By: Carl R. Merritt


        For two weeks, Vampra has been running amok in Moore's Lake. For the most part, the assault team Captain Long had hastily put together has been unsuccessful in stopping her rampage of death. All they have managed to do, even with Abe's help, was slow the feral vampire down, making it harder for her to feed. So, despite public announcements on television and the newspaper articles warning the citizens to stay indoors after sunset, the deaths in Moore's Lake have continued at an alarming rate. Since Vampra's arrival, there have been thirty-two casualties . . . seven of which were young children.
        To make matters worse, the assault team was getting discouraged and just plain worn out. Even with the entire Moore's Lake Police Department joining in on the hunt for the vampire, the work was proving to be too exhausting. Police officers were putting in too many hours on the job with almost no sleep, their job performance suffering as a result. Men were falling asleep at their desks, at roll call, and even in their patrol cars . . . two officers were already on the list of casualties after the driver of their cruiser fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a telephone pole. Both officers were given medals of accommodation . . . posthumously.

        "The south side seems to be her favorite place to hit now, Captain. It looks like she's finding it too difficult now to find victims in the business district," Charles Peterson commented while staring at a city map tacked to a wall, a three day stubble on his face.
        "Small wonder," Captain Roscoe Long replied. "We've closed down second shift operations at the mill, the auto parts plant, and every other business that works at night. There's no one there at night now except us!"
        "And Abe," the reported added.
        "Yeah . . . Abe." Captain Long took a moment to rub his palms over his tired eyes. He was in over his head on this one and the entire department knew it. Endless nights of everyone patrolling the city streets in addition to handling the city's routine problems and finding Vampra's hidden lair during the daylight hours were draining his people, himself included. But what could he do, give everyone the night off and leave Vampra to her feeding spree unmolested? No, that wasn't an option. "Can you ask Abe to forget about looking over the business district and northern sections? See if he'll switch to the south side instead. If that's Vampra's new hunting grounds, that's where he ought to be."
        "I'll talk with him this afternoon, Roscoe," Peterson promised. "Right after my neighbor's funeral."
        "Yeah . . . I'm sorry about that woman, Charles. I was only a block away when it happened."
        "You have nothing to apologize for. She was warned just like everyone else. The woman just shouldn't have been out after dark." Peterson thought about the reason she was outside after sunset and didn't know whether to laugh, or cry. "Taking her trash out for the morning pickup! Jesus! How damned dumb can you get? So what if the trash men miss her garbage for one week? It certainly wasn't worth dying over!" Peterson slammed his fist on the captain's trash littered desk. He had never let the fact be known, but being a widower now for over five years, Peterson had had some feelings for his neighbor. Feelings he regretted now never having had acted upon.
        "Were you close?" the police captain asked, seeing the look of sadness in his friend's face.
        "We should have been. If only I wasn't such a fool."
        Captain Long knew when he was invading private territory and quickly changed the subject. "You still going out with us tonight?"
        "I'll be out every night until that evil bitch is dead!" the reporter swore.

They want to KILL me?

        Nine hours later sunset came and the hunt for Vampra was once again in full swing. Twenty-five Moore's Lake police officers and ten law officials from outside agencies searched the streets in squad cars and on foot for any small sign of the female vampire. But she had been so elusive during the past two weeks, had become so adept at eluding the police, no one had any real hopes of killing her. 
        Every cop involved in the search had, in addition to his customary weapons, a variety of weapons known to kill vampires, including wooden stakes, holy water, crucifixes and even small crossbows loaded with wooden bolts. No one thus far has been able to get close enough to Vampra to use any of these items.
        Patrolling in a squad car with Charles Peterson beside him, Captain Long slowly cruised along the southern areas of the city, his ears glued to the radio in case Vampra was spotted by another unit. The captain was angry because twice already, they were forced to escort three citizens inside their homes.
        "I can't understand these people!" Long exclaimed. "Don't they care about their own lives? Why won't they... ? Then he heard it. A call came over the police radio that Vampra had been spotted in the woods near the old cemetery. The captain floored the gas pedal and raced to the scene.
        "That's near Abe's tomb!" Peterson shouted, alarmed that the evil vampire would have the gall to venture that close to the ghoul's cave.
        "I know! I know! If she there, she's got something bad up her sleeve! There can't possibly be anyone dumb enough to be wandering around alone in the woods!"
        "It has to have something to do with Abe! Can't you move this thing any damned faster?!"
        Two minutes later, Captain Long pulled the police cruiser into the cemetery grounds and parked as close as he could to the woods so they would have as short a distance as possible to walk . . . run. Exiting the squad car and racing as fast as they could towards the tomb, they were met along the way by the two state troopers who had made the sighting.
        "Captain Long! We've spotted her!" the taller of the two officers shouted hysterically. "We saw her flying just above the trees!"
