This is one of a collection of stories that are like “Final Destination” meets “The Monkey’s Paw” (W. W. Jacobs, 1902). As such, they are tragedies more than either mysteries or horror, and would appeal most to readers who enjoy the inexorable pull of a story arc that leads to doom. In each story, a protagonist makes a wish that comes true with fatal results for someone, often the person making the wish. Nothing supernatural, but just how things work out. (Or is it?) The technical details surrounding the fatal (or near-fatal) event are drawn from real cases in the US OSHA incident report database or similar sources and are therefore entirely realistic, even if seemingly outlandish. The plots draw lightly from cultural beliefs around actions such as pointing at someone with a stick or knife, wishing in front of a mirror, or stepping on a crack.

Bruce was a vampire and had been ever since he was an overly confident 15-year-old walking home in the dark.

He had accepted a ride from a very pretty young woman whose jet-black hair and red lips had contrasted so vividly with her milky white skin that reflected the cold moonlight. He had missed his ride home and was happy when a coach slowed beside him during his 5-mile trudge home. It was a long, twisting road in the bitter cold, and he was glad for the chance to cover the rest in comfort. She had crooked a slim finger at him and whispered in a low, lisping voice, “Want to hear a secret?”

That, as they say, was that. He leaned in close, her lips brushed his ear, her breath hot on his skin, and that was the last thing he ever heard as a normal, red-blooded young boy. He was hoping for a warm ride home and maybe a kiss. He would have settled for sitting next to her three silver-gray hunting dogs and get out of the cold. What he got was sudden, intense pain shooting down his neck and oblivion until he woke 3 days later as a vampire with a raging thirst.

That was back when the Hapsburgs were big news and a four-horse carriage was the latest in smart rides. Bruce had seen a lot over the years and, on the whole, preferred modernity. Bruce had been there when Ferdi first became the elected king of Bohemia, but a palace in the 1500s was nowhere as comfy as a two-bedroom townhouse with HVAC and a modern kitchen and bathroom.

Bruce shuffled over to the microwave to reheat his coffee. His hip joints ached and his left knee was throbbing from a misjudged walk past a wooden box in the basement. Relative immortality was all very well, but nobody warned one about backaches, sore joints, and cataracts from an old age that lasted for centuries. Climbing the stairs up from the basement left him winded and gasping. Bruce took a detour and fetched some ibuprofen, adding a shot of rum to brace his coffee.

Money was one of the big problems.

Biting necks didn’t exactly pay the rent, and even though long-term interest was dandy, a vampire had to move and change names every few decades to avoid standing out as aging just way too slowly for explanation. That ruled out many high-paying jobs. Skilled professions were fine, but over the long haul, they tended to become obsolete and relied on reputation, and reputation had an aging issue. Back in the 1500s, Bruce had been the physician to minor royalty, but being a dab hand at leeches, poultices, and unguents was scarcely going to get him a job in a modern hospital. Then there were the unexpected risks of a modern hospital. Being near MRI machines made him feel like his bones were on fire—something about accumulating iron over the centuries. Iodine and chlorohexidine were also a barrier. The merest whiff and his sinuses would clog up and it felt like his forehead was going to burst open.

Naturopathy and acupuncture were pretty good moneymakers and, of course, they didn’t ever really go out of date. In fact, remedies he had flogged to Max II in 1562 were still just as fine now. So long as he cut out the arsenic, mercury, and lead, it was pretty much unchanged. Bruce made a reasonable living just from herbal and natural remedies and sold whatever was popular in crystals, pendants, and mysticism in general, anything that didn’t take a whole lot of physical effort was better.

Vampires, it turned out, did age—just a lot slower than normal. Aging was mostly due to accumulated errors in fixing damage caused by an oxygen-rich atmosphere and being on a planet bathed in ultraviolet light. “I mean, seriously,” he muttered. “Does anyone stop to think that oxygen burns iron and turns it to dust?” Bruce mumbled on about UV radiation pretty much bleaching the heck out of everything. His pale skin blistered if he was in direct sunlight for too long, and he never developed a tan.

Sunscreen was pretty good business, though, and he had a roaring trade in SPF 200 for other vampires. The problem was that vampires were essentially broke. A group financial plan that was put in place in the 1800s had done fabulously up to the Great Depression, but then took a big hit. It partially recovered after WW2, but a series of property-based investment strategies through the 1970s and 1980s made it vulnerable to the 2008 crash. The central beam of failure, however, was the growing number of fragile and decrepit elderly vampires

Blood was another thing.

