Morbius™️: the Living Vampire! / Termite to Tumbleweed

Even my sister’s country girlfriend showed up to see Morbius™️: the Living Vampire. We arrived only a minute before her, and as our car doors clapped shut, it was like a snuffer had been dipped over the Denver. The parking lot was hushed by a wintry, asphalt silence; the kind that only happens when the sky is as white as the snow below. The world was waiting with bated breath—I felt it shimmering in the air. Then: crash, harumph, harumph! The familiar rumpus of her Ford F-450, flattening a pile of snowplow accretion as it carved one last parking spot into the brimming lot. It was the crack of dawn, then, and the spray of slush nipped something vicious. We could only hear as she dismounted from a driver’s seat four feet off the ground—the clump of boots as she landed in the snow, the muffled steps as she poked her head around the side of the horse trailer she’d towed along. Latched to the back of the truck, it blocked about three-quarters of the oncoming lane.

“You even brought Huckabee and Oats!” my sister exclaimed as her girlfriend unlatched the trailer.

“Shucks,” she breathed, one arm thrown around my sister and the other hand tipping her confederate flag ball cap. “I wouldn’t let my babies miss the on-screen day-beeyoo of Morbius™️: a Marvel Legend.”

I nodded sagaciously, pulling my tattered trench coat tighter.

“A Marvel Legend. A Marvel Legend indeed.”

And for the record, I wouldn’t be caught dead fraternizing with the rebel-flag-ball-cap type, not even if it was Christmas—not even if it was double Christmas. But today, we douse our torches, put down our swords, cast aside our stones. Today, not rain nor shine could break the chain of hands, of hearts, of fans stretched across the nation. Today, we have something to agree on. Today, we have something to fight for. Today, Morbius™️: the Living Vampire hits theaters.

• • •

Bats only ever celebrate Christmas in their dreams—in the dead of December, their bodies hang frozen, closer to death than any human could comfortably come. As their heartbeat slows to an hour hand, they enter a state called torpor, their glacial metabolism only subsisting on the smallest ration of fall’s nutrients. During this time, whole batsicle colonies carpet the ceilings of caves, not unlike icy little graves. What a sight it must be to watch that graveyard shift when spring light pierces in and thaws the colony into sluggish writhing; spring, sometimes, or sometimes a freak heat wave in the dead of winter. Whole colonies can die when an early thermal rustles them—they exist at the mercy of heat. Bats only awaken when their star starts their hearts. We Morbheads… we aren’t so different.

Like a frozen colony of our own, the thawing fans we joined in line writhed with anticipation, coiled across the lobby of the Belmar Cinemark. Even the arcade carpet seemed to glow as the 7:00 showing crept closer, each neon doodle beaming in the blacklight. Our shadows stood as one against the navy, velvet walls, too many silhouettes to be passed off as outcasts. Today, we were one nation, under Morbius™️, indivisible.

Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was the horses, but the crowd parted like a swarm of bats around Morbius’s™️outstretched hand as we took our place before the ticket kiosk. Behind a scratched plastic shield, a slouched ticket clerk shot me a scrutinizing look from beneath the brim of a hat, skewed sideways—tuffy style.

“And who goes there?” he rasped, without a hint of holiday cheer.

I stepped in front of the girls, padded shoulders broadening.

“Who else but three adults and two horses here for the 7:00 showing of Morbius™️: the Living Vampire?”

Huckabee or Oats nickered uncomfortably. I couldn’t tell the difference between the two—both were painted like zebras and wearing towering shakos.

Though the clerk’s glare stayed steady, a laugh soon cracked a crooked smile across his face. One laugh became two, then four, then a flood of mirthful merriment, shaking deep in his belly like Old Saint Nick.

“But of course, I should have known! I could’ve mistaken you for the good doctor himself!” he said in a sing-song voice as he snapped five tickets from the dispenser.

I got this a lot, back in the day—I’d been honing my craft, making all the Morbheads crazy. I’d spend hours conditioning my hair in those days, spend days searching for the most impeccable Gucci knockoffs and peach-skin moisturizers. Sure, I’d never made it to the Mars Island festival, but the cold Leto stare I’d cultivated could’ve entranced any self-respecting cult follower, thank you very much. And no, I hadn’t put a used condom in anybody’s mail at that point, not yet—I was still approaching that climax.

I scrunched up my face, clearing my throat with a rumble, and barked a short, roaring burst like gunfire, silencing the sizzling crowd.

