Authors: Ted Minkinow
I’m a vampire. That’s a condition, not a job description. So being a vampire doesn’t pay the bills. My day job takes care of that. And yes, I did say “day job.” Forget what you’ve read or seen in movies. All crap…including the sunlight and bursting into flames thing. Intentional misdirection. Some of the credit goes to me, but we’ll talk about that later. Back to my day job.
I bag groceries at the U.S. Military Commissary in Wiesbaden, Germany. I know it sounds special ops, but a commissary’s a supermarket run by the American government for service people and their families stationed in Europe. Here’s a quick job description: I stuff groceries into bags and then load those bags on wire carts. From there, I roll the assorted wet and dry foodstuffs to customers’ cars where I transfer everything. Usually in the trunk, but sometimes in the backseat. Exciting, huh? And here’s the best part: I do it all for tips.
My being a vampire, you might think I use special mind control to inflate those tips. I don’t. Mostly because there’s no such thing. Well, probably
because there’s no such thing. So no matter how hard I bore into someone’s thoughts with my frighteningly sexy glare, I only see a forehead. Believe me, I’ve tried.
If cliché-type vampire mind-control did exist? My cover would evaporate. I mean, who could be trusted with that kind of horsepower? Not me. At least my odds of getting a second date would soar. So for lack of mind control I make sure to pack all the cold items together in the same sack and I’m extra careful with the eggs. I also brush my teeth and wear deodorant.
It’s a trade secret. I’m not talking about the toothpaste and deodorant. Common hygiene. And the vampire stuff? We’ll cover that in a few seconds. Eggs. That’s the trade secret. Always fuss over the eggs. Drawing the customer’s attention to that little carton frees your other hand to load the rest quicker and with far less care. Same sleight of hand used for magic tricks. Fondle someone’s eggs and it doesn’t matter if you bounce the other groceries into the trunk. And chances are, your tip goes up.
Maybe I do know a mind trick or two.
You might also think my centuries make me super brainy. As far as language skills, I can question your family tree in several dead tongues. So what. And even though I grew up within a long walk of Wiesbaden, my fluency in the original language of the Germanic tribes doesn’t help. Almost nothing’s the same. I could ask someone, “How about we take the horses to Mainz and burn some Romans?” They’d just smile and point at Bus 5. About the third stop down the line I’d realize I wanted Bus 55. At least the walk back is usually nice.
And while we’re bursting stereotypic bubbles: You might think being a vampire makes me incredibly handsome. You’d be wrong. Being ME is what makes me incredibly handsome. If you don’t believe me, reread the previous sentence until you do. Let’s establish a ground rule. I’ll not waste my time telling you something that isn’t true; nor will I drone on attempting to convince you of anything. We made it past my biggest secret with no bumps so let’s just agree with each other that when we say yes we mean yes, when we say no we mean no.
Except the incredibly handsome part. Perhaps a slight overstatement. Would you believe credibly cute?
So why me? Well, despite hauling someone else’s 16-roll special’s worth of butt paper for hire, I’ll bet my life’s more interesting than whoever you read that last book about. And if you think
might top me with a story of your own, send me a manuscript and I promise to give it a whirl. I may find your life sufficiently compelling to plan a visit of the late night “you invite me across the threshold variety.” How’s that sound?
Enough about you.
Friday night. Almost closing time. A shadow camped across checkout lane seven as I stooped to load the last of three cases of diet cola onto my cart. Perhaps a cloud blocking the sun, though my instincts said the sun played no part in this eclipse. Mostly because I was inside the commissary.
That handy fact didn’t end my astral challenges because I glanced up into a double half-moon rear end restrained by neon orange spandex. Somewhere a 60’s-style groovy Bedouin might offer a reward for the return of a stolen tent.
The view up top didn’t improve, but then how could I expect it would? A thin pink halter-top that stood as much chance of holding back its charges as a damp strand of toilet paper would at restraining two blimps in a banzai dive. She spoke.
“I’m parked in the lot outside.”
Because the magic ramp leading to the roof disappears at dark.
It’s wise to remember I work for tips. Maybe I’m not super-brainy, but I am living proof that some measure of wisdom can seed in the most fallow ground. But then maybe I’m talking conditioning more than wisdom.
The witty exchange reached an awkward lull. I glanced at Pops, our cashier, for support. I mean, I was about to risk my life rolling through the valley of the shadow of death—Commissary parking lot—for a tip a naked Mumbai street beggar would throw back. Did I mention this particular mastodon was an infamous cheapskate?
