So it was with mixed feelings that I saw that my little tête-à-tête with Doctor Al was about to be interrupted...
Mama Lema and Donnie were approaching arm in arm, and a more curious sight was hard to imagine!
Palid Donnie, thin as a whistle and freakishly tall; Mama Lema with a lustrous amber complexion, five-foot-tall and quite as wide.
"Greta, Mama Lema," Donnie sketched a curious little bow in the ancient vampire's direction, "Wanted to meet you." Up close, Mama Lema had a massive presence - I had once met the Queen, and her regal dignity faded to childish posturing next to this woman's innate power and charisma.
Taking Donnie's cue, I curtsied awkwardly: not a graceful courtly curtsy; but rather like those gawky bobs parlor maids surely sketched to passing Duchesses in rustling silk, while their slack-lipped mouths gaped in awe.
"An honor..." I stopped myself from genuflecting, and pressed my hands together and nodded my head, smiling vapidly.
"Child," in conversation her voice was low, musical, and seductive. Mama Lema exuded a sensuality that was disturbing. I doubted that any would dare label her as obese - though by scale she surely was - she was a sculptured ode to fertility and sex in living flesh. There was nothing flabby or flacid about her. Nothing.
She smiled, flashing just a hint of dainty fangs, and her face was transformed. The idol became a girl, with darkly twinkling mischievous eyes and deep dimples. She would surely not have been older than sixteen at the time of infection. Then I realised: 10.000 years ago life expectancy would probably not have been much more than 20 or 25. "Have dinner with me, I'm intrigued by you, and at my age anything intriguing is worth exploring!" Her dark eyes swept over me speculatively. OMG!
"Mama Lema," I murmured, "Of course, it would be a pleasure and a privilege!"
She extended a tiny and astonishingly dainty and beautiful hand imperiously. "Come!" She turned to the Doctor. "Join us Al! You seem as fascinated by our little newborn as I am."
The Doctor nodded. "Thank you Mama, I accept. And yes, Greta is indeed a captivating lady..."
He raised my hand to his lips, but instead of just brushing the back of my hand with his beard, he turned it and pressed warm and disturbingly firm lips to the pale lilac vein on the inside of my wrist.
A shudder ran through me, and I gasped. The Doctor smiled, and stared up at me. His eyes were dark with floating flecks of amber and gold. Where my delicious Ghoul's telegraphed frank and uncomplicated lust that set my body on fire, the Doctor's eyes were unfathomable molten pools that promised something more - something deeper that I might not be quite ready for.
So I was off to dinner with a 10.000-year-old woman and a man who attracted and disturbed me in equal measure. Both vampires. OMG! What if I ended up in some freaky ménage à trois in some alley enticed and compelled to acquiesce to their beastly lusts by the irresistible promise of virgin blood? Anxiety attack time! (Yes I know...too many Gothic novels in my teens)
Then I remembered Donnie! SAVED BY THE DOLT! I reached out and hooked his bony arm in mine. "And Donnie too, of course!" I giggled (yes, I know but I had to) "A girl can't do without her sponsor and adviser in such august company!" I admit I simpered and batted my eyelashes, but only slightly.
Mama Lema smiled graciously: "But Donnie too, of course! How rude of me...Thank you child."
I caught the Doctor looking at me with distinct amusement, as if he knew exactly what I had been thinking. There was a promise in that smile, a world of promises. I had a feeling my life was going to get very complicated by the end of this night.
I brought red wine
and walking home I stole
from an over hanging bough
limes dark and sultry
malachite green and
in the garden next door
in the fumbling breeze
heavy with velvet-skinned
The dismal little group disbanded after sipping bad coffee and nibbling at some really excellent doughnuts (the Vegan had decaff and no doughnuts cause they might have been sneezed on by a cow...)
Doctor Al hopped up to me and chatted amiably, asking how I was adapting, and making small-talk in the most charming way. And I am not being ironic or punning on his height - I was starting to find the Doctor very attractive. Wait....I was lusting after the Undertaker and now finding the Vampire Doc attractive? What kind of a cheap slut was I turning into?
Was I becoming a player? An image of the Undertaker's wriggling pussy-tickler sent a shiver up my spine, even as I pondered on the distinct advantages of a man whose elegant mouth and mobile lips were naturally ever so close to the business district. All one would have to do is flip a skirt... I felt a hot flush of embarrassment tint my cheeks deep violet.
What was this? From maudlin middle-aged celibacy to brazen trollop in two easy steps?
Ok...Let's just take a deep breath... I had to keep this runaway libido under control!
"Why?" The question just popped into my head, "Why?"
Why DID I have to keep my libido under control? That was a bloody good question.
It wasn't as if being "good" and "faithful" and "ladylike" had brought me great benefits, had it? On the contrary.
I thought about Sheila and her unashamed sensual sampling of the smorgasbord of available men - and some not so available. I had always disapproved, to be honest. I had felt she took after the lecherous, lascivious Valginsky side of the family. FRANK's side.
Could it be she took after ME?
Had I been secretly suppressing my inner slut all these years? Had the vampire virus erased my morals and my inhibitions? I was ready and very eager to find out!
In these confusing times of conflicting interests between what is supposedly healthy for the mind, and good for the soul where does the thinking person stand? "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world"
Do we ponder God as superstition or as an intellectual possibility that brings us comfort on the cold dark nights of the soul?
The very core of every religion is free will: The right to ask exactly that question, just like Pink Floyd did: "Is there anybody out there?"
We can ask, and somewhere deep in our hearts we hope to hear a whisper of response.
Yet....Is not the very fact that we hunger for the answer answer enough?
No matter who or what we are, we all reach for the same comfort in the dark - and share the ultimate ambition of standing in the healing warmth of a Light that loves us.
The massive woman stared at me thoughtfully. "You must ban this killing fury from your heart, Greta, or it will devour you."
"I know killing is forbidden, Donnie told me about the VA rules... Vampires must feed without taking life."
The woman smiled quite sadly. "No Greta, I do not tell you this because it is a law among vampires; I tell you this because you will lose your humanity. I would tell you this even if you were not one of us."
"Yes, Mama Leme," I whispered, thinking of how easy it would have been to kill Rosa. How satisfying. "I think maybe I already have."
"Embrace it!" Shrieked the mustachioed fat man in Cuban heels next to the Vegan Vampirella. "Embrace the darkness and our Dark Lord will shower you with power!"
Dr Al sighed and exchanged an agonized look with Mama Leme.
"Eggbert," she called sharply. Her voice doubled in volume and authority. "In twelve thousand years of life I have yet to come across any "Dark Lord", or any demonic forces, Satanic cults or anything similar in connection with true vampirism. 12.000 years, Eggbert´, I've been a vampire for 12.000 years."
The man's lower lip jutted out under the curled mustachios. "He does so exist! That is what I signed on for, see? Not to be some over sized fat greasy leach!" Tears started to slide down his very pink and rotund cheeks. "I wanted the Dark Mystery! Sinister power, meaning in my life. I was that tired of being the neighborhood joke!"
His fat shoulders shook, with choked sobs "Eggbert Valentine Hopwood the fag in the corner tea-shop. A joke in purple silk reading Tarot Cards for the local old biddies at five o'clock tea."
He raised a tormented face. "I can't even score at the Gothic vampire gay bars! We don't LOOK as good as the fakes! No-one believes that I'm the real deal! And I can't get thin, or have a hair implant, or shave off this stupid mustache and this goatee that makes me look like a massive wanker..."
Dr Al hopped down and walked over to Eggbert and placed a consoling arm around him.
"I'm ridiculous, Al! Ridiculous! Just, please lemme be a dark and dreadful Satanist, please?"
Oh boy...What a collection of absolute winners! I just couldn't wait for the next meeting and all the titillating revelations yet to come!
Whoppee! Acne Through the Ages: A Social Study of Teenage Angst... So not!
I wobbled my head at volcano-face and allowed my gaze to drift around the semicircle of chairs. Gries, a sour-looking girl with long black hair, a shortish fattish man with a goatish beard and Mephisto eyebrows, my dearest friend Dr. Al, and in the place of honor facing the group, a gigantically obese woman with incongruously dainty ankles and tiny feet propped up on a foot-stool.
Eight of us in all. And with that inimitable aura of misfits. These were not the stylish and elegantly erudite, self-satisfied creatures that populated the Vermilion Club. These were the geek-vampires. And I was one of them.
Dr Al smiled at me broadly and winked. "Greta!" He cried, "Welcome!"
The obese woman cleared her throat and all conversation ceased.
"We are here tonight in honor of the Ancient Law. We are here tonight in Brotherhood."
"Mama Leme!" The respectful murmur rose around me, I nodded awkwardly and mumbled under my breath.
"We who live on Life, are the ones who most revere it. We who drink from the Chalice are commanded to protect it."
More reverent murmurs. "So the Gods and the Spirit in the Blood command." The woman's head swiveled as she looked each of the little group straight in the eye. She gazed at me a second longer, with a glimmer of a curious smile. "Will any Profess tonight?"
The thin girl lifted a thin, languid hand. The woman nodded at her. "Speak my child."
The girl flipped her hair and bit her narrow lips.
"My name is Sandra and I'm a Vampire.I was Converted in 1968."
"Hi" "Hello, Sandy" "Cheers.." Greetings drifted around the room.
"It has been a week since my last Infusion, and I am due in two day's time." She twisted her fingers together and sobbed. "I don't know how I can do this again...Each time it becomes harder and harder to...The taste, the smell...Can any of you understand?"
