WRITING: You and Your Vampire Novel

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Vampire Fiction: A Semi-Authoritative Guide

I wanted to take a minute to talk about vampires.

Some of you are already groaning. You’re thinking of Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Anne Rice if you’re my age. You’re thinking of Love That Never Dies, brooding-handsome guys with pale skin and strangely chiseled abs, Darke Perfektionne, ineptly written historical romance (vampire hunters in 1700, one of whom is a beautiful seventeen year old girl for some reason, have black powder guns that fire multiple rounds. What?). You probably have your own opinions on whether or not literary vampires should drink human blood and kill people or not (my answer: modern day, probably not. Do you know how hard it would be to kill that many people and not get caught doing it? I don’t care if you’re a vampire or the king of freaking Monaco, it’s a different kind of story, the story of a fugitive, if your vampire kills a lot of people.)

And you’re fixing to vomit all over your laptop keyboard just because I’m bringing all this up. Hey, I get it. Most of it, I have that gut reaction too. I don’t buy into the mystery and romance element of the vampire myth. Nothing bores me quite like the thought of immortal perfection–and, frankly, this thought has produced some of the most laughably bad writing in the history of horror (if it can even be called horror, when nothing horrible happens). The idea of Vampire Romance–of a handsome man eternally handsome, eternally the same, who never goes grey or gets fat or starts preferring the Pats game at the bar to your company–is wish-fulfillment fantasy, territory best governed by teenaged girls and unsatisfied wives from all walks of life.

I know, I know. I just made some enemies. Whatever. This has all been said before.

My point is, in spite of all the dirt that’s been thrown on it, there is serious literary potential in the vampire mythos. Even, perhaps, in its wish-fulfillment element–even I’ll concede there’s something powerful about the idea of Love Eternal, Love Unchanging.

But the most powerful thing might be the essential wrongness of the vampire–a creature that sleeps through the day, stays awake all night, scorns regular food and feasts on the blood of other human beings. A vampire is, essentially, an anti-human in a human body–a creature at irreconcilable odds with the rest of the human race. If you’ve ever worked a night shift, you understand exactly what I mean. There’s something powerfully disturbing to the human psyche about being awake when everyone else is asleep, asleep when everyone else is awake.

When you’re writing a vampire story (and this is something Anne Rice, at least, understood), you’re really writing a story about lost humanity, changed humanity. Louis or Lestat, after all, weren’t different people because they became vampires–they were the same people, the same personality types, only changed and warped by the necessities of their new identities. And, little though I like a lot of Anne Rice’s books, I think this is the right question to ask, if you’re writing about vampires:

How does being a vampire change this person (and his or her day to day life?)

On the most superficial level, think about this stuff:

1) This person can only go out at night. Where do they work? How do they work?
2) This person is immortal. How do they continue to get a driver’s license, SSN, etc.?
3) If your character doesn’t have to work, how the hell did he or she get so much money operating only at night?
4) For that matter–how the fuck does this person BANK? It’s a little easier now than it would’ve been forty years ago, sure–but he was probably alive back then too. How did he manage it then?
4) This person’s been around for a while, eh? How does firsthand knowledge of the past affect his or her view of the present?
5) If we’re sucking the blood from a lot of people, how’re we doing this without police getting involved?

These are basic vampire character questions. Superficial? Maybe. But here’s the thing about superficiality, kids. If you don’t have your ‘superficial’ bases covered and believable, what the fuck else do you have? The definition of ‘realistic’ should be something along the lines of ‘handles the annoying small questions in a way acceptable to the reader’. And if you’re writing about Dracula and Co., you want a little realistic in your story structure.

I know. It sucks having to deal with these questions. But they’re the questions your readers are wondering about. I know I never read Interview With the Vampire without wondering what bank these vampires went to. So, if you’re writing the next generation of Fanged Fantasy, do me the favor of leaving off talking about Benny the Bloodthirsty’s amaaaaazing amber eyes for long enough to deal with his property taxes, or at least how the fuck he affords his house.

I’m writing a vampire story. It’s, unsurprisingly, humorous. If you haven’t read it yet, here are the first few installments:

ONE: https://pisscoffeeandvinegar.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/excerpt-things-that-go-bump-in-the-night/
TWO: https://pisscoffeeandvinegar.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/things-that-go-bump-in-the-night-some-more/
THREE: https://pisscoffeeandvinegar.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/excerpt-all-these-things-just-keep-on-going-bump-in-the-night/
FOUR: https://pisscoffeeandvinegar.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/its-night-time-and-things-keep-on-bumping/

Liebster Awards

Ohhh, boy. The Liebsters.

The idea, basically, is: answer eleven questions, nominate eleven (!) people, ask eleven questions for those people to answer. Here we go.

I got nominated by two great guys, with two great writing blogs: Gabe, over here at Gabriel to Earth, and Dave, over this way at On Writing Dragons. I’m going to answer both sets of questions, because it occurred to me: I NEVER talk about myself on here. At least, when I’m not puking in the street somewhere, or cooking something particularly tasty. So I want this to be a sort of introductory post to me, as well.

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This is me, today, shitty hair and all. Fuck pretty. Fuck it so hard.

Hi.

My name is Emily. I’m twenty six years old, very short, and slightly plump. I have a magician boyfriend, I’m struggling with a coffee addiction, and I write sweet gumdrop fantasy stories about people getting drunk and putting poles through livestock. My job is arts-related, and because of this I’ve more or less stopped painting in entirety. If you met me on the street, you’d probably look right past me.

That’s okay. I’d probably look right past you too. Because, you know, I don’t know what you look like.

