Chapter 1 : Bad Beginnings

Chapter 1 : Bad Beginnings

Chapter 1 : Bad beginnings

Carlotta pulled the heavy, nondescript door open and stepped into the dimly lit bar. A wave of music and the smell of alcohol washed over her. Beneath the music, the hum of conversation provided a steady drone. The bar looked like pretty much any private club or speakeasy, a casual observer probably wouldn’t notice the one key difference. This bar was for vampires and other supernaturals along with their select human guests. Spotting a vampire at the best of times is tricky. After all, they do look more or less exactly the same as humans, that’s what made them such great predators. You wouldn’t know you were sitting across from someone planning to eat you later until it was far, far too late. She cast her eye over the various patrons tucked away in private booths or talking in the flickering glow of tea lights at small, intimate tables. 

Noticing one guy wearing a pair of mustard corduroy bell bottoms teamed with a wide-collared lavender paisley shirt, she felt her mouth twitch into a slight smile. Not all vampires managed to shift with the times fashion-wise. When you’re immortal, time tends to shift and flow around you differently. Keeping up with the frantic pace of change in the mortal world could be challenging. The rise of the hipster had been a gift for many vampires. Now when you walk down the street on a Friday night looking like you’ve just stepped out of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ people tend to assume it’s a deliberate commentary on the rise of postmodern capitalist culture or somesuch. 

Carlotta tended to try and stick to fashion basics. The black jeans she was wearing were her usual safe bet, although keeping up with the ever-changing trends in cut was tiresome. One minute, jeans that were so high-waisted they were practically up around your armpits and then, seemingly overnight, everyone was wearing them so low one was at risk of giving random people an eye full.

Looking more closely at the people sitting around her, she spotted her date perched on a stool at the bar and began weaving through the tables towards her. Regina was deep in conversation with the human bartender, a very good looking young man wearing a white t-shirt so tight he might as well have not bothered. She was leaning forward on the bar, her stool tilted slightly, staring rapt into his face as they spoke. Carlotta cleared her throat awkwardly, feeling uncomfortably like she was about to be the third wheel in whatever the situation was playing out in front of her. She didn’t usually date other vampires anyway. Past experience had taught her that it didn’t tend to end well but, equally, taking human lovers came with its own complications. Their unfortunate tendency to grow old and die was really most inconvenient. The first time a vampire faces the heart wrenching loss of their human love to the depredations of time it was a star-crossed romance, after that it just became an act of deliberate masochism. So, despite her reservations, she’d succumbed to the suggestions of her nest-mates and signed up to Sinder, a dating app for supernaturals.

Regina turned in her stool with a momentary look of irritation on her face that cleared into a smile when she recognised Carlotta. “Carlotta? Hi! It’s so nice to finally meet you!”

Carlotta smiled back and eased onto a bar stool. “You too.”

Regina turned a hungry gaze back to the bartender who was still staring at her with a somewhat dazed look on his beautiful face, “This is Sven, isn’t he just an absolute angel? He’ll make you anything you like. Won’t you, Sven?” Sven’s face lit up in a perfect, vapid grin. He turned his eyes eagerly on Carlotta, “Yes…anything you like. What will it be?” Sven was clearly glamoured six ways to Sunday.

Staring up into his glassy eyes, Carlotta let out a small sigh. Glancing briefly back at Regina, who was still eyeing Sven like a cat who had spotted a baby bird fallen from its nest, Carlotta ordered an Old Fashioned. While Sven turned away to get her drink, she turned her eyes to Regina.

Regina was undeniably hot. Unfortunately, it was abundantly clear that no one was more aware of that than Regina. There was such a deliberate, rehearsed quality to the way she pushed her fingers back through her shock of long chestnut curls, flipping them dramatically and releasing another cloud of Cannula No. 5 which she’d practically bathed in. Carlotta had thought her profile pictures had seemed a little flashy and filtered but she’d hardly been the only one on Sinder who looked overly polished. And, let’s face it, vampires were a vain lot in general. In Regina’s case, however, the overpolish spilled into actual real life.

