Last night I went to my first vampire Gathering and although I’ve learned that these immortal beings are far removed from the mythical vampires of page and screen I was still surprised when Cat pulled up outside the Morningside United church on the corner of Cambridge and Morningside streets. One of four churches at the intersection, it has given the area its local name, Holy Corner and is the last place I’d expect to find a lone vampire let alone a whole group.
“Churches have no fear for me,” Cat looks up at the imposing tower, “granted I don’t feel the presence of God in churches but I have no fear of church. It’s just a building dedicated to the worship of an invisible being. The idea that vampires recoil from crosses is stupid,” she thumbs the remote on her car key. “And holy water is just water that a priest prayed over. It doesn’t make it lethal to anyone although I’ve seen some pretty dirty holy water in my time.”
As it turns out we’re not in the actual church. The Morningside guild has a monthly use of a hall in the Eric Liddell Centre right next door and she glances briefly at the banner outside that celebrates the athlete immortalised in Chariots of Fire. “I saw him run once.”
She leaves me with that thought as she leads us inside, her daughter, Samantha has accompanied us as well. It was once a church but with falling church attendances even here on Holy Corner, it became a community centre.
“A far more useful building,” Cat quips as we enter a meeting room, “the centre has no idea that vampires rent out the hall once a month. This group is a legally registered charity, the Alex Sutherland Foundation. The membership dues and charity drives they run go to support various charities,” she indicates a table with flyers and other paraphernalia on it.
“We’re collecting money to support Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. One of the members of the steering committee was actually approached by someone from MI5 who wanted to know where the money was going and practically threatening to shut the group down.”
She picks a leaflet up and smirks, “three days later police arrested him after a tip off about child porn on his computer and nothing more was said about their support for Palestinians. Never piss off a vampire, you may not be bitten but you could wind up in serious trouble.”
She hands me the leaflet and I’m about to reply when Jana steps into view and greets Cat and Samantha with a kiss on the cheek before turning to give me the once over.
“So, you have come to a Gathering, finally.”
“He took a bit of convincing but he’s trying to understand us,” Cat smiles.
“Then this will be interesting,” she holds out her hand, “welcome to the Morningside Gathering, we hope you enjoy your night here,” she releases my hand.
“Come, we will get you set up. Henry has agreed to open the meeting tonight.”
Henry is introduced a minute or two later. He’s a tall, well dressed Englishman with a clipped moustache and a polite manner who fought under Arthur Wellesley in the Peninsular War, where he was wounded at the Battle of Corunna. He was one of the thousands of men evacuated to Britain after the battle. He met Cat in a hospital in England and was so transfixed by her calmness and serenity that his senses deserted him along with his physical person. As he relates some fifteen minutes later at the start of the meeting.
“I forced the vampires to kidnap me so I wouldn’t have to go back to the army.”
When I looked around the hall it was impossible to distinguish between vampires and mortals, something I was told is actively encouraged. Their clothes range from standard business attire to casual sweaters with a number of fashionably dressed women wearing clothes bought in Next, H&M, Gap and Debenhams. Blending in with humanity is a golden vampire rule.
A Gathering begins with a reading of the Ten Protocols followed by the Amalthean Declaration, consisting of three edicts basically prohibiting taking blood from humans without their consent and suggesting that vampires try to live alongside humans and find common ground. Henry then opened the Gathering by identifying himself as a vampire, the date he was born and the date of his turning and then turns the meeting over to Cat.
Cat’s monologue took the better part of forty minutes, which is apparently fairly typical. Some monologues can be as short as twenty minutes and others can go as long as an hour and twenty minutes but forty five minutes is about the limit unless the speaker is particularly entertaining and of sufficient vintage. Cat’s clan head, Morganna rarely gets to speak for less than an hour due to her great age of some twenty five hundred years. Cat gives her mortal history by way of a brief introduction before ending with her turning in 1314, a few months before the Battle of Bannockburn where she helped tend to the wounded.