My hobbies include cooking, drawing, reading, word collecting, thrift store diving, frame restoration, singing quietly to myself in the shower, making horrible puns, thinking about exercising and then deciding not to, and recreational drinking, which, really, should be the only kind. I’m decent at beer pong. I dropped out of college in my junior year, and love it when people make quiet tsking sounds and judge me about it, because then I get to smile sweetly and ask how long it’s going to be until their loans are paid off.

Now that you’ve had some information about me dumped into your laps, back to the Liebs.

I’m gonna start by saying something similar to Gabe: I don’t usually do these. They do have a whiff of the chain letter about them. And I’ll be straight up honest: most of the people I’d recommend have already been recommended. (Two of them, as it happens, nominated me). So my nominee list is a little shorter than most and consists of two people:

Nominees

1) Chris, over at Modern Fantastic. Because I miss you, buddy. And maybe if you get some prompts in you you’ll write a new damn blog. 😛
2) Allison, who wrote this wonderful mystery novel, over here, called The Fourth Descendant. Because these eleven questions are going to be all writing, and you might enjoy them.

Everybody else who reads me frequently, and who I read: if you wanna answer them, consider yourself nominated, even though you already have been. 🙂

Questions:
1) Why do you blog/write?
2) What keeps you from enjoying a book?
3) What does writing mean to you? Is it escape, release, a way of thinking on paper, a way of reaching/teaching others, etc?
4) What made you decide to write the last thing you wrote?
5) What makes it difficult for you to write?
6) Are there any themes that keep cropping up in your stories? If so, do tell.
7) What would you want to hear someone say MOST about your writing?
8) How private do you keep your writing? Do your friends/coworkers/families know you write?
9) Stealing one from Dave here. What would be your perfect job?
10) Do you have any writing rituals? Anywhere you particularly need to be, music you need to hear, food you need to eat, etc? What do you write on?
11) Favorite words?

GABE:

1) Why do you blog? Because the internets told me I needed to blog to sell books, mostly.
2) Favorite music? First wave, post, and old school punk. Some metal, trance, bluegrass and folk. And, okay. Let’s be honest here. Justin Timberlake. I don’t know WHY the hell I love Justin Timberlake. But I do.
3) What would be your perfect day? After waking from a night of restful sleep in my Roman villa, I would retire to the soothing pastoral atmosphere of Pompeii or Herculaneum to enjoy  political discussion and cheeky verse over a magnificent cena with my very bestest of Roman statesman buddies. We’ll have multiple meats and elaborate clothing and generally enjoy our vaccuous and sybaritic existence, screw sumptuary laws.
Realistically? You mean ‘realistically’ DOESN’T involve lark’s tongue and positive auguries?
4) If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland, honestly–from pictures it looks like the most beautiful place on earth. However, I recognize that I am a total sissy when it comes to cold, and that this is an issue, as the places I most want to go–Greenland, Antarctica, Finland, Western Russia–are, one and all, ridiculously freaking cold. So I’ll settle for Thailand or Tokyo, Japan.
5) Favorite author? This is one of those lemme give you a list types of questions. I’m a big fan of Ursula K. Leguin, Russell Banks, Terry Pratchett, Nikolai Gogol, Wilkie Collins, Lev Grossman.
6) Coke or Pepsi? I’m a Dr. Pepper girl, at heart.
7) What is your favorite historical time period? Another toughie. I’ve always had a deep love of Imperial Rome, particularly the Julio-Claudian dynastic era (I’m a nut for Suetonius). I’ve been recently working on a fondness for the Victorian Era as well–I think we take the popular ‘repressed’ definition of it too much from Freud, and a lot of the stuff that happened in there is a result of the world changing too quickly for our values and societal conventions to keep up. Things like The Great Stink happen. And you guys know how I feel about The Great Stink.
8) Read on a Kindle or paperback book? Kindle all the way. I have my Kindle with me constantly, and it’s nice to know that, if I finish a book somewhere out and about, I can just start another one willy-nilly without looking like a crazy booked-up bag lady.
9) Who would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island? My Kindle, a charger, and a single source of electricity. If I have to slowly starve to death, my body turned to fruit leather consistency by heat and dehydration, I’d like to at least have some time to read.
10) Favorite color? Yellow. Because I’m cheerful.
11) What do you hope people get out of your blog? A new appreciation and worship for myself as a minor household goddess.
Just kidding. Well, kind of kidding. I mean, let’s face it, most people blog secretly in the hopes someone will see their blog and just be floored by JEANEEYUS. There needs to be a word for ‘honesty so uncomfortably direct it’s a joke’. Here, I’ll make one up for you. Forthwrongfulness. There you go.