With Rosa's blood still echoing in my system I most certainly could. "I do, yes I do!" I cried. They all turned to look at me in blank astonishment.
"We..Well..." I stammered in embarrassment, " I know how hard it is to stop - how enticing the taste and scent of it is...How irresistible...That rich, thick, salty taste.." The very thought of it brought a surge of saliva spilling into my starved mouth. I'm ashamed to say some may have dribbled out.
The girl gagged, pressed her hands against her mouth, and looked at me in undisguised horror and disgust. "How can you? Stop? I can hardly start! I'll have you know I am a Vegan!"
OMG! This must be the person Dr. Al had spoken about. I murmured a vague apology and sunk deeper in my chair. Next to me Gries stirred his bulk and rumbled.
"I don't get this Vegan shit. You hungry, you eat. If there's fruit, you eat; if there is meat, you eat - and if all there is is man-meat you better pray you are fast enough to eat, and not get eaten."
Personally I agreed. Nothing was quite as satisfying as a delicious filet mignon covered in perfect pepper sauce, or a wall-to-wall T-bone sizzled on the griddle...Well, unless it was human blood, but that was a recently acquired taste.
Sandra's mouth pursed even more. "Please! Have you no conscience? We suck life from people, we are worse than carnivores! We, we..."
"Oh for the Lord's sake, get a life! Or give it up!" This from tomato-soup-face. "You were Converted when? 60 years ago?If your conscience so plagues, why don't you just find a wannabee serial killer on the Internet to chop off your head? It's quite the rage this season!"
Sandra looked furious. " I don't want to die, I just don't want to live like this!"
Dr Al interjected "We've been over this before, Sandra. It's your choice. Live or die, we must all make peace with our conscience - nothing in this world survives without taking life. In fact the only true innocents are the very creatures you feel no qualms in devouring. So unless you too find a way to live from photosynthesis, I suggest you sit down and shut up."
Sandra did. Donnie stirred next to me. "My name is Donnie and I'm a Vampire.I was Converted in 1873."
Greetings wafted around us. "Through my incompetence a woman was Converted without consent...And because of this one man is dead."
The huge woman in the center spoke. "Dead? Dead how?"
I hear my self cry out "It wasn't really his fault at all! It was mine!"
"My name is Mama Leme and I'm a Vampire.I was Converted before the Dawn of Time. Who are you, child?" Those dark unfathomable eyes drew me to my feet like a recalcitrant teen called to the carpet by a wise but stern school mistress.
""My name is Greta and I'm a Vampire.I was Converted three days ago." There was absolute silence.
"It is not Donnie's fault. I killed my husband." I took a deep breath. "It's not Donnie's fault because I did not kill him because I am a Vampire, I killed him because I wanted to. And I rather enjoyed it."
"Nice to meet you Gries, " I smiled back, "But why is it shitty?"
He stared at me in astonishment. " Do I look like Brooks Brothers' material?" He raised those gigantic arms. "Have you seen my teeth? I look like shit. I get treated like scum." tears clouded those odd eyes with their vaguely psychotic gleam. " I had respect. Now I am despised. Feared and despised - but still despised." He wrung those ham sized hands together in a peculiarly feminine gesture of distress. "Despised!"
I extended a hesitant hand unsure of where it would be safe to deliver a comforting pat. I opted for one huge shoulder bristling with wiry blond hair, rather like a hog's back. "There," I said in that tone that had so often irritated the shit out of me in other people's mouths. "It will all work out, you will see! Chin up, what!"
He cast me a baleful stare. "Listen lady, I been killing, raping and pillaging for centuries, commanding respect - I was a fucking thane! Now I have trouble renting a flea-bag hotel room!"
I was starting to regret this. A lot. On the meat-man's other side, a mushy red face popped out. Popped being the operative word. The poor creature's face was a swamp of red infection liberally studded with huge shiny pus-yellow boils quivering on the very edge of eruption.
"I've had acne for seven hundred years."
Shit. I needed a drink. Or a straight vodka intravenous drip.
So after I completed my obligations towards my bitch of a sister - delicious, by the way - I was finally dragged off by Donnie to that damned meeting...
I was so not looking forward to this. Donnie was leaving me no choice. I will admit I slumped in the passenger seat of his tweety-bird yellow car and nursed a pout all the way there.
"There" turned out to be a lugubrious warehouse in the least reputable part of town. The dank and dreary exterior was a contrast to the irritatingly cheery decor of the meeting room: Bright yellow walls, with painted gigantic white daisies with pink centers, and checkered lime green and white linoleum on the floor. Nice...White lights blazed down, supposedly to banish the dark shadows of our vampiric nature.
There was a semicircle of chairs and on the side, a long table offered snacks and drinks. But no blood. Not a drop.
The other members of the group were already sitting, brooding or slumping in the chairs according to their style or nature. Donnie steered me to a chair and parked me, folding his long frame into the seat next to me.
On the other side sat the Hulk, or his paler brother by another mother.
The guy was huge, ugly, and really built. He had long straggly not-too-clean blond hair and freaky eyes.
I smiled. "Hi" I'm Greta! I'm a vampire!"
He grinned and exposed gigantic teeth in a distressing state of decay and a pair of very nice sparkling fangs.
"Hi! I'm Gries. I'm a Viking berserker. I'm also a vampire." His voice was nice and rumbling, soothing. He extended a giant hand and shook mine. "Welcome, Greta...To a fucking shitty immortal life."
Oh God it was delicious! At the first touch of my lips on her wrist, of my tongue greedily lapping up her blood, Rosa had gone quiet, wide-eyed and dazed - like the druggies you see in their heroine haze, slack-lipped on the metro steps. I slurped noisily, and she moaned.
Oh this was so GOOD! I was about to latch on and really suck up that juice, when a hand gripped the back of my neck and lifted me off Rosa, as easily as you'd lift a kitten from a bowl of milk.
I, however, am not a kitten. I turned hands crisped and extended into claws, mouth wide open, lips pulled back from my bloodied teeth...I caught a fleeting glimpse of myself in the mirror, swollen-eyed and raging in Donnie's hands. "NO!" I was screaming, the taut wiry tendons standing out like guy-ropes on my neck.
Donnie's voice was low and calm. "No, Greta, stop." He shook me gently. "Stop." Geeky, spindly Donnie had a remarkable strength in those thin hands. "This is not who you are. Stop."
I dangled from his hands limply. I raised my head and faced myself over his shoulder in that hall-mirror. The sassy, sexy woman who'd come down the stairs was gone. I looked like a harridan.
The blood was smeared down my cheeks and across my incisors like cheap lipstick, my eyes were bulgy and blood shot, veiled by some monstrous lust. My hair straggled in a tangled sweaty dark veil, strands sticking to the blood drying on my cheeks. Thankfully, I noticed in passing, not a drop of blood spoiled my pristine white shirt. I had not spilt a drop. Waste not, want not, Mom always said.
Donnie saw the blood-madness recede and gently lowered me to my feet. "Donnie.." I whispered, but he had turned away, was leaning down to examine Rosa's wrists.
I saw his nostrils flare, and his lips tighten, but he spoke to her softly. "It's alright..." He looked over at me."What is her name?"
"Rosa, you will be alright." He spoke without turning his head."Get me some towels please, Greta. Then call an ambulance."
I nodded numbly, and walked to the linen cupboard in the downstairs bathroom. Towels were stacked there, neat as you please. Mute evidence of my barren life. Who else had time to color code towels?
I hesitated a second. Top of the pile was this really delicious set of deep-pile Egyptian cotton towels that I had paid the earth for... I pulled three towels from further down. Discount-store stuff in a deep red that would not show the stains.
I hurried back and found Donnie French-kissing Rosa. KISSING?
"What are you doing," I screeched, "Are you some kind of perverted freak?" Donnie straightened up and stared at me coldly.
"I'm cleaning up your mess, Greta. Now she won't remember what happened here...What you were doing." He took the towels from my hands and gently guided Rosa towards the kitchen."Now, call 112 and go wash your face before they get here."
Suitably chastened I did so. I dialed the number and a calm female voice answered. "Please send an ambulance..." I rattled off my address.
"Tell me Ma'am, is someone hurt?"
"My sister, Rosa, tried to kill herself."
The calm voice asked for details, and told me "Help is on the way! We are also alerting the Police."
Police? Ah...A suicide attempt. Damn. A rape, a murder and an attempted suicide at the same address in 78 hours. And if Rosa blabbed about Frank, the Police might take a second look at his death. I would now have MOTIVE, and I certainly had opportunity.
I went into the bathroom and carefully washed my face. I brushed my teeth and combed back my sweat -damp hair. My eyes were still odd in some way I couldn't define, but since I'd just had my baby-sister bleed all over my gardenias and my entrance, that was understandable.
I was composed, and silently composing a suitable greeting when I heard Donnie open the front door.
I came out and stood by as two men with a stretcher jogged into my kitchen. I heard one of them say to Rosa: "Whot now, luv? Whot yu go and do this for? Pretty thing like yu! Yu goin to be just fine, yu are!" The voice was kindly. cheerful. Rosa mumbled some unintelligible reply in a groggy voice.
"Yu take any pills, luv? Yu tell ol'Barney here, Donna be ashamed. I know yu in pain."
Rosa sobbed something snottily, and the men emerged with her. Then the Police arrived. Double damn!
