"No Such Thing As A Vampire" by Richard Matheson

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Hellish houses moan, mad drivers duel for the road, a looming disease turns humanity into the undead, and a man shrinks from his world, as we honor the great Richard Matheson.

Richard Matheson was a screenwriter, novelist and most certainly a master of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. He worked often with Rod Serling on episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery”. His most famous stories, “I Am Legend”, “What Dreams May Come”, “(Bid Time Return) also known as “Somewhere In Time” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man” were made into movies. Many several times over.

Matheson’s most terrifying novel, “Hell House”, has been quoted by Marvin Kaye as “the unarguably most frightening haunted house novel in English literature”.

Matheson received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1984 and the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Horror Writers Association in 1991. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted him in 2010. At the annual World Fantasy Conventions he won two judged, annual literary awards for particular works: World Fantasy Awards for Bid Time Return as the best novel of 1975 and Richard Matheson: Collected Stories as the best collection of 1989.

Matheson died just days before he was due to receive the Visionary award at the 39th Saturn Awards ceremony. As a tribute, the ceremony was dedicated to him and the award was presented posthumously. Academy President Robert Holguin said “Richard’s accomplishments will live on forever in the imaginations of everyone who read or saw his inspired and inimitable work.”

No Such Thing as a Vampire was published in 1959. Later, it was transformed in the 1970’s as part of the great TV anthology “Dead of Night”. This is a highly entertaining program. It’s far better than most of the stuff passing for horror today.

Can Dr. Gheria and his best friend Vares find the fiend attacking his wife? And drive a stake through his heart?

No Such Thing As A Vampire

By Richard Matheson

In the early autumn of the year 18… Madame Alexis Gheria awoke one morning to a sense of utmost torpor. For more than a minute, she lay inertly on her back, her dark eyes staring upward. How wasted she felt. It seemed as if her limbs were sheathed in lead. Perhaps she was ill, Petre must examine her and see. Drawing in a faint breath, she pressed up slowly on an elbow. As she did, her nightdress slid, rustling, to her waist.

“How had it come unfastened?” she wondered, looking down at herself.

Quite suddenly, Madame Gheria began to scream. In the breakfast room, Dr. Petre Gheria looked up, startled, from his morning paper. In an instant, he had pushed his chair back, slung his napkin on the table and was rushing for the hallway. He dashed across its carpeted breadth and mounted the staircase two steps at a time. It was a near hysterical Madame Gheria he found sitting on the edge of her bed looking down in horror at her breasts. Across the dilated whiteness of them, a smear of blood lay drying. Dr. Gheria dismissed the upstairs maid, who stood frozen in the open doorway, gaping at her mistress. He locked the door and hurried to his wife.

‘Petre!’ she gasped.

‘Gently.’ He helped her lie back across the bloodstained pillow.

‘Petre, what is it?’ she begged.

‘Lie still, my dear.’ His practised hands moved in swift search over her breasts. Suddenly, his breath choked off. Pressing aside her head, he stared down dumbly at the pinprick lancinations on her neck, the ribbon of tacky blood that twisted downward from them.

‘My throat,’ Alexis said.

‘No, it’s just a – ‘ Dr. Gheria did not complete the sentence. He knew exactly what it was.

Madame Gheria began to tremble. ‘Oh, my God, my God,’ she said. Dr. Gheria rose and foundered to the wash-basin. Pouring in water, he returned to his wife and washed away the blood. The wound was clearly visible now -two tiny punctures close to the jugular. A grimacing Dr. Gheria touched the mounds of inflamed tissue in which they lay. As he did, his wife groaned terribly and turned her face away.

‘Now listen to me,’ he said, his voice apparently calm. ‘We will not succumb, immediately, to superstition, do you hear? There are any number of –

‘ ‘I’m going to die,’ she said.

‘Alexis, do you hear me?’ He caught her harshly by the shoulders. She turned her head and stared at him with vacant eyes.

‘You know what it is,’ she said.

Dr. Gheria swallowed. He could still taste coffee in his mouth. ‘I know what it appears to be,’ he said, ‘and we shall -not ignore the possibility. However -‘

‘I’m going to die,’ she said.

‘Alexis!’ Dr. Gheria took her hand and gripped it fiercely. ‘You shall not be taken from me,’ he said.