DAVE:
2) What is one of your core values? I aim for delicate honesty. I want to tell the truth–lies irritate me–but I want it to be pretty truth, and I want the metaphors of my truth to carry all the way through the story.
3) If you could work anywhere, where would that be? I just saw a show about a guy who makes knives in his own little forge. I could totally do that. I imagine it’s immensely satisfying.
4) If you had the opportunity to ask 1 question of any author who ever lived, who would you ask, and what would your question be? I actually wouldn’t do this. I think it’s better not to know the answers from the horse’s mouth. If a book makes you think, that’s what it’s supposed to do.
5) What inspires you? Random things. Little bits and pieces. I saw a clip of a woman on a talent show balancing an incredible amount of sticks on one finger, and The Balancer was born. A scene in Little Bird involving bogs came from the taste of Laphroaig scotch. I had a dream about a bush made out of grasping hands and I wrote an (admittedly, shitty) story about it. Long story short, it’s the little things, and mulling them over for a day or two.
6) If you were to be remembered in this world from 1 piece of advice, what would it be? Don’t let someone else’s bullshit stop you from being yourself, or being happy with yourself.
7) Favorite beverage? I’ve been trying to cut down on the coffee here lately. It’s made me a sad, sad shell of a human being.
8) Do you have a favorite font? Baskerville, but I go sans serif for headlines and bold writing. I’m tired of seeing Papyrus. Please, please, please, people. Stop using Papyrus. It’s sooooo early 2000s.
9) How do you deal with rejection? Poorly. I admit freely to being a sensitive little turd, and recognizing that the heaps of fecal matter that make up my consciousness shiver and tremble with the thought of rejection. This is, being honest, probably the real reason I self-publish.
Seriously. I don’t even like not being invited to parties. But, as a grown-up, I try and keep it within the bounds of human decency by not talking about it, ever.
Except right now.
…shit. I talked about it.
10) What is your current or most recent project? Hahahaha. Oh. This is a bucket full of teehees. Here’s the list:
1) Death Dealer, the third book in the Sundering Trilogy, begun with Aurian and Jin.
2) Things That Go Bump in the Night, that story about vampires and poltergeist dads and stuff.
3) The King’s Might, which I’m releasing pretty soon here, btw.
4) The Balancer, a story about Riftings and Skylings and people who capture dreams and stuff.
5) The Apple and the Tree, which is about magicians and alchemy and good old fashioned Southern Gothic family twisties. Learned a lot about alchemy for this, more or less have to finish it or discover the Philosopher’s Stone, one or the other.
6) Hesperides, a story of Erasure.
That’s everything I’ve got 30+ pages on in Word, and thus plan to finish. I’ve got a few Aurian and Jin related shorts I’m kicking around, but you know how it goes with those.
11) What do you hope people will get out of your blog? I’m doing this one twice because there’s two answers. The first is the above flippant one. The second is this:

I hope somebody benefits from my advice, my strengths, and my mistakes. I’m not a Pulitzer prize winning variety of writer, but I’m damn clever and the words flow pretty fast for me, so maybe I’ve got something somewhere that can help somebody, right?

The compliments that I like to hear most lean more towards ‘helpful’ or ‘insightful’ than ‘I agree’. I don’t particularly care if anyone agrees with me, but I’d like to make people think a little more about ‘The Craft’ (hurrhurrhurrimportantlaughterfancymoustache) and go beyond easily uttered writing axioms and governable ‘make yourself a better writer’ territory. I think that, rather than easy tips and tricks, a writer should search out open-ended advice that begs the question ‘will this work with what I do?’ rather than ‘am I doing what I’m already doing right?’.

‘Cos here’s the thing, see: you’re doing what you’re doing, and it’s not going to get any wronger or righter whether you add an adverb into it or cut it loose. Your style is your style, and your choices your choices, and you need to figure out how to make what you’ve got work for you and not the other way around.

Also, recipes.

EXCERPT: All These Things Just Keep On Going Bump in the Night.

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Next little bit for you. In chapter two, our story shifts from John Fowler, Convenience Store Clerk Vampire Extrordinaire, to the Day Brothers, Shit Psychics. Have fun. If you’ve missed the first two parts, here they are:

TTGBITN, I
TTGBITN, II

2
DAY BROTHERS

“DAY,” the barista bellowed, over the ambient industrial noise throbbing from the speakers. “DAY, DEREK. DAY, DEACON. SMALL ICED AMERICANO, RED EYE CHAI WITH SOYMILK. DAY, DEREK. DAY, DEA–”

“That’s enough, thank you,” said Day, Deacon. “I’ll take those.”

But it had already begun. The coffee shop denizens, previously hunched over their laptops and smart devices, were peering at him disbelievingly. And, worse still, their eyes drifted immediately over to Derek, who, after all, looked exactly like him, and was therefore impossible to mistake for anything but his identical twin brother.

“Wow,” the barista said. “Are your names really–?”

“Yes,” Deacon said, preemptively striking. “Our mother was crazy. Thanks.”

He didn’t tip.

When he approached their table, Derek was already engaged in the standard conversation, with the standard petite and awed-looking college girl.

“A psychic,” she was breathing, right on cue. “Wow! Like, a real psychic? Like, she could actually see the future?”

Under his breath, Deacon repeated the next line in the conversation, matching his brother syllable for syllable.

“Yeah, she could. She even saw my future wife, can you believe it? Blue eyes, brown hair. She said…oh, wow. What a coincidence. She said she’d look exactly like you!”

And, in spite of the lameness of the line, the girl laughed. She was twenty, maybe. Far too pretty, and far too young, for the likes of the Brothers Day.

And she laughed.

Deacon puttered around by the coffee bar, examining the condiments and packs of sugar while his brother worked his magic. When he saw the number change hands–and Derek, ever the organizer, snapped the obligatory selfie of himself with his arm around the girl’s shoulders, for later identification purposes–he sidled back over.

“Ah,” Derek said, attaching the girl’s picture to her contact information in his phone. “Thank you, Gerard Manley Hopkins College. Your fount of wisdom is ever-flowing, and such beautiful flowers grow on your grounds.”

“Are you done?” Deacon said. “If I hear you wax rhapsodical one more time today, I’m going to be sick.”

“She was a lovely creature,” Derek purred, closing his eyes and steepling his fingers. “A woodland sprite from the pastoral lands of Aycock Dormitory. A veritable nymph of the liberal collegian Hesperides. An–ow!”

The ow was because Deacon had plunked his red eye chai down in front of him, and managed to spill most of it in his lap.

“How do you do it?” Deacon asked. “I mean, we have the same face. Pretty much the same hairstyle. But I haven’t gotten laid since we graduated.”

Derek smiled. “Simple, dear brother,” he said. “I work with what I’ve got.”

Deacon rolled his eyes. “Anyway,” he said. “I put the fliers up on the bulletin board. Hopefully, someone’s seen Beelzebot. He’s pretty hard to mistake.”

