“Who ever heard of a vampire working at a goddamn 7-Eleven?” I muttered, standing there fiddling with the Slurpee machine.
Technically, it wasn't a 7-Eleven. It was a Qwik & Shop, which basically amounted to the same thing and was the fifth sort of this business in this location. You'd think the owners would have clued into the fact this particular road thirty minutes off the highway wasn't the best place to put such a store.
I was dressed in a green apron and doing double duty restocking the shelves and working the counter since my partner, David, was doing approximately jack and shit to help me. David Treme was a reasonably good-looking blond-haired Caucasian man who was presently doing his “Randal from Clerks” impression by reading a porn magazine as I did his job for him. This was doubly ridiculous because he was technically my slave.
Heavy on the “technically.”
“Hell, Peter, who ever heard of a black vampire?” David said, not bothering to look up.
I stopped struggling with the Slurpee machine. “There have been plenty of black vampires.”
“Eddie Murphy in Vampire in Brooklyn, Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned, Blade, and Blacula.”
“Blade is a half-breed; he doesn't count.”
“Hey hey, can it with the racism,” I said, frowning. “Some of us started as half-breeds.”
David lowered his magazine. “Speaking of which, when are we going to seal the deal?”
I grimaced. “Could you not call it that?”
“What? You'd prefer I term it something more erotic? I thought all vampires were bisexual.”
I blinked once. “No, David.”
“Well, that's disappointing.”
I sighed. “Well, we're all learning new things about our condition, aren't we?”
When Thoth had approached me about the possibility of becoming a vampire, he'd more or less made it sound like becoming undead would be one long party. Since the Great Economic Collapse when the Vampire Nation had bailed out the country, vampires had moved back from friendly body-glitter types to ruthless sexy badasses again. Thoth, who lived a life between Jay Z’s and Dracula’s, certainly made it work.
Thoth might have mentioned I was expected to work his way up from the bottom and make my own fortune, though. Honestly, there were times I regretted his making me a vampire. I didn't have any problem with the liquid diet, vulnerability to sunlight, or occasional homicidal urges, but being his servant had come with the perks. Now I was back to the same sort of work I'd been doing before Iraq, especially since my exile from New Detroit.
“I'm just saying, I'm ready for the next step.” David shrugged his shoulders. “How long have we been friends?”
“Too long by my estimation,” I said, giving up on fixing the Slurpee machine.
“So maybe it's time you made me undead.”
“You've only been my servant for a few months, David.”
“That's long enough.”
I rolled my eyes and went back to the cash register, biting my tongue about how I'd been Thoth's servant for four years. David knew that and didn't care. I decided, instead, to point out the systemic concerns. “It's a bit more complicated than just changing whoever I want. Population control is a big thing among the undead. After the explosion following the Bailout, they've seriously been cracking down on the creation of new vampires. Any one of us who changes a mortal without the local voivode’s permission gets killed.”
“Isn't that illegal?” David said, finally paying attention. “I mean, we’re United States citizens and all.”
“The half of the Supreme Court owned by vampires holds the rights of the VN sacred while the other
half approves of anything that gets more vampires killed.”
I turned to the seventy-year-old across the counter who'd been waiting for her Slurpee. “I'm sorry, but the machine is busted. Can I get you anything else?”
The woman sniffed the air before grabbing her handbag. “You realize you're going to Hell.” It was statement rather than a question.
I paused, wondering if I should respond to the old bat. “Yes. Yes, I do.”
The woman stomped out, forgetting her debit card.
I picked her card up and slipped it into the lost and found, not bothering to go after her. “Can you believe that?”
“Speaking as a bisexual man, yes,” David said, shrugging. “Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm actually kind of glad you guys are the new target for the Religious Right.”
“And you still want to be a vampire.”
“I figure immortality and the ability to fly would make up for it.”
“I just kind of float,” I muttered. “That's another thing they don't mention. It turns out all of those awesome powers you see in movies take time to develop, as in centuries, and aren't nearly as cool as you’d think.”
“Floating is cool.”
“Hypnosis would be better.”
“Isn't that like rape?” David asked, tapping the Slurpee machine and making himself a Green TurboblastTM.
“What?” I said, appalled.
