Vampires are people, too - Editor
by Kelly Barnhill
The people gathered in the rain - black hair and black clothing all clinging to spare frames like damp feathers. Crows, Randall Kinney thought as he stationed himself in front of the large black door. A murder of crows. He liked the sound of it, and felt the corners of his wide mouth twitch slightly, itching the contours of his stubbled cheeks. He forced his face into that look of stern detachment, which he had perfected in front of the mirror before his first day, five years earlier. He had never smiled on the job. A smile could be dangerous.
He leaned back on the dented steel and waited for the knock telling him that he could let everyone in. The line stretched along the length of the low building, its black face painted over with the white lettering of bands that had played there in previous years. Some of the shows he had seen as a teenager, back when hanging out with your friends on Hennepin or First Avenues was cool, before the bodies, half frozen and drained of life, blood, and everything else that once flowed under their skin, started showing up in dumpsters or abandoned cars or the quiet doorways to abandoned restaurants.The district had been a happening place back then. But a restaurant can’t survive without customers. Living ones anyway. Neither can a movie theater. Or a wine bar, for that matter. The basketball arena managed to hang on, but only because they constructed a high security parking garage attached to the north side of the building with guards and security cameras. Even still, people vanished. Not enough to make the papers anymore, but Randall noticed and kept track.
Randall was the bouncer of the club, which, for practical purposes, meant that he was a vampire-hunter, or a dead-hunter, though, legally, those terms could no longer be used. Since the vampire sweep in city elections, the term “vampire” by city ordinance was considered “hate speech.” As was the pejorative use of the word “dead.” The approved term was “non-dead.” Randall’s official title, the one that appeared on his tax returns, was Living/Non-Dead Relations Manager.
The lamplight shone pale and sickly and yellow on the wet faces in the line. Bernice, the manager, pounded on the door right behind Randall’s head three times, making his ears ring. Time to open. He scanned the crowd, removed his hooded sweatshirt, letting it fall in a heap at the foot of the building. It was November and cold, but no matter. Better to stand at the door, his bald head glinting in the limpid light. Better to let the customers squint at the two diamond studs he wore in each ear. And most of all, better let them see the tattoos that crawled up the curves of muscle on each arm – a woman headed snake on one arm, and a raven eating a griffin on the other. These tattoos were given to him inside the club in the middle of the dance floor, as he lay spread-eagled and piss-drunk. Bernice had done the honors herself, her tiny frame sitting on top of his chest as though he were a park bench. It was important, she told him, to be marked. To show the regular customers who was boss, and to scare the bejeezus out of the other element.
It worked too. The other element didn’t scare easily. But they were scared of Randall. All of them. Except one.
The customers filed in. Young kids mostly. A couple looked like they might be past drinking age, but not much past. The rest, gangly, acne scabbed eighteen year olds showed their ID’s, got their hands marked and slid inside without making eye contact. Actually, Randall preferred it that way. He watched their faces, the veins in their necks, and their hands. Time was, you could tell the living from the dead by looking for the red rims at the eyes, but not so much anymore. Most dead learned to carefully apply thick eyeliner to fit in – or at least they fit in with a certain type of crowd. Instead, Randall looked for a pale stillness at the throat, and hands so cold they were laced with frost.
It took a special kind to survive this far north. When Randall was a child, they almost never ventured into the northern states. Only in the summer, and rarely then. Mostly, vampires congregated in places like Key West and Rio and Bangkok.
But things started to warm – imperceptibly at first – but unmistakably. Some of the best party towns found themselves underwater. And the numbers of the dead started to swell. In hot towns, they nearly outnumbered the living, though they never stopped partying long enough to bother with organizing. In colder climates, the dead learned to hibernate during the winter months. Those that forgot were liable to freeze solid, which could result in embarrassment - as was the case for an inexperienced dead who decided to trade pants with the man who provided his lunch, only to find himself frozen solid in a most unflattering position, hunched and squatting with one foot in a swiped pair of Dockers. A brash photographer at the Tribune managed to catch a photo and ran it in the paper the next day. The dead man was still around – though he never wore Dockers after that incident – but the photographer vanished within the week.