One of them had been present at Frank's murder scene as a first responder. Oh this was just perfect...
Glancing down I noticed some blood I'd missed crusted deep in the creases of the knuckles of my right thumb. Unthinking I stuck it in my mouth and sucked at it.Yum.
Donnie started talking to the Police.
"I came to pick up Mrs Valginsky - it was her husband's funeral today - and just as we were leaving this lady arrived...Mrs Valginsky's sister."
The Policeman nodded and jotted things down. He looked up at me. "My condolences Ma'ma." I nodded and tried to look as mournful as possible with my thumb stuck in my mouth.
"Who are you, sir?"
Donnie fished out his wallet and handed it over for the second officer to peruse.
"I'm Mrs Valginsky's sponsor..." He nodded meaningfully, "Hard day, lots of stressors, I was escorting her to a meeting." The two men looked over at me again, then back at Donnie.
"All right then, we will take it up with Mrs...?" They looked expectantly at me.
I dragged that delicious thumb reluctantly out of my mouth. "Schultz, Rosa Schultz." I squeaked.
Wonderful. From ravening monster to thumb-sucking alcoholic dweeb.
I was discovering I was a talented thespian indeed!
Except that I WAS a monster AND a thumb-sucking-dweeb..
I ducked into a shower did the soap on a rope thing, then shimmied into a pair of jeans and a long sleeved crisp white cotton shirt. After a look in the mirror, I slashed on a defiant red lipstick, stepped back into my heels, and draped my gran's opera length pearls around my neck.
Out of habit I had tucked my hair back behind my ears, I tossed it free and tousled it. THERE!
Not cover-girl material, but not house-wife/mid-life drab either! A woman with experience, and a dash of classy sass... Yes! That was the new Greta Schultz!
I was in the hall when the door bell clanged. Donnie!
"Hi!" I cried eagerly...and found myself looking at Rosa. She was looking the worse for the wear. Weeping and dripping tears and snot in equal measure and exuding a most tantalising scent!
"Greta!" She whined, "Save me!" And the stupid bitch extended her upraised wrists to me. Slashed wrists, dripping ruby-red aromatic blood.
A surge of heat blasted upwards from my stomach. I lunged at her, dragged her inside.
"I slept with him, with Frank...I...I..." She was crying hysterically, "I loved him! I loved him! I can't live without him!"
I smiled despite myself: "You may not have to!" I said and licked my lips.
Isn't life just wonderful? Who would have though you could get vampire take-away delivered right to your door just like Tele-Pizza?
The coffin containing the mortal remains of Frank Herbert Valginky trundled in eery silence through the velvet drapes and onto its mysterious disposal in the crematorium.
The mourners did a sad little shuffle dance called the the "weep them and leave" and departed with astonishing speed.
Soon there was only me and Sheila. May had taken charge of her grieving mother; and Rosa having early on run into a possible source of consolation in the person of Frank's partner...
Once we were alone, Jonathan Stell stepped up and approached us looking sad, sober - and very sexy.
"Ms Schultz, Miss Valginsky, allow me to extent to you once again my sympathies. You will have heard a hundred comforting words today, but none will have been very consoling at all," he paused and took Sheila's hand, "The pain does lessen, my dear, and that dizzy sense of disbelief will fade."
Sheila nodded, her eyes brimming with tears. It struck me once again that we were living two very different realities. Sheila had just tragically lost a doting and indulgent father whom she had adored; I had joyfully disposed of an abusive, cheating lying bastard who had ruined my life.
Both were true perceptions, grounded in palpable and concrete experiences. How easily conflicting truths entangled in the dark and sticky mystery that was a human heart.
Jonathan Stell turned to me and inclined his elegant head. He did not touch me, or take my hand. If he had the sizzling electric desire between us would have been enough to light up a Vegas neon sign.
Even tear-blind Sheila would have noticed that, and though my daughter was a permissive - not to say militantly promiscuous woman - watching her mother and a stranger groaning and groping at each other's groins in the aftermath of her father's funeral would have been a perverse betrayal...
"Ms Schultz, I will call you for the arrangements with regards to Mr Valginsky's remains and the...paperwork."
"You will need some additional documents to present to Mr Valginsky's insurance broker and Social Security - I would presume Mr Valginsky carried life insurance?"
"Yes...No...To be honest I have no idea." I hadn't thought of that. "Yes, please do call..."
We said our goodbyes, and drove home in silence. "Want me to stay Mum?" Sheila asked.
"No sweetie. You go home and get some sleep. I will call you tomorrow." We did the usual mother/daughter hug and kiss, and the moment she was gone I was calling Donnie.
"I'm bloody starving! And not for fish and chips! Where are you? I need to feed!"
Donnie's voice was surprisingly calm; "You ate - glutted in fact - two days ago. You can't feed for the next two days."
"Are you KIDDING me?" I screeched in fury, and realised that this strange almost-emotion of desperate hunger was not quite my own. My symbiont was demanding supper.
"I'm picking you up in half an hour. We are going to a meeting."
"Yes, at the VA - Vampires Anonymous. You have to learn to control that craving, Greta. You must master your affliction, or it will master you and you will become a murderous monster."
Frank's funeral service had been as expected: long and awkward, with old friends from the old neighbourhood - rendered unrecognisable by time - paying their respects in a long shambling line, laying a thick mantle of multicoloured blossoms over the casket.
Thank God it was closed, for Frank's grotesque grimace would surely have haunted the mourners for life. As skilled as the morticians were, they had been unable to smooth the outraged horror from his face, as they had washed away the garish gore from his gaping throat.
As the recent widow I did my bit, holding tight to my daughter's hand on one side, and propping up my inconsolable mother-in-law on the other.
It saddened me to see their pain and to know that I was to blame.
If only I hadn't been such a recent and immature convert to vampirism, if only I hadn't been in such an unstable emotional state, if only Frank hadn't deserved it so much...
I nodded soberly and inhaled the scents of a hundred grieving cheeks, murmured nonsense gabble when being patted awkwardly on the back and shoulders - and groped once or twice tits and rump by rheumy eyed old dorks who thought a funeral was a great place to "score" and considered that a recent widow was bound to be insane with life-affirming lust.
Wise old codgers. I most certainly was. I caught a glimpse of my ghoulish beau in his sober black and a shiver of desire unlocked my knees and loosened my thighs.
Mistaking my momentary stumble, my Sheila whispered: "Just a little longer Mum, just be brave a little longer..." I cannot properly express my shame at the sound of compassion and muffled tears in my girl's voice.
Where was my empathy? Where was my own pain? Was this a peculiar side effect of my vampiric infection? And yet I felt guilt, shame and pity...Was my complete indifference due to the fact that Frank was prey? Yes. It might just be an adaptation to my new predatory nature.
After all, it wouldn't do to have a natural born killer blubber heartfelt apologies as he or she drained a victim of every last drop of yummy, salty, luscious blood!
As I thought of THAT, saliva flooded my mouth. I was hungry, I realised, very hungry. I ran my tongue over the fascinating ups and downs of my teeth and confirmed that my incisors were indeed shaping up and sharpening nicely.
My stomach rumbled loudly. I raise my handkerchief to my mouth and coughed to disguise that eager sound.
As soon as the funeral was over, I was going to have to ditch my grief-stricken daughter and call Donnie and see about dinner. Meanwhile, I smiled wanly at one more old acquaintance whose avid eyes ran over my undisguisedly healthy complexion.
Just as I walked down the stairs in my new black heels and silky black stockings (was it sinful to feel this sexy dressed for my husband's funeral?) my daughter arrived and let herself in.
Behind her snivelled my hateful younger sister, Rosa- the TRUE widow, if I were to be 100% honest. She had been the one sharing his bed and his life for the past dozen years and more, whereas I had been a glorified housekeeper and child-minder. The very best kind too, one that worked for free!
She looked dreadful. Her pretty, vapid face was pinched, her doll eyes swollen and red, and her blond locks lusterless. Grief was really devastating...I caught a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror behind her and could not bite back a smile.
The sober black slip dress flattered my admittedly full figure, and suited my pale complexion and dark hair. A rich burgundy colour (all natural and with no aid from Maybelline!) tinted my full lips. Oh I looked really good! My eyes sparkled, my breasts enhanced by the push-up bra Sheila had selected for me placed my wounded heart on alluring display.
I took a deep breath, and the woman in the mirror parted her lips seductively, even as those perky breasts heaved invitingly. I liked this, I like me...
"Mom?" Sheila stepped forward to embrace me. "Poor mom...You look devastated..." She paused when she realised I didn't. I looked fabulous, but she had expected me to look a mess. She hesitated then extended a bag from an expensive accessory shop.
I opened it. Inside was a delicious black velvet and lace-veiled fascinator, and large black rimmed sunglasses presumably to disguise my tear-stained and grief-ravaged visage.
I stepped past Rosa's lamentably dripping red nose and placed the fascinator on my head at a decidedly alluring angle. The thin dark veil added a mysterious glamour to my glowing face.
I didn't look like a widow at all. I looked 10 years younger, like a woman tricked out for seduction.
Widowhood had revitalised and rejuvenated me. As had my newly awakened libido.
As we walked out the door to go to my late and unlamented husband's funereal rites, I couldn't help but rejoice in the sway of my hips, and gloat over imagined glitter of lust in a certain Funeral Director's dark eyes...
