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Friday, June 15, 2012

Short story: Lifeblood, a Jewish vampire story

Continuing my Friday series of science fiction/fantasy stories with Jewish themes, here is Lifeblood, by Michael A. Burstein:

Lincoln Kliman burst into the synagogue, causing the cantor at the front of the room to halt his chanting momentarily. Lincoln panted, catching his breath, and the congregants turned to look at him. He knew his disheveled appearance would not endear him to them, and he noticed one or two of the congregants scowling.
The cantor resumed his Hebrew chant, and Lincoln took a moment to study the synagogue. It wasn’t a synagogue really, just a small room where these particular Jews gathered to pray. There were three rows of folding chairs set up, mostly empty of people, which gave the room an aura of despair, at least for Lincoln. He was used to much more elaborate synagogues, but then again, he hadn’t been in one for over fifteen years.
He counted the number of congregants. Ten men, exactly the minimum number of Jews required for a minyan. Technically, Lincoln’s presence made the number eleven.
He approached a man sitting alone in the back row, bent over and murmuring to himself.
“Pardon me,” he said, “but—”
The man looked up from his siddur, his prayer book, and waved his hand to quiet Lincoln. “Shush,” he said. “Put on a yarmulka.”
Lincoln nodded and went to the back of the room to don a skullcap, another thing he hadn’t done in a very long time. He sat down next to the man and said, as quietly as he could, “I must speak with the cantor. It’s important.”
The man glared at him. “You must wait. We’re about to do the Alenu; the service will be over soon.” His tone was accusatory, as if he was questioning Lincoln’s right to show up at the end of a service.
Lincoln wondered that himself, but felt better when he realized that he still remembered to stand and bow at the appropriate times. He didn’t pray, though. The man next to him offered his siddur, but Lincoln shook his head; he couldn’t read Hebrew anymore even well enough to pronounce the words, let alone understand them.
True to the man’s word, the service ended in a few minutes. The congregants began folding the chairs and stacking them up next to the wall. Lincoln muttered, “Excuse me,” to his row companion, and darted to the front of the room. The cantor was just removing his tallis, his prayer shawl, when Lincoln approached. He was an old man, slightly stooped, with a pair of round glasses on his face.
Despite the fact that Lincoln had interrupted him before, the cantor smiled as he folded his tallis. “Good shabbes,” he said. He spoke with a slight Hungarian accent.
Lincoln repeated the phrase; it echoed oddly in his ears. “Good shabbes, Cantor—?”
“Erno Gross. How may I help you?”
Lincoln’s eyes darted around the room. Two congregants were opening boxes of little pastries and setting them out on a table, and speaking in a language Lincoln didn’t recognize. Another man hummed, and poured small cups of red wine out of a dark bottle. Lincoln almost shuddered at that, but controlled himself.
“Cantor, where is your rabbi? I need to speak with him.”
The cantor sighed. “Unfortunately, we have no rabbi. Rabbi Weinberg, a dear friend of mine, was the last rabbi to serve this congregation. We are a small group, and so can’t offer a new rabbi enough of an incentive to join us on a permanent basis. Not that one is needed for a service, you must know.”
Lincoln felt embarrassed. “Actually, I didn’t know. But if you have no rabbi, then all hope is lost. The others—” He shook his head.
“Perhaps all is not lost,” said the cantor. He put his hand on Lincoln’s shoulder. “Perhaps I can help you, Mister—?”
“Kliman, with a long ‘i.’ Lincoln Kliman.”
“Lincoln. An odd name, for a Jew.”
Lincoln shrugged. “My father was a historian, studied American history.” He was used to explaining it.
“Very well, Mr. Kliman. How can I help you?”
“Not here. Can we go talk alone some—”
Lincoln was interrupted by shouts of “Erno!” The cantor said, “Excuse me a moment; I must make kiddush.” He gave Lincoln an odd look. “Unless you would rather do the honors?”
Lincoln felt his face flush. “Uh, no thank you, Cantor, I really would rather not.”
The cantor nodded. “At least take a cup of wine.”
