At Death’s Door

At Death’s Door was titled ‘Vampire’ until just a few chapters ago. This is written on my phone and will be extensively edited on a computer. Or, edited as any of my works are. There are two more books to be written, though I’ve not dabbled much in the plot of those so I can’t even give away the ending!

Vampires come out to humans and interviews are set up. Many humans are still skeptical as the vampires haven’t given physical proof besides some historical records. Those doing the interviews expect fluff and a little grief stricken darkness. A smidge of “oh, how killing mortals pains me!”

Most interviewers get just that. Boring vampires with boring lives (or at least edited for mass consumption) then there’s Quin.

Who probably shouldn’t have ever been on the list of interviewees. Like. Ever.

 

I sat in the little cafe as the sun set over the buildings. Watching the people go about their evening, I couldn’t help but feel surreal.

Surreal? Is that the word I want to use?

I had readied myself that evening as I might have for a date. I did want to make an impression, after all, and a lasting one. Perhaps a little more conservative than I would have dressed for a date. More like a job interview with someone I knew was attracted to me.

My blue blouse had all but the top button done up. That last button didn’t exactly reveal my cleavage, but it did loosen the collar around my throat. One could argue for better access to the soft skin of my neck, but I wore all my button up tops like that. If all the buttons were done up, I felt like I was suffocating.

The shirt was only half sleeve. I suppose that too could be argued as easy access, but it was what I had ended up putting on that evening. ‘Ended up’ is a rather carefree term for how I had ripped through my wardrobe, chose an outfit, and decided at the last minute it was too suggestive. Repeat that four times and you do ‘end up’ wearing something chosen at random with your eyes closed.

It’s a selection method that I rarely use, but it works quite well.

My dress pants were dark grey instead of black. I know black is the go-to colour, but I felt like I was trying to make a statement with the pant colour, so I went with the grey instead. At least there, I had only had to choose between two options.

My shoes were sensible somethings that I had borrowed from my roommate. Thankfully we were both the same size, and she was out of town for the week with no ability to protest. They were black, they fit, and they didn’t hurt my feet after ten minutes of wear.

I had yet to find a pair of dress shoes that I didn’t end up ripping off and throwing across a room when forced to wear them for more than an hour. I was already getting that pinch toed feeling and was wondering if staging a break in so that I could burn the shoes and walk home barefoot was going a bit far.

I had let my dark brown hair tumble down around my face. The hair was thick and naturally had a body to it that made others envious. Let them try to wash it, or put it back in a ponytail. See how long they thought a wild mass of hair atop their heads was a good idea. The hair flowed down my back. It was at least slightly tameable if I attacked it just the right way the moment I stepped out of the shower.

My instructions had been very clear. No perfume, deodorant would be allowed and very little makeup. Preferably anything organic. Chemicals were not allowed.

I had heard of people being able to taste certain chemicals, except it always tasted bad to them. I imagine the rule was there because of something to that effect.

Of course, I don’t know if any of my makeup is organic. All discount products, whose labels and packaging was long gone. I assumed that none of it was safe.

Yes, I was there for an interview/date type situation without makeup. I’d dare you to bask in the glory that is my face, but I felt very self-conscious without some kind of makeup. Not even a lip gloss or chapstick to help soothe my pride.

Failure to comply with the rules would result in instant dismissal, and I did not want to be dismissed. All five foot five of me was in desperate need of a paying job. Sarah wasn’t going to let me raincheck on rent again, even if she could afford the whole thing. She shouldn’t have had to pay for me the first time, but my life had gotten complicated quickly.

Which had led to me sitting in that cafe.

The only other occupant of the cafe was a man, sitting by the window, wearing a fedora and big sunglasses. He was wearing a light grey dress shirt with a dark vest over top of it with that little diamond pattern dyed into the vest. His dark grey slacks were freshly pressed.

All in all, he just looked out of place. The clothing didn’t match with the fedora and giant sunglasses.

He was tall and lean, and a male in the modern Era. The fact that he was wearing a vest with that pattern on it even?

I suppose, I’m not exactly a fashionista. Maybe that style was in, and it was just that I had a dislike for vest, dress shirt, and slacks all in greys.