Solta was a village of some thousand inhabitants situated in the foothills of Rumania’s Bihor Mountains. It was a place of dark traditions. People, hearing the bay of distant wolves, would cross themselves without a thought. Children would gather garlic buds as other children gather flowers, bringing them home for the windows. On every door there was a painted cross, at every throat a metal one. Dread of the vampire’s blighting was as normal as the dread of fatal sickness.

It was always in the air. Dr. Gheria thought about that as he bolted shut the windows of Alexis’ room. Far off, molten twilight hung above the mountains. Soon it would be dark again. Soon the citizens of Solta would be barricaded in their garlic-reeking houses. He had no doubt that every soul of them knew exactly what had happened to his wife. Already the cook and upstairs maid were pleading for discharge. Only the inflexible discipline of the butler, Karel, kept them at their jobs. Soon, even that would not suffice.

Before the horror of the vampire, reason fled.

He’d seen the evidence of it that very morning when he’d ordered Madam’s room stripped to the walls and searched for rodents or venomous insects. The servants had moved about the room as if on a floor of eggs, their eyes more white than pupil, their fingers twitching constantly to their crosses. They had known full well no rodent or insects would be found.

And Gheria had known it. Still, he’d raged at them for their timidity, succeeding only in frightening them further.

He turned from the window with a smile. ‘There now,’ said he, ‘nothing alive will enter this room tonight.’ He caught himself immediately, seeing the flare of terror in her eyes. ‘Nothing at all will enter,’ he amended.

Alexis lay motionless on her bed, one pale hand at her breast, clutching at the worn silver cross she’d taken from her jewel box. She hadn’t worn it since he’d given her the diamond-studded one when they were married. How typical of her village background that, in this moment of dread, she should seek protection from the unadorned cross of her church. She was such a child.

Gheria smiled down gently at her. ‘You won’t be needing that, my dear,’ he said, ‘you’ll be safe tonight.’

Her fingers tightened on the crucifix. ‘No, no, wear it if you will,’ he said. ‘I only meant that I’ll be at your side all night.’

‘You’ll stay with me?’

He sat on the bed and held her hand. ‘Do you think I’d leave you for a moment?’ he said. Thirty minutes later, she was sleeping. Dr. Gheria drew a chair beside the bed and seated himself. Removing his glasses, he massaged the bridge of his nose with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand.

Then, sighing, he began to watch his wife. How incredibly beautiful she was.

Dr. Gheria’s breath grew strained. ‘There is no such thing as a vampire,’ he whispered to himself.

There was a distant pounding. Dr. Gheria muttered in his sleep, his fingers twitching.

The pounding increased; an agitated voice came swirling from the darkness. ‘Doctor!’ it called.

Gheria snapped awake. For a moment, he looked confusedly towards the locked door.

‘Dr. Gheria?’ demanded Karel.

‘What?’

‘Is everything all right?’

 ‘Yes, everything is -‘ Dr. Gheria cried out hoarsely, springing for the bed.

Alexis’ nightdress had been torn away again. A hideous dew of blood covered her chest and neck.

Karel shook his head. ‘Bolted windows cannot hold away the creature, sir,’ he said. He stood, tall and lean, beside the kitchen table on which lay the cluster of silver he’d been polishing when Gheria had entered.

‘The creature has the power to make itself a vapour which can pass through any opening however small,’ he said.

‘But the cross!’ cried Gheria. ‘It was still at her throat – untouched! Except by – blood,’ he added in a sickened voice.

‘This I cannot understand,’ said Karel, grimly. ‘The cross should have protected her.’

‘But why did I see nothing?’

‘You were drugged by its mephitic presence,’ Karel said. ‘Count yourself fortunate that you were not also attacked.’

‘I do not count myself fortunate!’ Dr. Gheria struck his palm, a look of anguish on his face. ‘What am I to do, Karel?’ he asked.

‘Hang garlic,’ said the old man. ‘Hang it at the windows, at the doors. Let there be no opening unblocked by garlic’

Gheria nodded distractedly. ‘Never in my life have I seen this thing,’ he said, brokenly. ‘Now, my own wife -‘

‘I have seen it,’ said Karel. ‘I have, myself, put to its rest one of these monsters from the grave.’

‘The stake -?’ Gheria looked revolted.

