I awoke two hours later with back and neck ache. I rose stiffly,
cursing and feeling exceedingly irritable. I paced around the room a few times attempting to clear my head, then I looked at the timetable that was hung on the wall and discovered that I had an English lecture at nine. Going back to bed was out of the question now, and I had to put up with Mr. Henry and his snide remarks for two more hours! My bad humour raged through me like a team of locusts on their path of destruction. I tripped over Bosworth on the way out to the kitchen and lay on the floor for quite a while, trying to abate my temper. However, Bosworth soon became curious and started walking over my back. With a loud scream I leapt up, causing the cat to fly across the room as if thrown. He landed with a crash against the far wall. Bosworth ran off, unhurt but an exceptionally ugly pink and blue vase, which was balanced on the picture-rail, tottered and smashed onto the floor. I stared at the fragments dully; it was probably one of the few ornaments that were worth any money in this house.
I went on to spill cornflakes all over the kitchen floor as I grumpily made breakfast. I couldn’t face clearing either them or the broken vase up; maybe tonight my mood would improve. I left the house, kicking the fragments of pottery out of the way.
Riding my bike along Park Road with the wind blowing through my angry brain, I felt better. I thought of Thomas, the whole incident seemed like a dream now. I had no proof that it had actually happened really, except for the throbbing in my head that told me that I had not slept last night. I wished that I had kept Thomas’s cloak and that I was wearing it now; I would have no trouble dealing with Mr. Henry then. I could not lose, wearing that cloak. What would Thomas be doing now? Probably serving bacon butties and mugs of tea to long-distance lorry drivers I thought, wheeling my bike into the shed and tying a lock round it securely.
When I arrived at my English Literature class, my bad humour returned in a rush. Mr. Henry sat behind his desk, squinting at some papers in front of him. As I passed, he looked up and glowered darkly at me, though how he knew it was me I couldn’t tell. He couldn’t possibly recognise me without his glasses, which were obviously at the menders.
I sat down next to Cassandra, sighing. She was scribbling something on a piece of paper in a great hurry and seemed not to notice me. I dropped my books on the desk with a crash; I wanted Cassandra to look up and acknowledge my presence but she didn’t and continued to write at great speed. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked her what she was doing. She didn’t answer; in fact she didn’t even pause or show any sign of hearing my question, my temper rose.
“Now look,” I said irritably, “I’m getting a bit sick of your childish games. I’m warning you, you’d better not be playing the old ‘ignore Alison’ ploy, just tell me what you are doing.”
This time Cassandra looked up, icily. We stared at each other wordlessly for a while. Then she said,
“I’m trying to get this essay finished for,” she consulted her black and green ornate wristwatch, “precisely nine o’clock.”
She paused dramatically, her voice quiet and controlled. You could tell she took drama lessons.
“And as it is now eight fifty eight, I have just two minutes in which to complete it. So Alison, if you’ll just shut up and stop these childish interruptions, I might be able to get on.”
She turned back to her essay. I stared furiously.
“Forgive me for interrupting again then,” I said, having trouble keeping myself from shouting, “but haven’t you noticed Mr. Henry has no glasses? You may recall that I crushed them yesterday, which means that he can’t do any marking. Which means, what are you getting so worried about? He can’t even see your bloody essay, never mind mark it.”
If I had hoped that Cassandra would be relieved, or grateful to me for pointing this out, I was wrong. Her mouth set into a thin line and she slammed her pen down in anger. Luckily I was saved from more verbal abuse by Mr. Henry, who stood up and stumbled to the front of the class blindly calling weakly for silence.
“I’ve an announcement to make concerning work this week,” he called. There was silence instantly; it seemed I was not the only one who expected Mr. Henry to postpone all classes while his glasses were at the menders. The entire class waited with bated breath.
“My spectacles are now at the opticians being repaired following that unfortunate incident yesterday concerning myself and … a certain member of the class.”
There were several cheers and Nigel the punk, clapped me on the back crying, “Nice one, Al.”
But Mr. Henry had not finished. Raising his hand, he continued
“I’m afraid this means bad news for you lot. As I can’t read ‘Hamlet’, which we were in the middle of discussing, or prepare notes on it, you’ll have to do it yourself. This means finishing reading the play, writing notes on all the characters and major incidents in it in preparation for some essays which I will set later this week.”
Mr. Henry’s voice was drowned by boos and shouts of protest from around the room. I felt a cold shiver go through me, so this was his way of retaliating. He raised his voice higher, until it became a squeak, above the noise.
