This is a short story about a vampire who feeds off teenage Twilight fans and gets in over his head when he picks a real nutbar of a girl for his latest victim. I suppose you could say this is my own "official" reaction to the Twilight series.
Today was Trent’s first day of school at Union Falls High, which makes this his ninth first day of school this calendar year and brings his running total of first days at new schools up to something like ninety. He has a tally going in a notepad that occupies the pocket of his trademark and oh-so-cliché black leather jacket, and he harbors vague plans to celebrate the hundredth first day by doing something nice for himself, maybe knocking off a blood bank or taking a trip down to Cancun during spring break and enjoying the buffet. Granted, it’s not like feeding off of high school girls is the kind of work he feels the need to bribe himself into doing; the taste of their sweet, energetic blood is reward enough. Really, the worst part of the process has to be reading their blogs.
Some vampires get off on knowing their victims before the inevitable throat-puncturing finale of the relationship. Trent prefers to spend as little time as possible getting to the good part. It’s not that Trent has problems with intimacy. Back when Trent was new to this current shtick, he used to get a kick out of the way these girls would latch onto him like he was their personal savior, some Emo Jesus of a boyfriend on which to hang all their nascent daddy issues. That was before they all began blurring into one metavictim, a high school girl of sixteen or seventeen (like it matters), five foot whatever, blonde or brunette or maybe red on an odd day, brownbluegreen eyes, wearing clothes from Hot Topic and crazy about Johnny Depp. Trent remembers the first girl he took under his Edward System, a junior named Katy from Hackberry, Texas, and he remembers Shawna, Rebecca, Lori and a few others who came later in that first year while he was still ironing out the kinks in the process. After that they all blend together into a mass of bubblegum and cigarettes and sweet pea lotion from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Maybe it’s time that Trent moved on to a new section of the buffet, but while he’s strayed from the Edward System a few times since its development to eat the occasional hitchhiker or lone couple camping in the woods for the weekend, nothing beats being able to pluck a fresh (and often willing) victim right out of gym class, and Trent can’t help but keep returning to the modus operandi that’s kept him drinking fresh teenage blood a couple times a month for the past six years. He really should write Stephanie Meyer a thank you letter.
This week/small town’s victim is looking to be Noelle Worthingson, a.k.a. *~KawaiiKuriFan29~* on Deviantart.com. Trent has no idea who Kuri is or what makes him/her/it so “kawaii,” but the drawings Noelle has posted under that moniker mark her as a perfect target. Most of the drawings fall into one of two categories. The first is that of fan art of characters from Avatar: The Land Airbender being “shipped” together. “Shipping” is one of those terms with which Trent has become familiar as part of the Edward System, to his great annoyance, and involves teenage girls arguing on messageboards about which characters are destined to be together; the whole process generally devolves into melodramatic flamewars that Trent’s victims/dates occasionally feel the need to recount for him in epic detail before he has the opportunity to murder them. The second category features pictures of Edward and Jacob from Twilight (and occasionally Captain Jack Sparrow) fighting to be the object of Noelle’s affections in the same faux-anime style as the Avatar shipping. The attendant blog posts detail why Noelle thinks either supernatural suitor would make the ideal boyfriend, which as far as Trent (who’s admittedly a bit jaded) can tell comes down to “pays attention to me” and “is pretty.” Vague sexual euphemisms surrounded by Japanese emoticons seem common throughout Noelle’s writings. Did Trent think his victims were all melting into each other? Here’s a girl who represents the Platonic form of an Edward System mark.
There are a few other drawings, most of them concerning a boy in a Union Falls letterman jacket. Trent doesn’t recognize the boy, and there’s no name given on the drawings or in the attendant blog posts, but if Noelle has a crush on some local boy, all the better. Hacking school records to add and remove himself from class lists is one of the skills that makes the Edward System possible, but Trent can’t erase the memories of those he interacts with while he’s scoping out his meals, so it’s nice to have a scapegoat lined up on the soon-to-be-dead girl’s website for the locals to focus on instead of the transfer student who disappeared after a few days of school.
Despite recent depictions of vampire-kind to the contrary, Trent needs to sleep just like the humans he feeds on, and he finds himself yawning as the hour drags past midnight. It could be that he’s feeling low on energy because he hasn’t eaten anything bigger than a stray cat in four days, or maybe his eyes are just heavy from reading all the blog posts about Nickelodeon characters and My Chemical Romance. Either way, he crawls under the covers of his motel room bed (even these spring nights can be chilly when you don’t produce a lot of body heat) and sleeps until about seven, when it’s time to get up and shower in the neon-walled bathroom with its cheap complimentary shampoo and finger-width bar of soap.