“I was just telling Sven about this amazing new artist I’m working with. Totally new hybrid genre, going to revolutionise the whole scene. It’s somewhere between House and Garage. We’re calling it….Utility. Here, let me play you some”

“Oh that sounds interesting but I won’t be able to hea…” 

Before Carlotta could finish her objection, Regina’s perfectly manicured hand had thrust a phone earnestly up to her ear. Sure enough, the clash of tinny, whiney squeaks and bleeps emitting from the phone’s speaker mixed painfully in Carlotta’s head with the sexy swell of Sevdaliza pumping through the bar’s sound system. The patrons on the nearest table shot disapproving looks as the clashing beats reached their ears too. Embarrassed, Carlotta tried to nod enthusiastically as she reached up, pretending to look at the track name on the phone as she scrambled around trying to shut it off.

“Oh wow, yeah that’s great. My friend is a DJ actually, she knows more about all this than me. She’s probably more clued up about Utility than I am, I’m afraid.”

“Doubt it babe, this is, like, absolutely cutting edge, you know”. Regina laughed, patronisingly, looking at Sven who started laughing too, as if it was a long-standing inside joke. As Regina turned her gaze back towards her, Carlotta clocked Sven’s mirth turn briefly to bafflement, as he realised he had no idea why he was laughing, before settling back into stupefied content as he continued to overstir the already very well stirred Old Fashioned. 

“I think that’s ready now, hun.” Regina emitted the same patronising laugh, only this time fixing her eyes on Carlotta as if sharing an inside joke with her now. Carlotta tried to smile back and join in with the, ‘humans, amiright?’ sentiment as Sven placed the glass in front of her, but she could feel her expression was a pretty anaemic approximation of amusement. Poor love, he was absolutely glamoured off his vigorously bench-pressed tits. If he makes it through the evening without becoming a snack, the glam-down from such an intense charm is going to leave him pretty nihilistic for the next day or two.

“So, how have you found Sinder so far then, babe? Met any other hotties?” Regina’s speech was rapid and confident to the point of brusqueness.

“Well actually, I’ve only been on it since…” 

Again, Carlotta failed to finish her sentence before Regina began spraying words at her again like a verbal AK-47.

“I met the FITTEST chick on there the other week you know. Honestly babe, her pictures were a 10 and in real life she was at least a 12. Blew everyone else out of the water. But she’d listed herself as a vampire, right……turns out to be a muthafuckin SIREN!!” Regina’s voice jumped dramatically in volume, practically spitting that last word. Cue more disapproving looks from the nearby table.

“Oh how annoying, I hate it when people lie on their…”

“Yeah I couldn’t believe I didn’t clock it as soon as she turned up”, interrupted Regina, again. “I mean, I could OBVIOUSLY tell something was off but it wasn’t until I happened to catch her reflection in a passing car wing mirror that I realised what she was trying to pull. Fucking sirens man, I mean, as IF I’d wanna wake up next to that. Gross.” There was such bile in her tone now, such disgust, that her whole face seemed to lose its beauty and instead, just for a brief moment, took on a hard, angular ugliness.

“So you only date vampires then?”

“Yeah of course! Gotta stick to our kind, you know? Going against the laws of supernature to mix with others, don’t you think?”

Oh fuck, thought Carlotta. I’m on a date with a racist. An actual racist.

Uncertain how to respond, she instead took a sip of her drink and glanced over at Sven. He’d been polishing the same spot on the bar since serving her drink, his eyes locked dreamily on Regina. Turning her gaze back to Regina, she decided the best approach was probably to steer the conversation into safer waters.

“So are you still up for the movie then? It’s a classic, I can’t believe you haven’t seen it!”

Regina wrinkled her nose and took a sip of her Pornstar Martini, “I guess so, babe, but FYI I usually only go to the cinema for, like, premieres and usually only when I know the filmmaker personally, you know? I’m not massively down with, like, super mainstream commercial stuff, you know? It’s just so…pedestrian. I prefer to really feel a part of  the creative process, you know? That’s why I love working with emerging artists, I just feel like I”m on that wavelength.”