“I’m sorry it has to be like this, if my glasses were still intact we wouldn’t have to do all this written work. You only have a certain person to blame.”
There was no mistaking the satisfaction in his voice. I stood up angrily but what could I do? Everyone was against me now; I seethed silently and sat down, putting my head in my hands. What underhand and cowardly tactics; I could not bear to look up, for I knew that Mr. Henry would be gloating at his desk, smirking quietly and congratulating himself on his successful retaliation.
“And don’t think that you needn’t do the essays, as I won’t be able to mark them,” he added smoothly, not bothering to keep the blatant triumph out of his voice, “because Mrs. Johnson has kindly said that she’ll do the marking. That includes last week’s essay … will you pass them to the front please.”
I sneaked a look at Cassandra, fury and horror dripped from her like sweat. Her appearance as a model pupil was very important to her. I remembered her saying, ‘if you keep the small rules then you can break the big ones’. I had often wondered about this; and, to her, handing in essays on time was one of the ‘small rules’ you ought never to break. However, this time it was going to be broken; and I was the one to blame. I could feel everyone’s anger and resentment turned towards me. I wondered sadly about the consequences of my impulsive act of fury yesterday, as usual, I was going to regret it. It all seemed so unfair; I had only been defending Chatterton, after all. I longed to pour out the story of my unjust punishment to Thomas, I was sure that he would sympathise.
Meanwhile, a bitter silence enveloped the room. Cassandra turned carefully, away from me. Mr. Henry sat behind his desk, rubbing his hands together in glee. I sank my head into my arms, which lay across the desk, and I wished that, like Chatterton, I could fall into a slumber that I would never awaken from.
“You’d better watch yourself, Alison. “I’m going to get you for this,”
growled Nigel the punk, advancing upon me threateningly. I looked round, panic stricken. We stood in a blood red field of poppies, the flowers smothering the ground in a thick, dense carpet. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Cassandra sitting near the fence painting, an easel before her. She wore a straw hat and flimsy cotton frock like in the ‘Flake’ adverts on telly. Her eyes were thickly misted with romance and she would not focus upon me.
“Cassandra!” I screamed, “Help.”
I saw her stand up, absently putting her things away. Her eyes roamed her painting dreamily as she picked it up. Then, tucking it under arm she strode past me without a word. I was beside myself, Nigel’s hands closed around my throat and squeezed.
“Cassandra!” I choked desperately.
She turned casually, her mercurial eyes drifting among the clouds and called over her shoulder.
“It serves you right. You deserve all you get.”
And, swishing her gauze dress lazily as she walked, she was gone. Nigel continued to kneel on my stomach and choke me, his face contorted with rage, his voice crazed with anger.
“Three essays! Three bloody essays!”
A movement caught my eye behind Nigel and there stood Mr. Henry, laughing evilly. His glasses were perched precariously on his nose, held together with bits of Sellotape, completely without lenses. I watched him stride forwards through the poppies, crushing them mercilessly beneath his feet. He stood before me, holding a box of matches out between his forefinger and thumb; with deliberation he struck a match, and bending down, set fire to my beloved Dr. Martens, which were on my feet at the time. I tried to kick the flames out but it was no good, I was struggling for breath. The smell of burning leather and wool (my socks) grew stronger as I heard a strange rattling sound coming from my throat, I was almost dead now. Tiny orange flames leapt around my ankles like Dante’s Hell, Mr Henry danced around, laughing.
“Set her alight! Kill her, Nigel!”
I screamed so loudly that I woke myself up, I gazed round the room, bewildered and down at my feet. My Doc Marten’s were still on them, intact and without burns or blisters. The television still chattered away to itself in the corner; the window was open, although the night was cold and dark now and I got up and shut it. Leaning against the sill, I thought back over my dream. It certainly showed how guilty I was feeling; anyway, I hoped that Mr. Henry felt satisfied now. Freud would certainly have had quite a few things to say on the subject of my repressed psychosis.
The clock on the shelf showed half past eleven; yawning, I decided to go to bed. I rubbed my neck, vowing to stop all this sleeping in chairs; it was probably that which made me so bad tempered. As I turned to go, I heard a gentle tapping at the front door, I hesitated, wondering whether to answer it. It could be Nigel the punk, or Cassandra coming to beat me up and leave me for dead in the hallway. On the other hand … it could be Joseph, come to offer me some comfort … or even Mr. Henry wanting to apologise for his cowardly behaviour. I strode to the door and opened it a little way.
“Alison? Can I come in?”
