To refer to the original Vampire Lover Blog Award
and its questions, here is the link:
I close my dripping umbrella and walk in the door of Starbucks. Luke insisted it would have to be after dark, of course. I look around and don’t see either of the vampires I invited. I look at my watch: It’s 7:09 p.m. I’m already nine minutes late because of the stupid bus. Hoping (and at the same time fearing) they didn’t stand me up, I choose a quiet corner with a black padded couch and matching chair and a table where I lie my briefcase. Chilled, I order an herb tea. As I turn around again, there she is—Carletta, in the flesh. I didn’t hear her enter. I have to remind myself she is only five feet tall, because her presence is bigger than I imagined. She is not dressed for the weather, and it doesn’t appear to bother her. A short white dress with a big red buckle, red lipstick, and red nail polish accentuate her short red hair, and her gray eyes above her cheek-top freckles look huge. I don’t think it’s just the mascara and the eye liner. They’re bigger than I imagined.
“What are you staring at?” she says. Every head in the place turns, every eye looks her way when she speaks. Carletta straightens; the ghost of a smile crosses her face. In most circumstances, she would be grinning and winking at all the guys.
“N-nothing,” I find myself stammering. But I am staring. Without stepping closer, I’m looking for the flecks of green I’m always mentioning in those eyes—and wondering, with a frightening thrill, whether I will see her eyes glow. It could happen . . . Something could anger her or she could grow hungry. She is a predator, I remind myself. My hands tremble. Should I shake her hand? It seems inappropriate. “I’m Robin,” I say.
“Robin,” a voice echoes behind and to my right. Confused, I turn to see it’s only the woman behind the counter telling me my tea is ready. I grab it and feel it warm my hand.
“Well,” Carletta says, “let’s get on with it.” Her voice is dry; could she be nervous? She gazes about the room and says under her breath, “Nothing to listen to here.” When I see everyone else turn back to their business again, I think, These are not the droids you’re looking for. If she wields that much power over people, maybe it’s for the best Luke didn’t show.
I motion to the corner I chose. “I guess Luke couldn’t come,” I say.
“Who’s Luke?” she says, smoothing her skirt as she takes the chair.
“I thought I told you this would be a double interview. Mix it up, make it more interesting.” I pull out a tape recorder and a folder of papers.
“I don’t remember you saying that. Whatever. Why’d you want to do this, anyway? Those written answers weren’t enough?” She looks at my humble, old-fashioned cassette recorder and makes a face.
“They were great,” I say, taking the rest of the questions out of a folder. “So I wanted to hear how you’d answer the other ones people posed. And I figure it’d be nice if they could see you, so to speak.”
“Why that old thing?” She points to the tape recorder.
“Sometimes I can’t read my own notes,” I confess. “And I want to catch everything.”
Assuring her I don’t have a camera with me, I set up the mic, pick up my scratch pad and the list from the Vampire Lover’s Blog Award, and begin with the first: “Does living as a vampire have the same appeal as prior to being turned?”
Carletta cocks her head. “You think it appealed to me then? Well, maybe it did—sort of. Next question.”
I’m thinking that’s not a full answer, but I don’t want to raise her ire. So I ignore the rest of the question, and go on to the second: “What aspects of humanity or being human have you lost or used less—“
The voice, though quiet, startles me into jumping in my seat. I look up. The contrast can hardly be over-emphasized. The man standing at Carletta’s side is six just short of six foot three, I know, and his voice is cool and confident. “Answer her first question.”
Carletta grey eyes lock with Luke’s blue ones. The color drains from her face (Carletta isn’t pale like your stereotyped vampire; her complexion tends toward the rosy side and reddens from sunlight). Luke’s moods don’t change his beige complexion; it isn’t his real color but the work of a cosmetologist. His eyes are what I always like to describe as china blue—beautiful, winning, contrasting to his dark brown hair, which I cannot see the length of at the moment.
“What question?” Carletta says.
Calmly, Luke repeats the words he must have heard before I knew he was anywhere near.
“I was so young—“ she stammers. “It’s hard to tell. I just wanted to get free—out. I wanted the power for myself, or at least to just be myself.” Her fists pound against her thighs.
Suddenly Luke is seated right next to me on the couch, leaning over the page of questions. He looks up and delivers the second part of the current one: “If you had to do it over, would you?”
“I—don’t know . . .”
“Tell us the truth,” he says, his mature confidence belying his apparent youth (Luke was 18 when turned).
