Vampires Never Get Old – Zoraida Córdova

Esmael told me that teenage girls make the best vampires. It sounded like a line, but he’d already been in my pants so I was inclined to believe him. He’d found me because of the art pinned to the wall at El Café, where I worked. I’d brought in a few sketches and tried to stick them to the exposed bricks with putty, then cussed until Thomas said if I couldn’t figure a way without damaging the wall, maybe I didn’t deserve to be an artist. I hung string from the coatrack to the bookshelf and clipped my art to that. Ten bucks each. I did them when I couldn’t sleep most nights, while watching TV with the lights out or after midnight, when I could only see by the streetlamps outside the window. Hard to notice mistakes that way, and I can just rub my feelings into the paper and sell them as dark mood prints. Get it? I know what I’m doing. Esmael came in at the end of Thursday, when we’re open till seven o’clock, and it was January so the sun was long down. I wasn’t there—I prefer to open the café even if I have to be there by five a.m., because I’m alone and just put everything to rights, no cleaning. Flick on the industrial espresso machine, put the stools and chairs down, pick a streaming station, inventory the milk and shit, and wait for Miss Tina to bring the day’s muffins. The sun rises behind our block of shops, so light sort of glows up gradually until around midmorning it crests the buildings and hits the east-facing windows across the street and absolutely tears into my eyes, even from all the way behind the counter.

Apparently Esmael got his cappuccino with cinnamon dashed against the foam like dried blood and then held it while he stared at my art. Bought a piece called howling and asked for my info to actually commission something. Thomas just told him to find me at opening on the weekend or Tuesday, when I had a late start at school and worked until nine. He was waiting on Saturday when I unlocked the door at 6:30 a.m. sharp. It wasn’t unusual for a regular. I also didn’t mind, because that vampire is extremely pretty. Small for a guy, but moves like an athlete, you know, who can spring to action before you realize it. He was in tight jeans and a button-down and a floral vest, and it worked.

Really nice, if blanched, peaches-and-cream skin; dark blond hair tucked neatly behind his ears; green eyes. Like, actually green. Ocean-green. Green-like-amermaid-tail green. And his hands were so deliberate. He had a weird shiny black ring on his forefinger that seemed to float there when he gestured or handed me cash and when he tucked a ten into the tip jar. (That was the first thing that caught me like a warning flag.) Also he was old. Thirty, I’d have guessed, or maybe twenty-five before I saw his eyes, which aged him because he didn’t blink or look around much. That gaze just held on to me, or my art, or the register.

Whatever he looked at, he looked at. He said he liked my style and asked how I did it—with ashes in the dark, I said—and he laughed softly, not really making an expression. Then he asked if I was interested in having a show at his gallery. If so, I should come by, see the space, and we’d talk. I got out my phone and said, “I need a picture of you to send to the police if I go missing.” When I held it up he smiled, and Mary Mother, was it a smile. I took the pic and texted it to Sidney: If I disappear this guy named Esmael Abrams wants to show my art at a gallery. She texted back: I hope he wants you to put out for it and a line of eggplant emojis. The first time he bit me it was right in the groin, and I didn’t give a fuck because he’d just ruined me for all other guys. Not all other girls—girls are better at that, especially Sid.

Anyway, I guess there’s a vein down there. This other vampire, Seti, agreed that teenage girls definitely make the best vampires, but not for the reasons Esmael thinks. She said it’s because teenage girls are both highly pissed and highly adaptable, and that’s what it takes to survive the centuries. I asked what Esmael’s reasons were and he said, “Your art,” like it was obvious. He lounged against the tinted window of his apartment, which was the whole floor over the gallery (yeah, he did have a gallery). His robe was silk, and it draped around him in proper vampiric fashion. He reached for the hose of his hookah, took a slow drag, and let the smoke trickle out around his tiny little fangs like a fucking dragon. (It was rose tobacco and apple juice in the base, too sharp for my taste.) Seti rolled her eyes and her head, too, so her fat henna-red curls dripped down the back of the chaise lounge. She had a foot up on the cushion and another pressed hard to the tile floor; both were clad in army boots.

Otherwise she was mostly naked, except for red velvet shorts and a camisole that looked like it was made of spiderwebs. Even the firelight touched her tawny skin carefully, like maybe it would be burned by the contact. I really wanted to have sex with her, too. She said, “Esmael, you’re such a Victorian waif.” To me, she said, “It’s your frontal lobe, not quite fully developed. So you mostly know who you are, but you take big risks for not much reward. And people raised as girls in this shitbag of a country are raised to be adaptable. So you come out ambitious—or useless.” I was pretty sure Seti was from the Middle East somewhere, but a long, long time ago. Her nose was what I imagine the Sphinx’s nose should look like, and there was something about her eyebrows.

