When I was in college, one of the most unusual summer jobs I ever had was as a vampire hunter’s assistant. I didn’t know what to expect when I answered the “HELP WANTED–VAMPIRE HUNTER’S ASSISTANT” ad–surely it was some kind of joke, I thought, or an amusing play on words–but during the interview I became convinced that Professor Van Helsing was indeed quite serious about the whole thing.
A wiry, distinguished gentleman in his early 60s, with a white buzzcut and thick glasses, Professor Van Helsing looked up from my application and asked me how I felt about stakes. “I like mine well-done!” I joked, trying to lighten the situation. He didn’t seem to get it. “No,” he said, “I mean wooden stakes…the kind that one hammers into a vampire’s chest and straight through his hideous black heart, in order to end the accursed fiend’s ghastly reign of terror on Earth for all eternity.” Well, he had me there. “Oh,” I said sheepishly. “Well, I guess I like ’em okay.”
That seemed to suit him, so he hired me. My first day was sort of a training period, in which I practiced hammering stakes into watermelons. The professor demonstrated the proper method and I emulated him as best I could. Once, I missed the stake entirely and splattered the watermelon all over the both of us. I felt kind of like a more serious version of Gallagher. The professor took out a handkerchief and wiped the dribbling juice and seeds from his face, but remained calm. “Keep trying,” he said. So I kept at it for the rest of the day until I could whack that sucker all the way through the watermelon on the first lick.
The professor must’ve deemed my progress satisfactory, because he said, “Meet me at the old Burton mill at daybreak. Bring your hammer, stakes, and a crucifix.”
“Should I bring a sack lunch?” I asked. “Or will we stop off at a Jack In The Box or something?”
He had never heard of Jack In The Box. “There’s a tavern nearby,” he said. “We will procure food and drink there, provided you still have an appetite come the completion of our grisly task.”
“So…you’ll stake me for dinner?” I asked whimsically. He didn’t get it.
Well, I had to set my alarm clock if I was going to be dragging my butt out of bed before sunup. I still had trouble arriving on time, especially since the old Burton mill was way the hell out in the middle of nowhere and there weren’t any signs or anything. I found the professor waiting under a nearby chestnut tree, wrapped in a dark cloak, his features hidden under a wide-brimmed fedora as he kept a watchful eye on the old mill.
“Stake-out, eh?” I quipped.
“Follow me,” he said without acknowledging my humorous remark. We entered the crumbling old building, which was dark and cobwebby inside. I was pretty creeped out already, and this whole business about vampires and stuff was starting to feel real all of a sudden. So it was with extreme trepidation that I followed the professor through a shadowy doorway and down a creaky flight of wooden stairs into what turned out to be a vast underground chamber.
He waved his hand to indicate something in the gloom. Straining my eyes, I could just make out a wooden coffin lying on the dirt floor. “There,” he said in a low voice, “is the hellish embodiment of evil known as…Count Dracula.” I gulped audibly, feeling as though I’d just swallowed a golf ball. Suddenly I wished I’d taken that other job with the landscaping service. I also had to go to the bathroom real bad.
Professor Van Helsing crept up to the coffin and, very slowly, opened the lid. The creaking sound seemed inordinately loud and lasted for a small eternity. And there, before my bulging, horrified eyes, lay Count Dracula. I assumed he was asleep–at least, I freakin’ hoped so–although his eyes were wide open and seemed to be boring right into mine. “Uh…is that normal?” I whispered hoarsely.
“Nothing about this vile Hell-spawn abomination is normal,” muttered the professor, taking a wooden stake from under his cloak and placing the point carefully over the vampire’s chest. “Steady now–with all your might, wield your hammer true and drive this righteous spike of God clear through its hideous heart.” He gripped it with both hands, his body tensed in grim determination.
I took a deep breath, released it slowly with a quavering “whoosh”, and raised the hammer over my head. One chance. One blow. All I had to do was pretend that this horrible Count Dracula was a watermelon. A big, scary watermelon with bloody fangs and blazing red eyes that were staring straight into mine and terrifying the living crap outta me. I could do it, I told myself. I was Gallagher. A badass, vampire-killing Gallagher. With one last drawing of breath and summoning of will, I heaved the hammer upward and then brought it down with every last ounce of strength my body could muster.