Because of this, a small coalition of dead – or non-dead as they began calling themselves - tough enough to survive the strange weather fluctuations in the city of Minneapolis, sued first for the right to vote – since none of them had death certificates, the law had to assume that they were still living, and therefore still in possession of their rights as citizens – and then for the right to field their own candidates. As a result, five of the nine members of the Minneapolis city council were non-dead, and if current trends prevailed, it would be eight by the following year. Granted, it was generally assumed that many of the dead were simply voting more than once, as they were able to present the drivers licenses of those caught out where they should not have been, but as yet had not been officially declared deceased. And no election judge wanted to get into an argument – especially so near the end of a long day officiating ballots.
Randall had just started junior college when the dead first proposed to have rules for both hunters and hunted. Quickly, the proposals became bills which became laws. Granted, the law said, that hunters have the right to hunt when it comes to the protection of family, business and property, and granted, the hunted have the right to what can reasonably be described as a fair fight. Therefore, the process of hunting and evading hunt was defined, regularized and codified. The law was specific, maddeningly precise and an utter snore to read. Randall had never read it. But he was never busted either.
So far, two had sidled past him, their eyes hungrily focused on the darkness behind the door, and intently avoiding even a sideways glance at Randall. He memorized what they looked like – one with burgundy fingernails, the other midnight blue. Both wore leather bomber jackets that were several sizes too big, that could have been assumed belonged originally to a possessive boyfriend if either of them were a typical college student. Or even human. When the second one handed him her I.D. (an ancient thing, probably belonging to an early victim, a girl named Keisha) his fingers accidentally brushed up against hers, and he nearly gasped with cold. Though he knew it was against the rules, he had half a mind to collar her right then, make an example for the rest of them. She did not notice, and slipped inside. Shoving his hand in his pocket, he continued to screen driver’s licenses. The cold on his middle and index fingers burned, and if he was not careful, he could end up with frostbite.
“Nice ink,” a voice said behind him. Randall turned, paused, and turned away.
“Hello, Ignatius,” he said, coolly handing back a stack of driver’s licenses to a group of young looking eighteen-year-olds. Randall assumed that either the ID’s were fake, or they were scared to be downtown, or most likely both. “Watch yourselves,” he said to the gaggle of overly wide, black lined eyes. Two wore wigs, and the rest pulled their undyed hair into ponytails that glimmered with a sheen of hairspray and raindrops. They were little girls playing dress up, and granted they were less at risk than the boys – for whatever reason, the female non-dead population of the upper Midwest vastly outweighed the male population, which in turn caused a similar situation in the human population. Girl dead prefer young, sweet, and preferably sweaty boys, which was why clubs and gyms were particularly dangerous. Male vampires were more omnivorous. And they rarely followed the rules.
“How many times must I remind you to call me Iggy,” the young man said, his lower lip gathered into a plaintive pout.
“Your hands are icing,” Randall told him, motioning in the rest of the line with a curt wag of his chin.
“Oh,” Ignatius said, flexing his fingers and releasing long shards of clear ice, which shattered on the damp sidewalk. “So they are. Blasted rain.” He shoved his hands into the deep pockets of his coat. It was a beautiful coat, slim cut cashmere in a rich burgundy, the only color for miles, it seemed to Randall. Ignatius noticed him staring and took the opportunity to model with an artistic flair.
“Do you like it? I wore something similar back when I was the toast of Paris. Pity you couldn’t have been there then, my friend. I could have used a big, strong bodyguard such as yourself.” Ignatius moved in close. Randall felt the chilled breeze from his refrigerated lips, felt the cold radiating from that whip thin frame. He shivered.
“Door’s closing,” Randall said, his voice like sandpaper. “And I’m not your friend.” He paused, as though by forcing his lips into a grim line, he could make that statement true. “You in or you out.”
“Oh, I’m in, my friend,” Ignatius said sidling to the door, leaning on the jamb with his hip. “I’m definitely in.” He slipped inside, and Randall breathed a sigh of relief.
