03 Dec Eastgate
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"Eastgate"Written by Ryan Peacock
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Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
Nobody believes in vampires. They’re just myths. Old folktales that have been bastardized by cinema, pulp horror and cheap romance. Done to death until they’re nothing but a cliché. Only children are afraid of them, which is a far cry from the fear they once caused. A fear so great that villages of men who would be considered reasonable, would defile a grave and mutilate its inhabitant.
I’m not going to pretend as if I don’t understand it. I would’ve scoffed at the notion too. I never once saw myself hunting them, and even then I would’ve imagined something far more dramatic. A special kit full of stakes, silver bullets and other tools to kill the undead. Not a beat-up Chevy, a photograph of a woman and countless restless nights in a motel. The part of my brain that was still somewhat sane was amused by the mundane reality of vampire hunting. But sane or not, every day, I would drive in search of the Dead.
Her name was Harriet Hartman. She was an unassuming woman in her middle age. Brown hair tied back into a bun, coke bottle glasses and laugh lines around her smile. She looked more like a librarian than a vampire. I think that was why she was such an effective killer. Over the weeks I’d spent tracking her, I’d determined a pattern. She fed roughly once a week, and she liked couples. She’d approach the woman in a public space, and spend a few days with them, befriending them. Then she’d take them away, usually to a motel and soon after, the man would follow. Both would then disappear, and Harriet would deposit the keys to her room and vanish before daybreak.
Most of the time, it was a boyfriend and girlfriend, but sometimes it was a Father and a Daughter, two co-workers, a sister and a brother. Always a man and a woman, save for the occasions when she couldn’t get her hands on the man. Then, she’d only take the woman, and vanish into the night. Just like she took my little girl, my Pauline, and she’d almost taken my son James.
The disappearances weren’t well documented, but when I started putting the pieces together, the picture became clearer. On the rare occasions where they did find bodies, they were dismembered and drained of blood. But she stayed in the county. I would’ve thought there would’ve been more of an investigation… but there wasn’t. That’s why I had to do it. That’s why I was the only one who could.
Through my weeks of study, I realized something. Harriet always traveled, and she seemed to hit just about every town, save for one. A little oceanside hamlet called Eastgate. There were no murders there. No sign of Harriet, but every town she hit was no less than five hours away, and the closer they were, the more frequent the attacks. So that was where I looked. If I was wrong, and it wasn’t her home, then I had nothing to lose. But if I was right… I could stop her, once and for all. I could avenge my little girl.
Eastgate wasn’t easy to find. It was barely a blip on most maps, and when I got there, I could see why. Too many houses were boarded up. The local McDonalds was only recognizable by the lighter space on the wall where the sign had once been. No customers inside. Nothing in the parking lot but weeds peeking through the cracks in the pavement. I was surprised, honestly. A town like that should’ve been lively and booming in late spring. It had a perfect location, right by the shore. When I parked my car at the motel and stepped out, I could hear the distant cries of gulls and the lazy crash of the ocean. But instead, this place was dead.
Stepping into the motel office, I was greeted by a sleepy-looking woman watching a movie on an old TV. Judging by the lines in her face, she was somewhere between 17 and 71. It was hard to tell for sure.
“Good afternoon. I booked a room for Terry McKinnon.”
The woman paused her movie, and didn’t bother confirming my reservation. The motel was empty. She grabbed the key nearest to her.
“We charge upfront,” she said, “Plus a $50 retainer fee. Keeps the rooms looking nice.”
I paid without complaint. If Harriet was here, it was more than worth it. As she printed out the receipt, I took out the photograph I had of her. A picture taken at a bar by a friend of some of her victims. In it, you could clearly see a stoic faced couple, and behind them, Harriet. She watched them from the bar, through her coke bottle glasses. At a glance, it would be easy to ignore her, but I was convinced she was staring at them. Sizing them up.
“By any chance, you wouldn’t happen to have seen this woman around before, would you?”
The woman behind the counter paused, and leaned in towards the picture.
“Can’t remember,” she replied. “I don’t think I have.”
I didn’t get the impression that she was lying.
The motel room was cleaner than I’d anticipated. I’d expected a dingy mess, but the beds were soft. The carpets were vacuumed. The room smelled nice. Care had obviously been put into maintaining this place. I took some time to get situated. I checked the news for anything that might indicate Harriet had struck again. They’d found some unidentified body parts a few towns over, but from the sound of it, those weren’t fresh. I knew those parts would be forgotten quickly. That murder would never be solved. Someone else had just lost a child, and the world didn’t care.
