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After the Stone Age

by Brian Stableford

 

Brian Stableford's latest novels, all new this year, include Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity, The Dragon Man, and The Moment of Truth. He is well-known in vampire circles for his novels The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires, The Empire of Fear, and Young Blood, and for his translations of French author Paul Féval, père's nineteenth-century works of vampire fiction (which pre-date Bram Stoker's Dracula). He has also authored many other novels and French translations, as well as numerous works of non-fiction about science fiction.
 
About vampire fiction, Stableford says: "It's probably popular because it imagines a kind of charisma, a subspecies of angst and an insidious variety of violence of which humans are incapable, thus providing a temporary distraction from the charismatic void, ineffably tedious angst and mere brutality that constitute the quotidian human condition. I became interested in it when the history of the subgenre took an interesting turn in the 1970s, when assumptions of monstrosity formerly taken more-or-less for granted were challenged and interrogated in various quirky ways, presumably reflecting—albeit in a distorting mirror—contemporary sociological shifts in attitudes to sexuality."
 
This tale, which first appeared in the BBC's Cult Vampire Magazine, is about the potential utility of vampirism as a "natural" substitute for liposuction.

 

Mina had tried them all: WeightWatchers, Conley, grapefruit, Atkins, hypnotherapy and pumping iron. On the day she decided, after three grueling months, that the Stone Age diet was doing her more harm than good—just like all the rest—she felt that she had hit rock bottom in the abyss of despair. She clocked in at sixteen stone five pounds, just six pounds lighter than the day she had embarked on the Stone Age with such steely determination. By the end of March she would doubtless crack the seventeen stone barrier, going in the wrong direction.

Younger people, she supposed, calculated in kilograms but she had never contrived to adjust. Mercifully, she was in public finance rather than the commercial sector, so she rarely had to audit accounts that were connected, even in the remotest degree, with the EU. She never traveled abroad, because she couldn't bear the thought of an airplane seat, let alone stripping down to a bikini on a beach in Marbella. She had never lost the habits of embarrassment gained in childhood, and now she had the prospect of middle-age spread looming before her.

Mina hadn't an atom of proof that she had been passed over for promotion because of the way she looked. The fact that her newly imported line manager, Lucy Stanwere, had a figure like Paula Radcliffe as well as being ten years younger might have been coincidence. The fact that Lucy was able to wear four-inch heels, thus allowing her to tower over those condemned by gravity to flat soles, might also be irrelevant to her rapid ascent of the status ladder. The fact that Mina was due to see Lucy for her annual appraisal the morning after she fell off the Stone Age wagon and gorged herself on Welsh rarebit and chocolate milk was, however, definitely not a coincidence. Anxiety had always been a key factor in Mina's comfort eating.

Lucy's office was, of course, incredibly neat. It wasn't just that the cleaners made more effort there than in the open-plan, but that Lucy's own personal neatness radiated out from her size-ten suit to bathe her entire environment with a kind of bloodless perfection. Simply being there made Mina feel even more like a rubbish-heap than usual; from the moment she stepped through the door her one ambition was to escape as soon as possible, no matter how much criticism she had to absorb and acknowledge in order to do it.

She didn't, of course, dare to entertain the ambition that she might accomplish that escape without some slighting reference being made to her appearance—in fact, the first thing Lucy said, after "Please sit down, Miss Mint," was "Are you unwell?" That, in health-fascist-ese, meant: "How can you even breathe when you're carrying so much excess baggage, you disgusting calorie-addict?"

"I've had a little tummy trouble recently," Mina admitted, "but it's sure to clear up now."

"Coming off the Stone Age?" Lucy asked, in a tone that sounded almost sympathetic.

Mina had never talked to Lucy in a non-work context, so she couldn't claim to know her well, but she certainly hadn't expected sympathy. She decided that it must be an illusion.

"Yes, actually," Mina admitted.

"I thought so," Lucy said. "The trouble with all these theories about what evolution shaped our digestive systems to do is that humans are so exceedingly adaptable. We grow up on grains and dairy products, and our bodies learn to love them. If there's one thing that separates humans from all the other animals, it's the ability to learn to love. Don't you agree?"

The chance would be a fine thing, Mina thought. What she said aloud was: "Yes, Miss Stanwere."

"It's Lucy. Look, Mina, I don't want to seem presumptuous, and I'll understand if you want to confine our discussion to the nerves and sinews of auditing practice and Gordon Brown's latest wrinkles, but there's a better way to lose weight, if you really want to. It's about time that you were let in on the secret."

