Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If The Internet Was A Perfect World

Okay, so here is a funny story.

There was this woman who hung out at one of the TV message boards, and she would obsessively post fanfic of the Happy Days cast singing various songs. And the stories would be like:

The Happy Days Gang Sings "Blue Moon." Fonzie had his hair a certain way, and Richie said this, and then they went "1, 2, 3 Go!" and they started to sing "Blue Moon." And here are the lyrics to "Blue Moon." And then they finished, and Ralph ate a hot dog. The end.

She posted a lot of these fics. A lot of them. The only difference between the stories being that she had a different song each time. And people would complain about them, and she'd get into fights with them. And then things got ugly, and then I think she got thrown off the boards.

And I used to wonder, "what type of person writes fan-fiction like this?" What possible satisfaction did this woman get from simply describing cast members from Happy Days singing songs?

This same bit of annoyance gripped me recently as I was trolling the Smallville fan-fic sites looking for really good Clark/Lex porn. You see, they had all these stories about Lex and Chloe being a romantic item. And it was so far-fetched. You really had to stretch the subtext there. And it pissed me off, it really did.

If the Internet was a perfect world, we would not have these problems. If the Internet was a perfect world, I could fit my Fark, Reddit, and HuffPo feeds in one easy box skinned out in an orange sorbet-colored chromium to match my iPod Nano. And I would be able to edit my blogroll psychically in order to faster reflect the people who are banned from it.

If the Internet was a perfect world, it would feed me pizza. Like in The Jetsons. Remember, you could program this box in The Jetsons, and atoms would miraculously form inside it to create pizza? Awesome.

If the Internet was a perfect world, I wouldn't have to pay for it. And I wouldn't have to pay for porn. Or at the very least, have give to my credit card information to do so. If the Internet was a perfect world, we would have perfectly anonymous credit card processor sites -- not these bullshit ones that you know will rat on you the moment you run for Congress or some shit like that.

But, most importantly, if the Internet was a perfect world, it would automatically filter out everything I didn't like. Shield my sight from it, like Indy did to Marion in Raiders. My feed readers do this to an extent. But then some annoying post will inevitably come to my vision. And then I'd be forced to use my psychic powers to remove another person from my blogroll -- if it was a perfect Internet world!!!

I'm just kidding about the porn, by the way. As you know, women never look at porn. 'Cause we're just not like that. Weren't built that way. It's called DNA, folks -- gender assignment. Zygotes and shit.

Well, gotta go meet with my editor now. Wish me luck.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Letter To Shannon Smith

Hi Shannon,

Thanks so much for dropping me this note; your words are encouraging, and give me a lot to think about.

I wanted to also apologize for taking so long to sit down an read your mini-comics until now. I appreciated very much the fact that you took the time to send them to me. To be frank, the last several months -- oh heck, I would say ever since MoCCA Art Fest in the Spring -- have been really really crazy for me. I put too much on my plate, and I also was developing concerns and questions regarding my blog and my role in comics.

I had seen hostility to my blog radically increase -- though I still had a lot of readers and fans. But the hostility got to the point where I was receiving not only death threats but had people I hardly knew obsessively follow my blog and tear it apart on a regular basis on other forums. It got really tired, and took up too much of my time. Coupled with that was an increasing pressure to be more mainstream, to "network," to angle myself in a certain way. Marvel never asked me to do that, for which I am grateful. But the pressure was there from certain places, including simply myself.

And I just burned out from all of it.

I believe life is short -- even if you are relatively long-lived, life is still short. All we really have is our integrity, and our ability to touch other people's lives for the better. We touch other people's lives by being true. We can never touch lives by being fake, or using false sentiment. The problem I have with some mainstream comics is that the writers are either just mechanically providing want the readers want (or editorial dictate demands), or they are so overworked that even with the very best of intentions, some of their books by necessity get phoned in. What gets produced are books that don't make people think, that simply retread the same tropes over and over again.

What I think is so important about books like yours is that they *are* real. They come from a real place. And as such, they have more of the ability to touch other people's lives than a whole stack of the latest offerings from the Diamond catalog.

To an extent, I think the comic companies realize this whole thing about *realness*. They want to achieve again that rawness that Frank Miller had on Daredevil and Alan Moore had on Watchmen. But look what happened to these two artists, after 25+ years in this industry. They both ended up hating passionately mainstream comics. One continued to take their paychecks and piss all over their properties in spite, and one retreated in disgust. I think both endings are sad. I don't think they were necessary, but I understand where they came from.

It's only realness that will redeem and prolong this industry. Yes, the backlist provided by Miller and Moore is lucrative. But what are the new classics -- you know, *real* classics, not the "instant" classics that are proclaimed from comic book covers. "The Dark Knight," to an extent, was *real*. But the inevitable clones of "Dark Knight," both in the movies and on the comic stands, will probably not be. Will we see the stands clogged with this sort of stuff? Will this be another situation like in the 1990s, where there was so much prefab soulless stuff?

That's why it's important that you continue to create your comics. Not just for your own satisfaction and well-being, but because without that spark that comic creators like you provide -- hundreds of you, from your homes, from the hearth of your own deepest creative intentions -- this industry would become inbred, banal, and ultimately irrelevant.

Again, thanks so much for reading the blog, and for sending me the mini-comics. I read all of them during lunch, and enjoyed them very much

Val :-)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Which Blue Beetle Do You Like Best?

Fan-favorite Blue Beetle has certainly gone through many changes over the years -- and several companies to boot! It all made me wonder: who is the most beloved version of the character?

Is it:

Dan Garrett?

Ted Kord?


Jamie Reyes?

And remember, everyone -- some of you might have really passionate opinions as to what *your* favorite incarnation of the azure-hued daredevil is. But let's play nice -- every opinion counts.

Open Letter

You know, when I was in college I had this creative writing professor -- he had really red hands and always smelled of alcohol and tobacco -- who said to me,

"Valerie, when you write, it's like you put your arm in front of the table and saw it off for everyone to see."

Images of the comedian Gallagher filled my head; I pictured giving my audience a clear plastic tarp they might use before my readings to protect them from the spray of my blood.

But this was a warning from my professor; "for my own good." He suggested that instead of writing such intense pieces, I should try "slice of life" stories.

"You know -- make observations about food and things like that."

I genuinely think that's what certain readers of this blog want. They want observations of food and things like that. They want me to write, "hey, what version of Blue Beetle do you like the best?" Perhaps I could scan some images from kooky comix from the 1960s and give them funny captions -- or even, if I'm really feeling ambitious, re-letter them with ironic dialog.

And every once in a while I might write, "hey look at the boobies on Wonder Girl!" And I'll do this watered down offended-by-the-misogyny thing, and I'll reproduce all these images of Wonder Girl's boobies, and I'll use words like "boobies" a lot. Nothing of any value is ever really accomplished by such posts, and they serve more as advertising for the actual comics than anything else (and perhaps a little bit of titillation). But sometimes in the comics blogosphere, advertising and actual commentary get a little mixed up. And that's okay. Because it's just dumb comics, some dumb fun, a little snack-sized bit of trivia to distract from the cubicle.

And then one person or another, who uses their attachment to fictional characters to attain some sense of control over an uncontrollable world, will get upset that I spelled a character's name wrong, or I think this or that about him or her (or "it," as we are talking about an imaginary creature and not a real person). And so the little dramas happen, the little meaningless blips on the radar, the dramas that take away from me valuable time I could have spent elsewhere -- moments I could have spent with real people, moments I could have used to continue to actualize my Self. Instead of using these moments wisely, I spend them in online debate with the equivalent of red stapler guy from "Office Space."

"You're too negative," one person or another will complain, desiring more of the little bits of trivia from the Internet that they use as a mild opiate to distract them from reality.

Darling darling, I might say back -- this economy is fucked. We are so fucked that you have no idea, and you will continue to have no idea until they hand you a box and ask you to clean out your desk and are escorted out the door of your work establishment because they suddenly closed. And you will act shocked and angry, and you might even crap your pants at the swiftness of it all.

But God forbid any stray hair of reality gets through your blog material. You don't want Daily Kos or The New York Times and certainly not the Wall Street Journal. Isn't that a crazy suggestion? That you might read WSJ? I mean -- for a non-comics related story?

What, a comic book company treats their employees in an illegal manner? DOWNER! You don't want to read about stuff like that. What, our nation's youth is being fed a steady diet of violence in their entertainment? DOWNER! You don't want to read stuff like that. You want to read about which Hulk is stronger -- Red or Green. And look, I have nothing against the Hulk, of either shade. But did you know that NASA convened recently and had a press conference about anomalous solar wind patterns that might have a serious impact on the Earth?


