Dave the Mighty Steel-Thewed Avenger
Urban Fantasy Magazine, February 2015
A disenchanted law student meets a talking opossum, a Valkslayer, and the Dread Grzilbeast…
The Purple Rose of Romance
Nerve Online, 1999
An editor explains romance fiction to two porn characters.
Copyright by Laura Resnick 2012
This short story originally appeared in the anthology Cast of Characters
(ed. Lou Aronica), published by Fiction Studio on behalf of Novelists, Inc.
I realized I was going to have serious problems adjusting to being a vampire when I tried to bite someone in the jugular vein and discovered it’s much harder to do than you might think.
Indeed, I was so stymied by the actual logistics of the procedure, now that I held a warm and blood-pulsing body in my arms… that I let go of my prey and burst into tears. Which was not a promising start to my unlife.
I had a gloomy feeling that this whole thing had been a huge mistake on my part. I wondered if I could get it undone. Reverse the process. Become, er, un-undead.
It was not, after all, as if I had really thought this through before being turned. I had become a vampire on a night of over-indulgence in alcohol, casual sex, and morbid self-pity—none of which is ever a good basis for making major decisions. In fact, it’s fair to say that, when offered the prospect of being turned into a bloodsucking creature of the night, I was drunkenly intrigued but quite skeptical. I hadn’t really believed, despite a pretty good sales pitch from he-who-became my sire, that I was getting into anything more serious than a risky and unconventional sexual practice with a total stranger. And the fact that I was willing to do that is clear evidence of how dysfunctional and unreliable my mental processes were that night.
My transformation had occurred at the wedding of an old college friend. And the stereotypical pathos of my behavior that night embarrasses me in retrospect.
Lucy was the only member of my old college gang with whom I was regularly still in touch, since I had moved to Chicago a couple of years after we all graduated, whereas most of my college friends stayed in the New York area. I hadn’t been back East for a visit in years, and I thought I would enjoy a trip there in autumn for the wedding. Plus, I wanted to be supportive of Lucy in her newfound happiness.
I also welcomed the chance that the wedding would offer me to see our old gang, many of whom would be there. There were some of them whom I hadn’t seen since graduation day, fifteen years earlier. So when Lucy informed me she was getting married (“Thank God! I was on the verge of becoming a spinster!” she burbled cheerfully at me by email), I had readily accepted her invitation to attend.
As the event approached, I thought briefly about trying to rustle up a date, but I had no idea whom I could invite to go with me. I hadn’t had a regular boyfriend in several years; not since Todd had broken up with me. He had left behind some dirty underwear and the entire unpaid co-signed loan for his quickly-wrecked sports car after he announced he was leaving me for a part-time calligrapher who, unlike me, really appreciated him and understood him… and was willing to co-sign his next car loan.
In fact, as I contemplated the unlikely prospect of finding someone to attend Lucy’s wedding with me, I realized that—never mind not having a steady man in my life—I hadn’t even been on a date in well over a year.
I shrugged off this depressing thought by concluding that the notion of bringing a date was silly, anyhow. I couldn’t expect a friend or co-worker in Chicago to buy an airplane ticket just to keep me company at a wedding in New York. Besides, a date would undoubtedly feel bored or out of place there, since I’d be hanging out with my college friends and we’d be reminiscing about old times. So it obviously made sense for me to go alone.
Well… that decision only seemed obvious until I got to the wedding—and discovered that every single one of my old gang had brought a date. Most of them, in fact, had brought spouses, domestic partners, or longtime companions. Another of my old friends, Mimi, was recently-divorced. She showed up with an infatuated new boyfriend who kept telling me how incredibly lucky he felt to have met such a wonderful woman as Mimi. My old study partner Calvin, who had come out of the closet after college, brought a man whom he covertly described to me as, “Just a shag partner. We have absolutely nothing in common, but the sex is stellar, so we meet a couple of nights per week for that. He’s just here as a favor to me, since I didn’t want to come alone to a wedding, of course.”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
Rather than reminiscing about old times, everyone in our group talked about the homes they were DIYing as a couple (“I could never do it on my own“), the fun they’d had together on exotic vacations (“but I wouldn’t have wanted to go there alone“), their children and the challenges of parenthood (“I could never be a single parent”), or their fervent attempts to reproduce (“since time is running out for people our age, after all”). They all laughed over anecdotes about which partner in the relationship stole the covers at night, about fighting over the thermostat, and about hiding Christmas presents from each other.
