T h e O b s e s s i o n
by William Relling Jr.
Promotional spots, fifteen seconds long each, began to air twenty-four
hours before the show's broadcast. The spots were straight-forwardly and
simply done: close-ups of the Host peering directly into the camera as he
intoned in a stentorian voice, "Tomorrow, an All Hallow's Eve special. The
Prince of Darkness, _live_ on our next show." His spiel was as effective
as a carnival pitchman's.
The show's producer, Mr. Harker, was a small, balding toad of a man.
When a researcher brought to his attention the story in the _New York
Post_ concerning the discovery of an honest-to-goodness vampire living in
Mellin Town, Illinois, Harker rushed the information to the Host.
"It's the perfect Halloween theme!" cried the producer. "Imagine -
Dracula himself right here on our stage! Why, compared to the show we did
with the skinhead transvestite born-again heroin addicts, we'll have ten
times the audience of that one easily!"
"I'll have to think about it," the Host mused.
The producer was crestfallen.
"I've thought about it," said the Host a moment later.
The producer beamed.
Negotiations began. Deals were offered. Lawyers were hired. Contracts
The date for the show was set. October 31.
The entire production staff was moved from New York to Chicago for
Halloween week. It was an accommodation to their guest, who preferred to
be as close to home as possible.
On October 29, the Host burst into the office that had been assigned
to Harker. The Host was livid. He hurled a tabloid news-paper onto the
producer's desk and demanded shrilly, "Have you seen this?"
Harker opened the tabloid: the current issue of the _National
Inspirer_, hot off the press. The top headline story had to do with the
trainer of a well-known animal actor - the most famous mutt in the world -
admitting that the canine star had to undergo two years' worth of
psychotherapy for depression following the cancellation of his network
television series. The producer looked up at the Host and said, "Do you
want me to check into booking the dog or the shrink?"
"Not _that_ story, you boob!" shouted the Host. "_This_ one!" He
jabbed a finger at the lower left corner of the front page. The was a
garishly colored photo of the Host, above which was printed: RATINGS SLIDE
FOR THE "MOST HATED MAN ON TELEVISION"
The producer blanched. "Well, sir . . ." he began.
"How can they _print_ such lies?" the Host steamed.
"Well, sir," said Harker carefully. "You _have_ done one or two shows
lately that some people might've found a teeny bit . . . offensive."
The Host stared at him, uncomprehending.
"Like that one where you had those 300-pound male burlesque dancers
bumping and grinding down to their G-strings," continued Harker. "Or when
you had the bulimic teenagers come on and share their favorite recipes,
and then demonstrate to the audience just how purging is done."
"What in God's name are you babbling about, man?" said the Host. "I
don't care about _offending_ people. I care about _this_." He snatched the
paper from the producer's hands, folded it, then with his fingertip drew
an invisible underline beneath the word "RATINGS."
"_This_ is what I came to talk about," said the Host. "You promised
me big numbers for this Halloween show. I want you to know, I'm _holding_
you to that promise."
The producer's forehead had begun to bead with perspiration.
"So," said the Host, "how are we doing with the arrangements for our
"He arrives tomorrow," Harker answered quickly. "From Amsterdam via
London. Only you and I know that he's going to be here."
"I'm holding you personally responsible," said the Host. "If it
happens that we _don't_ manage to have the two of them on the show
together at the same time, it's your ass."
"Yes, sir," gulped the producer.
"But Einar," said his wife Brunilla. "_Television_?"
"It's the only way I can be sure that the Family's side of the matter
gets heard and understood," Uncle Einar replied.
Brunilla Elliott shook her head stubbornly. "He's such an awful
person," she complained. "He tricks people and belittles them and baits
them until they lose their tempers. He plays to that audience of his like
Antony at Caesar's funeral."
Uncle Einar sighed tolerantly, realizing that his wife was, after
all, only human. Her membership in the Family was solely by virtue of her
marriage to him. "Now, now, my dear. He's not as bad as all that."
"He's pretty bad, Papa," said Ronald, the eldest son. "Remember the
show where he had on the gay white supremacists? When they broke his nose?"
