Silverman's Last Play
 

                         

Dr. Daniel Silverman showed no sign of the fear he felt worming its way into his chest. He had frozen with his finger on the intercom button, calling for coffee. He moved it to the small red panic button and depressed it.

 

The vampire smiled    as it leaned against the doorframe of the office, showing long white fangs. At his feet Elaine Duffy lay in what the doctor hoped was a swoon, and reaching up slowly, as if any action would provoke an inevitable attack he adjusted his glasses and watched her chest heave and nodded in response to her soft moan.

 

It would take less than a minute for the orderlies to arrive from their booth on the other side of the ward.

 

The dictaphone he was using to record his thoughts about his last patient stood where he had placed it on top of an open file. As he withdrew his hand slowly from the intercom with his eyes still on the vampire, he picked it up and pressed the rewind button.

 

Silverman indicated the figure at the vampire’s feet with a casual gesture.

 

The vampire raised an eyebrow and snorted softly,

`

“She’s still alive…for now.”

  

Doctor Silverman began to take in the figure that now stepped away from the door toward him. Fascinated, Silverman didn’t move as he approached. The man moved like a dancer, looked like one too—slim, lean, good shoulders. The face was pure goyim -Scandinavian--with the long jaw and pugnacious features. The eyes were fascinating; an almost hypnotic blue. He was wearing tattered clothing, a waistcoat and ascot, caked with dirt. Through rents and burns in the man’s trousers he saw pale smooth flesh. His hands were lean and expressive, but the silver moons of his fingernails were cracked and caked with black earth. He looked quite appropriately as if he had crawled from the grave. Silverman nodded slowly to himself.

 

“So you’re a vampire then?”

 

The dark clad figure stopped moving for a second before letting a soft explosion of laughter from between his too-red lips. The face, which in repose was marked by a singular absence of emotion, seemed to light up from within. It looked almost childlike in a way. 

“Of course...you think I’m a resident at this madhouse. Novel.” The accents were clipped and proper, upper class London if the guess was not too far off.

The psychiatrist shifted in his chair.

“Well you aren’t one of my patients…yet. I’m acquainted with most of the folk residing here, some not so much—but you? You I would remember.”

The vampire cocked his head and smiled again, this time his eyes narrowed as he did.

“I see, so you do think me a maniac then?”

        “We prefer the term disturbed when we are speaking with such an individual face to face. Maniac I reserve for the weekends away.  This is a treatment center specializing in psychiatric disorders—I am a psychiatrist and…so…” He drew his pen from his pocket and slid his notepad from atop the blotter into his hand.

“A what?”

 

Silverman allowed himself a quick glimpse at Elaine. He felt a quick pang at the sight of her twisted and limp limbs sprawled across the stone floor. Her shift was showing about her thick legs. There was an absence of dignity there in contrast to her usual comportment—it added to the surreality of the experience. Elaine Duffy was everything that Silverman expected an Irish spinster to be and surprisingly more; greying, polite, but of firm opinions. She surprised him with her tolerance, expecting some resistance to his employ at a Catholic institution. Faith, it seems, faded from old Irish women as it did from old Jewish shrinks. She ran his office with a firm but kind hand, handling the patients and her boss it might be added, with deep sympathy, especially after he had mentioned his divorce.

 

She never left before he did. As far as he knew she had no family save the staff at St. Anthony’s. On the occasions where he stayed the night, he would find himself in the morning covered with one of the thin flannel blankets she had culled from the facility l llaundry.

“A psychiatrist. A doctor who treats psychiatric disorders?”

        “Ah,” the vampire nodded, “Ah, of course. They used to call you alienists.”

 

The term was an archaic one. Pre-Freud. Circa 1900. Derived from the idea that the mentally ill were alienated from common society. The delusion was accurate to the ragged garb that the figure in front of him wore. Silverman suppressed a shudder. Psychoses this deep were rare. He felt himself clinically detach from his immediate fear for a moment to admire the depth of effort that the mind could undergo in service of such a delusion.

