Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: October 13 to 15, 2015
Read Count: 1
Available on Tor.com
A delightful little story that goes well with this time of year. Only downside is it’s too short. I hope Max Gladstone decides to expand on it because there are enough ideas here for a delightful full-length novel.
So. Ever wonder what Vlad the Impaler would be like as a family man going through a mid-life crisis? OF COURSE–that was how this story got me.
After hundreds of years as a vampire, Vlad falls for a human woman and decides to settle down and build a home with her. Together they have a son who is now 7 years old and has been having problems in school. Other than that, the family seems very happy, if only on the surface.
The story opens with Vlad bored out of his mind with domesticity. He misses his old life–blood, gore, and all, especially the blood–and reminisces constantly throughout the day. Pretending to be human used to be fun, because it was a game to him, but now after ten years, it’s a life (that often feels like a life sentence). The novelty has worn off some time ago, and Vlad begins to feel his old self trying to come back. He doesn’t let it though; he’s got too much to lose. There is, however, one bright spot in his dull existence, and that’s his son’s teacher. He meets with her every week to discuss the boy’s schoolwork, and the more time he spends with her, the more he feels his old urges returning.
This story did not go where I thought it would go, which was a nice surprise. It makes me like it all the more for breaking out of the tired old urban-vampire trope. What I enjoyed most about this story, even more so than Vlad, is the prose. There’s a natural flow to it that’s pleasant to read, but at the same time, it’s got a bite to it, not unlike Vlad’s real teeth. There’s a sharpness and crispness to the structure that appeals to me.
Vlad no longer shows his wife his sharp teeth. He keeps them secret in his gums, waiting for the quickened skip of hunger, for the blood-rush he almost never feels these days.
The teeth he wears instead are blunt as shovels. He coffee-stains them carefully, soaks them every night in a mug with ‘World’s Best Dad’ written on the side. After eight years of staining, Vlad’s blunt teeth are the burnished yellow of the keys of an old unplayed piano. If not for the stain they would be whiter than porcelain. Much, much whiter than bone.
A game, he tells himself. Humans hunt these days, in the woods, in the back country, and they do not eat the meat they kill. Fisherman catch fish to throw them back. And this night run is no more dangerous to him than fishing to an angler. He leaves his oxfords on the schoolhouse rooftop and runs barefoot over buildings and along bridge wires, swift and soft. Even if someone beneath looked up, what is he? Wisp of cloud, shiver of a remembered nightmare, bird spreading wings for flight. A shadow among shadows.
He can’t go on like this. Woken, power suffuses him. He slips into old paths of being, into ways he trained himself to forget. One evening on his home commute he catches crows flocking above him on brownstone rooftops. Black beady eyes wait for his command.
This is no way to be a father. No way to be a man.
But Vlad was a monster before he was a man.
“Might as well kill me now.”
“I’m a monster.”
“You’re just more literal than most.”
Other than Vlad’s false teeth, nothing is conventional about the domesticity in this story.
Instead of accountant, Vlad should have been a dentist. I mean, come on, huge missed opportunity there.