Suggested Audio Garlic ♫
 Eighth Wonder “I’m Not Scared”
 Garbage “Temptation Waits”
 HIM “Vampire Heart”
 The Foundations “Build Me Up Buttercup”
 James Bernard “Dracula”
I’m not scared. Not anymore. Life can do its worst, cut me wide open and watch me bleed profusely from every last busted artery, and it won’t be getting a rise out of me. You see, I’m pretty much done with fear, at least that of the unknown. For all of our best prediction skills, none of us truly know what the future holds, and whether or not any surprises it has in store will be pleasant or unsavory. Thus we do one of two things: either we curl up in our protective shells and play the patient game, banking on being overlooked by this unseen predator, or we continue to live as loudly as humanly possible and cross any bridges as they come. I’ve grown rather accustomed to my self-constructed fortress over the years and have managed to endure wave after wave of enemy attacks this way. But I’ve always wondered what’s going on outside of my chrysalis. Am I missing something monumental? Could this trick be one worth buying front row seats for? And is my shell likely to get clamped for parking in a restricted area? Sure I’m still in one piece, limb counts reveal that everything is tickety boo, but what if that kestrel decided simply to pass me by? Most critically, is this really living or mere survival?
I embraced fear rather openly as a child and could see the benefits in every last sphincter clench. The adrenaline relinquished each time my skin was frightened from me was intoxicating and I just had to have me some of that at every given opportunity. My imagination began to run riot and all manner of freaks came out as night closed in. Moreover, I welcomed that shit. Granted, those twelve stairs to sanctuary were scaled in three lengthy strides, I stuffed my closet so tight that any monsters looking to pay me a surprise visit would have to shake off muscle cramp before striking, and I dare not look under my bed in case the world’s least fun circus was in town. But I felt alive dagnabbit and they do say you’re never more so than when staring death in the face. Horror had its fair share of expiration so this appeared the ideal conduit for my mounting peril. Thus, I bid adieu to the two-headed monster from Sesame Street, waved Mr. Snuffleupagus off at the platform, gave Big Bird’s leg hoops one final pat, and headed off for Transylvania, Bukovina. According to folklore, this was where it was at for consternation and the Count there had far more to teach me than how to juggle numerals.
My pilgrimage was long and fraught with the peril I craved; none of which was in the least bit mild I might add. Vampiric bats circulated above head, alpha wolves howled ominously from within the thicket, snakes slithered about my feet beneath the low-level mist, and I had run out of drinking water way back at Budapest so had taken to licking my forearms for frantic refreshment. However, if my map was reading right, then the estate was just a few clicks from my coordinates and there was no way I was turning back now. If I had, I would no doubt have been torn apart in seconds, and not spared the indignity of having my eyes pecked from their baths courtesy of any fly-by ravens in the vicinity while ravenous sand worms stripped away my base marrow. At least the castle proposed a hot meal and sleeping quarters. This simply had to be one of those no-brainers everyone talked so highly about. Fear spurred me on, refilled my hip flask, stripped me of any protective garlic garlands, and said “man the fuck up bucko!” Cruel to be kind huh? I got it, knew what had to be done, and wasn’t about to let a tiny thing like lack of any discernible body hair halt my crusade.
This Count Dracula chap didn’t sound so bad. Of course, there’s always hearsay, and it had been suggested that smoke couldn’t hope to flourish without fire. But there was no getting around the whole he said, she said debate that school yards encouraged and I gave no hoots about who’d said, only what I could say about the matter. If I believed everything I read in the books then I wouldn’t be standing here right now in the Carpathian Mountains about to have my blood supply siphoned and what else could be more intriguing than that consideration? Fuzzy felt? Fun for a while I guess. Throw in some stickle bricks and maybe we’re talking. But an hour down the line I’d be stroking my chin pensively; pondering what kind of banquet had been laid on in my honor. One thing was for sure, this was no vegan spread being offered, and that meant there was a 50% chance of red meat to make still my growling tummy. Sleeping arrangements were sketchy but, in my correspondence from the master, he distinctly mentioned “the sisters” making a bed up for me after I’d taken my fill.
Three of them there were and, wouldn’t you know it, they were no less than utterly mesmerizing. I’d seen a group photo and liked what I’d seen; thus to not venture forward seemed purely obscene. The only hitch I could foresee was that sexuality hadn’t yet paid me a visit, and I was effectively a eunuch. I already had three older sisters so there seemed nothing to fear other than being dressed up in their frocks and renamed Nancy. Nancy Charles Stevens had rather a nice ring to it and, in years to come, I could announce myself Keeper of The Crimson Quim. Admittedly I would have favored something a little more testosterone-fuelled such as Clancy, but beggars never get to choose apparently so I ventured forth to the castle drawbridge and prepared myself for the very worst. Endorsing my fear would likely end with a tear; as frailty would earn me no free passes here. If I was under any illusions about the danger ahead, then the deep red moat promptly shattered every last mirage. However, I remained calm in the face of adversity, shrugged both shoulders, and sucked that turd back in. Needless to say, as that extraordinarily large door knocker commenced its three string thud, I wasn’t left waiting for long.