Back to the opiates, opiates so trivial and minute and ultimately meaningless and interchangeable. Don't get me wrong -- the sheer pathos of it is fascinating to me. The fact that within ten years -- maybe even five -- we will be so close to so much calamity, that New York has no fucking clue how to be sustainable in the event of an emergency, the fact that we as a planet are overdue for so many earth changes that we are not prepared for. We are -- or rather, many of us are -- so weak, so pampered, so downtrodden by the comfort of our cubicles and so weighed down by the sheer girth of our collectibles, and so goddamn unprepared.

The relevant part of the Superman mythos, in my opinion, wasn't his exploits once he came to Earth -- it was back on Krypton, when those assholes were given a heads-up and decided to sit on their thumbs.

And you might think: "she's really lost it! she's talking about all this downer stuff that's so over-the-top and that will never happen! nothing bad ever happens! things will always be the way they are now." And you know what, if that's your opinion -- and you think obsessing over superhero trivia is somehow saner -- God bless you. That would make you one happy moron.

But here's the scoop, darlings: it's not worth it for me. I made 35 cents from Google ads today. I shit more money than that on any given morning.

It's been explained to me, by several people, that the thing to do is just to post frothy bits of trivia -- the cleverly annotated Silver Age scans, the "which Blue Beetle is better," the promo pieces, etc. Why be controversial? Why be opinionated? It only makes enemies out of people who could be friends. Gotta think smart!

I mean, even DC! If I start running puff pieces on them, one day I might get more than just World of Warcraft spinoffs in the mail to review! I might just get Booster Gold! If I finally sign that pesky NDA, they might send me a fucking statue! That's nothing to sneeze at. I've known people who've sold out others for less. Then I can run those "which Blue Beetle is better" posts with a clear conscience. And my stats will go up. Next thing you know -- I'm making $6 a day on Google! OMG!

But the best part about becoming a Stepford blog -- even with that hipster frosting on top, so I can court the crossover readership with BoingBoing, et al -- will be that I will no longer be sawing that arm off for everyone to see like my professor in college warned me about. I will be making pleasant observations about food and stuff.

So really, that's what I'm going to do for now on on this blog, because I no longer give a shit. It's like an experiment, an Andy Kaufman routine. I watched a lot of Andy today. I watched some of Richard Pryor too. There's this one censored bit from his old TV show where he came out on stage naked with his penis edited out; he kept insisting the network wouldn't censor or control him, but it wasn't true. And it wasn't true in real life; he went from raw and relevant to being a buffoon on skis in Superman III. Quite a fall. But hasn't that happened with so many of the edgy comedians? Robin Williams. Eddie Murphy. It's like Hollywood cuts off their dicks. And then there's Grant Morrison on Final Crisis. But never mind.

But if I did the extended Andy Kaufman routine, and just pretended that everything was dandy, if I just presented myself as another blog hack -- you know, one with a pseudo-controversial sheen, but nothing smacking of any sort of real change or radicalism -- that might be interesting. That might engage me enough, the sheer theater of it, to keep it up for a good long while.

And the funny thing is -- after this post, which is so long and so full of DOWNER! that I doubt there are many of you who have gotten this far -- I don't think that many people will care or remember. I think they will see "what Blue Beetle is your fave rave" and just take it from there. You know, I'll plug books for people. I'll be used strategically for one promo or another, one agenda or another. In time I'll get lots of swag. And it's good for my career! Let's not forget that.

But I do resent it. But we know what the real currency that makes the world go around don't we? It ain't being ferociously honest, that's for damn sure.

Anyway, there are probably a portion of you out there who actually want to read about important things, who want to read the whistleblowing stories, who want to converse with other people about things outside your window. And there are many message boards and forums upon which you can converse with likeminded others. But I'm curious to see how many people there are who are reading this and agree. So if that is the sort of material you want, let me know; click the "about me" to your right.

And that's it.

Mark Hamill Turns 57 Today

Not sure if I posted this already, but heck, here it is again:

I know, hard to believe he played wide-eyed young Luke Skywalker huh? That's what Hollywood does to you, baby!

Update On Comments Moderation

Hi all,

I realize a have a bit of comments in the queue that need to be moderated, and rest assured my co-moderator will get to them.

I try to avoid my comments until later in the day, as I prefer to read death threats right before sleeping.


The State Of The Economy

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Hi, this is a blog featuring opinion and no-holds-barred commentary on comics.

If you came here by accident looking for light but inoffensive and inspiring banter on a number of comic-related issues, please go here.


DC Fan Defends The Company

"Die in a fire, Femenazi (sic)"

--"Earth M", in a comment to my post complaining about violence to women in Teen Titans.

Luckily for Earth M, DC Comics provides him with a plethora of such images for him to fantasize about.

Didio, McKeever, et al: here is the audience you are playing to. Good work. A least they're loyal.

The Plain Janes Have Left The Building

Virgin won't be the last one to fall in this period of economic slowdown/clusterfuck. I expect more sudden axes to fall -- not out of any insider info, but based on that same ghoulish intuition.
-- OS post, 9/2/08

Minx, the line of manga-sized graphic novels for girls, is no more.

As of early this year, I really couldn't see DC's Minx line going any further. It wasn't for lack of quality. It wasn't for lack of promotional dollars on DC's part -- they did co-sponsor Friends of Lulu's Lulu Awards again this year on Minx's behalf. Further, they gave away promo copies of all their new releases at MoCCA Art Fest this year. But Minx had the same vulture standing over it that I've seen time and time again -- that I saw with Virgin, that I saw with CrossGen, that I've seen with countless imprints and publishers that didn't quite know how to precisely target and capture its niche audience -- or even really knew who that audience was.

Theoretically, Minx was a line of manga-sized books for teenage girls. Most of the titles were pretty decent reads for the stated audience; a few, like the otherwise excellent Waterbaby, were masterfully executed but way too adult.

Were the Minx books "comics" or "books?" Where were they to be racked at the comic shop, and where were they to be racked in the book store? As of two weeks ago, I saw Minx titles kept in the "teen novel" section of Barnes and Noble -- some distance, perhaps a whole floor or two, away from the graphic novel section. Would there be that crossover readership from the teen novel crowd? Would they open up that copy of Re-Gifters and be like "hey, cool" or would they be turned off?

Really -- I think some of it is that when DC set out to create "a line for girls" -- they looked, despite themselves, despite great rosters of talented people, more towards "Archie" than "Harry Potter" or "Heroes." I think they should have done more sci-fi and adventure books, or at least blend more of those elements in some of the line (Kimmie 66 was one -- but you wouldn't know it by the cover). The girls at the conventions that I have talked to for the last two years -- most never heard of Minx. When I asked them what they were reading, all the genres they mentioned were sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.

Then there was the tacit lack of any of the titles of under the Minx imprint being springboards for movies, TV, or other media. This has been the big song-and-dance DC -- and so many other companies -- have been using for a while now: "we'll develop it for film!" "We're the IP farm of Time Warner!" And yet -- where is the Plain Janes movie?

And some of it is that this economy stinks and that any line or imprint or publisher that is not drawing a true income beyond some pipe dreams and 5-year-plans is most likely going to get axed. Hate to say it, it sounds cold, it's what's gonna happen, and it ain't over.

But lastly, a female-oriented line of books could never succeed at DC because when it comes to females, they just don't fucking get it. They don't. They have such a shitty legacy when it comes to this subject, so much choking vile karma, that the attempts they make to "balance the scales," as it were, seemed token.

The Minx line launched on the same week Goodbye To Comics hit the Internet. Publicity for their line of "girl power" books was overshadowed by a rogue ex-employee with horror stories of sexual harassment. You can't make that up, you can't plan it (I sure as hell didn't), it's just so telling and so true.

I suggest DC "off" all the main characters from the line in a bunch of ingenious ways (just like in their mainstream superhero books)

The Plain Janes: A crazy serial killer stalks Main Jane and stuffs her in a refrigerator.

The Re-Gifters: Dixie is forced to eat Adam's eyeball.

Emiko Superstar: Emiko runs afoul of a local gangster and is tortured to death with a power drill.

As Good As Lily: Grace gets her heart stolen -- literally (chuckle!).

Confessions of A Blabbermouth: Tasha is mauled by the dog next door and is in an induced coma at the hospital.

Kimmie66: Kade is shot in the spine by an anarchist and is paralyzed, forced to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

The New York Four: Riley gets impaled -- and not in good way!

Burnout: Ironically, Danni herself is set on fire after being killed by a bitter feminist who shrunk to microscopic size and left footprints on her brain.

So let's do it -- let's have that Minx 80-Page Giant and tie up all those loose ends!