“It’s the eyes. How many wall-eyed cats do you know?”

“True.”

There was a faint cough from beside the table. Deacon looked over to find the barista standing there.

“So you’re the Day brothers?” she said.

Deacon steeled himself. Derek, who would hit on anything with legs, performed a comical seated half-bow.

“We stand accused, madam,” he said.

But the barista didn’t proceed with any of the normal remarks about their stupid names. She didn’t ask if they were teased as children, or if they had any sisters named Diane or Danielle.

“There’s a letter for you guys here,” she said instead, proffering a much-crumpled envelope. “A lady dropped it off about seven years ago. We kept it around more as a gag than anything else, but, well–I guess if you actually exist, we should give it to you. Have a nice day.”

The envelope, in Mama Day’s spindly hand, read: Derek and Deacon Day, care of Cafe Colossus. Derek, wipe that grin off your face!

Derek’s grin disappeared.

“Not another one,” he said.

Madame Dorothea Day–the mother, as it happened, of Derek and Deacon Day–had indeed been a real psychic. She had achieved moderate fame in the sixties following supernaturally inclined rock bands, telling them which shows would sell out and which drugs would result in overdose. She was, some said, the sole reason all the Stones were still alive.

She had dropped off the face of the celebrity map in the mid seventies. She had married a plumber from Portsmouth, bought a ramshackle old house, started her own little family. The house had undergone constant and mostly ineffective renovations. She’d had some money, and it had lasted.

Sort of. The twins got a monthly pension. It was, combined, just enough to pay the electric bill.

Dorothea Day had been the bane of her sons’ combined existences for twenty-five long and prescient years. She’d been dead for three of them. Somehow–even beyond the grave–she managed to nag.

“Just open it,” Derek said, sighing.

Deacon popped the familiar blue waxen seal and unfolded the letter, which had obviously been composed on Mama Day’s ever-present and painfully anachronistic typewriter, and which was now yellowed with age.

Boys–

The man who is about to talk to you is not to be trusted. Take his proposition anyway.

Love,
Mama

PS–Derek. The girl you were just flirting with has chlamydia. Your Mama raised a smarter boy than that.
PPs–Deacon. Those glasses make your face look fat. Why don’t you go get a nice set of contacts, like your brother?

Both brothers, in unison, groaned.

“These do not,” Deacon said, removing the trendy tortoiseshell frames he’d bought two weeks ago and glaring at them, “make my face look fat.”

“Chlamydia,” Derek moaned. “My sweet collegic flower has chlamydia?”

“I wonder,” Deacon said, “what it’s like to have a mother who wasn’t a fucking psychic, and who doesn’t nag you from beyond the grave. It must be so fucking nice. It must be so nice to be cooking an omelette, and not find a note next to the red pepper flakes telling you it’s going to burn–”

He trailed off. His sixth sense, carefully cultivated, was beginning to tingle. Bad things happened when his sixth sense tingled, not the least of them being, as this sense was attached to no visible organ, that he had nothing to scratch.

He scratched his nose anyway, in hopes, just this once, it would do the trick.

It didn’t.

“Excuse me,” said a deep voice to their left. “Are you the Day Brothers, of Day Brothers Exorcisms and Psychic Investigations?”

Deacon sighed. They had just wanted some coffee. Why did every tiny outing turn into a full-blown excursion?
“Whatever it is,” he said, “we’ll do it. But we don’t trust you.”

The man blinked at them. It was only then, craning his neck to meet their visitor’s eyes, that Deacon noticed: he was about seven feet tall, and three hundred pounds if he was an ounce. His arms and hands were covered in snaking black and red tattoos, and a similar design was blazoned proudly on his cheeks and forehead. His head, from which every hair had been carefully shaved, was about the same size and shape as a bowling ball, and was polished to the same high sheen.

He was wearing, to make matters worse, a suit. It must have been custom-sewn for him–they didn’t sell XXXXXL suits off the rack–and his red silk tie was held in place by a silver tie pin that looked antique.

It was a rooster, Deacon realized, after staring at it for as long as he thought he could without getting the shit kicked out of him. The silver likeness of a rooster, with two tiny red jewels for eyes.

“…sir,” Deacon added. Reluctantly.

The man pulled up a chair and sat down across from him. The chair, one of those spindly things popular in trendy coffee shops everywhere, groaned audibly under his weight.

“Don’t you want to know what I’m asking you to do, first? Or what I’ll pay you?”

“Yes,” Derek said smoothly, shooting Deacon an exasperated look. “Of course we do. We’ll discuss payment after hearing our task, and we’ll send you an invoice as soon as possible. But we will do it. Just so you know.”

The man smiled. His teeth, Deacon noticed, were filed to blunt points.

“That’s wonderful,” he said. “My organization is very glad of the help.” He stuck out a hand larger than Deacon’s forearm, and both brothers shook it. Had they wanted to, both brothers could have shaken it at the same time without touching.

“Is there some place more quiet we could go to discuss this?” The man continued. “There is information of a…graphic. Nature. That I must show you.”

The Brothers Day were pretty used to graphic. It came with the exorcism business–Deacon reckoned that, in his lifetime, he’d been covered in more types of slime than the props department had manufactured for Ghostbusters.

But it was true, college kids studying for exams in a coffee shop weren’t used to it. And, worse still–they might get curious. What Derek and Deacon did wasn’t illegal, but it certainly wasn’t normal.

And they both knew it.

And Deacon, at least, clung to what shreds of normalcy remained to him with the tenacity of a drowning man.

“Come back to the house with us,” he said at last. “We can discuss it there.”

Things That Go Bump in the Night Some More

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More of this nonsense. Now featuring a Vampire Visigoth, kitty issues, iron bullets.