“Well, I mean, it’s Francis Ford Coppola so it’s not exactly–”

Regina waved her hand forgivingly as she downed the dregs of her drink, “Don’t sweat it, hun. We can go this one time.”

As she began to gather her phone off the bar and tuck it away in her oversized Louis Vuitton handbag, Carlotta tried to get Sven’s attention. Eventually she had to lean awkwardly across the bar and wave a hand vigorously across his line of sight to get his eyes to detach from their unblinking fix on Regina. When she asked to settle the tab, he looked completely blank for a second then slowly some semblance of understanding dawned on his beautiful face. With a pained final glance at Regina he shuffled over to the till.

Carlotta settled up, noting Regina made no offer to do so or even split it, and turned back to her. She was applying some kind of extreme lip gloss that made her mouth look positively pornographic. Freud would have a field day. Carlotta raised her eyebrows and tipped her head towards the exit but Regina raised a finger indicating she needed a minute.

“Just a second hun, let me just take care of that then we can go. Can you hold this super quick? Ta.” She tilted her head towards Sven and shoved her bag in Carlotta’s lap.

Momentarily confused, Carlotta looked at Sven, who seemed completely enamoured by his own reflection in a cocktail shaker, then back at Regina who was sliding off her stool.

“Wait, hold on, when you say ‘take care of’ you don’t mean…? Yeah they frown on that here, you can’t feed on site.”

Regina rolled her eyes, “Oh come on, I’m just going to have a little nibble. He’ll be fine and no one will ever know.”

She made to move around Carlotta but Carlotta caught her by the arm, “No, Regina, seriously. It’s not cool, you can’t do that here.”

For a second a look of defiance flitted across Regina’s pretty face, a blood red sheen colouring her eyes and her fangs becoming more visible. Carlotta thought she was going to force the issue but then a guilty smirk spread across her face, like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

“Well, you can’t blame a girl for getting a little peckish every now and again but if it bothers you then of course we can just go, babe.*

As they left, Carlotta cast one last glance back at Sven. He was absentmindedly stroking his own face and staring forlornly after Regina. Carlotta shook her head. That poor boy was going to be screaming into the void by morning. 

When Carlotta had seen that ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ was screening at The Prince Charles Cinema in Chinatown she’d been excited to see it again on the big screen. Now, walking next to Regina whose downturned face was bathed in the blue glow of her phone, she was feeling somewhat less enthusiastic. Every now and then Regina would say something like, “Oh-em-gee I can’t even…” or “Stop it! I am screaming.” Carlotta shot a glance at her. She looked mildly interested at best.

At one point Regina shoved her phone under Carlotta’s nose, “This is my friend Destiny’s latest work. It’s kind of a hyperreal guerilla installation piece on the ultimate futility of mortal existence and the diminishing sense of meaning or existential fulfilment in an uncaring multiverse. Obviously he’s referring to mortals, not people like us, because humans, like, die and stuff, right? It’s sad really, isn’t it babe, their lives are sooo pointless.”

Carlotta caught a brief glimpse of green paint splashed across the steps of the National Gallery and had just enough time to think that was kind of a dick move, not to mention an absolute bitch for some poor bastard to have to clean up, before the phone was whisked away again.

Carlotta pulled her own phone from her pocket before her thoughts showed on her face. As the screen lit up she saw a barrage of messages from Nisha and Mindy demanding to know how the evening was going. Scrolling quickly through them she saw that the longer they had gone without a response, the more outrageous their suggestions got as to what she and Regina might be getting up to that had her so distracted from her phone. The last message, from Mindy of course, put forth the theory that she and Regina had retired to a furry party where they were currently deep into an all night orgy of fuzzy bunny suits and kink. Carlotta smiled and replied that, unfortunately, it was nothing quite so exciting and that they were in fact about to get to the cinema.

