I didn’t freak out. I guess because I was already too numb to freak out on account of finding out that my boss is a vampire and I work at a company where everyone is a monster. In normal circumstances finding out that my best friend at work – that’s question #10 on the Q12 survey you know – is a mass murderer would have likely provoked more of a reaction from me. The feeling was a lot like when I was a kid and a neighbor told me that my parents had been killed in a car accident so I was going to live with my grandma. I was just blank you know?
“So what you’re saying is that you’re a murderer.”
Fred shook his head quickly, almost violently “No, more like . . . I was a soldier. I was working for the government, what I did . . . they trained me to do it, they encouraged me to do it . . . I didn’t even really understand what I was doing at first. Like I said they created me, there, in the facility. I never had a life before. I was just there and they were telling me what to do. I didn’t know at first . . . what was happening to . . . them. The people who I went into their dreams. I was like a little kid who could do a trick, I just wanted them to be nice to me . . . I know that probably sounds stupid now . . . but . . . I don’t know what else to say. I don’t want to say that I was a victim because people lost their lives, but . . . I was taken advantage of at least. I . . . I . . .”
I could tell that he was getting upset by talking about it. As a friend I probably should have let him off the hook. Told him that he didn’t need to talk about it anymore. But I didn’t let him off the hook. I couldn’t. This is where I say some deep shit about how people are the real monsters.
“And the people you killed . . . they were all bad guys?”
“I mean . . . it was the Cold War. They were doing their job just like me. I don’t know how well I can explain about the geopolitics of a time before you were even born. They knew the risks? Maybe I can say that.”
“This was before I was born? How old are you?”
“Forty, but I was ‘born’ fully grown.”
“Huh, well you look great. Actually no, you look awful, but your . . . what, disguise? Looks great, I mean for forty. So what am I seeing when I see the Fred who’s not a serious burn victim slash classic movie villain? How does it work? I have pictures of us together, even if you’re messing with my brain to look like a human how do you fool my phone?”
“Did you ever see that movie Mimic?”
I rolled my eyes “You know I haven’t.”
“Well it’s like that.”
I took a breath “So, you were a psychic dream assassin for the government and now you’re the IT guy for a company that sells and installs industrial refrigerator thermometers . . . how?
“Once I figured out what I was doing, you know, what death is and how life works and things like that . . . uh, you know, like what the world is, the real world you know, I decided that what I was doing was bad. So I ran away. Escaped.”
“And they just let you go?” I doubted dubiously.
He shifted uncomfortably yet again “Well no . . . I did some dream stuff . . . also . . . um . . . yeah . . . anyway, after that I was just out in the world. That’s what I was trying to say before. I don’t think Duke’s father, not like his human father, but his vampire . . . uh, sire or whatever, set out to create a company for people like us, but they don’t look too much into people’s backgrounds so it’s like water flowing downhill. I was created in a government facility, out of dreams? I didn’t have a social security number or a birth certificate. It’s like when high school kids find out a bar isn’t carding, they swarm the place.”
“How would you know about underage drinking in high school if you were created in a lab?
He seemed injured “I hear things.”
I looked around, halfway convinced everyone was hiding listening to us “So why am I here? I’m not a monster.”
He didn’t have any eyebrows, but he raised his burned flesh-lump where an eyebrow would be “Are you sure about that I’ve seen what you say to people on Twitter. But no, mostly this is just a real business, there just happen to be more . . . diverse people here than . . . uh, normal I guess. Not everyone here is a monster, not even most people.”
“That creepy guy in the warehouse he’s something right?”
“What’s so creepy about Bernard? I always thought he was a good dude, we’re in a fantasy baseball league.”
“That’s probably because he’s never stared at you rubbing his crotch inside his coveralls while you were eating lunch.”
“In his defense you do eat mangos in a very arousing way.”
I swatted at him “That’s not funny.”
He grinned sheepishly “It’s a little funny.” His face fell “So . . . uh, back to my question. Are we still friends? I . . . don’t . . . uh . . . it’s tough you know . . . I don’t have many friends and . . . I . . . uh . . .”
I pinched my nose for a moment “Jesus dude, I’m dealing with a lot of information here, Draculas and Freddie Krugers and zombies, yes, we’re still friends but I don’t have a lot of emotional bandwidth for you at the moment. Wait, you don’t still kill people do you?”
“No, of course not! I mean . . . I still need to feed, but I don’t kill anyone.”
My body went rigid “What the fuck does that mean?”
He held up his hands like he was warding off an attack “Nothing bad, it’s just . . . like Duke is a vampire so he needs to drink blood to stay alive, I don’t know if it’s universal but most of us need . . . something like that. I don’t kill anyone. But . . . uh . . . I do feed off the fear in their nightmares. But I don’t kill them.”
“Okay, let’s put a pin in that, what about Diane? She’s a zombie boss so she eats brains?”
He shook his head “I don’t know. It’s kind of a taboo thing to ask someone about in our . . . uh . . . society. I don’t think she kills anyone, you’d get found out. The police can’t see that Diane is, what she is, but if dead bodies were showing up without brains all the time they’d figure something was up. They’d still arrest her for being a serial killer.”