VAMPIRE, VAMPIRISM, VAMPIRIC, VAMPY!
A collection of short stories which explore and celebrate the vampire genre with talented, world-class writers. There’s something here to delight and horrify even the most seasoned vampire fan.
Abraham R Nox, Adrian Bond, Dennis Kriesel, Emily de Rango, Eric S. Brown, Frank C. Gunderloy, Jr., Greg Beatty, H. Turnip Smith, J.R. Corcorrhan, Jean Burnett, Jennifer Moore, Joshua Alan Doetsch, Laura Cooney, Lester Thees, Liz Williams, Lorna Dickson, Miles Deacon, Mordant Carnival, Raymond T. McNally, Richard Jones, Sheri Morton-Stanley, Stephen Minchin, T. P. Keating, Tom Phillips, Trent Walters.
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A vampire story by Lorna Dickson – Featured in Fangers Inc. Volume One
“Please hold still, Madrina. Your lips haven’t dried yet.”
The woman fidgeted on the long steel table, her fingers twitching and flexing with the urge to reach up and touch her new face. Robin stood above the Madrina Dominique with needle and thread. Just one more tuck under the eyes. The pliant rubber Robin was using to sculpt the Madrina’s new cheekbones with was falling slightly just under the eyebrow. If the Madrina wasn’t careful—if she laughed and sang and did all those things that vampires do when gathered together for a party—she’d have humongous bags before the night was out.
The Madrina moaned, grunted like she wanted to say something to Robin… but Robin wouldn’t let her, “Give it ten more minutes, Madrina. Please.”
Robin finished sewing the eyelift and then turned to put her tools away. Her arms from wrist to elbow were covered in black goo—the old blood that ran through the ancient woman’s veins—but it wasn’t as if the Madrina minded the loss of fluids. She would just go out tonight and find a soft, live body to replenish. In fact, Robin was sure that would be the first thing Madrina did with her new face; run out and seduce some poor college frat boy too drunk to realize he was talking to a brightly animated corpse.
Ten minutes later, the Madrina was sitting up, staring into a mirror at her new face, “You are a genius, darling! A true artist!” she said, her lips moving sluggishly because of the tacky paint, “I look as beautiful as I was in 1942! Dare I say, more beautiful?” and then, she reached forward to grab Robin in an embrace.
Robin grudgingly fell into the Madrina’s arms. She was wearing a turtle – neck sweater… but that wouldn’t protect her should Madrina decide she was thirsty. No, Robin had to rely on her usefulness to keep her unbitten; she was their Face – maker.
The skin – like rubber on the Madrina’s face did indeed look like flesh… and it would stand up against time better than the Madrina’s own skin. She was old, probably more than three hundred or so, and while the vampiric body didn’t decompose as quickly as the mortal remains of a dead human, eternity did take out its price on their once – fresh beauty.
“How greatly you will be rewarded, my sweet!” the Madrina whispered in Robin’s ear.
Robin carefully pulled herself away from the cheerful bloodsucker. She was waiting for the time when one of them decided that her payment should be in the form of eternal life instead of cash. Then she could be a dammed creature, a murderous phantom stalking the night for innocent blood just like the rest of them. Wouldn’t that be grand? she thought to herself, dryly.
With Madrina Dominique ready to face the dark world, Robin excused herself. It was time to go home… and because the big Easter Gala was in a week, it was time for her to pick a dress. The Madrina waved her off after tucking a thick wad of cash into Robin’s pocket.
Robin found the red velvet dress that she’d worn to Mantissa Dominique’s party last year that had a lace jacket that stretched well above her jugular. She was valuable to them, but not so valuable that one of them couldn’t get the idea to prick her soft flesh while under the influence of wine, song, and sex. Last year, they’d laughed at her for being so squeamish.
Ah, hell. Maybe Robin would buy something new. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t paid well… she could afford a gilded ball gown, hand – beaded and embroidered, something old fashioned like they wore. It would have to be red. Her customers loved red.
Easter was Robin busiest season. The vampires she worked for adored the holiday because it had to do with death and resurrection… something Robin would have thought blasphemous if she’d been Catholic. Lucky that she wasn’t, or she would never have gotten her first job. Her Agent, Joe, would have never knocked on the front door of her apartment if he’d known she was Catholic, because apparently the customers hated the smell of them.
