'Here we go, Boy, everyone's favourite high street retail outlet.' Kenny gestured to the huge 'D' outside the store. 'Time for you to get your Hollywood makeover.' He pushed the door open for Darren. 'Manual doors for us, Boy. The sensors on the automatic ones pick up on body heat, which we don't have. Come on, got some friends for you to meet!'
Darren walked though the door hesitantly. 'Are we okay going in here? There's lots of people here!'
'Jeez, Louise!' Kenny pushed past him, impatiently. 'Anyone would think you hadn't been upgraded up to be a member of the Master Race. Come on, Boy, follow me!' He walked straight through the door and straight up to the cosmetics counter. 'Shelly! Long time no see, dear. You got my usual order?'
Shelly nodded, reaching behind the counter, bringing out a huge carrier bag filled to bulging with brushes and pads and tins and tubes of foundation and face powder. She looked at Kenny in a calculating way. 'You're going a bit heavy on the blusher still, dear. Makes you look a bit like a peach in certain lights!'
Kenny gave her a sudden fierce glare. 'Not in front of the Boy! I'm still breaking him in; teaching him discipline.'
Shelly smiled back at him, gravely. 'I understand. Do you want me to give him the film star treatment too?
'Right!' She turned round, grabbing his chin and looking Darren directly in his face. 'Oh Lord! What have you brought me, Kenny? Is this some sort of challenge?'
Kenny looked embarrassed for a moment, something Darren had thought he'd never see. 'I found him by a dumpster, feeding on rats. I think he's too weak, even to be a revenant. I've been spreading myself a bit thin, and sort of forgot about him...'
'Honestly, Kenny!' Shelly spat. She turned back to Kenny, her eyes flaring and her shoulders raked up and backwards, looking almost like wings. 'You really should take better care of your toys!' She turned back to Darren. 'Poor dear Boy!' she cooed, sympathetically.
Darren looked at her closely, weighing up what he saw in front of him. 'Are you...'
The next thing he knew he was pressed back into one of the make-up chairs, his vision filled with those burning green eyes he'd seen earlier. 'Darling Boy', she almost growled. 'You've got to be careful. We're not all Friends in here, although it may look like it!' She backed off, her eyes returning to normal. She smiled again. 'Just because we all wear lots of make-up, it doesn't mean that we're all vampires.'
Darren looked up and saw that he was now encircled by a host of cosmetics counter saleswomen. 'It's cool, girls,' Shelly said reassuringly. 'He's one of us. Just a bit raw still.' She patted his cheek, fondly. 'I think we need to get you undressed and cleaned up before I can do anything with you though, dear Boy.'
'I can't work with this,' she tutted. 'I'm an artist, and I always like to start with a blank canvas.'
Minutes later, Kenny and Darren were in the staff wash room.
'I've got some things I need to tell you', Kenny began, 'things you'll need...'
'Whassat! I can see myself in the mirror!'
'Yeah! That's one of them.' Kenny sighed, wearily. 'This is SO gonna be hard work', he muttered, under his breath.
'Alright. Item 1. Forget most of what you learned from the vampire films. You already know that we can go outside during the day, just so long as we keep ourselves well covered. It's a bit like being ginger, but more socially acceptable. As long as you keep your skin protected and don't stare at the sun, you'll be okay.'
'Right, item 2. The thing with the mirrors. Another myth.' Kenny stopped for a moment, putting his thoughts into order so that Darren could take them in more easily. 'The big thing about us, apart from the supernatural speed and strength and general awesome coolness most of us possess, is The Glamour. We all have this to some degree, it's just that it's more developed in some than others. It's a knack, or a skill, or a mental power thing. It's just that it doesn't pay to make things any harder for yourself than necessary unless you are superlatively good at it. The Glamour is the ability to alter the perception of mortal humans, to make them see what we want them to see. It's a bit like shaving without a mirror; you have to form an image in your mind and act accordingly although, if you get it wrong, the consequences can be a lot worse'. He pushed his bandanna of his head and pushed it into his back pocket, revealing a heavily lined bald head. 'You know that classical vampire films have the vampire alone in a dimly lit bedroom with a drowsy young woman?'
'Well, that's perfect conditions to befuddle your prey. A single impressionable victim with their imagination running riot and very little visual information available to them. If you increase the lighting or give them an opportunity to see you from more than one angle at once, you make it harder for yourself to convince them that what you want them to see is real. If you're one of the Ancients, you've survived that long because you're really good, plus you've had the time to develop your skills to a very high degree.'
'So, we can look different to what we are, if we want,' Darren began.
'Whoa there, Boy!' Kenny laughed. 'I've only just pulled you out of the gutter, where you were living on rats, I believe! '
'Right, where was I? Yes, The Glamour. Yes, we can appear to be different to what we really are; at least to a mortal human, that is. But the further you get from what you are and the more angles you have to cover and the more people you have to convince, the harder it gets. And as for animals, forget it. We just can't touch their minds at all. That dog of mine just follows me because I feed it regularly, nothing more than that!'
