He gazed, transfixed, at the dancing star-filled vault above that crowned these barren cornfields. It was just past midnight on All Hallows Eve and the stars sparkled with urgent brilliance, as if trying to tell him something.
“I shouldn’t have taken that second hit,” Robby heard himself say. The voice seemed to come from somewhere else. As the acid rush overwhelmed him, the whole world began to breathe, shimmer, and dance. The cosmos seemed so vast tonight—so mysterious and alive.
“There are so many stars,” he heard the voice say. It seemed as if he’d never truly seen a night sky before. “And they are so much closer now.”
As he looked at the night-sky, he realized he was peering into infinite space. He recalled that scene in The Misfits where Eli Wallach’s character tells Gable and Monroe that the stars are so far away that their light may have died thousands of years before it ever reaches our eyes. “Are you even out there anymore?” Robby wondered aloud, suddenly realizing what Eli Wallach’s character meant. It was possible that every star in the sky had vanished before Robby was even born, before the first humans stood upright, before the dinosaurs roamed the earth—that the stars were so far away that their dying light was still traveling through the void of outer space to bid us farewell.
Suddenly, his reverie was broken. Somewhere in the dark unlit yard behind him, his friends were yelling excitedly, taking standing positions far from each other in the near-pitch darkness. Robby thought it strange that they were “going to play baseball” in the front yard so late at night. Then he felt a great blast of heat and a bright light flashed behind him, accompanied by a loud whooshing sound as if someone had ignited a giant blowtorch. He turned to look.
His teenage friend and host, Heiki Stevenson, a slim but powerfully built young Swede with blonde shoulder-length hair, stood at the far corner of the front yard of his mother’s home. Heiki and his mother, a widow, had immigrated to America from Sweden a few years before and he still spoke with a pronounced European accent. Girls especially found this charming. He was a painter and guitar player of no small talent, and one of the first hippies Robby had ever known. But more than anything else, his friends knew Heiki as a world-class prankster, and there was no telling what an evening partying with him might lead to.
Across the yard from the mischievous host, about 30 feet away, Robby noticed their friend Bruce in the shadows, screaming at the top of his lungs.
“Shit man!” cried Bruce at Heiki. “You almost scorched me! Now it’s your turn— idiot!”
Robby noticed the can of lighter fluid in Bruce’s hand and realized immediately what was going on. They were playing a favorite game called Dueling Dragons that Heiki had invented the last time they all tripped together on acid like tonight. The game was simple: two opponents stood back-to-back and walked off 10 paces in the opposite direction, just like an old-fashioned duel. Then the duelists turned to face each other, a can of lighter fluid and a lighter, their only weapons. Filling their mouths with volatile fluid, each opponent took turns holding a flame to his lips and blowing hard in the other’s direction.
Bruce leaned forward targeting Heiki, held his cigarette lighter to his mouth and blew as hard as he could. A huge blast of flame arched in Heiki’s direction, nearly reaching him across the dark yard.
“This is crazy!” thought Robby as he watched. “These idiots are going to set someone on fire if they keep this up.” Every few minutes, they blew roaring flames at each other like dragons in combat. But his friends were laughing and dancing about the yard, obviously enjoying themselves. Robby was reluctant to rain on their parade.
“They’re just having fun,” he told himself. “I better cross the yard while I can.” Stooping low to duck under the line of fire, he raced across the yard between the adversaries. A blast of flame erupted from Heiki’s mouth that arched over him as he ran, singe-ing Robby’s hair.
“Heiki, you stupid jerk!” he yelled, now safely beyond the fire on the front steps of the house. Robby could smell the foul odor of his own slightly singed hair. He found it nauseating. Heiki just laughed.
“Too hot fer yeew?!” shouted Heiki. “Den yeew get out of da kitchen. Yah?” Heiki filled his mouth with another shot of fluid, blew a huge flame into the sky, and began prancing about the yard imitating a giant bird, flapping his arms as if they were wings.
With the thought of kitchen planted foremost in his mind, Robby opened the front door, crossed the living room, and entered Heiki’s kitchen. His curiosity gave way to a ravenous hunger as the aroma of freshly baked bread filled the room. Robby opened the oven door and noticed a large loaf of bread sitting there. It was hot to the touch.
He wondered briefly who might have baked the bread, but the delightful aroma distracted him. He barely noticed several of his friends race past him through the kitchen. They disappeared inside the house as Robby lifted the bread gingerly from the oven. He tore off a piece of the rump, at first too hot to hold. His fingers blistering, he tore the loaf quickly into smaller chunks, placed them side by side on the kitchen counter, and blew on them to cool them off. While doing this, he lost track of time.
The next thing Robby knew, he was choking on a loaf of bread. He didn’t recall how it happened. But while coughing up huge chunks of partially chewed dough, he realized that he’d tried to swallow the entire loaf at once. He couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid. At least it hadn’t stuck in his windpipe and choked him to death.
