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History:The second story I wrote since I took up writing properly.
Acclaim:Accepted for inclusion on "Pathways To Darkness" vampire resource site.



"Well of course you would say that, you're a vampire!"

All eyes in the restaurant turned towards us. I suppressed a smile as my companion looked around sheepishly, then carried on in a whisper.

"You're a vampire. You would have to think that all vampires still hold some strange fascination for us mortals. But it just isn't so."

I sighed and set down my wine glass while my companion chewed on steak and potato. A ray of light glinted off the glass, casting a small rainbow-spectrum of light to fall on the bright white table cloth.

We had been over this argument many times before, reiterating the same points time and time again. It grew wearisome to see my input fail to make any impact on each occasion. But all my companion's stubbornness in refusing to hear me was matched by my own stubborn desire to make him see otherwise. I had to try again.

"I wouldn't say that all vampires were fascinating, just some of them." I tapped my wine glass pointedly with a sharp finger nail.

His gaze raised to meet my eyes, but only went straight through me as he focused on his reflection in my dark sun glasses.

I first met the man many years before, when he was still a boy. The winter night had brought darkness early, with a chill breeze that sang of snow and ice and frost. Consumed with reddened vision, I set off into the night looking for a subject to feed upon. A soul wrapped in flesh and an intricate lattice carrying the all important essence of life, blood. The sweetest taste of all came from that crimson liquid and nothing could remove the appeal. True, on such a night I was not going to get much choice in the blood I drank, and it was likely that it would be tainted by the foul bitterness of alcohol in anyone I met. But blood is blood and it flowed through me with the cry of life.

Chance and the deserted streets brought me to a long shadowy road where each street light fought its own battle against the night. The battle had many casualties - failed street lights were accentuated by pools of deepest shadow. It was as I entered one of these pools that I caught the unmistakable smell of life in the air - fresh blood!

I walked further until a break in the low wall at the front of the houses was marked by a deep hedge. It was here that the smell of blood clung to the air most strongly. My eyes sliced through the night and showed me the faint shape of a human being.

A boy lay in a heap, surrounded by leaves and thorny branches. I could see the blood seeping from the wounds on his arms, body and face where he had been punched and kicked moments before. In his weakened state, he was ripe for the kill.

I don't know what made me hold back. Maybe the boy was too small to make the feed worthwhile. Maybe he would be better saved until he was older and had a family. Or perhaps it was a shred of compassion leftover from my human days. In any case, I hid my teeth and reached deep into the bushes. Grabbing firm hold of the boy's jumper I dragged him out.

He stood in front of me bruised, battered and confused. His face was red and swollen, and his brown hair was matted with blood. To see him, I thought perhaps he was already dead, and all I had picked out of the undergrowth was a shell. But I placed my hand on his shoulder and his eyes came up to meet mine before getting lost in his own reflection. A faint life shone in his dark pupils.

"Hey kid, what's your name?" I said.

A feeble voice spluttered out an approximation of "Paul".

"Run along kid. This is no time for you to be out." I let him go and after a moment's repose he ran down the street. I watched him disappear into the distance and waited for destiny to call our names again.

I leaned back in my chair and rested my right ankle on my left knee. Across the restaurant a young man in a smart grey suit did the same. Ah, the unconscious power of suggestion. Despite a brain with so little time to call its own, the human mind was remarkably impressionable.

This made it all the more frustrating when my companion persisted in his stubbornness.

"Look, I know why you take this stance," said Paul, narrowly avoiding spraying me with food, "You just don't want to think that maybe you have so few supporters amongst us humans. But the figures say you are wrong!" He paused to wipe his mouth, and his fork spun to the floor. A waited appeared with almost magical speed and handed Paul a clean fork, before whirling on heel and taking the old fork away. "I've been writing vampire novels for 30 years now, and for the last ten sales figures have been dropping steadily. And not just for my works either!" He emphasised his remark with a sharp jab of his fork in the air. "The sad fact is that vampires are going out of fashion. People aren't interested anymore. You're losing your appeal, your 'fascination' as you like to call it. The charm is gone!"

I drummed my fingers on the empty table in front of me. We usually met like this, in a restaurant. I would not eat, having no need to partake of the conventional meals from my human days, but I would still enjoy a glass of red wine while Paul picked at some of the finer offerings from the restaurant's kitchens. It was a mutually acceptable arrangement. We both knew where we stood.

It was some weeks after I first met Paul that our second collision of lives occurred. Again it was dark, and I was out to feed. An unnaturally mild night had brought more people out, leaving me only with the hard choice of deciding which ones were to provide the evening's meal. Fortuitously, I was presented with a natural choice.

