Welcome to Strange Love (aka Monster Mingle) a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.
Meet Kadilia Caine. She’s been out of the dating pool for a while, but she’s ready to get her feet wet again. She has the power to glamour crowds into falling in love with her, but she’s never known true love herself. If you’re searching for someone to watch over you at night then look no further than Kadilia. All you have to do to win her affection is invite her in.
If you grew up Romani in the 19thcentury then Transylvania was the place to be, especially if you liked hawking pottery on a bed of splinters in the dead of winter. And if you didn’t? Well I don’t know about you, but I hopped a caravan to London and joined a burlesque troop.
Now Victorian burlesque is not the Vegas showcase you’re probably imagining. Our performances were less about splashing around in giant cocktails and more about telling tales. Less fan dancing. More pantomime. Less high kicks. More hijinks.
We performed Shakespeare (with a few subtle alterations). Our female characters were actually played by women (as were most of the men). And sure, our heroes were scantily clad caricatures, and yes, we did cram Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter full of innuendos: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? I need a happy dagger in my sheath.
I never got to utter that one. I had a habit of laughing through my lines. Audiences got a rise out of it, but it made playwrights go bat shit. Nevertheless, my time on stage put a smile on my face and potatoes on my plate, until the theater went family friendly and spat me onto the street. Many of my costars fell back on the world’s oldest profession, but I had loftier ambitions.
I took up modeling, posing for those animated carousels viewers spun by hand. Gentlemen would line up to watch me lift my skirt or tip my corset. They called them zoetropes and they called me a zoetrope trollop, sometimes a stroboscope strumpet, or a praxinoscope pretty, if I was lucky.
I was just happy to be in pictures, whether I was a flipbook floosy or stereoscopic stripper I didn’t care. I was an entertainer. I had a good thing going, until a fan caught up with me in Whitechapel and ruined everything.
LIFE CHANGING EVENT
I was walking home when I noticed something strange. The echo of my heels was falling out of sync. It turned out someone was trying to match my footfalls. It wasn’t long before I saw their shadow creeping up the cobblestones.
I hastened my pace, hoping to find a constable or some local ruffians. Instead I found a gaggle of gigglemugs spilling out of a pub. I weaved my way into the women and walked with them until I was certain my pursuer had buggered off. When I came upon a familiar shortcut, I left the gals to their gossip.
My pursuer was waiting for me there in that long back alley. His top hat cast a shadow down his brow, his mustache framed his muzzle in twin spirals, and his teeth were pressed so hard into his lip it looked like he had an underbite. He reached into his cape with a long leather glove.
I remember him offering me grapes and that the last words out of my mouth were, “Thanks, but I already ate.”
Then he ran a blade along my neck like he was bowing a violin and everything went dark.
When I came to a woman was kneeling over me. I took her for a sister of mercy until I saw the gash in her wrist. Maybe it was the lamplight or maybe it was my delirium, but I swore her blood was moving on its own, shifting and twisting against the wind like a living thing.
Smoke billowed from her wound, over her gloves, and through her fingers. Her skin was as pail as porcelain and her ballgown was a deep crimson red. I couldn’t see her face behind the veil, but somehow, I knew she had kind sympathetic eyes.
Eventually her blood spilled over my wound and ran down my collar. I felt a tickling sensation in the back of my throat, like a knot of snakes squirming down my gullet. I choked, writhed, and spat.
The woman shushed me, raised her veil, and revealed a pair of eyes with a catlike glow. “Don’t breathe. Just swallow.”
I did as instruct. It felt like I was drinking oxygen, like my lungs were thirsty, and my anatomy was upside down.
When the woman pulled her wrist back, I caught it and suckled on the gash. She patted my back, a mother nursing her child back to health, and in a way that’s what she was doing.
It was a while before I had the strength to sit upright. When I did, I saw rainbow trails around the moon. The lanterns seemed like bonfires, and the bricks and stones glowed with firelight.
The women ran a finger along my scar. “We’ll have to do something about that.”
She unclasped the choker from her neck and put it around mine. She leaned into my ear and whispered, “Stay out of the sun baby bat. If he gives you silver, send it back. Only eat for show, but keep garlic off your plate. Only drink from those who wish to drink from you, feel for the hastening of their heartbeat, and never quench your thirst completely.”