"He was really asking for it that day," said Stephen.
"Or how about the time he had on those two movie critics?" Michael
chimed in. "The tall, thin one and the short, fat one. They'd been the
best of friends all their lives, till the day they went on his show."
"I remember," said Meg, Einar and Brunilla's only female offspring.
"Before the show was over, he'd gotten the two of them so angry that they
were trying to choke each other to death."
Brunilla was shaking her head again. "You see, Einar," she said.
"Even your children think this is a very risky thing for you to do."
Uncle Einar shifted in his chair, causing his silken, sea-green wings
to rustle like dry leaves. He looked at the members of his family one by
one: wife, son, son, son, and daughter. "I'm afraid it's too late to back
out now," he said firmly. "A contract is a contract."
And that was that.
Uncle Einar was accompanied to Chicago by his son Ronald and his
nephew Timothy. They drove from Mellin Town in a hearse they borrowed from
Timothy's brother, Bion, who owned the local mortuary. Uncle Einar hated
to travel by car. He did it now only because it was his flying that had
precipitated the trou-blesome situation in which he found himself.
First had been The Accident. One November morning many years ago, in
the early hours before dawn, while heading back to Europe following a
Homecoming in Mellin Town, Uncle Einar had crashed drunkenly into an
electrical tower. A shower of blue sparks surrounded him like fireflies, a
high-tension wire lashed his face like a bullwhip, and his right wing was
badly crumpled. He fell to earth, unconscious.
He awoke at dawn and took refuge in a nearby forest, where he was
discovered by Brunilla Wexley, the owner of a local farm. Brunilla took
Einar home with her and nursed him back to health. Days later, after his
damaged wing had healed, he waited for nightfall and took off for Europe
once more. And promptly crashed headlong into one of Brunilla's maple
It was then that Uncle Einar realized the awful consequence of his
accident. His delicate night perception was gone.
He could never again fly after sundown, because the peculiar
telepathy that warned him of the trees and towers and houses which stood
in his flight path was lost. But by that time he and Brunilla, who lived
alone, had fallen in love. Uncle Einar decided to remain with her, and a
few months later they were married.
Then, just three weeks ago, had come The Incident.
Because his injury had restricted him to taking to the air only
during daylight hours - when he was more likely to be mistaken by fearful
and ignorant human beings for something dangerous or harmful: a bat, a
UFO, a monster - Uncle Einar gave up flying altogether. For years he coped
broodingly with the misery of being earthbound. Until last March, when he
and his children devised a way for him to embrace once more the singular
rapture that flying gave him.
On a bright and blustery, first-weekend-of-spring, midwestern day,
Uncle Einar accompanied the children to Kite Hill. There he tied a tail of
cotton rags to his belt behind, took the end of a length of twine between
his teeth, and rose joyously up and up into the March wind.
Taking turns holding the ball of twine, Meg and Michael and Stephen
and Ronald became the envy of their playmates. Proud possessors of the
huge and magical green "kite" that dipped and soared majestically! The
only ones aware of its true nature!
Uncle Einar flew throughout the spring and summer, until school began
again and Indian Summer came and went, and the first nip of winter could
be tasted in the air. Until that afternoon when he and Stephen went to
Kite Hill for one last flight of the year, just the two of them.
As Uncle Einar sailed on the chilly October breeze, he could see a
quarter of a mile below him the railroad crossing at the outskirts of
Mellin Town. He saw the little girl - not much older than Meg - whose
bicycle had broken its chain and sent her tumbling to the tracks. He
watched as she tried desperately to free her foot which had become wedged
between rail and tie. He could hear her screams for help above the keening
whistle of the too-rapidly approaching train.
Without a thought Uncle Einar swooped from the sky like some
enormous, green-winged bird of prey. He snatched the little girl to safety
by a hairsbreadth. And was seen doing so by the train's engineer and the
brakeman and a dozen other witnesses.
