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“If Music Be the Food of Love . . .”

Dave Freer

“You have blood spots on your collar,” she said, with nasty glee.

I sighed. Zara always delighted in pointing that sort of thing out. Being a vampire isn’t easy. And then I had to put up with Zara as well. “And you have a zit on your nose,” I said, peering down my own nose at her.

It had the desired effect. Frantic squinting. Feeling with long black fingernails. “Eugh, gross! It’s not fair.” She stomped off in her Doc Martens to go and apply more makeup. She’s not very good at it. It’s not easy when you can’t use a mirror. It’s harder when you’re a teenager. Zara’s been that way for three hundred years now and she’s not got any better at being subject to teen hormones, or at applying makeup. Immortality has its downsides. Being a teenager forever is one of the worse possible ones. Having to live with one forever is, however, the worst curse of being one of the undead. And I had endless millennia of it ahead of me. Zara is my daughter. And no, I didn’t bite her. Banish the thought! It’s enough to make blood turn to ashes in my mouth. I did help to help to hammer the stake through Count Orlok’s heart, though. It took Zara nearly a century to forgive me for “ruining her life” and “interfering.” Actually, I’m still regularly accused of the latter.

It’s true, of course. But when did that ever stop a father?

I changed my shirt. The blood was probably more of an artifact from shaving without a mirror than a soft white throat. I had a glass of wine and checked my e-mail. I’ve done my best to move with the times.

Her favorite heavy metal CD played upstairs for what I would swear was the third time. She’d gaged the volume nicely. Enough to drive me mad, not enough to get the neighbors to complain. I looked at my watch. Again. Finally, although I knew it was a mistake, yelled “Zara! We’re going to be late.” Yes, I knew this was self-inflicted injury. I shouldn’t have made the zit comment.

No reply came from upstairs. Just more so-called music. I tried again.

So . . . ​eventually I went up to deal with the Saturday night tantrum, one of my least favorite pastimes.

I still would have preferred that to finding a room empty of anything but the sound of abused electric guitars.

There was a note on her coffin.

“Don’t even think about looking for me.”

So I didn’t think about it.

I just started doing it instead.

The window was open, so it was obvious how she’d gone.

I grimaced so hard that it hurt my fangs. I hate flying. And I hate being a cloud of bats (if there is one thing I despise above all other vampire misconceptions, it’s the bizarre idea that vampires can transform into one bat. We’re un-dead. Not un-massed. A single bat that weighed the same as I did would fly just like depleted uranium—only if fired by a tank. And no. We do not fly like Superman.) Shapeshifting is not comfortable and becoming multi-corporate means that my mind also gets split into many fragments. Bats—even ones with a bit of human mind, are not good at things like “stay together and don’t get eaten by owls.” Although it can’t kill them (there are few silver-beaked or even garlic salami munching owls out there), being regurgitated by an owl makes even death seem attractive.

But what else was I to do?

Well, I could have taken the car. But instead I discorporated into bat-fragments, left my clean white shirt with the rest of my clothes, and fluttered into the suburban night sky. Looking into the street-lit darkness at picket fences and neatly clipped lawns. Listening for ultrasonic squeaks from another cloud of bats. And trying to keep myself together. Some of the bats-parts kept getting distracted and flapping off to catch moths.

There were squeaks about, but unless Zara had been scattered—an owl can do that—she wasn’t still flying about. Which left her, sixteen years old—well, three hundred sixteen, but still looking sixteen—with no clothes, somewhere. A father still gets rather upset about this kind of thing, even after three hundred years. Even fathers whose daughters don’t need a nice lead-lined coffin by morning would get worried.

I spiraled up higher, looking and listening for a clue. Instead I found a house party. To one pair of bat-sensitive ears, it was an assault. To seventy pairs, it was like having your brain pounded in a mortar with a pestle. And yes. I do know exactly what that feels like. People come up with bizarre ways to try to kill the undead.

The cloud of bats that was me still flew closer.

Anywhere quite so many people were screaming seemed worth investigating. And the couple beneath the laurel bushes didn’t really need all their clothes right now, so I removed a pair of trousers, and a shirt, and, in my folly, a pair of shoes. No socks. People who have sex in socks are deluded about their contraceptive powers. Those two didn’t notice bats laboring to fly off with the clothing into the deep shadows next to the wisteria trellis. The shoes were outsize and ridiculously pointy-toed. The pants needed a hand to keep them up, but they were less conspicuous than wondering into someone’s party in a very pale white birthday suit.

