Vladimir loves vampires. Ever since the night spent huddled on the couch, peering from beneath a blanket while watching Blood of Dracula on his mother’s little black and white television, he’s been hooked.
He faked the flu during grade school to stay home and watch Dark Shadows. Barnabas Collins was the greatest. As a teen he cheered when the Night Stalker repeatedly bested the Chicago PD, and scoffed at the hapless reporter Kolchak. During the nineties he wore out multiple VHS copies of Salem’s Lot and The Lost Boys; today he owns boxed Blu-Ray sets of The Vampire Diaries.
Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Peter Tonkin — he’s read them all. The walls of his house are covered with paintings and woodcut drawings of draugar, moroi, ramangi, and pijavicae. A Lestat shower curtain hangs in Vlad’s bath, a Nosferatu statue lurks above the fireplace.
Vlad even keeps a wooden stake in his nightstand, but knows in his heart he can never bring himself to use it.
His father named him Vladimir, not in recognition of the most famous vampire of all, Vlad the Impaler, but for the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, whom his father had once seen at Carnegie Hall.
Vlad doesn’t blame his father for this obsession with all things vampiric, nor can he blame the old music lover for his current physical condition. Too little exercise and too many TV dinners during reruns of Twilight have left him grossly overweight. His doctor warns Vlad his cholesterol is “shockingly high” for a man of fifty, and that he faces an early departure to the netherworld if he doesn’t drop at least twenty-five pounds by Christmas.
Because of this, Vlad now walks the three blocks to his job at the appliance store, but is increasingly alarmed at the way his breath wheezes and chest pounds while climbing the slight incline of his street, the six steps to his front porch. Maybe he should drive?
Vlad is leaning strongly towards this notion one night in late October, having locked up the store and rushed for home, anxious to watch Cowboys and Vampires on pay-per-view. He is no closer to meeting his weight loss goal (and may in fact have gained a few pounds) as he turns the final corner. His heart is racing and Vlad is resigned to dying of a myocardial infarction before his sixtieth birthday when hands like cold iron grip his throat and topple him into the brush. Vlad tries to scream but there is no air, only a brief glimpse of a dead, glee-filled face, a moment of awful pain, then darkness.
He wakes the next morning in his bed. Bright sunlight streams through the window; he forgot to draw the blinds again. The vague memory of a nightmare troubles him as he walks into the bathroom to shower. Vlad dresses, brushes his teeth, and goes downstairs to make breakfast.
A still figure of ancient flesh sits channel surfing in Vlad’s easy chair, his finger on the remote control. Up and down, up and down moves that skeletal digit, regular as a metronome, freezing Vlad to the landing.
Sudden agony tugs at his chest. He collapses against the wall, forehead pressed to the Dusk to Dawn poster mounted there; George Clooney’s handsome face stares down at him, his pistol pointed at Vlad’s right ear. “But… it’s daytime,” Vlad moans.
The undead channel surfer has stopped at CNN. Vlad can hear Wolf Blitzer, expounding his views on the upcoming election.
The creature gestures at the walls, the statue on the mantel. “You show respect to the night,” it says in a voice smooth and melodious — a voice impossible to deny. “Therefore I will give you this gift.”
“The sunlight,” Vlad protests. “Shouldn’t you be… melting, or something?”
The vampire laughs, a sound of grinding boulders. “Prepare yourself,” it says. “I will return. Then you will know the truth of vampyres.”
“No,” Vlad says, turning towards the monster. “I can’t die yet. Look at me. Do you expect me to spend eternity in 48-inch pants?” Vlad begins to weep.
After the vampire leaves, Vlad scrambles for the trashcan, digging frantically for the Weight Watchers coupon he discarded yesterday. There are no Big and Tall stores in the afterworld, Vlad knows. He drives that afternoon to Planet Fitness to buy a one-year pass and hire a physical trainer. He takes Karate lessons, preparing himself to fight for his vampire kin, to destroy hunters and disbelievers with deadly aplomb.
Months pass. Christmas is gone and Easter coming, each day filled with the certainty that the creature will take him before Vlad is ready, before he’s transformed himself into one worthy of the vampire’s gift.
Vlad tries. He really does, but the lure of his television is too strong, never mind the quiet betrayal of Vlad’s middle-age muscle tone, his aching joints and slack tendons. He gradually forgets the terror of that sun-filled morning, the droning voice of Wolf Blitzer, the tick-tick-tick as the vampire cruises Vlad’s abundant channel lineup. He falls back to his unhealthy ways.
It’s three years to the day when Vlad drives home from the appliance store to find the creature waiting on the front steps.
Vlad is resigned, but ready. “So, I’ll be a fat vampire,” he says. “I’m okay with it, really.” He tips his head to the side to provide the master easy access past his flabby chin. “Take me.”
The vampire shakes its head. The tendons in its ancient neck creak, a door being swung shut. “You have not earned this gift.”
Vlad is disappointed, but also relieved — after all, watching vampires is surely easier than being one.
“Can I… still be a follower?” he says.
The vampire frowns and turns away, and Vlad hears the lycanthropic scrambling of claws on the concrete behind him, followed by the grunt of another Hollywood monster, one made of muscle, bone, and hair.
“Destroy him,” says the vampire.
Kip Hanson lives in sunny Tucson, where his wife makes him watch Poltergeist while insisting clowns are not scary. You can find his work scattered about the Internet, at Foundling Review, Every Day Fiction, Inkspill, Bartleby Snopes, and a few other places, proving that a blind squirrel does occasionally find a nut. When not telling lies, he makes a few bucks cobbling together boring articles for technical magazines.