1

On that same Sunday evening, Father Callahan stepped hesitantly into Matt Burke's hospital room at quarter to seven by Matt's watch. The bedside table and the counter?pane itself were littered with books, some of them dusty with age. Matt had called Loretta Starcher at her spinster's apartment and had not only gotten her to open the library on Sunday, but had gotten her to deliver the books in person. She had come in at the head of a procession made up of three hospital orderlies, each loaded down. She had left in something of a huff because he refused to answer questions about the strange conglomeration.

Father Callahan regarded the schoolteacher curiously. He looked worn, but not so worn or wearily shocked as most of the parishioners he visited in similar circumstances. Callahan found that the common first reaction to news of cancer, strokes, heart attacks, or the failure of some major organ was one of betrayal. The patient was astounded to find that such a close (and, up to now at least, fully understood) friend as one's own body could be so sluggard as to lie down on the job. The reaction which followed close on the heels of the first was the thought that a friend who would let one down so cruelly was not worth having. The conclusion that followed these reactions was that it didn't matter if this friend was worth having or not. One could not refuse to speak to one's traitorous body, or get up a petition against it, or pretend that one was not at home when it called. The final thought in this hospital-bed train of reasoning was the hideous possibility that one's body might not be a friend at all, but an enemy implacably dedicated to destroying the superior force that had used it and abused it ever since the disease of reason set in.

Once, while in a fine drunken frenzy, Callahan had sat down to write a monograph on the subject for The Catholic Journal. He had even illustrated it with a fiendish editorial? page cartoon, which showed a brain poised on the highest ledge of a skyscraper. The building (labeled 'The Human Body') was in flames (which were labeled 'Cancer' - ?although they might have been a dozen others). The car?toon was titled 'Too Far to Jump'. During the next day's enforced bout with sobriety, he had torn the prospective monograph to shreds and burned the cartoon - there was no place in Catholic doctrine for either, unless you wanted to add a helicopter labeled 'Christ' that was dangling a rope ladder. Nonetheless, he felt that his insights had been true ones, and the result of such sickbed logic on the part of the patient was usually acute depression. The symptoms included dulled eyes, slow responses, sighs fetched from deep within the chest cavity, and sometimes tears at the sight of the priest, that black crow whose function was ultimately predicated on the problem the fact of mortality presented to the thinking being.

Matt Burke showed none of this depression. He held out his hand, and when Callahan shook it, he found the grip surprisingly strong.

'Father Callahan. Good of you to come.'

'Pleased to. Good teachers, like a wife's wisdom, are pearls beyond price.'

'Even agnostic old bears like myself?'

'Especially those,' Callahan said, riposting with pleasure. 'I may have caught you at a weak moment. There are no atheists in the foxholes, I've been told, and precious few agnostics in the Intensive Care ward.'

'I'm being moved soon, alas.'

'Pish-posh,' Callahan said. 'We'll have you Hail Marying and Our Fathering yet.'

'That,' Matt said, 'is not as far-fetched as you might think.'

Father Callahan sat down, and his knee bumped the bedstand as he drew his chair up. A carelessly piled stack of books cascaded into his lap. He read the titles aloud as he put them back.

'Dracula. Dracula's Guest. The Search for Dracula. The Golden Bough. The Natural History of the Vampire - ?natural? Hungarian Folk Tales. Monsters of the Darkness. Monsters in Real Life. Peter Kurtin, Monster of Dsseldorf. And . . .' He brushed a thick patina of dust from the last cover and revealed a spectral figure poised menacingly above a sleeping damsel. 'Varney the Vampyre, or, The Feast of Blood. Goodness - required reading for convalesc?ent heart attack patients?'

Matt smiled. 'Poor old Varney. I read it a long time ago for a class report in Eh-279 at the university . . . Romantic Lit. The professor, whose idea of fantasy began with Beowulf and ended with The Screwtape Letters, was quite shocked. I got a D plus on the report and a written command to elevate my sights.'

'The case of Peter Kurtin is interesting enough, though,' Callahan said. 'In a repulsive sort of way.'

'You know his history?'

