Aphelion Issue 224, Volume 21
December 2017 / January 2018
 
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Difference

by David Delaney




It was night time. The dark offices and empty desks gave the call centre a sinister feel. The shadows now filling the staff cafeteria kept the mostly dejected call centre staff away. Its shady cavernous enclosure held no discernable function from the hours of 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., the very hours that nightshift staff manned the phones.

Some ventured here though. Some cared little for the closed shutters and gloom. For some night shifters it gave a dark place to sit, to eat, to think and more often than not, to hate where their lives were at that very moment in time. Call centre work can be relentless in its failure to fulfil ones dreams.


* * *

"We've had computers a long time now, right," Matt said.

"Yeah, where's this crap going. My head is ready to burst," Rob replied. He'd had a major head ache brewing before he started work. After nearly 35 calls since 8 p.m., it had risen from 2 out of 10 to a seething 8 out of 10 which meant listening to Matt's imbecilic comments wouldn't be tolerable tonight.

"Listen, I have to vent here," Matt said with emphatic inflection on the 'vent'.

"Right, right but make it a short sharp vent because I've a horrendous headache."

Matt rolled his eyes. He and Rob became lunchtime buddies sharing their respective harrowing stories of customers who called in to say this or managers who spoke to them and said that. Both men were in their early 20's and dreamed of more. Matt wanted to be a personal trainer and Rob, a writer. Rob enjoyed Matt's buffoonery mostly but there was one topic that he wouldn't see eye to eye with him on, something that hit close to home nowadays.

"How come nobody can turn a computer on properly? How come we get a million calls with idiots telling us it's broken or whatever when it's just not turned on right," Matt said.

"I don't know, now shut up talking about work for 30 minutes, let's eat and talk about something else, please," Robs tone was exasperated. He hated talking shop on lunch. Each member of staff got 30 minutes free to do as they pleased, within reason, and talking about work was a big no-no in Robs books. He hated his job as much as Matt but he didn't go on about it nearly as much.

"Ok, you win," Matt capitulated, giving up his current rant about work.

They walked through the dimly lit corridors towards the cafeteria. Matt swung the double doors open announcing their arrival with his loud obnoxious self, shouting, "We're here."

"Seriously, Matt, my head is about to lift off here," Rob scowled at Matt.

"Sorry, man. Hey, over here by the window," Matt led the way beckoning for Rob to follow.

They sat opposite each at a table bathed in moonlight. Lights were never on at this time which is why most staff had lunch at their desks, maybe in their cars followed by a cigarette or joint. When seated they both placing their respective lunches on the table in front of them.

"Why do we come down here, it's so dark? You know they see better in the dark," Matt said matter of fact.

"No, they don't, they see like you and me. It's quiet here and out of the office for a bit," Rob said distantly opening his sandwich wrapping not looking at Matt.

Rob, closing his eyes took a big bite. He thought to himself that he must have had the appearance of one of those average looking actors who you saw enjoying some tripe in a fast food advertisement. He smiled to himself as he tasted the sumptuousness of his gourmet chilli chicken with mayo and pickles on rye. He let the taste savour in his mouth hoping it improved his mood and his went someway alleviating his pained head.

"My sister's boyfriend, Freddy. You know him, I think I introduced you two once," Matt said.

"Yeah, you did," Rob lied only half listening.

"Well, he says he works with one who can lift two whole adult cow carcases on his own. That's messed up man. I'm telling you they got super strength."

"Matt, that's bull crap from comic books and movies. We work with some of them. You ever see anything like that?"

Rob knew he shouldn't get into a debate about this with Matt. It was futile arguing with him about this considering he was fanatical with mistrust. The guy was practically a xenophobe and sometimes Rob wondered why he didn't distance himself from him. Apart from work related depression they had nothing in common. They only met twice for a beer in 2 years of working together.

"No way man, no way. Even if it's from movies or whatever, some of its true."

"I know some of its true. That's not what I said, but super strength, night vision, turning into nocturnal creatures... is all crap."

"Why do you always defend them anyway, you some sort of vamp lover? Wanna stick it to one of them?" Matt mocked, "They'd rip your pecker right off."

"You got me Matt, you got me. I want to screw every vampire I see," Rob held his hands up in surrender.

Rob didn't dislike anyone because of difference. He liked and disliked people because of who they were. Personality should be the means of defining someone's likeability from dislike. He agreed in the 50 years vampires and humans coexisted, it was strained at times but it seemed to work. Human history was full of examples of different religions, nationalities and culture living side by side. It was wrought with macabre turbulence for sure but there were stories of hope too. They decades of mistrust based on superstition was ridiculous. The war between humans and vampires was despicable. Both sides committing evil acts simply because of obligation to destroy the other side.