I need not have bothered. There was loud music, but no people. That had the mark of my daughter about it. Empty rooms, signs of flight. Chairs tipped over, glasses scattered. Yes, Zara had been here.

So I shuffled on in the funny shoes. Towards the open door where the music was blasting from. To where my daughter was hanging adoringly over a console, a spotty youth, and an assembly of amplifiers, speakers, and turntables. A poster hung over the front of the console proclaimed that DJ Frank was for hire. By the looks of my idiotic daughter she was eager to do so. She had obviously acquired a skirt—or, at least a broad belt, and a blouse—from somewhere, and outsize jacket, so I didn’t have to kill him immediately. Just relatively soon.

The two of them were so wrapped up in talking—in this noise—that they hadn’t even noticed me.

I cleared my throat. That didn’t work, so I decided to clear his instead. I lunged one-handed (the other was busy holding up the trousers).

“Daddy,” shrieked Zara. “Don’t you touch him.”

I didn’t, because one of the long toes of my borrowed shoes hooked in the rug. As I fell, I let go of the trousers to catch myself. The result was undignified and allowed spotty Frank the DJ to retreat.

“Man, are you some kind of weirdo?” he asked, as I pulled up my trousers, and stood up, sans one shoe. He was only human. No match for my strength and speed . . . ​if I dropped my trousers and kicked them off. Mind you, that could give most humans a remarkable turn of agility.

“It’s only my father,” said Zara crossly. “He always ruins everything.”

I looked at the wreckage of what had been someone’s lounge. It now had broken furniture and four unconscious people scattered around it. “I think you’ve beaten me to it. It’s time we went home, young lady.”

“Why?” she asked, hands on her hips, eyes narrow. “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”

“Because, in the absence of your mother, I am supposed to look after you,” I said, measuring distances with my eyes.

She stamped her foot. “Daddy, I really am old enough to look after myself.”

The DJ looked at the empty room—well, empty except for the four unconscious men. “Dude, like, she’s got a point. And this isn’t the seventeenth century, you know.”

“I know. They had better taste in music then. Look, display some common sense and run away. I don’t want to hurt you, but very shortly I am going to have to.”

He reached out and flicked a switch—at the same time as he flung a piece of black cloth ripped from the side of his console. He flung it—not at me, but at Zara. I had to cope with the ultraviolet strobe without that slight protection. I didn’t do so very well. There is a reason for spending the daylight hours in a coffin, besides tradition.

When I woke up, the room was lit merely by ordinary incandescent bulbs, with no threats beyond a police officer who had eaten too much garlic in his chicken tikka pizza. It was an insult to good taste, but not enough to make me feel more than slightly bilious.

“Even if they are your trousers, sir, I still have to charge you with public indecency,” said the officer to the fellow I’d last seen beneath the laurel bushes. He was still wearing his socks, but had acquired a fluorescent police waistcoat to inadequately wrap himself in.

I cowered back against the wall. “Don’t let him hit me again, officer,” I said weakly.

The cop took a firm grip on the large, red-faced owner of the trousers I was wearing. “It’s all right, sir. We’ve got him under control.”

“One of the other witnesses from that lot we found running down the street said it was a young woman,” said the second cop doubtfully.

I nodded, as the man in socks gargled with a response. “The two of them. Some kind of sexual frenzy. I came over to ask them to turn the music down. I didn’t see all of it.”

The officer nodded. A middle-aged man recovering consciousness was a more credible witness than a buck-naked youth with gelled hair. “Were you the citizen who called in to complain about the noise?”

I shook my head. “Must have been one of the other neighbors. I wish I had left it to you. If you could help me to the bathroom? I’m going to be sick.” If there is one thing that years of vampirism have taught me, it’s how to be a glib liar.

The poor fellow in socks had turned puce and was shouting incoherently and trying to get at me. So he got tazered. That worked for me. So did a solicitous cop helping me to my feet. “You’re really pale, sir. Are you all right? An ambulance is on the way.”

I was tempted. There is nothing quite like a blood transfusion for a vampire. But I had a daughter and DJ to pursue. So I settled for kneeling in front of the toilet and making suitable noises. The officer of the law stood and watched. I pointed at the little bathroom window. “There is someone out there. A woman.”