Mina had long suspected that there must be a vast conspiracy of the fit and thin whose precious secrets were sternly withheld from people like her, but she had never expected to be let into it. She said nothing.

"I know what you're thinking," Lucy Stanwere said, when the pause had passed from pregnant to eggbound. "How would I know? Well, I do." She took up her handbag. Any normal person would have had to root about for at least thirty seconds to find what she wanted, but Lucy only required a mere moment to pluck the desired item from its innermost depths. She handed Mina a photograph.

Mina stared at the snapshot in frank disbelief. It wasn't so much the sixteen stone version of Lucy Stanwere that startled and appalled her so much as the expression the teenager was wearing: an expression of profound shame and terror of exposure that Mina had only ever seen at WeightWatchers—or in a mirror.

When she looked up again, Mina saw her superior with entirely new eyes. She could find but one word: "How?"

Lucy's perfectly manicured fingers dipped into the mysterious bag for a second time, and produced another slim item. At first, Mina judged from its size that it was a business-card, but it was glossy and black, and bore an image of two magnificently athletic individuals dancing what appeared to be the tango, above the red-lettered inscription: THE AFTER DARK CLUB. The postcode attached to the address was suggestive of Mayfair.

"Meet me there at ten-thirty," Lucy said. "I'll tell the desk to expect you, and I'll take you in."

"A night club?" Mina said, aghast. "I can't go to a night club."

"Ten-thirty," Lucy Stanwere repeated, insistently. "Be on time."

 

Mina had nothing suitable to wear, but the situation was so surreal that it didn't seem to matter. She was usually curled up in bed with a Mills and Boon not long after ten-thirty, once she'd watched the news on the BBC, so she went to catch the Central Line tube at Ealing Broadway with the kind of disturbed feeling that changes in a familiar routine always bring on.

She had never realized that the urban wilderness between Piccadilly and Oxford Street had so many hidden trails and discreet coverts but her pocket A-to-Z eventually guided her to an unmarked door with a discreet intercom and bell-push. Mina almost turned round and went home right then, but eventually plucked up courage to press the button. When a fuzzy voice said "Yes?" she blurted out "Is-that-the-After-Dark-Club-Lucy-Stanwere-asked-me-to-meet-her-here?" without the slightest pause for breath.

There was an eerie buzzing sound—more like a swarm of angry wasps than placid bees, but no less welcome for that—punctuated by a click. Mina pushed the door open, and entered a gloomy corridor which led to a flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a desk, manned by a teenage male in an absurdly old-fashioned suit. "Miss Mint?" he said, before she could gather her breath. "We've been expecting you. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Mina had not had time to frame a reply when the burgundy-colored door to the left of the desk opened and Lucy Stanwere came out, accompanied by two other men, each as callow as the receptionist, both complexioned like Turks or Italians. They too were wearing black suits cut to standards of formality that had surely gone out with the last King George, or maybe Queen Victoria.

Lucy, by contrast, was dressed in a very now manner that was far more relaxed—louche, even—than her everyday office-wear. "Mina, darling!" she said, with a brazen bonhomie that contrasted just as sharply with the flinty face of public finance. "I want you to meet Marcian and Szandor. You'll have to forgive Szandor—I'm afraid his English is a trifle rusty—but Marcian will translate for him. Come through, won't you?"

Mina was unable to respond to this invitation immediately, because Marcian and Szandor were busy kissing her hands, so enthusiastically that they hadn't waited to take turns, seizing one apiece. Nor did they let go when they had finished, arranging themselves to either side of her with an affectionate politeness that she had never encountered before.

She had, of course, avoided making eye-contact, her embarrassment being so intense that she had all but closed her eyes, but as she stole sidelong glances to her left and right she observed that both of them were looking at her with expressions that betrayed not the slightest hint of disgust, contempt, scorn or disapproval.

If she had only dared, she might have felt a surge of joy, but she had lived in the world too long to be free of the suspicion that she was about to suffer some humiliating reversal of fortune.

Marcian and Szandor escorted her through the doorway, although it didn't seem humanly possible that there was room enough for either to pass through it beside her, let alone both. She was swept along another purple-carpeted corridor to another darkly varnished door, while Lucy followed.

The image on the card had left Mina with the impression that there might be a ballroom swirling with exotic couples, all engaged in a furiously erotic tango, but the whole building seemed silent, insulated from the unceasing noise of the capital; the room in which Mina now found herself was actually a bedroom.