Randall knew more about Ignatius than he cared to, or at least that he claimed to care to. In actuality, the minutiae of details regarding Ignatius’s life had a habit of filing themselves away in the stacks inside Randall’s brain, though he did not know why he did this. For example, Randall knew that before his change, Ignatius had been one of the most famous dressmakers in Paris. Women came from across the continent, and even as far away as New York, Mexico City and even Hong Kong to have their bodies measured, squeezed and encapsulated in engineered fashion statements of silk and feather and wire. After his change, he attempted to maintain his trade in warmer climates such as the colonies in Indochina, North Africa and the South Pacific. Ignatius liked the work, and found that his clients never made him hungry. But their husbands did. And there is no better client in the world for a famous dressmaker than a merry widow. No one seemed to notice that the husbands of Ignatius’s clients mysteriously disappeared, or that their bodies showed up, drained, half naked and partially frozen, in back alleys, sewers, parks, and once in the bed of the best suite in the best hotel in Paris. Or, at least, people claimed not to notice. Randall couldn’t help but suspect that perhaps Ignatius and his clients had a tacit agreement: I give your husband the night of his life and take him off your hands, then, I give you a dress and your freedom. Hundreds of women took the dress, and their husbands died happy. Meanwhile, Ignatius was famous, and loved and rich.
The band crept onto the stage, picked up their instruments and began tuning up. On the floor, most people didn’t notice. Music thumped from tall speakers positioned around the large, high room, while patrons of drinking age pounded glass after brightly colored glass, and patrons who were not tried to hide their marked hand and sidle up to someone who might give them a sip. Or buy them a drink.
Randall pulled the heavy door shut and felt it clank closed. Four well-worn deadbolts supposedly secured it, although Randall knew this was just a show for nervous concertgoers. A deadbolt could slow them down, but it can’t stop them. Randall, of course, could stop them, but only one at a time.
Back when he first started, before anyone had thought to elect a vampire to the city council, Randall had been free to kill as many as he wanted, as long as he could catch them. In fact, the hunting and catching of a vampire had become the task du jour for most fraternities at the University. The would choose the first cold night in October, when the vampire population would typically be caught unprepared for the cold, their movements labored and sluggish, their hands and feet beginning to ice. Typically, their task was to surround a vampire, hold it down after making sure to protect their hands with heavy gloves and their faces with balaclavas, and wait for the sun to rise. Timing, for this enterprise was key. If they caught the vampire too early, then they might be tempted to pass a hip flask or two around the group just to pass the time. Inevitably, the vampire, with knees on her back and Puma-ed feet pinning her neck, would regale the frat boys with stories of Morocco and Tahiti and the hidden temples in the Central American jungle. She would tell them how she was once the lover of Gaugin or William Kidd or Faust. She would tell them that she was once the most famous star of the Damascus Burlesque, that her dance of the seven veils put men into waves of erotic agony and metaphysical bliss. She would ask them to consider an audience. They would consider. In the morning, frozen fraternity boys would be stacked into a neat pyramid, their faces stuck on an expression of pure joy.
This doesn’t happen anymore. Anyone caught killing a vampire without a license faces stiff fines, and in many cases prison time. Or, more likely, they just disappear. Those, like Randall, who do have a license, must prove that they killed in order to protect life, property or business. So he only kills at work. Which is just as well. After all, they know where he lives, and they know where he goes. The non-dead community, knowing exactly what Randall is capable of, has decided as a group to give the man a wide berth. Everyone, that is, except Ignatius.
Through the blue haze of cigarette smoke, Ignatius approached holding a lurid green martini in a long thin hand. “Sip?” He offered his drink to Randall who held up a hand but did not make eye contact.
“Why the hell are you spending money on martinis? I thought vampires didn’t drink.”
“Language, Mr. Kinney.” Ignatius brought his drink to his nose and sniffed luxuriously. “Oh, we have our ways, don’t we?” He looked down, and ran his hands in circles on the coat. Randall thought he looked embarrassed, which stood to reason. After all, there was only one way for someone like him to taste alcohol, and that was when it was dissolved in the one thing they can drink. Ignatius changed the subject. “Once, I tried freezing absinthe in an ice cube tray, just to taste it one more time.” He sighed wistfully.
“Did it work?” Randall found himself asking, though he was furious with himself for doing so.
Ignatius stuck out his lower lip and shook his head. “No.” He pointed to his mouth. “Won’t melt.”
The band began to play. The song was slow, passionate and mournful. Their signature song. People sidled onto the dance floor and began to move sensuously, their arms twisting above their heads, or wrapped around the asses of their dance partners, their faces thrown back with expressions of delight mixed with grief. Later, Randall knew, the songs would slowly speed up, become louder, more raucous and rhythmic, until climaxing at the end with frenzied screaming.
