Stephanie Meyer, Eat Your Heart Out
The first thing I noticed when I came into the meeting was that somebody had been eating salsa. I could smell that heavenly scent as soon as I put my hand on the door. To be honest, I almost turned around and left right away. Still, I hadn't missed a Wednesday in months and I wasn't about to go home and cry myself to sleep just because a new guy still in denial had raided the taco bar at Las Palmas.
When I took my usual seat, I realized I was sitting right next to the culprit. He looked woozy and his breath reeked of sharp cheddar cheese. I used to love Mexican food myself. Whenever I get a good whiff of it these days, I go a little weak in the knees. But dwelling too much on the past makes it hard to live in the present. At least, that's what all of "the experts" say.
Personally, I think most "experts" are full of shit. Some nights thinking about the past is the only thing that keeps me from trying to kill myself.
Not that it would be easy.
But yeah, I'd probably try.
The meeting went more or less like it usually did. Carmen complained about her roommates, Phil had gotten into another fight with his daughter and Elaine and Jeff were considering moving back to Cincinnati. Why anyone would be so set on Cincinnati when they live pretty comfortably in Manhattan is totally beyond me, but Elaine and Jeff seem to think of Ohio as a kind of promised land, a place where everything that's fucked up in their lives will just sort itself out. They've been "considering" moving back there for almost twelve years.
I ignored most of the usual banter, but I actually listened when Mark started talking about his wife. He obsesses over what went wrong between the two of them every week. My heart goes out to the guy, but I kinda suspect that things between him and Sherri were heading downhill long before he took up drinking.
Drinking blood, that is.
After Mark finished saying what he needed to say, I got the impression that a lot of people were looking at me. I stood up slowly. I hadn't said much since my first meeting, but I really wanted to get some stuff off my chest.
I cleared my throat. "Hi, my name is Don and I'm a vampire."
"Hi, Don." Everyone said.
Okay, so maybe that sounds a bit hokey, but it works. I started feeling better right away. To be honest, after thirty-five years of being undead, it really helps to know that someone is listening. That's why I started going to meetings in the first place.
"It's my anniversary tonight. I've been… clean for five years." Those words were harder to speak than I'd anticipated.
There was a faint applause. At first I thought Mark started it, but then I saw Ray Hawkins in the back of the room by the water fountain. Hawkins is a cool guy. He's about a hundred and seventy years old and he's lived in New York all that time. He told me once that he saw the first baseball game ever played at Fenway Park. One of these days, I'd really like to take him out to a bar or something, just to hear a few more of his stories. The problem is, Hawkins doesn't drink. Well… he doesn't drink alcohol anyway.
"Five years." Hawkins said. "Congratulations, Don."
I guess I should explain. "Clean" is vamp slang for "no outstanding warrants". It means I haven't accidentally killed anyone or fed off of anyone who's called the police. Staying clean is tough and most vamps don't even bother to do it. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to live on the right side of the law when you need four to six pints a night just to survive. And if you go dry a couple days, you run a pretty good chance of totally losing it.
Being a vampire is anything but glamorous. Sunlight burns our skin and ordinary food makes us sick. We tend to be faster and stronger than most people expect and a little more alert. Still, a lot of things are hit-and-miss. While the night vision is a nice perk, having an amped-up sense of smell is no picnic when you're dead.
Hollywood makes it look like vampires have all kinds of fancy powers and shit like that. Personally, I've never met a vamp who could turn into a bat, a wolf, mist or anything like that. Now to be fair, there are some things that older vamps do which are pretty nifty… but it helps to think of them as well-honed survival skills rather than magical powers. For one, there's "the mesmere" which is a kind of mild psychic thing that keeps potential feedsacks from realizing that you're undead. If you're really good with it, you can temporarily make yourself seem more attractive than you actually are and give "suggestions" to people that they find appealing. Like "follow me into the alley" or "let's go back to my place".
