“I won’t do it!” The words sounded wet coming out of Janice’s mouth. She wiped her fangs with her tongue.
“Dammit, Mira!” He pounded his fist on the table, rattling the dice and food wrappers that littered it. “House Giovanni will not stand for your insolence!” Six sets of eyes whipped back to the young lady in glasses.
Janice sat back in her chair, crossing her arms over her red velvet bodice. “I don’t care. It’s not right.”
The watching eyes all returned to the tall but lumpy man who stood staring at his political opponent from beneath a black top hat. He spoke with devilish conviction, “You keep saying that, ‘It’s not right.’ What you don’t seem to understand, Mira, is that we are the ones who decide what is and isn’t right!”
Janice sat forward, the heavy, silver amulet hanging from her neck clanking into the table as she planted both hands on the wood. Her pupils dialed down to pinpricks and she growled, “It’s against the rules, Bruno!”
A low murmur filled the room. At opposite ends of a long table, the two most prominent members of a family of vampires were at odds as to how to proceed with a proposed addendum to their blood code. Only a perfect consensus of all house members could ratify the change, and the tension was thick as Mira held firm, refusing to support the initiative. Of course, none of the people present were actually vampires. Mira wasn’t actually Mira, she was Janice Knapp, chemistry student, and Bruno, the top hat wearing patriarch of House Giovanni, was actually Deacon D’Amico, general kitchen staff at Domino’s Pizza. The eight people in the unfinished basement were playing a live action role playing game called Macabre Fates. It required that players don fake identities as either vampires or vampire hunters, then create team strategies to engage with each other as random events were inserted into the story arch by turn of card and roll of dice. Upstairs crunching Doritos, a brutal clan of Scandinavian vampire hunters were finalizing their preparations for tonight’s game, while In the red light and incense smoke filling the basement, eight minds were now weighing a proposal brought forth by Bruno that could change everything.
“She has a point, Bruno,” came a meek voice. “The rules don’t say we can be daywalkers.”
Deacon turned to the mop headed young man who just spoke, “Well they don’t say we can’t be daywalkers, do they Victor?”
“It’s implied!’ Janice yelled.
“Rules, schmules!” Bruno howled back. “A daywalker was part of the Bio Slayer storyline, so clearly the concept exists within the Macabre Fates universe! There is no reason we cannot adopt it for our purposes!”
“He was a mutant made in a lab as part of a government plot to destroy vampires! And it backfired, remember?” Janice was standing now. Despite being a foot shorter than Deacon, her energy made him cow ever so slightly. “Besides, background character classes created by the game-maker aren’t available for players to just adopt, willy nilly!”
Deacon threw up his arms, “Why not?”
“Because it ruins the game!” Her words were full of saliva again. This time Janice adjusted her fangs with her hand, and when they were properly seated, she chomped her jaw twice to make sure they were tightly seated on her actual teeth.
“She’s not wrong,” Morty, aka Victor, said, still meek, hiding behind his long, moppy hair.
Deacon turned away in frustration, planting his hands on the velvet waistcoat that fell over his hips. Facing the darkness, he shook his head. An electric candle at the center of the table strobed more than flickered, throwing red light and casting black shadows on the walls that hopped left and right. His back to the rest of House Giovanni, Deacon pointed to the rafters overhead. “Right now, there are six of the strongest, most merciless vampire hunters in the world preparing to wipe our bloodline from the face of the Earth. For weeks, we’ve been getting our butts kicked, failing quest after quest,” Deacon spun into the light for effect, “And you want us to shake in our boots because of what the game-maker did or did not include in the original rule book?”
He began walking around the table, fully a politician, setting his hands on his comrades shoulders as he passed behind them when not gesturing wildly in the air. “The game-maker is dead! The rule book is outdated! We all know it is in desperate need of updates to include modern understandings! So much has happened since the last edition was released, thousands of games have been played globally, and it’s become clear that the ruleset grants hunters too great an advantage. How many houses must fall? How many bloodlines must be wiped from the Earth before we finally admit that it is time for change?”
Heads were nodding and whispers of agreement escaped from the lips of the sitting members of House Giovanni. Janice steeled her body, squinting with so much force that her eyes nearly disappeared into the folds in her face. Making intentional eye contact with everyone in attendance, Deacon returned to the head of the table to finish his polemic. “But, if we want to remain hemmed into the antiquated restrictions of gameplay set forth by the now long dead game-maker, Mr. Charles P Darling, a man who I remind you, did not actually play the very game he created, if we refuse our right as players to declare our status as daywalkers and adopt the powers available to those who can both drink the living blood and withstand the holy power of the sun, then my family,” and here Deacon let out a deep and entirely manufactured sigh before collapsing into his plastic folding chair, “I bid you ‘addio,’ because tonight we will be slaughtered, and once again, we will have to reset our stats to novice.”
