As usual, when he spoke before a gathering, Dæmien's mouth's went dry. A regrettable lack of vital fluids, Dæmien thought as he signalled to his assistant, Chloe, to bring his cup over. He paced before his audience, standing at the head of the room as one of the group related an experience. An easel with a large pad of paper was Dæmien's only prop, and his elegant swirling handwriting covered the sheet in red and black marker. The title of the evening's lecture popped out the best as Dæmien had found a quiet ten minutes in which to form the careful letters in red and shade them in black. He spent time on it - a job worth doing is a job worth doing well, he said. Chloe, who had helped him set up before the group assembled, had a different opinion. She said he was being anal again.
Dæmien glanced at his handiwork, congratulating himself on his ability. Just last week, he had stressed to the group the importance of giving yourself your own praise. He enjoyed being able to practice what he preached.
Chloe discreetly walked around the set of folding chairs and handed Dæmien his cup. Fifteen people had come tonight. They sat on black folding chairs clustered in the center of the room. L. [not his real name] was still talking, standing up in the midst of the gathering, relating a long and improbable story involving dogs and Boy George dolls. This in response to Dæmien asking for a volunteer to stand up and talk about his or her fears - and, as usual, L. had missed the point.
Lately, Dæmien had been having second thoughts about this support group. It had seemed a good idea at first, better than those stuffy soirées Rochelle used to hold every full moon. Rochelle was of the old school, of the old thought - all pomp and splendor, image and romance - and that sort of thing just paled in the modern day. Dæmien was sure he could pave a new way, give them the knowledge of empowerment - for what, after all, was power without empowerment? He knew he could give them modern mental tools, but lately, half the group who had agreed to his little experiment had been sneaking back to Rochelle's parties and those who stayed . . . well . . . Dæmien was beginning to think you couldn't teach the old school the new tricks.
"That's very good, L., very good!" Dæmien said when L. seemed to pause for a moment. He smiled and the words were nice, but the tone said sit down and be silent. L. obeyed the tone.
Dæmien took charge of the meeting again. His gray eyes flashed cold in the light, and his features hardened. Generally, he cultivated a soft and accessible countenance except when he wanted others to know he was unquestionably in command - as he did now. He threw his shoulders back and seemed to stand taller than his already more than adequate height of 6'3". His hair and beard, both curly and flecked with gray, gave him an almost professorial sort of distinction. His clothing was simple, functional, and yet not without some elegance: black pants, a black turtleneck, and a linen jacket of a dove gray color. He considered himself new school all the way, and looking out into the gathering, the majority of them looked so - well - tired in their velvet, lace, and Victorian/Edwardian trappings. How was he going to teach them anything? Yet, they came to him when they needed something. Their reluctance to part with their own pasts had hampered their survival in the modern day, and they knew if anyone could, Dæmien could inculcate them with modern culture. Although he came from their era, he hadn't stayed with it.
"Now, look, although I'm sure that L. found those Boy George dolls perfectly frightful, that's not exactly the kind of thing I'm getting at. I'm talking about fear, deep fear, that kind of fear that exists here," Dæmien said, thumping his chest for emphasis. "I'm talking about the kind of fear that can paralyze you. Now, why should you be paralyzed? You are all supernatural beings. Supernatural, don't you see? Super. Natural. In other words, above nature."
"Are you saying, then, that Boy George - not just Boy George but a toy image of him - is a gift from nature herself?" L. asked.
The group tittered. Dæmien took a deep breath and counted to ten.
"All right. We're having fun. We're having fun with Dæmien," he said, smiling to show that he could laugh at himself. Then he dispensed with the good guy image, and pulled his second prop of the night out of his pocket - a large gold crucifix - and thrust it towards the audience. "But! Are you having fun with this!"
Several in the audience, but not all, were propelled backwards by the crucifix. Some hissed and spat. Marcella fainted on the spot. Two others had to revive her with smelling salts and many flutters of their antique black lace fans. Dæmien waited for the group to compose itself again.
