Laura wakes up somewhere dark and enclosed, the air tight and hot around her. She chokes out a gasp, and then another, and it burns her lungs — whatever it is — alighting a path through her of sudden and violent pain. She thinks her bones crunch. Or feels it. She’s not sure which is worse, the sick crack of her spine, or that the knuckles in her left hand are realigning themselves, shifting into place. She can hear everything — her own breaths, coming harsh and shallow, and beyond that — animal scrabbling, the loud hum of insects, grass growing. Oh my god, how can she hear grass? It doesn’t even sound like anything. Laura shuts her eyes, opens them again. Still here. Not a nightmare. Just. Here.
“Laura,” she hears. Her name, soft, over and over again. Like a prayer. “Laura.”
So she reaches for it. Her name.
Out of the ground.
It really hurts.
“Drink this,” Carmilla says. Laura thinks it’s Carmilla anyway — a blurry shape, dark hair, and glimpses of familiar eyes. “You’ll feel better.”
Laura gulps, obedient, grasping. She can’t make her body work properly. Her head lolls and Carmilla slides a hand beneath her neck, props her up gently. She brushes strands of matted hair from Laura’s mouth and tips the glass she’s holding a little more. Something hot and coppery spills onto Laura’s tongue. It’s better than anything Laura’s ever had, rich and full, like the sweetest wine. She drinks and drinks and drinks until there’s nothing left, until all she can do is lap at the glass like a hungry dog.
“Whoa, Laura, hey,” Carmilla says. “We’ll get you more, okay? Don’t make yourself sick.”
A breath. Or the space for one. Laura touches her own face, the dirt around her. She looks Carmilla in the eye, and Carmilla’s gaze shifts away.
“What did you do?” Laura croaks, knowing already, but dreading it anyway. “Carmilla, what — “
“I had to.” Carmilla’s mouth thins.
“You made me into — “
“I didn’t have a choice — “
Laura jerks away. She can feel the effect of the blood already, making her body warm. Alive. Something she’s no longer. Hanging suspended, belonging nowhere. “You always have a choice!”
“Yeah, and the choice was to either do this or let you die! I wasn’t going to sit there and let that happen to you, Laura! I wasn’t going to just watch you bleed to death.”
“So instead you made me into this? Like…” Laura gestures helplessly to herself. Her naked knees are streaked with mud.
Carmilla folds her arms across her chest. “Like me?”
Laura swallows. Reflexively. She reaches up and pushes her hair back behind her ears, tucks it so it’ll stay. “Yeah,” she says, flat. “Like you.”
Carmilla doesn’t say anything. She turns away in a sudden, sharp movement, staring into the copse of trees at the far end of the field. Everything is bright in moonlight, almost blinding. Laura pushes herself up from the turned-up earth she’s been sitting in. There’s a pile of clothes folded neatly at the end of her grave, and she starts getting dressed — pulling on underwear, snapping the bra into place, buttoning up the collared shirt. Carmilla’s been waiting for her, clearly. She’s been sitting in this field with these clean clothes and a glass of — ugh — blood and she’s been waiting for Laura to claw her way out of her own grave.
In some twisted way, it may be romantic, but Laura can’t think about it like that.
It’s fucked up.
“We shouldn’t stay out here,” Carmilla says, reaching out a hand to touch Laura.
She twists away. “Don’t. I don’t — I don’t want to go with you.”
It floods her in momentary panic, blinding her to everything else. She has nowhere to go. There’s no one she can go with except Carmilla. She’s stuck with the person who turned her into this — this —
“I’m not going with you,” she says, deciding, and takes a step away. Her voice shakes. “I’ll go by myself.”
“You can’t go by yourself, Laura, there are things you don’t know — “
“Don’t follow me.”
“Where are you even going to go?” Carmilla asks, sounding exasperated.
Laura shouts her last words over her shoulder, already walking away in the opposite direction. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing can happen to me. I’m already dead now.”
