I’ve met so many great writers here on wordpress on my journey here. This one gentleman that said he liked reading my Sun Stories once sent me a piece he had written. I asked him if I could share it on phicklephilly. He agreed, and here is a little treat for the holiday!
Take it away, Jamie.
I’ve seen my fair share of strange things working in a tanning parlor. I’ve seen old woman who’ve used the beds so often that their skin could be mistaken for a second-hand leather jacket. I’ve seen people plagued with all sorts of skin problems, like acne and eczema, blast themselves with those rays in desperate hope. I’ve seen over-confident first timers, who tell me they can handle the machines, only to come out with their skin scarlet enough to hide the embarrassment on their faces. The one thing I’d never thought I’d see though was a vampire.
The tanning salon I work in is very small and very hard to find. It nestles in between disused storage buildings, on a dark and cobbled side street just outside of Glasgow. Now, if there’s one industry that benefits from the terrible Scottish weather it’s the sun-bed business. During the day the shop does get pretty busy, with customers of all ages and genders paying the few pounds for a does of UV rays.
I haven’t seen the shop like this though as I work the night shift in here. You’re probably wondering why a tanning salon would be opened during the night? Well I was too when I first applied for the job, and the owner told me that everywhere was starting to offer services 24 hours a day; a new 24/7 had opened a few streets over. He was an eccentric little man who would sometimes bound around the shop for hours, making sure everything was clean and tidy for the customers, then I wouldn’t see him for months. I never understood his logic, I don’t think he really did either.
Predictably, my night shift only ever saw a few customers per week and sometimes I would sit from 10pm until 7am without seeing a single soul. I didn’t really mind though, my wages were still being paid and all I had to do was sit at the desk by myself and browse the internet all night. When I started working there I was in the second year of my Philosophy degree, and I’m still here (a year after I left Uni) as I soon realised there wasn’t a lot of Philosopher jobs out there. I remember when I first told my dad what I was going to study.
“Oh, that’s handy because they’ve just opened a big fuckin’ philosophy factory in the city!” he groaned sarcastically at me. I think I had always known it’d be a hard to get a job, but I was young and so full of opinions. It would have been nice to be able to afford to move out of my parents’ house though.
I came to know few of the customers get quite well though as they were mostly regulars. When I’d ask them why they were coming to a tanning salon at 2am, they would always give the same kind of response. They liked the privacy that the darkness of night brought with it.
Frank was my most regular customer, I’d usually see him 3 or 4 times a week. The poor bastard had the worst eczema I’d ever seen, I mean his whole face and neck were covered in scaly, red skin. Frank would always have a smile on his face though and swore that the sun-beds were great for his condition. I never saw any improvement in him, but I never once warned him of the how dangerous too much tanning here would pose. Who was I to judge? I think it’s always very important to remember that you can’t judge the actions of someone who is suffering from something you’ll never understand.
So, back to the vampire I hear you ask? Well it was one particularly quite night in the spring, when just after midnight a small innocuous looking man pushed his way past the rickety wooden door. I had never seen him in the shop before, but we did get the occasional newbie.
“Evening” I said, looking up from my PC
“Nice to meet you” he replied with a wry smile and a well-to-do English accent. He was a dumpy looking man, with pasty white skin and thinning curly hair atop his oddly shaped head. He must have been in his 50’s, but the bags under his eyes and a generally dishevelled look made him appear a lot older.
“Bed or booth?” I asked almost robotically, like I was programmed to.
“No, no” He laughed “I’m not ready for that just yet”
He shuffled towards me, an old duffle bag which hung off his shoulder made metallically clangs as he walked. He stopped just short of my desk and just stood there, a friendly smile on his face. He looked me up and down, then I saw him silently mouth “Jamie” as he read my name badge.
“James Jones Esquire” He said with an outreached hand “But it’s Jim to my friends”
I shook it cautiously, he had cold, rough hands and a powerful grip for a small guy.
“Pleased to meet you Mr Jones”
“Please…call me Jim” He said with a wink.
I scanned him then his bag. This was certainly a bit strange but I did crave something different to break the monotony.
“If you’re here to try and sell something you’ve got the wrong guy. I just work here” I gestured to his bag.
“Ah, well yes and no…you see old chap, I am here to sell something to you in particular…an opportunity.”
He had definitely perked my interest, I mean I was pretty sure he was bat shit crazy but his demeanour was so friendly and relaxed that I didn’t feel ill at ease at all.
“So, you’re not here to use one of the beds?”
“Well that depends on how our conversation goes!” He laughed and clapped his hands together “May I sit?”