I talked about my job and my cat.
None of them had seen me for years, and very few of them knew anything about my life for the past decade. So they were full of friendly questions and supportive comments.
Questions along the lines of, “So there’s not anyone in your life these days? No one at all?” and comments such as, “Well, there’s no shame in being single. I mean, in a way, I envy you” (this said while fervently clutching a spouse’s hand).
It was one of those dark occasions when the single life with which you’re normally content suddenly winds up feeling as if it’s no life at all.
Thus, when Lucy’s mother, who was circulating throughout the reception hall, came over to our group to mingle and visit, I was immensely relieved by this opportunity to change the subject. She met everyone’s spouses, partners, and dates, and she thanked us all for coming. She recounted some of the amusing and anxiety-provoking crises that had preceded the smoothly executed wedding, and she chatted nostalgically about our group’s long-ago days as her daughter’s college chums.
Then, without missing a beat, she turned to me and said with a sad smile, “You never married, did you?”
Caught off guard, I replied with a mixture of irritation and embarrassment, “There’s still time. I’m not exactly in my grave.”
Her eyes misted with compassionate admiration for my plucky spirit, and she patted my hand kindly. “No, of course you’re not. Plenty of time, dear. Yes, yes, plenty of time. Don’t you worry about it.”
I hadn’t worried about it until that evening. I also wanted to point out that, barely three hours ago, she had married off a daughter who was, in fact, four months older than I was. But surrounded by my old gang’s awkward, pitying silence in the wake of her comment, I suspected this protest would sound pathetically defensive rather than calmly reasonable.
All things considered, I assert that it’s both understandable and predictable that, as the evening wore on, I drank far too much and then flirted shamelessly with an attractive stranger who showed flattering interest in me. He, too, had come to the wedding without a date. He asked me to dance, kept me with him on the dance floor through several songs, and then started taking discreet physical liberties—which I (and the multiple Cosmopolitans I had by then consumed) readily encouraged. Eventually, with our bodies welded together as we swayed dizzily to the music, I told him that I was staying at this hotel and asked if he would like to see my room.
We were in the perfect state of inebriation for what followed—just drunk enough for the sex to be bold and uninhibited, rather than clumsy and incompetent. Unwisely, though, we subsequently raided the mini-bar and continued drinking. Thus I was so drunk that I listened with profound gravity when my partner (whose name, alas, I couldn’t remember—if, indeed, I had ever known it) explained to me in a slurred but sultry monologue that he was a vampire and that he felt so close to me after two bouts of gloriously hot sex that he’d like to “turn” me—if I thought I would like that.
I vaguely recall that we talked about this a whole lot, but I have almost no recollection of what we said. And, well, a self-pitying, thoroughly drunk “spinster” at a wedding full of doting couples can be talked into almost anything by a man who is seductive enough—as this one was. Suffice it to say, he had his way with me, and I was blearily enthusiastic about it at the time.
When I woke up alone the next morning, I had a hangover of epic proportions and a horrified memory of having engaged in sexual blood play with a man whose name I didn’t even know.
I realized, with a combination of exasperated self-condemnation and anxious dread, that I’d need to get a blood test soon after I got home. Apart from that, though, I wasn’t in any condition to think about anything besides my skull-splitting, stomach-churning hangover. I staggered around the room in a groggy daze, sloppily gathering and packing my things, then I made my way to the airport just in time for my flight. All things considered, I deeply regretted ever having agreed to attend the wedding, and I just wanted to go home and get back to my normal life.
I didn’t know it then, but I would never return to my normal life. Though I did get back to Chicago in a timely and uneventful manner.
Of course, I experienced excruciating light sensitivity throughout my journey that day; but I attributed it to my hangover. If you’re wondering how I survived that exposure to sunlight, it turns out (I have since learned) that vampires don’t burst into flames or dissolve into ashes when exposed to the sun. We’re just sun-intolerant; it’s uncomfortable for us, but not terminal—not unless we overdo it. Since I’m half-Irish and half-Polish, this aspect of vampirism was the easiest one for me to adjust to, being very little different from my previous existence.
