Following on from my earlier interview with Dr. MacGregor I was dispatched by my editor to the good doctor’s home for follow up interview. I was a bit hesitant at first but I fear my editor more than an army of vampires. An hour later I found myself talking to Dr. MacGregor’s stepdaughter, Samantha. Yes, mom would be delighted to speak to you again, how about you come for dinner? My editor was over the moon, so to speak and I was at a loss. What do you take to dinner with a vampire? A bottle of blood? A box set of the Twilight films?
A second phone call left me even more confused.
“Just bring yourself, we eat around seven thirty so be here by about quarter past.”
Catriona MacGregor lives in the west end of Glasgow just off Byres Road in a stylish home overlooking the shared community garden that takes pride of place in the street. I once dated a woman in the very next street many years ago. If she knew I was on my way to meet a vampire she’d be handing me garlic necklaces and a cross.
The door bell sounds promising, no tolling bell here and when a twenty one year old woman opens the door she’s halfway through sending a text. She instantly reminds me of my daughters in the way she manipulates a smartphone and greets me at the same time without missing a beat or putting a foot wrong.
“Mom’s in the bathroom, she’ll be down soon. Come in, hang your coat over there,” she eyes the bottle of wine, “oh, you shouldn’t have… mom,” she calls upstairs, “he’s arrived… early.”
She inclines her head in the direction of the door after I’ve taken off my coat, “after you.”
Having interviewed Cat, as she prefers to be called, out at the Woolpack in Tillicoultry I had a fair idea that this was probably going to be a normal home but old prejudices die hard and when I stepped into the living room I experienced one of those moments where nothing seems to make sense. I mean it’s a normal living room complete with L-shaped sofa bed that I know came out of DFS because we have the same one in grey, her sofa bed is cream although my wife insists it’s oyster and she’s never ever wrong even when she is…
I’m glad she’s not with me because she’d be taking notes and doing price comparisons the next day. The living room is quite large and has those high ceilings with Victorian style architraves, the wall unit doesn’t look Victorian but it dates from the 1950s and next to it is an old style radio similar to one my grandparents once owned. I stare at it, trying to remember what happened to the old radio when Cat steps into the room.
“You’ve got a thing for old radios?”
“My grandparents had one just like it.”
“It came out of one of the stores in Downside Lane,” she joins me and lifts the top to reveal a state of the art stereo system. “A friend of mine gutted the interior and put this media centre inside, you control it from here,” she picks up a tablet computer. “You have a preference?”
“Not really, although rap makes my ears bleed.”
“We have something else in common,” she smiles, “some words should never be put together, military intelligence, holy war and rap music,” she flicks her selections into the queue as I look around the room. “If you’re looking for the coffin it’s upstairs, I have one of those new open plan king sized coffins cunningly disguised to look like a bed,” she shoots me a sly smile.
Cat bought the house back in January 1919, two weeks before the infamous battle of George Square and a crooked grin tugs at the corner of her mouth.
“I had friends saying why are you doing moving there? The place is full of Bolsheviks. I had no problem with Bolsheviks but when the British army rolled into town a few weeks later I admit I did write a letter to my husband to suggest we reconsider our living arrangements. I was using the name Kate Douglas and my husband worked in India for the High Commission, he wasn’t my actual husband. We vamps frequently get married to avoid suspicion. Sorry it’s not very romantic but needs must. He died of malaria in some Godforsaken place but was kind enough to put it all in my name.”
I’m about to offer my condolences when I see she’s still smiling.
“He’s living in Moscow and working at the German embassy, David has always had a passion for ambassadorial work. I told him once he would have made a brilliant Prime Minister if only he hadn’t died so young. I sold the place to my daughter who very conveniently gifted it to her husband, who in turn became my next husband in 1950. It’s been divided into three flats until twelve months ago when I moved back here and bought it,” she looks around the room, “not bad for a pound,” and seeing my shocked expression, smiles.
“A vampire house normally goes for a pound or a dollar, depending on where you live. It’s a nominal price and we fudge documents to keep the tax man off our back. Somewhere along the line the tax man is being defrauded and that’s got to be a good thing in anyone’s book.”
