You know where the big money is in blogging? It has to do with popularity. You have to keep your blog up to date, on the pulse. You have to take something current and discuss it in your own voice. Have your own say and attract opinions.
So, say you’ve gone to see the new Marvel movie; well, then you discuss that. You write your piece, tag it and put it out into the world. That would draw the, ahem, crowds. That would get people paying attention. You would not, for example, dump that idea at the last minute and decide to write about roughly the same topic you blogged about last week. That’d be crazy, right?
Well, not exactly vampires. I promise you, this is not about to become a Dracula only blog. I’m not becoming a Dracula junkie. No, I want to talk about something else that lies within the world of the vampire. Something that occurred me earlier this week and I’ve not been able to let it go since. I figured this the perfect place to hash it out.
We know the drill when it comes to vampires. The nocturnally exclusive lifestyle. The bloodstained lips. The sharp teeth and occasionally problem with traditional herbal garlic based remedies. We also know that, for all their feeding and near feline predator preening, a vampire will occasionally turn someone into one of their own. Sometimes for companionship, other times to keep up their plans for global domination. Unless, of course, you’re watching The Strain. In which case, all bets are off. The smart clothes and bloodstained snobbery have taken a backseat for all manner of body horror madness.
The classic vampire will generously give the gift of fangs, a pale complexion and medically acceptable lie ins to those they deem worthy. Not forgetting, of course, their particular flavour of immortality. They usually seem to favour someone a little on the uptight side. Someone a bit repressed. After the bite and some squeamish first steps, that new vampire inevitably begins to get into the swing of things. They’ll kill a few people, monologue about evolution and then probably push things too far and get a stake through their heart. Either that or they’ll see the errors of their ways and do something dramatic and possibly poignant about it. A certain percent used to just run into Blade as well, although that guy seems less a threat these days.
Anyway, the rabbit hole I fell down this week had something do with the transformation from person to vampire. I get that vampires are seducers and that, if you end up on their team, then you’ll be seduced by their abilities. That’s where the stories will always focus. The powers and the possibility of never ending birthdays, as long as you don’t get greedy or decide a beach holiday is the one thing your new life is really missing. What intrigued me when I started to think about all this was the reflection. Or, you know, the lack of a reflection. I think there’s something truly monstrous there that I didn’t see before.
During a vampire story, we know there’s going to a mirror or a photograph that doesn’t show the suspected vampire within its frame. It’s a nice little shock reveal. A comfortable signpost on our way through a genre story, telling us whereabouts we are. Only, in a world where self image is so much of our day, isn’t there something to be said for someone who can no longer truly see themselves.
Okay, strip away the sarcasm. Sorry, that’s just my default setting. Let’s take a look at this from a closer point of view. You know someone who isn’t well. A friend from work. You notice they’ve been off sick for a while and someone tells you it’s pretty bad. They’re in hospital. You’re not close enough to visit them or anything, but you sign the card. You put some money in the donation bucket. Maybe you do a run or a bake sale to raise a little more for them, but it’s too late. That person deteriorates and then, tragically, they die. It’s a freak thing, but it’s hard not to think of it as further proof life is cruel. Some of your colleagues go to the funeral. There are photos on social media. You hear stories from the reception. Apparently, their parents were trying some strange old folk medicine towards the end, that’s how desperate they were. Slowly, awkwardly, life goes on. You learn to let their memories become all you have left of them and you miss them more than you realised you would.
A month or so later, you’re out. It’s one of those socially clunky catch up nights that make it very clear you and your friends have all drifted apart. As the night turns to drinking to ease the awkwardness, you make a move.
Walking home, a little drunk and tired, you think you see that old work friend in the shadows. That’s strange, right? Must have been a lookalike or a sibling. But it happens a few more times. Always a night. Always in the same area. It becomes an obsession. You don’t want to tell anyone at work. You don’t want them thinking you’re going mad. So, instead, you keep it to yourself. You start going out at night to find that person, night after night.
It takes time. Just long enough that you begin to wonder if this isn’t all some weird form of grief. That’s when you see them. You follow them. You watch them take a stranger into a block of flats. They don’t come out all night. You keep going back. You stake out the flats until, one night, they find you. They come to your car. You want to run but there’s something about the way they talk to you. You stop panicking. You do as they tell you. They take you into their dark little flat and you don’t fight as they apologise and say they need to feed.
They bite your neck and you don’t even struggle. You feel yourself dying and you’re strangely calm about it. Only they stop. There’s something about the sight of you prone and pale on the floor that makes them pull their fangs from your throat. They flee and you slip into unconsciousness.
You wake up outside your own front door and try to tell yourself it’s nothing. A bad dream. Of course, the puncture marks on your neck start you worrying. As does the constant weakening hunger and that searing pain whenever the sun shines on your now overly sensitive skin. That night, you go to confront your old colleague, but they’re gone. The flat is empty. You’re alone.
Over time, you begin to understand what you are. You quit your job. You do your car up like a taxi and wait out in the town centre after the pubs shut. Most people you just drive home but, every so often, you keep a fare for yourself. It gets easier with each meal. The hunger stops being a burden and becomes what it is. Only hunger. When you were hungry before, you ate. Why change that now? You’ve already made so many changes. You move on as you need to. Live somewhere small and out of sight. Hunt at night. Feed when you need to feed.
You lose sight of your old life as time slips by. You forget who you once were. After all, it’s not like you have to face yourself any longer. You can’t see yourself in the rear view mirror when you look back at your next meal. You’re not subjected to awkward pictures of yourself online or at work anymore. You never have to see the hunger in your eyes. You never have to worry about seeing yourself as anything other than what you need to be in that moment. The guilt, the moral questions, they all just stop. You can’t see the blood around your mouth after you’re sated. You can’t see your mouth contort as you go to feed. You never realised how much of your connection with your sense of self came from seeing your reflection. It used to ground you. It would pluck you down from the clouds. It would give your ego a check when one was needed. That’s gone now and you are free. Free to be whatever you are becoming, night by night. Throat by throat.
Okay, that’s a little rough, but you get the point. We check our reflections a lot. Sometimes out of vanity. Sometimes out of a need to reassure ourselves. Imagine taking that away. We would change. We would be able to see the world, but we would never have to see ourselves in it. We could begin to distance ourselves from it and, in that growing void, I think there’s a terrible opportunity for us to lose ourselves forever.
It’s rare we commit our greatest mistakes in view of a mirror, but afterwards there will be guilt in the eyes of our reflection. There will be regret and remorse. Vampires lose that. It’s taken from them. Whether it’s a gift or a curse lies in the eyes of the person telling the story. Fiction, at its best, has always been a mirror. So, what about a story that asks what would happen if there was no longer mirror in the world that could show you who you truly were? People like to talk about the dangers of social bubbles and technology blinkers. I have a feeling the vampires in our horror have been trying to talk to us about it for a very, very long time.