Here’s what I’m hoping will be a weekly feature, time permitting. I thought it would be fun to post a snippet of something I’ve been working on. This time out, I picked something I did quite a while ago and never quite finished. But I love how it came together, and one of these days I just might finish it. Please let me know what you think in the comments. Here then is Chapter One of an urban fantasy about a former horror host turned late night talk radio DJ who is also a vampire. I call it Penny Blood. I hope you enjoy it.
The first thing everyone wants to know about is the blood.
Was it real? How long was I really in that tub? Was I actually naked? So, to answer: No; about forty-five minutes; and yes.
The blood was totally my idea. I had read about the infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory, and how she supposedly drank blood, and even bathed in it. So I thought it would be cool to host an episode of Twilight Theater from a bathtub filled with red corn syrup, while being shot so it appeared I was naked, of course. The ratings went through the roof on that one. At conventions, autographed black and white stills of me in that tub go for twenty-five bucks a pop.
My Twilight Theater days are long behind me. Infomercials killed off the market for late night shows that played crappy horror movies, and I stopped being Mary Midnight and became Rebecca Thorne again. These days I’m the darling of late night radio, host of the Midnight Files, broadcast live five nights a week from coast to coast on AM 640, midnight to 2pm. Together with my producer Phil, I listen to weirdos swap conspiracy theories, alien abduction stories, and bigfoot sightings. It’s not the greatest gig in the world, but I am number one with males eighteen to thirty-five who live in Airstreams in the desert and make forts from their toenail clippings. I certainly give Art Bell a run for his money.
But the most interesting thing about me can’t be found on IMDB or in my resume. The most interesting thing about me—the most secret thing—is that I am a vampire. A real, immortal, “I vant to suck your blood” vampire. I’ll be one hundred and seventy-two on my birthday. I sleep all day and only go out at night. I have to have blood—preferably fresh, human blood—to sustain me.
And I’d give anything to have that life back again. As crazy as it was, it was mine, and it’s been taken from me. My closest friend is dead, and one of the few people I’ve ever given a damn about in my long life will probably never speak to me again. I’m not a monster. But now I’m surrounded by monsters. By Garrison and his damned Echelon. By the Pact.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The whole thing started when my ex-boyfriend decided he wanted to destroy the world. Oh well. At least I have this flaming sword.
It all started easily enough. I was at a science fiction convention in downtown Atlanta called Dragon Con. It’s a sprawling, four-day, multimedia affair that attracts thousands of people. I sit at my table, selling autographed glossies of myself done up as Mary Midnight—imagine if Morticia Addams had a spunky, emo kid sister—smiling while mouth-breathing fanboys pretend they aren’t looking at my breasts and answering the same dumb questions I have been asked thousands of times over the years, like the blood in the bathtub thing. It’s easy work with no heavy lifting, and I really get into it, flirting and speaking in my best breathy, phone sex Mary Midnight voice, making even the most innocuous of statements sound dirty. The guys love it, and this helps feed me in a sense. I’ve never figured it out for sure, but I think some vampires can feed on adulation as well as blood. When I was in that T.V. station’s basement in L.A. back in ’68, introducing schlock like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman or The Thing that Wouldn’t Die, I felt all those thousands of eyeballs watching me. And I feel these people now. It’s like they leave little pieces of themselves with me when they leave my table, and it fills me up. I smile my best black-lipsticked smile, show them my all too real fangs, and they just eat it up. And I eat them up in turn.
It’s a completely victim-less crime. They get something they want, and I get something I need. It’s a win-win. Everybody’s happy. It’s not like I’m a creepy succubus, giving someone the best sex of their life only for them to feel like warmed over shit the next day.
I love it here, all the madness and weirdness. Every other person is dressed in some elaborate costume straight out of a movie or comic book, and the ones who recognize me are genuinely glad I’m here.
But it’s broad daylight and I’m weak. Even indoors, with tons of glass, stone and steel between me and the glowering, hateful dayball outside, I still do not feel like myself. These events always throw off my internal clock, and I get through it by promising myself a nap in my comped hotel room, then at oh dark thirty I’ll get up and do my thing. I check my watch and grimace. It’s a long time until then.
My agent Mindy sidles up to me. “Would you like me to watch your table while you take a break?” She’s all of five feet tall, with close-cropped reddish-blond hair and a smile perpetually frozen onto her face. She’s way overdressed in a navy blue pantsuit, and she looks a bit wilted from the Atlanta heat, but she appears otherwise unscathed by the controlled chaos going on around us.
I return her smile. How did she know?
“Actually, I would like to step out for a minute,” I say. “Get some fresh air.”
Mindy bobs her head about a thousand times. “OK. Super.”
I get up and Mindy immediately takes my place. No one will come by with an unknown face sitting there, but Mindy will keep my valuable glossies from walking away. As I walk out of the huge ballroom us so-called celebs are sharing with the con-goers, I wonder if they still make dopplegangers, even golems. A body double would come in handy at times like these. I take one last glance back at Mindy, shake my head, and leave the room.
Mindy’s great, but she’s perpetually perky for no reason. At first I thought it must be drugs. I know absolutely nothing about her personal life, and she could spend her downtime freebasing Preparation H for all I know. But I never smell any drugs in her system. In the end I decided her perkiness is part of what I like about her. After all, I’d rip out a guy’s spine for looking at me wrong, but I already have me.