She puts together the pieces as she walks.
Car accident. Twisted metal. Pain. Her seatbelt burning her skin, or maybe that was the fire? Laura doesn’t recall the details.
She remembers cool hands on her wrists though, cool hands tugging at her. Arms around her waist.
Not much after that.
It’s not like Laura needs a vampire sherpa or anything. There isn’t a manual, like a Lonely Planet guide to vampirism. It’s pretty self-explanatory, and she’s been with Carmilla for over a year now. Long enough to know what it’s like. Or as close as she can get to it. You drink blood; you live forever. That’s the deal. All the books and television shows get it wrong — daylight’s fine, as long as it’s not directly overhead. No one sparkles, but it’s just uncomfortably hot. Garlic smells bad. Holy water stings a bit, but it’s not going to singe anyone. A cross is just a cross, and vampires were around long before Jesus came about anyway.
Supposedly, a stake through the heart should do the job. That’s what Carmilla said once. Supposedly.
The first person — Laura can barely get to their blood, her hands are shaking so hard — the first person she finds in a bar after closing. A rail-thin man with dirty fingernails. His breath stinks of beer, and Laura tries not to think about what she’s doing, how she stutteringly lures him to the back to the building. He leans over her, his face all twisted up and drunk, and Laura sinks her fangs into his neck. A sudden silence in her clamoring mind. Bliss. She almost drinks too much, but she manages to pull herself away just in time.
She leaves him there. She shouldn’t, but she does. She can’t think about hiding his body, wiping his memories, letting him wake up somewhere else.
Besides, no one will believe him.
(Or will they? This is Austria, after all. Steeped long and dark in fairy tales and ghost stories.)
Laura hides herself in the woods, and cries.
(It’s okay. She can’t get too cold anyway.)
She goes home to see her dad. In something resembling normality. Trying to, anyway. She walks the whole way, stopping off in towns to feed. She finds herself crouched over barely-breathing people, wiping blood from the corners of her mouth. It’s enough to make her want to vomit the blood back up. She doesn’t though. Manages to keep it down. It’d just be a waste, and she can’t afford to waste anything. Except time, of course.
The house is dark, even the back porch light that her dad never turns off. There’s a note stuck to the stained-glass in the front door.
Thank you for your condolences. I can’t answer the door right now, please understand. I’ll see you all at the memorial.
Oh, Laura remembers, the realization clicking into place, I’m dead.
Obviously, she can’t go in after that. Too much to explain, and nothing she wants to tell him anyway.
Even if he believed that she survived in some mysterious fashion, Laura won’t be able to explain the eternal youth business.
It’s better that she leaves.
(She cries about that too.)
She spends a week trying not to feed, wondering if she doesn’t, her body will just become a shrunken shell. Will she die? Will she crumble into dust? Laura remembers Carmilla after they tied her up, bound her with rope and tape and strands of garlic. The gray pallor of her skin, the sunken look beneath her eyes.
Laura convulses and shakes and wraps her arms around herself, unbearably cold. Her teeth are rattling in her head, so loud that she thinks it must be echoing through the forest. It starts to hurt, starting from her core, and pulsing through the rest of her body. She makes it to the sixth day and she’s sobbing, dry-heaving, lying on her side on the ground and unable to stop her trembling.
She gives in. She drags herself to a gas station on the side of the highway, and waits until a young girl pulls up. Her hair curls at her shoulders, copper beneath the fluorescent lights. Laura catches her when she finishes filling up her tank and heads for the restroom, pinning the girl against the wall, hidden by the shadows. When Laura drinks, the girl shudders and goes quiet, her heart still pounding furiously. Laura tastes something sweet in her blood, and she feeds until the girl’s pulse is a weak hum. She pulls herself away then, spinning around, blood still smeared across her mouth.
“Sorry,” she gasps out at the girl, passed out on the ground. “I’m — so sorry.”