I passed by the entrance to a narrow alley behind the back of some houses, and was set to move on when the scent of blood on the air caught me. The alley was dark, having only a faint light coming from the pale moon and the curtained windows of the nearby houses. Nobody should be in the alley at this time of day. But the blood called me on the air. I turned and walked down the alley.

On either side of me were high red-brick walls crumbling slightly from age. A thriving line in moss existed in the separating mortar between the bricks. Touching the brickwork a moment, I could almost taste blood from ages past. I hastened my step to see the night's attraction.

Rounding a slight corner, the source of my interest presented itself. Three lads stood around a fourth figure bent double on the floor. The inadequate lighting would have robbed the boys' faces of detail to any human, but to me the detail leapt out clear as day. I recognised the crumpled heap on the floor as Paul well enough.

All four turned to me as I stepped out of the shadow. It was not normally my policy to intervene in the affairs of humans. After all, one was as good as another for my needs, and vigilante actions so seldom changed the world anyway. Certainly no-one would appreciate assistance from someone they would call a demon any other day. However, in this case I could feel there was a difference. The three older boys had been laying about Paul with little mercy, leaving a pattern of Paul's blood on the walls and concrete floor. I could smell Paul's blood on his attackers almost as well as on himself.

Sometimes, when you are hungry, it is easier to feed from those that life presents to you for correction.

I set about the three lads with barely tempered enthusiasm, rending flesh on the nearest so he dropped to the floor clutching his forearm while I punched the second in the face. The third made to run but I looped my arm tightly about his chest and sank my sharp fangs into his neck. As his blood drained from him he attempted to scream, but managed only a pathetic gurgle.

I dropped the lifeless body and returned to the second, sinking my teeth deep into the neck of the unconscious youth where he lay on the ground. All the time I kept my gaze firmly fixed on the first kid kneeling down and clutching his arm tightly. He tried ineffectually to stem the maroon flood from his wrist, but it was of no use, the blood seeping up between his fingers as his panic grew. As I lay down the second body, the first lad tried to stand but his legs collapsed under him like matchsticks. He started clawing at the rough ground trying to drag himself away.

It is not normally in my nature to be cruel, but if a life is going to pass, it might as well be useful to me. Should the blood be wasted on pavement and clothing, the least his passing away might do is provide me with some amusement.

Stepping over bodies and pools of blood I effortlessly caught up with the lad and crouched down on the path in front of him. He stopped crawling, his gaze rising to meet mine. As he caught sight of his dead companions reflected in my glasses, I gave him a grin with sharp teeth and dripping blood. A faint whimper escaped his lips as in his final breath a look of complete terror skated across his face. The final drops of blood fell from his wrist to spread across the concrete beneath him, his head falling to the hard surface below.

A faint scraping noise made me look up. Paul was staring straight at me. I closed my mouth to hide my toothy grin, rising to my feet and walking towards him. He struggled upright himself, fists clenched and ready to strike at me. But as I neared our gazes met.

I looked down at him for a few seconds. I could see his pain in every motion and every reflection in his eyes. But in that time, for the only occasion in his life, Paul saw beyond the reflections in my glasses and looked deep into my own eyes. His fists lowered, though his eyes never did.

I stepped back from him, and flashed him a toothy grin. "Be seeing you, kid," I said, backing away down the alley. Turning, I melted into the shadows, leaving Paul sitting in a pool of blood with his head cradled in his arms.

Paul shuffled in his seat while I sipped from my wine glass. We were treading familiar territory here, but neither of us felt compelled to change the topic. For a moment's respite, I glanced round the room and enjoyed the smart look of the furnishings, lit delicately by ornate light fittings. All manor of people eating, filling the air with muted sounds of cutlery on plates and hushed conversations.

I turned back to Paul and wheeled out my normal argument. "Perhaps, Paul, the problem is you write about the wrong sort of vampire." His complexion showed a barely concealed irritation as I continued. "You always write about the same old thing. Sad and lonely vampires, struggling with their immortality, feeding from young maidens. Oh the pain! The sorrow! And yet somehow you also turn this into some triumphant act of romance. A kind of glory in the contradictory nature of the vampire, as he draws both life and pleasure from the pain and death of his victim. A victim for whom the giving is the ultimate act of kindness on both their parts." Paul fumed silently. "It just isn't like this. People don't want to see this. Romance is dead. People want a vampire from their time; a vampire from their world. The populace at large is all too ready to believe in vampires if you make them fashionable enough. Any number of people would be buying your books, all the while wondering where they might meet a real vampire and what they could do to help him. Or her!"