The 1960s brought street drugs that were deliciously damaging to vampires, such as LSD, for example: One sip of blood from a victim with acid in their veins and the vampire was fried. A kind of catatonic schizophrenia followed swiftly, and by all signs, permanently. Heroin, on the other hand, caused a slow but steady nervous shutdown that in some ended with coma and brain damage and, in most, resulted in a permanent state of nausea. Opioids in general were a bad idea for vampires; fentanyl was so dangerous to a vampire that even traces on the outside of a sealed plastic bag could fry their nervous systems. They all carried naloxone inhalers, just in case.

Bruce hadn’t bitten anyone in ages. When HIV popped up, those few vampires still prowling for victims quit for good. Several of his closest friends were now emaciated wrecks, comatose, or spent every waking hour trying not to throw up. Many existed in a sea of misery, not quite alive, not quite dead. It cost a fortune to pay for care and move them every few years. No new victims meant no new vampires, and no new vampires meant no fresh revenue.

What about breeding, you might wonder? The problem was complex, but essentially male vampires were sterile and female vampires slowly regressed back to being “normal.” Progesterone was a vampire eraser. Each time they had a period, a female vampire shed some of the vampireyness and pregnancy flipped it off entirely. This was essentially an old pale guy problem.

Except for Lilith.

Many long discussions had been held over the centuries about Lilith. She was the oldest of the vampires now and an enigma. Many had suggested that Lilith wasn’t even her real name, and it was rumored that she had been around for thousands of years. Some of the older vampires had said they had been told her name was Lillit or Lillitu, but that may have been her tribe rather than her name. Either way, she was said to be so ancient that nobody actually knew her when she became a vampire for the first time. It wasn’t that Lilith didn’t stop being a vampire like other women, but that she was a perpetual serial vampire. Every time she stopped being a vampire, she would get bitten again within weeks, days, once even within minutes. Vampires were drawn to her in a way that defied understanding. Pretty much all the remaining vampires had bitten Lilith at some point, and some had done so many times. In turn, Lilith had created most of the vampires that still lived.

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Bruce was meeting with Lilith later in the evening to hear about an idea she had for resolving some of this mess, and he was feeling very intimidated. One reason was that she had an idea at all where he had plumb run out of them. Perhaps a bigger reason was that she was the first vampire he had ever encountered. Her hair wasn’t quite as black these days, nor was her skin the same alabaster white as 600 years ago. Such a long time ago, Bruce mused, when she had called him over to her carriage one moonlit evening in a now vanished kingdom. Lilith usually kept to herself and seemed content to just be surrounded by her dogs, but she had a decided knack for knowing what works and what doesn’t work and could tell a good idea from a bad idea even when they were disguised under a heap of marketing or pizzaz. So, when Lilith said she had something to say to the group, Bruce was all ears, and the group was all in.

When Bruce reached the meeting place, he could see that several of his fellow vampires had already arrived, the cars outside an eclectic mix of function and style. Harry’s sleek black hearse sulked between George’s black Mini Cooper and a rental car. There was a blue BMW Z1, an Avant Garde Smart Car in metallic purple, an ambulance, and a Mercedes Benz 450—swanky at first glance, but one might soon notice that the Z1 had mismatched doors, the smart car’s driver side window was a sheet of plastic held on with duct tape, and the Mercedes was missing a trunk lid. They were aging vehicles that spoke of a glamorous past but testified to a straitened present. Including his own, there were 13 cars, a far cry from the hundreds of members that had met every year in earlier centuries.

The location was a small clinic that Lilith had bought when times were better. It had 15 patient rooms and enough conferencing space for them to sit around one long table. The mood was warm and welcoming and there was joy in seeing old friends, but it was tinged with a sense of loss. So many members were missing, and their numbers were down to a small fraction of what they were just a decade ago. There was even talk of a few suicides among vampires who had just given up.

After some time exchanging hugs and handshakes, and retelling of old stories, Lilith ushered them over to a buffet table and they were soon seated for dinner. When the last plate had been cleared away, Lilith tapped a half empty bottle of vodka, the last of a thousand from the cellars of Czar Alexander the First in 1825, and she rose at the head of the table, facing Bruce. “Firstly, I want to acknowledge Bruce, Ignaz, and Stefan for their tireless work. Moves, medical homes, investments, and covering medical bills. You guys are heroes.” There were nods and applause. A sense of warmth filled the room. Old comrades, survivors, together so seldom.

Lilith picked a spot of lint from her sleeve and adjusted her nameplate, which read “Janine Anthes,” her current name. The first time she had called herself Janine was when she was known as Yochanan and Nebuchadnezzar II had just become the king of Babylonia. Lilith downed a glass of vodka and surveyed the table. “We have been focused on the money issue for so long, I think that we’ve missed the bigger question: Is there a future for our kind at all, and can we can have better quality of life rather than just an extended period of decrepitude?” Her comment brought about wistful nods. Nobody could deny what was obvious. They were all really old and getting pretty feeble.