Laura goes back to the woods, and throws up until her throat hurts. Then she gets up to find more.
A monster. That’s what she is. Feeding off of humans. Not strong enough to stop herself.
Carmilla finds her a month or two later. Laura hasn’t been keeping count — time has already started to feel meaningless; no one needs to count the grains of sand when the hourglass is endless. She’s been in this little town for a few days, spending her nights at the local pub to find blood, reading on the banks of the river a few miles out during the days. She sees now why Carmilla reads so much. There’s nothing else to do when you can do anything. You might as well entertain yourself. Laura reads anything she can find in English. She turns the page of the waterlogged romance novel she’s holding, and out of the corner of her eye — Carmilla.
“Laura,” Carmilla says. Her tone is relieved and sad and tired and so many things that Laura’s not sure she would have been able to hear before, but now she hears so much. Too much.
“Go away,” Laura says.
“Laura,” Carmilla repeats, ignoring her. She sits down next to Laura, pulling the book away. “We have to talk.”
“We have nothing to talk about.”
“Are you such a child that you’ll just ignore me? You can’t hold this against me forever.”
Laura laughs. “Actually, I think I can now. Thanks for that, by the way.”
“You were going to die,” Carmilla says, her volume rising, her words coming fast and a little disjointed. “You were losing so much blood. Fuck, it was… I didn’t think — it was so much. I — I had to pull you from the wreck, and you were bleeding all over me. Just. Soaking me. I was covered in it. And — and I couldn’t watch you die. When I was holding you.” Her voice breaks. “I couldn’t let that happen to you.”
“Congratulations. You must feel so good about yourself.”
The sarcasm seems to surprises Carmilla, and her expression tightens. “This isn’t you.”
“You’re right, this isn’t me. I’m human. This is some — some nightmare that you’ve inflicted on me. I never wanted this,” Laura says, finding that she’s crying, tears thickening her voice. “I never wanted to be this. I drink people’s blood and I hate it and I hate being this and I hate you.”
Carmilla flinches, her shoulders hunching. She exhales, her breath hissing between her teeth. “I know you’re angry right now, but I did what I had to do, and I’m sorry if that’s not what you wanted — “
“Oh, fuck you,” Laura snarls. “You don’t get to say that. Not after this.”
“I’m not sorry for keeping you alive,” Carmilla says. “I won’t be sorry for that, Laura, I’m never going to be sorry for that. And,” she falters, “I thought — you loved me regardless — and maybe — “
“You thought wrong.”
“So it’s okay for me, but not for you. That’s fucking hypocritical.”
Laura straightens her back, wiping the tears from her cheeks. “Yeah. That’s what it is.”
They stare at each other for a long minute, quiet, the wind rustling through the trees above and the soft current of the river playing background to their standoff. Carmilla looks away first, biting her lower lip. Laura sees the edge of her fangs, and she can feel her own in her mouth — razor-sharp and still a little strange. Carmilla stands up. She dusts off her pants, sighing. She’s holding herself rigid, and it’s awkward and not quite right, like she’s in pain. Maybe old Laura would have deflated at that. Maybe old, human Laura would have forgiven her and kissed her and they would have moved on.
(She’s losing old Laura, trickling between her fingers like water.)
“Fine. I’ll go.” Carmilla sticks her hand in her pocket and yanks out a scrap of paper. She hands it to Laura. Their fingers brush. “It’s a list of dens. Everywhere that I could remember. They’ll help you out.”
Laura clings to her anger, hot and fluttering in her chest. She says nothing, and Carmilla leaves.
It’s not the cleanest of breakups.
She ends up at the den in Vienna when she runs out of money. Finally, really broke. More than broke, actually, since it’s been a week since she’s last stayed beneath a roof, but homelessness for a vampire is less dangerous than for humans. Still, Laura gives in and looks up the address of the den, feeling very secret society about it. When she does find it, it’s sandwiched between a Starbucks and a pharmacy, a little red door with peeling paint that seems very mundane in such a beautiful city. Laura rings the bell, turning the paper to read Carmilla’s careful script — Ask for Penelope.
