Duke Earl Duke
There was an old house at the end of a winding street built beside the oldest cemetery in town. It wasn’t much of a neighborhood. In fact, there wasn’t a house within miles. Nobody ventured that far out, not even the rougher kids looking for cheap thrills. It was just too dangerous.
D.E.D, as he liked to be called, lived in that old, rundown clapboard house. And he had for as long as anyone could remember. He kept to himself, bothered no one. Asked for no favors, nor gave any. He had the same name, Duke, for his first and last names. Was he a real Duke, or were his parents simply unimaginative? Nobody cared to ask. Nobody really knew him.
He never ventured out to buy groceries, like any other townsfolk, although he did go there for other reasons. Never got mail, unless it was junk mail. How could that be? Nobody had time to think about it. They were too busy living their own lives.
But that’s not to say that Duke Earl Duke was without friends.
Duke Earl Duke had scores and scores of them. All dead, sure, but friends just the same.
Every night around midnight, Duke Earl Duke would put on his best clothes and slick back his hair. Minnie ‘circa 1890’ loved that oily sheen in men’s hair. The twinkling stars and the faded moon glow flitted across his locks and danced jigs on that grease like sparkling lights on Broadway. And under the moon, Duke Earl Duke waltzed with one ghost after another until the indigo sky changed with the first whispers of sunrise.
His favorite dance partner was Minnie ‘circa 1890.’ She was the belle of the nightly ball, a beauty among many of the younger set that inhabited the old graveyard. Her long flowing hair cascaded down her shoulders, curling and swirling in softness and shine. Her pale skin was flawless, her teeth dazzling when she smiled.
Emerald green eyes and a ruby red mouth, small delicate hands, and the tiniest waist made her the envy of the others. The sound of her laugh was a rainbow that spread over the old cemetery nightly. Her red satin gown still held its sheen and rustled as her many petticoats swept over the grass or brushed against the tombstones.
Duke Earl Duke lost his heart to her long ago. And that was alright, because he really didn’t have one anyway.
Every blossom that sprouted among the tombstones found its way to Minnie’s grave. And if that wasn’t enough, he picked armloads of wild flowers in the fields around the old house.
Each morning, he raced out of the door at sunrise, grabbed a ‘quick bite’ and headed home as quickly as he could, just to be able to scour the fields for his one true love. In the afternoon, he’d make up verses to her favorite song and whisper them over her grave. Suppertime found Duke Earl Duke primping and fussing and trying to get every thread of his suit just right.
As the sun disappeared behind a far hill, the clear, sweet voice of his beloved would start to sing. The party was about to begin.
Duke Earl Duke was brushing the dust from his best suit coat. It was funny how the little motes kept grabbing his attention. He couldn’t help himself. He stood in his room and tallied every last one.
And then, something awful happened.
Duke Earl Duke was rushing out of the old house when he stumbled and fell and broke off part of one fang. There was no use trying to look in a mirror to see what he looked like. But he tried anyway. No matter how he held the candle to the looking glass all he saw was, well, candle.
The hooting owl sounded particularly mournful. He looked out the window. Only a quarter moon. Not much light. Maybe Minnie wouldn’t notice. When he finally made it to the cemetery, the party was in full swing. It must have been a blast, he thought. Many of the stones were cracked. Minnie’s had broken half in two.
By then, his beloved was several hundred verses into her song. He realized the time really had gotten away from him. She sang a couple more lines, and all his friends began fading one by one before his eyes.
Dawn was fast approaching.
Oh well, he thought. I’ll make it up to her. I’ll hurry back after a ‘quick bite’ and pick her a whole field of blossoms. When she arises tonight, they’ll be a million blooms on her mound.
Duke Earl Duke did exactly that. By the time he finished in the field, his arms were so full, you couldn’t see his face. He left a trail of petals behind him. It was a beautiful sight.
He made his way in a zigzag path by the house and through the rusty gates of the old graveyard. Two tombstones before Minnie’s, he tripped. He didn’t break a tooth this time. He dropped his pile of flowers.
Duke Earl Duke was as white as a sheet. Okay, he was always that pale, but if he could have grown paler, he would have. There on the broken stump of Minnie’s tombstone was a pair of red lace gloves and a single dead rose.
It was brown and withered, and when Duke Earl Duke picked it up, it turned to ashes. Duke Earl Duke trudged slowly through the cemetery. That night, when the stars were twinkling their brightest, he sat inside his old farm house and rocked the night away in a wooden rocker.
Years went by.
So much junk mail had accumulated in the old mailbox by the road that the postal service threatened to stop delivering. It didn’t though. Junk mail must always find its rightful owner.
Duke Earl Duke could stand the growing mountain of mail no longer. He was compelled to go out and at least count every last piece. As he stood by the road counting, the clouds overhead began to gather and grow heavy.
Let it rain, he thought. What do I care?
And then, he spied it. In the middle of the stack of last notices, big sales, grab this deal before it’s gone, he saw a faded red envelope. In a slight, sprawling hand of ink so light he could barely read it, he read ‘D.E.D.’
His hands trembled so as he held it that he dropped the envelope in the grass. It was unsealed, and he stood looking at the flap fluttering in wind. Raindrops began falling on the back of the envelope, and it took him several seconds to realize these were not his tears.
Duke Earl Duke picked up the letter and ran inside the house. He just missed the torrential downpour that streaked his windows with rivulets of rain.
He laid the letter on the hearth, refusing to open it. For several hours, he paced the room. It was no use. D.E.D shouted at him from its perch on the mantle. At last, he gave in.
I know this is abrupt.
