Most people would think that Alexander Hemsworth, 39, was just an ordinary kind of man, the kind you would not look twice at if he were behind you in the queue at the supermarket. He is of average height, average build, not the worst looking bloke in the world but definitely not the best. He does not dress extravagantly or have a strange haircut, he holds down a fairly normal job and his work colleagues do not consider him odd.
But there is something about Alexander that makes him a little different from the norm, some would say slightly bizarre, others would label him a freak.
“I suppose it started when I was about 13 or 14,″ says Alexander sitting back in the brown leather armchair, which sits in the living room of his semi-detached house on the outskirts of Sheffield.
“I knew that I was different from the other children in my class, a bit special maybe, but it was very hard to put my finger on what exactly made me different.” Alexander pauses to take a sip of his drink and slowly closes his eyes placing emphasis on the moment. He runs his fingers through his light brown slightly receding hair and opens his eyes again staring at me intently.
“You see, I didn’t seem to think like the other children, I wasn’t interested in my studies, couldn’t be that bothered by the opposite sex, like a number of my classmates. I was…quiet, thoughtful, I did not have any close friends as such although I had … acquaintances. No, I just knew that there was something different, something undefined at that point.”
I had arranged to meet Alexander at his house as part of my studies into those who stray from the normal life, those that choose a different path for themselves, the kind of people who pushed eccentricity to the boundaries of taste and legality. The kind whose behaviour often either escalates or becomes widely apparent and who then find themselves on the wrong end of either the law, the tabloid press or often both.
Alexander was the first person to respond to the classified advert I had placed in a number of local and regional newspapers. The first, and hopefully, not the last. I felt excited at finding him, knowing that others may follow with their own particular brand of ‘oddity’.
“When did these feelings of otherness and difference first truly manifest themselves?” I ask, wanting to get to the core of what made Alexander feel that he fitted into the category of my interest.
Alexander’s thin lips form a wide smile, not exactly false but the kind that gives you a feeling of inferiority, as if you are being looked down on as not worthy to be given the knowledge, a lowlife, subhuman or even… prey.
“Ah” exhales Alexander, “You mean when did I first discover my particular… tastes, well that would be in the classroom when I was 15. I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday; it was a Tuesday, first period after lunch, biology.” Again, a smile but this time different, this time with a look in the eye as if he is literally tasting the memory.
“It was dissection. I had a rat splayed out in front of me, innards showing and I felt a need, an overwhelming desire to touch the inside of the rat, to feel the organs.” He speaks with a growing enthusiasm as the memory of the experience floods his senses. ”I reached out with my right hand to touch them and the end of my index finger sank in, the touch was …exquisite. I left it there for a short time. Checking that no one was watching me, I withdrew it noticing the blood covering the end of my finger. It was slightly congealed, the rat had been dead for a couple of hours, but it shone with a perfect redness like the most beautiful of roses.”
Alexander’s eyes moisten and shine with a mixture of joy and happiness at the memory. He appears to becoming quite emotional, as if reflecting on the first kiss with his true love and I suppose in Alexander’s case he is.
He continues, “As I looked at its beauty and perfection I felt true desire, an urgent need to fulfil an unspoken and normally taboo craving. I looked around the room, noticing the revulsion and disgust on the other children’s faces as they examined the dead animals cut open and pinned to a board in front of them. How could they, I thought to myself, how could they not see the beauty, how could they not want to see, to touch to… taste.”
A single tear rolls down Alexander’s cheek now, as his reminiscence reaches its peak. How delicate he is, I think to myself, this confident, relaxed man who some would even call aloof. How delicate and vulnerable he really is when a single precious memory is recalled in all its weight and substance. He is showing this side to me, a complete stranger, I could be anyone; I could expose his peculiarities to the world, making him an instant pariah, a figure of hate in his local and indeed the wider community. He must really want to share this with somebody; either that or I must be really good at making my interviewees relaxed. I smile to myself, content at the potential of this meeting to my studies and, of course, subsequent book sales. My thoughts and smugness were interrupted by Alexander as he continued.
“It was at that moment, at that exact moment that I knew what I must do,” he continued “I slowly raised my hand and brought it up to my face, the anticipation was overwhelming. As my index finger drew closer to my mouth, I stuck the tip of my tongue out to touch it. The taste was indefinable, the most perfect sensation. Without thinking I put the tip of the finger into my mouth and then I knew, I knew how I… differed, I knew what I was.” He lapses into silence, an expression of contentment and happiness on his face.
“You knew what you were?” I press him to be explicit for the purpose of the tape machine recording our conversation.
“Yes, I knew.” He responds, taking the bait “It was at that point that I knew my place, my life, my destiny. I knew that I was a drinker.”