After that it’s time for the walk to school. Trent has a black 1978 Ford Maverick, polished enough to reflect the clouds as they pass overhead, that he leaves parked at the motel. Experience has taught him not to drive to school. For one thing, his taste in cars tends to draw attention, and attention is the last thing he wants from anyone but whatever lucky girl he’s picked out as that week’s recipient of the world’s messiest hickey. It’s no good trying to slip out of town after a gruesome murder in a car that everyone remembers. That’s what made Trent abandon his Continental Coupe in Michigan, and every now and then he still wakes up sweating from the odd dream that he’s driving the Coupe down the freeway again, the familiar feel of its rod-thin steering wheel against his palm, the way the passenger side window rattled when he pushed the engine over sixty. The Coupe’s loss is one of the few regrets that Trent’s allowed himself in all his years of undeath. Now he knows better, and the car is reserved for dates and getaways.
It needs to be mentioned that Twilight did get one thing half-right about vampires: the sun isn’t lethal to Trent’s sub-species. What sort of sense would it make if it was? After all, the light of Sol may reach Earth in greater intensity than that of other stars, but it’s of no different quality than the rest of the light that comes to this planet. Trent finds the sun pleasant. The sun’s rays offer his body an inner-warmth that his undead organs and slurried bodily fluids can no longer provide. Of course, all of that crap about vampires glittering in the sun is just that. Still, walking beneath the morning sun gives Trent a boost of energy like that a cold-blooded reptile gets from laying on a warm rock, and he spends the hour it takes to saunter from the motel to the high school repeating in his head what he learned of Noelle by studying her online footprint the night before, already half-tasting her blood in his mouth.
As the school comes into view, Trent wonders if Noelle is a regular soda drinker or a diet girl. That’s a distinction he’s learned to make from the taste of his victims’ blood. The girls who drink regular soda have sweeter blood; Trent thinks it’s probably all the high fructose corn syrup. It’s funny the sorts of things you figure out when you feed almost exclusively on the same age bracket for long enough. Diabetics have their own taste too, though it’s not one Trent’s fond of and he tries to avoid them, though sometimes he doesn’t find out until he’s already put the System into high gear. Noelle was eating a bag of Skittles at lunch yesterday, so Trent thinks he’s safe on that front this time around.
Trent gets to third period early enough to snag the desk next to where Noelle was sitting yesterday, which puts him at the back of the class in the second row from the windows. Part of what caught his eye about Noelle yesterday was her penchant for staring out the window while drawing in her notepad yet still answering the teacher’s questions like she’d done the reading. The Edward System is tuned to the dreamy yet studious types. Sure enough, Noelle sits in the same spot again, and Trent has a polite-but-distant look ready for her when she makes brief eye contact. Noelle looks away in a hurry, just like she’s supposed to. Trent’s mouth waters a little.
Most of the class passes as the teacher yammers about the scene in The Sea Wolf where Hump sees red, and the teacher asks the class how it relates to Nietzsche’s ideas about the ubermensch and whether Hump or Wolf is really the “higher” man. Trent was never much of a reader when he was alive, and of the nine books he’s read since he died, four of them were about glittery vampires. That was enough to put him off reading for the rest of his supernatural existence. With fifteen minutes of class to go, the students finally get the go-ahead to split into groups, and Trent scoots his chair just an inch closer to Noelle.
“Hey. Did you do the reading?” he says to her, knowing she did. Her type always does the reading.
Noelle looks up at him, shocked that someone’s talking to her, and she shuts the cover of her notebook to hide her half-finished doodle of what looks like a werewolf in a pirate costume. “I read it last year. It was one of my dad’s favorite books.” She brushes her hair back behind her ear and gives Trent a once-over look before she says, “Did you read it?”
One of her dad’s favorites, eh? Sounds like he picked the right girl. “I haven’t caught up yet. I only started here yesterday. Is the movie any good?”
“There’s a movie?”
“With these old books, there’s always a movie.” Trent scoots his chair the rest of the way over to her desk. It doesn’t look like anyone else is going to intrude on their little study group, which suits Trent just fine. “I’m Trent.”
“Noelle. Did you say you just moved here?”
