Fantastic Universe/Volume 08/Number 3/She Only Goes Out at Night
night. . .
by . . . William Tenn
- What would you do if you fell in love with a girl like this?
In this part of the country, folks think that Doc Judd carries magic in his black leather satchel. He's that good.
Ever since I lost my leg in the sawmill, I’ve been all-around handyman at the Judd place. Lots of times when Doc gets a night call after a real hard day, he’s too tired to drive, so he hunts me up and I become a chauffeur too. With the shiny plastic leg that Doc got me at a discount, I can stamp the gas pedal with the best of them.
We roar up to the farmhouse and, while Doc goes inside to deliver a baby or swab grandma’s throat, I sit in the car and listen to them talk about what a ball of fire the old Doc is. In Groppa County, they’ll tell you Doc Judd can handle anything. And I nod and listen, nod and listen.
But all the time I’m wondering what they’d think of the way he handled his only son falling in love with a vampire. . .
It was a terrifically hot summer when Steve came home on vacation—real blister weather. He wanted to drive his father around and kind of help with the chores, but Doc said that after the first tough year of medical school anyone deserved a vacation.
"Summer's a pretty quiet time in our line," he told the boy. "Nothing but poison ivy and such until we hit the polio season in August. Besides, you wouldn't want to shove old Tom out of his job, would you? No, Stevie, you just bounce around the countryside in your jalopy and enjoy yourself."
Steve nodded and took off. And I mean took off. About a week later, he started coming home five or six o'clock in the morning. He'd sleep till about three in the afternoon, lazy around for a couple of hours and, come eight-thirty, off he'd rattle in his little hot-rod. Road-houses, we figured, or some sleazy girl. . .
Doc didn't like it, but he'd brought up the boy with a nice easy hand and he didn't feel like saying anything just yet. Old buttinsky Tom, though—I was different. I'd helped raise the kid since his mother died, and I'd walloped him when I caught him raiding the ice-box.
So I dropped a hint now and then, kind of asking him, like, not to go too far off the deep end. I could have been talking to a stone fence for all the good it did. Not that Steve was rude. He was just too far gone in whatever it was to pay attention to me.
And then the other stuff started and Doc and I forgot about Steve.
Some kind of weird epidemic hit the kids of Groppa County and knocked twenty, thirty, of them flat on their backs.
"It's almost got me beat, Tom," Doc would confide in me as we bump-bump-bumped over dirty back-country roads. "It acts like a bad fever, yet die rise in temperature is hardly noticeable. But the kids get very weak and their blood count goes way down. And it stays that way, no matter what I do. Only good thing, it doesn't seem to be fatal—so far."
Every time he talked about it, I felt a funny twinge in my stump where it was attached to the plastic leg. I got so uncomfortable that I tried to change the subject, but that didn't go with Doc. He'd gotten used to thinking out his problems by talking to me, and this epidemic thing was pretty heavy on his mind.
He'd written to a couple of universities for advice, but they didn't seem to be of much help. And all the time, the parents of the kids stood around waiting for him to pull a cellophane-wrapped miracle out of his little black bag, because, as they said in Groppa County, there was nothing could go wrong with a human body that Doc Judd couldn't take care of some way or other. And all the time, the kids got weaker and weaker.
Doc got big, bleary bags under his eyes from sitting up nights going over the latest books and medical magazines he'd ordered from the city. Near as I could tell he'd find nothing, even though lots of times he'd get to bed almost as late as Steve.
And then he brought home the handkerchief. Soon as I saw it, my stump gave a good, hard, extra, twinge and I wanted to walk out of the kitchen. Tiny, fancy handkerchief, it was, all embroidered linen and lace edges.
"What do you think, Tom? Found this on the floor of the bedroom of the Stopes' kids. Neither Betty nor Willy have any idea where it came from. For a bit, I thought I might have a way of tracing the source of infection, but those kids wouldn't lie. If they say they never saw it before, then that's the way it is." He dropped the handkerchief on the kitchen table that I was clearing up, stood there sighing., "Betty's anemia is beginning to look serious. I wish I knew . . . I wish . . . Oh, well." He walked out to the study, his shoulders bent like they were under a hodful of cement.
I was still staring at the handkerchief, chewing on a fingernail, when Steve bounced in. He poured himself a cup of coffee, plumped it down on the table and saw the handkerchief.
"Hey," he said. "That's Tatiana's. How did it get here?"
I swallowed what was left of the fingernail and sat down very carefully opposite him. "Steve," I asked, and then stopped because I had to massage my aching stump. "Stevie, you know a girl who owns that handkerchief? A girl named Tatiana?"
"Sure. Tatiana Latianu. See, there are her initials embroidered in the corner—T. L. She's descended from the Rumanian nobility; family goes back about five hundred years. I'm going to marry her."
"She the girl you've been seeing every night for the past month?"
He nodded. "She only goes out at night. Hates the glare of the sun. You know, poetic kind of girl. And Tom, she's so beautiful . . ."
For the next hour, I just sat there and listened to him. And I felt sicker and sicker. Because I'm Rumanian myself, on my mother's side. And I knew why I'd been getting those twinges in my stump.
She lived in Brasket Township, about twelve miles away. Tom had run into her late one night on the road when her convertible had broken down. He'd given her a lift to her house—she'd just rented the old Mead Mansion—and he'd fallen for her, hook, line and whole darn fishing rod.
