Sometimes, I write a scene that I love, but then can't fit it in the novel. Maybe it doesn't fit with the flow, or maybe I wrote it as backstory, just so that I would know exactly what happened. This vignette is one of those times where I wrote a piece knowing it wouldn't fit. To reader of the Void City books, it will fill in a little background, but o those who haven't, hopefully it will provide a tantalizing glimpse (I've always wanted to type that phrase) on the father/daughter relationship that is at the core of the series...
A Void City Beach Outing
J. F. Lewis © 2011
As my tent disintegrated in a lurid flash of heat and flames, so did I. Well, okay, I didn't quite go fwoosh, but there were definite flames involved. Vampires and the sun don't play well together. Then again, the people with whom I play well can be counted on one hand. The people I love? Well, for that you only need two fingers.
The bright sandy beaches of Gulf Shores sparkled before me and, for just an instant, I caught sight of my daughter in her bikini, having the time of her life out beyond the breakers. Then, of course, I was blinded, my flesh erupting into flames. Technically there is a bubbling phase in there, but it goes by so fast that I rarely notice. The smell of my own sizzling flesh filled my nostrils and I shouted a word of which I'm very fond. It alliterates with "fond" too, now that I think of it.
Two vampire hunters armed with flamethrowers rushed in, lighting me up further, if possible. The gas smell of their fuel tanks bit at my nose.
"Oh, come on," I snapped, "that's adding insult to injury isn't it? I mean when you're already engulfed in flame, can you really be more engulfed?"
The crossbows came next, though. I heard rather than saw them. Sharp spikes of pain bloomed in my chest as arrows penetrated my flesh. They missed my heart, but that doesn't mean it felt good.
Off to my left, under an umbrella, a sixty year old redhead who knew me far too well looked up from the Agatha Christie she was reading and laughed before looking back down at the book which held her attention. Cries rang out all around me, screams from the beach goers who were there on family outings mixed with the terse shouts from the vampire hunters who wanted me dead.... or rather more dead.
"Daddy!" Greta's voice cut through the other shouts. A quiver of fear lay underneath her words and it unleashed the angry little part of me that lives too close to the surface. I had rage blackouts my entire life. Being undead hadn't changed that, only made me more deadly when I lost it. Being on fire annoyed me, but I understood. I eat people. Kill them and drink their blood anyway. Humans don't take kindly to that. Fair enough.
Here's a hint: If you're a vampire, the sun will set you on fire. You will not sparkle. Vampire Hunters, unless they are monumentally stupid, look for times to attack vampires when the vampires are at their most vulnerable.
The beach, furthermore, is not a place for vampires.
Not during the day.
At night we can hang. We can do the whole bonfire thing and listen to the radio and watch humans cook things and eat them and when they move off from the rest for a little alone time, it's simple enough to wander off after an amorous couple and have a little drink. But Greta did not want to go to the beach at night. She wanted to go during the day. And, seeing as how it was her twenty-first birthday, and I'd agreed to turn her into a vampire that very night after having made her wait for more than a decade, I'd said yes.
I'm an idiot, but I also love my little girl. Rescuing her is one of the few good things I've done with my undeath. And no one gets to mess with Greta or ruin her birthday. I lost it.
For a long time I didn't know what happened when I raged out, but looking back, I can tell you what the vampire hunters probably saw. I call it the uber vamp. The first sign of trouble would have been when the flames went out. A writhing, charred and blackened vampire rose from the smoke. The black skin of my uber vamp form flowed out like a smoothing of the skin. The hunters might not have even realized what was happening at first. A lambent purple glow shone forth from my eyes. At some point, I'd have started to grow. The uber vamp is bigger than me and while it doesn't like the sun, the effect is more of a smolder than a conflagration.
Leathery wings unfurled from my back, tearing free with the sound of sail cloth catching the wind. The uber vamp’s claws are long, black and curved, like talons and the fangs are both uppers and lowers. At eight feet tall, it's quite impressive- and, yes, Freud, I’m disassociating. I like to think it only killed and drained the vampire hunters, but way back then, in... I guess that would have been around 1980… my memory can be a little fuzzy (okay, a lot fuzzy), but that sounds about right. Anyway, way back then I didn't remember anything that happened when I was the uber vamp. So... though, I'd like to say I only killed the vampire hunters, I can't be sure.
The next thing I actually remember is waking up in the trunk of my 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible, with Greta banging on the metal. "Are you okay in there, Dad?"
Some vampires don't get to keep their clothes when they transform. I'm one of the lucky ones, though I have a tendency to reform in the same set of clothes all the time if I don't really concentrate. Dressed in a black "Welcome to the Void" t-shirt, jeans, brown belt, undies, socks, and combat boots, I rolled out of the trunk only to find out we were barely safe from the sun in a small scale parking deck, covered with tracks of sand, the smell of the sand and surf carrying to me easily, driving the burnt odor out of my nostrils.
Greta smiled. Tall, blond, and built like a model, she was in better shape than I'd ever been... which had been my idea. When I rescued her from her... bad situation… she'd been overweight and out of shape, but I'd made physical fitness part of my conditions for turning her: Not before she turned twenty-one and not unless she was in the kind of shape she'd be happy with until the end of time. It was all a part of my maybe-if-I-let her-see-all-the-bad-things-about-being-a-vampire-she'll-want-to-kill-me-when-grows-up-instead-of-becoming-like-me plan. I’d definitely given her time to think it all over.
"Can I be a vampire now?" she asked when she saw I was okay.
Yeah, my plans never turn out well.
