“Look, what’s the matter with you, Alison? Insomnia or what? It’s like talking to a bloody corpse!”
I blinked and looked up. Cassandra’s beautiful black eyes stared back at me, awaiting an answer. Heavy emerald coloured beads hung from her ears, tugging the delicate lobes downwards. Her eyes were lined with the same luscious green and there were green ribbons nestling in her mass of hair, green slippers on her feet and a rich green and scarlet scarf tied around her waist. My own eyes felt weak at this vision of intense colour and they gently shut again. The noise of the canteen faded around me to a gentle murmur of voices, saying ‘go to sleep Alison, go to sleep’. I decided, for once, to obey without argument.
Suddenly a fist fell with fury just in front of me, shaking the table and slopping my coffee over the rim of the cup. I looked at the alien hand in surprise.
“For God’s sake!” Cassandra screamed.
Remembering her question, I quickly gulped down the remainder of my coffee whist I formed an answer in my mind. Satisfying Cassandra was no easy task. She was a well-known expert interrogator.
“I’m tired,” I said feebly. Cassandra stared back, her crimson lips set in a firm, demanding line. She made no movement, it was no good, and I would have to elaborate. “I only got a few hours kip last night.”
Still Cassandra made no movement, her face remaining expressionless. We sat in silence for several moments, and then she said, pouting intriguingly, “Why?”.
“We-ell…” I shifted in my seat and glanced around. The canteen was filling up rapidly as eleven o’clock approached and elevenses beckoned from the biscuit trolley. How could I explain here … now? For I had no doubt that I would tell Cassandra about Thomas, given the right time and the right place. She was my best friend after all. I wanted her to know but meanwhile she waited. I shifted again and smirked. “I … I had a visitor you see. Last night.”
Cassandra’s right eyebrow shot up, interested but her pout remained.
“Oh yes, who?”
“And the night before,” I added.
“Who?” Cassandra grabbed my arm with the hand that lay across the table, curled up like a sleeping lion. “Alison, who?”
I shrugged and sighed. How could I explain this? I tried to sound casual. “We saw him in the pub the other night. Doctor Death.” I grinned uneasily and Cassandra nodded.
“His real name is Thomas. He’s going to live with me.”
I couldn’t think of any more arbitrary information to give her. I had to tell her the most important thing. I know you read and hear that people wake up and the night before all seems like a dream … they doubt the truth of what they were told last night … but I didn’t feel like that. I accepted Thomas at his word; he was definitely a vampire all right.
“Is he really so passionate that he keeps you awake all night?” Cassandra asked scathingly.
I was shocked. I glanced around afraid that the Powers that Be in the vampire world had heard and would intervene unpleasantly in some way. Surely a comment like that would be seen as … sacrilegious to say the least. “Cassandra, I don’t sleep with him,” I told her, worriedly and keeping my voice low and hoping that she would do the same. God knows, I didn’t want to offend any one of that select breed, the Living Dead.
Cassandra shrieked with laughter, throwing her head back so that the sound issued from her mouth in a graceful arc, like Thomas’s black cloak, spread like wings. I shut my eyes tightly; I could see him standing there, now a man, now a bat.
“Well, what the Hell do you do, then?” Cassandra giggled, mopping her eyes. I leant towards her, glancing quickly around.
“Cassandra, listen… he’s a vampire.”
My friend fell suddenly silent.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but I saw him change into a bat and back again with my very own eyes. That’s why he’s only awake at night, he sleeps in the day, in a coffin.”
Cassandra began to giggle again. She listened to me drone on, silent, staring at me blankly. Then I caught it, the glint of concern in her eyes, mixed with disbelieve. I sighed. I knew how Thomas must have felt now.
“You don’t believe me, do you? But you must! You must meet him! He’ll tell you it’s true.”
Cassandra began to giggle again.
“He sounds a right nutter to me.”
“No! He’s a vampire! He really is!”
“And you’re a head case to believe him.”
“But, it’s true.”