Lincoln assented, and tried not to look uncomfortable as the cantor began chanting kiddush and the others joined in. The only words he remembered was the last part of the blessing over wine, borai p’ri hagafen, and after the cantor sang it, Lincoln chorused “Amen” with the rest of the congregation.
The wine tasted sweet going down his throat.
Lincoln walked over to a small bookcase afterwards, studying the titles as the cantor circulated among the congregation. One by one, the elderly men put on their coats and left the room, until finally, the cantor came over to Lincoln.
“I believe you wanted to talk with me alone?” he said.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“What can I do for you, Mr. Kliman?”
Lincoln looked into the cantor’s eyes. “There is a boy. My son. He’s very sick.”
“Sick? Shouldn’t you be fetching a doctor, and not a rabbi? Unless…” The cantor looked grim.
“It’s not that kind of illness, not physical.”
“Spiritual?”
Lincoln thought for a moment. “Cantor, may I ask you a question?”
“Certainly.”
“Have you studied KabaKaba—Jewish mysticism?”
Kabala. Why do you ask?”
“You believe in God, right?” Lincoln blurted.
The cantor looked shocked. “An impudent question, Mr. Kliman, but yes, of course I believe in God. I devoted my life to helping the Jewish people practice our religion.” There was a chastising tone in his voice; Lincoln noticed that he slightly stressed the word “our.”
“I didn’t mean to question your faith, Cantor,” Lincoln said. “I just don’t want you to think I’m crazy. I needed to know that you can accept the possibility of something out there that you have no direct evidence for, something—something mystical.”
“As a Jew,” the cantor said, “I have all the evidence I need for God in seeing the wonders of the Earth each and every day. I rise from bed with praise of Him on my lips and I go to sleep the same way. That does not necessarily mean that I will believe in anything at all, Mr. Kliman.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just that—well, I needed to find a religious man, a religious leader, and I didn’t feel comfortable going to a Catholic priest. I thought a rabbi could help as well.”
“Help with what, Mr. Kliman? You barge in here, claim to be worried about your son, and then question my faith. What do you need my help with?”
Lincoln looked down at his shoes for a moment and wrung his hands. “I’ll have to trust you. My son’s been bitten, and I need you to lift the curse.”
“Bitten? By a dog? Better to see a doctor.”
“No, not a dog. Cantor, my son Joseph has been bitten three times by a vampire. And unless I can find a cure by sundown tonight, he’s going to turn into one himself.”
An hour later, Lincoln and the cantor arrived at Lincoln’s apartment building. It would have taken only ten minutes if they had driven, but the cantor would not ride on the Sabbath, and so Lincoln left his car parked at the synagogue. Although it was early spring, the weather was cold and overcast, and Lincoln had to bundle himself up in his thin jacket as best as he could while they walked.
When they got to his building, the cantor also refused to take the elevator up to Lincoln’s ninth floor apartment, so they slowly climbed the stairs.
The cantor had been decidedly uncommunicative during the walk over, but as they ascended he began to ask Lincoln about the boy.
“Tell me exactly what it is you think happened.”
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
The cantor shrugged. “That remains to be seen. But I will tell you this much: I find what you describe hard to believe.”
Lincoln sighed. “Well, you’ve trusted me this far, at least. I appreciate that. The others refused to even listen to me.”
“The others?”
Lincoln felt his cheeks redden. “Yours wasn’t the first synagogue I went to, Cantor. I tried a Reform temple and a Conservative synagogue first, but neither of the rabbis believed me. They wouldn’t help.”
The cantor nodded, stopped at a landing to catch his breath. “The boy,” he prodded.
“Yes. The boy. Joseph is a pretty good kid, does well in school and all that, but recently has been acting very independent. He’s just turned twelve; you know what that means.”
The cantor shook his head. “Go on.”
“Anyway, it started when Joseph came home very late from school three weeks ago. It’s only a few blocks away, and I’ve let him run around the neighborhood before. I mean, I grew up in New York as well, and I never got in serious trouble. But this time he didn’t call.”
“Don’t you meet him after school to bring him home?”
“I can’t. I work.”
“What about the boy’s mother?”
Lincoln looked away from the cantor. “Gone, these past five years.”