“Which of you could run up a flight of stairs these days without wheezing, let alone scale the side of a mansion and sneak into a lady’s chamber in the dead of night?” Lilith asked, looking around the table. There was general laughter, but it had a bitter taste. Not one of them could manage a jog up a single flight of stairs anymore, let alone clambering up a wall. Bruce couldn’t be sure if it was the dim lighting, but Lilith’s hair seemed to have returned to its glossy ink tones. Maybe dye, he thought. “Let me show you something,” said Lilith in a clear, strong voice. Conversation stopped and heads turned. Lilith got up from her seat at the head of the table and stepped back.

Lilith took off her heels, crouched briefly, and then without warning or sign of effort, she sprang up onto the table, somersaulted three times down its length, and landed on her feet after leaping clear over Bruce’s head. “Not bad for a girl that’s older than Methuselah, right?” she said to gasps, general applause, and an overall sense of wonderment. The youthfulness and agility in Lilith were undeniable, remarkable, astonishing.

Lilith explained.

“As a vampire, it’s hard to tell one’s equivalent age, but I was 14 when I first became a vampire, and I figure I am physically about equivalent to 28 now, 30 at most.” Bruce let out a low whistle. The implications of Lilith being as active as a 30-year-old? This was like a fairy tale.

Lilith briefly sketched how she had started the normal process of menopause. She was, by her reckoning, at least four thousand years old, but physiologically, her body clock had reached mid-fifties. Things went along fine on the whole, and she put up with flashes of heat, bouts of rage and despair, but she was also getting really bad headaches, had trouble concentrating, and was just exhausted all day and every day.

Then she fell. Not a big fall, she explained, but she slipped after swimming a few lengths in the pool. She had stopped playing water polo over fifty years ago, but had kept up with a daily swimming routine. The fall had cracked her arm in two places. The doctor had drawn blood (wasn’t that irony) and her test came back showing estrogen levels far below desired. That day, a cold blustery mess, Lilith dragged herself to the druggist and back home with her prescription for a plastic bottle of 2 mg estrogen pills. Without much expectation, she took two little green oval pills with a shot of vodka. A few minutes later, she had felt a surge of vitality like biting down on a fresh jugular. Estrogen was a vampire booster.

Over the next year, Lilith had secured her own supply, and with the help of a young compounding pharmacist, had tailored a dose that she felt was pushing the edge without being reckless. The initial prescription had disappeared fast. A refill by mail order had given her a year’s supply, but that was gone in just 2 months. By that time, Lilith had regained enough strength and appetite to prowl again, and she planned carefully. For one, she needed expert help. She had offered a lift to the young pharmacist whose jalopy had suddenly failed to start one stormy night after closing. He had climbed into her car gratefully, sitting wet and awkwardly on a set of ignition leads on the passenger seat. “Want to hear a secret?” Lilith had asked him with a slight lisp.

Lilith spelled out the options to the elderly vampires. They could safely continue with creeping old age and senility, a slow but relatively clear path to diminishing numbers, decrepitude, and death. Alternatively, they could take the risk of a sudden life-ending stroke or heart attack, but potentially have at least a few years of youth back, and maybe even several decades—years of active life, energy, strength, appetite.

One small point, she paused to say, was that they would have to do so as women. There were frowns and an awkward silence dotted with nervous laughter. “No, it’s true,” Lilith explained. Estrogen is a feminizing hormone, and at the doses they needed, they could expect some big shifts in their bodies and their perceptions. Lilith went down a fairly long list of the changes they could expect: voice changes, breast development, skin changes, mood shifts. “No, you won’t get shorter, Frank. Yes, Marty, your shape will change because body fat would shift, with less in the belly, more hips, ass, thighs. Yes, Stefan, I said breasts. No, Marty, they won’t be huge. Yes, Bruce, you may need a bra.”

“OK, but there is something bigger, and you all need to think clearly about this.” Lilith held up a hand. “These body changes are mostly cosmetic. Yes, Marty, you may start liking cosmetics more, but that’s not what I’m talking about.” The big risk, she explained, was cardiovascular. “You could have a massive life-ending stroke or heart failure. You might have it in a year, 10 years, or 100 years. Nobody knows. Nobody ever fed a bunch of old vampires massive doses of estrogen before.”

Bruce suggested a poll, like they did previously with the investment decisions: green tokens for accept, red for reject. Some subdued discussions were held and Bruce handed out a pair of marble tokens the size of a domino to everyone. They each took their seats again, one token hidden under a flat hand, the other in a pocket. On Bruce’s’ signal, hands were lifted. 13 green tokens. Everyone was in.

All eyes were on Lilith.

The decision was made. Lilith signaled to her young pharmacist to bring over a tray with neat rows of ready-made syringes filled with their first dose of injectable estrogen. The future beckoned with a crooked finger and a whispered secret to Lilith’s future coven of feminized vampires.