It was 1932 and my brother Val and I were driving home for the holidays. We decided to drive rather than take the train. It provided us with more freedom and a chance to see some of the back roads of America. In 1932 almost everything was a back road compared to now.
Let me back up a bit. I told a version of this story, about six years ago, without as much detail.
Anyway, we packed up and took our Packard Dualcowl Pheaton on the road. What possessed me to wear silk and fur is beyond me now, but that is just how we did it in those days. Val as always looked dapper and totally relaxed. Val and I are less than two years apart in age and act and look too much alike to be taken as anything other than brother and sister.
Over the years Val and I have had a lot of adventures together, starting when we were children. In the 1860’s and 70’s we pretty much ran the streets as young Vampires anytime we could get away. Sometimes our brother Aaron would be with us. Rarely would our eldest brothers Max or Andy be with us. We saw people nailed to floors, public hangings, fights, and acts of violence that made no sense what so ever. We spied on artists as they painted or had affairs, or did both. We saw dog fights, cat fights, rode on trains and horses, and tried to do things that, as Vampires, were nothing but trouble for us but well worth the effort. We saw Werewolves, Ghosts, and some things we still haven’t been able to explain. We helped the helpless and even exacted revenge where it was appropriate. We kept secrets that we still keep.
So there we were, in 1931, driving on an dirt and gravel road with no name, across the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, on trails that are older than old when something in our beautiful car blew smoke and sputtered and stopped.
It was night, which is no big deal for us. We could see the eyes in the woods. No big deal. Woodland creatures respect as they respect all predators. A couple of bears came cautiously close, black bears. We started to sing and the animals left. No need for bear spray.
“Now what?” I asked my brother. I was absolutely starving and needed food badly. Sure in a pinch an animal would do but human company would be nice. More than nice.
We walked down the road for a mile or two when we could smell the scent of human kind in the air and saw lights through the trees.
Then sounds. Mournful singing. Singing in weird monotone voices, pitched high and ancient sounding.
There were old songs handed down from generation to generation without benefit of written music or any written word. I was sure most of the singers couldn’t even write their own names. I remembered ancient ones singing songs like that when I was young. They were songs as old as the mountains and older than the memory of men.
These were people who had mined, and farmed, and settled the remote edge between California and Nevada. It was a place of unmatched beauty, wonder, and mystery. It was also a place where it cold snow any minute, a face I reminded Val. I did not want to be stuck in the snow and have to wait for someone to dig me out in the spring.
We came to a white washed clappard building, not a church because there was no steeple or cross. It was a meeting house. In neat black script above the door was written Oak Hall – Welcome All. The door opened and an arm motioned for us to come in.
The room was full of folk, plain folk of all ages, singing with unified voices songs of the hills. They sang of life. They sang of lust and greed. They sang of love. They sang of the spirit that is deep in us all. They sang of all that they knew.
Then they looked at us in their basic work clothing. We were rich city folk, like two people who’d just come off of a movie set. We might have well been John Barrymore and Greta Garbo.
The man who waved for us to come in took us to a table near a stove with a pot of coffee, and a table with cakes and cookies.
“Our car broke down about a mile back. Is there a mechanic in the group who can help us? I can fix a tire or replace a belt but this is beyond my expertise,” said Val.
“The fancy Packard?”
“Yes, that is us. Wrong car to take on a cross country trip.”
“Mrs. Jeeter over there, the one in the blue dress, said she saw you and your wife drinking from a flask when you were pulled over earlier today, between here and Bodie. She said she was surprised you weren’t driving all zigzaggedly. Don’t worry about her, everybody around her partakes every now and then. We don’t care what the government tells us what to do.”
“My sister. This is my sister, not my wife. This is Miss Juliette Todd. I’m Val Todd.”
The man held out his hand, “John Cutter. Glad to meet you. Now that I look at you a bit more I can see how you look alike. Come on in and warm yourself up. We’ll have someone come out and look at your car in a bit.”
Another man, a giant of almost seven feet tall came up to us. He was wearing a black suit with worn work boots. “Don’t be afraid,” said the tall man who was obviously one of their leaders. “We know what you are. You’re people of the night. Show us your fangs.”
Val and I froze as they gathered around us. Then when our fear built up they started to sing.
We are all different
Children of the Earth
On us all
On us all
There is no evil
There is no evil
No evil here.
Then they sat us down and offered us their wrists. They told us stories of Vampires and Werewolves, of Demons and Ghosts. They told us of all creatures and of their vision of all living in unity. Two of them admitted to being Werewolves. They all had stories of Vampires who’d rewarded those who had helped them.
They said they’d welcomed us because we were lost. They invited us to join them at their Thanksgiving table. There would be fresh turkey and greens, cornbread and black eyed peas. There would be pie and root vegetables found in the forest. There would be kinship and understanding.
We stayed for the feast. And we talked of their kin and traditions. We also told them of our family.
They all wanted to touch us. They all wanted to share their blood with us. We sang the songs with them into the night. We learned their songs and they learned a few of ours – or at least some popular songs of the day.
Val and I slept through the day, and when night came again they walked us back to our car, which started just fine.
I think about those people with their calloused hands and bright eyes. I think of their mismatched untrained voices that sang in unison like an unearthly wind or a chorus of lost angels.
And to this day Val and I are thankful. We never could find that road again and nobody we ever talked to knew of these folk we spent our Thanksgiving with. I’m sure they were real and not just ghosts in the woods. I’m sure this Thanksgiving one of their great grandchildren is listening to the story about the time those rich Vampires came to visit.
Thanksgiving isn’t just about who you want to be with, but maybe who you need to be with. We’re thankful for all of them. And thankful for the haunting memories of music and fellowship. Most of all we’re thankful for good intentions.
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman