So I have some bad news and good news. The good news is that I've decided to take CoaMV seriously enough to consider that someday, somehow, I may actually kind of a little bit want it to be published.
So, unfortunately, the bad news is that that means I'll have to take it offline.
I'm really sorry about this. I didn't actually intend to put another chapter online (I was going to remove them all today) but I am so, so grateful to those of you who have read and reviewed, so I figured I'd put up one last chapter and end it at an even 5. This is a bit of an uneventful chapter anyway, but I hope you enjoy the lulz. I'm quite sad about this, because I look forward to your feedback so much, but also excited because this means more for this story.
So thank you all SO much. I hope you enjoy this, and do tell me if you think this would be worth publishing and/or buying off a shelf someday? :3 And if you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them in a review reply, kay?
Cheers and thanks again!
Chronicles of a Muslim Vampire
Chronicle the Fifth: Homecoming
I fall asleep for two weeks and the country has a bloody revolution.
And that's not the funny part. The funny part is—
It started on Facebook!
The thing is, I remembered seeing the damn group, a few days before I conked out. And I'd done what everybody else did.
And yet, according to Mahitab, I'd missed Egypt's finest hour. We'd gone out in a blaze of glory. According to her, it had been a worldwide spectacle. The things I heard – camels showing up in the middle of Tahrir, internet and mobiles being cut off, thugs roaming Cairo, Egyptians cleaning the streets – well, it made being a vampire sound entirely more plausible.
"So Mubarak resigned?"
"A few hours ago, yes," said Morgan Freeman. He sounded tired. "What you hear above is the celebrations in progress."
I frowned, focusing. And now I could hear the steady chants. Cheers. Popping sounds that reminded me of fireworks.
Sounded like the aftermath of an Ahly match, to be honest. Just – bigger.
"Wait a second," I said suddenly. "Above?"
"I forgot to tell you," said Brown Smudge. I realized I couldn't keep calling him Brown Smudge forever, and made a mental note to ask his name. "The Confederation… well, we can't risk our meetings being overheard…"
"Blood coming in and out—"
"Not to mention the whole problem with sunlight," continued Brown Smudge. "So, naturally, we needed a more discreet place for our meetings. Cairo's sewer system has been—"
"Cairo's what?" my voice cracked. Did he just say sewer system? "Did you just say sewer system?"
"Yes, but," he chuckled hastily, "don't get any nasty ideas – it's really only the unused tunnels – and it makes a wonderful meeting point for all vampires – as they say, all roads lead to Rome… and all sewers lead to the Confederation headquarters! It's a bit of an underground city, really."
"Ah, and I suppose the smell isn't a problem," I said politely.
"It's a huge problem," said Omar, narrowing his eyes at Brown Smudge. Clearly, Mamma's Boy was not happy about the crappy arrangement either.
"We've been combating it effectively," said Brown Smudge defensively. "See?"
He pointed at one of the boxes piled up against the wall. I raised my eyebrows.
Hanging from one of the crates' edges was a lone air freshener, the sort you might find hung from a car mirror.
"Ah," I repeated, still in the same polite tone. "I suppose that – what is it? – Strawberry Tropical Scent will make life in the sewers more bearable. It's only the waste of twenty million citizens, after all."
Brown Smudge scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "We use Glade, as well!"
I nodded earnestly. "Yes, yes. You're completely right. Have you considered Axe? Some scented candles? Those might really do the trick."
Mahitab pulled out a Nokia phone and beamed at me as she typed something down. "I'll make sure to post that suggestion on our Facebook wall!"
I didn't bother wasting my breath. There was no use. Egypt had been lost to Mark Zuckerburg.
A bloody revolution. Seriously.
I didn't even want to think about what my mum must have been through. God, what if an escaped prisoner had broken into our flat? What if she'd gone down and been injured in Tahrir Square?
I shook my head, trying desperately to put the worst out of my mind. She would be fine. She had to be fine.
"We'll lead you out, now, Ali," said Brown Smudge, beginning to move. He packed up a few things lying around – a small plastic bag filled with blood, a few papers – and gestured towards a doorway I hadn't really noticed until that moment. "We'll be in touch. Until then…"
"Research," said Morgan Freeman firmly. "We can't help you any more than you can help yourself."