****

The rest of his shift–the night shift, of course–passed uneventfully. John got the stockroom in some kind of order, turned the radio on, sold a few sodas and packs of cigarettes. He mopped up the blood in the alley and returned the lockbox to its spot under Marlene’s desk. He whistled along to ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Under the Boardwalk’ on the muzak with centuries-long disregard for tune or pitch.

When no one was around, he poked the hole in his chest idly. He could feel the bullet rattling around in his lung like the last gumball in a fleshy vending machine.

It was awfully irritating. It would be, he decided, his first order of business upon returning home to remove it.

Which is why, with dawn looming on the horizon, the vampire John Fowler could be found in the bathroom of his basement apartment with a thin magnetic grabber he usually used for retrieving awkwardly dropped car keys, a pair of flat-nose pliers, and the roll of duct tape he’d borrowed from the store laid out on the hideous green formica countertop in front of him.

Doing self-surgery as a vampire, he’d discovered, was more like playing the board game Operation than it was like undergoing an actual operation. There were little pieces, irritatingly shaped, rattling around inside you. They tickled you a little when they brushed up against something that still moved. They had to be fetched out with a painstaking amount of care–not because it hurt if you did it wrong, mind, but because the holes were so damn small, and one’s inner organs were actually surprisingly large.

He wondered what his lungs looked like, at this point. He’d seen human lungs, of course–in almost a hundred years of draining the blood from people, you saw some shit. Weird blobby things, filled with funny little nodules that reminded him of baby’s breath.

He tried to picture his own, and couldn’t. All he could imagine was paper bags. Paper bags and dead flowers, dried and preserved for some special occasion.

He shrugged off his work shirt, tossed it onto the toilet seat. He looked, out of habit, into the mirror, but there was nothing there, and of course there wasn’t. He hadn’t had a reflection for ninety-nine years.

Which just made this that much more difficult.

You could sleep on it, John’s inner voice wheedled. You’re a vampire, it’s not like it’s going to kill you. You’ve got the night off tomorrow. Plenty of time to mess with it then.

Except he didn’t want to use his day off fishing a bullet out of his own lung.

Sighing, he picked up the magnetic strip and began feeding it into the hole in his chest.

He fed it a little deeper, wiggled it around some.

Clunk.

There it was.

He readied the pliers in his other hand, squinting down at his own chest until he was almost cross-eyed with the short focus effort.

The hole was pretty big. What kind of gun had the thief been using, anyway? This wasn’t the typical .45 hole, or the petite little puncture of a .22. He could almost wiggle the bullet out without the pliers.

He gave it a try, heard the telltale rustly thump of the bullet disconnecting from the strip. He picked it back up, tried to wiggle the pliers in around it lefthanded.

The bullet fell again.

He left the pliers jammed in his chest and wiggled the magnetic strip. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. Catch.

There it was.

He tried to force another quarter inch of open space from the pliers.

Did it hurt? A little. Pain was no surprise, these days. It was just another feeling.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Shit,” said John. He called out: “one minute.”

He gave made one last attempt at fishing out the bullet. It clattered off the magnetic strip and back into the lifeless tissue of his lung.

Sighing, he removed the pliers and shrugged on a t-shirt. He could feel the bullet rattling around inside him with every movement.

He answered the door.

“Hi,” said the vision outside. “Um. I’m your new upstairs neighbor. Is this…is this your cat?”

John had never, in the roughly one hundred and thirty years of his existence, owned a cat. He didn’t like cats. He didn’t like their aloof ways, their claws, the necessary litterbox and the miasma it created. John, in his delicate undead condition, was sensitive to odors, and a litterbox, well. It was an odor.

He especially didn’t like this cat. Cats were, in general, unclean–John felt sometimes like the only person on the planet who understood that licking a paw a few times did not a clean creature make–but this one was downright scuzzy.
Matted fur, heavy hanging belly, twin runnels of black goo leaking down from watery eyes.

It meowed at him, pinned against the sizeable breasts of John’s new upstairs neighbor. It probably had some sort of contagious kitty condition, John decided. Even its meow sounded broken.

However, John’s new neighbor–John’s incredible looking new neighbor–was holding this no-doubt-heartworm-positive lump of mange out with an expression of such fetching relief and happiness that John could not, could not, say no.

“Yep,” John said. “That’s my cat.”

The cat–miserable ball of whinge that it was–meowed piteously, as though to corroborate his story.

“He’s a sweet little guy,” said the visionary neighbor. She giggled. “Where should I put him?”

John gestured, aimlessly, to the wood-paneled musty space that served him as a living room. He kept it pretty neat–he was a neat creature–but he wished he’d had time to dust, or something. “Anywhere you like.”

The vision entered, brightening up his space with beach blonde hair and smooth tanned skin and that almost imperceptible glow that accompanies the extremely healthy. She bent down, placing the mangy cat on John’s beaten brown sofa. The cat, after turning around a few times, promptly began to pee on a throw pillow.

“Erm,” said John. But the girl, turning around to face him, hadn’t noticed.

God, she was beautiful. Smooth skin, a petite upturned nose, thick-lashed movie starlet eyes. She smiled at him, revealing small white teeth.

John’s heart, which hadn’t beaten for almost a hundred years, let out a single uneven ka-thunk.

“Thanks for inviting me in,” she said. Which seemed like a funny thing to say.

Or did it?

Her face was a little too perfect. A little too starletesque. Could have, in fact, been the face on the cover of a magazine or on a movie poster.

Probably was.

“Dammit, Aleric,” John said.

The beautiful visage in front of him lengthened, broadened, rippled and shimmered. The body lengthened and broadened also, the waist and shoulders thickening, legs lengthening. The luxurious blonde curls retracted some distance…

“Heh,” said the girl. “Hahaheh. Hee. Oh my God, John. Your face. Your fucking face, man.”

