3rd Place – January 2019

Man on a Park Bench

By

Gary Christenson

My mother urged me to avoid male strangers because I’m young and pretty. I should have heeded my mother’s warning and ignored the strange old man who sat alone on the park bench by the lake. His melancholic expression contrasted with the warm summer day. I glanced at him several times as I tossed bread to the ducks swimming in the pond. He waved.
Instead of following my mother’s advice, I approached the park bench and asked, “May I sit with you?”
That decision changed my life.
“Please! I’d be happy if you’d join me.” His voice resonated with an under-tone of sadness. “My name is George.”
“I’m Janet.”
His face was long and narrow, topped with a full head of white hair combed straight back. A widow’s peak dominated the center of his high forehead. Based on his long thin arms and bony legs I guessed he stood well over six feet. He weighed less than 150 pounds and smelled of lilies.
The July day was sunny, but he wore a black three-piece suit. Compared to my pink sun-dress, he was over-dressed, but he didn’t act uncomfortable or too warm. I crossed my ankles and studied him. The corners of his mouth turned downward into a bleak expression. An aura of sadness radiated from him like ocean waves pounding a beach. I don’t pry into other people’s business, but I couldn’t help asking, “Mister, you look unhappy. I’m a good listener if you want to talk.”
The corners of his mouth hinted at a smile. He said, “You’re sweet and kind. I’ll tell you a story, but you might not believe it.”
He stared into my eyes. “Thousands of years ago my race came to earth to live among humans. I don’t have time to explain why.”
His face became more animated as he spoke. A blood-red light radiated from his eyes.
He didn’t act dangerous, but he was strange, like no one I’ve ever met. His race? My mom always warned me, ‘You never know for sure.’ Should I run?
He placed his palms together and extended them in front of his chest. “You know what happened next?”
Something about him caused my heart to flutter. I squeaked out, “No, tell me.”
He separated his hands and spread them shoulder width apart. “My race split into two groups. I’m part of the good group. The bad group is better known because of the evil they inflict upon humans.”
“Those two groups roam the earth. The wicked ones prey upon normal people. That’s why people fear them. The good ones like me serve human beings. Your people should thank us, but few realize we exist.”
His story was more than strange, perhaps crazy, but intriguing. “I don’t understand. The good group performs what services?”
“We hunt evil humans, the killers, rapists, sociopaths… those with darkness consuming their hearts. When we find them we…” He finished by saying, “We ease them toward the giant exit in the sky.”
When I looked up at him, the realization hit me like an arrow shot from an archer. “You kill those people?” The sun disappeared behind a cloud as I spoke. The odor of lilies around him intensified.
“Yes, that’s what I mean. The good ones among us kill evil humans. That’s how we improve your world. But people don’t appreciate our efforts.”
His story gnawed at my stomach. “Killing is wrong. Why do you expect appreciation?” A cool breeze sent shivers from my head to my toes.
“You humans kill millions in useless wars. If the good members from my race could remove enough bad humans, the world would fight fewer wars. Eliminating a few thousand people might save millions of lives and needless suffering. What we do is beneficial. But so many destructive humans exist. We can’t force every one to the exit.”
His explanation shocked me into silence for many moments, upsetting me. I burst out, “How do you know who to kill? The courts or the police should decide that, not you or your kind.”
He answered, “We’re old souls, live long lives, and are wiser than your people. It’s easy to decide which ones we should take to the exit.” Several moments later an uneasy half-smile spread across his face. “You’re beginning to understand aren’t you?”
My voice trembled as I contemplated many people dying. “Your good ones kill people. So what do the evil ones do?”
“I live a lonely life. That’s why I enjoy sitting on a park bench, watching ducks, and unburdening myself to compassionate people like you. As for the others of my kind…” He struggled to speak and his voice wavered. “They’re vampires who murder weak and decent people.”
He paused again, gave me a sad smile and said, “They kill humans by extracting their blood and energy. That’s why they’ve earned a horrible reputation.”
Imagining a vampire sucking blood made me shake. “So, the good ones from your race kill people and the others are vampires. This is creepy.” I stood and backed away from this weird man telling myself to run. But I felt drawn to him even though his story chilled me on a warm summer day.
 He said, “You see why I’m sad. Humans don’t understand the good members of our race, like me. People hate the evil ones who prey upon humans. I’m also a vampire, but a beneficial one.”
My heart pounded with fear. He didn’t act threatening, but how can a vampire not be dangerous? I told him, “I have to go. Goodbye.” After a few steps I turned to see if he followed me or was preparing to attack.
The sun reappeared from behind clouds and warmed my skin.
He called after me from the park bench, “Because you’re a good person and kind, I’ll protect you.”
***
That conversation with George occurred when I was fifteen. I’m now sixty and have five grandchildren. On three occasions in the past thirty years I should have died. Armed thieves broke into my house, shot at me and missed. A truck ran a red light and crushed my tiny car, but I walked away without a scratch. A few years later I jumped between my youngest child and a drug-crazed maniac attacking him with a knife. Something saved my life every time.
Late at night I often remember George, the good vampire, sitting on the park bench. I thank him for protecting me.

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