Meg and Vincent dance Labyrinth style.
“Lestat has blond hair,” Briar said, driving us down “the 5,” as she called it. “Edward has blond hair.”
“Edward is fictional,” Kelly retorted from the back seat, “and maybe this Lestat guy dyes his hair. Did you ever consider that, Meg's chauffeur?”
“My name is Briar. Lestat is also fictional.”
“Well, there you go,” Kelly said. “Every real vampire I've ever met had black hair.”
I kept thinking about Moose Island. Kelly had called the vampires there—I had to think of them as vampires now, not as people I used to know—skeletal. Zombies.
“You've met two vampires,” I said to Kelly, forcing myself to join the conversation, “and Vaughn doesn't even really count.”
“Okay, how many vampires have you met, Meg?”
That was a good question. “Thirteen that I know of. And there was a blonde and a redhead. And some silver-haired ones. And if Vincent had turned you into a vampire, Kelly, you'd be a vampire with blonde hair.”
“Eew! My blonde hair with that gray vampire complexion? That's gross, Meg! I can’t believe you would even say that. Wait, you've met thirteen vampires?”
Glad for the distraction, I filled Kelly in on my Kelly-free adventures: Brooke, Grebiv, the seven vampire leaders in Drazylvonia, the ancient vampire at GothiCon, and Damonius.
“So, like,” Kelly said, “you and Vincent are friends now?”
Kelly was silent for a moment. “You know he's my ex, right?”
“What?” Briar snorted.
“I know, right?” Kelly said, misinterpreting the object of Briar's derision. “How could you become friends with my ex, Meg?”
“When did you and Vincent date, Kelly?” Briar asked. I could tell she was trying to keep her voice neutral.
“It was a long time ago,” Kelly said. “We dated, I dumped him, he came crawling back to me, and I refused to take him back!”
Briar mouthed, “Really?” at me.
“And now Meg is friends with him,” Kelly continued. “Well, you can have him, Meg. And good luck with that. I've got someone better now. Valentino knows how to treat me right. And he is not a vampire.”
Briar cleared her throat. I had briefly told her about Kelly's boyfriend Valentino, who was more than likely a vampire. Briar had suggested we bring Kelly back to GothiCon, since we couldn't hang around Los Angeles until nightfall to protect her.
“Are you really going to introduce me to your actor friends?” Kelly asked, almost salivating. She played with a lock of blonde hair. “I mean, I know a ton of famous people, so I'm not really that phased meeting more famous people. I meet famous people all the time. But, you know, do I look okay? Is my hair all right? Tell me if I start breathing with my stomach, okay? I sometimes forget that I'm supposed to breathe with my chest; guys find that sexy, according to It. Do you think my eye veins are gross? Are they small, Meg? Or are they gross? Meg? My eye veins. Are they small or gross?”
* * * * *
Three trafficky hours later, we entered the GothiCon convention center.
“Okay,” Briar said, back to business. “You've got about one hour to prepare for The Masquerade.”
The Masquerade. Was I really still going to that?
I was contractually obligated to, so I guess I was.
“Kelly, are you coming?” Briar asked.
Kelly hesitated. With a look of distaste, she surveyed a nearby group of GothiCon attendees.
Briar added, “You usually need to buy tickets to The Masquerade a year in advance, but I can get you in without one.”
“Oh, then I'll totally go. What should I wear? I am not dressing up like these people,” she said loudly.
In my hotel room, Kelly and I changed into dresses Briar procured for us. Kelly's was a neon pink mini skirt with a matching off-shoulder peasant top. Mine was a full blown ball gown similar to the one Sarah wears in The Labyrinth but without the '80s puff sleeves. I dress like this every convention; MBIaV panelists are required to dress to the nines for The Masquerade.
Sitting on the toilet in my dress, I used my tablet to search for “Jack Cornell.” There were tons of Jack Cornells on Facebook and Twitter. But none were my Jack. I did a general Google image search, but Jack was absent from those lists too—except for one profile picture buried deep in the search results. The small, pixelated photograph depicted a 14-year-old Jack smiling in a summer breeze as he tied a knot. The photograph was from a site called boatingscouts.org. I clicked it and found Jack's profile, locked from public view. All I could see was Jack's name, his picture, and user last login.
User Last Login: 5 years ago.