        “…Very well... As I was saying as this is a psychiatric facility and as there are no such things as vampires, probability makes my admittedly quick diagnosis as more likely than the alternative, yes?”

The vampire seemed confused for a moment. The look on his face pensive, but never quite losing the frightening grin that still played about his lips.

        “A risky bit of negotiation, don’t you think doctor?” The vampire said at last.

 

“In what way?” Silverman had him talking. Keep him talking. The room was old, drafty—St. Anthony’s was the last of the old sanitariums built by the Catholic church in the beginning of the last century. The window was narrow, with rough translucent panes held in iron frames. Rain beat upon the glass with a hollow sound. The aperture itself was corbelled stone covered in plaster and would not have admitted Silverman’s form in his thinner years, let alone now after too many staff dinners and long hours sitting at his desk. The only door to the room led to the reception area where the unconscious Ms. Duffy maintained her desk. The vampire stood solidly in the way and given his own avoir dupois when contrasted with the lean strength evident in the man—Silverman didn’t like his chances at charging past. Where were the orderlies?

I could scream, but the old thick limestone that the building was made of would balk it. Even if I did, there was no one in this part of the facility who could come to help.

The locked cabinet with the syringes and the sedatives in the outer office might as well have been on the moon.

“I might object to your statements and become violent.”

        “As opposed to believing you’re actually a vampire? Seems to me that your delusion doesn’t leave very much room for anything but violence?”

“True. Then again I might be real.”

Silverman sighed and looked up at the man. It was Friday night. Visiting hours had ended quite some time ago, and any of the orderlies would have no reason to check in on him for quite some time. Still—the panic button should have produced a response by now.

 

“Positivism rejects that notion. I’m a scientist and to be honest the belief that you are a walking corpse…”

The vampire interrupted.

“Experience changes the status quo, Doctor doesn’t it? Isn’t that science as well?” There was a hint of some other accent underneath the proper plummy tones.

“Indeed. Paradigms shift. Based on new evidence of course.”

The vampire smiled showing his fangs again. Silverman shrugged,  

“Better evidence than a creative dentist.”

        “You doubt your own eyes?” Astonishment now…

        “Most? If you mean scientists? Doctors? I would say so. I can’t speak for all of them but I should say that faith works more as a source of comfort rather than a rational explanation of the universe.”

The vampire seemed to lose himself for a moment. His appearance seemed almost wistful in a way, for the first time since he entered the office the smile left his lips.

“The fruits of an age of reason, interesting, though I notice that the church still has its holdings.”

 

“If you mean the Catholic Church-I would say that its reputation has suffered some in the past while.”

“Really? So faith in God,” the vampire twisted his mouth about the word uncomfortably, “…falters.”

“Well at least among the more educated I should think. Even those who don’t, those who profess to believe in whoever they believe in, have spent their lives driving their Hondas to church, not clouds. They may pray for salvation from disease but most just take antibiotics for their ailments. Even if they profess a belief in god, they live their lives embracing the fruits of rational thought.”

The vampire remained silent. Thinking.

Silverman cleared his throat,

“So…now?”

The vampire allowed a momentary expression of annoyance to cross his features,

“Now?”

        “Now do you get to the blood drinking?”

The vampire looked up sharply,

“Plenty of time for that I should expect. This is the first conversation I’ve had in almost a century. Indulge me.”

 

Silverman felt some of the tension release from his back and settled into the chair. He looked quickly to his wristwatch. The vampire stroked his chin with a long pale finger.

“Have no fear doctor. Our conversation will terminate prior to daybreak. It is part of my nature to feel the coming of the sun. Even should I be entombed in the darkest earth.”

“So the sunlight thing is true?”

        “Quite.”

Silverman absently began to scratch the information into his pad.

“You don’t mind me writing this stuff down?”

The vampire shook his head.

“Feel free to. I’m only going to destroy it when I kill you later.”

        “So we are back there then?”