Just as Robin was gathering up her coat to go shopping for a dress that she wouldn’t be mocked for, her cell phone beeped. The call ID read simply “Joe” and for a second, Robin thought about not answering it.
“How ya doin’, sweetness?”
Robin winced, “I’m busy, Joe.” She lied, “Have you got something for me?”
“Oh, yeah… something good. Something Big.”
“Something that pays well?”
“You have no idea.” The man on the other end smiled—Robin could hear the grin in his voice, “I got a call from ol Stuffy Rasmussen, and apparently he has a last – minute guest coming to his shin – dig. The guy’s name is Vir- something. Virvissis, Virvacious… I don’t give a damn. The guy’s willing to pay more than you’ve ever seen in one hit, I can assure you.”
Robin chewed on her lower lip, contemplating the idea. She could get a really nice ball gown, “When does he want to meet?” she said finally.
“Tonight. You didn’t have plans, did you?”
“No. Of course not.” Robin sighed, “Where am I going?”
“To the airport. There’s a plane waiting to spirit you off to grand ol’ Kansas.”
Kansas? How odd… Robin had never heard of any vampires in Kansas. They tended to gather in the more beautiful places like Louisiana and New York when they weren’t skulking around Europe’s castles and Asia’s temples. They needed lush surroundings. They needed excitement… and plenty of people to feed from. If this Vir- guy was someone not as interested in unearthly attractiveness as the rest of his clan… then why would he want her services?
“I don’t like it.” Robin mumbled.
“What’s to like? You’re going to carve up some old corpse and make him pretty again. Big goddamn deal.” She heard him lift his face away from the phone and spit, “So, you in or out?”
Robin chewed her lip for a moment longer. How much more dangerous could it really be than what he normally practiced?
“Fine.” She said, “I’ll be on that plane.”
“I love ya, baby. We’re going to make beautiful music together.” And then Joe hung up.
Robin put her phone away and went back into her bedroom to pack quietly. She wasn’t thinking of ball gowns anymore—she wasn’t even thinking of how much money Joe had meant by more than she’d ever seen. The thoughts in Robin’s head mulled over what kind of monster might be meeting her out in the middle of a Kansas prairie… and what monster he would want her to change him into.
Robin had gone to school for pre – med to be a plastic surgeon, but her last semester had been cut short by a car accident. It was a little mix – up on the highway, a seven-car pile, and Robin had been trapped in the back seat of her sister’s mutilated Dodge for three hours, leaned up against the corpse of her sister’s roommate, Alicia. Alicia had been dead upon impact… Robin had never really been sure why she’d survived. It was probably the padding of Alicia’s body as the Dodge slammed into to the flipped over semi that sprawled out on the shoulder. For three hours, Robin had nothing to do while the EMT’s dug her out other than stare into the glassy, dead eyes of a woman she barely knew.
After the back surgery and physical therapy, school just hadn’t been as much fun. Robin had begun sculpting in her spare time, something her shrink suggested as a way to relieve the emotional trauma. Robin had taken that rough clay and moulded it into Alicia’s face with the same glassy eyes over and over again. She had a showroom of Alicias. They were good, too… maybe something in the car wreck had dislodged a hidden artistic talent that Robin never knew she had before. Joe Jacobson of the Elysian Fields Mortuary had thought so as well. He thought her ability for capturing the human face in clay and her background in biology would do well for a position he was looking to fill. The official title was Mortician’s Assistant (she did the embalming and the preparation of the corpses for the open – casket,) but Joe and the rest of her co – workers called her the Beautician. She took dead flesh and sculpted it, so it looked human once again.
The first corpse she’d worked on at Elysian Fields had been a woman that ended up looking a lot like Alicia once Robin was finished.
Alicia’s face haunted Robin on the plane to Kansas. It often popped in her head right before a job. The vampires she worked on suffered similar afflictions as the corpses Robin had sculpted at Elysian Fields, disintegration, rotting, the obscene growth of the hair and nails. They were not the static, statuesque beauties often portrayed in the books and movies. (Robin sometimes thought that the vampires themselves produced those books and movies as propaganda, first to disillusion the public to their existence and second to create the myth that would make mortals quiver in their presence should they ever meet.) The vampires Robin worked for were shallow, withering reflections of their previous humanity; gaunt and zombie – like, the flesh melting from brittle bones, worms, and maggots swimming underneath their pointy smiles.
