I’ve always wanted to write a vampire-romance story, but I’m not sure I would have gotten around to it
if editor Trisha Telep hadn’t invited me to submit a piece to The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance 2. And since I was still in the process of recovering from my divorce, a story involving blood and vampires and death and darkness was probably the only kind of love story of which I was even remotely capable. So the timing worked out well. Trish herself was a lot of fun to deal with: as an editor, she struck the perfect balance of charm, patience, humor and cyberstalking to get what she required. At one point she sent out a mass email to the writers involved, reminding us “dark” and more fantasy-oriented types that the title of the anthology includes the word romance, which means the stories need to involve actual romance, so please don’t forget to put the romance in!
This story was fun for me because it crossed with another thing I’ve wanted to do for years but had not yet gotten around to: set a piece of fiction at the Burning Man festival held every year in the Nevada desert. I had this image in my head of a vampire wandering all the neon color and strangeness of the Festival, on some kind of (possibly demented) spiritual quest, which is when I remembered I must put the romance in. But it was only when I switched from third to first person did the story kickstart itself for me. I rarely write in first-person, but in this case I needed to be inside the character’s voice to bring the rest of the story together.
So the story — “I Need More You” — is summarized as follows: A vampire suffers from the continual abandonment of her angel lover but can’t resist when he calls her to him once more. Here’s the first few pages:
I look like an angel, but I am no angel.
“I know what you are,” the boy said.
He had been following me for gods know how long, skinny white-faced blur swimming through the sand-tossed air. Under normal circumstances I would have noticed him much earlier, but there was nothing normal about tonight: not this temporary makeshift city deep in a desert nowhere, camps set along concentric rings that framed the area known as the playa: and not my purpose for being here, my mind enfolding the image of my lover like it were some dark, priceless egg on the edge of breaking.
He had summoned me here. He was so close, now – out there on the playa, waiting — I could almost taste how I’d be tasting him later.
He did not look like an angel any more than the fake ones I saw in the crowds, raggedy wings sprouting from naked or near-naked backs, bobbing along with each step. Different strains of music – house, reggae, acid jazz, dubstep — poured from the elaborately fashioned art-camps that rimmed the inside of the playa, thumped from the speakers of the outdoor clubs. White and neon lights picked out the art-cars moving slowly over the sand, described the domes and twisting organic shapes of the theme camps. And the Man watched over it all: a giant, primitive figure lit up a ghostly blue, striding atop a wooden dome. On the last night of the festival, they would burn him and watch him fall.
“I know what you are,” the kid said again. His voice came at me like a worm twisting through the sandy dark. “Sweet girl. Sweet, beautiful girl. I know.”
“Get lost. I have nothing for you.”
“I know what you have. I want it. Need it. Please.”
He darted round to face me. The wind blew sand in our faces. I did not slow for him, forcing him into an awkward backpedal as his eyes tried to meet mine and dropped away. A string of beads draped his neck, he was fingering it like a rosary, his shirt flapping on a decidedly unappealing torso. I have a penchant for lean human forms, their carved-out beauty of muscle and sinew, but this was a vermin body, starved and dirty and desperate, with the high-sweet smell of something rotting inside. “Please,” he said again, “You are so beautiful.” Couldn’t he bother to arrange himself more appealingly? Fall to his knees, lift his arms with dramatic flourish, tilt his head to expose that soft stretch of throat? Perhaps even quote some poetry. I can be a sucker for poetry. But there was no poetry in this one.
“I can give you what you need,” he said. “I can give you —“
“You presume to know my need?”
Small muscles jumped in his face. “I,” he said, and then, wisely, thought better of saying anything. That high-sweet smell came at me again: cancer. He was in the beginning stages of it.
I made a darting motion. Heat pulsed behind my eyes. I showed him my fangs, cold daggers in my mouth. Dropping my voice a full octave – a parlour trick, really, but it was a chance to amuse myself – I hissed, “You want my brand of cruelty? Because I can give you cruelty. I can give you pain.”
His eyes widened. Behind him — and the forming puddle at his feet – drifted a double-decker bus reinvented as a pirate ship, electro-pop blasting from its deck. Bodies hung out the windows, yelled through September dark: “Come aboard! Come, my pretties! We love you! WE LOVE ALL OF YOU!” Some onlookers cheered. Two young men ran up alongside it and launched themselves through the door. By the time it had passed – only art-cars were allowed on the playa, and no faster than five miles an hour – my little vermin-stalker was gone.