In my blood drunk stupor, I ran my fingers through her hair. My sire smirked. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
Then she fell into her own shadow, leaving me to fend for myself.
A few World Wars later I was finally getting the hang of being a vampire. I traveled the French countryside, touring the vineyards and the bunkers, wetting my lips on the blood of fascists.
In London I abided by my sire’s code. If I felt a donor’s pulse quicken I eased off my fangs and sent them on their way. I never left a gentleman hemorrhaging, but those Nazis, well, I drank them down to the vasopressin. The ones I caught rounding up Romani, I drained them down to the sodium. By the time I got to Stalingrad my code had become: if they had German fatigues on, they were fair game.
By the end of the war I’d developed a reputation. The Axis powers called me die rote Witweor the Red Widow. The Allies called me Glinda the Good Witch. Good or bad a reputation meant I had to keep moving. I crammed all of my worldly possessions into a shipping container and left the mainland.
I traveled on a Norwegian cargo tanker chasing the polar night from one hemisphere to the other. When I got lonely I glamoured the sailors into believing I was a crew member. I read their fortunes between poker games and they told me tales of trolls, fossegrimen, and Krakens.
I sipped from two crew members a night, not thinking to clean my fangs between feedings. At the time I knew nothing of bloodborne pathogens. When the captain got sick. The crew followed. I cut to half rations, then a fourth, then an eighth. The crew survived the trip, but they were all blood brothers when I was done with them.
When the time came to settle on dry land, I chose Seattle. The Emerald City had everything I needed: ports, a near yearlong overcast, and great food. People here eat so much salmon that you can taste it in their hemoglobin. I went from starving at sea to overfeeding on land.
MY HOBBIES AND INTERESTS
Not all vampires learn to glamour. Those who don’t rarely last a year. Either they develop anemia or the hunger drives them into a feeding frenzy and they get struck down by the Hellsings.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a gift and I do not squander it. Call it hypnosis. Call it seduction. Call it neuro linguistic programming. I call it fun.
It used to be if I wanted to glamour someone they had to be in the same room. I’d beckon a dapper young suitor to the candelabra and challenge him to a staring contest. He’d get lost in my eyes, in the optical illusion of my irises: the slithering blood vessels, the swirling speckles, the strawberry seed patterns. I’d stare daggers into the keyholes of his soul, lift the pin of his neocortex, then his behavioral center, and finally his audio cortex. Then with a quick twist of the tongue we’d click.
Pioneering vampires tried glamouring on broadcast television, not to lure victims, so much as to sell things. The fact that you don’t drive an Edsel is a testament to the limits of those old tube screens. Still they tried throughout the evolution of the medium, but they couldn’t make it happen. So, I thought I’d try my hand.
I was studying neuroscience just for kicks. I convinced my class to do a study on chromesthesia. Chromesthesia is a phenomenon where certain sounds trigger certain colors in certain listeners. My theory was that I could evoke specific images in my subjects, like hypnotic swirls for instance.
I spent months with each subject, reading guided meditation scripts at a soft even pitch, singing Romani folksongs with fast bright tones, and whispering the contents of classmates’ journals.
I explored my subject’s cognitive pathways for days, but each one reacted differently. Each subject had their own color palettes. There was no universal pitch.
I was about to give up when I noticed the effect the sessions were having on my classmates, each of whom were neurotypical. I found them outside the booth rubbing their foreheads on the acoustic panels like they were cats. This happened whenever I’d spent a session whispering. My classmates described an electrostatic sensation, a tingling that ran up their scalps, along their necks, and down their spines.
At the time I thought I’d invented Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (or ASMR), but it turned out Bob Ross had beaten me to it decades in advance. Of course he had, that soft-spoken shaman.
I decided to broaden the experiment. I chose a medium outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction where a live audience was guaranteed to be watching. I started webcamming.
Being a camgirl reminded me of my days as a zoetrope trollop. I was back in tiny top hats, leotards, and corsets, but I wasn’t showing much skin, I was whispering fantasies into a microphone. In this scenario I was a starving vampiress in desperate need of a donor, and I would do anything, I mean anything, for a few drops. Don’t make me beg.
I lured subjects into private chats, met them under bridges, and brought their fantasies to their logical conclusions.
Satisfied with my findings I decided to harness the power of the net to find the Chateau Rothschild of the vampire palette: the blood of virgins, but where would I get it?