“Will you dance?” Ignatius held out a frosty hand. Randall stared at it, his eyebrows raised. “Oh,” Ignatius started, suddenly flustered. “How rude.” Quickly, he fished into his pocket and fished out a pair of white leather gloves and eased his fingers inside. He held out his hand again. “Shall we?”
“No.” Randall didn’t look at him, but scanned the crowd instead. The dead were behaving themselves. For now.
Ignatius scowled. “All work and no play. What a dull boy you are, Mr. Kinney.” He spun on his heel and slid into the crowd, his movements light and sure, like a cat. Randall watched him, though he did not want to. He felt the thumping sensation in his chest and told himself that it was only the bass. The bass, and not his heart.
When Randall was a boy, his grandfather used to tell him stories about hunting vampires when he was stationed in the South Pacific.
“A base is a magnet for all kinds of low-life, boy. You remember that.” Randall had few memories of his grandfather besides a frizzled, white and black chin and a continuously lit cigarette – Menthols, mostly – and the jam jars filled with a swirling, amber liquid that made Randall dizzy when he sniffed it. “Two-bit whores, pushers and vamps. They’re all the same when it comes down to it. But you only get to kill the vamps.” He took a drag. “Legally, that is.”
His grandpa’s first kill was accidental – a lucky flick of the wrist with a rather large shard of glass that he found on the ground. The glass, unfortunately, cut both ways, and while the vamp lost his head, Randall’s grandpa lost the little finger on his left hand as well. After that, he learned how to dispatch of at least part of the unwanted element hanging around the base at night quickly and efficiently until most dead were either terminated or scared off. When he retired, he moved his family up to Minnesota because of the cold. He told his wife it was for the safety, but really he just wanted to train his boys in peace, and he told Randall so.
“The trick is,” he told Randall, “to kill quick. Don’t let them look at you. Don’t let them talk, or even open their mouths. They’re slick, all of them, and they’ll try to tug at your heart so they can eat it raw. Do you understand me, boy?”
Randall did, and put his hand on his heart to prove it. Slowly, he made a fist, to show his grandfather the depth of his toughness. Underneath his knuckles, he felt the slow, steady beat, like a drum.
By the fifth song, Ignatius was still partnerless. He stood against the far wall, his coat a vivid smudge against so much black. It was dark, but the lights flickered on the delicate boning of his chin, his long neck, his pale, pale skin. Randall shook his head and looked away. He scanned the crowd. Two dead girls with matching shock purple hair and long black gloves sidled up to a dancing boy in a baseball cap who looked too wasted and out of place to notice the coldness from their groping hands or the stillness of their necks. Randall shook his head.
“Idiot,” he muttered. He pulled up a chair and resolved himself to watch the boy, as he was the most likely target that evening. Instead, he found his eyes wandering and hooking onto Ignatius, who stared back.
By the bar, a couple bickered, their voices rising to the point where they could almost be heard over the pulsing base. Almost, but not entirely. The man gesticulated wildly, while the woman by turns clutched at her heart and wiped her face from the streams of tears and mascara and snot that ran freely down her thin cheeks. Randall raised his eyebrows at the bartender who threw his hands up in an “I have no fucking idea what to do” sort of shrug. The girl shouted one word that could at last be heard over the music.
“Asshole,” she shouted, and tossed a drink into his face, nicking him slightly on the chin. Randall stood and walked towards them, the long way, around the undulating crowd. He saw the young man’s face, how he cupped his injured chin, his mouth open and horrified. When he removed his hand, Randall could see it was barely bumped, but from the look on his face, you’d of thought he was mortally wounded. Randall quickened his pace. Watched the man’s mouth twist and sneer on a word. Bitch. Watched him raise his elbow towards the ceiling, his fist pointing towards her face like an arrow.
Randall reached the girl, hooked his arm around her chest and swung her backwards, offering his own chin for the blow. But the blow did not come. From behind the twisted faced man, a figure in burgundy, reached around, twisted the arm back and upwards until it cracked.
“Apologize,” Ignatius said, his voice clear and cool like water from a flowing spring.
The boy whimpered. “Fuck,” he said. “Jesus mother fuck.”
“No,” Ignatius said, “Not fuck. I’m sorry. That’s what we say in situations like this.” The girl in Randall’s arm started to cry. Her body relaxed and shook with sobs against his back.
