And, being the liberal sort I am, I asked him how he wished to die. All at once? Over days? He thought for an hour, while he surfed the Internet. (He was amazed that a vampire would go on the Internet. Of course he would, I explained. He wants to prowl, and wants to keep up with the world. Being alienated, he wants to have the control over his information intake that the Internet allows. Besides, it can be great fun to go in a chat room and tell someone you’re a vampire, prowling for your next meal…)
Having thought, he announced that he would like to die over the course of a few sessions. That should have forewarned me. No one who really wants to die wants to do so slowly. We began that night. I drained two pints or so from him. I told him I would drink from him again within a day, thus not allowing all of his blood to replace itself.
Two days later, having passed the point of no return, he threw a curve at me.
Point of no return, you ask? There comes a time when you’ve drained the victim too much, even if you’re careful. His blood is now poisoned, and he’s going to die. It’s sort of like a blood cancer. The tainted cells are too many to be replaced.
The curve he threw? He announced it just after I’d fed one night, speaking slowly, quietly, as he was weakening now.
“I want to be one.”
“One of what you are. A vampire.”
I hesitated, not sure how to respond.
“You can do that, can’t you?” he prompted.
What was I to say? Of course I could do it; but, for the reasons I elaborated earlier in this narrative, I would not do it. I started to tell him this –
“Of course you can do it,” he said as I started to speak. His voice took on an edge. “And don’t try to bullshit me about it, either. I know what you guys can do.”
I began to wonder if this had been his intent all along – to convince me that he was a willing and disposable victim, then demand to be given the life eternal that I could bestow. Did he know what an uncomfortable position this put me in, ethically? Did he know what refusal would mean for me? How could he?
I trust you can conclude the quandary in which this left me, but I shall be tedious and state it outright. There are, no doubt, a fair share of idiots among my prospective readers. I want their money as much as I want… yours.
Fact: he was going to die. All right, perhaps not fact, but very probable supposition. Short of some miracle of medicine – I knew of no cure and I was the best doctor I’d ever met – he was too weak to go on. His blood was too poisoned. I doubted he would last the night. Even if he were given a transfusion right now, his organs had been damaged by the loss of oxygen. His brain cells were dying.
Fact: I could prevent his death. Well, not prevent it, exactly. I could make it reversible. If I allowed him to drink of the blood I’d taken from him, now that my body had changed its cellular structure, he would die in his normal time, and then re-awaken.
Fact: He had asked me to reverse his death.
According to all the lofty principles I claimed to live by, his life was his. If he wanted to keep it, I had no right to take it. Yes, he had already deeded it to me. We had a contract, as it were. But was that binding? Could he give me his life?
Dammit, I wasn’t sure; and he was now saying it wasn’t up to me. He was attempting to claim his life back – now, when he’d reached the very limit of his endurance, and was going to die, certainly.
Little brat! I could have killed him for putting me through this bout of indecision!
But that was the problem. Could I really?
What about others who might be affected, if I gave him what he wanted? What about those he’d kill as a vampire? Did I have the right…?
I dismissed that line of thought. Certainly I had the right. I could make him a vampire, but only he could decide how he’d use his vampirism.
Conversely, was I responsible for saving his life, once he had made the decision which would, ultimately, end it if I did not intervene? Another interesting moral question. I could easily argue either side of it. Yes, I was responsible, because I had agreed to be part of his suicide. I was old – very old – and had the experience to know that many suicides – even successful ones – are regretted once the action begins. Or… No, I was not responsible. He had made a request, the wisdom of which I’d openly questioned. He had badgered me until I’d done what he wanted… and then he’d changed his mind. Since the contract was broken, I owed him nothing.
Didn’t basic human decency require that I save his life?
Well… I’m not human.
But that’s a cheap out, isn’t it? What are the moral boundaries of charity? What do I, a sovereign individual, owe another individual, sovereign or otherwise, solely because he is my fellow creature, and he has a need I can fill?
