worst part is making it look like you’re breathing. You never get used to that.
Or blinking for company. Which is what is currently making the situation I’m in
all the worse.
Right now, I am sitting at a restaurant table with Rachel, trying to pass for a man, trying to pass as the perfect vampire she wants me to be. I look at her and even through my tinted glasses her hair shines like white-gold, unmarred by human fingers.
“You should try the rib-steak. I hear that it is to die for” she comments with a giggle that sounds like pearls clinking down a marble staircase. I just smile at her and nod. She leans back toward the menu and I can see the outline of her neck; she brushes back her hair and my eyes zoom into her carotid artery, detecting the miniscule pulse on her skin, in synch with her heart. My mouth begins to water.
“Aren’t you going to order anything?” she asks, looking up at me and her eyes are like Colombian emeralds, ocean-floor green. She cracks a smile and her teeth are chiseled ivory, set between her perfect lips. Rachel speaks again, but her words don’t even register. There’s only the steady beating of her heart in her chest, indifferently counting down the seconds. She’s looking at me, so I put on my best breathing impression.
“No. I’m fine.” I say and make sure I don’t open my mouth too wide, that she doesn’t see my teeth: it’s the most pronounced characteristic of a vampire, its teeth; only four incisors and two long pairs of canines, held into place by coral pink gums. The rest fall off during the incubation period, having been rendered useless by the shift in your dietary paradigm.
Blink. Inhale. Damn it.
“You could have fooled me.” Rachel says and I can see the outline of her veins against her butterscotch-colored skin, like frosting drawn by an artist. My eyes focus on the Prussian-blue forks on the forehead and limbs, the munsell-red trails across her chest, breasts, shoulders, the secret royal-purple whorls obscured by her underwear. She’s so beautiful that I mess up my breathing routine.
“How’s Caleb?” I ask her, crossing my arms. She looks like an artery anatomical model now, suspended in some translucent, human-shaped vessel. In my eyes, this time more than any other time before or since, Rachel looks even more radiant, more beautiful, much more appetizing than I could have ever thought she could be. I salivate and it starts dribbling down the side of my mouth before I can stop it.
Damn it. Blink. Exhale. Blink.
“Oh. Um…do you need a minute?” Rachel asks me and the disgust in her tone is almost palpable. I can notice it, this rejection that’s bubbling in her mouth, about to spew forth from between those cherry-red lips. It feels worse than being run over by an 18-wheeler and I should know; I’ve been there.
Blink. Blink. Inhale. Damn it!
“I need to go to the bathroom real quick.” I tell her as I look at the smudge of skin toner spread out across the back of my hand. I hold myself from breaking into a run as I make my way to the restroom.
On my way there, all I see are artery anatomy models, looking up at me as they’re trying hard not to wolf down their three-course meals.
It might sound cliché, but to me, this feels a lot like trying to get chummy with a platter full of porkchops.
The bathroom is an olfactory maelstrom of bleach, urine, human waste, spermicide and terror. There’s a hint of sweat (sharp and metallic), a dash of Marseille soap (wooden, crude) that only serves to make things worse. Taking off my glasses, I take a look at the mirror (that smell like powdered rock and quenched flame) and check my make-up.
Want to know how to become a vampire? It’s simple, really; all you need to do is be exceptionally foolish and maddeningly in lust. All you need to do is want the wrong girl and decide that you’ll do anything for her.
There’s a chalk-white trail on the side of my lips, framed by smudged beige. I touch it, try to spread it with my fingers but all I can do is make it worse. Beneath my healthy, hundred-dollar-a-jar façade there’s only dead skin that’s dry as parchment. Without the base color, there’s nothing for it to cling on, no moisture in which it can soak and stick to my skin.
What you need to do, after you decide to make her yours-no matter the cost-you need to be stupid enough that you won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. That you’ll be the man she’s dreamed of, the kind of guy she’ll offer her heart to along with her knickers. Unless you are too far gone, this will sound a lot like sex offender mentality.
Without looking back, I open my mouth and expose the long, tube-like tongue. It’s dripping spittle down from the tip now, excited by the prospect of blood, of so much meat in one place. From my pocket, I take a cotton pad and dab it in the fluid until it’s moist, making sure to retract my tongue all the way in this time. I spread it across the base and try to fix the damage, spreading skin-tone across the white.
To become the man you’d think she’d want you to be, you begin to stalk her. Follow her Facebook feed, study her pictures, her posture. You look through her preferences in music and do your absolute best to make them your own, no matter how much you might hate it. You take a day off work so you can follow her across the local mall on a Saturday morning and note everything she buys. You look through her trash and check which of those tastes she has just discarded.