Lots of times, when he arrived for a date, she'd be out, driving around the countryside in the cool night air, and he'd have to play cribbage with her maid, an old beak-faced Rumanian biddy, until she got back. Once or twice, he'd tried to go after her in his hot-rod, but that had led to trouble. When she wanted to be alone, she had told him, she wanted to be alone. So that was that. He waited for her night after night. But when she got back, according to Steve, she really made up for everything. They listened to music and talked and danced and ate strange Rumanian dishes that the maid whipped up. Until dawn. Then he came home.
Steve put his hand on my arm. "Tom, you know that poem—The Owl and the Pussy-Cat? I've always thought the last line was beautiful. 'They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, they danced by the light of the moon.' That's what my life will be like with Tatiana. If only she'll have me. I'm still having trouble talking her into it."
I let out a long breath. "The first good thing I've heard," I said without thinking. "Marriage to that girl—"
When I saw Steve's eyes, I broke off. But it was too late.
"What the hell do you mean, Tom: that girl? You've never even met her."
I tried to twist out of it, but Steve wouldn't let me. He was real sore. So I figured the best thing was to tell him the truth.
"Stevie. Listen. Don't laugh. Your girl friend is a vampire."
He opened his mouth slowly. "Tom, you're off your —
"No, I'm not." And I told him about vampires. What I'd heard from my mother who'd come over from the old country, from, when she was twenty. How they can live and have all sorts of strange powers—just so long as they have a feast of human blood once in a while. How the vampire taint is inherited, usually just one child in the family getting it. And how they go out only at night, because sunlight is one of the things that can destroy them.
Steve turned pale at this point. But I went on. I told him about the mysterious epidemic that had hit the kids of Groppa County— and made them anemic. I told him about his father finding the handkerchief in the Stopes' house, near two of the sickest kids. And I told him—but all of a sudden I was talking to myself. Steve tore out of the kitchen. A second or two later, he was off in the hot-rod.
He came back about eleven-thirty, looking as old as his father. I was right, all right. When he'd wakened Tatiana and asked her straight, she'd broken down and wept a couple of buckets-full. Yes, she was a vampire, but she'd only got the urge a couple of months ago. She'd fought it until her mind began to crack. Then she'd found that she could make herself invisible, when the craving hit her. She'd only touched kids, because she was afraid of grown-ups—they might wake up and be able to catch her. But she'd kind of worked on a lot of kids at one time, so that no one kid would lose too much blood. Only the craving had been getting stronger. . .
And still Steve had asked her to marry him! "There must be a way of curing it," he said. "It's a sickness like any other sickness." But she, and—believe me—I thanked God, had said no. She'd pushed him out and made him leave. "Where's Dad?" he asked. "He might know."
I told him that his father must have left at the same time he did, and hadn't come back yet. So the two of us sat and thought. And thought.
When the telephone rang, we both almost fell out of our skins. Steve answered it, and I heard him yelling into the mouthpiece.
He ran into the kitchen, grabbed me by the arm and hauled me out into his hot-rod. "That was Tatiana's maid, Magda," he told me as we went blasting down the highway. "She says Tatiana got hysterical after I left, and a few minutes ago she drove away in her convertible. She wouldn't say where she was going. Magda says she thinks Tatiana is going to do away with herself."
"Suicide? But if she's a vampire, how—" And all of a sudden I knew just how. I looked at my watch. "Stevie," I said, "drive to Crispin Junction. And drive like holy hell!"
He opened that hot-rod all the way. It looked at if the motor was going to tear itself right off the car. I remember we went around curves just barely touching the road with the rim of one tire.
We saw the convertible as soon as we entered Crispin Junction. It WLS parked by the side of one of the three roads that cross the town. There was a tiny figure in a flimsy night-dress standing in the middle of the deserted street. My leg stump felt like it was being hit with a hammer.
The church clock started to toll midnight just as we reached her. Steve leaped out and knocked the pointed piece of wood out of her hands. He pulled her into his arms and let her cry.
I was feeling pretty bad at this point. Because all I'd been thinking of was how Steve was in love with a vampire. I hadn't looked at it from her side. She'd been enough in love with him to try to kill herself the only way a vampire could be killed—by driving a stake through her heart on a crossroads at midnight.
And she was a pretty little creature. I'd pictured one of these siren dames; you know, tall, slinky, with a tight dress. A witch. But this was a very frightened, very upset young lady who got in the car and cuddled up in Steve's free arm like she'd taken a lease on it. And I could tell she was even younger than Steve.
So, all the time we were driving back, I was thinking to myself these kids have got plenty trouble. Bad enough to be in love with a vampire, but to be a vampire in love with a normal human being. . .
"But how can I marry you?" Tatiana wailed. "What kind of home life would we have? And Steve, one night I might even get hungry enough to attack you!"
The only thing none of us counted on was Doc. Not enough, that is.
Once he'd been introduced to Tatiana and heard her story, his shoulders straightened and the lights came back on in his eyes. The sick children would be all right now. That was most important. And as for Tatiana—
"Nonsense," he told her. "Vampirism might have been an incurable disease in the fifteenth century, but I'm sure It can be handled in the twentieth. First, this nocturnal living points to a possible allergy involving sunlight and perhaps a touch of photophobia. You'll wear tinted glasses for a bit, my girl, and we'll see what we cari do with hormone injections. The need for consuming blood, however, presents a somewhat greater problem."
But he solved it.
They make blood in a dehydrated, crystalline form these days. So every night before Mrs. Steven Judd goes to sleep, she shakes some powder into a tall glass of water, drops in an ice-cube or two and has her daily blood toddy. Far as I know, she and her husband are living happily ever after