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17 December 2016 @ 05:25 pm
Original: The Best Parts of Existing  
Title: The Best Parts of Existing
Rating: PG
Warnings: some swearing
Word Count: 1,992
Summary: History, knitting, and life lessons from a modern-day vampire.
Disclaimer: Work is all from my own imagination. Any resemblance to other characters or situations is coincidental.
Notes: Original work, written for consci_fan_mo. Because of the word limit, I couldn't clarify any of the historical references made, but most don't affect the story. The only term you might need is 'courer de bois'('woods runner'), who were fur traders in the late 1600s in Canada.



Here’s the thing: when you’re growing up and you find out you’re good at something and you want to make a career out of it, you kind of have an idea of what you’re going to be doing. Truck drivers drive trucks. Lawyers practice law. Soldiers keep the peace.

And for me, I had an idea of what being a hospital interpreter was going to be like. I was going to liaise with Hard of Hearing patients and help them communicate with medical staff. And, like, 90% of the time, that’s totally what I do. It’s just that other 10% that took me by surprise; the times when I go and help a vampire medical examiner communicate with Hard of Hearing family members about their loved one’s deaths.

But here’s the other thing: two years into the job, it’s not really that weird anymore. Once you’ve accepted that vampires are real, there’s nothing that strange about it. I mean, Mathurin Bonet dit LeBlanc, aside from being a 400-year-old undead ex-coureur du bois, is really a normal guy. Hot as fuck, no question. All tall and pale and thin and black-haired and -eyed, with the slightest French-Canadian accent and cheekbones that were carved from marble. But, if you didn’t know he was a vampire, you’d just think he was...well, a medical examiner. Because no one really expects a guy on permanent nights in the morgue to be ruddy cheeked and gleaming with vigour.

And he’s super interesting to talk to. He fought in the War of 1812, and the Boer War, and both World Wars and Korea. He’s lived through Victoria and the Fenian invasions and the Spanish flu and the Depression and FLQ crisis. He’s been all over the world and speaks a bunch of languages. He’s charming and nice and friendly and not really vampire-y in a Bela Lugosi way. From what I can tell, vampire rules and myths are kind of individual quirks that some vampires have more of than the others. Daylight makes Mat feel weak, so he likes working nights, but the sun won’t kill him. Silver makes him break out in a rash, but he wears a wooden cross around his neck that is as old as he is because it’s a family heirloom and I’ve never seen him hiss at a bible or priest. He can’t turn into a bat or fly, but he does get a little obsessive about counting things. Though, apparently, he’s gotten better through cognitive behavioural therapy? I guess 400 years gives you a lot of time to improve yourself.

Oh, and he likes to knit and crochet. That’s not a vampire thing, though, just a Mat thing. But I bet that’s how vampire myths get formed. I could go around and tell people that ‘my’ vampire likes to make scarves, and all of a sudden, all vampires are knitting fiends.

My career is weirder than I thought it would be.

When you are a person who can handle dead bodies, you get to be the person they call when they need someone who can handle dead bodies, so Mat and I have gotten to know each other pretty well. And I like him, so sometimes when I have free time at the hospital I’ll slip down to say hello.

He’s sitting in the morgue, one long leg crossed over the other, head bent over the latest project. A ball of variegated purples and blues dances around his foot as he tugs on it to get more slack.

“Ah, hello, Margot,” he greets me, a warm smile on his pale lips. “I thought I smelled you.”

Sometimes vampires say things like that and you have to learn to not be weirded out by it if you want to be friends with them. “I knew I should have showered this morning,” I joke, and he ducks his chin to chuckle. “Are you knitting or crocheting today?” It looks like he’s got a crochet hook, but there are a bunch of stitches on it like a knitting needle.

“Both, sort of. It’s Tunisian crochet. It’s knitting with a crochet hook, almost. I’m learning.” He holds up his phone, with a youtube video paused on it.

“I’m surprised you still have anything left to learn about anything,” I say.

“There’s always something to learn,” he says, seriously. “I wouldn’t have bothered to survive this long if there wasn’t. It’s one of the best parts of existing. Take a seat, ma mie, please. I’ll get you a chair. Or is this a flying visit?”

“My patient is in surgery and the family decided to go out for a bite to eat while they wait for news. I’m free until he’s in PACU, so I thought I’d make a midnight visit.”

“Sit-you, my-chair,” he signs to me and runs to grab another for himself.

