Bloodsuckers

Journalist Steven Edwards considers the “Batties”—the loonies who believe that vampires are real—just another crazy extremist group. Then someone shoots at a presidential candidate, changes into a bat, and flies away before Steve’s eyes, leaving him as the prime suspect. With the help of the Batties, Steve goes underground. The only way he can establish his innocence is by proving vampires exist—not an easy task while on the run from both the FBI and the bloodsuckers.

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Bloodsuckers is a delicious blend of mainstream thriller, oddball horror, and biting social commentary. Sink your teeth into this one!” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Code Zero and V-Wars

Bloodsuckers takes modern politics and adds vampires to the mix (yes, we already know all the jokes you’re making!) to make it actually new and exciting. Washed-up reporter Steve Edwards can’t believe what he sees when a Presidential candidate is gunned down by a man who then disappears before his eyes, apparently transformed to a bat. But that’s just the beginning as Steve finds he’s been framed for the crime and what he’s seen is just the very tip of a blood-drinking iceberg. Ventrella’s quick, bright dialogue punctuates the adventure with dry humor even as he ratchets the tension up towards an ending that might just surprise even the jaded reader. Highly recommended!” – Ryk E. Spoor, author of Grand Central Arena and Phoenix Rising

Karl Weaver adjusted his tie and gave an exaggerated yawn in an attempt to hide his fear.

The secretary continued to ignore him. She clicked away at her computer and typed periodically. Karl didn’t imagine she was really working—probably playing Farmville or tweeting about what she had for lunch.

Karl shook his head. He wondered where literacy in America was headed with more and more people seemingly unable to maintain an attention span longer than a hundred and forty characters.

Still, since nothing else in that office was worth looking at, Karl kept his gaze on the secretary. A black girl, mid-twenties, well-dressed. Gold necklace around a soft neck. Hired for her looks, no doubt.

His nervousness prevented a full appreciation of the girl.

Nick had wanted to see him.  Nick.

And no one says no to Nick.

Karl shifted in his seat. He glanced at the clock, clasped his hands together, unclasped them, and scratched at his nose.

The door finally opened. The secretary waved him in but had otherwise served no function except to look pretty in the waiting room.

Karl stood, needlessly adjusted his tie again, took a deep breath, and walked in.

In a few seconds, his eyes adjusted to Nick’s dim office. One of those green banker lights illuminated the papers on Nick’s desk while leaving the face of the man behind in shadows.

His host pointed to the comfortable chair facing the large mahogany desk.

Karl walked to the chair and sat, taking in the office.

Bookshelves lined the walls, full to overflowing with nonfiction—American history mostly, along with popular political and sociological treatises from both the right and the left. The absence of photographs or other personal items gave the office the generic look of a catalog display.

“Nice to see you again, Karl,” Nick said, leaning back in his chair. “Not really, but that’s the right thing to say.”

Karl nodded. Apparently, after all this time, Nick was still angry with him. Perhaps rightly so.

Nick clasped his hands on top of the desk. “I have a task for you.”

Karl resisted squirming in the chair.  He coughed slightly. “Yes, well.  Right to the point, I see. We haven’t spoken in years, and now you have something you need me for? What can I offer you that one of your employees cannot?”

“I can’t trust my employees with this. This is about Norman Mark.”

Karl nodded slowly. “I thought it might be, given the urgency of your call.”

Nick leaned back, clearly enjoying this. “Tell me what you think of Norman Mark.”

Karl lifted his head and gazed at Nick through slitted eyes. What was he getting at? Did he want the truth? “Mark,” he said slowly, “is a dangerous liberal who, if elected, will close down my fracking operation and put me out of business. He’s practically said as much on the campaign trail.”

Nick pressed his fingers together. “What if I told you I could prevent that from happening?”

Karl smiled. “Well, I’d believe you, of course.”

“As you should.  So you concede that my payment would be sufficient?”

Karl shook his head. “Finnegan’s still ahead in the polls. If he wins, what good is your promise then?” He tried to keep his voice calm, but the thought that he was negotiating with Nick chilled him.

Nick nodded. “True enough. You have me there. Very well, then. I can stop the protesters now. Before the election. Surely that is worth something.”

Karl considered. “Yes.  Yes, I think you could. And the lawsuits?”

“Consider them gone.”

Karl smiled, but it was a forced smile. Getting those goddamn hippies off his back would be wonderful, not to mention the lawyers—but what did Nick want in return?

Nick stood and held out a hand.  Karl jumped up and accepted, hoping Nick would not notice his sweaty palms. They shook once, let go, and sat back down in unison.

“Now that’s settled,” Nick said, “let’s discuss the details. I need you to … perform.”

“Perform.  It’s been years since I last performed.”

Nick tapped a finger on his desk. “Are you refusing?”