After that she meanders through the next seven hundred years, picking out certain events and decades to describe her feelings at the time and her feelings with the benefit of hindsight. It’s certainly an illuminating history lesson that had me wishing I’d been allowed to bring a tape recorder but these devices are banned at Gatherings for obvious reasons. Her purpose in telling the stories is to illustrate how she coped with dramatic events and the danger of discovery. Clan Grey Raven have always been known as friends of men and thus her perspective on vampire/human relationships was particularly poignant, given that the Amalthean Declaration was only signed in 1920. Prior to that the clans saw no harm in ‘tapping a human’ for sustenance. As such, the Grey Ravens were distrusted and sometimes regarded as heretics because they rejected what has always been known as the great hunt. Vampires are natural hunters and humans were regarded as the ultimate prey.
The final part of her speech covers her reunion with Samantha and her doubts before they were reunited. There were times she questioned why she was bothering to go through with this and risk rejection or the opposite, a stepdaughter who wanted to become a vampire. Through it all however she had the backing of the clan who had taken over her role as Samantha’s other guardians, having sworn to protect Samantha and her father.
“I came out to my daughter because at the heart of it I believe that we are decent people. I am not a monster, I have never lusted after my daughter’s blood and if she did decide to become one of us she would have my support but not necessarily my agreement. I take risks every day that her father, my husband will turn up unannounced and discover that I’m actually still alive. I take a chance that some photograph will emerge on the web to reveal my whereabouts to Nosferatu but all that is worth enduring because she is my daughter, not by blood but I am a part of her. I invested part of my life in her for nearly ten years and I believe that to go on without revealing myself is cowardly and I’m only speaking for myself. I know there are others here tonight who need to stay out of sight for very good reasons and I’ve been there before and understand it. For me it was an act of courage but I admit at the time I felt uneasy and just a little bit fragmented. Sammie is the light of my life and there’s not a day goes by when I don’t find out something new about her.”
She ends suddenly and there is a moment of quiet before she says, “thank you, Sammie,” and then there is spontaneous applause.
The second part of the meeting is a basic question and answer session once drinks have been served, blood for the vamps and wine or coffee and tea for the humans. If you feel the need to comment on her talk or ask questions now is the time to ask. I remained silent but many others thanked her for sharing her story and others shared parts of their own story. One woman is contemplating outing herself to the children from her previous life and while Cat doesn’t give much in the way of advice she does remind her that the clan is there to support her and no one should go through this alone. The woman is noticeably moved by the response. It’s that mutual support that is at the core of the Gatherings all over the world.
“We need each other to survive,” Jana explains some half an hour later as we sit in a cafe just off the Royal Mile. “The Gatherings were a recent innovation that didn’t really become established until the nineteen forties and even then it was mainly an American thing. Since the fifties we have seen Gatherings start up all over the world, it is the one place we can gather together and the old clan rivalry is dead. Outside the Gathering we do argue, I am a White and proud of it, but inside a Gathering I am just a vampire and no better or worse than any other vampire. It is a place we can feel safe to confess our faults and talk about our feelings. I am the secretary for this group and I have been doing this job for the last three years. Soon I will hand over my keys to another member but I will always remain a part of this group until I disappear myself and make a new life in some other place.”
Cat shares a similar view but concedes she doesn’t get to as many Gatherings as she should.
“A Gathering is basically a group of three or more vampires. We’ve been gathering together for thousands of years, it’s just that now we’ve formalised the procedure and written our rules and regulations. I have a regular meeting out in the West End back in Glasgow but I’m in contact with vampires just about every day. There’s something about being with your own kind that grounds you and takes away the nervousness and paranoia, and puts a smile on your face.”
As I sit and reflect later that night I am touched. There was not a long face among them, on the contrary there were many jokes and anecdotes, and a lot of laughter. I met vampires it’s true, but I also met doctors, lawyers, architects, cops, social workers, consultants and members of many other professions. There’s an egalitarianism that is sadly rare in our society. Colour boundaries and social status are non-existent at a Gathering although I’m told that some Gatherings can be hijacked by elites and cliques. Nevertheless even that is taken on the chin and the Gathering goes on, they are all members of the same race, the vampire race and if they do not stick together then their kind will be destroyed. For my part I’m quite looking forward to visiting another Gathering, if only to leave the troubles of the world outside the doors for a couple of hours.
When my stepmom’s plane went down a part of me died, Cat was my world. In her place she left us to her friends, the Grey Ravens. Over the years I slowly came to realise her death was a mere facade. When we were reunited I learned the truth about Clan Grey Raven and her remarkable history. Some people will always love. Some people never lose hope. Some people never die…Smashwords