Starting in 2017, I intend to write more. In an effort to kick start my writing, I asked my Facebook friends to throw out some writing prompts. This is in response to the first, a prompt for “A Vampire Tries Speed Dating,” suggested by David Goodner. It might need a little work, and the heavy reliance in dialogue lends itself to a short play, but for now, here it is.
Well, this is awkward, Drake thought moments before the woman in the seat across from him voiced her own misgivings aloud, stating, “Well, this is awkward.” Drake laughed, one of those forced laughs one makes when one would rather be anywhere other than where they were. Meanwhile, she—Debbie, according to her “Hello, my name is…” sticker—was equally aware that the situation was going downhill, and fast.
“Sorry,” she said. “I mean, this whole speed dating thing kinda sucks, doesn’t it?”
Drake cringed, too visibly, and Debbie picked up on it almost immediately. “Did… did I say something wrong?” she asked.
“No,” Drake said, “it’s just that… well, and you wouldn’t know this, so don’t feel bad, but the ‘s-word’ is kind of offensive.”
“’Speed dating?’” Debbie asked.
“’Sucks.’ It’s kind of a slur to my people.”
“Your people,” she asked, not getting it and, Drake knew, not meaning to not get it. It was a common correction to have to make, and he hated to make it when it wasn’t said out of malice.
“Yeah. Using ‘sucks’ to mean that something is bad or stupid is insulting.”
“Wait… Let me get this straight: you’re a vampire?”
“Yup,” he said, trying not to make it sound like a proud toddler responding to someone accurately guessing his grade level in school.
“Huh. Well,” she continued, “I didn’t know.”
“You couldn’t be expected to, so…”
“What about derivatives of su… er, the ‘s-word?’ Like calling someone a ‘sucker?’”
“Yeah… that’s… that’s like the ‘n-word’ in my culture.”
Debbie’s reaction this time was less confused, and more genuinely concerned. “Oh no… I… I’m really sorry.” Drake usually found that once the comparison to “nigger” was made, most non-vampires seemed to get it. It was about finding a common ground.
“No, no… again, it’s okay. You wouldn’t know.”
“I’ve just… I’ve never known a vampire personally.”
“Most people don’t. There aren’t a lot of people who even know we exist.”
“Still, I should be better about this stuff. I’m a linguist, so-“
“Oh yeah?” Drake was eager to direct the conversation away from his background, his culture’s various touchy points, and from him in general.
“Uh-huh. So you’d think I might know a little bit about linguistic no-no’s like that one. Like, not everyone knows that ‘gypped’ comes from slurs about Gypsies. Same idea.”
“Yeah, I knew some Gypsies, once. They really can get touchy about stuff like that. And about the s-word thing and not knowing about vampires, it really is okay. We aren’t very open about our existence. We don’t like to be out in the light.” He paused, smilingly wryly. “… figuratively and literally.” He paused, waiting for a reaction, having just laid down perhaps the best dad joke in history. Debbie didn’t respond immediately, so like the stumbling dad, Drake continued. “Did… I mean, you probably appreciate how I used ‘literally’ there.” Still seeing no response to the joke, and sensing that the conversation was taking a sudden and unexpected turn back toward awkward, Drake continued nevertheless. “Because, you know, people misuse…”
“Yeah, I get it,” she said.
“Because ‘literally’ is….”
“Uh-huh,” she mumbled, committing to the ultimate show of lost interest by turning to her phone.
She shrugged. “People always try to trigger me with weird linguistic uses and misuses. Turns out when most people meet someone who studies language, everyone is suddenly a grammar Nazi.” She sighed, “but that’s not fair to you.”
“Yeah, no…. that joke sucked, anyway.” He paused, expecting the usual complaints about double standards. “See, I can say ‘sucks’ because it’s the kind of word that has power, you know? It was first used by people who hated and feared us, and then by people who made it a point to hunt us down and kill us. ‘Suckers’ was first used by vampire hunters in Germany during the eleventh century purges. They called us ‘Saugnapfhe.’”
“Again,” Debbie said, “linguist. I get the whole power disparity thing with words. And, I really am sorry,” Debbie said, clearly concerned and remorseful at the unintentional harm she caused. “I should have known, but I didn’t, because vampires aren’t common knowledge.”
Drake took a second to collect himself, drew in a breath, closed his eyes. “No, I’m sorry. It’s just that this is a sore subject, you know?”
“I completely understand.”
“You go for centuries hearing all these words and stereotypes and misunderstandings about vampires—thanks Stoker—and I imagine you wouldn’t get it. But it’s not like vampires are really brought up much in school.”