'Most of it, yes. I took an interest in such things as a divinity student. My excuse to the highly skeptical elders was that, in order to be a successful priest, one had to plumb the depths of human nature as well as aspire to its heights. All eyewash, actually. I just liked a shudder as well as the next one. Kurtin, I believe, murdered two of his playmates as a young boy by drowning them - he simply gained possession of a small float anchored in the middle of a wide river and kept pushing them away until they tired and went under.'

'Yes,' Matt said. 'As a teenager, he twice tried to kill the parents of a girl who refused to go walking with him. He later burned down their house. But that is not the part of his, uh, career that I'm interested in.'

'I guessed not, from the trend of your reading matter.'

He picked a magazine off the coverlet which showed an incredibly endowed young woman in a skintight costume who was sucking the blood of a young man. The young man's expression seemed to be an uneasy combination of extreme terror and extreme lust. The name of the magazine - and of the young woman, apparently - was Vampirella. Callahan put it down, more intrigued than ever.

'Kurtin attacked and killed over a dozen women,' Callahan said. 'Mutilated many more with a hammer. If it was their time of the month, he drank their discharge.' Matt Burke nodded again. 'What's not so generally known,' he said, 'is that he also mutilated animals. At the height of his obsession, he ripped the heads from the bodies of two swans in Dsseldorf's central park and drank the blood which gushed from their necks.'

'Has all this to do with why you wanted to see me?' Callahan asked. 'Mrs Curless told me you said it was a matter of some importance.'

'Yes, it does and it is.'

'What might it be, then? If you've meant to intrigue me, you've certainly succeeded.'

Matt looked at him calmly. 'A good friend of mine, Ben Mears, was to have gotten in touch with you today. Your housekeeper said he had not.'

'That's so. I've seen no one since two o'clock this after?noon.'

'I have been unable to reach him. He left the hospital in the company of my doctor, James Cody. I have also been unable to reach him. I have likewise been unable to reach Susan Norton, Ben's lady friend. She went out early this afternoon, promising her parents she would be in by five. They are worried.'

Callahan sat forward at this. He had a passing acquaint?ance with Bill Norton, who had once come to see him about a problem that had to do with some Catholic co-workers. 'You suspect something?'

'Let me ask you a question,' Matt said. 'Take it very seriously and think it over before you answer. Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary in town just lately?'

Callahan's original impression, now almost a certainty, was that this man was proceeding very carefully indeed, not wanting to frighten him off by whatever was on his mind. Something sufficiently outrageous was suggested by the litter of books.

'Vampires in 'salem's Lot?' he asked.

He was thinking that the deep depression which followed grave illness could sometimes be avoided if the person afflicted had a deep enough investment in life: artists, musicians, a carpenter whose thoughts centered on some half-completed building. The interest could just as well be linked to some harmless (or not so harmless) psychosis, perhaps incipient before the illness.

He had spoken at some length with an elderly man named Horris from Schoolyard Hill who had been in the Maine Medical Center with advanced cancer of the lower intestine. In spite of pain which must have been excruciat?ing, be had discoursed with Callahan in great and lucid detail concerning the creatures from Uranus who were infiltrating every walk of American life. 'One day the fella who fills your gas tank down at Sonny's Amoco is just Joe Blow from Falmouth,' this bright-eyed, talking skeleton told him, 'and the next day it's a Uranian who just 0 like Joe Blow. He even has Joe Blow's memories and speech patterns, you see. Because Uranians eat alpha waves . . . smack, smack, smack!' According to Horris, he did not have cancer at all, but an advanced case of laser poisoning. The Uranians, alarmed at his knowledge of their machinations, had decided to put him out of the way. Horris accepted this, and was prepared to go down fighting. Callahan made no effort to disabuse him. Leave that to well-meaning but thickheaded relatives. Callahan's experi?ence was that psychosis, like a good knock of Cutty Sark, could be extremely beneficial.

So now he simply folded his hands and waited for Matt to continue.

Matt said, 'It's difficult to proceed as it is. It's going to be more difficult still if you think I'm suffering from sickbed dementia.'

Startled by hearing his thoughts expressed just as he had finished thinking them, Callahan kept his poker face only with difficulty - although the emotion that would have come through would not have been disquiet but admir?ation.