Behind me, there’s a quick intake of breath. To my ears, it sounds like the call gazelles make when a lion’s hot on their heels, shrill and loud. Looking up, I see an old man clutching at his chest, clawing at the bathroom stall door, gasping for air. Without turning around, I know that he’s already looked at my eyes.
When you finally move up to flirt with her in the bar that she frequents, feigning casualness, you think you’re pretty much the man she wants you to be. And why wouldn’t you? You are in synch, you match, you click; you are a perfect fit, carefully engineered according to your research. As you’re establishing contact, leaning in, bracing yourself for your carefully-practiced kiss, she pushes you back and introduces Caleb, who’s just come back from the men’s room.
I’m on the man before the scream has escaped his lips, my fingers clamping his mouth shut, like a vice. In my ears, I hear the pounding of his heart, tumbling around in his chest. His arteries gleam neon-red in my unobscured field of vision. The old man’s eyes are transfixed to mine. He twitches, but doesn’t fight back.
Caleb’s not the man she appears to want. He’s crude, hairy, ape-like and clumsy. He smells of grease and his posture leaves a lot to be desired, but everything on him screams top dog. In comparison, you’re just a scented underdog, all frills and cheap tricks, doomed to yield when directly challenged. With your plans foiled, you decide on the next worst thing and try to become something greater than the man she could want: you try to become the object of her fancy.
“Shhhhh” I whisper to the old man and lean forward, opening my mouth wide. My tongue extends and touches his carotid artery, pumping down saliva, laced with my own potent hallucinogen. I know that by now, it’s seeping into the pores of his skin, replacing his terror with near-orgasmic bliss. The old man moans pleasurably as I sink my teeth through the skin and the rich, metallic taste of his blood (like a river of molten nickels) flows down my neck.
You know that she loves romance novels. You’ve realized that the one she wants, more than Caleb, the man that she gives herself to in her fantasies is a thing of the grave and a child of the night; a vampire. Pushed on by your bruised ego and your own selfish desire, you decide to become the pale prince she lusts for, so you look up on the internet, research vampire sightings. After analyzing evidence carefully compiled by crackpots, you head for the one spot on earth with the most confirmed ones. You book a flight to Dracula country, Romania.
“Everything okay?” Rachel asks me as I return to the table, a steaming bowl of soup in front of her. I just smile and dispel her fears with a gesture. There’s fresh blood in my belly, running through my veins. It should last me for the night. There’s an old man that has been dealt with in the men’s room, caught in the throes of an orgasm that would humble a sow
“Perfect. So, how’s Caleb?” I ask her, acting nonchalantly. The mention of his name makes my stomach churn and my tongue recede halfway to my throat. Rachel bites her lower lip as she looks up at me and I feel my own heart beat for a precious instant. I finger the wine glass, doing my best to look indifferent.
“Well, I was going to put it off for later but…” Rachel pauses and flashes a hand up from the table. There’s a band of white-gold on her middle finger, topped by a stone of considerable radiance, its facets shedding light in every direction. “He popped the question!”
The wine glass has been turned to powder by a mere flex of my fingers. Rachel jumps.
“Oh God! What the hell was that?” Rachel says and there’s that delightful hint of terror in her voice, the kind that fills my nostrils and makes my hackles rise. I look at the palm of my hand, at the red and the glass that have smeared the base skin-tone and deliver my worst lie yet:
“Apparently people can’t make glasses worth a damn these days.” I respond as I’m picking glass from my wounds casually, oblivious to her obvious concern. One of the waiters approaches me and I give him a look that could make the devil himself shrivel in a corner and pray to his maker. “Go on.”
Exhale. Inhale. Blink.
“You’re hurt.” Rachel says. You have no idea is what I want to tell her, as I’m picking at the smashed glass, flicking it onto the thick carpeting, giving her a coward’s nod instead. In my mouth, my tongue feels like a dead snake resting against my palate, headless but still pumping poison.
Exhale. Exhale. Blink.
When you get to Romania, you take a bus to Transylvania. You book a hotel, ask around, visit all the wrong places at the right times. You pay a woman with a glass eye and a set of teeth that used to belong to a rabid dog a sizeable sum and she introduces you to a man who is too handsome to be her son, too pale to be healthy. He leads you cross-country, to the base of the Carpathians, to a place called Vizuina.
“That’s wonderful news, Rachel. I’m so happy for you.” I say, as I pick the last of the glass from my injured palm.I look at the blood that’s dripping down on the carpeting. It’s clotted, thick and foul. “I almost feel sorry for Caleb.”
Blink. Blink. Oh, fuck it.
It’s a tiny little village, Vizuina, built in the shadow of an old medieval keep, long since torn down. There are a thousand people living there, all told. You can’t see them, except when they peek through their windows or from cracks through the doors as you walk by. The guide leads you to a place where you’re offered housing and some undercooked meat. “For preparing” the guide says, as he watches you chew at it with a strained face.
