(or "How to Toast Bagels")

by Mordantia Bat

My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed ....

— from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

"Are you wergin?" Udo Keir gasped in Andy Warhol's Dracula.

"Wergins! Wergins!" the group assembled before the television chanted back, cackling.

The assembled group clutched their beer bottles and cheered, huddled on the living room furniture, all eyes focused on the 14-inch television screen. Four pairs of eyes focused on the movie. A fifth pair of eyes, belonging to Adler, strayed elsewhere in the room, admiring suddenly the artful way the wallpaper peeled in one corner. He moved off away from the others, towards the kitchen.

* * *

Adler had not wanted to watch the movie. He had seen it too many times before, and, besides, he had grown weary of his friends's latest vampire phase. It wasn't that he didn't like vampires - quite the opposite - but he hated sharing his own shaky enthusiasms with them. For them, it was a lark. "Oh, let's rent all the Draculas!" had been the suggestion one night, and so it went forth: from Coppola's, to Nosferatu, to Warhol's, to "Love At First Bite." Adler wanted to scream "stop!" But he liked his friends, and they hadn't known him before, before when he had delved into the obscurest of obscure vampire literature.

They didn't understand.

Like so many, to them, the vampire in literature was divided strictly into two camps: Stoker and Rice, as if no other author had ever penned a vampire story in their life. Adler had no patience for that. Stoker's Dracula was annoying - it was the tale of Jonathan and Mina Harker. And Jonathan and Mina Harker were wusses. Rice's novels were a little better, as she had at least made the vampire into a sympathetic and engaging character instead of the nemesis, but still, but still - as she continued to weave the tale throughout the novels, her ball of yarn had long since dropped out of the trunk of a speeding car. What of Matheson? Le Fanu? Poe? And so many others?

Forgotten. Overlooked. Pushed aside by all but a few of the hardcore enthusiasts. The new breed of vampire fan breathed only of "Lestat." Adler sliced the bagel in half and put the sides of bread in the toaster. He ceased to admit he was a vampire enthusiast at all. It just brought complications when he sneered when asked did he prefer Louis or Lestat. Blasphemy to sneer at her writing. Blasphemy, indeed. Vampires were all too common these days. Hardly-grown girls who stayed up all night on tedious drugs and who said they liked to draw blood when they kissed. They claimed themselves as vampires, clutching the romantic lore to their pubescent breasts like a cheerleader sweater. Hardly-grown boys who intimated that their roommates accused them of vampirism because they failed to ever remove their sunglasses. Everywhere one looked, there was someone saying, "I am a vampire," hoping to impress or shock.

Adler had once been much like those he now condemned when in his naivete, he sought out vampires, absurdly. He checked in the niteclubs, he wrote to fanzines, he traipsed through exotic cemeteries, he looked out his window at night. But, of course, nothing. Failure. He came across the vamp-bunnies and their giggling incisors. Not that such could not be fun for a night, but it was hardly authentic. And the more he looked, and the more he saw what frighteningly superficial people had embraced vampirism, the more he kept quiet about what he read and what he sought until the mere word "vampire" would produce a curled sneer from his lips. Others interpreted that as disapproval or perhaps snobbery. But it was failed idealism.

Why were "they" drawn to what he once embraced as his idols? Why had he been drawn to these idols? Oh, he knew why he had. He had on numerous occasions dissected that train of thought. It was more than the tired connection between sex and death. The eroticism of vampires in Victorian literature was said to serve as a substitute for the repression of general eroticism of that era. True, true. But there was more. More appealing - at least to Adler - than the consummation-like bite of a vampire was the way a vampire sought out victims, differentiating the mere food from those chosen to be made into a vampire. The vampire, by most lore, was a loner, and yet would set out to make itself some "friends." Therein lay the appeal, Adler thought, for those who were attracted to the mythos were generally loners or misfits. Those who sat around and contemplated things in a corner. To know, to understand was an act of pure aloneness. For this, as for most other things.

But it was not to be. Look what "friends" the latest batch of vamp-bunnies had brought into the fray.

The bagel popped up out of the toaster. Adler removed it delicately and began to butter it.

Adler would not tell any of them - his friends in the other room - what he thought of their movies. They would laugh at him, roll their eyes, and say, "There he goes again" as they did whenever he started to describe his reactions to certain poetry, to certain music, to certain art. He could have a perfect moment of (capital-A) Art, lounged in a chair, watching the flies dance to the weepy strains of a Chopin nocturne, but how to explain it? It was like explaining an acid trip to someone who didn't take acid. It was in those moments of weirdity, of absurdity, that one saw the eternal Void, with all of its archetypes and jugglers, and know that you had forgotten all you had known so you could have the pleasure and the pain of learning it all again.

And know, as well, that this knowledge mattered all at once and equally didn't.

"I need a bagel," Shawna said as she entered the kitchen. "They rewound it to Joe D'Allesandro's big fuck scene."

Shawna brushed past Adler as she entered the kitchen, her spicy perfume surprising his nostrils. He watched the deft way she sliced the bagel in two. Flesh and blood was what Shawna was, and Adler pondered the curve of her neck in the predictable way one would after contemplating on vampiredom. Were he to lunge for her like that, she'd laugh, and let him do it.

So, he would not. He watched her drop the bagel into the wide-mouthed toaster.

He had failed. He was not a doer. Nor a voyeur. A scavenger, he existed in limbo. Feeding, carrion-like, on the words of dead poets, tearing their fleshy words and taking it into himself as his only nourishment, he existed on the breath of others. This was failure. He should watch the movies and enjoy them. He should rip into Shawna's flesh. He should take back the literature he had once loved instead of abandoning it to its dismal fate. But would he? Would he? No.

He would, instead, watch the bagel toast, blood shaking his heart.

This story originally appeared in SINS of COFFEE, Issue #11, 1994.