The Retirement Package

Submitted into Contest #166 in response to: Start your story with someone saying “I quit!” ... view prompt


Horror Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

"Look, Vlad," Martin said to his boss, "I've been doing this too long. I thought I'd seen everything. But those kids yesterday? I'm sorry, boss. I quit."

Vlad looked down from his dais, then to either side of his throne where his cohorts, sycophants one and all, permanently gathered. A smile began inching its way across Vlad's face, gradually exposing his fangs, but not quite reaching his eyes. He burst out laughing, his entourage joining in a split second later; to Martin, it was like watching some badly-synced b-movie with no mute button.

"Quit?" Vlad barked, still laughing. "You can't 'quit'. You leave when I say so, and not until. Even then, there's only one way out. Surely you know that, Martin Dinsdale?"

"Anything's gotta be better than that slaughter last night, boss. For God's sake, they weren't even teenagers," Martin protested.

Vlad's face clouded. "For one, you mention His name in my presence again and I'll kill you myself," he hissed. "And I'll make it more painful than anything you've ever witnessed, anything you can even conceive with your tiny human mind.

"And second, one of those brats was scripted to kill me in years to come. Do you think I'd wait for that to happen, like in the movies?

"You know better than that, Martin. Stamp the threat out before it gains strength enough to become a problem!! Have I taught you nothing?"

"How could you be sure it was one of them, Vlad?" Martin asked, his gut gambolling, but still curious enough to ask.

"One advantage of being me," Vlad replied, "is that I don't have to go to people for favours. They come grovelling to me if they think they have a tidbit that might make me lenient with them in the future, should they inadvertently ignite my ire.

"Heranicus the seer furnished me with the information yesterday morning. The runes couldn't tell him which one, only that the threat pooled in the blossoming youth of those reprobates.

"Heranicus, like all the snivelling morons that clutter the castle's doorways, couldn't wait to furnish me with his prophecy," Vlad continued, shooting a hand out to his left, snapping the neck of the sycophant unlucky enough to be standing closest; the entourage hissed, retreated as one backwards, out of immediate harm's way.

"As if I count past favours when reckoning my enemies!" Vlad ranted.

"You'd do well to heed these words, Martin Dinsdale," Vlad warned, pointing a filthy finger at the complainant, complete with a popped eyeball skewered on its dagger-like nail. "Yes, you've served me well, and for centuries. But insolence and disobedience I won't suffer. Loyalty is everything. Are you loyal, Martin?"

Martin knew that Vlad could see deep into his heart. He dared not lie, but feared the outcome of telling the truth. 

Inadvertently, he answered "Yes, I remain loyal to you, Vlad."

When Vlad didn't contradict him, instead smiling a smile that reached not only his eyes, but turned his countenance into a thing of supernatural beauty, Martin was the most surprised person in the room.


As Martin left the throne room, the sweat pooled beneath his collar before trickling, tickling down to the small of his back. What had happened to him? How could he still be loyal to that monster after almost 500 years of doing his depraved bidding?

He was ruminating on these questions when his Smartphone buzzed beneath his quilted maroon gilet. Flipping it open, he saw the notification for that evening's tasks: Vlad had given him the night off.

On any other occasion, Martin would have jumped for joy. But after what had transpired in the throne room, his unexpected vacation made him suspicious. More than that: filled him with dread. 

The moon was still young in the East, glowing pink, playing hide and seek between scuttling grey clouds in the early autumn dusk. The cloisters he was wandering blushed beneath the bruised sky; intermittent pools from recent rainfall, gathered in its worn, undulating cobbles, turned his path into an incomplete jigsaw of the distant heavens.

Heaven! Would he ever see the Pearly Gates? Not if God was as vengeful as the good book related. If there was a chance of mercy, how long would he have to spend in purgatory enduring the penance of five centuries' murder, cowardice and blasphemy?

Entirely occupied by his musings, Martin didn't feel the four acolytes materialise out of the thin air around him. The first he was aware of their presence was as they began dragging him along the cloisters, the heels of his suede boots disseminating the reflections of the muted twilight as they scraped through them.

He suddenly felt a sharp pain in his neck, just above the collarbone. As his thoughts began to dim, he found a sliver of solace in his assumption — an incorrect one, as it turned out — that Vlad hadn't been lenient after all, that he'd sent his acolytes to do his bidding and that this was the beginning of the end for him.

He then silently slipped into slumber, devoid of dreams, unaware that the prick he'd felt was but a syringe. Oblivion also robbed him of the phenomenon of his dematerialisation, alongside that of the acolytes, and their subsequent rematerialisation in the deep, dank forest at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.