“It’s not true.” Her giggles had stopped now and she assumed her manner of a mother admonishing a naughty child. “A vampire, Alison, really!” She shook her head impatiently. “Look you’re tired, no wonder you’re imagining things.” She stood up, rubbing creases out of her skirt. Holding out her hand to me, she said “Come on, let’s go back to the lesson. Jane and Joseph went ages ago.”
I took the hand offered to me wordlessly, it was no use arguing, I knew Cassandra. Like the Pope, she was infallible. Like me, she would not accept Thomas’s claim without proof.
One-thirty found me wandering along the corridor outside the canteen. I had already had my dinner and was rather at a loss for what to do. Cassandra was in the library finishing that English Literature essay which we were meant to hand in yesterday. I thought it best not to interrupt her work again, so I was staying well away. Joseph was on a Geography hike across the Pennines and Jane had gone home early. I paced back and forth. I wished that Thomas were there to talk to, he would understand how bored and frustrated I was. He would prove his identity to Cassandra by… by… drawing her to him and gently sinking his fangs into her beautiful white throat… and she would gasp; “Alright Alison, it was true… I believe you…” and I would stand there, my arms folded, holding my power like an incandescent laser-beam over his head.
Just then, I noticed Mr. Henry approaching in the distance. As I watched, he walked into the wall, stood back and apologised. I tittered. He was obviously missing his glasses profoundly. As he drew nearer, I dived through the door nearest me, not wishing to be seen by him.
The door swung shut as I cannoned into a screen standing stupidly just inside the door, which fell over with a hollow crash. I sprawled on top of it, praying that there wasn’t a beauty show or photographic exhibition going on. I lay still, listening. Silence. There was nobody there. Thankfully, I clambered off the screen and read the words scrawled hurriedly on it.
‘Blood Donor Session. Gone for Lunch.”
I stared at the words blankly, and then slowly a grin spread across my face like a malignant cancer. ‘A rare treat’… I righted the screen and rubbed my hands in glee. ‘A rare treat indeed!’
There was a row of chairs in the centre of the hall. I tried to imagine approaching one with the intention of having a needle driven into my arm and blood sucked out. I shuddered. I would feel like someone going on Mastermind or trudging towards the electric chair like Jimmy Cagney… I decided I would rather let Thomas bite me, if I had the choice. At least it would be a little more… erotic. I smiled to myself as I picked up several test tubes from the table and studied them, absently. I tried to imagine Thomas’ face when he saw what I had brought home. ‘A rare treat’… indeed! Then my eye fell on what appeared to be an icebox under the table. I knelt down and opened it. The temperature overwhelmed me… it brought Thomas into the room, into the hall, beside me… touching me… like ice, like ice… I grinned as I saw the bags of blood stacked neatly inside the icebox. I began to pick them up quickly and stuff them inside my jacket. I could always pretend that I was pregnant if anyone asked. Pausing, I wondered if it mattered to Thomas what type of blood he drank; well I decided, I’ll let him choose. I left several bags in the box to make the theft appear less obvious. I stood up, just in time to hear the hall door swing open.
For a moment I stood there frozen, panic draining my limbs and clutching my brain in a vice-like grip. That moment of hesitation proved fatal. The two nurses caught up with me as I began to hurry out of sight, behind the screens; I knew then, that my guilt would be recognised within minutes. The nurses were like Laurel and Hardy. The large one possessed a fierce expression and loud voice, with which she now stopped me in my tracks.
“You! What do you think you’re doing?”
I turned and grinned sheepishly, my mind a blank. All I was aware of were the bags of blood forming a lumpy mass inside my jacket. The thin nurse smiled quickly back. She was obviously beneath the bigger nurse both in status and stature.
“Well? I’m waiting,” the big nurse informed me, folding her arms and stepping towards me.
“Did you want to give blood?” asked her partner kindly.
I shook my head numbly.
“No… I just… wondered…”
“What’s that in your jacket?” demanded the large nurse, stepping forward and ripping open my jacket in a quick movement. I watched the crimson bags fall to the floor in a shower around my feet. The thin nurse stared, horrified. Her friend gripped my arm and pulled it.