Bad Medicine

“At the time my youngest son Ryan had developed a very serious, life threatening medical condition and the major medical coverage which DC offered to all contracted freelancers actually turned out to be a 30,000 dollar family policy. When I pointed this out the DC’s upper management they actually tried to use my son’s illness and a promise of a better policy as a negotiation point for extending my contract another four years.”
-- Pat Broderick, via Journalista via LITG

To which I would add:

1. In late Fall of 2003 I was suffering from debilitating side-effects from the cholesterol drug Lipitor: grotesquely swollen joints, extreme arthritis, numbness, and general fatigue. At the time, I was assisting at least three editors, two of which were going or had gone on maternity leave. On top of which -- it was the holidays. I had a tremendous workload; not only my own, but to make up for the missing editors. I was in physical agony and requested a possible short medical leave to ride out some of the pain. Dan Didio went into my office, closed the door behind him, and said he talked to upper management about my request. I was not eligible for paid medical leave, he said, but they talked about it and decided to grant me one unpaid week of leave -- as a special gift to me. Unable to afford the break in income at that time, I declined, and continued to work in physical pain through the holidays, getting all the books in on time.

When my physical condition deteriorated even further the following Spring, the HR woman from Time Warner on the West Coast was absolutely shocked to find out that I was told I was not eligible for paid medical leave. Of course I was. And failing to get the appropriate rest earlier had compounded my condition and made things much worse.

2. When I resigned from DC in the Summer of 2004, medical insurance was used as a bargaining chip in order to get me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If I signed the NDA, they would "fudge" the paperwork so I would get one extra month of health insurance. So basically, they would lie and say I was still working there when I wasn't, and my insurance would be temporarily extended. Part of the reason I was resigning was because I was still ill, and they said they knew how much I could use the insurance. But -- I would have to sign away my rights to ever speak ill of DC again in order to get that coverage. Which would basically take care of me ever bringing up sexual harassment again. I declined to sign the NDA. But the best part of all this was that by "fudging" -- they were basically lying. They were offering to use fraud to "help me out" -- but only if I signed a piece of paper covering their ass.

To be fair, this sort of shit happens at a lot of places. And had I not trusted DC as much as I did right off the bat, and really done my homework, I could have avoided a lot of this. And that's the best thing you can say about any of this -- that the worker really has a lot of rights and resources. They do. But you have to seek them out. Don't just consult your shiny worker's manual or believe what some upper management suit tells you. Be informed.

Companies have no right to offer "bargains" concerning your health.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Still The Best Superhero Movie, In My Estimation


Not for the whole movie itself, mind you. The innards of M. Night Shyamalan movies sort of put me to sleep. Just the sheer balls it took to make that last scene. It was just so fanboy, so self-referential. Only Samuel L. Jackson's acting ability could have made it even remotely plausible:

**Please do not click on the YouTube monitor if you don't want spoilers**

...and it looks like there might be a sequel.

The Tiffany Report

The "Tiffany Report" is a new regular feature where we check out where Tiffany is and what she's been up to.

Latest report: Tiffany was seen in a party in Ditmas Park drinking Shiraz from a blue plastic cup. The white bean and basil hummus was delicious, and a refreshing mix of old standards and today's favorites were played on an iTunes from one of several computers in the apartment in question.

Please tune in again for the next "Tiffany Report."

Teen Titans #63: Two Mutilated Chicks

No, but seriously, they both become superheroines and best friends and might even sleep with each other. And that's hot.

Can anybody tell me if this book is ok to give to a 12-year-old girl that I know? I have a stack of Archie Digests to send to her, and I'm wondering if I should include some Teen Titans as well.

Oh I'm sorry -- was I having an opinion again? I know that pisses some people off.

No, you're right, this type of stuff is totally appropriate.

It's funny, these images brought to mind Kegadoru -- a fetish in Japan where it's hot to see young women injured and in bandages -- for some reason.
And hey, look -- if you're angry that I point these things out, and are perhaps worried that it will impact DC negatively in some way -- don't. All it does is give them free publicity, and introduces the books to more adult markets, which is what they want. They just want more adults to buy their books, and the little kids can buy the baby comix with the smiley faces, and the whole 10-14 year-old-base can go play their gory video games and maybe, when they are so full of bloodlust and jadedness to violence and gore, they can slip right into reading the mainstream comics again.

Outside of babydom and toddlerville, the media is quickly becoming a place where anything vaguely "family friendly" is considered square and a money-loser. So please do not weep for DC Comics. They can only *wish* their product could be considered so controversial. Their strategy for appearing "relevant" is a cross between the couple dancing to "Hammer Time" at their wedding and the Monty Python "Salad Days" sketch. So any posts pointing out excess violence or dirty language in their books is a big plus for them. They're crying all the way to the bank.

And for all you know, these posts could be planted in a massive conspiracy to make books like "Teen Titans" badass and edgy and hence marketable. I should get a stipend. As it is I only get "World of Warcraft" spinoffs to review. So I'm the one who suffers.

The Day The Music Died

Seriously, this was my Sunday afternoon on teh internets:

"Oh shit, Perry Farrell died?!"

"Yeah, man. They reported it on"

"Wiki has an obit, yo."

"He died on the same plane as Dave Navarro."

"Holy fucking shit, are you serious?"

"And Gavin DeGraw."

"Who the fuck is he? I care about Perry Farrell."

"And all of Blink 182. They were on the plane too."

"Fucking Perry Farrell, man. Fuck."

(I go knock on the door of the bathroom, where BF is taking a shower)

"Hey, Perry Farrell died!"


"I said: Perry Farrell just died in a fucking plane crash with motherfucking Dave Navarro!"

"From Jane's Addiction?"

"Yeah. It's like Buddy Holly all over again! I'm so fucking depressed now. But also strangely invigorated."

Thirty minutes later, back on teh Internets:

"Oh, Perry didn't really die. Perez Hilton confirmed it."

"Are you sure? How about Dave Navarro?"

"Where the fuck did you get Dave Navarro? Did you pull that one out of your ass?"

"Wiki just changed the obit on Perry. He's alive now."

"Well, did anybody die?"

"I think DJ AM died."


"And the drummer for Blink 182."

"So I was right about Blink 182!"

"No wait. They are confirmed alive."

"Oh. So nobody dead, then?"

"I think the pilot and the co-pilot. And some non-famous people."

"I heard Shanna Moakler died, Travis' wife."

"No, they found a female body on the plane, but TMZ is confirming that Shanna is alive."

"The female was one of the pilots."

"Well, that explains a lot."

"So Perry is safe?"

"As long as Perry is okay."

"I heard Travis got his dick burned off."

"Serves him right for cheating on Shanna with Paris Hilton."

"That's a fucking horrible thing to say. Fuck you. When you die, I'm going to piss on your ashes and shit on your grave and then we'll see how much you laugh about it, asshole."

"So, when I play this Crazy Town video: which one is DJ AM?"

"My heart goes out to all the victims."

"At least Travis' tats are still okay."

So that was my Sunday afternoon. I'm not sure what I did Sunday night. I think I watched Family Guy.

No wait, I didn't watch Family Guy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In The Company Of Vampires Part Three

I watched a bit of HBO's "True Blood" today, and between that and getting a copy of the new paperback "First Blood" (thanks, Meljean!) I'm in a bloodsucking mood. This is a chapter from a vampire novel I wrote in 2005, known by many names -- "Vamptopia," "Hex In The City," "Fools and Vampires," and, when I'm just feeling sorta punchy, "The Book Of Evil." The question is asked: corporate life is cut-throat enough, but what if you add vampires and witchcraft into the mix?

All rights reserved, 2005 Valerie D'Orazio


In The Company Of Vampires Part Three

It was soon apparent that Pris had no intention of stopping at Desjardins. After helping her get rid of another higher-up that had personally insulted her on several occasions and started rumors that she fucked “Baby” Bersee to get where she was (which was impossible because Bersee was gay), the vampire set her sights on strategic rather than defensive hexes. Some followed Desjardins in the sacking department--all sorts of lovely scandals including more sexual harassment, embezzlement of funds, an off-color joke about Asians, and even child porn on a worker’s hard drive. And all of it karma come back to haunt them at the most inopportune time, in the most indiscreet of ways.

Others, a lucky few, had gentler exits--suddenly getting sweet job offers from other firms, unexpected pregnancies, a sudden urge to teach handicapped baboons how to ride specially-built tricycles, etc. And with every departure, with every going-away party or ignominious escorting from their desks by security, Pris Baxter was one step closer to what she ultimately wanted--which was to be in a position where she could live out her vampireness with impunity, without the need to hide. It was a long, multi-step path she had laid out for herself. Tara wondered if she would be there to see how it would all end.

The witch often thought about, on those few occasions she emerged from her office to steal a box of pens or buy a candy bar from the vending machine, whether the other workers were “on” to her, on to the many ways in which Tara’s presence in the halls of Dermaco was highly irregular, as were a lot of other things. Even “Baby” Bersee himself, decked out like Gene Kelly in “Xanadu,” a more liberal user of his company’s products than many women there--he who both was so friendly and so genuine and yet unintentionally made you feel like you were the living embodiment of the term “little person,” as if you weer frickin’ Billy Barty standing there, extending to you his jewel-dripping hand--even Bersee seemed completely, blissfully clueless to the fact that more and more of his employees were walking around wearing sunglasses indoors.

