Alec Kerley and the Wrath of the Vampire
Life is a boiling sea of chaos.
Alec stared at the historical marker. A faint nausea slowly crept up his gut and made him swallow hard as he read the sign in silence.
“On the high prairie a mile northwest, beyond the nearby Mounds which bear their name, the Bender family — John, his wife, son, and daughter Kate — in 1871 built a small house. Partitioned into two rooms by a canvas cloth, it had a table, stove and grocery shelves in front. In back were beds, a sledge hammer, and a trap door above a pit-like cellar. Kate, a self-proclaimed healer and spiritualist, and reported to be a beautiful, voluptuous girl with tigerish grace, was the leading spirit of her murderous family.”
In his mind, memories of the preacher speaking at his mother’s funeral kept popping in, invading his reality.
Life is a boiling sea of chaos; we ride its waves in a tiny ship of manufactured order.
Alec shook his head, trying to clear out the memory.
“The house was located on the main road. Travelers stopping for a meal were seated on a bench, backed tight against the canvas. In the next two years several people disappeared. When suspicions were finally aroused, in 1873, the Benders fled. A search of their property disclosed eleven bodies buried in the garden, skulls crushed by hammer blows through the canvas.”
Sometimes the waves crash onto our deck and threaten to capsize us.
Alec’s breathing became shallow and he found it difficult to swallow. The warm autumn breeze caressed his blonde curls with the kisses of Fall. He could smell the dusty dryness of the shriveled leaves that fell from the roadside trees. Their rustling sounded like a whispered hiss.
“The end of the Benders is not known. The earth seemed to swallow them, as it had their victims.”
The memory flashed again. Beside him, in the church pew, his father had been leaning forward with his hands over his face, his body shaking. The wooden coffin, shiny and new, gleamed under the brash lights of the funeral service. Alec’s soul had felt like an empty pit in the center of his stomach. He supposed that the waves the preacher had referred to meant hardship, difficulty, loss. Death.
The Kansas historical marker had reminded him of how near death is, every minute of every day. How pervasive and… common it is. For these poor souls, who had been the victims of this Bender family, it was unnaturally too soon. But that’s the way death always is.
Alec turned to see Ken Gonzalez, his best friend, standing next to him, studying the sign. Alec nodded. “Yeah.”
“So it was just a mile that way, guys, where the family lived right next to the Osage Trail,” Ms. Cunningham, their Science and History teacher, pointed. She was speaking loudly so that the entire group could hear her. “Weary travelers would stop at their inn for food and rest, and would be seated next to the tarp that hung from the ceiling, close to the table. The back of their head would be up against the canvas, so that the shape of it could be seen from the back.” Ms. Cunningham, young, athletic and tall, had her chestnut hair pulled into a short ponytail and wore large dark glasses against the midday sun. She was firm but fun — one of Alec’s favorite teachers.
“It’s disgusting,” said Sarah, Ken’s sister. Long-legged and trim, with raven tresses to the center of her back, she stood two inches taller than Ken, her fraternal twin. Then, catching Alec’s look out of the corner of her eye, she smiled at him.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” replied Emily, Sarah’s best friend. She swept her shoulder length hair out of her eyes. It was silky and the color of Kansas wheat. Emily loved horror stories and monsters. At least, she did, until she actually met real life monsters face to face during the summer break. Now, she was cautious of all things scary, but still liked the stories. “They were like real mass murderers. And they were just people who lived a long time ago, so they don’t pose any threat to me at all!” She grinned.
Alec smiled. No doubt.
“…eleven bodies buried in the garden, skulls crushed by hammer blows through the canvas. Uuuuuuhhhhh…” a short and pudgy little fellow murmured, rolling his eyes and pretending to fall backwards in a faint. He wore polyester brown shorts, white socks, black dress shoes, and a short-sleeved, yellow button up shirt with a giant, out-dated collar. This was Ethan. Ethan Elvis Edgar. At eleven years old, he was a year younger than the rest of them, and a grade behind, but Ms. Cunningham had brought classes from three different grades on this field trip from Kansas City to southeast Kansas.
Ken brought a hand up against Ethan’s back to keep him from falling into him. “Chill, dude.” But he chuckled as he said it. As a karate jock, maybe he would have made fun of someone like Ethan a year ago, but after what they’d all been through over the summer — being attacked by a group of the fabled Bigfoots, and even a vampire! — there was a familial-like bond there that would never be broken. He rubbed his hand over Ethan’s head, messing up his shaggy brown locks. Ethan snickered.
“And what famous author’s family interacted with the Bender family? Anyone remember?” Ms. Cunningham glanced over at the group of friends. “Mr. Gonzalez? Do you know?”
Ken stiffened and sunk his head into his shoulders like a turtle. He slowly turned to face Ms. Cunningham. “Um, J.K. Rowling?” A few of the other students in the group laughed.
Ms. Cunningham raised one eyebrow. “Really? That’s your answer?” Then she shook her head, smiling. “Well, you’re at least right that it was a female, but this author and her family lived in this area the same time as the Benders. I don’t think J.K. Rowling is quite that old.” She looked around at the group. “C’mon, guys, we just saw where they used to live less than an hour ago.” Sarah raised her hand. “Yes, Sarah!” Ms. Cunningham said.
