So last week on FacePlant, someone posted a thing about how someone needed to write vampire stories that weren't full of angst and agony, or emo, or sparkles, or horror, or any of that. Suggestions included a person with body-image issues who was just as glad, because hey, no reflection meant no problems with mirrors triggering anything, or a someone whose reaction to the new diet was "eh, I tried Paleo, this isn't that much weirder", or a girl delighted because she's never been able to go anywhere alone after dark, and now she can walk her friends home and know they'll be safe with her. That last one turned out to be a plot kitten with sharp little claws that climbed straight up to my shoulder and perched there, licking my ear and demanding attention. This story was the result.
I sat up, stretching, and looked at the clock. Five p.m., according to the digital readout. I’d done it again; gone to bed close to dawn, and woken just before sunset. It was a total reversal of my lifelong habit of getting up with the sun and going to bed by 9:00 p.m. Astronomy had fascinated me but I’d had to satisfy myself with reading every book and study I could get my hands on; my body just wouldn’t cooperate with the necessary observatory schedule. I wandered out into the great room, following the smell of dinner.
“May? You okay? You’re pale, you’re sleeping all day, and I don’t know what you’re eating except that it isn’t with us.” Angela’s concern was clear, and our other housemates looked up and nodded in agreement.
“I really haven’t felt right since I got back from the con” I told Angela truthfully, “and its getting worse. I mean, a con always messes with your sleep schedule, but this is ridiculous. It’s like sunrise and sunset are reversed. I can’t go to sleep until the sky starts to lighten, but then I’d better be in my bed, because once the sun’s all the way up? Hah! I am out. I don’t think a cannon at close range could wake me. I know I slept through the thunderstorm the other day. Trees down all over, everyone talking about it, and I didn’t hear a thing. And I’m not eating because the thought of food turns my stomach. Water’s okay, or ginger tea or beef broth, but that’s about it.” I didn’t tell her I’d been craving the blood that drained out of the meat. She got queasy at the thought of steak tartare. Straight blood would be a bridge too far.
“That sounds like you really are sick. How about going to the doc?”
“Yeah, the doc’s only open until 5:00, and I am not taking a collection of symptoms that sounds like I’m turning into a vampire into the neighborhood doc-in-a-box, y’know? That sounds to me like a recipe for getting locked up in the loony bin!”
Angela laughed, as I’d known she would. “It does, doesn’t it? Do you have the night vision, speed, strength and hypnotic gaze to go with it?” she asked mischievously.
“Hmm, not that I’ve noticed so far. That guy who was dressed up as Angel at the Masquerade Dance did leave a pair of fang marks on my neck when we danced, though, so anything’s possible. It’s only been what – four days?”
“In our legends, it takes a full fortnight to become a true vampire, once one is bitten” Josephina interposed seriously. “The daylight sleeping comes first, then the person chokes on their food. After that will come a craving for blood.” I didn’t know who Josephina’s people were; she’d never been willing to say. She looked Romani, but insisted she was not, and beyond that we’d respected her privacy. Now a chill ran down my spine.
“And what after that?” I asked lightly. “Is there any way to return to normal humanity?”
She shook her head. “No. There is no cure; there are only choices.” I was smiling; she was not.
Brewing a pot of ginger tea gave me time to think away from their concern and anxiety. I mean, I did want to know what was happening, but it wasn’t going to be the end of the world whatever it was. Finally, pot and mugs in hand, I went back.
“Josephina? Do you have a few minutes?”
She smiled faintly. “Of course. Your room or mine?”
I shrugged with the hand that held the still-empty mugs. “Whichever you’re more comfortable with. I don’t really care.”
“My room, then. If I need my books or anything, I won’t have to leave to get them.”
I just nodded and followed along. Books? There were books about this sort of thing?
I’d noticed before that walking through Josephina’s doorway felt a bit like pushing through an intangible kind of bubble, and that once inside, it was far more quiet than anyplace else I’d ever known. Her room was as impossible to categorize as she was. Indian throws were hung as curtains. Her quilt had started life as a collection of silk saris, now sewn together and quilted to what looked like a heavy silk sheet. Skirts, hung up so that they fanned out in semi-circles, ornamented the walls, interspersed with tiny round mirrors scattered seemingly at random that scattered the light. It was beautiful, but somehow also purposeful.
“Where should I put this down?” I asked, as she cleared fabric off a chair. “And would you like some? It’s plain ginger, and I brought along an extra mug.”
“Just put it on the desk, and yes, that would be lovely. Hang on a minute; I have a pot of honey in the cabinet here.” I hadn’t even realized there was a cabinet under her little altar, but as she shifted the cloth cover aside I caught a glimpse of carved dark wood. In a minute she turned around with a lovely little ceramic honey pot in hand, complete with stirring stick. “Put a lot in yours; you need the glucose” she instructed. I raised my eyebrows, but did as she’d said.
