This is part of the serialized story (as yet unnamed — any suggestions? I just keep calling it the Bonhomme Bayou stories) that you can catch up on HERE. This story steps back a bit and takes place on the night that Jimmy Singleton’s body was found. It focuses on a strange little character that I mentioned that I’d always meant to come back to.
People who lived in Bayou Bonhomme didn’t bother Varney much anymore. Most folks were nice enough to him, and moreso, most folks kept their comments to themselves when Varney was in earshot. But still, Varney knew that he made them uncomfortable. His condition, that is. Hell, it made him uncomfortable every time he saw his face in the mirror. It wasn’t something that was getting any better. And as far as being a vampire went, Varney didn’t get any of the perks of the types you see in the horror movies. He wasn’t preternaturally strong, and he couldn’t turn into a wolf or a bat, or hypnotize people or anything. And he certainly wasn’t disarmingly beautiful like those ponces in those Anne Rice novels. On the contrary, all he got out the rare disease he had was the monstrously pale skin, aversion to sunlight, and due to the fact that it made his gums recede, the freakish teeth of a vampire. Once, a few years back, he’d gotten so angry about those Lestat books, that after a couple of drinks for courage, he’d tried to convince Mel Cayce to drive him down to New Orleans so he could look the writer up and give her a piece his mind.
Instead, Mel took him out to a movie — not a monster movie, and let him hold her hand the whole time. Varney wasn’t stupid. He know how he looked, but he loved Mel all the same for her kindness. Of course, Mel got looks of her own, on account of that big scar on her face where that gator nearly got her. Varney reckoned she knew how it felt to be stared at.
Mel’s dad had never treated Varney very well, but he gave Varney a job stocking shelves and sweeping up after dark mostly. Considering that guys like Varney would likely either be run out of town or thrown in some circus freak show not fifty years back, Varney was just happy to have honest work. It was the tourists that Varney just couldn’t stand, and old Elmer Cayce used to parade Varney out for them, calling him Varney the Vampyre, and making him pose for photos, sometimes even making him vamp it up by pretending to bite someone’s neck — god, the out-of-towners sure did love that. His name wasn’t even Varney, it was Victor actually, but once Mel Sr. had dubbed him Varney the Vampyre it had stuck, and he didn’t even mind it so much anymore.
Since Mel had taken over the bar, the tourists had stopped trying to get Varney to pose for snapshots. Mel wouldn’t allow it. Anyone who asked got a full volume lecture from the woman about human dignity and compassion. Varney liked watching her yell at the tourists. There was just something about that woman in a bout of rage and indignation that made him warm all over.
Once, she caught him standing and watching, and turned her anger on him.
“Don’t you just stand there gawkin’ Varney! Them cases won’t stack themselves! Just ’cause they all think yer the walkin’ dead don’t mean you and I don’t know different!”
And she winked at him, and if Varney could have blushed, he would have.
“Yes, ma’am,” Varney had replied, and skulked off to the back storeroom.
The night that Jimmy Singleton’s body had been discovered, Varney had been skulking somewhere different. He’d been spying on Martha Rae Lafleur and her boyfriend as they went skinny dipping in the bayou, and then she’d started screaming, he’d been sure that it was because she’d seen him lurking in the small grove of sycamore by the bank. Seeing someone like Varney, who suffered from the rare disease Prophyria, lurking in the dark would be enough to make anyone scream. When Varney smiled it had a chilling effect, and so in order to avoid disturbing people, he tried not to smile, which only made him look grim and gruesome. Life’s not easy for a vampire in the bayou.
Varney ran out of the sycamore grove and down the road where he’d parked his beast of a car, an old Buick that was more Bondo than paint, and whose upholstery was now more duct tape than anything else. He got into his car and was about to start it up when he heard a voice he recognized from right behind him, and ducked down so that Deputy Marla Bergeron wouldn’t see him. She’d busted him for peeping before, and he’d promised to cut it out.
“I brought what you asked,” Marla said to the taller figure. “What do you want me to do with it?”
Varney could only make out a few of the words the man said, but he didn’t recognize his voice. Something about Oscar and soap. Why in the world these two were talking about soap Varney couldn’t figure. His momma had never let him say a bad word about himself, and if’n he did, she made him chew on a bar of lye soap, and he hated it.
Varney tried to keep perfectly still, but almost jumped out of his skin when he heard Mr. Hendricks run past and stop to talk to Deputy Bergeron and the other man.
“I pulled him out of the water like you said,” Mr Hendricks, who should have been home with Mrs. Hendricks but was, instead, entertaining his babysitter, was out of breath but didn’t seem at all frightened.
“And the girl?” The man asked.
“She’s run off,” Andy Hendricks said, waving it off. “I told her I was going to go get Oscar.”
“I’ll get Oscar,” Marla said. “You go home. You can’t be seen here.”
Andy nodded and Varney heard him run off in the other direction.
“You go get Oscar,” the man said. “Give me the lye. I’m going to go put it back in the water, but first, I’ll be making a few… alterations…”
The man put on thick gloves and pulled a bottle of clear liquid carefully from his pocket.
Marla looked alarmed at the older man, who just laughed and took the container of powder from her.
“Trust me,” he said, chuckling. “I’ve done this before. Now go. Go get Oscar — only give me a few minutes of privacy, if you don’t mind.”
Varney listened intently, not understanding all that he heard, but holding his breath for fear of discovery. He waited there for what felt like hours after he’d heard the two voices leave, but was really only about ten minutes or so, and then he started up his car and raced toward Mel’s. Never mind what he’d just heard, if he was late for work again, Mel would be pissed. She was usually pretty understanding — she knew he wasn’t any good in daylight — but the sun had gone down nearly an hour ago, so he couldn’t use that for an excuse.
Varney drove as fast as he could without drawing attention. As he got closer to Mel’s, he saw Martha Rae Lafleur running up the hill, soaking wet and screaming. She seemed to be heading to Mel’s, too, and he had a feeling he knew what she was screaming about.
Mel was waiting for him as he drove in, and yelled at him to start loading cases of beer into Mr. Angell’s car. She didn’t seem to be in any mood for chit-chat, so Varney shuffled off and was about to pick up his first case of beer when he heard Martha Rae burst through the door.
“They found him!” she cried, and Varney knew right away that she meant that boy everyone had been talking about. Varney suddenly felt sick, and began to wonder just who that was the Marla Bergeron had been talking to. He should tell someone. Nobody usually listened to Varney, but this was important, dammit!
“Mel,” he said out loud to himself. “I have to talk to Mel.”
Varney stood in the back room and heard all the commotion out in the restaurant; heard Leroy drive off without his beer, and poked his head out for a look.
“Goddammit!” Mel yelled. “Someone pick ‘er up and lay her out on one o’ the tables!”
“Mel,” Varney tried to interrupt. “Mel, I need to talk to you…”
“Not now, Varney! Get me a blanket, will you? This girl’s goin’ into shock!”
“But Mel…” Varney tried again. “It’s important. It’s about that boy.”
“They just found that boy, Varney, I know! Now get along and fetch me a blanket!”
Varney left and did what he was told. And then he came back and listened to the girl tell her story. And when she was done speaking, Varney’s blood had frozen inside him. But after Mel had cleared everyone else out, and it was just her and the pale man who secretly loved her left in the bar, Varney told her everything he had heard. And then together, they got very, very drunk.
** special thanks to James Malcolm Rymer, who was the author of the Victorian era penny dreadful where this character gets his name.