The next morning didn’t dawn at all. The sky remained as blank and dark as when I had climbed into bed. I didn’t feel as if I had slept at all. I hoped that it was still night, or very early morning. But my hopes were devastated when I glanced at the clock and discovered that it was twenty past ten and I was late for college.
I didn’t even have the energy to ride down Park Road on my bike. Instead, I stood in the steady drizzle and waited for a bus to pass. When one did, I clambered on, not even noticing it’s destination. Luckily for me, it passed right by the college, and I managed to stumble off just before it drove away from the stop.
It took me some time to remember what day it was and what lesson I was supposed to be in, and in what classroom. Finally I traced the rest of the class down to the Biology Lab, and drifted in, greeting Joseph with a faint smile. He smiled back, naturally enough, but I knew that he was watching me carefully. I would have to watch my behaviour today. Nothing out of the ordinary would happen to me, I promised myself. I would keep my mouth well and truly shut about vampires and coffins and blood.
Mrs. Blood was one of those rare people who are gifted with an incredibly appropriate name, rather like Jack the Ripper or Larry the Lamb. There was another teacher in the Biology Department who shared this privilege; her name was Mrs. Gill. I thought that she closely resembled a white, greasy haddock as well. Mrs. Blood was tiny, shrivelled and vicious; she wore round glasses perched on the end of her sharp nose, fastened onto a chain which hung around her emaciated neck. Masses of thick, brown hair was meticulously plaited and coiled into a large bun which stuck out curiously from the back of her head. She always wore a spotless lab coat over a tailored skirt suit which hung from her in folds like an elephant’s skin, and high, pointed court shoes on her feet. She walked over to me in her usual brisk, business-like manner.
“Alison.” Her voice was high-pitched and hard, with a strong Scouse accent. “You’re late.” She consulted her digital watch. “Twenty minutes, to be precise.”
I said nothing at first. What could I say? I really couldn’t be bothered to get into an argument today.
“Yes,” I agreed at last. “Sorry. Missed the bus.”
Joseph, dropping blood onto a microscope slide, glanced at me without turning. I realised how unusual the excuse would sound, used by me, well known for my bizarre yet infallible excuses for absence from classes. Evidently Mrs. Blood was surprised too.
“Missed your bus?” She glared at me, horrified. “Well, in that case…” She gestured towards Joseph, a little lost for words. “Work with Joseph. He’ll tell you what to do.”
She hurried away, muttering to herself. I went over to Joseph and leaned on the desk beside the Bunsen burner, watching him as he studied the blood through the microscope. I couldn’t help but smile. So this was what they did with all that blood they took yesterday. It wasn’t going to save people’s lives at all – it was being used for scientific experiments now Government cuts had started to affect lab Supplies. I wondered if anyone else had noticed. If so, they were probably silenced by the corrupt authorities pretty quickly, anyway.
Joseph straightened up slowly and looked at me. He raised an eyebrow inquisitively.
“Missed the bus?”
Smiling faintly, I studied some bloodstains on the desktop. Tracing them with my finger.
“Ah.” Joseph began to scribble in his notebook in tiny, jagged writing. The letters seemed as if they were silently intimidating one another, each from their own tiny territory, which they peered ferociously out from. I noticed the silver cutlass gleam in Joseph’s ear as he raised his head to look at me. “You alright? You look a bit… peaky.”
I nodded quickly and looked away.
“What’re you doing, anyway?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“Just looking at the blood.”
I squeezed past Joseph so I could look down the microscope. It wasn’t very interesting. Just a red blotchy microscope slide really, so far as I could see.
“Now flame it… in the Bunsen.”
Joseph indicated the Bunsen burner, still writing; I pulled it towards me and turned it on. The narrow blue flame reminded me of that symbol carved into the top of Thomas’s coffin; I would have to ask him what it meant tonight. I had fallen into a nightmare-ridden doze after Thomas had left to get his coffin, and was relieved when he woke me just before dawn by the noise he was making emptying the shed. He was evidently hurling everything into a pile on the grass, I hurried out to tell him to be quieter, but he was frantic and wouldn’t listen – it was nearly dawn. I helped him to drag the coffin into the shed. It just fitted. It was much heavier than I thought – about the same weight as the mahogany sideboard in the front room, I would think. One would certainly need super-human strength to carry that weight around. Once the coffin was in place, Thomas hopped into it and, blowing a goodbye kiss to me, lay down and shut the lid. I smiled when I remembered that.
