Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

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 hand 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.”


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

Silhouetted against the full moon, a bat flapped outside the closed bedroom window. Before Marie’s eyes, it dissolved into mist and oozed through the minute crack between the frame and the sill. Motionless on her bed, through slitted lids she watched the mist coalesce into a dark-haired, slender, young-looking man.

As he loomed over her, she thrust a silver cross on a chain around her neck into his face. He recoiled, hissing.

“How about that, I guessed right—you really are a vampire!” She couldn’t suppress the delight in her voice.

While he stood frozen in shock at her odd reaction, she sprang out of bed, dashed to the window, and hung a rosary from the latch to drape over the lower pane.

Whirling around, he snarled aloud at seeing his escape blocked.

“Don’t try to leave yet.” Marie plumped the pillows to lean against as she sat on the bed. After switching on the nightstand lamp, she donned her wire-rimmed bifocals and picked up a notepad and pen. “I have a ton of questions.”

He bared his teeth. “Foolish woman, why aren’t you afraid? I’m here to drink your blood.”

“Which you’ve already done at least three times.” She rubbed the tiny scabs on her throat. “You must not drain much at once, because I’m still in decent health. Wow, you have fangs just like in the movies.” No cape, though. He wore a black shirt and tight, black jeans. So he didn’t embrace popular culture cliches.

“Movies, bah!”

“Don’t hover like that. This could take a while.” She gestured toward the desk chair, and he grudgingly sat down. “As I said, I want to ask you some questions.”

“Why should I answer them? And how did you realize you were a vampire’s victim in this scientific age?” He spoke with a hint of a Spanish accent.

“I’m an anthropology professor. I teach a class in legends and superstitions, and I plan to include a unit on vampire lore.”

“You would expose me?” he growled.

Marie shook her head. “I’ll attribute anything you say to an anonymous informant.” She poised the pen over the notepad. “It’s the least you can do after stealing my blood.”

“Stealing? I take only what I need.”

“Do you need blood to survive? Would you die without it? And would animal blood work as well as human?”

“Yes, not exactly—fall into a state of suspended animation—and no. Animal blood serves in emergencies, but only as a stopgap.”

“Now, how many ounces do you drink per feeding?”

“How should I know? I don’t measure it.” He glanced at the window.

“You might as well cooperate. The sooner we finish the interview, the sooner I’ll remove the rosary. The door’s protected, too, by the way. Do all holy symbols repel you or only crosses?”

“That depends on the individual vampire’s background and beliefs. I was a Catholic in life.”

She jotted notes as he answered. “Do you sleep by day in a coffin lined with your native soil? And does sunlight kill you?’

He rubbed his forehead as if it pained him. “Please, one question at a time, woman. The sun only weakens us. As for native earth, I’m on it at all times. I’ve dwelt here since Spain ruled this land. And no need to lie in a coffin. That’s movie nonsense.”

“Can you change into other shapes besides bat and mist? How about a wolf? Does garlic affect you? Silver? Can you consume food or liquids other than blood?” She brightened up as a lesser known superstition occurred to her. “Do you have a compulsion to count small objects like grains or pebbles? If so, I could’ve saved myself some trouble and just trapped you by scattering rice on the floor.”

“Enough!” he roared, covering his ears.

“Come on, you owe me. What about your other powers? Do you have the strength of twenty men? If I weren’t wearing this cross, could you control my mind? How did you become a vampire? How does the transformation work? Does it hurt? How can a vampire be destroyed? Not that I would try.”

“No more questions! Let me out of this blasted room, and I swear I’ll never come near you again.”

“You promise?”

“My word of honor as a hidalgo. I’d rather be staked out under the desert sun at high noon than endure another minute of your blathering.”

Marie strode across the room, removed the cross, and opened the window. The vampire leaped into the air, transforming into a bat in the process, and soared into the night.

“Well, that clears up one issue—the pen is mightier than the stake.”

After the End of Civilization

Three months after the zombie apocalypse ended, the last man on Earth found the last woman on Earth.

Okay, he knew they probably weren’t the last people on Earth, but as far as Jeffrey Elwood, PhD, had discovered, they might be the last living people in central Maryland. The zombies, fortunately, hadn’t followed the typical horror-movie pattern. The highly infectious, fast-developing disease had spread to most of the planet’s non-immune population—which, according to news reports promulgated before civilization had collapsed, included almost everybody—within the first two weeks. The zombies hadn’t lingered for long, though. They’d literally disintegrated days after infection. On the positive side of the human species’ near-annihilation, there hadn’t been time for much looting or vandalism.

The sole survivor in his neighborhood, Jeffrey had stocked up on food, gasoline, and other supplies and connected his house wiring to a portable generator. Not bad, he figured, for a nearsighted, middle-aged, slightly chubby English professor. He’d read enough post-apocalyptic science fiction and watched enough TWILIGHT ZONE episodes to know the expected procedure. What would his late colleagues who’d sneered at popular culture think if they could see him now?

The next step, of course, was the quest for fellow survivors. To drive around checking houses block by block would take forever. Besides, he wanted to find compatible people, not wild-eyed, gun-waving survivalists. Although the internet and cell service no longer existed, luckily he had the faculty directory of his former university on his computer. After months of disappointing in-person reconnaissance of promising addresses, he discovered Dr. Susan McCarthy, a biology professor, in a rowhouse less than twenty miles from his home.

After Jeffrey allayed her suspicions with his faculty ID, she invited him in. A tall, angular woman of about forty, she wore bifocals and had collar-length, medium brown hair.

While she didn’t own a generator, rooftop solar panels produced enough electricity to power a few appliances. She supplemented them with camping gear, for which she’d stored plenty of propane. She’d prepared for winter by stockpiling wood in the garage for the fireplace.

Admitting that, like him, she’d grown tired of having nobody to talk to, she asked him to stay for dinner. “I have a battery-operated radio and a CB rig,” she mentioned as they set the table, grilled steaks, and opened wine, “but I haven’t picked up anything except static since the second week.”

They discovered common reading interests and discussed books and movies over the meal, happy to drop the subject of the worldwide catastrophe in favor of its fictional counterparts. After they’d polished off the wine, Susan brought out a bottle of sherry and poured a glass for each of them. 

As a lifelong science-fiction reader, Jeffrey knew what ought to come next. He cleared his throat a couple of times and started to reach for her hand but drew back, as he worked up the courage to broach the vital topic. “We don’t know whether there’s anybody else left in this region or even the whole state or country. I believe it’s our duty to repopulate the world—well, the greater Baltimore area, anyway.” His face heated with embarrassment.

Susan shook her head with a wry smile. “Not happening. I had my tubes tied after my divorce six years ago.”

“Then the human race is doomed! Or at least the Maryland contingent of it.”

“If it depended on us,” she said, “it would be doomed anyway. One breeding pair is nowhere near enough for a founding population.”

Casting his thoughts over the next phase prescribed by fiction and film, he said, “Then shouldn’t we search for other survivors to restart civilization?”

“Can you realistically imagine the two of us trekking across a devastated continent, gathering a band of complete strangers, and convincing them we’re qualified to lead a community of intrepid pioneers?”

“Well. . . .”

“Me, neither.” She lifted the bottle. “More sherry?”