He’s started to pick up ASL since we’ve been hanging out. Initially, he just wanted to be able to communicate certain things like ‘I’m Doctor LeBlanc’ and I’m sorry for your loss’ and ‘would you like a moment?’ so he could be more personal with the people he’s speaking to about the bodies on his table. Then I think he got intrigued by it all and I’ve been teaching him a little as we go along. He picks it up fast, but I think there’s something about his old-fashioned manners that makes it hard for him to use such a blunt language. He doesn’t like text speak, either, and that uses a similar ‘to the point, as fast as possible’ approach to communication.

His manners are the reason I just take his seat without protest. There’s no point in protesting with Mat if he’s being polite. He’s not stuck in the past, it’s more that the past has stuck to him.

He rolls over a stool from a lab bench, sliding in across from me near the cold chamber drawers. There are dead people in them and I know that, but it’s become normal to just chill out in the morgue. No pun intended.

“It’s quiet in here tonight,” I note. “Bad day for dead bodies?”

“Good day for dead bodies,” he corrects. “I’d rather have too few than too many. But it has been rather sedate here this evening. It gives me time to pursue other interests.”

I open my bag and remove my own project--an infinity scarf for my mother. Mat’s not the only one who’s learned from our relationship. He’s taught me how to knit. He’s an awesome teacher. Serene as fuck, even if you’re making the same mistake for the hundredth time.

Case in point: “I’ve dropped a stitch and I can’t find it.”

He puts his work in his lap, icy fingers brushing mine as he takes the needles from me. His eyes scan the work. “There you are, row 12.” Before I even have time to lament that I’m on row twenty-four and will have to unknit back to it, he takes his crochet hook, deftly picks up the dropped stitch, and weaves it back up through the rows of the scarf until it’s level with the needle. He slips it back on. “Voila, good as new.” Proudly, he adds, “I learned that on Pinterest.”

I have to press my lips together to keep from laughing at him and instead murmur a thank you and take back my work. I can’t even tell where the stitch fell now. “Life Pro Tips, huh? You could probably post a few of those.”

“I suppose if anyone’s interested in knowing how to trap beavers, I could be of use,” Mat jokes. “I have some tricks of the trade for that, as long as we’re using 17th-century techniques.”

Sometimes I try to picture Mat as he would have looked in whatever period of history he’s talking about. I presume he didn’t wear the man-bun he’s sporting now when he was portaging along the St. Lawrence. He must have worn puffy renaissance pants at some point, not to mention all the other fashion that followed. Top hats, cravats, lacy sleeves, tricorns (I can picture him in a tricorn, actually), saddle shoes. He says he likes to keep up with the styles and the hipster-scientist look he has going now suits him so well, it’s hard to think of him in something less ironic. Or maybe being a hipster suits him so well because it’s not ironic, he actually lived through the ages where it was cool unironically.

“Beaver catching might have a comeback,” I point out. “Maybe it’ll become hot and retro.”

“No, no. Beavers are good for the environment, we shouldn’t be killing them anymore, now that we know better.” He points his hook at me. “Learn from the past, Margot.”

“Yes, sir,” I say, obediently. “Guess I’ll just stick to interpreting. That’s timeless.”

“Good-idea, yes,” he signs, his gently pointed teeth popping out of his approving smile.

“What did you do between the fur trading and medical examining?” I wonder.

“I mostly mined. It was a great job for me. Get up before sunrise, stay in the dark all day, home after sunset.” His brows crease in the centre. “Awful for others, though. A very hard life for them. When anyone started to get suspicious of my...condition, I just moved on to a different mine. After a while, I’d saved up enough money to stop working and be a gentleman of leisure. Not to be obnoxious, but I have no need to work now. I do it because it interests me.”

I’ve already worked out he must be loaded. Not that he flaunts it; he just has a tendency to speak about purchases without any concern of the cost, and the quality of his clothing is always high. Plus, I’ve seen the car he drives.

“When did you start? When did medical examining become a thing?” I ask.

Mat gets his history face on and I put my eyes to my stitches, knowing I’m about to get a lesson and can sit back and enjoy it. “The late 1800s. It was common for gentlemen and ladies to attend lectures offered around the city and one day I attended one where a doctor spoke of the breakthroughs in microbiology and the impact it on had on how we understood life and death. I thought I might understand myself better if I learned more on the subject. So, I applied to medical school--on forged records I’m afraid--and discovered I was, not surprisingly, rather good at working with the dead. We’ve been able to learn so much in just the last hundred years alone, and I’ve never grown bored of it. I just keep learning new things.”

