“Of course, you can interview me for your column,” “J” replied when I posed the question. “As a relative, I’m probably the only vampire you can safely get close to!”
(At this point, let me explain that “J” is my cousin--our fathers were brothers--but whatever eccentricities exist in my relative, such as that odd avoidance of sunlight, a strange yearning for midnight strolls, and a habit of dancing under the trees in the dead of night, come from the maternal side of the family--not mine. “J” resides in Alaska, an excellent choice, since it's semi-twilight there for six months of the year, so for half a year, at least, there’s no worry about that nasty problem with the sun!--and practices law by day, if “day” is the right term for that gray overcast that hangs over the city at this time of year. )
“It’s strange, but I meet many bloodsuckers in my profession... Most of them are ex-wives, however.”
We were seated in the living room. Settling into a darkened corner of the sofa, “J” had wanted to draw the curtains against the ever-present dusk. I protested the closing-off of a view of the garden, with its beautiful foxglove, green nightshade decorated with white blossoms and tiny red berries, and yellow-flowered wolf’s-bane. They were all so colorful! I don’t know why more people don’t plant them.
At my request, “J” left the curtains open.
“Shall we get started?” She rubbed her hands together in anticipation, and announced with a flourish, “It’s Truth or Dare time!”
I made agreeable noises, extracting my pen and writing pad and leaning back against the soft cushions, nearly disappearing into the shadows at that end of the sofa.
“Well--” I began.
“Why don’t I just answer all the tired old questions first?” my cousin interrupted.
“All right,” I agreed, and cast about wildly for the first cliché, squinting at the words on the paper, a vague white shape in my lap. “Uh--Silver-- Is it true vampires are allergic to pure metals? Silver...gold...?”
“Yes,” came the response from the dark. “I am allergic to silver, as a matter of fact. It give me a rash, but--doesn’t kill me.”
“No?” I queried, raising my eyebrows in what I hoped was a reporter’s skeptical expression. It was totally lost in the deepening twilight.
“Surprised? Yes, I see you are!” I had forgotten how well “J” could see in the dark. I, with my nearsightedness--I almost would say I’m as blind as a bat--envied that ability. (Inherited from her mother, naturally!)
“ I expect a silver bullet would kill me, but then--” There was a slight chuckle. “I expect a regular one would do the same job just as efficiently!”
Well, so much for that! I drew a line through the word on my list, and studied the second one myopically.
“What about garlic? Surely you don’t deny that vampire can be repelled by garlic?” I demanded.
“'Fraid I do,” “J” answered with a long-suffering but apologetic sigh, “I’m not repelled by garlic. On the contrary, I love it!”
“But--” I protested, “everyone knows that--“
“Of course, they do!” This was said gently, as if placating a fractious child. “And why do they know? Who do you think started that rumor that a necklace of garlic would repel us? One guess!”
“Oh, the gullibility of the human race!”
My cousin was laughing out loud now. I could feel the sofa shaking with mirth. As a member of that “gullible race”, I could also feel my face getting just a little red.
“Doesn’t it bother you--even a little?” I suggested, feebly. “A slight cough, a stuffy nose, perhaps?”
“Quite the contrary-- It solved our dilemma of having to carry garlic with us if we wanted it with our meal. Those stupid peasants did it for us! Hanging it from the door frames and windowsills! Hah! Why, we'd break in, grab a garlic rope and a victim, and run, enjoying both at our leisure.”
These wasn’t quite the disclosures I had expected. I drew a line through the second word, and pressed onward.
“All right, then-- What about holy water?” I persevered. “Surely, you can’t deny that--”
“Holy water?” “J” interrupted, with a snicker. “Oh, come on! I take Communion regularly with the rest of the Episcopalians. (That’s a strange coincidence--there are an extraordinary number of Episcopalian vampires. Perhaps that should investigated. Hmmm?) I’ve even been sprinkled a time or two. That one dies hard!”
I was silent. After all, I was a good little Baptist and “J’s” defection to another religion had long been a bone of contention between us.
“Think about it,” my cousin urged, waving one hand. At least, I think that’s what happened. It was so dark that I only felt the movement.