By the end of the following day, news of the existence of The Man Who
Could Fly had spread, quite literally, around the world. Media
representatives descended upon Mellin Town like a swarm of locusts. Each
news story that subsequently emerged was more wild than the last. Vampires
in Illinois! Monsters Live Among Us! The Apocalypse Is Nigh!
"My God," said Timothy as he steered the hearse through the gates of
the television studio. Hundreds of irate demonstrators and curious
celebrity-seekers had to be shunted aside by security guards in order to
allow the car to pass through. "I hope you know what you're doing, Uncle
Einar. And I hope it'll bring an end to this nonsense once and for all."
"I hope so, too, Timothy," sighed Uncle Einar. "I hope so, too."
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the Host, spreading his arms
melodramatically. "It is my shuddery pleasure to present to you the most
fearsome being ever to grace the stage of this or any other talk show. I
give you the Prince of Darkness, the original Count Dracula himself -
The audience hissed. Watching from the offstage wings, Timothy and
Ronald cringed. Uncle Einar twisted in his chair, reflexively pressing his
wings together. He blinked at the bright stage lights that stung his eyes.
The Host took a seat beside him. "It's true, isn't it?" said the
Host. "You _are_ the original Count Dracula?"
Uncle Einar shook his head. "It's possible that I may have been an
inspiration for the character. But there is no `Count Dracula.' The man
who wrote the novel - Abraham Stoker - made him up."
"But there really was someone named 'Dracula,' wasn't there?" the
"Oh yes," replied Uncle Einar. "There was a fifteenth century
Wallachian prince named 'Vlad the Impaler,' because of his habit of
impaling his enemies on the end of sharpened stakes and watching them
bleed to death. But Vlad was one hundred percent human. He was not - I
repeat not - a member of my Family. He's your relative, not mine."
Someone in the audience booed. The Host held up a hand to silence the
heckler, then turned back to Uncle Einar. "But you just said you were the
inspiration for the book ..."
Uncle Einar nodded reluctantly. "Bram and I... Mr. Stoker, that is ..
. we were ... acquainted. Back when I was living in England."
"And when was that?"
"Many years ago."
The Host produced a paperback copy of _Dracula_. He opened the book
to its flyleaf and held it up to show the audience. "Do you know when
_Dracula_ was first published, ladies and gentlemen? In the year 1897!" He
turned to Uncle Einar. "I must say, you don't look to me to be nearly old
enough to have been Brain Stoker's acquaintance, much less his
Timothy winced. Ronald muttered softly, "Oh no. He's tweaking Papa's
vanity . . ."
"It happens that I'm a good deal older than I appear to be," said
The Host arched an eyebrow. "You are?"
Uncle Einar nodded. "On my last birthday I turned two hundred and
The Host was smiling smugly. "Are you trying to tell me that you're
"Not exactly," said Uncle Einar. "Eventually the members of the
Family do pass on. We simply tend to be long-lived."
"_Obviously_," the Host said, his tone of voice oily with sarcasm.
The audience chortled, then broke into appreciative applause. The
Host nodded to them, acknowledging.
"Let's talk some more about your Family, Mr. Elliott," he continued.
"Is it true that some of them actually sleep in coffins during the day and
come out only at night?"
Timothy and Ronald exchanged looks of apprehension. Uncle Einar
frowned uncomfortably. "Well . . ."
"And that some of them can actually assume the shapes of animals?"
Uncle Einar said, "Well . . ."
"And that they actually imbibe _human blood_?"
The audience gasped.
Ronald whispered to Timothy, "Uh-oh . . ."
Uncle Einar sputtered, "If you'll allow me to explain - "
"The _truth_, Mr. Elliott!" challenged the Host. "The truth is that
you and your Family are _vampires_!"
A woman in the audience shrieked. Another moaned.
The crowd's wallah drowned out Uncle Einar's protestations, "No, no,
you're getting it all wrong - "
The Host turned away from him to look into the camera. "A vampire
defends his lifestyle. Right after this important message."
During the commercial break, Uncle Einar fumed while the Host
supervised the addition of three more chairs to the set. Ronald and
Timothy took two of the seats, at Uncle Einar's right hand, just as the
stage manager was counting down the last seconds till the show went on the
air once more.