'On the contrary, you seem extremely lucid,' he said.

Matt sighed. 'Lucidity doesn't presuppose sanity - as you well know.' He shifted in bed, redistributing the books that lay around him. 'If there is a God, He must be making me do penance for a life of careful academicism - of refusing to plant an intellectual foot on any ground until it had been footnoted in triplicate. Now for the second time in one day, I'm compelled to make the wildest declarations without a shred of proof to back them up. All I can say in defense of my own sanity is that my statements can be either proved or disproved without too much difficulty, and hope that you will take me seriously enough to make the test before it's too late.' He chuckled. 'Before it's too late. Sounds straight out of the thirties' pulp magazines, doesn't it?'

'Life is full of melodrama,' Callahan remarked, reflect?ing that if it were so, he had seen precious little of it lately.

'Let me ask you again if you have noticed anything ?anything - out of the way or peculiar this weekend.'

'To do with vampires, or - '

'To do with anything.'

Callahan thought it over. 'The dump's closed,' he said finally. 'But the gate was broken off, so I drove in anyway.' He smiled. 'I rather enjoy taking my own garbage to the dump. It's so practical and humble that I can indulge my elitist fantasies of a poor but happy proletariat to the fullest. Dud Rogers wasn't around, either.'

'Anything else?'

'Well . . . the Crocketts weren't at mass this morning, and Mrs Crockett hardly ever misses.'

'More?'

'Poor Mrs Glick, of course - '

Matt got up on one elbow. 'Mrs Glick? What about her?'      

'She 's dead.

'Of what?'

'Pauline Dickens seemed to think it was a heart attack,'

Callahan said, but hesitatingly.

'Has anyone else died in the Lot today?' Ordinarily, it would have been a foolish question. Deaths in a small town like 'salem's Lot were generally spread apart, in spite of the higher proportion of elderly in the population.

'No,' Callahan said slowly. 'But the mortality rate has certainly been high lately, hasn't' it? Mike Ryerson . . . Floyd Tibbits . . . the McDougall baby . . .'

Matt nodded, looking tired. 'Passing strange,' he said. 'Yes. But things are reaching the point where they'll be able to cover up for each other. A few more nights and I'm afraid . . . afraid . . . '

'Let's stop beating around the bush,' Callahan said.

'All right. There's been rather too much of that already, hasn't there?'

He began to tell his story from beginning to end, weaving in Ben's and Susan's and Jimmy's additions as he went along, holding back nothing. By the time he had finished, the evening's horror had ended for Ben and Jimmy. Susan Norton's was just beginning.

2

When he had finished, Matt allowed a moment of silence and then said, 'So. Am I crazy?'

'You're determined that people will think you so, any?way,' Callahan said, 'in spite of the fact that you seem to have convinced Mr Mears and your own doctor. No, I don't think you're crazy. After all, I am in the business of dealing with the supernatural. If I may be allowed a small pun, it is my bread and wine.'

'But - '

'Let me tell you a story. I won't vouch for its truth, but I will vouch for my own belief that it is true. It concerns a good friend of mine, Father Raymond Bissonette, who has been ministering to a parish in Cornwall for some Years now - along the so-called Tin Coast. Do you know of it?'

'Through reading, yes.'

'Some five years ago he wrote me that he had been called to an out-of-the-way corner of his parish to conduct a funeral service for a girl who had just "pined away". The girl's coffin was filled with wild roses, which struck Ray as unusual. What he found downright grotesque was the fact that her mouth had been propped open with a stick and then filled with garlic and wild thyme.'

'But those are - '

'Traditional protections against the rising of the Undead, yes. Folk remedies. When Ray inquired, he was told quite matter-of-factly by the girl's father that she had been killed by an incubus. You know the meaning?'

'A sexual vampire.'

'The girl had been betrothed to a young man named Bannock, who had a large strawberry-colored birthmark on the side of his neck. He was struck and killed by a car on his way home from work two weeks before the wedding. Two years later, the girl became engaged to another man. She broke it off quite suddenly during the week before the banns were to be cried for the second time. She told her parents and friends that John Bannock had been coming to her in the night and she had been unfaithful with him. Her present lover, according to Ray, was more distressed by the thought that she might have become mentally unbal?anced than by the possibility of demon visitation. Nonethe?less, she wasted away, died, and was buried in the old ways of the church.

