I woke up this morning feeling a bit lost, so I instinctively came to the mall, this shrine to commerce and capitalism full of shop windows glittering with potential and promises—and price tags carefully tucked out of sight. Mild dissatisfaction with life can be temporarily assuaged with plastic goods and fried foods. I consider walking into the travel agency and asking for a one-way ticket to Anywheresville.
I've been standing here, staring at this map, for probably fifteen minutes. I'm lost in a daydream about some adventure where I become a new Doctor Who companion and go off to do space battles. It starts where I'm standing and the Doctor runs up to me and tells me he needs my help. How's he know whether I can help him or not? How's he get any of these girls? What if it's all some weird coma dream, like all these companion types are in comas and having these fantasies and the Doctor is just their real ordinary doctor filtering through into their dreamscapes? I never really make it to actual space battles because I'm always sidetracked by these questions. The fantasy and the reality of being approached by a strange man in a shopping mall are vastly different. In reality, if you're invited to join some random dude in his van, you're probably gonna wind up on tomorrow night's news. But I grew up with fanciful tales of girls running off and having adventures, sometimes stealing away with a mysterious gentleman, and I fully expected this to happen to me. Forget Prince Charming, I'd rather have the Goblin King or a Time Lord. Wandering these corridors of consumerism, I've often hoped a stranger would swoop in and offer the chance to go somewhere and do something, without care that it might lead to danger or death. My picture on a milk carton was the least of my concerns.
This is where I am when the voice behind me says, "It's weird how we never really get to see our own skulls, innit?"
The reflection in the mall directory reveals a man. My initial instinct is to remain still and ignore him in the hopes that he'll move on. Nothing good can come of an interaction that begins with a comment about human skulls. Right? He sounds British, though. Is he British? Is he the Doctor?
He speaks again, "I mean, there's x-rays and stuff, but that's all imaging. But it's like the one thing that belongs to us that no one's trying to tell us how to change or make it better because no one can see the thing. If we could, there'd be all sorts of bone whiteners and skull etchings and shit. Sorry. Shit. Have I freaked you out a bit? I've freaked you out. Shit. Sorry. I'm not a murderer. Of course, that's what a murderer would say."
As he babbled on, I studied his reflection. He looks pale but fit; his tight black t-shirt accentuating his broad shoulders and muscular arms, skinny red plaid pants, and silver Doc Martens. His hair black and shaggy. Atop his head is a tiny bowler hat fascinator. What is this dude's deal? Do I turn around? Do I run?
Apparently, I speak. "I'm Sarah."
Well, now I've done it. Might as well turn around and face the...holy hell, he's pretty.
"I'm Geoff. With a G...ah, and an O, I suppose."
Geoff with a G is wearing full eye makeup and shiny, bubble gum-tinted lip gloss, details not accurately reflected in the mall directory. He's pretty but not in a campy way. This is a man who knows how to accentuate his features. Oh God, I haven't eliminated all my embarrassing Instagram selfies. If this turns bad, the media will choose the one from my 26th birthday where sipping wine from an oversized bottle through a novelty straw while wearing an old-fashioned soda jerk paper hat.
He says, "You look like you could do with a bit of something. Adventure? Travel? A Cinnabon?"
"Which are you offering?"
"How would you like to join a ragtag collective of vampire pirates pissing about on a boat?"
An otherworldly creature offering a grand adventure? Fuck marriage and babies — this is every little girl's dream. Wait. "You're a vampire? It's mid-morning, though. And I can see your reflection."
"Yeah, there's a lot of misinformation spread about vampires. Like, we're not all sparkly bats who can be brought down by garlic and daytime. Brian does haves a garlic allergy but that just means we don't use pesto on pasta night..."
Geoff continues on about light sensitivity and different strains of vampirism. Do I go to mall security or dash off to the ladies room? He could be on the level or completely mad. He might actually follow me into the washroom.
"...while some doctors reckon it's a blood disorder that could be treated if we were willing to sacrifice our bodies for science. Anyway, Bobby's put together a stellar pamphlet about vampire myths. He usually does the recruiting."
"Are you, what'd you say, on a recruiting mission?"
"Nah, I'm just here for a new pair of boots and some sunnies. But you were standing there, looking sad and lost and I thought you could do with some company."
It's a public place, I know all the exits, and I've got a penknife in my bag. What's the harm in taking a little stroll around the mall with this guy? "I could help you pick out some boots. Maybe you could tell me more about your...pirate boat?"
"Brill! Do they have bubble tea here?"
