The people of Menitz could never remember a time when there had not been a vampire. So of course it was hard for them to remember the details of the good old days.
Nevertheless, everyone was sure that there had been good old days. They cited, as proof, the mural in the lobby of the post office. A mural that, ironically, was the work of government-subsidized artists during some hard times that had been embedded in the good old days. But this detail didn’t bother the townspeople at all. And they still pointed with pride to the svelte bodies and pink clouded cheeks of their vigorous dancing ancestors on the plaster wall.
The people of Menitz were no longer svelte and pink clouded and vigorous. For though their vampire was unusual in that she did not kill or even maim her victims, still she drained the resources of the townspeople leaving them sluggish and dumpy with gray clouds in their cheeks, the color of places going bad in potatoes.
* * *
Victimship in Menitz was on a rotating basis and everyone in town was victim (for a day) every so often. Actually no one minded. For victims got benefits, like the day off with pay. And a free plate lunch at the Ed and Edna Cafe.
Besides there was no choice. Rumor had it that generations before the townspeople had rebelled. They had marched up Main Street with torches and pitchforks and wild-eyed dogs. But they had failed and the repercussions had been disastrous. There were no outs. It was a proven fact.
Still, it could have been worse.
She could have been the other kind of vampire. The killer kind with bat wings and flesh-shredding claws and cold hollow fangs to suck a victim flat as a grape skin.
But she was not.
She had no wings or claws and her teeth were perfectly normal. (Though as a child she had had a slight overbite, this had been corrected by the local dentist who had fitted her with braces at his own expense.)
The people of Menitz were grateful that their vampire was so unusually gentle. “If this is as bad as it gets I can stand it just fine,” they often said to each other. And deep down they loved her. They cherished her. They showed it in different ways.
There was Miss Annie Coatsworthy, the town clerk who kept the rotating victim’s list up to date, and sent out personal reminders one week in advance, and made all the arrangements for substitutes when people got sick. Because of her the little vampire was never bothered with paperwork, and every morning at 7 AM there was a willing victim waiting to get his finger pricked and go on his way.
Dr. Morton, the dentist, was another one who loved her — he and his free orthodontal care.
And Mr. Drewpert, the undertaker, who surreptitiously placed the fresh lapel flower he bought every morning in her mailbox every afternoon, on his way home from work.
There were the dozens of citizens who kept a quiet eye out for her when she went walking.
And people who sent birthday flowers and Valentine’s cards, and at Christmas, cookies and brownies and pies — which she longed to taste but gave instead to the local orphanage for what would be the point of her eating these things.
* * *
No one in Menitz ever talked about how they loved the vampire. They would have been embarrassed to admit to each other that they loved someone who caused them so much pain. Instead they talked about the pain. About the ancient history of their ancestors’ pain — their ancestors who had been wealthy and happy and sexy. And about themselves — what they would have been if it weren’t for her.
Mr. Drewpert, the undertaker, always thought he would have gone on with medical school if it hadn’t been for the vampire siphoning off his intellectual prowess.
Whereas the town doctor, Dr. Mudd, thought he might have been a novelist. And the editor of the town newspaper thought he might have been a poet. And Miss Annie Coatsworthy said she would have been an executive secretary, though secretly she thought she might have been mayor.
Dr. Morton liked being a dentist. But he said he would have been a better one if the vampire had not drained his energy so. He said he would have had a lot better luck with root canals and that his fillings would have stayed in longer. And Ed and Edna down at the cafe said they would have established a chain of eateries that would have put Howard Johnson’s to shame if only.
Of course none of the things the people said about the Vampire were true. They were simply things to say. And everyone in Menitz understood that. Everyone, that is, except the vampire herself. And it never occurred to her that the complaints of the townspeople could be anything but justified.
The vampire took it all very seriously and very hard. She believed that she was a drain on the town. And that she was to blame for just about everything.
And from her earliest years she became determined to remedy the situation. She studied nutrition books late into the nights until her eyes burned. And chemistry and biology and hematology. She was determined to discover some science by which she could survive without the daily doses of blood that drained Menitz. To become no drain at all was her life’s goal. And she worked hard at it.
In spite of the vampire drain, the people of Menitz did manage to assemble the capital for one gross indulgence and that was the Ever-Ready Defense-System.
The system was sold to the town, to the at-first-reluctant mayor, by a flim-flam man who turned the tide of the mayor’s doubts by one statement, delivered with the sure-footed smile of a mountain goat.
“If you’d had this system to begin with,” he smiled, “you wouldn’t find yourself in this vampire predicament today.”
“If we’d had this system to begin with we wouldn’t find ourselves in this vampire predicament today,” smiled the mayor to the skeptical town assembly.
After that it was easy with everyone just pitching in until the plywood project-progress-thermometer in the town square went over the top in the first month. It was a shining example of just what a town could do, even in the face of adversity.
And so the defense system and the government-subsidized mural were focal points in Menitz for civic pride. And it was often said that the town had adjusted stunningly in the face of the vampire’s drain.
* * *
This being so, it was understandably shocking the spring day that the vampire called a press conference, and announced with great joy in her little voice that she had discovered a way to live on regular food, and that she would, therefore, have no further need of the services of the community. For herself, and on behalf of her ancestors who had been served, she thanked the town for its cooperation. And she went away.
That night the issue was discussed at a town meeting called especially for the emergency. The feelings of the people of Menitz were probably best expressed by the mayor, who tore up his prepared speech, saying he was too shaken to deliver it.
In the stormy session that followed, these fears were voiced:
1) That, with the old predictable vampire gone, some horrid animalistic variety might try to muscle in and take over.
2) That, with the sudden cessation of the drain, the townspeople (already fat beyond the boundaries of medical advisability) might explode, or at least have a hard time adjusting.
And the following fears went unexpressed:
1) That the little vampire might fall in with bad company and be deflowered.
2) That she might fall prey to natural disasters while traveling alone.
3) That she might not find suitable work and
4) That what will we do? We have lost our cherished darling! How could she do this to us after all these years?
Around about eleven thirty some order appeared out of the emergency meeting. This was because people just naturally calmed down out of pure fatigue. And so, with late-night clarity of vision, the solution was simple.
Quickly committees were formed. One to formalize the town’s requirements, another to write these into an advertisement. The ladies’ auxiliary voluteered to look after submitting the ad to appropriate publications. The sales staff of Harry’s Chevrolet (because it was their slow season) agreed to carry on correspondence with applicants, screening out bad apples. And the Kiwanis chapter agreed to set up interveiws with applicants showing potential.
* * *
Meanwhile just a short pleasant walk down the road (after a picnic of crunchy salad and sky-blue cheese) ( freckle dappled by the spring growing sun) the ex-vampire of Menitz slept on a carpet of soft green moss. It was the first good night’s sleep of her entire lifetime.