That’s when I discovered Incels. Incels were a community of virgins who came together to vent about being involuntarily celibate. It was like finding a cellar lined with preserves that would never expire.
I used my earnings camming to buy targeted advertisements aimed at Incels. Before long I was as drunk as a tick on top shelf hemoglobin.
So satisfied was I that I left my suitors with a little parting gift. I glamoured them, leaned in close, and whispered. “If anyone asks, you totally got fucked tonight.”
MY INTIMATE DETAILS
I have never been in love. Now I’m no virgin (I’m as far from that as Pluto is the sun), but I’ve never been in romantic love. I’ve drafted sex contracts with a haematophiliacs, embraced archduke elders in citadel spires, and forged blood bonds with strangers, but I’ve never entered into the kind of union described by Jane Austen. I have never felt truly known or accepted by another conscious creature, human or otherwise.
The problem with dating vampires is, well, everything.
We’re polyamorous pansexuals and yet our jealousy is legendary. We’re fickle fashionistas who wear lovers like accessories AND we’re ageist against anyone with less than a century under their belts.
“Oh, you charmed child of Tesla, that stack of tree leavings is what’s known as an encyclopedia.”
First dates with vampires always devolve into the same old ghoulish gibberish. We lie about all the bloodshed we’ve witnessed. We wave macabre merit badges and walk away knowing nothing intimate.
Meanwhile the problem with dating mortals is the hours they keep. We’ll be like ships passing in the night unless my partner is an air traffic controller. When a morning person switches to my routine, they get jetlag on the ground, they contract seasonal depression in the summer time, and they start jonesing for the sun.
Oh, and humans have to eat. Their whole culture is built around it: lunch meetings, dinner dates, brunch. Too bad I don’t own a microwave, utensils, or even a bowl. Worse still my culinary skills start and stop at boiling a potato.
My modeling career ended in that alley back in Whitechapel. Not only had my reflection disappeared, but my image stopped showing up on filmstock. It turns out film contains silver. Silver burns vampires and yet we don’t burn onto it.
It wasn’t until digital cameras hit the market that I could see my face.
I’d forgotten how bushy my eyebrows were, or how my ears peeked through my hair. Not to mention my bulb nose. Then there were the details I didn’t remember. My caramel skin had gone gray, my curly locks had straightened, and my fangs had changed the shape of my lips.
For the longest time my fashion sense was utilitarian: black halter tops and skinny jeans, like Joan Jett on a lazy Sunday. That changed when my webcam turned my TV into a full-length mirror. I started wearing more flair than just a choker.
MY PERFECT MATCH
In addition to never having fallen in love there are two other things I haven’t done. I’ve never had a familiar and I’ve never sired a vampire. I’ll be the first to admit I have issues with the way I was turned: the encounter with Jack the Ripper, the to be abandoned by my master. I chose a life of lukewarm loneliness, because I don’t want to put anyone else through that.
I’ve never had a familiar for the same reason I’ve never had a butler. We Romani are self-sufficient. We’re not used to being waited on. Too many vampires treat their familiars like unpaid interns, dangling the carrot of immortality over their heads.
“I’ll give you eternal life. Provided you pick up my dry cleaning in the meantime.”
Familiars are rarely groomed for the masquerade because they’re rarely turned. They’re glorified gofers, biking with coolers on their backs, hoping their master won’t throw blood bags back at them.
“I asked for type-o negative. This is minestrone.”
“Sorry master I must’ve mixed it up at the deli, which means… Mrs. Clifton got the… uh-oh.”
I don’t need a familiar, a twi-curious role player, or a bondage club fang banger. I need an entrepreneur. A self-made manifestation, like a necromancer, soothsayer, or paranormal podcaster. Someone with an active nightlife. Someone who already conducts their business in the third shift. Someone with the confidence to flirt with death and the kindly manner to open doors for her.
MY IDEAL DATE
My ideal date would be a trek across the Carpathian mountainside, a tour through the seven castles of Transylvania, capped off with a nice scenic sunset, but I’ll take what I can get.
We could shape shift into a pair giant bats and freak out visitors at the Space Needle, go hunting in the subterranean tunnels under Portland, or maybe just have a nice picnic… in the charred skeleton of a deconsecrated church.
It doesn’t matter. I am easy to please so long as you hold my interest, and if you don’t, well, there’s always room for a midnight snack.
Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.
Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.
Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.
Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?