There would be a vampire named Penelope.
“So she’s finally turned one,” Penelope says, when Laura tells her who sired her. Through gritted teeth. “She’s never been into that, really. There’s a rumor she did back in the 1920s, but everything was crazy back then. New York. You know. It was wild.” She grins. “Can I offer you some refreshments? We just got some B positive in today. Fresh, too!”
Laura drinks two wineglasses hungrily in the big living room, letting Penelope talk about vampires she’s known on the opposite couch. None of the names are familiar to Laura, but she nods and makes faint noises of agreement. Penelope’s very young, maybe even younger than Laura, but there’s something around her eyes that gives it away — the centuries she’s been around, the things she’s lived through. Or maybe Laura’s just getting better at reading the signs. There’s nothing human about Penelope, and beneath the perfume she wears, Laura can only smell something cool and metallic.
“It gets easier,” Penelope says, when Laura gets up to take her glass back to the kitchen.
“What?” Laura asks.
“Feeding. It gets easier. You don’t have to kill them unless you want to. Killing is such a waste. You can make it fun for them too. Pleasurable. You’ll find that they don’t mind.”
Laura shakes her head. “They should mind. They should know what’s happening to them.”
“You’re a child,” Penelope says, tucking her legs beneath her. “We do what we have to do to survive.”
“That’s what they’re trying to do too. That’s what I was trying to do.”
Penelope’s look is pitying. “Laura, that’s not you anymore. This is you now. You might as well accept it.”
Laura spends the night in one of the empty bedrooms on the top floor, beneath the eaves of the attic. From her window she can see out onto the street, people walking back and forth. It starts to rain, and umbrellas appear. Laura watches until it goes dark, the streetlights blurring in her vision from the rain.
The next morning Penelope hands her a new wallet. Laura opens it to find it full of cash and credit cards. She almost drops it onto the table from surprise.
“We’ve been around for a long time,” Penelope says, waving off Laura’s stammered thanks. “We take care of our own. You won’t be required to tithe until you’re at least 300.”
She gives Laura a new passport too, fake obviously, but it looks real enough for Laura’s purposes.
“I’ll see you again, I’m sure,” she says when Laura leaves. “Good luck.”
Shanghai is crowded and tall. Laura’s never felt smaller than there, an endless sprawling city, with high towers and bright lights, and the constant chatter of people everywhere. But she likes it too, the sticky humidity of the night as she walks along the Bund, the clash of dialects and languages when she leaves her apartment. She rents a place on the top floor of a lane house in the French concession. The ceilings are high and sloped, and in the evenings she can hear the conversation from her neighbors downstairs — the snap of their folding chairs as they sit outside, the click of mahjong tiles and the smell of cigarette smoke drifting up.
The local den helps her set up residency, though Fang Kai eyes her warily and says in his British-accented English that he hopes she’ll be subtle about it — foreigners stand out — and he doesn’t want to draw any more attention to the vampire community. He’s got plenty of blood bank connections though, and if Laura wanted to buy a share in their weekly delivery service, he’d be more than happy to help her out that way. Laura agrees almost before he’s gotten the full sentence out of his mouth. Vampire veganism. No victims, and plenty to eat.
It’s a pretty good life, in a way. Lonely, yes, but okay. She doesn’t entertain deep friendships with humans. She doesn’t want to have to disappear on them, when she can’t explain why she doesn’t grow old. It’s too complicated, and Laura isn’t prepared for it. Better keep to those who know already. Still, Laura catches herself missing people — people who are growing old without her, who think she died in some car accident with Carmilla in the mountains. Her dad, she wonders, what must her dad be doing now?
Laura could look it up, but she chooses not to know. She doesn’t need things to be harder.