She slips her hand into the crook of my arm, “I’ll give you the guided tour while Sammy checks my cooking. I can’t taste shit, it’s a good thing you’re not a restaurant critic.”
I was taken on a guided tour of the house, including the basement, which has been turned it into an art studio for herself and Samantha. It has a sewing room complete with manikins and a clothes rack of clothes.
“One of Sammy’s friends is doing a fashion design course and I let her use this room as a workshop, she’s a very talented young designer. She made me a little black dress the other week just in case I meet a handsome young man. At the moment I’m just happy to kick back and watch the river go by,” she closes the door.
Romance is something I’d always associated with vampires, from the original Dracula through to Edward Cullen and his ilk but Cat confesses that while vampires do fall in love it’s not as frequent as one might think.
“After a while men all look and sound the same. They say it’s good to fall in love at least once every hundred years, just to remind yourself of your humanity but don’t expect it to last. I can count on my hands the number of vamp on vamp marriages that have stood the test of time. It sounds terrible when you say it like that but there really are plenty of things you can be doing besides waiting for a phone call or a letter.”
The strains of Bryan Adams are filling the room as we come back up the stairs and into the living room. The dining table is also out of DFS and Samantha is putting out the food. Mother and daughter look at each other and Samantha smiles.
“It’s fine, I broke out the mint sauce to add some extra zing to the lamb.”
“Ah of course,” Cat flicks at her hair, “well as long as our guest enjoys it.”
“He’ll love it,” she squints at me through her glasses, “I’ll just get the wine.”
“It must be hard to eat when you can’t taste anything,” I say as I take a seat. She shoots me a winning smile and strikes a match to light the candles.
“Oh it’s a bitch at first but believe me, you get used it. Food still hits the spot even if I can’t taste it, and thank God I can still enjoy a drink. Admittedly I can’t taste alcohol but it sure has the desired effect,” she lights the other candle.
“We’ve got a friend with a rather unique blood disorder that has the ability to restore our taste buds for a few hours. We’ve been playing with the mixture for years now and so far we’ve managed to stretch it out for a whole day, after that it fades,” she takes a seat and props on her palm.
“Our ultimate goal is to clone the blood and come up with a synthetic version. We can’t keep taking her donations even though she’s more than willing. Who knows? If we could come up with a potion that could restore our taste buds we might even come out into the open.”
Would such a thing be possible? She grimaces as Samantha returns with the wine.
“Well that’s the million dollar question. What would the governments of the world say if they found out we actually exist? In the old days our biggest fear were the torch bearing mobs led by witch hunters but these days it might be something infinitely more sinister, a laboratory and teams of white suited doctors taking our pulse and extracting DNA to find all kinds of solutions for the human condition.
“Seriously, I can’t get sick,” she nods at a packet of cigarettes at the end of the table, “I can smoke like a chimney for a hundred years and not get cancer, I nursed people with bubonic plague when the Black Death swept through Europe and believe me that was a contagious virus. At the end of the Second World War I was in Japan looking after people with radiation sickness. I should have been infected by all rights but the vampire virus makes a mockery out of the most deadly diseases.”
She hands me the bowl of potatoes.
“That kind of biotechnology is worth trillions and it’s one of the reasons we stay out of sight and out of mind. Go back to your True Blood, Vampire Academy, and Twilight, imagine whatever you want about us. We’ve got no problems with the vampire mythology because it’s all a myth, fiction crafted by people who’re trying in their own way to find an answer to the human condition. We’re the real thing, the immortal guardians of humanity. You need us, our strength and our wisdom, and our humanity but you will never turn us into cattle to be milked.”
She pauses for a moment and then smiles.
“With that being said, I’ll get off my soapbox and we’ll enjoy this lovely meal that my daughter and I cooked for you.”
The meal was arguably the best I’ve had in a long time. I’ve no doubt one of those celebrity chefs would have picked faults with something but I’ve never had time for those shows. We had braised lamb with mint sauce, roast potatoes with garlic seasoning, baby carrots, peas, and cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce. Dessert was apple strudel out of Iceland and ice cream. I felt almost guilty complementing her on a fine meal but she beamed when I did so.