Pops rolled his eyes and turned to ring up the next in line.
I thrive on that sort of encouragement.
The bagging gang has a name for each regular customer. We call this one Super Rumble. She headed for the door and I followed behind. One benefit of my job is that everyone else in the store or the parking lot knows you’re just the hired help. Not a boyfriend and definitely not a husband. I mean, this chick had a body that a few centuries earlier would have made a stalker out of Rubens.
Sometimes the gang debated on what made her decide on 7 cents a bag…and nothing for boxes. Boxes tend to weigh more than bags. So where’s the logic? And diet cola, BTW. Freakin’ DIET? Simple math told me I was hoofing it for 63 cents. Perfect. Good thing for me I can out-pull a bull rhino. Good thing for her I don’t prefer feeding on humans. Emphasis on the word prefer.
Despite the tell-tale wire cart that only baggers are allowed to handle, I still rolled far enough behind Super Rumble that nobody would think we were, you know, a couple. I may cart maxi pads for donations, but I still have my pride. So the bags made it safely into the car and I received my pittance. Oh, one thing to note: Super Rumble handed me a whole dollar bill.
Miracle of miracles! Hallelujah!
I felt like twerking my cart. Until I noticed Super Rumble staring at me with her bored, expectant look.
“Well, do you have change for that or not?”
She did the shape-shifting thing and shoehorned herself into the front seat of her car. With nothing to weigh me down—like maybe a fair tip—I headed back to the bullpen. That’s where the baggers on my team line up for their turn. One or two steps and I heard the driver’s door on the car beside me creak. I was just thinking how the lousy tip would put a knife right through my Friday night when I felt cold steel slide into my back and puncture my left lung.
Ouch. BIG time.
The car door. Ambush. Think
In the milliseconds it took the pain to bloom I remembered what I could about the car.
Dark windows. Dark night. But not that dark. Tinted. New. Clean. Jaguar. Too expensive for the average soldier. Should have noticed
The metaphorical bucket drew up a splashing load from the pain well. Sucky start for my Friday night.
I did a couple of things at the same instant. The first: I began cell regeneration. Vampires differ from other humans in many ways. One cool thing we can do is regrow and replace tissue one cell at a time and pretty quickly. Doesn’t matter if it’s heart, brain, or skin. Other people can kind of do it too, though it takes much longer. The English word is healing. I don’t know what you’d call it in German. Here’s one place we diverge. I can regrow organs. I can even regrow my head. Neat, huh? At the moment I had one lung that needed some work.
The other action: I reached behind to grab a piece of my attacker. I didn’t need his throat. Not yet, anyway. Later?
. I just needed enough to slow him up. Our reflexes are fast. Superfast. I’ll draw a picture. Hold five pennies in a closed fist. Open your hand and then close it. Quick as you can. Here’s what I can do in the instant your hand remains open: grab all five pennies, arrange them by date, tuck the oldest two in my pocket the youngest two in yours. That last coin I’ll flip and you can call heads or tails after you’ve closed your hand on…nothing.
And a big nada was exactly what I felt behind me. No attacker, no knife, no anything. I glanced back. Nothing.
Only two things could move
fast. One would be Super Rumble diving for the last cinnamon bun on a tray marked, “Free Samples.” The other would be me or someone like me. Since I’d just seen Super Rumble torture the front seat of her Bug, and since we’d already returned the jaws-of-life to the garage for the evening and her extraction couldn’t happen here, Knifer must be a vampire. Double uh oh.
The bit I told you about regeneration? Fast, but not instantaneous. Wound a vampire and you impede him; if only for a short while. You probably can’t kill us because you don’t know how. That’s the good news. Another vampire? Different story. They’ll have the knowledge. That’s the bad news.
I’ve seen a vampire die—once—and I can assure you we don’t fast-decay into a mummy that blows away in the wind or melt into a smoking puddle of goo. Remember what I just said about cell regeneration? Use your head and figure it out.
Vampire on vampire crime will never reach political platform status, but it hits close enough to home to cause me more than passing interest. Bottom line, a bleeding vampire is a vulnerable vampire, and I could feel the back of my jacket getting soggy. I glanced around for Knifer. Nowhere. Not quite true. Because, as I checked down the hill toward downtown Wiesbaden, someone drove my face into the pavement. Would it be redundant to say a vampire with a smashed face is a vulnerable vampire?