And so the Edward System is a go. They do little talking about Jack London and his sociopathic seal hunter. Instead, Trent steers the conversation to Noelle’s perceptions of life in Union Falls, the cliques, the best and worst of the teachers, what little there is do that’s entertaining to people in their age and income bracket. Getting a teenage girl who feels like a misfit to talk about what’s wrong with her surroundings isn’t the most difficult step in the System, and Trent’s learned to mostly tune out the details and grunt and nod at the right bits, but the process is vital to the System’s success all the same. The Edward System works best when the victim sees Trent as someone who can be confided in, someone who sees the world in much the way she does, a fellow rogue soul searching for a mate. He gives terse responses when she’s looking for affirmation and agreement, enough to keep her on the hook without ruining the mystery; the quickest path to success, Trent finds, is to portray a vague outline of a personality and let his victims fill in the blanks with their own projections of who and what they want him to be.
“Where’d you move here from?”
Trent glances over his shoulder like he’s afraid someone else might be listening in, then he leans a half-inch closer, just enough to give Noelle the impression of added intimacy. “Promise you won’t freak out?”
“Why would I freak out?”
“Just promise me.”
She laughs. “Okay, fine, I promise I won’t freak out. Where did you live before you came here?”
He sighs and says in a low voice, “Forks, Washington.”
“Oh! Squee!” Noelle bounces in her seat with a frightening energy like she just mainlined three hundred milligrams of sugar. “Okay, not freaking,” she says, and she pushes her hair behind her ear again. “I so want to go to Forks, though. Are the burgers at Sully’s any good? Oh my god, did you ever go on one of their Twilight tours just for fun?”
As you may have already guessed, Trent has never been near Forks. Everything he knows about Forks is gleaned from the Twilight books, the town’s chamber of commerce website and Wikipedia. Regardless of the location of his last murderous dining experience, he always tells his victims he’s fresh out of Forks. That claim alone is usually enough to get him a first date, and the way the Edward System works, the first date is all he needs.
Sure enough, by the time class is over, Trent has Noelle’s number and vague plans to do something Friday night. Trent is an old pro at getting teenage girls’ phone numbers, which raises all kinds of issues when you consider that, while he’s technically seventeen, he’s been seventeen for thirty-four years now. Having to wait until Friday is a bummer, but there’s something about the coppery scent hanging around Noelle that makes his stomach churn. He was hoping to drink her by tomorrow night and be on the road again by Thursday morning, but he supposes he can probably find some vermin at the motel to get him by until the weekend.
The boy in the letterman jacket from Noelle’s drawings is a Union Falls senior classman named Dominique. As far as Trent can tell, Dominique is the only offline friend that Noelle has, and he discovers from listening to their conversation that they’ve known each other since elementary school. Their introduction comes when Trent sits with Noelle at the lunch table on Wednesday. The boy offers Trent a hand to shake as he sits down across from them; Trent returns the gesture with a nod, wary that the coolness of his skin has been known to raise questions he isn’t in a mood to lie his way through today.
“So what are you two doing on Friday?” Dominique says after he and Trent have felt each other out a bit.
Noelle grins. “Are you jealous, Dominique?”
“Why would I be jealous?”
“Oh whatever.” Noelle slugs her old (and possibly only) friend on the arm. Trent doesn’t say a word. He’s long ago grown past the age of his hyperhormonal teenage mentality, both because he’s several decades old and because his undead body just isn’t capable of making all of those chemicals in the necessary abundance for a sustained amount of time anymore, but his constant proximity to high school students these past few years makes it easy for his mind to pick the mental flotsam out of the currents of their interactions much in the same way that living in a foreign country for long enough will acclimate one to an alien language and culture.
Trouble’s brewing if Dominique wants Noelle as much as the girl’s drawings hint that she wants him. In her passive-aggressive prodding, Noelle is all but encouraging the senior classman to challenge Trent to pistols at dawn for her affections. Is her head too full of trashy Mormon soft-porn and debates about cartoon characters’ romantic destinies to see it, or is she just the type who purposefully creates drama to alleviate the boredom of her daily life? Trent hopes the bitch isn’t going to be more trouble than she’s worth—but oh, how that wonderful coppery scent fills his head when he’s sitting next to her. What is that?