        “It is inevitable.”

        “No remorse?”

The vampire stepped forward,

“Does the fox have remorse for the hen? The hen for the grain?”

“Hens don’t speak. Hens don’t dream or love. If you prick a hen…well okay…it bleeds…”

 

The vampire actually laughed at that. His voice was beautiful and terrible, like the tolling of a brazen bell.

“Merchant of Venice…” Silverman stammered it, his careful composure slipping for a moment.

“I know the play. Actually I saw it originally staged you know. I actually felt sympathy for dear Shylock then. A minority opinion I might add. That was the problem with the work, after all, actually; Shylock the tormentor? Shylock the tormented? Both? I would always rather be the latter—given my druthers.”

 

The figure stooped swiftly, the man’s motion seemed preternatural. He splayed his fingers across the front of Ms. Duffy’s shirt and straightened. The seams on the blouse ripped and she began to fall. With a swiftness that blurred his arm into invisibility, the Vampire caught her by the nape of her neck. One light step to the side and he dropped her to the long leather couch with his arm completely extended.

 

A paradigm shifted. His concern with Elaine’s well being was muted by the obvious superhuman power demonstrated in front of him. He had experience with psychotics and the myth of their superhuman strength. That was a condition of the brain not caring how much damage was inflicted on the body as muscles were pushed to their limit and beyond. This was no manifestation of psychosis;  this was lifting and transferring one hundred and eighty pounds, in the same manner that a man would shift a coffee mug from counter to table.

 

The Vampires eyes never left Silverman’s. Its expression was overtly mocking.

        “Now?”

Silverman swallowed and took his glasses from his face, he rubbed them on the front of his sweater.

        “Convincing.”

        “Shall I open her throat? Drink from her until she dies?”

Silverman kept his voice calm even as a trail of cold sweat traced itself down his spine.

“As much as that might be …um…consistent with the definition of traditional vampirism”—Silverman gestured with his glasses—“…it really isn’t necessarily indicative of anything supernatural, yes?”

The vampire opened his hands mirroring the shrug that Silverman used. On him it looked both elegant and terrifying.

“Perhaps you could turn yourself into a fly or something to show me…”

“I don’t change my shape.” At that moment the figure stopped smiling and sat down on the leather couch beside Elaine’s unmoving form.

“No, shape changing.” Silverman forced his eyes to the page of his notebook.

“A curious idea. But no.”

        “I see.”

“I’m rather surprised a man of science would give any credence to peasant superstition.”

 

Silverman smiled tightly,

“Most would say belief in Vampires is a peasant superstition.”

The Vampire ignored him and looked to the nameplate on the desk.

“Silverman is a Jewish name.”

        “Yes.”

The Doctor felt a repulsion rise from his stomach as the vampire slowly caressed the back of Elaine’s unconscious neck.

“Interesting that you would work in a Christian institution, then.”

“Been out of touch a while?”

        “It seems so.”

        “Equity laws.”

        “Equity Laws? Equity?” The vampire seemed to savour the words, passing it about his mouth like wine.

 

Silverman looked down at the pad he was writing on. The page was indented where he had tried to write –“sunlight” and “shapechange” but the ink had not flowed. He scribbled empty circles on the paper. Sighing he dropped the pen to the blotter and opened the top drawer on his desk.

 

The pale form simply grinned at him from where he sat, supremely confident, unafraid.

 

“I was entombed for over one hundred years. The priest who was resident in this institution was, unfortunately, a man of great faith. He drove me from feeding on his charges and injured me. My kind are resilient, but take time and blood to heal.”

The Vampire’s eyes changed as Silverman froze for a moment, from a pale blue to a bloody red.

“Empirically doctor, are you convinced?”

        “Why do you care?”

        “I don’t really. I need to understand just how deeply this new empiricism is engendered. Think of it as a matter of survival. This is also quite entertaining.”

“But not as entertaining as murder?”

The vampire waved his hand dismissively.