“Oh. I am sorry, Mr. Kliman.”
“Thanks. It’s been hard, raising Joseph on my own. Anyway, he finally did come home that night, well after sundown, and he looked terrible. His color was bad, and he looked sick to his stomach. I thought it was food poisoning, as he smelled like he’d been to a fast food place. You know, that cheeseburger smell.”
The cantor glared at him. “No, I do not know.”
Lincoln felt embarrassed again. “Right. Well, anyway, he practically passed out when he came in the door, and I rushed him to the doctor.”
“Nu? What did he find?”
“Anemia. Loss of blood. That and two tiny pinpricks on Joseph’s neck.”
“Hm. Did he say anything about that?”
“No. He gave Joseph a shot of something, chastised him and me over drug use, and that was all. Only thing is, he didn’t find drugs in Joseph’s system.
“Joseph refused to answer my questions about where he was that night, and the next day he acted like he had forgotten the whole thing. His color had returned, though, and he ate a big breakfast, so I let him go to school. The next day he came home on time, and I thought that would be the end of it.”
“I presume it was not.”
“Well, it was for about a week. Then the same thing happened. He came home late, looking very sick, and he almost passed out before I could get him to bed.”
The cantor’s eyebrows shot up. “You didn’t bring him to the doctor this time?”
Lincoln shook his head. “No, I didn’t. I know what you’re thinking, but after that first time, I didn’t want the doctor to chastise me again.”
“And did you send Joseph to school again the next day?”
“No, because it was Saturday. A week ago today.”
“That makes two bites.”
“The third one was last night. Same pattern, only this time Joseph told me the full story. Apparently the vampire—”
“Yes?” the cantor prodded.
Lincoln whispered. “I’d rather not say. Let’s just say that she promised to show Joseph a good time, and being the adolescent that he is…”
“I understand. You need not elaborate.”
They had reached the door to Lincoln’s apartment, and Lincoln let them in. The room was dark. Lincoln turned on the light and then pulled his hand back from the switch. “Sorry. I forgot, no lights on shabbat, right?”
“No using electricity,” replied the cantor. “But you can leave lights on from the day before. Where is the boy?”
“This way.” Lincoln showed the cantor through the living room to a small bedroom. They entered and closed the door behind them. It was dark inside. A small figure writhed under the blankets of the bed.
“I’m not going to turn the lights on in here. Joseph asked me not to. He says it hurts his eyes.”
The boy moaned from under the blankets. “Dad? Is that you?”
“Yes, Joseph, and I’ve brought help.”
Joseph coughed. “I’m so sorry, Dad. I don’t know what got into me. Lily promised so much pleasure, but this is all pain.”
“It’s okay, son.” To the cantor he said, “Please look at him. You’ll see that I didn’t lie to you. Then maybe you can tell me what to do.”
The cantor approached the bed, and slowly removed the sheets. All he could make out was the outline of a shivering child.
“Joseph, I will need light to see you. May I open the shades?”
“Yes,” the boy replied weakly, “but please be quick.” He moaned again.
The cantor pulled up a window shade, allowing sunlight to fall upon Joseph, who screamed. “It hurts! It hurts! It’s too hot! Make it stop!”
“Quiet, Joseph,” Lincoln said. “It’ll only be for a second.” He opened the window, and a breeze drifted in. “There, that will cool you off.”
The cantor turned back to Joseph, who quieted down but was clearly in great pain. The boy’s face was pale, but his lips were a bright red and there was a reddish tinge in his eyes. The cantor cupped the boy’s chin in his hand and pulled open his mouth.
His canine teeth were half an inch long, and glowing brightly in a sickening mixture of orange, red, and white.
He jerked his hand away and the boy’s head fell to the pillow. “Dear Lord. You were right.”
A few minutes later, Lincoln and the cantor sat across from each other in the living room, where they could talk. Joseph had passed out again, and Lincoln had restored the bedroom to darkness for his son’s comfort.
“I find it difficult to believe that a Jew could be turned into a vampire, even if he were bitten by one. Possession by a dybbuk, perhaps, but not transformation into a vampire. Vampires are not part of the Jewish Kabala. They are part of Christian lore, not Jewish. They should only be able to affect Christians.”