The mention of novice level stats sent the room into a flurry of anxious whispers. Janice watched as her fellow players met each other's glances, gauging each other’s sentiments before committing to words. It was Nadia Giovanni, aka Tammy Sputz, MFA student, who spoke up first. “Bruno’s right, there was a daywalker in the Bio Slayer storyline. We could use his stat sheet to inform our own power and charm modifications.”
Bruno smiled and nodded deferentially to Tammy, causing his top hat to slide forward into his lap. He quickly replaced it on his crown.
“It’s true,” said Mario, aka Clarence Wall. “Since there was a daywalker in the official Macabre Fates lore, it’s not like we’d be inventing something new.”
Janice was growing furious. “But he wasn’t a player character!”
“So?” Deacon asked, enjoying Janice’s frustration.
“Yeah, so?” asked Morty, switching sides.
“This is so stupid!” Janice yelled. “There are vampires and vampire hunters. The whole point of the game is to grant certain powers to each so that…” her fangs were coming loose. Plucking them from her mouth, a strand of saliva stretched between her lips and the pointy plastic teeth. She slammed them on the table, and continued her fiery lambast, “So that the game is actually fair and fun! If we can just run off into the sun, we will always be able to escape. As it stands, timing nightfall and daylight is one of the hunter’s only advantages…”
“And it’s too great an advantage!” Deacon interrupted.
“If we just up and say we can resist the sunlight,” Janice insisted, “the game becomes totally one sided! It will make no sense to play anymore! The class traits are what balance the whole world!”
The room was quiet as the members of house Giovanni took stock of their matriarch’s words. Furtive glances danced in the flickering red light. Swirls of smoke from the incense burner drifted to the ceiling like spirits departing the corporeal world. The youngest of house Giovanni, Martin and Antony, aka, the Toroyama twins, slurped from their cans of Mountain Dew.
“Mira,” began Bruno, “Why do you care so much about the hunters? You’re not one of them, are you?”
Before she could respond, Deacon declared, “Let the hunters worry about the hunters, we vampires have been held back by restrictive notions for too long!”
The heads of her vampire kin were all nodding in agreement. House Giovanni was resoundingly convinced that it was fair for themselves to become daywalkers. “This is so stupid!” Janice growled. “If anything can be anything, I don’t want to play.” She ripped the silver amulet from her neck, and dropped it on the table. “I renounce house Giovanni!” She began stomping away, only to return and snatch her fangs from the table, before stomping away again. No one spoke as she yanked open the sliding door at the far end of the basement, and stormed into the backyard. A car door slammed. A humming motor faded away.
“Let’s put it to an official vote!” Bruno said excitedly, standing once again. “All in favor of allowing vampires to adopt daywalker status, say ‘Si!’
A chorus of ‘Si’s’ bounced off the concrete basement walls.
“The ‘Si’s’ have it,” Deacon declared proudly, and he began clapping.
Cathy Beans was the only vampire wearing a look of sadness on her face. A heavy set red haired woman in thick black lipstick and eyeliner, Janice had introduced her to the world of Macabre Fates. If it weren’t for Janice, Cathy’s alter ego Isabella Giovanni, eight-hundred-year-old seductress and destroyer of men would never have existed. Cathy looked at Janice’s empty chair and was forlorn.
Deacon tried to soften the blow Janice’s departure dealt to the mood. “Sometimes, family, our alliances no longer make sense. We all loved Mira, but let’s face it, she’s a dinosaur! The last edition of the rule book was printed in 1987! It mentions Soviet hunters for Pete’s sake!” He shook his head, “No, it was high time we moved on. We are the players, it’s our game, it must evolve as we evolve.”
Cathy shook her head. “Maybe if it means this much to Janice, we should just forget all this daywalker stuff.”
“No!” Deacon slammed his fist on the table, giving everyone a start. “The council has spoken! The will of the family must be respected!”
“You’re such an asshole, Deacon!” Cathy said with a cry in her voice. She pushed her seat back from the table. Snatching her bag and hiking her lacey black dress skirts, she rushed to the door, and followed Janice out into the night.
“My name is not Deacon!” Deacon yelled after her. When the sliding door clicked shut, he turned to the rest of the group, “Good riddance! Two less goody-goody, dinosaurs holding back our house!” In the awkward silence that followed, only the buzzing of the electric candle and the slow slurp of a soda could be heard.
The door at the top of the stairs opened. A voice shouted down, “Are you guys ready yet?”