“Foxes and hens, doctor.”

“I have never had a conversation with a chicken. So tell me…is this lack of empathy something you were born with or is because you are…you know…”

The vampire sighed and entered his reverie again. Silverman rummaged in the drawer, scrabbling until his fingers touched a pencil. As he lifted it out he caught sight of the pewter crucifix that he had removed upon first moving into the office, tired of staring at the figure on it silently projecting misery. Now he set his fingers on it and felt some relief flow into him, as if the cool metal was cold water on a burn.

“I have thought long about that.”

        “ ...come to any conclusions?”

        “Some.”

Silverman grasped the crucifix in his hand feeling the weight of it. Sliding it slowly from the drawer and placing it in his lap.

“Indulge me.” Silverman smiled at the thin figure, who now observed him rather closely, his hands steepled together in front of him.

“Time passes doctor. In time, all things lose immediacy. People become flittering minutes—seconds actually. Who can care for a mayfly? My nature is a function of my age.”

Silverman sat upright,

“Some people mellow you know.”

        “Most elderly folk do not need to drink blood to survive. And I need to feed often. The blood of the two orderlies I met when I first entered this place was sufficient to wake me completely from my stupor. The blood of your assistant and yourself will provide me with the strength to leave this place and range through the world once more.”

Elaine began to shift beside the Vampire and groaned a little as she did.

 

“She’s waking up.”

        “Good. I like them awake when I feed. The fear adds a particular bouquet to the experience.”

Silverman looked to Elaine as she stirred, the vampire’s hand dropped to her neck again caressing. Now or never.

The vampire came upright as Silverman shifted to his feet; the chair rolling out from behind him. He held the crucifix before him, strongly, between the vampire and himself.

The vampire’s eyes widened for a moment the red leaked from the iris into the sclera until both orbs entire were bloody beads under his pronounced brow. Silverman had a moment of hope and then the vampire was in front of him, so close, so quickly that the doctor hadn’t even seen him move. The vampire reached up and clasped its hand about the crucifix; the metal bending under the force of the grasp like wet clay, pewter squeezing liquidly between its pale fingers. The next sensation was a powerful blow to his chest throwing him back forcefully into the chair. The vampire dropped the remains of the crucifix to the floor where it rang as it hit the floorboards.

Silverman gasped and clutched at his chest.

“So the crucifix thing is a wash.”

The vampire paused in his motion toward Silverman and smiled.

“The priest who drove me from this place a century ago bore a crucifix much like that one. But his faith was a terrible thing. When he placed that cross before him, it was like the fires of dawn burning from him. I couldn’t look at it, my eyes felt like shattered glass had been driven into them. When it touched my flesh it burned great rents in my skin and actually made powder of my bones. The pain was…unbelievable.”

Silverman reached under his shirt where pressed against his skin was a small Star of David. He pulled the small tetragrammaton free and dangled it before the vampire.

The vampire winced slightly and reaching up, pinched the symbol between its fingers. Wisps of steam or smoke rose from the finger tips as he bent the symbol out of shape and then released the crumpled metal to fall against the rough wool of Silverman’s sweater.

The vampire shook his head ruefully.

“Such a small morsel of faith? Never a Christian, not much more a Jew. What are you really doctor? An empiricist? Not a very good one I rather think. An empiricist when confronted with me—the sure sign of the existence of supernatural evil—Wouldn’t such a man, out of necessity, believe in god?”

 

Silverman slumped clutching at his chest. The area where he had been struck burned like it had been set on fire, and his breastbone ached painfully.

“Even granted this insight you cling to your fictions as much as any peasant from the last century. I believe our conversation is over Doctor.”

The vampire turned toward Elaine. She stirred and opened her eyes before bolting upright and staring around wildly. Her eyes fell upon the vampire who smiled at her showing his fangs.

“I’m going to kill her first...and make you watch and after I have brought her to the limits of her terror, when I have drained and broken her sad carcass, then and only then, will I kill you.”