        "You saw her . . . flying?!" Long asked in astonishment. "How do you know it was her and not just another one of those damned bats?"
        "Oh! It was a woman all right! She had big wings like a bat, but with a figure like she had . . . believe us, it was a female vampire!"
        "Something doesn't add up here," Peterson remarked. "Vampra changes her entire shape into that of a bat when she flies. In fact, one of the problems we're having is, she's often mistook for one of Abe's bats! Are you sure?"
        "Yes, sir! It was definitely a female vampire!"
        Regardless of how certain the state troopers seemed, neither Peterson nor Captain Long thought much of the troopers' report. They both knew for a fact that Vampra always changed into a bat before she flew off. They had both witnessed that event on too many occasions.
        "Very well," the captain said, dismissing the men. "Begin a search of the cemetery. If you see anything else, give us another call."
        After the two state troopers departed, Peterson asked, "You don't believe them, do you?"
        "Of course not, Charles. They're just tired like the rest of us. And being this close to a cemetery probably has them so nervous, they're liable to start seeing pink bunny rabbits next."
        "Yeah, that could be it. What say as long as we're here anyway, we check and see if the bats are back inside the tomb?"
        "Let's go," Long replied with a shrug. The captain checked to make sure his police radio that he had clipped to his belt was turned on and then followed his friend to the one place on Earth he never wanted to be near again . . . Abe's tomb.
        As they approached the cave, Peterson noticed the look of dread on the captain's face and asked, "You never made it this far last time, did you, Roscoe? When your team tried to seal this place up for good."
        "Didn't even come close. Abe resurrected a few dozen of his old army buddies and the zombies attacked us in force. They buried us alive, for God's sake! Why we didn't die from lack of oxygen is anyone's guess! I'm just happy as hell the ghoul set us free!"
        Inside the cave, both men switched on their heavy-duty flashlights so they could see where they were going. There were no bats to attack them, but there were plenty of other things to make Captain Long very jittery. When they came to the skeleton of a two-headed man just outside the tomb's entrance, Peterson had to convince the captain not to turn back.
        "Roscoe, don't worry! There's nothing in here that's going to harm you!"
        What happened next even had the reporter about ready to jump out of his socks. A female voice . . . from right behind them!
        "Boy! Now those sound like 'famous last words' if ever I've heard them!"
        Both men spun around to see the most beautiful woman they had seen in years. She was dressed in a black, one piece leather jumpsuit, the top half, nothing more than a backless halter. The bottom portion of the outfit was so tight, it looked as though it was put on with a spray can. The woman's jet black hair was long, reaching down to her waist, every strand neatly in place. She was so beautiful, the two men had a hard time deciding what to stare at . . . her gorgeous figure, or her classic Grecian face, which in some ways reminded both Peterson and Long of an American Indian princess.
        When the woman noticed that all the two men could do was stare with their mouths agape, she decided to introduce herself.
        "Hello, boys . . . I'm Darlene!  And I'm here to help!"
        Then she smiled . . . and showed the canine teeth of a vampire.

        The sun had fallen and the Foster family was preparing to sit down to eat a late dinner in their home located within the Moore's Lake elite district. Having heard all about Vampra every day and night on the news, they all made sure there was no reason whatsoever to step outside the house after the sun had gone down. Each member of the family thought that they were completely safe.
        They were wrong.
        As Mrs. Foster left the kitchen with a large roast in her hands, she heard her son scream from the family room. Hurrying to set the roast down on the table, she ran to see what the problem was, meeting her husband along the way. They skidded to a halt together and stood in shock at what they saw.
        Bats. They were everywhere.
        They had made their way into the house through an open window and were viciously attacking their son, biting him and tearing away at his clothes with their sharp claws.
        As any protective parents would do, they ran to their son's aid, trying their best to chase away the bats. However, as much as they tried to shield their son from the gruesome creatures, it was all in vain. There were far too many bats for any type of defense to be effective. The Fosters knew their only option was to run.
        Mr. and Mrs. Foster grabbed their son and ran for the front door, hoping to make it to their car which was parked on the driveway before the bats could follow. They never made it.
        Waiting for them just outside the front door was Vampra. Upon seeing the Fosters, she immediately hurled her naked body at the husband, knocking him unconscious. The boy continued to run and eventually made it to safety, but the wife was not so lucky. The vampire grabbed Mrs. Foster as she tried to follow her son and backhanded the woman across the face. Falling, Mrs. Foster tried to scream but found her face buried in the soft dirt of her flower garden. Spitting out loose soil, the woman felt Vampra jump onto her back, then her head being pulled up by the hair. 
        The next thing Mrs. Foster felt was the last thing she would ever feel as a living being. It was the sharp canine teeth of Vampra sinking into the soft flesh of her neck.