'Now, lets get that dirt off you, so we can put some clean clothes and some make-up on you.'
Darren began to remove his suit, already having lost his hat to Shelly, who'd thrown it away in disgust.
'You give yourself a good clean, you hear, while I go find you something to wear. I can smell nothing but garlic and onions at the moment...'
Back in the main part of the shop, Kenny made his way straight to Gentlemen’s' Clothing, seeking out a tall elegant older gentleman who was heavily pomandered, smelling like a cottage garden in the height of summer.
'Hugo, Friend. I've a project for you. I've a young Blood, physical age about 25, height 5 foot 9 inches, weight about 150 pounds, inside leg about...lemme think...about 31 inches. I need a full set of clothes for him, skin upwards, casual but not too trailer park. Can you start to put together an outfit and send it round the back?'
Hugo smiled thinly, his ashen grey face barely moving. 'Hmmm. This the young man you brought in earlier? The one who caused such a stir with Shelley and her ladies? He seemed to be rather rough and, might I say, unready for anything you'd be likely to use him for. Could I ask if you've anything in particular in mind for him? It might have a bearing on the outfit I put together for him. Hmmm?'
Hugo wasn't an Ancient but he certainly looked very much the part. He was very old but was also totally devoid of ambition, this being largely due to his minimal abilities. Despite this, he had a very quick and keen mind...
Kenny shook his head. 'Nothing too dressy, I want him to blend in and not stand out. The Boy has certain abilities I can use, and I want to be able to make a full and final use of him before he becomes too dangerous.'
Shelly laughed, tossing her head backward. 'You never heard about Renfields? We don't just rely on Glamour and Thrall to control people. Sex, greed and power are always the most effective currencies when it comes to controlling humans. Even humans know that!'
Darren scowled and shook his head. 'Never really watched horror films. Never really been into fantasy. Science fiction, science documentaries, you know?'
'Good Lord, you are soooo green! Even ignoring horror films, it's basic human interaction. Didn't you ever... Her mouth dropped open. 'You didn't, did you?'
'Umm, well, umm.' Darren looked away shyly.
'My God, I thought I'd seen everything,' Shelly gasped. 'A vampire blushing... No, never saw that coming!'
The door opened and Kenny strode in, an armful of clothes clutched to his chest.
'Hello playmates! Glad to see me back?'
Darren turned further away from the doorway, tucking his face tightly into his shoulder.
'What've you two been up to? Shelly? What have you been saying to him? What have you been doing?' Kenny blazed, angrily. 'I left him in here alone on purpose. I don't want anyone else meddling with him. Shelly, what have you been doing?'
Shelly smiled slyly back, her cheek bones shifting and becoming more angular and alien in appearance. 'Just taking an interest in your latest project, dear. People talk, people ask questions, knowledge is a commodity. We're always here, people always come for something or other, there's a price for everything and everything's for sale.' She stood back from Darren, the bones within her body cracking and clicking as they continued to move. Suddenly, the comely square-jawed brunette was gone and in her place stood an angry woman with the face of a demonic harpy with fierce green eyes and dark tendrils of hair that began to twitch and writhe angrily. 'You don't have any claim on us, Kenny. We don't serve anyone in particular. We trade with everyone but we only look after ourselves.'
'W-w-whoahh there, Shelly!' Kenny spluttered, suddenly deflated. 'No offence meant there. Just keeping an eye on my property!' When Shelly began to shift slowly back to her earlier appearance, he continued, 'I know, you're a Friend. A special Friend for me, but a Friend nonetheless. It's just that I've a lot going on at the moment. A lot of plans. A lot that could go wrong and backfire on me. So I gotta be careful.'
Darren's face reappeared, and he looked back toward Kenny. 'What do you mean, your property?'
Kenny aggressively pushed his chest out, his jaw thrust forward. 'Exactly what I said! Do you need another demonstration?'
Darren's head sagged on his neck. 'No. I don't,' he mumbled.
'Well then! Right now, Boy, I've got some clothes for you.' He thrust the bale of clothes at Darren, who promptly dropped it at his feet and then had to pick them all up again, placing them on the chair beside him. 'There's a full set of everything you'll need, from undergarments to outerwear – even a leather jacket to top it all off. All of it casual, but I don't think I'll be taking you to any Society dinners, do you?'
Shelly walked out through the doorway, passing Kenny, and giving him a level-eyed look as she went. 'I'll see you later,' she said, turning away.
Kenny smirked wryly at her retreating back, then turned back to Darren. 'Come on, Boy. Everything off, then scrub like you want to remove the skin, then repeat. You still smell like an Italian Pizzeria, and that is SO offending my nose like you'd never believe!
Kenny and Darren left the store via the loading area exit, and stepped out into the gloom. Darren had been transformed from how he had looked before, now looking heavily tanned and cool in a black flat peak baseball cap, black leather jacket, dark checked shirt and black jeans and trainers.
