In October, 2013, I met with two vampires in a local Starbucks. There Luke helped me do Carletta’s second interview. How do I explain why you were left waiting with bated breath for Carletta to help me interview Luke? Hard to say. But it’s time to get excited, because now you are about to read… the rest of the story! (And no, these interviews are not the AVS stories themselves; the series of books is still in the works—and I promise they will be well worth the wait.)
And now, without further ado–The Interview!
I can’t account for the passage of time. I find myself back in the Starbucks, looking at the two vampires sitting on either side of me. Luke’s cell phone chirps. He answers it and says into it, “Hold on.” To us: “I’m terribly sorry, some unexpected business has come up.”
“Oh, ho!” Carletta says. “You can’t waltz out of here without taking your turn with the questions.”
“I’m telling you the truth.” He pulls his wallet out of his pocket and hands me a business card. “If I don’t come back, you can reveal my secret screen name here to the world. Promise me you won’t tell a soul otherwise.” Under the screen name, in script it reads, “Professional Hypocrite.”
I look up. He’s gone. I turn off the tape recorder.
“Maybe he really went out for a bite,” Carletta says.
“He just had that sandwich—Oh. You mean…”
“Yeah. Or to throw up the sandwich. Though he ate a lot more than I could and held it down a lot longer.”
We stretch our legs. I get a chocolate pastry and a water. We return to our corner. Carletta starts reading the questions quietly to herself.
After half an hour, Luke walks back in. I re-start the recorder and pick up my notebook and pen.
Carletta begins: “Does living as a vampire have the same appeal as prior to being turned (if you’re that type of vampire)?”
Luke answers, “Nothing can prepare a human for the realities of this dimension of existence. I can’t say it has the same appeal. It’s far better than my expectations.”
I think his last sentence came too easily. No one asked whether vampires always tell the truth. Amazing how many people may think they do. In my pocket I finger the business card. Just how much can you trust a professional hypocrite?
Luke notices my movement and cocks his head. Nothing seems to escape the bastard, but I’m sure he can’t read my mind… or can he? Another question no one bothered to pose.
Carletta squints at him. “You wanted it, didn’t you?”
Luke’s smirk mocks her. “So did you,” he pronounces.
Her big eyes widen.
“You said yourself you wanted the power.”
“Okay, okay,” I break in, trying to hide the tremor in my voice. “It’s Luke’s turn to be interviewed. And I didn’t even finish the question.”
Luke looks down at the list of questions. “If I had to do it over, yes, I would without question.”
As he reads the next question over my shoulder, he pauses. I speak it quietly: “What aspect of humanity or being human have you lost or used less–or has diminished the most?”
“That one hard for you?” Carletta spits.
“I’m just puzzling over the wording,” he says. “It’s so negative!” His voice rises higher. “I haven’t lost anything worth losing. It’s all been gain to me.”
“Ah-hah!” Carletta reaches toward him, her manicured fingers curved like a cat’s claws and her voice like a cat in triumph. “Then you admit you’re not human. You’re undead.” She smiles. “There are things you can’t stand that I can!”
“Oh, please, as if—”
“You can’t go out in the daytime at all,” she presses. “And I can.”
Luke smiles back. “I can go out in sunlight.”
“Robin.” Carletta leans so close, she’s almost in my lap. “Let’s stop now and finish this interview after sunrise. I guarantee he won’t show.”
She has a point. Luke personally requested our double interview be at night. Who is he trying to fool?
Luke appears amused. “You really want to delay it further? I would be happy to re-convene in the daytime on a later date. But I have plans for later tonight, and tomorrow I have a board meeting.”
Carletta giggles. “Super powerful vampire man has a desk job?”
“I own several companies,” Luke announces.
“Do vampires need businesses?” I say. “I thought they were all filthy rich, just naturally. Isn’t that what all the novels say?” I can’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
Luke chuckles. “A fortune not invested is a fortune soon lost. Besides, I have a natural propensity for leadership.”
“What kind of business is it?” I ask. “A mortuary? A police squad? A vampire mafia?”
“This one is a cosmetics empire.”
Carletta laughs so suddenly she goes into a coughing fit. “How macho of you! How dangerous and frightening.”
“You want to tie vampirism into the whole interview?” Luke says. “I’ll oblige. One line is for the undead: natural darkening.”
“Oh,” Carletta says. “That explains why you’re not as white as the papers we’re reading off of. I take it you use your own product.”
Luke nods. I look hard at his natural beige skin and the slightly pinker shade of his cheeks, chin, and ears. Nothing betrays that he is wearing make-up, not even his hands. “Excellent product and application,” I admit.
“To finish answering the last question,” Luke says, “if I’ve lost anything, I’d say it’s vulnerability. Something foolish humans use to excuse their failures.”
