Harry Blindermorf gazed at the sign on the dirt-smeared window through his bleary eyes and sniffed once.
ARE YOU SUFFERING
A CURE FOR THE COMMON COLD
HAS BEEN FOUND.
SUFFER NO MORE!
SEE Dr. Brandon Chadsworth, specialist in viral bronchial infections.
Oh well, Harry thought, it can't get any worse, might as well give the fellow a try as long as I'm here. And Mrs. Farnswoggle did recommend him…. Harry pulled his worn overcoat tighter about him and started up the narrow stairs leading upward into the ancient office building.
Harry had the mother and father of all colds. As long as he could remember, Harry had had the cold, the same one it seemed, although there were instances when he had as much as a day of freedom from his disease. Interspaced with the bouts of cold were attacks of flu, chicken pox, measles, dysentery, Rumanian Valley Fever, ringworm, food poisoning, itchy feet, prickly heat, inflammation of the ear lobs, yellow dozing sickness, and Polish mal de mer. But Harry's main nemesis remained the common cold. A wet glass of water in the same room was enough to give him fits of sneezing.
Finally one evening his landlady, Mrs. Farnswoggle, a little old woman with a pea-button nose and a high squeaky voice, came to see him.
"Please, Mr. Blindermorf," she said with a rich old-country accent, "can't you keep the sneezing down a little bit, huh? You're upsetting my poor old TV terribly. Every ka-choo, and my set hiccups."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Farnthwoggle; I'll try."
"Say, Mr. Blindermorf, I don't mean to pry, but did you ever think to try Dr. Chadsworth,… for your cold, I mean?"
"Thoctor Thadworth? Dow, I cand shay that I haf."
"Well, when Melvin, that's my latest husband, rest his soul, was alive, he always went to Dr. Chadsworth when he caught cold. One five dollar visit and phew! — she gestured graphically with her enormous sweaty hands — "all gone! Worked miracles, I tell you. I think he has some secret formula, from the government or something." She whispered, "Something like Hexobenzomethoresoursinal. Why don't you go to him? He's over on Fourteenth Street…. Here, I'll get you the address." She disappeared into her antiquated apartment for a moment while Harry blew his nose a few times and then returned with a small white card bearing a pencilled address.
"Here it is. You can't miss it; he's got a sign on the ground floor window. He's upstairs…."
* * *
The office wasn't much, just a number of scratched wooden chairs apparently rescued from the Salvation Army and an equally battered and aged magazine rack holding some dog-eared and faded copies of Life and Ladies' Home Journal, and one old issue of a science fiction thing, interestingly called Unknown. The latter attracted Henry's attention because of its age, at least twenty years, although he rarely let himself be found reading that sort of thing. He rang the bell by the inner door and sat down to read between sniffs and sneezes.
The first thing that Henry noticed about the magazine was that someone had written notes in the margins. Defacing the pages of any book was a crime in Harry's estimation, but these were worse than defacement. They were disturbing, neatly printed, cryptic little messages, apparently notes made expressly to point out certain aspects of the story to the reader, like "very accurate" beside a vampire tale, and "No, no, all wrong" after a passage describing the summoning of a demon.
But Harry wasn't given much time to consider the implications of these notes because soon a tall, thin, anemic-looking man in a starched lab coat opened the inner door and peered out. "Who are you?" he asked suspiciously.
"Harry Blindermorf. I saw your sign outside."
"Oh yes, yes, yes," the man said, as though he had forgotten about the advertisement's existence. "Yes, yes. Well, you're next." The man escorted a very fat woman out from behind him and then returned.
"I don't get many new patients, you know," he said, showing Henry into the inner office. This was almost as bare as the outer one, with two more of the same chairs plus a large, overflowing bookcase, a file cabinet, and a desk of the same vintage. The doctor, if that was indeed who he was, seating himself behind the desk, indicated a chair for Harry and pulled a dusty form out of the desk's top drawer. He blew off the thin layer of powder and then flattened the form on the desk's surface and opened an old-style fountain pen to begin to write.
"Now, just to keep the records straight, exactly what is your full name?"
"Harold Baker Blindermorf, B-l-I-n-d-e-r-m-o-r-f."
Harry answered all of the doctor's questions, and then was told: "Well, Mr. Blindermorf, you certainly have a bad cold, so you came to the right place." Harry noticed a hungry gleam come into the doctor's eyes, a gleam that he didn't like very much. All of a sudden, he wished that he had obeyed his first impulse and not come up those stairs, but it was too late now. The physician, not noticing Harry's discomfort, continued, "As you may have gathered, my methods are rather secret and must be protected until they are, ah, patented. Therefore I'm sure you understand that I must place you under anesthesia while I work to cure you."
All of a sudden the doctor had a rubber mask in his hands and was applying it to Harry's startled face. Just before the cushiony darkness swallowed him, Harry thought that he could se a small, pink, tube-like tongue peek out expectantly from behind the man's smiling teeth.
* * *
Sticky, gluey eyes. Silence surrounded him; a cool breeze licked his face. Suddenly Harry realized that he was awake. He opened his eyes carefully, one at a time.
He was stretched out on a table in a part of the doctor's office that he hadn't seen before, a calm white room with one wide window. The sky through the open window over his head was a deep blue, the birds outside could be heard singing their insults and threats at one another gaily, and Harry could hear children shouting as an ice cream truck's bells sounded down the street, and he could breathe.
AND HE COULD BREATHE!
* * *
Harry paid the doctor his five dollars gladly.
"Whatever your method is, Doc, it's fantastic. I can breathe the way I haven't even able to since, since,… Well, since I don't know how long."