        Five minutes later, as a satiated Vampra once again changed into her bat form and flew off, Mrs. Foster stirred and slowly rose to her feet. She had not died as a result of being bitten by Vampra, instead . . . the small town of Moore's Lake now had another vampire to deal with.

        Peterson, Long and "Darlene" sat on some large rocks inside the cavern so they would be a little more comfortable as the beautiful vampire told her story. The flashlights did a fine job of illuminating the cave after Peterson had hung them upside down from a low spot in the ceiling. 
        Captain Long was getting edgy as he listened to Darlene's explanation of how she had been searching for Vampra for nearly a month. She talked with an air of care-free indifference, as though she knew everything would eventually turn out okay. To Long's way of thinking, her free-spirited attitude could just be a pretense to put them off guard. His right hand just didn't seem to want to move away from his firearm that rested inside its easy-out holster...
        "Basically, all we did was follow the trail of bloodless corpses," Darlene commented, watching the police captain unconsciously caress his revolver. With a smile, she continued. "Articles in the newspapers helped a lot, but most of our information came from official police reports."
        "You talk as if there are two of you searching for Vampra," Long said, suspicion written all over his face. "Who else is helping you and how is it that you were able to get your hands on official police reports?"
        "A wonderful man by the name of Bret Talman is helping me. He's been with me for years, Captain. He used to be a cop in San Diego, but quit because of personal reasons. That's how he helped me get the police files, through his old buddies still on the force. Bret should be arriving here within a few hours with our motorhome. I hope he arrives soon. If he doesn't, I'll have to spend the day in this dreadful cave to avoid the sunlight!"
        "You live in a motorhome?"
        "Yes, Charles, I do. Just because I'm a vampire doesn't mean I have to live in a haunted castle and siphon the blood out of human victims all night long. If you want to know the truth of matters, I haven't had human blood since Vince, the vampire that originally bit both me and Vampra, was killed by a group of farmers. While he was alive, we were forced to be a part of his little 'harem' if you will, do his bidding. But now that he's gone, Vampra and I are free to do as we wish."
        "You two were his slaves?" Long asked, his hand still near his revolver.
        "Unfortunately," replied Darlene. "Our free will was completely under Vince's control. But when he died, our minds were once again our own. Well, at least mine was. Vampra's mind was gone long before that. She went insane soon after turning into a vampire. I don't think her mind could handle all the lives she was forced to take." Darlene took a second to consider Captain Long's mistrust of her and how he kept his hand so close to his weapon. "Captain, please take your hand away from your firearm. First of all, it won't kill me and second . . . it's an insult. How would you feel if our roles were reversed and I was itching to put a bullet in your head? If you can't trust me, I can't help you capture Vampra."
        "Capture? Who said anything about capturing the bitch?! We want to drive a damned stake through her evil heart and send her straight to hell! There is no 'capturing' here, lady! You understand me on that?"
        Being a reporter for so many years has made Charles Peterson quite efficient at picking up on facial expressions. When he noticed Darlene's look of horror, he knew he and Captain Long haven't been told the whole story yet. "Just who is this Vampra and why do you care so much about her?" he asked.
        "She's my cousin, that's who she is!" Darlene almost cried out. "Gail Holland! . . . once a timid little girl who almost flunked high school biology because she refused to dissect a frog! She thought it was too cruel, too disgusting! And now, after having been forced to kill people and feed on human blood, her fragile mind just simply gave out. She hasn't even been sane enough to speak for years! Gail needs to be captured and cared for, not killed like some. . . !" Darlene broke down and began to weep. It was clear to the men that the two vampires had been very close when they were younger. Still are, in fact. Darlene rose before anyone saw her tears and turned her back to the two men. As she moved off to collect herself, her hushed sobs were still audible.

        Feeling like a complete fool, Captain Long moved his hand away from his weapon as he considered all he had learned so far about this female vampire. Darlene Holland, born 1953, died, along with her cousin, at the age of 20 years old after being bitten by "Vince." Now, years later, her body retained the youth it had just before she had been bitten. Their master is dead, leaving the two vampires free to do as they please. And with the powers Darlene had already more or less admitted to having, there wasn't much she wasn't capable of. Also, if you took in consideration Darlene's looks: around five feet six, 115 pounds, long black hair nearly down to her waist, a smile that would melt a man's heart and a body women would kill for, the beautiful vampire could have just about anything she wanted - just by asking. She was really quite a knockout. Noticing the cute little wiggle in her hips as she walked away, Captain Long would've bet anything that Darlene had more than her fair share of guys chasing after her a quarter of a century ago.
        Captain Long took Peterson by the arm and walked over to the beautiful vampire, hoping to put her mind at ease.
        As if she knew Captain Long and Charles Peterson were approaching, Darlene turned before they reached her, startling them both. There was a small smile on her face as she asked, "Well? Did my little act fool you?"
        Both men knew Darlene's display of emotion had been no act, but they decided to go along with the charade if it made the girl feel better.