My God! Mina thought, as she contemplated the king-sized four-poster with the red velvet curtains. It's not a night club at all. It's a knocking-shop for chubby-chasers!

So far as she was concerned, chubby-chasers were creatures of legend, one of whom she had always longed to meet. Like unicorns, which refused to have anything to do with anyone but virgins, men who were sexually attracted to fat women were exceedingly thin on the ground in Ealing. Then Mina remembered Lucy, who was only half the woman now that she had been as a teenager, and realized that there must be more to the situation than had yet met her eye. She turned, opening her fearful eyes sufficiently to demand an explanation.

"It's all right, Mina," Lucy said. "There's nothing to be afraid of. No one's gong to do anything to you that you don't want them to do. But the time has come for you to ask yourself the question: Do I sincerely want to be thin?"

Mina swallowed a hysterical laugh. The consequent frog in her throat made it impossible to do anything but croak: "Yes."

It seemed a pitifully feeble expression of her desire, but Lucy seemed satisfied. "Good," she said. "I'll cut to the chase, then—no point in beating about the bush. Marcian and Szandor are vampires. Given a few months of weekly sessions, they can literally drink your superfluous flesh away. You'll need to take iron tablets to facilitate the manufacture of new blood, but their enzymes will do the rest—reorientate your metabolism to convert your adipose deposits, that kind of thing. It won't make you feel bad—quite the reverse. You'll feel better than you've ever felt before: full of energy, in more ways than one. Natural selection is a wonderful thing, and we talked only this morning about the marvelous ability of human beings to adapt themselves.

"Marcian and Szandor are human too, of course—you'll have to forget all that superstitious nonsense about the undead rising from their graves and canine teeth becoming fangs. Vampires are just another natural species, near relatives of ours in the genus Homo, who accompanied us to the brink of extinction more than once, but are now on the increase again. They're not quite ready to come out of hiding yet—like us, they're not entirely free of their old instincts—but they're making discreet diplomatic moves at every level, taking one step at a time in the tedious business of winning hearts and minds."

Mina hadn't noticed Lucy Stanwere's cliché-addiction before, but she tried to concentrate her attention on the more important aspects of the speech. Apparently, she wasn't going to be required to dance the tango in any literal sense. Instead, she was going to lie down on the bed while Marcian and Szandor drank her blood, presumably relieving her of forty fluid ounces or so, while pumping some kind of enzymes into her that would retune her metabolism to mobilize her fat reserves and set her on the road to paradise, or at least size twelve.

All in all, it was difficult to see a downside.

Eyes wide open now, Mina found herself staring at Lucy's neck, looking for tell-tale holes.

Lucy smiled. "That stuff about fangs is just Hammer horror," Lucy said. "It's more sucking than biting, actually. It doesn't even leave a love-bite, because there are no leftovers. You'll feel a slight numbness for a day or two, and your complexion might be a trifle pale, but you'll feel a lot better in yourself."

Mina belatedly thought of a potential downside. "Will I turn into a vampire too?" she asked, surprised at the lack of faintness in her own voice.

"No, silly," Lucy replied. "I told you, they're just another human species. You can't turn into one of them any more than they can turn into wolves or bats. It's symbiosis. They obtain sustenance from us; we get fitness and an amazing sense of well-being in return. Mutual profit—the ultimate expression of free-market economics at its finest. There's no rush; you can have all the time you need to think about it. All we ask is a little discretion."

"Discretion?" Mina echoed, with a confidence she had never felt before. "To hell with discretion. Let's get on with it!"

 

In the next two hours Mina discovered why the After Dark Club's card depicted two dancing figures. The movement was internal and emotional, and there were three people involved rather than two, but it was rhythmic as well as hectic, measured as well as erotic.

Marcian and Szandor never touched her below the waist, but that didn't matter. Mina understood well enough, by the time she went to catch the night bus back to Ealing, why sophisticated people said that the most important sexual organ was the brain.

She didn't see Lucy Stanwere before she left. Presumably, that wonderful woman and perfect friend was still engaged in a languorous horizontal tarantella of her own, probably with a single partner given that she no longer had the stored-up wealth to satisfy two. Marcian saw her to the door, bid her a fond goodnight, and made another date with her for the following Tuesday.

The old Mina would have asked, anxiously, whether she'd be ready for another session quite so soon, but the new Mina took it for granted that she could raise her blood to the required pressure with time to spare.