“Perhaps,” said Lincoln slowly, “it’s because Joseph has not yet been Bar Mitzvahed. He won’t turn thirteen until next year.”
The cantor looked startled. “That doesn’t make sense at all. One does not become Jewish when one is Bar Mitzvah. You are Jewish at birth, and you join the covenant at the age of eight days.”
Lincoln’s eyes lit up. “Cantor, can’t you do it anyway?”
“Do what?”
“Bar Mitzvah the boy? So he’ll be an adult? Maybe that’s the key to saving him!”
The cantor gave Lincoln a hard stare. “Mr. Kliman, you seem to be under the impression that a Bar Mitzvah ceremony is a magical ritual that will establish the boy as Jewish and render him immune to the vampirism. Bar Mitzvah is not a ceremony; it happens to a Jewish boy at the age of thirteen even if no ceremony occurs. All it means is that the Jew becomes responsible for his own actions in the eyes of God. It is akin to turning eighteen, and becoming an adult in the eyes of the law.”
“Cantor Gross.” Lincoln leaned forward. He felt tears on the side of his face. “Joseph is my only son, my only family. He is all that I have left. I beg of you, would you please do this? You don’t know that it isn’t the thing to do. It may save him.”
The cantor looked deep into Lincoln’s eyes. “There is nothing logical in your request, but I must agree. I don’t know that it won’t work.”
He stood up. “Let me return to the synagogue and get a siddur and chumash.”
Chumash?” Lincoln asked.
“The Torah, Mr. Kliman, with all the passages we recite aloud on shabbat as the year progresses. Surely you know what the Torah is.”
“Yes,” Lincoln said quietly.
“Very well,” the cantor said as he headed towards the door. “I shall return soon, and with God’s help, we shall teach the boy to fight the curse of the dead with the ancient songs of life.”
“Repeat after me, Joseph: Baruch atah…”
Baruch atah,” the boy said weakly.
“No,” said the cantor. “Sing it. As I am.”
“Why do I have to sing? It hurts so much.”
“It is a Hasidic custom, Joseph. It will help you concentrate your thoughts to the spiritual task at hand. Listen again…”
Lincoln closed the door of the bedroom behind him and sat down to read. The song of the cantor filtered out through the closed door, haunting and lilting. It was a chant that went up and down in pitch, but always seemed to hover around the same notes. Its effects were so hypnotic, that Lincoln forwent his book, closed his eyes, and leaned back to contemplate the past.
He remembered his own Bar Mitzvah ceremony, and the agony that led up to it for almost half a year. Every Wednesday afternoon he had gone to the cantor’s office to learn his Torah portion, the verses of the Torah that he would be expected to sing on the Saturday morning of the ceremony. Lincoln’s voice was not good, and its cracking had embarrassed him.
Finally, the day arrived. He had stood in front of a large synagogue filled with his parents’ friends, and a few of his own. He was called to the Torah, and trembling with nervousness, somehow he had managed to get through it.
The very next week his parents pulled him out of Hebrew School. They had never been particularly religious anyway. Lincoln’s Bar Mitzvah had been solely a social thing, and once it was over, they had felt no need for Lincoln to continue his Jewish studies.
Perhaps they had been mistaken.
Lincoln blinked, and realized that he was back in his apartment. He was surprised to see that many hours had passed. The cantor’s music had been so powerful that it had felt to Lincoln as if he had actually been sent back in time to relive his own Bar Mitzvah. He strained to hear the final words of song coming from his son’s bedroom.
“…nosain hatora-ah.” Was that his son’s voice, sounding so strong?
A minute later, the cantor opened the door and approached Lincoln. He had a sad look on his face. “It did not work. I helped the boy sing today’s parsha, with the appropriate blessings before and after, but it did not work.”
He sat down across from Lincoln and said, “I did not think it would.”
“But your music—your singing—so beautiful.”
The cantor nodded. “Thank you. But it takes more than beautiful singing to ward off a curse.”
He leaned back, removed his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I still do not understand how this is possible, Mr. Kliman, how a Jew could be turned into a vampire. Nothing in our history, in our legends, would account for it. A Jew simply cannot become a vampire.”