She waved me to the just-cleared chair, settling cross-legged on her bed. “Now” she said firmly “begin at the beginning, and tell me everything.”
“Starting where? I mean, it was a media con, there was a lot going on.”
She looked at me, then touched a single fingertip to one of the tiny, pinprick scabs on my throat. “You said you got those at the Masquerade Dance?” I nodded. “Okay. Everything starting from the Masquerade. I’ve got some guesses as to what’s going on, but right now that’s all they are – guesses. If I’m right, a doctor isn’t going to be able to help you, but I can at least advise you. If I’m wrong” she shrugged “we’ll have spent an evening telling stories.” Her grin was gamine.
I grinned back. “Stories are always good. Okay. The Masquerade theme was Media Monsters, and goddess only knows why, but everyone and their cousin seemed to have decided that this was the Year of the Vampire.” I rolled my eyes. “I mean, Godzilla is still a perfectly good monster, and so are Frankenstein, King Kong, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but noooo. Everyone was doing vampires! There were some amazingly cheesy Super-Sparkly Twilight types on stage, but the trio that absolutely stole the show was a group that came as Angel, Spike and Buffy. I mean, they had it down cold. You couldn’t even spot the prosthetics on the guys from inches away, and Buffy’s moves? Yeah, she could have given real ninjas speed tips. They did a routine from one of the early shows where they threw things at her when her back was turned, and she caught them. Must have rehearsed for weeks to be that good without Hollywood camera magic. It was incredible.”
Josephina nodded thoughtfully. “Or the magic was real, and so were they. How better to hide than in plain sight?”
“Huh? Hide what?”
“Never mind, go on.”
“So anyway, they won, of course. There was this dance after, and I went up to the Angel guy – don’t remember his real name – to compliment the performance, and he asked me to dance. Hey, he could move, all grace and kind of sinuous elegance; of course I took him up! So we were chatting, and the next song up was a slow dance. And he bent like he was gonna kiss me, but instead he slid in by my neck and nipped me. Just like a pin-prick. And I was like ‘Hey, back off, that’s carrying the in-character thing too far!’ and I shoved him away hard and shouted for Security. Just for a second, it was like shoving a wall, like he was a thousand times stronger than a guy built like that ought to be, but then he stumbled back, and Security and the Buffy girl came running over. And she was like ‘Oh my God, I am so sorry, this was not supposed to happen, he promised he’d behave, I am so, so sorry! Are you all right?’ She reached out, quick, almost as fast as she’d been on stage, touched my neck lightly, and looked at her fingers. ‘No. No, you are not all right. Oh that jerk, I will have his ass on a plate when Security is done with him!’ One of the Security guys was still there with her and me, but she’d really taken charge. She dove into her pocket, pulled out a little bottle of sanitizer, I think, and a tissue, and squirted some on the tissue. ‘Hold still, this is going to sting. He really did get you good. I am so sorry.’ She was right, it stung like hell, but I still managed to tell her it wasn’t her fault; he was responsible for himself. ‘He is, but still my responsibility.’ she told me, and her smile was just so sad. ‘Look, I’m going to give you my phone number. If anything weird happens in the next few weeks, anything at all, I want you to call me. You don’t have to write it down. You’ll remember.’ She was staring really hard at me, really intense. It was almost as creepy as he’d been.”
“And do you remember?”
I thought for a second. “Yeah.” I told her, surprised at myself. “I don’t have the area code – I don’t think she said it, even. But the number’s 867-5309.”
Josephina just nodded. “Got your phone?”
“In my pocket, why?”
“Call her. Now.”
“But what’s the area code?”
“For her, you won’t need it. Trust me.” She was almost as intense as the Buffy-girl had been.
“Girlfriend, you’re scaring me here.” Skeptical, I dialed as instructed, expecting a squeal followed by ‘your call cannot be completed as dialed’, but it rang once before the Buffy-girl answered.
“Um, hi. You probably don’t remember me, but your friend tried to bite me last weekend?”
Josephina muttered something along the lines of “oh, for...” and took the phone out of my hand. “Hi, Jenny? Josie. Yeah, the usual coincidence in our line of work, which is to say none. That girl your friend managed to prick just happens to be one of my housemates, May Hennessy.” A pause. “No, I know he didn’t have time to get so much as a sip, but evidently the contagion took anyway. She made it home okay, but by the next day she couldn’t keep her eyes open if the sun was up, and now she can’t eat solid food. We’re having ginger tea with honey right now; I made sure hers is about half honey. She hasn’t mentioned craving blood, but that might just be because another of our housemates is really, really squeamish.”
Blushing wildly, I nodded agreement.