Elaine screamed, madness rising in her eyes, she drove to her feet and reached for the door, but the Vampire was already there. In a moment he had her lifted from her feet and pinned against the wall. Her hands grasped the wrist of the hand that held her there effortlessly. Her feet drummed a tattoo on the wall.

Silverman shouted at the creature.

“STOP IT!”

Elaine gurgled his name though the force that held her by her neck.

 

“STOP!” His mind raced. There must be something. He knew having felt the creature’s strength that he could not compete, but would try anyway. Silverman was never a brave man, nor a physical one, but he bunched himself up to act. His eyes raked the desktop, looking for a letter opener that he knew wasn’t there. His eyes saw only the case files of his patients and on the floor below that the crumpled mass of the crucifix. The vampire once again put on a rueful look and softly shook his head.

“Wait,” Silverman, spoke as he stared at the desktop. He looked to the picture that sat on the desk, the mild face staring back at him.

“I have a deal for you.” 

The vampire turned fully his arm extended behind him, still showing no strain at holding Elaine’s struggling form against the wall.

The vampire waited.

“If you let her down. I can help you.”

“I doubt that.” The vampire opened its mouth. The fangs which had previously protruded slightly from the upper jaw, now extended downward impossibly, the jaw unhinged like that of a snake, swinging down to rest upon the vampire’s throat. The muscles of the face contorted, squinting; the eyes now fairly glowed with a crimson light. Elaine squeaked and ceased her struggling. She was prey, given over to an older rhythm, an older compulsion as the mouth descended toward her.

Silverman started around the desk, babbling as he did. Silverman approached the vampire. He buffeted the shoulder of the arm that held Elaine.

“Let her go and I’ll help you. I’ll provide you with some of the residents for food. Some have family that never visit. Some are permanently institutionalized… No one will know. I’ll cover it up.”

He struck the Vampire’s arm again forcefully. It felt like striking a marble statue under cloth.

“LET HER GO!”

The vampire opened his hand. Elaine slumped against the wall, making soft strangling sounds as her hands pawed weakly at her bruised throat. The vampire flickered and Silverman flew across the room again, this time hitting the desk with his hip, bending over it like a rag doll, he felt his muscles scream at the brutalization of hardwood on flesh and then he sagged over the desk top. His breath had rushed from him and he fought to speak, but his voice strangled in his throat.

  

“You bargain for your life. How like a Jew. You can offer me nothing that I cannot take. To let you live would be folly.”

“How?” gasping Silverman spoke, “If I tell of your existence no one would believe me. They would lock me in here. Besides I could never be safe from you anywhere I’m sure. Eventually you will be caught again, or uncovered. You don’t know the times, the reality as it is now. People know about your kind. They know your weaknesses. You will need a place to hide out—to come back to in case another priest-or believer comes to call on you! I can give you this here.”

Elaine stared at Silverman. Through her fear he also saw, unmistakably, the signs of disgust on her face. She tried to speak but her tortured throat wouldn’t let her. She shook her head at him, pleading silently.

 “I have over fifty patients in this institution. It might be a larder of considerable worth to you, yes?”

The vampire nodded, agreeing as he looked into Silverman’ face, before switching the motion to a slow negative shake, thin lips twisted in a mocking, rueful smile.

“I am sorry doctor, but you seem too clever by far to be left alive.”

 

“But I would be an accomplice. I would be culpable. I’m a doctor. I can fake the medical records. I can select the staff for confidentiality. You could have a haven here.” Silverman leaned back, hating the wheedling sound in his voice, hating the look on Elaine’s face.

“You asked me how I could feed upon your kind?” The contempt was plain in the vampire voice and manner.

Silverman raised his eyes, for a moment there seemed some semblance of anger there.

“I want to live. Is this wrong?”

Silverman clutched at the sheaf of papers that had spilled upon his desk before and rifled through them, seeking, searching, allowing the majority of the pages to fall in a cascade at his feet. Tommy. He held Tommy’s picture in his hand. He showed the mild face in the photo to the vampires questing eyes. 