The next day dawned as drizzly and as miserable as you could wish for a funeral. It was 7:00 am and my sister-in-law May was tapping sharply on my door. I heaved myself out of bed, grabbed a robe and stumbled down.
I opened the front door and was immediately drowned in soft scented flesh and stiffly lacquered hair.
"Greta!" May snuffled against my cheek, "Oh darl...How are you copin'?" I hugged May tight for just a moment longer, then I stepped away.
She looked devastated - like I was supposed to feel but didn't. Her heavy cheeks sagged, and the crusted eyeliner seemed to drag down at the corners of her eyes. The red lipstick had bled up into the deep vertical lines on her upper lip, and the skin under her chin looked loose and wrinkly. A bit like a giant scrotum.
The harsh morning light was not being kind to May, and I shuddered to think what it was doing to ME. We were not the girls we used to be, that's for sure, and a crueler trick Nature or the unkind gods had never played on humans. I didn't FEEL any older than the slim girl who'd strode down the steps determined to be seduced by Frank, and I know May didn't either. And the truth be told: neither of us was any wiser.
I stepped back and led May to the kitchen, put the kettle on and took down two mugs. What a comforting ritual tea was! Surely if the end of the world was announced, I would be doing the same. Anything can be faced with tranquillity with a nice cuppa and a sweet biscuit in front of you.
May sighed and fell into the kitchen chair. "Oh Greta, what an awful tragedy! And you already so traumatised, finding poor Frank like that!"
"Yes...It was...Very...Shocking, very," I stumbled for sincerity. "I feel it's all my fault, May. I killed him. I brought this horror down on him."
"NO!" May's cry was from the heart, and made me feel an even deeper shame, "Never think that! You were the victim of a monster, a predator! And poor Frank died defending you." She mopped at the tears slowly percolating down her cheeks through the thick layers of face powder. "He died a hero."
"A hero," I echoed, remembering the vicious smirk rolling back his upper lip in that split second before my mind had gone blank. "Yes, Frank was that..."
I leaned over and placed a comforting hand over hers, and patted her plump shoulder while she sobbed.
Much later, I went upstairs to change into one of the black dresses I had purchased the day before, complete with sheer black tights and decorous black heels. Sheila was meeting us, and together we would drive to Silverman & Stell's together.
On the way we would stop off and pick up her old ruin of a mother (whom I quite loathed and who perversely quite adored me).
Life is full of such ironies, isn't it? Unrequited loves of every kind, ricocheting affection, wasted understanding, soured passions.
No more, I vowed to myself. From now on I would not endure anything less than what I deserved - good or bad - for a single second. Life was precious, and to be lived intensely or not at all.
I spent the rest of the evening nursing a dazed vampire through regeneration. Basically it just entailed sitting next to him, pouring lots of tea down his gullet and patting his spindly hands when he moaned. Which he did. A lot!
Apparently immortality did not change the basic male propensity for high drama when in the least bit discomfited. Ok, so a herniated brain is not a paper-cut - but really! I though Donnie did overdo the whining and the squirming around.
I cleaned up the blood and brain matter off the kitchen floor and made myself a hot corned-beef on rye sandwich with lots of mustard. I was positively starving. I offered Donnie some too, but he looked nauseous, so I just topped up his tea cup.
I sat next to him and took a bite. Damn, but food tasted better than ever!
"So, Donnie," I said, more to distract him than out of any desire for the sordid details on his personal habits, "What's you favourite feeding spot?" I giggled. This was funny! Goes to show what the word "normal" really means - I'd used the exact same tone dozens of times to ask for references to coffee shops, or hairdressers...
Donnie blushed violently - nearly purple. "Well...Ah-Ah-I...Go to the docks, you know...The Ladies...I pay of course!"
"I do-don't have SEX with them, I just...You know..."
"Yes, I see...You feed?"
He nodded emphatically. Curiously enough, Donnie felt it was quite alright to suck blood from the nubile thighs of the hookers on Canal Street, but quite immoral to enjoy the services they were actually selling...
"Yes. But I tip, you know...To make up for..." He ducked his head and I saw that the skull was closing nicely over his pinkly pulsing brain. This was really cool! as Sheila would have exclaimed.
"Don't they notice?" I asked curiously. "That you're...doing THAT?"
"Well, no! Our saliva contains a narcotic and a mildly euphoric hallucinogenic? So I kiss them first." he added a helpful tip: "I used to volunteer at an old age home? So I always spat in the tea of the old dears. Made them so happy!" He smiled seraphically. "It is addictive, so be careful who you kiss!"
"GROOVY!" I exclaimed, "That should make me a hit at the next Church Fund Raiser! I'll pucker up at the kissing booth and make myself a packet!"
It was all settled. All the sad details of burial, the discarding of the fleshy casing - the remnants of a forgettable life...
I was suddenly overcome with a wave of affection and gratitude for Donnie and his myopia. His "mistake" had gifted me with a new life - bizarre, complicated, but filled with promise. Frank's death had showed me a glimpse of the ending of a mediocre life, and I was relieved that such a trivial existence had been ripped away from me.
I was now immortal - whatever that meant - and if I wasn't exactly in the first flush of youth, I was still a vibrant sexual being. The last hours had proved that to me. That woman who I had though neutered by years of sublimation and submission to emotional starvation was now resurrected by my timely undeath.
Sheila dropped me off at home. She had wanted to stay for the night, but I had dissuaded her. I wanted to try on my new threads, and give the Doctor and Donnie a call.
I walked in and kicked off my shoes, and was about to carry them and my shopping bags upstairs when a strange noise stopped me dead.
There was someone in my kitchen! Someone was moving around, and then the merry whistle of the kettle drowned out the human sounds. Anger suffused me. Someone was in MY kitchen touching my kettle, helping him or herself to my property.
I'd had enough of home-invasions, and violations of my privacy and physical and emotional integrity. NO MORE!
I moved silently on my stockinged feet, and picked up a large stone obelisk one of Frank's nieces had brought us from Egypt. A tasteless monstrosity I now appreciated for the very first time as capable of causing substantial "blunt force trauma".
I hefted it into a more comfortable grip and stepped into the kitchen, swinging it in a vicious arc, and feeling it connect with bone-crunching force. I had not reckoned with the new strength coursing through my veins! Wham!
I heard a scream before I even saw the intruder, and had lifted the obelisk high over my head for a second blow when I realised that the person sprawled at my feet bleeding messily was Donnie.
The anger and the adrenaline made me scream. "What the fuck are you doing here? Are you mad?"
Then I fell to my knees, and dropped the stupid obelisk. Some part of me noticed there was blood and hair and little globules of yellowy-grey fatty stuff stuck to it. I felt my gorge rise.
I'd killed him. I'd killed poor stupid klutzy Donnie.
Shit. One rape and two murders in two days...
My house was now Crime Central. I could just imagine what the Police would say. This was going to ruin my evening.
Then he groaned and stirred. There were bits of his brain on my kitchen floor, and some things that might have been shards of bone too, but Donnie stirred and struggled to sit up.
"Donnie!" I screamed, "You stupid FUCK! I should KILL you!" And then I started crying in relief.
This immortality shit had its uses after all.
I just started laughing, I couldn't help it! This man had brass!
"Is this a standard pick-up line at the undead-bar, Mr Stell?"
He flashed those devastating dimples at me again. "Yep!" his grin broadened. "Are you falling for it?"
"Hook, line and sinker!"
"Well, I'm falling for you, Ms Schultz."
My lips were suddenly dry, and I ran my tongue over them. "Jonathan..."
"Saturday night we will talk..."
"Saturday..." I giggled again, "We can bugaloo to "Stayin' Alive!" And there we were, laughing over Frank's grotesque corpse, and eyeing each other lustfully.
Not how I'd imagined my first day as a grieving widow. But then again, I hadn't imagine my first day as a vampire would be like this either.
I had never been one for horror movies, or the supernatural at all. I had always been practical, pragmatic and prosaic. Goodness! I suddenly realised I'd probably been quite a prissy little prig!
Jonathan and I walked back to the showroom, and I was acutely aware of the short distance separating our bodies - the heat of his shoulder inches from mine.
In the showroom I deliberately moved away from him, and walked over to a large silvery monstrosity that gaped open, showing lavishly ruched white satin lining. Awful.
I was peering intently down into those cushiony depths when Sheila and Maeve returned with the leather bound catalogue.
"I think this, Mom," my daughter pointed out a surprisingly tasteful casket in dark wood, "I think this would be nice."
I nodded my agreement and turned to Jonathan - Mr Stell. "When?" I asked, "When can my husband be laid to rest?"
"Tomorrow afternoon, Ms Schultz? At four?"
I nodded. "Yes, most of his family arrives tonight, and some of his nephews are flying in from Canada, I believe."
"We can have the eulogy first so the mourners can pay their respects, then move along to the funebral ceremony... Was Mr Valginsky Church of England or Catholic? Or...?" Mr Stell raised his eyebrows to indicate multi-cultural sensitivity to whatever obscure cult or religion Frank might have belonged to.
Of course, Frank had worshipped nothing and no-one. His only object of unswerving devotion in all the years I'd known him having been his prick.
This was too much! How dare he? I was completely enraged!
"Even for a man who lives on hang-nails and toe-cheese that is a low blow, don't you think?" I asked, baring my baby fangs in a snarl.
"At least I don't suckle on crab-infested groins," The either to charming Mr Stell snapped back.
"The groins I suckle consider themselves VERY fortunate!" I screeched, "And rather crabs that pick maggots out of my tonsils!"
