Horror writing has always been part of my speculative toolbox. When I started writing these stories, there were things I vowed NOT to do: werewolves howling at the moon, unearthing a mummy, or the same old vampire tale. This pledge came with a disclaimer, that I would give myself the go-ahead if I found a unique way to approach tried-and-true monsters. “The Difference Blood Makes” is such a tale. Available in ebook or print it was first published as part of the third Weird and Whatnot anthology (11/16/19 issue).
The Difference Blood Makes
by DL Shirey
[Manchester, England 1951]
“That’s correct. No names, just the place and year where the portrait was taken,” Merrick said. “Most of my subjects prefer to remain anonymous. This scholarly looking devil happened to be in my hometown, a childhood friend patient enough to sit many times while I perfected my process. Over here is an example which better explains it.”
A dozen reporters and art critics hurried after Merrick, toward the gallery’s far wall. His quick pace belied his eighty years. A few of the stragglers were jotting notes. One wrote spry to describe the artist. Another scribbled dapper.
[Salamanca, Spain 1955]
“This is me with the famed Castilian vampire Thiago. He would want his name known. Loved the exposure, if you’ll pardon the pun. As you can see, his image is perfect, while it looks like I’m standing in deep shadows. My photos develop differently. Human flesh, for instance, doesn’t turn out well because there is no silver in my process. The silver gelatin of traditional photography cannot capture a vampire’s image. It’s the same reason vampires cast no reflection in mirrors, because silver coats the glass.”
Merrick smiled at the murmurs. Many reporters began to writing in the little notepads Merrick had so graciously provided. One woman wanted more clarification on the subject.
“Good question. Digital can capture a vampire’s picture, which is precisely the reason why I’ve confiscated your phones. I cannot have you snapping photos of my portraits and risk the anonymity of my clients. Privacy is valued above all, but it’s for your own protection too. Unauthorized photographs and their photographers tend to disappear. So if you have paparazzi friends, tell them this is the one show to avoid. Especially after dark. Which reminds me, you have about forty-five minutes until sunset.”
[Tivoli, Italy 1957]
“I’ve had a long career. My business took off in earnest in the late ’50s when the jet set traveled the globe looking for luxurious, out-of-the-way places to spend their loot. Freewheeling socialites, heirs and heiresses with gobs of old money, Hollywood types and European royalty. It wasn’t long before vampires followed the flock of beautiful people to the sunny shores of Cannes, St. Tropez and Capri.”
Merrick was prepared for the follow-up about vampires and sunshine.
“It was the nightlife that attracted them, the debauchery and a vain attempt to live La Dolce Vita. Vain being the operative word. This is a portrait of the Hepsibaugh twins, one of hundreds they commissioned over the years. Suzie was vamped at twenty-two and Sadie asked her sister to oblige her soon afterwards. Whenever there was a new fashion trend or hairstyle, they’d fly me in for a shoot. This was back when pixie cuts and thick eyebrows were all the rage. Audrey Hepburn, you know.
“Notice the crimson-colored fingernails, kind of a trademark for those two. Color balance gets tricky in low light. Luckily, vampires can sit for hours and hours without moving a muscle.”
[Sophia, Bulgaria 1962]
“There are no negatives; each is unique and original. It’s a long, boring process with lots of chemicals involved. I don’t want to give up my secrets, but it’s more like photography at the time of, say, Abraham Lincoln. No film: glass plates. I coat the glass with my special compound of chemicals and hemoglobin, and voila.”
Many hands raised. Merrick pointed at one portly reporter and nodded at his question.
“My own blood, of course. But this gentleman, Cazim Berberich—I apologize for the blunt description—would regurgitate his latest meal and insist I use that. At the time, Cazim considered himself quite the romantic. It was his way of making a poetic statement. His contention was that the undead can appreciate the difference blood makes, even if we humans can’t. For me, his eyes tell everything you need to know. He was quite pathological.”
“No, I never really feared for my life. Vampire vanity once again. My photography was the only method of capturing their image, so killing me would rob them of the only means available to see themselves. Immortals search for self-worth just like you and I do; and like us, make comparisons to those in their social circle. Before my portraits, a vampire had no idea how he or she looked to others.”
[New York, USA 1978]
“The inscriptions? Yes, some of my best clients still pop by to see my shows. I consider many of them among my dearest friends and they always write something witty or heartfelt on their portraits. Here is one of my favorites: To Merry, Your art will live forever, even if you don’t. The invitation stands whenever you change your mind.
“She does look familiar, doesn’t she? No, she didn’t sign it and I’m not about to drop her name. I’ll give you one hint, every famous author needs a photograph for their book jacket.”
“Well, it’s about that time. If you’ll wait for me in this other room, I’ve had a few refreshments laid out for you. I’ll be back in a moment to answer any remaining questions.”
Merrick closed the double doors and stood alone in the gallery. He walked across the room, while two-dozen pairs of unblinking eyes seemed to follow him. He checked the Patek Philippe on his wrist then twisted a doorknob protruding from the wainscoting. Out stepped more guests.
“Oh, Danielle, so glad you could make it. I could not put down that last novel of yours. Quite the bodice ripper.
“Good to see all of you again.
“Patience, Cazim, dinner will be leaving soon. I would appreciate if you’d spare a few, especially the fat man in the bow tie. He’s from The Times and I’m anxious to read his review.”