“Wh – why are you doing this?” Jessie’s tear-stained eyes were red, her voice hoarse and weak. Beads of perspiration popped from her forehead, dripping down onto her torn jeans. Her wrists and ankles hurt from the restraints. The more she struggled, the more pain it caused.
“True. I could simply slit your throat and be done with it. But I’ve spent a lot of time studying you, Jessie. You’re destined for something much more fulfilling than a quick death,” Anna said. She opened a bottle of water, handing it to Jessie.
“You – you don’t have to do this,” Jessie croaked, between dry lips.
“Drink. Hydration is important for what you’re about to go through. Trust me, water is your friend right now.”
Jessie shook her head, defiant.
“If you’re gonna kill me, then kill me. Get it over with, you crazy bitch.”
Anna gazed at Jessie and nodded. A smile crept across her face, slowly, like an ice floe slipping into Arctic waters. Anna liked defiance. Jessie reminded her of herself all those years ago.
“Oh, sweetie. Don’t be in such a hurry to die. Plenty of time for that.”
Everyone has problems. Even vampires. Especially vampires. The last decade, especially, has been unsettling for me.
Sure, I have enough to eat. I have a lot of leisure time, usually during the daylight hours. I read. I play a mean piano. I write in my journals, though it’s a pain in the ass to use our language and adapt it the modern American style. Make one wrong mark and you’re writing about roasting asparagus when you intended to write about draining someone of their blood.
When I finally figured it out, I was astounded. My problem was a problem that humanity dealt with, and usually the privileged male of the species at that. But it made sense, sad to say.
I was dealing with a mid-life crisis.
“Drink!” Anna’s tone was cold steel.
Jessie drank the water, more because she was thirsty than to please Anna. She also ate the duck breast with mushrooms and risotto that Anna had prepared for her. She hadn’t eaten in several hours, and recent experiences had taken a toll on her.
And then it happened.
Jessie handed the plate back to Anna, but purposely dropped it as Anna reached out for it. With a rage born of desperation, Jessie attacked Anna. She slammed her right fist into Anna’s jaw and wrapped the long chains that restrained her around Anna’s throat. She squeezed as hard as she could.
Anna grabbed Jessie by the throat and lifted her bodily, tossing her against the wall as if she were a toy. She then picked Jessie up, again with one hand, and pinned her against the wall. Jessie’s feet were off the ground. Even in her disoriented state, Jessie knew that what Anna just did to her was impossible.
“Don’t,” Anna said softly, “just don’t.”
Anna lowered Jessie to the ground. Jessie sat down, drained of energy and no longer willing to fight.
“Who the hell are you?” Jessie asked. Tears returned.
“That’s the wrong question. You should be wondering what I am, not who I am. I’ll give you a hint. I don’t go out during the day, and I’m not a fan of garlic.”
Jessie looked at Anna, her mouth open.
“You’re a werewolf?”
Anna stared at Jessie, shaking her head slowly.
The American educational system has a lot to answer for.
“How hard did you hit your head?”
Jessie glared at Anna.
“Well then, what are you if you aren’t a witch?”
Anna sat down in a chair opposite Jessie, lighting a cigarette and offering it to Jessie. Jessie took it, drawing on it deeply.
“I’m a vampire,” Anna said. The silence that followed was heavy and oppressive.
Jessie let the cigarette burn to the end without drawing on it again. She had, in fact, forgotten that it was between her fingers.
“No such thing,” Jessie said, breaking a silence that felt more dangerous than the woman sitting in front of her.
“Says the girl that just had her ass handed to her,” Anna retorted.
“I think you’re high on something,” Jessie said, turning away from Anna once more.
Anna rifled through her old chef’s knives and picked one out, handing it to Jessie. Surprised, Jessie took it without thinking.
“Stab me,” Anna commanded.
Jessie held the knife like it was a strange new toy. She brought it up to Anna’s chest, but she hesitated to plunge it into Anna’s heart. The tip of the blade dropped away from Anna, and Jessie rested it on her lap.
Anna took the knife from Jessie and held it out in front of Jessie.
“Hardened steel. And very sharp.”
Anna picked up a magazine and sliced cleanly through it. Jessie shuddered slightly, imagining what the knife could do to her.
“Are you – are you gonna stab yourself? Or me?” Jessie’s eyes shone with a mixture of anticipation and dread.
Anna laughed and shook her head.
“No. Tell me, though. You like my fingernails? I had them done especially for this occasion,” Anna said, holding out her hands, palms down.
Jessie glanced at Anna’s fingernails before looking away again.
“Jessie? Look at me and pay attention.”
Anna’s voice took away Jessie’s breath. She looked at Anna, despite every fiber in her soul not wanting to do so.
Anna ran a fingernail across the flat part of the knife’s blade, cutting it cleanly in two. She held out the pieces for Jessie to inspect. Jessie refused to touch them, but what she saw was enough for her to believe what Anna had been telling her.
