The vampire always arrived a few minutes early.
The owners of the restaurant knew her, just as their parents and grandparents had. Greeted her like family when she entered, and offered her a quiet table in the back.
She settled into her seat, adjusted her tailored suit jacket until it was just so, and checked the time.
Two minutes. Good.
The door opened just as the clock struck eight, and she did her best not to smile. She appreciated candidates being punctual, but at this stage of the process it was best to appear implacable.
She adjusted her head just enough to watch the candidate enter with her peripheral vision, and breathed a mental sigh of relief that they had dressed normally. In the years she’d been screening applicants, she had seen so many fools arrive in outfits that would have been inappropriate anywhere but a strip club, or such a mismatched collection of anachronisms that she rejected them on the spot.
This one, she decided, had earned a conversation, at least.
The woman who was being led to her table was a bit under average height, with warm brown skin that seemed to glow with health, the corkscrew curls of her amber brown hair arranged into a tapered style that looked elegant without seeming overdone.
The cream coloured blouse and denim skirt made her look approachable without being too casual, and her expression was pleasant enough that you might almost miss the wariness in her eyes.
She rose from her seat, giving the owner a carefully inclined nod of thanks before giving the candidate her full focus. “You must be Abeni.”
Abeni nodded, a slight nervous tremor in her smile. “Most people just call me Abby.”
The vampire raised an eyebrow. “Do you ask them to do so, or do they just prefer to anglicize your proper name?”
Abeni blinked in surprise, and she did not miss the faint blush rising on her cheeks. “Usually the last one.”
The vampire nodded, and gestured for her to sit. “Then I shall give you the respect you are due, Abeni.”
It was a nice name, she thought. One that felt pleasant on her tongue.
That wasn’t part of the evaluation, but it was a nice bonus.
Once they were seated, Abeni gave her another nervous smile. “Could I ask your name? The message just said I would be getting an interview.”
“You may call me Kamya,” she answered, reaching out to take a sip of water. “You might consider me your evaluator this evening. We like to understand the reasons that someone might wish to join us. To ensure they would be a good fit, and that they understand the drawbacks.”
Abeni nodded, and picked up a menu. “Speaking of drawbacks - is it ok for me to eat in front of you?”
“Of course,” Kamya answered with a smile. “It would be quite rude of me to invite you to dinner, otherwise. In fact, I took the liberty of ordering a drink for you.”
Precisely on cue, a server appeared with a gently steaming mug, the familiar scent of warm turmeric and ginger providing a pleasant reminder of simpler times.
Abeni took the mug with a smile, and cupped it between her hands to appreciate the aroma. “It smells amazing - can I ask what this is?”
“Golden milk - a drink I have always enjoyed. Though I believe these days most would call it a spiced latte.”
Kamya watched Abeni take a sip, and enjoyed her little hum of pleasure. The way her eyes closed as she tasted the complex flavors, and the way her body language relaxed just slightly.
An indulgence, she supposed, but not one that distracted from her work.
“Thank you, that’s really good.”
“I assure you, the pleasure is mine.”
The server returned to take Abeni’s dinner order, and Kamya waited until they were out of earshot to continue.
“So. You wish to become one of us. I realize you have already provided an application, but I should like to hear why in your own words.”
Abeni took another drink of the milk before she spoke. “Well, I’ve always had a fascination with the idea, even before your...community...went public. I used to read stories and see movies, and the idea of being able to live so long...no sickness, no weakness, no aging...it really captivated me.”
“We do occupy a unique place in the world,” Kamya agreed. “But it is not always as glamorous as film and television make it out to be.”
Abeni leaned in, and she could almost feel the younger woman’s interest being piqued. “How so? I mean, really - you said you’d tell me about the downsides. What are they?”
Kamya nodded, taking a moment to consider where to begin. “The most obvious difference is in the way our feeding works. May I take your hand to demonstrate?”
“Uh, sure…” To her credit, Abeni reached out without hesitation.
“I assure you, I don’t intend to do you any harm.” That first moment of contact, of the warmth in a living human’s touch. It was something you never noticed in yourself until it was gone. Still, Kamya had no wish to lose the rest of the evening to such woolgathering.
“I’m sure you’re familiar with the ‘trope’ of fangs piercing a neck,” she continued, gently poking the meat of Abeni’s fingertip with the point of her manicured nail, catching the slight hitch in her breath.
“Yeah. Ah...I mean I am familiar with it. So, it’s not like that?”
Kamya nodded. “It’s a very inefficient way to take blood - particularly if you want the ‘donor’ to live.” She turned her finger, and used the flat to slowly scrape down Abeni’s finger, lingering on her palm.
“Our mouths develop additional rows of teeth that serve to pin and scrape away the flesh to create a furrow...usually we target a thigh or a wrist. Sometimes more...intimate areas.”
She could hear the girl’s breath quickening. The telltale flush of slowly growing arousal. It was a bit cruel to tease her, she supposed, but quite fun.
“It often can create rather beautiful scars. I know several of us who make those willing to feed them into works of living art.”
Kamya released her hand, and let Abeni collect herself.
“That...sounds intense,” she admitted after another drink of the warm milk. “I...ah...um. So if that’s not like the movies, how does being turned work, then?”
Kamya nodded with approval. Good to see her wits weren’t entirely scattered. “That is a bit closer to what the movies portray, but we obviously take great care to ensure nothing goes wrong. You would be drained of much of your blood, and then given a certain amount of our vitae. The change can take several days to complete, so you would be kept comfortable and monitored through the process.”
Abeni sat back, nodding. “That’s pretty cool, honestly. If it’s ok to ask, what was it like for you?”