        "You certainly are a good actress! You had me fooled," Peterson stated, his face reflecting that he knew the truth.
        "Thank you, dear sir!" Darlene replied, curtsying like a woman straight out of Gone With the Wind. "I had to do something to convince you not to kill my cousin! She didn't choose to become a vampire any more than I did. She's a victim . . . an insane victim. Killing her would be a terrible injustice!"
        "You're right, Darlene," the captain agreed. "We capture Vampra, we don't drive a stake though her heart. As a police officer, it's my duty to try and capture any suspect alive . . . er, well... " 
        This time, Darlene's smile was entirely genuine as she said, "Don't worry, Captain. I don't know what to call the state we're in either. Gail and I certainly aren't dead, nor are we totally alive. Call it somewhere in between."
        More to change the subject than anything else, Peterson asked Darlene if she had any ideas how they could capture her cousin. He explained how difficult it had been up to that point just to spot her. Capturing the elusive girl would be even harder.
        "We use bait," the vampire said simply.
        "No good. We've tried that," Captain Long said, shaking his head. "I've had female officers roaming the streets with hidden backup for six days now. Your cousin just doesn't take the bait."
        "Of course Gail wouldn't attack your officers, Captain. Like all vampires, she has a sixth sense or 'special power' when it comes to the mortal mind. She uses a portion of that ability to control her victims just before she attacks them. It also allows her to determine if a situation is a trap, or not. But the good part is, that sixth sense only works if the intended victim is alive. What we use for bait is me! Vampra won't pick up my thoughts, or emotions. That will confuse her, but if she's hungry enough, she'll attack me regardless. When she does, I'll keep her occupied while everyone moves in." 
        "But how do we capture her?" Peterson repeated. "Okay, we can lure her in, but then what? We can't just throw a net over her!"
        Everyone, including Darlene, was startled at the deep, resonating voice and spun around to see Abe just a few feet away, hovering just inches off the ground and partially hidden in the shadows.
        "What do you plan to do?" Darlene asked, suspicion evident in her tone.
        "Okay, let's get started," Captain Long suggested. "The sooner we... "
        Everyone began asking Abe questions at once, but were interrupted by the sounds of someone outside the cave. Whoever was coming was shouting, cursing at the top of his lungs and making enough noise to wake the dead.
        "That has to be Bret!" Darlene shouted as she dashed towards the cave entrance. With everyone on her heels, she explained. "He absolutely hates dark and confined places like this and when he finds himself with no other choice but to enter one, he always raises three kinds of hell like he's doing now. You see he fell in a pit and was trapped for two days when he was a child and that's left him scarred for life. In short, Bret has a severe case of claustrophobia! That's one reason he gave up being a cop."
        "What's the other reason?" Long asked.
        Outside the cave now, Darlene explained as she listened for signs of her friend. "Vampra was running wild out in California a while back and everyone out there thought all vampires were alike. So when I went partying one night in San Diego, someone caught on that I wasn't quite mortal and called the police. I was in hiding for almost a month after that. With everyone in the state looking for me and Vampra, I was just barely able to go out at night and feed. And Bret . . . well, he was a detective on the San Diego police force and his last assignment was to destroy me, drive a stake through my heart. But when he finally tracked me down, he realized I was not evil and he couldn't do it. Seeing that Bret couldn't fulfill his assignment, his superiors assigned someone else to the case. By that time Bret and I had become good friends and he quit the force to help protect me from being killed by vampire hunters. We've been together ever since. Without Bret, I wouldn't be here now."
        "I don't hear him anymore," Peterson said, scanning the dark woods. "Maybe we better split up and look for him."
        "All right, but let's not get too separated. Okay? Remember Vampra's still around somewhere too! About fifty yards apart! No further!"
        A few minutes later, Captain Long spotted Bret Talman. The ex-police officer was stumbling around and cursing about a hundred yards in the distance. Without a flashlight and with his dark clothing, he was almost completely invisible. It was such a dark night that if Talman had stayed motionless and kept quiet, he could have remained undetected until daybreak. As it was, Captain Long was able to home in on Bret's extreme cursing with no difficulty.
        "Hey, Buddy! Over here!" The police captain then waved his spare flashlight above his head to help guide the man. Long knew his shout was loud enough for the other to hear. Within moments, the others came running up.
        Bret Talman was met halfway by an anxious Darlene, who threw herself into his waiting arms. Both human and vampire shared an embrace that made it clear to everyone that a strong relationship had developed between the two. Instantly, Bret's loud cursing had stopped. Obviously, just being in Darlene's arms was enough to soothe the man.
        "Wow!" Charles Peterson exclaimed, his reporter's mind already racing. "What a story this is gonna make!"
        "You got that right," replied Captain Long, eyes glued to the scene.