"But do call us if you feel the urge to bite any more men on the street," added Omar, smirking. I glared at him.
"I'd be more than happy to pass by your house every couple of days with some fresh blood," Mahitab volunteered, sounding alarmingly cheerful. She was like one of those teacher's pets, at school. The kind who always did their homework, always sat in the front, always had corrector pens in their pencil cases and were completely useless until you needed to borrow some homework. She smiled at me again and I grimaced back at her.
We went out of the room and down a narrow corridor. Omar had been right. The smell really was dreadful. It wasn't exactly unbearable, but it seemed to have leaked into every brick of the tunnel we were walking through. I had a feeling even the tunnels furthest from the actual waste pipes would carry the scent. To my utter bewilderment, Mahitab actually pulled out a can of Glade from her enormous purse and sprayed it about. It didn't really make much of a difference, but Brown Smudge nodded at her proudly, as though she had done something extraordinary.
These vampires are whack, I tell you.
Finally, they led me to a metal ladder that stretched up to a circular pipe cover. I looked up and wondered how many people walked above it each day, not knowing an entire confederation of moronic vampires were beneath their feet.
"Well, this is your stop, Ali," said Brown Smudge brightly. "It's a few blocks from Tahrir. The streets will be filled, but I think you'll find your way home easily."
I nodded. "Yeah… so… uh, I guess I should thank you guys…"
I only said it out of politeness. Quite frankly, in the words of JoJo, they were too little, too late. But I suppose beggars can't be choosers.
"Ali," said Mahitab, looking up at me as I stepped on the first rung of the ladder.
I looked down at her. "Yeah?"
"Don't forget to call?" she asked timidly. And I honestly felt a little sorry for her. She seemed so lost in the middle of all this. I couldn't for the life of me imagine her feeding on someone the way I had, and I felt bad that some idiot had ever felt the urge to turn her into a vampire.
"I will," I said, after a moment. Omar gave me a non-committal nod goodbye, and I was on the fourth rung when I remembered.
"What?" Brown Smudge turned around. The others had already gone ahead in the dark, smelly tunnel.
"What's your name?"
"It's Abdo," he said with a grin. "Abdullah Eissa."
Brown Smudge's name translated to Worshipper of God… Jesus.
I've heard worse.
"All right, then," I climbed up further. "See you around, Abdo."
I could tell you a lot of things. I could tell you about the people celebrating madly in the street, about the people painting the sidewalks with things like, "Proud to be Egyptian!" and "I'm Egyptian, what's your superpower?" and chanting slogans like "They called us the spoiled generation, now we've gone and saved the nation!" (liberally translated) but at the end of the day, my own personal story is way more important than this revolution business. This isn't CNN, for crying out loud. So let me continue.
All right. I was feeling a little left out. My country did one thing right and I wasn't even there to joke about it. It was a little disheartening.
Besides, I was pretty sure it was just a phase. All this patriotism? Please. In a couple of months everything would still be the same, I was willing to bet on it.
So, after observing these strange new sights on the night streets of Cairo, I finally got home about two hours later. It was a long walk, but a car would have taken me even longer, what with all the crowds and the fireworks and all. It was well after midnight, but it looked like the party was going to last a while.
I went upstairs. I stood in front of our door, looking down at myself. I was wearing the same clothes I'd worn when I'd fallen asleep – the same clothes I'd worn the day I'd gone out at night, the same clothes I'd worn at Mohamed's… in other words, I was a vampire in dire need of a bath.
And I took a deep breath.
I had to be willing to face whatever was behind that door, be it my mum, my dad… or worse…
Don't think about it.
My hands still trembled slightly as I raised them to knock.
"Sorry, ma," I would say. "I was busy being unconscious."
Then she'd hit me with the slipper, I thought decidedly.
That would be all.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then – my heart hammered into mouth with relief – my mother's voice radiated from behind the wood. "Meen?"
"Ma, it's me!" I said, speaking through the wide grin that spread across my face. I mean, you'd be grinning too if you woke up and found out your family had gone through a revolution where hundreds of people had died but they were still alive. Besides, it's either that or tears of relief, and crying is just... inexcusable.