She adopts a cat, white with orange splotches, and then a second one after the first dies. She blinks and it’s been twenty years, forty, seventy — Fang Kai helping her move around the city. She’s lucky it’s so big. She uses the name Laura and then Laure and for a stretch of time, Laurie, but it just makes her think of Little Women. The city grows around her, spiraling up towards the sky, and Laura feels a little more at peace with herself.
It does get easier.
She’s back to being Laura when she meets Wendy at the den, newly relocated from Beijing. She’s tall and beautiful and reminds Laura of Danny in some ways — no red hair — but there’s something of Danny’s brashness in Wendy. She smiles at Laura and Laura smiles back and it’s that easy. Laura’s second vampire girlfriend (though the first was well over fifty years ago, so maybe it’s unfair to say that she has a type). They go for drinks at Laura’s favorite rooftop bar, and Wendy sighs and tells Laura her turning story — growing up in Hangzhou during the Communist Revolution, bitten by one of her fellow Red Guards when she was at university.
“I think he’s in London now,” Wendy says. “He was turned in the Ming dynasty, so I was really just one of the many for him. Not like you. I didn’t think Carmilla Karnstein turned people.”
“Only if she’s dating them, I guess,” Laura says.
“There’s a story there,” Wendy says lightly.
Laura shrugs, and Wendy arches an eyebrow, and Laura blushes. Nice and rosy, because she sucked down a packet of blood last night while watching the latest in terrible television on her couch. “Oh, it’s that ages old story,” Laura says, trying to play it off like a joke. “Girl goes to college. Girl’s roommate gets kidnapped by a vampire cult. Girl meets her new roommate, who’s actually a vampire. Girl and vampire flirt too much. Vampire almost dies trying to kill her mother. Girl and vampire date. Girl almost bleeds to death in a car accident. Vampire turns her.”
“Have you…seen her at all?”
“Not since I turned. We didn’t — we ended things badly.”
Wendy finishes off her drink. “I heard something about her from Fang Kai. Some rumor.”
“What?” Laura asks, trying not to sound overly curious.
“That she’s heading up the den in Los Angeles.”
It doesn’t sound like Carmilla to Laura, but it’s been decades since they’ve seen each other. Laura fiddles with her glass. “She’s never liked that sort of thing before.”
“It’s just a rumor,” Wendy adds quickly.
“Right,” Laura says.
Behind them, fireworks explode over the Huangpu River. Laura knows they’re just pixelated fireworks, but it doesn’t stop them from being impressive. She’s not sure when she’ll stop being impressed with the things humans are inventing. It sounds and smells and crackles just like the real thing. Wendy follows her gaze, and they watch a pinwheel spin and dissolve and seemingly fall into the water.
“People are amazing, aren’t they?” she says, and Laura leans over to kiss her.
The next day Laura looks up flights from Shanghai to Los Angeles, and thinks about Carmilla’s smile, the way she used to look at Laura — wide and happy, sweet and perfect. Carmilla had this way of making Laura feel like the most important person on earth, to her anyway, and the memory of it twists up inside of Laura like a knife.
Look where that got her.
She shuts off her tablet and goes to feed her cat. It doesn’t matter anymore.
She’s just a few years past a hundred when they move to Madrid. She hasn’t been back since she left Vienna, and Wendy hasn’t lived in Europe in at least thirty years. They get an apartment overlooking Retiro Park, and try to figure out what Laura should do for blood — she’s been getting blood bank deliveries for almost a century. Wendy teases her about going soft, not knowing where her food’s coming from. But Laura likes that. She doesn’t need to know. She doesn’t like it, and it still makes her stomach twist up when she thinks about it. Wendy kisses her shoulder and says they should go out for dinner, and Laura laughs but she’s scared too.
“Laura,” Wendy says, cupping Laura’s face between her palms. “There’s no easy way to do this.”
“They’re people,” Laura says.