Jessie put her head into her hands. The soft rattling of the chains around her wrists broke through the quietness of the basement.
“Fuck me,” Jessie muttered.
Anna shook her head in pity for Jessie.
Americans. Always saying fuck. I blame it on red meat and bad parenting.
Jessie wasn’t my first choice. There was Amelia, a well-endowed paralegal from Galveston. She talked too much, though. Gushing about how she was going to be a big-shot attorney with her face plastered on billboards, drive a fancy car, get a personal chef. Blah blah blah.
I had to drain her after a couple of hours of that sort of twaddle. And her boobs were superior to mine. Any time Amelia moved, it looked like she had a couple of Volkswagens in her shirt, jockeying for parking space. I might or might not have been a little jealous.
Then there was Gina. Too tense and angry. And Lily. Too Canadian. Jasmine was too fond of country music and Wendy was too fond of celebrity culture.
Jessie, though, is a good combination of sweetness and inner strength. I chose her for these reasons, and because she always served me strong drinks and never cut me off. I wonder if she’ll decide to put a stake through my heart for this.
A vampire’s life is not an easy one.
“I’ll make a little three-centimeter cut right about here,” Anna indicated a spot just above Jessie’s left breast, “and take about a pint, give or take. Then you’ll – “
“Three centimeters! That’s big, isn’t it?” Jessie’s high-pitched tone grated on Anna’s nerves.
“It’s barely more than an inch, Jess.”
“Yes. That metric system is tricky, I know,” Anna said tersely. She vowed to teach this girl the metric system once she had been turned.
“All those prefixes – “
“I understand. Now listen. I’ll take your blood. An hour or so later, you’ll want to feed. You’ll take some of my blood.”
Jessie looked at Anna quizzically.
“More or less. From my wrist.”
“Why not your boob?”
“Easier to suck from the wrist. You’re a newbie. Baby steps.”
Jessie nodded and fell silent. Anna praised God for the cessation of Jessie’s inanities.
I’m still angry with You, God. Here I am, good Catholic girl, and You saddle me with a pretty pathetic situation. Seriously? You’re better than that.
Anna sliced into the top of Jessie’s breast and quickly took the needed amount of blood. A little gauze, a large bandage, and the deed was done.
Jessie slumped over after a few moments, weakened by the event, though the blood loss was minimal. She didn’t understand what was happening to her. She felt extremely tired, and thirsty. Anna gave her more water, but it didn’t seem to slake her thirst.
An hour later, she sucked a pint of blood from Anna’s wrist. Anna winced in pain as Jessie’s teeth sunk into her wrist.
“Don’t bite! Just suck,” Anna said. She bit her words off like she would bite the head off a snake. Quick and brutal.
Anna left Jessie alone for the rest of the night, taking care to leave her with plenty of water and a jar of peanut butter for protein.
She’ll be a new woman tomorrow. Well, a new vampire, ready to kill me.
This mid-life crisis thing is a real drag.
“I’m hungry,” Jessie said petulantly. Anna took off the restraints and went back upstairs. Her wrist still hurt from Jessie’s savagery, and she had spent a restless night thinking about the upcoming centuries.
“Seriously, I’m famished,” Jessie said. She followed Anna upstairs.
Anna handed her a small tumbler full of a thick, red substance. Jessie gulped it down and then held out the glass for more. Anna shook her head.
“You must drain someone if you’re hungry. That’s the last meal I’m giving you.”
“What?” Jessie slammed the glass on the counter, shattering it into dozens of pieces.
“Damn. Shit. I’m sorry -” Jessie said, stumbling over words and tripping over thoughts.
“You have amazing strength now, so you have to be careful.” Anna pointed to a broom and dustpan. Jessie grimaced. Eventually, she cleaned up the mess she had made.
“Ok. A few things you need to know. Feed every month or so. Keep to a good skin regimen. Don’t want to look all splotchy and leper-like when you go out. Eat healthy food. I prefer to go vegan myself,” Anna continued.
Jessie gave her a piercing stare.
“You mean that you feed on vegans.”
“Yes. Those dog-owning, Democrat-voting, tofu-gobbling people known as hipsters.”
“So, I have to suck blood to live?”
“And I can’t go out in sunlight?”
Jessie nodded before launching herself at Anna. Anna had been expecting this. She stepped aside deftly and grabbed Jessie by the back of the neck and slammed her face into the stone fireplace. Repeatedly.
This seemed to calm Jessie down. Panting, she sat down and slumped over on the kitchen counter, sobbing quietly.
“The good news is that you’ll get to do this for a thousand years. Maybe longer if you take care of yourself.”
The sobs increased in intensity.
“What did I ever do to deserve this?” Jessie wailed.
Anna stroked Jessie’s hair.
