I have lived for a thousand years, and I shall live until zhe last breath escapes zhe last living creature. I have come face to face vith God, and he has turned avay from me in disgust, enabling me to realize my innermost machinations. Zhe night is my domain. I strike in zhe darkness, vithout remorse, vithout any feeling at all except zhe hunger, until I am sated. My heart no longer beats. My veins no longer throb. My body has no use for blood, and yet I crave it. Endlessly. I have killed more men than I could ever hope to account for, and I have known zhe names of precious few. Sometimes I leave my dishes in zhe sink rather than vashing them right avay after dinner, even though my roommate has requested that I stop doing that. I tell him I am very tired after a long night of stalking prey, and he says yeah man, I vork for a living too, and I say that’s fair, but please be patient vith me. I am Villiam zhe Damned, cruelest vampire to valk zhe night.
Popular media has fed you all sorts of dangerous fibs about my ilk. They show you vampires leading lonely lives, stumbling about from kill to kill, pining after humans that are destined to leave them behind. This is true of only a very sad few, and unfortunately I feel it’s necessary to point out that fewer still vould use their eternal youth to engage in petty adolescent battles over seventeen-year-old girls. No matter how grave her daddy issues or how massive her lady lumps. In reality, most vampires live in a brood, vith around a dozen or so of their peers. After all, vhat is forever vithout a few friends?
This reminds me, I’ve got a theory that there are two types of vampires. You got your Salvatores, and they basically ruin it for zhe rest of us. It’s a lot like that Chris Rock standup bit about black people vhich, for some reason, I’m not allowed to repeat, or I’ll be asked to vacate this Starbucks. Ah vell, vhat can you do? Zhe times are a-changin. Vhen I first turned, it vas all so simple: you’d devour a nice Vietnamese family. That’s just how it vas. Today there’s all this pressure to signal-boost zhe vendigo, or make sure you’re not unfairly targeting zhe Vietnamese, even though everybody knows they taste zhe best.
I vas sitting in my apartment, minding my business, pondering my orb, vhen I heard it: zhe thin, reedy cry of an infant child. Zhe front door svung open, and there stood my broodmate, Victor, holding a little powder-blue bundle. “May I come in?” he requested.
I set my orb back on its perch and stood. “Vun moment,” I said. “Esteban!”
My roommate, Esteban, came vaddling from down zhe hall in his robe. He looked at Victor, then at me. “Yes?”
“Vould you do me a favor and let my friend in?”
“Why can’t you do it yourself?”
I smiled and gave a meaningful tap to vun of my fangs, causing a dull shockvave of pain across half of my face.
Esteban squinted. “I see. I thought we agreed your… other life wasn’t going to bleed over into the apartment.”
I stared deep into Esteban’s eyes and compelled him. “Don’t be rude.”
“Come on in,” Esteban said, before returning to his room, muttering, “maybe you could ask your friend to help you with the dishes.”
Victor cautiously stepped inside. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mind him,” I said. “Between you and me, ve’ve been having spats lately. Nobody’s fault. Say, vhat’s that in your arms?”
“That’s just it,” Victor said. “I can’t decide.”
“I vas being rhetorical, Victor. It’s a baby. I’m asking vhy you have a baby.”
“And I vas being metaphorical, Villiam. I know it’s a baby. I found it abandoned in zhe voods. Vhat I can’t decide is this: Ought I bring it back to zhe brood?”
“For zhe Thursday night potluck? I vouldn’t venture that.”
“Come on…. I know it’s a little on zhe scant side as far as blood offerings go. I just vondered vhether zhe novelty might intrigue Broodmother Beatrice.”
“I don’t know, man. You found it in zhe voods? Vhat if it, like... hasn’t been immunized?”
“Zhe elders alvays say that blood tasted better in olden times.”
I remembered zhe first time I’d seen an elder in person. Kostas. He emerged from his coffin and spread his tattered vings, grey of skin and black of eyes. His fangs had grown so long that they pierced his lower lip and stuck out like little vhite stalactites.
“Beatrice is alvays saying ve should use an abundance of caution. Times being vhat they are.”
“Fine,” Victor sighed, before dropping zhe baby.
Merely out of instinct, I dashed forvard and shoved a soft chair under zhe child to cushion his landing. Still, zhe fall must have frightened him, because he began to shriek. Zhe noise vas vhite-hot pain in my hypersensitive ears. I looked deep into zhe baby’s eyes and compelled it, “Shut up,” to no effect. I knew from spending zhe early ‘40s in Germany that compulsion only vorks if you speak to zhe person in a language they can understand. Great, I thought. Not only is this baby a nuisance; it’s also an immigrant.
I asked Victor to take zhe child vith him vhen he vent. He shrugged and said that a bat can’t carry a child. I said don’t you dare, you don’t have to turn into a bat to get around, ve have superhuman speed and endurance, so turning into a bat vould actually be very ancient and impractical of you. But before I knew it, he vas flapping through zhe vindow and into zhe night. Victor alvays had a vay of subverting expectations.
