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CL Fiction Contest/Ybor Stories: Who won?


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EUQUERIO | Stuart C. Purkey

My name is Euquerio Cordaro. I came to Ybor City in the late 19th century, following my employer to the Tampa area in hopes of securing a better future for myself. As you could well expect, I am a tabaquero, a cigar roller; a trade handed down through generations of men in my family. I was in my early twenties when I made my venture to a new future… never expecting just how long my future would last.

You see, I was only in my new city for two weeks when I met him. He went only by the name Adolfo, and he had the darkest eyes I had ever seen in a man. We met outside one of the bars where I would occasionally have a drink, but would commonly frequent to sell my wares.

It is not a fact that I am proud of, but while in Key West I had discovered that I could improve my income by stealing clippings and substandard tobacco leaves from the factory, and rolling cigars and cigarillos at home. Due to the scraps from which I salvaged, they of course were inferior in nature. But unlike my Cuban brothers, many of the Germans and Italians who resided in Ybor City were not comparably well-educated in the quality of a cigar. Either that, or they enjoyed that my product was considerably less expensive. Whatever the case, I was able to use the money from my sales as a savings. But I am getting off topic.

Adolfo was a bit of an enigma, I must admit. He was obviously a man who could afford a better product, well-groomed and always wearing the finest of clothing, so I never understood why he would buy my trifling cigars. But I did enjoy the company. We would talk for sometimes hours, walking the streets of my new home. He would ask about my family, my friends, my home in Cuba. It was comforting having someone to talk to after a long day in the factory, because we rarely took the time to speak while working.

I would ask him about his family, his past and other such things, but he was always quite vague, telling me that he was sure my life was more interesting. I would always respond that it was impossible, since he was obviously well-traveled, well-educated and well-read. To this he would just smirk and change the subject back to me. Twice he came by my room and had a glass of wine before he headed home for the night, but he never once let me see where he lived. While this did cause me some suspicion, I concluded that the bewilderment was worth the companionship.

It was the last time that I laid eyes on Adolfo that he fully revealed himself to me. We had partaken of a few drinks, a little more than I was accustomed to. The streets were particularly vacant on my way home this evening, the cause for this night’s events, of which I was soon to become aware.

As we passed between factory buildings, Adolfo took me by my throat and thrust me against a brick wall, lifting my feet from the ground. The force of his hand clenched around my neck strangled out most of my ability to speak. So much so, that all I could choke out was, “¿Que...?”

“You are so curious about my past? All you need to know is that I am over 200 years old. I move about like the wind from city to city, searching for people like you. You wondered how I could show such interest in your pathetic life? I could care less about your existence… I just had to know if you had friends or family who would miss you when you were gone,” he informed me, just before he plunged gleaming white fangs into my throat.

I cannot tell you the events that followed, nor how much time had passed after. The next thing I remember, I found myself under a house near the factories. I do not know how I got there, whether I crawled there myself or if Adolfo had placed me there. Though I cannot think of a reason he would have rescued me after such an attack.

Suddenly I became aware of a terrible thirst, or a hunger, I do not to this day know which. I careened out into the night, in search of a way to remove this agonizing desire. I saw an old man, staggering home from a bar, I can only assume, and it came to me that I then knew what I had become. My father told me stories that his father had told him, about creatures of the night in the old country. Vampiro. I absorbed that old drunk’s life into my body, its heat burning in my throat, but giving me a feeling of unparalleled strength. What followed, though, was the inconsolable guilt in having taken an innocent life.

In time I came to realize that on one feeding, I could go for nearly three weeks if I drained the life out of my victim. Less time if I drank less, which caused more trouble than the weight of my conscience in killing my victim, I would soon find. You see, if one does not kill one’s prey, one’s prey can accuse him.

She walked the streets quite often in the evenings, and our eyes had met a few times. Concepcion, a woman whose reputation certainly did not fit her name. I came to miss the company I had with Adolfo, so I began to spend some time with her to ease the loneliness. On this night, however, the craving had returned and as much as I struggled to resist the temptation, I could not. Upon kissing her hand good night, I turned to expose her wrist and gently sank my fangs. I only was able to drink a few ounces when she managed to wrest her hand free and run into the occupied streets. That is why Adolfo attacked on the night he did — a blessed scarcity of witnesses.

Concepcion fled, shrieking, into the streets, pointing a bloody hand in my direction. Her poor reputation came to my aid this night, as those from whom she sought help all retreated from her. I emerged from the alley, having to think very quickly. My first thought was to flee into the night, never to be seen again in these parts, but I had come to love my beautiful Ybor City. Instead, I lunged at her.

“How dare you hit me, puta! You will come and finish what you were paid for!” I dragged her into another alley, then turned to my supernatural strength to escape the scene in a hurry. When I was sure that no one else was around, I ripped Concepcion’s throat open and drained her of her essence.

From that night on, I learned that it is best to take a victim in a quick, clean kill… it is more humane and less of a risk to my own life. I have adopted Adolfo’s practice of getting to know someone’s background to make sure that they are people without friends or families. Before you begin to judge me, just know that what I do is not so different from your own practices. You raise livestock to slaughter it and eat its meat. In fact, what I do is less barbaric than your means; at least I “farm” my own food, you leave the dirty work to others. But again I get off topic.