“Yeah, she’s nodding. So I think it’s pretty much a given. She’s going to be a full vamp in another ten days or so. Do you still have contact with that doctor that will certify fatal sun allergy as a disability? She’s a student, and really bright; she’s not going to want to lose that. We’re going to have to come up with a reason for it, too – we’re on break right now, but classes take up again in a week, and she didn’t have a problem before.”
Urk. I hadn’t thought of any of that. This sounded like they had it down to a system, though!
“Okay, right, we’ll have to take it in stages. Some kind of contact dermatitis acquired on vacation for which she’s undergoing treatment now, that allows her to do the work but precludes attending class or going outdoors in daylight, and then in a month or so a permanent disability as a result.” She listened awhile. “I’ll leave it up to you and your pet doctor what would have that result. Make it something suitably exotic, though.” She laughed. “I’ll look forward to seeing just how creative you can be. Now, next thing. Supply of blood. She hasn’t had any yet, so we might be able to keep it to animal, which would simplify everyone’s life. I’ll check to see if there’s a slaughterhouse near here when we get off the phone – oh, you’ve got your computer up already? You’re a doll. Okay, good. I can contact them in the morning. I haven’t done this part before; will I need to pick it up daily, or can I collect a week’s supply at a time, or what? Should I get a freezer and put it in my room? Locked, of course, locked! Okay, I think we’ve got my end as organized as we can for the next few days. Now, anything I can do to help with your end of it?” She listened; I couldn’t hear individual words, but I could certainly hear increasingly shrill frustration coming from the headset. “Yeah, I know. They’re immortal; we’re not. All they have to do, really, is wait us out. They don’t want to piss us off enough to stake them or shove them outside on a sunny day, but other than that we don’t have much to hold over them.” She shrugged. “Well, we’ll try to see if we can keep our girl here from ending up that way by keeping her away from human blood. I need to explain this before she pops from the questions piling up behind her teeth. Can you see if that biochemist that got turned during WWII has made any progress on finding a treatment for vampirism as if it were a chronic disease, like diabetes? I thought she might really be onto something there. Thanks, Jenny. Later!” She gave me back my phone as I stared at her.
“That...has got to be the weirdest half-conversation I have ever heard” I told her slowly. And then “Josie?”
She grinned. “Yeah. As in ‘Josie and the Pussycats’, which is why I go by Josephina. See, what most people don’t know is that vampires – and slayers, and witches, and technomages, and all the rest of it? Is real. Rare, but real. What happened is that Jenny – the Buffy-girl – and a couple of her vampire buddies decided to hit the con, and one of them got a little too cutsie. You couldn’t spot the prosthetics because the fangs were real. He didn’t feed from you at all – your reaction was perfect, by the way – but there was enough saliva on his teeth to transmit the contagion. That’s current theory, that vampirism is as much a transmissible disease as a magical or spiritual condition. So, there are rules to keep it from becoming a spiritual condition, and to keep you from falling to Evil.”
“Okay, Josie, slow down. You’re making my head spin here.” I meant that kind of literally, and took a gulp of my by now room-temperature tea.
“Sorry. I do get worked up.” She sat up straight, drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “All right. In some semblance of order: Vampires are real, and one tried to bite you. He didn’t quite manage, but did break skin, and there was enough saliva involved to turn you. Jenny wasn’t sure there would be; that’s why she just let you go at the time. But it doesn’t take much, apparently, and here you are. We’re still just starting to analyze this scientifically, like in the last decade or so. So your digestion is shifting from normal human to requiring blood for survival. But we looked at vampire bats, which are the only mammals that are blood-obligate carnivores, and while they require mammalian blood, it isn’t species specific. Turns out, same is mostly true for human vampires. If they don’t taste human blood, they don’t seem to develop that compulsion. That’s the one that leads to predatory behavior, murder, and the fall into Evil. Following so far?” I nodded mutely.
“So what I’ll be arranging is a steady source of beef blood, to be kept on hand for you. It doesn’t have to be from a living animal, but it does have to be raw, so blood sausage won’t fulfill the nutritional requirement. I’ll get a small chest freezer and keep it in here. Both my room and the freezer will be locked, and you and I will have the keys.”
“Why not my room?” I asked with more than a little aggravation.
“Because I want to be sure I know if stocks are getting low, until you have a good handle on self-care. Just like a new diabetic, okay?”
“Okay, that makes sense.” And it did; I just didn’t like being treated like a child.
“You’ll have some any time you’re going out in public, at least at first, just until you know what “hungry” feels like with this new metabolism. Still okay?”
“Now, the rest of it. Some of the legends are true, others not so much. You might or might not have a predator form; not all vampires do. We’ll hope not.” My eyebrows went up at that; I agreed wholeheartedly.
“You won’t lose your reflection in the mirror. That was based on the idea that a mirror reflected one’s soul, and that a vampire had lost theirs. The reflection is physical, and unless you fall to Evil, you’ll keep your soul.”
