Nightlife in Atlanta is vampire/sf/aliens book set in modern Atlanta. Not a bad novelette if I say so myself.
Without further ado, here’s chapter one as a teaser. (0.99 and free in KU)
Chapter 1, Brave New World
My department chair called me into his office.
“I have a course for you to teach”
“But I’m teaching a full load already”
“Yes, but you haven’t had much luck with the NSF lately, have you?”
“So the dean won’t let me keep your teaching load so low.”
“Jennie needs a new section”
“Not that – vampire science!”
“Well, yes – that”
“No, please -I’ll do double sections of chem 1101 instead”
“You’ll enjoy it”
Vampire science was a popular, if not exactly respectable, course. So that was that. I’d be teaching which chemical fraction of garlic repelled mythical creatures and which shape of a cross worked best – if it worked at all when the vampires were Jewish. Actually it could be worse, with the explosion of interest in “alternative science” coupled with the complete lack of interest in real science meant steadily declining interest and research funds. It was either learn Chinese (their 5 ways of saying “ma” were beyond me), find a real job, or teach vampire science.
So it was off to Jennie’s office to get the syllabus and coordinate lesson plans. She was looking paler than usual. Her office had changed as well. When I’d last visited it was a more or less normal chemistry professor’s office – a few knickknacks here and there, but mostly books, files, and papers – covering everything. Instead, there was a wreath of garlic, a cross, an image of the cross painted in tar on the door, a holly plant, and a rose arranged with Hawthorne on her desk. All it would take was a vial of holy water and a bit of consecrated host – but Jennie wasn’t Catholic so these were hard for her to get. She wore a neck brace, but one inlaid with silver crosses and cryptic Transylvanian sayings. Not much to inspire confidence.
She was glad to see me, if for no other reason than that I could take the day classes and let her handle the night-time laboratories. Lectures in the morning followed by laboratory classes at 10 in the evening quickly grow old. We quickly shifted from the mechanics of the class, since one class is much like another in terms of grades and tests, to the important question of grants and funding.
“You hike a lot the hills in north Georgia, don’t you John?”
“Well, yes”, backpacking was one of the things that kept me sane. If you want friends in the game of faculty politics and finding funding – get a dog. “I was just up north of blood mountain”
“I can help you put together a proposal on the werewolves out there”
“But there are only black bears – and they’re pretty timid”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely – them and the occasional coyote”
“You need vision, John, no one cares about analytical chemistry any longer”
That was for sure.
“But Jennie, there really aren’t werewolves up there, not even a shampe, a chupachonga or big foot or anything. I put my food in a bear bag and sleep soundly”
“Then you’ve been lucky”
“No I’ve just used good bear country discipline.”
“Well – think about it. You know the NSF will have a name change soon?”
“I’ve heard – National Psychic Foundation? – but that’s a joke”
Actually we were both misinformed. The NSF formed a new directorate, which cannibalized the few remaining funds, the directorate for psychic studies with branches in paranormal creatures, telepathy and telekinesis, and (my favorite) séance science. Why bother with mundane issues like chemistry and biology when there were more exciting and less reproducible things like ghouls, magic and alchemy to study. Didn’t Schrodinger’s cat prove that ghosts could exist? At least as long as you didn’t try to look at them.
As I was leaving Jenny’s office my cell rang. It was my lawyer.
“Well, John, your divorce was finalized today.”
“She gets the house, the best car, and most of your salary”
“But we showed she was the one sleeping around and it was supposed to be an amicable split – we don’t have any children and she has better paying job than me”
“Off the record- I think she slept with the judge.”
“He’s married, a pillar of his community and parish, but not above a little on the side”
“Is there anything I can do – any action?”
“No, and I’ll deny what I just said if you make a fuss – Can’t prove it”
“Just a suspicion?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time – now about my fees”
So I was free, at last, free of a real vampire who sucked my life dry, but at what a cost. Fortunately I’d developed a taste for Ramen noodles when a graduate student.
Friday started with the normal routine, shower, breakfast and the morning fishwrapper (i.e. the Atlanta newspaper). As usual I started with the obituaries, but no luck, my ex was still living. Atlanta, being a transportation hub, has an ongoing problem with vagrant or migrant homeless who wander through and seek sustenance by petty theft and major begging. Two headlines caught my eye – The Mayor announced that his plan for controlling the homeless was making progress, and there was a nasty wild animal attack underneath the highway. No one of importance was killed, but it was pretty grizzly and the police officer who discovered the attack saw a pack of wild dogs or coyotes running from the scene. The one man who survived for a few minutes mentioned something about being attacked – but was clearly delirious and didn’t live long enough to give a clear description. There was another article about trapping coyotes out in Dekalb County, as they had become a local problem – too many pampered pets were disappearing.