Or maybe it was the brown shoes that did it. Or the bright purple ribbon around the dark grey fedora. Or even the gaudy gold ring on his hand, too large for it to be comfortable, surely.

The ring didn’t look like it was well done. There was something off about the colouring, like it was too yellow.

Had he raided his grandfather’s personal belongings? And was he there just to be seen, or was he waiting?

The man did, however, have a noble beard. It was black, full, and obviously very well kept. Not too long, just long enough that it came off of his chin a bit, and was shaped ever so slightly. Like he had just decided to take up the art of beard sculpting.

He was probably one of those men who had no problem growing a beard. I’d venture a guess that he had gone to bed last night with a clean-shaven jaw and woken with that majestic beard.

It was that kind of beard.

He watched the street as if expecting someone he knew. Before him sat a cup of mocha latte in a cream coloured mug and a half eaten biscotti, forgotten on the little ceramic plate on which it had been delivered.

The mocha latte fared only slightly better, as he’d pick it up only very occasionally and sip, then place it back on the table. His sips were small, hardly enough to wet a tongue if how little it had gone down inside the mug was any indication.

I was aware that he was nursing his coffee because I was doing the same, in the back corner of the cafe.

The cafe sat on a busy downtown street. Across the four-lane street stood a huge stone church. It had existed for some two hundred years, built by people whose name I had forgotten.

Look up the history of the church and avoid being atheistic about it.

A gathering was happening at the church. Maybe the man was waiting for a lover in the cafe while they attended. Gatherings were new, over the last few months as people tried to understand the change to their perception.

Religions welcomed their new flock with open arms, but I still wasn’t quite sold. It could still be a very elaborate conspiracy by a handful of people. While it’d be difficult to pull off, I didn’t think it was completely impossible. We had even been explained to, during orientation, about how such a conspiracy might be pulled off.

So that we knew, so that we’d be ready.

For me, attending church after such an announcement was a bit like getting house insurance after your house burns down. You didn’t believe before; you’re still going to hell with the rest of us not-quite-good-enough people.

I have an aunt who regularly lectures me on being a whore spawn of the devil. While I realize she is one very far side of the debate, it was enough to put me off organized religion pretty well for good.

If there were a God, one little announcement would not suddenly give the whole population a blank slate.

From where I sat in the cafe, I could just make out the bottom portion of the big double doors made of oak. They were partially open, though I couldn’t make out much more than that. I knew there were stained glass windows of saints.

One of them was the guy with a lion. Or being eaten by a lion. Or … something. Perhaps it wasn’t a saint. Maybe it was just a commemorative window for all the Christians that were fed to lions.

I wonder if that actually happened.

Could always ask.

The cafe was in a building that was about half as old as the church. It was made to show off the vintage nature of the building. Bare brick walls, worn out bar, grey wood flooring.

The bar had been a holdover from the previous business when the place had been an actual bar. Probably for some time, considering the bar was wood that was starting to turn grey, and lacked the gaudy shiny surface or mirrored sides that I had seen in other bars. The only shine to it came from the gold kick bar installed at the bottom of the bar and around. Even that wasn’t exactly shiny, so much as it was brushed gold in nature.

There were no bar stools around the bar. The cafe was tiny, it only had five tables, all lining the outer wall. In total, the width of the cafe couldn’t have been more than fifteen feet, maybe less. Maybe more like ten feet. If you had two of me laid head to foot, we’d probably overlap. The cafe was that narrow. It did give a cozy feel, though a little claustrophobic at times.

Like right then, waiting for someone to come through the door.

There was a small outdoor section. The door leading to it was one table from me. I had been given the option of sitting in the outside area, but then anyone could have hopped the fence behind or beside me. I wanted a little more control over this meeting of mine.

There were two more tables along the outer wall that sat adjacent to the outdoor sitting area. The last table was at the front, with a view towards the heart of the city. It sat just in front of the bar, but far enough in front of it that I had a pretty good view of the table.

It was also occupied by Mr. Fedora.

Basically, I was as far from the front door as I could get, in the darkest corner I could find. My back was against the back wall of the cafe, and my chair was tilted slightly, so that I wasn’t quite facing the front, but instead looking out across the cafe.