'All of that did not occasion Ray's letter. What did was an occurrence some two months after the girl's burial. While he was on an early morning walk, Ray spied a young man standing by the girl's grave - a young man with a strawberry-colored birthmark on his neck. Nor is that the end of the story. He had gotten a Polaroid camera from his parents the Christmas before and had amused himself by snapping various views of the Cornish countryside. I have some of them in a picture album at the rectory - they're quite good. The camera was around his neck that morning, and he took several snaps of the young man. When he showed them around the village, the reaction was quite amazing. One old lady fell down in a faint, and the dead girl's mother began to pray in the street.

'But when Ray got up the next morning, the young man's figure had completely faded out of the pictures, and all that was left were several views of the local churchyard.'

'And you believe that?' Matt asked.

'Oh yes. And I suspect most people would. The ordinary fellow isn't half so leery of the supernatural as the fiction writers like to make out. Most writers who deal in that particular subject, as a matter of fact, are more hardheaded about spirits and demons and boogies than your ordinary man in the street. Lovecraft was an atheist. Edgar Allen Poe was sort of a half-assed transcendentalist. And Hawthorne was only conventionally religious.'

'You're amazingly conversant on the subject,' Matt said.

The priest shrugged. 'I had a boy's interest in the occult and the outr,' he said, 'and as I grew older, my calling to the priesthood enhanced rather than retarded it.' He sighed deeply. 'But lately I've begun to ask myself some rather hard questions about the nature of evil in the world.' With a twisted smile he added, 'It's spoiled a lot of the fun.'

'Then . . . would you investigate a few things for me? And would you be averse to taking along some holy water and a bit of the Host?'

'You're treading on uneasy theological ground now, Callahan said with genuine gravity.

'Why?'

'I'm not going to say no, not at this point,' Callahan said. 'And I ought to tell you that if you'd gotten a younger priest, he probably would have said yes almost at once, with few if any qualms at all.' He smiled bitterly. 'They view the trappings of the church as symbolic rather than practical - like a shaman's headdress and medicine stick. This young priest might decide you were crazy, but if shaking a little holy water around would case your craziness, fine and dandy. I can't do that. If I should proceed to make your investigations in a neat Harris tweed with nothing under my arm but a copy of Sybil Leek's The Sensuous Exorcist or whatever, that would be between you and me. But if I go with the Host . . . then I go as an agent of the Holy Catholic Church, prepared to execute what I would consider the most spiritual rites of my office. Then I go as Christ's representative on earth.' He was now looking at Matt seriously, solemnly. 'I may be a poor excuse for a priest - at times I've thought so - a bit jaded, a bit cynical, and just lately suffering a crisis of . . . what? faith? identity? . . . but I still believe enough in the awe?some, mystical, and apotheotic power of the church which. stands behind me to tremble a bit at the thought of accept?ing your request lightly. The church is more than a bundle of ideals, as these younger fellows seem to believe. It's more than a spiritual Boy Scout troop. The church is a Force . . . and one does not set a Force in motion lightly.' He frowned severely at Matt. 'Do you understand that? Your understanding is vitally important.'

'I understand.'

'You see, the over-all concept of evil in the Catholic Church has undergone a radical change in this century. Do you know what caused it?'

'I imagine it was Freud.'

'Very good. The Catholic Church began to cope with a new concept as it marched into the twentieth century: evil with a small "e". With a devil that was not a red-horned monster complete with spiked tall and cloven hooves, or a serpent crawling through the garden - although that is a remarkably apt psychological image. The devil, according to the Gospel According to Freud, would be a gigantic composite id, the subconscious of all of us.'

'Surely a more stupendous concept than red-tailed boog?ies or demons with such sensitive noses that they can be banished with one good fart from a constipated church?man,' Matt said.

