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Support Group
by Margaret L. Carter

“I believe all but one of our scheduled participants are present.” Dr. Roger Darvell, the psychiatrist conducting the group therapy session, checked his watch and continued, “Please, if you will, each of you begin by telling us why you’re here.” He nodded to the young-looking man in jeans and black leather jacket on his right.

“The same reason as most of you, I suppose.” The speaker ran a hair through his curly hair, chestnut with golden highlights. “To find a cure for this diabolical—compulsion.”

A fair-skinned lady with luxuriant ebony hair, the only woman present, said with a brittle laugh, “Sir Nicholas, you talk like a priest! Nature knows nothing of good or evil. I’m here because my lovers cannot seem to understand this truth.” Her haunting, dark eyes brimmed with tears, as she went on in her faintly Germanic accent, “Always they reject me when they discover my—condition. Love is so painful—my self-esteem suffers so dreadfully—”

The man on her right, equally pale and dark-haired, dressed like a seventeenth-century cavalier, said only, “Attempted suicide. Jumped into a volcano.”

The others winced.

“I, also, by walking into sunlight,” said the somber black man next to him, tall and imposing in his flowing, black cloak. “And why they will never let us rest, those monsters of greed in your golden western land—” He glared around the circle.

A man in an Inverness caped coat, leaning on a wolf’s-head cane, raised his deep-set, shadowed eyes to survey his fellow patients. “I, too, seek a cure. I’ve almost had it several times, but it always proved to be an illusion.”

“Fools!” burst out a tall, old man with a flowing mustache and a strongly aquiline profile. “You, trying to throw away your gift of immortality. And you, begging to be ‘cured’ of your powers. I am elder and greater than most of you, so perhaps your folly shouldn’t surprise me. But you, Sir Nicholas—not only scorning your gifts, but prostituting them to enforce the petty laws of these ephemeral creatures. Why haven’t you learned better in your eight centuries?”

“Just Nick,” said the young-looking man. “Maybe I’ve learned more than you have.”

“If you feel that way, Count,” Dr. Darvell asked, “why are you here?”

The elder’s lip curled in a disdainful snarl. “Your modern medical charlatans would call it an identity crisis or perhaps multiple personality disorder. Those mountebanks beyond the sunset trouble my peace, also. They have made me a warlord, a bloodthirsty beast, a defender of the faith, a cruel tyrant, a melancholy aristocrat, a romantic lover, or sometimes the butt of their crude jests on boxes of breakfast food for children. Some even take me for a sentimental idiot like you, Black Prince. But whatever I am, I chose my fate and embrace it without regret.”

The black man rose from his chair, fists clenched and fangs bared. “That gives you no right to force your condition on others, as you did to me.”

The other replied with a ghastly grin, “Why, I did you a favor. Have you not come to appreciate it yet?” He directed a seated bow to the woman. “Countess Karnstein, at least, understands our inherent superiority, even if she does have a regrettable tendency to whine.”

The Countess bared her teeth in a feral hiss.

Dr. Darvell raised a warning hand. “Please, Count, exercise simple courtesy. We’re here to listen to each other non-judgmentally, not fight among ourselves. I believe one thing we can all agree on is the need for solidarity in the face of the derogatory stereotypes and racist harassment suffered by our kind. Let’s hear from someone else, please.”

The cavalier spoke up. “The Prince is absolutely right. This existence is a burden. When my curse condemned an innocent girl to a terrible death, I knew honor demanded I end my unnatural life. But they won’t allow us to rest.”

“Well, Sir Francis,” the Count said, “if an active volcano wasn’t enough to terminate your ‘curse,’ maybe you should learn to enjoy it.”

“Enjoy being chased from town to town by stake-wielding fanatics?”

“At least you,” said the man with the cane, “have been spared waking after two centuries sealed in a coffin to a world you cannot comprehend.”

The black man nodded. “How true, Mr. Collins. I shall never forget the horror of my first encounter with Los Angeles traffic. Or the shock of that insidious invention, the camera. How was I to know it would betray me as surely as a mirror?”

