The light was painful. Anthony didn't have much experience with hangovers, not generally being invited to areas infused with alcohol, but he imagined the throbbing pain in his head and the sandpaper feeling of his tongue fit the bill. The burning sensation on his skin didn't seem to match the literature; he'd have to look it up on Wikipedia later.
Of more concern to Anthony was the provenance of the hangover. Big Dave didn't allow liquor at the game store, feeling his customers' proclivity for Mountain Dew created enough problems. Anthony didn't remember much after leaving Dave's late night gaming session, which meant either something really bad had happened or it had been a really good party. Based on his previous life experience, Anthony doubted it was the latter.
He did a short inventory of himself and his surroundings, moving slowly to minimize the jostling. He was lying on a bed; good. He still had, as far as he could tell, his kidneys; good. He was wearing pants; in aggregate, this was good. The drone of the NPR news-jockey who had brought him to consciousness was most likely his alarm clock. That indicated he was in the basement apartment he rented from his parents; this was definitely good.
The burning sensation was changing from an annoyance to actual discomfort. Anthony tried to roll over, but was impeded by the pillow sticking to his neck. Pushing it away with his hand, his fingers encountered a tacky liquid substance; staring at it through sun strained eyes, Anthony saw his fingers were smeared with the distinct clumps of brownish red semi-clotted blood.
Anthony's instinctive leap toward the mirror was circumvented by his gag reflex. The result was a half-sprawl and rug burns on his shins. Clambering painfully to his feet, Anthony peered into the clouded glass above his sink, and gently traced the blood trails which were etched across his too pale flesh. The twin puncture marks on the side of his neck were ridged with inflamed skin. Years of folklore, movies and monstrous manuals flooded his memory as Anthony's mind struggled to comprehend the change he had undertaken.
“Dude! I'm a vampire! This is so cool!!”
The Lightning Ball Ethan had modded to his phone continued to flash despite his best efforts to ignore it. Some telemarketer was being persistent today, even with Ethan being on the No-Call-List and everything.
“Hey Matt, wake up. We're going to cost someone $11,000 today.”
Matthew's gentle snoring from the couch across the room greeted this pronouncement. Undaunted, Ethan hit the speakerphone button and leaned back to fully enjoy the screwing he was about to give corporate America.
“Dude! I am so going to get girls!”
The excitement in Anthony's voice counterpointed Ethan's disappointment as he realized his dream of crushing a telemarketer would be unfulfilled.
“What? How did you get the money for that Russian mail-order service?
“No you idiot, hot goth chicks! Look, it's too hard to explain over the phone, just get over here, ok?”
“Man, it's what, not even noon? There's two of us here and only one of you, and you've obviously been up longer. You're probably even dressed and everything. You come here.”
“Duh, I can't. There's sunshine out there!”
“So? You won't melt.”
“No, not melt...what does sunlight do...immolate I think...look, I know I sound crazy, but I need help, and you and Matt are the only people I can trust with this!” The excitement in Anthony's voice edged toward panic. “Please Ethan, this is the biggest thing to ever happen to me, and I don't know how to do this alone.”
The hairs on the back of Ethan's neck began to rise. Tony wasn't usually this weird unless he was mooning over Lorraine Williamson, and there had been a lot less of that since she had moved to New York and joined a lesbian rock band. “Ok, ok, we'll be there in a few. Just calm down, ok? Whatever it is, it'll work out.”
“Yeah, just hurry, please? And Ethan, you're going to have to use the key hidden under the gnome in the backyard. My parents are out of town and I don't dare go upstairs. Just let yourselves in, and hurry.”
“Jeez, what happened, does the Mob have a hit out on you?” Ethan noticed that Tony's fear had drug Matthew out of his slumber. He was sitting on the couch now, concern visible in his sleep shrouded eyes. “Stay somewhere you feel safe, Matt and I are on our way over right now.”
Ethan disconnected the phone over Anthony's exhortations for speed. He looked at Matthew, who was pulling on his shoes and yawning widely. “So, you wanna stop at Mc D's for breakfast?”
Ethan opened the door into Mr. & Mrs. Vandawaersunberg's kitchen. Matt was in the backyard hiding the spare key under the vaguely obscene garden gnome. The trio had been sneaking into Tony's house for almost ten years to steal Mr. V's beers, so even when entering the house legitimately, using the key lent an aura of mischievousness and surreptitiousness to the act. Matt carefully removed his shoes as Ethan shoved the McDonald's bag in the trash. Mrs. V was hell on people muddying up her floor or cluttering up her house, and all three boys had felt the lash of Mrs. V's snarky comments more than once.
“Where's Kick?”Matt suddenly asked, looking around.
Matt's question brought Ethan back to the here and now, and exposed a broader concern than the absence of Tony's concho-of-death dog. The house was quiet, still. The dust motes hung suspended in the sunlight, quivering slightly in response to Ethan and Matthew's movements. If there had been music, it would have been called Waltz with Microscopic Particulates. The sepulchral thought reminded Ethan of what the house brought to mind: a tomb.
“First we find Tony, then we'll worry about the dog,” Ethan said decisively. “I want to know what the big deal is.”
“I bet he pissed his mom off coming home late again,” Matt said as he opened the door leading to the basement and headed downstairs. “He probably got kicked out and needs help packing, but didn't want to tell us until we got here. He knows we couldn't say no to his face.”
Ethan let Matt rant. Getting a place away from his parents would actually decrease Tony's chances of getting a girl, because at least here there was food in the fridge. Knowing Tony's gastronomical habits, Ethan doubted any man would dare sleep with a woman willing to eat Tony's cooking.
“Ouch! Damn dog! Down! Down! Stop trying to smell my small intestine!”
The mystery of the the missing Kick had been resolved, as the over sized frankenmutt alternated between joyfully leaping on Matt's shoulders and trying to violate his sphincter. The case of the disappearing Anthony looked to be resolved soon, if the lump under the bedcovers was a clue.
“He needs to go out.” Tony's voice was muffled under the blanket. For some reason, his esses were sharper, more buzzing. “He's been down here all morning whining and trying to pull the blanket off.”
“Well why didn't you let him out?” Matt asked. He had subdued Kick in the only way possible: pinning him on his back and rubbing his stomach. Kick's legs gyrated in spastic joy. “We came over here because you said you had a problem, not 'cause you're too lazy to get out of bed.”
“Dude I tried! Look, you're never going to believe me unless I show you, and I can't do that unless you guys do some stuff for me. First, please let the dog out. Then I need the window blocked up so there's no light. Do that and I promise I'll explain.”
“If this is a scheme to get attention, I swear I will Photoshop some pictures of you naked in chaps and email them to Lorraine for her next album cover, so help me God.”
“My dad had me break down some cardboard boxes for recycling last week.” Tony's voice was carefully modulated to reflect patience. “They should still be in the garage. The duct tape is in the junk drawer in the kitchen.” His voice was under tighter control than a soviet economy. “Cover up the window, and make sure there aren't any cracks. You should be able to turn on the light, or at least use candles.”
“This has so much drama it should be on TBS,” Matt muttered. “Ethan, if you'll take care of the dog I'll do the window. You go first, I don't want to be riding that mutt's nose all the way up the stairs.”
It was always like this, Matt reflected as he climbed the stairs. Tony created a situation and he and Ethan would have to pull his sorry butt out. Matt almost flipped the switch for the overhead light, but instead activated the garage door. As the motor noisily ratcheted up the aluminum sections, Matt reveled in the sudden stream of sunlight, a minor rebellion against Tony's sudden heliophobia.
Matt was finishing the second layer of duct tape before Ethan came clomping down the stairs. “What took you?”