He ran off, so I locked the door and discorporated into bat-forms. While he was eagerly beating the bushes—I suppose the idea finding a woman in only socks was more interesting than watching someone puke—I fluttered off—just in time to see that indeed, he’d got lucky there, too. Now I knew where Zara had found her clothes. I just didn’t know where she’d gone. The cloud of us fluttered home to go and try to approach this rationally. Bats think they are rational, but they tend to be obsessed with moths. It’s easier to think in human form, and easier to do this somewhere that you won’t be arrested for indecent exposure.

Besides, I needed to call the Van Hellsings and tell them that we wouldn’t be coming for dinner. The old folk doted on Zara. It was a pity that they didn’t have any children of their own, after the tragic death of their son. They’d been a bit more sensible and fortunate with their money than I had. But that’s one downside of being immortal and finding that in changing times one can no longer rely on peasant rents. Pitchforks and flaming torches—the peasants could still be relied on to provide those, but rents were a thing of the past, which was why I had to sell the old place and now teach medieval history in the local community college. At night, of course. My powerful hypnotic mind control was almost enough to get some of the students to pass, as well as give blood. I’ve been taking a series of correspondence courses myself over the years. I put a reading light in my coffin fifty years ago, and added a computer terminal and keyboard about five years back. It beats setting fire to your own coffin with a branch of candles. I study. Surf the web. There’s nothing much else to do—it’s that or daytime TV.

Back home, I dressed, listened to the music of distant police sirens—a sweet sound if it is far away, and googled DJ Frank. After a while I narrowed the search terms. There are a lot of David John or Darren James Franks out there. But when I added music and hire and locality—I got him. Well, I got a contact mobile number. Which wasn’t being answered right now, and dawn was dangerously close. Real sunlight, not just ultraviolet strobe, was not something vampires throve on. But he had put a cloth over her . . . ​so he must know something. He was also going to know something about angry fathers at this rate. The trouble was that this angry, worried father was shortly going to have to crawl into his nice lead-lined coffin with the grave soil of Carpathia, and I had no idea where go to next. It was then that I had the bright idea of looking around Zara’s room, where, as the sky turned bloody and the first commuters set off for work, I found her cell phone. I took it to my coffin with me. Yes, reading her text messages was prying. I try not to, but what was I to do? Call the police and report her missing? I could just imagine the interview: “How old is she, Sir?”

“Three hundred and sixteen and she usually sleeps in a pink plush-lined coffin, officer.”

It was easier just to read the text messages. They all came from a number I recognised. I’d just tried dialling it. That made more sense than most of the language written there. “L8r” took me quite a while to work out, and I had been under the mistaken impression that “ur” was a city in ancient Sumer. But I had all day. It was plain that Zara hadn’t dropped in on Frank by accident. Also it would seem, looking at the headlines online, that some youngster had even worse problems than Zara. A house party while his parents were away was not something he should have mentioned on a social networking site. It appeared that the revelers had done considerable damage. The police were looking for a neighbor who had witnessed it all . . . ​I never cease to be amazed by the talent of ordinary people to find logical rationalizations for the actions of the undead. It’s very convenient.

I had bit more to go on now. It was likely spotty Frank the DJ would know our landline number, and would not take calls from it.

So that evening, just after sundown, I went and left a bag of clothes just outside a conveniently empty house with a skylight, which was open enough for a bat. It’s the kind of thing I have learned to notice over the years. I always had a few spots picked out in case we had to leave before the pitchforks and burning brands. Yes, even in suburbia. Trust me. A whiff of a vampire and suddenly they come out of the cellars and attics.

If there is one thing I like less than garlic it has to be motion detector burglar alarms with response companies.

I had to go through the whole process again, at a different house. But soon I was inside, dressed, and dialling “DJ Frank, a party anywhere.” It rang.

“Frank Stine,” he answered.

“Like, I was looking for DJ Frank,” I said, trying to sound centuries younger than myself.

“That’s me, dude. What can I do for you?”

“Well, like, I’m kinda looking after these crumblies’ place while they’re away. I got the keys so I can come in and feed the goldfish. And, like, I thought it would be a cool place for a party next Saturday. But they got no sound. I mean, can you believe it? So a friend said I should give you a call, see. I got some money for house-sitting . . .” I let my voice trail off.

“It’s risky, dude. Cost you $150. And I take no responsibility for breakages.”

“Oh, we won’t break nothing,” I said with convincing insincerity.

“I’ll need cash up front,” he said, showing remarkable wisdom. 