There were some fresh vampiric faces in the office--some new altogether and some familiar but turned. Tara pondered the ethics of turning, if it was on the same level of immorality as simply attacking and killing. Obviously the recipients of that Gift, at least at Dermaco, seemed to invite and welcome it--after all, it did seem to signify a promotion of some kind.

But what of the larger question? The one Tara tried to suppress and sweep under the carpet like Oscar Madison but that kept crawling out?

*** *** ***

Pris had left her Blackberry in Tara’s office and so the witch decided to do a good turn and get off her ass and actually do something. She had tracked the Vampire to another floor and a conference room right off Advertising. Unlike the one where “Amanda” was introduced, this room was completely closed in and a pair of black doors with silver handles greeted her. Tara wiped some sweat from her brow (this was the first time she had moved away from her computer screen and Plinko since the morning) and carefully grabbed the door handle and pushed down--

She had seen far enough into the room to notice the half-naked woman on the long table and the workers, male and female, who were holding her down and crowding her. Then a cold hand grabbed the witch’s wrist tightly and pulled her into the room with one quick motion, immediately followed by the slamming of the door and the turn of the lock.

*** *** ***

“Uh...what the fuck is going on here, Pris?”

The petite vampire with the severe black pageboy stood at the far side of the room, almost in the corner, one small white hand gripping for support the heavy mauve curtain that covered the wall-sized projection screen. That little hand held tightly to the thick textured fabric, swaying in tension; the hinge of her mouth was slightly slack, red lips frozen in apprehension. At the sound of Tara’s voice she wrenched her eyes from the terrified figure on the table--a young bottle-blond that the witch recognized from the halls--and bored them into the irises of her assistant.

Tara cringed at the golden light that instinctually flexed out of Pris’s eyes, that light that tried to short-circuit explanation, the light that sought to be so very reasonable, the light that apparently failed to assuage the mind of the chick held down to the long, oval table by a chorus of white hands, that plugged her mouth shut with cold palms, that had managed to tear off her pink suitjacket and rip open her white blouse, exposing the B-cups of her plain beige bra and nipples hard with fear--

“Pris--cut it out!” Tara growled, tearing her face away from the vampire and shielding her eyes with her arm.

“Y-you have to understand, Tara...”


Pris let out a metallic, nervous laugh.

“No worries about keeping appearances here, love--we’re all vampires.”

The witch hesitantly uncovered her eyes and quickly surveyed the others in the room. Most were familiar faces--only a few she remembered as being originally Undead. And now--the change in the faces of the formerly human, sharp white teeth clearly visible in their mouths as they congregated around the unlucky mortal female, looking upon her naked chest and neck with a degree of lust and hunger that reminded the witch of her experience with Marta and Rache, and Armand and the others. Tara could empathize (to her a strange, oft-neglected emotion) with what this victim must have been going through, what was running like a freight train in her mind, being reduced in the yes of the nominally-alive creatures to the status of a slab of sirloin--

Would you guys be finishing her off now if I didn’t come here?!”

“She was going to expose us,” Pris snapped back, her eyes watery as if she had just been hurt--hurt by the witch’s accusation, hurt by the impending chaos that lay in wait in this one conference room, chaos that threatened to ruin her and everything she built just like it obliterated Desjardins. “What do you expect me to do? Have you no idea how serious this is? For both of us?”

“Don’t lump me into this, kemo sabe.”

Pris gripped the curtain in her hand tighter, exposing the sliver of white screen beneath.

“We’re in this together, Tara.”

At Pris’s words the witch felt as if her world had been reduced to the size of a TV-sized frame, it made her silently choke on her own spit. We’re in this together. A kaleidoscope of different emotions filled her all at once--suffocation, fear, annoyance, flattery. Before she knew what happened, she had become thoroughly entangled in this vampire’s world--and by association, in the world of all vampires. And how much different was she, Tara, than that of the shaking woman held down the table, her eyes rolling in terror?

Yes, how much different--

Tara pushed past the vampires, ignoring the way they bristled and hissed around her, how they protectively closed in on their prey.

“Pris, let me get near her," Tara said confidently, folding back one of her sleeves. “You want her not to talk, she won’t talk. In fact, she won’t remember this entire damn day, if you want.”

The vampire narrowed her eyes and scrutinized the witch for any signs of dissembling.


“I’ll give her amnesia--you forget, ‘love,’ I’m a witch after all. Better start earning my keep. And have your goons put her shirt back on--going to ruin the effect if she’s got her boobies hanging out.”

Pris nodded reluctantly to the other vampires, silently communicating to the Hive, directly to their brains and overriding their protests. The suited vamps backed away from the body in profound disappointment, a few eying daggers at the witch whose approach stopped the victim in their very birth of her scream, in the first scrambles to get off the table and flee. Tara extended a bare arm and gently but firmly pushed the woman back down by her forehead, back against the mahogany surface, letting the magick pour forth, letting the energy delete the entire episode, wiping clean the magnetic tape of memory. Suddenly the woman’s face relaxed and her eyes went glassy--

“Okay, now help her up, fix her hair, and get her out the door. Walk her to a restroom if possible, and plunk her ass in a stall. I’ve built in a slight lead time with her, but she’s going to get lucid real soon.” Then the witch called out to the two vamps that ushered their former snack away with pouting, regretful faces: “And stick your teeth in your mouth, dammit!”

The other vampires, groaning and moaning as if their team lost the baseball game, picked up their clipboards and paper cups of coffee and filed out of the room. Some, realizing that they had no more reason to drink, as they were vampires, dumped their cups in the metal mesh wastebasket on their way. Pris quickly followed them out the door, ignoring Tara’s look, telling her gruffly:

“I’ll see you in my office in ten minutes.”

And the witch just stood in the empty room, noting the several overturned chairs, a sea of spilt coffee on the carpeting, some leaves of abandoned paper that had been blown across the room.

Me no speaka the English, kemo sabe, Tara thought.

*** *** ***

When the witch arrived at Pris’s office the door was closed. Tara had become wary of closed doors in Dermaco--who knew what was happening behind them, and how large the vampire population of the work staff was presently.

Fucking vampires.

She knocked on the black door tentatively, and waited. A faint murmur of “wait” sounded on the other side, immediately followed by the sound of unlocking and the click of the door knob. Pris was expressionless as she bid her assistant to enter and take a seat in the small chair.

The vampire leaned back in her seat and pressed her palms and fingertips together.

“Well,” she said with a strained smile, “we’ve had quite a day today. Haven’t we?”

Tara crossed her legs and tried to appear nonchalant.

“Yeah. Well, you know...yeah.”

The two studied each other in silence. The sounds of the maelstrom outside the window were clearly audible, and became louder and more insistent as the silence between the two occupants of the room grew. The witch picked a string off her skirt. Suddenly, Pris, like a bad film edit, was sitting at the edge of her desk in front of Tara.

“Would you like a raise?”

Why,” randomly replied the witch, shifting her eyes so she wasn’t face-to-face with the vampire’s red satin panties, “you think it would shut me up? Why go through all the trouble? Why not simply get your undead cronies to liquidate me and stuff my body in the utility closet? Then you could tell everybody that I suddenly resigned because I had to live with my ailing grand-aunt in Peoria.”

Pris was now, without a second’s warning, at the window, her back turned to Tara. She looked oddly tall when she was alone.

“You really think I’m a monster, don’t you?”

“I...I mean, Pris: how many people have you killed in your life?”

Countless,” she answered in a low, somewhat defiant voice. “But what did you expect? A vampire to do? Hmm?”

“But what about the animals,” the witch asked, getting out of her seat. “ What about the handbook?”

“A relatively recent development,” the vampire answered, still looking out the window, her arms folded and her body doubled in the glass. “At least I’ve tried--tried without having a truly good reason to. Tried based on my own convictions and sense of morality, not slavishly following the dictates of some fairytale the humans mindlessly follow. Surely there is some room in your jaded heart to give me points for that. And while we are on the subject, Tara: how many people have you hexed in your life?”

“Hexing’s not killing,” the witch replied sheepishly.

“It’s still the ruination of a life--only vampires do it nice and quick, and in person. Vampires are not shy in revealing themselves to their victims--they want their faces to be the last thing a human sees, the coming out to the individual--the naked display of one’s own vampire nature--being almost as important and as wonderful as the feed itself. Almost.”

Tara sighed deeply and plopped back in her chair, her head in her hands.