Integration was the best way forward. Unfortunately, there would always be people like Matt, ignorant, afraid with a never-ending supply of hate.

Silence passed between them with nothing sounding in the gloomy room except their chewing and gulping of soft drink. The moon was full in the sky. Rob enjoyed staring out at its beauty and liked how it shone through the sky latticed lights and windows, causing a pale-blue shadow effect of crosses on the empty tables and chairs. Darkness held no ominous feeling for Rob, in fact, it calmed him. Maybe that's why he chose night shift over day shift as well as making other decisions in his life.

Matt looked like he was finding a way back into conversation with Rob, forming words with his mouth then dropping them and taking another bite of his own sandwich. Eventually, he said, "Hey, you still going strong with Sally?"

"Yep, 3 months now," Rob changed his harried tone at the sound of her name being spoken. A smile erupted across Robs face. Thoughts of Sally always caused his mood to improve. The brevity of their relationship was immaterial. They were both madly in love. The one shining light of his dreary life.

"When you gonna let me meet her?," Matt said.

"One day. We've only been going out a little while."

Rob was never going to introduce Matt and Sally. Rob had emailed out several resumes to other companies hoping one would take him from his despairingly mind numbing call centre job. When his job here finished, and hopefully soon, so to would his pseudo friendship with Matt.

More silence passed as they chewed on their lunches savouring not only the food but also time away from incessantly ringing phones.

"Damn, man, look. There's one over there," Matt leaned closer to whisper to Rob.

Matt nodded his head over towards a girl having her lunch. Her pale skin, her full red lips were evident even in the gloominess of the darkened cafeteria. Moonlight was light enough to tell she was a vampire.

"Urghh, sick, look at the bottle of red stuff," Matt said making a sound of disgust.

Rob looked in spite of himself. She caught his brief stare and looked down at the table pretending not to have seen him and Matt stare. Rob was angry with himself for looking, especially since he was following Matt lead.

"Matt, leave it. Jesus, she's having lunch. What's wrong with that," Rob whispered harshly.

"Goddamn blood, man, its blood in that bottle," Matt said a little louder now.

"Matt shut up, she's doing no harm."

A sound of a chair scraping across floor tiles came from the girls table. Rob turned to see her get up and leave where she was sitting, obviously feeling uncomfortable. Rob fixed his scornful stare at Matt. Matt simply smiled and kept on eating.

"You ever actually speak to a vampire, I mean ever actually give one the time of day?" Rob snapped.

"Yeah sure. They're everywhere nowadays. Parks, restaurants, Home Depot, everywhere," Matt said flippantly.

"No, you bigot. I mean, get to know one a bit more than just a simple, 'hello, thank you, goodbye'"

"No, why would I, they're the freaks not me."

Rob shook his head sharply. He wanted nothing more than to disabuse Matt's inclination that all vampires where monsters not to be trusted but he knew he would be fighting a losing battle. Matt's bigotry ran deep, probably inherited. He knew Matts father fought in the human resistance, something Matt was incredibly proud of.

"They drink blood man, they can't lie in the sun and their eyes are weird. Bring back the days when it was legal to round'em up and kill 'em," Matt declared.

"You sound like a Nazi. Rounding up Jews was once legal too. You're a moron, Matt, a complete moron, you know that?"

Rob felt an effervescent rage rising up inside of him.

He leaned closer to Matt feigning excitement, "Hey Matt let's go on a killing spree, just you and me. Round up a few and stake them through the heart. Make the world a better place. We'll call ourselves the KKK of vampires."

"Screw you. I'm no racist or Nazi or whatever. They're not even people. I just don't think we should let them join our society, our human society." Matt turned away, throwing his sandwich down. He faced grimaced in anger. He stared off towards where the vampire girl was sitting a moment before.

"They work like us, they pay their taxes. They contribute. They don't cause any more trouble than humans do. Why shouldn't they be allowed to join any society they want?" Rob said emphatically, trying to control his anger.

"They're sick man, I mean the virus that makes them vamps. It's like the AIDs epidemic."

"Humans have been vaccinated against the virus, we all have, so you're argument there is bull. Most of them never wanted to become vampires anyway. It's just bad luck."

"Some did, some chose it. Some infected themselves to be one of their blood sucking kind," Matt retorted. He was becoming angrier himself.

"Yeah, and some people choose to become Catholic, or doctors, or goddamn circus clowns. It's a personal choice. Nothing wrong with that. Free will is ok in my books," Rob said.

"Whatever you say, man," Matt said.