“I was putting food and water outside for Kick so he won't be whining at the top of the stairs. I had to keep chasing him off to set down the bowls. You know how challenging it can be to bend over in front of that dog.”
Matt nodded his agreement and turned off the light. The sudden darkness was inviolate, without even a stray beam from under the door at the top of the stairs. Flipping the light back on, Matt leaned against the wall. “All right, o lord and master, your instructions have been fulfilled. Now get your ass out of bed and tell me what the frak is going on.”
The blanket's edge elevated slightly. Evidently the results were favorable, because like an ugly butterfly undergoing ecloses, Tony emerged into the world.
“Damn, you're pale. You sick?”
The ends of Tony's mouth twitched upwards in a quick grin. “No. Look at the side of my neck.”
“Ouch! Did you cut yourself shaving? I didn't know you had to shave.”
“No, Captain Oblivious, look at the wounds.”
Matt and Ethan leaned in to study Anthony's neck, Ethan going so far as to pull out his penlight for better illumination. He stared for a moment, then moved to Tony's desk and began sharpening pencils. Matt prodded at the holes with his finger. “Man, something got you good. Was it a mosquito? Did you get malaria? I heard it gives you the chills, and your skin is cold.”
“No, it wasn't a mosquito,” Ethan said, now clicking away on Tony's computer. “It was a parasite though. Here, you're going to want this.” He handed Matt a pencil. “Why don't you tell Matt, Tony?” Ethan rummaged through the desk drawers until he came up with a pair of rulers and some rubber bands. “I'll be with you in a moment.” There was the sound of wood cracking as he hunched over the desk.
“Now you're both acting weird,” Matt complained. “Why are we sitting here in the dark? Why do you look like hell? Why am I holding a pencil?” He shot Ethan a suspicious look. “Am I supposed to be taking notes?”
“No, we've already learned about this.” Ethan moved over to stand next to Matt, his hands held low. “We're here to help you Tony. I understand now why you needed Matt and I to do this, and quite frankly, I'm humbled by your trust.” Suddenly he brandished a crude cross made from pieces of broken rulers rubberbanded together. “But know this! I just became ordained on the 'Net, and if your base urges overcome you, we will defend ourselves!”
Matt looked in confusion from Tony to Ethan. “Are we doing some modern day LARP I don't know about?”
“No, we're not LARPing.” Tony reached out, and after a brief struggle, pulled the cross out of Ethan's hand. “Last night I was given the Kiss of the Nosferatu, and became a vampire.” He studied the cross, turning it over in his hands. “A cross? E, you couldn't believe that would work. You're an atheist, and you know I follow the Jedi faith. And no, Matt, I don't want you to 'kill' me, so please put the pencil down.”
Matt slowly tucked the pencil behind his ear. “Does somebody want to let me in on the game? Or am I just the butt of the joke?”
“There is no joke, Matt.” Ethan was staring at Tony, horror and fascination warring for his features. “I don't know what's going on, but...”
“But he can't be a vampire, they're not real! They're folklore, they're myth, they're an invention of Hollywood and Anne Rice!”
“Matt, have you looked at Tony? He hasn't taken a breath since we got here, except to talk. His skin is cold to the touch, and those holes are over his jugular. If you shine a light down them you can see where they punch through the skin into the vein! The only explanation for him not spurting blood all over the place is he's dead!”
“It's very rude to talk about me like I'm not here, you know.”
Matt shot Tony a warning look. “Shut up. You think you're dead. Dead people don't get a say, except in elections.”
Ethan stepped between his friends before hot words could become hot tempers. “Stop. Tony, something weird is going on, but Matt's right, your explanation is pretty hard to believe. Can you back it up?”
“You mean besides being dead?”
Matt smirked. “Yeah, besides that. Vampires have a lot of abilities, you should be able to convince me pretty easily. Turn into a bat.”
“Transmogrify? Logically, that's impossible. Even if I could change my shape, I can't change my mass, so I'd be too heavy to fly.”
“Fine then. Walk up the wall.”
Tony looked Matt in the eyes defiantly. “I tried that this morning. I couldn't do it.”
Matt's smirk had changed to an evil grin. “Well how about commanding wolves, any chance of that, bat-boy?”
“What wolves? This is suburbia! How 'bout we get Kick? I can command him to sit, or roll over, or maybe shove his nose up your ass! These bites didn't come with an instruction manual! I don't know how to do those things, or even which are real or which ones Hollywood made up! What I do know is I don't have a pulse, I can hear your heartbeats, and when I accidentally stepped in the sunlight earlier I felt like I was inside a microwave oven! If you have a better explanation for what happened to me, Matt, then spit it out! Otherwise just leave, and I'll deal with it on my own!”
Even Matt seemed taken aback by the anger and vehemence in Tony's voice. “Tony, I want to help you, I want to believe, but...it's like some bad science fiction story, you know?”
“I have an idea.” Ethan's voice broke the tableau. “Instead of focusing on what vampires are supposed to be able to do, let's try some of their weaknesses. Those are involuntary, so they should affect Tony without him having to do anything.”
“Right, I'm good with that. But dude, nothing involving sunlight, that shit hurt.”
“That's fair, we're not trying to kill you. The first thing that springs to mind is garlic. Where would your parents keep it?”
“In the spice rack I guess. Garlic is a spice, right?”
“I think so, unless it's a garnish....” Ethan shook himself out of his culinary considerations. “Let me go get it, I'll be right back.”
As Ethan headed toward the stairs, Tony leapt under the blankets. Sunlight and the sounds of Kick scratching at the back door filtered down the stairwell. Both faded as Ethan returned, with both hands balled into fists. At the sounds of his footfalls, Tony cautiously reemerged from the blanket.
“OK, in one hand I have garlic, and in the other, another spice. I'll present both of them to you, and you tell us your reaction.” He held out both fists. “The smell was usually enough to drive off a vampire. Sniff each of my hands, and tell us how you feel.”
Tony cautiously sniffed each of Ethan's fists. “The one on the right makes me queasy, but not enough to run away or anything.”
Ethan opened his hands, revealing a pile of crystals in one and a mound of green flakes in the other. “I couldn't find any actual garlic, so I had to use garlic salt instead. The control was rosemary.” Ethan looked at Matthew. “What do you think?”
“It could have been a guess, or he could have just smelled the garlic.” Matt returned his friends frustrated looks. “Hey, I'm playing Devil's Advocate here. I said I wanted to help, but we need to conduct more tests, and under slightly more stringent conditions than 'Smell my Body Parts.'”
Tony looked thoughtful. “Any ideas?”
Matt got a big grin on his face. “Yeah, wait here a minute.” He disappeared into Tony's bathroom. He returned almost immediately, followed by the sound of the shower. Ethan and Tony stared at him quizzically.
“Don't you get it? Running water! Vampires can't cross it. So if Tony can go wash off his body funk, he's not a vampire. If he can't, then he's a Hellcreature in my book.”
Ethan's snort crossed paths with Tony's pained look at the thought. “But what, my scientifically inclined friend, is to keep our test subject,” he nudged Tony, “from simply standing in front of the water and pretending to be kinetohydrophobic as well as heliophobic?
Matt took a second to work out the Latin. “Cute. But if I were to tell you the control, it would ruin the experiment. Are we ready?”
Tony looked unhappy. Matt sighed. “Now what's wrong?”
“I just realized I'll never be able to have Italian food again,” Tony replied. “And I really like garlic bread. I'm also not happy about getting wet. I don't think that a shower was what the Romanians meant by running water.”