“Well shit, Pris--I tried to go straight, before you dragged me back in--“

Fuck going straight!” the vampire snarled, now suddenly kneeling before Tara, her white cold hands on her stockinged knees. “We should be allowed to be who we are, to live out our own natures!”

Tara looked up and yelled in the vampire’s face.

But I don’t want to hurt anybody!”



“But didn’t you tell me that your powers feed off of chaos? Isn’t chaos a natural part of life? Isn’t death a natural part of life? Like a tsunami or a volcano?"

The witch tore away from Pris’ electric touch and her seat and headed for the window. She felt like pushing the fucking glass and just sailing out.

“I’m--not--a--volcano! I’m a 28-year-old woman living in a fucking hotel room! You’re telling me we’re in this together, but I got other plans, Pris. I want a family and some fucking stability in my life, and I want it soon! I’m not an immortal like you are. I’m just...I’m just tired of this shit!’ She pressed her knuckles into the glass lightly. “Fuck!”

The witch’s spine shot up in energy as she felt Pris’ arm go around her waist.

“I want some stability too, Tara,” she said softly. “That’s why I’m doing all of this. It’s the best I can do. I need money. I need money in order to live this moral life, to get the supplies I need to do so. I have a competitive nature, and I need challenges and accomplishments. That’s why I’m in Business. I need to excel. I need to. And so I’m trying to do the best I can. When I see a human--an unworthy, braying, banal human especially--threaten all of this, all I built, threaten to bleat and sniffle to the human world about my true nature, holding up that nature as if it was trash, a perversion, garbage--I just get very angry, that’s all. It doesn’t seem fair. This world doesn’t seem equitable. When the wonderous ones, the ones with the gifts and the talents, when they are marginalized and forced to hide, and banality is so very treasured and encouraged to roam free--no, it isn’t equitable. And even among my clan circles, among those that share my life circumstance--even with my own brother--I had been unable to find anyone to have such a conversation with, a person that truly understands--until I met you.”

“So are we going to fuck now or what?”

*** *** ***

Tara’s past loves flipped through her mind as she stared at the ceiling and felt the cold, tight body of the vampire dry-hump her. Actually, most of the persons she categorized as “past lovers” in her mind didn’t actually give her sex. They were just strong personalities and attachments that had an extended stay in her life only to be ripped away untimely, the bond perverted and broken, the bridges napalmed. All the real fucks she got in her life were anonymous, and they had their momentary charms, but not unlike masturbation.

Where did Pris fall into this scheme? She was a vampire, so obviously things weren’t going to work out. Then again, Tara was a witch, and life was absurd, so maybe things could work out. Maybe they could grow old together in some lesbian conclave in Park Slope. Actually, Pris would never grow old. And the question had to be asked--was the vampire even the monogamous type? The Undead never struck Tara as being particularly faithful. And perhaps, in the end, this was nothing more than a good old-fashioned exchange of goods--magick for money, with sex as the lubricant. And after all--there was no margin for sentimentality in either the business or, she assumed, the vampire world--

But Pris certainly worked a good nipple.

“Oh God--Pris, that’s so, not the teeth...Pris...OW!”

Tara suddenly sat up, her heavy breasts sticking out of her unbuttoned shirt, Pris crouched over her, her skirt unzipped and down around her ankles--the vampire’s eyes so deep and wide and unfathomable, like space--and a pair of long, needle-like fangs sticking out of her saliva-slick mouth.

We could be sisters!” Pris exclaimed, lunging for Tara’s neck. The witch kicked her in the chest with her shoeless nyloned feet and scuttered across the carpet on her ass. The tiny woman huddled in a dejected, unkempt bundle on the floor, pleading to the witch with her red, thin, downturned lips. “You could be immortal! It would be the security you craved, for real!”

“Pris,” Tara answered breathlessly, buttoning up her shirt, “I can hardly handle the life I got allotted to me now. I wouldn’t know what the fuck to do with immortality. I’m not mentally built for it. When I die, I just want to be dead, you know?”

“What’s so good,” Pris whined, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped sloppily around them, “about being dead?”

Tara looked past the vampire to the metal-and-mesh bookshelf against the wall, the shelf stocked with massive, telephone-book sized tomes, binders, cosmetic samples, and Lucite awards.

“It’s just that--maybe then--I’d get some rest.”


In The Company Of Vampires Part Two

I watched a bit of HBO's "True Blood" today, and between that and getting a copy of the new paperback "First Blood" (thanks, Meljean!) I'm in a bloodsucking mood. This is a chapter from a vampire novel I wrote in 2005, known by many names -- "Vamptopia," "Hex In The City," "Fools and Vampires," and, when I'm just feeling sorta punchy, "The Book Of Evil." The question is asked: corporate life is cut-throat enough, but what if you add vampires and witchcraft into the mix?

All rights reserved, 2005 Valerie D'Orazio


In The Company Of Vampires Part Deux

*** *** ***

Tara Amadeo, a.k.a. Amanda Tarantino, found herself the possessor of many an idle hour in her new position, having performed the actual hexes in question back at the hotel room. But at least, Tara thought, as she played Plinko on her computer, she had a nice, private office to perform the nothing in. Though it was rather dull, what with the bullet-gray metal file cabinets full of office supplies and reference books on cosmetology and marketing, and some snoozers of wall decoration, framed ads for Dermaco products. The one for Victorian Allure wasn’t bad, with the emaciated chick in the bustier sitting on the swing set with the curious black sheep sniffing her butt. Tara had many many hours to stare at it (many hours), and few visitors, as she wasn’t quite plugged into the matrix of Dermaco and yet was employed by Pris Baxter to karmically undermine its very structure.

She had forgotten all about Rache, and Kinky Witter, and Alex and Armand and the rest, forgotten about that former life that seemed to have been lopped off like a withered, petrified limb. Instead, Tara grappled with weightier issues, such as what exactly to do with this new infusion of cash. And how she might maneuver things eventually to get an office with a window. And she knew, Pris was angling to be President/CEO of Dermaco one day, though she scrupulously never mentioned the topic (as if she might jinx her chances?). Perhaps Tara, as Amanda, would follow her up the ranks, be VP one day. VP of...nothing.


VP of Hexes and Witchcraft.

Every company should have one, Tara thought smugly as she plinked her last plink and soaked in the electronic winner’s music. She shook her fist in victory and spun around on her ergonomic chair:

“Yes--I rule!”

On the second spin she noticed the young man standing in the doorway. At first glance he seemed rather attractive--tall, blond wavy hair, blue eyes, soap-opera actor looks and a dimple in his chin. Then he opened his mouth.

“Are you having fun?” he asked in that bitchy way that didn’t wear too good on a heterosexual male.

What the fuck--

“Hi!” Tara shouted, her teeth gritted in a phony smile she put to good use in the office. “I don’t believe we’ve met!”

The man matched her smile with one of equal caliber and stepped into her office uninvited. Well, Tara thought, at least I know he isn’t one of the vampires.

“I’m Glenn Mandible. Sales. And you must be Amanda, Pris’ new Assistant.”

“Sure am,” Tara perkily replied, her smile stock still, her hands covertly clicking closed the Plinko window and opening a spreadsheet.

“It’s funny,” Glenn said in his New Jersey Girl’s accent. “I didn’t think Pris was going to need a new assistant anymore, what with the secretaries and all. Though she’s had other assistants before.”

Oh?” Tara’s mind flashed to what she assumed were personal items of a predecessor that she found in the file cabinets--a hairbrush, a mirror, a pack of sanitary napkins.

“Yeah, but she never seems to have a lot of luck with them. The last one just up and disappeared several months ago--Pris said she had to move Upstate to live near her dying mother.”

Or maybe Pris ATE her, Tara mused sardonically.

“Wow, that’s really sad! Well, everything’s pretty great here, so I can’t complain.”

Glenn flipped his long wavy bangs back in a motion that Tara thought was either incredibly conceited or unconsciously effeminate. If he didn’t talk or move much he’d probably be a decent lay.

“So...what is it you do here, anyway?”

“Spreadsheets, Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint,” Tara answered, reading the different applications off her computer screen.

“Well, I must give you credit for choosing to work with Pris.” he spoke in a throaty whisper. “She’s a little bitc--you know, opinionated. Bossy. A little crazy, hormonal. You know...hahaha.”

He spoke to her in that clubby, confiding way as if she were one of the young, corporate, and rabidly ambitious, speaking to her as if she wasn’t Tara the Witch, as if Pris was not the Vampire. In his own pseudo-world of copying machines, TRS reports, bad coffee, and phantom promotions. Dick.

“Teehee,” Tara politely and timidly whispered back behind her hand like a Japanese stewardess, as if she actually empathized with what this load was talking about. “You so funny! But seriously, Pris is really very good to me.”

Glenn walked up to the witch and patted her convivially on the back, his sweaty hand lingering on the bas relief of her bra-strap.