“You’d better come with me, Miss.”
I stared at her, uncomprehending. Then I did what anyone would do in that situation. I fainted. At least, I pretended to faint. But as I lay there, my cheek touching the cool brown tiles, I remembered that the two people with me were nurses; they would probably realise the fact that my faint was manufactured. Quickly I blinked, opened my eyes and sat up groggily.
“Sorry,” I mumbled and the thin nurse put her arm round me sympathetically. Her ogre of a partner however, stood there frowning at me suspiciously.
“Better take her to the nurse’s room,” she barked and the thin nurse jumped up, urging me to do the same. She led me out of the hall. I managed to stagger once or twice but I don’t think her friend was convinced. She watched me go with beady, suspicious eyes, wondering why anyone would want to steal a lot of blood that would obviously be of no use to anyone.
The nurses’ room reminded me of the inside of a fridge. Not that it was cold; no, indeed it was so hot and stuffy that my head began to feel like it was stuffed with hamster bedding after a while. But racks lined the walls, filled with first aid equipment, bottles, cotton wool, tubes of cream, bandages, plasters, test tubes … there were even three racks of magazines beside me. I thought this rather strange, as I had only ever known the nurse to dish out aspirins or occasionally to stick a plaster on somebody’s finger or toe. Perhaps this room was all show, just to make the patient feel secure. I glanced nervously at the door; I didn’t feel secure at all. I shifted on the hard, white bed and squeezed my hands together, trying to formulate an explanation for the eccentric behaviour in my mind.
The door opened and the college nurse entered. She was an old, plump, friendly soul, given to matchmaking something terrible. She smiled cheerily as she squeezed past some racks positioned awkwardly just inside the door. I smiled feebly back. I was glad that the blood nurses weren’t there to stand and glare disbelievingly at me. The nurse settled her bulk into a chair beside the bed and took a thermometer from a rack behind her.
“It’s Alison, isn’t it?”
Without waiting for an answer, she stuck the thermometer into my mouth.
“You’re a friend of Cassandra’s, aren’t you?” I nodded as she grasped my wrist and took my pulse. “Lovely girl, so pretty. Don’t you think?”
I nodded again, wondering what Cassandra would say if she were here. “I’ll tell you what, lots of men are after her, I know it. But there is someone she’s got her eye on. Anyone can see it.”
I pricked my ears up. I couldn’t see it… or else I just hadn’t seen it.
“You know who it is? Pulse normal,” the nurse told me, dropping my wrist. “It’s that Barry Maguire who does drama with her.”
I choked and the nurse removed the thermometer quickly. Cassandra had always claimed that she hated Barry Maguire. A prudish lump of overcooked bacon, she called him.
“Temperature normal,” said the nurse, returning the thermometer to its allocated rack behind her. She frowned, “Well now, what’ve you been up to Alison? What caused you to faint?”
I thought quickly, I could probably manage to bluff my way through this.
“I’m tired,” I said, smiling bravely. “I can’t think straight.”
The nurse nodded, pleased.
“Can’t sleep, eh? Got something on your mind, have you? Boyfriend trouble?”
I shook my head, stifling a smirk. If only she knew!
“Have you been to see your doctor?” she asked, crossing her legs. “Given you some pills, has he?”
I shook my head again. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen my doctor. I wasn’t even sure if I had one.
“No, not yet,” I sighed miserably, “but I will if this goes on.”
“Good girl.” The nurse stood up. “You’d better go home now. Try and get some sleep, that’s what you need. Want some aspirin?”
I climbed off the bed, shaking my head for the third time. What would I want an aspirin for?
“Thanks anyway,” I said, my hand on the doorknob. I was beginning to feel desperate for a blast of fresh air. “Tarah then.”
“Come back if you need anything and you mark my words, it won’t be long ‘til Cassandra and that Barry Maguire get together. You’ll see.”