C’est la vie.
When I had started my investigation, I’d initially pegged Harriet as some sort of serial killer. She fit the bill alright. It wasn’t until I managed to catch up to her, a little over a week ago, that I learned any different. We were staying in the same motel, and I saw her leaving as I checked in. I watched her closely, right up until she led another innocent girl into that room, just like she’d done with my Pauline. I was going to try and catch her in the act. I convinced myself I was going to save that girl, so I took some extreme measures. I’d already bought a gun, and I kept it in my pocket as I threw a chair through the window of her room, and then barged in like a madman.
I found her with her teeth in that girl’s neck. Harriet tossed her aside, and rose to confront me. Blood ran down the neck of her victim, but there was none on her lips. As she stood, I could see her fangs in the moonlight, and in my shock, I fired at her. The bullets hit her in the chest, but she barely even flinched. Fangs bared, she fell upon me, seizing me by the throat. Her eyes studied me in the instant before she smiled.
“It appears I have a stalker.” She said calmly.
Desperate for help, I looked over at the girl she’d brought in with her. She sat on the bed, a hand pressed to the wound in her neck. But she didn’t run for help. She just stared at us, at me. Just an observer to our drama as it played out before her.
“You look familiar, have we met?” Harriet asked.
“You took my fucking daughter!” My language made her recoil more than any of my bullets had.
“Ah… Did I now? Was it Pauline by any chance? She was a good girl.”
I almost hit her for saying her name, but my fear of her stayed my hand.
“You’re a good Father, looking to avenge her like that. She was a very lucky girl.”
Just like that, Harriet tossed me aside like I was nothing.
“Just for that… I’ll let you leave this time. Go home. Following me isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
I should have listened to her. She took the girl, and walked over me. She was in her car and gone long before anyone came to investigate the noise, and by then, I was gone too.
I took a walk on the beach to clear my head. The stink of the ocean didn’t bother me. On the contrary, it helped me clear my mind and set up a plan of attack. If Harriet was here, someone had to have seen her. I brought up a map of the town on my phone and picked out all the locations that might help me. Hubs for the community. Bars, restaurants, the local grocery store. All the perfect places to look. There wasn’t much in Eastgate, so I couldn’t imagine it would take me that long to get through everything.
My little walk helped me get a lay of the land. Eastgate had a small main drag, leading down to the empty beach. On the south side of the town was a seawall with a dock and marina. There were a few houses out that way, but nothing much. To the north, the houses were a bit nicer. It wasn’t quite a suburb, but it almost passed as one. The stores there were all local businesses. Eastgate was too small to support anything larger, like a Wal-Mart or Target. The few deviations were a small school and a halfway house beside a bus station. Strangely enough, I never saw a single bus pass by while I was in Eastgate.
I had lunch at a little diner by the Marina. Fish that was over-battered, and chips that were mushy and bland. I flashed the picture to the owner, who frowned and shook his head.
“Can’t say I’ve seen her around,” he admitted. “Least… I don’t think I have.”
I thanked him, and paid my bill as he disappeared out back, reaching into his pocket for his cell phone as he did. I got the impression that my patronage had been more of a bother to him than a boon. With my stomach uncomfortably full of grease, I started to walk back to the main drag. I planned out my next move. Maybe I’d try the grocery store next, or a bar. I’d take the time to cover a few more places that day, and then try the rest the next. If I got nothing by then… it would be time for a new plan.
Heading towards downtown, I passed my motel, and paused as I saw a familiar red Lamborghini Aventador parked out front, right beside my car. I stopped and stared at it for a few moments, and as I did, I saw a man get out. At 29, James was a reflection of everything I could have been. Handsome, successful, smart, a great athlete. I was proud of him, no matter what. I’d left our company in his hands a few months back, and he’d grown into the role quickly. That Lambo even suited him better than it ever suited me. James strode towards me, tall and confident, looking around at the empty scenery around us.
“What are you doing here, Dad?” he asked, voice stern as if he were the Father, and I were the child.
“Enjoying my retirement,” I replied. He didn’t buy that for a second.
“You’re wasting your time out here… You’re not going to find Pauline.”
“No. But who knows. Maybe I’ll run into something else.”
James’ brow creased.
“How many times do I have to tell you to leave it to the police?”