When I exited the bathroom, Kelly stared at me.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said. “You just—you look nice.”
I didn't say anything.
“Here,” she said, “let me do your hair and makeup.”
Numbly, I let her.
Jack was all but absent from the internet. Which meant, in all likelihood, he was dead. Pictures or it didn't happen. Profiles or you don't exist.
But Jack did exist. Somewhere out there, Jack existed and nothing more.
And there was nothing I could do about it. The island was guarded. And even if I made it onto Moose Island, Jack was one of a thousand blood-crazed vampires. I would never be able to reach him.
I would never be able to kill him.
Too soon it was time for The Masquerade. Locking the hotel room door behind us, we headed downstairs.
Night had fallen. A bolt of lightning marbled the sky as Kelly and I headed toward the ballroom. A quarter-mile long line of attendees stood in the darkness outside of the ballroom, awaiting admittance to the exclusive and highly anticipated Masquerade. They were dressed in long, flowing gowns and collared capes. Most wore Venetian masks and had dressed as vampires (how many were actual vampires?), but a few were dressed as victims, fake bite marks (real bite marks?) glistening on their necks. The Cloaked Folk, who I now knew were real vampires, stood sentinel here and there.
Briar, who'd spotted us, ushered me and Kelly forward. Attendees standing in line glared at us until they realized who I was. “It's Meg Swain! The real one!” I heard people whisper and shout. There were several wolf whistles.
“Don't whistle at Meg Swain! That's 'insensitive'!” I heard someone—a guy—shout. A few people laughed, including the guy. He shot me a nasty, hateful leer.
Briar pulled us into the ballroom.
The ballroom wasn't empty. Several GothiCon workers were speaking through walkie talkies, finalizing things. A black-clad catering company was setting up refreshments along a lengthy table draped with a black cloth. They were serving red wine or cranberry juice or something that resembled those drinks. Blood red curtains shrouded the walls. Hundreds of candles glowed and flickered, supplying an eerie ambiance to the large room.
Here and there stood little pockets of actors and writers from other famous vampire movies. Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart were talking with Stephenie Meyer. Kiefer Sutherland walked over to join them. Off in one corner, I recognized the newly created stars of What We Do In the Shadows talking with Ann Hodgman, the author of my favorite vampire series. I'd never seen the What We Do In the Shadows guys at a GothiCon before, and they looked dazed and a little starstruck. In another corner, Jess Weixler (star of Teeth, which I can't recommend highly enough) chatted with Lara Parker and Helena Bonham Carter. They were interrupted by a prematurely admitted group of awestruck fans dressed as Gryffindors and Slytherins. (A solid fifteen percent of GothiCon's attendees are Harry Potter buffs who only come to see Cedric and Bellatrix.)
Barely visible in another corner stood my dad, Brooke, and the rest of the MBIaV gang.
“Hey,” I said, approaching them. “Dad, do you remember Kelly Pitts from Moose Island?”
“Heya, Kelly!” he said, hugging her. I could tell by the way he said “Heya” that he didn't remember her at all. “You're a long way from Moose Island! That's two Moose Islanders we've seen in one day, isn't it, Meggy?”
“Who's the other one?” Kelly asked suspiciously.
“Meg's old babysitter Vincent Graver. We based My Babysitter Is a Vampire on him actually. Real polite guy. Little too polite.”
“I can't believe you,” Kelly said to me. “You said he wouldn't be here!”
Everyone in the room, it seemed, turned to look at us.
“I didn't actually say anything,” I said, recalling how I'd avoided answering Kelly's question and let her assume the answer she'd wanted to hear.
Kelly stalked off.
“What was that about?” Brooke asked. She was wearing a ballgown similar to mine, except hers was emerald green.
“She and Vincent dated,” I said. “I guess I should have been more forthcoming about the fact that he's here.”
“Oh, was that Pittsy?” Brooke asked, peering after Kelly, who had disappeared into a restroom. Brooke knew all about Kelly “Pittsy” Pitts. Once everyone else in our party had again immersed themselves in conversation, Brooke quietly asked, “What's she doing here? What's going on?”