I left her tidying the already spotless racks, humming I only have eyes for you under her breath. I grinned to myself as I stepped out of the room, closing my eyes as the cold air whistled around my ears. Oh, for a life of sensations rather than thoughts.
“Just a half please, Mrs. O’Rourke,” I said as an afterthought. Mrs. O’Rourke raised one immaculately lined eyebrow and said nothing. I gazed admiringly at her blue and yellow satin backless dress but soon began to feel dizzy with fatigue. This feeling of exhaustion seemed quite a normal state to be in now; I had grown accustomed to it. It only really affected me when I tried to concentrate on something. And, of course, those forty winks I had stolen this afternoon when I had been sent home from college had refreshed me – for a few hours, anyway. I was beginning to feel tired again now. Just time for a quick chat with Joseph and Cassandra and then home to bed I decided. I took my half pint and headed towards my friend’s customary corner table.
“How was the Pennines?” I asked Joseph, sitting next to him.
Cassandra, I noticed, was watching me rather suspiciously. However, my mind was too weary to try and work out reasons and motives. I ignored her.
“Wet,” replied Joseph mildly. He smiled gently and drained his Guinness. A silver swordfish gleamed in his ear and I tried, without success, to imagine him stomping through teeming rain and force eight gales, across muddy fields with a heavy rucksack on his back and huge boots with nails in the bottom on his feet. Joseph was far too gentle and sensitive a creature to survive geography field trips such as that one. Yet he faced each challenge without complaint or surprise and came out unscathed. I admired his composure.
“And how was your day?” he asked me. I saw Cassandra’s eyes light up.
“Oh, okay” I said quickly before she could interrupt. I prayed that she wouldn’t have heard any of the rumours about me trying to steal blood, that I knew would be flying around like spaghetti. I doubted if I could bluff my way out of any confrontation with her.
“The usual,” I continued desperately, my hands beginning to tremble. I knew that Cassandra was going to say something… that gleam in her eyes… the way she drummed her fingers on the tabletop…
“That’s not what I heard,” she began. I sighed and stared miserably at my boots. “I heard something quite different, some story about you trying to rob blood from the donor nurses and then fainting. And spilling all the blood on the floor.”
“What bullshit,” I retorted, “I never spilt any.”
I glanced at Joseph. He was staring at his hands which he had laid palms upward on the table. Cassandra was watching him carefully as well, perhaps expecting some sort of a reaction from him. I hoped he would pretend not to have heard her and it would all be over but slowly he raised his eyes to her.
“Blood?” he repeated.
Cassandra nodded and grinned. I don’t think she realised what agony she was putting me through, or maybe she did. Perhaps she was getting me back for her unfinished English Literature essay.
“Who told you that?” I asked hoping that I sounded scathing.
Cassandra shrugged. “No one in particular, it’s all over the place, people saw you.”
“Like Hell,” I was getting hassled and angry. “They’re all lying.”
In desperation, feeling on the very brink of an abyss, I tried to change the subject. “Anyway, I’ve been hearing some things about you as well.”
Cassandra paused, haughty but curious.
“Yes, you and Barry Maguire.”
“Barry Maguire?” Cassandra laughed loud and long while I fidgeted nervously and looked around. This wasn’t going to work. “Who told you that?”
I swallowed as I realised that I had put myself well and truly into a corner. All gossip like that was known to emanate from only one person.
“No one.” Said Cassandra.
She stared at me and narrowed her eyes. Even Joseph was watching me carefully now. I felt myself blush slowly redder and redder.
“It was the nurse, wasn’t it?” she said. “The College nurse, so the story is true, you really did faint.”
“I didn’t,” I argued weakly. I felt attacked from all sides now.
“Why, what’s wrong?” asked Joseph gently.
I could feel tears of self-pity pricking my eyes as three sleepless nights washed over me. Quickly I stood up and drained my glass. Mumbling incoherently that I was going, I dashed out without giving even Mrs. O’Rourke a goodbye wave. Joseph and Cassandra stared blankly after me.