“Should I?” I asked. “Because they’ve done a really stellar job so far, haven’t they?”
“I’m taking you home.” The statement was curt and demanding, leaving no room for negotiation. Clearly he didn’t know who he was talking to.
“The hell you are.” I brushed past him, heading towards town again. Ever persistent, that boy of mine followed me. “You can’t just keep chasing her, Dad! What if you end up dead?”
“Then I’m sure it’ll be a lovely funeral.” I replied, “I need a drink. Are you coming or not?”
James sighed in disapproval, but kept stride with me.
“Look… If you’re mad at me, I get it. She called me to that motel room, and I blew her off. But you told me yourself, she was probably already dead whether or not she made that call!”
“I know,” I replied. “I don’t blame you, James. I blame the bitch that took her.”
“Just because we didn’t find the body doesn’t mean-”
“I KNOW!” I said it more sharply than I intended, and James stopped in his tracks, unsure of how to respond to me. “Just… Just give me a few days to look around, alright? That’s all I ask,” I said to him. “Can you do that for me?”
He nodded slowly.
“Yeah… okay, Dad. But afterwards, you come home. Stop chasing the killer, because if you don’t, sooner or later you’re going to run into her, and you’re going to get hurt!”
Now it was my turn to nod, but I didn’t say anything. I kept walking towards the bar, leaving James behind.
The town Bar was called Shelby’s Place. Dim red lights and country music gave the place a homey feel. The bartender was a muscular bald man with a heavy beard. I ordered a gin and tonic before showing him the picture. In the low light, he took a few moments to look, before he shook his head. As he did, the doors to the bar opened, and a woman walked in. She was young and dark-skinned. Her eyes held a knowing look to them. There was something about the way she moved. Methodical and seductive, like the ocean itself. She sat a few seats away from me, and the bartender was on her immediately.
“I’ll have the usual, Gary.”
Wordlessly, he fixed her a drink, and after a moment’s thought, I changed seats to sit beside her.
“Put it on my tab,” I said. Her eyebrow rose, but she didn’t protest.
“Thanks, stranger. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Her tone was flirtatious.
“I thought you might answer a question for me, that’s all,” I replied. Her smile widened.
“Well then, the answer is: Yes. I am single.”
I caught myself blushing, just a little bit.
“I’m sorry… That… that wasn’t exactly it… I’m looking for someone, actually.” I took out the picture again. “See anyone you recognize?”
She looked down at the picture, and followed my finger to Harriet’s face. Nothing could hide the recognition in her eyes, but she didn’t answer immediately.
“I’ve seen her around.” She finally said, and looked back up at me, “What’s your business?”
“I wanted to ask her some questions.” I replied, “That’s all.” It was a lie, but I didn’t much care for that.
The Woman propped her head up with her hand.
“That’s all, huh?” she asked. “Well… I’ll give you a pass since you’re obviously new here. You’re one of those boys out by the motel, right? I caught you having an argument with that fella with the fancy red car a little while ago.”
“Yeah… That’s my son, James,” I admitted. “We’re just looking into the disappearance of my Daughter. I was told that, that woman might know something.”
“So you’re not cops, then?” The woman asked.
“I’m just a concerned father.”
The woman nodded thoughtfully, as the bartender brought her, her drink. A rum and Coke. She took a sip.
“I can check and see if she’s around. Harriet goes out of town on business every few days.”
“Do you know what kind of business?” I asked.
“House calls,” the woman replied. “I’m sorry… I don’t think I caught your name?”
“Right, sorry… I’m Terry McKinnon.”
“Well, nice to meet you, Terry. You can call me Clarice. Anyhow, maybe if she’s in town, I can introduce you later. After all, you seem nice enough, and Harriet is a sweetheart! She wouldn’t hurt a fly!”
I highly doubted that.
“I’d appreciate it.” I said, “Just let me know when.”
“Stick around your motel. I’ll come knocking.” Clarice replied, and raised her glass to me.
“Thanks for the drink, Terry.”
James’ car was still out front of the Motel when I got back. The sun was starting to go down, and bathed the otherwise empty parking lot in a golden glow. Walking past the Lambo, I found myself thinking about how small it looked. How had I ever enjoyed driving that thing? Seeing it beside the used Sedan I’d bought a while back, I realized that I actually preferred the Sedan. Staring into the empty driver’s seat of that cramped, angular car, I caught myself resenting it a little bit. All my life, it had been my dream car. Each and every success had brought me closer and closer to it. I’d made so many sacrifices, just for that dream of success.