Robin wondered on the plane what state of disrepair this new customer would be in once she got there.
The sky of Kansas was already black despite the late afternoon hour. The plane shook and jittered underneath the downpour—while the passengers next to her shrieked at every bump, Robin sat calmly in her seat, her tool case in her lap. Death just wasn’t as special to her anymore. She half – suspected that Joe would resurrect her if she ever met an accident and make her into one of them, anyway, just so that she could go on performing her tasks. When the plane finally set down and Robin’s fellow passengers breathed a sigh of relief, the rain was coming down in a hearty sludge. Robin didn’t bother with an umbrella; she just walked, the water slicking her hair against her forehead, her damp clothes clinging to her body.
A vehicle was waiting for her; a charcoal – coloured SUV. The driver in his dark suit and darker sunglasses didn’t say a word to Robin as he drove her from the airport.
The vehicle drove past a scattering of small towns, farms, and roving packs of cattle. The terrain wasn’t nearly as flat as Robin had expected it to be; there were hills (probably green except for the dark weather washing them in grey) and there were trees (emaciated and leaf – less, but there nonetheless.) The wide swaths of fields swam with the wind, the tall grasses waving like the incoming tide in a shadowy ocean. The rain splashed against the window Robin stared out of, and between the clear splotches of dead raindrops, Robin could see up on the horizon a building.
It was alone in a field. A one room, steepled church. In the earlier years of its construction, it had probably been painted white, but now the wood was flaking and split from the elements, the colour of rusty iron. No doubt that was why Joe had chosen an SUV to take her to her destination instead of the common black limousine; there was no road out to the church at all. The SUV took a turn off the gravel highway and sped off through the grass, lurching over every rock and slumping into every hole. The grass slapped at Robin through the glass.
The SUV stopped in front of the church, and Robin waited for the driver to do something. He didn’t; he just sat there, waiting for her to get out, settling back against the front seat like he was in for the long haul. Robin hesitantly gathered up her tool case and got out of the vehicle—the wind nearly knocked her over. It was a demon wind, turning the rain to tiny daggers and throwing them at her, whipping her hair and her jacket collar around. Robin trudged through the storm to the front door the church which was standing open; whatever door that may have been there years ago ripped off probably by a similar storm as this.
The inside of the church was in a worse state than the outside. The bare floor was crumbling and speckled with holes that threatened to swallow up Robin’s foot if she stepped the wrong way; empty beer bottles and paper wrappers lined the walls; the cracking plaster was ornamented with graffiti. And it was dark. Combined with the lack of sun outside and the boarded-up windows, Robin could barely see three feet in front of her face.
She took a few steps out of the rain and then called into the shadows, “Hello?” There was a creak of old wood in the back… and then silence. Robin began to suspect that she’d been set up—any minute now there would be a squad of vampire goons rushing in behind her, ready to taste her blood because she’d outlived her usefulness or pissed someone off or something.
But no goons; no blood or screaming. A low voice whispered out from the darkness, “Well, hello! I’m glad to see you could make it.”
The voice was gravelly and wheezy. Robin walked carefully towards the source of the sound, stepping delicately over the aged floor. She heard a match strike and then a pin – prick of orange light burst in the corner. A candle was lit—and she saw him.
The… thing sitting there next to the old altar was only vaguely human. It had bones; the flesh covering them was tight leather, wrinkled like a broken-in baseball mitt; the head hung at an odd angle, the vertebrae of the neck reduced to wispy rubber; a robe of yellowed shroud – cloth covered the thing’s middle, hiding away the shrivelled, dry genitalia and the sunken in belly; but the face was the most hideous. The lips had receded to bare a row of broken fangs, the ash – coloured cheekbones were hollow, and the eyes were black pits of glistening intelligence… eyes not at all like the dead eyes of Alicia.
Robin shivered—but then quickly regained herself. It was just a corpse, like all the others she’d worked on… only this one was really, really old.
The zombie nodded, acknowledging Robin’s hesitation, “I am a fright, aren’t I? I’m terribly sorry if I make you uncomfortable… would you like a glass of rum?” he gestured to a bottle sitting beside the altar and a pair of goblets… the motion of his hand was light and quivering, as if he didn’t have enough muscle remaining in his arm to move very well.