“Laura Ingalls Wilder.”
“Exactly! Thank you, Sarah.”
Ken glared at his sister. “Teacher’s pet.” Sarah smirked.
“Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the famous Little House on the Prairie books. She was four years old when her family lived here in southeast Kansas, and remembered hearing about the Bender family. One time her father even stopped at the Bender inn, which was called the Wayside Inn, and spoke with Kate Bender when she came out of the doorway. She invited him to come inside and stay at their inn for the night, but luckily he decided to go on. That decision probably saved his life. In 1937 Laura gave a speech where she mentioned the Benders.”
Ms. Cunningham raised a photocopied paper and began to read: “The night of the day the bodies were found a neighbor rode up to our house and talked earnestly with Pa. Pa took his rifle down from its place over the door and said to Ma, ‘The vigilantes are called out.’ Then he saddled a horse and rode away with the neighbor. It was late the next day when he came back and he never told us where he had been. For several years there was more or less a hunt for the Benders and reports that they had been seen here or there. At such times Pa always said in a strange tone of finality, ‘They will never be found.’”
Alec swallowed. His throat was dry. This was all very grim and disturbing, and he was ready to move on. “Aren’t we close to Fort Scott?” he asked, trying to prod Ms. Cunningham.
She turned to him. “Yes, we are, Mr. Kerley. And that’s our next stop. Are there any questions before we go on to Fort Scott?”
No one spoke. After a moment, a short, petite woman with long sandy hair said, “Cynthia, is the Bender cabin still there? I mean, could we see it, like we saw the Ingalls replica cabin?” It was Mrs. Doyle, Emily’s mom, who had come along on this field trip as a parent chaperone, along with Ken and Sarah’s mother, Ethan’s mom, and another student’s mom named Mrs. Coleman. Emily’s mother was single, divorced, and seemed to work all the time, but she had actually taken time off from her job as a nurse at St. Mary’s hospital to come with Emily and her classmates on this trip. Emily had been pleasantly surprised. Mrs. Doyle and Ms. Cunningham were apparently friends. Alec had never heard his teacher’s first name before.
Ms. Cunningham shook her head. “No, the original building’s no longer there, Lily. Right after the murders were discovered, people began showing up looking for souvenirs, taking various things from inside the house, tearing apart the building, even breaking off parts of the walls and the stones that lined the well. There used to be a replica of it, along with a museum, in Cherryvale, but the museum closed, I think in 1978, and the replica building was sold off and disappeared.”
A plump young man with a red-haired buzz cut and face like a bulldog raised his hand. “Yes, Ricky?” said Ms. Cunningham.
“Uh, yeah, uh, how ’bout I just step on over to those weeds and water the grass, ’cause I gotta go!” Several of his classmates giggled.
“You watch yourself, Mr. Downing, or you’ll just find yourself in my office when we get back,” said a middle-aged man in a blue suit, standing next to the ancient green and white school bus with his arms crossed. That was Mr. Foxworth, the assistant administrator, who was doubling as the bus driver for this trip. Mr. Foxworth, whom Alec and Ken derisively called ‘The Enforcer’, had a large bald spot on the top of his head that was shaped like a horseshoe, and it became beet red when he was angry, which was most of the time. A public school would have a real bus driver take the class on their field trip, but since Alec and his friends attended a small private school, Blue Springs Academy, it was good ol’ Mr. Foxworth who always came along.
Ms. Cunningham took a deep breath and counted slowly to herself. “No, Ricky, you may not relieve yourself right here next to the highway. Everyone inside the bus, so we can go find a bathroom.”
Mr. Foxworth raised a small black voice recorder and slyly muttered into it as he watched Ricky climb into the bus. The assistant administrator had the curious habit of speaking into his digital voice recorder all the time, as if he were some sort of spy. Alec and Ken frequently laughed about it, seeing him sneak around the school, darting his eyes about and talking to his recorder.
Alec watched the scenery out his window as the bus gained momentum on the two lane highway. What scenery? It was all flat and grassy, with lots of farmland and a few trees. Boring. But he became excited when he saw a green destination sign shoot past. Parsons!
He glanced over at Ken next to him. “Parsons is where my grandma and granddad live!” Then he called to his teacher two seats ahead. “Are we stopping in Parsons, Ms. Cunningham?”
She smiled back at him. “We are now, Alec, since we need a bathroom break. Don’t you have some family there?”
He nodded quickly. “Yeah, my grandparents live there.”
“Grandparents on which side?”
“My dad’s parents.”
“Well, they’re welcome to come see you for a few minutes when we stop, if they’d like.”
Alec flipped open his grey cell phone and began searching the contacts for his grandparents’ phone number. He was still getting used to having a phone and felt pretty cool about it, truth be told. His dad had gotten it for him at the beginning of the school year, and had said it was ‘just in case of emergency’. Alec knew what he meant. Last summer, his dad and his friends had experienced the scariest nights of their lives. He had discovered that his father and Ken’s dad, and Ethan’s parents, all worked for a secret government agency that investigates monsters, and Alec had experienced some up close. Really, really up close. The memory made him shiver.