* * *
I feel a twinge of embarrassment as I remember how I raced home from the pub that night and threw myself onto the couch in the back room, sobbing uncontrollably. I felt so isolated, the only person who knew, surrounded by a sea of laughing and jeering faces, uncomprehending, not wanting to listen or believe or just be kind. That old feeling of timelessness, of rootlessness, cascaded over me as I lay there, and I imagined myself as a fated Byronic exile, the archetypal outcast from society, the Shelleyan misunderstood genius. My life was obviously in the hands of Fate; I didn’t belong, and therefore I would not be treated kindly. I felt powerless… it was all so unfair. Where was justice now?
I continued to lay on the couch, motionless, until my sobs had abated completely. Simply lying there and listening to the silence of the night surround me, seemed to cure my many ills – temporarily.
When I finally broke my trance and sat up, I was somewhat startled to see Thomas sitting just across the room from me. He was staring out of the window, his hands folded neatly upon his lap, no expression on his face. As I moved, those sorrowful, tragic eyes wandered over to my red and blotchy face and rested there, saying nothing. We shared the silence for a while. The ticking of the clock became ominously loud. Finally, Thomas spoke softly.
“You left the front door open.”
Another pause. Then, “I’ve shut it now,” he told me, smiling. He stood up, stretching his limbs slowly and deliberately as he did so. Then, with a swirl of nocturnal cloak, he left the room.
Fear gripped me at first. Then I heard him making a cup of tea in the kitchen, humming a tune that I could not quite recognise, to himself. I lay very still, not thinking, closing my eyes and letting the gentle sounds drift over me, a peaceful feathery eiderdown of nothingness. I wondered if this was what being Undead was like; I wouldn’t mind an eternity of this. I drifted through the Universe, my mind catching on nothing but sensations…when Thomas returned with my Rich Tea mug. I couldn’t even begin to tell him what was wrong. But he was a very sensitive and patient vampire; six hundred odd years of forced living had made him so. He waited as I got up and paced around the room a few times, opening the window and blowing my nose loudly on some tissues I had found on the windowsill. Finally I sat down and told my friend my troubles. Cassandra’s reaction to my telling her about Thomas… the blood… the scene with my friends in the pub. I didn’t mention my exhaustion. I thought that Thomas may take that as a hint and leave forever, or at least get very offended. Thomas listened to my tales of woe. He said nothing, not even touching me. There was a long silence afterwards. Then there was an insistent knocking at the door.
I hesitated; I thought that Thomas may want to say something to me of a comforting or consoling nature. But he just sat there, his hands clasped together, his shoulders hunched like a giant crow, his eyes fixed on the twirly patterns in the carpet. I walked wearily to the door and opened it.
It was Cassandra and Joseph. The vivid green of Cassandra’s ribbons and ear rings in the gloom faded to a dirty black colour. The silver swordfish gleamed in Joseph’s ear as he turned to face me.
“Hope we didn’t disturb you,” he said, “it is late.”
I felt dazed and confused, as if there was something of vital import that I had to try to remember to tell my friends, and I had forgotten it. I shook my head and tried to link words in my mind to form a coherent sentence.
“What… time is it?” I stammered.
“Ten past twelve.” Cassandra stepped into the hallway and enveloped me in a warm, motherly hug. Now that the electric light shone on her, she was a mass of bright, luscious reds and greens, rich and vibrant. When she stood back I saw that even her gloves were deep, blood-red. Grimacing, I thought of those bags of blood….”We were worried about you,” Cassandra told me, again, a mother rebuking a small child. “Running off like that. We didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m alright.” I hoped that they didn’t notice my red eyes or runny nose. I watched Joseph follow Cassandra into the hallway and gently shut the front door behind him. Suddenly I remembered Thomas. I was seized with a wild excitement. Now was my chance to prove to Cassandra that I had been telling the truth that morning. My friend really was a vampire. I tried to imagine her face when Thomas turned into a bat before her eyes. I grabbed her arm.
“Oh, Cassandra, you can meet Thomas! He’s here now. Come and meet him. And then maybe you’ll believe me… he is, really, a vampire.”