“They never had these sorts of places when I was a lad. Smashing things that they are.” He spoke as he sat across from me, looking around with a wondrous gaze.
I must have had one hell of a bemused face on me at that moment. Who was this weird little man? He had certainly made my night more interesting.
“You know, I’ve lived in this city for years and I would never had known this place was here. Such an odd little spot, wouldn’t you agree?” He asked as he scrunched up his face.
“Yeah, I mean it’s a busy wee place during the day…but at night, not so much.”
He nodded his head “24 hour access to the sun! Must attract a few curious folk, eh?”
“Not really, in fact you’re the first person to walk in here since I started my shift”
“Ah…well you see I’m a bit of a night owl!” he laughed as I studied him.
After a few moments of silence, he said “Well, Jamie, I’m sure you’re wondering who this strange fellow that sits before you is, and probably more importantly, what he wants?”
“Yeah, that’s about right” I smiled.
“Well Jamie…I want, or rather hoped, that you’d help me kill myself tonight!” He beamed and flicked his wrist out with glee.
I sputtered and laughed, taken aback by his excited tone and twisted words “You want…me to what?”
“Sorry old chap, maybe I rushed into that a bit there, I’m just a tad excited…Perhaps I should explain myself a bit?”
“Please do” I was still laughing nervously, yet I was more fascinated than anything else at that point.
“Well, the three things you should know about me (and you already know one) My name – Jim Jones, my age – 126 years young and last, but not least…I am a vampire.”
I knew it: bat shit crazy.
“Okay, so you’re a 126 year old, suicidal vampire who’s just walked into a tanning salon? Sounds like the start of a shite joke doesn’t it?”
He cackled and slapped his knee “Yes, quite! I know it all seems a bit ridiculous doesn’t it?” he wiped a tear from his eye as he chuckled away. “What do you find most difficult to believe: that I want you to help me kill myself, that I’m a vampire or that I’m 126 years old?”
“Personally, I don’t think you don’t look like a Jim” I sneered cordially.
Jim started laughing, like real big belly laughs, and so did I. There was just something charming about this amicable little man, even if he was a screw loose. After he had settled down, he took a slightly more serious tone.
“So I was over having supper at a friend’s house earlier this evening -” He began before I interrupted.
“Can vampires eat supper?” I asked jokingly
“Oh yes, my boy, there’s a lot of hogwash these days in the movies and television, but eating a good meal is one of my favourite past times” He rubbed his podgy belly. “Anyway, where was I…oh yes…so just before supper I happened upon an article, which I began to read, and I found it absolutely enthralling. It was on the controversial old subject of euthanasia.”
“Euthanasia?” I said, my interest perked again.
“Yes old chap…an article you had written. I must say it really blew my socks off!”
Then it began to make some sense, my old professor at Uni had loved my year-end essay on the “right to choose” principles, and he’d mentioned that he’d send it off to a few of his magazine editor friends. I’d written all about the controversy of those Swiss suicide clinics, and how Governments shouldn’t be allowed to tell a person when they can die. I was pretty proud of my piece at that time, back then I truly believed in what I was writing.
I think Jim must have sensed my excitement because his smile grew wider.
“Oh, I had no idea that it had actually been published! That silly old bugger never even told me!” my hand on my forehead, trying to stay as humble as I could “What magazine was it? Do you have it with you?”
“Oh no, why that would be frightfully rude to take a magazine from your host’s house, now wouldn’t it?”
“Was it maybe Philosopher Now?”
“I’m sorry lad, for the life of me I just can’t recall.”
I was so excited I started penning an email to my old professor right there and then, thanking him and asking him where he had managed to get it printed. It was only after it was sent that I remembered why Jim was there, I had been swept up in the excitement of it all. He sat there though, patiently waiting on me finishing with the same amicable face.
“How did you find me?” I asked.
“Well I saw your name, and my friends helped me to find you on the Facebook, it said you worked here. Wonderful thing that internet, it really is.…I’m useless with technological equipment though, my friends weren’t much use either, we had a right bickering match trying to work the bloomin’ thing!”
Being looked up online like that did creep me out a little, but I still felt pretty at ease with this strange little fellow.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. My dad’s around the same age as you and he can barely answer his phone”
“Is he? Indeed” Jim smiled.
“Oh sorry, maybe not quite as old” I joked, then reality bit again. “So…wait. You want me to help you kill yourself because of my article?”
“Why yes! As I was reading I thought to myself “Now here’s a chap that truly understands the plight of someone who wants to leave this earth with dignity”. One line that really stuck in my mind was when you mentioned, something like, “we don’t choose how we enter this life, it’s only fair that we choose how we leave it” Marvellous lad, truly marvellous stuff.”
