First, here's the synopsis I'm using when asked for one:
Alain Beaudreaux, a vampire, loved a mortal woman for 64 years. Now she's in Heaven and he's determined to join her, but he'll have to go through Hell to do it.
Kurt Grey, a junior copywriter, hit on the wrong woman at the wrong time. Now he's been thrown through a portal into Hell and has an angry vampire hot on his heels. He must find his way to Heaven if he ever hopes to get home.
Two men, one amazing journey, and the fate of the universe hangs in the balance.
After recently turning 40 and becoming a dad for the second time, I thought I'd use those late night hours of baby monitoring duty to work on finally finishing that novel I started so many years ago. And to give myself a deadline, I'm publishing two chapters a week on my blog with an expected end date in May 2009.
Two requests if you read this and enjoy it enough to watch for the next chapter:
1: Recommend it to a friend.
2: Post a comment below or drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Knowing that there are people waiting for new installments will help me keep up my energy and drive.
And now for the novel...
Hell on Five Dollars a Day
A Novel By Greg Bulmash
Â© MMVIII - Greg Bulmash - All Rights Reserved
They were all tall, except Sampson. Alain found that ironic. Sampson was the fidget in the bunch, a street hustler. He'd been running a Three Card Monty game ever since he was tall enough to peer over the box. He was also the only negro.
Vinnie was Bronx-born. You could hear it in his voice. He sounded like every two-bit street hood Alain had seen in a gangster movie. He was also smart, but you'd never know it unless you caught him at it. He came off as a wisecracking tough guy, but he was a few IQ points below genius level based on the chart Alain had been able to sneak a peek at over a doctor's shoulder. Still, that only ranked him third in the group of five.
Coming in a distant fifth was Granger. Granger was a Georgia farm boy. He gave Sampson the hairy eyeball pretty regularly; didn't like being grouped in with a black man and wasn't afraid to make that opinion loudly known at times. Alain didn't know all the facts, but from what he'd heard, three cars of local cops had arrived at a barn dance after a disturbance call. They found 20 men lying on the floor and Granger the only one standing, holding a half-full jug of white lightning. He put a couple of cops down too, and he didn't spill a drop until one of them tapped him on the back of the head with a billy club.
The last of the group was Reese, number one on the doctor's IQ chart. Alain had no idea where he was from or what his story was. He was the quietest of the bunch and the tallest; not skinny, but wiry. When he spoke, it was slow and measured, not any kind of laconic drawl, but more a kind of precision to make sure you heard every word because he wasn't going to repeat a single one.
They were all in the Army for one reason: it was wartime and each had come before a judge who gave them a choice between the Army or jail: fight Hitler and the Japs for freedom and democracy or fight your bunkmate for the last roll of toilet paper. You decide.
Alain got it when he tried to stop a couple of thugs from hassling a colored kid. The kid, maybe 12, was coming out of one of the few stores in Alain's Louisiana town that allowed coloreds inside, but even if the shopkeeper didn't mind the boy coming in, the two thugs did. He didn't hold any particular love for black folk, didn't hate them either. Most of the time he didn't give them much thought. But two full-grown men picking a fight with a child was just wrong.
By the time the cops were cuffing Alain, the child was gone and the two thugs were both unconscious. No one else saw or was willing to testify to what happened. As for the kid, Alain didn't blame him for not wanting to go to the cops and tell the story. He and his family probably would have been hurt pretty bad if they stood up for Alain.
The prosecutor portrayed him as a loner, a quiet, big-boned, bookworm weirdo, who had inexplicably attacked two upstanding citizens without provocation. It took the jury all of 30 minutes to come back with a conviction.
So there he was, sitting in a surgical gown in an Army medical facility, four hardcases for company, going through a weeklong battery of physical exams and bunking down in an empty infirmary ward.
They'd been told they would find out today why they'd been yanked from their units and brought here to be poked and prodded. But everyone was too tough, too hard to gossip and speculate. They all sat silently, trying their best to look tough in their gowns.
"Gentlemen," a voice said through a speaker in the ceiling, "please proceed through the door to your left."
Being closest to the door, Alain led the group into a darkened room. The room seemed to have no windows and only the one door was visible. When it shut behind them, they were left in pitch black. None of them had been through any physical exertion recently, but Alain could hear a ragged breathing, almost a panting.