Geoff and I set off in search of boots and bubble tea. He notes that we're both wearing the same brand of dark blue nail polish, Midnight in Minnetonka. We chat about ironic t-shirts and whether Slim Jeggings is a brand of clothing or a crotchety old blues singer. Geoff says he likes to call himself a Glampire, which is fitting because he does love make-up and glitter and hair products. He's no Ziggy Stardust but more like if Bowie were a Girl Scouts leader. His overall vibe is less Labyrinth and more Troop Beverly Hills. Is he the leader of vampire...pirates?
Stopping to admire the mannequins in the Hot Topic window, Geoff declares, "It's really a brilliant time to exist. Everyone's a freak now. I love it!"
"So, how long have you been a vampire pirate? Vampirate?"
"Vampirate! Love it. You're a clever bird, you know? Guys are gonna dig that. How long have I been a vamper? Not that long, comparatively. I was hooking up with this bird after one night in a speakeasy, it gets a bit kinky and she starts biting me. It's like she's feeding off me and I go 'Wot's this, luv?' and she goes, 'Oh, I'm a vampire, I thought you knew.' Well, I just thought she was really into Victorian gothic shit. After that, I started feeling a bit sick and the doc gave me some pills, gave me a lecture about bloodlust and whatnot. And I been this fabulous thing ever since. That was, what, 1932, I think."
"Wow. And you were a pirate? Were there many pirates in the 1930s?"
"Well, we're not real pirates. I mean, we're not raping and pillaging and chasing after trunks of jewels. We're more like sea hobos; instead of stowing away on trains, we just hang out on this ship. We do steal things but rarely. We will torrent some movies and telly and we're always nicking someone else's wifi. Of course, nobody's volunteering their blood for nothing. But we try not to do murders. We don't like to rape because we've got too much respect for women. You might be surprised how many birds are actually into the idea of becoming a vampire, though. I think maybe we've got to stop dressing like rock stars when we go carousing. It might be the pleather pants. Pleather makes women weak. Anyway, I was brought onto the ship in the '70s cos I happened to be hanging round the docks. I thought this bloke was looking for a good time, but it turned out he could sense I was like him, something about my aura or odor or, I dunno, Ambrose is an odd duck. He brought me to the ship, introduced me around and there's your fish. Am I going on too much? I always feel like I'm vomiting up my entire life story whenever I meet new people. I feel like I'm going on too much. Am I?"
"No, no. My thing is that I’m basically all questions and naturally, I'm curious about your whole situation and, well, there's just a lot to consider if I'm going to join you."
"...Did you not ask …earlier? Oh, God. You didn't mean it. I'm an idiot."
"I did! I did ask. No. Yes. Of course, you're welcome! Come with us! Spend your gap year with us. Spend the rest of your life, if you like. We could do with a bit of fresh blood, sorry. New energy? Company is what we need. We're all bloody sick of ourselves and our stories are stale. We're shit pirates and we're shit vampires. It's a wonder we haven't driven stakes into our own hearts, really."
"Are you sure? Do I need to talk to Bobby first? Sign a contract? Read a pamphlet?"
"Nah, I'm the cap'n. I can bring whoever I like and I like you. 'Course, I'm only captain cos we drew straws. Ambrose decided to retire to a castle, bit cliche if you ask me, and we had to pick a new leader. Teddy's got actual seniority, being the eldest. He even saw Billy Shakes live at the Globe! How wild is that? Clive and Owen are legit trained pirates from the olden days, so they handle all the boat stuff. Owen's got a wicked Powerpoint presentation teaching the how-tos of pillaging. Well, you'll see. Hm. I don't actually do any captain-y stuff. Maybe I'm more of a mascot. Are you hungry? Fancy a snack from the food court?"
In the words of The Clash — do I stay or do I go? Or are my new Converse hi-tops enough to ease today's discontent? If I don't go, I'll always wonder and regret the what-if. If I go, this dude might fashion my eyeballs into cufflinks. Or it will be a lovely time and I'll come back all the better for it. If I come back. It's a tired trope, the young girl dissatisfied with her life running away with enchanting strangers. Eventually she grows disenchanted and returns to normal life slightly wiser. It's not space battles with the Doctor. Well, I don't know what this is. Do I need to pack? I'm not impulsive enough to just pick up and take off! Do I need money? Sanitary products? Are there any ladies on the ship? Where will I sleep? I can't swim! Wait...vampires? Geoff is gonna have to answer a whole lot of questions over that Cinnabon.