Ve are monsters, but not sadists. That night, I decided I should take care of zhe boy until I could find a decent home for him, vun that vould love him vithout needing to be compelled to. Everyvun deserves that. And hey, if that day never came, then vhen he reached a certain age, if he vas villing, I could turn him—provided he ended up being, like, a cool guy, or at least not a total vet blanket like Esteban.
He didn’t come vith any inscriptions or anything, so I decided to name him Vardan.
Years vent by in zhe blink of an eye, just as any length of time does vhen you’re immortal.
Tonight vas a hunting night.
Vardan and I lurked in zhe bushes lining a quiet park path, near a flickering old lamp. Many humans—supple, delicious-smelling humans—had passed us in blissful ignorance of zhe precariousness of their situations. Luckily for most of them, ve vere vaiting for a very specific kind of person. And after about an hour, she arrived.
“Are you hungry, child?” I asked.
“Starving, master,” said zhe boy, balling up a wrathful little fist. He vas only four, but I could already see in him zhe makings of a killing machine (that is, vhen he vas not busy being a tantrum machine or a sleeping machine). “I won’t let you down.”
I nodded, and vaited for him to look avay. Then, I reached out from vithin and put some psychic pressure on zhe voman’s mind. Not enough to cut off zhe flow of blood to her brain, but enough to dull her senses, making her easy prey.
Vardan leapt out of zhe bushes and made a mad dash tovard his target. A chunky sort of voman, pushing a pram, she vas clearly at zhe end of her vits, trying anything to get her newborn to be silent. I remembered nights like those and felt a tvinge of regret for vhat vas about to happen.
That regret vas almost instantaneously replaced by pride as Vardan dove headlong into zhe voman’s legs, knocking her base of support out from under her. She vas muttering something as she fell, and I vorried she’d be able to get up and fight. But then I heard her head strike zhe ground, and I saw her body go limp. Vardan drew nearer to her, looming over her just like ve practiced, and knelt down over her torso. I could see zhe hunger in his eyes all zhe vay from vhere I vas standing. It vas a kind of hunger I had not experienced myself in a long time.
Then, Vardan ducked his head under zhe voman’s shirt and started suckling breastmilk.
I resisted zhe urge to cheer. That’s my boy, I vhispered. If I vere physically capable of shedding a tear, I might have.
Slurp. Slurp. Slurp. “Ahhh.”
Do you ever catch yourself getting surprised by something you already knew vas going to happen? Like vhen a seemingly insignificant milestone reminds you vhy you’re on zhe path you’re on, and all of a sudden you feel reinvigorated, like your second life is beginning all over again? I felt that vay, among zhe shrubbery. Zhe boy vas not my blood, and yet… his victory felt like my victory. Little by little, I'm embarrassed to admit, he varmed my heart of stone.
Later that night, after Vardan vas safe in his coffin, I celebrated zhe only vay I knew how: cracking open a nice, cold virgin.
For a long time after I died, time vas wholly irrelevant. After all, it seemed like I vas going to outlive it. But eventually, Vardan’s growth made it necessary for me to count zhe years as they passed.
Ve celebrated his sixth birthday in early November. It vas his vish to vatch zhe film, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, even though neither of us had ever seen it before.
“Vhy that film?” I asked, sitting at zhe breakfast table betveen him and Esteban. I couldn’t help but smile, vatching him eat his Lucky Charms.
“Zhe cover caught my eye.”
“Vhat about it?”
“The one man, Mr. John Candy, he looks like a skinny Esteban.”
Esteban dropped his spoon into his cereal and glared at Vardan, then excused himself to finish eating in private like a little rat. Or rather, a very big, anal-retentive rat.
So after dark fell, I fetched a copy of zhe film, brought it home, and popped it into our blu-ray player. I sat perched on zhe back of zhe couch, much like a gargoyle, vhile Vardan laid across zhe cushions beneath me. I could see just zhe side of his face, but it vas clear that he vas transfixed. I had to admit, zhe premise of zhe movie vas quite engaging: two unlikely friends vith a shared destination.
“I don’t understand,” I remarked to Vardan during a popcorn intermission.
“What don’t you understand?” asked zhe little thing that had been at zhe center of my life for six years.
“Vhy does Mr. Page not simply murder Mr. Griffith in zhe motel? They are alone in a strange place; it is zhe perfect time to strike. Maybe this is rich coming from somevun such as myself, but that guy sucks. Eh? Eh?”
Vardan’s eyes grew vide. He cocked his head like a puppy catching onto a strange scent. “Papa?”
“Do you kill people?”
I suppose I alvays knew this moment vould come. I’d done everything I could to keep him from my darker truths. I’d shown a lot more restraint, become more efficient and less lethal. I’d even rearranged my stalking around Vardan’s nap schedule. Zhe vun thing I svore I’d never do, vas compel him to forget anything he learned about me. A boy deserves to make his own mind up about who his role models really are.
“Papa…” I said, hot shame blinding me to zhe right vords, “...is a bad person.”
