Here goes: my first fan fiction submission. Been sitting on this for a while and editing the same few parts back and forth, but I'm at a point now where I'm pretty happy with it.
I wanted to briefly explore what O&E might think about the different kinds of vampire folklore that exists around the world, since mythology and folklore is one of my main interests and the subject is not discussed in any detail in LTROI. I wanted to keep the story short and simple, partially to test the waters of FF posting a bit before I try to post anything more substantial.
I realize that this is pretty similar in style to many of the short pieces written by metoo, but I hope it's not too similar. Either way, I have a lot of ideas for other FFs I want to write, most of which will be longer (and less dialogue-focused) than this one if I end up actually finishing them. Once the Fan Content area properly opens up, I'll probably follow metoo's example of posting a Swedish and English translation of each story, but for now I'll only post the English version of this.
They lay next to each other in their hiding place—a windowless room in the back of an abandoned old warehouse. Oskar lay behind Eli with his arms tightly wrapped around him. Neither of them were hungry, and they hadn't gone out the past few nights. They had gotten a bit careless during their last feeding and someone had seen them, so they wanted to lie low for a while before venturing out again. They hadn't talked much and instead passed the time by sitting together, holding each other, reading what books or newspapers they'd been able to get their hands on, playing a few games on their worn chess board—enjoying each other's company without doing anything in particular, simply put. There was nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but Oskar was starting to get bored of the long silence and felt a growing urge to talk about something. He decided to ask a question he'd idly pondered a few times through the years but never formulated out loud.
"Eli?" His voice was a little hoarse after having not been used for a few days.
"Where does the infection come from, do you think?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean... where it came from originally. Who the first infected was and that kind of thing."
"Mm. Don't know."
"I know, but I'm asking what you think."
"I think... I think it's very old. Ancient."
"Older than... Christianity?"
Eli snorted. "At least. Much older."
"Don't know. It just feels like it should be that way."
Oskar pondered that. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate, to look inwards, to feel that which he knew existed inside his disfigured, slowly beating heart. But he knew the infection wouldn't give him any answers. He could hardly strike up a conversation with it, and even if he could, it was not interested in history. Only in the present, only in survival. He opened his eyes. Something else about what Eli had said crossed his mind. "What if Jesus was infected?"
"Nah. Then he would've burned up on the cross."
"But what if someone infected him after they took him down from there? That'd explain how he came back to life afterwards!"
They both started giggling and began spinning a story, taking turns to speculate what it would have been like if Jesus emerged from his tomb on the third night with long claws and a hunger for Roman blood, how the writers of the gospels would've had to cover this up to keep the truth from getting out. Then Oskar remembered something. Didn't people take religion very seriously back in the 1700s, when Eli grew up? And sometimes nowadays as well, for that matter. "Do you believe in God?"
Eli fell silent for a few seconds before replying. "I don't know. Sometimes I do. Other times I don't. When I grew up, the way I was taught... there wasn't really any question about it. But I've never been able to understand why... if God exists, why he would let something like this exist."
"Mm. And why he would let it... happen to people. To me. What I did wrong, to deserve it. But on the other hand," Eli twisted around a little so he could glance at Oskar and smiled, "I did get something, in the end." He lay down again. "I used to ask him why I was never allowed to... live. To have a normal life. To have anything. But then I did get something. More than I could've asked for. So maybe he does exist, after all. He's just very slow about giving you what you ask for. Or what you don't realize that you need."
Oskar pondered that for a while as well. Then he said: "I also got more than I could've asked for, in the end" and hugged Eli tighter.
"But!" Oskar wanted to get back to his original question. "Do you think the infection is... older than humans?" He hesitated and tried to think back to what he'd learned in school. When was it Darwin had come up with evolution? The 1800s? That was long after Eli had been infected. "Do you know about evolution?"
Eli snorted again. "I'm not that behind the times, Oskar."
"Sorry. But... back before humans were humans, when we were all apes... Do you think the infection existed then?"
"Can apes get infected? Can other animals?"
"The infection only wants human blood."
"Yes, but... other animals can drink human blood too, can't they? Or maybe, if a dog got infected, it'd want dog blood?"
"I don't know. I haven't exactly tested, you know. And if a dog could get infected, I don't think that would end well."
Oskar pictured a rabid vampire dog running around without a human mind to keep it in check, biting humans and other dogs and spreading the infection out of control. "No", Oskar was forced to agree. "No, I don't think that would be good at all."
"Do you know of any other infected? From the past, I mean."
"No. Just the two I've told you about."
Oskar thought back to all the books he used to read. He obviously knew that Dracula had never actually existed, but wasn't he based on a real person? Oskar couldn't remember the man's name. And then there was that other one, the woman. "What about Countess Battery?"
"No, Bath... Bartory... Something like that. She bathed in blood to stay young."
"Never heard of her."
"Do you wanna go to the library? There are probably books about her there."
"I don't think libraries stay open this late."
"No, but tomorrow evening."
Eli was the one who talked to the librarian; of the two of them, he was more experienced at speaking English. "Do you have any books about vampires?"
"Plenty", the librarian replied. She spoke slowly, likely because she noticed that the children in front of her weren't native speakers. "Is it something specific you're looking for?"
"I mean, not novels. More like history books. About..." Eli hesitated, searched for the right word, and said: "... folk belief. What people have believed about vampires through history."