Paul set down his knife and fork with a clang, and I knew I had him riled. He almost choked as he forced down a mouthful of food before speaking.

"You know that isn't fair!" he exclaimed. "I've written about all kinds of vampire! In my books I've covered men, women, children, animals as vampires; I've told tales of vampire clans and vampires alone. I made stories with vampires that go out in the day, and vampires that eat nothing but garlic. There are stories in my collection with vampires that feed off emotions; I included vampires as businessmen, priests, demons, spirits, angels. It doesn't help. The readers are still losing interest. They just don't want to know!"

I forced a smile into hiding. Though his anger did not amuse me, such in-depth arguments and heated emotions on his part did. The matter had been covered before. I knew full well what he had written. But it all lacked a certain quality from my life. I responded, "I think you are missing the point."

Had he been able to slam his glass onto the table without breaking it, I am sure he would have done so. As it was, Paul placed his glass down firmly and said, "I know you suggested this career, and I thank you for it, but it doesn't mean you understand it."

Shortly after his eighteenth birthday, Paul's parents died in a car crash. Though I did not know them, by all accounts it was no great loss. The world at large picked up the pieces and carried on without so much as a blink. The freshly sharpened blade of reality came crashing down into Paul's life though, cutting away whatever joy he took from his brief existence.

The funeral was an overly fussy affair, full of religion and false regret. Women in black dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs, men in suits being strong. A short sermon and the lowering of a wooden box into the ground. I avoided it all with care. Instead I caught up with Paul as he left the cemetery.

He stopped on the path next to me and we took a bench for a moment's contemplation. His face was a picture of sorrow, though he did well to suppress the tears. I could see lines where the tears had been stronger before, and his eyes shone with the red light of blood flooding capillaries. He hung his head down and his hands formed fists for no reason.

I could feel his pain in the air between us, but spared it no thought. Pain was a peculiarly human emotion which had no place in the life of a vampire. Though humans seem to define their life by it, you don't last as a vampire by feeling pain when you see people die. You might feel regret for the wasted blood, but which human would query the cow they were about to eat?

Instead, I waited for Paul to speak as life took care of itself. A breeze pushed dead leaves along the road, tidying them into a corner. Clouds chased away the blue sky. If you looked at it right, you saw not blue sky with clouds, but a sheet of white cloud with patches of blue moving across it. Perception makes all the difference.

After some time, Paul raised his head without looking at me. His hands unclenched physically, leaving the feeling of being clenched behind. He turned to me and whispered, "What do I do now?"

I watched the passers-by for a moment, going about their business somehow without feeling his pain. The last of the funeral dispersed. No-one seemed very interested in Paul. No-one cared much at all.

I rose from the bench and brushed down my coat. The same black leather had seen me good for some time now, and I hated to ruin it in the name of a dusty wooden bench. The coat had outlived many people in this world and would no doubt continue to do so for some time to come. I thought briefly of Paul's parents.

Paul watched me as I eyed up a lady in a polo-neck jumper. Even with the high neck line the blood in her veins traced pretty patterns before my eyes. Beauty was all around.

I looked down at Paul, and he waited patiently for an answer. Finally, I spoke.

"Perhaps," I said, "you should become a writer."

We let our individual frustrations subside for a minute while he ate and I drank. Our arguments seldom became unpleasant, and though I had time in abundance I saw no need to waste it on grievances. Instead I savoured the sweet tasting wine and the feeling of life all around.

I looked about me and studied the signs of the world's wondrous variety. Never was there so much contrast! Men, women, black people, white people. All shapes, sizes and ages. A sea of souls wrapped up in frail bodies and their own little worlds. There was a tall woman with a backless dress talking animatedly to her colleague. A barely concealed snake tattoo peered out from behind her long dark hair. On the next table, a short, overweight businessman with a heart complaint was in too much of a hurry. His veins lit up like lights before my blood vision. A table further, and an elderly black lady was discussing with her equally elderly friend how times had been better before, without addressing any ways to make them better after. I marvelled at what I saw.

How many of them would read Paul's writings, I wondered. How many were really interested?

How many suspected there might be real vampires?

The silence at our table was broken by Paul. He sighed before speaking. "I don't mean to get at you. But times are getting harder for me. I need to sell more stories to pay the rent. I can't live out on the streets."

I nodded slightly, for his argument was right. Even I chose not to live on the streets. But sometimes people didn't want to be helped. I spoke to him quietly, keeping the softened tone of the restaurant. "I have suggested ways to catch more readers. It's not all about the vampires. It's about the world around them."

Paul shrugged. He could no more change his writing style than I could change my fangs. And neither of us wanted to change ourselves.