I was a bit of a mixed bag of emotions then. I was so thrilled that my work had finally been published, and that people, even just one mad man, had connected with it. On the other hand, I was a bit more wary of Jim now, I was beginning to think he was seriously going to hurt himself.
“Why do you want to kill yourself? Are you sick?”
“No, vampires don’t get sick like mortals do. Maybe one of the only benefits of this god forsaken life is that I haven’t had a cold since 1956!” then he took a sombre tone “I want to die because of what I’m becoming …a monster”
I looked at him, this man genuinely believed he was a vampire.
“What do you mean?” I asked
“Well in the beginning, everything wasn’t that bad. I had my lovely wife Norma by my side, and she stood by me even when I couldn’t stand outside in the daylight. She really understood and helped me. But she grew older and older and I stayed like this, forever in my twilight years.”
“Oh” I said, suddenly getting an idea “So you’re feeling this way because your wife passed?”
“Norma died in 1978 boy! Long before you were even born!” he chuckled, then grew stern again “I’ve married since though: Jean, she passed in 1991…then to Wilma who passed a few years back. You see? I’m cursed to live and love while others are blessed with mortality and the sweetness of a flickering life.” His head were in his hands now.
“Have you maybe thought about seeing a psychiatrist Jim?
“None of them ever helped me lad. I’m so alone…I’ve only ever met one other Vampire, and that’s the one that turned me into this…and I wouldn’t want to meet him again, frightful fellow that he was.”
Jim had went from being a jovial chatterbox into sad man, bleeding his soul to a stranger. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
“Look, Jim, I’m maybe not the best person to speak to on this matter. I mean, yeah my essay was on the subject but-”
“The hunger Jamie…it grows as I grow colder towards humanity. I try and I try but it gnaws away at me. You said it yourself in your piece, you wrote about how a man should be able to end his life if he feels he will endanger others. I will Jamie, I’ve done it before…tonight was the final straw.” Jim said wiping his tears and regaining his composure.
A tension had filled the room.
“I’ve tried to take my own life twice before. The first time I threw myself onto the street in the middle of the day and I was engulfed in flames. I was too much of a coward to go through with it though. That’s all I am at the end of the day”
This guy had serious problems, I told myself as I began thinking about calling the police.
“The second time?” I asked
“Do you know what happens when you try to stake a vampire and miss his heart, lad? I sure didn’t” he trailed off, looking at his scuffed shoes “when Jean found out what I was she was horrified, so she was. I asked her to kill me…wooden stake I’d heard.”
Then he took a long pause, staring reflectively off the left before slowly turning his head back towards me “Do you know what happens when you miss, boy?” he looked straight at me, his eyes seemed darker.
I gulped, I may have had more than a foot and 100 pounds on him, but he was absolutely terrifying in that moment. The tension built as he awaited my answer. Then a loud ding startled me, but Jim barely flinched.
“Hiya Jambo” Frank said as he strolled in towards his usual bed. I tried to make eye contact with him to signal that something was up, but Frank had a habit of not looking people in the eye, just keeping his head down and hoping no one would ask him any questions. When I turned back towards Jim he was sitting there with that big goofy smile on his face again.
“Jesus, what in God’s name is wrong with that poor chap’s face?” he asked in a hushed tone.
“Frank has eczema, really bad eczema”
“Oh, and your fancy sun machine helps him?”
“Maybe…well I don’t know really. He seems to thinks so, so who am I to say?”
“Exactly my boy! How can we judge others if we don’t understand their problems” Jim looked at me, knowingly. I think I had written something along those lines in my essay.
I paused for a moment before asking “Jim, did you see the way Frank smiles when he walks in here though. I mean the unfortunate guy has to deal with that, and he does so with the right attitude…don’t you think you can deal with whatever’s going on with you?”
Jim sat back contemplating my question, before leaning in again “That chap still has hope though, you think he’ll still be smiling if he realises that those machines don’t help him? That he’s cursed to walk the earth like that? No, the day will come when he’ll be sitting where I am”
“Look, I get that you’ve got problems, we all do. What makes you think I can help though? I’m just a guy that works in a tanning salon…can’t you find anyone else?”
“Jamie, now listen, I like to think of myself as a civilised chap. I was a well-respected member of the community I grew up in…you know, before this happened to me. I have to leave on my terms, I want to leave with dignity. I’ve felt this way for years, but reading your work tonight…I know you’re the one to help me” He began laughing again “It’s just one of life’s beautiful little coincidences that you work in a place like this, wouldn’t you agree?”