Mr. Fedora was sitting at my first choice of table. I had wanted to sit there because it would give me a clear view down the street. Shadows stretched pretty long across the streets as the sun set, providing lots of hiding places.

Coming the other way, the buildings were shorter and further between. Mainly newer things built in the last fifty years. There was even one plot that had once been a building but had been ripped down and replaced by a parking lot. Behind the lot was nothing but residential housing, nothing to stop the sun there.

So I figured if I could get there early enough, I could take the best seat in the house and watch the street towards downtown.

Mr. Fedora was already there. He was playing on his phone when I had entered. Probably texting, maybe texting his date, considering the phone was now sitting face down on the table beside the coffee mug.

I’m a little surprised Mr. Fedora was using a regular cell phone. It was a newer model. I knew that because I had upgraded two months previous and they had tried to talk me into waiting for that model to come out.

I could text, but avoided phone calls whenever possible. I preferred being able to look someone in the eyes when I spoke to them. So a newer, fancier phone with small upgrades I wouldn’t notice wasn’t exactly something to wait for.

I was surprised because, with the fedora and glasses mixed with the vest, slacks, brown shoes and beard, I thought Mr. Fedora was some kind of hipster. The phone being sleek and new was a little out of place.

The beard gave me pause once more. I have a weakness for proper facial hair. Not the sprouts that some tried to do, not the maintained five o’clock shadow, but real, full facial hair.

The extra thump in my chest as I watched Mr. Fedora and he seemed to turn his head towards me, made me want to excuse myself to the bathroom to touch up makeup.

I could get over the eclectic clothing choices for a beard like that.

Except I wasn’t wearing any makeup, and I hadn’t brought any with me.

My purse sat beside my coffee on the table. It too had been borrowed from my roommate. It was little and black, with a wider strap. No embellishments whatsoever. It was my roommate’s purse for breakups.

I don’t know why she even had a specific purse for breakups when she had been with the same guy for a year and a half.

Inside the purse was my phone, set to vibrate, a twenty dollar bill, a couple dollars in change for emergencies, identification, and a lone condom.

You never know. I’m not that kind of girl, but I still like to be prepared.

Normally I take a backpack everywhere, with all the items I need inside. I had to cut out most of my items for the transfer to the purse. Not only was it a great deal smaller, but we could end up heading out to walk the streets some, and I didn’t want it weighing me down.

The final item in my purse was a tablet. Hardly larger than a phone, it fit in the palm of my hand. Not a phone, though. It had a speaker and microphone and camera.

They should have just given us phones. Or not called a duck a unicorn.

The battery life of the tablet was supposed to be something like twelve hours. It charged with the same cord as most phones, and we had been told to take the charger with us everywhere. Abiding by the rules, the cord was in the aide pocket of the purse.

Any chance to plug it in, we were told to. No one knew how long the job would take, or how long we’d be working straight. Best not to lose information because the battery died while walking through a park.

I plugged the tablet into the wall socket near the floor. That was one good thing about sitting at the back of the cafe. The other tables probably didn’t have electricity to charge phones.

As the tablet powered up, I turned on the data and turned down the brightness on the screen. Free data is tempting when one is waiting for a long period, and we had been told we could use it for such things, but I wanted to remain alert, to catch the first glimpse if I could.

The more detailed, the better they had said.

The tablet had a basic writing program and four different recording programs. One voice recognition software would even change our spoken words to written. I had used one of the recording programs to detail my traveling to the cafe and what I had ordered.

Dark roast coffee with milk and sugar to my tastes. Less caffeine than other roasts, sure, but I didn’t want to be sipping my coffee and grimacing at the acidic taste as I was doing my job. That wouldn’t have ended well.

That was, I had been recording until I realized Mr. Fedora was nursing his coffee. I swear he kept looking at me, but it was probably just the big sunglasses or the fact that I had been recording the most banal items on my tablet with the voice recognition software.

Find a better word to replace banal, it’s a ten dollar word and sounds like I’m trying to be fancy.

I probably looked like some crazy lady, hiding in the back corner. Or like one of those cliche authors who carried recorders around to take down every ‘brilliant’ idea they had, but never quite got around to writing the actual book.

This was going to get written, however. If it was the length of a book, all the better.

