Vampire Code: Dark and Light

“A practitioner has the right to suffer, but a practitioner does not have the right not to practice.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Moment is Perfect

This chapter written with Xantheanmar, who graciously volunteered Aylin to join the story.


After she finished her homework, Sylvia fired up the computer.

Hannah Fry’s chapter on the mathematics of love got her thinking. Fry wrote so well. Maybe a mathematician could be a writer, too. Mathematics was another language, after all, and if she was good at math, maybe she could translate that skill into writing.


Sylvia had an idea for a novel. It would be a series of interconnected stories, each one reflecting a mathematical concept.

The first one would be about duality. She didn’t think it would be a love story.


She wrote through twilight until it was time for her lesson with the Count.

When she arrived at the Straud estate, she found a bookish-looking woman standing near the front steps.

“Whoa!” said Sylvia. “You look like someone I could maybe, actually, talk to! Are you, like, a librarian?”


“In a way,” said the woman. “Nice to meet you. I’m Aylin. And you are?”

“Sylvia! Sylvia Zoranto!”

“Zoranto. Lady Miranda’s daughter. My apologies. I amend my greeting, Lady Sylvia.”


“Oh, not Lady,” replied Sylvia. “I mean, yes, my mother is Miranda Zoranto, formerly De Suena, but we’ve dropped all that. Or at least I have.”

Aylin raised an eyebrow. “Heritage is not something easily dropped,” she said.

“Tell me about it!” groaned Sylvia. “Ever since we moved back, there’s been so much pressure. Ma wants me to learn everything, and Papa–he’s been dark for days.”

“And how are the lessons progressing?” Aylin asked.

“Well, some of it is fascinating,” Sylvia replied. “I mean, I love to learn. The book stuff, that is. It’s the practicing stuff that’s kind of weird. Here’s the thing: I love to meditate. I’ve been doing it every day for, I don’t know, maybe three years? But this dark meditation–it just feels weird. Isn’t that like the opposite of what meditation is supposed to be about? I always thought that meditation is about, you know, unity and stuff. That meditation was light.”


“Darkness is not evil,” Aylin said.

Sylvia looked at her askance. “I like sunlight better, truthfully, though I can’t be in it anymore.”

“Difficulty with darkness is something all people have,” Aylin continued, “but never is it so clear as it may be for us vampires. I encourage you to make peace with your darkness, Sylvia, or you may end up like me.”

“But I’d love to end up like you!” Sylvia said.


Just as she was about to tell Aylin that she found her the perfect role model for the type of vampire she wanted to mature into, the Count joined them.

“Ah!” he said in his nasal tenor. “You’ve met my new pupil!”

“Excuse me, Straud,” Aylin replied. “I didn’t realize she was studying with you. I assumed Lady Zoranto was teaching her own daughter.”


The Count scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous! Look at where home-schooling has got her. Hillbilly,” he hissed, under his breath.


“Maybe you could teach me,” Sylvia suggested to Aylin. “I think I might progress quicker under a woman’s tutelage!”

Aylin smiled, and Sylvia felt her heart open. It would be something to learn from her! Why, under Aylin’s guidance, she just might be able to accept her heritage!


“Enough!” said the Count. “She is my student! I’ll have none f your interference, Missbibliothekar!”


Je vous avez averti, Straud,” Aylin said. “We’ll meet again, Miss Zoranto!”

Sylvia smelled tar smoke, and two bright eyes were all she saw where Aylin had stood.


She felt the wings of the bat, before she saw them. And then Aylin flew above her head, darkening the moon.


And Sylvia was alone with the Count.


“So easily impressed!” he said. “That’s nothing! Watch this!”

He contracted into a smokey haze, shooting her with his intense stare. Sylvia chuckled. Such a show-off!


When he landed, it was her turn.

She rose a few feet, feeling the tarnished wings of coal spreading behind her. What had Aylin said? “Make peace with your darkness.”

She felt calm inside, with the stillness of night gathered into a ball at her solar plexus.


She let the dark center pulsate, pulling her back into the contraction. All this power! If she released the spring, she’d shoot forward. The Count would need to be quick to escape her!


“That was not the worst,” the Count said, when she landed, “nor the best, neither. It was the middlin’ power.”


He took a deep breath, and she waited for his final pronouncement.

“And there is truly nothing worse than a middlin’ hillbilly!”


He turned and walked up the steps.

She waited until the door slammed closed behind him. Five seconds, and the strains from the organ sounded faintly from within.

It wasn’t anger that Sylvia felt inside, but it was a disturbance.

It was disdain. And then she felt ashamed for feeling the disdain, because she really did believe in the value of respecting her elders. And she felt resentful that the Count was her mentor, and not Aylin. She felt envious of Aylin–so independent. So self-contained! So powerful! Willing to stand up even to the Count!

All this conflict inside!


As she rose into the dark meditation, she let the conflict be. She had the right to suffer, after all.

“Difficulty with darkness is something all people have.” She heard Aylin’s words again.

She had the right to suffer, but she didn’t have the right not to practice.


Darkness has energy of its own, and it swirled within, neither good nor bad, just there, lifting her above her concerns, rising on the tumult of feeling.

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Shift 21: Mentors


So, it’s pretty good here. I’m trying not to get attached. Like the yogis say, everything is impermanent.

But at the same time, Deon reminds me that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it while we got it.


At YOTO, they got this idea that all the kids need mentors. Aadhya says that it’s important for young people to have adults in their lives. I guess she’s got a point. We’ve got our teachers, of course, and maybe counselors, if they care and aren’t too busy with all the regular students. But if we were still living with our families, we’d have parents, neighbors, grandparents, aunts, uncles. Except even then, I wouldn’t have my uncle in my life.