“This one.  I can take you to this one right now. He’s helpless, delusional. His family haven’t visited him in five years. He’s —young, full of life. He is down one hall, five minutes from here!”

 

Again the creatures arm seemed to flicker and the photograph now sat lightly between his fingers. It was a small eternity before the vampire nodded and passed the picture back to Silverman.

“Take me to him.”

Elaine sat on the floor and watched both the Vampire and Dr. Silverman walk past her out into the hallway. She reached a hand up and clawed at Silverman’s trousers as he walked past. The Doctor knelt beside her for a moment and took her hand in his.

“Don’t.” she rasped it out.

The vampire grasped the doctor by his shoulder and pulled him away with superhuman force. Silverman dropped the photograph in Elaine’s lap as he was pulled into the reception area. He mouthed the word “faith,” as he left.

Elaine scrambled at the wall trying to pull herself to her feet. Bitter tears began to flow down her face as she slumped back to rest against the door jam. She looked through the miasma of her tears at the photograph in her lap and paused.

“Tommy.” she said, and for the first time in a long time, Elaine Duffy began to pray.

 

Through the reception area, down the long hall, past the corpse of the orderly Mr. Leeds,

“Stop. I need the keys!”

The collar of his shirt, twisted in the creatures hand was choking him.  

“I can walk the rest of the way.”

The vampire leaned in close, his breath smelled of putrid meat, his eyes had filled with blood again.

“Hurry Doctor. For your sake.”

Silverman unhooked the keys from the cold corpse. The gaping wound on the orderly’s neck looked like twin sabers had cut the meat back to the spine.

   

Silverman moved forward in a daze,

“It’s this one.” He jangled the keys in his hand seeking the one that would open the door.

 

The vampire moved him aside and bared his fangs, the face taking on the serpentine aspect; the grotesque proportions. With a quick snap of a hand it wrenched the metal knob off of the door and thrust it open. As it moved into the room the young man on the cot awoke and looked to the figure that approached him. Silverman pulled the door closed and leaned his weight against it.

 

Inside came the sound of a high pitched terrified scream. More screams came from behind the door and Silverman winced, the tension driving tears from his eyes. The door bumped and bounced and then went still. The screaming stopped.

Silverman leaned against the door for a moment, breathing slowly, clenching and unclenching his hands. He turned and grasped the ring where the broken handle once protruded from the door and pushed it slowly open. He stepped back from the smell that hit him like a physical force.

  

A short time later the door to Silverman’s office opened slowly. Elaine Duffy jumped from the leather couch still cradling the photograph in her hand. At the door Silverman stood, his sweater ripped at the shoulder, one shirt tail untucked. Elaine stared at him through drying tears.   

“Here,” he said as he passed her some gauze and antiseptic in a small white tube.

“We need to treat him for a slight wound. And we’ll have to get someone to sweep out his room.” Silverman led the boy from the picture into the room. The lad looked untroubled as he was maneuvered over to the sofa. The mild expression was still present on Tommy’s face as he let Elaine wipe his brow. He drew her hand back and sniffed at it wrinkling her nose as she did. The boy was covered in a fine whitish powder that smelled strongly of sulfur.

“How did you know?” Elaine spoke to Silverman, accusation colouring her voice. Silverman remained silent for a moment as he dabbed at the wound on Tommy’s neck.

“Empirically, it made sense.” He motioned to the crushed crucifix on the floor. “I have no faith.” He passed the bloody cotton to the boy. Tommy looked at the stained gauze in his hand considering the red. 

Silverman kept rubbing the antiseptic into the nick in Tommy’s neck as he began to speak softly. His voice was misery.

“I’m sorry Tommy. I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?” He stared at Elaine as he said it. She nodded slowly. Tommy stared at the ball of cotton again for a moment before speaking,

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Of course I forgive you Doctor Silverman. That’s what my father sent me here for.”