After I got home and unpacked, the thought of food didn’t interest me, and I again attributed this to my hangover. It wasn’t until the following day that I began to notice something strange about myself.
Feeling recovered from my weekend misadventure, I grabbed a muffin and some coffee on my way to work the next morning, as was my long-established habit. But I quickly discovered that the muffin tasted like sawdust and the coffee had no flavor at all. Moreover, within minutes, I was violently sick, bringing up everything I had just consumed. I thought maybe the food was off, or maybe I was still suffering the after-effects of my personal saturnalia. To be on the safe side, I avoided food and beverage for the rest of the day—and found that, despite the morning’s messy episode and my continued light sensitivity, I otherwise felt fine.
In fact, better than fine. I felt wonderful. My sense of well-being that day was virtually unprecedented. I was energetic, alert, and full of stamina. I stayed late, working for thirteen hours, and wasn’t even tired when I finally decided to call it a day and go home. My senses of hearing, sight, and smell were pleasurably heightened. And I was suddenly so strong that when I accidentally knocked an important file behind a massive photocopier, and I pushed against the machine in futile frustration, thinking the file was effectively gone forever now… the machine moved as easily as if it were a shopping cart. I retrieved the file and then pushed the massive machine back into place with very little effort.
By nightfall, I was quite hungry. But I soon discovered that no matter what food I tried, it was all as flavorless as dust, and I also couldn’t keep it down for more than a few minutes. Meanwhile, I went from hungry to ravenous. Yet nothing satisfied me or was safe for me to eat.
Despite all these obvious clues about my transformation, it was only when I logged on to my personal email account that night, confused and agitated by the strange experiences of the day, that I finally suspected the truth.
The eye-opening hint came in the form of an email from the hotel where I had stayed that weekend. They had revised my bill after I’d checked out, having discovered that I had virtually emptied the minibar in my room.
Then it alllll came flooding back to me.
Sometime after draining an uncertain number of little bottles of alcohol and before sinking into an unconscious stupor, I had offered my veins up to the naked stranger in my bed… and I had greedily drunk from the artery he presented to me.
“Oh. My. God.“
I had not, as I had feared, contracted an STD as a result of that encounter. I had contracted vampirism.
I did what I believe almost anyone would do upon making such a discovery: I went to bed and hid under the covers.
In the morning, I called in sick at work. I stayed in bed, not answering my phone or door, and not collecting my mail or checking my email. For twenty-four hours, I dozed fitfully, hoping each time I awoke that I had dreamed the whole episode. Then I would test this theory by doing something like picking up my dresser (which weighs more than I do)—and I’d realize with a mixture of horror, fear, and panic that, no, the nightmare was real and I had indeed become a supernatural being, a bloodsucking creature of the night, an undead thing… And I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do about it.
Finally, around midnight that night, maddening hunger drove me out of my condo and into the streets in search of sustenance. I had watched enough vampire movies to have a vague idea of what I should do. I went to a singles’ bar, encouraged a reasonably attractive but none-too-sober man to pick me up, and went home with him. Although I’d normally never do something that reckless (well, not unless I was a morbidly unhappy wedding guest), my supernatural strength gave me (perhaps misplaced) confidence in my ability to handle him if he turned out to be a violent psychopath.
I should make it clear that I had no intention of killing or harming him. Yes, I thirsted desperately for human blood, but I hadn’t turned into a homicidal maniac, for goodness sake. I still retained my moral center. But since my sire had fed on me without harming me, I assumed I could do the same to someone else. And I was starving by now.
It was only once I was in bed with my prospective victim and I prepared to feast on the warm, luscious blood that I could smell through the heat of his skin and hear pounding alluringly through his veins and arteries… It was only then that I realized I didn’t know how to do this.
Yes, I remembered my sire sucking my blood. Mostly, though, I remembered the sensation being so erotic that it produced the most explosive orgasm of my life. That fiery shower of pleasure, combined with the large quantities of alcohol I had consumed, ensured that I was now extremely fuzzy on the logistical details of what had happened.
I recalled various vampire portrayals I had seen on TV and decided to imitate them and hope for the best. Under the guise of kisses and caresses, I got my mouth close to my partner’s jugular vein, then I opened wide, preparing to feed—and expecting fangs to conveniently pop out of my mouth so I could pierce his flesh (gently, mind you) and drink.