For the girl was no longer a girl. Was certainly no longer terribly attractive. Was, in fact, now a man in the first flush of his youth, some Germanic ideal of old–broad-shouldered and firm-jawed, hair brushing his shoulders in old-fashioned ringlets. This was a face John knew well–it belonged to Aleric Ulrich, messenger vampire of the Blood Reckoning coven, John’s assigned Brethren Watcher, and, he supposed, by default, his best friend.

This ancient tribesman, this vampire Visigoth, continued to chuckle. He was wearing a Slayer t-shirt. His long powerful feet, the pride nine hundred years ago of a hard-walking warrior, were encased in grungy leather flip-flops shiny with long wear. One of his toenails, for some incomprehensible reason, was painted purple.

“Meow,” said Aleric, picking up the motheaten cat and waltzing it around. “Me-ooooow.”

John, who generally tried to look on the bright side of things, said: “So I don’t have to keep the cat.”

“Hell, no. Have it for dinner, if you like.” Aleric made what John supposed was a cat-face, scrunching up his nose and pawing imaginary ears with one white hand.

“Whose face was that?”

Aleric shrugged, collapsing neatly back onto the couch. “I don’t know. She was on the cover of Cosmo last month. Thought she’d appeal to you. You like the beachy ones.” He winked, and for a moment the lost vision’s beautiful features were visible, superimposed over his own. “Gotcha!”

“Very funny.” John crossed his arms. “Why’re you here, Al?”

“You know why I’m here.”

John saw the other vampire’s eyes flicker over to the television set and sighed. The coven of the Blood Reckoning wouldn’t pay for cable, and didn’t want to bother learning how to install flatscreens in the underground crypt system they called home. As a result, John had spent more nights than he cared to admit hosting Aleric, and had seen more episodes of Friends than was altogether good for whatever remained of his soul.

But, apparently, this wasn’t the reason for Aleric’s visit. He shook his head slowly.

“As much as I want to find out whether Ross and Rachel finally get together,” he said, “I think I’ve gotta do my messenger stuff first.”

Which meant he was here on coven business. Which was never a good sign.

“As you probably know,” Aleric said, “you’re coming to the end of the first hundred years of your life as a vampire.”

John was aware. He was well aware. Had thought, for that matter, of very little else for the past year or so. The coven masters called what he was in a ‘fledgling state’, a time when a vampire wasn’t quite grown into his full powers, or over those nasty human habits like eating occasionally, drinking, and giving a shit. The official reason for this state was that it took a hundred years, give or take, for the body to truly die, and the blood that had kept him sustained as a human man to leave it. The real reason, John suspected, was actually to give the coven a big fat margin of error, so they could kill him if they felt they’d made a mistake.

Many fledglings, Al had told him cheerfully in between episodes of Iron Chef America, chose not to take the plunge into full-fledged vampiredom. Sixty percent, he guessed, maybe more. Why? Well, it wasn’t for everybody, being a vampire.
Not even the people the coven had hand-picked for their high vampire likelihood.

Why did so many choose to die the final death? In spite of immortality and awe-inspiring powers, it was a lonely eternal life. And one with little promise of release–not much could permanently kill a full-fledged vampire. Even sunlight, which would turn a fledgling like John into a small strawberry-jamlike explosion wherever he stood, was only a mild annoyance. Those coven members who wished to die had to work for it, and work hard.

Then there was the little matter of the Blood Price. But that–Aleric shrugged every time it was mentioned and went back to the T.V.

That, he’d say. You got used to it.

“The coven is still awaiting your decision, John.”

“I know,” John muttered. “Hey. Before we get into this, could I at least fish this bullet out of my…”

Aleric sighed. “Christ, John. D’you need help?”

Before John could even say no, Aleric waved a desultory hand. John’s stagnant respiratory system suddenly felt a good deal more comfortable.

Aleric opened his fist, dropped the bullet onto the counter. “There y’go,” he said. He examined the bullet for a minute, the powdery black remains of John’s blood covering his fingers as he turned it. “That’s…interesting,” he murmured. “An iron bullet. That’d wreck hell on most gun barrels. Did you have some crazies after you, or something?”

“No. Some kid tried to hold up Marlene at the store tonight. I got lucky, came out in time to stop it.”

“And he shot you with an iron bullet.”

“A little.”

Aleric squinted at the bullet again, the dark casing grooved and glinting. After a minute, he raised an eyebrow and slipped it in his pocket.

John supposed he shouldn’t ask. After all, it wasn’t like it was his bullet. It’d just lived inside him for a while.

But he couldn’t help it.

“Is that not what bullets are usually made of?”

“No,” Al said. And then–oddly enough, for Al–he didn’t say anything more about it.

“You know,” he said instead, “If you paid the Blood Price and joined the coven, you could do stuff like that too. Move fast and take bullets out of people.”

“I know.”

The two vampires looked at each other. The mangy cat, making itself at home, climbed on top of the kitchen counter and began to shed there.

“They’re serious,” Aleric said. “You’re almost out of time.”

“How long do I have?”

“A month. Maybe a month and a half. But they’ll come for you before that. And if you don’t make the decision, they’ll make it.”

“And it won’t be in a way I like.”

“And it won’t be in a way you like,” Aleric agreed. He pulled out one of the bar stools John had beside the counter and sat down on it. He shooed the cat away. “John. Buddy. What can I do to help you? I’ve given you all the time in the world, told you everything I can to help you make a decision. What’s the problem here? What’s giving you so much trouble?”

“Really? It’s the rest of my life. And, I mean, come on. My choices are eternal nothingness or eternal…everything. Ness. Die finally or live forever. How is that an easy choice?”