Only forty years have passed since I saw you last but I want you to know that I will never forget you.
Not much of a note, he thought, trying to ignore the aching feeling in his chest. He examined the envelope. The return address said Cider Springs.
Cider Springs. Where had he heard that name? Of course, it was the ghost town where Minnie was born. She’d spoken of the place fondly but said that after the gold had petered out, the place had died.
His tongue licked his lips. The broken fang cut his tongue, but of course, vampires do not bleed.
That’s it, he thought. How could I have been so stupid?
He immediately went out to the old barn and found a file. It took a couple of years of hard filing, but he finally ground his longer fang down to match the shorter one he’d broken. Now, he was a dandy-looking vampire again.
There was nothing to do but fly out to Cider Springs, and Duke Earl Duke determined to do so that night. It was a full moon, and he supposed the old gang at the graveyard would be out in force. But those parties were nothing without Minnie.
Duke Earl Duke made great time. He arrived in less than thirty minutes. The moon was high in the sky. The town was deserted. The old wooden buildings looked as if they hadn’t seen a coat of paint in centuries. And they hadn’t.
But there was light coming from one in the center of the street. The sign above the porch read ‘Spud’s Saloon.’ He knew he was in the right place when the clear sounds of Minnie’s favorite song echoed down the empty streets.
Duke Earl Duke’s nonexistent heart leapt inside his chest. He walked down the street with his shoulders back. Little dust clouds poofed behind his heels. He swaggered up the step and onto the wooden porch and pushed open the swinging doors of the saloon.
There she was in all her glory. Red satin and pristine petticoats. But who was that ghostly form who held her hand?
The saloonkeeper turned to greet the vampire. He dropped Minnie’s hand and smiled.
“You must be the one Minnie talks so fondly of,” he said.
Duke Earl Duke frowned.
“And you must be Spud.”
“That I am. Come in. Come in. Everyone is welcomed. May I offer you a drink? We’ve got some of the best barrel-aged rainwater this side of the Mississippi.”
“Not my cup of tea,” said Duke Earl Duke.
Minnie walked up to Spud and put her hand on his elbow. Maybe it was the glimmer of the candles on her red satin or the sound of those petticoats rustling against the bar chairs, but for an instant, Duke Earl Duke saw the room wobble before his eyes.
Her eyes had never been greener. Her hair never more luxurious. His memory must be failing for he had forgotten just how beautiful she really was.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said, turning to leave. As he reached the swinging door, he turned back, “Fine place you got here, Spud.”
“Why, thank ya. Minnie thinks so, too. Don’t ya, darling.”
Minnie smiled at Spud.
That did it. It wasn’t his uneven fangs that had driven her away. It was something much bigger.
When he reached home, he looked at his old house. It was a mess. It sagged on one end. Roof shingles were missing. And look at how overgrown the cemetery had become. Duke Earl Duke knew what he had to do.
For decades, he worked. The hum of his saw as he sawed down trees, the scrape of his rake as he cleaned the tumbleweeds from the old graveyard could be heard day and night. None of the old gang understood what was happening, but they knew enough to leave Duke Earl Duke alone.
He was a vampire possessed.
It took him almost one hundred years to finish his project because work is slow when you only have hand tools. But Duke Earl Duke didn’t mind. And when the instant he nailed in that final nail, he knew he’d managed to transform his property into a shining showplace.
He couldn’t wait to get to Cider Springs. That night, he arrived so early, Minnie had not yet began her song. He managed to catch her just as she was entering the saloon.
“Minnie,” he said. “You must come and see the old place. I’ve worked my butt off. I’ve redone the whole house. The graveyard sparkles. I’ve replaced all the broken stones in the cemetery, although for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they cracked like that.”
“Subliminal messaging,” Minnie said.
“It was the subliminal messages that Spud had been sending me over the decades. They finally eroded the stones and caused them to crack or break.”
“Then, you left me because of him,” Duke Earl Duke said.
His shoulders shrank. He couldn’t bear to look into her glimmering green eyes.
“Spud is persistent,” said Minnie. “And he was kind enough to give me this job. But that’s not why I really left.”
“Then come home. I’ve built you a saloon right next to the cemetery. You can sing and dance all night long. It’s ten times bigger than this hole-in-the-wall.”
“I can’t,” she said.
“Why not? Do you really love him that much?”
“No,” she said. “Spud’s a creep. I can’t stand him.”
“I love you,” said Minnie.
“Then, come home.”
“It’s the blood.”
“I can’t stand the smell of blood, Duke. And I know if I kiss you, I’ll taste it, too. I can’t. I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Minnie,” said Spud. “We’ve got customers.”
Minnie’s hand brushed Duke Earl Duke’s face. Then, she was gone.
His flight back home was a slow crawl. When he arrived, three days had passed. He pushed open the brand new door of his renovated mansion and walked upstairs. He flopped down on the bed face-first and didn’t rise for several days.
He rolled over, staring at the ceiling, and like a bolt it hit him. Jumping out of bed, he raced to the meadows and began picking every plant he could find.
“Minnie,” he said, taking her by the arm just as she was about to enter the saloon.
“You’ve changed,” she said, planting a loving kiss on his lips.
“Minnie,” said Spud. “Come inside. Our clientele are getting restless.”
Minnie smiled at Duke Earl Duke, and suddenly the night lit with a million rainbows.
“How did you do it?” she asked.
“Simple,” the vampire said. “I switched my diet. There won’t be many flowers on your grave if you come back to me. Now, I live on chlorophyll. It’s plant blood.”
Duke Earl Duke swept Minnie off her feet, and together they disappeared into the night.