I couldn’t miss the worried look that passed between Joseph and Cassandra. Obviously, she had told him all about my wild claims that Thomas was one of the Living Dead. Clearly Joseph didn’t believe any of it, either. But it didn’t matter, now. I would show them! Tugging at Cassandra’s arm, I dragged her into the back room. Joseph followed.
The room was empty. I ran to the open window and scanned the sky. There was no sign of a bat flapping slowly into the distance, but I knew that that was how Thomas would have made his getaway. I restrained an urge to scream, “Thomas! Come back, you bastard!” into the night air with immense effort. Why had he done this? I gripped the windowsill and sighed furiously. It was as if he had read my mind!
“Well, where is he?” asked Cassandra gently, behind me. From the way that she touched my shoulder I knew that she thought that I was ill. Perhaps I was. But I knew what I had seen and what I hadn’t.
“He was here… he was,” I muttered fiercely “he’s gone… he’s flown away, through the window.”
It was too painful to look up, to confront the two pairs of concerned and sympathetic eyes, to see the disbelief that faced me from my two closest friends. Until they saw him, Thomas existed as a vampire only in my own mind. To them, I was suffering from nervous exhaustion, hallucinations, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, my imagination taking over my mind. I could not bear to even find out what they thought I could be suffering from. It was just too painful.
“If you wouldn’t mind going now… I’m a bit tired.”
Silently, Joseph and Cassandra left, leaving me standing alone by the window. My misery was bountiful that night, why had Thomas treated me in this way? It appeared to me, to be a deliberate trick… to ruin my credibility. Now even my own friends believed me insane. Shelley seemed a very real figure to me now. After a while I left the window and sat down on the couch. I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, but I was waiting for Thomas. I hoped that he would return quickly now the damage was done. My anger died inside me like a balloon going down.
Something fluttered and banged against the window. I sat up quickly, wide-awake now. Sure enough, a black shape hurtled through the window and before it hit the carpet, Thomas was standing there, his cloak spread like wings, his arms outstretched. In that moment, he reminded me of Jesus pinned to the crucifix. I was suddenly aware of a different power in the room… a greater power… a power of the night, the nocturnal. I stood up.
“Where did you go?” I asked. “Cassandra and Joseph really do think I’m mad now.”
“Sorry,” he said quietly, going to the window and closing it.
I noticed that his dark hair fell over his eyes as if it had been blown by the wind, which of course, it had.
“I don’t want to meet them yet.” He turned back to me, his gaze piercing and yet it seemed to drift towards me, rather than cut into me. “I’ve been… moving my coffin, I’m going to put it in that shed.” He pointed to the tiny shed in the garden that was filled with tools and general junk.
“You’ll have to clear it out a bit first.”
“I know,” he seemed preoccupied, shrugging his cloak tighter around his shoulders. “Well, I’m off then.”
Thomas paused before he crossed the room
“It’s… in Wythenshawe Park at the moment.”
I gasped. “Your coffin?”
“Yes, I’ll… go out the front door.”
“But how can you do it?” I began to panic, imagining Thomas stuck in a police cell somewhere, in broad daylight. “It’s much too heavy! Someone will see you!”
Thomas obviously wanted to leave, he smiled warily.
“I’ll be careful.” He glanced at the clock. “It’s gone two, I don’t think many people will be around.”
I took a step towards him and stopped.
“Can I come? I’ll help you carry it.”
Thomas looked at me, reaching out a white hand. I waited for the icy touch on my cheek, but it didn’t come. He dropped his hand limply to his side.
“No, I’ll manage. I’m very strong… Er haven’t you read Nosferatu?”I watched him pause on the doorstep, raise his arms and flap away, a bat once more. If only Cassandra could see him now. I gazed after him and nodded. Yes, I remembered that bit in Nosferatu, Count Dracula carried all his own coffins. I had a sudden urge to read the book again. As usual, I wasn’t a bit tired now. I climbed the stairs slowly, reminding myself to leave a bedroom window open for Thomas when he returned.
Now go to Chapter Four.