“Well, with the garlic, maybe you can build up an immunity,” Matt answered reasonably. “And if you really are a vampire, you shouldn't get wet at all. If you do, you're probably not a vampire, and if you melt, then you're a witch and I'm jacking your flying monkeys.”
Tony stepped into the small bathroom, and stood in front of the walk-in shower. Matt stood behind him, by the sink, and Ethan observed from the doorway.
“Okay, Prof. Merrick, what should I do now?”
“Just try to walk into the shower.”
Tony stepped forward, then stopped. He stood, on one foot, leaning forward, inches from the shower stream. “It feels like something is holding me back, like a giant balloon.” He placed his hands on the doorframe and pushed. “It actually feels pretty weird, like I'm lying on bubble wrap.”
“So Matt, are you satisfied?” Ethan asked from the doorway.
“Not quite, now we introduce the control factor.” And with that, he jumped forward, slamming into Tony's back.
The air in Matt's lungs “oof”ed out as he ricocheted back, tripped over the toilet and cracked his head on the sink faucet. Bright red blood blossomed from the gash on his head, spraying over the basin and wall. Before Matt's head had finished rebounding, Tony had spun and was lunging toward him. He paused, poised over Matt's bleeding scalp. His nostrils were flared, his eyes shining, his incisors had extended and were slicing into his bottom lip. He stooped, quivering, as the smell of urine filled the room.
“Noooo...!” Tony wrenched himself away from Matt, hugging his torso and facing the shower. “No. I will remain in control! I am not an animal, I am a man!”
“Umm, Tony, I believe you now.” Matt face was almost as pale as the porcelain he lay across.
“Good.” Tony was still resolutely facing the water falling from the showerhead. “Why don't you go change your clothes. You can borrow some from me until we can get your's cleaned.”
“Actually, that was me.” Ethan moved forward gingerly, attempting to limit contact with the wet stain on the front of his jeans. “Man, I wish you could have seen your face. It was AWESOME! Any horror movie that even came close to doing that would have to be shown in the john, people would be crapping their pants so much. Can you do it again?”
“Dude, what?” Tony half turned to look over his shoulder. “I almost ripped into Matt, and you found it to be a positive experience?”
“No, it was the most intensely frightening thing I've ever known. But the way you moved, the grace, the speed...it was almost hypnotic. I don't know that words can describe it, it was such a visceral thing. ”
Matt tore a strip of TP from the roll sitting on the books piled by the toilet. Wetting it in the sink, he used it to staunch his bleeding scalp. “You know, as the potential attackee, I have to agree. I could feel the raw power emanating from you. It was like watching one of those nature shows where the big cat is pouncing on its prey, but you make those cats look like they're claymation. It would be worth hitting my head again to see that a second time.” He looked wistful. “Hell, it might be worth you actually attacking me.” Matt's eyes went from wistful to calculating. “It might be worth it indeed.”
Tony turned to face his friends, a look of incredulity on his face. “You're both insane! Didn't you see what just happened? I almost killed Matt! When he hit his head, I went into a bloodlust at the sweet odor...I can still smell it, like a cloying perfume, stirring me, stirring me like...”Tony's poetic muse failed and fled. “Well, more than Lorraine Williamson ever did, I can tell you.”
“Ugh, it gives me the willies to know I can make you feel like that, no matter what the circumstances,” Matt shuddered. “But still, I want you to do me a favor.” He grinned. “I've wanted to tell you this for a long time, Tony. Bite Me.”
“You don't know what you're asking.” Tony looked at Matt incredulously. “Think about what you're saying.”
“Immortality. Speed. Agility. Maybe I can lose this damn asthma and drop some weight.” Matt walked up to Tony until their noses almost touched. “Look at me. No job, no life, no prospects for either. I might as well be dead. At least as a vampire, I'll have a chance to enjoy it.”
“Are you sure?” Tony pushed past Matt and Ethan and began pacing his room. “We don't always get along you know. Are you sure you want to spend eternity with me?”
“Well, even if he's not, I'm willing to take that chance.” Ethan sat on Tony's bed, crossing his legs underneath himself. “I'd get bored if I didn't have you guys to talk with, and, anyway, you two need me to run interference between you.”
“I want to make sure you've thought this through. I wasn't given a choice, but I don't want to do this and then have you guys decide you made a mistake.” Tony put his hands in his pockets and looked at the ceiling, thinking. “Are you sure you're okay with feeding off the living? Never being able to see the sun again? The social ostracization?”
“Hah! We're gamers, we never see the sun as it is. And you guys are my friends, so I run a greater chance of losing you if I don't do this. Besides,” Ethan face lightened at the thought, “if I don't switch, I risk becoming a midnight snack one day when you're feeling peckish.”
“One night, then, yeah.”
“But the feeding off the living?”
Matt strode over to Tony, and put both hands on his shoulders. “You proved that could be controlled. And we already feed off the living, we just buy it from drive-thrus. Maybe we'll open a bloodbank, and be our own best customers. Or, there never seems to be a lack of young ladies willing to sate vampiric lusts.” His face darkened. “Plus I know an entire team of football players the world could do without. Those walking cattle could feed us for a month.”
“Okay Matt, if you're sure, you're in.” Tony turned and glared at Ethan. “But if you want to become a vampire, you have to do me a favor.”
“Huh? What is that?”
“Get your piss stained crotch off of my bed! If that's considered to be my coffin, I have to sleep on that for eons to come! I don't want to spend the rest of my unlife sleeping in your pee! Come on dude, you'd never have done that when I was alive, show some respect for the dead! You're about to become one, you know.”
Ethan jumped off the bed, and began rummaging in Tony's pile of clean clothes. Finding something he liked, he disappeared into the bathroom. Shortly thereafter, the sounds of Ethan showering rumbled through the door.
“So how do we do this?” Matt was bouncing on his toes with eagerness.
“I'm not really sure,” Tony replied. “I don't remember anything about when it happened to me.”
“According to the folklore, you're supposed to suck my blood.”
“Dude, I'll bite you, but I'm not sucking any liquid out of your body.” Tony's mouth twisted with distaste. “I'm not one of these new, Anne Rice homoerotic vampires, I'm an old school Bram Stoker girls-in-nightgowns type vamp. You know, the manly one in a tux.”
“Tony, doing this doesn't mean you're gay! Look at it this way: if I'd been bitten by a rattlesnake, you'd suck the poison out, right?”
“Well, this is just like that, only, you know, in reverse.”
“All right, but one crack, and I mean just ONE crack about how you should have bought me dinner first, and I'll stick you in my mom's tanning bed when I'm done.”
“No jokes, I promise. Where do you want to do this?”
“Dude, I don't know, should we be standing up, or...Cripes, it's like losing my virginity all over again.”
Matt looked at Tony, stunned. “You've done that? Really? No foolin'?”
“Do you want me to pinky swear?” Tony looked uneasy. “Yeah, I slept with Lorraine.”
Matt hooted with laughter. “You did not! There's no WAY that would have been kept quiet! You'd have been bragging about it, if nothing else!”
Tony looked away, refusing to meet Matt's eye. “Well, she was drunk.”
“And?” Matt asked shrewdly.
“And she thought I was someone else.”
“And she threw up when we were done and discovered who I was.”
“Crap! I can see why you kept quiet. When did this happen?”
“Right before she moved to New York and joined that band.” Tony looked Matt straight in the face, anger and shame in his eyes. “It was a setup for both of us. Lorraine was at her cousin's wedding reception. She'd decided to bag a groomsman named Tony, but as a joke he came to where I was working valet parking and said Lorrie was all hot and ready for me, and slipped me a room key. I kinda figured it was a joke, that I would find naked old people or something, but I went anyway, and when I got there, she said my name, and we did it. It was only after we were done and turned on the lights that she realized who I was. I helped her clean up after she hurled, she told me it wasn't my fault, and we never spoke again. Right after that she moved away.”