        Both men looked to Abe with the knowledge that since he could read minds he had to be correct. But still, glancing back at the scene, they had to wonder.
        "Gentlemen! Let me introduce to you my best friend . . . Bret Talman."
        Introductions continued for another minute and as everyone made their way back inside the cave, Bret asked, "Where do you want to keep the motorhome, Darlene?"
        The vampire looked over at Captain Long, hoping he had some idea of a safe place in mind. 
        At first, the police captain couldn't see what difference it made where the motorhome was parked. As far as he was concerned, any vacant lot would have been okay. Then, noticing the look of concern on the faces of both Darlene and Bret, Captain Long finally caught on. With Darlene extremely vulnerable during the daylight hours, wherever the motorhome was located, it had to be in a place where it could be easily defended. Everyone in the country knew about the city's problems with Vampra and vampire hunters were everywhere. Where would be a good, safe place? he wondered. It would be a big help if Darlene's base was situated somewhere nearby in case she was needed in a hurry, but that meant there would also be other people around. That meant the shopping center parking lot was out as well as any other paved section of land. Parked outside the police station? In a private warehouse somewhere?
        Captain long was even considering having Bret park the huge vehicle in his own driveway when the ghoul once again came up with the perfect answer.
        "In the cave?" Bret sputtered out, his fears already surfacing.
        "It would be the safest place," Peterson said, totally agreeing with Abe. "Very few people go in there and those that do go straight to Abe's tomb. If it can be arranged so that the motorhome is also hidden somehow inside the cave, there's no better choice."
        Darlene, knowing also that the cave was the best idea, went over to Bret to comfort him. Holding his hand, she said, "It'll be all right, Partner. Try not to worry. And isn't it better to be safe than sorry?"
        Staying close to the cave's entrance so not to cause Bret any undo anxiety, the group made plans on how they would capture Vampra well into the wee hours of the morning. Even with the illumination of the flashlights hanging from the ceiling, the cave was still too dark and creepy for Bret's liking. Fact of the matter was, he was scared to death. A claustrophobic man had no business at all being inside a dark cave. None.
        As the planning continued, dawn arrived and that meant Darlene was confined to the relative safety of Abe's cave. For her, going out into the sunlight was a torturous death. And this brought up another problem. The motorhome, which housed separate beds for both her and her friend, was still wherever Bret had parked it. It wasn't absolutely necessary for Darlene to stay in the motorhome, of course, but the idea of sleeping on the cold, hard stone of Abe's tomb disgusted her. Like anyone else, she simply preferred her own bed.
        "Abe," she said as the meeting was breaking up, "I need my motorhome. I believe you said something about... " Darlene stopped as the entire cave began to tremble. As this continued, sounds of reverberation came from somewhere deeper underground. Dust, bits of mold, algae and small pebbles began to fall from the top of the cavern, covering everyone with its filth.
        "IT IS DONE. FOLLOW."
        Dusting themselves off, Peterson, Long, Talman and the vampire Darlene followed the ghoul deeper into the cave. Just before they reached the spot where Abe's tomb was located, everyone saw a new opening in the cavern's left wall. Abe had fashioned another corridor within his cave. The new tunnel had a slight downward slope, was roughly a hundred yards in length and like the main cave, it was high enough whereas the group didn't have to stoop over to navigate their way through. Everyone was impressed with the raw energy that Abe had at his command. And as if all this wasn't enough, the ghoul's accomplishment at the end of the tunnel was enough to put his guests in a state of shock.
        It was a gigantic cavern, perhaps a hundred yards in both length and width and at least fifty feet in height. Artificial lighting, not harmful to vampires, illuminated the huge expanse to show how Abe had smoothed the rocks along the sides to resemble the inside walls of a house. The cavern floor had been turned into a small meadowland . . . rich, green grass everywhere. In the center of the expanse, a small rock formation boasted fresh spring water spouting from the top and gurgling like a small mountain stream. And to top it all off, parked right next to the spring was Darlene's motorhome, a power cord coming from God knows where plugged into its side.
        "I can't believe this!" Darlene said almost in a sigh of astonishment. "Is there anything you're not capable of?" Examining her new home more thoroughly, Darlene saw that there was another small chamber at the far end of the cavern. It was an area about twenty foot square. It was very luxuriously made up with all the necessities of vampire life and it was also very clear to Darlene that this was intended to be Vampra's living quarters . . . her cell. The gate at its entrance, along with its very tightly woven steel links was enough proof of that.
        "And Bret?"
        Once again feeling the terrifying emotions he had experienced as a child, Bret Talman looked around at the faces of his companions, hoping beyond reason that Darlene would turn down the offer. But he saw in her eyes that she had already accepted the ghoul's unbelievable generosity. Not that he could blame her, of course. Hiding the motorhome in the cave did make a lot of sense, but...