Zhe boy didn’t look angry, as I anticipated, or afraid, as I feared. It vas vorse than that: he vas disappointed. He drew his lips into a tight line, nodded his understanding, then valked off to his room vith his hands in his pockets. Feeling him pull avay like that hurt. It struck me then that all zhe people I hurt probably mattered to somebody zhe vay Vardan mattered to me. Papa is a bad person.
A few minutes later, Vardan returned. He had changed out of his blue-striped pajamas and into a tattered brown coat, oversized slacks, and a newsie’s cap. He held a rucksack on a stick over his shoulder. I examined zhe sack. All I could make out vas zhe angular shape of his favorite farting robot toy. He nodded again. I vasn’t sure vhat zhe first vun meant, but I knew this vun meant farevell.
After zhe door slammed, I shed a tear. My first in nearly a millennium. I knew this vas my fault; I shouldn’t have told him all at vunce, I should have explained it to him little by little, being as honest as I could from zhe start. Maybe then he vouldn’t feel so betrayed. Maybe… it’s better to clean up as you go, rather than letting things sit and fester.
Vardan needed some space, and I knew I’d just have to make peace vith that. I also knew that I needed things to start changing then and there, or they never vould. I decided to begin in zhe kitchen, vhere zhe sink runneth over vith dirty dishes.
I vas putting some serious elbow grease into scrubbing a pot vhen my mind drifted to other things. All of a sudden, an image appeared before me: a tall man in a cloak, sporting a full head of slick black hair. His chin made a sharp V, and so did his nose, and so did his lips, and so did his eyebrows. He had a really bad resting bitch face. It could be no other than Vladimir zhe Cruel: zhe vampire who passed me zhe curse. He who sired me so many years ago.
“Vhat are you doing here?” I asked, angrily scrubbing zhe non-stick coating off of a pan. “Go avay.”
“Ah-ah-ah,” said Vlad. “This is a two-vay street, my friend. I vouldn’t be able to project myself all zhe vay here from Bavaria if you veren’t thinking about me. So vhat is it you vant to say?”
“Vell,” I said. “I guess I just vanted to tell you that I’m angry vith you. I have been for a long time, but I didn’t really realize it until zhe child came into my life. You know… I hardly remember my real father. I think he vas a decent man, but he vasn’t vith me for nearly as long as you vere. I’m vorried I’ll end up hurting Vardan zhe vay you hurt me back then.”
“Vhat? But those vere zhe best of times! Remember, ve vould see who could go zhe longest vithout feeding? It vas so crazy, because it vould only serve to make our bloodlust stronger, and by zhe time ve finally broke, ve vould let loose and do all kinds of vicked things. Then ve vould go to one of those family restaurants for cheap drinks and half-off appetizers, and all zhe other tables vould stare at us because ve vere really loud and covered in blood and guts and stuff.”
I shook my head.
“Look,” Vlad continued. “I’m sorry you had a tough time after you turned.”
“After you turned me. By force.”
“After all this time, can’t you see it from my point of view?”
“Vhat point of view?”
“So, yeah, I figured you vould feel a little raw about it in zhe short term. I struggled vith zhe decision for a long time, myself. But it really all boiled down to vun thing: siring you meant I got to keep my best friend around forever. To me, there vasn’t really a choice.”
I set down zhe dishes and shut off zhe tap. I couldn’t meet Vlad’s eye for very long, but I tried my best. I vas still angry, of course. But I thought about just how much I vould have missed, had I been left to die along vith zhe rest of my village, and I figured it vas at least a vash.
“Let’s let bygones be bygones,” I said.
“Vonderful!” Vlad shouted. “You know, I’ve been vaiting for this day a long time. Oh, joy! You must join me at my castle this Thanksgiving. There’s a great feast in zhe vorks. Bring your whole brood if you like!”
“That’s nice and all. Zhe feast sounds lovely, but I’ve recently committed to veening myself off of human, so perhaps it is not such a good idea.”
“Veening yourself off of human?”
“I’ve got Vardan to think about. Right? He’s a sveet, innocent boy. Vhether or not he ever decides to turn, I vant him to hold onto his humanity. That means I have to set zhe example.”
“I see. That is very… sveet. Just zhe same, I insist on seeing you. Vould you feel more comfortable if I ordered my servants to release Mr. and Mrs. Nguyen?”
“Nguyen? They’re Vietnamese?”
“You remember that?”
“Honestly, I capture a Vietnamese family every year around this time on zhe off chance you decide to return. You alvays said they—”
“—taste zhe best.”
“—taste zhe best.”
I found myself tearing up vunce again. “I… guess it vouldn’t hurt to take vun little cheat day, you know? Someday Vardan vill understand. After all, no father is perfect.”
Vlad sniffled. “I am happy ve could finally have this talk.”
“Me as vell. Ah… see you soon. For now I must avay, to chase down zhe child. My boy.”
Family is everyvun you insist on making sacrifices for, and everyvun who insists you shouldn’t sacrifice on their behalf. Family is a place to keep your coffin, but it’s also vay, vay more than that.