“I . . . think I would have tried to just run. With Mom’s help.” She looks up. Now her fingers are interlacing like she is trying to untie knots. “But—I don’t think we would have gotten too far as long as I was just a weak, ordinary human being.” Her eyes plead. What happened to all her power and confidence?
Still calm, Luke looks back at the page.
“Who are you?” Carletta blurts out. “Get out of my head!”
“Carletta, this is Luke,” I say. “If I didn’t tell you he was also to be interviewed tonight, I’m terribly sorry. But I was sure I did.”
“Just—get him out of here,” she breathes.
Luke gets up and goes to the counter. From the back, I can see his long, wavy ponytail. I imagine it tied with a ribbon like George Washington’s, and I wonder whether Luke ever actually met the Commander in Chief during the Revolution. What kind of war is brewing between him and Carletta? If he doesn’t leave or back down, will she stick with the interview? He has done a good job of uncovering things so far. It occurs to me that this break from the interrogation is strategic. I am the journalist. I should be in control of the interview. I turn back to Carletta, who is composing herself and looking tough. And she is tough. I don’t know how many people she has killed. Have they all been male? Even that I don’t know, but I see her glaring at Luke’s back as he orders something. She wouldn’t dare try to kill a vampire as powerful as him, would she? “I’m going to go on with this interviewing,” I say. “I didn’t intend for him to do it.”
Carletta breathes a sigh and leans back, crossing her hands behind her head.
I read, “What aspects of humanity or being human have you lost or used less—or have diminished the most?
“Robin, I am still human. I’m not the undead type.” She gazes at Luke again. He adds cream to his coffee and glances our way. Carletta leans forward and squints at him. I hope she won’t insist he leave the premises. He arrived even later than her; there’s no telling when I’ll get a chance to meet with him again.
“Next question,” I say. “From what you’ve witnessed yourself, do the history books have it right?”
“History books don’t tell you what it’s like to be a vampire. Most history books won’t even tell you we exist. They just talk about superstition mumbo-jumbo and maybe ideas from novels and movies.”
I nod and scribble her answer, not trusting to the tape recorder to catch it all and worrying something might happen to the cassette.
Luke, still at the counter, takes a sip of his coffee. He’s looking at me questioningly. “Excuse me,” I say to Carletta. “I’ll be right back.”
I walk up to Luke.
“I want to apologize for being late,” he says. “I had unexpected business to attend to.”
“And how about for barging into the interview and taking over?” I whisper.
“You needed some help,” he says.
“I’m not sure I welcome your approach,” I went on. “I wasn’t sure if she was going to burst into tears or go on a rampage.”
“She can hear you,” he said. “You are a mousy interviewer.”
“I prefer to think of myself as tactful.”
Luke laughs. “Let’s see if we can strike a deal,” he says, and motions me back to our corner. He offers to let Carletta assist me in interviewing him if he can assist in interviewing her. When I hesitate, he says, “Come on, this is Starbuck’s. We’re not going to do anything here.”
“I don’t think it’s a fair offer,” I say.
Carletta, however, protests that I’m calling her weaker than Luke.
“So you agree?” Luke asks. He sits beside me again and takes a long swallow of his steaming coffee.
“How do you do that?” Carletta says.
For a moment I don’t know what she means. But Luke does. “It’s not hard when you take the proper steps. Especially with a substance as simple as coffee. Maybe I’ll teach you, if you be a good sport and accept my challenge.”
“Really?” She licks her lips and sounds too much like a little girl. “Let’s do it,” she says.
Luke’s eyes sparkle. He raises an eyebrow a minuscule degree.
I look down at my tea with the strange sensation that my ability to drink it is a privilege that must be unusual for vampires. I take off the cover and see it’s well steeped, but I feel awkward taking a sip.
Luke looks down at the page and points to me with his thumb.
I read the next question aloud: “What’s it like to be a vampire?”
“That’s a big question!” Carletta says. “It’s like—well, it depends on who you are and how powerful you are.” She looks down at the floor a moment. “For me, the power feels good. But—I want more so I can be safer.” I’ve seen this before, this drive to release secrets; it’s so strong, she abandons the danger. Luke is watching her expectantly. “Sometimes the power gets out of control. And it’s a lot of work, too—hiding what you are from the people around you. And scary. Everybody who knows what you are wants you dead! Just about everybody, anyway. My poor mother, she just wants to cure me. Thinks it’s a disease. I don’t want to hurt her for anything.”