I missed the head of the stake and slammed the hammer down right on Professor Van Helsing’s thumb. For one brief, awful moment, it seemed to throb just like in the cartoons. “Eeeee-YOW!!!” he cried, holding his thumb in excruciating pain and hopping around crazily as stakes, crucifixes, and big bulbs of garlic fell out of his cloak onto the ground at his feet.
With a sudden jolt, Dracula awakened and looked at me for real this time, his face contorted in a grimace of inhuman rage. Growling like some feral beast from Hell, he sat up in his coffin and reached out for me with clutching claws. Thinking fast, I hoisted the hammer up again and hit him over the head with it as hard as I could. This seemed to disorient him for a few moments, so I whacked him over the head again. Seeing this, Professor Van Helsing overcame his pain and grabbed the stake, placing it in position over the vampire’s chest once again. “Now!” he cried. “While there’s still time!”
I swung the hammer again, and again I missed the stake and smashed Professor Van Helsing’s thumb. The same one, too. “Eeeee-YOW-OWW!!!” he cried, continuing to dance around in pain holding his throbbing thumb. Dracula had regained his senses by now, so I whacked him over the head a third time, and then a fourth. He went cross-eyed for a moment, his tongue hanging limply between his fangs. I grabbed the stake and held it in position with one hand, then rared back for another blow. But my hand was stayed by a quick, steely grasp. Dracula wrested the hammer from me, flung it aside, and began to emerge from his coffin, pointing at me with a single accusatory talon as his dripping fangs gleamed in the half-light. Before I knew it, he was looming over me with his cape swept open in both hands like huge bat wings.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I kicked him in the nuts. “YAAARRGGHHH!!!” he shrieked, sounding similar to an enraged condor or something, and then he doubled over like a stage magician taking a bow. Meanwhile, Professor Van Helsing had managed to grab the stake and maneuver into position behind the vampire, holding it outstretched in both hands. Apparently, he had lost his glasses sometime during the excitement and wasn’t quite sure where Dracula’s heart was at the moment. But I didn’t have time to quibble over details, so I grabbed the hammer, drew it back, and swung with all my might. This time my aim was true. Striking it squarely on its head with a resounding thwack, I drove the righteous spike of God straight up Dracula’s ass.
I’d never seen such a strange combination of anger, distress, and utter incredulity as I saw on Count Dracula’s face at that precise moment. The immortal Lord of the Darkness had dealt with countless vampire hunters over the centuries, had endured untold stake-through-the-heart attempts, and survived to terrorize the world of the living again and again. But judging from his reaction at this particular time, he’d never had a wooden stake driven up his ass before.
“Gaaaa,” he finally managed to gurgle as he staggered around stiffly, trying to reach behind him to remove the offending object. He advanced upon me as before, fangs bared in slavering fury, so I kicked him in the nuts again for good measure. This seemed to be the last straw. With a final cry of mortal indignation, Count Dracula turned into a bat and prepared to fly away. Unfortunately for him, however, the wooden stake remained the same size, so now he was a tiny little bat with a regular-sized stake up his ass.
Unable to stay aloft, he nose-dived straight for Van Helsing’s big toe. The professor yelped and hopped around holding his aching foot as a few more bulbs of garlic bounced out of his coat pockets. I bent over and picked up the stake, which still had the bat stuck on the end like a popsicle. I could hear a tiny little Count Dracula voice squeaking “I’ll get you for this, you bastard!”, but it wasn’t anywhere near as terrifying as before.
When we emerged into the daylight again, tiny Dracula-bat burst into flames. So I used him to light a cigarette and then tossed the smoldering remains into a nearby trash barrel. “Well,” I said with a mischievous smirk, “Dracula and I have one thing in common…we both enjoy a good smoke after a juicy stake.”
Van Helsing didn’t get it. I worked for him off and on for the next ten years, helping him to wipe out a massive segment of the vampire population throughout North and South America and most of Europe, and during that time I told him hundreds, maybe thousands of “stake” puns, but he never got a single one of them. Ever.
Finally, on my very last day as his assistant before moving on to a potentially rewarding career as a nightclub impressionist, the professor treated me to a steak dinner. While we were eating, he looked at his steak, then at mine, and a sudden thought seemed to occur to him for the first time. “Steak…stake…” he muttered. “Why, they’re homonyms. Have you ever noticed that?”
“Yes,” I said, sitting up. This was it! “In fact,” I stated emphatically, “it would be a mis-stake…not to.”
“Yes, it would,” he said. “How’s your steak?”