Vampires of Northwest Arkansas
My friend Cindy was bitten by a bat one night while we were walking back to her place. It was a week after I arrived in Eureka Springs to visit her. I’d had a bad feeling about the short cut through the woods, but then I’ve lived nearly all of my life in New York City.
“It’s perfectly safe,” Cindy said as she guided me on the path. I wanted to stay on the streets, but Cindy said we could save ten minutes. Ten minutes really didn’t matter to me that Friday night.
It was September 14, 2001, and once I had I managed to find out that none of my friends or relatives were in the World Trade Center on Tuesday, that only some friends of friends were missing, I was happy to stay safe in Eureka forever.
Planes were grounded, so it looked like I might have to be there for a while. I stopped wearing my wristwatch.
“Shouldn’t we have flashlights?” I asked her as we made our way through the trees. “I can’t see a thing.”
“I’ve done this hundreds of times,” Cindy assured me. Just as she said it, I was able to see something. I thought it was a bird, but I didn’t have time to get scared. I have a phobia about birds ever since I was dive-bombed by grackles as a kid on vacation in Texas.
Cindy screamed. So I screamed. She knew it was a bat right away. It got her just above her nose.
We scrambled back to Spring Street and knocked on the door of the nearest house. Cindy was holding her forehead but she said it didn’t really hurt. The only one home was an out-of-breath high school boy who came to the door in just an undershirt and gym shorts.
At first I thought we’d interrupted him and his girlfriend, but as he drove us in his pickup truck to the ER at Eureka Springs Hospital, he told us he’d only been doing bench presses. His name was Duane. He and Cindy knew each other by sight, but not by name.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but this hospital seemed more like a big doctor’s office, and there weren’t too many people around, and it took about an hour before we found out there was no rabies vaccine in Eureka. They were going to have to send for some from Little Rock.
Little Rock? I couldn’t believe it. This was what our country had come to. No wonder we were attacked like that. And for a minute, I flashed on what the view from my rooftop in Brooklyn would look like when I turned toward lower Manhattan. If I ever got home, I guess I’d find out.
Not only were they getting the rabies vaccine from Little Rock, but it was going to be delivered to the hospital in Harrison. Why Harrison? We couldn’t get a straight answer from the doctors. The nurses were just plain rude, like it was Cindy’s fault for getting bitten by a bat. One fat nurse made a remark about vampires. Even Duane, who was probably only 16, gave her a look.
They told us the vaccine would get to Harrison by about 3 o’clock the next day. Cindy doesn’t have a car, but Duane said he wouldn’t mind driving us. He was a sweet kid.
“Does it hurt?” I asked Cindy at her place, when we were getting to go to bed.
“Like a bee sting, kind of,” she said. “But I feel sick to my stomach.”
“That’s just nerves,” I said. “Take a Xanax. You know I never travel without my portable pharmacy.” Cindy and I share a long-ago drug history.
“I feel I’m different somehow,” Cindy said. “That something in my body has changed.”
“You’re not a vampire,” I told her. “Hey, chances are that bat wasn’t rabid at all. The shot is just for insurance.”
She didn’t want to call her daughter in Branson. She really didn’t want to tell anyone about it. Like it was somehow shameful.
I’ve known Cindy for over thirty years, so I know she can be like that. You don’t want to know what her childhood had been like. Well, it was like mine, actually.
I met her when I was working Times Square. She’d practically just come off the bus at Port Authority and was so country I figured she could use a friend. I think I was the first gay boy she’d ever met.
Anyway, that was as long ago as the Punic Wars, and I don’t think about those days very much. Times Square is now as safe for tourists as downtown Eureka Springs is. I work as a proofreader at a law firm.
The next afternoon, when we got to Duane’s house, he was having a fight with his sister, who was the true owner of the pickup truck. As we were leaving, she was saying something bitchy and Duane just yelled back, “Oh, bite me, Lorelei.”
I started giggling and Duane gave me a curious look. Cindy explained the joke.
“I’d need ten rabies shots if she was to actually bite me,” Duane told us as we lurched along Main Street. I didn’t like the way he drove.
On the way to Harrison, Duane asked me a lot about New York. I didn’t really want to talk about it, so I answered his questions in a perfunctory way and kept asking him about his life.
He said the attacks made him think about joining the marines but his sister had told him he’d be crazy to enlist.
Cindy was quiet, and I knew she was worried about the vaccine. I’d told her that you no longer had to get the shots in your stomach, that it probably was nothing more than a flu shot, but I really had nothing to go on when I said that.
It turned out to be about the truth. The doctors and nurses in the Harrison hospital were less snotty than the ones in Eureka. There’d have to be follow-up visits, but they were sure she’d be fine.
We wanted to take Duane out to dinner to thank him for everything but were afraid he wouldn’t want to be with a couple of old people on a Saturday night. He said he had nothing better to do, and we went to a steakhouse out on that road near where the Passion Play is.
Every time I’ve come to Eureka Springs, I’ve always liked seeing the Christ of the Ozarks. If you look at him with his arms outstretched like that, you can see right away that his proportions aren’t normal. Cindy once told me they had to make him a lot stubbier than a real man, a real Jesus, would be because if he was normally proportioned, he’d be so high that airplanes would crash into him. The people who built the statue didn’t want to have to put a flashing red light on top of his head.
I’d forgotten how 16-year-old boys could eat. I try to limit my red meat these days. Of course back when I was 16 on the Deuce and I found a generous man who’d take me to Howard Johnson’s or Hector’s Cafeteria or Lindy’s, I’d stuff my face as much as I could because I didn’t know when I’d eat so good again.
“So I guess you’re not going to become a vampire,” Duane told Cindy while we were having dessert. Actually, it was just him; Cindy and I were settling for coffee.
She looked very tired. I’d seen her look that tired too many times over the years we’ve been friends.
“Oh, you never know, Duane,” Cindy told the boy. “I never expected to be somebody’s grandmother either, and yet here I am.”
Duane said Cindy didn’t look like anyone’s grandmother he knew. Then he turned to me.
“You neither,” he said. And he gave me a funny sort of smile.
Richard Grayson is the author of nine books of stories, including With Hitler in New York, Lincoln Doctor's Dog, I Survived Caracas Traffic, and The Silicon Valley Diet. Last year he ran for political office and lost, chronicling his campaign at "Diary of a Congressional Candidate in Florida's Fourth Congressional District" at McSweeney's.His nonfiction has appeared in People, The New York Times, Newsday and The Miami Herald. He doesn't eat meat.
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