Authors: April Smyth
He is fast and I struggle to keep up. We walk through town and I almost stop, turn back and drop my entire search for vampires in Ayrin when the boy slips into a dingy alleyway beside The Greasy Spoon.
Dad would have a heart attack if he knew where I was. I had a hard enough time staying out of danger, he would say. I am surprisingly relaxed. I have always been an adrenaline seeker. Living a life where I never get hurt makes me want to push the boundaries; I want to feel pain but it never comes. I ache for that rush of energy that only comes with searing agony. It seems odd that I so badly long for something people spend their whole life trying to avoid.
We stop outside a door; the brown paint is flaking and the wood beneath looks old. I have never been to this part of Ayrin before but that’s true of most of the town. I am not allowed to explore. Dad worries I’ll get lost and never return. He doesn’t realise nothing bad can happen to me.
Behind the door is a small apartment. My gratitude at living in the nice part of town suddenly triples. It is an open plan room: a kitchen blackened with grime and a tatty sofa bad with old sheets crumpled on the thin mattress. Dust covers everything. It’s clearly not well lived in.
The boy gestures to the sunken sofa bed, “Take a seat. Would you like a drink?”
“No thank you,” I say politely. I don’t sit down. I look around the room sceptically. Looking for something personal, looking for something that indicates I can trust this boy. But there’s nothing. Just the dingy sofa bed and a cheap, stained coffee table with dirty mugs strewn across it.
He helps himself to a beer. The effervescent sound of the bottle opening is strangely satisfying. The boy takes a large mouthful and appears to be eying me up a down, making me feel self-conscious. “I’m Gabe by the way,” he says then we’re silent again.
“Are you going to tell me about the vampires?” I ask. I am ravenous for knowledge about the creatures of the night. My obsession had been growing and growing over the past two years and had become an insatiable thirst. I need to meet one, need to see one. Most people were afraid of the threat they posed on society. In America they roamed freely and had a common understanding with humans. During the day the vampires must be undisturbed and at night they would be upstanding citizens, run businesses and have friends, and could feed from volunteers as long as they didn’t kill them. Everybody knew that many vampires ignored this rule and would feed off any human they desired and occasionally would bleed them dry. But there was little that could be done, the vampires were unstoppable and it was better to be on their good side.
Gabe face is as emotional as stone as he speaks to me, “Have you ever seen a vampire, Cassie?” I shake my head. He lights a cigarette and perches himself on the edge of the sofa bed. I like the smell of cigarettes. I inhale and let the sultry smoke fill my lungs. Dad would never let me smoke. I’m not sure how my condition works with long term harm. I know I can’t break a bone but would a lifetime of smoking damage my lungs like everybody else? I wasn’t sure how it worked.
“Sorry, you don’t mind?” he asks but I know he wouldn’t stop if I said I did. I shook my head. “Anyway, have you seen a vampire?” he repeats himself. I am mesmerised by the way he moves, he stubs out his cigarettes and pulls of his jacket. I have to stop myself from licking my lips as he brushes the back of his neck as if he’s had a hard day at work. There is something sensual about this boy, Gabe.
Now that his jacket is off I can see the tattoos that cover his arm in an illustrious sleeve. I am amazed at the outlandish images that are inked all over his pale skin: delicate cherubs, exotic dancers, unrecognisable words, swirling patterns. I am instantly drawn to the tattoo of a man that is situated centrally on his left bicep. I know that this man is a vampire, his long jagged fangs overlap his bloodstained lips and his face is beautifully proportionate. The faces of vampires are so perfect it makes me feel uncomfortable. Scanning through photographs on my computer at home, I would search for flaws on their stoic faces. I find my fingers are itching to touch the vampire’s face. His expression is completely impassive but the eyes depicted on his arm bore through my skin. I wonder if it is the face of a real vampire, somebody he knew, I decide it must be because a fictional face would not leave me feeling so chilled.
“Can you speak?” Gabe asks and I realise I haven’t answered his question twice now.
Unable to tear my gaze away from the beautiful tattoo I stutter, “No, I haven’t. I want to though…”
“Why?” his face crumples up with distaste
I shrug, “It’s hard to explain.”
“It doesn’t even matter,” he rolls his eyes as if I am disinteresting to him. I don’t meet many people who aren’t besotted by the strangeness of my life. I am usually met with wide eyes and gaping mouths as people ask me what it’s like never to have had a paper cut or to feel immortal. But I don’t feel immortal. I age like everybody else, just painlessly.
Without a word, he pulls a shoebox out from beneath the coffee table. “It’s a good thing you like the leeches so much because they’re quite fond of you,” says Gabe and he lifts the lid off the box which looks like its been through a war.
Inside the box there are hundreds of newspaper clippings. It takes a few minutes for my mind and eyes to collaborate before I realise that every clipping is an article about me. Gabe takes a handful of the flimsy cut-outs and throws them onto the table like confetti then tips the rest out carelessly. My face in black and white is flashing from every corner. The photos range from pictures of me as a young girl of five or six when it was first made apparent that I was a “freak” to my most recent school photograph. I lift one of the more recent clippings and stare at my face. My light hair is flat to my head and my smile is wonky, my lips pulling too far at the right. I am not unattractive by a long shot. Seventeen years of perfect health have been good to my skin and my eyes are a pretty shade of blue. There are many things I dislike about myself but eyes are nice. Everything else is average.