They had told us to be as thorough as possible, to describe everything from what we ate to how we felt. Sight, scent, the whole thing.

It smelled like a cafe. Coffee and the pumpkin spice scones, which were making their first appearance of the year. I love pumpkin and pumpkin pie, but am not a fan of cinnamon. I like only a hint of cinnamon, and most places dump it in like they’re trying to hide the pumpkin.

So while I desperately wanted a scone, I had declined because I could smell the spice above all else. My tongue burned just at the whiff of the scent.

The recordings I made would be compiled, edited just slightly, and released to the public to get them acquainted with our interviewees.

Vampires.

They didn’t like being called the walking undead, or even just undead because they claimed none of them had ever died. They would not submit to medical testing and refused to pay back taxes. Some even provided a list of aliases, under which they had been paying taxes for all the centuries.

When vampires had first gone public, the world had laughed it off. Apparently, April Fools was lost on them, or they didn’t pay attention to such trivial dates.

Perhaps they had a wicked sense of humour.

The next day people were laughing about it when Lucrecia walked onto a morning, national talk show that was very popular.

Lucrecia was one of two vampires with psychic based powers and the only one, she claimed, who could glamour a person, which was how she got on the show.

And why the producer didn’t get fired for strolling through the background naked. Lucrecia made him believe he was clothed and that the cameras weren’t on.

A nifty parlour trick was all that might have been.

Lucrecia had been born to nobility, or so she said. She covered her mouth when she laughed, rarely raised her lips far enough to see any of her teeth, and spoke in a calm, even manner.

One in five vampires had some type of power. It could be as small as glamouring a person, or as large as shapeshifting to the form of a bat or wolf. The fact that Lucrecia was alert and alive early in the morning, while the sun was up, didn’t help matters.

I hadn’t watched the interview, only heard it third and fourth hand from people I knew. So I had no idea what was and wasn’t said in that first interview, and hadn’t quite gotten around to looking it up online.

Vampire or not, my life was not going to change. Except it did. Because my professor’s wife came home, and surprisingly they weren’t separated like he said they were.

Since vampires had gone public, there had been a great deal of interest in them and their lives.

If they had been like in the stories, I think everyone would have moved on after a week. Our vampires had to be different, though. Or perhaps they had manipulated popular culture to make certain that their true weaknesses would never be found by the common populace.

For starters, only three of them were younger than a thousand. Even of those three, the youngest was about eight hundred and fifty. They had created a law just over a thousand years ago banning turning.

In the modern era, they had created a new law: thou shall not kill. Though they were already in talks with governments about prisoners to be executed. Some countries had leaped at the idea. Some, not so much.

Amongst their supporters were youth who never wanted to get old, rich people…who never wanted to get old. There was also the majority of the population, who frankly didn’t care because them being public or not didn’t change the fact that they had existed the entire time.

I was, for the most part, in that group. If someone needed to drink blood to survive, that was their issue. It didn’t change how safe I was or alter my life choices just because undead were real.

Against them were mainly religious folk. Can’t really blame them, considering undead creatures sort of goes against most of their beliefs. Quite a few vampires are religious, which is interesting as I would have thought it would conflict with their more primal nature.

Note to self, don’t refer to him as the undead.

Like many, I was curious about them, however. What was it like to watch civilizations fall? To stand on that precipice of life and death, knowing that you had only the Council to answer to? Their history, their experiences, it was all a jumble of interesting information that I wanted to which I wanted access.

Which was one reason why I had applied to do the interviews.

The interviewers were chosen from those who applied. Some were likely sought out for the task, but I had applied. Had to, after all was said and done.

Those being interviewed had been selected ‘at random’ by the Council.

I don’t think any of the interviewers believed that our subjects had truly been selected at random. Obviously, some vampires were more mortal-friendly than others. Their pool of possible candidates probably dwindled so quickly that there was only one or two to ‘randomly select’ for removal.

Each interviewer had to be paired with a vampire at the council’s discretion. Four hundred names were given to the council, all carefully selected, and all but two percent had been rejected. So the interviewers were drawn again, and again only a few were chosen.

I was one of the last to be chosen, and that fact wasn’t lost on me. The mortals didn’t want me in the interview. They were probably looking for ways to have me removed. A blacklisted journalist student who didn’t even make it through the second year wasn’t exactly a name one wanted attached to their articles and books.