"Ali!" shrieked my mum, and the door was flung wide open. I barely had time to breathe in before she threw her arms around me and all the breath in my lungs was choked out painfully. "ALI! Habeeby! Oh, Ali!"
And then she burst into tears and began sobbing into my shoulders.
"So worried," she mumbled into my shirt. "We… worried… thought you'd died…"
"Mama," I said awkwardly, patting her on the shoulders. "I'm really sorry… I—"
"I love you so much," she said suddenly, looking up at me with huge, tear-filled eyes. A lump came into my throat. I felt horrible. She didn't deserve this. Not a son who was a vampire. Not a son who disappeared during a crisis. She seemed so small and pale, all of a sudden. But so warm and soft and motherly. "I didn't know… oh…" She hugged me again. "I love you, Ali."
"I love you too, ma," I whispered. I'd be lying if I said a tear or two didn't wet my eyes. But after all, crying is inexcusable.
And then my mum looked up, wrinkling her nose.
"Ali," she said after a moment. "You smell horrible."
"Ma," I said quickly and hugged her again. "Let's not ruin the moment."
After a moment, I began to explain.
"Ma, about the last two weeks," I said awkwardly, "I'm sorry… it was—"
To my surprise, my mother put a finger to her lips, her eyes widening. "Shush! We'll talk about it later. Don't say anything about… you know… the blood thing."
I blinked at her. The blood thing? The blood thing? I was a vampire, not a girl at an unfortunate time of month, for crying out loud.
Then she gestured to the living room, and as I fell silent, I realized – I could hear what they were saying.
I know. Vampires have heightened senses, everyone knows that. It's like saying vampires are hot and afraid of crosses. It's common knowledge. Where would a monstrous predator be without super hearing?
In the living room, apparently.
And indeed, I could, if I focused, hear the conversation quite clearly.
"I still feel rather sorry for the old man," someone very familiar was saying. The voice sounded old and for some reason, I immediately thought of money being pushed generously into my hand, food being pushed too-generously into my plate, and five wet kisses on each cheek along with the wavering coo, Aloushi, habibi!
"What's Nanna doing here?" I whispered to my mom. Yes. I call my grandma Nanna. All grandmothers have awkward names. Get over it.
"After all, he's eighty-three! The shock could kill him!"
"I think that's kind of the point. He's too old for this position. He ought to retire."
"Too old for this position! Are you trying to say someone his age wouldn't manage a country?"
"I'll have you know I'm eighty-five, and I could run any country! With age comes wisdom!"
"With age comes senile dementia."
"Are you saying I'm demented?" screeched my grandmother, sounding quite demented.
"Of course not, mama!" my dad said hastily. "I was just stating a medical fact…"
"Medical fact! You and your medical facts! You went and got your PhD and all of a sudden you're smarter than all of us, the same thing happened to your father, you know. Doctors. You think you know everything. A good doctor doesn't know as much as a good mother, I'll tell you that."
"She's been staying with us since the beginning of the revolution," explained my mum in whispers. "We were worried about her all alone in her flat in Mohandeseen. Your father brought her here."
"Oh," I said. I reached forwards, but my mum pulled me back.
"I haven't told your father," she said, her voice low.
"What?" I said. "That I'm a… you know? That's all right."
"No," she said more urgently. "I didn't tell him you were missing."
She dabbed her eyes while I stared at her in shock. And I swallowed.
"Baba didn't notice I was gone?" I asked slowly.
She shook her head. "He was so busy. The hospital had him working overtime, poor man. And every hour, he would call and ask, are you okay? Is Ali okay? Did he go to Tahrir? I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to worry him."
"I was gone for two weeks," I said, still unable to believe it. "And my own father didn't notice? Nanna didn't notice?"
I felt a little betrayed. For the first time since I had become a vampire, a sudden, frantic worry struck my heart. I realized what it might be like to be an orphan. To be gone without anybody worrying. Without anybody caring. It was worse. It was even worse than staying past curfew ten minutes and seeing ten missed calls from mum. It felt cold. And I realized, suddenly, that I'd been a vampire for days before I'd disappeared, and my dad hadn't even asked why I hadn't gone to school.
Well, that could be enough to turn anybody emo.