Considering my new condition, I was no longer able to work in the factories. One must be able to tolerate daylight in order to keep a job, no? So I had to hone my skills at thievery, and began to use my continually improving new reflexes to steal others’ money from their own hands before they knew it was gone. I soon learned that not only could I move very quickly, but also very quietly. So quietly in fact, that I could walk into someone’s home and take the jewelry right from their sleeping bodies.

However, I could not leave my first love of cigar rolling. So I found myself sneaking into the factory storehouses to pilfer tobacco. This time, however, I chose the choicest leaves rather than the scraps. With theft being my new form of income, I was able to consume more of the fruits of my rolling labors, often sitting on a rooftop to enjoy my handiwork while watching the activity in my beloved city.

I eventually was able to purchase a home, which provided much-needed security. By this time, my beautiful Ybor City had become a bustling city — full of immigrants and their clubs, restaurants and other businesses. The larger population increased my opportunities, but I soon realized that I should avoid the Italians, who usually had large families. The immigrants’ social clubs made things slightly more difficult as well, as even those who had little to no family, now seemed to have friends.

By the 1920s, I had purloined my way into quite a decent wealth. By no means a Mr. Plant, but still wealth enough to begin to purchase other homes. With that income, I again saved and sought to purchase my own factory. That dream was never to materialize, as it were.

As I’m sure you are well aware, in 1929, there was an economic collapse that came to be known as the Great Depression. With cigars being considered a luxury, demand for my trade quickly declined and many factories closed or switched to machine-rolled cigars in order to reduce costs. In many cases, only small shops were able to survive this crisis.

This made my thievery more difficult, being that there were less people from whom to steal. But in the worst of times people still drink, moreso the worse things get. So I would quite frequently dine at the Columbia, picking pockets in the bar, from the wait staff, wherever I could. It was easier by far to steal from people on the streets, but the social aspect of dining in the world’s finest restaurant quelled the loneliness of my solitary existence.

As is with all things, the economic downfall passed, and I began to have hopes that my Ybor City would return to her former glory. But a great many people had left her, and many more moved to areas with greater job opportunities. But I could not leave my city. She was my dream, my hopes, my prayers.

After the Second World War, I thought she was going to be my tomb. With the soldiers returning, many of us had hoped that they would bring their money and their families with them. But the migration away from my fair city would grow, and the economy would continue to degrade.

I managed to procure a couple of small, abandoned factories for a comparably meager sum, and set up residences for myself in them. I cultivated their abandoned look in an attempt to dissuade questions as to why a deserted factory looked well-maintained. This did work to my advantage more frequently than one might expect. Vagrants and vandals would often break into my new homes, only to find themselves in the helpless position of being my latest victim. While it often occurred to me to allow one of my victims to turn into my kind, I never made the attempt. The survival instinct is apparently far stronger than loneliness.

Through the years, I began to obtain some of the finer things in life — books, furniture, art, clothing and jewelry. I gained an education from reading everything I could get my hands on, quite often reading by candlelight while smoking my cigars rooftop.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, I discovered a new problem with my condition: age. People started to notice that I never seemed to grow older, so I began to frequent more places less often, so as to not be recognized as a regular. I would also find myself spending weeks or months without going out to meet my social needs.

During this period I made quite the fortuitous discovery. It had been almost a month since someone had broken into my home, so I hadn’t fed in that time. If I took a victim every three weeks, I could maintain my youthful appearance. But every few days after that period, I seemed to age. After two months, I began to look like a man in his fifties. After three, his seventies. I also found that drinking wine helps to take away the thirst and its pain, while not reversing the artificial aging. Any longer than three months, though, and I found out (most unfortunately) that the desire for blood is so insatiable that I would go into a frenzy and slaughter a whole room of people. As a result, I began the habit of letting myself go beyond a month a little at a time, so as to appear to age naturally. Then, every ten years or so, I could start over with a full feeding every week for about a month, in order to regain my normal, youthful appearance.

By the 1960s, my beautiful, beloved Ybor City was hardly a city at all. In an attempt to revitalize the area, “they” decided to demolish many of the buildings that had fallen into disrepair, with the intent to encourage new development. Unfortunately, though, there was either too little money, too little interest, or both, and the lots sat vacant for decades. I lost one of my factory homes during this time, and only the efforts of my “old man” self were able to fend off the destruction of my other.

By the 1970s, my city was a veritable ghost town. Very few of the residents or businesses remained. I often thought about relocation, but for nearly a century this city was all I had known. I found myself expanding my hunting grounds into the greater Tampa area, becoming more of a predator than a farmer. I no longer had to build a relationship with someone in order to ensure his solitary life. No, now I could just choose a victim and be home again within minutes — the benefit of hunting away from one’s home. The drawback? I again lost the pleasure of interpersonal relationships.

Finally, by the 1980s, my city began to flicker back to life. Artists began to come to Ybor City in search of affordable studio space, which was a great boon to me as I was again able to expand my art collection. This influx of artists sparked a new interest in my city, and as a result new restaurants, bars, clubs and other businesses began to open their doors… the start to the wonderful Ybor City you know today, once again full of life and full of people.

My thieving days are now behind me. During the worst of times, I purchased spaces that are now being rented for galleries, restaurants, tattoo parlors and the like. I opened a small cigar shop and gain much enjoyment from watching my customers savor what has taken me over 120 years (so far) to perfect. So, if you find yourself in front of an old man with young eyes rolling cigars, please come up and say hello. And if, from the roof of an abandoned factory, you see candlelight, and ribbons of smoke rising into the air… please do not let yourself in to say hello. It would not end well for you.


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