The old man nodded slowly.

 Gheria swallowed. ‘Pray God you may put this one to rest as well,’ he said.

‘Petre?’ She was weaker now, her voice a toneless murmur.

Gheria bent over her. ‘Yes, my dear,’ he said.

‘It will come again tonight,’ she said.

‘No.’ He shook his head determinedly. ‘It cannot come. The garlic will repel it.’

‘My cross didn’t,’ she said, ‘you didn’t.’

“The garlic will,’ he said. ‘And see?’ He pointed at the bedside table. ‘I’ve had black coffee brought for me. I won’t sleep tonight.’

She closed her eyes, a look of pain across her sallow features. ‘I don’t want to die,’ she said. ‘Please don’t let me die, Petre.’

‘You won’t,’ he said. ‘I promise you; the monster shall be destroyed.’

Alexis shuddered feebly. ‘But if there is no way, Petre,’ she murmured.

‘There is always a way,’ he answered. Outside the darkness, cold and heavy, pressed around the house. Dr. Gheria took his place beside the bed and began to wait. Within the hour, Alexis slipped into a heavy slumber. Gently, Dr. Gheria released her hand and poured himself a cup of steaming coffee. As he sipped it hotly, bitter, he looked around the room. Door locked, windows bolted, every opening sealed with garlic, the cross at Alexis’ throat.

He nodded slowly to himself.

“It will work”, he thought. The monster would be thwarted. He sat there, waiting, listening to his breath.

Dr. Gheria was at the door before the second knock.

‘Michael!’ He embraced the younger man. ‘Dear Michael, I was sure you’d come!’ Anxiously, he ushered Dr. Vares towards his study.

Outside darkness was just falling. ‘Where on earth are all the people of the village?’ asked Vares. ‘I swear, I didn’t see a soul as I rode in.’

‘Huddling, terror-stricken, in their houses,’ Gheria said, ‘and all my servants with them save for one.’

‘Who is that?’ ‘My butler, Karel,’ Gheria answered. ‘He didn’t answer the door because he’s sleeping. Poor fellow, he is very old and has been doing the work of five.’

He gripped Vares’ arm. ‘Dear Michael,’ he said, ‘you have no idea how glad I am to see you.’

Vares looked at him worriedly. ‘I came as soon as I received your message,’ he said.

‘And I appreciate it,’ Gheria said. ‘I know how long and hard a ride it is from Cluj.’

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Vares. ‘Your letter only said -‘

Quickly, Gheria told him what had happened in the past week. ‘I tell you, Michael, I stumble at the brink of madness,’ he said. ‘Nothing works! Garlic, wolfsbane, crosses, mirrors, running water – useless! No, don’t say it! This isn’t superstition nor imagination! This is happening! A vampire is destroying her! Each day she sinks yet deeper into that – deadly torpor from which -‘ Gheria clinched his hands. ‘And yet I cannot understand it,’ he muttered, brokenly, ‘I simply cannot understand it.’

‘Come, sit, sit.’ Doctor Vares pressed the older man into a chair, grimacing at the pallor of him.

Nervously, his fingers sought for Gheria’s pulse beat.

‘Never mind me,’ protested Gheria. ‘It’s Alexis we must help.’ He pressed a sudden, trembling hand across his eyes.

‘Yet how?’ he said.

He made no resistance as the younger man undid his collar and examined his neck.

‘You, too,’ said Vares, sickened.

‘What does that matter?’ Gheria clutched at the younger man’s hand. ‘My friend, my dearest friend,’ he said, ‘tell me that it is not I! Do I do this hideous thing to her?’

Vares looked confounded. ‘You?’ he said. ‘But -‘

‘I know, I know,’ said Gheria, ‘I, myself, have been attacked. Yet nothing follows, Michael! What breed of horror is this which cannot be impeded? From what unholy place does it emerge? I’ve had the countryside examined foot by foot, every graveyard ransacked, every crypt inspected! There is no house within the village that has not yet been subjected to my search. I tell you, Michael, there is nothing! Yet, there is something -something which assaults us nightly, draining us of life. The village is engulfed by terror – and I as well! I never see this creature, never hear it! Yet, every morning, I find my beloved wife -‘

Vares’ face was drawn and pallid now. He stared intently at the older man.