“You know, that’s what I asked myself when it happened to me. All I can tell you is that there’s no rhyme nor reason for it. Man – and vampires – make plans and God laughs.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Jessie said, sitting up and wiping the tears away.
Anna gazed at Jessie, a look of sadness clouding her features.
“It means,” Anna held out her hands, palms up, “that we don’t get to choose what happens. Oh, we think we do, but it’s all a trick. I mean, look at me. Here I am, 700 years old, and I’m afflicted with a rich white man’s disease.”
“Uh – “
“Don’t worry about what I mean. We’ll have a few centuries together to discuss matters important and mundane.”
“Maybe we should talk about WHAT THE HELL YOU DID TO ME!!!”
Anna considered this for a moment.
“Yes. We could. Or you could think about your first feeding.”
“I’d rather die!”
“Sweetie, I can make that happen.”
Jessie looked at the fire in Anna’s eyes, noted the long, sharp, indestructible fingernails, and felt the malice that the vampire exuded. Jessie, in a fit of reason, fell silent and nodded in acquiescence.
Fucking vampires, Jessie thought. So touchy.
Anna spent the rest of the morning reading a little of All the Pretty Horses, playing a little Schubert on the grand piano, and working out in the gym. Jessie spent the rest of the morning going through the inevitable stages of a major life change: tears, recriminations, anger, self-pity, and acceptance.
Jessie approached Anna in Anna’s bathroom.
“I never had a bathroom you could land a helicopter in,” Jessie said.
Anna looked up and smiled at Jessie.
“You can’t land a helicopter in here, Jess. Oh! I get it. Hyperbole.”
Jessie frowned and cocked her head.
“Exaggeration. To make a point. Hyperbole,” Anna said.
Anna put down the tube she had been holding and turned to Jessie.
“A good skin regimen, like I said before.”
“Mmm.” Jessie picked up the tube of gel, glanced at it, and put it back down.
“I’m hungry,” Jessie said. It sounded like a complaint to Anna.
“Find some food, then. I have a couple of candidates for you.”
“I don’t know if I can drink blood. From a human’s neck, I mean.”
Anna washed her hands and left the restroom. Jessie dutifully followed her.
“If you’re hungry enough, you will. You get used to it, by the way. It gets easier as time passes.”
Jessie thought about it for a moment before speaking.
“Was it tough for you? The first time?”
“Yes. I mangled the neck of a farm boy in Romania. Took me a few minutes to get it right, and I lost a good liter of blood trying to figure it out. Lovely blood, though. Those peasants really knew how to show a girl a good time.”
“That isn’t funny.”
Anna turned to Jessie, hands on hips.
“You must have a sense of humor, Jessie. Life for us is long. You don’t want to go through it with a bad attitude, do you?”
“Guess not. I’m still hungry.”
“So you said. Don’t beat a dead horse.”
“Never mind. Listen. There’s a rather sketchy drug dealer who lives a few blocks to the east. He’d be a good first meal.”
“Doesn’t he supply you with your coke?”
Anna shook her head.
“No. I get mine from a guy in Windsor, Canada. He cares about quality. The one I’m talking about doesn’t. And he has a bad habit of getting teenage girls hooked, and then getting them to sell their sexual favors for money.”
“As you say.”
Jessie thought about this. Seemed like a good choice.
“And there’s that Texan who frequents your drinking establishment. Always talking about how great Texas is, and wanting to fight anyone who doesn’t agree with him.”
“Yeah, he’s a dick.”
“As you say.”
“Maybe I can do both. You know, keep one in reserve.”
Anna shook her head firmly.
“They aren’t veggies that you can put away in the crisper, sweetie. One at a time, and only when you need sustenance.”
“Damn, being a vampire’s tough.”
Anna lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and sighed.
“Don’t I know it,” Anna said.
“Good God, Jessie. He looks like he had a close encounter with a rabid dog. You have bits of flesh between your teeth. That’s disgusting,” Anna said, tsk-tsking.
Jessie had to admit that it was difficult to do everything as Anna instructed. She looked at the pool of unused blood, the shredded neck of her first effort, and the horrified look on the dead drug dealer’s face.
Messy. Very messy.
“I’ll do better next time,” Jessie said contritely.
“You could hardly do worse.”
“Constructive criticism, please,” Jessie said. She sounded hurt.
Anna sighed, her shoulders slumping.
Millennials. They would have never made it during the Black Death years.
Anna grabbed her left arm and pulled her towards the house.
“We can try again in a few weeks. Maybe you should practice a little? Plenty of dogs and cats in the area.”
Anna turned to Jessie and stared into her eyes.
“No, not really. What do you think I am, a monster?”
Anna and Jessie continued home. Anna helped her clean up, showing her how to clean blood from clothes and how to keep her teeth and fangs white. By midnight, both were in bed. Jessie fell asleep right away. Anna wasn’t so fortunate.
What a weekend! Oh, that reminds me. I need to get that poor girl some dental floss…