Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 27, 2020
carmilla

PUBLIC DOMAIN 

Aghamohammadi considers representations of vampires through the lens of the pandemic.

There are vampires at this party — plastered in black garments, hair spiked with gel, mascara running down their cheeks like black tears. No one wanted them here, but they are, so someone must have invited them. By this point, it’s too late to kick them out, and I know better than to be rude to party guests, so I am letting them stay for now. And yet, they’re taking up all the space on the sofa and eating all the raspberry tarts and finishing what’s left of the sparkling apple cider, and I am getting sick of it. 

Who let them in? Was it my neighbors? Was it me? The vampires on the sofa laugh at something I do not hear. I can’t help but think they’re laughing at me. 

“We’re not going until we’ve had enough,” a vampire says. “We’re staying until there is a reason to leave.” 

Now, there are no parties. No rooms with more than a handful of people. At least, that’s the way it should be. I can’t remember the last time I was invited somewhere. We don’t see our friends, our families, those we love. We don’t see strangers. Days bleed into nights so seamlessly that there doesn’t seem like there is a difference anymore. We cower, rightfully so, under the horrific reign of this all-consuming plague. We cover our faces. We grow paler, weaker, more tired. I feel like I am so hungry for something I can’t, with all my effort, name. 

“I know what I want now,” I say to the mirror, eyes closed. “I had no idea in the past but I know what I want now.” I open my eyes and there is no reflection, just empty space where my silhouette should be. It’s impossible for me to stare at myself. My words don’t even echo throughout my bedroom. “Don’t ignore me, I’m ready now. I know what I want.” My reflection doesn’t come back. As soon as I see clearly, there is nothing to see. I turn off my light, and I swear something moves outside my window. 

We have always been afraid of things that intend to devour us. In my own culture, vampiric creatures feasting on the blood of men adorn ancient Persian ceramics. Vampires were the animated corpses of evil beings and witches in European tradition, or otherwise the victim of another vampire’s bite. Now we have popular books — Anne Rice, Stephanie Meyer and others — with their Byronic heroes, their men in dark cloaks, brooding and handsome. Somewhere along the way, the fear of death metamorphosed into a desire to be close, so close, with another person. Everyone and everything is so far away. 

Everyone is so far away now that it doesn’t even matter anymore; I decide to isolate on purpose and remove myself even further from everyone I’ve ever known. I figure by walking away, I can move even closer. 

And so I arrange to stay at a campground for a weekend retreat, tucked away among the fire-kissed Connecticut maples. 

“You should lock the door to the lodge since you’ll be staying here by yourself,” the camp administrator says, handing me two gold keys on an elastic before he leaves. I lock the door behind him. 

The wood stove is on, filling the high ceilings with the spiced scent of burning logs. The wind whips up to a roar outside. I sit on a couch, scribbling away at a leather-bound journal. I am alone, and there is no way in or out without my saying so. He says nothing about locking the door to the room I am staying in. There clearly is no reason to, but I do it anyway. I am locked behind two series of doors and I am in the middle of the woods. There is no reason to think that anyone will try to enter the lodge, but it worries me anyway. 

I have to tell myself that anyone who would attempt to enter would have to be invited in. I imagine a vampire standing outside of the lodge, cloak billowing in the mid-autumn wind, frowning as I turn him away, powerless against a few simple words. 

“But dreams come through stone walls, light up dark rooms or darken light ones, and their persons make their exits and their entrances as they please, and laugh at locksmiths,” J. Sheridan Le Fanu writes in Carmilla

Not everything requires an invitation to enter. Desire doesn’t. Loneliness doesn’t. Fear doesn’t. The plague didn’t. I have to reckon with everything. I have to reckon with both the good and the horrible that came into my life without me saying it could. I have to set out extra food in case the vampires show up at the party again. I have to wonder why I’m having so much trouble finding the houseguests that I invited. I have to accept all the things I didn’t realize I wanted. 

Maybe the vampires aren’t what we should be worried about, at least they’re good company. Maybe the past is already dead, and the future is a living thing. Maybe other things, the things I can’t name, have to be invited in explicitly. 

“Hello,” I imagine saying to all the things I want. “You’re welcome to come in and warm yourself from the rain. The fire’s on.” I imagine it happening. I imagine having it all. 

“Why do you waste your time thinking about so many things that don’t exist?” a high-school acquaintance asks. He says nothing else, but I imagine him saying more. Stop writing about magic. Stop writing about fairy tales. Stop writing about vampires. It’s a waste of time. Do something else with your life, something more realistic. You’re being so dramatic. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Things don’t wait to be invited in. What are you even talking about? 

I imagine him going on and on and on until his words cover his body and I can’t see him anymore, his image erased by his own lack of belief.

Sometimes you have to fake your trust in yourself until you actually do. Sometimes there is no need to see things, sometimes you just have to know that you’re there. And sometimes you have to have faith that once you send the invitations out, someone will show up.

Someday I will throw open all my windows. I will leave the front door ajar. I will press my bare feet against the cool granite. I will say to the wind, “You’re invited.” Then, I will wait until the vampires arrive. 

Ryan Aghamohammadi is a junior studying Writing Seminars from Woodbury, Conn. His column uses the occult and the supernatural to cast a light on his ongoing journey of self-discovery.

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