Writers are constantly warned to avoid clichés. This short story is a spoof, deliberately packed with twisted clichés used in unique and literal ways to move the plot forward, a parody on the trite, but always popular themes of vampires and time travel.
No Blood From a Turnip
Count Galilea wrapped his cloak about his shoulders, reveling in the storm-tossed night. With the stealth of a panther, he moved to a waiting limousine, sleek and long as a black serpent glistening in the rain. Lightning flashed with wild abandon, thunder crashed like a death symphony’s cymbals and rain swept by in wind-driven torrents
This should have been a night to howl, but instead of his habitual glee at such a tempest, the count’s brow furrowed in uneven rows like grave markers in a neglected cemetery. Inside the midnight-black interior, a woman waited, the same worried look etched on her features, as cruelly beautiful as the night is long. She wore a scarlet satin gown and a matching velvet cape, quite literally dressed to kill.
“Before I met you, I truly believed our kind had been eradicated from the planet,” she stated in a husky voice filled with dread. Her teeth shone white as milk against full red lips, lush as sun-ripened berries, but the countess had not seen the sun in over a century. Her voracious appetite had been somewhat slaked, restoring momentary color, since she had found her old standby, Slim Pickings, on this night of howling winds and needlepoint rain. She preferred victims with low blood-alcohol content; however, tavern regulars were the only mortals who had dared to brave the weather.
“Slim was drunk as a skunk, as usual,” she muttered, thinking he would never remember the lady in red who had kissed his throat once again under the tavern's dripping eaves.
“Actually, I’ve never seen a drunk skunk,” answered the count. “Slim is always drunk. That shouldn’t bother you, my Lady. You’ve never met a man you didn’t like.”
“I’m still as hungry as a wolf,” she muttered, “And a teeny bit tipsy, too.”
“Look on the bright side, my dear. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder,” he answered with a sardonic laugh.
“Humph! You used to say an Adam’s apple a day keeps the doctor away. How you’ve changed your tune since the Dracula-caust began. Your bite used to be much worse than your bark.”
Instead of just any port in a storm, the count directed his trusted driver to a hidden laboratory. The limo followed a lonely road cut into looming rock walls on one side and yawning drop-offs on the other. It bounced over a dangerous stretch of pitted and buckled pavement and slowed at the entrance of a rickety bridge. Far below, the storm-swollen waters crashed over jagged rocks glinting like teeth from a mythical monster waiting to gnash any victim unfortunate enough to fall into its gaping jaws.
The pair spoke in desperate voices, keeping the volume as quiet as a mouse, or rather a werewolf morphed into a mouse.
“The Duke and Duchess Dumont were stabbed through the hearts yesterday. Their entire family has been wiped out like stains removed with a bleach pen,” said Countess Galilea, studying her lace-covered fan. “That’s another nail in the coffins for our kind. We’re at the eleventh hour. I fear we’ll soon know first-hand the dreaded ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust experience if your plan fails.”
“Modern technology,” he muttered with a frown. “Their latest sensor devices have equipped them with the means to find vampires and rout us out like termites, unable to escape. We fled Paris in the nick of time only to be discovered in Italy. We managed to get to Barcelona, but here too we have only a matter of days, perhaps hours before all hell breaks loose. Perhaps we’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire.”
The count glanced behind, relieved to see only the rain-swept road in the night as black as a skeleton’s eye sockets. No headlights followed, piercing the welcome gloom.
The countess shuddered. “I spoke with Natalia from the hotel. She says it’s every man for himself. The entire family of LaBouinne has been destroyed, and she’s been fleeing all over the map. Natalia was planning to go to Louisiana in the U.S., but there is no safe haven there. We haven’t heard from Lestat in months. I fear our contacts in New Orleans have already been deep-sixed.”
“It’s not over till it’s over,” Galilea assured her. “I know our plan will work. I’ve added the last component to the time machine. The computer is running its final calculations at this very moment. That’s one modern technology we can appreciate. We’re cashing in our computer chips tonight, my dear.”
“You’ve been working on that blasted machine for centuries and it hasn’t been successful yet. All in due time, you keep saying. It’s now or never. We’re at the end of our rope.”
“My Lady, don’t flip your coffin lid. The machine will work. You can bet your bottom dollar.”
“My bottom dollar is blood money, borrowed from my victims’ pockets. Certainly, I’m a pain in their necks, but I never drain them completely dry. Unlike the U.S. Congress, I don’t believe in biting the hand that feeds me. Biting the neck, I should say.”
The count tipped his hat in deference to her good judgment. Then he peered out the tinted window. “We have to cross Shift Creek soon, and it could be a raging river in this deluge.