The wind died.
The sand settled.
The vermin had thrown me off. I’d been in some kind of trance, lulled by my lover’s scent in my nostrils, his taste in my mind, the memory and the anticipation. Now that was gone, throwing me back on nothing and no one but myself. I was alone on this dead Nevada land scattered with odd gigantic sculptures, over there some kind of laser show, and over there towering figures kneeling in worship of an oil derrick that, like the Man and the Chapel of Lost Souls, would be set afire at festival end. In front of me someone had set up a stand painted white with an antique telephone chained to a table and a sign reading TALK TO GOD. FIVE CENTS.
You bring me here, I said, streaming the thought-words out across the playa. Oh this desire, like a fierce blade twisting in my chest, his name engraved so deep there could be no substitute or replacement. It never truly went away. It hummed its dark addictive song beneath my days and nights — months and years and decades — while I traveled and hunted and loved (tried to love) and all the while pretending that I wasn’t just marking time until he came again to my dreams, and told me where to go. Where to find him.
You bring me here, I said again, to this bizarre place, this carnival on the moon, you summon me and I come, like the dog that you have made me. And I do it. I cross the country for you. I cross the world for you. I would cross time itself if I had to…because I want, I need, more you…
But after tonight I am done with you.
I won’t be caught on this chain anymore.
I waited, probing the air for some kind of response. There was nothing. But then, that seemed so much of what he was: creature of silence and void. He seemed most at ease in the in-between spaces, as if to look on him direct would do to him what full daylight would do to me.
“They’re all over, this year.”
So lost was I inside my own head, and so still and striking the woman who had spoken, that for a moment I thought she was another sculpture: desert Venus rising from the sand.
“The joops,” she said. “Like the one that was bothering you. I thought you handled him well, by the way.” She sighed. “That’s what happens when we drink without killing. Word gets around. What a pain.”
I tuned into her with interest: the smell of her evoked berries and cream, richly colored silks, Belgian chocolate.
“I don’t know you,” she said, tilting her head. Reddish-brown hair spread along her shoulders. She wore a long suede dress that criss-crossed her torso in an elaborate assortment of straps. “I thought I knew all the nightsingers out here.”
“Is that what we’re supposed to call ourselves now?” My voice was arch. “Is that the politically correct term?”
Of course I knew the word, which had come into vogue at the turn of the new century – nightsinger, meant to designate a certain class of vampire. Vampires come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of appeal for our prey; the nightsingers, though, are the ones they write books about, and that the vermin – the so-called joops, a play on the words ‘junkie’ and ‘groupie’ – tracked and followed, begged to be bitten by, as if that same nightsinger beauty could enter them and make them something other than themselves.
Her eyes were pale gold, like a tiger’s, and they took me in and read me. “So you’re one of the rogues,” she murmured. “Lonely path, that. No wonder your scent-trail was so strange. How long have you been off the grid?”
“I have my own life to conduct,” I said. “I don’t need to be wired into some global psychic network.”
“You don’t worry about being left behind?”
“How can I be left behind?”
“Even our kind,” and she held out her hands, palms-up, as if weighing some invisible substance, “evolves.”
“Into what? We are what we are.”
She tipped her head, but it wasn’t a gesture of acknowledgement, more like sympathy for one in my position. I felt that – her sympathy – and the back of my mouth flooded with bitter. I didn’t have time for this.
“Come back to our camp,” she said, “and have a drink – we have loveblood –and we can continue to argue the point.”
I laughed. “Good night,” I said, brushing past her, “nightsinger.”
I passed a firepit, humans huddling round it – had it gotten colder? Like others of my kind, I don’t always register a change in temperature – and walked round a giant plastic cube in which a woman in pajamas slept atop a shag rug. People were passing messages to her, slipping folded bits of paper through slots in the walls. They knocked on the plastic, trying to wake her up, but her chest rose and fell in the rhythm of oblivion. I looked at the woman in the cube. Then I couldn’t help myself: I turned and looked back.
The nightsinger had not moved. People wandered the space between us, yanking up scarves or nursing masks as the wind began to move again. Green laser-light streamed the air from a nearby installation. I could feel her gaze on me: fixed, unyielding. As if there was something she wanted to tell me, and that I desperately needed to know.