At the sink, his burned and thirsty mouth held open under the running tap, he began to laugh. Robby laughed at how stupid he’d been to attempt this. He laughed at how near he’d come to catching fire when crossing the yard between his friends, the “Dueling Dragons.” Then his laughter was interrupted when he heard a strange voice coming from the front living room.
Curious, he entered the dimly lit room, but it was empty except for the furnishings. He was surprised to find no one there. Robby swore to himself he’d heard someone speaking. He glanced out at the dark front yard through the large plate glass window. The Dueling Dragons were nowhere to be seen. He was completely alone.
“Suzie, Suzie Creamcheese … This is the voice of your conscience speaking” he heard the room say. He glanced about quickly in all directions but couldn’t locate the voice. Was it inside his head? Or was the room itself speaking to him as if it shared his own inmost thoughts? As if it were his conscience.
He surveyed the room, slowly this time. The walls themselves began to breathe in rhythm with Robby’s breathing. In. Out. In. Out. The entire room had come alive, attuned to his breath, as if he and the room were one being. Then the voice continued and bizarre music he’d never heard before began playing. It seemed, somehow, strangely familiar.
Then, in the soft light at the far end of the room, he noticed a revolving turntable. Someone had put a record on. Robby approached the turntable and found the album jacket, a new record by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention.
“Wow,” he spoke aloud. “This is very strange music.”
A sound behind him raised the hairs on the back of Robby’s neck. Something shuffled in the darkness as he turned to face the room. Staring at the far end of the room, his eyes were drawn to the dark central hallway, filled with thick shadows. He turned off the record player.
“Is anyone there?” asked Robby, hyper-alert, his ears straining against the sudden silence. “Where is everybody?” he wondered, wishing someone would make a sound or come into the house so he wouldn’t be so alone.
An ominous hissing sound erupted from the dark hallway, striking terror in Robby’s heart.
“Hey, who’s there?” he demanded. His question was answered with another loud hiss, like that of an angry cat. “Hey, this is really freaking me out!” Robby protested to the hissing darkness. The rhythmic breathing of the room and walls had lost their charm and only added to his mounting dread.
Robby spotted something moving within the dark hallway—a shadow shifting within a shadow. He heard almost silent footsteps creeping forward, approaching him, nearly drowned out by the sound of his own heartbeat, the blood thumping now in his ears. Then a hand reached slowly out of the shadows into the dim light of the living room. Robby instinctively moved back as far as he could until he felt his back bump against a wall.
“At least it can’t get behind me,” he thought, his mind racing to protect himself. “What can I do?”
The hand pointed a threatening finger at Robby and came forward. At first an arm became visible, then a foot … Then the entire front of Heiki’s body slithered forward into the dull light. His appearance had changed. His long blonde hair looked mussed up like the mane of some wild beast. But it was the look in his eyes that frightened Robby most: glowing red like burning coals.
Heiki stepped slowly into the room. He seemed much larger and more muscular than Robby remembered him. Slouching forward, his gnarled hands – held high, revealing sharp claw-like fingernails – threatened as Heiki crept closer.
“Come on man, this isn’t funny,” Robby heard himself plead.
Heiki opened his mouth and hissed in reply. Robby noticed two sharp fangs in his friend’s mouth – a mouth that, on second glance, appeared covered with fresh blood that dripped thickly down Heiki’s chin. Robby’s heart leapt in his throat. He noticed himself trembling.
He struggled to breathe now; his breath released with a shudder. He searched the room quickly for some kind of weapon as Heiki approached. Instinctively, Robby crossed his extended index fingers in the form of a make-shift crucifix, and stretched his arms in Heiki’s direction, straining to hold his finger-cross out in front of himself as far as he possibly could.
Heiki recoiled slightly, covering his eyes, and emitted a loud hiss, angered by the intrusion of the cross. Robby sighed, relieved that his instinctive resourcefulness had worked, that he was no longer completely unarmed and might keep his host at bay.
But the vampire did not give up. Shielding his eyes with a forearm, Heiki edged forward once again. In response, Robby crept slightly forward, extending the faux cross in Heiki’s direction. The vampire hissed angrily, but hesitated.
One step back, one step forward. In this manner, the young man and the creature danced back and forth in a shadowy tug of war, the power subtly shifting moment by seemingly endless moment between them. On and on went the struggle through the long and silent night. Hours passed. Robby’s arms grew heavy. The muscles in his shoulders burned from holding his arms aloft.
“What if I run out of strength and can’t hold my hands up?” Robby fretted. Growing desperate, he considered his options, which were few. It was the middle of the night. Heiki had picked him up earlier and driven him to the party, so he didn’t have his car. If he fled, he’d be out there in the darkness in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forests and cornfields. He’d be alone, tripping on acid. Easy prey.