I struggled—duh. Despite my leaking lung I managed to marshal enough strength to pull a locomotive through the eye of a needle. Knifer countered my best moves with equal strength.
And when it felt like I was getting the upper hand a couple of times? It turned out an illusion as he used superior leverage to employ my strength against me. First I get stiffed by Super Rumble, now my own powers were cheating on me with another guy.
To sum it up, a murderous super-being straddled my back like a rodeo cowboy, I’d eaten enough road gravel to pave Bill Gates’s new driveway, and my left lung was as flat as Paris Hilton before the augmentation. All of a sudden trying to squeeze a whole dollar out of Super Rumble didn’t seem so important. But all that wasn’t the worst item on my personal local news report. Nothing stunk.
I’m not talking about the situation. That stunk big time. I mean stink as in literally. Nothing stunk. Bad news. There’s a reason why there’s no such thing as vampire courts with kings and lords waltzing about with gorgeous vampirinas in the great candle-lit halls of some remote castle. It’s the same reason vampires will never unite to subjugate the world. It’s also how we sense another vampire in our territory. We can’t stand each other’s stench.
Think open latrine trenches for a one million-strong Hun army. Think gutters of Paris after 400 years of no underground sewage system. Think home crowd at a University of Tennessee football game. You get the picture.
There are exceptions for every rule. Two here. The first exception: vampires can’t sense members of The Seven. May not sound like much to you, but worrisome enough for me at that rock-gnawing moment that it almost drove me to create a more personal stink of my own in my designer boxers.
The Seven. I use capital letters out of both respect and fear. And, of course, the chance that one of them might read this. They hold absolute rule in the vampire world…and they aren’t elected. We’re talking beings so ruthless in eliminating non-conformists that Joseph Stalin would’ve felt compelled to raise his hand for permission to fart. And it was possible one of The Seven was playing The Lone Ranger and I was playing Silver.
But it didn’t feel right.
I don’t mean the wet gravel grinding my face into grated cheese. That kind of thing
feels right. I’d need to change my shirt and jeans before Friday night beer with the baggers. If I lived. Oh, and I’d also need to change my face. Like at least grow back my lips and eyebrows. So in addition to stab wounds, a lung beginning to show signs of painful inflation, a killer with the strength of a team of oxen lying prone atop my back, and a tip from Super Rumble too tiny to make gravity notice, what ELSE felt wrong?
The weight, for one thing. Probably natural to think beings as bad as The Seven would look like the terminator’s somatically superior older brother. And notice how I didn’t capitalize the terminator like I did The Seven. Let’s take a true/false test. I’ll even start with the answers.
True: each of The Seven is bad. False: each of The Seven is big and bad.
Here’s the secret. The Seven are the absolute oldest living vampires—created from the prime, if you can believe the lore. Each of The Seven came from deep in the Sub-Saharan African jungle. Yes, it’s getting weird. Here’s the kicker. They also come from one of those lost-to-civilization pygmy tribes. It gets better. Make that cannibal pygmy tribes.
As I said, the weight didn’t feel right. Another situational disconnect solved the identity problem. I didn’t need eyes in the back of my head to identify Knifer as the non-pygmy type. Keep in mind I’m a solid heterosexual when I say that Knifer’s bulk felt like no pygmy I’d ever experienced. I think that may have come out wrong. The second giveaway? Knifer was dry-humping me. That last sentence will likely be edited out of the final draft. I could feel his breath as he leaned close to my ear.
“Who’s your girlfriend?’ he asked.
I recognized the voice.
“Get off me, Sparky.”
The weight lifted and I could breathe as freely as any guy with a freshly-punctured lung.
“It’s Spartacus,” he said, and he slapped me in the butt as he rolled off.
Sparky isn’t gay, though from time to time he thinks there’s some advantage to encouraging that perception.
“No,” I said. “Spartacus died a long time ago.”
“Crucified,” Sparky said. “With his wife holding his baby beside his cross.”
Did his voice actually hitch with emotion? Nah, everything’s a game for Sparky.
“How romantic,” he said.
“Movie. Dude,” I said. “Not real life.”
Even one and two syllable words made me want to scream in pain.
Sparky sat down on the curb. I crawled over and managed to pull up beside him. Every breath I took felt like I drew in broken glass rather than air. Damn, it hurt.
“By the way,” I said, “She’s not my girlfriend.”
Sparky stared for a moment with that look that sneered “Yeah, sure.” Nothing for a few more seconds and then, “You two looked good together.”