Paul spoke slowly. "I don't know anymore. I don't think it would help. Even if I get some more people interested, I doubt I'll ever reach the success of my first novels again."

When Paul finally had his first novel published, it was by all accounts a lively affair. The first copies sold rapidly, such that the book went for reprint after only a few months. The publishers were quick to see the success on their hands, and had Paul doing interviews and signing books for six weeks. It was less a runaway success as a runaway dream, so unreal did it seem. Paul threw a party to celebrate the book being published, then the publishers threw a party to celebrate their guarantee of profit for as long as Paul wrote for them. Myself, I shunned the excitement for quieter times.

Paul was at home days later when I caught up with him again. I met him in his back garden, watching him tend to some plants. A sea of green marked Paul's losing battle with the weeds, and he gave me a thankful glance to be distracted from the task in hand by my arrival.

"Hi," he said, squinting in the sunlight.

I nodded. "Well done with the book."

Paul got up from his plants and picked a glass of water from the cheap plastic table that served as the garden's nod towards function. Insects buzzed around him as he drank deeply. Sated, he placed the glass on the table before asking, "Do you want a copy of the book?"

I reached into my jacket and pulled out a book far enough for Paul to recognise the title on the front. His smile almost turned to laughter with recognition. He nodded slowly to himself, saying, "Very good. I wondered if you would buy a copy."

He walked slowly around the garden admiring the weeds as best he could. They thrived in the adverse conditions so much, it was almost a kind of beauty in itself. Life prevailing over circumstance. Even humans can manage that.

He made it halfway around before pausing, and turning to me. "How come you weren't at the party?"

It was my turn to smile. I even slipped in a couple of fangs. I asked, "Your publisher was at the party, wasn't she?"

He nodded agreement.

Forcing the words past my grin, I said, "You know in your publisher's office, behind the desk, she has an old black and white photo?"

Paul took on a model expression of shock. "Dear lords, that's not you is it?"

I laughed slightly, and enjoyed Paul's bemused look. "No, that's not me. That's a picture of the author of the first book they ever published. But next to the window are three more pictures like that one. I wrote the third book they ever published."

Paul broke down in laughter as I waved goodbye. Even walking around the corner, I could still hear his amusement.

Paul set down his knife and fork next to each other on his plate, and spoke quickly. "Look, don't take this personally, but I have to go. I have an appointment with my publisher soon, and I can't afford to be late. I need to sell her my latest ideas for a novel, whether people are interested or not."

I just grinned.

"Somehow I have to convince her that people are still interested in vampires, that they do still have some strange fascination for the 'mere mortals' of the world. Somehow I have to convince myself first that this next novel is going to be a huge seller."

He reached for his wallet and I waved him away.

"Don't worry Paul - I have this one covered."

I drained my glass and watched Paul rise from the table. As he was about to leave, I called to him. "Paul! People will be interested you know." He looked at me with a blank expression. "You just need to make the story fit their world." Paul shrugged, and headed out the door.

A minute passed, and I watched the people of the restaurant some more from my chair. People coming, people going.

A waiter in black trousers and white shirt walked up to me, brandishing a silver tray. A pristine white collar and black bow-tie hid his neck from view.

"More wine, sir?" he queried.

I nodded my acceptance and moved my empty glass closer to him. He set the tray down on the table a moment so he could unbutton his shirt sleeve. Rolling his sleeve all the way up, he removed a black cord from the tray and pulled it tight around his upper arm, fastening it carefully. Then he took a small syringe from the tray, removed the cap from the needle, and carefully inserted it into a vein in his exposed arm.

I watched carefully as he pulled the plunger on the syringe back, and the small container filled with red liquid. The waiter was a model of calm the whole time. Given he was human, I was much impressed.

Finally the container was full. The waiter carefully pulled the syringe out and deftly squirted the contents into my wine glass. I raised the glass and smelt the sweet aroma of fresh blood as the waiter returned his shirt sleeve to its former state. The dark red liquid rolled around the glass in a most delicious fashion. I tipped the man heavily for his trouble and drank deeply as he left.

Paul was wrong of course. There would always be people interested in vampires. For some the fascination would become obsession, for some it would become fear. But there would always be people who would do what they could for us.

The trick was to adapt. People live and die too much for the old ideas to always grab their attention. A modern vampire was required in a modern society.

I drank slowly and savoured the moment once more. Human beings were such strange creatures. So rarely did they understand each other, let alone anything else in their world. Yet they persisted in only seeing things their way. But they were still a useful and interesting breed that could keep me enthralled for many years to come.

Not to mention they made all the best wines.

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