Larry Hodges, an Odyssey workshop grad, has sold more than one hundred stories. His four novels include Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, published by World Weaver Press, and When Parallel Lines Meet, a Stellar Guild team-up with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn.
I’ve heard the jingle “Have a pint and a smile!” a million times and I’m sick of it. As the CEO of Dracu-Blood, Inc., it’s all I hear all night at the office, and in my daytime dreams during the day. And now they’re playing a new, even more irritating version of it—”I’d like to buy the world some blood”—at the staff meeting here a thousand feet up on the hundredth floor of the Dracu-Blood Corporation in New York City. It was 1:00 a.m., shortly after lunch.
“Can you shut that racket off!” I cried.
“But it’s the latest jingle!” said the advertising director. She wore a red three-piece suit along with the company’s red Dracu-Blood tie that featured a smiley human face. She’s even taller and paler than the average vampire, and wears her hair in a black spike that curves forward and makes her look like a scorpion about to sting.
“I like the old jingle,” I lied. “Besides, remember what the owner did to your predecessor when he tried a new jingle?” I reached forward and smashed the vPad and the table with my fist. The music stopped. The only sound was the ventilator that pumped the fresh dry dust scent into the room. “Now, everyone, give me a rundown of today’s problems.”
“VETH is still picketing us, forty days now,” said the security director in her white three-piece suit and red company tie. She’s about five hundred years old, which is old even for a vampire, and has the wrinkles and scars to prove it. She’s barely four feet tall—I think she has dwarf blood. “Free-Range Blood keeps them supplied with blood.” I rolled my eyes at that—Free-Range didn’t believe in caging animals, I mean humans, and so kept them in a huge, enclosed zoo, where they were free to walk about and do whatever humans do. They advertised their blood as “free range,” and after just one year already had three percent of the market; we had fifty-one percent.
“Blast them with our advertising jingle,” I said, shaking my head. Vampires for the Ethical Treatment of Humans. What a joke. “They’ll be gone in hours. Next.”
“Vampu-Blood released their latest sales figures,” said the balding sales director, wearing an orange three-piece suit and, of course, the red company tie. He was one of those rare fat vampires, who went through bottle after bottle of Dracu-Blood all day long at his desk—said he couldn’t think otherwise. “They are closing the gap—Vampu-Blood now has forty-six percent of the market, only five percent behind us. We need to do something if we want to stay the number one blood company in the world.”
“Release our own sales figures, but inflate them.” We had to keep up our image as the dominating number one.
“But if we do that,” said the sales director, “our sales plus Vampu-Blood and Free-Range will add up to more than one hundred percent!”
“So?” I asked. “Next.”
“There’s a report out in the London Cryptkeeper that vampire deaths from strokes are rising,” said the publicity director, who wore a yellow three-piece suit—what is it with us vampires and three-piece suits?—that matched his way-too-long hair, and of course the red company tie. “They are linking it to the high salt content in Dracu-Blood.”
“Human blood has a high salt content!” I exclaimed. “Duh! What do they expect? And why are they blaming it on us—we’re not the only blood seller, just the biggest.”
“Are you trying to argue with the masses using facts?” asked the publicity director.
“Of course not,” I said. What a foolish idea.
“The health kick is spreading to vampires all over the world,” said the sales director. “If only there were a way to tap into that, our sales would explode.”
There are those moments in life where everything comes to a halt, your life is suddenly in danger, and your thoughts reach peak clarity. That happened now, and it started with a loud crash as the door to the room was torn off its hinges and slammed to the ground. Against the opening was only a silhouette. It was impossibly tall, impossibly thin, and gave off an aura of impossible danger and the smell of death.
Dracula, the owner of Dracu-Blood, entered the silent room in his black seven-piece suit and, of course, the red company tie, walking over the fallen door and kicking a chair in his way into the wall, which tore open, leaving a five-feet wide opening into the room. Disgusting fresh air blew into the meeting room.
“Vampu-Blood has almost caught Dracu-Blood in sales,” he said in a raspy whisper from God. “Vampu-Blood stock has almost caught Dracu-Blood in value. People are drinking Vampu-Bloods in the clubhouse at the Sucking Golf Club. My golf club.”
He slowly elevated until his feet were level with the table I’d broken. He lightly walked across its remains until he stood in front of me. He glanced about at the others sitting at the table, then down at me.
“If they pass us in sales,” he whispered, “you will all die.” He raised a foot and slammed it down on the table, which crumbled into ashes. He lightly levitated to the ground. Then, with a sudden motion, he grabbed the advertising director and flung her red form out the opening in the wall. In a blur he was beside it, staring down at her and willing her into immobility so she could not transform or fly. We listened to her screams as they fell away and then, seven and a half seconds later, there was a plop and then silence.
“I didn’t like the new jingle,” he whispered, giving us a sweeping look. “Hire a new advertising director immediately.” Then he floated across the floor and out the door.
Clarity of thought told me what we had to do—increase sales—but not how to do it. For inspiration I visited the farms that morning after work.
“How are you doing…M44551?” I asked, reading the name off the sign on the cage. I sniffed the air; B-Negative, though I could barely tell over the human stench that even this clinically white and antiseptically clean building couldn’t hide. Metal bars made up the cage, which was just large enough for its occupant and a treadmill. The cages went in each direction as far as the eye could see.
