One morning our Erica came down the stairs in her usual somnolent state and very carefully sat down at her usual place with her breakfast plate. A few minutes later, Constance Claire came into the room, poured herself a cup of coffee from the urn and took her seat to the left of Erica. I had just brought in a dish from the kitchen to set on the sideboard and looked momentarily at the two of them. I saw Constance Claire turn her head to the right far enough to see Erica sitting next to her. At exactly the same time, Erica raised her chin and looked off to her right. As she did that, the expression on Constance Claire changed to one first of interest, then of fear. I looked where she was looking as best as I could and for just an instant I saw the two small spots of red on Erica's pale neck just below her ear. The sight was gone at once. Constance Claire turned her head to look at me. My face showed nothing at all. Indeed, I hadn't had time to react, and wasn't yet sure what I had seen. Constance Claire looked back at Erica.
"Erica, what are those marks on your neck. They look like blood. Have you injured yourself?"
Erica moved her hand to her neck, looked at the red color on her fingers and then quickly wiped her neck with her napkin. She winced slightly as she did so.
"It's nothing. An insect bite, I expect. It doesn't hurt."
"Let me look at it." Constance Claire said.
"No, really, it's fine. Just a small bite from something. It doesn't matter."
Erica got up to leave. There would be no more conversation with her. She took the stained napkin with her when she went upstairs. Constance Claire looked at me. I knew that we would have one of our reports very soon. I wondered how I would react to what she was going to tell me.
The confrontation came as expected after lunch. For this conference, she had Louis in tow as well. Once seated, she took the floor.
"Mary Susan, did you see what I saw this morning on Erica's neck?"
"I saw something." I replied carefully. "She said they were insect bites."
"There were two of them, with drops of blood coming from each one, spaced about 2 inches apart. An insect bite doesn't look like that."
"My goodness. What could it be, then? Are you suggesting she was bitten by a snake? At this time of year? Here in my house?"
She looked at me. Her lips were tight. There was dramatic seriousness in her voice. "Not a snake, Mary Susan, A Vampire!"
Now one thing I have learned in my life up to now is that when you have nothing to say, don't say it. This was one of those moments. I said nothing, hoping Constance Claire would say something I could reasonably respond to.
After a moment, she did. Looking at me with a face that said that I was to take her very seriously, she asked me,"Have you read the new novel Dracula?"
"No, I haven't. I admit I don't do too much novel reading these days. I don't seem to have the time. I probably should, however, just to keep up with the latest things. Why do you ask?"
"The book explains what is happening to Erica. I'm convinced that Erica has been attacked by a vampire. She may be a vampire herself by now. I wasn't sure until this morning when I saw the marks on her neck. The vampire has been sucking blood from her neck, just like in the book, and she is in very serious danger," she paused before continuing in her drama voice, "if it isn't already too late."
Once again, Constance Claire had left me with no suitable response. I stumbled, "I don't believe it. I simply can't believe it. What is a vampire, anyway?"
Constance Claire leaned very slightly back in her chair, looked me very seriously in the eye, and began. "A vampire is a dead person who isn't quite dead enough. It's someone who is thought to be dead but really isn't. He comes out of his grave at night and wanders around attacking people and sucking their blood. He has to do this, to stay alive, or whatever he is. Worse, he turns other people into vampires when he drinks their blood, but only young women. That's what he's doing to Erica. You can't see him in the daytime, he has to go back to his coffin during the day."
"But that's all a story. It's in a novel, you say. It isn't true. I don't believe it."
"It's true," she said with dramatic solemnity, "no matter how horrible it seems." She looked just a bit pleased at the possible horror of it. She went on.
"We must do something to help her, or, if it's too late for that," she trailed off, leaving an empty gap in time. Then, "It would be better if you read the book. I notice there is a copy in our library. How did it get there, by the way? Do you put books in the library?"
"Yes, I do. With help from the tenants. Sometimes books just appear. I don't attempt to keep up. There is no formal procedure for putting books into the library." Or for taking them out, I thought, regretfully.