Mr Stells eyes were on fire, his breath whooshed out and he growled, "By God, Mrs Schultz, you are offensive!" And suddenly he was pulling me against him, his mouth was covering mine in a furious, devouring kiss...
Mr Stell pushed me back and his hands were tugging at the hem of my dress, even as mine tore at the buttons of his suit jacket, eager to worm my fingers under that silk shirt, and feel the crisp curl of his chest hair prickle my fingers. He smelled like wood and leather and hot metal. I moaned against his teeth, nipped at that generous lower lip and heard his encouraging groan of lust.
I slid my hands down to cup his muscular buttocks...Since when had I been this ardent, this daring?
Mr Stell pressed his desire into me and I leaned back, arching my back, offering my throat to his questing mouth...And it was then that I inadvertently leaned on Frank's corpse, and his icy hand popped over the edge of the steel drawer.
I came to my senses, my desire evaporated. I had been about to play hide-the-salami with a stranger with the body of my deceased husband as a makeshift mattress. Not only was this unethical it was decidedly uncomfortable.
"Stop!" I cried, "STOP IT!"
Mr Stell stopped and stepped back raising those elegant hands and spreading them far apart. He was panting, and looked as dazed and out of control as I did.
He drew in two or three panting breaths. "I'm so sorry, Ms Schultz. Please forgive me. I don't know what came over me."
I tugged the hem of my skirt over my thighs with a shiver of regret. "This...This is...I don't know what to say, Mr Stell."
"I can tell you I've never behaved in such an inappropriate manner before. Never!"
"Neither have I, Mr Stell." We stood there looking at each other in an awkward silence for an eternity, then he cleared his throat, squared his shoulders and said calmly: "We will address this issue at a later date, after Mr Valginsky has been decently put to rest."
"Oh yes," I agreed eagerly, "After an appropriate period of bereavement..."
"Are you free on Saturday, Ms Schultz? Say around 8?"
I gaped at the man in silent astonishment. "A GHOUL?" I finally managed to gasp. "GHOUL?"
He grinned at my astonishment. "Is that anymore outlandish than being a Vampire?"
"No, no...I just though..."Well Vampires and the virus...I didn't think...Doctor said the condition was as infection by a symbiont, I really didn't think...Things that go bump in the night?"
He let out a spontaneous guffaw. "The only things that go "bump" in the night is the Succubus and Incubus Swingers Club...And it's another kind of bump altogether."
"Succubus, incubus too!"
"Oh yes. And lycanthropes, poor things. They spend a fortune on hair removal, But no zombies, thank God, and the faeries are the ones trolling the park in spiked heels feeding on pheromones from all the hookers and the johns..."
I was dizzied by revelation. "Wait, all these are caused by microbes, viruses?"
"Oh yes. We think of humans as the top of the food-chain. We've managed to eradicate every predator we've ever had, but we are subject to predation by extremely able and well adapted micro-predators. Look at HIV, Ebola, Marburg, Rabies. Deadly and thank God, not very efficient or successful."
I stared at him. "Those are deadly! I'd say they were VERY efficient!"
"Those viruses kill the host, and so have to find another. OUR viruses cleverly evolved into a "I scratch your back you scratch mine" symbiont, They keep the hosts alive indefinitely, so the colony not only survives, it thrives, and in the fullness of time, creates a daughter colony of micro-predators."
"You keep calling them micro-predators."
"Yes. These virus require human cells, human hormones, human blood - depending on the virus - to reproduce. But they have turned the host into a "seeker" of what they need. Brilliant evolutionary leap."
"Brilliant..." I murmured faintly.
"So the host craves what the symbiont requires, and reaps equal benefit from that harvest."
"So vampires need blood, you said faeries need hormones? What else?"
He smiled. "Lycanthropes - poor things!- need a cocktail of blood, fear and adrenaline, which is why they frighten their prey before they feed. They are luckily quite rare. Succubus and Incubus harvest human DNA from sperm..,"
"They all get infected by the bite of a "Host"."
"Yes, as I was. I unfortunately surprised a Ghoul at his feeding and the poor bugger bit me." He extended a well shaped-hand and showed me a silvery crescent scar at the base of his thumb. "He infected me, and fled. I was left alone with no idea of what was happening to me, or why I started having those cravings. I actually checked myself into a psychiatric centre where I was lucky enough to meet a Nurse who was a Succubus. She enlightened me, and put me in touch with the Ghoul Support Group." He smiled nostalgically. "She was very sweet and nurturing..."
"What do Ghouls crave?"
"Human flesh. Fresh. Which is where I am lucky. I get daily deliveries of the finest quality. I don't have to break into morgues or funeral parlours. Besides the modern penchant for wholesale embalming has made untainted human flesh a precious commodity. Digging in cemeteries - the traditional Ghoul feeding-ground - is no longer an option." he smiled modestly. "I must admit I do very well indeed by dabbling in the delicatessen supply biz."
I was horrified. "You not only eat, you SELL human flesh?"
He looked defensively. "Only toes! Nothing the bereaved will notice, or the deceased will miss. I keep to the highest standards!" He drew himself to his considerable height. "And I have NEVER killed to feed. All my donors are decently dead!"
Maeve spirited my daughter away to consult catalogues and choose a casket with the same elan she would have displayed while picking a pair of Manolo Blahnik sandals, and with as little regard for the cost.
That left me all alone with the suave and very sexy Mr. Jonathan Stell. He waited until the door closed behind the two young women, then he turned to me and beckoned me to follow him.
At the end of a hall-way he ushered me into a large cold room with huge steel drawers covering one wall, and a very complex set up in the middle which I presume was where the dead were embalmed and made presentable. A post-mortem photoshopping that gave the bereaved a much better looking corpse to regret and grieve over.
As he walked to the drawers and started pulling one out, Mr Stell commented casually over his shoulder. "We haven't met before, Ms Schultz! You weren't at the last mixer. I would have remembered those eyes..."
I was confounded. "Mixer? I'm sorry...Well, I've been a bit of a recluse for many years - socializing hasn't been part of my life."
He smiled. "Ah...That explains it! I presume your husband...a little slip in the dining room, an accident?"
I stared at him perplexed. "My husband died in the bedroom. He was murdered. Are you sure you have the right body?"
He slid out the drawer, and there was Frank, decorously covered with a sheet draped over his gaping throat and exposing only his face. I winced. Frank's eyes bulged out of his sockets and maintained a frightening glassy sheen. His jaw hung open in a horrified silent gape, his cheeks contracted in a death rictus.
"Oh yes, in fact I was going to suggest a closed-casket wake and funeral service. Though we can disguise the death-wound, there isn't much we can do for his expression, as you can see. It's quite startling."
"He was surprised by the killer..."
Mr Stell grinned knowingly. "VERY surprised I'm sure, and not a little afraid, judging by his face."
"I have no idea. I was unconscious at the time."
Mr Stell winked at me. "Of course you were! So do you agree to the closed-casket service?"
"Yes please!" I would be saving May and Frank's other siblings the sight of those bulgy eyes and gaping jaws.
"Usually, we can smooth away the expression after rigor mortis fades, but the neurotoxins of a vampire's bite tend to prolong that state for many days, until they break down. At least it saves on the cost of embalming."
Dark spots danced before my eyes. "A vamp-va-vampire's bite?" I drew myself up to my full height. "Are you mocking me in my time of grief, Mr Stell?"
"Not at all. But you seem to think ME a fool, Ms Schultz. I recognized a vampiric kill as soon as Mr Valginsky was brought in, and when I saw the signs in you, I knew."
I felt faint. "Please...I...You see, I didn't know. I blacked out and just...found him like this."
"You didn't know? Your maker, he didn't explain?"
An unaccountable surge of loyalty had me exclaim: "It wasn't Donnie's fault! He made a mistake, I started screaming and called the Police...He had no chance to explain."
Jonathan Stell chuckled. A rumbling sexy sound that sent a frisson of desire down my back. "No wonder! Donnie is a nice boy, but a total klutz!"
"You KNOW Donnie?"
"Of course I know Donnie, I sit on the board of the International Society for the Protection of Supernatural Species. The ISPSS."
I giggled. "Seriously? So you're a vampire too?"
It was Stell's turn to laugh: "Goodness, no! I'm a Ghoul."
Four hours later we were parking my beat up old Datsun in front of an impeccably maintained somber-looking building from the 50's. In the trunk were several shopping-bags stuffed full of brand new garments (not all of them black) shoes, stockings, lingerie. Sheila hadn't blinked an eye at her newly-widowed mother buying a black satin and lace corset. Apparently for my daughter such things were as necessary as toothpaste, as commonplace as high-neckline granny underpants at a Lawn Bowls Club.
We stepped out and approached a tall carved door sporting a bronze hand-knocker. The polished door-plaque discreetly announced: Silverman& Stell - Undertakers.
Undertakers, not the more usual "Funeral Home"... Undertakers had a dark Dickensian charm I found enormously appealing at this particular point in my life! It was redolent of pale mourners in dense black and Resurrection men with rusty hands. It went beautifully with the new sinister sensuality that was awakening in my changing body.
I knocked, and the door was opened by a young woman with a small mousy face and the most splendidly exuberant red hair I had ever seen. The serious-looking girl greeted us in a low and sad tone - very professional - and had I not been desperately containing a surge of joyous energy and biting my lips so as not to let my mouth expand into a happy smile, I would have been both comforted and impressed.