“That was mean. Who do you think was the target?”
“Lorrie. I was just the tool.” Anthony's expression changed from despondent to malicious. “I think I might have that Tony over for lunch.”
They both turned to the bathroom door as the shower stopped. “Look,” Tony's voice had dropped to a whisper. “I've never told anybody about this, and...”
“'Bout what? We're just making conversation.” Matt affected an air of bored indifference. “And I still say in a fight Superman would eat Yoda for lunch, and use the little frog's lightsaber to pick his teeth.” He paused to consider his statement. “No segue intended.”
The bathroom door opened, and Ethan stepped through, still toweling his hair. “You guys didn't do it yet, did you? 'Cause I want to watch.”
“This is getting more Lauri K. Hamilton by the minute,” Tony muttered. “All right, let's do this.”
Ethan wrapped the towel around his shoulders. “I think the best place to do this would be in the shower. That way we don't get blood all over Tony's room.”
“Yeah, and here.” Tony tossed Matt a towel. “Use this to keep the blood off of your clothes, you won't be able to change until tonight at the earliest.” He looked around his room. “Where am I going to put you after it's done?”
Ethan began moving Tony's boxes of comic books to make a space. “Just lay us out on the floor. You were able to be up and moving even though you were never buried, so we shouldn't need coffins.”
Matt came over and began moving boxes as well. “Good. Without the whole 'coffin and gravedirt' thing, we'll have one less weakness.”
Ethan placed the last box by the stairs. “That should do it.” He surveyed the bare carpet. “Tony, would you mind if we put a blanket or something down? Just putting us on the floor, seems...disrespectful or something.”
Tony grabbed an old electric blanket from his closet. “More disrespectful than you sitting on my bed after pissing your pants?” He grinned. “A corpse seems more important when it's your own, doesn't it?”
“I don't know why, with everything else today, this conversation seems so weird,” Matt said. He looked at Tony. “So, who's first?”
“I don't know, why don't you rock/paper/scissors for it?”
“Aww, can't we just flip a coin? I suck at this.” Matt moved over to stand by Ethan, who had gotten a competitive gleam in his eyes.
“Stop your complaining and go on three,” Ethan said. “One two three!”
Matt looked at his flat hand incredulously as it sat next to Ethan's fist. “I won! I never win!”
“Obviously you do,” Tony answered, with a laugh in his voice. He half-bowed and extended his arm toward the bathroom. “After you, sir.”
Matt strutted into the shower, raised his head and closed his eyes. Tony felt his body stir with lust, more intense than he had ever felt for a woman. Instead of the usual embarrassing swelling and bulging he feared whenever visiting the public pool, he could feel his teeth elongating and the sweet pain of his lower lip splitting.
Tony's teeth pierced Matt's neck, and the hot warm blood flooded Tony's mouth. Forgetting his earlier vow, Tony drank deeply, not allowing a single drop to escape. When Matt was drained, Tony lowered his body to the floor and used the towel around Matt's neck to wipe his face. When he turned, Ethan noticed a spot remained on his lips, like lipstick missed by an unfaithful lover.
“So, how was it?” Ethan asked nervously.
Tony didn't answer, but suddenly had Ethan's head tilted back. Ethan felt Tony's teeth sink into his jugular vein. He tried to cry out, but a sense of languor and peace paralyzed his body and clouded his brain. Ecstasy filled his being. As the last drops of his life left his body, he tried to remember why he had been upset.
After Tony was done feeding, he carefully laid Matt's and Ethan's body on the electric blanket. Returning to the bathroom, he turned on the water in the sink and as he was waiting for it to warm, he looked in the mirror to see if he had missed any blood. The mirror reflected only the wall behind him. A grin spread across Tony's face, and he cautiously placed his foot against the wall. With concentration, he could feel his foot grip the surface. Cautiously he lifted his second foot and placed it next to the first. He concentrated harder and lifted both feet off the wall. The expected impact occurred in an unexpected way. Instead of hitting the floor he felt his head bump on the underside of the sink as he drifted across the room. Tony's grin erupted into a wide smile as a warm feeling of vindication spread throughout his body. When Matt woke up, he was in for quite a surprise.
The light was painful. A hangover of this magnitude would certainly explain the strange dream he'd been having of Tony becoming a vampire. He'd have to tell Ethan. E would get a kick out of the idea, maybe even make a Gurps adventure out of it.
“I saw you move! It worked! The Force is with us!”
Ah, so it hadn't been a dream.
Matt cracked his eyelids. A searing beam of light assaulted his senses, shooting burning needles into his backbrain. He turned his head and threw his arm across his face. His skin tingled uncomfortably, flinching from the light. “Tony, turn that off, man!”
“Oh, sorry.” There was a 'clicking' sound and the tingling ended, but the light volume barely dimmed. “I was getting worried that I'd goofed the change, so I was using my mom's sun lamp to try and bring you around.” He thrust a mirror in front of Matt's face. “Can you see yourself?”
“Yes, yes I can. Does this mean it didn't work?”
“No, but it does confirm a theory of mine. Take a look at me, Matt.”
Matt sat up, leaning on his elbows. Tony was floating in the air above Matt's chest, Indian style.
“I thought you said you didn't have any powers!”
“I didn't earlier. They started to appear after I drained you and Ethan. It looks like you have to be blooded to get full access to vampiric abilities.”
“Huh, I guess that makes...” Matt's eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, you thought you'd 'goofed' the change?”
“Well, you know how supposedly vampires inject some of their blood into their victims to make new vampires?” Tony's voice came out in a rush. “Well I don't think I did any injecting, I only drew it out. So I've been sitting here all afternoon afraid I'd killed you both. That's why I started cooking you with the lamp.”
Matt thought about this for a moment. “Well, it obviously worked with me. Has Ethan moved yet?”
“Not yet. I hope he's ok.” Tony held Ethan's wrist, checking his pulse. “Matt, he...” Tony let Ethan's arm fall to the floor and smacked himself in the forehead. “D'uh, he wouldn't would he? How do you check the health of a vampire?”
“You could start by not being so loud and annoying.” Ethan rolled on his side. “Did either of you two dream?”
Matt glanced at Tony. “I didn't. You?”
Tony reached down and helped Ethan to his feet. “Not that I remember. Why, what did you dream about?”
“I'm not really sure. I was chasing a black void in a dark room, trying to pull myself in as it was constantly moving away. The void seemed to be trying to escape. Finally I was able to push my way inside; the void fought me all the way.”
“Weird. My bad dreams usually involve celery wearing socks.” Matt was obviously paying only minimal attention to Ethan's problems. “So has the sun gone down? I want to go get my powers.”
Ethan looked perplexed. “Huh? Hey! You're flying!”
Tony put his legs down so he was standing again. “It's very comfortable. We need to go and get you guys fed so you'll gain your powers too. I was thinking we could hit that rave club down by the river. It's full of goth chicks.” He leered. “We could get dinner and a date, if you catch my meaning.”
Ethan looked doubtful. “I don't know, man. The drinks there are expensive, and they don't let just everyone in you know.”
Tony put his arm around Ethan's shoulders. “E, you're going to have to adjust your thinking. The drinks we're going for aren't coming from the bar...”
“Unless it's a Bloody Mary,” Matt interjected.
“...And as vampires we're the epitome of cool,” Tony continued, ignoring Matt. “They'll let us in, they won't be able to help themselves.”
“If you say so.” Ethan still looked doubtful. “But I don't want to go looking like this.”
