As Long As It's Red

by Steve Algieri

An illusion within an illusion
is sometimes no illusion, at all.

"Jimmy, I just can't seem to find the right girl. Where're they hiding?"

Clyde smiled at his roommate and shrugged.

Jimmy chuckled. "Clyde-O, my man, did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, you're searching for a girl who doesn't exist. I mean, do you know what kind of girl you're actually looking for?"

Clyde leaned back in his chair and contemplated the question for a moment."Absolutely."

"Then, lay it on me, roomie."

"I can picture my special lady in my mind: tall and thin with long, sleek legs; flowing, jet-black hair almost touching the floor; and dark, haunting eyes that can melt my soul."

"Sounds like a cross between Morticia Addams and an industrial laser. Good luck!"

"I'm serious, Jimmy. How can a guy like me meet women? I hate those singles bars."

"How long since you had a date?"

"'Bout a month." Clyde lifted an eyebrow. "That's if I count Gertrude."

"You mean that big-haired chick you work with? The one that sounds like a potbellied pig when she laughs."

Clyde stared at his roommate. Jimmy would press him until he squeezed the truth out of him. "I'm not up for one of your inquisitions. She dumped me. Well, if you can get dumped during a date. Said I was boring."

"Miss Oink Oink dumped you?" Jimmy squinched his face. "You do need help. Big time."

Jimmy walked over to the coffee table. He snatched up the daily paper and shuffled through it. He slid out a thin section and flipped it to Clyde.

"Ever think about a personal ad?"

"You've gotta be kidding? I thought that was an eighties fad."

"Do you live in the Dark Ages, man? I've even answered a few."

"Really?" Jimmy was never without a date. His dates even paid the tab most of the time. "Why would you do that? Like you need more dates."

"Change of pace. Man's gotta examine all his options." Jimmy winked.

"So what do I do, o swami of de personals?"

"Simple. You write about yourself; the babes like it, they write you back. Or you can respond to a women's ad, if you prefer."

"Jimmy, you're a genius. I can do it from the house -- safe and sound. Thanks!"

Jimmy walked over to Clyde, grabbed his friend's suspenders, and snapped them.

"Why d'ya do that for?" Clyde winced.

"Lose the suspenders, man. And the tie, too."

Clyde examined his tie. "I paid fifty bucks for it, and I like it."

"Yellow paisley's out. So's the suspenders. And get a haircut, man. You could pass for that Jim Carey character in Dumb and Dumber." Jimmy stroked his three-day's growth. "Grunge look's in."

Clyde went to the hall mirror. He did look like a geek: tall, wiry, and pale. Maybe it was time to roll with the flow. "Okay, man. From now on, it'll be a new Clyde."

"That's the spirit." Jimmy paused for a second, then chuckled. "So, are you gonna go through with the ad? I was just kidding, man."

Clyde grinned. "I like the idea. Just don't know what to write. Lonely, boring bank executive seeks model type."

"Just what're your interests? All I ever see you read are those stupid vampire books."

Clyde glanced to the coffee table at the latest vampire novel he'd been reading. Yep. That was his life, living his fantasies through the words and deeds of fictitious vampires. They had it made. They lived forever. None of them seemed to hold steady jobs, and were mostly rich men with titles and huge, exotic homes. He envied them. They seemed to get all the most beautiful women. The kind of women he lusted for. "Wait!"

"Lightning bolt strikes yonder dull brain," chided Jimmy.

"Shut up." Clyde shuffled to the desk and grabbed a blank sheet of paper. He snatched the pen from his shirt pocket and began to write. After he finished, he read it twice and grinned. "I got it, Jimmy!" He read the ad to his roommate.

"SWM VAMPIRE seeks tall, mysterious woman who sleeps by day, skulks through graveyards at night, loves dark adventure and passionate necknibbles. Let's paint this town red tonight!"

"Whatever." Jimmy chuckled. "Good luck."

When Clyde saw his ad in print, he laughed. It was listed in the Variations section, along with ads from cross-dressers, S&M freaks, and transvestites. Surely, he would get no responses.

Two weeks later, Clyde went down to the newspaper office to pick up his letters. The lady at the window smiled. "So you're the vampire. Your ad set a new record: 237 responses. Here they are."

Clyde lifted the sack over his shoulder and bolted for his car. He resisted the urge to read the letters. Instead, he popped his Yugo in gear, and rushed home, thinking of all the delights stuffed into the bag.

Clyde emptied the sack on his couch. There were all sizes, shapes, and colors of envelopes--some had the sweet aroma of perfume.

One letter beckoned to him. On the front of the black envelope, the sender had written the ad number in crimson ink. The bottoms of the letters seemed to be dripping with blood. Surely not real blood, he thought. He lifted it to his nose -- no scent. A woman with a sense of humor! He would leave that one for last.

Over the next two nights, he read them all except the one in the black envelope. After each one, the black envelope drew his graze. Many of them were great. Some sent pictures, and were very attractive. Most were intrigued by Clyde's unique sense of humor. But always, there was "the letter."

Clyde finally cradled the last, black-enveloped letter, his hands quivering as he held it up to the light. No clues. He'd just have to open it. What if she was ugly? Maybe she really was an old woman with a macabre sense of humor.