I read the next question, wondering if Luke can say anything interesting about it: “Is it true you have to be an old vampire to fly or teleport?” I leave off the questioner’s definition of teleporting, sure he knows full well what it is.
“Since death, I’ve had many more powers than I had as a live vampire,” he says, looking directly at Carletta. “Much stronger ones, which do increase with the years.”
“The next one is open-ended,” I say. “What’s it like to be a vampire?”
“We vampires are all very individual. For instance, Carletta, you seem conflicted about your own existence—troubled by some personal problems. They may not all come from being a vampire. But I embrace my nature wholeheartedly. It’s truly the fulfillment of what I was meant to be, even from the day of my human birth. Being what I am is glorious. I’m more myself than I ever could be as a mortal. It’s easy being at the top of the food chain, but there’s so much more to it. I’m over 200, so I’ve had plenty of time to refine my intellect, my aesthetic tastes, and my influence. I’ve had more to do with the state of the world than you know, and I’m bound to accomplish far more.” His smile is as big as his ego. “We all love blood. For some simple ones, maybe that’s enough. I, however, have a personal score to settle against someone who’s wronged me horribly. I live to avenge my adversary.”
“What adversary?” Carletta asks.
“God.” He leans back and folds his arms.
I want to say, “What has God done to you?” but we have already spent some time on a single question, and there are quite a few left. I steal a glance at Carletta. Her expression is brooding. She looks down at the list and takes over the interview, her voice pouncing catlike once again: “Do you miss food, the sun, or your heartbeat more? Robin,” she says aside to me, “I can hear a heartbeat from him.”
Luke nods. “I regulate its tempo. Along with my body temperature. And why would I miss food? I can eat what humans eat, as you saw, but my regular diet is best. Just think how much time people waste growing, raising, preparing, and eating food and washing dishes, when they could be enjoying their favorite pastimes and improving themselves!”
Carletta looks down at the list again and rolls her eyes. “I have to ask this stupid question again. Do you have another spin on it? Are there any female vampires around?”
“None that can outwit or control me,” he says quickly.
I see the green sparks in the girl’s eyes light up, and I glower at Luke myself. He bursts out laughing. “I think,” he adds, “the guy who submitted this question is looking for a female vamp, under the delusion that he’ll get what he wants from her. Isn’t it lovely how fools seek us? Sic him, Carletta! I won’t tell your boyfriend. And this guy won’t be able to tell anyone when you’re through with him!”
Carletta reads the next question: “What was your first feed, slash, kill like?”
“I don’t have to answer that question until you finish answering it, sweet sixteen. You glossed over that one. Traumatized? And you call yourself a vampire?”
“Shut—up!” she hisses. “It was—it was like… I honestly can’t remember… the first time I killed to feed…” She looks at me. “I must have blocked it out.”
“Do you know how old you were?” I ask.
“Pretty young,” she admits. “I’ve grown since then. People don’t think vampires age after they’re changed, but I have… Not as much as I should have, I mean would have if I were a regular human.”
Seated instead of walking around in high heels, it’s easier to remember she’s only five feet tall. Looking past all the make-up, I realize she could pass for thirteen. Her breasts are small, her whole form petite, her head rather large for her body.
Luke says, “My own first time was a marvelous feast! After my mentor turned me, the cold fire of his blood coursing through my veins pressed me on to the joy I anticipated. I grabbed a tender little woman, but my mentor wrested her from me. The fat, haughty British official I then attacked was a better meal, anyway. I had killed before, when I was mortal, but this intoxication was new.”
“You killed before you were turned?” Carletta says. Her voice betrays a tremor.
Luke studies her. “Does the idea bother you? Why?”
Carletta lifts her hands and spreads her fingers out in front of her as if to ward him off.
“You want to know who I killed, and why?”
“That’s—all right,” she says.
“Why in the world are you squeamish about it?” Luke presses. “You’re not exactly Miss Innocent. Something tells me you’re hiding something.”
“Enough!” I break in. “Her interview is over. Here’s another question for you, Luke. If you had the choice to no longer be a vampire–to just be a human again–would you go for it?
“No,” he says firmly. “As I said, I love being what I am.”
I look to Carletta to ask the next question, but she waves for me to go ahead. “What do you think of the recent fashion for vampire books and films?” I read. “Has it made your life harder or easier?”
“I’ll tell you first of a business that is more central to my existence than the cosmetics company,” he says. “I protect vampirekind. The new adoration for vampires has made that easier. The best tactic for a long time was the widespread belief that we don’t exist. Now that’s less important than the belief that we are wonderful and desirable. People gladly open their doors to us!”
“The next question is similar,” I say. “With the success of vampires in the mainstream, do you find it harder in this day and age to survive?”
Luke blinks. “The success of vampires? Is this questioner a true believer? The question answers itself. Success is so much more than survival! Someday, you will all be our slaves—and may not even realize it. Let’s see how your petty little God feels then!”