She put on a stalwart expression and walked over to pour herself a glass, “My name is Robin Martinez. I was informed you were in need of my talents.”
“I am Virssuccius. Pleased to meet you.”
“I have to say…” Robin started after swallowing a gulp of the sweet liquor, “I wasn’t expecting someone in such… in such a condition. I don’t know how much I can do for you.”
The ancient vampire shifted around in his seat on the floor, raising his own goblet to his teeth, “But, my dear, I have been told wonderful things!” when he drank, half the rum went spilling through the tears in his neck, “I have been told you are a miracle worker.”
“Yes, people have said that, but… you’ll forgive me. I need more initial material to work with, otherwise you’re going to be full of wax and rubber.”
Virssuccius made a clicking sound with his mouth, most likely the left – overs of his tongue tapping against his teeth, “Bah! Wax will do no good.” He grumbled for a second and then the black pits lit up with glee, “Do you work in flesh?”
“Yes! Humour me for one moment.” and then he turned toward the door, squinting out beyond it, concentrating on something far away. Robin heard the door of the SUV slam and footsteps come crunching up through the fields.
The driver came in, shook the rain off his hat and said, “Master Virssuccius?”
Virssuccius lifted a sharp finger, “Come here, Darian.”
Robin watched the driver take a few hesitant but loyal steps towards the ancient vampire… her grip on the tool case tightened, “Wait… I don’t work in flesh. I… I only work in wax and resin and sometimes…”
“Be still.” The vampire demanded, casting a malicious glance in her direction. Then he turned back to the driver, wagging his finger, “Come here, Darian. Come closer.”
If the driver knew what was coming, he didn’t show it. With a stalwart face and steady hands he leaned down to the spot where the ancient vampire sat, tilting down his neck so that Virssuccius could reach him. Virssuccius’ bony fingers reached up to the man’s Adam’s – apple and pulled slowly, lovingly. The skin stretched like a wet piece of taffy. Darian didn’t make a sound—maybe because he couldn’t—as a red stream spilled out over the front of his finely – starched suit. The vampire opened his lip – less mouth to catch the spray right before Darian’s knees fell out from underneath him.
Robin closed her eyes. She could hear the thumping of the driver’s boot heels against the floor, shivering in the throes of death. She swallowed a cold lump of fear and then said calmly, “I’m afraid if I am to be witness to casual killing, then I will just have to withdraw my services.”
“Oh, relax. You routinely work for killers—I have a hard time believe that you really have a moral compunction about it.” Virssuccius said dryly—and then he began to cough, spit up the blood he’d just sucked down.
The blood spattered over the floor, “Hell.” He sighed, “He was too fresh.” With a limp hand, the vampire began wiping the red from his ash – coloured face.
Robin stared at the driver lying in his own fluids, “You can’t drink mortal blood?”
Virssuccius chuckled, “How perceptive! No, my dear, I cannot drink mortal blood. I can’t even drink the blood of the newly – risen. I suspect that is why Rasmussen sent Darian to drop you off. Fearful old bat.”
Robin nodded. She’d heard of his kind before, only whispered in the shadows between one vampire and another, their version of the bogeyman. The old ones lost the taste for life and began to crave death. They craved the red – black goo that pulsed in other vampires instead of the juicy crimson stuff in moral’s veins. But they were old, and the dammed creatures held no moral compunctions of their own other than respecting those who were old. Virssuccius must have been highly respected.
While all that made her feel a little safer being in the presence of the predator, it didn’t change the fact that she couldn’t help him, “I told you I don’t work in flesh.” She stood up, ready to leave.
Virssuccius glanced up with his eternal grin, “Does it make you squeamish?”
Robin laughed, “I don’t get squeamish, thank you. I just don’t agree with it.”
“Oh! So you have a problem working in flesh, but you don’t have a problem sculpting the faces of evil in return for cash?”
“I have limits.”
“Well, I can respect that…” the vampire nodded, “But we can do this one of two ways;” And suddenly the vampire wasn’t slumped on the floor of the church anymore—he was standing beside her, breathing cold grave – breath down her neck, his fingers wrapped over her shoulder. Robin squealed, startled… and Virssuccius leaned in to whisper in her ear.