“Well, anyway--welcome aboard, Amanda. Can I call you Mandy--are you ever insulted by people calling you that, do you mind if I call you that?”


“Sure, that’s fine!”

Sweet! Well, we must do lunch sometime.” (Hand still on her bra-strap, doing this queer little focused Shiatsu massage bullshit...Tara wondered if she should ask him to pop that boil on her lower left shoulder blade while he was in the area.) “Do you do sushi?”

“I’ve been known to chow down on it from time to time.”

Sweet! By the way, did you hear about Desjardins?” Glenn’s eyes joyously twinkled in the excitement of a good gossip.


“The word in the halls is he’s got until noon, then...” he made a cutting motion across his neck.


“I’m going to miss, him, though. He was my boss, after all.”

*** *** ***

The termination of Barclay Desjardins was privately celebrated between the hours of 6 and 8 PM by Pris Baxter, Tara Amadeo, and a bottle of champagne that Pris would never drink. Of course, Tara couldn’t properly celebrate the sacking of Desjardins, since she hardly knew the man, the intimacy she had with a few strands of his fakely black hair and a greasy post-it note notwithstanding. But she could share in the general sense of chaos that pervaded a fairly large, browbeaten establishment such as Dermaco when such an event took place--the gaiety of the pencil-pushers, suddenly brought to life just like the sweat-shop workers at the end of The Wiz, enthusiastically spreading the news in hushed tones of Desjardins’s demise, and the conscientious secretaries rushing back to their desks to update the phone lists and erase his name from the databases...

Tara fairly ate the chaos, savoring the taste in her mouth, and her few weeks of contrition for her wicked wicked ways aside, she felt no pull to counteract the buzz and feelings of security and wealth this entire situation gave her. Besides, Desjardins, by all accounts, was an asshole, so he deserved it. Imagine--five sexual harassment complaints by past and present employees of Dermaco all being called in to the poor beleagured HR department at the same time! Whaaat a focking coinkydink, gloated the witch to herself. But of course, according to the Amazing Randi, it’s all just focking coinkydinks--which left her off the hook. Ha! (She accepted the Vampire’s offer of more champagne.) Desjardins was only getting his just desserts, a bit of justice in a lawless land--the witch was merely a karmic warrior in an $60 Macy’s business suit.

The sun had gone down on Manhattan and the lights of times Square were out in full force, and the City seemed so sexy to Tara in her inebriated state, bathing in the glory of Pris’ approbation.

“Cocksucker,” Pris said to the air, to the invisible effigy of Barclay Desjardins, her face beaming, her blood-red lips outstretched as far as they could go and the fangs reflecting light. Tara tore her eyes away from her lust for the City (all of it, just fucking all of it) and regarded her boss.

“He was one of the bad guys, huh?”

“The worst. How I fucking hated him. And when I rose up the ranks and became his equal--his so-called equal, because truly Bersee never saw it that way--I still hated him, wanted to slay the cocksucker.” Pris had folded up her arms as she spoke, holding one arm bent up at the elbow so she could shake her little balled hand.

“Why didn’t you?” Tara asked as she slurped up more champagne from the long, thin glass. “I mean, at least scare him a little bit or intimidate him with your vampireness--“

Nobody knows I’m a vampire here,” Pris sharply interjected, turning around and fixing her ice-blue eyes upon Tara’s brown ones. “Except for a few. I try to give my own kind a break...and promote others. But coming out to Dermaco as a whole? No. Not for a good long while.” The vampire looked away and out into the Times Square night, her image reflected in the glass. “I always wanted to.”

Tara, beverage in hand (as it had been non-stop since six o’clock), stood next to her; she shuddered slightly at the recognition that Pris’s image showed in the window beside her own.

“ reflect.”

“Hm?” Pris said absently, without turning around.

“You cast a reflection.”

“Of course I do. How do you think I got my picture on the ID card?”

“Yeah, but--vampires aren’t supposed to do that. I thought.”

Pris faced Tara, her familiar subtle smirk returning.

“Tara. Amanda.” She put her cold hand on the witch’s arm, sending a chill through the rayon material that sank to the bone and then was very quietly followed by the strangest sensation. “We’re not a book. We’re not a movie. We’re here, in the flesh--more or less. And we’re complicated.”

“I’m complicated too.”

“ How complicated could you be?” Pris asked, suddenly appearing four inches closer to the witch without apparent movement. “You don’t drink blood, after all.”

“Drinking blood,” Tara replied, leaning in to receive the Vampire’s mouth, “that would be easy.”

When the witch woke up late that night in her hotel room bed, her work clothes still on and a massive hangover throbbing in her ears, she thought,

I’m a bossfucker. And a lesbian. And a--

She put her hand on her neck and felt it up, stopping when she was convinced that she wasn’t bitten.

And that’s ALL I am.

---> continued in part three

The next morning, she carefully examined her body in the bath to make doubly sure.

In The Company Of Vampires Part One

I watched a bit of HBO's "True Blood" today, and between that and getting a copy of the new paperback "First Blood" (thanks, Meljean!) I'm in a bloodsucking mood. This is a chapter from a vampire novel I wrote in 2005, known by many names -- "Vamptopia," "Hex In The City," "Fools and Vampires," and, when I'm just feeling sorta punchy, "The Book Of Evil." The question is asked: corporate life is cut-throat enough, but what if you add vampires and witchcraft into the mix?

All rights reserved, 2005 Valerie D'Orazio


In The Company Of Vampires

The hotel room was musty but at least it didn’t smell of pee or have any pubic hairs on the blankets. It was the most that could be said for the arrangement. Tara lay in the dark, in her street clothes, head propped against a pillow. Across from her was one of those mural-sized mass-produced canvases of abstract art in a pastel frame with chrome piping that really made you want to blow your brains out.

What a mess. No job, expensive-yet-really-depressing moldy hotel room, and the honk and cry of the traffic on Broadway, the fucking clog of trucks and taxis. She tried opening the window to air the place put but the smell of smoke and fuel and the blast of hot air clashing with the air-conditioned staleness quickly prompted her to close it again. She was terribly bored, and the City held no surprises or allure for her so she rarely ventured out for more than to pick up a sandwich or pasta plate at the deli.

In such oppressive moments of ennui her thoughts traveled back to the contents of the trunk to the left side of her bed. She would just get impulses to cast spells for no reason, big chaos magick spells full of results and good times. But she remembered the admonitions of Lucy Holloway, and the specter of Rache. And then she recalled the Nine’s request, via Roy, for a hit on Rache--requesting it from her as if she was fucking Silvio from the Sopranos. No, she didn’t need to go so far to make things right. She would just discontinue the magick, was all.

No more spells.

But what else to do? She dreaded getting a job.

She wished all her problems would be over.

She wished really hard.

Her cell phone rang.

*** *** ***

And so once again, quite unexpectedly, Tara Amadeo was invited to partake in her favorite pastime--dinner, preferably free. Actually, she was just invited to lunch, but when you’re unemployed time has a way of dissolving and temporal designations meaningless. Dear Alex had received an inquiry as to the whereabouts of the now-nomad “ex-witch” and of course he just went and gave out the information, bless his fuzzy head. The caller in question could have been just about anybody: repo man, angry former client, demon incognito ready to pull her into the depths of hell and thus fulfill Molly Griep’s many hopes and predictions.

But annoyance at her former roommate’s gullibility (or was it--did she really know Alexander Platt, or did she only know him partially or was her mind not big enough to encompass the entire tapestry of an individual?) aside, the point was moot. Free Food won out and so Tara stood in the doorway of a cheesy but upscale Italian restaurant, dressed in a wrinkled black tank-dress that she had unpacked after weeks of being crammed into her suitcase.

The squat, monobrowed maitre d’ with steel grey hair and an ethnicity that wasn’t exactly Italian but something indeterminate accosted Tara at the doorway, either noting her less than polished appearance with disapproval or starring at her titties.

“Hi, I’m looking for Baxter,” she said in a defensive voice, hoping the name would carry some sort of weight around these parts. And indeed it did, because with a subservient dip of the short man’s head and a placid, closed-mouth smile he led her to a table in the pasta joint’s inner sanctum, past the terrible, almost unintentionally cubist frescos of plates of spaghetti and Mediterranean grottoes that almost reminded her of the canvas monstrosity in her hotel room. There were even crudely-painted cherubs on the ceiling swishing in a sea of stars and bottles of red wine, and it was right after Tara, distracted by such trifles, stumbled on a carpeted step and immediately looked up to see what was in front of her that she set eyes upon Pris Baxter for the first time.

