“Here it is,” he said.
I took the VCR tape from his grey shaking hands, his nails clipped but chipped; yellow. Veins protruding, pumping proudly beneath the skin of his hands, lower arms, and neck. I studied his face; the sockets of his eyes were sunken and dark. His eyes were red, but not bloodshot red, they were more of a dull crimson. They looked dry and painful.
“How long have you got?” I asked more out of interest than concern; years of war reporting and hardnosed political journalism dulling and hardening my sensitivities toward death and mayhem.
“Not long,” he answered without emotion, “maybe a couple of days, a week max.”
“That’s a shame,” I said, “I’m sorry.”
Aldric nodded slightly. “Sailor Vee,” he said, immediately selling me a beaming smile, instantly transforming him from a dying old man into a charming, charismatic dandy.
He really would have been something in his day, I thought, somewhat alarmed and uncomfortable that even now, he still could turn on the charm, and draw people toward him.
“You mean, c’est la vie?” I corrected.
“Oh no,” Aldric answered with a thin smile, lisp, and twinkle. “Sailor Vee always asked how long I had. But he knew the answer well enough. He was such a lovely, lovely man, a Chief Warrant Officer at the naval base on Treasure Island. I used to call him my own personal Rear Admiral, lower half, of course. He’s gone now. Like all the others, all gone!”
Above his wounded smile, I could see a tear welling in the corner of his right eye. His eyes remained parched and sore. The tear was yellow, his liver playing one last indignity on the old man.
“This tape, this cassette,” I asked, “it tells your story?”
“Oh, yes, it tells my story. It tells all my friends’ stories, chronicling our demise, both here and in New York. I had friends and lovers in both San Francisco and New York. And before the 80s we had a blast. Lived the high life! The colour, the creativity, the gentle souls, and free love. Then AIDS came along and changed the world, ravaging the community we fed on. Then it ravaged us. It decimated us. One by one we expired; dried up, turned to dust.”
“So, what do you want me to do with this tape?” I asked.
Aldric looked at me, his face open and relaxed. “I want you to tell our story. I want you to play this tape on your television program. I want the world to know that vampires existed. That we lived, we killed, we loved, and we died. That we were not mythical! I have given my executor instructions that you are to be notified of my death. You are not permitted to play the tape before then—understand?”
“Yes, of course,” I reassured, “but Aldric, one thing I don’t understand is that HIV, is and was contained mainly within the gay and drug communities. How did you and your friends contract the disease?”
“Oh, come on, Lester,” Aldric scorned, “you are not that naive. We are, or at least were, creatures of opportunity. We were creatures of convenience. We targeted those who would not have been missed: the addicts, the young gay men who may have run away from home. And Lester my darling, I may be old and close to death, but only a moment ago, I sensed your loins stir! We are androgynous, we are bisexual, we are vampires, and we will be gone very soon.”
“There are highly effective treatments these days,” I responded, “drugs that suppress the virus, boost the immune system. Why don’t they work on you? Didn’t work on your friends?”
“I’m not a doctor, nor scientist, but the viral suppressants kill us quicker than the complications of HIV. Our choice was simple. Die almost immediately by taking the drugs—believe me, many chose this path. After I contracted AIDS, I had nothing to live for, except, that is, to tell our story. And this is where you come in, Lester.”
Aldric attempted to stand, his elbows struggling to lock as he pulled himself out of the chair. His arms shook, and he wobbled. I rushed over, bending over to support him. He leaned forward, his arms embracing me, pulling me close. I smelt his cologne; I felt his breath on my throat. I wasn’t afraid.
“You would have been easy,” Aldric whispered in my ear. “Very easy.”
Roly Andrews lives in Nelson, NZ, in his spare time he enjoys tramping. After many years of practicing, he is still trying to learn to play the trombone! A champion for everyone, he has mentored rough sleepers and supported people affected by suicide. He advocates for the rights of people living with disabilities.