I know what Ayn Rand would say. That’s not an attempt to indicate I keep up with literature, by the way. I know what the author of The Fountainhead would say, because she once answered that question for me. I met her in California, during the early years of her life. She was working as a screenwriter and extra in Hollywood. I have always been enamored of new technology, so I was looking into starting up a small film production company. These were the pioneering days of the industry, when greats like DeMille were just getting started.
I met this young Russian immigrant on the set of The King of Kings (the one with H.B. Warner as Jesus – not Jeffrey Hunter.) She fascinated me immediately. She was outspoken. Analytical. Critical of the way people thought, or – mostly! – didn’t. I invited her for coffee. Not as a vampire stalking a potential meal, but as one intellect, hungry to encounter another. And don’t think that’s a cover story. Of the two, I’d more readily admit to being a vampire than an intellectual. Vampires aren’t nearly as widely despised, nor in nearly as much danger. Little tin-pot dictators like some of the Caesars, Hitler and George Dubya Bush don’t give one flying fig if there’s a vampire in their country, eating their citizens, but true-thinking people scare them. Look at World War I’s Sedition Act, or the current so-called “Patriot” Act, or FDR’s strong-arm tactics, which caused generations to believe that support for America’s part in World War II was unanimous. Look at the nations of the Third World today. Anything they can do to quiet the voices of dissent, they do. I’ve often wondered if that’s so they can hear the voices in their own heads better.
“Your need entitles you to nothing of mine,” the former Alissa Rosenbaum said, looking me so levelly in the eye that her head might have been mounted on the yet-to-be-invented steady-cam dolly. “My happiness is my primary responsibility, seeking it my greatest good. It is the same with you. If I could not pay for this coffee – “
”I would, for the privilege of your company,” I said gallantly.
She nodded. “A bargain, no doubt.” I laughed. “But,” she continued, “Would my lack of a nickel entitle me to remove one from your pocket? Or have the army do so?”
“The army would have to take a dime, to justify paying you the nickel,” I observed. And she laughed.
Then she said, seriously, “All you owe your fellow man is the courtesy to leave what is his alone. If you live for your own happiness, it is very possible that he will benefit anyway. But he has no right to demand benefits.”
I’d always agreed with her. I could, if I so desired, use what was mine to help another who was in need; but need did not give him the right to make demands on me.
There. That was an answer, right?
Or was I kidding myself? Did the philosophy behind my eventual decision matter? Or was I really waiting to find out why he had allegedly changed his mind? Or even why he had wanted to die in the first place?
I had to admit, none of my business though it was, those answers were a factor. My decision depended on them.
I knelt next to the shivering creature on the extra bed in my hotel room. I brought my face close to his ear and asked, “Why? Why do you want to be… this?”
“Because,” he stammered, “I d-don’t w-want to d-die.”
I shook my head. “Not good enough. Becoming a vampire to avoid death is like getting married to avoid deportation. You trade an uncertain fate for a tyrannical master. Tell me – “
I paused. He looked at me, expectantly. He knew there wasn’t much time left for me to make up my mind.
“ – Did you want to die?”
He managed to nod.
“And now you don’t. What changed your mind?”
He shook his head.
“You can’t speak, or you can’t explain?”
“I– I jus’ don’ wanna die. M’scared.”
“So… you can’t explain your motives… that doesn’t speak well for you.”
He winced in pain. His body was beginning to show the signs …
“Come on, man…” he whined.
“Listen to me,” I said. “This is very important. Why did you want to die?”
He shuddered, trying to get the words out.
“You must tell me,” I said calmly. “I must know.”
“B – bastard!”
“Stop wasting time you don’t have.”
His teeth chattered. His mouth opened once, twice… no sound emitted. Finally, he rasped, “ – he died.”
“He died? Who died? Ah, the man in the hospital…”
“Y-yeah. Same accident… I was in.”
