Enjoy, and see you next week.
So, we've all seen Buffy, right? I mean, it's not like you picked this up because the shop sold out of Jane Austen and this was your second choice. Because if I don't have to spend ages convincing you of the 'they walk among us scenario', things will go a lot faster. The short answer is: yes, there are such things as vampires and yes, they do live amongst us in the modern world. Of course, while the Whedon-Rice-Stoker canon got that bit right, like all writers, they tend to romanticise or demonise their subjects. For a start, vampires hardly kill anyone these days. In the era of forensics, DNA and when everyone with a mobile phone is a potential news reporter, gory murder on any sort of scale is almost impossible to pull off. I'm sure there are still parts of the world where vampires live like feudal lords and feed with impunity on beautiful virgins, but that's certainly not true here in England. Couldn't get the virgins, for a start. Most survive by what is called consensual feeding - they hook up with a willing human, and take only what they need, leaving the human giddy but alive. A bit like the blood donor service, but without the digestive biscuits. Sometimes they do it by stealth - how many people have woken up after a boozy night with mysterious cuts and bruises and a gap in their memory? Exactly. But since vampires prefer not to feed on seriously inebriated humans - makes them nauseous, apparently - it's far more pleasant to find someone willing to take a bite. And that's where I come in.
I stumbled across the idea, really. I've always been a Sensitive, and as a teenager tended towards the Goth, and that's a combination that is very attractive to a certain sort of man - shall we say, the not-entirely-alive kind. I had a brief but illuminating fling with what could charitably be called a much older man, and like many youthful affairs it gave me a whole new perspective on life. Or, in this case, the afterlife. So now I run Dark Dates, a speed dating service for vampires. Don't laugh. It's not all I do - I also offer a run of the mill date nights for more conventional singletons, as well as a discreet dating agency for both the alive and the un-dead wanting a more personalised service. But the speed dating is by far the most successful - it seems that these days even vampires have developed a taste for fast food.
You're wondering why this is necessary, of course, when vampires are traditionally both irresistible and ferocious - tall, dark and suave, whiling away the centuries with a lifestyle that is two parts culture to one part carnage. As I said, romantic fiction. Because remember - vampires were people. And, like people, they are quite often stupid and boring. Looks and brains were as rare a combination in the past as they are now, so why should vamps be both? The brain-boxes were too busy indoors discovering relativity or whatever to be hanging with the vampire party crowd, and as for the beautiful ones? Well, not too many survive the first few years when they realise they can no longer look in the mirror, and from then it's just a short stroll to the sunshine. And because vampires, like people, tend to get more stuck in their ways as they get older, most turned before the 1930s tended to find the whole 20th century a bit of a challenge and not a whole lot managed to stay the course. So I've heard, anyway, and my own experience has backed that up. But for those who can survive, or the younger ones, progress has brought its own advantages. It's easier to pass in a city where everyone is too concerned about their own reflection to care about the lack of yours, where everlasting youth can be attributed to a good plastic surgeon, and where nocturnal living can be seen as a lifestyle choice. Then of course there is the internet, the ultimate freak's friend. It certainly helped me out - that's where I set up darkdates.com.
The nights were one of my most popular offerings so tended to be busy, and tonight looked no exception. There was the usual crowd of humans - an eclectic mix of the curious and the sceptical, some Goths, and a few City types here to prove they hadn't completed succumbed to the rat race. The vamps (obviously, for legal reasons, they were presented as faux-vamps, though my Sensitive side soon weeded out the wannabes) were fairly young, though one man had the posture of another generation and his pencil moustache and slicked hair gave him the air of a 1920s Tommy. They were doing the usual pre-seating mingling, the humans on their first and only glass of wine, the vamps holding glasses of water that never got any emptier. I was in full hostess mode, moving between people and making introductions, ready with a friendly greeting for the regulars. My wine touched my lips but never any further, and I had a purse-spray of Holy water handy in case any of the bloodsuckers got excited and broke the 'no-touching at the venue' rule. Not that that tended to happen - once I sprayed the first one who stepped out of line, word got around. In fact, you were probably safer at my events than at any other bar in the city. So, all in all, I was set for a successful but uneventful evening. Then he walked in.