I felt real pity for this man, he was so confused and suffering from such wicked mood swings. He’d laugh one minute, telling me a joke then the next he would grow stern, almost aggressive, and plead with me to help him. It must have been a good twenty minutes of this, back and forth. Frank still hadn’t emerged and I had almost forgotten he was there, I wondered if he was just sitting listening to all this. Jim didn’t seem to care if he was though.
Eventually, Jim pulled his duffle bag closer to him and began to unzip it, ensuring that I couldn’t see its contents. He withdrew a white piece of fabric, buckles, straps…then it dawned on me, it was a straight-jacket.
“What the fuck?” I asked puzzled.
“All you have to do is put me in this, and then tie this around me…” he said, withdrawing a clunky looking metal chain “and strap me into one of those machines. That’ll do the trick I’m sure” Then he took an urn from the bag “And then just sweep me into this when I’m done. I would prefer you scatter me into the ocean, but anywhere scenic would do really…I’m not too fussy” He chuckled.
“Jesus Jim, you’re fucking crazy!”
“Why is it so crazy to want to leave this forsaken life? I never chose it, it was thrust upon me…won’t you please help me lad? I thought you understood this sort of thing?”
I stood up, ready to throw this loony out of my shop.
“For starters Jim, I don’t believe you’re a bloody Vampire…I think you’re mentally ill”
“Well hey, steady on now there son-”
“And if you’ve hurt anyone I think you really need to go tell the police…Did you kill your wife?”
Jim looked away, dropping all the equipment he had in his hands and it rattled against the hard floor. He walked towards the window, staring out at the cold night.
“I did. I never meant to though, you’ll just have to trust me on that. Believe me, I’ve killed more than my fair share…and felt nothing. My humanity is fleeting Jamie, I can feel the last of it leaving me. That’s why you’ll have to do this tonight, before I hurt anyone else. I can’t do it by myself…I’m such a goddamned coward.”
I had backed off, standing behind my desk I slowly reached for my phone to call the police. This man was unhinged at best, at worst…I dreaded to think if he wasn’t lying about hurting all those people.
“Your machines here are perfect for the job, my boy. The old stake to the heart is far too dangerous for you. If you missed…well I can’t really describe it, but that monster inside of me takes control when I’m under attack…do you understand?” He was still looking out of the window as he spoke calmly.
“S-s-sure, yeah no problem…” I began as I fumbled around the desk in panic.
“So you’ll help?” Jim turned, smile as wide as the room.
I had already dialled “9” on my phone when I noticed an email on my computer from the corner of my eye. Now, you’re probably thinking “to hell with the email…phone the police!” and you’re right, I probably should have. But an uglier picture was beginning to emerge.
The message was from my old Professor, it read:
“Hi Jamie, long time no speak. Can’t sleep either? Sorry I don’t know what you mean by “where it was published”? Did you ever send me a copy of your piece? Because I never received it.
Sorry about that, should have gotten back to you sooner. How are you by the way?
I could see Jim looking at me as I read, but he continued to stand patiently, that smile on his face.
“W-where did you say you read my article, Jim?” I began to mumble
“What’s that lad?”
“My article was never published…the only place you could have read it was…my house?”
Jim’s smile dropped and he sighed disappointedly, pacing towards his duffle bag. “Oh dear…I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to this” He reached into his bag for its final contents. A splintered wooden stake and a blood speckled paper copy of my article. The dots were beginning to join in my head.
“Where did you get that?” I screamed.
“You know I wasn’t lying about the hunger, my boy. I really do try and control myself, but I just can’t sometimes”
“What have you done!” I screamed once more. I started flicking through my phone to call my mum, to make sure she was…
He continued to speak.
“Tonight is the worst I’ve felt after I’ve eaten supper in a long time…I just couldn’t control my urge any longer. I wanted to taste…, I needed it” he growled so fiercely and loud that I froze in fear. Then he returned to that calm demeanour, placing the stake and the article on my table. “It wasn’t personal Jamie, they were just the first people I saw…I snuck in through the kitchen, when I happened upon that on your dining room table” he pointed to the article “It really caught my attention…I sat and read the whole thing, it really is marvellous stuff!”
I hit the “call button” on my phone and listened. I heard it ring: once, twice…then I realised the ringing was coming from Jim’s pocket. He continued barely acknowledging it.
“After I had finished, I was honestly just going to leave…your article gave me that hope I was talking about earlier. The idea that someone would show me enough mercy to put me out of my misery. I really am truly sorry my dear boy”
“What…did you do to my parents?”