I stepped back to let the dark figure enter, he seemed to bring a piece of the night with him. He looked taller than last night, menacing.
“I forgot all about you coming,” I admitted.
Thomas smiled as if he had expected me to forget. I still can’t believe how I let someone like Thomas slip so easily through my memory. I put it all down to fatigue, though my tiredness had disappeared completely now, falling away from me like a shroud I had constructed around me. I led Thomas into the back room and went to make some tea. I could hear him walking around the room, looking at things, examining pictures. I hoped that he wouldn’t notice those horrendous pseudo-French statuettes on the picture-rail.
“I hope I didn’t wake you up,” he said when I returned.
His accent seemed more pronounced tonight; almost German I thought to myself as I handed him his tea.
“I was just going to bed,” I explained. “I’ve had a bit of a … rough day.”
He seated himself on the edge of a chair, carefully spreading his cloak behind him so that it would not get creased. He looked at me seriously, expectantly.
“Well, it was just this teacher, Mr. Henry. He thinks that Chatterton killed himself because of guilt and insists that I should believe it too.”
I found myself telling Thomas the entire story; how he had turned the rest of the class against me, how guilty I felt … even about my dream. As I had expected, he was full of sympathy and indignation.
“It’s a terrible story that’s been spread around, that Chatterton was a cheat and a fraud,” he said, shaking his head sadly, “and people believe it as a ‘fact’. Poor boy, no wonder he took his life.”
“No wonder,” I echoed. I drained my mug of tea and walking over to the window, looked out. It was too cloudy to see the moon but quite dry and still. “Are you working again tomorrow?” I asked, without turning.
“It must be tiring. When do you finish?”
“About … about … in the afternoon. Different times.”
“Why don’t you come round after, then?”
“I … can’t.”
I turned, hearing the hesitation in his voice. He looked away, getting up quickly.
“I can’t I have to go home.”
For the first time, suspicions and unanswered questions began to rise like monsters out of the gloom in my mind. Who exactly was the strange foreign gentleman who came to see me each night and only at night? I determined to find out.
“Where do you live, anyway?” I asked.
Thomas stood with his back to me, his shoulders hunched, like a vulture. He made no answer. I approached him and gently touched him on the shoulder.
“Thomas?” I said softly. He shook his head, resting it against the wall. It was as if the weight of that skull was just too heavy for him to bear.
“I don’t,” he whispered.
I was confused. “You don’t live in a house?”
He turned to face me, then that air of melancholy seemed to overwhelm and almost smother him.
“No,” he told me gently, “I don’t live.”
I stared; his face was lovely in its sadness, whiter than I had ever seen it before, thinner and emptier. The sadness fell out from his eyes and vanished into the carpet as if it had never really existed. He blinked slowly and smiled at my expression. Again, the unnatural gleam of his teeth struck me. Gently, he reached out a cold, white hand and stroked my cheek. His touch was web-like, it was so light; cold enough to cause me to want to shudder and withdraw, but I remained still, staring.
“What do you mean, you don’t live?” I asked finally. “You’re not dead, are you?”
“Not exactly.” He smiled again and took my hand. Within minutes it was like a block of ice. “Come on, come for a walk.”
As I have mentioned before, it was a pleasant night, cloudy but fairly warm for April. I soon discovered that I was forced to half-run to keep up with Thomas’s long legged, graceful strides that carried him smoothly along the pavement at incredible speed. He led the way, needless to say, across Park Road, down the little snicket behind the rows of huts where the battery hens were kept and into the playground nearby. In the darkness, the swings and roundabouts loomed silently, ghostly shapes that did not welcome nocturnal intrusions, especially not from adults.
I sat on a swing that creaked, hostile; I wondered how old Thomas was and began guessing… in his twenties, thirties, or forties, older? In his ‘teens? I suddenly realised how ageless he was. I wanted to approach him on the subject but at the same time, I didn’t, it was so insignificant and petty anyway. I heard a dull thud behind me and swung round; Thomas had leapt from the top of the climbing frame onto the grass below. I wished I had seen him jump, with his cloak billowing out behind him, he would have resembled … a black phantom … a crow … a bat …
“Alison,” he said, walking towards me. His voice sounded strange and thin, emanating from the night’s silence like that and the word was unfamiliar on his lips … he didn’t suit speaking English. I waited until he sat down on the swing next to me, scuffling his shoes along the ground. His eyes were on the ground, the distance, the sky, anything but mine.
“I have something to tell you,” he said at last. “Something that you may find hard to believe.”
He was silent for several minutes, I couldn’t think of anything to say either, so I kept quiet as well.
