'Tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil.
Sandra Cotton was abruptly awakened by the shrieks of her eight-year-old son. She leapt from bed and ran to his room where she found him sitting up and trembling.
"What's the matter, honey?" she asked, wrapping her arms around him. "My God, you're so hot... sweaty. Let me get a towel to dry you off."
"Don't leave, Mommy!" squealed Darrell.
"Why are you so scared, sweetheart."
"I'm afraid of..."
"Of what, Darrell?"
"The man with the red eyes."
"In the movie Daddy took me to."
"Huh? What did he take you to see?"
"A man bit girls, and they screamed."
"Oh no, he took you to that movie. He shouldn't have."
"Then there was blood on his long teeth."
"It wasn't real, dear. Just silly make believe."
"I saw his red eyes in the dark. Over there," pointed Darrell, in the direction of his closet.
"Look," assured Sandra, pointing to where her son had, "See... there's nothing there. You were just having a bad dream. Go back to sleep, sweetie. I'll leave the light on, okay."
"Can you stay with me, Mommy?"
"No, honey. Mommy's got to get some sleep for work tomorrow, and you'll be fine. There's nothing to be scared about."
Despite her son's pleadings, Sandra returned to her bedroom and climbed into bed, elbowing her sleeping husband.
"You took Darrell to see 'Horror of Dracula?' I told you not to. He's too young for that kind of movie."
"He wanted to go. It wasn't that bad."
"Oh yeah? Well, he was just screaming about a man with red eyes."
"He was Dracula."
"Great... just great! Well, the next time he wakes up screaming, you go to him."
Doug Cotton was fast asleep when his wife elbowed him again.
"It's Darrell! He's shouting for us again... go!"
And this was only the beginning. The man with the red eyes haunted Darrell throughout his childhood. The image was indelibly etched on his inchoate mind. It was not until he reached high school that a full month went by without his thinking of the bloody sclera of what his mother had assured him was just an actor in makeup. He had wondered how the color of the white part of the eyes could be changed without hurting them.
Eventually, like most childhood nightmares, the one that had tormented him slowly faded. It was not until he was middle-aged that he again encountered the performer whose "made-up" eyes had so troubled him. It was during a close-up of a character in the film version of "Lord of the Rings" that he realized it was the same actor. Although his eyes no longer exhibited the veiny red webs that had caused Darrell so many sleepless nights, he knew Lee had played the blood-lusting bogeyman from the 1958 movie his father had thoughtlessly exposed him to.
Although the now aged actor portrayed a benign figure in the later movie, Darrell could not see him as anything other than the fiend that had plagued his youth. What further distressed him was the realization that he and the actor now bore a striking resemblance to one another. Although Lee was many years older than Darrell, the two could have been close relatives, perhaps even father and son. He found this both bizarre and frightening.
Later in the week Darrell rented two earlier Lee movies. He wanted to see if the similarity between their appearances was even greater when the actor was closer to his age. Indeed, it was. They could have been brothers, even twins. This revelation sent him into a tailspin. Although he could reason that it was just an odd coincidence, there seemed something darkly portentous, even sinister, about it.
Darrell began avoiding looking into mirrors, because when he did he came face-to-face with his worst childhood fears. Occasionally, when he inadvertently caught his reflected image, he seemed almost clone of the actor.
Darrell's despair deepened during a casual office conversation when his colleagues were discussing what famous people they resembled. Fearing the obvious, he quietly worked his way to the back of the group. Yet even there he could not hide.
"So, who does Darrell look like?" asked Gil Foster, his best friend at the company.
"Jeez, I don't know. Maybe nobody," mumbled someone, and two other people expressed a similar sentiment.
"He does look like someone, though," added someone else.
"Oh, I know!" exclaimed another.
"Who?" Foster asked. "That guy in those dumb 'Ernest' movies?"
The remark incited a round of laughter.
"No, no! He looks like that actor in all those old Dracula movies."
Darrell's heart sank, and he wanted to run from the room.
"You mean Bela Lugosi?"
"No, not him. What's his name? Christopher, something..."
"Yeah, Lee. Christopher Lee. Hey, you really do look like him, Darrell," said Foster.
Darrell attempted to downplay the comparison, but despite his protestations, the group quickly became more convinced that he was a dead ringer of Lee. When they called up the actor's images on the computer, they ended the debate.
"Holy crap! You sure you haven't been moonlighting in Hollywood all these years, Darrell? You could be his double."
"They call it a doppelganger," chimed in Patricia Harold. "Someone who is your mirror image. Hey, I'd better cover my neck around you, Darrell."
This remark hit Darrell hard, because very recently he found that he had become obsessed with the necks of younger women, and Patricia fell into that category. Every passing day he found her more appealing.
The group finally dispersed, returning to their respective offices and cubicles. Darrell was left alone with his unsettling thoughts. I'm becoming him. Lee's character in the movie. No, that's ridiculous, but I feel something... an urge to... thought Darrell, feeling panic set in. Turn it off... all these stupid thoughts. So I look like Christopher Lee. So what? Everybody looks like someone.
On his walk back to his apartment after work, he became horrified when he sensed he could hear the thoughts of people he passed. To his further chagrin, he also realized that he could not help but stare at virtually every young woman's neck. Each one made his heart race with a strange but profound hunger.
This is absurd. Totally freaking outrageous. You're losing it, buddy boy. Going over the edge. Stop it! Just goddamn stop it... please!
That night Darrell sat on his terrace in the chilly moonlight and observed his surroundings with greater acuity than ever before. He felt drawn to the powerful unseen forces of the primordial world. Oddly, it was a pleasant experience, despite the cold wind that pushed hard against his thin frame. An intense urge to move through the darkness of the adjoining woods to satiate some a desire he could not quite define was rapidly taking hold of him.
When his doorbell rang, he knew that Patricia had arrived as planned. He opened the door and welcomed her, pressing his face into the hollow of her neck. It made his chest heave, and he quickly turned away.
"Please excuse me for a minute. I have to..."
Darrell disappeared into the bathroom to deal with the sudden ferocious lust he felt after contact with his pretty colleague. He clenched the sides of the sink, and then gradually lifted his head to face himself in the mirror. His eyes bled, as had Christopher Lee's in his eternal nightmare. Darrell pulled back in initial horror and repulsion, and then he began to feel himself rise off the floor and become weightless.
I'll drain her. Every sweet ounce, he thought, as his canines descended and pressed against his lower lip.