“I’m doing great!” said M44551. The naked man lay immobile in bed, his arms and legs strapped to the sides, eyes glued to the TV positioned directly over him. Twice a day, under close supervision, he was released from his bonds to walk on the treadmill for fifteen minutes. He was grossly fat, as that led to both higher volume and a more flavorful blood. A pair of tubes attached to his lower regions to remove waste products. Another tube came out of his right arm, which drained the blood that would become Dracu-Blood, still the best-selling brand on the market. And it had to stay that way.
“What are you watching?”
“Days in Our Cages,” said M44551. “A human pulled his hands free and tried to leave his cage, but another grabbed him through the cage bars and held him while others screamed for help. The keeper gave the bad human a good lecture, and only five minutes of electroshock! And the ones who stopped him got chocolate ice cream as a reward!”
“And what does the story teach you?”
“That the keeper is good, and if we’re good, they’ll treat us good! I remember back before you vampires took over how much I used to like to be good, and my mommy would let me drink sugar sodas, but then I got fat, and they got mean and made me drink sugar-free sodas, and they were bad, and my mommy was mean! You let me eat and drink what I want!”
He looked up at the ceiling. “Computer, Captain Sugar King Cereal!” He opened his mouth as a scope dropped out of the ceiling. It positioned itself directly over his head and began pouring the sugary cereal into his mouth, along with periodic squirts of high-fat chocolate milk. His face flushing, the man ate an impossible amount before he finally closed his mouth, with the last flakes and milk droplets bouncing off his face. Another scope came out of the ceiling and vacuumed up the extra flakes and milk. I could see the man’s reflection off its metallic sides—humans were magical in that way.
“Why did your mom make you drink sugar-free soda?” I asked.
“Mommy didn’t want me to be fat, said it was unhealthy. But I don’t care. People should have a choice. If someone else wants to drink some tasteless sugar-free drink, that’s fine, but don’t force it on me. Let the customer choose.”
Let the customer choose. It struck a chord in my mind. Right now the choice was between Dracu-Blood and Vampu-blood, not including the few weirdos that chose Free-Range. Maybe these humans weren’t so stupid after all.
“Can I go back to watching TV?” M44551 asked. “They’re showing a rerun of As the Blood Flows that I really like. Computer, sugar chocolate strawberry cola please!”
The scope began squirting into his mouth as I left.
Dracula called a staff meeting the next day. It was in the same room as before, with the big gap still there. The ventilator was in a losing war with the opening, pumping in dry dust scent that was quickly overpowered by the incoming fresh air. I wanted to puke.
“Do you have a solution to our problem yet?” he whispered.
The temperature dropped twenty degrees in the ensuing silence.
“Is there anything new from the advertising department?” Dracula asked the new advertising director I’d hired that morning, a tall black vampire with twenty years’ experience selling coffin bedding.
“Well, we have another jing—”
She was out the gap and screaming to her death before she could get the “le” sound out.
“How about the publicity department?”
“We can double our promotions budg—”
The publicity director fell to a screaming death.
“Are you all stupider than humans?” Dracula whispered. “They at least had the brains to come up with sales ideas. Do I need to replace you with farm animals?” He slowly ran his eyes over us. “Sales? Nothing?” Dracula asked. The sales director opened his mouth but was on his way out the gap almost before I realized I was next.
“Salt-Free Blood!” I blurted out.
“What?” Dracula asked, nonchalantly reaching out and plucking the screaming sales director out of the air by a leg and holding him out the opening upside-down.
“You mentioned humans,” I said. “They used to have sugar-free drinks as a health drink. They let everyone choose what they wanted to drink, healthy or non-healthy. We need to do the same. Why can’t we sell salt-free blood? Health-conscious vampires everywhere will go for it—it’s a whole new market segment no one’s ever gone after. Let the customer choose!”
“We’ve never sold anything except pure blood!” cried the dangling sales director. “It’ll confuse the customer and destroy our brand name!” Dracula nonchalantly released him and he fell to his screaming death.
“It’ll end the protests,” said the security director. “In fact, we’ll get free publicity everywhere.”
“I like it,” Dracula whispered. “You’re the new advertising director. Change into red immediately after this meeting.” The security director, now the advertising director, cringed. Dracula turned to me. “But won’t our blood be tasteless without salt?”
“We can sell flavored blood,” I said. “Chocolate, cherry, orange, citrus, and so on.”
“Great idea,” said Dracula. “You are now CEO slash product director.”
“I don’t like the name Salt-Free Blood Red,” I said, wondering if there was a salary increase with my added job title. “We need something better, healthy sounding.”
“We’ll call it the Doctor Red line, all salt-free,” the new advertising director said. “Chocolate Doctor Red, Cherry Doctor Red, and so on. For the truly adventurous, why not one spiked with just a touch of garlic for spice?”
“Garlic Doctor Red,” mused Dracula. “Excellent! Have both salt and salt-free versions of each flavor. Maybe even sell by blood types. Both of you, start work on the new products and on a new advertising campaign. Oh, and one more thing.”
“What’s that?” asked the advertising director.
“We’re going to need a new advertising jingle.”
Copyright © 2020 by Larry Hodges.