Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen - Excerpt
VAMPIRE POWER MYTH #2: We can bite into anything.
In movies, veins pop like a balloon hitting a nail. But in reality? Kids constantly bonk into sharp objects and get light scrapes. Construction workers work around nails and metal, but somehow buildings go up without anyone bleeding out. I worked in a hospital, so I saw this firsthand.
In practical terms, biting someone for blood was not easy. Newly turned vampires don’t exactly have functional teeth. A gradual sharpening takes place over the course of a week, but we’re not the instant kill machine from movies.
The so-called “vampire attacks” in the news? Sounded like algorithm-driven clickbait to me. And that was exactly how I thought about it—or didn’t think about it—when I got to work.
Because today was a blood day. And blood days were literally life and death for me.
Not that I gave off that vibe. Instead, I went about my business, pushing my janitorial cart into the blood bank of San Francisco General Hospital. The automatic door shut behind me, my cart’s squeaking wheels announcing my arrival to Sam, the department’s night manager, and some staffer who looked more on break than actually working. They leaned over a monitor, attention pulled away by whatever was on the screen. Which worked to my benefit.
Some vampires worked with blood volunteers—usually fetishists who gladly let someone feed off them, likely thinking it was a kink or a new obscure fad diet rather than real vampire sustenance. That still involved the wholly unhygienic and socially awkward process of drinking from a live human. Underground dealers also existed, pumping blood from their arms into a bottle for an in-person transaction.
Me? I went with blood bag theft.
Which, to be fair, I held zero guilt over. Did you know that hospitals waste about 25 percent of blood bags every year? Thus, my weekly pickup during my janitorial rounds hardly made a dent. It all fell within the normal range of lost, misplaced, or expired. In fact, the managers viewed me as helpful for bringing the soon-to-expire bags to disposal. If some happened to make it into my backpack along the way, no one was the wiser.
This, of course, assumed that there were actually blood bags to take.
Today, the usual inventory of expiring blood bags was empty.
As in, nothing on the shelves. Nothing to deliver. Nothing to steal.
Nothing to feed from.
In fact, even the main storage units for in-date blood bags appeared low.
Any stress from the Copper Beach audition evaporated, as things do when food sources suddenly disappear.
I paused the music on my phone and pulled the earbuds out. Some things required a little more professional behavior. I began scouring the other storage possibilities when I overheard the words the vampire community feared the most.
“I swear, it’s a vampire.”
Eric constantly preached that if humans did discover us, racists would find new reasons to fearmonger, while scientists would capture us for all sorts of poking and prodding. Given that we’d all managed to abide by this for centuries, it seemed like a pretty good suggestion to follow.
My hands squeezed the cart’s handle tighter as I listened.
“That’s ridiculous,” Sam said, shaking his head.
“No, think about it.” The man turned, the tag on his scrubs revealing the name Turner. “After everything we know about viruses these days, who would actually drink blood? Only vampires.”
“Okay, look,” Sam said, rubbing his cleft chin. “You’re assuming someone drank this guy’s blood—”
“Police said he’s missing about ten ounces of blood. Same as the other two attacks.”
“Alright. Let’s assume someone—or something—drank ten ounces from that poor guy. They said his neck looked chewed, dozens of stitches needed. If you’re gonna believe something ridiculous, go with a werewolf.”
Suddenly, that headline didn’t seem like simple clickbait. Ten ounces. Roughly the same amount my body needed daily, though half that offered cranky survival. So that was the typical amount a vampire needed to sustain until the next feeding. And the chewed neck like a werewolf bite? That was a real concern, not because werewolves were real (they’re not), but because biting into a human was not easy.
In theory, you first had to properly locate the carotid artery, then make sure it was easily accessible by positioning the head and neck the right way. Then you needed a well-placed bite—millimeters of accuracy here, from an angle where things are hard to see. I challenge any human to try and bite precisely into a piece of Red Vines stuck on a loaf of sourdough to gauge its difficulty. This was in addition to the fangs’ fairly mediocre ability to puncture.
Biting humans was messy. Factor in an especially scared nondonor human and tools to make the process smoother and, well, the result could easily be mistaken for werewolves.
With the hospital’s blood shortage, their conversation ratcheted my anxiety enough for me to mutter, “Oh shit.”
That little phrase pulled Sam and Turner away from the screen. Their desk chairs creaked as they turned my way, the headline—San Francisco’s Latest “Vampire Attack” Victim Stable In Hospital—now clearly visible on their monitor.
If there was a fixer working in the community, they weren’t doing a great job.
“Oh, hi, Louise,” Sam said. “Need anything?”
Blood bags. A safe community, one without rogue vampires possibly revealing ourselves to humans. While I was at it, someone to play in a band with—human or vampire—though right now neither seemed to be working out.
“No pickups today,” I managed as I pushed the cart through. “What pickups?” Sam asked, his thick eyebrows furrowing. “Expiring blood to pick up on second Fridays. You know,” I said, switching to a very bad generic European accent, “because I’m a vampire and I need to drink it instead of biting people on the neck.” That joke always worked, but doubly so today. Both men laughed, and I almost held up claw hands for emphasis. But no, that joke belonged only to me and Marshall. “I knew it,” Sam said, “you’re the vampire attacker.” “I thought you suspected a werewolf,” Turner said, an Irish lilt to his gravelly voice. “Sorry, boys. It’s a little more boring than that. Management tallies these and I don’t want to piss them off.” That was a lie; I knew they didn’t because otherwise I’d never get away with my theft.
“Right, right. Let me go check in on that.” Sam stood and went to the computer on the far desk, his leg catching his chair enough to kick it over a foot. “You’re right, our last delivery was low. Must not be as many donors. There’s a note saying this might be a thing for a few weeks but it doesn’t say why.”