“What?” she asks me and she can’t take her eyes off the stain that’s spreading slowly across the tablecloth. The lack of motion of my chest is now only beginning to register. There’s a fire in my belly that sheds no light. It only serves to burn across my insides, to choke my brain in smoke.
When night falls, you are dragged from your bed, ankles-first. If you fight back, you get struck across the face with a club and then carried to the base of the Carpathians, to the torn medieval keep, down endless flights of stairs, into a damp place that smells like aged vinegar and honey. Hands frisk you and take away your wallet, your car keys, your mobile phone. Someone shuts the door, leaving you alone in the darkness with something that appears to be made of a pair of eyes, suspended above a hungry mouth, red and dripping like an open wound.
“I almost wish I’d heard the news before I beat him to within an inch of his life and drained every last drop of blood in him.” I tell Rachel and flash her a grin. She sees the teeth and jumps across the table. The scent of her fear explodes across my senses, makes my mouth water uncontrollably. Somewhere in the distance, someone is dialing 911.
When it’s done, the only thing that is left is a husk. Barely living, but conscious, you are tossed into a pit and buried for what seems like an eternity, to facilitate your change. The first thing to strike you is hunger, so you feed on earthworms. You chew on them and all the while, your teeth grow loose and begin to fall off, but you barely notice. Famished, you claw to the surface and grab a rat. You drain it and it tastes foul, like airline business-class whiskey, bitter like poison.
When I take off my glasses, the façade melts away. Rachel screams as she looks at my eyes and knows what I truly am. She shines like a bonfire and I know I can’t wait to have her. I lunge at her and she dives back, flipping the table as she goes. Perhaps she thinks it will stop me, buy her some time.
They come for you in the middle of the day, as you’re sleeping and hoist you up on blankets. They lock you in a trunk filled with grave-dirt and leave you at the side of the interstate, in a ditch where the sun’s rays won’t strike you when the dawn comes. You make your way home with money stolen from some tourist that made the mistake to brake for you when you hitch-hiked. You pack yourself in the cargo hold of a commercial airplane. All the while, your body is changing. The people above and the crew change along with you, from human beings into walking sirloin, into blood-bags with opinions. Maybe a couple of them go missing.
The soup plate lands on my face and it burns worse than acid. The scent makes my insides churn, makes me sick. I try to scream, but the liquid flows into my mouth, down my throat like Greek fire, blinding me. Garlic.
You realize, as you are forced to break into your own home, that you don’t look even remotely human, that you are not the vampire that is being advertised; that you’re a ghoul, a thing of bleached skin and fangs and eyes like burning coals, smelling of grave dirt. But because you’re such a hopeless case, you look up ways to mask your nature, to pass for normal. Somewhere in your maddened little brain, you think that now she will have to love you for who you truly are.
Screeching like an animal, I run away, stumbling down, crawling. Around me, there’s a maelstrom of voices. I hear Rachel panting as she runs away from me, screaming at the waiter:
“The zucchini! Pour the damn zucchini!”
Of course, you take the time to kill her suitor as soon as you’re certain that she’s left the house and then try your best not to think of her as food the entire time. You only think that you’ve been a terrible fool since the very first moment you laid eyes on her as she’s pouring garlic soup all over you.
The zucchini feels like napalm on my skin; viscous, burning so hot it makes me shiver instead. The color base is sloughing off along with the first two layers of my skin, spilling onto the floor. When Rachel kicks me in the ribs, I almost go flying. She screams commands that she’s been taught by television, novels, books:
“Somebody get a goddamn stake!”
And someone does. Smashing one of the table legs, a waiter leans over. His features are rounded, his eyes almond-shaped, the color of tree bark. As he places the jagged wood edge on my chest, he looks like a pulp magazine strongman, all grit and no fear, trained by popular culture, honed in mind but not in spirit.
As he pushes the stake into my chest, missing my heart by mere inches, all I feel is a terrible tearing, a pressure that seems to push me down against the floor. That’s what passes for pain in a vampire: this crushing, stifling feeling. Something pours out of my mouth and somehow I know it’s Caleb’s blood.
My fingers, slick with juices, grapple at the stake and push back at the waiter. Rachel screams orders but I can barely hear her. She shines balefully, like the sun.
“Somebody kill it!”
And I know they can’t kill me. I know there is nothing they can do, that I’ll have Rachel and that I will kill every man in this place before the police even get here. The waiter will die last, impaled to the wall by the very same stake he is attempting to murder me with. I am dead, but invincible. They are but children before me, cowering and panicking. I push back and about to begin enacting my revenge, when Rachel runs at me, a Solingen steel cleaver in hand, stolen from the kitchens. She swings blindly with it, wailing like a Hun.
The blade chops off my neck before I can even react.