“I'm telling you man, you're fine. We're finally cool because of who and what we are, not because of what we wear! Dude, get it in your head, you're a vampire! You own the night! Chicks will love you! Dudes will fear you! When you step out tonight, walk tall, because soon you'll be able to fly!”
Tony ended his oration standing on his bed, with his face and arm raised dramatically toward the ceiling. Matt and Ethan stared at him, their mouths hanging open, their eyes glazed over.
Matt regained his senses first. “That was very...passionately...said, Tony. But don't you think that maybe part of the reason vampires are so cool is because they dress the part? I mean, I wouldn't want to let the image down, you know, by showing up dressed like Pee Wee Herman.”
“Hey, don't knock Pee Wee, he has the best vampire death scene ever.” Tony floated down from his bed to the floor. “But fine, if it makes you guys feel better, we'll play dress up. What do you want to wear?”
“Well, for our first time out, I think we should keep it simple,” Ethan said, shooting Matt a relieved glance. “I was thinking basic black.”
“Okay.” Tony looked at his closet. “I don't know that I have enough for all three of us.”
“Does your dad still have his black trenchcoat?” Matt asked. “I think his stuff would fit me better than yours, anyway. That should do for me.”
Tony was already rummaging in his closet. “Yeah, it's in the hall closet upstairs. The sun went down like an hour ago, so you should be fine. Ethan, you still have your Ren Faire outfit here, don't you?”
“I think so. The pants are black, but the shirt's red, remember?”
“That'll be fine. Lot's of vamps dress in period clothing anyway.”
Matt came tromping down the stair, the trenchcoat billowing behind him like a pair of giant cotton wings. “Got it. What are you going to wear, Tony?”
“I like Ethan's idea of basic black.” He stood up, holding a mass of black clothing in his arms. I'm going in my ninja gi.”
“A vampire ninja?” Ethan shot a glance at Matt. “I thinking you're mixing your cool factors.”
“Nonsense. Cool is cool.” Tony headed for the bathroom. “I'm going to go change. What do you think, mask or no mask?”
“No mask,” Matt said, in full seriousness. “It might interfere with your feeding.”
“Good thought. E, your Ren garb is on a hanger in the closet.”
Tony emerged from the bathroom to find Ethan and Matt dressed and ready.
“Tony, you're not going to wear the tabi boots, are you?”
“They go with the outfit! Besides, you don't have a lot of room to complain, Mr. Tennis Shoes in Period Garb.”
“They're all I have here! Besides, you know my inserts don't fit in my boots. I end up limping for a week after the Faire.”
“You both make my brain hurt.” Matt started up the stairs. “Come on, let's go start the first night of the rest of our unlife.”
“Should we let Kick in?”
Matt looked at Ethan, who was standing by the sliding glass door. Kick sat outside, looking as pathetic as an Irish Setter/German Shepard mixed breed could look.
“I don't think so. He might freak out if we smell different, and even if he doesn't, I want to be able to fly before I let him behind me again. What do you think, Tony?”
“What? Oh, he can stay outside. Did you guys come in Ethan's van?”
“No, we had too use Matt's car, my tags are expired.”
“Still? I thought you were going to use this week's paycheck to take care of those.”
“I was, but then Wizard's put out primers for the new 4th edition D&D, and you know I had to get those.” Ethan smiled as he opened the front door. “Besides, I actually saved myself some money if you think about it: why will I need a van when I'm going to be able to fly soon?”
“Good point.” Tony locked the door behind him as Matt and Ethan headed for Matt's Civic. “I call backseat.”
“What, no battle royale for shotgun? Do I smell or something?”
“I just want to sit in the back seat. Is there something wrong with that?”
“No,” Matt replied as he slid his seat forward to allow Tony to fold himself into the tiny space. “It's just unusual. Any objections Ethan?”
“To stuffing myself in that coffin? Even as a vampire that doesn't sound appealing.”
Tony slid to the middle of the backseat as Matt and Ethan buckled themselves in up front. With its characteristic cough the car sputtered to life and Matt eased the car out of suburbia and toward downtown.
Tony's voice drifted forward in the silence. “What cd do you have in?”
“The Conan soundtrack. But I have the Lord of the Rings music and some Angry String Orchestra doing Metallica in the glove box.”
“I could do some orchestral Metallica. Dig it out, E.”
Matt looked in the rearview mirror, adjusting the angle to try to see Tony.
Tony grinned. “Now you can see why I wanted to sit in the back seat.”
“It's weird knowing you're back there but not be able to see you. This is going to take some getting used too.”
“Be glad you don't have to shave.”
“I wonder how that works?” Ethan chimed in. “Will I ever have to get my haircut again? Am I stuck with this hairstyle for eternity? What if I decide I want a mullet later, am I out of luck?”
Matt threw Ethan a Look. “If you grow a mullet, I'm staking you myself. You know, Tony, now you won't have to worry about going bald like your old man.”
“Actually I was kind of looking forward to it. I was going to shave my head when it started, and grow a goatee. I guess that's out of the picture now.”
“Just so long as we don't have to have the Bela Lugosi 'Goodfellas' look, I'm content.”
Conversation slowed as Matt turned onto the cobblestone streets of the waterfront. Inebriated pedestrians dodged the slow moving car as they bounced from bar to bar. Matt pulled the car to the curb next to a parking meter.
Tony leaned forward as Matt put the car in park. “Dude, why did you park so far from the club?”
Matt unbuckled his seat belt and opened the door. “Because I don't want to pay $10 to park in a lot when this is free.” He pushed the button on the key fob activating the alarm, and the Civic's lights flashed.
Ethan laughed. “It always cracks me up when you do that. It's a '99 Civic, who's going to want to steal it?”
“Hey, it may be a POS, but it's mine. And since I have one that I can drive, and neither of you do, maybe you should take some lessons from the master.”
“Fair point.” Ethan started the three block hike toward the club. “When we're rich though, I'm going to buy something sporty to cruise around in.” A perplexed look crossed his face. “I wonder how vampires become rich? They all seem to be, you know. But other than being a night clerk at 7-11, I can't see many careers open to them.”
“Compound interest.” Tony crossed the street and headed for a side road. “Einstein said it was the most powerful force in the universe, we just have to find a bank that'll stay open late to take our deposit, and then wait. We definitely have time on our side.”
“You know, Snopes.com says Einstein probably didn't say that,” Ethan threw in.
“Yeah, but everyone knows Snopes puts all sorts of false rumors out on the Internet so people will come to their website to check them out,” Matt replied. “It's like their business model.”
“Oh, you know that's not true,” Ethan protested. “That's just a rumor xkcd made...oh wow!”
The line to get into the rave club went down the block and wound around the corner. Several of the would be patrons, either because they couldn't wait or were trying to catch the doormens' attention, were already gyrating to the techno-beats reverberating from the walls. Glamor and glitz were much in evidence. A group of women at the front of the line took notice of the trio's clothes, and began to giggle as they spoke to each other in hushed voices behind concealing hands. The twin Adonises in black suits and sunglasses guarding the velvet rope while not reacting, gave the impression of missing nothing.
Matt grabbed Tony's arm. “Man, this is so not a good idea. Why don't we try somewhere a little less ritzy for a start, then work our way up to this place?”
Tony shook his arm free and set his shoulders. “No. We're vampires, we're cool, and if these meat-shields are too dumb to realize it, well, I'm an amoral monster with super-human powers now. I won't even have to feel sorry for whatever I do to them.”
He shook himself free of Matt's grasp, and strode confidently toward the door. Matt and Ethan, after a moment's hesitation, followed.