Tara’s first impression of Pris, serenely gazing back at the witch with only the slightest hint of a cocked eyebrow and a shadow of a smirk on her lips, was that she was absolutely perfect. Perfect. Not perfect in a subjective personal-demons sort of way (though that always plays a part), but literally flawless, but for perhaps a slight rodent-quality to her teeth. Unblemished white skin threw her jet-black page-boy and her blood-red mouth in stark relief, small hands pressed palm-to-palm and unusually long fingers well-manicured tip to well-manicured tip. She wore a red suit with large padded-shoulders and two tight parallel rows of pearls ringing her neck like a choker. Elegant. Moneyed. Well-groomed. Which, once the drug of witnessing the rich wore off, immediately led to Tara’s second impression--suspicion.

There was only one reason a woman like that would wish to share and pay for a supper with a person like Tara--and I’ll tell you right now, it wasn’t the promise of hot lesbian sex.

Pris got up and extended a suited arm towards the taller woman, her tiny hand engulfed in the witch’s broad palm.

“So good to finally meet you, Ms. Amadeo,” she said in a melodious, glass-like voice. “I’m Pris Baxter, Vice President of Dermaco International.”

“Uh, thanks. Cool job.”

“Thank-you,” she replied confidently, “I like it.”

Now Tara was even more suspicious and paranoid than ever. She had done magicks for some corporate types in the past, but none had been so bold or so high-ranking. Usually these were covert jobbies, certainly not meeting for a lunch date at a crowded midtown restaurant to discuss the finer points of hexing or the magickal applications of crabs. Tara studied the woman’s pale doll’s face as they both sat down and poster-sized laminated menus were placed before them. There was something odd about her, odder than the mere fact of her being upper management of a major company and yet seeking out the services of a skank like Tara.

The witch’s thoughts suddenly flipped back to that night after Kinky Witter died, when she was in the street upchucking crows and turtles and looking up at God and inquiring if there was indeed more. This whole situation, before it ever really began or at least began to be sketched out, seemed to augur complications, complications even though she had finally packed it all in and announced to herself quite clearly:

That's it! No more complications!

Sigh. Was this to be the pattern of an entire life?

Tinny music in mono began to play throughout the restaurant, emanating from lint-encrusted ancient speakers. Tara thought it was a Musak version of “Perry Mason” by Ozzy Osbourne but couldn’t be sure. A waiter set two tall glasses of water and a basket of bread before the two women; he was also short, squat, dark, monobrowed, and of indistinct heritage.

Pris smoothed a white linen napkin over her lap and smiled.

“Let’s just get to it, shall we?”

Tara dug into the basket, pulled out a pumpernickel roll the size of a grapefruit, and began hastily to butter, her mouth watering at the impending carb-orgy.

“Sure,” the witch replied through a mouthful of bread, “what’s on your mind? Product testing? You have free samples? I think I could use some foundation...” she drew down one of her dark lower eyelids with a finger. “I think I could probably use some foundation. Powder. Concealer.”

“Hm,” Pris said, frowning, leaning in slightly and scrutinizing Tara’s face. Her ice-blue eyes were penetrating, focused like the lenses of an expensive microscope, and Tara actually felt goosebumps raise on her arms and the back of her neck--which was no fair, because “spooky” was her job. “Perhaps a Seaweed-Coconut Exfoliant Mask. No, definely the mask. And you’d need an entire sebacious-matter removal session at one of the Dermaco spas. God....what do you eat?”

“Okay,” Tara answered, raising her index finger, “the thing about the foundation and concealer? Purely being a wiseass, wasn’t serious. What is the real reason you called me? See, now I’m being serious.”

Pris brought the glass of water up to her lips, barely tilted it, then brought it down again.

“I would like to offer you a job.”

“Well, you caught me at a weird time right now...see, I don’t do that stuff anymore.”

“It pays very well.”

Tara tried to quell the rising tide of greed within her with images of Rache gutting some innocents.

“I...really...can’t. It’s just a principle thing.”

That faint, haughty smirk again appeared on Pris’s face. She grabbed a knife and began buttering a breadstick.

“What type of job do you exactly think I’m offering you, Ms. Amadeo?”

“You know what job.”

“I’m offering you a position at Dermaco.”

Tara worked on another roll, pulling the lid off of a small plastic butter container but never taking her eyes off of the striking little woman.

“You mean a job job?”



“You’re very talented.”

“Talented how?”

Talented. I’ve been looking for a woman of your particular talents.”

Tara stuffed the roll in her mouth, biting out a large V-shaped section and chasing it with the ice water.

“You make me sound like sex professional.”

“I assure you, sex has nothing to do with this.”

“Well great, now I’m disappointed.”

What the fuck is wrong with me, Tara asked herself. Some money, some power, a pair of blue eyes, and suddenly I’m all lesbiano.

“Would you be disappointed with 60K?”

“All at once?”

“A year. Plus benefits.”

C’mon, keep thinking about the Horror, keep thinking about that swath of chaos and destruction caused by your magi--


“Full benefits.”

“And what do I have to do?”

“You do what you do.”

“You got enemies?”

“I’m one of three VPs of a major company with a host of young go-getters nipping at my heels and a selection of old-timers who feel agitated and not a little resentful at my ascent. I simply want what they all want. I see the disadvantages, the chinks in the armor, the potential backstabbers.”

“Then why don’t you go stab some backs?”

“Tempting. But I don’t do that sort of thing anymore.”

“But it’s okay for me to?”

“It wouldn’t be personal if you did it. Besides, you’d be an employee.”

Tara rested her chin in her hand and tore her eyes away from Pris, fixing them instead on an oversized jar of roasted red peppers in an alcove. Manic fantasies involving money, prestige, and licking expensive shoes danced in her head, multiplying and crowding out her hard-won grabs at nobility and reform. She couldn’t back down now--she had gone so far! The way she handled Myra, for instance--defusing the situation and restoring order to what once was chaos. And putting all those books and instruments in storage and losing her home and just willingly stepping into the void, trusting in God to take care of her as she made her journey--just like Jules in Pulp Fiction did (just like Caine from Kung-Fu).

On the other hand, to speak of God and to speak of morality--what about the whole thing with Alex? Here she thought he was the nicest guy in the world, her best friend, the Frick to her Frack, all that was good in humanity--and then it turned out that she really hadn’t been so irreplaceable to him, so dear, after all, not when the money flow ended. She still hadn’t recovered from that shitty how-do-you-do. The last seven years or so of her life had been a series of disillusionments and burnt bridges.

Malcolm Dust--who taught her a hell of a lot and should have been the graying old mentor that she looked up to like Gandalf or Obi-Wan--totally couldn’t stand her. Molly Griep not only tried to kill her but as absolutely convinced she was the Antichrist or some bullshit--yeah, she managed to piss off that bitch right well. Then Alex. Three fucking blonds. No more blonds. So now she was going to try her luck with a brunette. Besides, she felt herself inexplicably drawn towards the woman. It was some golden shit that reflected off her eyes, the sort of shit you can’t quite see but feel. It just made her feel so...reasonable.

At some point during the remainder of the conversation Tara realized that Pris Baxter was a vampire. Maybe it was the way she played with her food but never really ate anything. Or the pointy white tips of her fangs that very subtly popped in and out of view as she talked. The thin band of pure white in-between her neck and pearls, a white far paler than was fashionable or possible through the palette of a mainstream cosmetics company. Or maybe Tara always knew she was a vampire, from the very start; maybe this--what was sitting across from her and signing the credit card receipt just handed to her in the sumptuous leather folder--was what vampires really were, or could be.

But she no longer cared. And she really wasn’t convinced that she ever really cared or was truly reformed in any way to begin with. In her life she had seen so precious few that were truly noble--she doubted it was really part of the human condition, and if nobility was not really the purview of humans, what made them so much more better than vampires? Even the unfortunate members of the Invisible College--if a simple biological abnormality introduced into the bloodstream transformed them into amoral killers at the drop of a hat, how weak and how fleeting this notion of character, of basic identity. Character, nobility, ethics, identity, morality--concepts unstable and unreliable, certainly not immortal, as vampires were.

So the witch never mentioned the vampire thing, though she suspected Pris knew she knew--but as long as Tara didn’t blanch, didn’t run out of the restaurant, didn’t break off a table leg and stake the woman through the heart, then it was assumed that everything was cool.

But Tara promised herself she wouldn’t tolerate any killing, or biting.

Okay, maybe some biting.

Pris tossed her a wad of cash before they parted and asked her to make herself presentable. Actually, she ordered Tara to make herself presentable.

Full dental.

*** *** ***

When Pris and Tara strode past the framed posters of various shadow-cheeked models bedecked in dark eyeshadow or green seaweed-avocado masks and into the glass conference room of Dermaco, they almost looked exactly the same--you know, in the superficials. They had the same page-boy haircut, one in black and one in brown. They wore a similar cut of skirted suit--the vampire’s in red and the witch’s in black. They both wore heels--which accounted for Tara’s wobbling as she tried to maneuver herself to the head of the table, where Pris already was.