'Got a little job for you tonight, Boy,' Kenny, began. 'Nothing too difficult, then we can go for a quick bite afterwards.'
Moments later, they stood together outside Coffee Land.
'It'll be a simple job,' Kenny explained. 'There're no security cameras except the ones in the toilets. You'd think they were concerned about people stealing the paper towels or something.' He grinned disarmingly. 'All you need to do is to walk in, nip round to get behind the counter, open the till by pressing the 'No Sale' key, take out the money, and then leave. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!'
'But it's still busy. People will see me,' Darren began. 'They'll call the police and we'll get into trouble. How are you gonna...'
'You're how I'm gonna...' Kenny laughed. 'You do have a certain ability to go un-noticed from time to time. You'll just be utilising the skills that you've got for my benefit, that's all. Now walk! Through the door! You know the rest...'
Darren stood in front of the door he'd walked through countless times before, but never before had it been so difficult to walk that final step and to place his hand on the two foot-long vertical bar that ran parallel to the door frame. 'Go on,' Kenny urged him. 'Either you do it yourself, or I'll make you do it!'
Darren took a quick breath and began to move...
A young couple nearly walked into him, stepping round him and pushing the door open, not seeing Darren in their way. They stepped through into the shop and then, hesitating, Darren followed them.
The shop seemed strangely different today. The distance to the display counter had grown, the six steps it used to take to get there seeming much longer but still the same. The posters on the walls seemed more vivid, more engaging, begging Darren to read them, to stop in his tracks. The conversation in the shop seemed loud, the voices ringing in his ears, almost to the point of pain. People weaved around Darren, moving like comets while he stood motionless...or so it seemed.
Darren moved on.
The counter moved into reach, the basket of bagged coffee beans passing slowly by on Darren's right. There was a young man Darren had never seen before behind the counter, a tall youth with mousy brown hair.
Delores walked past.
The new guy behind the counter was called Wayne, the badge on his chest above his thudding heart declared. Was that heart beating so loudly his or was it Darren's?
Darren stopped momentarily, listening. No. There was nothing. Nothing at all. Not even the rasp of blood cells down corrugated veins and arteries. No sound at all.
Wayne looked across at Darren. 'Can I help you... Miss?
Darren looked around. There was a girl standing behind him.
Darren walked on.
Nearing the far end of the counter now, the baristas were stacking cardboard beakers of coffee side by side on the laminate wood counter top, calling out an order. 'Two skinny lattes, one with chestnut syrup, to go,' shouted one.
Darren rounded the end of the counter and began the long journey back up toward the till. Wayne was still busy with the young girl, chatting about a chemistry exam she was due to take the next day. She was dark-haired and had a nice smile. And a warm heart. And a fine tracery of veins that glowed dull red just beneath the surface of her neck.
Wayne opened the till and began to remove the change the girl required.
Darren just reached in and took the wads of notes waiting there for him; the fifties, the twenties, the tens and the grubby collection of fives.
Darren turned and began to retrace his steps.
Suddenly, time began to telescope inward on itself, the people slowing, the 'It's Time for a Coffee Land Coffee' clock stopping; the second hand quivering in place. The sales counter blurred past and Darren was through the door and back out into the street.
Kenny was waiting for him outside, a big lizard-like grin plastered across his face. 'Attaboy, Boy. You done good! I've just got one more thing to do before we go! Just wait here!'
Once again Darren felt the stretching of time as Kenny blurred before his eyes...and disappeared. And then reappeared again, carrying a coat. A coat stained with warm red blood.
The coat dropped away and Darren saw the lifeless face of Delores, her throat torn open and her eyes blank and dull.
The heat of the blood rose into his face like a flashbulb going off, dazzling him momentarily. And then, nothing...
Darren and Kenny sat together, watching the body grow cold.
'You're lucky I picked someone you knew, you know,' Kenny smiled. 'Helps you remember your first.'
Darren looked shocked. 'You mean you don't remember your first Feeding?'
'Nah.' Kenny shook his head. 'Just some bag of blood with a name, I suppose. Not that I ever knew it. They all merge into one after a while.' He stood up and pulled the sheaf of notes out of his pocket. 'Six hundred and forty five pounds. Not a bad haul!'
'What're you going to do with the money, if you don't mind me asking,' Darren wondered out loud, also standing up. 'Does it pay for the services of the Friends?'
'This?' Kenny laughed. 'I've no need of this. Got more than enough cash for anything I'd need. Besides, the Friends don't work for anything as worthless as this. They make their trades against future or past personal favours, transfers of information and promises of support. This is just paper!'
Darren looked puzzled. 'Then why did I need to rob the shop,' he asked.
'Why? No particular reason. Just wanted to watch you in action. Here! Catch!' He threw the wad of money to Darren, who promptly dropped it. 'You did well, Boy! You and me are gonna go far, just you wait and see!'