In his mind, Robby ran through the stories he recalled from the movies about warding off vampires. There might be garlic somewhere in the kitchen, but he’d have to get past Heiki to find it. He couldn’t count on finding holy water here, or a real crucifix. He knew the Stevenson’s weren’t a Catholic family. That left a stake in the heart, but again, the closest thing to such a weapon was a kitchen knife. He’d still have to get past his vampire friend to find one.
Options narrowing, Robby grew more desperate. His shoulders ached and he struggled to hold his make-shift crucifix up in front of him. Soon his hands grew as heavy as concrete blocks. As the weight of Robby’s hands became more than he could bear, they began to lower slowly of their own accord, despite his struggling efforts to raise them.
Emboldened by his intended victim’s weariness, the nosferatu crept forward again, hissing loudly, baring its fangs.
“Shit!” Robby scolded himself, at a loss for a way out. “What the hell can I do?”
“I’ll have to go for the knife,” he heard himself reply, “while I still can.”
But it was already too late. As his arm strength gave out, Robby shouted: “Heiki! For God’s sake! Enough is enough! I’m not going to do this anymore.”
His plea made no difference.
In the weak light Heiki’s features had slowly grown more ominous. His face had been utterly transformed and had now become monstrous and ugly. His fangs were longer and sharper than before. He resembled that horrifying screen vampire in one of Robby’s favorite but traumatizing childhood B-movies, The Vampire and the Ballerina.
The walls and furnishings of the once familiar home transformed into trees. Where the ceiling had been Robby now saw a black starless sky. From what had been the living room floor now arose a thick malevolent mist. And before him, in the same room, stood the most horrifying creature he had ever imagined, its energy and power growing even as his own diminished.
His last ounce of strength gone, Robby dropped his arms helplessly to his sides.
“Heiki, I’m finished,” he said, his voice weary. “Let’s do something else.”
In reply, the monster leapt forward, landing only a few feet away. With a second great lunge, Heiki fell upon him, holding prey now with crushing, super-human strength. The last thing Robby noticed as the room began to spin was the hot breath on his neck. He felt himself swoon and fall.
Then, unexpectedly, the vampire abruptly released him.
Hissing and shielding his eyes, step by step, Heiki crept backwards across the room towards the dark hallway from which he’d come. Robby opened his eyes and, from the floor, watched in terror and wonderment as the hissing fiend stepped back into the shadows and disappeared. From the hallway’s thick shadows, he heard a final hiss.
Robby listened intensely to the silence with his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He waited for what seemed like eternity. Then he realized that the room had grown familiar once again. There in the far corner, to the left of the hallway, a corner of the dining room table reappeared. He could even see some chairs. On the wall to the other side of the hallway the living room mirror was now visible. The mist on the floor slowly evaporated.
Exhausted, Robby struggled to his feet and glanced to his right. Outside, through the front room window, a bright red sliver of sun crept above the horizon of the late-Autumn cornfields, reduced now to dry dead stalks. Robby knew, then, that the newborn red dawn had saved him—the rising sun, our closest star.
With a parting glance at the hallway, he noticed the shadows had receded to the end — where Heiki’s bedroom lay. For an instant, he felt tempted to enter. But as Robby listened in the dense silence, he was startled by a sudden rustling that sounded like giant wings. The sound seemed to come from Heiki’s room.
Robby bolted through the front door, out into the yard and the safe refuge of daylight. He was still alone in the silent gray dawn with not a living thing in view. He wondered where all his friends had gone as he jogged down the lonely dirt road while the sun crept gradually higher. He wondered if Heiki had killed everyone but him.
Robby glanced behind him at the house receding in the distance. His friends’ cars were still parked in the driveway. “It was just the acid,” he told himself as he turned to face the road in front of him.
“They’re probably all inside sleeping it off,” he concluded, now smiling. “Heiki was just messing with my head.” Then an afterthought arose: “Wow, that was probably a total hallucination!”
Yet Robby ran faster now. His vision was still distorted by the LSD’s lingering affects. He saw trails and after-images as he ran and felt a relentless gnawing dread twisting in his guts. But despite these distorted perceptions, and the curiously alienating gray dawn, the late October landscape seemed comfortingly familiar.
After all, it was daylight now—the early morning of Autumn solstice, when the veil between the worlds grows thinnest—and only a mile or so down the road to reach the refuge of a neighbor’s home. In a few minutes, he thought, his living nightmare would be over.
His relief growing with each stride, Robby smiled now recalling his friend’s cruel but clever trick. And wondered: “Did that really happen?”
He smiled, relieved, in either event, that the ordeal was nearly finished. His smile grew wider as he imagined the comfort and safety of his family home where a warm bed beckoned with the sweet promise of sleep.
Robby barely heard the flap of wings, behind him, as he turned.
Ron Boyer is an award-winning poet, screenwriter, and author of short stories. His story, “The Curse of Black Wolf Lake,” was published in the horror anthology, America, the Horrific. Boyer is a two-time winner in literature from the John E. Profant Foundation for the Arts, including the prestigious McGwire Family Award for first place in literature. He lives in Northern California.
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