By Manfred Newstead
I do not understand how you find anything glamorous in my life, dear reader. You have so much more than I can ever hope for. So many things are open to you that are forever closed to me. I live my life upside down. When I most need something to occupy my time and alleviate the crushing solitude of my existence, every shop has closed its doors. Every window is bolted against me. Four am is the loneliest of times.
Envy me? Why? Envy nights of endless roaming, mile after mile with streetlights and fluttering newspapers my only companions? The bright places, the loud places, cheery bars and restaurants — all these hold for me is a reminder of what I can never be. It only brings me pain.
And yet you continue to romance me. Why? What is it about the dark that attracts you so? Moths are drawn to flames, but what animal in creation is drawn by the negation of light? And that is what I am, I assure you. I am negation. Of light. Of life. Of energy. I consume it all. Yet you want me. So many of you want to be me. I do not understand.
I came into this life like any other. I was born. I was raised by parents more well-meaning than gentle. I had a childhood. I have my scars, but life is pain. In these things, I am like every one of you. Yet it was sometime early in this childhood that the first signs that I was different manifested themselves. They were not events that clearly distinguished me from the rest of humanity. I did not go out to swim with the other children only to be struck suddenly down by the light of the sun. It was subtle.
I imagine a young boy who is just beginning to suspect that he is gay experiences the same kind of non-events that set him apart: Unbidden thoughts; Half-remembered dreams; An incident among friends that held importance to no one save himself. These were the things that distinguished me as well, in those early years. Suspicions. Half-thoughts. Nothing clear, no definitive epiphany. It was not that easy (can it ever be?). If my fate had leapt out at me and bludgeoned me over the head with something so gloriously obvious, I would never have spent my adolescence and early adulthood second guessing myself. I would not still suspect, occasionally, that all of this is merely the result of some complex delusion. I would know.
But there is never any knowing. Not in the ways you would expect. This life is not nearly as blatant as that. When I go out during the day, I do not burn to cinders. My skin reddens and blisters faster, but not right before your eyes. Yet the rays of the sun weigh heavily upon me, and the heat exhausts me in a matter of minutes. I feel dizzy, nauseous. The muscles in my legs turn to water and I tremble with the effort of every movement. If I am prepared for this, casual observers will notice nothing amiss. Perhaps you will see the lines of concentration around my eyes. Perhaps the deliberateness of each movement will strike you as odd, but this is hardly proof, even in the most fanatical individual’s mind, of a supernatural condition. Given my unusual pallor, most will assume me to have frail health. The truly suspicious will assume it’s AIDS. Nothing unusual in that — not in this day and age.
It is the same if I have not fed for a long while. I am dizzy. My stomach churns. I can eat no solid foods. My color bleaches even further, and there is a fever-bright sheen to my eyes. Some may perceive this as hunger, others may simply pass it off as a look born of pain. And it is clear from the way I hold myself that I am in pain. I will walk carefully, deliberately, but the searing agony in my chest will sometimes catch me off guard. Then I will stop and perhaps sway where I stand. I might hunch over a little, resisting the urge to crumple to a fetal position on the floor. And after I have again mastered myself, nothing will seem terribly wrong.
If you ask me, I might admit that I’ve been ill the past few days. But I’ll assure you it’s nothing to be concerned about. It’s just a condition that I have. If pressed by the over-curious or those who would seek to play doctor, I whisper solemnly that it is my heart and that there is nothing that can be done. Given time, it will pass. It is amazing how quickly people will leave you alone when they are faced with the fragility of the human body. Most people find ailments of the heart especially disturbing. When I drop this hint, I am almost guaranteed not to have anyone ask anything further for days to come.
My pallor is always with me, as is that peculiar intensity of the eyes that so many people find unnerving. Ironically, for as many people that find the predatory look in my eyes frightening, there are always those who are more fascinated by it. This is especially true of people for whom the act of loving and acts of violence are closely intertwined. I find such individuals instantly smitten with me. And this makes it relatively easy for me to take what I need from them.
If I were to take only blood from them, my needs would be met whenever I desired satiation. But it is not as simple as that. Blood is nothing. What is blood? It is the effluvia of life. It is a salty-bitter soup of hormones and chemicals. It is not what I need to sustain me. But life, the essence of vitality, is a much harder thing to ask someone to give up. Most people do not even recognize this force within themselves. Ignorant to it, I can hardly explain that I am taking it, let alone ask permission to do so. And so I simply rape them of what I need, offering no explanations, and hoping they will attribute their exhaustion and lassitude the next morning to a long night of very rough sex.
Did you think it all came down to blood? How naive you all are! And yet you have studied my kind with perhaps more vigor than I have. You have undoubtedly read the folklore. Where does blood come into play in the tales about us? You mistake movies and literature, with their blatant sensationalism, for the real thing. For shame. If it were as simple as blood and being burned by the sun, do you think there would be that element of doubt, even now, within myself?
I feed upon life, and I can take it from those I touch or I can choose to take it from some distant victim in a dream. Even if they know me, they are not likely to recall the dream. And if the dream stands out, who is likely to attribute supernatural significance to something like that these days? More than likely, the individual will e-mail me and recount the dream as an amusing bit of trivia. They will think nothing of it, and aside from a moment’s amusement, they will expect me to think nothing of it as well.
It is so easy not to stand out in this day and age. It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing myself deluded. You would believe me so, if you encountered me and I revealed myself to you. I am not what you want me to be. I exist to frustrate all your expectations. You would rather destroy me with the stake of modern psychology than allow your fantasies to be dashed by stark reality.
Yet I am what you fantasize about. I am ancient, and in a way even I do not understand. Although I was born like you and this body will die as surely as yours will, yet my mind, my soul lives on. It moves from lifetime to lifetime, and for me, the body is merely a garment. An old set of clothes I wear out and discard just prior to buying something new.
So I am immortal, as truly immortal as a being of flesh can be. Is it my immortality alone that you desire so deeply? Do you understand what a double-edged gift it truly is? You desire me, you desire to be me, because you are in some respect dissatisfied with your own life. Yet I live my life no differently from anyone else. I am subject to making mistakes. I make friends. I make enemies. I work. I pay bills. I am not guaranteed riches or true love. On the contrary, I am far more likely to be lonely than any of you. Aren’t these the very things that make you want to change your life for something else? And you have but one life worth of mistakes and regrets, shattered hopes and unfulfilled dreams. Add to that two lives. Four. Ten. Can you even imagine the burden of all those years?
Do not envy me my life. I have a secret that sets me apart, and it is a secret that I cannot share. That which is a fundamental part of who I am must always remain hidden, even from those I am closest to. I must always live “in the closet.” Do you think I do this to protect myself? Do you think my silence about my nature is part of some ancient conspiracy or some time-honored code? Hardly. I remain hidden among you because who among you would believe in me, really? Modern man has no room for the extraordinary in his little life. The extraordinary, when it occurs, inspires almost everyone to turn a blind eye. When faced with undeniable proof of things outside the realm of your understanding, you simply blink and go on with your lives, denying that such proof ever existed.
I am immortal. I am ancient. Do you think I am foolish enough to suppose that it would be any different for me? I cannot expect your belief, even from those of you closest to me. I could give you every proof of my reality, and it would still not be enough. I could let you lay me out upon a medical table, let your doctors carve me up and reduce me to chemicals and bits of meat, and it would still not be enough. That is my greatest strength these days, but it is also the greatest tragedy of my existence. For what is an existence that no one else acknowledges? Is it any wonder even I doubt the validity of what I am?
I am nothing more than that elusive something which exists only in your faded dreams. What am I? I am alone.