“Consider yourself fortunate you weren’t unearthed as I was,” said Collins, “by a treasure-hunting halfwit I had to depend on for my knowledge of the modern era. And it hasn’t helped that I can’t overcome my tendency to see every woman who attracts me as a reincarnation of my long-lost love.”

The black Prince said, “I’ve had that problem, too.”

Dr. Darvell interjected, “That’s not an uncommon fixation. Relationships can often be problematic for us. Would anyone else care to share on this topic?”

With a voluptuous pout, the Countess tossed her head. “So many times I have loved, and always tragically, thanks to those hypocritical filmmakers you mentioned.” She glanced at the Count. “They enrich themselves at my expense, while condemning me to stake and fire for my ‘wanton’ behavior.”

“Granted,” said the psychiatrist, “the collective unconscious and popular culture harbor mixed messages regarding our lifestyle.”

“Even gay and lesbian support organizations reject me,” the Countess sighed. “They insist I must be exploiting my lovers.”

The doctor looked around the circle. “Anyone else? I believe you’ve experienced problems in this area, Nick.”

“I won’t consider becoming involved with a woman until I’m cured.” He shook his head despairingly. “I’ve even tried a twelve-step program. No luck.”

“Do you consider living on refrigerated cattle blood such a terrible handicap, or curse, as to disqualify you for intimate relationships?”

“Since Natalie thinks that diet is a roadblock to a cure, and she’s the woman I—well—”

Collins frowned at the young-looking man. “You’re wasting your time. I’ve also had a—relationship—with a female scientist attempting to cure me. The results have been disastrous.”

“Sir Nicholas—Nick,” the Count said with an ironic smile, “your friend might not see your condition as a curse if you introduced her to certain benefits associated with it.”

Nick bared his fangs, eyes glowing.

The doctor again held up his hand to silence them. “Calm yourself. We can’t evade what we all know from experience, the erotic dimension of feeding.”

“If you’re suggesting Nat would ever want that kind of perverted thrill—”

A red glint sparked in the Count’s eyes. “Are you implying that all the young ladies whose favors I have enjoyed are ‘perverted’?”

“It might be more productive,” said Dr. Darvell, “to speak in terms of alternative modes of sexuality rather than ethical categories.”

“Our embraces can bestow only death,” Sir Francis declared in a sepulchral tone.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the black man said. “In certain circumstances, mutual pleasure can be achieved.”

“I’ve tried often enough,” Collins said with a sardonic smile. “My appeal diminishes when I reach the point of inviting the lady to share my coffin.”

Nick burst out laughing. “No wonder you aren’t getting anywhere with a cure, hung up on that fetishistic crap. You’re a fossil!”

“Please, no name-calling,” the doctor said. “Discuss the behavior, not the person. Now, perhaps we might address the subject of photophobia. A problem you don’t have, for example.” He glanced at the one patient who hadn’t spoken. He looked like a teenage boy, whose skin glittered faintly where the room’s overhead light shone on it.

“No, my main problems are romantic, too. I agree that getting involved with mortals can be dangerous. Having been turned at such a young age makes things worse. How would you like to spend an eternity in high school?”

Dr. Darvell asked dryly, “Haven’t you considered claiming to be home-schooled?” The door creaked open. “Ah, this must be the remaining member of our group.”

A small man with a monocle, a beak-like nose, and a purple-lined cape swooped in. “Greetings!” he intoned. “Please forgive my tardiness, and accept my thanks for the inwitation to join you. They call me the Count. Do you know why they call me the Count? Because I have an irresistible obsessive-compulsive drive to count things.”

-end-

The original version of this story was first published in The Vampire’s Crypt 10 (Fall 1994). If you’d like to become better acquainted with Dr. Roger Darvell, he’s introduced in Dark Changeling and Child of Twilight, which have been combined in a Kindle edition titled Twilight’s Changelings:
Twilight’s Changelings