My ex-wife, Megan had called me a workaholic. I’d told her I was only doing it to provide for my family… But that was a lie. I did it for me. I did it for the money, and those sacrifices always seemed so small. I missed a few weekends, and I didn’t see my family often. When I was home, I was tired and irritable. Pauline had taken the divorce especially hard. She and James had lived with her mother for the first few years. The only reason they ever came back to me, was because Megan had passed away. I trusted James to raise her right. He was the older child, and thus the more responsible one. I had my work to worry about, always my work. Now, all these years later, here I was, staring at my beloved Lambo and hating it.
I called James to join me for dinner that night, but he didn’t answer his phone. I could only imagine he was avoiding me. So, I ordered take out from the one pizza place in town, and waited for Clarice. She came for me around eight that evening, knocking on my door.
“Good evening, Terry,” she said softly. “Sorry to keep you waiting.” She walked in without an invitation.
“I stopped by the halfway house and asked about Harriet. They told me she was going to get back in tonight, and I know she’s a bit of a night owl, so… I thought it might not hurt to swing by and talk to her.”
“Are you sure she’ll be okay with that?” I asked.
“Yeah, they gave me her number and I checked in with her. She said she’ll be up for a while, if you wanted to swing by.”
I studied Clarice for a few moments. It had occurred to me that she was working with Harriet, but… It seemed almost too paranoid.
“I don’t see why not, then,” I replied. Clarice tipped me a winning smile, before leaning against my door.
“Alrighty then. I’m guessing you’ve never been to the halfway house before, have you? I can show you the way.”
“Give me a minute. I need to freshen up a bit first,” I lied, and shooed her out of the room. I didn’t need long. I changed my shirt and put on some deodorant, but that wasn’t why I’d chased her off. I pocketed the gun and hid a wooden stake I’d fashioned a while back in my belt. If I had a shot… I wasn’t going to waste it.
Clarice was waiting patiently when I stepped out of the room to join her. We made small talk as we walked down the beach, towards the halfway house. The house in question didn’t look much different than any of the other suburban houses by the beach. It was large but well maintained, with a wraparound porch that looked homey. As we drew closer, I could see a figure sitting in a chair on that porch. I could see the slight burn of a cigarette. Harriet sat patiently, waiting for me like we had all the time in the world.
“Hey, Mrs. H!” Clarice said playfully as we drew nearer. Harriet exhaled smoke and smiled.
“Good to see you again Clarice. Is that the man you mentioned?”
“Yup. This is Terry.”
Harriet’s eyes rested on me knowingly.
“Well, thank you for bringing him along. Head on inside. Patricia had a Birthday last night, there’s some cake still left over. Help yourself. Terry, would you like to have a seat?” She offered me a spot beside her, as Clarice proudly stepped into the house again. I stood in the sand for a while, watching the bookish vampire as she smoked her cigarette. No sound except for the gulls and the waves. After a few tense moments, she spoke.
“I can’t imagine what you think of me, Terry.” She sighed, “I assume you have some means to kill me on hand, correct.”
“Correct,” I replied. The slightest smile crossed her lips.
“Well… I should have seen this coming. You’re the first person to follow me home. It was bound to happen eventually.”
“You can’t just go around murdering innocent people,” I replied. “Did you think no one would notice?”
“It would be naive of me to say yes. I’d hoped what I paid the local law enforcement might keep anyone from digging too deep. But you’re made of sterner stuff, it seems.” She chuckled, “From what Pauline told me, you were the last person I expected to see showing up at my door… But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After our encounter at the motel, when I heard someone had shown up in town asking about me, I had my suspicions. I hope you don’t mind that I sent Clarice to collect you. But dragging this out wouldn’t have benefitted either of us.”
I took the stake from my coat, and Harriet’s eyes focused on it. But she didn’t move. She inhaled on her cigarette.
“If you’re going to kill me, would you mind if I asked you a question first?” She asked. I paused, before nodding my head. I dreaded the moment when she’d pounce, when it was either her or me and I’d have to drive my stake through her heart. But she didn’t move.
“How did I choose my victims?”
“You chose couples. One man, one woman,” I replied. She shook her head.
“No, no, no. Often, yes, it was a man and a woman. But what did every pair have in common?”