“Thank you, I’m glad you liked it,” she raised her glass, “care for a glass of A positive?”
To my credit I didn’t choke on my wine but suffice it to say, vampires can and must eat despite the taste factor.
“If you spend your life fretting about what you haven’t got then life will pass you by and eternity is a long long time. The whole idea about vampires only existing on blood is just pure silliness, even the idea sends cold chills down my spine.”
She concedes however that despite the strict mentoring regime in the vampire world they’ve seen more and more younger vampires struggling with the eating problem.
“It started during the golden age of cinema, there were a few newborns who latched onto the tropes flitting across the screen. On the one hand, they had solid tuition from their elders but they were still very heavily influenced by the Hollywood vampire and the nickel and dime novels. Back then there were just the odd few newborns who imitated their heroes, but ever since the fifties we’ve seen them increase to such a point that it’s become quite a problem.”
She glances towards the kitchen where her daughter is busy making the coffee and she manages a smile.
“I see them at Gatherings all the time, the younger set dressed like their favourite Hollywood vampire and I suddenly feel old. We’ve got half a dozen out in Stirling who dress like the Cullens but only at a Gathering. Years ago I did reach out to the younger ones and offer a bit of advice, but people will only listen if they’re willing to change and it is possible. With the right mentor, a newborn will get past the tropes and settle into their new life with a minimum of fuss. The problem we have as I see it, is mentors who’re just babes themselves. Instead of using tough love, they encourage them to explore their feelings to the point they’re merely enabling them to act out these ridiculous fantasies.”
Is there a danger that some of these newborns might endanger humans I want to know and she grimaces and reaches for her cigarettes.
“It happens, usually by accident but on occasion we have rogue vampires who’ve absorbed the mainstream view of vampires and go on a killing spree. One thing the clans will never tolerate is an out of control rogue, they endanger us all. We had one out in Jamaica six months ago who thought he was being clever disguising his kills as murders, but when the local guild starting investigating for themselves they found traces of his presence. I believe he went for a swim with some concrete flippers.”
That of course brings up the subject of policing and the vampire race polices itself with great efficiency she tells me.
“Every vampire must register at the local guild whenever they travel to a different city, it’s an informal procedure and lets the guild know where you are and alert you to the presence of any security issues. In some cases they’ll have Frat teams under surveillance and don’t want you blundering into an ambush, but if a rogue attack takes place you’ll have to furnish an alibi. We’ve all been questioned more than once, even the older members will submit to an interview.”
Once the rogue has been located there are two possible outcomes depending on the age of the newborn and the nature of the crime. A first time offence will almost always result in a term of imprisonment in another country, followed by forced integration into the vampire community where they are assigned a mentor.
“Some of these rogues might have been turned by a master rogue to throw the enforcers off the scent or even to create a private militia. They’re innocent after a fashion and many will fall into line after a decade or so, but a repeat offender or the master rogue will get the death penalty and there’s no coming back from a merciful beheading,” she winces.
We’re halfway through our second coffee and the interview is winding up, and I still haven’t seen any blood, she leans forward to take a cracker and some more cheese.
“If you’re waiting for the glass of blood ritual you’ll have to come back tomorrow, I took some yesterday morning. When you’re first turned you need it once or twice a day for the first century but after that you can cut it back slowly. My clan mother has it once a week but that’s after twenty three hundred years, more or less. I’m down to four or five times a week right now.”
She pops the savoury into her mouth while I run through my notes. The media centre is playing Shepherd Moons by Enya, Samantha is downstairs painting and Cat is looking a little tired.
“Did you get what you came for?” She leans back and extends her arm along the back of the sofa bed, “I’m sorry I can’t change into a bat or move at the speed of light but it would be cool don’t you think?”
I agree, it would be cool but then again I’d be expecting something like that. The woman I had dinner with the other night was charming, graceful, generous and very pleasant company. Not once did I ever feel as if I was in danger, on the contrary I actually felt she would protect me. There are many who say the vampire is a monster who must be exterminated, but I hold with those who say the vampire is there to teach us more about the human condition and perhaps show us the way forward to a new future.
I always was the eternal optimist.
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…
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