My stomach rumbled hungrily, but nothing else happened. I removed my hand from my partner’s body and raised it to my lips, exploring my teeth and then poking around in my mouth. Everything felt perfectly normal.
“Are you okay?” he breathed.
“Did you bite your tongue or something?”
Okay, I would just have to do this without fangs. I was by now hungry enough to eat the bed, let alone the man writhing temptingly in my arms. So I took a steadying breath, then I bit his neck.
He groaned with startled pleasure.
I bit a little harder. He grunted as his flesh squished between my teeth. I tasted sweat and cheap aftershave, but no blood. I pulled my head back and took a look; the skin of his neck was a little reddened, and I could see deep marks from my teeth, but it was obvious I had come nowhere near accessing his jugular.
I tried again, fiercely determined this time as I gnawed ferociously on him.
“OW! Hey, that hurts!” He shoved at me. “Stop.“
I ceased biting my prey, let go of him, and rolled away from his body, realizing there was no way this was going to work. Seized by a combination of frustrated hunger, confused despair, and embarrassment, I burst into tears.
I’m not normally a weepy woman, but this moment was the culmination of several very trying days.
He initially tried to get his night back on track (i.e. get me back into the sack) with soothing words and caresses; but once he realized I was working my way up to a full flood of hysterics, he encouraged me to get dressed and go home. Which I did.
After a long night of deep sleep induced by exhaustion and emotional trauma, I called in sick at work again the next day. Realizing that I would starve to death if I didn’t find out how to feed myself as a vampire, I knew I had to track down the man who had done this to me. He was the only person of my acquaintance who could explain to me how vampirism worked in practical terms. Perhaps he could even tell me how to get this reversed.
I started by calling Lucy, then realized when I got her answering machine that she was on her honeymoon in Hawaii. Presumably she had taken her cell phone with her, but I didn’t know the number. I’d have to find someone who did know it. I searched my purse for the business cards and scribbled-on pieces of notepaper that some of my old college friends had handed me that weekend. I had found our reunion so demoralizing that I hadn’t expected ever to use their contact information, but now I was very glad that I hadn’t thrown any of it away. At least one of them would surely have Lucy’s cell number—or might even know who I had slept with that night and how I could contact him.
The first person I tried was Mimi.
“I’m so glad you called!” she cried. “No one had your phone number—well, Lucy, I suppose, but she was gone already—and we’ve all been dying to know what happened after you left the reception with that gorgeous hunk!”
“We slept together,” I said shortly. “Do you have Lucy’s cell phone number?”
“I knew it! Oh, my God! Did you even know him before that?”
“No.” I asked hopefully, “Do you know him?”
“I knew it, I knew it! You’re so brave!” Mimi enthused. “That is so exciting!”
“I don’t suppose you happen to know his na—”
“I wish I could be like you and just go for it.”
“I went for it because I was three sheets to the wind,” I said. “Listen, I need to find—”
“Just tell me one thing,” Mimi said. “Was the sex great? The way he looked on the dance floor, I had a feeling it would be great. Was it great?”
“Actually, yeah, it was great. But there was one little probl—”
“You are so much better at being single than I am. It’s not that I want my jerk of a husband back—Jesus, no!—but I just feel so pathetic ever since my divorce.”
I pointed out, “You’re the one who showed up at the wedding with an adoring new boyfriend, not me.”
“Honey, he’s gay.”
I blinked. “Your boyfriend is gay?”
“He’s not my boyfriend. He’s my downstairs neighbor.”
I sighed, realizing the truth. “You felt you couldn’t show up at the wedding without a date?”
She made an affirmative noise. “But he’s such a drama queen, he totally overdid it. All that doting, adoring talk about how wonderful I was and how lucky he was, blah blah blah. His act was so close to parody, I thought everyone there realized within a half hour that he was just my gay beard.” She paused. “You really couldn’t tell?”
She didn’t have Lucy’s cell number, but she thought that our friend Kathleen did. I wasn’t enthused about contacting Kathleen, who had spent the entire reception talking about the joys of dual-parenting and the pleasure of spending time with her spouse by rehabbing their townhouse together. But my need was desperate, so I called her.