        "Well? What do you think?" asked Darlene, looking to her friend. "I'd really like to stay here. We'd never have to run away from people again and we can look after Gail as well. Think you can handle all this?"
        "I don't know," Bret replied. "I'll have to give a lot of thought to the idea of living inside a cave. The very notion gives me the creeps. I'm not like you, Darlene, I just can't sprout wings and fly out of here every time I want to go somewhere. If I accept living here, I'd have to stomp through that thick gooey stuff in the main cavern, try not to trip and kill myself on anything . . . I just don't know. I'll let you know later. Okay?"
        Captain Long still had one question that was bothering him. And this seemed like the perfect time to ask.
        "One more thing, Darlene. Then we'll get going and let you get some rest. I can only assume it was you my men spotted approaching this cave last night, but they reported seeing a 'girl with wings' rather than a large bat. Can you explain this?"
        "It's simple, Captain. I can either change into a bat when I want to go somewhere fast, or I can 'sprout' large bat-like wings and retain my human form while I fly. Vampra, with her deranged mind, can only change into a bat. But, being rather modest in nature, I prefer to keep my present form when I travel."
        "What in the world has 'modesty' got to do with anything?" Charles Peterson asked, his reporter's instinct totally bewildered.
        Abe was getting bored with this conversation and decided to return to the spirit world for the time being. So, with a swirling mist of energy and starry light, he simply vanished while Darlene tried to explain.
        "Uh, Charles . . . haven't you noticed the outfit I'm wearing? Bare in the back?" Darlene was hoping the men would catch on so she wouldn't have to go into detail, but noticing their expressions, it didn't look like she was going to have any luck. "All right. Let me give you a little example. Now watch very carefully, gentlemen. You'll see why I don't change into a bat."
        Facing the men, the beautiful girl closed her eyes and tilted her head back slightly in concentration. As she did so, her torso and shoulders began to widen to rival those of a man, apparently gathering strength as they enlarged. As her torso enlarged, the top of her leather outfit stretched to its limits, nearing the point of ripping apart at the seams. Within seconds, small, leathery wings began to appear from the girl's shoulder blades . . . growing until they were a good ten feet from wingtip to wingtip.
        "This is how I prefer to get around," Darlene stated, her canines becoming more pronounced with the change. "These wings are the reason I wear backless outfits. If there was any material back there, the wings would have ripped right through the fabric as they grew. Are you catching on yet?"
        It was clear Long and Peterson hadn't.
        "Essentially, if she changed into a bat, Darlene would be naked," Bret said, taking over for Darlene to save her a little embarrassment. "When she changes into a bat, her clothes remain as they are and she just slips out of them as she transforms. Then sometime later, when she changes back into her human form, she'd be in her birthday suit until she could find some clothes. That's what 'modesty' has to do with it, gentlemen."
        "Deranged, my cousin no longer has the capability to grow wings, Captain. She can only change form into that of a bat. That's why she's always seen naked whenever someone spots her. She can't very well carry her clothes around with her when she flies, can she?"

It gets COLD sometimes!

        That evening, an hour after sundown, a lone bat circled high in the cloudless sky over Moore's Lake, searching for prey. The bat, Vampra, was once again famished and even her crippled mind was aware that human blood was getting harder and harder to come by. The previous night the starving vampire was close to the point of feeding on some farm animal when the idea of using the bats to drive a family out of their home occurred to her.
        The very thought of animal blood as a meal disgusted Vampra. Vince had ordered her to feed only on humans and that was what she had done since the day she had turned into a vampire. Her once quick mind now demented, Vampra still believed she had to obey the commands of her old master, even though he was now dead. While she searched the streets below, Vampra's mind went back to the time when she learned her master was gone forever. Poor Vince, she thought, brutally slain, killed at the hands of farmers while asleep.
        Hungry and near starvation, Vampra wondered if she would share the same fate if she couldn't find food this evening, never waking up from the day's sleep. But in the end, does it really matter? she wondered. Vampra knew that no matter how well she fed, someday she would end up just like Vince . . . killed in her sleep.
        Suddenly, the vampire sensed movement down below and spotted an old woman locking up the front door of a business and walking out into the same parking lot where Vampra had fed on a young man two weeks earlier. She still remembered how sweet the warm blood had tasted as she gulped it down from the stub where the man's hand had been. And now, here was another potential victim making the same mistake...
        As Vampra swept down to attack, she knew this old woman's blood may not be as savory and sweet as that of someone younger, but with the recent lack of humans on the street at night, this might be her only chance to feed. The vampire was quite aware that if this old woman somehow got away, the only other available meal would be the blood of a revolting farm animal. Vampra folded her wings in tighter to increase her speed and homed in towards the old woman.
        Just before Vampra, still in the form of a bat, could drive herself into the back of the old woman's neck, the "old woman" turned. Too late, Vampra realized it was a trap. It was her cousin, Darlene, dressed in shabby clothes and wig, using her mental powers of the undead to cloak her identity from Vampra's mind.