“Yeah, not at all.”
“Figures. Live-washing of a whole society.”
“Do… I’m sorry if this is sensitive or rude… but do you guys drink, um, human blood?”
“Well… yes.” It was Drake’s turn to feel awkward. Five or six hundred years ago, when he was in his angry young vampire phase, that would have been an insult. Completely true, but still insulting, and one of the worst kinds. Years of reflection, however, had convinced him that because of the embarrassing “vampires killing humans” past, humans weren’t wrong to be mistrustful. “But,” he said, “things have changed. We can get blood from blood banks, now. Oh, and check this out.” Excitedly, he pulled out his phone and started tapping on the screen, oblivious at the moment that Debbie was rapidly losing interest again. “There’s an article in Science Monthly about the ability to synthesize human blood, and how it’s going to be a game changer for health care. Of course, they didn’t mention vampires, but…” as he looked to show her the article on his phone, he realized that she had tuned he own attention to her phone. “Uh, I mean… well, it’s cool to me.”
“I’m sure it is.”
The silence that settled did nothing to lighten the mood, and those types of silence are not wont to do. They sat there for a moment, but hanging in time. Finally Debbie looked up at the clock in the café, despite there being a clock on her phone because it gave her something to do rather than look at her own screen and be reminded of the situation that was at times interesting, and at times uncomfortable. “So, I guess we’ve got another minute of this, huh?”
“Seems like an awfully long minute at this point.”
“When you’ve been alive for at least a thousand years, a minute isn’t so bad.”
“Well, this one is pretty bad for us lowly thirty-four year olds.”
He laughed. “I guess so. Hey, I’m sorry…”
“We should both stop that, you know.”
“Apologizing for everything. We’ve both said ‘sorry’ a lot during this five-minute conversation.”
“Four minutes and thirty-seven seconds, actually.”
“Even worse, then.” She smiled again. “Look, it hasn’t been all bad.” She put away her phone as the final moments of their “speed date” ticked away.
“No? So are we going to exchange numbers or something?”
She laughed, perhaps too loudly, as other speed daters at other tables turned to look at her. “No, definitely not.”
“Oh.” Despite himself, and despite knowing that the short meeting had been a bust, he had experienced a moment of hope.
“It wasn’t all bad,” she continued, “because I learned a lot about your culture. So the next time I meet a vampire, I won’t put my foot in my mouth. So, thanks.”
“Genuine praise. Take it as a compliment. You’re a decent guy, just a little clueless.”
From the front of the café, where the overly perky facilitator of the session had been overseeing this experiment in rapid human romantic connection, a cheery voice said “Okay, daters! Wrap it up, and let’s get the next shift going!” People started to stand, some smiling and exchanging numbers with the person across from them, some moving on without hesitations (and in a few cases, quite quickly). Debbie smiled one last time.
“You’ll do fine,” she said. “Next time, though, maybe leave out the ‘vampire’ thing right off the bat. Ease into it. It could be a problem.”
“Good advice. Thanks.” He held out his hand, and she responded with a solid clasp and shake.
“Maybe I’ll see you around?”
Drake shrugged. “Maybe so.”
She moved on to the next table as another woman, eager to meet her potential soul mate, bounced up with too much energy to Drake’s table. Her “Hello, my name is” sticker proclaimed that her name was Louise.
Drake had a good feeling about this one.
Later that night, as Drake was wiping Louise’s blood off his chin while he considered his options in disposing of her body, it was his-post feeding euphoria that likely kept him from seeing the slight, blond woman—still wearing her “Hello, my name is Debbie” sticker—slip up behind him. He only realized what had happened when the sharp point of the wooden stake protruded from his chest via his back and he stared down at it in shock. He didn’t even have a chance to turn before his body began to age rapidly, the thousand or so years he’d stolen from others being stolen, in turn, from him. As he fell face first into the alley, Debbie let the stake fall down with his body. She reached into her jacket and produced a container of lighter fluid and a well-used Bic lighter.
“I said you were clueless. Shoulda listened.”
Her phone chirped at her, and she pulled it out, glancing down. “Ugh,” she groaned, “I didn’t think that werewolf would text so soon. Girl can’t catch a break.” Deborah Van Helsing shot back a quick reply about meeting somewhere tomorrow evening, when she knew that the moon would be full. Harder to kill, but permanent, she thought. “What the Hell is up with all these damn monsters using speed dating, anyway?” An affirmative reply from the werewolf—eager, too—was the only noise, barely audible over the creschendoing fire of the vampire’s body.