Off to work and the comfortable familiar lecturing of freshman chemistry, followed by the abysmal experience of “vampire science”. An hour explaining about balancing reactions and stoichiometry, an hour off, and an hour of, quite frankly, bullshit. This class was spent discussing whether the shape of the ends of a cross and its material had any effect on repelling the undead. It was, in my humble opinion a cake of superstition, layered on imagination, iced with make-belief and decorated with B.S. But, of course, I didn’t dare convey that idea to the students – they’d give me bad teaching reviews if I insisted on evidence-based thinking, you know, facts.
The students were a varied lot. About a quarter of them were otherwise serious students, who were taking this class to meet a requirement in humanities or science. It was an easy ‘A’. The rest were true believers who dressed by and large in the Goth style. The serious students sat in the back, smirked and played games on their laptops. The Goth students sat in the front, riveted. There seemed to be some divisions among them and they clustered into separate clumps. I’d long ago learned never to ask questions about the sanity-challenged students.
Sanity-challenged was an accurate description of someone. This sanity-challenged individual kept leaving presents for me – presents like a bloody hank of hair wrapped around two chicken bones placed in my faculty mailbox, or a stuffed rat – with bat wings spliced onto it and left staring at me from my office bookcase. A scroll written in a dark brown ink that could be blood. A bundle of thorn bush twigs, wrapped in a dead snake-skin. Pleasant reminders of the less than rational. The campus police, as usual, were less than enthusiastic about finding out who and why. It could always be love messages from the ex.
The next few weeks continued in the same vein. Familiar chemistry, followed by crazy talk. The closest “vampire science” ever got to reality was when I gave the one lecture about fractionating garlic juice to find the active compounds. I remarked to the class
“It seems, however, that all the fractions are equally active – no vampires”
The Gothic students were not amused, complained, and I was called to account for my ‘flippant’ attitude.
“Look John”, continued my chair, “I know you’re frustrated but it is quite simple – just teach the course to the syllabus.”
“But it is so wrong – so crazy!”
“Just do it, and anyway now that you’re a free man – you can always chase a little undergrad tail”
“Just pick a pretty one – they don’t complain if you give them an ‘A’ and don’t give them the clap”.
Seeing my incredulity, he continued, “Just think of it as a side benefit of teaching – like health insurance”
One of the more Gothic of the Goth students came up to me after class. I was in a bit of a hurry because the weekend promised to be fine weather and a great weekend for exploring the back country. The way things had been going, of late, I needed the break. No matter what I met, it wouldn’t be my ex or one of her manifold paramours – it got to be embarrassing when you went to a bar and half the men winked at you. It was even worse when you recognized the pole dancer.
“Dr James, I really enjoy your class”
“Do you believe?”
“No – but this is how I pay the bills”
“You should – they walk at night”
“The night people, the undead, the walkers”
Oh – no, another true believer. Science doesn’t care about belief – it cares about what you can measure and observe.
“The undead, Dr James, they know about you now – so be careful”
I was intrigued, most of the students took this class as a joke – “Zombie U.” an easy A, but the real believers tended to take this seriously and felt they knew more that the professors. Actually, they probably did. Jenny had warned me to pay attention to them – if for no other reason than they might need to be watched.
“How do you – know this?”
She pulled the scarf down from her neck and revealed a scar.
“They tell me – ask about class”
Great – another cutter. We’d had a spate of students who dealt with the stress of classes by cutting themselves in various creative ways. There’d even been a campus email about it – warning the faculty to be on the lookout.
“What is that?”
“It’s not my time – so they let me still see the sun.”
“Did you know anything about these”, and pulled my stuffed rat with wings out of the filing cabinet.
“They want you”
“What does it mean?”
“Was there anything else?”
I showed her my other presents – the hank of hair with chicken bones and the scroll.
She looked at the scroll, unrolled it, and started to read.
“neveah tra ohw rehtaf ruo”
She stopped, staggered and blanched.
“Dr. James – professor – please take care – these are powerful objects. They can harm you.”
Speaking of powerful objects, I needed to get more fuel for my stove. I planned to get out on the trail this weekend and it is a melancholy situation when you can’t cook. Fuel tablets are the lightest, easiest and cheapest solution for a short trip, and so, of course, the local outdoor shop was down to its last box.
A young woman, clearly another back-country aficionado, and I reached for it.
“It’s mine”, she said, despite my having a solid grip on it.
“Let’s share – I only need a few tablets.”
So carrying the box between us we approached the line at the front of the store. Waiting gave some time for conversation.
“Where are you planning to go?”, she asked
“The Pinhoti – in Alabama – I need some time alone, and you?”
“The smokies, a bunch of us girls from college get together for a reunion.”
“Sounds like fun, by the way I’m John”
“Oh, I’m Brittany”
We’d continued in this manner, even after buying and splitting up the fuel tablets. I gave her my card, and added.
“Call me – it would be fun to think about a trip together.”
 Black, leather and lace, miscellaneous piercings, pale (if white), and highly contrasting red or black lipstick (even the males).
 It isn’t exactly good for the university if too many of the students commit suicide.