The Very Modern Vampire, Chapter One
In the Course of a Full Life
“Naturally, in the course of a full life, we learn that we should be suspicious of anything that seems too attractive. We realize that the glowing political smile conceals sadism, that the smoothly-told tale is often deceptive, that comfort is a physical form of hypnosis. However, we do not cast this suspicion upon ourselves, or the nature of our reality. This is our ultimate blindness. And this is what is used against us.” -László Szabó, Our Unbelievable Existence
Despite being 750 years old, Klaus was obsessed with the adolescents living across the hall. Nothing else, at this late date in his long and tedious life, so transfixed him. They were Brad and Sydney and they were both gorgeous in their own way. He heard them daily, making their routine noises, a selection of sounds he became intimately familiar with. Perhaps he’d hear the pokpokpok of knives cleaving garlic as they produced absurd vegetarian mishmash. Sometimes he’d attempt to ignore their enthusiasms, delivered with the musicality of youth—his tenor, her soprano—warbling about French films, Italian meats, or anything else European.
They were perfection itself, Klaus thought, the height of all humanity, breeding machines fresh off the line. Brad was slender and vigorous, loud and charming, with a boyishly gorgeous face, deep-set hazel eyes, and a golden complexion. He burst into every room as if it were a possession he’d come to reclaim. Sydney was lovely and slight and coffee-colored, and she had a quiet charisma that naturally pulled everyone towards her. She was the center of the universe, which was vying for her approval.
They entered and left at all hours with an incredible assortment of companions—lovers or schoolmates or sycophants of other kinds. They clearly found themselves fascinating, and Klaus marveled at the fact that they could be so convinced of their own value. They were in many ways average; they were simply your run-of-the-mill idiotic graduate students, living out cultural imperatives they were fed by the YouTube recommendation engine.
And yet, Klaus was enraptured by their presence—so were they not correct in being so infatuated by themselves, so satisfied with their own mere existence? They didn’t appear to fret about why they should be alive, or whether they were worthy of the oxygen they consumed, of the summer rain that stuck to their faces. Perhaps being worried about one’s place in humanity was simply the sign of a diseased mind. Perhaps vitality is reason enough to walk the earth. What good does it do, Klaus wondered, to need a reason for anything?
Though it was now difficult to imagine, Klaus had once been somewhat like they were. He’d been a child, running through the wet dirt, amazed at the flexion of his own muscles, the density of his bone. He had carried a young relation, had reeled beautifully under the golden umbrella of opium, had felt the muscles of a stallion flexing beneath him, carrying him away across the Slovakian plain.
But he had lost track of the love of vitality itself. He just kind of left it somewhere, like an umbrella behind a radiator. Maybe he lost it at a garden party when his claret-soaked words failed to entice a duchess framed by ivy in the mist. Maybe he left it on a train in Mumbai after he’d found a home for his vomit in an indescribable toilet. Regardless—somewhere in there, he’d stopped being thankful for the mere prospect of existence.
Klaus’s one-room apartment directly bordered the hallway, so there was no protection from the noise. He lay in bed and thought of memory, or desire, or thought of nothing, merely absorbing the traces of Brad and Sydney, as one absorbs the sight of the ocean. Beyond his bed, and its sweat-stained charcoal sheets, there was a green-tiled kitchen with a rickety little table and two wooden chairs, in which he rarely sat. From the kitchen, you could see out through a smeary back window to a patio where damp and rusty planters and garden ornaments continued their uselessness. On the dingy stove, there was a bottle of Tabasco sauce, so he could make something spicy, which was perhaps an upside to this whole situation.
Overwhelmed by his state of affairs, he would sometimes explode from the apartment, stomping down the stairs as any man should. Often, he forgot his keys, so he’d sit out there until one of his neighbors came by, on the stoop that bordered the nail salon which constantly flooded his apartment with the acrid smell of acetone. After a few cigarettes and a tepid interval of watching women leave the salon with shiny fingertips, he was frequently let back in by Mario, his upstairs neighbor, a tiny massage therapist who chuckled in the night. Sometimes, greeted by a pleasantly cloudy sky, he’d attempt a change in mood, and he would risk happiness for an hour or two. And if it were sunny and he’d forgotten his ball cap, he’d feel the light stinging his face, and mumble, fuck, ow, Jesus, fuck.
At one moment, during a brisk afternoon in April, Klaus was feeding on Brad, who was an excellent treat. Brad’s blood was creamy, rich, high-iron. It lacked the bitterness of the hardcore keto-dieter’s, or the blandness of the low-fat enthusiast. It was just perfect. Additionally, Brad, having pristine hairless skin, didn’t require Klaus to dodge any neck acne or unsightly hairs when he bit down.
