A Story to Die For
His Gotham studio apartment was poorly lit. Streaks of moonlight flooded the room through barred windows. It smelled musty too, like old people that had lived too long. The door knock came as expected, and Nicholas McCarthy, who had been gazing down at the city through the window, approached the door, and opened it promptly.
The door's chained lock stopped it from opening completely.
"Who is it?" Nicholas asked. He hunched his fit frame, one eye peering through the crack in the door. Outside a familiar frail man wearing a green sweater and glasses met his glaring eye.
"Maxwell," the visitor said, adjusting his travel bag over his shoulder. "Tell me this isn't another fit like you had when Vampire Lovers flopped in its first week…."
Nicholas didn't answer right away, but fidgeted with the lock until he finally opened the door.
"I need ideas, Max, not jokes," he said as he returned to the card table next to the whiteboard. Max flipped on a light and followed.
"Don't forget the lock," Nicholas said. "The paparazzi have busted through there a couple of times now trying to get a photo of me wallowing in self-pity. I've been thinking about getting heavier locks installed ever since, maybe even a dog."
They sat down in their usual seats, and prepared to work. From his travel bag, Maxwell pulled out a worn notebook, an expensive pen marking his place. This is where they brainstormed.
"So, what's hot right now?" Nicholas asked, pouring a glass of amber liquid. The smell was sharp, and Maxwell eyed the glass.
"Here," Nicholas said, "it's your favorite." Maxwell nodded his thanks as he raised the glass, then tilted his head back finishing the drink in one burning gulp. He wheezed and coughed as if he had just swallowed Listerine.
"Romantic vampire novels, Nicholas," he said in a raspy voice. He cleared his throat. "The gals love 'em, and you know they make the majority of purchase decisions."
Nicholas leaned back in his chair, and ran a hand through his jet-black hair. "I've been trying to write that kind of vampire, Max, but it just seems unnatural, like drinking coffee with a fork."
"Hey, Nicholas, nobody writes the classic vampire as well as you do," Maxwell said, reminiscing. "It's just the trend has gone to the soft, fallible vampires. You know, the kind that go to high school, glitter in the sunlight, and only drink animals' blood." Nicholas shifted in his chair.
"I've been writing the romantic vampire, Max, and the critics have been.… how did the last one put it? Ah, putting a proverbial stake in me," Nicholas said through gritted teeth. "I need something new, Max. Give me something new, or I'm…. dust."
Maxwell sniggered. "Okay," he said as he got up, wagging a finger in the air. "I think I've got something." He grabbed a red dry erase marker and pressed a streak onto the whiteboard, then stopped.
"Wait, I've got it," Maxwell said.
Nicholas leaned forward in his seat.
"Roots… You need to go back to what made you successful in the first place, Nick. Like I said, no one writes the traditional vampire with as much texture and feeling as you do."
"I know it was traumatic, Nick, what with the killings and all, but the police said they caught the culprit." Nicholas looked away. "You'd be a shoe-in for the New York Times Best Seller list again, eh?"
"I can't believe you would even suggest that, Max. Are you saying that you'd be willing to invite the killing again, just for accolades?" Nicholas asked.
"Nick, you aren't the first author to have a serial killer mimic his published works. Granted, that was a PR nightmare for me, but we got through it, and in the end, the cops got their guy."
Maxwell reached into his bag and pulled out Nicholas' last best-selling novel. "Listen to this. You can't tell me that this doesn't bring back good memories:
"The need was upon him. The pull was more powerful than any drug he had tried. Centuries of trying told him he could not fight it, so he didn't anymore. It started in the pit of his stomach, something far worse than hunger, insatiable, and primal. It was a feeling of instant starvation. Finally it made its way to his mouth. His gums spasmed."
"Stop," Nicholas moaned. "Please…"
Maxwell jerked up from the book to see Nicholas' face in his quivering hands.
As the moments passed, Nicholas' breathing grew deeper, more controlled. "I didn't expect this from you. I shouldn't have invited you here."
"Hey, are you okay?" asked Maxwell. He had never seen a fit quite like this. "I just thought if I could read you some of your best work…."
"Leave," Nicholas said, his voice shaking. "Do you want the killings to start again?"
"They won't start again Nick," Maxwell said as he wiped a handkerchief across his brow. "They already caught the perpetrator."
"No?" They both sat in deafening silence for what seemed like a long moment.
"I really think you should return to what made you successful."
Nicholas sighed, his voice suddenly quite composed. "Very well then. I have a new plot to run past you."
"The hardest part about my writing is the plot. I have to think of the victims, how the murders take place, and then how to cover it all up. It's a very dark place to go."
"Let's hear it then."
"Two men sit in a room like we are here."
"Okay," Maxwell said. They had brainstormed like this for years. "Got it."
"An unsuspecting agent goes to visit his favorite, but struggling, author."
"Unsuspecting?" Maxwell said, with a quiet chuckle.
"I'll explain that shortly."
"The agent begs him to bring back the murders that fueled his most successful series of books." Maxwell shifted in his chair at this wording.
"What's the plot twist?"
"That only one of the men is human," Nicholas said, a twinkle of moonlight in his eye.
Maxwell felt his heart beat a little faster. "You know, I left something in the car that could be very helpful to—"
"The most ironic thing...."
"He's locked himself in."