As the darkly glamorous ballroom filled with people and music was struck, I told Brooke everything that had happened. It was a relief, talking to Brooke, despite the many interruptions (“Brooke Donahue! I love your acting!” “Brooke Donahue! Oh my god, can you sign my shirt?” “Oh my god! It's Meg! And she's talking to Real Meg!”). Knowing there were actual vampires present, I kept looking around, paranoid. Every now and then, I thought I spotted an otherworldly flash of light—a humanlike eye as reflective as a cat's in the darkness—or a gray skinned limb that looked a little too convincing to be cosplay.
“Briar's a vampire?” Brooke asked, her green eyes wide.
“She's not a vampire exactly,” I said, glancing over at Briar, who was talking with Kilmer. Could she hear us? “She's a dhampir.”
To my surprise, Brooke said, “I know about dhampirs. While I was a vampire, I read everything I could about vampirism. Dhampirs are half-human, half-vampire. They're basically immortal humans. Historically, they don't get along with vampires at all. Are you sure Briar is working for Vincent and not against him?”
“Yes. Positive. Vincent's family is one of the few vampire groups that do accept dhampirs.”
“You make them sound like credit cards. They're--”
“Hey,” interrupted a lean man in his early twenties. He was slowly looking me up and down, his gaze lingering for several long seconds on my breasts. “You. Me. The dance floor. Now.”
It was the guy who'd sarcastically told off the crowd outside for whistling at me.
“I'm flattered,” I said. I had to be careful not to offend fans. “But I'm terrible at dancing.”
“Are you sure?” he asked my boobs.
“We’re sure,” I said in a high-pitched voice.
He looked at me like he thought I was weird.
“Okay, I get it,” he said. “Sure. No problem.” He started to walk away. Then he turned back and added: “Who'd want to dance with you, anyway? Dumb bitch.”
“Apologize,” I heard someone say.
I turned. Standing before the lean bro-man was Vincent.
Vincent wore an elaborate black-and-white mask that covered his eyes. His white-lined, collared black cape swept the ground as he approached the man who'd accosted me. “Tell Meg you regret your pathetic existence.”
Vincent had claimed he wasn't great at hypnotizing people, but Bro-Man was quick to comply.
“I'm sorry,” Bro-Man said to me.
“For what are you sorry?” Vincent asked.
“For my pathetic existence.”
“Now apologize for ever having crossed Meg's path.”
“I'm sorry I ever haved—for, um, for never having... for what?”
“For ever having crossed alluring Meg's path. I shall add a word to this sentence each time you utter it incorrectly.”
Bro-Man looked like he might cry.
“For ever having crossed,” he said slowly, “luring...”
“For ever having crossed alluring, intelligent, and brave Meg's path.”
“That's two words!” Bro-Man said. “No, it's three! And is a word!”
Vincent took a menacing step closer to Bro-Man.
“For ever having crossed... alluring... int—intelligent... and brave Meg's path.”
“Now say the completed phrase.”
Bro-Man did cry this time.
Someone in the gathering crowd howled, which caused Bro-Man, disoriented, to look around. Who was howling? Were they howling at him? Why?
“Vincent,” I said, amused. Bro-Man just looked so pathetic. “Vincent, stop.”
“But he is an asshole, Meg.”
“That’s true,” I said. “Okay, you can keep going.”
Vincent made Bro-Man pronounce 5th grade vocabulary words for another ten minutes before telling him, “Leave us.”
“Thanks,” I said to Vincent as Bro-Man hurried away.
Vincent's icy hands took mine. He examined my fingertips, which I'd unbandaged for the Masquerade.
“I have injured you.”
“I'm the one who dug your nails into my fingers,” I said.
Vincent, looking suddenly very alert, gazed into the crowd. Someone had said his name. And then someone else was saying it. And then someone else.
I spotted my father several feet away, talking to someone.
“He's right over there,” I heard my father say. “The real Vincent Graver.”
1. GothiCon is a continuation of an original series, My Babysitter Is a Vampire by Ann Hodgman, published in the early 1990s. Meg, Meg's parents, Voldar, Brooke, Caryl, Kilmer, Gabrielle, Mortimer, Vincent, Reid, Trevor, and Jack are Ann Hodgman's original characters. GothiCon was written and posted with permission from the original author.
The moderator, questioners, and bouncers are my original creations.
2. Part I: GothiCon is a complete section (with a semi-satisfying conclusion) of an incomplete novel.
Parts II and III will be posted by summer.
3. A million thank yous for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed this chapter. Any input is greatly appreciated and will be reciprocated.