“So souls are real.” I’d been raised by militant God-fearing atheists.
She smiled faintly. “Yes, souls are real. Guard yours carefully.”
“You can neither float nor fly nor turn into a bat.” A snort seemed all the response required.
“You will be preternaturally strong and fast. You will, after all, be at least a potential predator. If you feel a compulsion to hunt, I recommend strongly you find some woods and hunt deer. That will take care of anything you need without risk to your soul.” Again, it made sense. “You’ll also heal from just about anything that doesn’t kill you. Slicing off your head will kill you; slicing off your arm won’t. In fact, it might not even work, unless the swordsman is really fast, because the cut at the top will heal before he’s done slicing through the bone. It will hurt like hell, though.”
“Yeah, not planning on fighting any swordsmen any time soon either.”
She grinned. “Wise girl. You really will burst into flame instantly if you go out in the sun; we don’t know why. Likewise, a stake through your heart will make you disappear in a puff of dust. And I think that’s about it for Vampire 101. Can you think of anything else right now?”
“One thing. Is it only drinking human blood that will make me fall to Evil, or killing in general, or what? Because if I’m super-strong and I push some guy too hard, I don’t want to risk my soul for that!”
“Ah. Good point. Okay, best guess is that what will cause problems is if you kill a human being by drinking their blood, because that’s effectively cannibalism. I doubt killing in self defense, or defense of another person, would be deemed problematic. Goddess knows I’ve killed enough that way, and Evil hasn’t tried for me.” She was so matter of fact about it that it took me aback.
“Um...yeah.” was all I could think of. “We should probably go back out before the rest of the girls send a search party, though.”
She laughed. “Right. And I could use some more tea after all of that!”
Angela, Holly and Karyn were still sitting around the remains of dinner when we came out; apparently they’d been too worried to scatter to their usual evening activities. I didn’t know what to tell them, but Josephina left it up to me while she trotted off to the kitchen to put the kettle on. I’ve always been pretty blunt, so I just dove in.
“So...Josephina knows what’s going on, and it looks like she nailed it. Seems vampires are real, and one tried to bite me last Saturday night. Didn’t quite succeed, but broke skin and it was enough to turn me. That’s what these are.” I gestured to the two pairs of pin-prick scabs on my throat. “Another week or so, and I’ll be all the way there.”
Silence reigned for about thirty seconds, followed by pandemonium as they all started asking questions at once.
“Are you gonna turn all sparkly, like Edward?”
“Are you going to be a monster?”
“You’re not going to go all emo and angsty, are you?”
“Slow down, slow down! I can only talk so fast.” I laughed. “Let’s see if I can get this straight. I turned to Angela. “Let’s see. Sparkly? God and Goddess forbid! Deity of your choice. Actually, same answer for emo and angsty. Me? Really? Anti-Goth-Girl? Black is so not my color!” I struck a pose. “I shall be the Vampire in Hello Kitty Pink!” We were laughing as Josephina came in with more ginger tea and the household honeypot. “And we’re working on making the answer to monster 'no way in hell', right Josephina? My diet will be a little weird, but I’ll eat in my room so no one gets grossed out, and come sit with everyone for dinner anyway. I’ll take my turn at cooking, too, if it’s okay if dinner doesn’t get started until the sun is down. Or else I can do prep while it’s dark, and someone else can cook. But don’t expect to see me between dawn and dusk. For one thing, I’ll be asleep, and for another, I will have an instantaneously fatal sun allergy. Like, SPF one million probably wouldn’t be enough if I missed a square micrometer of skin.” Josephina nodded agreement.
Tea was poured and honey added; mine was generously sweetened again. It really was making me feel better.
Then it really hit me what all it was going to mean.
“Hey. Hey! You know what? Remember how we were talking about how Campus Security would escort girls home from the library or class after dark if they lived in the dorms, but there wasn’t anything for girls off campus? I can do that, or I’ll be able to once the change is complete. And some of the Muslim girls, who can’t walk with a man they aren’t related to? It would solve their problem too. We’ve talked and marched and planned and written letters and tried to change the culture that makes women responsible if men commit rape, but at least here we really can take back the night! Oh wow. WOW!”
They were looking at each other, back at me. Even Josephina was wide-eyed.
“And you know what else? Now I can change my major to Astronomy, because I’ll be up all night anyway. I can stay up to use the observatory. I bet they’ll let me set up an online course of study since I can’t go out during the day. Setting up meetings with my professors might get a little dicey, even by Skype, because of the daylight sleeping thing, but I bet we can come up with work-arounds for that, if we try.”
“Hey, Josephina!” She jumped, startled. “Can I call Jenny back, tell her thank you? I mean, yeah, this is going to have it’s challenges, but so does everything. But the stuff I can do with it? Is going to be so damn cool!”