I grasped Sheila's arm firmly and responded appropriately: "Good afternoon - the Valginsky party, for Mr. Francis Valginsky , deceased. We have an appointment with Mr Stell?"
"Of course, please come this way. The girl lead us into a large room where several imposing and rather beautiful caskets reposed. Lovely! To a new vampire, raised on Bram Stoker and all those Hollywood movies of lusty and lecherous toothy seducers, these objects assumed an oddly erotic luster...
I wonder if I could get one for myself? I had to bite savagely at my lips not to giggle. A tall man moved forward out of the gloom. Tall and slim, with a smoothly shaved head and large velvety dark eyes. He wore a beautifully tailored pinstripe suit with a narrow black tie - the very image of a man you could rely on in your time of grief.
The only clear indication of what I was to know as his true nature was a well shaped and frankly sensuous lower lip, overshadowed by a small rakish moustache with curled tips that would have done a musketeer proud - what raunchy May would have identified as a "pussy tickler".
"Mrs Valginsky?" His voice was warm chocolate, "Jonathan Stell" He extended his hands and gripped my right hand firmly. "I am so sorry for your loss," said the future love of my undead life, looking deep into my eyes, "We at Silverman & Stell will do our very best to honour you loved one and put him to rest with dignity and discretion."
What a charming man! Next to me Sheila perked right up. The girl had inherited Frank's irrepressibly flirty and sadly promiscuous nature. She sobbed and extended her own hand.
Mr Stell let go of my hand with gratifying reluctance to give her a brisk handshake. His head swivelled to renew our dizzying eye-contact. "Mrs Valginsky..."
I interrupted him: "Ms Schultz, Greta..." The ends of his moustache curled a little more, and a little dancing flame seemed to ignite in his pitch-black eyes. I was assaulted by a vision of myself in my new corset being bent over the silky honey-wood of one of those luxurious caskets...
I felt the blood flood my cheeks. And poor Frank not cold yet! Then I remembered Frank's night at the morgue in a freezer drawer. Frank was as cold as a leg of lamb, and a cheating, hard-hearted bastard besides.
Mr Stell's expression changed dramatically, and Sheila cried out in alarm. "Mom, are you alright? You turned the strangest colour! I swear you turned blue." She was frantic with fear. "Mom, I am taking you back to Hospital, you may be on the verge of a heart attack..."
I recalled poor Donnie's blue blush. Oh,oh! Yet something else to deal with. Lust turned me the lovely pale azure shade of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.
Then Mr Stell smiled, and two deep dimples (my perdition) punctuated his cheeks. "Ms Schultz, I see we have much to discuss, perhaps it would be best if we spoke alone? There are details of a delicate nature in you...husband's...situation that might distress your daughter." He turned to Sheila, even as he gestured the little red-head forward. "Maeve will show you our range, Miss Valginsky, and advise you on the best choice, while I speak with your mother..."
Ooooh...All alone with Mr Stell and his pussy tickler in the midst of all those inviting caskets? My heart lurched, my undead soul twitched, my uplifted chest heaved. Being dead had certainly done wonders for my love life. First the Doctor, now the charming Mr Jonathan Stell!
"Lead on, Mr Stell," I said, lowering my eyelids to hide my excitement, "I'm all ears.." And all yours...
So I went upstairs and put on the darkest dress I owned - a blá-brown shirtwaister and some sensible chocolate pumps. I pulled back my hair and stared into the accusing mirror. Had I really aged that much, or was it my neglect of myself as a woman I was seeing?
My face was rounder, my features softened, but there were no harsh lines marring my forehead, no deep fissures of discontent bracketing my mouth, no crackling crow's feet at the corner of my still blue eyes.
I was still myself. What I needed was a good healthy dose of vanity, confidence and flirtation...
I turned side-ways and winced. My boobs were definitely migrating south, and would be forever arrested on that descent.
I was at that interesting point when I was too old to be young, and too young to be old. So I belonged to neither group, would be regarded with suspicion by the first, and with spiteful envy by the second.
I would be in that sex-less limbo forever - stripped of sexual allure with out being imbued with the dignity of elderly wisdom.
I took an old lipstick from the seldom opened make-up box. I opened it and looked at that sticky bar.
Pale pink, like a minute anaemic penis... I looked myself in the eye and raised my chin a notch.
I delved back into the drawer and found a gilded cylinder - an old present fro May in a shade I'd nicknamed "Shameless Slut". It was a deep matt red, and I applied it to my pursed lips.
There! I pulled my hair back and clipped it up high, opened four buttons at the neckline of that shirtwaist giving myself a cleavage. On the dresser was a long string of tiger's eye stones - a birthday present from Frank - and I looped it around my neck.
Better, much better! Now I could go shopping without getting steered to the Grandma section!
I gave the mirror one juicy blood red kiss...
"The Kiss Of The Vampire..." I husked in a mock-sexy voice, and I winked at Greta Schultz - woman reborn.
I looked Rosa in the eyes, and for the first time saw her turn away, her derisive smile fade. A brief flash of fear illuminated her vapid face. "Dear Greta, so understandably upset...Especially after your ordeal..." She moved over to the kitchen counter and picked up her handbag. Clutching it defensively before her she backed nervously out of the door. "I will leave you, I know you need some alone time...I will see you later at the wake..."
Sheila gave her a hug, and saw her to the door. I waited for her, and willed that murderous rage down, down...
My daughter returned and headed for the counter, put the kettle on, took down the teapot, the sugar and the tea-caddie. Soon we were sitting nursing large mugs of aromatic tea.
"Mom?" Sheila took a deep breath, "At the Hospital they told me you had been attacked last night. Why didn't you call me?"
"Thank God I didn't, or you might have been home when you Father was..." I choked out the word, "Murdered."
"Oh Mom!" My poor child started to sob and I reached out to embrace her, comfort her. I felt no urge to snap at her throat or feed on her blood. Relief untied the knots on in my spine. I was not a uncontrollable bundle of murderous instincts. It was as Alphonse had promised; I was still me, but with a sting!
I let her cry it out, then my pragmatic Teutonic side took over. "Darling, we need to organise the wake. I know that the Hospital released the...body..."
Sheila blew her nose and nodded. "Yes, and they recommended a funeral home. Very sympathetic on the phone...A Mr.Jonathan Stell, of Silverman & Stell Lda.
"I think we should pop over, sort out the details so we can inform the family, your aunt May...Does she know?"
"Yes, I called her and she is calling Dad's side of the family and his friends. She is driving up from London tonight, Uncle Klaus will be taking care of your side..."
"Right. So we need to sort ourselves out. Speak to your Mr Stell, order some flowers, sort out the details..."
"Oh MOM!" Sheila gasped in sudden horror, "I just remembered the WORST thing! You have nothing to wear! All your clothes are those browns and beige's and clumpy orthopaedic shoes. You don't even have black stockings" From Sheila's expression I deduced this was a major failure for a woman. "We need to get you something in black for the funeral!"
Shopping for clothes with Sheila. Oh joy...
Then I remembered Frank's credit card and I perked right up. What had Alphonse said? "Reinvent yourself"?
Oh yes indeed! It was time to give Greta Schultz a revamp, in every sense of the word!
Donnie drove me home and I asked him to drop me off around the corner from the house. It would not do to have neighbours already aflutter with a juicy murder/rape to add the glistening dollop of suspicion of an affair with a younger man...
Mrs Robinson with fangs! Now THERE was a thought!
I walked the 200 metres to my house and up the few steps to the front door. Before I had my key out it swung open,
"Mom!" My daughter's arms were around me, her hot tear-damp cheek pressed to mine. My girl. MINE. For all that Frank had fathered her, I suddenly realised she was first and foremost MINE.
I walked into my kitchen and into danger. A dizzy wave of hot blood swelled my temples. My sister, my rival, my betrayer was there.
"Rosa." I said her name flatly, with no emotion, but inside me I felt a strange commotion: anger, and hunger combined in a rising tide... This, I suddenly realised wasn't just me. My symbiont was aware, perhaps even sentient, and connected not just to my digestive system - it was linked to my emotions.
"Greta," My dearest sister cried and held out her thin elegant hands with those long painted claws. She embraced me. I stood stiffly, and felt an odd ripple as if my very jaws ached to clench around her throat. I swallowed a flood of saliva and pushed her away. She was prettily distraught. Her blond hair immaculate, her picturesque tears streaking her cheeks with out smudging her make-up.
"I'm so very sorry...For your loss..." She sobbed.
"Frank was a great loss, for us all, wasn't he, Rosa?"
"Yes, our family is sadly diminished...And you widowed so young.."
"Yes, regrettable, as Frank would have said."
Her pink, perfect mouth dropped open, then shut as she threw me a wary glance.
"Family," I said. "Pain, grief, loss, regret...And secrets."
The doctor immediately leaped down from his chair and rushed to my side, placing a comforting arm around my shoulders. Donnie - predictably - started crying too.
"This is all my fault! MINE! I am a monster! A failure as a human, a failure as a vampire..." His weeping was not pretty. A bubble of snot expanded from his left nostril, even as a dribble of saliva meandered down towards his receeding chin.
The doctor threw him a sharp look. "This is not about you! This is about Greta. Control yourself."
Donnie continued his snivelly blubbering, but in silence.