Neither of them ate their lunches now. They stared in opposite directions, Rob in towards the cafeteria, Matt out the window to a car park that was modestly dotted with yellow street lamps. This was the deepest they had gone with this particular subject and Rob didn't want to stop here. He decided to end it once and for all. If you can't beat them, join them he thought.

"Hey, let's change the subject Matt, let's not get into this right now," Rob said calmly. "Look, wanna see a picture of Sally?"

"Sure man, hey sorry, I just have my own views that's all. My old man's been tellin' me this stuff for a long time now, and you know, like father like son," Matt said, reciprocating Robs calmness.

How many people use that excuse Rob thought to himself but said, "No problem, we all have our own views."

Rob took a photo from his wallet, looked on it fondly, then turned it towards Matt. Rob knew the dimness of the room wouldn't hide what he wanted Matt to see and even if it did, he would be happy to explain Sally's particular features.

A few seconds is all it took though for the realisation to crawl across Matt's face, the realisation of why Rob wouldn't agree with his hate filled views. Matt expression painted a thousand words and Rob smiled immensely.

"She beautiful, isn't she?" Rob asked as he turned the photo away from Matt.

Matt simply stared at Rob with a grotesque grimace of disgust. Robs smile never waned.

"I knew it, you sick bastard. I knew you were a freak lover." Matt spat at Rob, "You're with a freaky vamp. You're a traitor to your own kind." Spittle flew from his mouth, motes of it gleaming in the pale blue moonlight before falling to the table below.

"Yep, a real inside man, I am," Rob said cheerfully. "Hey and so you know, they can be in the sun, it just burns them a bit quicker, they don't like human blood, and can't even metabolise it. They drink animal blood and I know you've had blood sausage before, you piece of crap."

"Screw you, man," Matt stood up quickly sending his chair sprawling along the floor behind him. He took one last look of revulsion towards Rob before turning a walking away leaving his lunch behind. Rob just kept on smiling. In truth, his face was beginning to hurt from keeping his facial muscle bunched up into a big broad smile but it was having its desired effect on Matt so he lived with the temporary discomfort.

Rob watched him get half way across the cafeteria and called after him, loud enough so he could, "I find the red tinge to their eyes pretty sexy, they're not cold to touch, they've no super human abilities..." He roared his final statement, releasing his pent up anger, "...AND YOU CAN'T BECOME ONE FROM BEING BITTEN, YOU PRICK!"

Matt gave Rob the finger as he left back through the double doors they had entered only ten minutes before. Rob was glad that he never had to pretend to enjoy Matt's company ever again. He was pretty sure this sealed the coffin of their pretend friendship. He picked his sandwich up and took another big bite from it with renewed satisfaction.

As he chewed he heard a shuffle of feet from behind him. It startled him enough that he almost choked on a mouthful of sandwich but managed to swallow it before it went down the wrong tube.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you," a voice said from behind. Rob turned and looked at who it was. It was the vampire girl from earlier on. She must have changed seats hiding somewhere among the shadows so neither men could see her.

"No, no, you didn't," Rob said catching his breath and placing his sandwich down, "Please join me if you like."

Rob noticed her eyes. They were striking, even in these gloomy surroundings. Each with a crimson red iris, he noticed her full lips also. The girl had pale skin, porcelain almost. She smiled as she sat across from him. Her canines were milky white, longer than that of a human but no sharper. Another myth he thought. She reminded him of a younger version of Sally.

"Thank you for what you said. Not many humans are as kind to us," she said with a meek voice.

"Oh you heard all that. He's just an ass. A minority," Rob batted his hands in the direction Matt left the room in.

"Kind of you to say, but I'm not so sure," she said, "and we can see in the dark a little better than humans." She smiled at him, speaking candidly, playfully.

"I know, I know, my girlfriend's a vampire. I just didn't want to agree with him." Rob shrugged his shoulders smiling back at the girl.

"Oh, your girlfriend," she said, surprised. "What's her name, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Not at all. Sally Jenkins is her name and mines Rob." He held his hand out to shake the girl's.

"Rebecca, pleased to meet you"

They shook hands. Her skin wasn't as warm as his but her touch nowhere near as cold as the movies supposed it to be.

"Sally Jenkins, did she go to Tomlinson high school?" she asked Rob.

"The very one, why, you know her?"

"I do. She went to school with my older sister."

Rob and Rebecca spoke for the remainder of their lunch break as if old friends, their differences never becoming an issue between them.


THE END


2013 David Delaney

Bio: Mr. Delaney is a writer and cardiac nurse from Tasmania, Australia. He prefers to focus on horror, but will write whatever comes to mind, regardless of genre.

E-mail: David Delaney

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