Though, jumping from biology in my third year, over to journalism, probably didn’t help my odds any. This was not my calling. This was not my life’s work.

They had already tried to talk me out of it once. I was just about the youngest accepted applicant, with only an eighteen-year-old with terminal cancer being younger than me. All the others were in their early thirties to late forties. They had lived and laughed and experienced the world some.

I didn’t have the life experience to understand what a vampire might be trying to say to me, I think is what they meant.

Whatever they meant, I was going to make damned certain they could find no fault in my work. I would follow all the rules, abide by the odd suggestions, and try not to think about what poor fool discovered, the hard way, that going without a bra was unacceptable behaviour.

The sun was completely set when I looked up from my tablet. The only reason I had even looked up was because Mr. Fedora had approached my table.

I’m waiting for someone,” I said, trying to sound as polite as possible, even as I knew he’d bitch about me later for being too selfish for his perfect self.

What is it about a fedora, that makes me automatically assume he’s a narcissistic hipster?

He even still wore the glasses, despite the fact that the sun was completely down, and the corner I sat in was almost in twilight now. I doubted he could see much with those things on.

Up close and personal, I was ignoring the majestic beard. His aquiline nose drew my attention. That too was almost noble in nature. Never broken, unscarred. I imagined his hands were soft and for a moment, toyed with the idea that his voice would be high enough to be childish in nature.

Like waiting for the axe to fall.

Ax to fall? Is that the right metaphor?

Mr. Fedora sat across from me.

Uh, buddy?” I asked, wondering if he was deaf or something. “I’m waiting for someone.”

I put enough of an edge to my voice that even the barista hesitated as he placed a scone into the display case. The man glanced towards us and seemed to consider whether or not he wanted to interfere. After a long moment, he turned back to his scones.

Guess he decided to let me handle Mr. Fedora on my own.

The fedora came off, settling on the table and drawing my eyes as the sunglasses followed a moment later. My eyes remained on the sunglasses and the long fingers, perfectly manicured, that hesitated as they set the dark glasses on the table beside the fedora.

Both sat mere inches from my purse.

I followed the fingers up with my eyes. Up the arm, over the dark, diamond patterned vest and to the collar of the dress shirt. It was about then that I realized that the clothing wasn’t just formal looking, it had obviously been tailored to suit his body. The clothing moved with him as his hands slipped off the table, to his lap.

When my eyes flowed up his throat and across that black beard of his, I felt the flutter in my chest once more. I felt as if he knew that I had been sitting there, silently mocking his fashion choices. That may have been why he came to my table, to confront me about my judgemental attitude.

His lips were well formed, jaw hidden by the shaped facial hair. Though a beard like that wouldn’t have looked quite so good on a man with a pointed chin. The hair of his beard gave no hint that it was longer in some places and shorter in others. No chin could be seen through that hair.

Above his beard, that aquiline nose drew my eyes upward. As our eyes locked, my breath stopped in my throat. The glasses had hidden brown eyes with a fiery intelligence behind them.

I wasn’t certain,” he said.

His voice was deep, but he spoke softly. I leaned in to try to catch his words. The sound of his voice wrapped around the base of my neck and caressed down my spine. There was something so very comforting about the rise and fall of the words.

With a voice like that, he was probably used to getting his way simply by asking and smiling ever so slightly.

He was handsome, to say the least. Beard or no beard, he was a looker and knew it. He was the kind of man who looked at me and then through me because he was used to having the best of the best clawing over one another to get his attention.

Then I saw the tablet, though I felt it only polite to wait until you had a lull in your thoughts, rather than interrupt in the middle and ruin a sentence.”

I beg your pardon?” I asked.

My name is Quintillus. I am your interview subject.”

I had spent almost two hours in the cafe, waiting for the very man I had attempted to ignore, even as I couldn’t help but stare. Nothing about him implied that he was a vampire.

Looking at him, he didn’t appear to be anything more than a handsome man with a strange sense of fashion.

He was hundreds, if not thousands of years old. Immortal, and there was a one in five chance that he had powers of some sort.

Mr. Fedora was a vampire.

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