"What food do you want to taste last?" I hoped the answer would require some thought, but if it did, she'd done that thinking a long long time ago. Vampires can't eat. Can't taste anything, but blood. Some of us crave food so badly we recruit humans to eat it for us, watch them do it, and make them describe the experience. Other vampires call it voyeuristic eating. I call it food porn.
"I want a coke in a real glass bottle." Greta smiled the biggest smile in the whole wide world. Behind her, Marilyn puffed on her cigarette and looked on with distinct disapproval. "I want a huge plate of French Fries... and a vanilla ice cream cone."
"No beer?" I asked. "You're old enough now."
"Ugh," she stuck out her tongue. "I thought you said it tastes like camel's piss."
"It does." It was my turn to grin. "But this will be your last chance to-"
"Nope," she shook her head, "I'm good."
I'd like to say I watched her eat, but I was lost in thought listening to the sound of the heartbeat I was going to stop, the blood rushing through her veins. The very thought of turning her made me sick inside, but she'd made me say two words on which I never go back: "I promise". So I was stuck. She ate her last meal at some little dive close to the beach and we watched the sun go down, me from further in the shadows than my companions. When Greta went to the bathroom, Marilyn slapped me.
Marilyn had been the love of my mortal life, the woman to whom I'd been engaged back when I died in 1965. She still looked like the red headed bombshell of a woman that she was, but I knew she dyed her hair, and the lines had begun to show around her eyes. She was sixty-something, so I'd finally accepted that she wouldn't have anything to do with me romantically anymore and that vampirism was an option the two of us no longer needed to discuss.
"You're going to kill that girl, you selfish little asshole," Marilyn spat. "I can’t believe you're really going to do it."
"I promised," I said, seriously, which brought on another slap.
"I don't even have the words for you." She got up and stalked toward the exit of the diner. "I'll see you back in Void City."
I stared out the wall fo windows after Marilyn, watched her walk down the beach, and pretended not to hear Greta throwing up in the bathroom. An empty system makes the transition less painful, but getting rid of food by barfing, wasting it… felt wrong to me. The whole thing felt wrong.
I can't remember if we drove back to Void City or to the hotel, but I remember Greta talking about Kyle. He was Greta's brother... not her for-real brother, but he was a part of our undead little family for a while. I don't think about him much. It's easier not to.
There are only a few power levels of vampire. In terms of things you might find along the beach: Pawns are like bottle caps, if you find one you throw it away, barely even proper vampires at all. Soldiers are next in line, pretty shells that are broken or flawed... nice for sentimental value, but no one is really happy with them long term. Masters are your whole shells and sand dollars. Everyone is impressed with them and they are what everyone has in mind when they go out collecting. Vlads though, Vlads like me, are special... like finding a perfectly preserved nautilus shell washed up on the beach. Rare. Special.
I turned Kyle a few weeks after Greta. If I’d turned him first, I’d probably never have turned her. He was a nice guy and I was sort of trying to pull off this whole family thing. I think I hoped it would make things more normal somehow. Unfortunately, while Greta was a Vlad, Kyle only came out a Pawn. He was never the same after.
Waiting in the bedroom for Greta to get ready, I watched Carson on The Tonight Show.
"When I feed for the first time," Greta called from the bathroom, "can I eat somebody famous?"
"No," I said with a laugh.
"What about Valerie Burtonelli?"
That gave me pause. "Why the hell would you want to kill Valerie Burtonelli?"
"So you could turn her." Greta walked out of the bathroom naked and I looked away. A man isn't supposed to see his daughter naked when she's grown. And a daughter is all Greta has ever or ever will be to me. "She could be the mom and I can be the daughter and Kyle can be the son."
She walked past me out of the room.
"I'll be back in a little bit," she called. "I need Marilyn to help me with my enema."
"Enema?" I had no idea what enemas had to do with vampires.
She popped her head back in the door. "Otherwise it will hurt when my body purges itself of the human waste. I don't want it to hurt, Dad."
Twenty-four hours later, we walked the beach together, hand in hand, the sand squishing between our toes as the waves rolled up over our feet, the receding water making us both sink deeper into the dampened sand. Farther down the beach, a group of Spring Break revelers whooped and shouted around a bonfire while Lee Greenwood's voice came through loud and clear on the radio. He wanted God to bless the country. I thought God might have other ideas.
"Can I, Dad?" Greta looked at me with her eyes aglow with crimson light, fangs out, glinting in the moonlight… and I just couldn't say no.
"Have fun," I said.
And screams filled the night.
And blood soaked the sand.
Later, Greta buried me in the sand. The hermit crabs sensed somehow that they'd best stay well clear. Next, Greta fed on a group of late night walkers, some teens out gigging frogs, and then a wino passed out on the beach. I told myself it was only the initial hunger of a newly made vampire, but I should known then that there was more to it than that. Greta's thirst for blood was like nothing I'd ever seen.
We sat up, waiting to watch the sunrise together. We planned to dash for cover, and Greta swore she didn’t mind getting a little bit singed, but she fell asleep an hour before dawn. I cleaned her up back at the hotel, washed the sand off of her and struggled her into her nightshirt and shorts. On the news, I watched the local anchors struggling to find the right words to report the carnage. They were shocked... appalled... horrified… and they’d never actually know what happened. What else would you expect from vampires at the beach?
* * *
And now you've had a glimpse (brief though it may have been at the world of Void City. Be sure to pick up STAKED, ReVAMPED, and CROSSED to see more recent (as in set after the year 2000) adventures of Eric and his ever-hungry and murderous daughter, Greta. If you dig the setting, but want a bigger sampleI have more free fiction online and you can track me down on Facebook, Twitter @JF_Lewis.