It starts with the light in Alaska in the summertime, the midnight sun. The hull of the cruise ship is black from fire and the oxidations of decades or centuries of gallons of dried blood. Consider the seawater it displaces, installed there in the bay, that black island, that monolith. The vampires enhived therein slumber in its holds and cabins and messhalls. The abattoir vibe for them is like rapture. Fabric blanks the round windows against the lethal sun. Thousands of bloodsuckers see there in the dark.
Imagine their thousands packed like eels in a bucket, darkness the fluid they snake through. Feel that throbbing? That's the need to feed. That's the haunting potential of a human creature coming aboard. That's the inevitability of a human creature, or creatures, local or locals, in Carhartt ensemble, glorying in the violence of man over beast. Heroes! This is fiction after all. It is tension, and the release from tension.
What do you think they do out there all night, just that thronging multitude? Blood parties, or what? Are they sleeping the deep, long, cryogenic sleep of spacemen in distant outer space? That centuries-long sleep? Decades of sleep? Or do they simply wake in the late fall when the summer light fails, hungry after months without blood to eat? And those men in the short boats anchoring up now beside them, 6pm today let's say, what story do they intend to live to tell?
A tow-headed boy, up the steep cliff-face from the bay, rides his bike in the driveway in laps around his father's enormous pickup truck, careful not to scratch it. The boy is seven. He drinks his own blood when he falls down and smears his elbow skin red.
Ow! he yells, loud, so someone might hear. The ow echoes. The house is wreathed in firs. Firs are evergreen and unchanging despite cold mornings and early nights. The echo is powerful and satisfying. The elbow wound is nothing, but it bleeds, there's dirt in the blood, his fingers are bloody. He touches the bloody fingers to his tongue. Power, he thinks. The metal taste is not delicious. But deliciousness he knows is reserved for cookies. Power is to be fought for, delivered via pain. Power tastes good. He licks his little fingers and sucks them. He dabs more and sucks more and dabs more and sucks more and then his natural coagulates take hold. A final taste. He walks the bike inside and waits for his father to come home. It's 9pm, but the sun still butters the tips of the cedar, the hemlock, the spruce.
What do you think? Do vampires' mouths secrete a serum that prevents human blood from clotting? Do vampires have the ability to taste just a little and leave the human whole? Or are they blood thirsty and powerless to do anything but suck the skin bag dry until the vein walls touch? Does it matter if the summer has been long and the vamp is ravenous? Does it matter if the vamp was a good person once, turned against their will, who feels that though what they do to survive is, yes, an evil and a wrong, existence of any kind—even one so nasty as their own—is a good and a right, and so a neutrality is reached, or could be reached, by way of the purgatory immortality itself provides? And what if that's why they don't roast themselves in the sun on the deck of the ship but century after century practice a kind of ascetic self-restraint. For example, they nurse from rats maybe or rapists in alleyways, but every few decades they fuck up, and they let a human get too close, and they admit what they are and they fall in love and they touch and are touched gently without murder and their lover bites them and is like, come on, I want it. I want you to taste me. Tell me I'm the best you've ever tasted. What if this vamp refuses, what if this vamp is like, you don't know what you're asking! I'm a monster, you can't possibly understand. And what if the lover is like, make me understand! I want to be a part of you. I'll make you taste me, they say. Live forever on my blood. Make me one of you, make me one with you, re-make me in your darkness, and what if they kiss and it is beautiful and full of possibilities the vamp had thought lost to time, but then what if the lover's lips get split on the vamp's fangs and that's it—the beast comes out, and it's death or undeath, those are the rules?
If you've got a thousand vampires in a night-time cruise ship off the coast of Alaska, how many do you think are vegetarians? How many can swim? How many have been dreaming in their witchy ways about this tow-headed child home alone in his parent's house, 10 pm, the dusk just starting up? Can they smell that elbow wound he's now washed and bandaged himself? Do they dream of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he's made, or the porno film he watches on his father's pay channels without purpose or real attention? Do they make the connection between the men they consume, the ones whose boats they steal, and the kid they are definitely after now?
How concerned for this kid should we be, knowing the danger he's in? Knowing how close that cruise ship full of leeches is? If his father whose truck is here is gone, and we don't know where—or we do—does that mean more danger? If there's a secret door in the back bedroom full of garlic and mirrors, sharp sticks and holy water, does that up the poor boy's chances? What would we be thinking if the answering machine blinked on the landline hanging on the wall in the kitchen where the jam and knife and bread still sit on the counter, if in that message, which the kid hasn't heard, has ignored, there is his father's voice, breathless—the sounds of other men around him, the sounds of engines, the sounds of drinking songs and dynamite, the waves, and his father's voice under all that chaos, saying, "you'll learn."
Assume the kid is bored, and only watches the porno because he can't watch the porno. Assume the room is dark. Assume, his little white-haired head hangs weirdly off the arm of the couch, his neck exposed, like a steak on a plate. Assume he turns off the tv, sees the red light on the phone flashing "1". How long do you think he'll lay there in the dark and quiet before he notices, outside, the hundreds of glowing yellow eyes? How long, do you think, until he slides open the glass door and quietly lets them all in?
"Vampire Story" came out of an exercise in Blake Butler's "The Rules are Myths" workshop. I was trying to undo the myth of growth and revelation, though, with the boy about to be confronted by this blood-crazy horde, I'm not sure I did any more than defer it.