“We were thought of as evil creatures back in the Dark Ages and believed to be cursed because of the ignorant practices of that time. We had to take our destiny in our hands, so to speak--a little Public Relations in the right places, a legend here, a rumor there...all to our advantage, of course. And, as you can see--”
I wanted to point out that one thing I didn’t do was “see”--not in any way, shape or form--and would really like to turn on at least one lamp, but I kept silent. When “J” gets on a talking jag, it’s generally so entertaining that one just naturally keeps silent to see what'll be said next!
“--nowadays, vampires are just plain folks!” my cousin continued. “It was a long haul, but we've evolved way beyond the storybook monsters Bram Stoker and his yellow-prosed ilk would have us be--now, there was a mean-mouthed bunch! Ought to sue 'em for libel or slander or something!--and are now no more evil than anyone else.”
There was another thoughtful low laugh as “”J” indicated the headlines of a newspaper lying on a nearby end table.
“Maybe a lot less. No more angry peasants storming the castle with pitchforks and torches-- No more hapless maidens waylaid by the roadside...” There was a slight shiver. “Oooh, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about the Good Old Days! Nowadays, a nice inch and a half thick Porterhouse grilled to perfection, outside seared, inside bright pink...Yum!--”
There was a slight smacking of lips. I felt my own mouth water just a little. It did sound delicious!
“--is the preferred feast... cooked on the patio grill...served with a little red wine, a nice Shiraz or Merlot, perhaps.”
There was a snort and a shifting of weight from the other end of the sofa.
“Whoever started that rumor that we don’t eat?”
“That wasn’t one of the little “legends” dropped here or there, I take it?” I asked, slightly amused for once.
“Of course not! Haven’t you seen how I chow down in a restaurant?” Her voice took on a Bela Lugosi cadence. “I neffer drink vine...nor eat hamburger.... How absurd!”
“J” fell silent.
I was silent.
We stayed that way a long, long time.
At last, my cousin spoke up.
“I think it'll be fun to have my views recorded for posterity. Of course,” this was murmured thoughtfully, “my identity must be protected. My career, you know. And remember--” one shadowy hand came up in admonition, “if you let it slip that we’re cousins, you'll be suspect, too!”
“Me?“ I hadn’t thought of that. “T-that’s ridiculous!” I spluttered. “W-why no one would think I'm a vampire!”
“No? What about that sensitivity you have to the sun?” My cousin reminded me.
“I-I’m fair-skinned...and red-haired!” I defended myself. “Of course, I don’t like sunlight...”
“Uh-huh!” My cousin leaned close, peering at my nose. “And I supposed those aren’t burn marks?
My hand came up to stroke the little speckles on my nose and cheeks. While in Seattle the previous day, I'd ventured outside at noon minus sunblock and sunglasses.
“They-they’re freckles! Everyone knows I freckle easily!”
“Of course, they do,” came the answer, as if humoring me. “J” made a pitying clucking sound, enjoying my discomfort. “Tsk, tsk! Sure look like blisters to me! And you can’t deny that you don’t really come alive until the sun goes down!”
“I do seem to get going ‘round midnight,” I admitted, slowly.
“Aha!” came the triumphant reply. A hand pulled the pen from my fingers and snatched up the notepad. “Tell me, how do you feel about garlic? And didn’t you stop wearing that silver bracelet because it kept making tarnishing on your arm?”
“Hey,” I protested, “I’m supposed to be doing this interview!”
“Then let’s get on with it,” “J” ordered. “I’m flying to Chicago tomorrow and I want to get a little shut-eye after the sun comes up!”
“Flying!” I seized on that word eagerly. “You mean--”
“No, I don’t!” came the quick retort. “I’m going United! Why tire myself out when I can have someone else do the flying? Take the plane and leave the flying to us--or words to that effect!”
We talked a while longer, shared a nice red wine (“AB negative 1942--a good year,” my cousin murmured, teasingly,) and then retired, scurrying to our own rooms to fall into bed and snooze away the day as the sun began to peep over the treetops, burning off (ooh--I hate that word) the evening dusk but never becoming truly daylight.
The next night, I reviewed my notes, wondering if I really had material for an article. “J” left a few hours later, armed with carry-on bag and a copy of The Bloody Red Baron to while away the miles between Juneau and Chicago, promising to give me a real interview upon returning.
So, here I sit, pen in hand, waiting....