“Okay. Um, can you come and collect it here. Like, I don’t want my parents to know.”

I gave him the address, and agreed a time. And set things up. Frank Stine wasn’t going to get away this time. Once that was done, I settled down to wait. The owners of this place didn’t have any vacu-packed whole blood in the fridge, so I made do with a glass of their Californian Pinot. The color is similar.

I had rigged a drop switch on the mains, and a simple arrangement with a jammed softball a piece of string to make the door swing closed. In the good old days I would have had a faithful henchman to do the job. I missed the mad retainers of yesteryear, but short of employing illegals it was impossible to get good help these days. Also, as the Van Hellsings had found, besides the expense, a dishwashing machine is not quite so hard on old china.

He was on time. And, my keen hearing told me, not alone. He knocked.

“It’s open,” I called from where I waited in the kitchen. “I’m just fixing a sandwich.” I watched him in the mirror in the hall. Of course, he looked alone in that. Holding hands with no one. 

“It’s DJ Frank,” he said. “About that part . . .” The door clicked shut behind him and the lights went out. “Oh shi . . .” was as far as he got before I reached him. One of the minor compensations of being infected with vampirism is being supernaturally strong and fast. I grabbed him and instinctively bit.

Which was also where my plans went awry.

I nearly broke my canine on what my lips said was a lump of steel. And it appeared, by the force that I was flung away, that Frank, too, was possessed of superhuman strength. He tore the door right off its hinges, and he and Zara were gone before I could sit up.

I left quietly, propping the door back in place. My mind was somewhat confused—and not just because I had hit the wall rather hard with my head. The SMS record on Zara’s phone only went back two hundred messages—about a week for a teenager, it seemed. How long had she known him?

And what was he? He had a reflection—he wasn’t a vampire, as I was. And what had I bitten? I decided that I was going to need help. One hates to admit family problems to others, but I had known Abraham Van Hellsing for many years. His own family history had not been untroubled.

The Van Hellsings have managed, in these degenerate times, with the encroachment of suburbia, to retain some of gothic charm to their home. Money helps, of course. Crenellations and rotting gables do not come cheaply, although being adjacent to the graveyard had kept property prices down.

I knocked. The knocker was a gift from a little place in the Borgo Pass. I had given it to them. It had a lovely hollow boom to it, due, I believe to an electronic amplifier. He was a fine scientist, Abraham. He was a doctor of science and literature as well as medicine, much interested in galvanics and medicine. His wife Elizabeth answered the door. The signs of her madness—well, modern art (in my day we called it madness, and I am not sure that we weren’t right)—were much about her on her paint-spattered smock. She smiled. “Vladislav. Abraham is up in his laboratory. It may cheer him up to see you.”

Normally, we met over drinks. Very civilized. I had not been into the Doctor’s laboratory for many years, back when he had still been hoping to find a cure. “I need his help,” I said. “A family matter, you understand.”

“Oh dear. I really do think you should let her do ballet if she wants to.”

“I am afraid it is a bit more serious this time. She’s run away.”

Elizabeth pulled a face. “So awkward with our special needs. But a young gel needs space. Let me call Abraham.”

It wasn’t space that I thought Zara needed. But I waited until Abraham came down. I could immediately see that something was troubling him. His ginger hair was disordered and his blue eyes were a little wild. He still bowed and clicked his heels in the German manner. “Mein Gott, Count. Elizabeth tells me we have a similar problem.”

I blinked. I knew that their only son had died. And vampires don’t breed, or the world would be neck-deep in the undead. “I have been a fool, delving into the mysteries that no man is meant to understand.”

I nodded and patted him sympathetically. “I tried to read The Female Eunuch myself once.”

“I have not been that depraved,” he said, slightly indignant. “No, I have been trying to bring forth life from dead tissue. And my creation has turned against me.”


He groaned and put his head in his hands. “Alas, it is true, my dear Vladislav. Elizabeth and I saw your Zara, and we desired the same.”

The poor fellow had plainly gone mad, just like his wife. “What?” I was beginning to feel like a parrot, or one of DJ Frank’s stuck records.

“We made ourselves a son. I have been working on tissue culture and galvanic re-animation for the last century or so. But I think the DNA I recovered from the grave was perhaps degraded. And I have been obliged to send Fritz out to fetch extra bits from the neighborhood.” He waved at the graveyard. “Livers especially.”

“And you have succeeded?”