Wendy brushes Laura’s hair back, her eyes soft and kind. “You’re not. You’re a vampire. You aren’t human, no matter how much you pretend. You’re not that anymore.”
Laura feels the sting of it. It hurts. Her dad died years ago — Laura had Google pull his obituary — and all of her friends from before. Almost everyone’s dead, and she can’t pretend that nothing’s happened. She’s over a hundred. She’s immortal. She drinks blood because she’s a vampire. A vampire. The word echoes in her brain, strange and haunting. She’s no longer a 19-year-old innocent. This is her life.
“Okay,” she agrees. “Let’s go find something to eat.”
It reminds her of the first time. Her hands tremble and she has to nose at the skin to find the right place to pierce, but when she does, the woman lets out a keening noise of pleasure. Laura’s fingers tighten in her hair, tilting her head to the side, affording easier access. The blood is hot and delicious, and Laura can feel the throb of the woman’s pulse through her whole body. She drinks until she’s full and warm, and energy buzzes at the tips of her fingers. When she pulls away, the woman slumps back against the wall, her eyes hooded and dark.
“Come back soon,” the woman says, lightly touching her still-bleeding neck with two fingers.
Laura looks away and wipes at her chin. Her hand comes back wet and stained. “Thank you,” she manages.
Wendy laughs when she sees Laura. “We have to teach you some proper dining etiquette. You’ve got blood all down your front.”
“Practice, I guess,” Laura says, trying to ignore the twinge of guilt.
“In time. You’ll adjust.”
She will. She has to.
It’s not like she can go forever without seeing Carmilla. After all, they’re both stuck here for the rest of eternity. As it turns out, eternity makes the world seem much smaller than it is.
The Madrid den throws a birthday party for Elena, the head for going on 300 years now. She’s turning 600, and though vampires don’t often celebrate birthdays — what’s the point — 600 is a big enough number that they decide it’s reason for a party. They cart in champagne and blood and all kinds of tapas. Laura wears a dark red dress and drinks a weird cocktail that has blood in it, which is disgusting by the way, and realizes she’s been woefully out of touch with the rest of the international vampire community. Maybe it’s her age, or the fact that she basically buried her head in the sand for a century and hid out in Shanghai.
Then there’s Carmilla, standing casually by the bar, apparently bored by everything that’s happening around her. She looks the same, unruffled and gorgeous. She’s still wearing black. When she turns and meets Laura’s gaze, everything else in the room seems to quiet. Carmilla’s face goes slack with recognition, and she straightens. Laura squares her shoulders, walking forward to meet her.
“Hey,” Carmilla says.
“Hey,” Laura echoes. “It’s been a while.”
Carmilla puts down her glass of champagne. “How have you been?”
“Fine,” Laura says. “You know.”
“I heard a rumor that you were living here.”
“Yeah, we moved here a few years ago. I heard a rumor you’re in LA. Or was.”
Carmilla smiles. It’s very small and tight. “I’m still there. I was interim head of the den there for about ten years, but now they’ve appointed someone permanent. I’m thinking about moving though.”
“Silas.” Carmilla waits for Laura’s reaction, the surprise on her face. “I’m thinking of doing some teaching, and they’re really the only ones who’ll take vampire faculty.”
“Because you love molding young minds?” Laura asks, dry.
“Someone has to, or they’ll turn out as imbecilic as their predecessors.”
It’s so very Carmilla. Laura wants to laugh, and the corners of her mouth twitch, but she keeps her mirth in check. There’s still a part of her that hates seeing Carmilla here, the part of her that’s still lying in that grave and waking up, realizing that her whole life’s been stripped away. She can’t forget that she had to walk away from her dad — that he lived the rest of his life thinking she was dead.
She hates the tacky feeling of guilt in the back of her mouth.
“Laura,” Carmilla says. “We should — we should talk sometime.”