Marcian's conversation had been mostly devoted to technical matters and mild warnings, so Mina felt that he hadn't really warmed to her as yet, but Szandor—who had been silent apart from a few incomprehensible mumblings—had been free to indulge himself in fond stares and tactile explorations, and Mina felt that they had already built a delicate rapport. Although she was besotted with them both, she couldn't help feeling a little fonder of Szandor.

They seemed such nice young men, so expert in their arcane art, that she would have been more than happy to see them again even if the pounds hadn't started to melt away with such awesome rapidity.

It wasn't until the Tuesday, when Mina plucked up enough nerve to make a feeble joke about Dracula, that she discovered how old the seemingly young men actually were.

"Old Vlad!" Marcian said, with a delighted chuckle that was a fine compliment to her joke. "I remember him. Not one of us, of course—just a. . .how do you say?. . .a groupie. Thought he might become immortal if we would only teach him the trick. Poor sap!"

Her experience was so ecstatic that it took Mina ten minutes to realize that she too was a groupie: someone who hung around vampires, avidly offering blood. Twenty more were required to disclose that "poor sap" wasn't an Americanism. "Sap" was a vampire colloquialism for Homo sapiens; Marcian referred to his own kind as "ultras"—that being a contraction of Homo ultrasapiens, which, loosely translated, meant "man the extremely wise." It wasn't until it was nearly time to go home that it occurred to Mina to wonder how old Marcian actually was, given that he had obviously been around for centuries, but it didn't seem polite to ask forthrightly. After all, he'd been polite enough not to ask her age. She resolved to make discreet and indirect inquiries on the following Sunday, for which they made a third date.

By the time Friday night arrived, eight days after Mina's introduction to the joys of vampire victimhood, she felt that her life had undergone a fabulous transformation. As she said good night to Lucy Stanwere she gloried in the conspiratorial glance that they exchanged—a pleasure in which she had never indulged with any other colleague, of either sex, during her entire career in public finance. At work, of course, they behaved with strict formality, never making the slightest mention of their secret, but as they stepped over the threshold each evening they made their silent acknowledgements.

Mina went straight from work to the gym, where she went to work, first on the rowing machine and then on the cycling machine. She sometimes caught other people staring at her, but that didn't make her feel self-conscious any more. Once, they would merely have been appalled by her bulk; now she was content to assume that they were amazed at her capacity for exercise. Regenerating the blood she required to feed Marcian and Szandor was no mere matter of stuffing herself with calories and iron tablets; she had to crank up her retuned metabolism, rebalancing the energy-economy of her physical and spiritual being. Even fake rowing and fake cycling were beginning to give her a sense of furious speed and steadfast endurance that was remarkably satisfying—though not, of course, anywhere near as satisfying as lying on the curtained four-poster while Marcian and Szandor sucked their sustenance from her flesh with such obvious avidity and appreciation.

On Sunday, she observed that it must have been hard for vampires living through times of plague, famine and religious persecution.

"The Black Death was bad," Marcian admitted, "but the Church wasn't too inconvenient. Bishops grow as fat as members of any other priviligentsia. Civilization is a fine thing; life was harder before there were cities."

"You must have very good memories to recall a time when there wasn't," Mina suggested, delicately.

"Ach, it's more tradition than memory," Marcian admitted. "We make up stories to remind ourselves of all the things we're bound to forget. We all feel nostalgic about the good old days before you saps wiped out the Neanderthals, but it's legend-based. Nobody really remembers anything much before the fall of Troy, and it's all momentary flashes until the last two hundred years or so."

"The price of living forever, I suppose," Mina said, pensively.

Marcian actually raised his head then, to look her in the eye—as fondly as Szandor, but also a trifle darkly.

"Nobody lives forever, Mina," he said. "Ultras don't age or suffer from disease, but we all die in the end: drowned or decapitated, burned or blown up. Every living thing dies."

 

In the early hours of that Monday morning Mina stepped on the scales to find that she had broken fifteen-seven for the first time in three years, going in the right direction. She couldn't expect to continue to shed weight at more than a pound a day for very long, of course, but even as the rate of loss tailed off she could reasonably expect to be below fourteen stone by the end of April and below twelve by the end of June. Come Hallowe'en, she might be the woman of her dreams, not an ounce over nine stone and fit as a flea.

