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Peer Counseling

by Ryder W. Miller

Ben tasted blood in his mouth as he walked away from the photography reception. He had cut his mouth on an overcooked piece of pizza and he was worried that the bleeding wouldn’t stop. One cannot use a band aide in one’s mouth he figured. It had been a long time since he had tasted the delicious taste of blood. He was reformed, honestly talking his way through the Vampire’s Anonymous program. He no longer wanted that life, but the blood tasted salty and fresh. Vampire’s Anonymous sought to reform those who had the “odd thirst” and recidivism was not allowed. Recidivism for Ben would most likely result in incarceration.

But The Thirst was hard to ignore. The Thirst was hard to forget or reform. He had vampire friends who were in prison for life. He had been lucky. He had been able to find self-control. But society did not understand people like him. Reform meant a life untrue to oneself. There had been times where he wished to strike out against those who destroyed society, whether it be people acting out on the bus, hooligans, ruffians or greedy business men. There had been times where he had seen people on buses pick fights or try to steal money from riders. There were thieves at certain street corners in the city.

He once considered himself like “Batman”. He would swoop down and rip the head off a criminal and feast on the blood spurting out of the dead carcass. He grew to crave the salty taste and the spiritual essence. Some vampires liked absorbing the good, he felt obligated to destroy and process the evil.

Also, blood was actually dietetic, more nutritionally efficient and less fatty than flesh. Most vampires were thin and sexy, but they could not fit in normal society. They were not understood. They were also considered criminals. Ben reformed, but he still felt the pangs of anger when he encountered the criminals in the city. He did not like being alone, or separate from society, but he did not feel comfortable in society either. He needed someone to talk with, but usually he could only howl at the moon. But he also did not like being with people who did not understand him. Vampire’s Anonymous made him be a “peer counselor” with Maltos, the reforming werewolf, but their conversations were not always stimulating. Vampire’s Anonymous made him go talk with Maltos on the nights of the full moon, like this evening.

It had been a frustrating affair this evening, despite there being lots of amenities: wine and later pizza. He wanted to meet a woman there, but he was not able to strike up a meaningful conversation with anyone. He also did not talk with a brown-haired woman he had failed with in the past. He spent most of his time looking at the photographs, drinking wine, and then eating pizza. The crowd was as varied as the photography. Again, tonight, he could not connect with others. He spent most of the evening standing alone. He drank more than his share, the red wine warming his chest.

Wine, in particular red wine, sometimes could substitute for blood. It was not as salty or invigorating, but it left one in a heightened mood. Tonight it had left him tired and grumpy. But now he was alone again, walking through the streets with the sour taste of blood in his mouth.

Ben no longer had the superhuman powers, he was more likely to be a victim rather than a perpetrator of a crime tonight. Because of the full moon there would be all kinds of people out on the streets this evening. Ben did not feel comfortable walking the streets tonight and he could not afford to spring for cab fare. He decided to wait for the bus on a block that seemed abandoned during the late hours. The lighting at the stop was too dim to read, and the skies were cloudy. Occasionally the full moon would shine through the clouds.

Ben knew that Maltos was also pained by the process of “reforming”, leading the incomplete life that the reformed normally did. He was not able to express his emotions physically as he had in the past. Ben wondered how he was doing. He would be in an odd mood tonight with the full moon and all.

The bus finally arrived and he had to walk its entire length to find a seat in the back. There were groups of people on the bus, and most were quiet except for a few loud talking kids in the back seats.

“Don’t think you can be pulling that kind of shit with me, “ a young man with a baseball hat on said.

A man with a red sports sweatshirt stood up and said “I will kick your ass if I want to.”

“Shut up,” said a man with a sports jacket.

They were eating on the back of the bus and empty bags of chips and beer cans were on the floor.

Sweatshirt got up and said “I’ll kick your ass right here. I will kick anybody’s ass right here.”

Ben sat quietly, afraid to get involved. He could get in trouble if he interfered. He no longer had super powers. The blood in his mouth had left a sour taste.

“You are all a bunch of pussies,” said Sweatshirt, who threw a bag of chips on the floor and squashed them with his foot.

Most of the bus sat quietly, trying to ignore what was going on. A few people out of earshot continued to talk in the front of the bus. The bus driver kept on driving. Ben wanted to beat them up, but he no longer thought that he could. It was difficult not to get involved.

“You are all a bunch of dicks,” Sweatshirt said.

The bus stopped and the three decided to get off. Sweatshirt was looking around at the crowd on the bus, but the passengers were trying not to look at him.

“Pussies,” Sweatshirt mocked as he stepped out the doorway.