Initially, our conversation was repeatedly interrupted by her shrieking in foul-mouthed rage at her children (about whom she had crooned rapturously at the wedding). After she had locked them in the cellar (with my heightened senses, I could hear them pounding on the door and demanding release), she questioned me, as had Mimi, about that night.
“God, was the sex good?” she asked longingly. “God, I have not had good sex since at least two years before I wound up with Nathan.”
“My husband. You met him.”
Indeed, I had. Kathleen had clung to him like a burr all that evening. I asked, “Do you happen to have Lucy’s—”
“When I watched you leave the ballroom with that guy, I swear, I wanted to beat you to death with my stiletto heels and take your place.” Kathleen added, “Nothing personal.”
She didn’t have Lucy’s cell number, but she did have the number of Lucy’s parents. Feeling I was at least one step closer to my quarry, I dialed the number. Lucy’s mother answered.
“Oh, hello, dear! How lovely to hear from you. Did you enjoy the wedding?” It was obvious from the sound of her voice that she was crying.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” she sobbed. “It’s nothing.” She blew her nose.
“Please tell me what’s wrong,” I said in concern.
“Men are such beasts.“
I wondered if there had been some disastrous wedding-night revelation. “Is Lucy all right?”
“I’m not talking about Lucy!” she shrieked. “I’m talking about Harry!”
“You might as well be the first to know,” she said tearfully. “I’m leaving the bastard.”
“And I intend to get every penny I can! God knows I deserve something for the past forty hellacious, wasted years of my life!”
I sighed in weary exasperation. “You know, if all you people hadn’t been so goddamned phony at Lucy’s wedding, my life would be working out very differently now.”
She was too distracted by her own problems to pay any attention to what I had just said. Which was no doubt just as well. I got Lucy’s contact number from her and ended the call.
I was surprised by how delighted Lucy was to pick up the phone to find me interrupting her honeymoon.
“God, I am so bored I could kill myself,” she said.
That didn’t really jibe with my image of honeymoons. “Really?”
“I should never—never!—have gotten married during football season,” said Lucy. “I haven’t been able to peel him away from the TV since we got here. If he’s not watching a game or a re-run of a game, then he’s watching commentators talking about games. We’re in Hawaii! This is my honeymoon! I hate him!”
“I love the life I had,” I said wanly. “I miss the life I had.”
“Look, the night of your wedding, I left the reception with a guy—”
“Hey, I heard about that!” She added darkly, “I’ll bet he didn’t go into a trance in front of the TV as soon as you got him alone in a hotel room.”
“I need to get in touch with him,” I said. “He, um, you might say… left something important in my room. I need to know what to do about it.”
“Oh, you want his phone number?”
“Yes,” I said with relief. “Also his name.”
She burst into surprised laughter. “You didn’t even know his name? Oh, my God, I wish I were you.”
I also wished I was me—the pre-vampire me. “Do you know who he is?” I asked eagerly.
He’d been a guest on the groom’s side. I heard Lucy asking her new husband for the guy’s full name and contact information. It took her several tries to get his attention away from the TV. Then she had to search their suite for his cell phone, in which the correct phone number could be found.
My one-night stand was a business contact of Lucy’s loathed spouse. Lucy relayed the information that the guy traveled a lot, so his cell was my best bet for reaching him.
I dialed the number.
“Oh, my God, it’s you,” he said, after I got him on the phone and explained who I was. “Are you okay? I mean… how are you?”
“I’m a vampire now,” I said without further preamble.
“Shit! So that part wasn’t just a drunken delusion?”
“No,” I said stonily. “Can it be undone?”
“Undone?” he repeated in obvious surprise. “No. It’s a mystical transformation, not a tattoo.” He added apologetically, “It’s like circumcision. Once it’s done, there’s no going back.”
“So I’m stuck being this way for the rest of my life?” I said shrilly. “I mean, my unlife?”
“Christ, I’m sorry. I am so sorry.” He sounded sincere. “I should never have done that while we were so drunk. Or on such short acquaintance. You had no way of knowing what you were getting into. What I did was wrong. I just got completely carried away. You were so sexy and hot, and so cuddly and funny, and I felt so… But that’s no excuse.”
“If I was so appealing, why did you disappear without even saying goodbye?” This really wasn’t the most important thing we needed to discuss, but suddenly I wanted an explanation.