My first consideration was that a little WD-40 would have solved those creaking hinges but I far preferred my second if I’m honest. After performing a quick head count and consulting my pocket abacus, I deduced the number of sisters standing before me to indeed be three. They appeared kind enough and really not so tough; so I swigged a dash of smooth to wash down any rough. Sure there were a fair few questions racing about inside my head such as why none of the trio had seen fit to dress up for the occasion. They sure as hell knew I was coming so, while I didn’t expect them to bake me a cake, they could have made a little more effort. That said, a trio of naked succubi still equated to three times one naked succubi in my estimation and there was something about these nubile harpies that excited me to my innermost pip. One day I would learn how to unravel the shrink-wrap on my special purpose and, when that moment arrived, I’d have memories such as these to fall back upon. My pupils dilated and I felt quite elated; then they slapped both my wrists for arriving belated. I kind of liked it you know.
After leading me into the dining room, I was ushered to my seat, and offered a fortune cookie while I awaited the master of ceremonies. There seemed no harm in a little whimsy while I killed some time so I cracked one open and frantically unraveled my riddle. “You’re fucked bruv!” wasn’t a Chinese Proverb I had been familiar with at this point but I put it down to misplaced translation and continued to play three-way footsy beneath the table. These hijinks were tremendous fun and beat cowering in my shell like a snivelling cretin any day of the week, weekend inclusive. Indeed, the aroma of roast beef was already wafting in from the kitchen and I had no desire for this ox to have died in vain. That said, I was growing increasingly vexed with my host’s tardiness as I’d clearly stated in my RSVP that I would be in attendance and it didn’t feel unreasonable to have expected a little more in the way of presence.
Fear had now been displaced on account of distaste; and instead it was angst I’d encouraged with haste. Show his face? I pondered whether it would be deemed acceptable practise to plant a dry slap on his cheek just to make him aware where I stood on the matter. He couldn’t argue that he didn’t have it coming and the whole three naked sirens trick had been little more than the cheapest of shots so I went one step further and clenched me five knuckles. Of course, I still had to keep up appearances so flashed “the sisters” a quick smile which resulted in the usual playful giggles. Wide eyes lie no more than an emu can fly; and my fierce ocean blues no foul wench could deny. That said, after a full fifteen minutes of slathering my gums as I awaited my Beef Wellington, I decided it was time to do a little gentle prodding in the search of some much-deserved answers. Yet more giggles seemed scant reward for my inquisition but I dared not reveal my inner grimace. This could prove my undoing and fast track me to ruin; but I hadn’t turned up just to be death’s next shoe-in. I glanced at my time piece and decided I would offer him no more than another minute of my time before heading back off into the night.
Finally, after an appetizer which consisted of the usual paltry salad, I discerned faint movement from the shadows and hope’s moment arrived in the very nick of time. Could it really be him? The great Count Dracula? Any anger duly subsided as last-minute jitters came off the bench to bat next. Would I ask how it hangs? Feel the pangs of his fangs? Say he turned out to be a crushing disappointment after all this build up. My racing mind was now merely a mortar and this shapeless rogue manned the pestle from his unseen vantage. Perhaps the garlic bread wasn’t to his liking? Whatever was causing his reluctance to take his seat at the head of the table, the fact remained that he was in danger of coming across flat-out ignorant. Something had to give and I decided it was high time I cast my rod out into the darkest recess and fish for that bite. What this needed was an ice breaker and I’d done my research before setting out so knew just how to maneouver that rook and coax him out of his nook.
“I hope the Count turns up soon ladies. All this waiting is playing havoc with my blood pressure you know”
“Vot vas that?”
“How bizarre. I could have sworn I just heard a voice coming from those dark shadows over there”
“Blood you say?”
“I’m sorry, you’ll have to speak up. My ears need syringing and I ran out of Q-tips back in Belgrade”
“But I’m shy”
“No need to be bashful. We’re all friends here. Besides, “the sisters” have the most delightful game they’ve been teaching me while I’ve waited. It involves a ping-pong ball and a polystyrene cup. Do you know it? Haven’t quite got the hang of it yet but it sure is a hoot”
“Get to your rooms!”
Oopsie. Now I had done it. Being banished would not bode well with “the sisters” and I’d naturally assumed that their pastime was in the public domain.
“I hate ping-pong”
Nope. Dirty little secret that one.
“Goodnight ladies and thanks for the tuition”
“Now that ve are alone, it is time to reveal my reasoning for calling you here”
“What’s the rush? Here, pull up a pew and let me see the whites of those eyes Count. I’ve come a long way after all and the least you can do is join me for the banquet”
“I already had beef yesterday”
“Your point being? Does that make chicken any less bland? It’s all in the stock cubes Count”
“I hate gravy too”
“Hard to please huh? So tell me Monsieur Dracula, what is it you desire?”
“No need to be so mousy. Just spill it”
“I get that. You vant, you vant. Tell me Count, vat is it that you vant so?”