“It isn’t,” Aleric said quietly. “That’s why they give you a hundred years to make it.”

“How’d you make it?”

“I’m not supposed to tell you.” Aleric looked left and right, looked back at John. “But if you really want to know–I didn’t.”

“They made it for you?”

“They did.” And John saw something in his face–a flicker of something mysterious, some ancient and terrible sadness. He usually found Aleric a little ridiculous–certainly no more the stereotypical vampire than he was–but for just a moment, looking at the frown on his friend’s ageless face, he believed it. Believed, utterly, that this sloppy creature in a Slayer t-shirt and Birkenstocks was over a thousand years old, and had been, by his own admittance, a tribal prince.

“Trust me,” Al said. “Don’t let them choose for you.”

John pulled out the second bar stool and sat on it. He had bled a little, he noticed, with the removal of the bullet–two small drops of dark blood, drying even as he touched them.

How many more drops of blood, he wondered, did he have inside him? A tiny number, he was certain. Maybe a one digit number. And every drop he shed–every drop was gone from him forever. There would be no more blood. And, when the last drop was shed–there would be a choice.

From this point on, there was only death and decay.

Death or decay, he reminded himself bitterly. And the death bit was sort of a given.

“This is the last time it’ll be me asking you, John,” Al said. “Next time, it’ll be the High Master. And after that–well. If you’re lucky, I’d say you have three weeks until they take you.”

“I know. You think I don’t know this?”

“I think you don’t care. At least, not yet. Not as much as you should.” He sighed. “I only want to help you, before it’s too late. It’s a tough choice, yes. But the only thing less pleasant than making it is having the coven make it for you.”

“I know!”

“Then sleep on it.” Aleric glanced out the window. “You’ve got about thirty minutes to get to sleep before sunrise, anyway. You shouldn’t be up this early. Don’t worry. I’ll be back tomorrow to watch TV.”

“Great,” John said darkly. Al touched his shoulder.

“If you decide–when you decide. Call on me. Whether you believe it or not right now, John–I am your friend. And, should you choose the long death, I’d. Well. I’d miss having you around.”

“I know,” John said, for the third time. “I’ll make the decision. I promise. Okay?”

“By the way,” Al said, grinning. “You really do have a new upstairs neighbor. I saw the lights on when I walked up.”
And with those words, he disappeared.

And even though sudden mysterious disappearances were pretty much Al’s calling card–his favorite part, he often confessed, of having full vampire powers–John still wasn’t expecting it. Nor was he expecting him to leave the mangy cat sprawled out on the sofa.

The cat looked up at him and gave a single little mew, soft and piteous. The thing was wall-eyed, John realized. He didn’t know there could be such a thing as a wall-eyed cat.

He debated eating it. However, it looked like it would taste pretty horrible, and who knew? It might belong to someone.
Sighing, he went to fish a can of tuna out of the pantry.

That day, mangy cat curling up on his chest, John Fowler dreamed of iron bullets.

Excerpt: Things That Go Bump in the Night

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Did I tell you guys I was fiddling around with a vampire story? No?

Well, I am. It’s, erm. It’s not exactly Twilight. It’s more one of my gross goddamn stories with a vampire in it. I think–and I know a lot of you guys’ll disagree with me, but you know–I think that, as overplayed as the vampire thing is, there’s a lot to recommend it, especially in our modern age.

If you haven;t figured it out yet, I play with a lot of stories all the time. Not all of them get finished, or even get very far. But I like y’all’s input. Helps me know when I’m doing something right. Write. Whatever.

This is the story of John Fowler, ordinary dude and night clerk at a local corner store, at the close of his first hundred years as a vampire. He’s been, thus far, in a sort of vampire larval stage, possessing neither the Full Thirst nor the full powers of his older brethren. The question later in the story becomes, does John really want to be a fullblown vampire? And if he doesn’t, what the hell are his alternatives?

There’s also fun stuff about a vampire coven without cable, lesbian marital disputes, twin vampire hunters who call a poltergeist ‘Dad’, and a lockbox that may or may not contain the morning take.

May set records for the oldest coming-of-age MC ever written. Take that, frat pack bro comedies about men who can’t grow up.

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

*****

As John fingered the bullet hole in his chest, Marlene the day manager lit a cigarette.

“Jesus,” she said weakly. “You gonna make it through your shift?”

John prodded the hole experimentally. The edges of the wound were crusty already, hardening. He withdrew the finger, blew away the dusty black blood that clung to it. He resisted the urge–a grossout kid urge, unworthy of a member of the eternal undead–to stick his finger in it, wiggle it around a little, and make a face.

“I should be all right,” he said. “It’s just a little uncomfortable. Do we have duct tape in the back? I think I need to make a patch.”

Marlene, a thin stream of smoke curling through her carefully painted lips, stared at him.

“On my desk,” she said. “It’s either on my desk, or it’s on top of the 7-UP crates. John.”

“Yeah?”

“What does–” she gestured with her cigarette to his chest, to the neat black hole, still smoking, in his work polo. “What does it feel like?”

“It hurts.” He shrugged. “What d’you think getting shot feels like? Just because I’m a vampire doesn’t mean I can’t feel pain, you know. I’ve just felt a lot more of it.” He poked at the hole again. “I’m used to it. Do we still have some of the old aprons back there? I should cover this.”

“Hm? Yeah. Oh. Of course.” She opened the back door, leaned in and reached around with the cigaretted hand still held outside. She returned with a work apron and tossed it to him, watching as he tied it around his waist and adjusted the front to cover his wound. “You’re sure you’ll be okay, though.”

“I’ll be fine, Mar. I’ve got spare shirts at home. Go on your damn date with Astrid and be happy you’re alive.” He winked at her. “Don’t waste all that makeup on me.”