The doctor pulled out a large handkerchief and wiped gently at my cheeks. "My dear Greta, you are still in shock. It has been too much for you." He continued to soothe me "As difficult and dark as things may seem right now, soon you will adapt, and before long you will see there is much good in this new life of yours."
"I...I can't do it! I can't BLEED people..."
"Well...You know...You can do anything you really NEED to do. You are a strong and intelligent woman. And you're not a Vegan, are you?"
A burst of laughter exploded through my tears. "NO! But Sheila is... So it's just as well Donnie made his mistake!"
Alphonse laughed too. "Yes indeed! Another Vegan Vampire is more than I could bear in a hundred lifetimes!"
I raised my head. "There is a Vegan Vampire?"
He sighed. "Oh yes...And a Satanist...I don't know which of them give me the most trouble."
I twisted his hanky between my hands. "I'm so sorry, but I just feel so lost. And incompetent. I can't imagine how I will survive, or face this alone."
"You won't. I will help you in any way I can - and Greta, you will be joining a support group and a sponsor will be assigned to you. Long lost are the days when a vampire was expected to dig his or her own way out of the grave and find their way in this world alone."
"I'll be here for you, Greta, I'll help and support you as I would my own mother - may she rest in peace." Donnie's contribution was well meant but hardly reassuring.
After all, he hardly seemed the soul of self-reliance and competence himself. He probably had trouble tying his own shoe-laces. I could imagine a near future in which I would be looking after blundering Donnie, rather then enjoying his support and protection.
"Doctor, could we continue this another day? I am exhausted, and my daughter needs me. Also, I have a body to explain, and a funeral to arrange."
"Of course, Greta." He extended a card with a hand-written cell-number. "My personal number. Call when-ever you need help or advice." He smiled, "And I'd love you to call when you don't need anything at all..."
I smiled back at this odd man. "Please, what am I now? What can I expect? Donnie said you believed this is a virus?" I shuddered, "Like Ebola? Will I be putting my daughter at risk?"
The doctor grinned: "Only if you fail to acquire the necessary discipline and snack on her. Which - by the way - is considered bad form!"
I remembered Frank and smiled wanly - "Indeed...Very rude..."
"The first thing to remember is that you are NOT evil. Who you are has not changed, you are not a minion of the Devil. You have a symbiotic relationship with a very unusual and complex virus. A virus that brings substantial benefits in exchange for a little blood."
"Donnie said once a week?"
"For optimum maintenance, yes. But if you need to fast you can do so safely for up to a month." he paused, and continued carefully, "But it is not advisable. The hunger becomes uncontrollable and that is when accidents happen."
"Gorging on a donor, and killing the poor thing."
"A donor..." Charming. "There are volunteers? We have access to a blood bank?"
The doctor looked uncomfortable. "Alas no. Blood banks don't work. The symbiont requires the blood straight from the source. As for donors..." He sighed, "I suppose it is an euphemism, though in some outré Clubs there are people cutting each other and drinking the blood. But those are not vampires, and the practise is most unhygienic."
"So how will I feed? Even once a week?"
"We all have a system. Some use strangers they engage in sexual congress; others have regulars they visit - friends or relatives who unknowingly provide sustenance... Every vampire finds a way - as all creatures, we do what we must to survive."
Lovely! I suddenly saw myself trolling for flabby middle-aged men at the corner pub on Saturday nights.
"And the fangs?"
He drew back his upper lip to show some decidedly imposing incisors. "As you see! They take time to grow, though. A few months, so until then it is wise to invest in a high-quality surgical steel broad-bore veterinarian needle to extract your sustenance."
"What? Do you just stick it in their necks?"
"Well, for discretion, I suggest the groin area. There are some major vessels easily accessible in the upper inner thigh, and people don't usually scrutinise their own genitals. A puncture wound in the neck, though traditional, is not recommended."
Better and better! From now on I would be snuffling at groins for arteries and sucking up blood...
Oh joy! Crotch-rot and arse-breath! I suddenly burst into tears.
"I'd rather be dead," I wailed, "Dead, do you hear! Decently, respectfully dead! Dead with dignity, not slavering at crotches for eternity!"
The camel-faced butler held open a door and gestured us into yet another luxuriously appointed parlour.
Sitting enthroned on a giant green velvet Chesterfield was a man. A very short man whose feet didn't reach the ground but swung merrily ten centimetres over the intricately patterned silk Persian carpet.
"Come in, come in!" He had a round face and a large hawkish nose, a close trimmed beard and sharp, observant -yet kindly eyes.
"Doc!" Cried Donnie, practically running to the man and nearly tripping over his own feet. he bent down to wring his small but masculine hand between his own. The man kissed Donnie on both cheeks and jumped down from his seat.
"My dear Lady, welcome! I am Alphonse Bernette."
"Doctor, Greta Schultz."
"Charming!" He gripped my hand in both of his and beamed up at me. "Lovely!"
I found myself blushing under his approving smile. I cannot remember when a man had looked at me and seen Greta. A woman called Greta who was still charming, lovely, desirable.
"Doctor, Donnie has told me all about you. He tell me you will explain all this baffling mystery..."
"Alphonse, please!" He twinkled up at me, "Perhaps even Al. Do sit!" He indicated a chair next to his and clambered up not ungracefully into his own.
"You've just been turned, yes?" I nodded, "And you are confused, frightened, bewildered; but believe me all will be clear and you will soon be enjoying your new life very much indeed!
He leaned forward and tipped me a naughty wink, "And there is so much to enjoy!"
Miss Elegance took out a slim dark red leather folder embossed with a gilded crest from a desk-drawer and opened it. She picked up a fountain pen and looked up at me expectantly. "Name?"
"Greta Rosalind Schultz." I replied crisply.
She wrote it down and looked up: "Date of birth and current address?"
"12th December, 1962; Number 4, Darlington Crescent."
"Mmmm..." She looked up at me - "I though you were older..."
"Yes, I have that effect on people..." I replied with my best charming smile.
She looked confused, and ticked a few boxes on the forms. "Education?"
"A levels. Secretarial course..." She hummed again and frowned.
"Right. Ms Schultz, here is what the Vermilion Club does for its members: we will provide you with quarters in the club house of which you may avail yourself whenever you wish - but you cannot bring or receive non-member visitors. You will receive a generous allowance from the club which will be deposited in your bank account monthly (if you have your IBAN with you I will do the transfer now). In short - the Vermilion Club provides material comfort and financial security for all its members."
"That...That's wonderful...But the rates? You know, joining fees, contributions?"
She smirked. "Ms Schultz, the Vermilion Club is richer than many small oil-producing Nations, and we take care of our own. When the time comes for you to change identities in order to hide your longevity, we will provide documents and facilitate the transition. When you wish to retreat temporarily or retire from the world, you may do so. The Crimson Convent provides shelter for the members who become weary of the strife and stress of immortality."
Wonderful. "What are the rules," I asked. "What's the catch?"
"None, really. You may not expose our existence to mortals, let alone to the media. Killing is frowned upon, but since feeding accidents DO happen, you call us and we send in a Cleaning Crew to dispose of the left-overs. You must also attend regular meetings with your peers for group therapy. If you have trouble adjusting, your sponsor will recommend individual treatment. Now - if you will sign the non-disclosure agreement and provide the name of a mortal beneficiary for your Death Benefits Insurance, you can see Dr Bernette straight away for you physical and briefing on health and reproductive issues."
I leaned over the desk and filled in Sheila's name and contacts, then signed at the bottom of the page. I fumbled in my purse and found my banking details and added them on. Throughout all this Donnie had stood still as a statue, stripped of his fidgets by the cool woman behind the desk.
"I'm afraid I didn't catch your name..." I said to her. "The distraction and excitement of the moment..." She hadn't bothered to introduce herself, and she had the grace to look discomfited.
"Deidre Glastonbury." She smiled with practised charm, "My 12th identity, I am one of the founding members of the Club."
12 lifetimes. She was old, very old. I nodded as if it was all quite normal. "Why you don't look a day over 40!" I exclaimed.
She drew herself up: "I was 32 when I was turned." She raised an elegant bejewelled hand to her silver hair and patted it. "I am now preparing to move on to my 13th."
"Oh! Of course!" I nodded knowingly and kicked out at Donnie's skinny shanks. "So, Donnie, shall we leave Ms Glastonbury to her duties and go see the doctor?"
"Excellent"" Ms Glastonbury nodded relieved approval. "Here are your forms and your contacts. This is the Emergency Number for 24/7 service and rescue. I hope you will enjoy immortality as much as I have, Ms Schultz."
We walked out of her office and back into the hushed cathedral-like hall. "The doc is this way," Donnie said, "He's a nice man - a scientist and he's been studying our condition for centuries. He will explain everything so much better than I ever could!"
"Our condition...Being a Vampire is a condition?"
"Oh yes. Quite a complex symbiosis with a virus that Doctor B says originally evolved from an Ebola-type Hemorrhagic Fever many hundreds of thousands of years ago."
"Ebola?" I practically shrieked, "You gave me a deadly contagious disease?"
Donnie looked scandalised. "It's not contagious, or there would be millions of Vampires, you know. It's infectious. I injected the virus when I bit you. We have to infect someone deliberately. That is why we have fangs..."
So here I was driving down-town at dawn in a canary-yellow Porsche driven by a gawky Vampire... I cringed down in my seat.
Donnie was a careful driver, I'll say that for him, and never accelerated over 40 m/ph...