[UNDER BREATH] “To drink your blood. There I said it”
“And doesn’t it feel like a weight has been lifted? I don’t wish to come across condescending given that I’m six-years-old and all but I’m proud of you”
“Yes. Took a lot of guts to do what you did”
“Vy yes, I suppose it did”
“You’re darn tooting. You faced your fear and I respect that kind of endeavor”
“Uh huh. Shows strength of character. You had no idea how I would react and still you puckered up. That takes pluck Count. Considerable pluck”
“Oh stop it will you? Okay don’t'”
“That’s the spirit. Come on out and I promise I won’t bite”
“I vill however”
“Knock yourself out. I’ve got ten pints and can afford to free up at least two if that helps”
“Two you say. Any movement on that?”
“Okay, give me a ballpark figure and we’ll thrash out some terms”
“Vas thinking more like…nine?”
“Whoa. Hold those crazy horses Count. Nine? I’m up for a spot of haggling but you’re asking a bit much of me there. Why not start with six and we’ll see how things go”
“I had my heart set on nine”
“Stubborn little bleeder aren’t ya. Listen, I’ll stretch to 3.5 but that’s my final offer”
“Hardly vorth climbing out of my coffin for”
“Ball’s in your court pal”
“Can I take a moment to consider?”
“Take three if it helps. But make them slender as my stomach lining is beginning to eat itself”
“How about ve start vith a shoulder rub? You have come a long vay traveller and appear veary. I could loosen vose jugular muscles in no time you know”
“Have you washed your hands?”
“Voroughly. I alvays vash my hands”
“Then I guess it couldn’t hurt”
“Excellent. I feel that ve are making headvay here. Vould you mind terribly if I ghost across the room as vapor and assume my position to your rear?”
“Walk. Float. Hell you can bounce across on your space hopper if it speeds up the hors d’ouevre. My stomach is starting to believe that my throat has been cut”
“Vat vas that? Cut you say?”
“Just a figure of speech Count. I’m trying to tell you that I’m Hank Marvin”
“But you’re not”
“I know that silly. Hank Marvin. Starving! I’ve been here for twenty minutes and all I’ve seen is poxy rabbit leaves and a decidedly ho-hum fortune cookie”
“Okay I think I am ready now”
“Great. Now stop threatening that massage and hover that mist cloud over here”
“You von’t look?”
“The hero always peeks”
“I mean it. I’m most self-conscious you know. I vill need your vord on zis”
“You got it. I’ll even throw in a pinky swear. How’s that?”
“Okay. Here I come”
Actually, that was a pretty cool trick and the fastest I’d seen a cloud shift since Auntie Mabel had too much broccoli last thanksgiving. Moreover, I suspected that he moisturized as his hands felt simply divine against my skin and I’d almost forgotten how totally ravenous I had become.
“You’re fast winning me over you know”
“Veally? You vouldn’t just be saying that to protect my feelings vould you?”
“No I mean it. This is spectacular. I feel far less knotted already”
“Ze blood is circulating vell?”
“Yes in fact it is. You could do with me as you wish right now and I would be powerless to resist”
“Zen a little love bite vouldn’t be out of the question?”
“Depends. Are we talking a nibble here?”
“Yes. No more than a nibble”
“And how do I know that you’ll stick to our 3.5 pint treaty?”
“You vill just have to trust me”
“I’m not sure if we’re there yet. Right now you’re perched rather precariously on benefit of the doubt”
“You are feeling sleepy yes?”
“A little. Haven’t slept for days”
“Good. Very good. Don’t fight it”
“You’re a devil you. Have you ever considered a career in physiotherapy?”
“Zey wouldn’t have me”
“Their loss is my gain I guess”
“That is vere you are wrong my friend. You see, it is…MY GAIN!”
One pint. Two. Three. Wait just a cotton picking minute – that was four. Moreover, he was showing no signs of slowing up and I was starting to come over light-headed. Something had to give or else my end was destined to be nothing less than tragic.
“Vot? Don’t you know never to interrupt a man when he’s feeding?”
“We agreed on 3.5 and you’ve now clearly surpassed that. I insist you spit a full liter back in”
“And vot if I don’t?”
“Then I’ll inform the whole world what sordid shenanigans really play out in this seedy little castle of yours. Now cough up”
He did as I requested and apologized for any crossed wires and hollow promises so I decided not to press charges and vacated his stronghold post-haste before anything else shady occurred. As a way of offering his sincere apologies, the Count provided me with a crash course on how to travel as mist and this just about justified my decision to make the round trip. Twenty-five years have now passed since my close shave with Count Dracula and those vapor shifting skills have come in handy on occasions too numerous to list. My personal favorite is assuming the form of shower condensation and many eyefuls have been copped whilst intermingling with the fibers of those loafers. I guess what I’m saying is that fear is healthy, fear is good, some say it’s the mindkiller but I prefer to think of it as thriller. Had I not been afraid, then I would never have traveled to Transylvania, Bukovina that night and missed out on a damn fine Beef Wellington. That said, I do miss garlic bread something tragic.