Reverting once more to her primary subject, Constance Claire continued. "She has all the symptoms of an attack by a vampire. She is very weak, especially in the morning, and very tired. She goes out at night for no reason. We don't know where she goes or whom she meets. We, Louis and I, try to follow her but she disappears into the darkness. It's like she just vanishes into thin air. And there are other things. Things that are even more strange. Louis and I have seen with our own eyes a bat fly into her room through her window. Or maybe it isn't a bat, but it's something big that can fly down from the sky into her bedroom window. We've even seen light in her room when whatever it is is in there. It stays in her room for a time, then leaves the way it came, out the window flying upwards into the night. I know it sounds crazy, but Louis is my witness. We've both seen it, and more than once."
"And one more thing I find especially persuasive. When she took her little trip to see her family, she came back much improved. Even over a four day period, her color improved and her mood was better. Better, that is, until the next morning. The next morning she was weak and tired again at breakfast, and wouldn't talk about it. I think it was pretty clear that the attacks occur during the night and that they were interrupted when she went home to her family. The attacks are only happening while she is in this house."
She had one part right. Louis was her witness. His story was somewhat less dramatic, but essentially the same. She had been visited by something during the night, something who could get into and out of second story windows, sometimes when she was out, and sometime while she was in the room.
"Louis, I saw the vampire, or whatever it was, fly down the side of the building and into Erica's room. You did too."
"I saw something too, but I'm not so sure it was flying. I didn't see where it went. It just disappeared. I never saw it come back out."
"The moon went behind a cloud and right after that I think I saw a light in her room."
"I saw that too. I thought it was, well, a little bit improper, spying on her like that."
Louis looked at me when he said that, but I made no response.
"What really convinced me that things might be much worse than I thought", Constance Claire continued, "is that she refused to let me see the fang marks on her neck this morning. That is when I realized that I must do something, that we ust do something, and very quickly."
"I will not have stories of vampires here in Begley House," I retorted. "It's bad enough we have red baiting and lynch mobs and communists and their enemies everywhere you look, but vampires, whatever they are, are really too much." I paused. I was going to have to do something. I could see that.
"I will call a doctor to look in on Erica. We will see what his opinion is. That's the best thing I can think of. I will go now to speak to Erica."
"I'll come with you. She needs help. We must help her."
"No, I think not. I will have a much better chance of convincing her if I go alone. Thank you for your offer. I'll let you know what her response is, but I must see her alone."
I knew a doctor. A very special doctor. He was young, and quite new in his practice, and he owed me a favor. When I spoke to Erica I was even less kind than I had been with Constance Claire.
I found her in her room. She seemed to be expecting me. Perhaps she knew of my visit with Constance Claire. I closed the door and got straight to the point.
"I know a doctor. A very special doctor. He will come and look at the marks on your neck. I must do this. I did not choose this fantasy, but now I have the choice of calling in medical advice, or being inconsiderate of my charges. I am going to extraordinary lengths to protect your little farce, whatever it is."
She agreed, and insisted that I be there when the doctor made his examination. I think by this time we all knew that the marks on her neck were not blood and not from an attack by a vampire. The doctor arrived later in the afternoon. I looked carefully for any sign of Constance Claire or Louis without success. There didn't seem to be anyone else about right then. The doctor made a quick examination of Erica's neck, wiped the ink with his finger, looked at it, then at me. Erica spoke.
"There's nothing wrong with me. I mean, I'm not ill. For reasons of my own, which I can not disclose, I am faking illness. I'm sorry to be taking up your time, I really am."
"The things they never taught me in medical school. Perhaps it is better that you don't worry my conscience by telling me anything. I shall in that case advise you not to take emetics, they are quite dangerous, and don't try the thermometer against the light bulb trick, it doesn't fool many people and most assuredly won't fool Mary Susan Begley. Or is she already in this? Forget that, I shouldn't have asked.
I am not permitted to divulge your medical condition to anyone and I shall not do so. But on the other hand, I do not wish to be used in this way. Do not call on me again unless you are truly ill."
"I promise, Doctor. I'm sorry I can't tell you anything. I expect this to be over soon, or at least I hope my problem is resolved soon. Thank you for your discretion. And please note that I made no attempt to deceive you."
"Yes, thank you for that. It might have worked, and that would have been embarrassing. My prescription is bed rest at night, three meals per day, and perhaps a change in your recreational reading habits."
"Thank you, doctor." Erica smiled at him, unusual for her, but welcome none the less.