Plus the name she was using. I looked it up and it was some pharaoh’s name. She was younger than Esmael, both literally by about a century and by her looks, too—seeming maybe nineteen or twenty. I asked her where she was from and she said her people were gone, so it didn’t matter. “I don’t waste that story. I’ll tell you if you live to be a hundred.” They gave me a choice. Live forever as a child of the night (yeah, Esmael used those words exactly), or forget them and live out my days, however many they might be, under the sun. The next morning I lay down next to my mom and told her everything, just to talk it all out. Mom always said talking something out could point you in the right direction.

By the time I’d explained it all, I was thinking that since I’d made such a fuss about not having a choice about who I wanted to sleep with—born that way, etc., etc.—I’d better take this actual choice, about who and what I wanted to be, pretty damn seriously. “If you could live forever, would you want to?” I asked Sid as we squeezed through the hallway to our free block. When it was this cold out, we both spent the hour in the auditorium with Ms. Monroe and I usually could get my biology reading done for the week. Then I didn’t have to lug that cinder block of a textbook home. Sid cocked her head and tugged at the rolled waistband of her pleated skirt. I wore the pants option all winter, but Sid said that edging up her skirt so every teacher considered taking a ruler to test the uniform code against her knee was the only thing that made her actually feel Catholic. “Like some Highlander, or a vampire, or in some kind of relativity loop or something?” Sid knew this game.

“A vampire.” I didn’t bother being casual about it, and I stared at her like I wanted to sink my teeth into her white neck. Her lips curled in a smile because she liked when I got weirdly intense, said it was my artist look, and she nudged open the auditorium door with her hip. “I think so. Like, a vampire doesn’t have to live forever, so you could just live as long as you wanted to. Do you have to kill people?” (I’d asked Esmael the same question. He’d dragged his knuckles down my bare leg and said, “No, but you can.”) I shook my head at Sid. “Only drawback is the sun?” We picked a curved row of dingy old theater seats and plopped down far away from most of the juniors sharing our free block. “And holy water and some kinds of magic.

” “Magic, huh, so we’re not some kind of virus vampires, but the demon kind.” Seti and Esmael didn’t seem particularly demonic to me, but I supposed technically it was accurate. “Yeah.” “I think I probably would, but maybe I’d want to wait a few years until I’m legal. And maybe try to lose a few pounds.” My eyes widened. I hadn’t even thought about that. If the transformation maintained my body exactly the way it was, I’d have this belly and fat around my bra for all time. I slid down in the theater seat to put my skull against the back and stare up at the ceiling. “Are you going to live forever with me?” Sid whispered in my ear.

That wasn’t part of the choice; the vampires had been clear. Just me, and if I tried to turn anybody for the first fifty years, they’d kill us both. I kissed her quickly. “Of course,” I said. “We’ll rule the night together and rampage across the world.” Esmael took me for a long walk that night in the Power and Light District, where the bars shared neon and bass between them like a love language. Cold couples and parties of bros dashed from club to hotel to parking lot with breath fogging heavy around their heads, clapping hands over their mouths, wearing each other’s coats and laughing and cussing at the icy breeze. I had on a long jacket and a scarf, but Esmael had fed me some of his blood for the first time and I barely felt the cold. That magic heated me from the inside. Seven nights in a row, that was the basis of the ritual.

He drinks from me; I drink from him. If we broke it after six, I’d be ill for a few days, then fine. But human. We walked north from the Sprint Center, through dark downtown buildings until the bars distanced themselves from each other and the locals heading home or urging their little dogs to pee on two square feet of frosty grass outnumbered partiers. I tucked my hand in Esmael’s elbow, which he found charming, and didn’t mind my boots tapping the sidewalk while his made no sound at all. He was a sexy shadow and could protect me from anything. I wondered what it would be like to walk this street alone and still be unafraid. No keys pressed through my fingers like brass knuckles, no heightened pulse, and if somebody called me a dyke, I could flip them off no worries—or better, rip out their goddamn throat. “You’re excited,” Esmael said softly. “There’s power in it.

” “Yes. And danger. You must, if you join us, learn to think not only about surviving tomorrow, but the next decade and century. Make plans, a framework for eternity, and then you can afford to live in the moment. You can seem to be human, but only if you think like a monster.” “What does that mean?” “There are cameras everywhere and phones listening to us. We survive by never being sought. If someone wants to find you—wants to find a vampire—they will. There is no hiding in this world, no longer, and so you must be a person.” “That’s why you have a gallery.

” “So that I can pay taxes. I’m in the system.” “Sounds boring.” He slid me his real smile, the one too beautiful for words. “Nothing is boring if you understand it.” “What a line,” I managed; I was pretty breathless from that smile. “Imagine what you can do with a decade to learn. Imagine your art a hundred years from now, when you’ve lived in Thailand and Germany and New Orleans. Imagine who you can know. What you can experience.