The light clicked on. The source of the breathing was a bedraggled man, his skin gray, his hair greasy and clumped, his features gaunt. He had been placed in a cage and he sat cross-legged, his back hunched and his head tilted up just enough to give them a hooded, baleful glare. His clothing looked like it had been borrowed a long time ago from a movie studio, something off of Ronald Colman in A Tale of Two Cities, or better yet, Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Velvet coat, lace cuffs, pants that ended at the calf... It might have been fine once, but now it was frayed and threadbare, as if the man had put it on in the 19th century and hadn't taken it off since.
The voice came from the speaker in the ceiling. "Gentlemen, this is a vampire."
The group sniggered, muttering jokes and comments of disbelief under their breaths, even Alain. Vampires were Bela Lugosi. I vant to suck your blood, Alain thought.
"He's real," the voice chided.
"So why are you showing him to us?" Vinnie shouted at the speaker.
"We're not," said the voice. "We're showing you to him."
The lights went out and the sound of metal scraping against metal could be heard, as if the cage were opening. Sampson screamed.
The others started shouting. Alain remained quiet and moved slowly backwards, one hand groping behind him, one out in front of him to ward off any incoming bodies. When he finally reached a wall, he began sliding along it, trying to find the door. He found the door frame, but the inside of the door was smooth, knobless, and the space between it and the frame... maybe if he had a crowbar.
He moved a few feet away from the door, backing himself into a corner. It wasn't the best position, but it was the one that left the smallest part of him exposed and limited any vectors of attack. The shouting and screaming was going on all around him. Granger was begging to be let out, Vinnie was shouting challenging obscenities, Reese was shouting for everyone to "shut the Hell up", and Sampson's screaming stopped. Granger's screaming began.
Vinnie's voice became more desperate, the challenging obscenities gave way to rapid repetitions of "holy Christ!" Granger kept screaming and Reese stopped calling for quiet. Vinnie, like Alain, seemed to have picked a single spot, and Alain didn't know where Reese was until Granger's screaming stopped. Alain heard the thud of two bodies colliding and assumed Reese had tackled the vampire. This was quickly backed up by Reese's voice shouting "you goddamn cocksucker!"
Vinnie got back some of his bravado, cheering Reese on. "Get that goddamn vamp, Reese!" There was the sound of feet moving, but it seemed like just one pair, as if Reese was up and dancing around the vampire. Alain could hear the sound of flesh hitting flesh. Alain didn't much like Reese, but he had to give him credit for trying to box a vampire in the dark.
The vampire muttered "I tire of this" and it went quiet except for some feral-sounding grunting and slurping. Vinnie was now mumbling in a whimpering voice, "Hail Mary, full of grace..."
The grunting stopped. Vinnie continued praying and Alain listened with all his might to hear a footstep, a rustle of delapidated velvet. Then Vinnie's whimpers gave way to a short-lived scream which cut off with a gurgle in his throat. There was more grunting and slurping for a couple of minutes, then it stopped.
Alain pressed back harder against the wall. There was no point in praying. If God was interested in helping him, God wouldn't have put him in this room in the first place. Even after minutes in the darkness, Alain's eyes hadn't adjusted. It was just too black. All he could do was listen. He slowly stretched one arm out in front of him, moving it side to side like a blind man's cane, his other arm pulled back and cocked to let a fist fly if the searching arm made contact with anything.
The searching arm was grabbed from the side, yanked to pull him away from the wall, then twisted up behind his back in a submission hold. Alain could feel the vampire's breath on his neck. "You know the best part about being a vampire?" a voice whispered in his ear.
Alain didn't reply. "Not a fucking thing," the vampire said. "The other four were pathetic. But you smell of character. It's been a long time since I tasted the blood of a virtuous man..." The vampire trailed off in reverie, but his breath was quickly back on Alain's neck. "I am sorry for what will happen to you. I truly am."
The teeth sank into Alain's neck, a scream escaped his throat, and consciousness fled.
Hell on $5 a Day is a work of fiction, serialized by its author on Brainhandles.com. Excerpts may be used for blog posts or articles about the novel. The length limit on excerpts is 4 paragraphs. Any more extensive usage requires permission.