“I. AM. VENOM!”

Even the clerk was paralyzed, hand hovering above a button to call security. It’d be no use—they were enraptured too. The Leto stare, ladies and gentlemen. My mouth twitched into a left-leaning smirk.

“Just Kidding.”

I extended my hand beneath the the plastic shield.

“Dr. Michael Morbius™️, at your service.”

The crowd came roaring back, twice as clamorous with their applause. Even the carpet, dusted with arcade snow, seemed to shimmer like falling confetti.

“Oh good show, good show! You, sir, are uncanny,” the ticket clerk raved, grasping my hand with a vigorous shake and yanking me forward. “Come join us behind the concessions counter for the pre-show celebration! Today, everything is free! Today, we dance! This is our Woodstock! This truly is a Marvel Legend.”

And so, as my sister and her country girlfriend found seats inside theater seven, I joined the echelon behind the counter. Lead hand in hand with the clerk, I ducked under silver streamers into a circus of reverent debauchery. Here was a man dressed as Michael Myers™️, catching caramel popcorn in his plastic mouth thrown by a Leatherface™️ cosplayer. Here were at least three Joker™️s and a Pennywise™️ in change, milling about amongst custodians and servers wearing horned headbands and vampire teeth and dark eyeliner for days. Here, even, was a God, or a Godzilla™️, or a cosplayer dressed as Godzilla™️’s foot, and even he knelt at the feet of the higher God with whom we’d congregated to commune. All had come together to revel in the reign of their once and future king, the unrivaled narrative nightmare that was Morbius™️: the Living Vampire! Oh, the thrills; oh, the chills!

“Let’s break it down, Doc!” a called a DJ with a windbreaker painted like a printer ink test, hoisting a boom box over his shoulder.

My blue, steely gaze faltered.

“I dunno, I can’t dance…”

“Man, if you can act, you can dance. Pop and lock, Doc!”

From cyan to magenta back to yellow again, he eased the boombox fluidly across his shoulders, laughing as he passed wave to me. Yet even as the vampire fever in my veins took hold of every winding joint, the rhythm was always beyond my grasp. I sent the wave towards three bedazzled Jason Voorhees in rhinestone hockey masks as a shiver melted down my spine. Someone’s eyes tickled the back of my neck—that much, I could sense. Behind the partygoers, a window stretched across the projector rooms of every adjacent theater, tinted thickly, like the panic of an octopus. Out of the black, a pasty face pressed against it, wide nose squishing as its eyes bulged out. Of all the costumed villains, of course Mister Babadook™️ didn’t want to join the party, instead following me along the wall with fingers perched along his brow ridge. His powdered lips broke open, pancake makeup smearing like sickly teeth. He mouthed,

“When you’re strange, no one remembers your name.”

But I knew this—I’d studied the Doors’s discography ever since they were hoisted into the history textbooks by the trailer for Morbius™️; for Morbius™️, the Living Vampire! I flashed my Leto gaze again, jutting out my chin, and made my message clear. This was my turf—this day was for Marvel legends only. Doing my best imitation of “unperturbed,” I whirled back towards the party, where applause awaited my uncanny impression. As clowns and killers and zombies galore clapped me to an impromptu podium, I was waved ahead by the rustling of pom poms and cartwheels from a cheer team, my cheer team, from my old high school. And the principal was there, too, beaming and waving with the marching band and all the football stars, smeared with war paint and chanting the name I’d so humbly donned; chanting Morbius™️, Morbius™️, Morbius™️! And Mayor Michael Hancock was there, too, clapping just as hard as the rest, wearing candy corns as canines. On a pillow in his hands lay a crown, arched and pompous, encrusted with rubies and jades. As the DJ pranced across the crowd to rile them higher and higher, Mayor Hancock set the crown on my head. Even Alexis Glover leaned from the curtains to drape a robe across my shoulders, collared with Dalmatian ermine fur and velveted in blue with a golden undercoat, just like my old school colors. I strained to glance over my shoulder, where I saw a phrase classily embossed in the velvet on my middle back. It read “16TH GRADER” in boldface Garamond.

And still, the Babadook™️ peered on from the background window, lips spilling “when you’re strange, when you’re strange, when you’re strange,” like he was peeling tender meat from my ribs. Like me, he didn’t blink, but of the two of us, he looked like he was enjoying it a lot more. Maybe he was a better Jared Leto than I was. Maybe he was better and he wasn’t even trying.