Alec found the number and made the call.
The gas station was a ‘travel plaza’ just off the highway, complete with a five-bay car wash. Alec spotted his grandparents’ old blue pickup with the camper on the back, sitting off to the side, waiting for their arrival, and his heart leapt. He and his grandparents had camped in that truck many times, parked next to old Smith’s pond, fishing. He hadn’t seen them since last Christmas, right after… right after he’d lost his mom. The school bus pulled in and bounced to a creaky stop at the edge of the parking lot.
“This is a fifteen minute stop!” Mr. Foxworth announced over his shoulder as he killed the engine. He pulled the door open and announced again, “Fifteen minutes!”
Alec ran to his grandparents’ truck. They stepped out and smiled, waiting for him. His grandfather was tall and lanky, with brown grizzled hair that topped in a wave above his forehead. He wore khaki slacks and a brown and blue checkered button up shirt, tucked in, a leather belt, and white canvas deck shoes. As Alec embraced him, his grandfather grinned and said, “Hello there, young man,” and held Alec tight. Alec loved his grandfather’s hugs because he was a big man and could scoop Alec in, safe and warm.
Alec turned to his grandmother and she chuckled, beaming and happy. She held her arms out wide and rolled him back and forth as they hugged. Grandma was short and round, soft and full of love. She wore brown plastic-framed glasses, dark brown slacks, slip-on leather shoes, and a maroon, long-sleeved button up shirt, untucked and long. His grandmother smelled of perfume and hairspray. “It’s so good to see you! Look at you, you’re growing like a weed!” she said. “How long are you stopped for?”
“Just fifteen minutes,” Alec answered, frowning.
“Well, that’s okay,” she replied, looking at him closely. “We’ll get to see you again soon. We’re going to come up to Kansas City for a visit.”
“I’d love that,” Alec said. “And I think we’ll be here next month for Thanksgiving, too.”
A voice behind Alec said, “Hi!”
“Well, hello there, Kenneth,” Alec’s grandfather said, shaking the young man’s hand. He looked over at Sarah and Mrs. Gonzalez and smiled. “Ladies.”
Mrs. Gonzalez embraced Alec’s grandparents like family. “How are you?” she said. The Gonzalez family were old friends of Alec and his parents, and knew his grandparents well.
“Well, we’re pretty good,” Grandma said.
“This is Emily, Sarah’s friend.” Mrs. Gonzalez pulled Emily forward by the hand.
“Hi,” Emily squeaked. She was shy around people she didn’t know.
“And this is Evelyn Edgar and her son, Ethan,” Mrs. Gonzalez continued. “Evelyn and her husband work with my husband John and Alec’s dad.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Kerley, it’s so good to meet you!” Mrs. Edgar said, shaking their hands enthusiastically. She was tall and plump, with red hair and a long pony tail that flowed down the back of her sundress. No matter what the season or temperature, Mrs. Edgar seemed really attached to her sundresses and sandals.
“Hello, bay-buh!” Ethan’s voice quavered. He twisted his hips in an Elvis dance move as he said it, staring up at Granddad Kerley with large hazel eyes and shaggy, disheveled hair. The left side of his giant shirt collar stood straight out like an airplane wing. Granddad Kerley laughed.
Mrs. Edgar smiled and rolled her eyes, then her face froze in a look of shock. She was staring over Grandma Kerley’s head, toward the gas station building.
“What’s wrong, Evelyn?” asked Mrs. Gonzalez.
Mrs. Edgar stood in silence, staring. Mrs. Gonzalez followed her eyes and peered toward the building. “What is it?” she said, becoming alarmed.
Mrs. Edgar looked up at the sky, appearing to study the clouds and passing birds. “But, it’s bright daylight…” she muttered. “How can that be?”
“What?” said Sarah.
Ethan tooted. He had his hands up to his mouth, covering it, staring in the same direction as his mother.
This wasn’t good. When Ethan passed gas, it was usually out of fear, and bad things were about to happen. Alec stared at the gas station, darting his eyes around quickly. Then they stopped on a lone dark figure that was standing by itself, next to the building.
It was staring directly at them.
Alec and Emily both recognized the figure at the same time. As Emily gasped, “Ohmygosh,” Alec’s heart dropped into his feet, which felt leaden, heavy, cemented in place. He became light-headed and dizzy.
“What? What is it!” Sarah insisted.
Alec touched her arm and pointed. The figure wore cowboy boots, brown jeans, a long, black duster coat over a black collared shirt, a gray cowboy hat, and dark sunglasses. His face was white like death. Sarah sucked in a loud breath, finally seeing him.
As Alec stared, the man smirked. Alec’s knees buckled and he dropped to the pavement.
“Alec! Son, what is it?” His grandfather reached a hand out to him. Alec remained on the ground, dumbstruck, gawking at the personage. Slowly, he brought his gaze back to his granddad. He whispered something.
“What? I didn’t hear you, Son.”
Alec cleared his throat and forced himself to speak louder. “I said, that man over there…”
“He’s a vampire.”
© 2014 by Douglas L. Tanner