His expression is lit up, all excited about his science in his adorable geek way. His hook quickens in time to his words as he carries on, talking about medical school at McGill in the 1800s, and the people he knew and the ways they tested before modern science was around. He’s so poetic about it that hearing about squishy organs sounds almost beautiful. If vampires ever become mainstream, like the whole world is let in on them instead of the badly kept secret they are now, I want Mat to start a podcast where he just talks about life, the universe, and everything. He’s never morose, he’s positive and enthusiastic about life and what you can learn from it. He’s not an emo vampire, he’s just a chill, philosophical one. Even when he talks about people he knew who are long dead, he’s only a little wistful. Sad they’re gone, happy he knew them.

We sit and talk and stitch, him getting about two feet done in the time it takes me to get a few times around with my needles. But that’s okay because I’m still learning.

And that’s one of the best parts of existing, isn’t it?
 
 
 
adafrogadafrog on December 17th, 2016 11:19 pm (UTC)
Love it.
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on December 18th, 2016 03:59 am (UTC)
Thank you!
JagfanLJjagfanlj on December 17th, 2016 11:26 pm (UTC)
LeBlanc is an interesting character, and I like the way you tweaked the vampire myths. Are you planning on expanding this into a longer story or novella? It has potential.
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on December 18th, 2016 03:59 am (UTC)
I might do something more with him in the future. I had to cut some stuff out to fit in the word limit, so there's more material to work with.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I'm glad you enjoyed it!
debirlfandebirlfan on December 17th, 2016 11:35 pm (UTC)
Great work! If yyou ever decide to go there, I'd love to read more about Mat!!!!
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on December 18th, 2016 03:56 am (UTC)
Thank you! I do have some ideas bumping around, so I might write more with him in the future. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
crashtestskater: haida spiritcrashtestskater on December 18th, 2016 01:31 am (UTC)
OMG, this is delightful. It might be near the word limit of consci_fan_mo, but it reads so smoothly that you don't notice.

I think you must be a fellow crocheter (or knitter, I only crochet). The detail about the pain of dropping a stitch, bang on.

I do wonder if a courier du bois would have worn the fancier clothes? From what I recall from French/HIstory they wore the colourful shirts and plain linen trousers with sash and toque.

I love your vampire lore. Mat is a great character.
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on December 18th, 2016 03:55 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

I am a fellow crocheter; I just learned a few months ago and have since been crocheting non-stop. Dropped stitches aren't so bad for me, but it's trying to master turning chains that I have trouble with. When I work in rows, my sides often start to slant. I'm much better working in rounds. :-D

Mat definitely would have dressed more rugged in his coureur days. I don't have his full life story worked out, but he was born in France and came to New France as an immigrant (probably after he was turned), so he might have had fancier duds before he moved. Margot is probably romanticizing it up a little, too, and conflating her history.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
crashtestskater: haida spiritcrashtestskater on December 18th, 2016 01:15 pm (UTC)
Ah, it's nice to get more insight into back story.

Keep with the crocheting. It took me years to be able to go back and forth and not have it slanting or getting fatter or skinnier. I still really like going around in Granny squares.
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on December 18th, 2016 10:04 pm (UTC)
My mom is a very avid knitter and crocheter, so she's been helping me with it. We just completed a 72 square afghan for my brother for Christmas. I did the squares, she put them together. Most of my gifts are crocheted this year. :-D
crashtestskater: haida spiritcrashtestskater on December 19th, 2016 02:07 pm (UTC)
Awesome. My mom is the one who taught me to crochet, too. I shared your story with her, I figured she'd like it.

Also, wondering if you're Canadian.
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on December 20th, 2016 09:12 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you for your sharing. :-D

I am Canadian, from Ontario, but with French-Canadian roots.
donutsweeperdonutsweeper on December 18th, 2016 04:15 am (UTC)
Ooh, this was fascinating. A really, great read!!
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on December 18th, 2016 05:29 am (UTC)
Thank you! I got to use all my genealogical research to make Mat. Not that I have vampires in my family tree...

aelfgyfu_meadaelfgyfu_mead on December 18th, 2016 06:56 pm (UTC)
Very interesting character sketch! Are you planning to write something longer with one or both characters?
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on December 18th, 2016 10:04 pm (UTC)
I might very well write something more with them. I have had a lot of interest, which I wasn't expecting. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! I'm glad you enjoyed it.