I've been learning how to use the mesmere myself, but even my buddy Malkie can't keep someone hypnotized for longer than it takes to draw a pint or two. The smug bastard brags about his conquests all of the time, completely ignoring the fact that he has the additional benefit of being naturally good-looking... which most vamps are not.
Honestly, how many attractive dead people have you ever seen?
Aside from the nightly hazards of feeding, not being able to go out during the day means that most vamps spend their time doing shitty temp work, living paycheck-to-paycheck anywhere that's safe enough to stash a coffin.
Of course, when I say "coffin", I don't actually mean "coffin". I'm sure that some really eccentric old-world vamps do sleep in caskets, but most of us just settle for some blackout curtains and a little grave dirt under the bed. Even if it would make me seem more sophisticated in certain undead social circles, I'd never be able to do the casket thing myself. I've always been extremely claustrophobic.
After the meeting ended, I walked four blocks back to my apartment. The night was still early, but after feeling like a normal human being for a few hours… the last thing I wanted to do was go out hunting. Fortunately, even if I didn't hit up the bars to snag a feedsack, I knew I wouldn't have to go hungry. See, I have a roommate who's worked out just about the sweetest deal any vamp could ever dream up.
Malkie works at the hospital. He picks up pints for the both of us and makes twice what I do by pretending to be a lab tech. He doesn't have a degree from anywhere, but he knows the medical profession inside out… which isn't exactly surprising when you consider that he's been using hospitals as a source of free food since before WWII. The guy is brilliant. Of course, he is about five hundred years old.
That being said, Malkie is the oldest vamp I've ever met and probably the oldest vamp in New York City. According to Hawkins, there are vamps much older than Malkie… but they all hang out in Rome or Paris where they can maintain their illusions of haute coutre.
"Hi Don." Malkie grinned as I opened the front door. He was sitting in front of the fireplace with his feet kicked up on the table and a book on his lap. Our place is pretty cool, all things considered. The building was built about 1880 and there are fireplaces in all of the rooms. The original hardwood floors and paneling are in pristine condition and there's a cast-iron tub with clawed feet in the master bath… which neither of us ever use, since getting wet and being dead don't mix.
It can get cold and drafty in the winter, but cold's something you get used to as a vampire… and the view of the city at night really is to die for.
Metaphorically speaking, of course.
I would never have been able to afford such a nice pad myself, but Malkie bought the building back in 1940 when it was about to be torn down and he's owned it ever since. All things considered, my current roommate is officially the most two-faced sonovabitch I've ever met. Sometimes he's an amazingly cool guy, and sometimes he's an incredible fuckhead. Still, he earns a paycheck and he cleans up after himself, which is more than I can say about most of the guys I've lived with since I was turned. Malkie's real name is Wilhelm Alexander Malkovich IV, but everyone calls him "Malkie" after those crazy vampires in "Vampire The Masquerade". Because… well, he's a crazy vampire.
"Hey Malkie." I smiled slightly, helping myself to a pint out of the fridge. It looked like he'd just stocked up. "Another blood drive?"
"Mm-mm." He nodded, his gaze slowly drifting skyward. "I don't know about the rest of you damned Children-of-the-Night, but I'm beginning to think that someone up there loves me. How'd your meeting go?"
"Good, I guess." I admitted. "I didn't talk much."
"You'll talk when you're ready." Malkie advised. "Just keep going."
The microwave dinged and I took out my slightly-warmed pint. Us vampires are hungry all of the time… it just kind of goes with the territory. Of course, drinking blood out of a bag doesn't really take the edge off like snagging a fresh feedsack does, but it's safer, quieter, and still considered legit in the community. Drinking from of animals is right the hell out. First, you don't know what kind of gross contaminants you're liable to pick up, and second… in vamp society, eating anything that doesn't fight back is kinda like jacking off. Other vamps can smell it on you, and if you're doing it too often, and everyone knows you're desperate.
Thanks to Malkie, I had a steady supply of clean human blood and putting a pint or two in the microwave helped to make it drinkable, if not exactly enjoyable. The trick was to get it just above room temperature, about eighty or ninety degrees but not enough to start cooking it. When I bit into the top of my pint, I knew that I had hit it right on the money.