A flashing sign cued the audience to commence applauding. The stage
manager pointed a finger at the Host, who smiled at the camera and said,
"We're back. We've been joined by two members of Einar Elliott's Family,
the young men sitting to Mr. Elliott's right. They are, respectively, his
son Ronald and his nephew Timothy. Both of whom appear to be quite
ordinary human beings."
"Which is exactly what they are, by any standard you wish to apply,"
said Uncle Einar. "But they are also members of the Family, in good
"Tell me, Ronald," said the Host. "What's it like having a father
who's a vampire?"
Ronald made a face. "He's not a vampire."
"He sleeps in a coffin, doesn't he?"
"Not anymore. Not since he met my mother."
"Ah," said the Host. "Your mother. She's human, isn't she?"
"So doesn't that make you and your siblings ... _half-breeds? Neither
fish nor fowl?"
"What in heaven's name are you talking about?" asked Einar.
The Host turned to Timothy. "Tell me, boy. How are you and your Uncle
"Uncle Einar and my father are brothers," answered Timothy.
"_Does_ your father have wings as well?"
Timothy shook his head. "Uncle Einar is the only one in the Family
who has wings."
"This is exactly the point that I wanted to make," said Uncle Einar.
"The Family comes in all shapes and sizes. We have all sorts of different
powers and abilities. Yes, there are some who sleep in coffins during the
day and come out only at night. And there are some - like Timothy's sister
Cecy - who have the ability to place themselves within the minds of other
living creatures, to see and smell and hear and feel what they do, to
become those creatures. And yes, some of us do nourish ourselves with the
blood of human beings. But we don't kill anyone - we haven't for hundreds
of years. We have other sources - Timothy's brother, for example, who
works as an undertaker in our town and saves the blood of the people he's
embalmed, when they've got no use for it anymore. We've found a way to
co-exist with human beings. We've been co-existing for centuries, living
with you side-by-side without your being aware that we were any different
from you. That's why I've come here, to assure you that you have nothing
at all to fear from us."
Unexpectedly, a portion of the audience erupted into spontaneous
applause. The Host glowered at them. The applause subsided.
The Host turned his grim expression to Uncle Einar. "Nothing to fear
from you, eh? It so happens, Mr. Elliott, that I have waiting _another_
guest to whom you are personally responsible for a great deal of grief and
Uncle Einar's eyebrows drew together, a look of puzzled wariness.
The Host turned back to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, may I
present to you from Amsterdam, Holland, a man whose ancestors have been
the sworn enemies of Einar Elliott and his Family for more than a hundred
years! Please welcome _Mr. Barnard Vorhees_!"
The Host led the audience in applause. Timothy and Ronald looked to
Uncle Einar. Their eyes grew wide when they saw how he had paled at the
mention of the name.
Ronald whispered with concern, "Papa, who _is_ he ...?"
Uncle Einar's gaze was fixed upon the man who was emerging
uncertainly from backstage. Barnard Vorhees was a stocky, middle-aged man
of medium height, with a ruddy complexion and curly, brown hair peppered
with gray. He wore an ill-fitting tweed suit and heavy brogans. The Host
directed Vorhees to the empty seat beside him.
Vorhees settled himself, looked about, then locked his eyes onto
Uncle Einar's. Uncle Einar straightened slightly in his chair, his wings
"If you would, Mr. Vorhees," urged the Host, "tell our audience who
you are and what your connection is to Mr. Elliott."
The man turned away from Uncle Einar to face the Host, who motioned
for him to look out toward the audience. "My name is Barnard Vorhees," the
newcomer said. He spoke with a soft, Dutch accent. "I live in Amsterdam. I
am the great-grandson of Dr. Hans Vorhees, the famous nineteenth-century
"If I may," interrupted the Host. He held up his copy of _Dracula_
again as he spoke to the audience. "Mr. Vorhees's great-grandfather was
also living in London at the time this book was written. He is probably
better known as the character whom he inspired, Dr. Van Helsing."