Mina had rarely contemplated the future in any frame of mind but abject horror, but she found herself wondering now about very serious questions. When, for instance, would she no longer be able to feed two hungry vampires? Would she have to choose between Marcian and Szandor, or would they settle her fate between themselves? And what, then, would be her long-term prospects? How long could a sap continue to feed a single vampire, if she made every possible effort to maximize her blood-production? Years? Decades? A whole sap lifetime?

Marcian would have known all the answers, but Mina felt that she needed a different perspective. One Friday when she wasn't due at the After Dark, she asked Lucy Stanwere if they could meet up for a drink. Lucy looked her up and down, as if trying to decide whether Mina had lost sufficient weight to be fit company in a sap-filled wine-bar, but eventually nodded. "Let's have dinner," she said. "Do you know the Arlequino Andante in Marylebone High Street? It's late to make a booking, but they'll let me in if I ring."

Mina didn't know the restaurant, but she promised to find it and meet Lucy there at eight.

"I've been meaning to have an in-depth chat to find out how you were getting along," Lucy said, when they'd ordered, "but you know how it is. It's obviously working. Happy?"

"Never been happier," Mina agreed. "It's just that I've been wondering about a few things, and I don't like to trouble Marcian with too much chat while he's. . .drinking."

"Oh, Marcy wouldn't mind. He's a real chatterbox by comparison with my Otto. What is it? The not-going-out-in-daylight business?"

"That too," Mina agreed, although it had not been among the items praying on her mind.

"They don't catch fire and shrivel up or anything Hammery like that," Lucy told her. It's just a matter of ingrained habit. Evolution shaped them as nocturnal hunters, like most other vampiric species—bats, bedbugs and the like. They could give it up if they wanted to, but they don't."

That prompted Mina to think of another question. "If natural selection gave them such long lives," she said, "why did we poor saps get stuck with seventy years?"

"Why did the chimps get stuck with all that hair and no brains? Small differences in DNA can easily be amplified into big differences of lifestyle. We've outstripped chimps because human babies are born at a relatively early stage of development, so our brains gain from experience as they grow. The older we grow the more benefit we get from that experience, so natural selection favors living longer—but we poor saps never got the benefit of the mutation that freed the ultras from the burden of ageing. The corollary is that they reproduce very slowly—ultra males and females don't mix much and only have sex once or twice a millennium—and there's the nutritional limitation too. It has to be human blood, you see—no other species will do. It's almost as if they were our extra selves, formed entirely from our spare flesh—but maybe that's a bit too philosophical. The Parma ham's good, isn't it? Nice texture."

Mina found the ham a trifle chewy, and it had a tendency to stick to her teeth, so it wasn't until she was tucking into her veal Marsala that she raised the question of where her new relationship might be headed, medium-term-wise.

"Didn't Marcy tell you?" Lucy asked. "You only had to ask. Szandor will take you on eventually—I hope that's not a disappointing prospect. His English is improving, I hope? He's supposed to be doing night-classes at the City Lit. Marcy runs the Club—he's the fixer for the entire London community. He'll put you on home visits soon if that's okay—just Szandor, I suppose, although Marcy might drop in occasionally. He kept tabs on me for a while, once he'd set me up with Otto. I love Otto. Good job we no longer live in an era when lifelong spinsters were automatically assumed to be consorting with the devil, isn't it?"

"Yes it is," Mina agreed. "When you say lifelong. . .?"

"Don't worry about that," Lucy said. "It's not really a matter of living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse. What if we do get used up by fifty or fifty-five? We'll look as good as we possibly can until then, and all you'll ever have to do to reconcile yourself to it is consider the alternative."

Even the new Mina didn't quite have courage enough to ask exactly how old Lucy really was, although she had concluded that appearances were probably deceptive and that Lucy's CV might not be honest about such details as date of birth. It didn't seem to matter much; the crucial datum, so far as Mina was concerned, was her own age, which was thirty-three. If feeding a vampire meant that she was likely to die at fifty-something rather than the contemporary female average of seventy-nine, that didn't seem too high a price to pay for twenty years of better-than-normal slenderness. Anyway, who could tell how many years of life-expectancy her obesity might have cost her if she'd stayed on the boom-and-bust diet carousel?

Mina did, however, summon enough courage to ask whether Lucy had sap boyfriends as well as Otto.

"I had a few, when I still wanted to catch up on all the sex I thought I'd missed out on," Lucy admitted, frankly. "It didn't take long to realize that I hadn't missed anything at all, compared to the real thing. You'll find that out for yourself, I dare say."