“Let me present a bargain.” He said, his voice rumbling with power, “Do not mistake me for a fragile skeleton, dear. I could split you in two, if I like. And the matter that your blood cannot sustain me isn’t enough to guarantee you protection, either. I enjoy the killing, even if it has no use. Killing is fun. So,” he squeezed her, “which would you prefer? Business or death?”
Robin clenched her eyes shut and stilled herself. She would not cry out in terror, she would not give him the satisfaction of whimpering, “What’s your offer?” she said as calmly as she could manage.
Virssuccius slinked away from her, “Oh wonderful!” he said—and then materialized back in his seat again, as if he’d never moved, “What if you never had to make a face for another bloodsucker again? What if you could just move somewhere sunny—say Tijuana, or the Caribbean—and live out the rest of your life without laying a hand on another rotting corpse?”
Robin stared at him, waiting for the catch to come sneaking up behind to bite her. Moving far away would be great. She often had dreams about it, living somewhere where the sun never set and not having to touch an animated, malevolent dead body ever again. Once or twice she’d gotten it in her head to escape, run away… but they’d heard her thoughts. They found her when she ran. She was just too valuable to let go, because she gave beauty to those hideous creatures who valued beauty over almost everything else.
Robin gave a shuddering sigh, and told him, “That would be nice…”
“Well I can give it to you.”
“For what?” Robin squinted suspiciously at him, “What do I have to do?”
Virssuccius shrugged, “All I’m asking for is a costume. A costume… and your life.”
Robin took a step back, “What happened to the option of not killing?”
The vampire chuckled, “Oh, no. That’s not what I meant. I meant I want to take over your life, become you, move in the circles you do. I want to be you.”
“Why the hell would you want that?”
“You have a reputation, dear girl, whether or not you realize it. You a favoured pet of many vampiric circles… they know you. And—silly as it may sound—they trust you.”
Suddenly a picture was forming in her mind. Robin, the beautician of the dead, being asked into the tomb of an old bloodsucker so that she could make them new and pretty again… but instead of giving them a new face, she opened up her fangs to take a bite.
“You want to infiltrate them.” Robin said, almost to herself, “You’re hungry, and in this form, they won’t let you near them.”
“You are perceptive.”
Robin scowled, “But it will only work once or twice before they catch on, won’t it?”
“Ah, that is why I have taken some time to learn your trade,” Virssuccius raised a finger, “With a few more pointers from you, I will be able to make the dead new again as well. They won’t know if they’re going to be getting a new face or meeting their final end. They’ll think it exciting, I’m sure.”
“If you can do it, then why do you want me?” Robin asked, “Why can’t you make yourself look like me?”
“It’s not that simple. My skills are not as wondrous as yours… and besides. The face the artist knows best is the face of the artist themselves, or so I’ve heard. You would be the best person to fabricate a clone of yourself. Think of it as a self-portrait.”
Robin sat down, picking up the goblet of rum again to swig down another gulp. She could do this, and be free… but what if she didn’t do it well enough? The face she knew best wasn’t her own, like Virssuccius thought… it was Alicia’s.
But then, she didn’t really have a choice, Robin finally realized. She refused, she died. She failed, she died. But if she succeeded…
“Fine.” She said, reaching for her tool case, “It’s a deal.”
Virssuccius grinned, “Wonderful!”
And then Robin went to work.
Skinning Darian the driver wasn’t as hard as Robin had thought it would be; it was just like the taxidermy class she’d taken in school for extra hours. Like taking a shot rabbit and making it into a pair of gloves. Only the glove wasn’t just for the hands.
First, she stripped him, tossing the starched suit off into an already trashed corner of the church. (She found the keys to the SUV and instinctively pocketed them… just in case she got the nerve to run or realized that Virssuccius was lying to her in some way about their bargain.) Then, she took her scalpel out of her tool case and made an incision along his belly first, and then his back. The wounds barely pooled up with blood, given that most of it was already on the floor. His chest and back would be the best parts to use—as she slowly peeled them off, they came with a sound that was something like wet leather getting crinkled up and ripped. Robin found that Darian’s skin came off easily, without any major tears or blemishes. When she was done, she hung up the sheets of flesh on the walls to dry a little, so that they would be closer to the consistency of the rubber she commonly used.