Just like that, my food supply went from “comfortably fed” to “empty.”
“Cool, cool, no worries,” I said despite the onslaught of emerging worries. I built my whole life around a job that provided blood—and that dried up? Maybe in a parallel universe, I might have my own recording studio with session time paid in blood bags. But here?
I loaded my email as soon as I stepped into the hallway. My fingers mashed over the virtual keys, autocorrect pulling all the wrong words and constantly changing blood to brood, which I supposed was fitting for a vampire. The message went to the local Red Cross chapter’s volunteer manager, a request for shifts as a Volunteer Transportation Specialist.
Basically, someone who drove donated blood around.
I’d actually trained for the role when I was in between hospital gigs, but never took any actual shifts since most of them were during the day—which wasn’t impossible with proper precautions, but still uncomfortable, and required a lot of extra effort, in addition to messing up my sleep cycle. Circadian rhythm still applied to vampire life.
But this was different. If the supply saw shortages, I’d need alternatives just like the early days when I first started and had no clue what I was doing.
Which really wasn’t my fault. Because no guidebook existed for this life, and the woman who made me only came around a few times to check on me before disappearing forever. Despite the physical transformation to vampiredom creating several months of fuzzy memories, I still clearly pictured her during that last visit: a tall, pale woman with long brown hair in peak late-70s punk styling.
She’d brought weekly bottles, introduced me to a few Southern California sources for no-questions-asked back-alley blood, gave a very uncomfortable primer on feeding off farm animals in emergencies and offered a very dramatic lecture on the importance of not revealing ourselves to humans in any way. Yet, all of those came during surprise drop-ins and sudden departures, and even her final visit was nothing more than a quick hello before “You’ll figure the rest out. You’ll be fine.”
In fact, she never bothered to tell me her name. Or maybe she did and I just forgot it in my fugue state. Whatever the case, I’d have to rely on those lessons now, to ride out any shortages. I spent the rest of my shift trying to recall how many bags remained in my fridge, and how best to ration them. Hours came and went, a low-level panic setting my night to fast-forward all the way until I stepped into an empty parking garage.
Then my phone buzzed. Multiple buzzes, actually. Though I hoped it was something about the Red Cross volunteer gig, that seemed impossible, given the late hour. No, a quick look showed another text from Eric. And this time, I bothered to read it.
I’ve received a few notes tonight about tomorrow evening’s agenda. I share your concerns, but there is a plan to address this. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our community.
Something was definitely up. A blood shortage, someone attacking humans in the wild, texts about “health and safety.” A second message loaded up, words pushing the first message off the screen.
If you want to learn more, please come to the event. In the meantime, I encourage you all to download our new community app to stream the discussion. Do NOT discuss the media’s ‘vampire attack’ headlines with anyone, not even jokingly. Blood will be served. Reply to RSVP for in person attendance.
Did I want to learn more? Of course. Did I want an app that both invaded my privacy and knew I was a vampire? No. Did I want to get involved with the vampire community?
Not really. Especially given my history with Eric. But I needed blood, and this was a source, however fleeting.
Besides, maybe Eric had forgotten about our last encounter. Still, I refused to download his stupid app. On principle.
Count me in, I typed in a reply text, complete with a little white lie. By the way, I had trouble downloading the app. Maybe later.
On most work nights, I came home just before dawn, changed from scrubs to sweats, let my dog out, and drank blood. Today, that last part remained a sticking point. Lola greeted me as usual, a pitter-patter that told me she needed a potty break. I left the back door ajar for her to go into the small backyard, then checked my blood bag supply in the fridge.
If I’d been more responsible, thorough, careful, and whatever other descriptions my parents threw at me decades ago, I’d have a managed stockpile. Instead, three bags remained, a supply for about four or five days. I could stretch it to a week, though I’d be a grouchy, tired mess. After that? Movie vampires went on killing rampages when they needed blood, but in reality, it meant fatigue and delirium.
And if that went on long enough? Death by starvation.
No wonder someone got desperate enough to bite humans.
I grabbed a mug from the cabinet, white ceramic with a faded photo of a white schnauzer printed on it; Aunt Laura’s old teacup, now used for blood. Mostly empty shelves stared back at me from the fridge, daring me to make a choice.
Did I take one now? Did I really need to drink or could I wait?
Lola returned from the backyard, hopping over the threshold with her short corgi legs, and her nails clacked on the floor as she ignored my mood and waddled past. The jingling of her collar faded as she went down the hall, and I told myself to do the smart thing. I shut the fridge door and left Aunt Laura’s mug on the counter, then followed my dog.
Light flooded the space in my music room as I flipped the wall switch, illuminating everything from the guitars hanging on the walls to the drum kit and keyboard rig sitting in opposite corners. But no dog waited for me. Instead, her collar jingled from across the hall.
The hour or so before bed normally saw me noodling on a guitar, playing with different pedal effects combinations or trying to work out a lingering melody while Lola stayed at my feet. But as I stood between the two rooms, a crushing fatigue washed over me, something that I knew had nothing to do with appetite.
I peeked in on Lola, the hallway light showing enough that I could see she’d skipped the circular dog bed on the floor to leap straight onto my spot. Usually she’d wait till I fell asleep to pull that off, and perhaps she took advantage of my vulnerable state today. She stretched her little legs into the air, then craned her neck to look at me with ears up, yawning before settling back down.
Maybe she just knew what I needed today.
Instead of going back into my music room, I stepped inside and shut the door, leaving the bedroom in a complete UV protected blackout state as I crawled under soft sheets. I stayed still, the quiet silence of a moment without vampires, without humans, without blood shortages, just a happy corgi resting against my stomach and worries in my head.
Excerpted from Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2023 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books.