“You see,” he finally told me, “I don’t work at ‘A Quick Bite’.”
I felt his eyes on me. I bit my lip, frowning.
“No.” I shook my head.
“What?” he asked, sharply.
“No, I don’t find that hard to believe. I’ve never heard of the place, anyway. ‘A Quick Bite’!” I chuckled, “I thought you were winding me up, people do you know. What’s so hard to believe about that?”
I glanced at him; the look of seriousness and distress on his face confused me.
“It doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t bother me.”
“No,” he interrupted, shaking his head slowly. “You misunderstand, this is hard to believe, not ‘A Quick Bite’, I … you see … I … I am … a …a…, er …a vampire.”
I think I sat in silence for quite a while, and then I laughed.
“Oh, I get it! That’s your job, is it? You dress up and go round frightening young maidens with your cries of ‘I want to bite your neck’ …
“No, no, look, I don’t dress up, I don’t pretend, I don’t have to. I really am a vampire, I really am.”
I sat there and stared at him, his serious, concerned expression, his black clothes … the sweeping, nocturnal cloak … the white skin … the fingers like candles … icy to touch … a vampire … I found myself laughing hysterically, ignoring my powers of logic and reasoning, which told me that it all made sense … it had to be true … but still, I laughed without discretion, without control.
I went on laughing uncontrollably. Thomas looked at me, sighed and turned away. His frustration was obvious. Somewhere in the depths of my brain, the cells of reason went on connecting, working things out. That would explain the sneaking away before sunrise … the fangs when he smiled … the aversion to sunlight ... and the accent must be Rumanian. My brain was delighted with itself; it had worked everything out. But I found it rather hard to accept the conclusion that it reached, a vampire? My laughter died in my throat as Thomas turned to me.
“Finished?” He didn’t even smile.
I nodded, sheepishly, still smirking.
“It’s not a joke, you know,” he told me sternly, “you shouldn’t laugh.”
I shrugged. “You were right, it is hard to believe, you might just be deluded.”
Again, Thomas sighed. Crossing his legs, he looked up at the sky and recited:
“I am a vampire, I was born a vampire, six hundred and forty-seven years ago in Transylvania, Rumania. I drink blood, amongst other things; I sleep in the daytime and venture out at night. I can turn into a bat, climb walls and you can’t see me in a mirror. I will always be a vampire. I am immortal, lifeless … one of the Living Dead … destined forever to wander the earth until some Angel of Mercy plunges a stake through my heart and releases me from this … from this …”
He broke off, dropping his eyes to the ground. I shifted uncomfortably and thought. After six hundred and forty seven years I could understand getting somewhat … tired of life. And knowing that it may stretch on for years yet, maybe forever, with everyone dying around you … I could see the reason for Thomas’s melancholic disposition now. One who was truly tired of life.
“Where do you keep your coffin?” I asked, hoping that a change of subject would cheer him up a bit.
“The mortuary at Wythenshawe Hospital,” he answered, standing up and clasping his hands behind his back so that he resembled Sherlock Holmes, but without the pipe. I watched him, thinking ‘I am looking at a vampire’.
Do you kill many people?” I asked suddenly.
He walked a few paces away and turned to me, smiling faintly, his fangs gleaming, deadly weapons of incision and death.
“I haven’t killed anyone for nigh on … oooh … it must be forty years,” he told me reflectively, “and that was only because I was crossing the ocean and was thirsty. ‘Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.’ Oh I love Coleridge, don’t you?” Seeing my puzzled expression, he walked towards me and knelt at my feet. “You see, it’s true that I would drink blood all the time if I didn’t have to kill for it, but I think I have become a little … soft in my old age and I make do with water.” He smiled slowly at me, his eyes on my neck; I pulled my collar up nervously. “Occasionally I steal the odd bag of blood from the hospital, though that is a treat … a rare treat.”
He laid an icy hand on my leg and I could feel his breath on my cheek as his fangs hovered near my throat. Panicking, I performed a backward roll off the swing and scurried off into the undergrowth, I hardly dared breathe as I hid amongst the nettles. Any doubts about Thomas’s identity were now forgotten, a vampire was out to kill me and make me one of The Undead. I watched, trembling, as Thomas stood up, brushing mud off his knees, I held my breath as he began to walk towards me.
“Alison! Alison!” he called softly.
I didn’t answer, I feared for my life. Thomas stopped in front of me.
“Come out, Alison. Come on, I didn’t mean it.”
His head moved slowly from side to side, then he turned away.