I don’t expect such a confession from Carletta. Earlier, she was no doubt under the influence of Luke’s powers. But she smelled that rat, and he changed tactics. I don’t know whether he’s influencing her again, or whether she is starving to express herself. I move on to the next question from the compiled list: “Do you miss food, the sun, or your heartbeat more?”
“Do I really need to answer all these questions? Even the ones that assume things that just aren’t true?” She heaves a theatrical sigh and makes a dismissive hand gesture as she says, “If I didn’t have a heartbeat, my boyfriend would be really suspicious. And I can handle sunshine—don’t like it, but it hasn’t killed me yet.” She gazes at Luke’s coffee cup as he savors its contents again. “I miss the food! Drives me crazy when Mom insists on having me at the dinner table with her and I have to smell all her cooking and watch her eat while I down a bag of blood.” Does she smell my tea? Is she envious? Maybe I shouldn’t care, but I don’t want to get a vampire upset at me.
Luke reads the next question to himself, grins, and reads with mock innocence: “Are there any female vampires around?”
Carletta rolls her eyes. “You see what I mean? Idiots! To whoever wrote that question, I’d say, Ehem! You’re talking to one! I’ll bet a guy wrote that question.”
“Leave it to a guy to ask a question like that,” she says. “Next!”
I see no harm in letting Luke continue.
“Is ‘live’ blood more beneficial than bagged blood?” he asks.
“Yeah. But don’t tell my mother.”
“Wow,” Luke says, “your mother is . . .”
“Yeah,” Carletta says.
They seem to be getting along now. I am relieved. Less self-conscious, I let my tea warm my insides.
“Is it true that the last blood from a dying person is sweeter due to their fear of death?” I add the rest of that question.
“Sweet’s not the word. Wilder. Tarter.”
Luke pauses over the next question. He looks introspective, closing his eyes, and his lips twitch in a repeated smile. Then he raises his brows as he asks Carletta, “What was your first feed or kill like?” His eyes lock with hers.
Carletta coughs. “That’s none of your business.”
Luke entices her with his coffee. “I said I’d think about teaching you my secret if you answer all these questions honestly.”
“I don’t like coffee!” she cries out.
A few people look her way. Plainly, she has lost some control over the rest of the room.
“How long has it been since you drank any coffee?” Luke says quietly.
“I don’t—I didn’t—Those are two different questions in my case,” her voice began to charge. “Maybe more than two. Does the drink that turned me count? That—that was a nightmare.” She lowered her voice, apparently giving up her “Jedi” trick and using plain human volume control for privacy. “After that it was a nightmare until I got some human blood. Then I wanted more and more. I didn’t kill at first. Wait . . . My first kill . . . Do I really have to go there?”
Luke leans back. “It’s okay,” he said. “Some of us hold those memories more pleasantly than others.”
Pleasantly? I wince. I look down at the page, eager to go on, and am glad to see the one question I contributed to the bunch. I ask: “If you had the choice to no longer be a vampire—to just be a human again—would you go for it?”
That seems to give the girl a chance to compose herself again. She looks around the Starbuck’s, muttering under her breath at the others, “You can’t hear us,” but when she answers, her voice is subdued. “That’s a hard question. I think sometimes I’d be happier if I wasn’t a killer. But I’d be so vulnerable!”
“That’s right, you would be vulnerable,” Luke says. To both of us, he says, “I don’t know why some people insist on fantasizing that there’s a way out—especially when it’s the best life available.”
“I understand your point of view, Luke,” I say, “but I’m the interviewer, and it’s my decision to ask all the questions in the contest that weren’t answered in the other interviews. So the next one is, “If you had the chance to be human again to do one thing, what would it be?”
“Just one day to be normal!” Carletta chimes, smiling and breathing in some imaginary scents. “I’d eat a nice Thanksgiving dinner with my mom and boyfriend with plenty of pecan pie and whipped cream.”
Luke snorts. “Look, you can have that anyway. I can teach you.”
“Will you?” she pleads.
“I’m not sure you’ve done a good enough job to earn it,” Luke says. “Of course, there is a price for such things. Let me do the next question.” He reads it. “Hm. This is an odd one. What do you make of it, Carletta? It says, How much is a pint of blood?”
“Duh—a pint! And no, I don’t sell or buy it. I get it free. A pint is enough to whet my appetite. Again, don’t tell my mom. She thinks her supply from the bloodmobile is enough.”