Not a soul in the Starbucks looks at us. It is as if Luke has wrapped a soundproof barrier around our corner of the room. His proclamation makes me squirm. Being a slave of vampires would be bad enough; not knowing it would be even worse. People who don’t know they are slaves don’t seek freedom. Luke looks right through me. His blue eyes are icy and remind me of a shark’s. So this plan is the ultimate intention of all his charm and deceit.
The next few questions go by in a blur for me; I lose track of which of us asks which. What does it matter?
“What happens if you suck your own blood?”
“I quench my thirst for a short time, and soon the appetite comes rushing back.”
“Can you be turned back to a human?”
“Can you have sex the ‘traditional’ way? Do you have any desire for sex?”
“Yes and yes.” He looks at each of us and licks his lips. “It’s not a need. I’m not driven by it like many men are, especially since I died. I carefully plan what I use my body to do, but I enjoy sex, certainly. I can stretch things far beyond tradition, and there are so many traditions, anyway.” His eyes bore into me.
“According to folklore, vampires can’t cross moving water. Does this present problems for you?”
“It only presents problems for vampires who never learned to swim. Next!”
“Is it possible some vampire-related genes can be passed down through human bloodlines over the centuries?”
“That’s something I’m looking into,” he said. “It’s impossible for the undead to have children, and rare for live vampires. But rumor has it that those who do have extra power over their offspring. I’d like to know whether we have control over offspring sired before we were turned.” He looks off out the window, his eyes shining.
“Are there other vampires, and if so what role does gender play in vampire society?”
Luke yawns. He sweeps his arm to include Carletta. “There are many vampires, many societies. Different views and practices about gender, more so than among humans, I would say. As with humans, the men are usually physically stronger than the women—leaving the women to focus more on manipulation and magic.”
“How much is a pint of blood?”
“Enough to whet the appetite.”
“They say a vampire’s bite brings pleasure rather than pain. Is that true, and how is that even possible?”
“Carletta answered that one sufficiently. The ratio of pleasure to pain depends on the amount of vampire saliva applied. If we begin with a wet kiss, the victim might not be aware of being bitten at all.”
I stop when I see the next question. I didn’t remember coming across it before. I shuffle the papers, wondering. I read, stammering: “Who—made you—and why?”
“Are you trying to pull the wool over my eyes?” says the “wolf” who sometimes dresses in sheep’s clothing. “I don’t need to answer anything she hasn’t answered.”
“I swear I didn’t see these questions before,” I said. “Is the list growing like magic?”
“Ha ha,” Luke says humorlessly. “We’re the ones who can do magic. Not likely the humans who posed these adolescent questions.” I note a growl in his voice I didn’t hear before. It sends a shiver up my spine. You can’t trifle with him.
“I have no problem answering these new additions, as long as they don’t take all night. But ladies first.” His eyebrows rise as he turns to Carletta. When the girl sits stone-faced and silent, he quotes the rest of the question: “Was it by choice, or was the choice made for you?”
“I don’t remember,” Carletta says.
“I can tell you’re lying,” Luke presses. “Tell the truth, or—”
“I don’t know!” Her feet in her red high-heeled pumps are turning inward. I feel sorry for her.
“How can you not know?” he says more softly. “You weren’t that young.”
Her eyes rise to meet his, anger blazing in their gray and green depths. “We’ve been over enough of it! A lot of things were beyond my control. I was tricked. I tried to do one thing, and ended up doing another… I made myself.”
Luke squints. “How could you make yourself? You had to have a sire, a donor.”
Her answer comes out all in a high-pitched rush: “I was pushed to the brink, I think he planned it that way, but I did it myself, he was asleep and I didn’t know any better.”
“I think she’s telling the truth,” I say.
“Who was it?” Luke asks.
Suddenly Carletta jumps to her feet and runs outside.
Luke runs out after her, his form blurring.
Oh, no, I think, she’s been pushed too far. What will he do to her? This must be the end of the dual interview. I glance down at the questions, to see only three more.
Is he doing something to her because she won’t answer?
Shouting to the man behind the counter that I’ll be back to my stuff in a few minutes, I rush outside.
The rain has stopped, though clouds still cover the stars, but a slip of a moon I call “God’s fingernail” shines. I look around, heart pounding. My instinct to protect the weaker from the stronger kicked in before I even thought it through. “Carletta?” I shout into the night. “Are you all right?”
I hear a sob. Luke steps from behind the building next store.
“What did you do to her, you…?” slips from my lips.
“Only made a deal with her.”
“What kind of deal?
“All you need to know is that your blog isn’t going to tell who turned her.”
I feel relieved; it seems to matter so much to the girl. Why I find myself siding with one murderer against another, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because Luke has been bullying her so much. While we interviewed Carletta earlier, he tricked her into saying more than she was willing. Trickery must really get her goat.