“Bloody hell, I was only joking.”
He was beginning to walk away when I decided to reveal myself; I took a few hesitant steps out of the dense shrubbery. At that moment, I saw something that I am quite unable to describe adequately. Thomas changed into a bat, in mid-step, his back still towards me, he swept his arms outwards to form a graceful black arc with his cloak and seemed to dissolve … shrink … his form buckled and melted into a tiny black bat, which flapped quickly away into the cloudy distance.
I stood there, frozen in mid-step, my mouth hanging open like a bat cave. After some time, my knees gave way and I collapsed onto my backside on the grass. Now I couldn’t possibly doubt that my friend was a vampire … or could I? Could my eyes have deceived me? I had always considered them my friends, but were they really to be trusted? Still, my logic stamped its foot in frustration and said; yes it was obvious, are you blind? He’s a vampire, it’s obvious. Fear gripped me suddenly and shook me until my teeth rattled; he was telling me the truth all along and now he’s gone. I wouldn’t believe him, so he has gone poor thing, to wander, a lost soul over all the planes of the earth … if only I had listened, believed, trusted … but now it was too late. The words echoed hollowly around the inside of my ribcage, too late. The bird – or rather, the bat – had flown, I felt suddenly, empty and cold. I had lost a friend; I found that knowledge completely unacceptable. One so strange and rare could not just stumble into my life and the next minute, be gone like that. I sat on the damp grass and waited.
Half an hour later I began to numbly accept the fact that perhaps Thomas would not come back. Feeling stiff, cold and completely drained, like La Belle Dame sans Merci’s victim in Keats’ poem, I struggled to my feet and began to trudge slowly towards the hen houses. I hoped that the movement would ease my agony a bit but I was not surprised when it didn’t. What would I do now? What would Thomas do now? Turning the corner, past the chicken houses, the journey seemed interminable, even the chickens seemed restless.
Strange … that rustling, that flurrying of wings was getting louder, I stopped and scanned the huts for any sign of an intruder. The rustling grew still louder; nearer … I looked up, shielding my face with my arms as the bat descended. I was Leda and this creature, the swan, a punishment from the Gods. Thomas stood there, lowering his arms.
I leapt towards him and grabbed at his cloak, I was ecstatic, nervous, and apologetic to say the least.
“What a graceful landing,” I said.
He looked at me and smiled, a slow and delicious vampire’s smile.
“After six hundred and forty years of practise, you do tend to get rather … skilled in these things.”
We walked home, the vampire and his friend.
* * *
Again, we sat in the back room and talked until five. Chatterton was amongst the subjects covered once again, but Thomas spent a lot of time telling me of his native Transylvania, in which he had spent the first few hundred years of his life. He was indeed a well-travelled vampire, over the years he had lived in Leningrad, Florence, San Francisco, Berlin, Austria, Venezuela and England.
“I like England the best,” he told me. “particularly, London. I was going to go back there next, I used to live in London, near Waterloo, that was in the eighteenth century.”
I gripped the arms of my chair.
“You … knew him, then?”
Thomas shook his head sadly.
“I’m sorry to say that I didn’t. I didn’t really know anyone, I … prefer … solitude, and it’s easier.”
“But still … you were so near! You could have known him! You could have saved him, even.”
We both thought of the young Chatterton lying dead on his bed. Waterloo, so near … and Holborn, so far.
As dawn approached, Thomas stood up and prepared to leave.
“It’s such a long way … Wythenshawe hospital,” I said sympathetically. To tell the truth, I was thinking only of diving into my own bed and grabbing a bit of shut-eye at that moment.
“Mmm.” He paused, his hand on the front door. “Actually … Alison … I wonder … if you don’t mind … I could live here?” He looked up, enthusiastic for the first time.
“Yes… have you a cellar? A garden shed? I could store my coffin there … if you don’t mind, that is…” He trailed off as he saw my shocked expression.
“No, no I don’t mind,” I told him hastily, thinking: what if my Mam finds a coffin in my garden shed? How can a vampire possibly carry a stolen coffin through the streets of Timperley without being noticed, even at night? What if my Mam – or worse – my Dad sees him? What if…? Out loud I smiled and said that’s fine. Keep it in the shed.”Thomas grinned; swiftly he bent towards me and kissed me lightly. I felt the sharp prick of his fangs even then, like needles, the fear had gone though. I knew he wouldn’t hurt me now. As I watched the thin, sinister black figure hurry off down the road, I smiled and thought: my friend is a vampire.
Now go to CHAPTER THREE