“I had to go. I had an early flight to the West coast. I’m in Seattle on business right now,” he explained. “I tried to wake you. I really tried. But you were dead to the world, and I didn’t want to throw cold water on you or start slapping you awake. That seemed a little extreme.”
“Well, I guess…”
“So I wrote you a note and left my card.”
“You did?” I said in surprise.
“Yes. On the dresser.” Hearing my silence, he asked, “Didn’t you see it?”
“No.” Then again, I didn’t think I had even looked at the dresser. I was so hung-over that I stumbled around the room in a hurried daze, throwing things into my weekend bag and then fleeing the hotel, afraid of missing my flight. “Damn.”
“Well, anyhow, I’m glad you found me.” After a pause he said, “You probably have a lot of questions.”
“You bet I do! For one thing, I’m starving, and I don’t know how to eat. I tried biting someone last night—”
“Oh, that never works,” he said. “You don’t want to do that.”
“So I discovered,” I said sourly.
“You didn’t hurt anyone, did you?”
“No, of course not!”
“Just asking,” he said soothingly. “Being turned is pretty overwhelming at first. Especially if your sire isn’t around to help you and you don’t have the manual.”
“The manual?” I repeated.
“Yeah. The Vampire’s Guide To Unlife.”
“There’s a manual?“
“Yes. Basic guidelines, policies and procedures, dos and don’ts, wisdom from the elders passed down through the generations. Stuff like that. It’s really useful. Essential, in fact.”
“There’s a vampire manual,” I said in bemusement. “Who knew?”
“If you give me your address, I’ll have a copy overnighted to you.”
“Okay. Thanks,” I said. “But in the meantime, I am so hungry.”
“Drink a lot of pomegranate juice. It’ll tide you over until I get there.”
“Pomegranate juice?” I blurted. “Will that even stay down? Nothing else I’ve tried—”
“It’ll work. I know it sounds weird, but pomegranate juice soothes the hunger pangs and helps keep your energy up when you can’t feed.”
“Pomegranate juice. Go figure.” Then I realized what else he had said. “You’re coming here?”
“I need to bring you your pitchfork.”
“You’re bringing me a pitchfork?“
“That’s what we call the tool we use to painlessly open a vein so we can feed,” he explained. “Its formal name is in Greek, and I can never pronounce it right. It’s a solid silver hand tool with two very sharp prongs.”
Which presumably left a mark that looked like the victim was bitten by fangs.
“That sounds handy,” I said. “Can you send it to me with the manual?”
“Sorry, that’s not allowed—and I’ve already violated custom enough by turning you while you were drunk and barely knew me,” he said. “I’m obligated to train you to use the pitchfork safely before I can give it to you, and then there’s a whole ritual presentation we’re supposed to go through. Vows and stuff like that. Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it.”
“Well, in that case… when can you be in Chicago?”
“Uh…” There was a pause while he checked his schedule. “I can get in Friday night and stay through the weekend.”
“I’ll be waiting.” I added, “Hungrily.”
“Pomegranate juice,” he reminded me. Then he asked hesitantly, “Can you recommend a hotel near your place?”
I thought about the night we had spent together, which I was remembering a little more clearly now that I could hear his voice again. And I heard myself say, “Do you really want to stay in a hotel?”
“Well…” I could hear a smile enter his voice. “The note you didn’t find said that I really wanted to see you again.”
I smiled, too. Then I said to my new vampire lover, “There’s just one thing I want to get on the table and make clear before you start sleeping in my bed.”
“I’m definitely not interested in marriage.”
Author’s Note: When I sat down to write this story, I had recently completed an urban fantasy novel called Vamparazzi, for which I had done a ton of vampire research—which had proved to be a lot more interesting than I had expected. So I thought that writing a vampire story for this collection would be a good opportunity to use some more of that background material.
As it turns out… I didn’t use any of it. None! That’s just what happens sometimes. Instead, once I started developing the heroine of this story, I soon found that her fate, rather than being ruled by the vampire lore I had researched, was largely determined by other people in the story maneuvering her into feeling uncomfortable about her singlehood—a state with which she’s normally content. (As a single person myself, I’ve been there.) So I really enjoyed playing with that theme by pushing her into an impulsive (and fantastical) life-altering decision which this level-headed woman would never normally have made—and then seeing what happened next.