The doctor smiled. "I'm glad to help, Harry," he said. The man somehow seemed not quite so thin as he had earlier, and the color had returned to his cheeks, a vibrant, rich color. Harry was sorry that he had ever doubted this wonderful, dedicated healer of humanity. "Come and see me again if you manage to catch another."
"I certainly will, I certainly will. Bye, Doc."
Harry Blindermorf walked out of the shabby building on Fourteenth Street a free man, a new man, a cured man, and went whistling down the street. No cold!
* * *
At least Harry thought that he was a free man. Slowly, however, he became disturbed at the changes he was feeling occurring in himself. True he didn't catch any more colds and, as the days turned into weeks without so much as a sniffle, this was more and more a miracle to Harry, but still…. Whenever someone around him sneezed, he found himself tensing involuntarily, and when his upstairs neighbor in Mrs. Farnswoggle's apartment house blew his nose late one night, Harry got a strange upsetting craving.
He found that his tongue was growing longer and becoming slender, and had a very disturbing tendency to curl whenever he saw or heard someone sniffle or sneeze, along with that odd desire that gradually grew stronger and stronger with each incident.
The final event happened at Harry's office, in the Clashly Wigal Works Supply House, when his secretary came in one day with a cold. He felt himself slipping when she entered that morning, a handkerchief clutched to her nose. When she sneezed inadvertently in the middle of some dictation, Harry nearly blew up, and then, later, the juicy blows coming through the thin partitions as she worked on the forms almost drove him out of his mind trying to maintain control of himself.
Finally the effort became too great to be resisted, although Harry tried his utmost. While Susan was alternately typing and blowing her nose in the outer office, Harry blacked out, only to find himself about to attack her from behind as she worked on the weekly consumer report. His tongue was curled and twice its former length, he was sweated profusely, and he had an almost overwhelming desire to… to… no, NO!
"Mr. Blindermorf, are you all right? You've been so pale these past couple of weeks!" This too was true, and Harry couldn't understand it either; he just wasn't hungry lately. At least not for normal food…. "Let me get you a glass of water."
"No, no! Stay away from me! I… I'll be all right. Please, Susan,… the report… it has to be out today, you see." Harry was rapidly losing control. He had to get away. "I'm going out," he said shakily. "Be back… eventually." He fled out of his office, afraid of what he wanted to do. Disgusting, sickening, depraved thing, and yet he craved, desired, physically needed to… NO!"
Harry needed help urgently, and the only person he could think or trust in this hour of gravest need was Dr. Chadsworth. The doctor had helped him solve his biggest previous problem, and even though this was not exactly up his line — Harry suspected that the disorder was mental — he was the man Harry trusted. Harry rushed to the street where Chadsworth's office was located, raced up the stairs of the old building two at a time, flew through the outer office, and burst into the physician's inner room. The doctor was there, working over a patient. He looked up as Harry entered.
"Doc, Doc, you've got to help me! I've got this urge to…. DOC!"
Harry fainted dead away as he saw exactly what the doctor was doing to the patient.
* * *
Harry came to in the darkness.
"What? Where am I?"
"You're safe now, Harry." It was the doctor's voice, smooth and calming. "Although it was nip and tuck there for a while. I had to go without my lunch to give you a massive transfusion. Why didn't you obey your natural instincts? Then this would never have happened."
"Safe? After what I saw you doing? How…."
"Don't be asinine, Harry. You know that you wanted to do the same thing." It was true, Harry had, and he was deeply ashamed and horrified by the fact."
"What's happening to me, Doc? Why do I feel that way, why do I want to… to…?"
"You still don't understand." Chadsworth sighed. "I'm sorry, Harry. I guess it's my fault. I didn't want this to happen, but I had to work awfully long over you, and I guess that it was just too long. Now you're just like me. I doesn't happen often, but it… sometimes it just occurs. That's the danger in this line of work.
"Oh well," he continued, "I suppose we'll have to expand, get some more business to feed the both of us, at least until you learn enough so you can take care of yourself. It will be more dangerous, but we have to live."
"What do you mean 'just like you'? Exactly what are you? And what have you done to me?"
"How do you think I cure colds?" The doctor was upset now. "And that strange… craving that you have — put the two together. It's all rather obvious, Harry. Think!"
He suddenly remembered that magazine, and then he understood. "You mean we're—
"That's right, we're vampires, Harry. Mucus vampires."
The idea of this story came during a general Third Foundation club discussion on alternate vampires. A lymph vampire, for instance, would attack not veins but lymph nodes, biting people in the armpits. The discussion turned to how medicine used to depend on the Four Humors: bile, melancholy (aka black bile), blood, and phlegm (aka mucus). I don't recall who first came up with the idea of a Phlegm Vampire, but Barry Weissman was the one who wrote the story and submitted it — first to Harlan Ellison, then to me as editor of the club fanzine which focused on fiction.
I remember that we referred to the creature as the Dristan Dracula ("he drains all seven sinus cavities").
Later on, I read Japanese folklore and found that there actually was a type of Gaki who thirsted for mucus (but never dared write it up in any of my Japanese role-playing sourcebooks, for fear of eliciting the same sort of reaction Barry Weissman got from Harlan Ellison).
The Third Foundation fanzine began with issue #77 (with answers to last issue's quiz and letters of comment on last issue) to #105. Club members (and fanzine contributors) included myself, Stephen Goldin, Barry Weissman, Sandy Cohen, Stan Burns, and Gordon Munson. And oh yes, Sybly Whyte, writer of DOOMED LENSMEN, serialized beginning with issue #77..