A sea of well-groomed corporate types looked up at the pair, inscrutable expressions of neither interest nor boredom nor welcoming fixed upon their faces. The only thing that distinguished any of the seated from each other, besides gender and slight variations in apparent age, was that several looked a little paler, a little more perfect, a bit more red on the lip and finely traced around the eyes and nostrils than the others. And Tara thought, fuck, they’re vampires too. Just how many of them were at Dermaco? And the killing--they must be killing people to survive. Tara couldn’t abet this saort of behavior. Not even for full dental. But now she was trapped within the gray-carpeted confines of the glass conference room, her nose inundated with the smell of coffee and the strong odor of artificial fruit-scent that overlapped the very faintest (you’d miss it if you weren’t paying attention) whiff of death.

Just then, Tara caught a glimpse of her tall frame mirrored in the glass, and became so completely distracted by how hot she looked (albeit in a fascist sort of way), that she forgot everything she was just thinking about. Which was just as well, since such seditious ideas had no place in the boardroom.

“Hi, everyone,” Pris’s bell-like voice intoned brightly, making the glass walls hum. “I’ve got to run for a meeting about the Victorian-Allure-in-a-Bag launch, but I just wanted to introduce you all to my new assistant--Amanda Tarantino.”

The crowd sitting around the table said simultaneous in a voice that was neither welcoming nor bored nor hostile nor particularly enthusiastic, through strangely synchronous:

“Hi, Amanda.”

*** *** ***

Tara sat before Pris’s silver-and-lucite desk, and the seat was rather low, and Pris appeared rather big. Tara looked down at the maroon carpeting under the desk and for the first time noticed her new boss’ shoes, little black strappy things with spike heels that seemed impossible. They were the type of footwear that appeared to be at the same time flimsy and prohibitively expensive. It was a fucking shoe fetish that just grabbed Tara by the short hairs, was what it was, another recent fetish to add to her power fetish and meney fetish and newly aquired Ilsa Queen of the SS fetish. The witch never thought corporate life could be so kinky.

Pris was going through the motions of reapplying the beige Victorian Allure lotion on her cheeks and forehead and the back of her neck with a sponge, tipping the small, pink-and-black bottle liberally and applying its contents in quick, numerous, staccato movements. Tara sensed the inherent urgency of such a procedure, how unlike the vampire’s other actions this one was accomplished with a certain degree of vulnerability written on her face.

The sun that shone through the windows behind Pris--windows which virtually consisted of most of the wall space for two adjacent sides of the room. That noon-day light would have just fried her, was it not for the lotion. The strangeness of being a vampire out in the open, in the human world, the human world with its lighted billboards and lines of cars and trucks snaking down Broadway, the essence of Times Square summed up in a gigantic animated Ramen Noodles sign at its very crossroads, all lights and noise even at such an early time of the day--

Pris tossed the used sponge in the silver mesh wastepaper basket and regarded Tara with a squinty scrutiny.

“Wasn’t Dermaco Spa supposed to shape your eyebrows as well?”

“Yeah, well, after the sebaceous intervention with the scoops and suction I just kinda decided to save some goodness for next time.” Tara motioned to herself. “But how ‘bout the rest--pretty good, huh?”

Pris nodded at her, the very hint of her elongated canines showing under her upper lip.

“Yes, quite decent.” She then unlocked a file cabinet under her desk, pulled out a large manilla folder, and handed it to Tara. “You should find everything you need in here. Remember the somewhat porky older man with the Grecian Formula hair and the David Niven-cum-Hitler mustache that was sitting towards the back? Barclay Desjardins. Catty fucking cocksucker,” she said evenly, as if listing his rank and achievements. “Upper management. Been gunning for me ever since I came here. Used to ask me for oral when I was but a slip of a girl in the typing pool. Always said I didn’t have what it took to make it, even as I made it. I know he’d love to see me brought low, destroyed. Shitty cocksucking human. Cocksucker. You’ve got handwriting, photographs, even hair samples from his trash. Cocksucking bastard.”

It was odd hearing Pris repeatedly call someone a cocksucker but still look composed as if giving a Powerpoint presentation. Tara pushed her index finger in the folder and flipped through the contents. Amazing, she thought. Just like the friggin’ CIA.

“Just out of curiosity--you ever file charges on him?”

Pris threw her head back and let out a peal of spontaneous crystalline laughter.

“What, you mean like for sexual harassment? So I could have my character assassinated and be labeled a ‘troublemaker’ and be reassigned to our satellite branch in Duluth under the pretense all upper management wanted to do was ‘protect’ me from him? What a joke...the livelihood and dignity of some lowly file clerk or junior associate has no value in comparison to that of a Vice President, or to a personal friend of CEO “Baby” Bersee himself. Sure, I could have filed something, hired a lawyer but by doing so I’d have to give up everything--maybe even enter a new field completely. No, the rules they play by’s their own rules, just like vampire rules are their own rules, the rules of the clan. And so let them play by their own clan rules...and I’ll play by mine. Or by yours, specifically. Obliterate him.”

By this point the petite vampire’s face had become grim, had been becoming steadily grimmer with every word, and now her face looked positively forbidding, a stone-faced mask of vengeance...Tara wondered uneasily if she was thus witnessing the real Pris Baxter, the face she used when fully exercising the full extent of her vampire power.

“Oooh-kay. But I can’t kill him or anything like that.”

“I’m not asking for death--just destruction. How long will it take?”

“It’s not an exact science. But you’ll know.”

The noon-day sun hit the window in its full heat, and Pris was bathed in an aura of light. Little beads of moisture bubbled up on her forehead, dissolving the lotion and revealing slightly the true ivory of the skin underneath. She instinctively reached for the Victorian Allure, but held back from applying it.

“What will you...ask for, exactly? To happen to him?”

“Safest and easiest bet is to play upon his karmic weaknesses,” Tara said with the technical savvy of a computer programmer. “I’m going to use magick, via the concept of like attracts like (vis a vis personal and bodily effects) to influence his karma to ‘tip,’ as it were. Quite simply--whatever skeletons he has hiding in his closets will suddenly shake the sleep out of their eyes and roam the Earth for all to see.” Tara leaned cockily back in her small chair and couldn’t help but revel in the impending chaos of it all and the look of approval and anticipation in Pris’s ice-blue eyes. “It’s the coolest way to hex, leprosy-fee.”

Pris dug another sponge out of her desk but kept her eyes on Tara.

“Though a few lepers in a company like Dermaco would carry its own degree of irony, would it not?”

“So would a VP with her face on fire.”

“No worry about that,” the vampire replied, reapplying more lotion on the back of her neck. “Victorian Allure is one of the most reliable protectants there is. That’s why it’s the Undead’s underground favorite.”

“Speaking of which..uh...I can’t be involved in any, uh, feedings or anything.”

“Oh, of course not,” said Pris matter-of-factly, “we need to keep you healthy for your job.”

“No, that’s not exactly what I mean--though, like, I do appreciate the “no-feeding-on-me” concept too, don’t get me wrong. I mean--I’m real uncomfortable about the whole vampires-hunting-humans things. Had a couple of bad past experiences. To be frank, it’s been giving me misgivings about working here ever since our first meeting. I don’t want to be a party to that stuff.”

“Tara--Amanda--don’t you know about Clan Generra?”

The witch rubbed her left eye.

“That’s like, roleplaying or something?”

“That’s what I am--I am Generra. Vampires have clans--organizations of like-minded individuals. Like political parties or the Knights of Columbus, though a bit more...intimate. The two major clans in New York City are Generra and The Caress. Caress are freaks, whores, and indiscriminate killers. Generra is committed to a peaceful and mutually beneficial co-existence with humanity.”

A beatific look appeared on Pris’ face as if she just described the rights of Americans under the Constitution. Outside, Tara could hear the crowds, the cars, the alarms, things one usually funnels out of one ears during the course of a conversation--but now they were strangely intrusive, almost a musical accompaniment to Pris’ words. Her words--they were intriguing. Tara wondered if they were true. It would have been intriguing if it was true, and even more intriguing if it was just an elaborate lie--because the witch always found the elaborate, colossal liars and lies of the world fascinating in their excess and evil. But if it was really true, then the witch could work virtually karma-free, just tripping up some shady business-types who probably had it coming to them anyway.

Full dental.

“So you’re saying guys don’t feed off of humans?”

“It’s against the policies of the official Clan Generra Handbook.”

“Then what do you eat?”

“As I have been lecturing to the vampire community for years, there are many perfectly good sources of plasma that are non-lethal to humans.”
“You mean medical blood and animals and stuff?”

“Of course.”

“Can you, like, slit a rat’s throat and fill a wine glass with its blood and then drink it and then laughingly toss the glass into the roaring fireplace?”

“Get to work.”

--> continued in part two