“What is this?” I ask. A shrine to the town freak.
“I work for some vampires and they’ve been watching you for a very long time. You intrigue them,” Gabe says, lighting another cigarette and blowing the smoke into my face obnoxiously. It is clear that either this boy doesn’t like me very much or is not good with people. “They want to meet you.”
“Me?” my voice squeaks. “Why?”
Gabe laughs arrogantly, “You’re Miracle Girl.”
I feel sad that yet again I am labelled for my condition. I should be excited that a vampire wants to meet me, that’s what I want after all, but it’s because I bemuse them. I’m viewed as a guinea pig, not desirable and sexy like the women that socialise with vampires in America. Rich, glamorous women who wear fur coats and red lipstick.
“I’m not interested,” I shrug.
“Yes, you are, you said you want to meet a vampire and I can help you do that. You went to see that Annie girl to find out more about the vampires. I‘m more help than she could ever have been,” he says, frowning.
“How do you know that?”
“Oh, please, it’s obvious. Last week they wrote about her and now you’re hunting her down. It’s not difficult to decipher,” he shrugs. He makes it sound so silly and I cringe at how he must view me. A sad girl desperate to get a minute with the ensnaring vampires. He probably met dozens of girls besotted by the creatures of the night as if they were heartthrobs from the movies. “My boss wants to meet you and he usually gets what he wants.”
I hesitate. Today I set out to find a vampire and now one was right within my grasp. It would be idiotic not to say yes and I know I will regret it if I reject the opportunity but I was getting stage fright now that I was faced with the prospect that I could genuinely be in front of a real, live vampire. The beautiful blood suckers that were more exclusive than famous actors or singers in America. What did you say to a creature who had lived for thousands of years?
“I don’t think you have much of a choice,” Gabe smiles menacingly at me.
His words are frightening. If I choose to go home and politely reject his boss’ request to meet with me, would that be the end of it? I look down at the pile of articles written about me and my condition and I know that it would definitely not be the end. Gabe was right. Vampires get what they want. I had read enough about the vampires in America to know they don’t really listen to humans or adhere to our rules. They smile and wave and pretend that the humans are calling the shots but it’s evident they do exactly as they please. Drink from whoever they want and kill at their will.
But what’s the worse that can happen? I remind myself. I have yearned to meet a vampire for the past two years and now I can. They’re dangerous and callous as much as they are sexy and alluring. But they can’t hurt me. My condition makes me untouchable and perhaps that’s why I am so intriguing to Gabe’s boss. I nod slowly, “Okay.”
His flashes a quick grin and I wonder how many girls he has won over with his bad boy smile. The more I look at him, the more I find him handsome. His arrogance is unappealing and I know I should be turned off by his greasy hair or the bags under his eyes.
“Where is he?” I ask. “Your boss?”
Gabe laughs slowly, it’s a throaty sound, from years of smoking I guess. “That’s the difficult part. He was in town a few weeks ago but after the exposure in the newspapers, he left the country. Not all vampires are desperate for fame,” he explains.
“Left the country? When is he coming back?”
Gabe laughs again. It is mocking. “I don’t think we should expect him anytime soon. Maurice doesn’t come to you, we’ll need to go to him.”
I move towards the door, “You can tell him thank you very much then but I’m not leaving the country.”
Before my fingers touch the brass doorknob, Gabe is standing in front of me. He’s standing very close and I’m too aware of the heat he is resonating so I take a step back. “That’s not an option, Cassie.”
Gabe escorted me to his car and I sat, forcibly, in the passenger seat. He has a firm grip on my arm and smiles wickedly at me, “This is going to be fun.”
“You’ve been drinking, you shouldn’t drive,” I say.
“Is that a problem?” he asks.
I shake my head. I am calm. Danger, unsurprisingly, does not scare me. Most people would be terrified at the prospect of travelling across the world to meet a vampire but I’m not. I know I’ll be okay. What worries me is my dad. He’s the reason I can’t go. I imagine the deep sinking fear he will feel in his stomach when he comes home and realises I’m gone. The betrayal he will feel when he realises I never intended to have some friends over. I have let him down and I just hope I can get out of this before he’s too hurt.
“There's someone we need to see first before you meet Maurice,” Gabe says before revving up his engine and pulling off.
I watch out of the window as the monotonous small town scene is replaced with a countryside backdrop. Scotland is beautiful. The vibrant greenery, the dew of Spring on the grass, the sweet smell of April showers, the lilac mountains swathed in the mist far away. It is undeniably scenic but it has never been my home. I have always wanted to travel. I’ve always been passionate for languages, paying extra attention in French and Spanish classes at school, soaking in everything I can about other cultures in the hope that one of them will tug at my heartstrings and I will find my true home.