Warning: there are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read this story, you can purchase issue #68 of Andromeda Spaceways here for $4.95 (I’m pretty sure that’s Australian dollars). If you haven’t read the story and you choose to read on, you have been warned.
“Seven Signs Your Roommate Is a Vampire: With Additional Advice on Surviving Orientation If It’s More Complicated” was published in issue #68 of the Australian science fiction and fantasy ezine Andromeda Spaceways in September 2017, but I actually wrote the story back in 2014, at the end of my senior year of college. It all came from a box of Cheerios in the refridgerator, an overactive imagination, and a large dose of nostalgia.
My last year at Kenyon, some friends and I got an on-campus apartment, complete with a kitchenette which would later seem gloriously spacious when compared to the kitchen in the dorm my first year of law school. Three of us in the apartment were seniors, and the spring of our senior year was comps season. We all had massive exams and projects due, and two of us were doing honors, which meant we had even more massive exams and projects due. I was one of the two doing honors. I had just finished editing my World War II Italy novella and handed it in, and now I was studying for the exam that would cover the two dozen or so books on the honors reading list, not to mention the oral defense of my project. I had also recently been to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) as a finalist for the Dell Award for the first time. So my brain was firing on all cylinders as I prepared for my exam and oral defense, but I was also desperately looking for things to procrastinate with, and I was wracking up short stories that I could possibly enter into the Dells next year—my final year of eligibility—so I could go back to ICFA. This is the place I was in. The rest of my housemates were also under a lot of strests, and everyone was dealing with their strests in different ways.
And so this is where I was when one day, I opened the fridge in search of the sparkling passionfruit mango juice and found a big box of cheerios on the door. Chances are, one of my roommates was thinking of other things—and we all had plenty of other things to be thinking about—and stuck the Cheerios in the fridge by mistake instead of the bottle of milk—which I found sitting on the counter. But that’s not where my brain went first. Immediately, I asked myself, “Why in the world would anybody put Cheerios in the refrigerator?” The first answer I came up with was, “Well, the box is too small for a severed head, so it’s not that.” But the box could easily fit a severed hand in it. I mentioned I have an overactive imagination, and remember, I was pretty stressed out too. And so this story was born.
No, there are no severed hands in this story. But I took the idea of one roommate finding a severed hand in their refridgerator and ran with it. It was near graduation, and I was feeling nostalgic, as I said, so I decided that I would set the story during first year orientation at college. It would also increase the tension if the roommates didn’t know each other. When you know your roommate, you’re much more likely to be like, whatever, they weren’t thinking and put the cereal in the fridge and the milk in the cabinet. But when you don’t know your roommate, we’l, there really could be a severed hand in that cereal box. At least that was how I saw it.
So I started making a list of all the weird things a college roommate can do that you could totally misconstrue. At some point, my friends and I were discussing favorite childhood books, and I mentioned Bunnicula, and that’s where I got the idea for the white dandelions Rose’s suspicion that that Ellie was a vampire. ROSE’s suspicion nailed down, it was easier to tailor my list of crazy things roommates do to fit the description of crazy things roommates do that might indicate they’re a vampire. Of course, I also knew that there needed to be another explanation, because I wanted Rose to be wrong, and I wanted Ellie’s secret to be even more bonkers. Then my mother mentioned finding my Braille version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in a box in my brother’s closet (yes, the book took up a whole box. Braille is big and awesome.), and I had my answer. Ellie wasn’t a vampire; Ellie had been to a fantasy world. So then, of course, the fantasy world would have to come back for her.
I knew from the start that I wanted this to be a fun story, and while it may not have been funny all the way through, I certainly had a great time writing it, and I hope you had a great time reading it.
Some other random fun facts:
Most of the time, when I write stories, I come up with a placeholder title to guide me while I’m writing. Sometimes the title will change by the time I finish the story. This time, I knew I wanted the story to be funny, and I knew that tone would be set by the title. So I worked really hard on the title before I put a single word on the page. And it never changed.
This is the funniest thing I have ever written. It is likely the funniest thing I am capable of writing. If you didn’t get the picture from all my talk of severed hands, I have a morbid imagination.
Originally, I just wanted the story to be set at some generic small liberal arts college. But As graduation loomed and the nostalgia came full force, I decided I really just wanted to come out and say Rose and Ellie were at Kenyon. All the specific details about the college were specific details about Kenyon—programs, courses, even the orientation schedule. Even my roommates, who read the story, knew it was Kenyon without me saying it. Specificity in setting is everything in my view, so I decided to just make it clear. Besides, Kenyon has so many ghost stories already; we needed a good vampire story.
Not only did I attend Kenyon and go through first year orientation myself, but I was also an upper-class counselor for two years, so I went through first year orientation twice more with a group of advisees. I also took Quest for Justice, the one and only political science course of my college career.
I am seriously considering writing a story in which kids in Ellie’s fantasy world discover the Harry Potter books the girls through the door, then find their way to our world expecting to find magic. It would be titled something along the lines of “Seven Steps to Entering Another World: With Additional Advice on Surviving Without Magic.” Needs work, I know, but it might happen. We’ll see what craziness my second year of law school brings.