"It's just a cross. A rather gaudy plastic one at that. Look, it has rhinestones on it. I think it's ugly," he said and snapped it in half. He tossed the pieces over his shoulder. "Now, this is the traditional item to frighten a vampire with. Have any of you ever stopped to consider why? Have you ever questioned it? You knew in your lifetimes this was supposed to frighten you. Or you were told later - perhaps even by your brethren, who should have known better. There is no earthly, or unearthly, reason why this little symbol ought to frighten you.
"Vampires from ancient times are not bothered by it. Vampires today often make a point to laugh at it, unless they took in every piece of mythology, hook, line, and sinker. So why are we frightened by it? Let me tell you. I believe the answer is simply that this cross is a symbol of the religion and society that let you down, the society that hurt and betrayed you. When you are hurt by something, deeply hurt by it, you don't want someone thrusting it in your face. If I put a picture of Chloe's ex-husband in front of her, I don't doubt that she would hiss and spit - look, look at her. Even the mere mention of his previous existence has her curling her lip.
"My point is that your fears, no matter how deep, no matter how ingrained, can be conquered. The first step to conquering them is realizing just that. The next step is discovering what your hidden fears are.
"Sometimes we make the mistake of believing ourselves to be superior to mortals in every way, but sometimes I think that living forever just means that our dysfunctions get to live forever, too. I think it's vital that we actually examine ourselves. We have more than a birth trauma and a childhood trauma to get over. We have a death trauma, too, not to mention the emotional adjustment it takes to make the leap from being an ordinary mortal to being one of the walking undead."
Some in the group smiled. Most of them were humorless, or perhaps merely jaded, and they watched Dæmien with their hands folded neatly in their laps.
"The cross," Marcella said, stumbling over the word itself, "the cross is a sign of good and we are evil. We are naturally repelled by it."
"Good? Evil? Marcella, Marcella, come out of the Dark Ages and see there's a whole new ballgame out there. There's a bit of good and evil in everyone, and it's not all just cops and robbers out there. It's not who you are, but how you live."
Marcella formed the words slowly over her tongue. "Cops? Robbers?" She looked around to her companions for support, and the looks they exchanged indicated that next month they would go to Rochelle's.
"Don't beat yourself up. You're a vampire. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just one of nature's little quirks. We're different, yes, but those differences are our strengths."
"Our strength," Chloe added with her customary sardonic smile, "is our difference."
"Indeed, Chloe, we are strong. That's just what I was saying last month when I outlined the Thirteen Steps and how to control your Hunger instead of letting it control you. Remember? Step One: We admitted we had let ourselves become powerless over our Hunger - that our lives had become unmanageable. And that we could manage when we wanted to feed, and that all of us had the inner strength to resist letting it overwhelm us." Dæmien pounded his fist onto his palm for emphasis. "We are strong. We can do it."
Chloe rolled her eyes. Dæmien caught the look. Since Chloe had long been his assistant in this and other endeavors, he often relied on her to be his barometer. It was time to let the meeting wind down. Although he was loathe to do so, he had to admit these meetings weren't working out. Ironic then that he was successfully facilitating these sorts of meetings for humans. He headed up a regular and popular meeting at the local college on healing the inner child. He could help mortals, but he couldn't help his own brethren. They clung to their past. They clung to their pain. Foolish immortals.
He ended the meeting with a reminder to all of them that the next meeting would be in a month. From the looks on their faces, he knew he'd have fewer next time - that the meetings would dwindle until there was no one left but Chloe and himself.
As the last of the group left the room, Dæmien turned to Chloe. "I don't understand why they just can't grasp what I'm trying to impart to them. I lived and died in the 19th century. You don't see me running around bemoaning the fact that top hats went out of fashion. Why can't they see where they are and appreciate it? Goddamn, adaptability is a key element to success."
"Survival of the fittest."
Chloe placed her hand on the nape of his neck and rubbed gently. "Don't worry too much. If they don't understand, it's their problem."
Dæmien sighed. His throat and heart felt parched. He relaxed into Chloe's gentle massage.
"What say we go out and get a little drink?" he asked.
Licking her lips, she replied, "Capital idea."