“So, do I show you my ID here, or after I get inside?”
“You would show us your ID here, sir, if we were going to allow you entrance.” The muscle to the left of the door spoke without moving his head. “However, you do not meet the club's dress code or standards, so your ID is unnecessary.”
“Piss on your standards, I'm the coolest person on this street.” Tony made a half-wave with his right hand at waist level. “You will let me in.”
The crowd had started to notice the street theater. The gaggle of girls was openly giggling, and men in the line began adjusting their jackets and flexing their muscles to impress their dates. An roiling sussuration began, objecting to Tony's attempt to circumvent the line.
“Sir, you will leave. Now.” The doorman stepped forward so his chest was almost bumping Tony's nose.
Tony grabbed the bouncer's jacket, throwing his body weight behind his attempt to push the bouncer away. The bouncer instead stepped forward, forcing Tony to take a couple of steps backwards. Tony put his arms over his head, cocked his right leg under his body, and launched a jump kick at the bouncer's groin. The bouncer side-stepped the kick, grabbed Tony by the belt and collar of his gi jacket, and unceremoniously tossed him into the cobblestoned street.
The second bouncer moved forward to invade Ethan and Matthew's personal space. Staring at them with his nostrils, his poise carried the threat of imminent unpleasantness. “Is there going to be a further disturbance here, sirs?”
Ethan began backing toward where Tony was picking himself up in the street. “Um, no, we need to go help our friend, he seems to have...fallen down. Come on Matt.”
Seeing the bouncer return to his position by the door, the crowd loosed its sense of superiority upon the helpless targets.
“It's a good thing the truth is out there, 'cause you ain't getting in!”
“Nice pajamas little boy! Is it bedtime?”
“You're footwear is an anachronism against your 15th century garb!”
The crowd silenced. The group of young ladies at the head of the line was staring at one of their members.
“What? He's wearing tennis shoes with what is obviously supposed to be a peasant shirt!” The stares of the crowd grew colder. The young woman slipped out of the line, and hurried away under the crowd's disapproving gaze. Her compatriots began protesting loudly to the doormen to not allot guilt by association.
Ethan helped Tony finish climbing to his feet. “I think we should beat feet while the rabid pack is distracted.”
“Lets go,” Tony said bitterly. “Let's...just let's go.”
“Where are we going to go?” Matt asked, watching the crowd begin to taunt the departing woman. “I don't know where vampires go to hang out.”
“That is why you should come with us.”
The man with the voice had a walking-stick. It was the first aspect of his appearance to be noticed, a signature of his presence. Tousled shoulder length black hair and a close-cut beard framed a face leathered by the sun. His suit, while well made, was nondescript. Faint tattoos peeked out of his sleeve above his cuff links. Although he was of average height and build, his demeanor, his presence, made him impossible to ignore. His companion was similar. Slightly shorter, with a more athletic build, a monocle glittered in his left eye under his bald dome. He stood, hands in his pockets, looking thoughtfully after the erudite young lady who had been evicted from the line.
Ethan tried to speak, to decline the man's offer, but was paralyzed under the stranger's penetrating gaze. He understood, suddenly, the psychology of the deer on the highway, mesmerized by the twin lights of its impending demise. A ghostly voice suddenly echoed from the depths of his memory: “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded,”. He felt his will rise, his anger pushing away the lethargy instilled by the man's eyes. Tony may believe that collection of fortune-cookie crap Lucas had strung together, but Ethan was determined to prove it wrong, or at least be able to gloat because he had beaten it off. He forced the words past his vocal cords: “Who...are...you?”
The man with the monocle turned his attention to Ethan, looking impressed. His companion with the walking-stick turned suddenly, breaking the tableau. “Come, let us walk while we talk. The bleating of the cattle becomes tiresome.” He began to walk away from the club, his stick swinging jauntily.
“I vill be vith you in a moment,” the second stranger said. “I vish to make a new acquaintance.”
The walking-stick didn't break rhythm. “Doctor, you know I hate it when you speak that way. It sounds ridiculous. Especially since I know you've never even been close to Transylvania.”
“Oh, but it's fun!” the Doctor said. “And you know, Professor, people expect it. They get so disappointed if they don't get their stereotypes.”
“Yes, well; fine, go have your fun. We will meet you at the car.” A visible change went over the crowd as the doctor walked past; his aura muted their cries, their eyes followed him. “At least he stopped wearing that damn cape,” the professor muttered, as if to himself.
“Do we go?” Ethan asked sotto voce.
“I don't see us having much other choice,” Matt answered.
“Yes we go,” Tony replied. He seemed to have regained some of his previous confidence and assertiveness. “I have questions, and this guy is the best lead I've seen so far for answers.”
“How do we know we can trust him?” Ethan pressed. “For all we know, he's some sort of vampire hunter. That walking stick could have a silver spike in it or something.”
“He doesn't look like Buffy,” Tony pointed out.
“Yeah, but he does look like Van Helsing,” Ethan said defiantly. “And I don't care if the Slayer is hot or not, I don't feel like getting staked by anyone.”
“You gotta envy Spike though,” Matt interjected. “I'd totally sell my soul for his girlfriend.”
“We're getting totally off topic!” Tony put his fists on his hips and faced his friends. “This is not a discussion about the cool or sexy factor of vampire killers, it is about how we go on with our lives! We're floundering here, and I find it hard to believe that a vampire hunter just happened to find us on our first night out.”
“I find it hard to believe a vampire hunter would believe we were vampires,” Ethan muttered under his breath.
Tony shot Ethan a cold look, then spun on his heel and walked to the corner where the Professor was politely waiting.
“Well, Matt, what do you think?”
“I hate to admit it, E, but Tony's right. What other choice do we have?”
“I don't know, but something about this doesn't feel right. This whole thing is starting to not feel right.”
“Having second thoughts?”
“No. Besides, it's too late now, isn't it? Remember, any time you make a big change there's always an adjustment period. It'll get better E, trust me.”
Matt put his arm around Ethan's shoulders and propelled him toward where Tony and the Professor were talking. The crowd outside of the club ignored their departure, having been diverted by the appearance of the latest trainwreck celebrity. The cries of joy and pleas for autographs faded as they approached the corner. Tony turned to them and gestured to the professor.
“Gentlemen, I would like to introduce Professor Williams. He and his companion, Dr. Warner, saw us outside the club, recognized our...kinship...and are offering their assistance. Professor, these are my friends, Matthew Merrick and Ethan Bloomquist.”
“Greetings.” Prof. Williams did not offer to shake hands, instead keeping them folded over the silver handle of his walking stick. “I would suggest we retire to my vehicle, which is down the street. I expect Dr. Warner to be joining us there shortly.”
“Not to be rude, Professor, but how do we know...” Ethan began.
“You are correct, that would be rude,” Professor Williams cut Ethan off in mid sentence. “Please refrain from asking questions until we are in a safe place. The night has ears.”
Mildly spooked, the trio followed Prof. Williams down the street. His car was actually a small motor home, with all but the cab windows heavily tinted. A chauffeur leapt out of the driver's door as they approached, and opened the door to the main living area.
“Thank you, Michael. We are waiting for the good doctor, and then we will be going to the club.”
“Yes sir. Dr. Warner has already been and departed, sir. He said he would meet you at there.”
“I see. Was he alone?”
“No sir, there was a young lady. She went with him.”
“I suppose it is regrettably hopeful to think that they walked?”
“I'm afraid so, sir.”
Professor Williams sighed heavily. “Warner has yet to learn the value of discretion.” He looked at where Tony, Matt and Ethan were gathered, watching silently. “A failure which has caused him trouble in the past and will do so again in the future. Let us learn from his failure, gentlemen. Remain silent, please, during our transit, and I promise all of your burning questions will be answered at our destination.” He stepped up the stairs into the motor home's interior.