“You know, hypnotizing women into letting you drain their blood.”
“Hell no! I mean, yes, but I wouldn't do it for that. I mean for, like, uh, convincing people to give me money or sending away my creditors.”
“Isn't that like theft?”
“You're a real killjoy, David.”
I was spared further conversation by Steve, the other useless employee at the Qwik & Shop, who was coming back from the bathroom. He was a six foot one, thin, pale man with long black hair, sunken eyes, and bad teeth who dressed like he'd raided Russell Brand's closet and not washed for a month. Steve Emerson was a werewolf, something I'd only found out a month into working here when he'd dropped dead for three hours before spontaneously reviving as the police were carting him off. Apparently, resurrection was their thing unless it involved wolfsbane. Though Steve was testing it with every conceivable illicit substance known to man.
“Hey,” Steve said, walking up to us and staring at us.
David and I exchanged a glance.
A few moments passed.
“Uh, Steve?” I asked.
“Yeah?” Steve said.
“You want to move on down?” I asked, not caring where he went as long as it was away from me.
“I have something to tell you,” Steve said.
I really hoped it was that he was quitting, but suspected he'd forget even if he did. Then again, it wouldn't make sense for him to quit since he was my boss. Yes, Steve was the manager, and not me. Goddammit, how far had I fallen that I gave a shit about that? I was actually starting to miss Baghdad.
“What is it?” David asked.
“Don't encourage him,” I said. “He's on meth right now.”
“Heroin, cocaine, bath salts, PCP, and several new pharmaceutical concoctions,” Steve said, smiling.
“It's a well-balanced mixture all canceling each other out.”
“Jesus,” David said. “How are you not dead again?”
I flinched at the name Jesus, which was awkward since I was still nominally Christian and hadn't taken the whole “vampires are damned before God” thing all that seriously. It had also altered my swearing, as I could take the Lord’s name in vain but not actually call to him. “Actually, I'd be more concerned about how Steve is able to afford all the shit he puts in his system.”
“I'm a millionaire,” Steve said. “My great-great grandmother was Betty Crocker.”
“I'm pretty sure Betty Crocker wasn't a werewolf,” I said. “We’d have been able to taste the difference.”
David, however, bought it hook, line, and sinker. “Why are you working here, then?”
“Because I spend all my money on drugs,” Steve said, shrugging. “Anyway, you and David are like gay vampires, right?”
“You're about half-right,” I said, remembering another reason why I disliked Steve.
“About the vampire or the—” Steve started to say.
“Just tell us what you wanted to say,” I said. I wondered how much of Steve's addled-drug-user act was just that—an act.
Steve stuck his thumb over his shoulder and gestured back at the bathrooms. “There's a dead girl in the bathroom.”
So did David.
“You might have opened with that,” I said, pulling out my cellphone to call the cops. “Any sign of how she died?”
“Well, she's getting back up,” Steve said, shrugging. He grabbed a candy bar from the front rack and started eating it in front of me.
I stopped dialing my cellphone. “Are you going to pay for that?”
“No,” Steve said, chewing as he talked.
“So she's a werewolf?” David asked, all too fascinated by all this.
“No, she's one of your kind,” Steve said. “That's why I brought it up. I figure when she wakes up, she's going to probably kill whoever goes in the ladies room, so we should probably lock her up until daylight and then then drag her out into the road.”
“You can't do that!” I said, horrified. “That's murder.”
“Can't kill what's already dead,” Steve said, finishing his candy bar and dropping the wrapper on the ground. “No offense.”
“Quite a bit taken,” I said, appalled.
I tried to think of who could be so horrifyingly reckless and stupid to turn a mortal in the bathroom and then abandon them to whatever fate awaited them. Vampires tended to awaken extremely hungry, Steve wasn't wrong about that, and the local police had a “shoot first, never ask questions” policy when dealing with the undead. It was like being black with a little more black. Believe you me.
Searching my memories of the customers who'd come in the past couple of hours, I couldn't think of anyone who particularly stood out. Then again, that was kind of the point of being a vampire—we didn't look any different from anyone else. The inhuman beauty and pale skin thing was another invention of Hollywood, one for which I was very grateful.