“I know that. You told me – wait – is it guilt that made you think you wanted to die?”
He nodded faintly.
“Did you cause the accident?”
“No,” he said quietly. “M-my father’s – “
”Your father caused the accident?”
“No. I – it was his … his SUV. I was… dri – dri – ”
“I see. You were driving your father’s SUV. And.”
Pain shone in his eyes. They welled with tears. “And I lived!” he spat. “That guy’s car hit mine, and I lived!”
I stopped. I had to consider, not just his words, but the emotion behind them. He uttered the words “I lived,” as though they were an accusation. A confession of heinous crime. A self-damnation.
“Don’t you g-get it?” he rasped. “Don’t you watch the news? SUV’s kill people.”
“The news,” I said faintly… As I’ve said, I avoided mainstream news whenever possible. I had heard background noise from the humans about sport utility vehicles, though. “They.. roll over,” I muttered.
“That’s not the point,” he said, as though speaking to an idiot. “The point is… that drivers in SUVs… are more likely to survive an accident.”
“So you believe that… that the other driver would have lived… if you’d been in a Honda Civic?”
He shook his head. “No. But I … prob’ly woulda… died.”
“… because… the SUV is… safer?”
“So… you benefitted from the design of the vehicle… and lived.”
He nodded again. “Not fair. Not right for some people to be safer than others. I should have died… like that guy.”
* * *
I am in the supermarket, faced with another moral quandary.
I don’t often enter supermarkets. As you might guess, I have little use for human food. Recently, though, I’ve taken in a cat, and he has material needs. Litter. Food.
Humans are impractical. That’s why I like the cat. He’s an honest predator. Brings me mice occasionally. A good cat owner knows this is a tribute to him. It should be met with praise and affection, in the spirit in which it is given.
Okay, perhaps not all pet owners can bring themselves to really show their appreciation, as I do, and consume part of the tribute. My cat certainly seemed pleased the first time that I drank the blood of his live catch, and gave him the rest to eat.
As he brings me gifts, I try to repay in kind. He likes milk. There’s some chatter in the media now about most cats being lactose intolerant. My experience, however, is that they love milk. I doubt nature would make them allergic to something they crave. So today, I’ve decided to buy him a carton of milk. And there, on the back, is my quandary: a smiling face, beneath the words, “Have you seen me?”
The kid from the SUV. Missing now for four months. Last seen sitting in the ER at a San Diego hospital. Height: 5’7″, weight: 135 pounds, identifying marks… If seen, call the Center for Missing and Exploited Children…
I had a brief, mad impulse to call. “Yes, the boy in this announcement is neither missing nor exploited. His body is in the San Diego harbor, where the portion I did not use has no doubt fed many beautiful and useful fish. So he is not missing. He has not been exploited by me, as he offered himself, originally, as food.
“He has, perhaps, been exploited by his teachers and community leaders, as a pawn of their hysterical attempts to amuse themselves and give their lives meaning. Certainly he has been exploited by petty moralists who short-circuited his instinct for self-preservation and replaced it with an irrational survivor’s guilt and a blind need to make life ‘fair.’ This substitution made him so dependent on the approval of others that he felt he should die rather than have a survival advantage over another human being. It made him unfit to be a member of the species that’s – almost – at the top of the food chain. It made him fair game for all the moral predators the human race is capable of producing. You see, he was food long before I found him. What was I to do but eat him?
“Still, I think there are children who can be helped by your service, so stop wasting milk cartons on this poor fool.
I would not do it, of course. I had gone to great lengths to prevent his disappearance being traced to me. It would be foolish to blow all that, simply to purge one erroneous record from a human-maintained database.
But I am left with my quandary… is it morally wrong or counterproductive to keep around oneself monuments to the waste and stupidity one has encountered? Would it hinder my personal growth to be reminded of him, each time I fed my cat for the next ten days?
Or should I buy the plastic jug of milk?
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