Ben was angry, but he was no longer able to act out as a vampire and there was not a lot he could do about this. In the past he would have been able to take all three of them on himself, but tonight he was also tired from a long night alone at a party, and a lot of wine. The crazies came out on the night of the full moon, and some people generally were wilder. Most people on the bus were quiet and hoped to get home safely.

Ben remembered the days when he could rip the head off of a guy like Sweatshirt and feast on his blood. He thought about stepping off the bus and chasing them down, but it was not something he could do anymore.

Public transportation was sometimes like this. Normally there were no weirdoes or ruffians, but sometimes there were “no-goodnicks” that he would like to feed upon. Normally people cleaned up their trash. Normally if things get out of hand the bus driver will take care of things. His bus stop was a few stops later and he got off the bus and walked quietly towards Maltos’s place.

Maltos would probably not be out tonight. He would be tired after a full day at the garage. They were some of the only kind of people who would not be too scared to hire him. Late at night he would sit in his big back yard and drink beer alone. There were nights that they would talk in the back yard, the only illumination being the moon through breaks in the clouds. They would argue, and those at the treatment center would remind them that they deserved each other. “Peer Counseling” was partly punishment, but also partly reform. Both of them needed to change in order to fit in society. Unpleasant experiences between them were to be considered learning and growing experiences.

Maltos looked odd with too much hair and a permanent grimace on his face. Some of the hairs on his neck were unusually thick. Most people would find him odd when he walked down the streets. He would save it all, all the anxious energy, for the night of the full moon. He managed to be mellow and reticent the rest of the month. Most “people” misbehaved every day Maltos thought, he only misbehaved one night a month.

In the past, on the night of the full moon he would run around in the darkness. He would yell, howl, into the night. It was one of the few times when he could go wild and let it all out. If someone was stupid they may not make it home alive that evening. In this future, most Werewolves prided themselves on the fact that they behaved every other night of the month, but that was not enough for modern society.

Werewolf’s Anonymous cramped his style. They made him stay home on the night of the full moon as well. If he wanted to express himself he would have to do so through art, not brawn. Maltos’s backyard became a sculpture garden with painful twisted metal offerings. Maltos preferred them when they were rusted and shocking. They were usually abstract, but sometimes they would be of human figures who had been attacked by a dangerous creature. He had not yet found a place to show his art work yet.

Maltos wanted to be known as a quiet guy, a reformed werewolf, who liked to work with metal. He was annoyed that part of his treatment was that he had to spend time with people-things-that were as scary as himself. Reform said to him that he had been “whipped”, and that he needed to be reminded that he had not yet been beaten. His forced friendship, his peer counseling session with Ben was about that. Vampires were much worse than Werewolves Maltos thought. Vampires had superhuman powers, most of the Werewolves he met were only stronger. They also had bad breath.

They agreed to meet only on nights of the full moon, but sometimes Maltos would go out. He would tell his councilors at Werewolf’s Anonymous that he needed to stretch out and explore, and that Ben arrived at the wrong time. The Anonymous folks called peer counseling “empathy training”. He could no longer prowl around. The loss of this day- this night-of release resulted in him being less friendly at work. He would growl and snarl at people, but he was good enough of a mechanic that they kept him employed.

Maybe Ben would show up tonight as usual. He probably would show up late. They could talk tonight under the moon. These were scary encounters, both agreeing that the other was ghastly. Times sure have changed Maltos said out loud to himself.

Waiting in the yard Maltos heard Ben call him.

“Hey Maltos. Hey Maltos. Are you there.”

Maltos said “Wait a moment, I will let you in a minute.”

Maltos walked through the yard to let Ben in through the fence gate.

That night they talked into the early morning. Ben complained about no longer being a vigilante. Maltos complained about not being able to express everything he wanted, when he wanted to. Maltos would shudder when the full moon came out from behind the clouds, and Ben grew nervous. The cut in Ben’s mouth healed and Maltos shuddered as Ben cleaned out his mouth with wine. Maltos reminded Ben that he was lucky that he didn’t have to work, Ben being an heir to a wealthy family from Transylvania. Ben argued that he wasn’t really rich and that he had to take the bus. Ben also said that if Maltos wasn’t so judgmental, which Maltos shouldn’t be because he was so ugly, he could probably find a girlfriend.

Later that night, after they bemoaned their unfulfilled drives and thirsts, Maltos decided to call it an evening. They decided not to chase down Sweatshirt and his friends, reminding each other that they could not get in trouble. Things sure had changed in these dystopian times, but at least they had their “friendship”. Ohh what conversations they had, ohh what conversations they had, they thought sarcastically.

Copyright Ryder W. Miller 2011

Ryder W. Miller is the editor of From Narnia to a Space Odyssey, and co-writer of San Francisco: A Natural History. He has published stories at MythCircle and the Lost Souls website.

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