I was pulled away when Alexis shyly adjusted her Miss Colorado sash before planting a wet kiss on my cheek.

“Now go face the darkness, Michael.”

With the wind of wild cheers billowing my robe, I was ushered offstage to join my sister and her country girlfriend and the legion of fans that marched into theater seven. Shaking, I slipped into step with the crowd. Nerves dissolved to giddiness as I rounded the corner past the glowing exit sign, and snap!

The world was empty.

The world was Morbius™️: The Living Vampire!

• • •

And me? I never had a country girlfriend—I never brought home many girls at all. When I did, the only thing country about it was the untamed twister of my room. Last night, I could only watch in horror when my date opened my bedroom door, flipped the switch to find a tangle of keepsake undergrowth. Despite piles of loose legos and windswept receipts, it seemed nature had overtaken my indigestible memorabilia, cobwebbing plastic in mats of dust and nail clippings like apocalyptic compost. For a moment my embarrassment kept me frozen stiff. Like a kick from a horse thirty seconds too late, I flew into a panic, shoving between my date and the doorframe to start sweeping loose knickknack dumps. As I rushed to scoop aside the clutter, to at least clear the path to the bed without filling my lungs with cat hair and dandruff, the girl following behind with an absent, upcast gaze. She’d come home with me because she liked the color of my eyes—Lazarus blue, that’s what the contact box called them. I couldn’t remember the color of hers.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “it’s not always like this,” I said, and still, the piles couldn’t shrink, wouldn’t shrink.

I ripped back my blankets to find pillows streaked with old snot and drool, flaking away into the thick atmosphere. As though an apology would make it all disappear, I babbled feebly on as I flipped the pillow to a cleaner side. If she hadn’t seen that magic trick, she certainly saw the daddy long legs that waited on the other side, almost as wide across as my palm. It strode calmly away, as though certain it would find another dank, bedtime crevice, but it wasn’t leaving fast enough. Desperately, I flipped the pillow again, only to find another bug on the other side, this time one I’d never seen. Even the sight of its head sent a primal lurch through my brain, unfocusing everything else at the sight of its milky, orange exoskeleton; its roving, horseshoe jaws. It was a termite, alright, but with matching tubes jutting from each side of its spade-like head. They must have been turrets for some acrid pheromone, sat atop legs like those that carried it—longer legs than even the daddy could manage. I yelped a little to shake off the sweaty paralysis, and shook the invader from my pillow, too. This time, it did not fall like an insect; its legs only bristled out, splitting into a lattice of bent limbs. Termite to tumbleweed, it toppled to the carpet, absorbing the shock with its spindly cage and rolling to somewhere more safe.

As its legs reconnected, it skittered towards the closet, weaving between spilled duffel bags and boxes. I reached for wet Tupperware strewn across the floor, but the termite was always one step ahead. It dodged and weaved between every scoop, and I stumbled after it like some clumsy giant, legos stabbing into the soles of my feet. I gave up entirely when something else caught my eye—black and writhing, like the roof of a thawing cave. A battalion of black ants, swarming in formation, streamed over piles of loose laundry, crawling inside and out of my once-clean clothes. The primal panic of the termite now buzzed in full force, because facing the darkness is not facing the silence—it’s facing the roar of an asphalt blizzard. I stumbled back, grabbing the girl by her hand, but still, she leaned against my desk absentmindedly, humming some asinine Christmas song.

“Martine,” I yelled, “MARTINE! THERE’S AN INFESTATION IN MY BEDROOM, WHY WON’T YOU LISTEN?”

And when she looked back down at me, her face was broken into a frown, sunken like her sweater that inhaled the swimming dust. Her eyes were blue, like mine should’ve been, like those of Dr. Michael Morbius™️. It’s why we’d gone home together, after I’d flaunted my feathers, after I’d said I’d seen the morning showing of Morbius™️in theaters. I don’t know what I thought I’d tell her—only drifted where this angel face had taken me—but it was always meant to end this way. The truth is, I don’t remember anything about Morbius™️: The Living Vampire. It’s like the movie was clipped from my memory—like it never existed at all. I don’t remember anything about Morbius™️: The Living Vampire. Not one damned thing.

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3 comments

  1. morbin’ time

  2. JT · 6 Hours Ago

    I forgot about this dream!

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