"How's the stuff?" Malkie asked.
"Primo, compadre." I told him.
I sat down in the chair across from Malkie and noticed the book on his lap. I was sure I had seen it before, but not in our apartment. "What are you reading?" I asked.
Malkie held up the book and grinned. "Twilight." He said, a note of mischief in his voice.
"Oh for the love of…" I rolled my eyes and groaned.
See, every time a new vampire book comes out, the first people to read it are always us vampires. Maybe it's because we're all paranoid that sooner or later someone will "out" us and then we'll have to spend the rest of our unlives running from the government. Maybe it's just because we stay up all night every night and don't have much else to do.
After all, late-night television really sucks.
"Aren't you at least curious?" Malkie pressed.
"All right, how is it?" I sighed.
"Drivel." He rolled his eyes and tossed the book into the fireplace. "God, I can't get over the fucking sparkles! Could you picture me sparkling in the sunlight?"
"You could be a shampoo commercial." I suggested.
"Oh yes. Suave." Malkie smirked, tossing his head in a really goofy, sort of effeminate way.
Malkie has amazingly fabulous curly golden-blonde hair just like one of Botticelli's angels. If you saw him from behind, you'd probably expect him to be a pretty good-looking guy. And while he is good-looking by vamp standards, he's also a little creepy. You can barely tell that he's undead except that his eyes never seem to focus on the same thing at the same time and his teeth make him look a bit like a pit bull.
When he started staring at me, I instinctively looked down to check my watch. "Um, Malkie? It's eleven-fifteen."
"Shit! I'm going to be late to work!" He cursed, jumping to his feet.
He grabbed his coat and badge from the kitchen counter, downed a pint cold right out of the fridge, wiped his face with a paper towel and snagged his keys off of the hook next to the telephone before I could even blink.
Being five hundred years old, Malkie is damn fast.
"Before I forget, "Warrior Princess" called." Malkie paused, right before closing the door between us. "She wants to know if you've found her handcuffs yet."
I suddenly didn't feel like finishing my pint.
"Warrior Princess" is Malkie's nickname for Zeena. Zeena is a bondage model and a professional dominatrix. She's also my ex-girlfriend. Our entire relationship was more or less built around the fact that she liked it rough and I was usually hungry when we hooked up. Things didn't exactly end well between us.
In other words, she's a psychotic bitch.
A lot of vamps I know have asked if I'm afraid of Zeena getting Malkie and me in trouble. Cops don't take vampires seriously as a rule, but if they find out someone's stealing from the hospital… well that's a different story.
Fortunately for us, Zeena has a cocaine problem and is pretty set on staying away from the police. She still calls me about once a week to ask where her shit is. Personally, I think she knows that I don't have any of it and is just calling to see whether or not I'm dating Rachel.
I wish I was dating Rachel.
Rachel is a girl who works at Rudy's, the diner I go to every night. I always stop in a few hours before dawn and order a cup of coffee. It's all I can really afford. I can drink coffee or scotch and the occasional soda but actually eating food makes me sick. Sometimes I'll have a couple spoons of ice-cream or a few french-fries just to remember what the good things actually tasted like… but I'm not one of those masochists who try to eat every day as a way of "staying human".
But I'd come in to Rudy's for three square meals a day if I could afford it.
I'd do it for Rachel.
I know her schedule like the back of my hand. I can always tell how she's feeling because if she's in a good mood, she'll have some kitschy little earrings with cats on them or something. She's a natural redhead, which I love… and she wears these glasses with rhinestones on them that remind me of the 50's.
I turned 18 in 1957. Got a brand-new car for my birthday. Best year of my life.
"Hey Don. The usual?" Rachel asked. She had red roses in her ears and was wearing a lot of mascara.
I put a handful of change on the table. "Yeah." I nodded.
"You sure drink a lot of coffee. I don't know how you do it." She admitted.
"Makes it easier to stay up all night." I shrugged.
