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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Van Helsing of Staten Island

I want to tell you a story. It is a story of a man that few really knew and even fewer wanted to know. I first heard of him while reading an article in the Odd News section one cold July evening. You might think that is an odd place to make your friends, and you would be right Sherlock, since that's why they call it the Odd News but I digress. Most people who heard or read of his adventures called him a looney or rat-excrement insane. I called him Van Helsing.

Little is known of where Van Helsing came from but we can be sure that it was a place of hellish nightmares and lots of bad wine, which was probably just fermented elderberries mixed with Scope or Listerine. I met him in a soup line in Soho in 1988, he was surely different but with a mind like a steel trap and he had his own humidor, which I thought eccentric. But it was toward the end that Van Helsing became obsessed with what he called "children of the night". Whenever we met he stated that dark, demonic forces were at work in the city and he took it as his responsibility to flush them into the light of day.

So he can be understood and not maligned I will reveal through my journal his last days so the reader can decide for themselves if Van Helsing was mad or a hero.


3 June. Coney Island. It is a glorious morning on the island and I've come across a few shekels which I will shortly turn into a Nathan's hot dog and a shaved ice. So many decisions, will it be relish and mustard or should I go for the gusto and get the kraut and onions. I throw caution to the wind and load up on the sour creation and follow it with the soothing beverage.

I must be off soon to meet with my little cadre and hear word that Van Helsing will join us today. I have been worried about Van Helsing lately as he seems to be brooding over some unearthly conundrum and had lost a few teeth the last time I saw him. What is it about Van Helsing that I'm drawn to? Is it his reckless manner, his love of life, or maybe it's the humidor. I must admit it would be pretty cool to have one of those, although I don't smoke.

The boys are in their usual humor as I arrive at the abandoned railroad tressle. "Gentlemen, how does this day find you?" I inquire as I step up to the fire barrel.

"They found Stumpy dead last night", Peg Leg Pete said as he stoked the fire. "Yeah, he was face down in the gutter up on 38th with a bottle of Mad Dog in his hand."

This was disconcerting as I had seen Stumpy only a fortnight before at Bill's 39th Street Tavern. "Had he been ill?" I wondered aloud as I sat on a bucket to get a grip on myself. "Naw, it was probably the rot gut he had been drinking for the last 38 years."

"Or could it perhaps have been something more sinister." It was Van Helsing who was staggering out of the bushes, zipping himself as he joined our small circle. "I put it to you gentlemen that this was no mere death of an alcoholic but a death caused by Nosferatu himself."

"Nosfa-who-who?", inquired Pete, "You haven't been sniffin' that magic pixie dust again?" Pete seemed to doubt Van Helsings contention but I was more open to the possibilities. "What are you saying Van Helsing, do you think it was a vampire?"

"Joe, I have no doubt it was. Pete, what were the circumstances?" Pete shook his head in disbelief but gave up the information if only to appease Van Helsing. "He was laying in the gutter covered in vomit, man what do you think." Van Helsing retorted, "This is important, was there any blood at the scene." "Sure he had an ulcer I think." Van Helsing rubbed his beard and pulled out another fragment of tooth, I think it was part of a bicuspid.

I was frozen in fear at the thought of this hideous beast devouring the very essence from poor Stumpy as he tried vainly to defend himself with the Mad Dog bottle. Shaking myself back to reality I noticed that Van Helsing was making his way up to the tracks. "Where are you going Van Helsing?" was all that I could manage for the tremors. "I have to stock up on some supplies, vampire hunting is not to be taken lightly." It was the last time I saw him for over a week.

13 June. Salvation Army on 103rd. It had been a hard night and I slept only in fits wondering what had become of Van Helsing. That was when I saw him sitting on a cot in the corner of the building, he had a large bag next to him as he sat studying a book. "Van Helsing, I feared that we had lost you. How is the hunt for the vampires going?" Van Helsing bounded to his feet and clasped his hand over my mouth. "You fool, don't you know they have their eyes and ears everywhere, this hideous army of darkness."

I pulled away and noticed that he was clutching the bag that had previously sat next to him. I inquired of him what it contained but feared reproach for asking such a personal question. "It is means by which I will dispatch those horrid, un-dead villains to their ultimate doom. Let's see, I've got a bottle of holy water, a bat with a nail in the end, and an old copy of Penthouse I found in a dumpster." Curiously, I inquired why he would need the Penthouse magazine. "Vampire hunting is lonely business Joe" was his answer as he gathered his tools of destruction and hastily ran out into the dark Gotham night.

30 June. Staten Island Burger King. I had found a letter stuffed into my shopping cart underneath my large bag of Bugles. It was from Van Helsing and read: "My friend. I must request your presence for a lunch meeting at the Burger King in Staten Island on Saturday. I cannot explain further, suffice to say that it could be a matter of life and death." I had received the letter on Thursday and was now waiting for Van Helsing in the outdoor kiddie play area. Nearby, some employees of the restaurant were throwing bun scraps to birds that were lurking around the small park next to the parking lot.

With almost superhuman agility Van Helsing leaped from an elm tree in the park and started to beat the crap out of one of the birds. The birds squawking was awful as Van Helsing time and again brought his bat to bear on the injured flyer's skull. "I'm killing a vampire!" was all that I could hear above the din as Van Helsing unleashed his full fury on the tiny creature.

I jumped up from my seat and ran to where the attack was taking place yelling as I ran "What the hell are you doing Van Helsing?" As fast as he had begun Van Helsing ceased delivering the blows to the bird as it lay on the ground shaking. "I had to dispatch this evil scourge from the earth," he said as one of the employees tackled him and held him down whimpering, "It was just a peacock you freak."

It was a short time later that the police arrived and hauled Van Helsing off to an unknown fate. As I look back at it days later while filling out my diary I still shiver at how close I was to an actual vampire and where else they could be lurking. Waiting for me to sleep again.

- Turkeyfoot Joe Harker

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