in Edward’s hair, down his unshaven cheek, and a lot had dripped on the floor. There was something embedded into Palomar’s right eye, a shaft of some sort that stuck out only a couple of inches. Leaning closer to investigate he found out what it was, a pen. It was dark dried blood, not ink, that stained most of Edward’s face.

Something was sitting in Palomar’s lap. 

A pad of paper? Suicide note, perhaps? Who kills themselves with an ink pen to the eye? 

He bent down, careful not to touch anything and examined it. He reached into his pocket and grabbed a handkerchief and used it as a buffer to carefully excise the pad of paper from his lap. Something clattered to the floor as he grabbed it. He jumped and looked down. Another bottle of ink. Empty. 

The pad felt heavy and wet as he set it in on the desk, like it had been soaking in something. He opened the cover and saw what it was. The pages were all stuck together with a sticky substance, covered in a shiny black. More ink. He tried to pry the pages apart with a paperclip, but they were smudged and soaked as well. Nothing was legible in the entire pad. He would not be able to read what Edward Palomar had written.

End.

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