“Your mother is a fool,” Luke says.
“You’re tellin’ me!” Carletta nods emphatically. “I have her wrapped around my little finger.”
“That’s good,” Luke said. He reads some more. “Now they want a science lesson. Let’s see how you do on this one, kid. It says, Vampire physiology must be very different from human physiology. How is human blood digested and processed in the blood system?” He restrains a chuckle.
“Oh, man.” Carletta runs a hand through her hair. “First off, nobody’s ‘blood system’ digests anything.”
Luke nods. “Good call.”
“But I’m not a scientist,” she continues, “so I’m not sure exactly how it works. It’s a mystery to the few people who have managed to study it. Most humans would just think I was crazy and try to lock me up, so I keep a low profile. I don’t hang around with other vampires—well, not normally—so I’m not sure what they’ve figured out. Do you know, Luke?”
Luke makes a motion of dangling something in front of her. Carletta purses her lips. “Never mind.”
“Go ahead with the next one, Robin,” Luke says.
So I ask, “What happens if you suck your own blood?”
“It tastes good—different from a human’s—a sort of cold fire. But pretty quick, I just get hungry again.”
Then I read, “According to folklore, vampires can’t cross moving water. Does this present problems for you?”
“Tell that dude I’ve never had trouble crossing any kind of water,” Carletta says. “Don’t believe everything you hear or read.”
I then ask, “Is it possible some vampire-related genes can be passed down through human bloodlines over the centuries?”
Carletta draws in a sharp breath. Luke leans forward. “Maybe,” the girl says. “But it’s—it’s very rare for live vampires to have children, and—and the undead ones can’t at all.” Her face is pale again. “Vampires who have children or descendants have more power over those children and descendants than they do over other people.”
“Really,” Luke says. “How do you know that?”
To my amazement, she looks as if she is about to break down. “I think I’d better go.”
“But we’re almost done,” I say.
“And I haven’t taught you my secret about food,” Luke says.
“Just because you can drink a cup of coffee without barfing doesn’t mean you can have a whole Thanksgiving dinner,” she says.
“Oh, but I can! If you stick around, I’ll show you what I can eat. Robin, see what’s left at the counter.”
I resent being ordered around when interviewing someone. But nonetheless, I find myself at the counter looking at a limp salad and a tuna sandwich. I order the sandwich. I hear Luke saying, “Do vampires possess a soul? What difference does having or not having a soul make? What happens when you die? Assuming you can actually die . . . Can you?”
“That’s a lot of questions,” Carletta says. “And deep ones. I don’t know if anybody has a soul. I guess if I have a soul, I’m on the way to Hell, so really I hope I don’t.”
I hurry back with the sandwich, feeling an urge to comfort the poor little murderer, tell her there is a way she could stay out of Hell. It isn’t the point of the interview, but . . .
“Let’s get this overwith,” Carletta says as I hand Luke the sandwich. “What was the other question?”
“Can you actually die?” He looks at her as if he is hopeful about the possibility.
“You know I can die, Luke, you—“
“It wasn’t my question,” he says. “You’d do better to maintain a little more control, young lady.” He breaks open the sandwich bag with a fang that the other people in Starbucks cannot see.
“Yes, I can die. It’s harder to kill vampires, but it can be done.” She hangs her head as if admitting defeat.
“Why don’t you leave off tormenting the girl?” I say to Luke.
“Was I tormenting her?” he says innocently. “Carletta? I offer you something you really want, and I get this treatment?”
“Please, no more questions!” Carletta cries. “I can’t handle it!”
“There’s just one more,” I say. I don’t think this one will upset you. Would you date a werewolf?”
Luke chomps into his sandwich. “Mm-mm,” he mutters.
Carletta lifts her head, and silent laughter escapes from her. “That’s it? That’s the last question? I might, if he’s cute. I’ve never met a werewolf, as far as I know.”
Luke swallows his food and sets the sandwich down. “Only a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he says with a smirk.
“Does that mean you’re not keeping your promise?” she says.
“I didn’t promise, brat,” he returns. “The only thing I promised is that you get to help interview me next.”
Carletta’s hands bunch into fists again. The green flecks in her eyes spark with the hope of revenge. For a moment, I am lost in that hope, forgetting who I am and what I stand for. We shall see if sweet revenge is for her—or whether she ends up being able to eat anything sweet. Her two goals are mutually exclusive. Luke must have planned it that way.