Any hopes that Regina might be less of a jackass once she settled down to watch the film were dashed before the trailers ended. The verbal diarrhea continued at the same entirely non-cinema-appropriate volume throughout the first trailer, only to cease entirely during the second, but only because Regina had suddenly and dramatically announced she needed to go to the “little ladies room” before equally dramatically tripping/barging her way out of the room. Carlotta, and the rest of poor patrons who had come out thinking they would have a chilled evening in front of the big screen, enjoyed this brief respite which lasted almost to the end of trailer three before being shattered by the cartoonish whirlwind reentry of Regina, now blabbering into her phone.

“….so of course she had to show him that exact message, didn’t she? Silly bitch. I mean, he’s not even on Sinistergram!! Like, what  the actual fuck, you know? Ok babe gotta go, I’m out with this new chick but DM me any updates yeah? Byeeeeee.”

Carlotta attempted to sink a little further down in her seat to avoid some of the psychic daggers she knew were being chucked at her and her migraine of a date by the rest of the audience. Please, for the love of all things unholy, let this gorgeous undead twat remain silent for the duration of the film, thought Carlotta. Dating vampires was bad enough, but trying to date actual vampires who were also energy vampires? Nope. Just, nope. 

Carlotta began planning her excuse for a very, very swift exit at the end of the movie before the opening credits began to roll. She sure as hell didn’t want to miss the film but she also knew she didn’t want to spend a second longer than that in Regina’s company. As she mentally mapped out all the emergency exits, Carlotta was suddenly aware of an infuriating tip-tap noise coming from the seat next to her. Regina, apparently, was the last remaining individual on the planet who still thought it was acceptable to keep the keystroke sound not only on, but at the very loudest possible volume her phone could manage. This infuriating beat was syncopated with all kinds of strange huffs and snorts. Carlotta realised it was Regina’s attempt at ‘quiet place appropriate’ noise-level, but in fact actually turned out to be even MORE annoying than her foghorning. The atmosphere in the room was congealing into a general air of animosity. As Hunter S Thompson once said, the vibrations were getting nasty. Along with the increasing amount of outstandingly British tutting, she knew she wasn’t the only one getting close to breaking point.

Carlotta (and everyone else) suffered through about ten further minutes of this nonsense. It felt like ten hours. Just as the tension in the room reached a treacle-like viscosity, Regina, completely oblivious to the murderous rage simmering in the room around her, made another swift but ungainly exit at the expense of at least three different feet and half a tub of outrageously priced stale popcorn.

Carlotta prayed that a sinkhole would open, either swallowing Regina as she perched on the loo or failing that, directly below her own seat. Not the exact way out she had hoped for but honestly, at this point, she would be grateful to be plunged into the bowls of the earth if it meant sweet release from this horrendous date.

All fantasies of geological disaster coming to the rescue came to an abrupt halt as Carlotta’s brain was forced back to reality by the sound of a ruckus in the foyer. Before even picking out her voice in the affray, Carlotta knew Regina was somehow involved. Scooping up both their coats and her bag, she scurried out to confirm her suspicions and leave the rest of the audience in peace. 

It took less than half a second to establish that the root cause of the chaos outside was indeed Regina. A tall, burly security guard had hold of her arm and was attempting to remove her from the building. Regina, quelle fucking suprise, was having a monumental meltdown.

“Get your disgusting paws off me, you fuck! I know my rights! Don’t you know who I am?? I have over 3,000 followers who will cancel the absolute SHIT out of this stupid backwards place!! You just wait until I post about it…. give me my bag, now!!”

Very, very reluctantly, Carlotta began walking towards them. She wondered if she could just keep on going past and straight out into the night, leaving Regina’s coat at the feet of the half amused, half exasperated guard. However, given what she knew about Regina from the night so far, she definitely didn’t trust her to not to go completely vamp and rip this poor guy’s arm clean off. She struck Carlotta as exactly the kind of person who would throw the essential secrecy of all supernatural-kind out the window if she felt it would save her ego. With a resigned sigh and one last, longing looking at the door, she trudged towards them.

“Babe!!! OMG you have to help me!!! This stupid fucking troll is assaulting me…..quick, you NEED to film this!! I need the world to see this injustice!!!”