Carletta creeps out behind him. Her mascara is running. She wipes her face, smearing the black mess. To my surprise, Luke produces a handkerchief and dabs her face.
“Shall we continue?” he says to me. He steps forward, then suddenly stops.
I strain my eyes to see that he’s stumbled on something. He looks down at something at his feet.
Carletta grimaces and brings her hands to cover her mouth. She shakes her head and starts to tremble.
By the headlights of a car pulling into the parking lot, I see they’re both looking at a dead cat. I feel sad the poor animal was run over but surprised the two vampires care. The girl looks much younger in this moment, and she stifles a sob. Luke, on the other hand, is as motionless as a statue. I step closer, expecting Luke to mock Carletta or take advantage of her vulnerability in some way, but he seems entirely oblivious of her.
A foul smell accosts my nostrils. I see maggots writhing on the feline corpse. Luke appears to be staring at them.
“Are you two coming back in?” I venture.
Luke’s head snaps up. He steps backward and widely around the cat. But he still doesn’t seem quite his suave self. Is he, just slightly, trembling?
“What’s up?” I say.
Carletta hugs herself and shakes her head.
“You guys especially fond of cats?” I said.
“I am,” Carletta said.
“Oh, that’s right.” I turn back toward the Starbucks. “Your familiar demon is a cat. But Luke? Yours is a wolf. You got a soft spot for roadkill?”
“Never mind,” he says stiffly. “That’s not on the list. Let’s just get this overwith. I’ll answer the latest one right now. I was changed by an older man, a vampire named Thaddeus, who was a newcomer to Manhattan, where I grew up.” The lack of emotion in his voice is unlike him, but I feel it’s not because of what he’s saying. He appears to be trying to distract himself. Something about those maggots, I think. Why in the world would an undead creature be bothered by maggots?
I shrug as Luke strides forward and opens the door for me, and soon we are back in our corner. My stuff is untouched, but the old-fashioned tape has run out; I left it playing.
Luke doesn’t wait for me to rewind the tape or put another one in. “The choice was my own, as I’ve said before. I’d wanted it for a long time, but I had to talk him into it by promising that if he turned me, I’d serve the forces of darkness for the rest of my existence.”
“A Faustian bargain,” I say. “For eternal youth?” I scramble to change tapes.
He half-shrugs. “Spending the rest of your life looking eighteen has its disadvantages,” he says. “But not dying—not—compromising with my worst enemy, those were the reasons. So I don’t have to be punished for being who I choose to be…” I sense a hollowness in his voice. The picture of him staring at those maggots flashes through my mind. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he identifies with that dead cat, and he’s horrified of its parasites. He became a vampire so he wouldn’t have to die. But die he did. Unlike Carletta, he’s been where that cat has been, and come back to avoid talking about it. I don’t know whether to laugh over his secret vulnerability, or cry.
“Three more questions, vamps, and then we’re through.”
Carletta nods. Her face is gray-streaked, but it no longer looks like the living dead. How ironic that it did, when she’s the one who is still alive.
“What is the most important thing to you?” I ask.
“Vengeance,” Luke says without hesitation.
Carletta’s brows knot. “Self-preservation, I guess,” she says.
“Question 32,” I say. “Wow, to think there were originally supposed to be only eleven. It’s three times that long now. Another one about sex.”
Luke snorts. “Figures.”
“Is sex that much more enhanced than before?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s wonderful because of the heightened senses,” Luke says. He turns to Carletta. “How do you answer?”
Carletta’s lower lip jerks askew. “Kind of a weird question for someone turned as a child, don’t you think?” Her voice sounds dry and jaded.
I move on to the second half: “Do you feel your sexual drive is greater than before?”
“Than as a child?” the girl says. “Well, yeah.”
“Luke?” I inquire.
“It’s different,” he say. “I’m more controlled… Most of the time.” He breaks into an evil smile. “But when it’s time to let loose, it’s a wildfire!”
“One more question wraps it up,” I said. “From Francis Franklin, who hosted this blog project. Where do you come from?”
“My mother’s womb, originally,” Carletta says. She stretches, catlike again, and yawns wide.
“Pre-Revolutionary Manhattan,” Luke says. He pulls his ponytail forward, and I see his wavy dark-brown hair is longer than mine. “Born and raised long ago, but I still live there a good deal of the time. It’s changed a great deal, but some of the changes are nice. Plays on and off Broadway to watch, write, and direct. People who don’t give a damn who disappears. Ritzy apartments. My own mansion.”
“I think,” I say, “you both come from our nightmares.”
Carletta looks at me with a haunted expression.
Luke says, “That too. That too…”
As I gather my notebook and tape recorder into my briefcase, I look up and see them both rush into the darkness outside, in different directions. Soon both are out of sight.