“Ja.” Abraham van Hellsing sighed. “But I have over-reached myself and created a monster. Young Quincey does not like Bach.”

“I can’t say I like heavy metal either. But Zara she does. She’s still my daughter in spite of it.”

Abraham nodded heavily. “Yes. But I spoke perhaps a little intemperately about techno-beat. It is not easy, you understand. And now he has rejected his creator. Gone off to loose that curse on mankind.” He groaned. “I have tried to find him. His mother and I want him back. And now, my friend, you too are as afflicted as I am.”

I smiled and patted his shoulders again. “One of the things I have discovered while teaching are these wonderful industrial ear plugs, intended for working with heavy machinery. It dulls the pain. And I think we can find our little runaways.”

“There are half a million people in this city, and I do not know what name he is using or how he is managing to earn a living.”

“I do,” I said cheerfully. “And while I think sixteen was considered just about on the shelf back in Carpathia, I have always felt it a little young for marriage. But I’ll grant that Zara has been sixteen for so long that she must be just about be ready to be seventeen by now. She’s had enough practice.”

“What do you mean, Vladislav?” asked Elizabeth.

“I mean that if you don’t bring your shotgun along, I will,” I said cheerfully. “Unless you have some objection to an alliance between our houses.”

He looked a little taken aback for a second. Then he smiled. “Not at all. So you mean . . . ​you think they are together?”

“Yes. I suspect your creation . . .”

“Our son!” he thundered.

“Your son is now calling himself Frank Stine. He’s a DJ offering to provide music for parties,” I explained.

Van Hellsing sighed. “How can you be sure? I mean the name . . . ​he is so sensitive about his origins.”

“Not many other sons have a bolt through their necks,” I said feeling my tooth. “We have his assumed name, we have his profession. We have a much better chance of finding him.” I didn’t add that perhaps “Frank” was easier to live with than “Quincey.”

By pre-dawn we had paid visits to a number of people called Frank Steyn, Stein, and Stine. Many of them had suffered for the thoughtless name their parents had bestowed on them. None of them had been brought to life by powerful galvanic forces. We returned, despondent, to Van Hellsing’s home.

“I cannot think where we could look, Vladislav,” said Van Hellsing heavily. “We tried so hard. We gave him everything. Love. The computers. The sound system . . . ​electronic equipment. We gave life and voltage!”

“We even bought him the music he wanted,” said Elizabeth, wringing her paint-stained hands.”

“And have spent a fortune trying to adequately soundproof his rooms, as a result,” said Van Hellsing sourly. “Although I would welcome the bass making the walls rattle again. At least I knew he was home then.”

“I don’t suppose you’ve looked there?”

“But there is no music,” said Elizabeth.

“I know it seems unlikely, but let’s have a look. And . . .” I said, “I think, given my experience of Zara’s psychology, and my years of experience of raising a perpetual teen, we should pretend to object.”

Van Hellsing—a man of vast intellect—nodded. “Let me just drop the steel shutters. I had them fitted in case of a sudden rash of pitchforks and torches and wooden stakes.”

I wished I could afford that sort of thing these days. At the flick of a switch, cruel daylight was banished, as well the possibility of escape. We went down the passage to the room with the “private! keep out” sign.

Our little lovebirds, with headphones on and staring into each other’s eyes, did not even hear us arrive.

I must say that Abraham Van Hellsing does thunder “I made you!” very well. Elizabeth’s tears were a nice touch. I did the furious father to perfection. I’ve had a lot of practice. They stood together bravely, and explained how they were going to get enough money for a suburban crypt and laboratory of their own soon. We were suitably grumpy about it.

They make a very annoying, noisy young couple. I’m actually very fond of young Quincey, although I am careful not to let Zara know. He has his father’s genius. He’s managed to work out how to make a digital camera and a computer screen into a fine subsitute for a mirror. And industrial earplugs are wonderful things.

Julia S. Mandala has two published novels, The Four Redheads: Apocalypse Now! (with Linda L. Donahue, Rhonda Eudaly and Dusty Rainbolt), and House of Doors. Her works appear in Witch Way to the Mall, The Four Redheads of the Apocalypse, Dracula’s Lawyer, International House of Bubbas, Houston, We’ve Got Bubbas, Flush Fiction, and Best of the Bubbas. She holds degrees in history and law, and is a copy editor, scuba diver, underwater photographer, costumer, and belly dancer.

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