'Stupendous, of course. But impersonal. Merciless. Un?touchable. Banishing Freud's devil is as impossible as Shylock's bargain to extract a pound of flesh without spilling a drop of blood. The Catholic Church has been forced to reinterpret its whole approach to evil - bombers over Cambodia, the war in Ireland and the Middle East, cop-killings and ghetto riots, the billion smaller evils loosed on the world each day like a plague of gnats. It is in the process of shedding its old medicine-man skin and re-emerging as a socially active, socially conscious body. The inner city rap-center ascendant over the confessional. Communion playing second fiddle to the civil rights move?ment and urban renewal. The church has been in the process of planting both feet in this world.'

'Where there are no witches or incubi or vampires,' Matt said, 'but only child-beating, incest, and the rape of the environment.'

'Yes.'

Matt said deliberately, 'And you hate it, don't you?'

'Yes,' Callahan said quietly. 'I think it's an abomination. It's the Catholic Church's way of saying that God isn't dead, only a little senile. And I guess that's my answer, isn't it? What do you want me to do?'

Matt told him.

Callahan thought it over and said, 'You realize it flies in the face of everything I just told you?'

'On the contrary, I think it's your chance to put your church - your church - to the test.'

Callahan took a deep breath. 'Very well, I agree. On one condition.'

'What would that be?

'That all of us who go on this little expedition first go to the shop this Mr Straker is managing. That Mr Mears, as spokesman, should speak to him frankly about all of this. That we all have a chance to observe his reactions. And finally, that he should have, his chance to laugh in our faces.'

Matt was frowning. 'It would be warning him.'

Callahan shook his head. 'I believe the warning would be of no avail if the three of us - Mr Mears, Dr Cody, and myself - still agreed that we should move ahead regardless.'      

'All right,' Matt said. 'I agree, contingent on the ap?proval of Ben and Jimmy Cody.'

'Fine.' Callahan sighed. 'Will it hurt you if I tell you that I hope this is all in your mind? That I hope this man Straker does laugh in our faces, and with good reason?'

'Not in the slightest.'

'I do hope it. I have agreed to more than you know. It frightens me.'

'I am frightened, too,' Matt said softly.

3

But walking back to St Andrew's, he did not feel frightened at all. He felt exhilarated, renewed. For the first time in years he was sober and did not crave a drink.

He went into the rectory, picked up the telephone, and dialed Eva Miller's boardinghouse. 'Hello? Mrs Miller? May I speak with Mr Mears? . . . He's not. Yes, I see . . . No, no message. I'll call tomorrow. Yes, good-by.' He hung up and went to the window.

Was Mears out there someplace, drinking beer on a country road, or could it be that everything the old school?teacher had told him was true?

If so . . . if so . . .

He could not stay in the house. He went out on the back porch, breathing in the brisk, steely air of October, and looked into the moving darkness. Perhaps it wasn't all Freud after all. Perhaps a large part of it had to do with the invention of the electric light, which had killed the shadows in men's minds much more effectively than a stake through a vampire's heart - and less messily, too.

The evil still went on, but now it went on in the hard, soulless glare of parking-lot fluorescents, of neon tubing, of hundred-watt bulbs by the billions. Generals planned strategic air strikes beneath the no-nonsense glow of alter?nating current, and it was all out of control, like a kid's soapbox racer going downhill with no brakes: I was follow?ing my orders. Yes, that was true, patently true. We were all soldiers, simply following what was written on our walking papers. But where were the orders coming from, ultimately? Take me to your leader. But where is his office? I was just following orders. The people elected me. But who elected the people?

Something flapped overhead and Callahan looked up, startled out of his confused revery. A bird? A bat? Gone. Didn't matter.

He listened for the town and heard nothing but the whine of telephone wires.

The night the kudzu gets your fields, you sleep like the dead.

Who wrote that? Dickey?

No sound; no light but the fluorescent in front of the church where Fred Astaire had never danced and the faint waxing and waning of the yellow warning light at the crossroads of Brock Street and Jointner Avenue. No baby cried.

The night the kudzu gets your fields, you sleep like -

?The exultation had faded away like a bad echo of pride. Terror struck him around the heart like a blow. Not terror for his life or his honor or that his housekeeper might find out about his drinking. It was a terror he had never dreamed of, not even in the tortured days of his ado?lescence.

The terror he felt was for his immortal soul.