Laura holds herself very still for a moment, listening to the clink of glasses in the background, and the murmur of voices and the soft music. “I can’t.”
“I can’t. I’m not ready to talk to you.” Laura shakes her head. “It hasn’t been long enough.”
“It’s been almost a century — “
“Are you some sort of hurry? Going to run out of time?”
Carmilla snorts, but she doesn’t look that amused. “Okay. Fine. I’ll wait.” She picks up her champagne again. “I’ll see you around, cupcake.”
“Don’t call me that,” Laura says, quickly, before Carmilla can walk away. “I’m not — I’m not that person anymore.”
Carmilla studies her, eyelashes dark and long against her cheeks. “You’re right,” she says. “Sorry. I’ll see you around, Laura.”
God, she hates being a vampire.
She ends up writing. Under a lot of pseudonyms, but writing all the same. Wendy’s the one who encourages her. Laura writes essays and editorials and poetry. She writes about the big things — the construct of time, eternity, death — and she writes about little things — her cat chasing sunlit reflections through the apartment, eating tapas at midnight in La Latina, walking outside late at night when it’s cold. She starts three novels and doesn’t finish any of them. She works for various news outlets at different times, staggering them so they don’t overlap and no one cottons on that she’s not aging at all. Laura tries to keep herself busy, but it’s still sometimes hard with “forever” stretching ahead of her.
It’s around Laura’s 133rd birthday that she and Wendy split up. Amicably, more or less, but Laura decides it’s time to leave Spain anyway. She spends a year in London, trying to figure out what she wants to do. It’s a peaceful break — she relearns how to be alone. She’s sort of forgotten how, with the years she’s spent with Wendy.
Laura decides to go back to school. She sells most of her things and moves herself to a dorm room at Smith College in Massachusetts and spends four years mired in campus life, messily dating girls, and feeling strangely out of sorts. She likes something about these women — their fierce intelligence, their youth, the way they passionately care. Laura finds it harder and harder to passionately care about much of anything. She overloads on coursework and graduates with a double major, English and anthropology, and leaves without saying goodbye.
Carmilla’s still at Silas. Laura looks her up every now and then, trying to see how she’s doing. By all accounts, she does well. Tenured — Laura wonders how long Carmilla will stay — and teaching philosophy. Laura downloads a copy of her syllabus and scans it. She remembers Carmilla talking about most of the texts she’s listed.
She’s sure Carmilla’s a harsh grader. It almost makes her smile, the mental image of Carmilla tearing student papers apart with red pens. If they still use pens now. Maybe they’ve gone all digital.
It’s still probably not that far off the mark.
Time passes in fits and spurts.
Laura finds herself in Austria between places sometimes. She bought her dad’s house after he passed away, and she pays for its upkeep. Some unknown benefactor. No one asks questions because she pays well, on time, and stays away. She tries to visit once every ten years, and she was good about it at first, but now it’s getting harder. Ten years can go by so quickly. Laura visits her dad’s grave and sleeps in her childhood room, listening to the familiar creaking of the house settling around her. She tries to remember the good things — watching Doctor Who with her dad in the living room, reading Harry Potter in the hammock in the backyard. Teddy bear picnics. Practicing self-defense with her dad.
She just wishes she got to talk to him again. She files that away in her mental box of regrets. Laura never stays longer than a day or two — it’s too obvious to get human blood, and animal never satisfies her in quite the same way. But she always leaves a note when she leaves, sliding it beneath her dad’s lamp in his bedroom, letting him know where she’s gone.
She moves to San Francisco and stays there for a period of time. It’s her second favorite place, after Shanghai. Well, third perhaps. Styria was beautiful.
After San Francisco, there’s Amsterdam. Laura learns Dutch, and keeps it with her Mandarin and Spanish. She stays there for almost twenty years, dating a temperamental performance artist for five of those. Humans are slow to notice things, and Anna’s naturally distracted. She doesn’t comment on Laura’s penchant for raw steak, the way she’ll stay up all night writing. Anna’s habits are equally weird, when you don’t take into consideration Laura’s vampirism. It’s actually kind of remarkable they make it five years at all.