After more none-too-innocent talk, Trent agrees to take Noelle to the county fair opening this Friday. That’s a more public venue than he’d usually pick when he’s looking to make a kill, but he figures he can get her alone at some point during the night, maybe stray a bit away from the fairgrounds on the promise of a kiss and give her something she won’t live to tell about once they’re beyond the sight and mind of the crowds. Hell, if he has to, he can just eat her in the car at the end of the night, though that usually means replacing the bloody seat covers afterward. Besides, it’s been a while since he rode the Gravitron or had an elephant ear, and Trent thinks it’s important for the health of an eternal predator’s mind to enjoy unlife’s small joys once in a while.
Date set, and with an eye toward the drama Noelle might raise between himself and Dominique in the next few days, Trent fakes a dentist appointment on Thursday to avoid going back to the school. The Maverick is past due for an oil change, so Trent jacks the car up in the motel parking lot and goes to it, the simple repetitive motions of the task so familiar to his nervous system that his hands move as if by their accord.
Trent doesn’t like having to think about things. He likes it when he can follow instructions from point A to B to M to Z, one thing after another, delineated and sensible without the need for bothering over how to accomplish this task or wonder what he should do now. That’s why he came up with the Edward System.
It’s true that the System sometimes puts Trent at greater risk than would plucking victims off the street at night like his old friend Murray does in Detroit. But that’s too damn chaotic for Trent; taking victims at random like that, you never know what you’re going to get for quality, never know what you’re going to have to do to take them down if they surprise you, never know until it’s too late if you’ve bitten off more than you can drink. Neither crucifixes nor holy water nor garlic hold any fear for real vampires, but Trent has seen what a jagged piece of junk lumber or a flame from a Bic lighter can do to his kind, and the risk that some asshole in an alley is going to get lucky and stake you just isn’t worth it. You have to stick your neck out in public a bit more with the Edward System, and there’s always the risk that the police will someday realize they have a serial murderer posing as a transfer student at high schools across the country to satisfy his cravings, but there’s just no other way to ensure such a consistent quality in his meals, and outside of shows on the WB, high school girls don’t fight back against vampires and win.
After the car’s done, Trent spends the better part of Thursday afternoon watching reruns of Gunsmoke in his underwear. His stomach is growling by the time the local news comes on, and though the sun’s still higher in the sky than he’d rather it was while he’s hunting, it’s not like the motel is hurting for empty rooms, and he doubts anyone will notice him if he goes out for a snack. Trent throws on some fresh clothes and slips out to the back lot of the motel where the green industrial trash bins sit amid long-congealed puddles of grease. A rat, a stray cat, a pigeon; it’s just a matter of waiting for something to come by looking for a meal so Trent can have one of his own.
Some vampires look down on eating vermin, which seems plain crazy to Trent. Popular media may have suggested to you that vampires need human blood to live (if “live” is the appropriate term). Not so. Any mammal’s blood will do so long as it’s warm. Of course, humans remain the most desirable of victims for a number of reasons. They’re big enough to provide a full meal, for starters; drinking every last liter in an adult gives a vampire enough blood to run on comfortably for a week, two if the vampire in question doesn’t mind a bit of a rumbly in his or her tumbly the last couple days before the next feeding. Besides that, humans are plain delicious; in a world of vermin that tastes more or less like chicken, humanity is a quarter-pound bacon cheeseburger and a Cherry Coke. Human blood is easiest on the gut, too, because vampires start off as humans, and their bodies have to go through more trouble to digest the blood of other species, whereas fresh human blood can more or less be absorbed right into the drinker’s bloodstream. On top of all that, killing a human tends to be a lot easier and safer than killing any other animal of comparable size; they lack claws and sharp teeth, and thanks to the sedimentary culture of modern America, a good many of them are as fat and slow as a paraplegic baby seal.
Something’s different in Trent’s room when he returns. Sucking the remains of a pigeon’s lifeblood off his right index finger, Todd walks through the bedroom to the bathroom and back again, trying to make conscious the difference that his unconscious mind has noticed. The bed’s still made up the same way; his mother had him making his bed every morning as a child and not even three decades as a sociopathic man-eater has robbed him of the habit. All the lights that were on are still on, and the converse holds true for those that were off. Then he notices the oil-splattered t-shirt that was on the floor by the bathroom door has migrated onto the back of the thin-padded chair by the writing desk.
Housekeeping? Except he told them to stay out when he checked in, and if it was housekeeping they didn’t stay for long and did a piss-poor job while they were here. Trent looks out the window and wonders if someone’s finally caught on to his game, but he refuses to let paranoia get a grip on his brain. He’s not running now, goddammit. Not when he has a proper meal all lined up for tomorrow.