Vorhees had turned to look once more at Uncle Einar. "My
great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my father devoted their
lives to one purpose - the utter destruction of Einar Elliott."
The audience stirred.
"And what happened to them?" asked the Host.
Vorhees took in a deep breath. "All three died in an insane asylum.
Where they had been placed because their obsession had driven them mad."
A hush fell over the audience.
The Host prompted Vorhees, "And the reason why you agreed to let us
bring you on the show ...?"
"To destroy the evil in our midst," uttered Vorhees. He turned to the
Host, eyes glittering with madness. "Your show goes out all over the
world. I've seen it many times, often enough so that I feel as if I know
you very well. When I was offered this opportunity to rid mankind of a
terrible monster - "
Vorhees suddenly leaped from his chair. In the same motion he pulled
from his coat a long cedar stake, sharpened at one end, and a large mallet.
Uncle Einar, the Host, Timothy, and Ronald were frozen in their
chairs. Several members of the audience began to scream.
Vorhees cried out maniacally, "Die, fiend!"
Before anyone could stop him, the man hurled himself at the Host,
knocked him from his chair to the floor, and pounded the stake into the
center of his chest.
The Host gurgled, blood trickling from the corners of his mouth. He
clutched at the stake futilely, shuddered, then lay still. Vorhees came to
his feet, standing astride the body of the murdered man. He lifted his
arms, fists clenched in triumph.
In an instant, the set was thronged with frantic stagehands,
production assistants, camera personnel, security officers, and autograph
seekers. A pair of uniformed guards seized Vorhees, dragging him away from
the dead man. Uncle Einar, Timothy, and Ronald moved as far off to one
side as they could, trying to stay clear of the phalanx of individuals
that crushed the stage.
A quiet voice behind Uncle Einar's shoulder muttered, "I honestly
didn't think he'd go through with it."
Uncle Einar, Timothy, and Ronald turned around. There stood Mr.
Harker, the producer. He looked at them and smiled. "You have no idea how
long I've prayed for somebody to kill that son of a bitch," he said. "I
only wish I could've gotten up enough nerve to have done it myself."
Harker led Uncle Einar, Timothy, and Ronald to his office, secluding
them until things quieted down. As they settled themselves on a sectional
sofa opposite Harker's desk, Ronald was saying, "You mean Mr. Vorhees
didn't hold any grudge against Papa at all?"
"He forgave your father years ago," answered Harker, "when he made up
his mind that everybody in his family was simply crazy. However, when I
invited him to come on the show, I found out about his own little
obsession. He couldn't tell me vehemently enough how much he despised the
man I worked for. The show has quite a following in Europe, you know."
Harker nodded to Einar. "Vorhees didn't want to come at first, because he
didn't have anything against you, and because he was genuinely afraid of
what he might do if he ever found himself in the same room with my boss.
My _ex_-boss, that is. I had to talk him into it."
"Unbelievable," said Uncle Einar.
"But true," responded Harker. "Incidentally, Mr. Elliott, I thought
you handled yourself extremely well. You presented the case for your
Family most eloquently."
"But Mr. Harker," said Timothy, "if you're the one who talked Vorhees
into coming on the show, doesn't that make you an accomplice?"
"I don't think Mr. Harker has much to worry about," said Uncle Einar.
"How was he to know what Vorhees might do? After all, the man is clearly
Timothy said doubtfully, "I suppose . . ."
"I'm grateful for your concern, Timothy," Harker said, reassuring
him, "but there's really no need for it. I'm not the least bit worried. In
fact, I feel like celebrating. I'd like all of you to be my guests for
dinner." He stood up and motioned them toward the door. "I think a little
champagne might be in order, don't you?"
As he got up from the sofa, Timothy said, "Uncle Einar doesn't drink
Harker slapped his head, a gesture of _How stupid of me_. "I'm
sorry," he said. "I forgot."
"I think I can make an exception this one time," said Uncle Einar,
stretching his wings.
THE OBSESSION © 1991 by William Relling Jr.
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