“A drinker?” Come on, I silently urge him, give me it, give me the word.
“Yes a drinker, of blood, a … Vampire.”
Get in! Nailed it, score one for me; first freak found, first freak on record. Time to push the point, time to really get into it.
“But how?” I ask, “How can you be a Vampire? You’re alive you’re not dead, or indeed undead, how can you class yourself as a Vampire? Surely, they’re just stories, tales to scare and frighten, to entertain. Are you not just pretending to be this character, this persona to draw attention to yourself? To make people notice you?”
Alexander’s face tightens; I’ve annoyed him, got at him. Let’s hope this line will bring about the type of revelations I need for my study.
“I am not pretending to be anything,” he states, slowly so that he is sure that I get the message. ”I am what I say I am, I believe it and that is enough, enough for me. I am not who I am to please, to entertain or to titillate those growing masses who seem to be obsessed with my kind. The fact that I am not dead is immaterial to me, I see this facet to be one, which, has been invented in order to marginalise and segregate my kind, to make us figures of fear and hatred. I know this, deep within me, I have accepted what I am and this has kept me content and happy for the last 24 years.”
The tone of the conversation is changing, turning icy; this is working now, starting to really expose him.
”So tell me?” I ask. ”How have you managed to survive for the last 24 years on blood? Surely it is hard to come by and you must have eaten something else during that time or you would have become ill and died by now?”
The smile returns to Alexander’s face once more, broader than before, so much so that it develops into a chuckle. ”You don’t understand do you?” he says, again trying to make me feel small, stupid, undeserving. ”I don’t survive on blood alone. Of course, I eat food like anyone else, I have to. Blood is my wine; my treat to myself at the end of the day, my reward, a precious gift to myself.”
I’m intrigued now, more than before, “But where do you get it from?” I ask, “It’s not something you can buy down the shops is it? People are a bit precious when it comes to giving up their blood, especially if they know it is going to be drunk by someone claiming to be a vampire.”
Again, a smile. He is enjoying this now, this imparting of basic information to a simpleton. “You would be surprised, in the circles I mix with, in my other life; there are people who give their blood gladly. Some for money, there is nothing that people will not sell.”
He leans forward staring at me straight into my eyes as if he is about to impart a great unknown secret, “and others… there are those who give for the pleasure of knowing that they are providing for me, feeders; those who gain pleasure from having their essence taken by my kind.”
I understand, in my own brief knowledge of the world I can believe him. Of course people will sell, I mean if people are willing to sell a kidney, then what is a little blood. People give blood all the time, why not get paid for it, if your appreciation of what is acceptable in the world is wide enough.
As for the others, yes, I knew that the world could be sick enough for this to be seen as all right to some. I mean it’s relatively tame in comparison to some people’s particular lifestyle choices. Maybe he could put me in touch with some, so that I could talk to them too, it would give the study an ‘all round’ angle. I am about to ask when Alexander speaks.
“Of course there are times when resources are low, when willing volunteers cannot be found, these are the times when my… condition can be a burden to me.”
I dare myself to ask the question, “What do you do in times like these? How far would you go to satisfy your need? Would you kill an animal? Would you take from an unwilling human? Would you… kill?” There it’s out there, I had done it. I had asked the question that I had really gone to ask.
The temperature in the room seems to drop immediately.
Alexander’s voice is calm, controlled but there is an underlying anger. ”Haven’t you listened to what I have said? This preconceived notion of my kind, continually perpetuated by the ignorant, the scared and the hateful. I am a peaceful man; the thought of violence abhors me. No, I would never resort to this. I feed from the living not the dead. Do you think I am an eater of carrion?”
This was not the answer I had been looking for. Not at all. I came to find a monster and found a mild mannered drinker of willingly given blood. Not what I had wanted at all. I could jazz it up I suppose, to make it more horrific than it actually was, but that would be a lie, that would truly make me one of the ignorant and hateful. No, it was time to go back to the drawing board, visit one of the other ‘oddities’ who had responded to my advert and hope, that one of them is really the kind of monster that I was hoping for.
I turn off my recorder and start to put my things together, “Well, thank you for seeing me today, Alexander, it really has been enlightening. I shall be in touch, let you know how my study is progressing”. I stand to go and as I do so, he rises from his chair at the same time.
“In your advert,” he says, “you mentioned payment. You said that those taking part in the study would be paid.”
“Of course,” I reply, reaching for the wallet in my pocket. I had been hoping that he had forgotten that part, that the experience of sharing would be enough for him. I open my wallet, looking at what cash I have on me. ”Shall we say Thirty pounds?”
Alexander smiles at me “Er … well, normally that would be fine, but you see, you find me at a point where times are a little hard. Things are strained at the moment. I was thinking maybe we could settle on… two pints?”
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