“David, I need you to get all the security feeds for tonight,” I said, taking off my apron and getting the spare key for the women's bathroom.
“You sure I should be—” David started to argue.
“Do it!” I snapped and exercised my will.
David's eyes widened and he immediately went to work, following my command. I immediately felt guilty about doing that to my friend, but this was a situation where it was justified. I hadn't been kidding about vampires and population control. It was generally agreed that there should only be one vampire for every hundred thousand humans, and given New Detroit had about two thousand Undead Americans, that wasn't exactly working out.
The Old Ones in the Vampire Nation, as a result, had made a not-so-unofficial decree that there was to be some serious population pruning. Anyone not over the age of a hundred was to be killed for the slightest offense. It had worked, after a fashion, since this had immediately resulted in the majority of people my age plotting ways they could off the Old Ones. I’d even fought in the Network Riots that had gotten a lot of my friends killed—I’d also fought on the Old Ones’ side. None of that boded well for the girl in the bathroom's survival.
“Hey, are you just going to abandon your post?” Steve said as I walked past him.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I am.”
“Well, consider yourself fired!” Steve called back after me.
“Can you imagine someone else actually giving a shit about working here?” I called back, reaching the bathroom door. The newly reborn vampire inside hadn't ripped the door off the hinges, so that was a good sign.
Steve paused. “Shit, right, you're rehired.”
“Yeah, well, I'm going to need the night off,” I muttered. “I'll make it up, though.”
“If you say so.” Steve had already started eating another candy bar.
As I started to unlock the door, it occurred to me it was very strange Steve knew about a dead woman being reborn in the bathroom. The thought abandoned me as soon as I had it, though, because I could hear sounds of feminine agony and torment from the other side.
It was a sound that reminded me of a roadside bomb that had gone off while a bus full of mothers bringing their children home from a soccer game had been passing us. That had been another reason why I'd been glad to become a vampire.
Vampires didn't dream.
Opening the door, I peered inside the room and saw that water was starting to pool on the white tile floor where the newly created vampire had ripped out a sink and tossed it to the side. The mirrors were smashed and had little bits of blood from where her fists hadn't fully transitioned into the rock-hard granite they would later become.
The Qwik & Shop women's restroom had three green stalls and a scent of haphazardly applied bleach and disinfectant coming from everything. It didn't entirely eliminate the smells of humans going about their business, but weirdly, vampire nostrils didn't register that sort of thing as innately bad. It wasn't good, mind you, but our entire brain chemistry was rewired to smell and hear things differently.
The newly reborn vampire was currently on the ground in the fetal position with her arms around her legs. She was a pretty, frizzy-haired black woman who reminded me a bit of Nathalie Emmanuelle, the actress who played Daenerys’s assistant on Game of Thrones. The woman was dressed far too nicely for this place with an expensive leather coat and business suit dress. Both of which were getting drenched now.
Steve hadn't been lying. It was obvious she was going through the beginnings of the rebirth. I still remembered my experience with it and how utterly painful it had been. That had been when I'd had my creator with me to suppress the agony of my transformation as well as feed me fresh blood. Without your creator or enough blood to make the transformation go smoothly, it was damned near impossible to survive the event with your sanity intact.
The worst cases became draugr, what most people thought zombies were. They were mindless creatures that craved the flesh of the living. The few cases of families getting ripped to shreds and eaten had done wonders for the undeads’ reputation in America, I can tell you that. Whoever had abandoned her like this was a monster.
Lifting my hands, I approached her slowly. “OK, I don't know how to do this, but I'm going to do my best. Don't be afraid, you're just becoming a vam … OK, that's terrible. Listen, I'm going to get you some blood and it's going to be A-OK. Just stay calm and try to—”
I was interrupted in my speech by her screaming as her fangs burst through from where her canines had been.
“Ouch, I hate that part,” I said, taking a moment to think about where I could take her.
The hospital was a horrible choice, as many people had found out when they'd taken hungry vampires to places filled with vulnerable prey that triggered all of their predatory instincts.
An idea hit me.
“OK,” I said, reaching down to take her arm. “We're going to go for a ride. I'm going to—”
The woman interrupted me by leaping up and sinking her fangs into my shoulder, tearing into my flesh to drink my blood.