” We neared the Rivermarket, where the restaurants were fancier or at least had names with words like gastropub in them, and I thought of drawing it all: the angle of light from the shop windows ahead and the sheen of starlight—one was warmer than the other. Could I draw something like warmth? “It’s worth the sun?” I asked softly. “You learn to make your own sun.” I thought about Thailand and New Orleans, about dancing and twisting my tongue around new languages and new concepts. I thought about all the sex I could have. All the music I could hear. It pinched in my chest. Suddenly I was crying. The tears froze a little on my lashes and the smear was cold and dry when I rubbed them away. Esmael did nothing but hold my hand.

“Take me to my mom,” I said. His sigh was extremely melancholy, but he whisked me off as requested. I told Mom the ridiculous argument that paying taxes kept monsters alive. That was her favorite sort of thing: finding humor in bleakness. Instead of making jokes for her, though, I complained about the unfairness of life. Wouldn’t Mom love all the music of the world and learning every language? It was bullshit that she couldn’t come be a vampire with me. Or instead of me. The next night of the ritual, after I touched a finger to the blood at Esmael’s wrist and dripped it onto my tongue like a designer drug, Seti took me out. She said, “Esmael is smart, but I know how to live.” We went to a club that was literally underground.

It popped up in the caves under the river bluffs sometimes, Seti explained, and I was definitely too young, but she got me in. I danced and panted, kissed and screamed and let that music crash through me. She gave me a shot of expensive tequila that tasted like almond candy and let me press up against her like a promise. When Seti dug her nails into my palm I went with her, and I watched her drink blood from a woman’s inner elbow while the woman was grinding back against Seti. Then Seti kissed me, lips tangy with blood, and it was a little horrifying, to be honest. “When you’re one of us, that will be the only glorious taste in the world,” she whispered later, sprawled on Esmael’s bed. “I know it disgusted you. Do you want to be the thing that craves it? You can’t survive forever if you hate yourself.” From the chair by the fire, Esmael huffed slight disagreement. Naturally.

I sprawled on the bed, too, my head dangling off and my legs stretched across hers, but I could see him upside down. My pulse throbbed pleasantly in my skull, and in a few other places. “Why me?” I asked. “Your art,” Esmael said distractedly, staring dramatically into the fire. The same answer he’d given when I asked why he thought teenage girls make the best vampires. “Ugh,” I said. Seti laughed. Esmael glanced at me. “I think art should be developed. You’re fine now, but as I’ve said, imagine what you can make in a hundred years.

” Suddenly Seti was on her knees, crouched over me. She reached, grabbed my hair, and dragged up my head. Her vivid brown eyes were alight with passion. “Imagine what you can change in a hundred years!” I sat as best I could, still in her grip. Her intensity transferred through her hands into me, and I felt like I was trembling at the edge of something important. She said, “What are you angry about? We can make it better. We can shape history, because we can do it a little at a time, child. A heart here, a mind there, then another and another—around the world. Having a goal—that’s how you survive the years.” “Seti likes to seduce community leaders and write angry blog posts,” Esmael said.

He was there behind me, faster than humanly possible. “It works, you tax-paying stooge,” Seti snarled. His hand gasped her throat and she released me. I scrambled away, but Esmael was smiling. “Socialist whore,” he hissed. I grabbed a quilt from the foot of the bed and went up to the roof as their wrestling deteriorated into sex. It was frigid outside but oh so clear, and the pink in the east, past the rest of the city, wasn’t the color of blood at all. I made a list for my mom of everything in the world that I’d change. It only had one line. The fifth night of the ritual, Esmael came to the house, a bungalow from the 1920s two streets off from the millionaire tax bracket that surrounded my high school.

I was in my bedroom smearing pastels to the light of a few candles that smelled variously of spruce, wassail, and orange juice. He wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Did Grandma let you in?” I asked, handing him the heavy paper. Most people took my work by a corner, careful not to smear charcoal on their fingers, but Esmael took it like the gift it was. “No, she is unaware I am here,” he said thoughtfully, studying the strokes of black and dark orange. It was a rough pomegranate, cut open in one ragged slash. It bled its thin juice, and five tiny pips lined the bottom of the page, little smears of red pressed there by my pinkie. If the light was better, maybe you could see the ghost of my fingerprints in it. I hoped so. Esmael’s lips parted and he breathed in, smiling tenderly at me.

“Very well, my Persephone, come for your next seed.” I held out my hand and he lifted it, licked my palm, and drew a breath that tickled the fine hairs on my arm. He pulled me nearer and kissed my wrist, licking and sucking softly until my knees were weak and I dug my fingers into his hip bone. My art fluttered in his other hand as he settled it upon the bed and bit into me. After, he held me in his lap as his blood swept through my system.

.

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