I tried to tell Aadhya that I didn’t need another mentor.

“I’ve already got two,” I told her, “Deon and Ted. I don’t need anymore.”

She said that was fine and she was sure they were good mentors for me, but they weren’t part of YOTO.

“You can have lots of mentors,” she said. “Youth should be surrounded by caring adults! But we want you to also have some YOTO mentors. That way, we’ll be sure you’re getting the structured help you need.”

Structured help! That sounds like something I’d want to do without. But it doesn’t really seem like it’s an option.

Aadhya said that they had a volunteer who’d just finished training and was ready to take on his first mentee.

“You’ll like him,” she said. “He’s a gardener.”

Turns out it was Garret, one of the gardeners I knew back in Oasis Springs. He’d been transferred to Magnolia Promenade recently, and Deon was still his supervisor.

We arranged to meet for dinner at the restaurant across from YOTO.  The restaurant’s also run by the same ashram, and they serve organic vegan experimental cuisine. “I know you’re only doing this to earn brownie points with Deon,” I told Garret. I remembered how much he didn’t like me back when I was living in Oasis Springs.


While we looked over the menu, he droned on. I tried to focus on ordering so I didn’t have to listen. He was saying stuff about how brave I was. How he admired me for doing well in track and school while having “so many situational challenges.” How he always had it so easy he couldn’t imagine what I must be going through.

I stopped listening altogether.


The food was awesome, though. His meal looked like a Rubik’s cube. I don’t think he liked it. He kept making faces. My meal tasted amazing–sweet and savory and spicy, altogether.

He gave me a lecture about the importance of trying new things, all the while making faces with each bite of his meal.

“What do you think?” He asked me. “Do we make an awesome team, or what?”


I thanked him for the meal, but when I got back, I told Aadhya that I was still available, in case she had any other mentors waiting in line.

We’re allowed to have friends visit, even for sleep-overs, if we want. So I invited Yuki for the weekend.

I told her about dinner with Garret.

“You mean, Garret the gardener?” she asked. “The guy who always shot you dirty looks? The guy who told you that if it weren’t for Deon, he’d call the cops on you?”

“That’s the one,” I said.

“And now he wants to be your mentor?”

“Yup. It’s not happening.”


“I wish I could have a mentor,” said Yuki. “My sister tries her best, but she’s got her hands full with her own life.”

“You could run away,” I said. “Move in here! We’ve got scores of grown-ups lining up to be mentors! I know! Garret could be your mentor! Or better yet, Nancy Landgraab!”

Yuki and I both decided she was better off without structured help.

After a while longer went by, and I still didn’t have an official mentor, Aadhya herself asked me out to dinner.

“We’re meeting Emiliano,” she said. Emiliano’s one of my friends. He’s a cool guy. We met at a used bookstore at San Myshuno, and later, when I found out that he’s part of the ashram that runs YOTO, I thought that was pretty cool. If it weren’t so redundant, I could see him being my mentor. But since he’s sort of a Deon doppelganger with a touch of Ted’s spirituality, it seems pretty pointless.

“You know I’m not shopping for a mentor,” I told Aadhya. She laughed.

“You may not be!” She agreed. “But your mentors are shopping for you!”


I’m not complaining, though. Seriously. The food at the restaurant is so good that I don’t care if a hundred prospective mentors take me out. Long as I get to order something delicious every time!


We started out having a really good time. I told Aadhya about this unit we’d just started in English on epistolary novels. I’m reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, the David Constantine translation.

“That’s really something,” Aadhya said.

“I would read it in German,” I replied, “except I don’t know German. But I’ll have to learn it someday, if only to read this in the original.”


She told me that she read that when she was in college. In English, but still.

“I found such inspiration in the pervading sense of guilt,” she said. “Funny, now that guilt is no longer an active part of my life! But you know, when I was young and in college, I felt responsible for the whole of the world. And poor, suffering, Werther–he felt like a friend of my heart, in those days!”


Emiliano said he didn’t know about guilt or suffering or any of that, but he did know what it was like to find a friend in a book.

“John Muir,” he said. “I read his account of being a shepherd in the Sierra Nevadas. I thought he was writing about my life.”

“I read that book this summer!” I told him. We both shared how amazing it felt to have read a journal by somebody who lived over a hundred years ago, but who had experiences in the wild just like we did.


“Have you thought about majoring in literature when you go to college?” Aadhya asked me.

“I’m not going to college,” I said.


“What do you mean, you’re not going to college?” she said. She got real bossy. “You are going to college. With your mind and your inquisitive nature, it’s a crime against humanity if you don’t get your degree! Why! You’re going to grad school!”


“Uh, no.” I hated to break it to her. “First of all, I can’t afford it. And second of all…”

I didn’t want to tell her second of all. Second of all is that you gotta have an identity to go to college. I mean, you got to have a real name, a social security card, a birth certificate. All that stuff. There’s no McKinney-Vento for college, that I know of.

Nah. That’s not in the books for me.


“You can absolutely afford it!” said Emiliano. “I’ve seen you run! And you’re just a sophomore! By the time you’re a senior, you’ll be super-speedo, chica! You’ll get an athletic scholarship for real!”

“And an academic one,” said Aadhya. “Not to mention, YOTO offers a scholarship or two. And if there are still expenses, you can get a Pell grant. And even a student loan, if you need to, though I recommend saving the loan to help with grad school. Intelligent person like you. You’re going to be in school for a long time!”


It still can’t be. They think I’m Jazz Deon. But when they find out that’s not my real name, all the college dreams will dissipate. I know this now. Still, I didn’t want to ruin their evening. It was so fun to see them getting excited about my academic career. And I sort of got swept up in it, too. I let myself imagine myself there. I let myself dream.

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