"Ah, you mean folklore. I'll have a look."
The librarian came back with a bundle of books. Most of them seemed to be about monsters in general, with only a chapter or two about vampires, but one of them was a thick tome entirely about the subject. "We'll take that one, thanks", Eli said.
The first thing Oskar did when they got back to the hiding place was to rifle through the pages until he found the woman he'd been thinking of. "Here!" he said and pointed at a page dominated by the slightly melodramatic header text Erzsébet Báthory, the Blood Countess. The opposite page showed a portrait of a woman wearing an old-fashioned dress with an enormous collar. Eli sat down next to him and peered at the page.
"Like I said", Oskar continued and pointed at a passage early in the text. "She killed virgin girls and bathed in their blood to stay young."
"Maybe if you actually let me have a look instead of waving your hands around", Eli said, grabbed the book, and started reading through the whole chapter from start to finish. Oskar crept around behind him so he could read over his shoulder. Eli rolled his eyes in feigned annoyance but remained where he sat.
After he'd finished, he put down the book and nodded thoughtfully. "She was probably a carrier."
"Definitely. She sounds pretty similar to... you know." He glanced down at his hands.
"He who infected you?"
Oskar took the book and reread the introductory sentences about Báthory while thinking back to Eli's memories. The text talked about the countess torturing and killing hundreds of girls. Hundreds of young people, children. Hundreds of Elis. The stories about the countess and the number of victims had probably been heavily exaggerated over the years, the text pointed out, but still... Oskar's mind spun. When he looked again at the portrait of the woman, he thought her calm eyes reminded him of the wigged man's childish blue eyes. He shuddered and turned back to the beginning of the book to go through all of the stuff they'd skipped.
The book explained that even the early Mesopotamian civilizations had stories of nocturnal demons who spread disease and drank human blood, like Lamashtu in Babylon. As Oskar read aloud from each chapter, Eli gave his verdict on whether he thought the creatures and people described were really infected or not.
"Don't know. Sounds more like some kind of animal."
"Mana..." Oskar had to read the name a few times to get it right. "Manananggal?"
Eli laughed when he heard the description of the creature: a little red frog-man from Aboriginal folklore who hid in fig trees, drank blood through its fingers, and slowly transformed people into creatures like itself by swallowing and puking them out. "That's the weirdest thing I've ever heard. Sounds like a fairy tale."
"Vlad the Impaler?"
"No. Just a monster."
"Do you mean a monster like...?"
"No. Monsters and infected are not the same thing. You can be one without being the other."
"Like us. We're not monsters."
"Yes. Like us."
They continued their read. "Arnold Paole?"
While it surprised Oskar to see how many shared traits there were in stories from completely different cultures from different parts of the world, the book's use of the word "vampire" was rather loose. Eli said that many of the descriptions sounded completely foreign to him, but he admitted that he didn't know everything about the disease he and Oskar bore. "Maybe there are different... strains. The only carriers I've met have been Swedish. Maybe it's different if you get infected in Scotland or China or... where was the frog-man from?"
"Right. Well, I don't know. Maybe there really are infected like that. Even though", he said with a grin, "I have a pretty hard time imagining that last one."
"In the 1800s, people on Rhode Island in the USA thought their dead relatives were becoming vampires", Oskar read. "But it turned out it was just tuberculosis."
"No, it wasn't. It was me."
Oskar stared at Eli, who looked back at him with a deadpan face. After a few seconds, his face broke out into a smile and he lightly punched Oskar's shoulder. "I'm joking."
"Right." Oskar looked down at the book again. "Right, I knew that."
In the latter parts of the book, the author transitioned to talking about how the vampire was used in modern fiction—"modern" meaning from the 1800s and onward. It mentioned names like Ruthven and Carmilla, and Dracula had an entire chapter all to himself. Included were photos of different movie actors playing Dracula, but also one of Count Orlok, whom the book authoritatively explained was "a version of the count featured in the unauthorized German adaptation Nosferatu". Eli looked intently at the black-and-white photograph of the bald, ratlike figure for a long time.
"What is it?" Oskar asked.
"The man in the wig."
"He didn't look like that, did he?"
"No, not at all. But he should've." Eli pointed at the face staring out of the page and which was about as far from handsome as one could get. "He looks like what the wigged man was like on the inside."
Towards the end of the chapter about modern fiction, amidst names like Matheson, Rice, and King, there was a short passage about something as unusual as a Swedish vampire novel. Oskar thought back to Kalla kårar and all the other books he'd owned. Almost all of those had been written by men with English-sounding names, so they were probably translated. But here was a vampire book written in Swedish and taking place in Sweden. When Oskar said this, Eli leaned over with interest and looked at the passage Oskar was reading.
The novel was called Den ende vännen or The Only Friend and was about a bulled girl in 1970s Sundbyberg who fell in love with a boy vampire, who later in the book was revealed to actually be a girl. The author was some guy named Alfred Tomasson. A few years later, someone named Arvid Jonas Lundqvist had adapted it into a movie.
"What a weird name", Eli said.
"Yes", Oskar agreed.
"Doesn't sound like a very good book."
De höll om varandra i tystnad. Oskar blundade och visste: detta var det största. Ljuset från lyktan i portvalvet trängde svagt in genom hans slutna ögonlock, la en hinna av rött för hans ögon. Det största.