As Klaus sucked his blood, Brad looked at his Instagram. This was what Brad usually did during feeding sessions. He had 783 followers, which was slightly poor in light of how many videos he had uploaded. Brad was wondering how to deal with this. He didn’t want to buy followers from China or follow and unfollow people and gather new acolytes by attrition. He wanted people to worship him based on an authentic desire to do so. And yet that was challenging. His deadlift PR was up to 400lbs, and now that he’d achieved a respectable level of strength, he wanted to focus on more bulk—he was done with functionality and wanted to move onto aesthetics. His forearms, powerful as they were, were not as defined as they could be, which vexed him. Occasionally, he offered to lift Klaus above his head. Klaus refused these kind offers.
When Klaus was finished, he disengaged from Brad’s neck, took out the bandage and alcohol wipe, and fixed Brad up. Brad lay down until the dizziness passed, while Klaus smoked in the kitchen, enjoying the vitality returning to his body, the spreading warmth like the tongue of a gentle animal. Shortly, Brad stood up, sat with Klaus, and refused his offer of a cigarette. Brad had an infuriating attribute: he could actually, authentically, smoke only when he felt like doing so.
“What are you doing tonight?” Brad said.
“Things of tremendous importance,” Klaus said.
“Oh really? Because, there’s this thing I’m going to.”
“I thought you might want to come.”
“Oh?” Klaus said.
“You want me to come to your thing.”
“Why are you laughing at me?”
“I’m not laughing, I’m just surprised.”
“Well, maybe we should hang out more.”
Brad looked at Klaus, his eyes sincere and generous. Klaus looked away.
“Perhaps,” Klaus said, “that’s possible, I mean, I don’t know why … ”
Klaus paused, fishing around for some witticism to redirect Brad’s sincerity—then abandoned this quest, and said simply, “Tell me about this thing, Brad.”
“It’s a lecture. A lecture by this amazing man, László Szabó. A philosopher.”
“What is the topic of the lecture?”
“It’s about his main thing, which is the simulation theory.”
“I’m not familiar with it.”
“You’re not? I thought you knew, like, everything.”
Brad didn’t even mean this sarcastically.
“This appears to be the one thing I don’t know.”
“Well,” Brad said, with a put-on theatricality he hadn’t yet fully mastered, “he thinks we’re in a video game.”
“Not exactly a video game. Like, a simulation.”
“Like that game BuildCraft, or whatever you call it?”
“You’re laughing at me again.”
“Once again, I’m just surprised.”
“It’s a surprising thought, at first, but…I don’t know, it’s like…”
Brad’s head shook with wonder as he failed to find the appropriate words, taking a few seconds to settle on: “…you should look into it.”
“You find it persuasive.”
“It makes a lot of sense when you think about it.”
“Well, did you ever feel like, like, something about life is just, like, weird?”
“It occurs to me every day.”
“Right! Like, this…it just doesn’t add up, there’s no, order to it.”
“I can’t disagree.”
“Like, something seems fake about life, doesn’t it?”
Brad gestured around the room with his mouth open.
His hand fell upon a tiny pink toy elephant on the windowsill.
“Why is that there? Like, of all the objects it could be, why is it that one?”
“Oh,” Klaus said, “a friend gave that to me once.” Klaus looked far away, into the corner of the room, fighting off memories of a former acquaintance. The elephant was the only real decoration Klaus had in his apartment. He’d had many arguments with himself about whether to throw it out, but he’d decided that its absence would cause more pain than its presence.
Brad saw that he’d made a misstep, and hurried to fill the suddenly awkward air with enthusiasm.
“But that’s so unlikely, Klaus! And we all just run across unlikely things all the time, but nobody asks the question, why should things make so little sense?”
Klaus nodded. “I certainly don’t.”
“Yeah, me neither, but like, why is there something instead of nothing at all?” Brad was now incensed, excited, almost feverish. “We just like go about our lives and don’t question this basic shit.”
“That’s probably for the best.”
“Maybe. But I want to know the truth.”
“It’s better when he says it. You should come tonight.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“I’ll text you the address.”
With no further ceremony, Klaus handed Brad $150, and Brad left. Immediately thereafter, Klaus’s phone buzzed—the lecture was to take place on the university campus, walking distance from Klaus’s apartment. Very convenient.
Klaus considered attending. Which was odd. He knew it would probably be of no consequence whatsoever—just another one of the quick diversions that comprised his personal eternity. Probably, nothing much would happen at all. And yet, despite Brad’s babbling, he was drawn to the idea—somehow compelled—for reasons he couldn’t articulate.
Next week on The Very Modern Vampire: strange perfumes, the scent of tombs. A mysterious woman is introduced, who tells Klaus that he needs to make a decision.