Cast a Cold Eye
By Kevin McLaughlin
In full daylight, beneath Sloppy Joe’s whirring fans, I conducted my own interview with a Vampire. Duval Street in Key West is a fine place to encounter a Vampire, particularly one who bore such a close resemblance to movie actress Gwyneth Paltrow. A waiter brought me a glass of tonic water, a plate laden with crackers and baby gouda cheese, and a mug of hot mustard.
There were maybe twenty people in the bar at this late morning hour, mostly fisherman types and grifters seated at the horseshoe shaped bar. None of these men could have guessed the deadliest predator in the establishment was a pretty, small boned blond haired female. I sipped my drink as she told me her story, and the story of her race.
“Most of what Bram Stoker and the others wrote is correct. Vampires are demons. We are the Undead, and we prey on the blood of the living. Many of us have an aversion to light, and we can be destroyed if our hearts are impaled by certain kinds of wood; Dade Pine is one such wood. I, myself, am no more sensitive to light than one of your human albinos. For some, the terror of the sun is worse. Each of us must spend a part of the day beneath the earth. I am not sure why that is.”
The attractive revenant paused in her narrative to savor the aroma of the cabernet sauvignon that was set before her. She’d requested this meeting, had contacted me by telepathic means while I was snorkeling the previous day in the Dry Tortugas. I never did learn how she knew I was in the Keys, developing a story for Abundance newspaper.
“My true name is Sinead Finnegan,” she continued, and I’ll tell you more later about myself, and what I’m proposing to you. But first, I must tell you about my race’s antecedents.
“There are two distinct Vampire races. The first, the better known, are the creatures descended from Isis and the unsexed Osiris. They are mostly Egyptians and Latins, and have been celebrated in those beautiful Ann Rice novels. They are lethal, prone to melodramatics, and incapable of performing sexually. They are scholars, artists, and historians. They spend centuries cultivating their sensibilities.
“They copulate neither with humans, nor with others of their kind. Their sole passion is in the taking of blood, and it is this way only that they may reproduce. A future Immortal is selected for its beauty and intelligence, and the thick vein at his or her throat is drained. By means of a complex chemical interaction, human blood is replaced by Vampiric, and a young Vampire is made.
“The second, lesser known race, is an Irish hellspawn, and I am their Queen. These blood feeders are descended from the Druids and Dryads who had intercourse with the succubus and incubus common to the Celtic islands. The taking of blood makes the males priapic, and the females insatiable.
“ My own human ancestors left Ireland in 1822, traveling in steerage to Boston, and from there to St. Augustine. My father killed a slaver named Edgar Watson in a bar brawl in the 10,000 Islands, and we fled the law to Key West.
“At time I was 19 years of age, and thought to be a girl beautiful enough to make the moonlight jealous. As you can see, I resemble Gwyneth Paltrow. Many of our kind are shapeshifters. They can appear in whatever form or guise they choose. But my appearance is not a trick of selective transfiguration. You see me as I appeared 176 years ago. I was an innocent. I knew nothing of evil and nature’s cruel workings.
“My family prospered, pulling wealth from the ocean. The bounty resulting from harvesting turtles, manatees, sponges, and shipwrecks enabled us to build a two story Georgian home near the city cemetery on Margaret Street.
“Soon after we moved in, I began ro have disturbing dreams. A young woman, as fair as myself, clothed only in sea foam, offered me a blood filled chalice, and sang of immortality and the end of earthly suffering.She stood balanced on an enormous conch shell, and her pose reminded me of Botticelli’s painting of the birth of Venus. Her voice created a strange, appealing dissonance in my loins.
“Being a Roman Catholic, I resolved to discuss these nocturnal episodes with Father Donnelly, our Parish priest. Odd, isn’t it? I, a soon-to-be Vampire, worshipping in a church where the faithful regularly drink the blood of their God in symbolic sacramental services. At any rate, I meant to make my confession, recite my Hail Marys, and be absolved.
“She who would make me Immortal met me that morning in the church garden. Our lips brushed together, then she sank her fang teeth into my jugular, and drank while I slipped into a lazy euphoria. Her fingers played with the buttons at my bodice, and then she drained the thick, red vein traversing my left breast. Her caresses enfeebled me. Vein by vein, she emptied the corpuscles and platelets, heedless of the pain and pleasure she caused. Then I drank eternal life from the blood engorged mound that rose so prominently from her labial folds.
“Vampires are not gentle creatures. No afterglow. They don’t court, and they don’t fall in love. She discarded my body in a clump of mangroves, and covered me with muck and marl. I died, shed the corpse’s bloat, and arose three days later from the tidal pool as a Demon.
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“For three months thereafter, I fed on the blood of raccoons, oppossums, and whatever other small animals I could catch. When my strength and speed grew adequate to the task, I began to take humans, mostly riff raff from Stock Island. Periodically, I treated myself to a delectable young male. I have a sense of moral correctness…now I feed exclusively on tourists and developers.
“Which brings me to my proposition. I am the Thane of a Vampire Sisterhood. We need your help, and we want you to join with us against a common enemy. Like your species, we are part of the Food Chain. As with humans, we feed on the warm-blooded, on mammals. All animals hunt, and bring pain. Not much separates Vampires from Human.
“We make good friends. If you join with us, we continue to take our food from the bottom rungs of society. Only the true scum of your line need fear us. We can move in and out of your people as if we were invisible. Working closely with you, we can prevent, maybe even correct, some of your race’s mistakes.”
I believe what you’ve told me, particularly in light of the physical evidence you’ve provided,” I said to Sinead. “What I don’t understand is why you’ve selected me as your ally. I’m a 59 year old retired factory worker/investigative reporter with arthritis pains in every joint and bodily crevice. I call Ibuprofen breakfast. I have no political or civil power. I live on a fixed income, and I’m absentminded. How can I possibly be of any use to you?”
Sinead smiled at me like the benevolent Goddess Tara. “You’re a marathoner,” she replied, “who maintains a steady level of fitness. Your diet consists of vegetable and protein bars. You work-out regularly with dumb-bells, and have the physique of an Olympic gymnast, albeit, a skinny one.
“But your physicality is not why I’m revealing myself to you. Your main advantage to me is that you’ve taken the Vow of the Bodhisattva, have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. You’ve sworn to work ceaselessly for the happiness and enlightenment of all sentient beings. It is this trait which makes our common enemy, the Vagina Dentata fear you.”
I made the deal, not realizing the extent to which my life, from that point onwards, would take on the episodic rhythms of a gothic novel. I did not foresee the covenant I made with the women Vampires was lifelong, and would place everyone I love in danger. I am a creature of narrow habit. Even though I know better, I dislike change, and cling to the status quo.
One small digression. In conversation afterwards, I learned Sinead had traveled to Ireland during the time of the Easter Rebellion. There, she’d drained the auricles and ventricles of many a British heart; and she’d taken a mortal lover to her bed, the poet William Butler Yeats, Before I returned to the Bed & Breakfast on Simon Street, and the arms of my red haired wife, I listened to Sinead quote the epitaph on Yeats’ tombstone.
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death,
Horseman, pass by.
Be sure o read this month's BTS interview with Kevin McLaughlin where he discusses his journey through Buddhism, Haiku and his inspiration for the "Killing the Buddha" series of vampire tales, as well as his time with the Night Herons from its origins until today.
The BTS Interview