"Yeah, I bet." She laughed slightly. She has the most amazing laugh. Sometimes when she thinks something is really funny, she starts to sound like she's hiccuping. "Let me know if you need anything else, ok?"
"Listen, I…" I took a deep breath and reached into my pocket. I'd been meaning to ask Rachel out for months, but relationships between vampires and humans can get really messy. Still, if I couldn't find the guts to ask her on the night of my five-year anniversary, I'd never do it… and not taking that chance was something I just didn't want to think about.
I had a pair of tickets to see a Celtic band based out of the Denver area and one of the dishwashers who worked at Rudy's had let it slip that Rachel had a thing for anything Irish.
That was good news for me.
See… I'm Irish.
Not knowing how to start, I sighed heavily and set the pair of concert tickets on the table. "Gus told me you liked Celtic stuff. I got these tickets to a concert on Friday night and… well, I was thinking that maybe… I don't know you'd want to go."
"Are you asking me out?" Rachel asked.
Like an idiot, I immediately started to backpedal. "It doesn't have to be like that. We could just go as friends. And if you don't want to, that's totally cool. I won't be upset or anything. I'll still come in for coffee."
Her response left me absolutely floored. She looked directly at me and smiled.
"I'd love to go." Rachel said.
"It'll be fun." She nodded.
"Um, I guess I'll pick you up here at sunset then?" The minute those words were out of my mouth, I almost hit myself. Vamps may make vague plans depending on when the sun goes down, but normal people set times.
Rachel didn't seem to think there was anything weird about what I'd said. "Sure." She agreed. "It's a date."
I can't remember most of what happened between Wednesday and Friday night. I know that I must have prepped a whole bunch of mailings because I got a paycheck for them two weeks later and I think some guy in Toronto must have sent me pictures of his 53' Bel Air for my website… but I never put them up. If the sun rising hadn't knocked me dead at five am, I wouldn't have slept at all. Malkie seemed to notice that I was acting a little weird, but he didn't say anything.
Then again with Malkie, weird is sort of relative.
With how fast I went out the door at nine pm on Friday, you'd think I had a jet pack strapped to my back. I kind of expected that Rachel wouldn't wait for me if I wasn't right on time but the amount of cologne I'd sprayed all over myself made it a little hard for me to breathe, let alone run.
Being a vampire, I don't actually need to breathe – but sometimes I just can't stop myself from trying to. Malkie calls breathing one of the great "psychological hurdles" of the unlife and claims that I'll get over it eventually. Ever hear about amputees who swear they can sometimes feel their missing limbs? Right before that date I was so nervous that for a minute or two I could've sworn I actually felt my heart beat.
I didn't want Rachel to think that I was some kind of crazy stalker. Sure, I came to see her at Rudy's every night… but I never followed her home or anything like that. I never made her follow me either, although I suspected that I'd gotten good enough using mesmere that I probably could have.
Although she did agree to go out with me… and as I saw it, that had to be a kind of magic.
When I got to the diner Rachel was sitting on the steps. She looked like she'd stepped right out of an old film with a string of pearls around her neck and a black dress cut in a style that I hadn't seen anyone wearing in decades.
"Gus said you liked the 1950's." Rachel grinned. "Me too."
"It's a hobby of mine." I admitted, not wanting to get into the whole bit about my seriously geeky website. "I like the cars mostly. I used to have a 57' Chevy."
"You sell it?" Rachel wondered.
"No, I wrecked it." I admitted, wincing. "It was a Bel Air, 283 inch V-8, original motor and everything. Helluva car."
"What color was it?" Rachel asked.
"Um… red. Why?"
She dangled a set of keys and pointed across the street. I turned slowly and stared in awe. Not more than fifty feet away, there it was! Of course, Rachel's car was cream and not red… but it was the same year, the same model and clean enough to look brand new.
"My god! That's my car!" I exclaimed.
"My car." Rachel corrected. There was a genuine smile on her face.
If I hadn't been sure before, I knew it then.
