Thanatos

A Vampire Tale Inspired by True Events

“Today’s creepy is tomorrow’s necessity.” –Sean Parker.

Just a single prick. That’s all Jane Watson needed. But in recent weeks at Stanford, the young students, delicious and full of blood, had been harder and harder to come by. At first, she had no trouble finding a fix. A late night, a flip of her golden hair, a coy glance, and they’d yield, flip-flops and all, to her cool embrace. “Let me tell you about my start-up idea,” she would whisper as she sank her fangs into their juicy necks.

But now, the semester was almost over, people were moving down to the city to intern in open plan offices. The campus looked still and deserted, like a De Chirico painting with the occasional athlete.

It was time. She called Clive Stubbs. “Let’s do this.”

Before she was photographed in a silken turtleneck in The Most Excellent Magazine, and pictured in her second-best turtleneck in S: The Super Style Magazine, before she was heralded as the future of science, before her name was synonymous with innovation and brilliance and beauty, with basically everything good, Jane Watson was just another freshman in college, trying to figure out which classes to take.

She had come to Stanford with one goal and she was proud of it. Her goal was to change the world. She would tell interviewers how much she loved medicine. She’d tell them that she hated needles, but she was brave enough to “just deal.” Then she’d smile, like she’d seen a hundred girls smile in a hundred different movies.

Sitting in her dorm now, she flipped through the course listings. There were so many options! Introduction to Biology, The Science of Superfoods, Pizza and its Discontents. She scrolled back and forth when something caught her eye.

For one semester only! Clive Stubbs Himself Teaches Disruption 101. Solve Today’s Problems With Tomorrow’s Solutions.

Clive Stubbs! The technology innovator! She could barely believe it. She had heard of such celebrity teaching at Stanford, but never someone so grand. Hardly anyone ever saw Clive Stubbs, but his presence was everywhere. Like God, you felt him all around you, in your phone, in your computer. She moved closer to the screen and clicked to sign up. She smiled to herself. In a sense, she was touching him now.

Clive Stubbs held his class in the basement of the Science Center, in a dark lecture hall. Jane wondered why Clive Stubbs had requested this room, which was a little damp and musty — certainly he could have any space he wanted. As she surveyed the crowds of students, he walked in. Although it was bright outside, he was wearing a long black raincoat and a black hat. His skin was pale, and he had lathered it with sunblock, so much so that a thin white film stuck around the contours of his nose.

He placed his coat on a chair and jumped rather jerkily onto the stage. Somehow, he kept his hands folded the entire time. He was dressed, as she had seen in the pictures, in a black turtleneck and blue jeans. He was smaller than she had imagined. She understood why he had called his company Walnut.

He began to speak. “Some may say I have nothing. I don’t have a wife. I don’t have children. I don’t have a fixed address: my island floats up and down the West Coast with the current. But in truth, I have everything, because I have Walnut. Do you want to be like me, standing here? Or do you want to be like everyone else, looking up in awe and jealousy?”

As she sat and listened, Jane felt that she could touch his words in her mind. She knew she was watching Clive Stubbs up on stage, but she felt closer to him than she had to any man. Maybe it was her phone, buzzing in her pocket.

Students rushed up to Clive Stubbs after the lecture. Jane stayed in her seat. When the hall was almost all empty, she approached him.

“I just wanted to tell you,” she said, “what you spoke about — commitment, change, Walnut — it moved me.”

“I can tell,” he answered. “Would you like to discuss this more with me over juice?”

She nodded.

“Come with me,” he said, as he led her through a door in the back of the lecture hall. They followed a long hallway to a garage, where a small black car was parked. They got in.

He put his hand on her leg.

She stiffened.

“Oh Jane,” he said. “Don’t worry. It’s not like that.”

She sighed and closed her eyes. As her lashes fluttered open again, he leaned over and bit her.