The thought gave me one of those puke burps…the kind that burns the back of your throat and goes a little way up your nose. It would take the better part of half-century to shed that awful picture—Super Rumble and me alone at home. She’s lounging in bed with a feedbag tied around her ears—a feminine, satiny pink one with fur around the edges. I’m wearing an orange checkerboard apron…and nothing else. Pretty much a wide-awake nightmare, and those thoughts did nothing to help repair the lung.
The best way to get Sparky to drop things: stop acknowledging him. I sat in silence for a few moments, long enough to confirm, yes, I really did hurt like heck. But I wasn’t going to let him know that. So I said,
“I hurt like all get out.”
Sparky smiled. “Don’t be a baby.” And then, “The knife in the back thing. Remind you of anyone?”
“Yes it does,” I said.
Of course my lung picked that moment to re-inflate. We’re talking whole new shoot-staples-into-your-left-eyeball-to-get-your-mind-off-the-pain kind of experience. I couldn’t help but grimace.
“It reminds me of you once every 75 years or so.”
Sparky raised his eyebrows in the universal question-mark way.
“Knife.” I said. “Back.”
One word sentences. Pain relegated my languages skills to match those of The Seven when they were still cute little pygmy cannibals and not yet nearly-immortal super-human machines of horror—each with a PhD from some fly-by-night diploma mill. Like Cambridge University or Harvard. Arrogant little twits.
“Exactly,” Sparky said.
As if that explained anything at all. I empathize with anyone who’s confused here. But Sparky’s prank proves convenient because it points to subtle nuances of the vampire culture. Think about the times a friend or family member pulled the BOO trick on you. You know, they hide somewhere and spring out to make you jump. Fun. Vampires do the same thing. Only we play a bit rougher. You aim to spill coffee, we aim to spill blood.
Since we’re nearly immortal, we can take the BOO trick further. Think explosives or hollow-point bullets and you get the picture. Or stick a knife into a buddy’s lung. No harm really, because everything grows back. The trick’s a lot funnier when it’s not me who’s left with a lung to inflate.
I said earlier there are two exceptions to the stench that repels vampires from one another. The first exception applies to The Seven. Nobody knows for sure how they mask their indelicacy. Indelicacy does sound better than smelling worse than a skunk’s butt. A strong hypothesis exists regarding The Seven that all vampires pretty much buy into.
As I mentioned while describing Sparky’s psychotic practical joke, we in the collective vampire world believes it has something to do with how those little ugly, murdering, arbitrary sons of miniature Dachshunds created themselves from the Prime. And let me add here I have the utmost respect and admiration for the little guys. Just in case they’ve learned to read. The second exception has to do with how we create ourselves.
I’m laying out our biggest secret early and thus putting my anatomical jewels in your hands. Here’s how it happens. You become a vampire when you eat the living heart out of another vampire. I know some of you amateur Einstein’s or budding Von Helsings will say, “Wait a minute, how was the first vampire—the Prime—created?” Lucky for you, I prepared myself for that with a detailed answer. Here it is:
I don’t know.
And it’s not as if we of the vampire world haven’t been discussing the Genesis Enigma for the past two thousand years. First in letters, now by phone. Never in person because of the stink. Think of the Genesis Enigma as the classic chicken or the egg thing. For my part, I’m weary of the circular debate, but if you figure out the answer, send me an email. My address is:
The rest of you non-amateur Einsteins or vampire-hunters are thinking, “Ewww, he ate a living heart.” Guilty. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, no it didn’t. Have you ever been talked into doing something you knew you didn’t want to do? Something that sounded stupid at first blush and didn’t get any more brilliant once you thought about it? And you did it anyway? Remember the guy sitting beside me on the curb…the one who fileted my lung? Sparky.
I don’t blame Sparky for my eating the Roman’s heart—even though it was all his idea, and he was the one who cut the thing out of the wounded guy. I absolutely don’t blame Sparky. Well, he did shove that raw piece of meat against my lips after I’d said no a few times. And since Sparky just would not take
for an answer, enough Roman heart dribbled into me to make me what I am. No, I don’t blame him one tiny bit.
Really though, I blame myself for ever calling a numbskull like Sparky my friend. I should have listened to my father. Maybe then I wouldn’t have had to spend the last two thousand years hearing an endless loop of my father’s voice, “that Sparcius boy just isn’t right in the head. Stay away from him or you’ll end up doing something stupid.”