A Dry Patch of Skin

Returning from his parents' funeral, Hungarian-American medical technician Stefan Székely embarks on a love affair with Penny Park, the TV reporter he met after a dangerous tornado ripped through their hometown of Oklahoma City. Just when things are becoming serious, however, Stefan discovers a dry patch of skin on his cheek, a sign of something he fears and yet cannot decode. 

Going in search of medical answers, he struggles to maintain his relationship as he pieces together his parents' lives as dedicated physicians who tended the forlorn inmates of an insane asylum and shunned society. As his condition worsens, Stefan seeks far-flung treatments in the hope that he can find a cure and return to his beloved Penny, only to finally realize what his parents have been shielding him from all of his life: he is doomed to transform into a vampire like them. 

Can he stave off the symptoms, or reverse them? Can he salvage some kind of life with his Beloved? Or will he be doomed to walk the earth as yet another of the Undead?

The local newspaper, The Oklahoman reviewed this novel when it came out.

Here are the opening pages:


As a child, I was never allowed into the church. My aunt thought I carried some curse and she didn’t want me to ruin it for everyone. So I stayed outside and usually read a book. That haunts me as I pause before stepping inside this chapel.
The priest stands in his black suit and white collar. His eyes study me as I approach, strolling quietly up the aisle. This small church is set high on a hill overlooking the resort town of Makarska on the coast of Croatia. Far below its open doors stretches the picturesque town of red tiled roofs and gray-plaster buildings. There is a sandy beach caught between granite cliffs. Already at this morning hour a dozen vacationers take in the sun or swim in the turquoise sea.
With a curt nod to acknowledge our meeting, the priest starts to speak, can not find the words, then recovers.
“Mister Székely,” he says, “I’m terribly sorry for your loss.” Then, as if only at that moment remembering, he hands me a beige envelope with elegant black writing on its face. The logo of a Hungarian law firm is printed in the corner. “This is from your parents. I am to give it to you as soon as you arrive. Before the funeral service. I hope it is not rude of me.”
“No, not at all, Father.”
“Thank you.” He gives me another curt nod.
“I’m sure glad you speak English,” I say sheepishly, “because I don’t know any Croatian.”
I take the envelope, glance at it, and wonder what value it might have. Mother was always fond of writing letters, sending cards, but during the past dozen years she had dwindled down to only birthday and Christmas.
I turn the envelope over in my hands, feel how thick it is, which can only mean it is longer than most of her letters.
“Does this letter explain what happened? I mean, why they committed suicide?”
“I do not know the content of that letter,” says the priest with a frown. “They only wished me to give it to you. Also, they wish for you to take a week and enjoy a richly deserved vacation. Your room has been reserved and everything is paid for the week.”
“How kind of them. They must have believed I would travel all the way here to see them off.”
“You work so hard, they always told me, thus you need a good break.”
“But there was no need to kill themselves just to get me to fly over to Croatia.”
I tear open the end of the envelope and pull out the tri-folded letter of three thin pages wrapped around a generous gift of cash. The letter, written in my mother’s hand, will take some time to read.
“Yes, I supposed it’s my duty,” I say, looking up from the letter and casually folding the cash into my front trouser pocket. “Me being their only child…. It’s an obligation. So….”
I take a few deep breaths.
“You’re a good son,” says the priest.
I frown at his remark. “At least they were old—old enough for death, but not too old to be able to make a rational decision. Probably they were simply tired of all they had endured.”
“Indeed, Mister Székely. I’m sure it was for the best.”
“Please, Father...call me Stefan.”
We shake hands and he assures me that everything will be ready for the service the next day.
Reclining on the bed in the hotel room they have arranged for me, I reread the last letter.


It was not that I mistrusted the words of Mother and Father. It was not that I doubted what society itself had shown me. Indeed, I got up from the bed and stood staring into the mirror on the wall and wanted to deny everything, yet I knew deep inside there was a bomb, a time bomb of sorts, ready to explode when just the right elements came together. And I could not know when that would occur.
For my parents, stuck in upstate New York, it began rather late, after age fifty—or so they confessed; I had not seen them face to face since I left for college and even then my view was from across a parking lot. Thus, I had no incontrovertible visual confirmation of their plight. They also had begged out of my graduation ceremony and then I took a job far away from them. And much later, they died.
Before that, there were plenty of letters and phone calls, and with advancement in technology, also emails and text messages. When finally they succumbed to their own time bomb, it was my mother who dared leave a note outlining what I should expect. She was careful to add that my father did not approve of such a warning, considering it a black mark or a red flag that would ruin my life, keep me from enjoying the good years I had. However, she had deemed it a necessary kind gesture, something that any mother should do for her son.
Then they took their pills, far too many of them, and died in peace, the full afternoon of sunshine raining upon them. Perhaps it’s only rumor that the maid found them, sitting in their balcony lounge chairs, already decaying and covered with flies.
I attended their funeral—closed coffins, of course, as befit their deplorable physical condition—and I gave the eulogy to a gathering of twenty empty pews. They were not known in this town, which likely suited them. The priest showed no emotion; it was simply a duty to be performed. He praised the irony in my speech, then remarked how much I resembled my parents.
The Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic Sea was certainly not what I would have expected as my parents’ choice of destination. The town of Makarska, just south of Split and a hundred miles north of the more famous Dubrovnik, should have been a lovely choice for retirement: close to the sea. We are of Hungarian heritage, that is, from a land-locked nation, yet they craved the seashore. They had their life and I had mine. I never thought to question them since they continued shuffling money to me on special occasions.

As they wished, I took a few more days in that resort town, with the cedars and cozy beaches nestled between rocky hills, stretching far in each direction from my hotel balcony. After a long nap and the bottom half of a bottle of Merlot, I set out to enjoy myself the rest of the week. After all, I had gone to some trouble to take off from work on short notice and make the long trip from the States to Croatia. It had to mean something.
...and so on... 

(C) Copyright 2010-2015 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog.


  1. I just finished the book. I enjoyed reading it. I loved the hook in the beginning. The intrigue is like that of the Jason Bourne movies..

  2. I just finished the book. I enjoyed reading it. I loved the hook in the beginning. The intrigue is like that of the Jason Bourne movies..