Tony followed him inside eagerly. Ethan stepped forward reluctantly, both guided and restrained by Matthew's hand on his shoulder. As Matt climbed the stairs, he nodded to Michael, who knuckled a salute on his visor cap as he shut the door.
The interior was as spacious as the limited circumstances allowed. Adhering to their host's admonition, the ride was conducted in uncomfortable silence. Matt, lacking his normal conversational outlet, drank in his surroundings. The kitchenette was small but well equipped; the rear window at the foot of the bed had been replaced by a flat screen TV and entertainment center. Under the television was a small library of books, DVDs and CDs. Matt nudged Tony, and gestured with his head at the collection of vampire movies. Tony stopped staring at the professor long enough to smile in shared amusement. Ethan had fixed his gaze upon a spot on the ceiling and sat, with his hands in his lap, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.
Other details began to present themselves. The windows, obviously tinted from the outside, had heavy black curtains tightly covering them on the inside. A similar curtain was strung between the living area and the cab. There was tableware in a rack above the sink, and Matt could see toiletries and soap through the glass door to the shower. While there was no obvious signs of a coffin, Matt detected the sharp metallic tang of blood emanating from the mini-fridge.
Further observation was cut short as the motor home slowed to a stop. The cabin door opened, to reveal Michael standing at rigid attention. The street outside was dark, with the only illumination coming from a small neon sign and the motor home's lights. Still in silence, Professor Williams strode out of the motor home and down a short flight of stairs leading to a sub-level door. Like a line of goslings following their mother, Anthony, Matthew and Ethan followed. As the Professor performed a complicated tattoo on the door with his cane, Michael secured the motor home's door and stairs, then climbed in the cab and drove off. The bright halogens faded quickly, leaving the stairwell covered in the harsh glare of red neon and gloom.
The Professor's rapping was answered by the sound of a bolt shooting back. Professor Williams entered immediately, then used his walking stick to hold the door for the others. It closed quickly once everyone was inside, plunging the vestibule into darkness. “They're with me,” the Professor said into the silence. A second, interior, door slid open, and light and sound suddenly flooded over them. “Come with me,” the Professor said. “We are safe here, and may speak freely.”
The room had the understated elegance of great expense. A dark wooden bar dominated the left wall, and cozy alcove booths studded the right. The far wall backed a small stage, where a young woman played a grand piano. On the dance floor fronting the stage a half-dozen couples cut a rug to the ragtime tunes being tickled out of the grand's ivories. A smattering of larger tables stood between the dance floor and the door, and at one of them Dr. Warner gestured, beckoning them to join him.
The occupants of the tables they wound between were studies in eccentric beauty. Clothing from a multitude of times and cultures mixed freely with the latest party fashions. Hairstyles were similarly diverse, while body types trended toward thin and athletic. Piercings and tattoos were noticeable but not prominent among the crowd. The only uniform characteristic of the patrons were the flat glares they directed at the interlopers in their midst.
“They don't look too friendly,” Tony whispered to Matt. For the first time since meeting the Professor, he looked unsure. “They look like we wore stormtrooper outfits to a Star Trek convention.”
“Your attire and demeanor offend their sensibilities,” Dr. Warner said, standing to greet them. “But being our guests grants you a certain cachet that will prevent trouble.”
“Why is that?” Tony asked.
“For reasons best described over a drink,” the doctor replied. “Garcon, my bottle please, and five glasses.
“Of course, sir. I have had them waiting.” A young man wearing an impeccable white suit wheeled over a cart with glasses and what appeared to be a rotisserie oven. Setting glasses before everyone on the table, he opened the oven door and removed a bottle from the slowly rotating rack. Deftly popping the cork, he poured equal amounts into each glass, nearly emptying the bottle. He then replaced the bottle inside the rotisserie and turned to Dr. Warner.
“Anything else, sir?”
“No Antonio, that will do. I will see that your tip is registered with the office.”
“Thank you sir, you are too kind.”
As Antonio retreated to a discreet distance, Prof. Williams raised his glass. “To life!”
“To life!” Dr. Warner repeated. Tony raised his glass and sipped hesitantly. Matt toyed with his uncomfortably, but Ethan sat with his arms crossed over his chest, his glass untouched. “You don't drink?” Dr. Warner asked.
“Where's the girl?” Ethan shot back.
“Decanted in front of you.”
Matt face registered his shock. Tony looked ill, but held his glass protectively, as if afraid it would be snatched away at any moment. Ethan sat, unsurprised, his face blank. “Did she have a choice?”
“All carnivores would starve if their prey was given a choice, my naive young man,” the doctor replied. A hint of contempt crept into his voice. “She did not suffer, and will awake tomorrow to a new life as a superior being if that helps assuage your conscience.”
“Was this what she wanted? Was she even asked?” Ethan's voice rose in volume and intensity. “Or did you decide that because she was 'cattle' you could do what you wanted with her?”
“Interesting,” Prof. Williams said, cutting off Dr. Warner's retort. “The hunter's instinct has not implanted itself.”
“Huh?” Ethan was thrown off by the non sequitur. “What do you mean?”
“You retain moral qualms,” the professor replied. “Have you been blooded yet?”
“No, I haven't.”
“Interesting. That may explain it.” Professor Williams reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small leather bound book and a silver fountain pen. He opened the book and began making notes. “We will have to see if your reluctance fades after you feed.”
“You said the night had ears and implied we were in danger until we got here,” Tony broke in, hesitantly. “Can I ask some questions now?”
“You old hypocrite!” Dr. Warner chortled. “Tease me about my accent but then pull the 'mysterious stranger' routine! Let me guess,” he turned to Tony, “he made you do the whole trip in silence, didn't he?”
“You know I hate idle chatter,” the professor defended himself absently. “And I felt, as this was your idea, that you should be present for the debriefing.”
“What debriefing?” Tony's eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about? What is this place? And how did you know we were vampires in the first place?” He looked pained. “Ethan's right, we don't really look cool enough to be vampires.”
Prof. Williams shot a weary glance at Dr. Warner. “Do you see why I insisted on you being here to endure this?” He took another sip from his glass, collecting his thoughts. “Your answers, in no particular order are: I'm talking about an experiment the doctor and I are conducting; I said debriefing because it is a more polite term than examination; this is the Club of the Sanguine; and I knew you were a vampire because I'm the one who turned you.”
“Wh..why did you do that?” Tony stuttered out, stunned. “I mean, why me?”
Dr. Warner rested his chin on steepled fingers. “We are testing a theory of mine. I have hypothesized that certain kinds of people are naturally predisposed to accept the transition to becoming a vampire, while others are unsuitable and doomed to fail. I am attempting to determine if preexisting traits can be accurate predictors of a candidate's adapting to the Change.”
“I don't get it,” Tony said, glancing back and forth to Matt and Ethan. “What adapting? I thought once you were bit you were a vampire and that was it; I didn't think failing was an option.”
“A common misconception.” Prof. Williams assumed a lecturing air, leaning back in his chair and grasping the lapels on his jacket. “But almost twenty-five percent of those who are Turned fail to survive their first year. Some are careless and fall afoul of the natural dangers, such as sunlight. Others,” he gestured toward Ethan “experience moral or psychological difficulties, such as reluctance to feed off of their former species, that retard acclimation to their new status.”
“What happens to a vampire that doesn't feed?” Matt asked interestedly.
“It depends on whether they have been blooded or not,” the doctor answered. “A blooded vampire denied fresh essence will quickly weaken and atrophy, until it crumbles to dust.”
