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Excerpt from Monsters



Illustration by Geoffrey Smith

Origins of the Story

For Vampire I wanted to describe a monstrous undead being who is completely out of touch with his body and with experiential reality, who hates and ignores physical reality, who believes he makes sense as he says things that are nonsensical, and who is completely incapable of self-reflection. I wanted to describe a character whose own soul is long since dead, and who now feeds on the souls of others.

In other words, I wanted to describe your typical philosophy graduate student, especially one steeped in postmodern theory.

I didn’t have the courage to write about a full-blown philosopher, perhaps one with several books out. That would have been far too frightening, and I would have had to sell the book with a warning on the cover.

I thought having a philosophy graduate student interview a vampire would make a fun contest as to who would turn out to be the most narcissistic.

The popsicle mentioned is a frozen human finger. And “food” is the generic name the vampire gives to humans.


He was silent for a moment. “But things aren’t perfect. Not by a long shot. The worst thing about humans these days is that they aren’t organic. That’s another reason I didn’t eat you. You were squinting like you have a headache, and I’ll bet my life. . . .”

He paused, waiting for a laugh.

When none was forthcoming, he said, “Get it? I don’t have a life to bet.” He paused again. “Anyway, I’ll bet you have aspirin in your system. I don’t like it. Thins your blood. And aspirin is the least of our problems. All that crap humans put in their bodies makes their blood taste awful. You know what’s the worst? Artificial sweeteners. Terrible aftertaste. Worse even than all those fancy medicines with names nobody can pronounce. And none of that junk is healthy. We vampires may not be living, but we still care about our health.”

I almost felt sorry for him.

He finished his popsicle, then said, “The only reason I’d do an interview would be to tell humans to stop polluting themselves so they’ll taste better. Do you think you could convince them to do that for us? Or are they too selfish and stupid?”

Then he opened the fridge again, pulled out a chilled glass of red liquid, tilted it slightly toward me.

I asked, “What’s in it?”

He said, “A delicious blend of eight types of human blood.”
I shook my head.

He drained the liquid in one long draught, put the glass on the desk, wiped his lips with the back of his arm, winked, then said, “You coulda had a B8!”

He belched, then leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes. When he finally opened them again he said, “I’ll be honest with you. Between television, email, and the internet I don’t have time to go hunting anymore, so I almost never see food on the hoof. Most of it comes pre-packaged.” He gazed at me. “I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I’m very interested in you, and in your opinion. I’m dying to ask you—get it, dying?—a very important question.”

I waited.

He said, “The important question is, what do you think of me? I’ve been doing all the talking so far. You talk about me for a while. What was your first impression? What do you think of me now? Are you scared to be sitting across from a vampire who could suck out all your runny weak-tasting blood? Am I how you imagined a vampire would be?”

I wasn’t really sure what to say.

Not that it mattered, because he didn’t wait for me to answer. He said, “Of course it’s silly of me to even ask. How could I expect food to have a meaningful opinion?”

He tilted his head back at a slight angle, looked down his nose at me. He turned thoughtful. “It’s been a long time since I was human. I almost don’t remember what it was like. I don’t remember being a living animal. Oh, we vampires still have sex, and we still eat, obviously, and we still defecate, and we still do all those things you do, like work jobs or run businesses, watch TV, look at the internet. We still can see clouds slide in front of the moon, still feel cold wind on our skin, still sleep, and even, after a fashion, dream. But you know, or maybe you don’t, that none of this makes us alive. None of these are the markers for living. Just like, by themselves, none of these are markers for sentience, obviously, since food can do all of these.

“So, what does it mean to be fully alive? What does it feel like to be fully alive? I’ve forgotten, and for so long I’ve wanted to ask a human, but the humans I’ve met have mostly been pre-packaged, or, back when I had more time, about to be prey. What is it that makes you alive, that makes you not undead?”

I waited a long time. I wasn’t used to him not answering his own questions. But I didn’t have an answer. He eats. I eat. He has sex. I have sex (well, not for a good long time). He sleeps. So do I. He perceives the world around him. So do I. He says he runs a business. I go to school and work a shit job. Why is he not living? Why am I not living dead?