The convention hotels are large, labyrinthine, and crowded with fans of everything from Star Trek to video games. But I’ve been enough times that navigating has become almost second nature. I weave in and out, my crimson velvet dress making quiet swishing noises. Most people don’t recognize me, even here, even though my picture is in the convention’s programming book. The crowd gets younger and younger every year, and I fear yet another career change in my immediate future.
I step into a habitrail—a climate-controlled tunnel between one hotel and another, where I’m sandwiched between a guy in vacuum-formed armor carrying a six foot-long plastic sword, and a young girl with not enough clothes and a gigantic set of fairy wings. Then I’m out and through another maze of tunnels to Peachtree Center, which is basically a mall food court sitting atop a MARTA stop. It’s crowded too, but not overly so, and I can get away from the con and clear my head a little without going outside. I duck around a corner, pull an insulated flask from the folds of my dress, and take a little swig. The blood is flat, hardly fresh, but it reinvigorates me. My stomach growls, reminding me I’m hungry, and I try to decide if I want a sandwich before heading back to relieve Mindy.
Yes, Virginia, vampires do eat. It helps us to blend in. Besides, blood is not very nutrative, unless you’re a tick or a leech. The blood we imbibe only sustains our immortality. And vamps that try to subsist solely on blood don’t last for very long. They transform into ravenous, monstrous beasts, Nosferatu’s ugly redneck cousins, and thus an easy target for frightened villagers wielding wooden stakes and pitchforks.
Speak of the Devil.
I feel a twinge, and turn around slowly.
I can always tell when I’m being hunted.
It’s a feeling you get. The hairs on the nape of your neck start vibrating, and there’s a smell in the air of pheromones and fear, along with a sense that something’s not quite right with the world. The only questions are who? And why now? It’s been more than seventy-five years since someone wanted to drive a stake through my heart. I’ve not only been off the supernatural radar, but I’ve been a good girl. No drinking without asking. No turning folks against their will. So what was this clown doing here?
I sense the guy almost at once, walking several steps behind me. I stop at a glass-and-chrome kiosk selling cell phone cases and look into a mirrored surface to check him out. He’s trying way too hard to look like he isn’t doing anything at all, but I’ve been around long enough to know better. But he also doesn’t seem that interested in me.
I breathe a sigh of relief at my false alarm. So if it’s not me he’s after, who is it? Something about the way he’s dressed, the way he carries himself tells me he’s definitely a vamp hunter. He’s got on a leather jacket, Harley-Davison t-shirt, faded blue jeans and black boots, an attempt at bad ass avant-garde that just gets lost in a crowd full of anime Lolitas and 80’s cartoon characters. He could be just some guy here to pick up an I’m-sorry-I-screwed-your-sister card at the CVS on the other end of the food court, or a fanboy dressed as Wolverine.
I realize immediately that Wolverine’s out, as he’s not wearing a convention badge. They’re big, shiny, covered in comic book art, and easy to spot (mine has a lovely blue ribbon dangling from it that reads Guest).
Which means he didn’t follow me over from the hotel. Dragon Con is a private event. Their security checks for badges with a TSA-like zeal, so there’s no way Wolvie came in that way. Yet more proof that I’m not his target. I scan the room. I don’t see any familiar faces, and I certainly don’t smell another vampire. That’s another thing about vamps I bet you didn’t know; we have a smell, at least to other vampires. It’s hard to describe. It’s like something that is still in the process of dying that hasn’t quite given up the ghost yet.
Wolvie’s on the move, shuffling past me. I shove myself into a group of kids who seem to be headed in the same direction, letting the throng of teeny boppers carry me through the food court, but when I duck around a corner and peak out he’s still there, scanning the crowd from underneath his Ray-bans.
It’s been a while since I’ve fed, and the irony of draining a vamp hunter like a wineskin has a certain appeal. But we’re in broad daylight in a crowded food court, and I’m trying to keep a low profile; as much as a guest of the convention going on all around us can. Mostly I’m just curious to know what he’s doing here, and who he’s planning to ash.
A young goth girl looks as if she’s almost on the verge of recognizing me. She’s too young to remember me from my Twilight Theater days. Maybe she thinks I’m Laurell K. Hamilton. It wouldn’t be the first time. I ignore her and concentrate on Wolvie. He’s definitely following someone, a woman of average height, her blond hair in a ponytail, wearing a short leather mini skirt, red silk top, black fishnets and motorcycle boots. A woman after my own heart.
She’s definitely a vampire too. I can sense her now. Man, I must be getting soft in my old age. There’s something…familiar about her too. More intrigued than ever, I break from the crowd and get right behind Wolvie.
The vamp girl enters a pair of glass doors in the back corner of the food court, next to a couple of fast food places. She’s heading downstairs toward the MARTA tunnel. Wolvie follows. There’s no one else around. I go in right behind, and Wolvie doesn’t even register me at all. Amateur. We’re going down the steps now, and I’m trying to keep the swishing of my dress to a minimum. The girl goes across to the stairs leading up to Peachtree Street, so she’s not taking the train. A spot the tiny pocket umbrella she’s holding unopened in her right hand. Wolvie seems to get desperate now, thinking he’s about to miss a chance to stick her in private, and he speeds up, his boot heels clicking on the tiles.
He reaches out his hand, about to grab her.