        Unable to stop her decent, Vampra flew directly into Darlene's waiting arms, who had braced herself for the impact. Being held by both wings, Vampra quickly changed form into that of a human and soon both vampires were in a life or death struggle. Vampra, naked as the day she was born, took Darlene by the front of her loose clothing and spun her to the ground, the gray wig falling away. Darlene's torn dress fell off as she rolled on the hard concrete, revealing the tight, black leather jumpsuit she was wearing underneath. Sensing victory, or at least an escape, Vampra let out a gut wrenching scream, backed away from her fallen cousin and tried to run. But before she was able to get ten yards, a very agile Darlene jumped her from behind. Both women were then struggling on the ground, wrestling like they did when they were children. It was nearly an even match between the two incredibly strong women with Darlene having only a slight advantage because of her still active mind. Because of this, Darlene was able to anticipate Vampra's moves and was defending herself with a little more efficiency and grace. Vampra on the other hand, was nothing short of a wild woman as she tried to bite her cousin, claw Darlene's eyes out with dagger-like fingernails.
        "Damn it, Gail! Stop it!" Darlene shouted as she barely avoided a slash across the face. "We don't have to do this! I can help you!"
        Vampra wasn't listening. The only thing occupying her weak and demented mind was escape, no matter what the cost to her cousin. That is, of course, if she even recognized the person she was struggling with as being her cousin...
        Then suddenly, her strength waning, Darlene got an idea.
        "Gail! Mommy will spank you if you hurt me!"
        Vampra ceased in her grappling for just an instant, her eyes taking on a look of bewilderment. This momentary pause in the fight gave Darlene the opportunity to get behind her cousin and wrap an arm around her neck. 
        Lying flat on her back, her naked cousin squirming around on top of her, Darlene took a deep breath and screamed, "Abe! Now!"
        Appearing out of nowhere, the ghoul stood next to the two vampires and did something very strange . . . even for him. His appearance once again changed. At first it looked as though he might disappear again in that familiar star filled swirling mist. But this time, instead of vanishing, Abe turned his ghoulish form into pure cosmic matter. A glow emanated from his form that, at this short range, was enough to completely overcome Vampra. Darlene, shielded by her cousin's naked body, wearing clothes, and having her eyes tightly shut was not too badly affected by the pseudo sunlight. Vampra on the other hand, passed out almost immediately.
        Abe hurried to change back into his normal form, that of a ghoul, so he would not hurt Darlene, or do any further damage to her evil cousin. He turned, looking back at the store from which Darlene had exited to see Captain Long and Charles Peterson. They were carrying a long metal box, big enough to hold the inert form of Vampra.
        "Lay her down gently," Darlene urged as she watched the two men put her cousin in the coffin-like container. "We vampires are extremely vulnerable when we're not conscious. Broken bones and even death can occur even with the slightest impact."
        Everyone heard the ambulance as it pulled up. Driving was Bret Talman, who had insisted on being of some help in capturing Vampra, but refused to being part of putting the fallen vampire in such a constricting container as the metal box.
        "I'll open the back!" he said, getting out of the ambulance and going around to the rear. "The others are already at the tomb, waiting for us!" He waited until the container was loaded aboard the ambulance, then drove off with Captain Long and Charles Peterson in the front and Darlene in the back with her cousin. Abe refused to ride in such an ungainly device as the ambulance and simply vanished. He would return to the cave in his own way.

        The beam from the flashlight was dim, the smells of mold, fungus and death were terrible. The dark cavern walls seemed to reach out to him as he plodded through pools of some unknown, sticky substance. A bat, unseen and once again free of Vampra's will, fluttered nearby. Its very presence a sign of evil, terror.
        It's been two days since the capture of Vampra . . . Gail. And for two days, the man has been dreading this walk, this test of his bravery. But he knew this was something he must do, a decision he had just recently made. And this being a test was the reason he had chosen to make this journey at night. If he could make it in near darkness, hopefully in the daytime, it would be easier.
        An eternity later, as he neared the wall of stone . . . Abe's tomb . . . he read the inscription to the left of the small opening, "All Ye Who Enter Beware. A Price For Those Who Dare!" The man shook his head to clear it and moved the flashlight beam off to his left to a small curve in the cave wall. There, nearly invisible, was the entrance to another tunnel, his destination. He walked towards the opening, holding his breath in despair.
        "Good evening, Mr. Talman. Glad to see you made it, sir!" It was the police woman, Marcia Lewis, on guard at the entrance to Darlene's cave. "For a minute there, when I heard footsteps, I thought it was someone wanting a request of Abe. I'm so glad it's you instead!" Then Marcia noticed the look on Bret's face and asked, "Are you all right, sir?"