Jim sighed again, looking down sorrowfully “They walked in and saw me there, then that primal hunger came to the forefront and I just can’t control it…I know I told you that you were the one for this job because you understood how important dying with dignity is; and that is true. But, there was another reason lad. I wronged you tonight, a wrong that cannot be righted…you deserve to be the one to end my story”
“You sick psychopath!” I grabbed his arms and pushed him back against the door.
“I was hoping we would be able to do this in a more civilised way…but I feared it would come to this” he groaned as he fell to the floor “Take that stake, end my wretched life…this is your opportunity!”
I can’t explain it, but the rage built up inside me to a point where I actually complied with the maniac. In one move I grabbed that piece of splintery wood and then I was on top of him, bringing it down on him again and again. He squealed in agony but kept his arms by his side as I staked his chest and neck over and over. His blood sprayed my face, fuelling my hatred as I hacked away.
After it was all over I sat by his mangled body, totally drenched in blood. Frank had finally emerged and he stood gawping at me from the entrance to his sun bed room.
“He…he killed my mum and dad…” I sobbed as the reality set in.
Frank stood speechless, his eyes wide with terror and he surveyed the room. I looked up, about to tell him to phone for the police when I noticed that he was looking at me anymore, rather his eyes moved to something that was behind me…standing behind me.
“I warned you about missing, boy”
Then it felt like a small car had collided with me as I was bundled onto my stomach by Jim, his bone-breaking strength like nothing I’d ever felt. A sharp pain rang through my body as his teeth sunk into my neck and I let out a desperate scream. I could feel the blood draining from my body.
I tried to signal Frank to help, but he was frozen. In his best efforts, he shouted
“Get off of him!”
I think that was the first time that Jim noticed he was standing there as his teeth withdrew from my neck and his head snapped towards Frank.
“Oh shit!” Frank screamed as he stumbled backwards.
The beast on top of me was so quick though, he moved almost like a panther. With one leap he bounded onto the wall where Frank stood, then kicked himself diagonally across to the other side of the hall and then with one final launch he threw himself at Frank, all without touching the floor. Both of them crashed into the sunbed room, the cheap door splintering from Jim’s sheer strength.
I lay dying, blood oozing from my neck as I gasped my last breaths. I kept my eyes trained on that doorway though, hoping to see Frank emerge; I never did. What I did see was a brilliant light as the lid of the sunbed cracked off its hinges in the struggle. The whole room was bathed in that UV glow, which flooded out of the bed and illuminated me.
I heard Jim scream, well more like a howl, as he stumbled out with burning flesh. Engulfed in flames, he made his way past me and with a beleaguered moan he threw himself out the shop window.
I managed to see him one last time before everything faded to black. He was stood outside, his red eyes fixed on mine. His skin was all blackened and bubbling, I can still smell that stench. He pursed his lips into a disappointed wince, shaking his head as he turned and took off into the night.
I gasped once, twice…then died. I suppose in some sense I actually did.
I awoke a few hours later as I was being dragged from tanning salon. I could still smell that putrid burning flesh and I thought Jim may have been the man who had me by the shoulders. When I looked down however, I realised it was my arm that was engulfed in flames, bubbling my skin into horrible blisters. The UV light which had saved me earlier was now burning me.
The man then laid me on the ground when we were a few metres from the salon and stamped the fire out with his boots. I howled in agony with each crunch before the flames finally died. I then peered up to see my saviour, he was a tall, handsome man with a face that was all so familiar to me…it was Frank, I barely recognised him without the thick, red scales on his body.
“Frank?” I mumbled
He looked down and smiled at me, the first time I think we’d ever mad true eye contact.
“Hey Jambo” he beamed back at me “look at my face!”
So that’s how my story began. Frank helped me tidy up the shop before the morning shift, I told the owner we had been robbed last night and they’d trashed the beds and even stolen the video cameras and footage, those bastards. My wounds all healed within minutes and Frank’s never even had the slightest touch of eczema since that night. We were night owls now too.
I never saw Jim again but he was right about the coldness you feel inside once you’re like him. I mean, I felt sad that my parents were brutally murdered, of course I did, but it wasn’t like it should have been.
Anyway, not much has changed for me really, well I have my own house now. I still work nightshift in the salon and you’d be surprised how little the sun actually affects you when you’re living in Scotland.
Yes, I do understand the irony of a Vampire working in a tanning salon by the way. Frank points this out every time I see him. He still comes in every now and then, updating me on how great his life is now that he’s out meeting girls and making friends.
One man’s curse is another’s blessing I guess.
Thanks for the great Sun Story, Jamie!
Happy Halloween, everyone!
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