Lincoln coughed and cleared his throat. “Ummm.”
The cantor peered at him. “What is it, Mr. Kliman? Was there something you did not tell me?”
“Well…” Lincoln shifted in his seat. “Cantor, I didn’t want to admit this before, but…” He trailed off.
“But what? How can I help the boy if you don’t tell me what I need to know?”
“Joseph’s not Jewish,” he blurted out.
There was a moment of silence. “You are Jewish, are you not?” the cantor asked.
“Yes,” Lincoln whispered.
“Then his mother—”
“She wasn’t.”
The cantor sighed. “Oy. You know that by Jewish law, the boy follows the religion of the mother. What was she?”
Lincoln shrugged. “I don’t know. Christian of some sort, I guess. We were both agnostic when we met, and I never really bothered to find out, since we never celebrated any holidays anyway.”
“You lied to me, Mr. Kliman. You said your son was Jewish.”
“I know. I’m sorry. But like I said, I would never have felt comfortable asking a priest or a reverend for help. I may not practice my religion much, Cantor, but I would never—”
The cantor interrupted. “A thought occurs to me. Was the boy ever circumcised?”
“Well, yes. By a doctor in the hospital when—”
The cantor leaped out of his seat, startling Lincoln. “That may be it.” He marched towards the bedroom door.
“What may be it?” Lincoln asked.
The cantor stopped short and turned back to Lincoln. “The boy may yet be saved. The vampirism is affecting him because technically, he is not Jewish. And yet, he has your Jewish blood within him. So I shall make the vampire think he is Jewish.”
“You mean—”
“I mean that I shall convert him.”
Lincoln sputtered. “But—but—I thought conversion was something that took study, and time!”
The cantor gave him an odd look. “You know little of the ways of your own people, and yet you are familiar with the conversion ceremony?”
“Um—it’s a long story. My wife wasn’t Jewish, but my parents wanted her to convert.”
The cantor nodded. “A familiar pattern. The parents who never teach their child about Judaism, and are surprised when he chooses to marry outside the tribe. At any rate, you are correct. A real conversion requires the person converting to study Judaism, and present his or her knowledge to a Bes Din, a court of three rabbis. A man must undergo circumcision, or if he is already circumcised, a tiny drop of blood is sufficient. Then he must be brought to the mikvah, the ritual pool, to be immersed and to make a blessing that declares his decision to become Jewish. And none of this can be done on shabbes.
“But time here is of the essence, Mr. Kliman, as the boy’s life is in danger, and God is not without mercy. There is a principle called pikuach nefesh, which states that saving a life overrides all else. Indeed, the Talmud states that he who saves a life, it is as if he has saved the entire world. I will teach the boy the proper blessings, perform the proper rituals. I am sure that once the boy is saved, you will take steps to ensure that his conversion remains valid. Otherwise the vampirism may return.”
Lincoln nodded weakly. “If you save Joseph, I will do anything. He’s all I have.”
The cantor nodded back and opened the door to Joseph’s bedroom. Just before entering, he said, “Ironic, isn’t it?”
“What?”
“The vampire has been drawing blood to doom the boy. Now I shall draw blood to save him.”
Lincoln couldn’t stand the sight of blood, but he had to know what was going on. So after a few minutes of pacing around the apartment and saying what prayers he could recall, he entered Joseph’s bedroom.
The cantor sat on the bed next to Joseph, holding his hand and cradling his head. Joseph was crying, but his color seemed better. Joseph was singing something, along with the cantor, that Lincoln did not recognize. The cantor stopped when he saw Lincoln.
“Good, Joseph, very good,” he said to the boy. “Keep singing.”
He stood up and walked over to Lincoln. “The boy has a way to go, but I believe it is working. I have him reciting the Psalms.”
“How much longer?” Lincoln asked.
“I am not sure. But he is getting better.”
“Yes, but—Cantor, have you had a chance to look out the window?”