To that, I had no answer. Harriet sat patiently through my silence.
“I suppose by tracking me here, you’ve become a monster hunter, haven’t you?” She finally asked, “It might interest you to know that I’m something of a monster hunter myself. People call for help all the time… So I visit them, I assess the situation, and if need be, I deal with the problem. Abuse is like the tide. It waxes and wanes. It drowns those caught in it. One sad truth about humanity is that people don’t change, Terry. Some do. You did. But not all. Not the worst of them. Some people only destroy. They take. They hurt. They rape. I didn’t choose to become what I am today. But they chose to commit their sins.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“I’m talking about my victims. The bodies they found scattered along the roadways… Yes, that was me. But those were the monsters. Abusers. Rapists. No better than animals.”
“And what about the women?” I asked. “You expect me to believe that they’re fine? Why take them, then?”
“For safety,” Harriet replied. “If a body turns up, they’re usually the first suspect. I’ve seen good people suffer for my crimes. That isn’t what I want. So instead, I take them with me. I help them heal, and when the time comes, start again.”
“And they let you feed on them?” I asked.
“Some do. Some have nothing left, and they ask to become like me… Like Pauline.”
My heart stopped in my chest.
“Am I?” Harriet tilted her head to the side and stood up from her seat. “You can come out now.” On her command, the door to the house opened. I stared in silent awe as she stepped out onto the porch. My little girl, my Pauline. Alive, unharmed… She was there, right there in front of me! I dropped the stake, eyes fixated on her. My feet compelled me forwards, I stumbled over my own two feet as I dumbly ran to her, snatching her up into my arms and hugging her close. The tears streamed down my cheeks, as I felt my Pauline’s arms slowly wrap around me in turn.
“I thought I lost you!” I gasped. “I thought you were dead…”
“I’m sorry, Dad… I couldn’t stay…” Pauline said softly, her face pressed against my shoulder. “I had to leave… I… I didn’t think you’d care…” Those words broke my heart. But I understood why she said them. Never in my life had I been a good father to her. It had been one disappointment after the next. I knew why she had felt that way, and I hated myself for it.
“I’m sorry…” I whispered, running my fingers through her hair. “I’m so sorry…”
Harriet turned away, looking out over the crashing waves and allowing us our privacy.
“Who hurt her?” I finally asked. Harriet looked back at me. Her smile was gone.
“Isn’t it obvious?” she said.
It was. Harriet sighed, and as my hug broke with my daughter, I caught a look of shame on Pauline’s face.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I… I didn’t think you’d believe me if I…”
I cupped her cheeks, silencing her.
“I’m the one who owes you an apology,” I replied. “I should’ve known… There had to have been signs…”
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she bowed her head into me, and again I looked over to Harriet.
“Inside,” she replied. “We weren’t sure if it would be better to wait for you, or do it before… I didn’t want this to end in violence.”
“It won’t,” I assured her. “I… I assume you’re going to kill him.”
“Yes.” No lies. No tricks. Straight to the point. The truth hurt. It was like a knife in my heart, but now I held my daughter trembling in my arms. I stood here because of what James had done. Because of what I had allowed.
“Alright.” It was the only thing I had to say.
I stood on the beach, with Pauline at my side as Clarice and two other dragged James out. I recognized one of the girls as the one I’d seen Harriet feeding on.
“Dad?!” James’ voice was cracked with fear. “W-what the hell is going on?” His eyes settled on Pauline and widened.
“I know what you did,” I replied calmly. The look on James’ face confirmed it.
“No… No, whatever she told you, it’s a lie! I didn’t touch her! I would never! She’s my sister! I swear to God… I’d never…”
He struggled and fought against the women. Harriet watched quietly from the balcony, and Pauline left my side to approach him.
“Dad? DAD?! Come on! You’ve got to believe me! Goddammit, Dad!”
I just stood there and stared as Pauline loomed over him. One of the other girls jerked James’ head back. He cried and struggled. He fought. He begged. But he did not escape her teeth.
Last night, I parked the Lambo on the edge of the harbor. I put it in neutral, and I pushed it into the harbor. James’ suicide letter is in his room. What he did was unforgivable but through my neglect I enabled it, and so I share the blame.
Tomorrow I will leave Eastgate alone, and perhaps somewhere in the distance, I may find my absolution.
Credit: Ryan Peacock (a.k.a. HeadOfSpectre)
🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Peacock
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