“If you need me, I’ve got my cell.”

“I know.”

They stood for a few moments, looking at each other. The back alley was silent, a silence punctuated only by the shouts and music of the Pizza Palace kitchen pulsating dimly across the way. There was no sign anything untoward had just taken place here, let alone an attempted robbery. The small pile of dust which had once been Marlene’s assailant was already blowing away in the breeze.

No sign, of course, except for the blood. And the lockbox, tipped on its side against the dumpster. John could handle this much. He could mop up the blood, carry the lockbox inside. Eating humans was such a waste, always–way more blood than you could handle. You left evidence.

This one, though. This one had deserved it.

John wouldn’t particularly say he enjoyed looks of ultimate terror being flashed in his direction. He was a benign sort of guy. He didn’t particularly enjoy killing, either–the vampire bloodlust was a myth, or at least was a myth in his particular chrysalis-like stage of vampire evolution.

But this guy.

You didn’t point a gun at an innocent middleaged lady coming back from the bank. You just didn’t. John was a vampire–if anyone was supposed to enjoy separating innocent women from their lives, it was him–and even he thought it was monstrously bad form.

He liked Marlene. She was nice.

The peeling door across the way cracked open, and the sounds of a remixed Katy Perry song translated into Spanish saturated the alley. Javier, one of the chefs from Pizza Palace, poked his head around.

“You guys okay?” he asked. “Thought I might’ve heard a gunshot a while back.”

“Slow on the uptake, ain’t you?” Marlene snapped.

“Well, shit, lady. I didn’t wanna get shot or anything.” He peered around. “Is that–”

“Lockbox,” John said. And, because it was the only thing he could think of at the moment: “it landed on a cat.”

A man, John reflected, was a remarkable thing. When provided by a trusted person with an explanation–no matter how strange–for an unlikely event, he stopped asking questions. If the explanation wasn’t reasonable enough, he started providing details of his own.

Javier, case in point, chuckled. “You and Mar so bored you’re throwin’ the lockbox around? All right. That’s fuckin’ crazy. Let me know next time and I’ll bring the guys out.” His moving eyes plotted out the lockbox’s trajectory. “You got it pretty damn far, man. You got an arm on you. Were you guys aiming for the cat, or–”

“JAVIER.” Mr. Palace’s voice boomed from the kitchen. “JAVIER. I’M NOT PAYING YOU TO CHITCHAT.”

“Motherfucker,” Javier mumbled. “See you guys later.” The door slammed shut, Katy Perry reduced once more to a tolerable volume.

Marlene, whose fingers were gripping the cigarette so tightly she’d almost broken it in two, gave John a look. “It landed on the cat,” she repeated. “Christ. You’re a genius.”

“Just experienced, thank you,” John said. He took her, gently, by the shoulders, stubbornly refusing to inhale against the olofactory orchestra that was Marlene’s use of drug store body spray. Of course, since he hadn’t drawn a breath that wasn’t for show or for the sole purpose of sighing in a hundred years, this was easier for him than it was for some people.

He wondered, briefly, how Astrid dealt with it. Of course, Astrid smoked a pack a day, so there was plenty Astrid couldn’t smell. Maybe it was a sultry hint of warm vanilla to her, as opposed to the entire birthday cake.

John sighed, his breath whistling from the hole in his lung. He turned Marlene, as gently as he could, back towards her Accura. “Go, Marlene. Enjoy your date. Make her buy you some lobster. You’ve been talking about wanting lobster for like a month.”

“It is lobster night at Crabby Chic,” Marlene said, thoughtful.

“And you’ve been wanting a night off with Astrid since she started working the new shift.”

“Well, yeah. But–”

“No buts. I’m a vampire, Marlene. I can handle a little blood and a hole in my lung. You go and have fun.” He patted her shoulder. “Just try check out the alley before you get out of the car next time, okay? You known thieves like to wait out here much past sunset.” He picked up the lockbox, gingerly, so none of the blood that now painted it got on his shirt. “And maybe it’s time to just start using a deposit bag. Toting this lockbox makes you look less safe, not more, okay? They can see the lockbox. They can’t see a deposit bag. And your life is worth more than the morning shift’s take.”

Marlene smiled a little. John smiled in return–he was worried, at first, he had traumatized her a little. He would’ve hated to do it. Marlene was a nice lady.

Of course, she’d also been working with him for four years. She was used to his shit. Had, in fact, long since passed the point where ‘they were delicious’ wasn’t an acceptable answer to the question ‘what happened to our rat problem in the back room?’.

And even now–even after witnessing firsthand her employee feeding on a human being–Marlene was still a nice lady. And the feeding–that could be a disturbing sight, John knew. The Jackson Polluck effect of the blood spatter sent most people running permanently in the other direction.

Of course, he’d also taken a bullet for her. Little bastard had been packing, which he hadn’t been expecting when he came to Marlene’s aid. Then again: that was another thing easier for him to deal with than it was for most people. And no one–no one–should have to die or fear for their lives because of the morning’s take from a shitty convenience store.

John wasn’t so ancient he had forgotten what fearing for his life felt like. In fact, it was a condition so hardwired into the human brain that he still did it occasionally. He felt silly when he remembered, of course, but it was still a default reaction.

“Go,” John repeated. “Have some fun.”

Nothing a little duct tape couldn’t patch up.

HUMOR: Disagreement, The Flowchart

Here is your flowcharted guide to disagreement. In case you needed help disagreeing with somebody. Which, okay, I never do. But you know.

Sadly, I left out the side branch of ‘Why Don’t I Have A Girlfriend? Girls Always Pick Assholes, And I Know This Because They Aren’t Picking Me.’

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