Kamya went still, and in her mind's eye she could still see the foreign traveler who had swept her off the streets of Bharatpur. His mesmerizing gaze as he beckoned her to his side. The night of passion that turned to terror. The agonizing trip across the mountains and desert to Turkey, and sailing across the Black Sea…
“It...was a very different time,” she replied, careful to keep her voice even. “I’m afraid it would not be terribly useful for you to hear that story.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Abeni drank a bit more to cover the awkward silence. “So...what other drawbacks should I know about?”
Some part of her was impressed that the girl kept coming back for more information. She had to salute the dedication, if nothing else.
“The same long lifespan that many consider a blessing often turns to a curse,” Kamya explained matter of factly. “Do you remember the first time you ate a favorite food? Heard your favorite song?”
“What about the first time you were given ice water as a child?”
Abeni blinked. “No, no I don’t think so.”
“Too long ago to remember clearly?”
“I suppose, yeah.”
Kamya nodded. “Imagine what it is like to live for centuries instead of decades. To have less and less novel or memorable experiences. So few things make lasting impressions that can defy the constant assault of time - and you are less and less likely to encounter anything truly new or exciting.”
She could tell Abeni was struggling to grasp the concept entirely.
“So what keeps you going? Why...continue?”
“Some do not,” Kamya stated flatly. “But that is a question each of us must answer - just as we did in our human lives. But it is one of the most important reasons we are so careful about choosing who will join us, in these times. It would be cruel to force someone into this life who was truly unprepared for it.”
Abeni sat for a long moment, processing it all.
“It feels like you’d feel a lot of pressure to isolate as you lose your frame of reference to the world around you, and each time you do, it just gets worse. A self-perpetuating cycle.”
“You are not wrong,” Kamya confirmed quietly. “This is one of the reasons that we organize ourselves. It helps us...mind each other. To check in, and if needed, to intervene.”
Abeni barely managed to stifle a giggle. “Well, I guess you can’t exactly do ‘Meals on Wheels’...”
Kamya tried to school her own expression, but the image was a bit amusing. “No, I should think not.”
Abeni seemed to catch her amusement, but didn’t press her on it. “Seriously, though, I like that idea. I spend a lot of time checking with my friends and family when times are hard.”
Kamya silently marked another point in the girl’s favor, and looked at the clock out of the corner of her eye.
“So - after this discussion, has your opinion changed?”
She appreciated that Abeni sat back and seemed to give the matter serious thought.
“No, I don’t think so. I knew this would be a major change, and that it would probably mean seeing most of the people I know pass on a long time before I did.”
“Almost certainly. Including all the friends and family who have been there for you.”
Abeni’s eyes tightened, and the vampire could see the lines of pain at their edges.
“I lost my dad to a heart attack before he turned fifty. Mom died five years ago from cancer, and my oldest sister got diagnosed with the same kind of tumor six months ago. I don’t think she’ll be around much longer no matter what I do.”
“Ah. Do you fear succumbing to the same illness?”
Abeni shrugged. “A little, yeah. But that’s not really why I came tonight.”
Kamya raised an eyebrow, and silently invited her to continue.
“If I’m gone, their stories go with me. Same with most of those people you mentioned. Friends, family, lovers, all lost. No one who will remember their names. Maybe there’s records of their life, but not how they lived.”
Abeni’s eyes were shining with conviction and passion as she leaned forward, using her hands to emphasize her words.
Abeni’s eyes were shining with conviction and passion as she leaned forward, using her hands to emphasize her words.
“So many of my people faded into nothing and nowhere because no one cared enough to listen. No one cared enough to preserve the traditions, the stories, and the truth of where they came from. Maybe I do start to forget them over time, but if I’m out there, learning, listening, living, and sharing what I learn with others? Maybe they’ll live that much longer because someone gave a damn.”
Yes, Kamya thought with satisfaction. That will do nicely.
“I see,” she said coolly, not wishing to give anything away. “We’re nearly done here, but may I offer you a refill on the golden milk?”
Abeni sat back, nodding as she composed herself. “Sure. It really is delicious.”
Kamya nodded, and raised a hand to wave to the owner, two fingers outstretched and the others curled loosely into her palm.
The drink arrived moments later, and Abeni paused to enjoy the aroma before taking another drink.
“My mom used to give us warm milk to sleep,” she mused. “I wish it had been this instead. I probably would have slept a lot easier.”
“I certainly find it calming,” Kamya agreed as she watched Abeni drink. “The warmth of the milk, the blooming of the spices, they’re very comforting, aren’t they?”
“It warms you from within, and that warmth relaxes your muscles,” Kamya continued, watching Abeni set the cup down. Her eyes were already starting to turn glassy, the tension in her body fading away.
“It’s comfortable here, and it makes you want to rest. You have had a good meal, and good conversation. Your stomach is full, your eyelids heavy. It would be so easy for you to listen to my voice and simply drop.”
Abeni tried to fight the suggestion, but the combination of the drugged milk and Kamya’s hypnotic voice was too much to resist. Her eyes closed as she slumped bonelessly in the chair, still listening, but unable to move.
“You have done very well,” Kamya murmured as she signaled for the staff to come clean up and prepare to take her new charge to her car. “I look forward to introducing you to your new life.”
The girl’s lips fluttered into a faint smile at the praise.
So many candidates never even made it this far, and even the few who would reach this stage were often sent away with nothing more than memories of a good meal and a compulsion to lose interest and move on.
But now and then, there was one who made all the tedium worth it.
The vampire stood, put a hand on the shoulder of the woman who would be her newest triumph, and she felt a deep satisfaction as she leaned down to whisper in her ear.
“Welcome to House Dracul, Abeni.”