I love the cartoony version of fiery immolation at the bottom.
We've got a new author for this one, some guy named Tony Koltz who will be deploying his Ivy League education and massive experience in the publishing industry. Yes, these goofy books were serious business at this point. Not just any geek off the streets can write one. Gotta be handy with your big degrees, earn your keep.
Despite this formidable background Mr. Koltz manages to insert two cliches into the very first sentence: vampire haunted Romania and a visit to a possibly wacky uncle. Wave that Colombia degree all you want buddy, this is not a good start. I'm taking a train through impaler country where the plan is uncle Andrew and I will team up to scientifically prove vampires, once and for all time. You know, just explaining how magnets work would be impressive enough, let's not get wild.
Time to check that stock portfolio, go back to high school for the hundredth time, etc.
I'm joined by "Nina" a blonde who is my age and her aunt Mrs. West who I'm sure will be preventing a lot of awkward make-out sessions by hanging around. I recall a bizarre letter from Uncle Andrew claiming these two might hold the key to solving the whole vampire problem, a shaggy dog story about a painting and a jewel that might be magical or whatever and a promise that legendary gypsy hospitality is out there should I need it. Fair enough.
Darkness settles in and Mrs. West has a freak-out where she grabs the previously mentioned jewel and claims she can sense the painting is in danger. Nina responds with typical teen arrogance and lack of empathy but it doesn't stop her aunt from leaving. Fifteen minutes pass and my game is apparently so weak that not only does nothing happen but Nina wants to leave to hunt for her second tier relative. I offer a pathetic White Knight act, agreeing to help in the search. It's pretty clear the vampire is the only one on this train with any chance of doing the Wild Thing.
On the alternate cover the main character is a bit more successful with the ladies.
I decide to question other passengers, since maybe some normal human interaction will prove helpful in interpreting basic social cues in the future. There's plenty of train description, making me long for the days of Which Way Books and their patented "You're on a train.Left or Right?" prose. Instead I encounter an unhelpful conductor who has very little to say on the missing older lady and possibly endangered painting front. He explains that people disappear on this train all the time and its really not that big a deal. Life is cheap, get over it.
Still, I'm given permission to search anywhere, except the private car of a Count and Countess. Hmmm. Noble title. Probable business holdings. Female companion that is likely to have signed a submissive contract. Yeah, that's our vampire. I'm trying his door.
"I like watching you sleep."
After the initial knocks are ignored, the door finally gets answered by a "dwarf" with a "repulsive face." R.A. Montgomery would be proud. He tells me to go away, but I've got to find and save the woman that I mostly know as a wearer of garish jewelry, listener to animate objects and preventer of light petting.
Fortunately the main man arrives, pulls the little person aside, apologizes and invites us in. Inside it's all luxury and class, of course, and his "lovely wife" is there as well. The countess even provides the underage version of late night drinks, in this case trays of cookies and candy. Man, these satanic monsters really are good people. I bet he pays his employees well, too.
Nina and I tuck into the candy and weird red punch and it would be hard for Western Union to telegraph this any better. The vittles actually taste awful and give an odd tingle that's presumably bad, not like the ones you'd get if this guy was whipping you. An attempt to make a break is blocked and sure enough, the teeth are out. Who could have foreseen this?
You can trust me, I served in the military.
Somehow my friend zone partner and I manage to get out of the vampire room and get on top of the train, because if there's a train in an action story you're going to end up either on top of it and/or clinging from the sides at some point. The undead lack the southern speed to catch up, despite reaching out with clawed hands in classic style. We jump off the train, land in soft snow and make out way to a cabin and safety. A nice happy end. Well, Nina's aunt is probably getting a neck i.v. from European Old Money right now, but you can't win them all.
I thought this was a decent effort, not really what you'd call original but good enough for what it is. There is a reason cliches exist, after all. They work. Considering how much vampire mythology has been carpet-bombed by talentless hacks in the last few years it's almost a relief to get back to the basics.
You get jacked up by poisonous spiders and fall to a horrible death. The End.
Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.