“Please,” the boy said, starting to blubber. “Please don’t eat me.” He sniffled. “Pleasedonteatme.”
“Oh, for the love of Christ,” Randall said. “Grow the fuck up. He’s not going to eat you when I’m standing right here.” He stepped away from the girl, held her at arms length and gave her a pat on her shoulder, hoping it would be sufficient. “Just say you’re fucking sorry you stupid asswipe.”
He looked down. “Sorry,” he said, his voice pale and staccato. “So seriously sorry.” Randall and Ignatius rolled their eyes.
“My dear,” Ignatius said to the crying girl. “Would you care for a dance?” He offered her a gloved hand and a slight bow. The girl looked at Randall who gave her a nod. She smiled and laid her black nailed hand lightly on top of his. Like a lady.
The boy watched them slide onto the dance floor, watched them sway and spin like a couple of birds, before Randall grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him outside.
When Randall returned, he watched Ignatius and the girl step deftly through the crowd, his hand guiding the small of her back, her arms hooked across his shoulders. Randall shook his head. He wasn’t like the others, Ignatius. He had peculiar tastes and a very human sense of decency. Or perhaps not human at all. Perhaps very non-human. Randall shrugged. He watched Ignatius watch the girl. His expression was that of gallantry, concern, brotherly love. No hunger. No want. Ignatius was, apparently utterly satisfied and content. Full. So why was this realization like a knife in Randall’s gut?
He shook his head and sat down heavily in his chair to scan the crowd, taking great care to avoid watching Ignatius. The music was faster now and the dancing crowd responded in kind, twisting against one another in breathless, sweaty waves. One couple sidled into a darkened corner, their mouths open and panting, their hands already slipped inside each other’s jeans. Ignatius and the girl spun faster, a breath of color streaking through a dull mass.
Color. Randall stood. Scanned the crowd. Looked for a pair of purple headed vamp girls dancing with an idiot boy. They were gone.
“Shit,” Randall told himself. “You lousy piece of shit.” He ran down the stairs.
The beating drum gathered speed and intensity as Randall circled the dance floor. He felt the relentless pulse in his fingers, his teeth, deep in the solar plexus. It clouded his vision, numbed the mind. He pushed slowly on his forehead with his fist, trying to counter balance. There was no sign of the purple headed girls, no sign of the boy. Even Ignatius had apparently left the dance floor, though the girl remained, her eyes still red and raw and smudged, sniffling against the far wall. Randall waved to the bartender, made a hand gesture, waited for him to respond with a grim nod. Randall did not wait to see the bartender turn and give the same gesture to Bernice, and the two sound guys and the barback. After this many years, he knew what to expect from his co-workers.
He ran down the hall and burst into the men’s room which was empty and then the women’s which was not. Four young women leaned cautiously into each other’s faces, painstakingly pointing long black marking pens into each other’s eyes. They looked at Randall with unmasked shock and revulsion.
“Knock much?” said the brunette.
“Read much?” said the redhead.
“This is the ladies’ room,” said the pair of blondes.
Randall scanned the room and left without a word. If work wasn’t pressing, he may have stuck around, shot the shit, got them free drinks and took one or two of them home. The brunette was pretty, big black eyes, dark, cool lips. He imagined her in a burgundy coat. He thought of Ignatius in a burgundy coat. He thought of Ignatius. With a jerk of his head and a grunt he sped to the end of the hall, through the door marked, “AUTHORIZED PERSONELL ONLY” and down the stairs.
Before he reached the bottom, he could hear the boy whimpering.
“Oh, god,” the boy said. “Please stop. Oh, god, yes. Oh, fuckin…. Please stop. Please let me. . . .Oh, god, it’s so amazing. So fuckin’ amazing.”
The girls had him pinned to the floor. One had his arms under her knees, giving him a good view up the strip of leather that served as a skirt. The other sat on his legs. She had already removed his shoes and did what she wanted with his feet. Strips of blackened frost bite marked the places where her mouth had been. His fingers were black too, from touching god knows which one god knows where. And now her cold hands massaged the length of his jeans, coming together at the crux.