“Almost, we’re just finalizing some things!” Deacon yelled over his shoulder.
“OK,” the voice went on, “but Gunter has to be home by eleven, so we have to start soon.”
“Five minutes, damn you!” Deacon cried, his plastic fangs falling loose in his mouth. The door at the top of the stairs closed, and Deacon removed his hat to wipe the sweat gathering on his brow.
“Can I be a werewolf?” Morty asked, pushing his hair from his eyes.
Deacon glared at him. “What?”
“Well, remember the Black Forest storyline, how it had werewolves? Can we be those?”
“That’s a great idea!” Tammy said with a bright smile, exposing her glow in the dark fangs.
“No. That’s stupid,” Deacon said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Tammy wrinkled her nose. “Why?”
“Because we’re vampires!” Deacon roared, clutching the empty air before him as if he could strangle it.
“Well if we can be daywalking vampires, why can’t we be were-vamps?” Morty asked, sitting up straight. “I mean, if a werewolf bit a vampire, wouldn’t that be the result? A were-vamp?”
“Nowhere in the entire catalog of Macabre Fates literature will you find a were-vamp! Dammit Victor, your suggestion is preposterous!” Deacon admonished.
Clarence came to Victor’s defense, tapping a black fingernail on the table to accentuate his point. “What happened to rules, schmules, Bruno?”
“Yeah!” agreed the remaining five vampires sitting around the table.
“Remember the Dark Mage who could reanimate the dead in the Necromancer of Florence storyline?” Clarence asked the table hopefully.
“Why does something have to have been in the official lore anyway?” Tammy asked “If it’s our game, why can’t we create character classes ourselves? Why can’t we craft the characters as we want them to be?”
“Like were-vamps!” Morty said triumphantly.
“Or cyborg vamps!” the twins added in perfect unison.
Deacon was sweating hard now. It was full on mutiny. His brilliant idea to break the boundaries set by the game-maker with a slight tweak to the powers of his vampire family had devolved into an open brainstorm session of absurd hybrids, a veritable monster mash. What was worse was how ecstatic his team of vampires was at the ridiculous suggestions that were being exchanged. Notebooks full of graph paper and stat sheets were flipped open. Giddy laughter spilled across the table surface as the players modified their characters.
“Stop it! Stop it all of you!” Deacon demanded. “There are no were-vamps, no necro-vamps,” he grabbed a sheet of paper that Clarence was writing on, read it, then crumpled it with disgust, “and no vamp-ticorns, whatever the hell that is! You dummies have taken a simple shift in character turn limits and made a mockery of it!”
“Can we come down yet?” a voice hollered from the top of the stairs.
“No!” Deacon screamed at the stairwell. Returning to the vampires, he scolded, “We have no time for this stupidity! Daywalkers, was the vote! Now we must adjust our stats accordingly and make haste!”
Clarence gathered his notebook and a set of dice before him, dumping them into a backpack.
“What are you doing?” Deacon asked him. “The game is about to start!”
Clarence slapped a silver brooch on the table, and his black cape drifted on the air as he walked to the sliding door. Before exiting, he looked to Deacon and said solemnly, “Vamp-ticorns are not dumb.”
“Wait!” Deacon begged as the sliding door shut behind Clarence.
“Now that Janice is gone, can I be house Matriarch?” Tammy asked the table.
Deacon scowled, “You know damn well you don’t have the experience points.”
Tammy removed a silver amulet and set it on the table. She began packing her things.
Deacon’s demeanor flipped, “Nadia, be reasonable. You know we can’t just flout the standards required to level up.”
“Come on, Morty,” Tammy said to the mop haired boy.
Morty rose from his seat.
“Victor, my brother, you can’t leave in this hour of need!” Deacon said. “There is a pack of hunters upstairs. We can’t fight them without you!”
Morty shrugged, “She’s my ride.”
The Toroyama twins gave each other a knowing look. They scooped their notebooks and dice, shuffling their canvas bags as they stuffed game pieces into pockets.
“Not you two, too!” Deacon pleaded.
Zippers were zipped defiantly, and the twins marched out through the sliding door, leaving Deacon standing alone in the basement. In the red glow of the faux candle, he removed his top hat. Collapsing into his chair, he held his head in his hands. The door at the top of the stairs opened, and an avalanche of booted feet came pounding down the wooden steps.
“Where is everybody?” asked the lead vampire hunter, flanked by his five sturdy companions.
Deacon thought for a moment. Muttering quietly to himself, a bright smile flashed over his face. Sitting up tall with a devilish twinkle in his eye, he exclaimed fiendishly, “Why, they’re right here! They’ve evolved into fourth dimensional vampires! Can you not see them?”