A Vampire in New York – exclusive extract

Fancy a peek at what I have been working on lately (the above is a working title only, and obviously this is still a draft, so subject to change). Enjoy!

You’d think that the one good thing about being dead was at least you no longer had to worry about getting a date. Barry stared at the mirror disconsolately. He had to concentrate to keep his reflection in focus, otherwise it skittered and blurred, but he saw little in the glass to make the effort feel worthwhile. If anyone had asked him, back in life, what being a vampire would entail, he would have guessed it would have been one long orgy of nubile, slender necked women, all desperate to calm his charismatic moodiness with their blood. Alas this, like the idea that all vampires were handsome, independently wealthy and lived in remote castles (or, at least, really cool apartments), was just another Hollywood lie. Turns out, being bitten by a vampire meant many dramatic changes, but it didn’t suddenly make you cool, better looking or richer: in fact, since his employment options had narrowed dramatically since he now required work that didn’t involve being outside in daytime and even most nightshifts either started or finished during daylight hours, he was actually poorer. He funded what passed for his existence by answering emails for one of the city’s few surviving newspapers, dealing with everything from complaints about journalistic bias, factual inaccuracy or a misplaced comma (the latter generally being seen as by far the most heinous crime) but also answering the missives of those lost and lonely souls who seemed to think that, because of the publication’s venerable status as one of the country’s oldest papers, it was a suitable receptacle for any of their woes, no matter how unrelated to its remit, so Barry often found himself responding to emails about unpayable rents, ungrateful children and unreliable spouses. As he sat, clad in sweatpants (since being a vampire didn’t come with a clothing allowance either), cross-legged on his bed with this laptop in front of him – he didn’t sleep in a coffin, though the only apartment he could afford in this part of Manhattan was one which made the usual dimensions of a coffin seem outrageously generous – he generally tried to reply to these people thoughtfully, albeit briefly; he was on a quota, after all, tasked with creating as many replies as his corporate overlords thought feasible, and sympathy wasn’t something you could measure on a spreadsheet. But sometimes, hours into a shift, he would find his patience stretched by grammar pedantry and manufactured outrage, and he would be tempted to type: think you’ve got problems? I’m dead and I still have to do this shitty job.

That had been last night. Only last night. Now the reflection in the mirror was very different: lips flushed and swollen, his body bruised and bitten, the wreckage of his apartment in tatters behind him. He had stared down the barrel of a gun, and flinched at the tip of a crossbow bolt. He felt he had been unmade, dismantled, and reassembled by thorough but ungentle hands. And only one word echoed through his red-fogged brain, a name so branded on his memory that he could not believe he had first heard it only hours before. Laclos. It had all begun with Laclos.

Perhaps it was this city, he’d thought glumly, as he made his way to the bar where he’d arranged to meet the man who, for want of a better word, he referred to as his friend. The downside of being a vampire in the city that never sleeps is you don’t exactly stand out. New York City, with its impress-me-now attitude, its constant appetite for the new and the shiny and the strange and its too-cool-for-school-and-too-busy-for-you inhabitants. It wasn’t built for creatures trained in slow seduction. How can there be any thrill to the hunt when your prey gets bored if you don’t catch it in a nanosecond, and is probably scarier than you are in the dark. Or maybe that’s not it, he conceded. Maybe it’s just me.

This litany of misery was becoming as much a part of his going out routine as checking his shirt for stains and making sure his fangs weren’t showing, and though Barry recognised it wasn’t helpful – it wasn’t exactly setting the tone for a successful evening – he found it hard to shake. The thing is, it really wasn’t his fault. His Sire had many fine qualities, and had been conscientious in teaching him about being a vampire, but even in death she had remained deeply naïve about human nature. A California-born hippy from the 60s – so not particularly old herself – she had been scornful of the vampire clichés of tall, dark and handsome, and Barry suspected much of his appeal was that he was short, ginger and nerdy. This was admirably egalitarian, but with the casual arrogance of the beautiful, she hadn’t recognised that her own experience had been shaped by how it is easy for an attractive woman to convince men, less trained anyway to be wary of a woman than the other way around, that a little light bloodletting was an essential part of foreplay (and she had no more difficulty in persuading women, since they tended to be more open to experimentation with a partner in whom they saw no danger). So it was all well and good for her to rail against the aesthetic snobbery inherent in her new race, but this didn’t take into account how practical it was for her more homely progeny to secure willing donors. Since her anti-capitalist stance also resulted in her being against that other vampire characteristic, the rapacious accumulation of wealth, this meant that Barry was plain and poor in a city that valued money and beauty above all. It made it really, really hard to get laid.

For a while, it hadn’t mattered. His Sire always had a slew of suitors, and wasn’t selfish about sharing; she also allowed the occasional top up of her own blood, though this generosity was, by necessity, tempered by biology – his species had an inbuilt limit to how much of their own kind’s blood they could consume, an evolutionary quirk essential in so selfish a race to prevent them descending into rampant cannibalism. But a year ago she had announced New York was too materialistic for her tastes, and had decamped to an ashram in Ibiza that specialised in moonlit yoga, and he was left to fend for himself. In the process, he was forced to realise he was a broke, boring mummy’s boy who needed to get some game fast or he’d spend what was left of his life sucking on stolen blood bags until one of the city’s elder vampires caught him and penalised him for breaking one of the many, many rules that dictated their kind’s lives in modern times, a punishment that would permanently solve the hunger problem, but which he was nevertheless keen to avoid. But it was tough enough to be normal in this city, and the stakes for Barry – pun intended, he thought, glumly – were so much higher. For a human, rejection meant a blow to the ego, a lonely night alone. Barry was facing the very real prospect of starving to death.

So that was why he was here, in a bar he hated with a man he disliked, sipping at a drink that cost, at a rough estimate, about 14 emails a pop. This wasn’t his natural habitat, that much was clear from the disdainful look he’d received from the hostess at the door and the polite sneer of their waitress, and he returned their antipathy with vigour. The bar was one of the proliferation of faux-speakeasies that littered the city, the kind of place that appealed to those so jaded they felt that only entertainment you had to work for was worth anything, and had the patience to go through whatever tortuous rigmarole you had to navigate to gain entry, lured by the promise of exclusivity and a payment in the eternal New York currency of cool. His drinking companion, who Barry mentally referred to as the Banker, since he had some complicated job in finance that was as incomprehensible as it was unethical and well-remunerated, of course loved places like this, where his obvious wealth bought him the acceptance that neither his looks nor personality could, and since the Banker usually footed the bill for the bulk of the evening, he got to choose. In fairness, had he been in a better mood, Barry would have acknowledged that this place – one of the oldest and best of its kind – did the Prohibition vibe very well, and had he been human, the precision-made cocktail he was cradling would have gone some way to soothe his anxiety, rather than just dulling the buzzsaw of hunger that was tearing through his guts, one which no pale fluid could assuage. Then he felt eyes upon him, and looked up to meet the gaze of the most beautiful man he had ever seen in his life, and the bottom dropped out of his world.

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