Chicago, March 1938
Long journeys are as complicated for
vampiresóor at least this vampireóas they are for regular people. You have to
figure out food, shelter, and hope your luggage arrives on time and in the right
place. In my case I would be in the luggage, another complication. Since my
change from normal human to blood-swilling creature of darkness I tended to
Vampire. Yes. Thatís how I spell it. Look
it up in the dictionary, but donít believe everything you read.
Iím a bloodsucker, but I am polite about
it. No leaping out of alleys or seducing damsels for me, not while the Union
Stockyards has cattle pens. Before leaving town to see to my errand in New York,
Iíd stopped there and drink my fill, which would cover my needs for the next few
There were no direct lines running from
Chicagoís LaSalle Street Station to Long Island, necessitating a changeover at
Grand Central Terminal. Iíd be in the baggage car of the Twentieth Century
Limited for most of the trip, specifically inside a large trunk, only it wasnít
so roomy once I was stuffed in along with clothes and a bag of my home earth.
Uncomfortable and boring, but you canít beat the privacy. I could afford a
sleeping compartment, but didnít want to wind up being a problem for a day
porter. Post-sunrise, Iím literally dead to the world, which alarms people
should they find my body. Of course, they get even more agitated when I
unexpectedly wake up, so itís best to just keep out of the way.
A porter charged in with a trolley and
swept my trunk away, shoving it in next to a mountain of similar items being
efficiently loaded into the baggage car. I slipped off, glanced around to make
sure no one was paying attention, took a bead on the trunk, and vanished.
Hurtling forward in a straight line, I
blundered into something that was the same size and shape and tried to sieve in.
Whatever Iíd found was packed solid with no room to materialize. I slipped out,
fighting claustrophobia, and felt around, but it was hopeless. Those porters
were fast. I gave up and clung to the top of something else, riding it into what
I hoped was the right car. A man bawled directions on where it was to go. I
drifted free, my weightless, formless self bumping gently against the ceiling,
and went semi-transparent to get my bearings.
Just enough sight returned to allow me a
faint glimpse of my target below. Anticipating problems, Iíd slopped a big X on
my trunkís sides and top in white paint the night before, and the precaution
paid off. I went invisible and dove in before the next load buried my refuge.
Re-formed again and safe, my rump on a flat
bag of home earth and knees crowding my ears, I half-listened to the rowdy
racket outside. Strangely, I didnít feel closed in; it must have been the
presence of my home soil. During the day I needed it next to me so I could truly
rest, but Iíd never considered that it might have a general calming effect at
night. Donít ask for explanations for the why of it, because I donít know. So
long as it worked I had no complaints.
For something to do in the pitch darkness I
fished out a quarter and practiced rolling it across my knuckles. That was
possible to do by touch alone, though I dropped the coin more often than not.
The magician whoíd played at my club and taught me how had made it look easy.
I had a flashlight and plenty of magazines,
but it was too cramped for reading. After a weary wait I heard rumbling followed
by a solid slam and clank, signaling the carís wide door was shut. Not long
afterward the train began lurching eastward, taking it slow until we cleared the
When the click-click, click-click of the
wheels on the rails and the carís rocking steadied, I vanished and eased out of
the trunk. It took a few minutes to feel my way to a clear spot to materialize.
More pitch blackness, I used the
flashlight. The place was as Iíd expected, noisy, cold, and loaded with crates,
bags, and trunks. I couldnít see mine from here, but Iíd find it again. If
nothing else the soil itself would draw me in the right direction.
Thinking about it, that was a little
I made my way toward the passenger area of
the train. To avoid trouble Iíd bought a regular ticket. It was easier than
dodging the conductor all night.
The lounge was crowded, but I found a
chair, pulled two magazines from my coat pocket, and settled in for adventurous
distraction courtesy of Street and Smithís The Shadow. I couldnít always catch
the radio show, but two new stories every month almost made up for it. I had
both January issues, bought but unread. Which to read first? The Crystal
Buddha was the earlier story, but The Hills of Death had a more
interesting cover with a motorcycle cop bursting through a map covered by the
Shadowís red silhouette. I opted to be chronological and took on the Buddha tale
to find out why The Shadow found it necessary wave one of his .45s at a startled
man in a green turban.
A waiter or porter or whatever you call
them when on a train asked if I wanted a drink. I ordered water and tipped a
quarter just to show I wasnít cheap. Having a glass at hand might keep him from
bothering me again. Water was best, no one minds if you donít drink it. Order
coffee and you have to keep turning down a fresh hot cup every ten minutes.
ďTraveling far?Ē a man in the next chair
People hate a reader. They canít stand when
someoneís not also bored. They interrupt, want to know what youíre reading, if
itís interesting, and then discuss what they like to read. At some point in the
encounter theyíve ceased being bored and suddenly you are, thoroughly.
I gave discouraging grunt, not looking up.
Hell, we were all headed toward New York, wasnít that enough information?
My neighbor moved off to find someone more
sociable. The bar did a brisk business and enough conversations were going on
elsewhere in the car to allow me and Lamont Cranstonóonly he seemed to be Kent
Allard in this oneóto get on with the plot.
It didnít last. Just as The Shadow was
about to make his first appearance, someone tapped my shoulder. I looked up,
annoyed, into the cheerful, open face of a natural-born grifter.
Continued in the P.N. Elrod Omnibus