When she woke up on the futon in her dorm, Jane Watson felt like she had upgraded her mind with the world’s best lifehack. She felt smarter, funnier, cleverer. She could see connections everywhere, like the wires on old computers. But physically, she felt almost hacked to death. She lay in the common room, shivering and sweating.

“Maybe you should go to health services,” said her roommate, who was always crying for some reason.

“Leave me alone, you idiot!” yelled Jane. She limped over to the bathroom and locked the door. Sitting on the toilet seat, she texted Clive Stubbs.

“What have you done to me?”

“Meet me outside in 20,” came the blue bubble.

Jane Watson looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes seemed sharper, but her skin was grey. She gasped. On her neck were two small welts. Nanohickeys? She pulled on a dress and wrapped herself in a big scarf.

Clive Stubbs’s car was already in front of the dorm door when she walked out. He was sitting in the back sipping a red drink.

“What the fuck!” said Jane Watson. “You take me to your car, and I wake up sick and cold? What day is it? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you!”

“Jane,” he said. He touched her hair like a tab he wanted to close. “Have a sip of this,” he said, handing her the smoothie.

“YOU ARE GRAVELY MISTAKEN IF YOU THINK—”

“Shhh,” he said. “Have one taste, and if it doesn’t make you feel better right away, you can get out, you’ll get an A+ in the class and we’ll never mention this again.”

She took the cup. It was warm. Broth, maybe? The thick liquid seeped through her throat.

“Better?”

She smiled, ashamed at having suspected bad things of such a great man.

“Jane,” he said. “I chose you because I know you want the best. You could really help me. You could really help the world.”

“Do you think I have it in me to develop an app?” she asked.

“Microchip,” he said affectionately. “You can do far more! Now listen to me. You must know that Silicon Valley runs through VC.”

“Venture Capital,” she nodded.

“No,” he shook his head. “Vampire Capital. There are hundreds of us. We’ve done great things. But my colleagues and I need to sustain ourselves if we want to keep it going. Our supply is dwindling. We have to find a new way to get what we need so we can show people what they want. That’s where you come in. Do you think you can help?”

She smiled.

When they had perfected their plan, he took her out for a game of laser tag.

Jane was nervous the morning of the meeting. Even for the Valley, her credentials were slim. A year, barely finished, in college. Coding experience: minimal. Apps: none. She’d only designed one game — checkers, not chess. She confessed her fears to Clive Stubbs. He took her hand. “Just tell them what you want to hear. You know what you’re doing and you’ll never ask for help.”

They entered the boardroom. Luckily, it was windowless. Across from them were five Suits.

“So tell us about this company,” said Suit 3.

Jane explained the project — health, testing, efficiency. She tried not to use the word blood.

“But how exactly will it work?” Suit 4 asked.

Just let them feel you know what you’re doing.

She took out a piece graph paper and drew a diagram. Arrows pointed left and right. She drew a smiling baby, an old man sitting in an armchair, a dragon sitting on a pile of gold. At the top she wrote in big letters: MY COMPANY PLAN.

Suit 1 smiled and nodded. He leaned over and smiled at Suit 2, Suit 3, Suit 4, Suit 5. He turned to face Jane. “We’re willing to pledge $700 million.”

It was so easy it was almost boring.

The days that followed flickered by. Media requests, new offices, feast upon feast. Just last night, they had celebrated a major partnership. Clive Stubbs was optimistic. He said Thanatos would continue to grow and grow. Soon they’d have enough blood to recruit a whole new set of VCs. Soon, there would be so many VCs that they’d outnumber everyone else. Soon, he said, the VCs wouldn’t have to hide behind their turtlenecks. They really could be very itchy at times.

Jane Watson wasn’t so sure. She stood in her offices. It had beautiful views of San Francisco, which she would be able to see if she could just open the curtains. She walked over to the mini-fridge and held up a vial.

For now, she would just enjoy her lunch.


Madeleine Schwartz is an assistant editor at the New York Review of Books.