Helen Chappell - April 2010


No Vampires Here
Helen Chappell

Although the Eastern Shore has a full census of ghosts, more spirits than living people, to hear some people tell it, I am unable to find a trace of a single vampire.
In case you’ve been living in a deer camp trailer in the marsh for the past few years, you would have to have noticed that the world has gone mad for the blood-sucking undead. Especially if the undead is a hot young man with the desirability of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the brooding sexuality of Heathcliff and the troubled soul of James Dean. No, Nosferatu, the bald, badly groomed vamp of Murnau’s silent films, and the cloaked intensity of the ’30s Béla Lugosi will not do.
When my generation was young, and dinosaurs roamed the earth, vampires were terrifying things. I recall reading E. F. Benson’s story Mrs. Amsworth, about a jolly clubwoman who turns out to be a vampire. It frightened me so much that I spent a couple of nights lying awake, listening for the sound of a matronly vampire scratching at my window.
Today’s modern vampire skulks and broods and is young, devastatingly handsome and tortured by his unusual diet. If he (and the interesting ones seem always to have a Y chromosome) falls in love with a young starlet of human extraction, so much the better. Like Romeo and Juliet and other teen romances, they spend a lot of time yearning for each other, while he tries to stifle his blood lust and she just tries to stifle her lust.
I mean, we are talking teenagers here, and the not-so-subtle allegory all these books and films and TV shows seem to convey is abstinence. And I’m not going to touch that question with a ten-foot pole, thank you very much!
I think I once saw a vampire in Easton, maybe twenty years ago. I was coming out of the old, and much lamented, Court Street Pub one night, and this creature passed me, walking briskly on Dover Street. It was tall and pale, hairless and wearing a black beret. He had a long cape with a high collar and if it wasn’t a vampire, I don’t know what it was – or what it was doing walking briskly down Dover Street after last call. And no, I wasn’t drunk. Maybe full of cheeseburger and pub chips, but not drunk. And that guy just oozed eau de vampyr. Take my word for it.
So maybe there is a vampire or two or three around here, living quietly among us. After all, Talbot County has been unkindly nicknamed God’s Waiting Room for the substantial retiree population. And what better place for a vampire to retire? Hey, we might even have some zombies embedded here, which could explain a lot about a substantial lack of brain power, especially among drivers on our local roads. And don’t even ask about the werewolves. No, seriously, don’t ask. They cut your grass and plow your driveways and keep the coyote population down.
So you see, you could live eternal life around here and everyone would just think you were a character. After all, we specialize in characters!
The late Captain Salomon was testifying as an expert witness in a maritime trial in Baltimore. The opposition attorney, hoping to portray the captain as a rustic and a hick, opened his questioning: “Now, Captain, you have quite a few characters on the Eastern Shore, is that correct?”
“Characters?” Captain Salomon spat out. “We’ve got characters we haven’t even used yet!”
And so we do. Stifling conformity may be the way for some people around here, but for the rest of us, it’s independent thought all the way. If someone wants to be a vampire, and they happen to be from around here, where everyone has known their family for generations, well, no one will even blink. They can sleep in a coffin in the back room all day and come out at night and prowl the landscape looking to feed. And as long as they go across the Bridge to do this, where no one local can see them doing it, then that’s just fine.
All kinds of secrets and sins are done “Across the Bridge,” and no harm, no foul. This is just the way it is. Sodom and Gomorrah are Baltimore and Washington, with Annapolis as a pit stop on the way to Hell.
“Aw, he ain’t so bad,” people will say when you mention Bunky’s strange diet and habits. “That’s just Bunk bein’ Bunk.”
In the winter, we all look like vampires anyway. Caucasian, African-American, Asian, we all look like the walking undead. Winter has ground us down to a fine powder. Pale from lack of sunlight, with big black bags under our eyes and, toward the end of winter and the slow start of spring, an attitude that could bite through steel rebar.
Unfortunately, we don’t have supernatural powers, or we’d turn ourselves into bats and fly to the Islands, lie on sunny tropical beaches, sip Mai Tais and rum drinks served in coconuts with little umbrellas.
“Vampires are to otherwise sensible, mature women, what horses are to pre-adolescent girls,” points out advice columnist Carolyn Hax. And inside every woman, and some men, there’s a wild romantic streak that secretly wants to shed the decorum of civilization and be bad.
Who has not wanted to shed their thin veneer of civilization and run wild through the woods in the moonlight, howling fiendishly? Come on, you know you have!