In the Eye of the Beholder
Charlaine Harris owns all of this.
I’m a writer for The New Yorker and pride myself on being a damn good one. I’m objective and thorough and have a shelf full of awards to prove it. I had heard about a vampire bar in Shreveport, Louisiana, that had a lot of people interested in its story. The owner was supposed to be some big sexy Viking vampire that had been around for a thousand years. He was after a little telepathic barmaid from Bon Temps, Louisiana, who was involved with a civil war veteran vampire. It all sounded pretty interesting and so I decided to check it out.
My first impression of the bar was pretty sad. It was in a strip mall, for crying out loud, in the worst part of Shreveport. At least I hoped it was the worst part for the sake of the people who live in Shreveport. Most of the storefronts had big For Lease signs in the window. There was a tiny Chinese take-out place and a vitamin store that looked to be on its last legs. And then at the end of the mall was Fangtasia. Part of the neon was blinking and it wasn’t supposed to be. The parking lot was fairly full—mostly a lot of pickup trucks with big tires and there was a tacky red corvette right up front in a space with a hand-painted sign: Riserved for Master Northman. Jesus.
I paid the five-dollar cover and found a seat on a cracked red vinyl bar stool at the faux woodgrain formica bar. A homely woman vampire bartender introduced herself as Felicia and poured me a beer. There were mostly humans in the room and many of them looked like bad Billy Idol impersonators. There was a lot of black leather and eyeliner and spiked hair and chains. These people looked like they’d gotten stuck in the worst part of the eighties. Every woman was showing a lot of leg and boob, and nearly every one of those legs and boobs should have been covered up. I don’t know what they feed these women down here, but they sure seemed to eat a lot of it.
I spotted a throne across the room. That’s right, a goddamn throne. It looked like it had come from some high school production of King Lear and been found sitting by the school dumpster. You could see the grain of the plywood through the gold spraypaint and many of the “jewels” had fallen off and left Elmer’s glue boogers all along the top of the chair back. The velvet had rubbed off of the cushion so that the center of it was a light shade of pink rather than burgundy.
There was a DJ playing bad disco music on a folding card table in the corner of the room. The walls had all been painted black, but the paint had faded to a kind of dark gray in spots and there were a few bright white holes where pissed vampires had most likely punched out the walls. The dance floor was a piece of linoleum painted black with heavy silver duct tape along the edges. The paint was scuffed in places and the yellow kitcheny pattern showed through.
I heard a loud door slam from the rear part of the room and the patrons seemed to get excited about something. They all stood back and made a little pathway from the back door to the sad throne and a tall vampire appeared and started making his way to what was obviously his seat. I figured this must be the Viking I’d heard so much about. He was extremely tall, probably about six foot five and had blond hair. He was thin and kind of lanky. In his time, he was most likely fairly well-built, but by today’s standards, his muscles left a lot to be desired. He had on a black tank top and acid-washed jeans. At least he wasn’t in the bad eighties garb, well, except for the jeans. He was dressed pretty much like any other redneck in Shreveport. His hair was long and stringy, hanging down to his shoulders. It was thin and kind of a dishwater blond, and his hairline was receding in spite of the fact that he had obviously been in his early twenties when he was turned. He had a couple of odd scars on his face, but I guess that made sense since he had been a Viking in his human life. He glared at the humans all around him who were thrilled about his attentions, insulting or not. He strutted up to the throne of sad and plopped down dramatically. The human Billy Idols and Boy Georges all gathered around and the Viking made them gasp with pleasure by showing his fangs. Even from across the room, I could see how disgusting his teeth were. It would make sense due to the lack of dental care in his era, but several were missing and what was left were crooked and brownish yellow. The only white ones were the fangs and they just made the rest of them look worse by comparison. While he glared at his audience like a bad high school King Lear, a young woman vampire came and stood at his side. She was short and very thin and wore a black pleather eighties dominatrix uniform. Her hair was the same dishwater blonde as his but longer and still thin and straggly. Her face was covered with pock marks, clearly scarred from some horrible disease from god knows what period of time she was from. She started speaking to him and her teeth were no better than his, stained and crooked. I couldn’t make out what she was saying but I detected a strong accent somewhere between Irish and poor working class cockney. It wasn’t pretty. She seemed to be telling him about someone who was sitting at a table near the dance floor. I followed his gaze and saw what clearly must be the civil war vampire and his telepathic barmaid girlfriend.
The civil war guy was very short and thin with narrow shoulders and feminine hands. Because he was so small, his head looked huge with its big pouf of dark brown hair. He had thick sideburns that seemed to flow into those mutton chop facial hair patterns that were the worst of the 1860’s-era men’s fashions. At least they covered most of his pock marks, but like the other vampires, there wasn’t much to be done about those teeth. They were yellow and crooked, but only one was missing. Unfortunately it was one of the front ones. I tried to eavesdrop on his conversation but got very little. He definitely had a deep southern accent but not a recognizable one and kept calling the barmaid “Suck-eh.”
Suck-eh herself was a sight to behold. I could see that she had a great body, but so did every other prostitute I’d ever seen walking the streets. She had on a white flowered polyester sundress right off the rack from Walmart. It was low cut enough to show her ample cleavage and short enough to show some leg. Those legs were shapely and had only slightly less cellulite than most of the other women’s in the place. Her blonde hair was teased up and fried-looking. I would have called it Texas hair, but I was in the wrong state. She was young, but her skin had that leathery quality that comes from too much sun exposure. Her complexion was shiny and her face screamed for some foundation, but instead only got thick liquid eyeliner, hooker-style, and clumpy black mascara-ed spider lashes. Her lips had frosted gloppy lip gloss on them which kind of mirrored the shine from her greasy skin. The most alarming feature of Suck-eh was the number of tiny pairs of scabs all over her neck and chest and upper arms. It was like a field of canker sores and immediately erased any sex-appeal that her natural curves might have telegraphed. Her teeth were at least white but crooked and she had a pretty severe overbite.
Suck-eh and her civil war vampire got up to dance and Viking boy never took his eyes off of her. She was a good dancer, but again, so were all the prostitutes I’d seen. She was wiggling and grinding like a cat in heat, ignoring civil war boy who was awkwardly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. She was staring at Viking boy and I watched him lick his lips as he stared right back. Then I made the horrible mistake of looking a little lower and noticed the obvious tent in his pants. He kind of slouched down in the sad throne so we could all get a good look, as if none of the rest of us could get a boner and his was the most wonderful one in the world.
I thought, that’s it, I’ve got to get out of here. I don’t know what in the world all the fuss is about these people. They were low-life scum, and no different from any other low-life scum that I’m sure I could find in any other dive bar in any other part of the country. I gestured to the bartender to bring me the check and slapped my credit card down on the bar. She picked it up and read my name. “Oh my, you’re the writer from The New Yorker?”
“We’ve been expecting you. Why didn’t you say something?”
“Um…you know what, I suddenly remembered that I need to be somewhere else, so if you’ll just ring me up. I’ll have to come back another night.”
“Nonsense. You’re our guest of honor tonight. Let me get you another drink. It’s on the house.” Then she called down the bar, “Alan! Charlaine! This is the guy from The New Yorker.”
Suddenly all eyes were on me and people were shaking my hand. The homely bartender set a glass of dark purple something in front of me and pushed it towards me. “Please, drink up. Really. We insist.”
“What is it?”
“Oh nothing much, just some kool-aid.” What the hell, I thought. I was surrounded by smiles of encouragement all along the bar. What could it hurt? And so I just returned their smiles and knocked it back. And you know what, it didn’t taste half bad.