I could Sense immediately what he was, and that he was far older than anyone in the room, but I think even without my own gift I would have realised. There was just something about him, from the graceful, unhurried way he moved to the slightly vintage, expensive and beautifully cut but slightly tatty suit he wore that screamed age and nothing to prove. Plus he actually looked older - while the others, no matter their vintage, all looked in their mid-twenties - vamps being even more prone to ageism than the rest of us - this man looked easily in his late 40s. In contrast to the pretty boy rock star looks of so many of the younger ones, he was striking rather than handsome, although he was by no means unattractive, with sharp, angular features and thick dark hair that curled at his shoulders. But there was something else. He simply radiated power.
All this I noticed in less time than it took for him to cross the dimly lit bar to greet me. He held out a hand in an almost stately gesture, his grip cold but firm, and he inclined his head in a greeting.
"This is Dark Dates?" His accent was Eastern European, which probably would have sounded exotic in the days before there was a Polish deli on every high street, and his diction was perfect.
"It is. I don't think you're registered, Mr…"
"No, I am not." Again, that very precise diction, but no name forthcoming. "But I have heard about theses events." Like I say, word gets around. "I am just curious and wish to… observe."
It wasn't a request I'd had before, but as there seemed no harm in it, I couldn't see a reason to refuse.
"Please join us, then…" Again, no rush to fill in the gap with his name. My patience was wearing thin. "Well, come and have a drink, Lestat." I sneered, which was a mistake, because it went right over his head, but about four of the other vamps turned round thinking I was talking to them. You see - stupid and no originality. This was why they needed me to get dates.
"So," he asked, standing beside me at the bar, as everyone took their seats, pens and scorecards at the ready. "You introduce 'vampires' to 'victims' and… see if they 'hit it off'?" There was derision in his voice, and his enunciation was so clear I could hear the inverted commas as clearly as if he had done that annoying mime with his fingers.
"That's the general idea."
"Traditionally vampires selected who they wanted for their victims. The latter had no choice in the matter."
I shrugged. "That's progress."
"And the people are… willing?"
How could this guy live to be so old and be so naïve?
"There's a thrill to it, you must see that."
When he looked at me sceptically, I could only shrug again. "Hey, people do worse things for kicks on a Friday night."
I laughed at his horrified expression.
"Seriously, how long have you been in this country?"
He looked at me, carefully.
"I have spent some time in one of your coastal resorts."
"Well, you should know, then - seaside towns are the worst."
"I think I preferred the old way."
"When the food had no choice?"
He smiled, slightly, but didn't deny it. "I don't like the idea of this, but I am impressed by the mind that would come up with such a thought. But the old way… there was seduction. One took time to select the right person, expended effort in the pursuit, overcame obstacles. The game was only won when the prey began to long for the hunter."
I shook my head, though part of me was charmed by the romance of the idea, much as it horrified me. I had never even been willing to let my vampire lover nibble on me. It was one of the reasons we broke up. It's hard to have a relationship with someone who isn't interested in you from the neck down.
"We live in an instant gratification society. No one has time for all that any more."
As if to prove my point, the five minute bell rang and everyone started to move around. He looked around the room scornfully, his sweeping gaze taking in the whole scene, and I just knew that he was seeing far more than even I, with my Gift, ever could. "No one here would be worth more than five minutes," he sneered, and in that moment, looking at them through his eyes, I couldn't help but agree. Then he smiled, and the animal sharpness of his expression made me shiver.
"But there are some things, Leanna, that are worth taking time over. Some things should be savoured."
My hand rose unconsciously to my name badge, as if, too late, to cover it, and I started as I realised I wasn't wearing it.
He smiled again, and then… he was gone. I blinked, shocked - I must have looked away or zoned out for a second and I swear, he was just gone. I shook myself; what was wrong with me? I had enough to do without being distracted by a weirdo.
The night was a roaring success, as they all tended to be. As was the next one, and the one after that. But somehow, I had stopped paying attention. I ignored the couples as they mingled, paired off, made whatever arrangements they wanted. I didn't care. Night after night, I stood there, and all that I watched was the door.
(c) Tracey Sinclair
Quote of the Day:
My dear, I've kicked more ass than you've sat on.
Zhaan tells it like it is, Farscape.