He gathered his courage, tore it open, and removed a single black page. He unfolded the letter and read the crimson print. "I was captured by your ad, and I am your girl. If you want to know more, meet me at the North Coven Bar and Grill, Thursday, June 5, at the stroke of midnight. DO NOT disappoint me, Count!"

Large rivulets of faux blood drizzled from the one letter signature, "D."

Clyde immediately decided the mysterious D was the girl for him. He glanced at the letter again and noticed that the date of the meeting was today. He would only have a few hours to prepare for his meeting with D.

He rushed to the mall, but the stores had not set the Halloween costumes out on the shelves. He settled on some black silk material, then found a kindly woman at the fabric shop to cut it into a cape for him. A hair stylist with purple spiked hair named Razor Rodriguez gave him the latest style, a layered brush-back that Razor punctuated with half a tube of some greasy hair treatment.

He combed his closet for the appropriate clothes, finally deciding on a silk maroon shirt an old girlfriend had given him last Christmas. He never liked the gaudy thing, but it seemed to fit this occasion best. The black polyester trousers were an easy choice. He resisted an urge to wear his favorite suspenders. Once dressed, he eyed himself in the mirror. He almost didn't recognize himself.

Clyde walked into the bar a few minutes before midnight. Torches set into stone holders on the wall lit the small bar. A pounding Gregorian chant set to techno staccato assaulted his ears. Through the mist and the flickering light, he spied the bartender standing behind a black onyx bar. There were no patrons.

"You open?" Clyde called to the bartender.

The bartender, a lean, hollow man with dark, sunken eyes waved to him. He could have been one of the undead, Clyde thought.

"If you're the guy waiting for D, sit in that corner table over there." The bartender pointed to an empty table nestled into the darkest corner of the place.

D had thought to call ahead to ensure they would meet at this particular place. That was a telling sign to Clyde. Their tastes were the same. His glance rolled over the vampire and fantasy art lithographs hanging on the black walls. A large caldron sat in the far corner of the bar, and small stone gargoyles jutted out from the walls. Their cold stone eyes stared at him. He made his way to the table and waited.

D arrived as an unseen clock chimed midnight. She was stunning--almost six feet in height with long, silky black hair and deep mysterious brown eyes. She had painted her full lips with crimson lipstick; a few drops trickled from her lips. Her sallow complexion played well against the crimson and black.

Clyde sat mesmerized, barely able to breathe.

"What's the matter, black cat got your tongue, Count?" D extended a gloved hand to Clyde; he took it, silently, hopefully. "I'm overwhelmed," he managed to say.

D moved closer brushed against him. She caressed his ear, then the nape of his neck; he melted to her soft, slow touch. "What's your name, Count?" She pulled away and took a seat across the table from him.

"C-Clyde."

"Clyde! Your name is Clyde? What kind of a name is Clyde for a vampire? Count Clyde at your service!"

"My mom had a sense of humor." Clyde blushed slightly.

"Well, I certainly will not call you Count Clyde; vampires must have some dignity. What's your last name?"

Clyde hesitated, he knew he did not have a name that would strike fear into the hearts of mortal man. "Heffendorffer, double-f, double-f," he admitted,then chuckled.

"That's even worse!" exclaimed D. She lifted her left brow and smirked. "Count Clyde Heffendorffer will not do at all! You must have a real vampire's name." D tapped her long, blood red fingernails on the table."I've got it. Count Blood. Yes, Count Daemon Blood will be your new name. What say you, Count Blood?"

Clyde cracked a wry, mysterious smile and nodded in agreement. D returned an inviting smile. "What is your name?" Clyde imagined her as a Delilah or a Deirdre.

"Doreen is my real name, but all vampires must have a secret clan name and I use D," she whispered. "Some call me Mistress D. Surely you must know this, if you are indeed one of us."

"I'm a...free agent, you might say."

"Ah."

For a moment, Clyde glimpsed evil dancing in her eyes. She wanted to play: he'd oblige her. Count Blood and Mistress D! Clyde knew he had found the perfect woman and he would play any game she might desire. "Why'd you answer my ad?" he asked.

A punk rock tune replaced the chant. Clyde thought he heard the bartender moan, but when he glanced at the bar, he only saw a veil of mist where the bartender once stood.

"I thirst for you," sang a throaty female crooner over the wail of electric guitars and the incessantly pounding percussion.

"Well, I have searched for my perfect partner for centuries." D laughed deeply. D's husky laugh sent chills up Clyde's spine.

"Come closer, precious," the lead singer added.

"Most of the male clan members have seen their better days. You'll do nicely.Fresh meat's the best." D's eyes misted over.

"Surrender! Surrender! To the lust within you." The words of the song sounded like a warning to Clyde. Or an invitation. His heart beat faster.Clyde decided she'd do nicely, too. "I've been a bad host, Mistress. Are you thirsty?"

"Parched." Fire roiled in her eyes.

"What would you like?"

D leaned forward. Her eyes focused lovingly on the soft spot of his neck. "I'm not choosy. As long as it's red."

x-x-x


Introducing the author, Steve Algieri

Steve Algieri says he has been writing for as long as he can remember. His work has appeared in over two dozen publications under several pen names. He's also the editor of Pulp Eternity and Eternity, The Online Journal of the Speculative Imagination. He makes frequent appearances as a guest at several SF conventions and teaches writers workshops across the Southeast.


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