"Of course she noticed," said my mother, perhaps seeing the despair and possible skinny jeans in my future. "I told her. That you were gone. But your father… Ali, it's been an awful two weeks. We had so much to worry about… and the police – I went to them. Four times. But two police stations were burned down, and nobody had the time to pay any attention to me…" she looked at me with a sudden sadness that made me understand how scary a revolution can be. "I went down to look for you every single day, Ali. I asked the people in the street, the legan el shabeya. And your father – he wanted to see you. But he was so busy, Ali. He saved dozens of lives in the past two weeks."
I wondered if my life could even be saved anymore. Could you save an undead life? Why, thank you so much, sir. You've saved my undeath!
My mum hugged me again, and I lost the train of thought as I hugged her back. "So you and Nanna have been hiding it from dad?"
"Yes. Your grandmother has been very worried. But she hides it better than I do." My mum wrung her hands, then beamed at me. "I've been avoiding him. He only came back yesterday after Mubarak resigned. If you hadn't shown up by tomorrow…" she let her voice trail off, and her smile wavered.
We stood there for a moment, by the doorway. I listened to my grandmother chatter about Mubarak to my dad, and for the first time I could hear the undercurrent of impatience and weariness in her voice. And I looked at my mum. Her face was drawn and pale, but she was looking at me with unmistakable love and relief. I thought about how lucky I was, to have a mum that would go down the streets in the middle of a revolution to look for me. Not to mention she hadn't kicked me out or denounced me upon finding out that I was a vampire. That would've sucked.
I noticed, too, that she didn't even ask me where I'd been. It was as though, by unspoken agreement, she understood it was a vampire thing. And she was simply so glad I was back the actual disappearance was the last thing on her mind.
It occurred to me that I was lucky the Confederation had kidnapped me after all. If I truly had spent two weeks in a near-coma, I could have woken up to a morgue and a devastated family. Or worse. I could have been buried alive.
Well, buried undead.
And then my newly sharpened ears caught a rise in my grandmother's voice. It seemed as though her voice was cracking.
"Mohamed," she was saying, "I'm sorry, I can't do this anymore."
"What, mama?" my dad seemed absent-minded. It took me a moment to realize what she meant.
"Ma," I said urgently, tugging on my mother's sleeve. "Ma, she's going to tell him."
My mother frowned at me. "What?"
"It's about Ali," my grandmother's voice was trembling, and if I had been a girl, I would have totally been bawling by how touching it was that people cared so much. As it was, I had to swallow a lump in my throat.
"What about Ali?" my dad asked. He sounded a little angry, to my surprise. The lump disappeared and I felt indignant. That was no tone that should be used for a son like me! "He's at a friend's, isn't he? Even though I've told him time and time again that I haven't seen him for weeks, and he's not answering his phone, when he gets back I will give him a piece of my mind—"
He was nearly shouting by now (probably without noticing. My dad was like that when he got worked up) and my mum finally heard him. She pushed me down the hall quickly, and I stumbled over our ridiculously patterned hall carpet before tripping gracefully into the living room with a squeaked out, "Hey!"
My grandmother gasped and clapped a hand to her chest as she stared at me. "Ali!"
My dad glared and did not clap a hand to his chest as he yelled at me. "ALI!"
"Dad," I said quickly, "I can explain…"
As it was, I couldn't really explain. My mum joined in and we fumbled through an awkward conversation that included a taxi accident, my friend being hit by a car (I chose the Mohamed that had punched me for this example. I can hold a grudge for a long time, vampire or not) and my phone's death as an excuse for not answering. I apologized repeatedly, feeling horrible, for not seeing my dad first thing after the two weeks we'd had (even though he'd lost track in the middle and assumed he'd at least spoken to me several times, although we hadn't. I guess it was just how busy he'd been.)
My grandmother was silent for most of this, except for sharing very pointed looks with my mother, who simply nodded and emphasized everything I said with things like, "Poor Mohamed!" and "Mohamed's mother's brother got divorced a couple of weeks ago, did you know?" and "Those taxi drivers! The way they drive!" and the required, "You must all be hungry, I'll make some tea!" (although how tea and hunger are related, I cannot understand) all in an extremely high-pitched tone of voice.