Karl swallowed. “No, not at all. I’m sure I can do this for you. And who is the target audience for my performance?”

“Norman Mark.”

Karl burst out laughing. It was spontaneous; he couldn’t stop it.

Nick waited patiently.

Karl collected himself, crossed his arms, uncrossed them, and gave Nick a long look. “When you said this involved Norman Mark, I didn’t think you wanted me to assassinate him.”

Nick smiled.

Karl stared at Nick for a very long time before speaking again. “May I ask why?”

Nick shook his head sadly and pursed his lips.

“You know he’s a vampire, right?”

This time it was Nick’s turn to laugh—but it was short, dismissive, and disappeared immediately. His face once more became unreadable. “This is not your usual assassination; I’ll give you more details later. I have a specific time and place where I want this done. Very public.”

“I’ll need a way to sneak a weapon in.”

“I am certain you will find some method,” Nick said. “This is your area of expertise, after all—not mine.”

“Yes.”

“There’s a big Democratic rally coming up in mid October,” Nick said. “Norman Mark will be there. It’s in a baseball park. One of those enclosed box seats at the top should give you a good vantage point overlooking the stage.”

Karl found himself getting excited over the possibility—the challenge.  The assassination of a presidential candidate would surpass his other accomplishments. “Excellent. We also need a scapegoat to distract the police and the press. It should be one of those conspiracy nuts shouting that Mark is a vampire.”

“The Batties.”

“Is that what they’re calling them these days? As in ‘you’d have to be batty to believe that’?”

Nick tilted his head. “Blame Jon Stewart for that one. We need more than just a Batty, though. We need a loner, a loser—the kind of person who has been beaten down and shit on by life. Someone who might snap and do something like this. Someone without a family.”

“Why without a family?”

Nick spread his hands. “I’m not completely heartless.”

Karl paused, and then spoke before Nick could read something into it. “We also need someone who conceivably could have access to the assassination spot. A person who’d have a reason to be up there.”

Nick nodded. “I have already thought of all that.” He reached for his keyboard, typed a few words, and clicked the mouse. After a few seconds, he smiled and spun the screen to face Karl.

Karl leaned forward and read the highlighted by-line on a newspaper article.

“By Steven Edwards.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 25
VIRGINIA GROUP CLAIMS NORMAN MARK IS A VAMPIRE

By Steven Edwards

Conspiracy theories in politics are nothing new. There are those who believe that certain politicians belong to the Illuminati or other secret organizations bent on world domination. There are those who think the world is controlled by the Elders of Zion or the Trilateral Commission.

But never in American history has a group seriously suggested that a politician is, in fact, a real, honest-to-goodness vampire.

Zachary Oak leads one such group, inconveniently headquartered in the tiny town of Spring Grove on the outskirts of Richmond.  They believe that Democratic Presidential candidate Norman Mark is one of the “children of the night.”

He has a room set aside in his home specifically to hold his collection of vampire documentation.  A large poster of Norman Mark hangs over his desk, emblazoned with large red letters that say “BLOODSUCKER.”

Oak laughs when asked about the poster.  “I was holding that sign at a rally recently, and people thought I was objecting to his tax policies.”

He makes it clear that this is not just about Norman Mark. “Vampires have been around forever, controlling us behind the scenes. Mark is just one of the most prominent ones in recent history.”

Oak says he knows most people won’t believe him, but that won’t stop him from spreading the word. “They usually work behind the scenes so nobody realizes their power. It’s kind of unusual for one of them to be so public.”

Oak, a retired truck driver, stated that he learned about the vampire conspiracy from pamphlets and books he has bought over the years. “Now that people can self-publish, there are more of them,” he said. “Because before, the vampires made sure the big publishers didn’t print nothing.”

Oak started the group Virginians Against Vampires about ten years ago. The dozen or so local members occasionally get together, review their materials, and discuss who might be a vampire. The group claims that learning about vampires has become easier thanks to the rise of the internet.

Oak is not afraid of reprisal from the vampires. “If they did attack me or other vampire believers, that would make it obvious that they are out there,” he explains. “Someone would investigate and find out. But they ignore us and laugh at us, so they can remain hidden.”

When reminded that such an ironic conundrum is pretty convenient for Oak’s cause, he shrugs. “They’re clever. And since they have the power to control minds, they ain’t too worried. Look how long they’ve gone so far without being exposed.”

As evidence of Mark’s vampirism, Oak checks off a list of suspicious items. “Ask yourself why you never see Mark out in the daytime. Or why he looks so pale. Better yet, find out where he was born, or if there’s any evidence of him existing before he took over his business from his father. Find out why the school he supposedly attended in Switzerland burned down, taking all the proof he had ever gone there.”

He also discusses the candidate’s obvious charisma. “He’s handsome and very likeable,” Oak says. “They’re all like that. That’s part of their vampire powers.”

Then Oak drops the bombshell.