There’s Cairo. Laura’s not there for too long. It’s hot, and she prefers chillier climates.
Tokyo, Moscow, New York, Buenos Aires. Laura lives in those places too. She tries the countryside, moving out to the Scottish coast, but it doesn’t do it for her. It’s damp all the time. Everything in her little cottage is sodden. Her neighbors are too curious about her life and not curious enough about the world outside of them.
Plus, blood is hard to come by there, and Laura likes a little variety in her diet. Not the same group of a hundred people to choose from. She’s careful, but there’s only so much she can do. Cities are easier anyway, and Laura values her anonymity.
After a while, maybe, she starts to run out of places to go, and, she thinks, perhaps it’s time she stopped running.
Silas University looks the same as it always has. The familiar buildings, a bit older and covered in moss and ivy, fence in the quad the way Laura remembers. She crosses beneath the archway of the main gate, and there are students playing frisbee on the lawn, reading in the same rickety Adirondack chairs Laura used. She can see from the campus map that there are a couple new dorms, and the Zeta house is gone. She’ll have to ask someone about that. Laura takes a walk around the perimeter of the school. It’s like she’s stepped in a photo, transported 150 years back.
She waits outside of Carmilla’s office door. Other professors have pictures and various things taped on their doors, but not Carmilla. There’s a plaque with her name and department, and a sheet of paper with her office hours listed (an hour two days a week; Laura suspects Carmilla was forced into it), but that’s it.
“Laura,” Carmilla says, coming back from her lecture, laden with books. “Hi.”
Laura slides her hands in her pockets. “I’m ready to talk now.”
Carmilla’s house is a few miles from Silas, and full of books. There’s room for art on the walls, but Laura loses count of how many bookshelves there are by the time she’s ushered into the living room. It’s just — books and not too much furniture. Almost spartan.
It’s also a mess. Of course. There’s a dying plant in the corner, the leaves brown and dry. Laura wonders who got it for Carmilla. She’s positive Carmilla wouldn’t buy herself a plant.
She nudges a pile of papers out of the way to sit down on the couch, and then has to stand up again to remove a handful of pens from beneath her. Carmilla emerges from the kitchen with two glasses of blood and hands one to Laura as she sits down next to her.
“I’m glad you came,” Carmilla says, after she’s taken a sip.
Laura puts her glass on the coffee table, careful to avoid a handful of chocolate wrappers. “I don’t forgive you.”
Carmilla blinks. Slow. She takes a deep breath.
“But I’ve missed you,” Laura adds.
Carmilla looks away. “I thought I wouldn’t be sorry. I know I said I wouldn’t, but I am. I just want you to know that. I shouldn’t have done it without asking you. It was your life.”
“I’m sorry, Laura.”
“I know you’re sorry. But it doesn’t make it okay.” Laura looks down at her hands. “I can live with that, though. I have to, Carm. Can you?”
Carmilla’s gaze is wary, unsure. “I don’t know,” she says slowly. “I think so. If you can.”
“Yeah,” Laura says. “There’s nowhere to go but forwards.”
“I missed you too,” Carmilla says simply.
Laura exhales. It feels like she’s been holding her breath since she was turned. Carmilla puts a hand on the side of Laura’s face, rubbing her thumb against Laura’s cheek. She tilts her head and kisses Laura, barely there, like a whisper. A wary question. Like she’s frightened of the answer. Laura edges a little closer and opens her mouth, tracing one of Carmilla’s fangs with her tongue. It’s been so long, and yet Carmilla still feels familiar — her touch, her taste — the way she purrs against Laura’s mouth.
“I guess you’re staying,” Carmilla says, her hands twined around Laura’s.
“I guess I am,” Laura says.
She lives forever.