The Ghouls, by Jarod Anderson
The first clod of dirt hit the top of my plywood coffin with a hollow thud. I rolled my eyes and sighed. This was hardly the first time I had been buried alive, so I could say with certainty that this was a pretty sloppy showing. I was being generous when I called the makeshift box a coffin. There wasn’t a square corner anywhere on the thing, and enough light came through the top right seam that I could clearly see the amateurish knots that were meant to keep my hands tied.
“This is why nobody messes with the ghouls, dead man!” yelled one of the young men filling in my shallow grave.
“The ghouls” fancied themselves the newest contender for scariest gang in the Chicagoland area. I was currently willing to give them a gentleman’s C in the scary department. The whole burying people alive thing was the cornerstone of their “hey, take us seriously” PR campaign. Hell, maybe they did it so sloppily on purpose so that their victims could escape and tell everybody just how spooky they are. But, I doubted it. I found them approximately as spooky as freezer-burn, so I probably wasn’t their target audience.
“God above me, what a fool I was! Why did I ever dare to question the unquestionable might of the ghouls!” I yelled out in my best damsel in distress falsetto.
“Too late for that man.” I heard one of the ghouls say with triumph in his voice.
Wow, these guys really have no sense of sarcasm.
My plan, such as it was, was to let these idiots bury me before I got out of this ridiculous box, but they were making it very tempting to use this hole for other things –things like burying my leftovers.
I started steadily moving my wrists apart and the rope hissed, frayed, and snapped. The exertion made my fingers elongate a couple of inches, and I had to steady my breathing or risk a full frenzy –a full delicious, intoxicating, blissful frenzy.
I am in control. I don’t have to eat people. Not anymore.
The dirt stopped raining down for a moment. I had to assume the gangbangers on the rim of the hole had heard something. I really need to work on my patience. But, seriously, I only came out to this “turf” because when someone talks about ghouls, I tend to take it literally. After all, I am one.
“What was that?” said one of the young men in a hushed voice.
Great. I had a plan. I find out if these guys are actual monsters and if so, eat them. If not, I play unlucky human and wait for them to go on their merry criminal way. Stick to the plan, Sal. Stick to the plan.
“Help! Is someone out there?” I squeaked, trying to reaffirm my role as doomed guy in hole.
“I think it came from over there,” whispered a nervous sounding young man.
Seriously? They’re ignoring me? Well, how do you like that?
I heard the ring of chain-link and had to assume someone had just scaled the fence that mostly surrounded this charming vacant lot where I was being amateurishly murdered.
“Who the hell are you? Do you know who’s ground you’re standing on kid?”
The gangbanger was doing his best to sound confident, but the predator in me could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
The newcomer didn’t answer.
“Whatever. Looks like we got another one for the hole, boys,” said the apparent de facto leader of the bunch. I heard the click of 9mm’s safety being disengaged, and then a noise that sent an electric shock through my system. It was like the soft laugh of a young man, except it didn’t come out of a young man. And before my brain could catch up to my instinctual reaction, my nose did the rest of the work. Vampire. I could smell it; nothing else smells like that –like a combination of mildew and jasmine. That smell has the clever trick of bringing a pleasant kind of heartache followed swiftly by self-disgust. At least that’s what it does to me.
God I hate vampires. The pretty monsters. Sipping on blood, half in the human world. Undead yuppies. Plus, they are almost as strong as me and don’t have to eat pounds of flesh every day to keep from coming apart at the seams. And, sure, I can look human, but it’s like flexing a muscle. At least I can walk around in the sunlight. It gives me a migraine headache of epic proportions, but it’s better than bursting into flames.
Worst of all, I’m told they have great parties.
“You think this is funny?” spat the leader, but the game was up. There was real fear in his voice. It made me tingle with hunger.
There was the sudden crack of a shot, and then everything went incredibly still.
For a slow moment, I couldn’t hear anything beyond the men’s nervous breathing.
“Do you have any notion of how much this shirt cost, trash?” said the vampire with exaggerated incredulity.
What a tool.
Sigh. Am I really going to have to save these idiots? Really? Isn’t there some kind of Darwinian caveat to my new do-gooder lifestyle? Probably not. It really hasn’t been that long since I turned over a new leaf –after I discovered that there was no secret monster police making sure that I was being evil. This probably isn’t the time to be jaded about my new worldview.
Ah, well. At least I get to hurt a vampire.
“What the…!” said the shooter. “What are you?”
“What am I, filth?” answered the young-looking vampire. “I am the most dangerous thing you will have ever seen in your short, pointless life.”
“I’ll call bullshit on that one, twilight,” I said erupting from the coffin and leaping to the rim of the hole. The gangbangers fell backward in a shower of flying dirt and splintered wood. The vampire stared expressionless. I had a strong impulse to make fun of his over-styled hair, but it’s hard to crack jokes when your jaw is elongating to make room for erupting rows of serrated teeth.
Within a handful of heartbeats I had changed, my true form filling out the ragged clothes that hung ridiculously large on my human shape. My hands lengthened and my fingers grew black, hooked claws. My skin greyed. My eyes lost all their color. And I felt like I had just sunk down into a favorite chair after a long day of work, or like I had finally been able to reach a nagging itch. I felt home.
The vampire went utterly rigid. Wooden.
I took a few steady steps forward, wondering if the little guy would bolt on me. It’s pretty common knowledge that you shouldn’t run from a ghoul –any predator for that matter –but, this guy looked pretty fresh. Plus, I love a good chase.
I cocked my head a bit, the universal sign for “your move.”
The vampire blinked at me, as if he wasn’t particularly inclined to accept that this situation was taking place. Then, he moved a slow, steady hand to the back of his belt and produced a curved blade maybe eight inches long.
Good enough for me.
The vampire was fast, but it wasn’t really a fair fight. I had the distinct impression that I was in the monster game before this guy’s great great great grandparents were born. Ol’ pointy fangs barely had his knife raised before I tore his expertly coiffed head from his shoulders and unceremoniously downed it in a single gulp. Most of the rest of him followed that first appetizer in rapid succession. Ghouls adhere to the great white shark theory of dining. Maybe we don’t manage to get it all in our mouths, but we get the big chunks.
It’s weird. Vampire flesh looks like human, but it tastes a little like fish.
I shook the leftover vampire bits off like a dog emerging from water, then I grudgingly packed myself back into human form. It was a long way back to my home, and it’s polite to look at least semi-human while using public transportation.
There was a whimper behind me and I whirled around. Three very pale men cowered on the ground fifteen feet behind me.
“Uh, oh, right…” I said aloud. I kinda forgot about the gangbangers.
“So, do you guys want me to get back in that hole… err…”
The leader managed to shake his head. One of the other young men vomited.
“Yeah, well,” I added eloquently, “you guys should probably stop being jerks or, you know, I’ll come back and eat you.”
Uhg. I felt like an afterschool special. A really odd afterschool special.
The leader nodded at me. He looked half-insane at the moment, but I think the general message got through.
“Yup, my work here is done. Sal away!” I yelled in my best Superman voice, and with that I hopped the fence and headed for the nearest bus stop. Sal the ghoul: saving the kids one meal at a time. I whistled the public service message jingle as I went. Ha, this good guy stuff isn’t so tough. I’m a natural.
J. Kelley Anderson is a fan of comic books, John Milton, tattoos, pulp detective novels, herpetology, folklore, video games, and all things sci-fi and fantasy. Growing up, he wanted to be either a ninja or a maple tree. These aspirations led him to teach college English. He lives in Ohio. Find him online at: www.jkelleyanderson.com