It’s clear that no one would ever willingly drink it, but there’s no consensus on why.

“It won’t be the same,” Count Orlok complains. “It’s disgusting. Mortals ruin everything.” He’s been in a foul mood ever since the TSA confiscated his box of graveyard dirt. “In the old days, when you traveled, you used to be able to enjoy a nice meal along the way. Now? I sat next to this young woman on the plane, gorgeous neck, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”

“Well, you could have,” Mr. Varney murmurs, checking the stock market on his phone under the table. The screen glows conspicuously in the musty darkness of the conference room.

“I could not have. The horrible old man on the window kept on opening the blinds. I had to stay under my blanket.”

“I don’t like this hotel,” Carmilla remarks, picking at the slimy wallpaper with one retractable fingernail. “It’s creepy.”

“Yes, well, it’s abandoned,” Brunhilda says gloomily. “Let’s please focus on the original subject?”

“I’m certain it would make me sick, but someone else is welcome to try it.”

There’s a heavy knock on the conference room door. Flecks of dirt sleet down from the ceiling. “Is this the real estate panel?” a voice says from outside.

“No, that was this morning,” says Mr. Varney. “This is the Roundtable on Modernity. You can come in.”

“I can’t, it’s locked.”

“Oops, sorry,” says Carmilla. “Habit.” She opens the door, and Ruthven enters, carrying several dusty bottles of wine. He slams them down on the conference table and glowers at the assembled group.

“Oh, hello,” Brunhilda grumbles. “At least someone has been having a nice time.”

“We’re discussing cultured blood,” Clarimonde informs him from the other side of the table. “Although of course it’s not about the blood.” She nudges the priest dozing in the chair besides her, and he shifts to stare up at her, moony-eyed. Carmilla hisses at him.

“Of course it’s about the blood,” Mr. Varney says quickly.

“Oh,” Ruthven says. “Well, good luck finding any cultured humans these days.”

“As in, they make it in a lab,” says Clarimonde.

Ruthven looks appalled. “Why would they do that?”

“It’s a horrible idea,” nods Brunhilda. “And the mortals are only hurting themselves, in my opinion. They’re driving themselves into obsolescence.”

“Certainly,” says Ruthven.
“Very sad for them, I think. Of course, they like to pretend it’s so barbarous, well. I put mine to sleep first. It’s not as if we’re all ripping out throats.” She glances at Ruthven.

“Hey,” Ruthven says, untwisting the cork of a bottle with his short, doglike teeth. He spits it in the direction of Carmilla, who wrinkles her nose in disgust. “You don’t need to attack me; I was agreeing with you. Anyway, they do it to themselves.”

“They rip their own throats out?”

“They make poor choices, which result in their throats being ripped out. Incidentally,” he adds, turning to Clarimonde, “your thrall is lounging into my space, and if you’re not going to eat him, I will.”

Clarimonde scowls and waves the priest out of the room.

“Sometimes they moan when I do it,” Count Orlok offers.

“The point is, mortals aren’t an intelligent species,” Ruthven presses on. “They lack discipline, and they don’t understand subtlety. Left to their own devices, they engage in all sorts of debauchery. If they never got exsanguinated, they’d never learn.”

“And the fear is good for them too,” Mr. Varney says. “It drives their cortisol right up. Very healthy. And it helps them understand who’s in charge.”

“It’s about control,” says Clarimonde, nodding.

“Maybe for you,” Carmilla snaps. “The rest of us are just trying to enjoy our undeaths in peace.” She stands. “This is infuriating. Dracula’s giving a talk on seduction; I’m going to that.” She pushes out of the room, looking a little hairier than before. Mr. Varney sighs.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he says. “It’s not hierarchical. But there’s a natural order.”

“Of course you meant it like that,” Clarimonde persists. “That’s how it is. Say we decided that this artificial… stuff was sufficient. Say we swore off feeding on humans. Would we be content? Or would we miss everything else? The affection, the service?”

“You’re reading too much into it,” complains Mr. Varney. “You’re making it sound like we’re all horrible monsters.”

“Maybe we need a break,” interjects Brunhilda. “There’s a children’s hospital down the street.”

“I just know it wouldn’t taste as good,” Count Orlok says. “I don’t know what you’re all talking about. It just wouldn’t be the same.”

“We might as well end here,” Ruthven says. “It’s an hour and a half till dawn.” He gathers up the wine, and they all head out for dinner.

Clarissa Grunwald lives in central Pennsylvania, USA, where she works as a librarian. Her poetry can be found in The Santa Fe Literary Review, Deep Overstock, and Jet Fuel Review, among others, and her fiction can be found in Electric Spec.

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