“And an unblooded vampire?” Ethan threw in, his voice tight.
“An unblooded vampire will truly expire after its first full diurnal cycle.”
“So if I don't drink this,” Ethan nudged the glass with the girl's congealing blood as Matt immediately began draining his. “Or get it from someone else, I'm going to die.”
“Such has been my experience, yes,” Dr. Warner replied coolly.
“Does it have to be human blood?”
“Ah, the 'Do I have to kill people' question.” Prof. Williams leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and clasping his hands. “Let us cut to the chase and save ourselves much redundancy in questions. Vampirism seems to be very individualistic. Some Nosferatu are able to survive off of animal blood. Some even claim to be free from the need for blood completely. While there are some skeptics, I believe those claims. I once knew a vampire that had learned to live off of flowers. It is not the base substance of hemoglobin that we require, but instead an essence that can be drained to sustain us. Human blood seems to be universal to all vampires, and is the easiest to procure, so most do not bother seeking alternatives. The good doctor holds that the alternative essence relates to a core part of our being. I agree with him. The young lady I mentioned had been a famed horticulturalist.”
“What happened to her, sir?” Tony asked, quietly.
Prof. Williams slumped in his chair, and his years became evident on his face. “She starved to death when vandals destroyed her greenhouse one winter. She had lost her hunter's instinct and had trouble bringing herself to feed traditionally. She used to joke she was the first 'vegetarian vampire'.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and struggled to regain control of his voice. “It was for the best in the end. Her feeding destroyed great swathes of countryside. She could lay waste to a field just by walking through it. Her blights were attracting too much attention and risked exposing our existence.”
“More than killing people does?” Ethan asked nastily.
“People die every day.” The professor leaned forward and jabbed his finger in Ethan's face. “People disappear every day. But it occurs on an individual basis, and people do not care because it is not happening to them. Widespread depredations make people think it could affect their precious selves, and so they take notice. Your survival will depend on people being too selfish to care about others' misfortunes.” He smirked. “You may not like it, but as you are one of us, you will be like us.”
Ethan glared at Prof. Williams, then suddenly chugged down his drink and slammed down his glass. Cooled, clotted blood that had adhered to the sides fell to the bottom, forming an oozy mass. “I may have to be one of you, but I'm not going to be like you,” he declared. “Even animals being led to slaughter deserve consideration. If you don't feel that, you have lost your humanity.”
“Humanity?! If you had seen...” Prof. Williams bit back his retort. “It is rude to dominate a conversation. Surely your friends have questions?” He looked pointedly at Matt and Tony as he took a drink.
“Uh, I do.” Matt was folding the bloodied napkin he had used to wipe his face into a swan. His movements were quick, precise. His expression emanated intensity, like a coiled spring. “Why do you have shampoo in your bathroom?”
Prof. Williams snorted blood out of his nose, which caused Dr. Warner to laugh hysterically and bang his fist on the table in amusement. The ruckus attracted the attention of the other patrons, and amused chatter and giggles spread throughout the room. Antonio and other attendants rushed forward with towels. After being thoroughly mopped up, the professor stood and surrendered his jacket to Antonio, who bustled through a door to the back.
Retaking his seat, the professor straightened his cuffs and signaled for a fresh drink. As a young lady refilled his glass, he gave Matt an abashed look. “That obviously was not what I expected. Well done.” Studiously ignoring the other customers' looks, he sipped his glass. “Those are for Michael. I insist on proper hygiene from my employees.”
Matt's face scrunched in puzzlement. “He's not a vampire too?”
“No, that will be his...severance pay, as it were.” He noted the looks of surprise. “These kinds of arrangements are fairly common in our culture. Having an assistant not bound by our restraints eases existence's little hurdles. And the promise of immortality tends to create very dedicated employees. The servants here, for example, all come from among the living.”
Tony shifted uncomfortably. “May I have more?” He shot a glance at the rotisserie bottle holder.
Dr. Warner snapped his fingers. “Of course. Tonight you are our guests.” The waitress hurried over, working the cork out of the bottle as she came. “Come, what other questions do you have?”
Tony heard the waitress' heartbeat fade as she returned to her post. “I have two questions: Prof. Williams, I noticed you have silver on your walking stick and your pen. How is that possible? And second, according to legend, when a vampire creates another vampire, he injects blood into his...compatriot. I didn't do that with Matt or Tony, so why aren't they dead?”
“You are fond of your scattershot questions, are you not? In order this time. I told you vampirism is individualistic. Different vampires will experience differing abilities and different challenges. The only constants that we have been able to find are the need for essence and that natural forces are universal. For example, no vampire is totally immune to sunlight, and it is impossible to go through running water. But the other weaknesses, silver, garlic, holy symbols, may affect one vampire but not the other.”
“I believe it relates to the same core aspects that determine what essences can support life,” Dr. Warner chimed in.
“Indeed. But the details are important. Pure silver, being a natural element, is dangerous to us. But sterling silver, which is an alloy, is not. It is best to be conservative when testing for allergies. Mistakes can be fatal.” A look of confusion crossed his face. “What was the second question?”
Tony smiled. “Making new vampires.”
“Ah yes. Quite honestly, we did not expect you to breed so quickly.”
“Remember, Professor, the urge to reproduce is instinctive in lower forms of life.”
“Very true, Doctor. Creating a new vampire requires more than the physical act of draining or exchanging blood. It requires a desire and intention to do so. Otherwise vampires would have depopulated the world long before now. You can drain a person of blood, but if you do not in turn inject that person with part of your essence, they will not awaken.”
“The injecting of blood is used for a specific purpose,” Dr. Warner said, taking over the explanation. “The alpha vampire can chose to create either a free-willed or subject vampire. A free-willed vampire is created by the sharing of essence alone. A subject vampire however, has had a portion of its blood ingested by the alpha vampire and then reinjected into the beta subject vampire. This creates a bond between them. The beta vampire finds itself predisposed to follow the instructions of its creator, although this control is rarely total. Both vampires gain an instinctive knowledge of other's whereabouts and well-being. The alpha vampire gains the control aspect, but also suffers if the subject vampire is damaged or destroyed.”
“So which am I?” Tony asked.
“Do you feel an overwhelming need to slavishly follow my every whim?” Prof. Williams asked with a laugh.
“Not particularly, no.”
“Then you have your answer.”
“So, if you weren't looking for a servant, why did you create me?”
“As I mentioned, the doctor and I are conducting an experiment. We wanted to see how someone with your traits would handle being turned.”
Matt frowned. “I don't get it. What traits would Tony have that would make him interesting to you?”
Dr. Warner stirred his drink with his finger. “I would have thought it was obvious. As you observed earlier, you don't look like the majority of my peers. There is a certain flair, a panache, associated with the Nosferatu, that you lack.”
Ethan leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “He's a geek. You chose him because he is about as 'uncool' as a person can get. You want to see if his becoming a vampire will make him cooler.”
“In a nutshell, yes,” Dr. Warner looked appraisingly at Ethan. “You have a impressively deductive mind. Are you classically trained?”
“It was elementary, my dear Warner.”
“Okay, I understand that I wasn't picked for my wit and grace,” Tony looked near tears. “But if this is an experiment, wouldn't it have made more sense to make me a servitor? At least that way you'd always know where to find me for 'observation'.”
Prof. Williams sat back and ran his hand through his hair. “That is true, but remember, an alpha vampire feels discomfort and pain if his offspring suffer. I did not wish to undergo that.”
“I do not expect you to succeed, Anthony. I expect you to die.”
The Story Continues On The Next Page!