“You know this, er…lady?” asked the guard. He sounded almost apologetic.

“Of course she knows me you idiot! Everyone except you knows who I am and besides, she’s my date!!”screeched Regina, fast approaching a pitch that only dogs can hear.

Now the guard definitely looked apologetic as he held onto the flailing arm but turned the rest of his body towards Carlotta.

“Look, she’s just been caught doing coke in the bathroom. Not even in a stall, she was racking lines on the edge of the sink.”

Cue a howl of utter anguish and despair from the still squirming Regina.

“Coke??? You think I’d do coke?? What is this, fucking 2007??? Do I look like some banker wanker loser with a Rolex instead of a personality??”

The guard did his best to ignore the continued physical and verbal assault as he turned back to Carlotta.

“Look, I don’t really care what it was, cos this isn’t a nightclub. It’s a cinema. There are families here. You have to go.”

All traces of Carlotta’s embarrassment turned swiftly to quiet rage as the sum total of Regina’s behaviour that evening crystalised in her mind. Swiftly and repeatedly thank-sorrying the guard, Carlotta now became the one dragging Regina out of the door by her arm.

She didn’t let go of Regina’s arm once they were outside either. Instead, she fixed her gaze across the road to the half-empty car park, zeroing in on Regina’s car and frog marching her towards it. 

“It wasn’t even coke babe!! I mean…..ewww! As if! It was top-shelf WB40!! Like, the absolute purest shit!! And that fucking MAN flushed it!! Do you have any idea how expensive that shit is??”

Carlotta had heard of WB40, it was all over the vampire press. Freeze-dried white blood cells harvested from lab-created beings that allegedly had the purest, oldest vampiric blood lines. Going back just a few decades, vampires had thought it was a fun cool party drug that made you feel AMAZING and seemed to have no ill effects. But as it gained popularity, it soon became apparent that not only was it potentially lethal in acute doses and definitely bad for your health if used chronically…….it also turned its devotees into insufferable, entitled nob heads with no volume control. Witness exhibit A – Regina.

As they reached the shoddily modded matte black Audi TT that only WB40 users would think was cool, Carlotta let go of Regina’s arm. Turning to begin finally walking away from this clusterfuck of an evening, Carlotta suddenly clocked, out of the corner of her eye, what looked like a giant disco ball hurtling towards Regina’s car at breakneck speed. It seemed to be emitting some kind of alarm. Too late to intercept, Carlotta realised that it was, in fact, another vampire. A very angry flaxen-haired vampire sporting a very loud sequined jumpsuit. The noise was not an alarm. It was coming from her mouth. The words were incoherent but the delivery made it abundantly clear that this was not a wellwisher. 

“I-can’t-believe-you’d-even-have-the-nerve-to-think-about-showing-your-face-around-here-after-everything-you-did-you-fucking-bitch-whore-from-everloving-hell”, wailed the disco ball, continuing her sharp trajectory towards the startled Regina.

Regina had just enough time to utter, “What the fuck, Azzie….” before the sparkling ball of outrage floored her with a single messy but powerful left hook. 

Carlotta considered trying to intervene for exactly one iota of a second before coming to her senses and realising this was exactly the moment to exit stage left, pursued only by an incoherent stream of vitriol. Well, mostly incoherent, she did distinctly catch the words ‘skank’ and ‘hussy’ hurled after her.

“We broke up like two whole weeks ago…” Regina’s voice was muffled by the being now pinning her to the ground but still amazingly loud and undeniably annoying. 

Carlotta kept her eyes firmly forward, making it to the other side of the car park before something smashing against the wall over her head made her risk a glance behind her. Azzie had apparently hurled an empty bottle at her from across the lot. The orange glow of the streetlights added an almost ludicrous filter as it illuminated the now fully brawling pair. Sighing, Carlotta hurried on into the relative calm of a major city on a Friday night, listening as the screeching from the drama vamps was slowly overtaken by the hum and throb of the crowds spilling out of the bars and restaurants she passed.

She paused, for one brief second, to delete Sinder from her phone, before ordering a cab.

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