 

Mina did find out for herself. Indeed, everything transpired as Lucy had prophesied. Szandor's English improved enough for him to ask her himself whether he might visit her at home, once a week to begin with, and Mina readily agreed. Marcian dropped in on her too, once a month or so, more for a chat than a feed. On one such occasion, in August, he mentioned to her that the club had moved, but he didn't give her a card with the new address. Soon after that, Lucy announced that she was moving on again too, having been promoted to a senior position in Newcastle.

Mina breezed through the interview panel for Lucy's job, so the farewell party was a double celebration. It got so wild by midnight that some jumped-up office-boy from Procurement blurted out the office rumor which held that Mina and Lucy were lesbian lovers. Far from feeling appalled or insulted, Mina was delighted that she should be thought so versatile, so desirable and so interesting. She told Szandor about it when he visited her on the following Sunday—Sundays having now become their regular date—but he didn't laugh. It wasn't that vampires didn't have a sense of humor, just that they found different things amusing.

"Anyway," Mina said, "the promotion will mean a hike in salary, so I'll be able to buy a house. You could move in if you wanted to—it might be more convenient."

He laughed at that. "Sank you very much," he said, "but it vouldn't be right."

"Where do you live now?" she asked, for the first time. "Do you have a job of your own—night security or something."

Szandor's gaze, though still fond, became troubled. "I cannot tell you vere I liff," he said. "As for jops, ve liff as ve liffed in the old country, as communists—real communists, not those Soffiet bastards. Effer since. . .." He broke off.

"Ever since what?" Mina prompted, assuming he was thinking about something that had happened after the collapse of communism, in Bosnia or Chechnya or wherever he had recently come from.

"Effer since the Stone Age," he said. "Ven you began to vork in bronze. . .ve vere neffer a part of that. The vorld of vork, of jops. . .is not ours."

Mina realized then how little she actually knew about the vampire way of life, and how they occupied themselves when they were not feeding. She realized, too, how wide the gulf between the two human species must be, if all of history since the end of the Stone Age had been sap history, never recognizing, let alone involving the ultras, except as myth and shadow, mystery and threat. And yet, the ultras lived in a world that saps had remade, an ecosphere that saps had spoiled, on the edges of a global civilization organized and driven by sap machines and money.

Mina nearly asked Szandor what the communist vampires did for money, but realized that she didn't have to. They obtained their money as they obtained their blood, from their sapient groupies—not, evidently, in weekly handouts, but at intervals nevertheless adequate to their peculiar needs. In all probability, they were content to wait until their victims were used up; who else, after all, but her one and only dependent was a groupie likely to appoint as her heir?

Vampires could afford to be patient, and had certainly had abundant opportunity to acquire the habit.

How many victims, Mina wondered, had Szandor had before her? Far more, she guessed, than she had had hot dinners of her own. . .that being, at the end of the day, exactly what she was. It wouldn't be right for him to move in with her, she realized, for exactly the same reasons that it wouldn't be right for her to move into a battery cage or a veal crate. She was no longer the fat cow she had been in spring, but she would be a cow for as long as she might live.

After that reverie there was only one question that she needed to ask.

"Szandor," she said, "do you love me? Do you really love me?"

The ultra paused in his appreciation of the wonderfully appetizing blood that he was sucking from her breast to say: "Yes, my darlink. I loff you ferry much."

Mina knew that it was true. He loved her, not as a boy-child is obliged to love the mother at whose teat he sucks, nor as a farmer is obliged to love his prize cattle, nor as saps were obliged by their carefully selected hormones to love one another, but freely. He loved her in his own unique way, as only a vampire could love a member of his sister species, who provided the substance of his life in a single miraculous red stream.

 

When her lover had gone, after kissing her hand as any over-polite European might have done in saying au revoir, Mina went to the full-length mirror that she had bought only the previous day, and stood naked before it to make a critical study of the skin that sagged loosely about her ten stone two pound frame.

There was still a way to go, but she was getting there.

The skin would tighten up in time; even at thirty-three she still had enough adaptability to continue tightening its grip on her compacted flesh.

She would never reach perfection, but every day, in every way, she was getting better and better—and how many hard-working saps could honestly say that. . .except for all the others who were secretly in bed with the real reds?

All in all, she told herself, more in self-congratulation than in a spirit of self-discipline, it's quite impossible to see a downside.

 

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