‘What am I to do, my friend?’ pleaded Gheria. ‘How am I to save her?’

Vares had no answer. ‘How long has she – been like this?’ asked Vares. He could not remove his stricken gaze from the whiteness of Alexis’ face.

‘For days,’ said Gheria. ‘The retrogression has been constant.’

Dr. Vares put down Alexis’ flaccid hand. ‘Why did you not tell me sooner?’ he asked.

‘I thought the matter could be handled,’ Gheria answered, faintly. ‘I know now that it – cannot.’

Vares shuddered. ‘But, surely – ‘ he began.

‘There is nothing left to be done,’ said Gheira. ‘Everything has been tried, everything!’

He stumbled to the window and stared out bleakly into the deepening night. ‘And now it comes again, he murmured, ‘And we are helpless before it.’

‘Not helpless, Petre.’ Vares forced a cheering smile to his lips and laid his hand upon the older man’s shoulder. ‘I will watch her tonight.’

‘It’s useless.’

‘Not at all, my friend,’ said Vares, nervously. ‘And now you must sleep.’

‘I will not leave her,’ said Gheria.

‘But you need rest.’

‘I cannot leave,’ said Gheria. ‘I will not be separated from her.’

Vares nodded. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘We will share the hours of watching then.’

Gheria sighed. ‘We can try,’ he said, but there was no sound of hope in his voice.

Some twenty minutes later, he returned with an urn of steaming coffee which was barely possible to smell through the heavy mist of garlic fumes which hung in the air. Trudging to the bed, Gheria set down the tray. Dr. Vares had drawn a chair up beside the bed.

‘I’ll watch first,’ he said.

‘You sleep, Petre.’

‘It would do no good to try,’ said Gheria.

He held a cup beneath the spigot and the coffee gurgled out like smoking ebony.

‘Thank you,’ murmered Vares as the cup was handed to him.

Gheria nodded once and drew himself a cupful before he sat. ‘I do not know what will happen to Solta if this creature is not destroyed,’ he said. ‘The people are paralysed by terror.’

‘Has it – been elsewhere in the village?’ Vares asked him. Gheria sighed exhaustedly.

‘Why need it go elsewhere?’ he said. ‘It is finding all it – craves within these walls.’ He stared despondently at Alexis. ‘When we are gone,’ he said, ‘it will go elsewhere. The people know that and are waiting for it.’

Vares set down his cup and rubbed his eyes. ‘It seems impossible,’ he said, ‘that we, practitioners of a science, should be unable to -‘

‘What can science effect against it?’ said Gheria. ‘Science which will not even admit its existence? We could bring, into this very room, the foremost scientists of the world and they would say – my friends, you have been deluded. There is no vampire. All is mere trickery.’

Gheria stopped and looked intently at the younger man. He said, ‘Michael?’

Vares’ breath was slow and heavy.

Putting down his cup of untouched coffee, Gheria stood and moved to where Vares sat slumped in his chair. He pressed back an eyelid, looked down briefly at the sightless pupil, then withdrew his hand. The drug was quick, he thought. And most effective. Vares would be insensible for more than time enough. Moving to the closet, Gheria drew down his bag and carried it to the bed. He tore Alexis’ nightdress from her upper body and, within seconds, had drawn another syringe full of her blood; this would be the last withdrawal, fortunately. Stanching the wound, he took the syringe to Vares and emptied it into the young man’s mouth, smearing it across his lips and teeth. That done, he strode to the door and unlocked it. Returning to Vares, he raised and carried him into the hall.

Karel would not awaken; a small amount of opiate in his food had seen to that.

Gheria laboured down the steps beneath the weight of Vares’ body. In the darkest corner of the cellar, a wooden casket waited for the younger man. There he would lie until the following morning when the distraught Dr. Petre Gheria would, with sudden inspiration, order Karel to search the attic and cellar on the remote, nay fantastic possibility that…

Ten minutes later, Gheria was back in the bedroom checking Alexis’ pulse beat. It was active enough; she would survive. The pain and torturing horror she had undergone would be punishment enough for her.

As for Vares Dr. Gheria smiled in pleasure for the first time since Alexis and he had returned from Cluj at the end of the summer.

Dear spirits in heaven, would it not be sheer enchantment to watch old Karel drive a stake through Michael Vares’ damned cuckolding heart!

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