Finally, my dad was satisfied enough for the conversation to revert to politics again. My grandmother gestured at me to come nearer when I got up, excusing myself to shower, and then she gave me a hug and slipped me a hundred pounds while she whispered, "We need to talk, Aloushi. And I'm glad you're back."
If I may just point out, I love it when grandparents tip you for hugging them.
Nothing eventful happened afterwards, except for one memorable moment in the shower when I discovered, to my shock, that the water was set on ice-cold and the heater wasn't on, and yet the water felt perfectly comfortable. I supposed being a vampire had begun to toughen my skin against this sort of thing. Because I was definitely a hot-water shower guy, before.
I thought of the Confederation, useless as they had been, and wondered what else I'd discover about being a vampire. They hadn't really been very helpful. More like the vampire police as opposed to vampire mentors, for all the Morgan Freeman-ing that old guy did.
Until my dad left, neither my mum or my grandmother could discuss my vampirism or disappearance, respectively, so after I'd cleaned up we sat and watched TV. My mum kept offering me food by mistake, then making a horrified face when she realized what she'd done.
Watching TV was surprisingly interesting. The news was more or less a 24-Hour-Egypt-Channel, and I found this amusing. One American reporter had clearly been taught some Arabic swearwords (I discovered this while he thought the camera was off) and can I just say that there is nothing more bizarre than watching Egyptians sweep the streets?
An hour or two later, I'd seen so much footage of the revolution it felt like I hadn't missed anything at all. Although, whoever montaged it to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack really should have thought that through. It's really quite disconcerting to be seeing dramatic revolution clips and thinking It's Captain Jack Sparrow!
And by the end of the two hours, I also decided if I heard that Mohamed Mounir song about the revolution one more time, I would explode.
It was a good song, though, don't get me wrong. I'm sure the lyrics were meaningful and all. But enough already.
My dad seemed to enjoy being home for once, because he refused to leave, and after a while I decided I should get started on that vampire research anyway, now that the internet was back and all.
But as I was getting up, my dad stopped me.
"Hey, Ali," he said. And he spoke so casually, as though he were asking me the simplest of things. And perhaps in another lifetime he might've been. But not anymore. "You've washed up, haven't you? Good, let's pray el esha. It's been a while since we've prayed together, and we have a lot to thank God for."
I paused, frozen.
Just go through the motions, my mind urged me.
"Sure," I said hoarsely. My mum was looking at me curiously. I think she guessed something was wrong.
Abdo said God. He said it.
Yeah, but perhaps Abdo was fortified by his ridiculously religious name.
"Why don't you be the imam?" asked my dad, smiling, like he was doing me a favor. Just so you know, an imam is the person who leads a prayer, if it's in a group. The person who stands in front – and prays aloud.
And that person could not be me.
I couldn't say the word God without choking!
And yes, it might be all be psychosomatic, to borrow a phrase from my dad's vernacular. It might be all in my head. It might be a hysterical pregnancy or whatever the hell it was.
But that didn't mean it wasn't happening.
"Oh dad," I said with a forced smile. "I couldn't possibly. You be the imam."
"No, no. I want you to have the honor."
"Really, dad! You're the hero of this family. You should do it."
"No, son. You go ahead."
"Oh, father dearest, how could I? You do it."
"No! Ali, you are the man of the house now, you should do it."
"No really dad. Seriously. You do it."
"But your Qura'n recitation is so wonderful! Isn't it wonderful, Hala?"
"I learned it from the best! SO YOU DO IT."
We did this gracious imam-offering business for quite a while. I was feeling increasingly desperate by the end of it. This is the problem with Egyptians, and Arabs in general. Once they have it in their heads to offer you something, you will be forced to accept it. Some may call it generosity. I believe it is generosity, stubbornness and also a matter of pride. As in, if you offer someone something – anything, like say a doggie bag to take home on their way out – and they refuse to accept it, you have failed as a person. And that is why I have often found myself leaving various houses laden with food that I never even wanted to eat.
I tell you, regular vampires never had these problems.
Everyone was staring at me. My mum. My grandma. My dad.
So I swallowed my fears, got up, and began to pray, trying my best not to look like a blasphemous vampire who had killed someone. And I got as far as the third word before I began to choke and fell to the floor, convulsing.
Well, that sure didn't work out.