The cantor turned to the window; it was dark outside. “Shabbes is over. I must recite Havdalah.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant. Are you sure Joseph will be cured? According to legend, since he’s been bitten three times and sundown has now come—”
The cantor smiled. “Fear not, Mr. Kliman. Your son should be fine. I don’t think there is anything more you need to—”
A loud bang at the window startled the three of them, and Lincoln looked up. For a moment he thought he saw a bat, but then smoke swirled around it and into the room, blocking his vision.
“Oh God. Oh no oh no oh no…”
The smoke curled around the window, and coalesced into a pretty woman with long blonde hair falling over her shoulders. She wore a white V-neck sweater, cut low enough to display her cleavage, and a pair of tight blue jeans. She smelled of sweet perfume. She looked around the room, her red eyes peering out over a pair of dark sunglasses.
Lincoln shouted, “Go away! We haven’t invited you in!”
“Ah, but the boy has, and I have come for the boy,” said the vampire. She smiled, displaying two prominent canine teeth. “He is mine.”
“You can’t have him!” shouted Lincoln. He rushed at the vampire, who laughed and turned to smoke just as Lincoln got to where she had been standing. Lincoln lost his balance and almost fell out the window, but the cantor grabbed him.
The vampire re-formed at the bed. “Hello, Joseph.” She reached her hand out to Joseph’s head; Joseph recoiled, a look of horror upon his face.
“Keep her away!” Joseph shouted.
“Why, Joseph! Is that the way to treat your good friend Lily?” She cupped his chin and stared into his eyes. “Are you ready to come with me? To become one of us?”
The cantor walked over to the bed and spoke directly into the vampire’s ear. “You are too late,” he intoned. “The boy is lost to you. I have ensured it. Depart.”
The vampire laughed. “Do you think I have not dealt with these last minute conversions before? I look into the boy and I see the soul of an agnostic. He has no belief in the God of the Jews. I have encountered many of his type before, brought up unprotected from my magic. He is mine for the taking.”
“Why do you want him?” Lincoln asked. “Why can’t you leave him alone?”
She grinned at Lincoln, showing her long canine teeth. He shuddered. “Because he is so easy to take, so defenseless. As are so many of your sons.” She turned away, bent over the boy, and began to kiss him all over his face.
“Come, Joseph,” she crooned. “Forget this religious nonsense. Your dad didn’t let it stop him from marrying out of the faith; why should it stop you? Your friends are waiting for you, Joseph. It is time to join us.”
Lincoln felt a chill at the back of his neck, and he turned around to look back at the window. There were definitely figures out there, dark silhouettes hovering outside, waiting for Joseph to join them.
Entranced by his fear of what lay outside, he barely heard Joseph’s next words. “Yes, Lily, it is time to join our friends.” He began to lift himself out of the bed.
“No!” shouted the cantor. “Joseph, don’t listen to her! What about all you have gone through today?”
Joseph snarled. “You don’t understand! Lily and her friends have shown me so much of the world I never knew. We’ve gone out and had so much fun, every night! I want to live in her world!”
Lincoln broke out of his trance. “No!” he screamed, and rushed at the vampire. She changed into a bat this time, and Lincoln stopped short. The transformation was too frightening.
“Lincoln!” shouted the cantor. “Grab her!”
Lincoln broke out of his trance of fear and lunged at the bat, which flew away from him to the other side of the room.
“Now!” the cantor shouted, and jumped to Joseph’s side. “Joseph, you must sing. You must sing the ancient melodies that will protect you from this evil creature, or you will become like her. You must sing of your faith, your belief, in the Lord.
“Sing, Joseph. Sing with me.”
The cantor began to sing, in sepulchral tones. “Mizmor l’David. Repeat it, Joseph!”
“No, I—”
He grabbed Joseph by the shoulders and shook him. “Come to your senses! Her world offers you nothing but corruption! You shall lose everything that defines who you are, Joseph. Your background, your ancestors—you will never see your father again.”
“My father,” he said weakly. “I love my father.”
“Then sing! Mizmor l’David.”
Mizmor l’David,” Joseph sang, in a faint imitation of the cantor’s voice.
“Louder, Joseph! Listen to the tune. Hashem ro’i lo echsar. Bin’ot Desheh yarbitzaini al me minuchos yinahalayni.