        Bret took a deep breath and tried to gather the steadiness to respond. He knew he should be congratulating himself for having the courage and motivation to have traveled this far into the cave all by himself, but in front of this lovely young blonde, who obviously thought nothing of standing guard for two vampires, he felt only like a fool . . . and a coward. "Young lady, I just wish I had half your courage," he replied, meaning every word.
        "This isn't bad so far, sir. Vampra is securely locked up and Darlene comes out to talk once in a while. My only problem is with letting anyone who wishes to see Abe go inside his tomb. I don't know if I can allow them to do that, or not."
        "Hah! You better, little girl! You've heard his warning just like I have. You let no one into Darlene's tunnel here, but if you try and stop anyone from seeing Abe... "
        "Yes, sir! I know! That's what I'm afraid of! But don't worry, I'll handle it, sir!"
        Bret considered that and thought what a crazy thing fear was. Different people are afraid of different things and absolutely no one understood each other's fears. As for himself, Bret knew he would have no problems allowing anyone in to see the ghoul. The way he figured it, if anyone was foolish enough to do so, they would deserve their fate. But his own fears were something altogether different. These he understood all too well. The fear of confined and dark places . . . claustrophobia. It was something he's had since he was a small child, something he knew he would have until the day he died. But somehow, seeing this petite slip of a woman face up to her fear gave Bret enough courage to travel the second half of his journey through the caves.
        "Thank you," Bret said to Marcia as he passed her, knowing he still had a hundred yards to go through the second tunnel.
        "For what, sir?" she called out from the tunnel's entrance.
        "For being honest for one thing," replied Bret. Then, under his breath, he added, "And for helping a dumb ex-cop work up the courage to do what he knows is right!"
        Five minutes later, Bret came to the end of the second tunnel. He saw how it opened up to form a gigantic cavern of lush plant life, artificial lighting and fresh air. In the center was Darlene's motorhome, being fed power from some unknown electrical source. Quickly, he walked into the cavern, feeling better with every step.
        "Darlene! Are you here?" he called out, hoping his friend was not out feeding, partying in town, or asleep in her RV. Why didn't I ask Marcia Lewis if Darlene was in? he wondered. I could've waited outside with her instead of coming through the second tunnel for no reason! But then Bret realized there had been a reason. The test of his bravery . . . and he had passed!
        "Over here! In the cell!" the beautiful vampire responded from the other side of the huge expanse. "Come on back! Gail is calmed down somewhat now!"
        Bret walked through the "bubble inside the mountain" as he liked to call it and past his friend's motorhome. It was then he saw Darlene inside the cell with Vampra . . . Gail. Dressed now in one of Darlene's black jumpsuits, Bret realized this was the first time he had ever seen Vam... er, Gail with her clothes on. For that matter, it was also the first time he had ever seen her while she was not trying to kill someone by sucking away all their precious blood.
        "Are you sure it's safe to be in there with her?" Bret asked, fear for his friend's safety overpowering his own claustrophobia. Gail was lying on a plush couch, one of many expensive and comfortable items situated inside her large cell. Darlene was leaning over her cousin, lightly stroking the wicked vampire's long black hair and soothing her with soft words of encouragement.
        "You know how my presence can always calm you down when you're having one of your attacks? Well, it seems to be working with Gail as well. She hasn't spoken a word since we captured her, but she's no longer going bananas on me either. This morning, she even managed to get a little bit of cow's blood down without vomiting also. I'm seeing that as Gail passing her first hurdle on her road to sanity."
        "Is she going to be all right?"
        "I think so," the beautiful vampire responded, still stroking Vampra's hair. "She's very weak from lack of food, but with the cow's blood in her now, I'm hoping she'll get stronger."
        "Darlene, I've made my decision."
        "I know. I can see it in your mind. You're staying with me to help care for Gail and I'm glad. I was with you when you first entered the cave, you know. I was the bat you heard. I knew I couldn't help you with this test, but I wanted to be with you all the same!" Darlene then left Gail's cell, locked it securely, and then ran to Bret. She jumped into his waiting arms and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. "Bret, I had already decided that you were more important to me than Gail and I being safe from the vampire hunters. If you hadn't conquered your claustrophobia back there, if you would have turned back in fear, I wasn't going to stay here either! I would have packed up Gail . . . somehow or another . . . and followed you wherever you would have gone!"
        Bret didn't know what to say, what to do. What words were enough to explain to a person how much you cared for them?  "Darlene, if I would have known that, and if I couldn't have made it through that cave by myself . . . I think I might have committed suicide so you and your cousin could remain here. I don't think I would have had any other choice! Your friendship and safety are the most important things in the world to me!"
        Darlene was about to protest when a noise from the cell caught her attention. It was Vampra. Now, for the first time since the mid-seventies, she was attempting to communicate, to actually speak.
        "Dar . . Darlene?"

The End 

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E-Mail me at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com