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PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN, WITH VAMPIRE • by Carl Steiger

Anton Maier told me he was not a vampire, but he went out of his way to look like one. His gaunt, deeply wrinkled face was disturbing to begin with. He wore bespoke black pinstriped suits a hundred years out of style. His shirts had high, starched collars held on by brass studs. When he stepped out (and he did, often in full sunshine), he wore a dark gray bowler and dark gray spats on his black patent leather shoes. The only color he ever wore was a red silk tie and a gold watch chain.

He hired me off the street as his personal assistant (his butler, he called me). He said he admired my Goth look and that he thought I had potential. I lived in his house (a Victorian mansion, furnished with fabulous antiques and much in need of repair), and I had lots of spending money.

But I didn’t have lots of time to spend any of it. Anton kept me busy running errands. I was constantly taking his suits and shirts to the cleaners.

I did his grocery shopping. He didn’t drink blood, but he did eat a lot of red meat. Braunschweiger sandwiches (on rye, with cheese and slices of dill pickle) were a favorite.

He insisted that I study German and master the fraktur cursive script.  German is the noblest language, he told me.

Anton loved vampires. He corresponded, on paper, with vampire enthusiasts from around the world. Letters arrived daily, mainly from Europe, but Asia and South America were represented too.

One evening in his library he offered to show me what a vampire looks like. He pulled an old leather-bound book off its shelf, flipped through the pages and pulled out a large, colorful piece of paper. He handed it to me and I saw that it was a German banknote for 10,000 marks.  It was dated 1922.

“Is this my bonus?” I asked.

He didn’t laugh. He never laughed. “Look at the portrait. Look carefully,” he said. “What do you see?”

“I see a guy wearing a hat.”

“Albrecht Durer painted that. It’s called ‘Portrait of a Young Man,’ but there’s a vampire in the picture as well. It’s hidden in plain sight; it’s obvious once you’ve seen it.”

“No, I don’t see it.”

“Really. I had thought your imagination would be morbid enough. Keep it. I have many more. I think you’ll come to see it later.”

“You’re not going to point it out to me?”

“No. Find it for yourself.”

I decided not to crack a joke about needing to drink a lot of beer to see a German vampire.

***

Last night Anton asked me if I would like to live forever. “Not particularly,” I replied.

“You will,” he said. “I have something to show you, and when you have seen it, then you will wish to live forever.”

Yet another of Anton’s quirks was about to be revealed, I thought. He led me to the door to the stairway down to the basement. I had never been allowed down there before.  He opened the door and flipped a switch that lit a bare bulb.  “After you,” he said, extending his arm.

I descended and Anton followed, our feet loud on the wooden stairs. The basement smelled damp and musty. I saw crates and boxes neatly arranged in tall stacks on the bare concrete floor.

As I stepped off the stairs, Anton spoke behind me. “I no longer wish to live forever,” he said. “I am tired. You are my heir. It is all arranged. Do you agree?”

I looked back and saw that he had a revolver pointed at my head. I raised my hands.

“I killed my last heir,” he said. “He disappointed me. Please, please, please do not disappoint me. Now walk over to that green trunk. Go, go, go.”

Hands still raised and shaking, I walked to the chest. It had a lock, but the key lay plainly atop it.

“Open it. Look inside.”

I fumbled at the lock for some time, but managed to unlock the trunk. I hesitated before opening it.

“Quickly! Quickly!” Anton urged.

I rose up and backed away as I threw open the trunk.

“Look inside!”

I inched closer and saw what looked like folded sheets of gray leather lying in the trunk. Then I saw what looked like a hand. Then the thing moved and I saw its face — a bestial face with slitted red eyes and a maw full of brown teeth. I had seen it before. That portrait on the banknote. What I had thought were the young man’s shoulders and cloak were actually the head and body of the vampire latched to the young man’s throat.

The creature grasped the edge of the trunk and spilled itself onto the floor. It scrabbled toward me like a broken umbrella come to life. Then it leaped at me.

It clasped my head and its teeth found my throat, and I felt a pain and an ecstasy unlike anything else I had ever experienced. It continued drinking as I sank to the floor and the world went black.

When I awoke this morning, I was alone. I checked the trunk and found the vampire had crept back in and closed the lid behind itself. It slept soundly. I gently closed the trunk again, replaced the lock and put the key safely in my pocket. I found Anton by the stairs, where he had put the gun in his mouth and blown away the top of his head.

Now Anton Maier is dead, and I will live forever. Unless I tire of it, as Anton finally did. But I do want to live forever now, for I love my vampire dearly.

And now I must return to work, for I have many letters to write, and my German is still very weak.


Carl Steiger is a career bureaucrat who is sometimes fortunate enough to find fulfillment on his own time.


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PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN, WITH VAMPIRE • by Carl Steiger, 3.8 out of 5 based on 36 ratings
Posted on August 24, 2013 in Horror, Stories
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  • Ellen

    A great read

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    That sandwich, of course, earns its own five stars. I thought the story ran ever so slightly out of pickle at the end, so in honesty I could only give it four.

    Carl, you have the real by-the-fireside storyteller’s voice; everything you write is infused with warmth and charm and a rare genuine tenderness, and all of it’s a joy to read.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    From A LOOK AT GERMAN INFLATION 1914 – 1924, we have ‘… The note is sometimes called the “Vampire Note” . If you look carefully, and have a good imagination, you will see a vampire on the neck of the German worker. This was said to represent the French sucking the blood from Germany through the war reparations.’. An image of the note itself is available here.

  • Michael Stang

    The German thread is engaging and the way you write details. These fine elements carry the story inspite of a weak protagonist.

  • Kathy

    I agree with all the positive comments made so far – I enjoyed it, loved the effective use of detail and the twist on the “reveal” with the opening of the coffin.

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    The story went on a bit at the beginning, but kept my interest.

    I even Googled images of ‘German banknote 10,000 marks 1922′. Some interesting results!

  • Kathleen Mickelson (@kcmickelson)

    Now that’s a good vampire story!

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    The protagonist must have been looking at a different banknote and a different portrait. I found nothing in this story to interest me.

  • http://redroom.com/member/fred-barnett Fred Barnett

    Very nice short tale. Worthy of a fine collection.

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    Thanks for the background, PML. Somehow I missed the post yesterday.

  • Mariev Finnegan

    PLM: Thanks. Also. I enjoy the comments as well as the story. Reading Everyday is like a collective; I’ve learned a lot.

  • Carl Steiger

    PML, you nailed it on the head. This collector of world paper money got his first example of the vampire note at the impressionable age of eleven.

    And Sarah, you make me blush. I’ll try not to be stingy with the pickle.

  • john brooke

    I hate vampires and zombie stories, but I make a poetic exception to this one. Dgnified and low-key, it really reeled me in. I can only give this fantazy 5 stars.

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