Joseph repeated the song, more strongly this time.
The bat turned back into a woman. “No,” she whispered. “Stop!”
Lincoln blinked his eyes in surprise. As Joseph and the cantor sang, the room started to glow with a faint, yellow light. It was a soft, comforting glow, like that of the afternoon sun in a perfect blue sky.
“No,” said the vampire, much more weakly. “Stop, Joseph. If I ever meant anything to you, stop.” She crouched down and covered her eyes with her arm.
Noticing this, Lincoln realized that the light had distracted him. He turned his attention back to the song, and discovered with surprise that he now understood the Hebrew words. He knew what they meant, translating them instantly as they were sung.
Gam ki aylech b’gai tsalmavet lo eir’eh ra ki atah imadi,” Joseph sang.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.
Shivt’cha umishantecha haymah y’nachamuni.
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
The glow became brighter, emanating from all around, but as they finished singing it started to gather around the forms of Joseph and the cantor. The light became so bright and hot that Lincoln followed the vampire’s lead and shielded his eyes.
Then Lincoln heard the song change. Without any prompting from the cantor, Joseph began singing another psalm. He listened carefully.
Omar ladoshem machsee umtsudati, elokai evtach bo, kee hu yahtseel’cha meepach yakoosh, midever havot.
I say of the Lord, my refuge and stronghold, my God in whom I trust, that He will save you from the fowler’s trap, from the destructive plague.
Lincoln opened his eyes and looked over his arm. Was the light starting to move towards the vampire?
Lo teera meepachad lailah…” You need not fear the terror by night…
The light began to coalesce around the vampire. She screamed. “Joseph! No!”
…meedever ba’ofel yahaloch.” The plague that stalks in the darkness.
The light surrounded her completely, so brightly that her form was completely covered. Her screams became softer, muffled.
Joseph stopped singing. “Begone,” the cantor and he said in unison.
Lincoln heard one more loud scream, and the light flared up, forcing him to cover his eyes again. When the light faded from beyond his arm, he looked up again, and noticed three things in succession. First, he saw Joseph, lying on his bed asleep, with all the normal color back in his face. Second, he saw the cantor holding up in front of him a silver Magen David, a Star of David.
Finally, he looked to where the vampire had last stood. All that was left of her was a pile of black dust, and a pair of sunglasses.
“Perhaps she was sent to test you, Mr. Kliman, perhaps not. I would not even guess.”
It was Monday afternoon, two days later, and Lincoln had stopped by the synagogue to thank the cantor once again.
“At any rate, Cantor, it was your music that saved my son. And your Star of David. I owe you my eternal gratitude.”
Cantor Gross shook his head slightly and smiled. “It was not merely my music, Mr. Kliman, but what my music represented, where it came from. As for the star of David, it has absolutely no religious significance at all. But I counted on the vampire not knowing that, and I was right. In short, I think your gratitude is well meant, but misplaced.”
“Yes. Well. Cantor, I need to get back home now. I want to check on Joseph.”
Lincoln turned to go, but the cantor gripped him by the arm. “Mr. Kliman, remember what we went through a few nights ago. What Joseph went through. Do not take his pseudo-conversion lightly and assume that he is now safe. The vampirism may still return.”
“What do you suggest?” Lincoln asked softly.
The cantor looked him directly in the eye. “Start bringing the boy to synagogue. If you are not comfortable with this place, then bring him to one easier for you to accept. But do bring him to one. Let him build up an understanding, an appreciation of his background, his culture, his religion.”
Lincoln pulled his arm away. “I’ll consider it,” he said, and to his surprise realized that he was speaking sincerely.
The cantor nodded. “It would be best for the boy to develop his own beliefs, his own defenses. Remember, Mr. Kliman, religion protects us from the many vampires of the world.”
Lincoln nodded and walked out. It was a cold day, and he sneezed when he got outside. He reached into his coat pocket and found the yarmulka that he had been told to wear when he first entered the synagogue. He had forgotten to return it.
He looked back at the synagogue for a moment, then returned the yarmulka to his pocket and walked home. Perhaps he would find use for it soon.