“That’s how he killed Brunswick, you see.”

Governor Randolph Brunswick’s suicide, accomplished by jumping off a balcony at the Hyatt in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the opening night of the convention, threw the process into chaos and led to businessman Norman Mark’s nomination two days later.

Oak dismisses the fact that Mark was miles away attending a Democratic Party function with hundreds of witnesses when Brunswick died. “There’s more than one vampire, you know,” he contends. “I’m sure he had someone else do that for him.”

He states that the power of vampires to control the minds of others explains everything, including the admittedly unusual suicide of Brunswick. “Fortunately, they cannot do this charming thing without personal contact,” he explains. “Otherwise, Mark would just go on TV and control us all.”

Oak goes on to discuss the myths about vampires. “Fiction writers have added all kinds of crazy things that just ain’t true,” he said. “Some of them might’ve been started by the vampires to keep people from believing that they really exist. Like the ‘no reflection in a mirror’ thing or the ‘turn to dust in sunlight’ thing. They don’t like sunlight, but it don’t kill them or nothing. And of course you can take pictures of them, because just look at all the pictures of Mark.”  He clarifies one rumor:  “The bat thing is true, though.”

Virginia Commonwealth University Psychology Professor Dr. Miles Lizak studies fringe groups such as these. “Conspiracy theories provide people with explanations as to why the world is not how we would want it to be,” he says. “They provide meaning where real meaning often is difficult to find. And once entrenched, they are resilient and resistant to logic and fact.”

Dr. Lizak went on to say, “People who believe these theories thus have a way to morally blame a specific group for all the world’s evils, and, most importantly, separate themselves from that group in such a way as to function as that group’s nemesis and, in doing so, absolve themselves from responsibility for those evils.”

According to anthropologists Todd Sanders and Harry G. West, “Evidence suggests that a broad cross section of Americans today gives credence to at least some conspiracy theories.”

“People who believe in conspiracies tend to also believe in more than one,” Dr. Lizak states.

Oak, however, makes it clear that this does not apply to his group. “We don’t believe in Bigfoot or a faked moon landing or Area 51 aliens or any of that crap,” he insists. “We’re not conspiracy fools. The difference is this: vampires are real.”

“Why did you put a damned vampire story in my paper?”

Steven Edwards grinned and held up his coffee cup in a mock toast. “Come on, boss. Have you been to our web page? My article has more comments than anything else in today’s paper.”

Gary crossed his arms as if to restrain himself from throwing one of his precious signed baseballs at Steve’s head. That is, if he could have found one under all the clutter. Assuming there was indeed a desk under there.

“It’s embarrassing,” he bellowed. “I don’t want to be known as the ‘crazy vampire paper.’ I wanted to avoid that ridiculousness completely. I’ve been ignoring all those idiots for months, as you very well are aware.”

Using his free hand, Steve removed a stack of old newspapers from the closest chair. He sat, holding his hot coffee away from his body, but the plastic lid kept it secure.

Gary’s office met the exacting standards of Gary’s image of the ideal editor’s office. A maze of comfortless chairs and a couple tables, all covered with paper, faced the desk. Awards, commendations, and framed copies of screaming headlines crowded the walls and the lone bookcase. Since his promotion to the job, Gary had created a space that emulated the offices of the two he believed to be the world’s greatest newspaper editors—J. Jonah Jamison and Perry White. Steve just couldn’t wait until Gary started saying “Great Caesar’s Ghost!”

“I didn’t make the paper look bad at all,” he said. “It was a human-interest story I assumed you’d like.”

“You slipped it past me!”

“Patty approved it.”

“When I wasn’t here! And yes, I will have a word with her too.”

“Come on, boss,” he said, using the generic title Gary preferred to his real name. “It’s not like I gave their story any credence. It is news, you know.”

Gary made an inarticulate growl as he stared at the ceiling for a second, holding his hands above his head, fingers curled in. Always dramatic. “You’re doing it again, aren’t you? You haven’t learned your lesson?”

Steve took a deep breath. “Everything is sourced. Nothing is made up. There’s been no harm done. And I hardly spent any time on it. A few minutes with the loony, a quick call to the VCU Prof, and the rest were cut from Wikipedia. It’s no big deal—”

“It is to me,” Gary interrupted. He growled and threw himself into his seat.  After a few seconds, he appeared to calm. “Look, Steve, I know you want to cover the national stories, so here’s what we can do. There’s a Mark rally coming in a few weeks at the Diamond. The AP will be there, but you can go and write something from a local angle, okay?”

Steve smiled. “Thanks, boss!” He stood to leave.

“Remember, I did you a favor by hiring you when no one else would,” Gary said. “You can be replaced easily enough, and cheaper.”

Gary’s final words tempered Steve’s mood as he left the office. He knew if he fucked up this job, he had nowhere else to go.