Randall reached into the holsters hidden in each boot. A hawthorn branch in one, sharpened, polished, and well used. A knife in the other, its curved blade newly whetted, so sharp it seemed to sing. But before he could say anything, before he could step out of the shadows, someone else came first.
“Marla,” Ignatius said, emerging from a stack of boxes on the far wall. “Marla, Marla, Marla.”
The girl perched on the legs looked up at him and hissed.
“Please,” said the idiot boy. “Please help me. Go get someone. Oh, god, that’s so good. No. I mean it. Please help me.”
“We’re fine here,” the vamp apparently named Marla said.
“Yeah,” said the other, slightly sleepy and stupid with sex. “Perfectly fine.”
Ignatius steepled his fingers and brought them to his lips, shaking his head. From his place in the darkness, Randall crept forwards, holding the knife easily in his right hand.
“Oh, my dear Marla,” Ignatius said. “You are far from fine.” He stepped forward, grabbing the purple tuft of the girl on the arms and yanking her upwards. She squealed.
“Hey,” said the idiot boy. “I was looking at that.”
Ignatius sighed deeply. “Don’t talk,” he ordered. “It’s much better if you don’t talk.” He looked at Marla. “Nice little toy you’ve made for yourself.” He gave the head attached to the purple tuft a little shake. “How old is she?” The girl whimpered and Marla, already pale, grew paler and grayer by degrees.
“Two months,” she said, her voice soft like a fingernail scratching a stone. She bowed her head and laid her hands on her thighs, palms up. The boy did not get up, but adjusted his hips this way and that as though encouraging her to continue what she was doing.
“Two months,” Ignatius repeated. “Pity she won’t see much more. Really, Marla, I do try to make the rules perfectly plain to you. Big girl like you, one would think that your deficits in beauty would be amply made up by an acuity of intelligence.” Randall creeping slowly from behind, lifted his knife, and with a clean arc, brought it down on her bowed neck, removing the head. The purple headed girl wailed like a baby and reached for Marla, but Marla was gone. The boy looked up at the girl-shaped cloud of dust and ash, and gasped. He rolled to his side, his face pinched with choking. Shaking his head he spat on the concrete floor.
“Fuck,” he said, “Was that a fingernail?”
“Shut up,” Randall said.
Bernice and the bartender threw the door open and came thundering down the stairs. A belated cavalry.
“Ignatius,” Bernice said. Her permed, black and red hair gathered at the top of her small head like a dry palm tree. “You slippery little thing. I thought you were well on your way to worming into Randall’s pants and losing me my best manager.”
“I beg your pardon,” Ignatius said, releasing the purple headed girl to the ground. She fell in a heap, sobbing quietly.
“Bernice,” Randall said, his face pale, his voice dry, “what the hell?”
“Can it Kinney,” she said without looking at him. She stared at Ignatius, her eyes glittering strangely. “I’ve already drawn up the paperwork for you, my dear. It’s been sitting on my desk for months now, and it will be so good to sweep you up with the rest of the filth.”
“It wasn’t Ignatius. It was Marla.”
“Marla? Where the hell’s Marla?”
“Dusted.” Randall shrugged while the dead girl on the floor let out a high pitched squeal.
“Fuck,” Bernice said, her very small feet stamping in frustration. She turned on Randall and poked him hard in the chest. “When the hell are you going to do that one?” She indicated Ignatius with a thrust of her chin.
“All in good time,” Ignatius said, staring at Randall who blushed.
Bernice dragged Marla’s whelp roughly up the stairs to dispatch with her outside as a warning to any other non-deads who might want to try their luck. In actuality, it was more of a mercy killing than a hunt. Young as she was, she wouldn’t have survived long without Marla.
Randall and Ignatius emerged into the dark cavern ringing the dance floor in time for the last song. They stood together, their backs against the wall, watching the frenzied crowd shake and grab and press, some in time to the music, most doggedly pursuing their own rhythms, giving in pleasure and pain and throbbing desire.
“Youth,” Ignatius said, his cold lips ghosting Randall’s ear. He shivered.
“Yes,” Randall said, “Youth.” And in that moment, it made perfect sense. That people will bend and twist and harm and hate, all in the pursuit of that one moment of perfect bliss. That some people might even die for it. That Randall might, and may, and would.He reached over and grabbed Ignatius’s hand. Felt the spinning earth under his feet. Opened his mouth and discovered it was filled with stars.