Rachel wasn't just a girl.
She was the girl, the one I'd been waiting for all my life.
The concert was better than I'd imagined it being. I got so carried away by the music and just being there with Rachel that I didn't remember to feed until I got home. I downed six cold pints before I started feeling normal again and then got to pacing.
I don't know how long I was tramping back and forth across the living room, but sometime before sunrise Malkie came in. He sat down on the kitchen counter, lit himself a cigarette and watched me with his crazy eye.
"You've got to tell her." He informed me. "Tell her you're a vampire."
"Tell her? Are you insane? I can't tell her!" I protested. "It'd ruin her life!"
"Don, you've been stalking this girl for months and you haven't bit her yet." Malkie sighed. "Face it. You're in love."
"You're insane." I glared at him.
"Don't say I didn't warn you." He winked, put his cigarette out on my nose and then sauntered off to bed.
I didn't go back to Rudy's for almost a week, and by the time Wednesday night rolled around, I knew that I had to do something. I couldn't avoid Rachel forever and I did owe her some kind of explanation. Sure, some vamps think that relationships are for feedsacks… but those guys are usually young and new at the whole "unlife" thing.
After you've kicked around for a few decades or a few centuries, you start to realize that when you have to lie every day in order to survive, there's some real appeal in having somebody you can actually trust. And trust… real trust means telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I met Rachel at the park just about sunset. There was still some of that warm orange glow in the sky but not enough that it was painful for me to be outside. She was sitting on a bench reading a familiar-looking book.
When she set it down, I realized what it was and a lump rose up in my throat.
She was reading a copy of Twilight.
Of course, plenty of people read those books who don't know anything more about vampires than the author seems to – which is to say, nothing at all... but I still felt like I'd been called out. I must have looked as nervous as I felt. All I could think of as I sat down next to her was how right Malkie was and how stupid I had been to think even for a second that I could possibly deserve someone like Rachel.
"Hey, Don. I wanted to tell you, I found your website. I was going to ask you if you'd be willing to put up some pictures of my car, but you haven't been by the diner." She said.
"Uh, sure." I completely forgot everything I had worked out in my head and just stared at her car parked on the street. The Bel Aire really was in mint condition, but even that beautiful machine couldn't hold my attention like her owner could.
"You all right?" Rachel pressed.
"I've been thinking." I admitted. "We shouldn't see each other any more."
"What? Why?" Rachel demanded.
"Look, there's a lot of things you don't know about me." I sighed. "Rachel… I… I'm a vampire."
She laughed as I said that. "Me too."
"Whoa, no!" I shook my head furiously. "This isn't a joke." I paused. "You don't really believe that Stephanie Meyer trash, do you?"
"Drivel." She snorted, sounding just like Malkie. "But God, Don! Are you dense? Why do you think I went out with you? You look like you're dead, you've always got grave dirt on your clothes and your breath smells like the back room of a butcher shop!"
"Hey!" I protested.
"I did just kiss you." She smirked. "Well?"
"You were mesmerized maybe?" I suggested.
"Please. Mesmere works long enough to get a meal, not a second date." Rachel sighed.
"So you're honestly a vampire?" It sounded weird saying those words.
"Eighty-two years and counting." She replied. "I can't believe you didn't know."
"Well, I guess that rules out the question I was going to ask you." I admitted, laughing slightly.
"Which was?" Rachel pressed.
"Where do you want to go to dinner?" I suggested.
We both laughed. I still felt a little uneasy, but the gray cloud that had been hanging over me for so long seemed like it was starting to lift.
"I do have a question for you though." Rachel said as we watched the last of the light fade from the sky.
"Oh?" I wondered, honestly curious.
"Do you sparkle?" She asked, waving her copy of Twilight in my face.
"The hell with sparkles!" I snatched it from her and tossed it over my shoulder as we got up and walked towards Rachel's car. She laughed so hard she hiccuped, covering her mouth and looking embarrassed. "I'd rather have this."
"Stephanie Meyer, eat your heart out." Rachel agreed.