The first sight that greeted Martin's fluttering eyelids was the leaping flames, their spit and crackle simultaneously assaulting his eardrums. Sluggishly, his thoughts coalesced into memory. Flames! He was in Hell, already. At least Vlad had spared him the slow, torturous death he'd threatened.

His limbs weren't responding, but that was the least of his worries. He'd just begun trying to visualise the wicked punishments that lay ahead when a gentle hand, from nowhere, cupped the base of his skull, gently raising him to a semi-sitting position.

"Drink!" he heard, but not aurally. The command had formed in his mind; a chalice then impressed upon his bottom lip. Instantly, the restorative liquid began relaxing his body, a sharp tingling sensation permeating his slumbering extremities, racing though his nervous system as he gulped more.

As soon as he was able, Martin looked about him. Four acolytes, whom he (somewhere deep in his memory) remembered had accosted him in the cloisters, surrounded him inside a tunnel. No, a cave.

The fire was the only light; as furious as it was, it did little to push back the creeping shadows that threatened to overwhelm the surprising scene before him.

"What am I doing here?" Martin asked. Again, the question was purely a wave of thought; no sound echoed around the chamber. This was new to Martin, adding to his confusion. And he was confused, utterly flabbergasted to be alive and not on the rack or having demons fill his every orifice with multiple indescribable pointy things.

"We are answering your request, Martin," one of the acolytes said. He couldn't be sure which, as their cowls completely covered their heads, but he thought it was the one nearest the fire.

"Request? I don't understand," Martin said.

"You wish to quit," Martin heard in his mind, this time from a different acolyte. A statement, not a question. "Under certain conditions, this request may be granted. You have met those criteria, Martin."

"But what about Vlad?"

"He knows your heart, Martin," again, from a different acolyte. "He gave you last night's assignment as a test of your loyalty, which you've more than proven. Now, through us, he's offering you a way out, a retirement package, if you will. 

"He doesn't grant it often. But the four of us are testament to his word. He offered all of us here the deal he's now offering you."

"And what deal's that, exactly?"

"Tonight, he will announce to his court that he's murdered you because you were disloyal," the final acolyte began. "You now have two options. First, and the one we all took, is to become one of his silent servants. His high priests, if you will.

"You will no longer have to kill in the manner you've done unquestioned for five centuries; you will instead come to perceive death as a process, a means to an end. 

"You will also forego everything that makes you human. 'Martin Dinsdale' will no longer exist, but your being will transcend to a higher plain, the one upon which the four of us exist."

Martin was listening patiently, waiting for the punchline, the sucker punch. It didn't come.

"We tend to the elements that sustain Vlad's immortality, our own eternal existence, in which you'll share if you acquiesce.

"This plain to which we've ascended knows not the concept of death; only when we migrate to do Vlad's bidding on the human plain do we sully our hands with the releasing of souls."

"We commune with beings — entities, deities — far beyond human ken," the first acolyte resumed. "Yes, there are aspects of what we do that would offend your current psyche: sacrifices of all kinds, assimilation of ancient texts that have turned many men insane upon their reading, rituals that you would otherwise class as obscene.

"But, in order that our bodies have the capacity to receive these teachings, the utter vastness of these cosmic deities, we have had to sacrifice everything that made us human. You will have to, too," the acolyte finished.

"And if I don't?" Martin asked, although he had a good idea.

"Then you will be the next sacrifice, and to one of these unfathomable deities," the acolyte continued, not a tremor of emotion in his delivery. "You will not die, but spend eternity in the void with whichever deity fills us first.

"You will be its slave as it travels the empty spaces in the universe, so immense and shocking that they will send you madder and madder until you reach the limit of your mind's resistance. Once that limit is breached, then the process will begin over. This will be your eternal punishment for refusing Vlad's final gift to you."

Martin, his mind made up, had just a second to form a final thought: Vlad hadn't been a bad boss; indeed, perhaps the best he'd ever known. 

From his throne many miles hence, Vlad reciprocated Martin's thought immediately, expressing his thanks that Martin had chosen the acolyte pathway. Upon receipt of that gratitude, the entity that had been Martin Dinsdale, who'd served Vlad for five centuries, blinked out.

Five acolytes left the cave, dematerialising through its ceiling en route to receive the deity Yammaroth and fulfil whatever duties it demanded of Vlad and the unsuspecting human race to which the ancient vampire was its conduit.

October 07, 2022 12:23

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