Paradigms Lost – Chapter 03

Chapter 3: Contingency Planning

“What in the world are you doing?” Sylvie asked.

I put down the loading kit. “Preparing. I figure that if I’m going to deal with a vampire, I’d better have something other than conventional ammo.”

She picked up a cartridge. “Silver? I thought I read somewhere that you actually couldn’t make silver bullets; something about balance?”

“I heard that too, but it’s a silly statement on the face of it. Lead’s softer and just as heavy, and they’ve been making bullets from lead as long as they’ve been making guns. Yes, you have to make a few adjustments, but nothing prevents a silver bullet from working as a bullet” I checked the fit of another bullet. “Not that I expect those to be of much use. WISDOM only gave a twenty-five-percent chance of a vulnerability to silver. That seems more of a werewolf thing.”

She examined the other kinds of ammo. “Well, I’ll say this for you, you have one heck of an assortment.” She reached into her purse, pulled out a small wooden box. “Here, Jason.”

“What’s this?” I opened the box. On a slender silver chain was a crystal-headed hammer, handle wrapped in miniature leather thongs, the head an angle-faced box. “It’s gorgeous, Syl! Thank you!”

“I remembered how much you like the Norse pantheon — you even named your car after Thor’s hammer — and if you look real closely on the hammer head, you’ll see Mjölnir engraved there in Nordic runes.”

I squinted closely at it, and I could just make out the spiderweb-thin runic lines. “It’s really beautiful, Sylvie. But why now?”

“I was actually saving it for your birthday next month, but with this vampire thing going on, I decided it was best I give it to you now.” She saw my puzzlement. “It’s not just a piece of jewelry, Jason. I made it especially to be a focus, a protection against evil, for you.”

“But you know I don’t really believe in that stuff.”

She gave a lopsided smile. “Jason Wood, how in the world can you believe in vampires and sneer at crystals and spirits?”

“Touché.” I slipped the chain over my neck. It felt cool against my skin. The three-inch-long hammer made a slight bulge below my collar. “This could look a little strange. I don’t wear jewelry often. I think I’ll put it on the wall. Or on Mjolnir’s rearview mirror.”

“No, Jason.” Sylvie had her “feeling” face on again. “Wear it. Even if you don’t believe, it will make me feel better if you keep it on you.”

I wasn’t about to test her accuracy now. I was about eighty-five percent convinced we were dealing with some kind of creature that might as well be called a vampire, and a hundred percent convinced that Syl had some way of knowing things she shouldn’t. “Okay.”

“Now what else has your machine come up with?”

“Nothing good. The problem is that there are so many versions of the vampire legend in myth and fiction that the best I can do is estimate probabilities. Problem with that is that even a low-probability thing could turn out to be real.” I picked up a printout. “But I can’t prepare for everything. So I’ve constructed a ‘theoretical vampire’ using all the probabilities that showed a greater than eighty-percent likelihood.” I started reading. “Strength, somewhere between five and twenty times normal human, with a heavy bias towards the high end of that range; he — or she, let’s be equal-opportunity with our monsters — can probably tip over a minivan like I can a loaded shopping cart and leap small garages in a single bound. Invulnerable to ordinary weapons. What can hurt it is a nice question; Only one thing cleared the probability threshold — fire — with a bunch more clustered at between twenty-five and thirty percent: the movie standbys of sunlight and a wooden stake, running water, holy symbols or weapons as a general class, some sort of symbolic material like rice or salt, and so on. Does not show up on mirrors; after that photo I think we can take that as proven.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t show on film?”

“The legend started long before there was film. Stands to reason the mirror business had something behind it. Okay, where was I? Shapeshifting. This might have started as a blending of the werewolf and vampire legends, but most are pretty emphatic that vampires can either change shape or make you think they look different than they are. Plus what I saw the other night pretty much convinces me our target can either go invisible or turn into mist. Changes those bitten into others of its kind, that’s how they reproduce.”

Sylvie shook her head. “No, Jason, that’s silly. If getting bitten made vampires, we’d be up to our earlobes in bloodsuckers in nothing flat.”

“So I simplified it. Some kind of additional condition has to be met — maybe exchanging blood, maybe some kind of a ritual. As an aside, if that happens, there is a fair chance that the new vampire is controlled by the old one. And speaking of age, the legends also tend to emphasize that the older the suckers get the tougher they are.”

“Anything else?”

“Yep. They tend to be inactive in the daytime, and may have psychokinetic abilities. One other interesting note: many legends state that a vampire, or similar spirits, cannot enter a personal dwelling — house, apartment, whatever — without the permission of a legitimate resident therein. However, once given, the permission is damned hard to revoke. Some of the legends have the idea that there is a particular location the vampire must return to, or carry with them, that old ‘home earth’ requirement.” I put the printout down. “That’s about it. Lower down on the list you get some really odd stuff.”

Sylvie sat in frowning thought for a few minutes. “So fire is the best bet?”

I waved a hand from side to side. “It’s chancy. How you’re going to set him on fire without getting killed isn’t very clear to me. The problem is that while it’s pretty likely that the vampire is somewhat vulnerable to sunlight — most of them do not walk the day, and I have to assume there’s a reason for that — the degree of vulnerability is highly variable. If they’re vulnerable at all, any vampire would die if you could stick it out on a Miami beach thirty minutes from shade, but if it’s not just an instant kill, in the first twenty minutes it could do a lot of damage to anyone in the area. Several of the legends emphasize that an old and powerful vampire becomes more and more able to resist their normal vulnerabilities. Besides, I doubt he’d answer an invitation to a beach party.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“See if I can get a handle on him somehow, so he has to come to me. And I think this negative is the key.”