With a glance at the rain-washed night, the countess commented, “I hope the creek won’t rise, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I wish we had thought to load a paddle and a raft in the trunk. I’d hate to be caught up Shift Creek without a paddle.”
“Never mind. We can always fly by night.”
With a wave of one hand, he added, “Yes, I know how you hate flying in a storm. But if worst comes to worst you can manage.”
The driver navigated the rickety bridge over Shift Creek without mishap. Indeed, the rain had slowed from cats and dogs to mere kittens and pups.
Like stealthy foxes, the pair exited the limousine and hurried to the secret laboratory, anxious to complete the business at hand.
“Hurry up and activate the machine. I’m as nervous as a pregnant nun,” the countess exclaimed.
“Hold your horses. I’ll have it ready at the drop of a hat.”
He twisted dials and pushed buttons while outside the wind whipped up a sudden howl like a banshee wailing. As luck would have it, the instrument panel lit up with green lights, indicating all was ready.
“Climb in and buckle your seat belt,” instructed the count. “We’re in for the ride of our lives, and stop looking so down in the mouth. I’ve set our course for the year 3085. We should be well out of reach of the vampire slayers in that distant year. They will only recall us as legends in our time.”
“I’m darned if I do and darned if I don’t, so here goes,” the lady answered with a sudden intake of breath. “But I’m warning you. If this hair-brained plan doesn’t work, we’re dust.”
Count Galilea settled in beside her, and in the twinkling of an eye, they were whirling past the speed of light through nights and days, rushing ahead years, jumping stitches in time to save nine decades in a flash. In the year 3015, the count slowed the accelerator, making sure to turn day into night.
"Are we there yet?" asked the countess.
He nodded, “Shall we take a look around?”
“You’re sure it’s safe out? We don't want a place in the sun.”
“Trust me at least as far as you can spit,” he insisted. They exited their machine, congratulating themselves that it had worked successfully. Their surroundings clearly indicated they had traveled into the future. The laboratory was a heap of long-decayed ruins underneath a starry sky. A group of extremely large vegetables grew at the edge of the cliff, which had receded several feet, having been cut away by relentless rains.
Shattering the silence ominously, a mechanical voice droned, apparently from a broadcasting device nearby: “To you who are still alive, life as we knew it will never be the same. The world is now dominated by monstrous vegetables, mutated by the final war. The last known human camp is located on the shores of G-90, one of the Greek islands. This broadcast is to inform any survivors that they must try to reach us by any means possible. Hurry. There are only four of us left alive. One of us is gay and two are ninety.”
The voice repeated the same message over and over, having done so perhaps for years, possibly even for decades. Count and Countess stared at one another in disbelief. All around them under the stars grew pale cabbages the size of automobiles. Leprous mushrooms stood higher than their heads. Mysterious gray fungus wound around Goliath-size carrots. A patch of two-story-tall turnips towered in riotous clumps along the once rocky ground, now covered by a thick blanket of strangely glowing soil.
“We have to go back,” the countess exclaimed. “Or forward. We can’t stay here.”
“At once,” the count agreed with ice water flowing in his veins. “We can’t get blood from a turnip!”
“However, there are four people at the G-90 camp. Should we try to get there before daylight?”
“My dear, what if they’re already dead? What if they’ve been voted off the island?”
“But of course, we have no time to waste.”
As quickly as greased lightning burns a witch to a crisp, they buckled into their time machine and began a cycle of travel again, spiraling several decades ahead before the intricate device blew a gasket. It slowed to a night setting once more and ground to an ill-fated halt.
The pair exited to find the planet denuded of vegetation. This time, they saw only dust and wind. The mechanical voice no longer broadcast desperate pleas for survivors to come and repopulate the earth.
Repairing the time machine without tools was impossible. They were utterly stranded.
They walked for miles until the crack of dawn heralded the inescapable end to their dark existence. In the bright sunlight, their bodies would disintegrate.
“There’s not a single place in view where the sun doesn’t shine,” muttered the countess. “Nothing but windswept earth. No vegetation anywhere. No sign of civilization. No lights. No airships. Nothing but dust.”
“Well, my dear,” said the count as he turned toward her with a note of finality in his voice, “All’s well that ends well. However, this is not the ending I had planned. I know you’re as thirsty as I am. But there’s really nothing we can sink our teeth into. To make a long story short, it looks like we shall have to tighten our belts . . . and simply . . . bite the dust.”
“Dust indeed,” she muttered. “All we are is dust in the wind.”
She considered reminding him she had told him so. Then thought better of it and simply muttered, “I suppose we’re getting our just desserts. I’d really rather have a nice blood pudding.”
They sat down to watch the sunrise.