After a long and silent drive (I couldn't think of anything to ask, and he had nothing to say) we pulled over in front of a tall 18th century brick building with a discreet bronze plaque: The Vermilion Club - Members Only.. Right. Okay...
Donnie knocked and the high door was promptly opened by a tall man in a penguin suit.VERY CLASSY!
Inside it was all hushed high ceilings, Persian rugs, polished wood and the deliciously faint aroma of bee's wax, fine Brandy and good cigars. These Vamps sure lived the life! It was the perfect picture of an exclusive Gentleman's Club.
The tall man eyed me with a certain elitist disdain and sniffed.
"A new member, Mr Donald?"
"Ehr...Yes..." Dorky Donald actually looked apologetic! I obviously did not fit in with the Club's image. "This is Mrs Valginsky..."
"Greta, Greta Schultz", I cut in sharply. I was taking back my name, and this new life would be on MY terms."
Donnie led me down the hall into a plush reception where a genteel-looking white-haired lady presided over a gigantic antique walnut desk.
White-haired, but with a very young face - surely no more than 40.
The woman looked me up and down too, then applied a smile to her patrician features.
"Welcome to the Vermilion Club, your new home from home for Eternity!"
I put on the clothes and a sweater Sheila had left for me. My ID and my purse where in the bedside table drawer along with my phone. I was good to go.
Eager to get me out before the doctor examined my injuries (now healed) Donald sneaked me past the Nurse's station and out through a service corridor that led to the entrance to the Hospital morgue. Day was breaking and except for the squeak of the occasional Hospital staff's orthopaedic footwear and the clatter of surgical steel the area was dead quiet...Which was ironic, since we crossed paths with some funeral-home employees picking up "work" in a long black hearse.
Yep. Life as one of the living dead was sure proving cheery. As the gurney trundled past us, a hand flopped out. A big hand with nicotine stained fingers and burnt oil permanently ingrained under the thick fingernails. I knew that hand. Frank's hand. My stomach turned over. Frank dead and wearing a neat Y incision on his hairy chest.
It must have been a slow night for the M.E, to have sorted him out so quickly. But then again, this town wasn't exactly crime capital of the Western World, so Frank's murder must have been exotic enough to bring some excitement to the pathologist's usual roll of hum-drum deaths by natural causes.
The hearse attendants loaded him on, and I noted the discreet lettering on the back door: Silverman & Stell Lda.
I would have to speak to Sheila about the arrangements I presumed she'd make... SHIT! I suddenly realised my daughter would be in a panic at my sudden departure from the Hospital. I scrounged in my pockets and pulled out my cell. I typed out a quick message: Checked myself out. All good. Meet you at the house later. Love MOM.
There. I followed Donnie out to the parking lot and a shiny low-slung canary-yellow two-seater sports car. OMG! A Vampire in a Tweetie-bird coloured car... This was bad.
Donnie opened the passenger door with a flourish and graciously gestured me in. The interior was pimp-purple and the seats were plush velour. This was even worse. Maybe I could get a ride in the hearse with Frank...
I must admit I looked on my "tranformer" with a certain animosity.
I had yet to hear anything about my new state that was to my benefit. Extended life? It sounded like extended misery.
"Any other tit.bit of inaccurate lore you'd like to add to the roll?" I asked.
He looked discomfited. "That sunlight bit is bosh too. In the middle ages pale skin was a sign of aristocracy, high rank....Vampires have always been elitist, I'm afraid. Snobs, to be honest."
"Wonderful!" I exclaimed, as I thrust my bed covers aside and swung my feet onto the ground. I tested my equilibrium. All good. Not dizzy or weak-kneed. In fact, I hadn't felt this good since I was 18 and filled with vim and vinegar.
OK! You didn't LOOK young, but you felt pretty good...
"Now what?" I asked him, "And by the way, what is you name?"
"Donald." He stepped forward and extended one of those pale spidery hands. He had quite a nice smile. Shy and sweet. "Donald Hardfinch."
I suppressed a giggle. Donnie the Vampire... I smiled back and said "Greta, but you know that..."
He looked discomfited and nodded. "Shall we go? I'd like to take you to the Council Office and they open at daybreak. On the way I can show you where the meetings are."
"The V.A. meetings. You have to attend daily in your first month."
The man was worried I'd make a mistake? I'd already murdered my husband, how much more of a "mistake" could I make?
I sat up slowly, expecting my head to explode in pain and felt nothing. No twinge from the stitches, no throbbing from the bruised bone of my skull. I felt great.
I squinted my eyes to get a better look at my earstwise "attacker". "What do you want?" I asked, "Haven't you done enough?"
He stepped forward and into the dim blueish glow of the presence light over my bed. "I'm sorry, I must apologise again, but we need to talk. There is much I have to explain to you..."
"You certainly do! Like what you were doing in my bed, and what you did to me. I killed my husband, do you realise that? Tore his neck out and drank up his blood."
The man nodded and started wringing his hands again. I had a feeling it was a habitual gesture and very annoying. "I'm sorry..."
"Stop saying that!" I snapped, "And lets get to what matters: What did you do to me?"
He hummed a bit and shuffled from foot to foot. " I...That is...I turned you. Into a Vampire."
"Right!" I snapped, " So where is the glowing skin and the instant face lift? Where are the fangs?"
"Oh!" He said, " The fangs take time, and I'm afraid the other stuff is only propaganda..."
"Well, it seems that a couple of hundred years ago the Council did a recruitment drive. They sort of promised eternal beauty along with eternal life.."
"And it's all crock, of course?"
"Not the extended lifespan. That is quite true. But the rest? How you are is how you stay. For as long as you live."
"What? Warts and all?"
"And saggy tits?"
"I'm afraid so...Hence my myopia."
"Which is why Sheila was such a wonderful candidate! She's so beautiful, so perfect!"
"Yes...Isn't she?" I am ashamed to say that there was a trace of acid to my tone, " Thank God for plastic surgery!"
"Erh.... I'm sorry to tell you..."
"You spend a lot of time being sorry, have you noticed?"
He blushed blue. believe it or not and stammered: "Ye-ye-yes...Bu-but I really am! You see, the body allows no changes. What ever you get done it will revert to the original state at turning in 24 hours."
No blood. A dead body and no blood. How should I explain this? And then the answer came to me.
I shouldn't. I was a victim. I knew nothing. It would be as much a mystery to me as to the Police.
I should not manufacture clues or proof to deceive forensics. I was in my own home, in my own room. My fingerprints, my DNA, even Frank's blood on me were to be expected. I had been packing to go to my mother's, to get away from a house that had become a scene of trauma when someone had struck me. I had come to to find my husband dead.
That was all. The whole story. Let the Police look for murder weapons, leads and suspects. All I needed to do was to wash my face and give myself was some kind of head-trauma. A nice photogenic bruise or an impressive scalp wound.
I got myself up, washed my face and gargled with mouthwash, spewing the residue into the toilet so I could flush away any traces of Frank's blood mingled with my saliva. Then I walked back into the bedroom. Now, where would I knock my head? Ah! THERE! I walked over to the cupboard with its full length mirror and reached in to grasp a hanger, then swung my head sideways sharply into the glass.
The impact darkened my sight, dulled my hearing. I felt myself staggering and let myself fall. Hot blood was pouring down the side of my face, pooling on the hardwood floor in a very satisfactory way. I pushed myself up, grasped the side of the door and got to my feet.
There was Frank, dead as a door-nail a few feet away. I stumbled over and knelt beside him, placed my hands on his chest, then pressed my bloody cheek to his silent heart. There!
I reached for my phone on the bed-side and pushed the emergency number with blood-stained fingers. When the operator answered I screamed: "He came back, he came back! Please help me, I think my husband's dead!"
I crawled back on my hands and knees and pulled Frank's oily head onto my lap. A very touching scene and guaranteed to confuse traces of any unlikely behaviour or blood trails. I also ended up soiling my beloved Aubusson, but hey! It's a small price to pay for getting away with murder, even if the rug was over 200 years old.
I settled down to wait and I am sure I presented a touching if gory tableau for the responding officers. The bedroom with the open suitcase, the scattered clothes, my dead husband and me touchingly cradling him in my grieving arms, tears mingling with the blood clotting the side of my swelling face. Very nice indeed!
It was very gratifying. The Police arrived, and I was sped away in an ambulance back to hospital, with a compress on the side of my face to staunch the bleeding. Once admitted they administered a sedative and that was that for me.
I came to much later in a quiet and dim room with my daughter sitting next to me holding on to my hand and weeping. "Sheila?"
"Mom!" My brash and bouncy daughter was swollen-eyed and hoarse with grief, "Oh Mom, I don't know what I would do if I lost you too."
"Frank?" I mumbled, "Frank? Is he..." I gasped and let tears of relief trickle out.
"Oh Mom, he's gone..."
"It's my fault!" I cried truthfully, "I killed him!"
"No Mom! The Police said your attacker came back... Dad walked in on him... You're lucky you survived."
"It was my fault..." I let myself fall back weakly on my pillow. In truth, I felt as strong as a horse.
A nurse came in and check my pulse, looked surprised but gratified and told Sheila she had to leave. I had had a great shock, lost a great deal of blood and needed my rest.
Lovely. I closed my eyes as my daughter tenderly kissed me goodbye and fell instantly asleep
When I woke it was dark and silent, and there at the foot of my bed was the tall and gangly silhouette of my attacker.
"Mrs Valginsky?" He whispered, "Are you awake? We need to talk before you make a mistake..."