The smell of Darian’s insides exposed didn’t bother her as much as she’d thought it would, either. It was sweet, with a coppery undertone to it, like meat set to marinade in honey.
Virssuccius insisted on laying out on the old altar for Robin—he giggled once or twice that he enjoyed the sacrilege of the whole thing. After Darian’s flesh was gathered, Robin pried the muscles and tendons off of Darian to add padding to Virssuccius’ gaunt frame. It wasn’t anything worse than de – boning a chicken really. It looked like beef, and it came off with slight snapping noises when the silvery fat was split. Robin tried to add a little wax to get some substance along with Darian’s muscle, but the vampire denied her.
She wrapped the flesh around Virssuccius, keeping the seams to the insides of the thighs and the arms, and just under the chin for the face. It would simply look like someone had done extensive plastic surgery on the slowly forming woman—tight in a few places, some stitched parts that would be mistaken for scars. Robin gave Virssuccius breasts from Darian’s chest, using his flabby, pink nipples and filling them with the fatty parts of his buttocks. Thankfully, the vampire allowed Robin to represent the genitalia only cosmetically, being that it wasn’t really that important to him. The small fold was hairless—Robin contemplated using Darian’s lips, but those were needed for Virssuccius’ face later. By the time she’d finished with the Robin – suit, the face almost ready to be sculpted on, Robin was covered in blood and shards of bone and silky stings of tendon and leftover hair.
“I need a mirror.” Robin suggested, “So I can get the face right.”
Virssuccius allowed her outside. The SUV still waited outside in the downpour, between the reeds and weeds of the field around the church. After she’d opened up the driver’s side door, Robin kept the keys in her pocket, toying with them. Toying with the idea of escape. But where could she really go before they found her?
Robin wrenched off the rear – view mirror and took a look at her face. The blood splattered on her was draining down her chin in pink rivulets from the rain. It was an easy face to sculpt; dry, still, and unfeeling. Maybe it was the clouds darkening the sky, or the brief flashes of lightning casting a ghostly glow on her, but, just for one second Robin thought that she saw her eyes as she’d seen Alicia’s. Glossy. Dead.
That Easter Sunday, instead of being in a golden ballroom, celebrating the holiday with the rest of the undead, Robin Martinez stood at the door of the ruined old church, staring at herself.
“Can I have your jacket?” the Other Robin asked, using Robin’s lips and her tongue, but thankfully not her voice. While the face and the body could be changed to be a mirror image, the voice couldn’t. Robin was glad that she had something to tell them apart with, otherwise she may forget which one she was – the first, or the imposter.
Robin shrugged and took off her coat, handing it to her reflection. The Other Robin shivered and gratefully put it on. Through the open door, the rainstorm beat on un-ceaselessly, pelting the two women with stray bullets of hard water.
“Thank you.” The Other Robin said, “These old bones really suck in the chill, don’t they?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Oh, you will someday, dear. Don’t worry.” Under the smile, the Other Robin’s teeth were gleaming and pointy.
The car would be there soon. Robin wasn’t sure if she should hide so the deception wouldn’t be given away… but, then how was she going to get home? But then she couldn’t even go home now that there was someone else taking her place.
The Other Robin nodded, as if listening to her thoughts, “You’ll be well taken care of, dear. You don’t have to have any fear of that.”
“Are you going to Madrina Dominique’s gala?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
Robin nodded, “Then I suggest you stop by my place and pick up a dress. I have one that I wore last year… a red velvet thing, with a lace jacket…”
“High-collared?” Virssuccius grinned using Robin’s mouth, “Sounds perfect.”
A crack of thunder echoed above their heads. It had taken Robin almost a day to construct what she now thought of her masterpiece, her greatest work… but there hadn’t been much she could do about Virssuccius’ eyes. They were still completely black, empty, gleaming with evil. He would have to wear sunglasses. But then, maybe that was what she looked like now. Maybe her eyes were empty and gleaming.
Robin almost retrieved the mirror again. But she didn’t really want to see. All her suspicions that her customers were one day going to turn her into a dammed creature had finally come true. Robin couldn’t feel bad about it. After all, Virssuccius was her self-portrait. She couldn’t have left it unfinished.
(c) Lorna Dickson, All Rights Reserved.Featured image by James Coleman on Unsplash