Watching the blue flame gave me a pleasant, dazed feeling. I folded my arms and leant them on the desk. Tonight I would have to see about hiding all those garden tools and pieces of junk which were piled on the grass. I would have to put them back in the shed when the surveyor came with my Dad next week. I made a mental note to tidy up before then as well…
I slowly became aware of a strange, sharp smell and simultaneously a burning pain in my arm. Looking down, I saw a few spiteful flames round my wrist, and realised that my sleeve was on fire. I cried out. Joseph leapt to my side, his donkey jacket in his hands, and smothered the flames quickly. I noticed Mrs. Blood rushing towards me armed with the fire extinguisher, and thought; there goes my idea of not causing any trouble today. Joseph pulled up a stool and made me sit down. I tried to mutter something about his donkey jacket getting burnt, but I don’t think any sound came out, because no one took any notice, although there was quite a crowd round me by this time. I found that if I closed my eyes I could forget that I was here; the curious faces vanished, as did the burning pain in my arm, along with Mrs. Blood and the extinguisher. Only Joseph was there, removing his jacket from my arm gently, speaking in soft tones to some unseen figure nearby.
I realised suddenly that he was talking to me, and I opened my eyes quickly. Joseph’s brown eyes were full of concern, a frown hovering uncertainly above them.
“We’re going to the nurse. Come on.”
I obeyed without argument. Joseph walked beside me, silent. I was glad. I couldn’t have handled questions or explanations just at that time. I hoped that the nurse would treat me with similar sensitivity – but somehow doubted it. As Joseph tapped on the sickroom door I could hear only the tap-tap-tap of sharp fingernails on the lid of a coffin… and as the nurse opened the door and ushered us in, the sickroom became a bat-cave, a den of thieves, a lair of murderers who would flurry around my head and squeal.
“You again, Alison? You seem to be in a fair bit of trouble this week. Sit on the bed.”
I sat. I felt mechanical; yet my body was fluid and un-restraining. I saw Joseph and the nurse talking, murmuring softly, and I knew that they were talking about me; but I was unable to force myself to concentrate enough and listen to what they were saying. To do so would be to delve into a thick soup of jumbled ingredients and try to strain out all the grains of flour and place them in order along the floor. I watched the two figures lazily. The plump, stocky outline of the nurse with her iron-grey hair and white apron; and Joseph, a foot taller than her, his brown eyes gazing out of the window opposite, stroking his head pensively, the silver cutlass flashing as he turned his head and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. The nurse turned to me, smiling kindly.
“Now then, let’s see this arm.” She took my limp forearm and studied it. For the first time, I looked too. Several blisters and red skin now stretched to my elbow. I noticed that my favourite black jumper was now scarred beyond repair. “Ah well, that’s not too bad. Is it very painful? A bit? Well, we’ll put some cream on then.” I was grateful for her constant stream of chatter as she dressed my arm. It gave me something with which to occupy my mind whilst requiring no effort from me, just the occasional nod and smile. When the bandage was tightly wound around my arm, the nurse sat back and studied me. I noticed a small mole by her left eye, which seemed to irritate her; she kept blinking and trying to brush it away as if it were a fly.
“Now then. Let’s find out how this happened. Joseph says that he thought you fell asleep.
I hesitated. Had I? I couldn’t really remember. “I don’t know what happened,” I replied.
The nurse coughed gently, holding a curled up hand in front of her mouth, a funnel with which to swallow the germs.
“Did you see your doctor?” she asked and sighed as I shook my head. “You’re still not sleeping, are you?”
“No,” I muttered, feeling drained and despairing. Was it really so obvious.
“Well, why not? We need to find this out.”
My despair caused me to snap. “I don’t know, do I? How should I know?”
The nurse stood up, clasping her hands together and pursing her little mouth up.
“Well then Alison, you need to see your doctor. He’ll give you some tablets or something. Will you do that? Right away?”
The world seemed as if it were closing in on me, pressing against my brain and eyelids and causing blood to come through the cracks. I nodded, agreeing to see my doctor, to stay where I was and rest for an hour, to come back the next day to have the dressing on my arm changed. To agree was easy; I lay back my mind buzzing with pictures of Thomas asleep in his coffin. I listened to the nurse moving around the room scrabbling her nails in the wire racks, scribbling her fountain pen across sheets of headed notepaper. I enjoyed the sounds, they caressed me lovingly, but I could not sleep.
At one o’clock I left the sick room and went to join Joseph and Cassandra in the canteen, Jane was there too. They all admired my beautifully bandaged arm and asked me to repeat the story behind it. I did so, enjoying the attention I was getting. Afterwards, there was silence only broken by Jane.
“You fell asleep?” she repeated incredulously. “What were you on?”
“Nothing,” I snapped, “I’m just tired, that’s all.”
Cassandra sighed loudly and glanced at Joseph, who was staring at the tabletop. His face was set in a look of grim determination and that frightened me. Joseph was always so easygoing; I noticed that he avoided my eyes very carefully, as if I were cursed. I began to feel slightly Byronic again.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him, leaning across the table.
He shook his head quickly and stood up, still not looking at me. “Nothing.”
I stared, puzzled as he gripped Cassandra’s black lace enveloped arm. “Come on then, Cassandra. Let’s get those aspirins.”
Cassandra nodded wordlessly and I began to follow them out of the canteen. Joseph stopped and turned to me.
“You stay here, Al. Get your dinner, we’ll only be a minute.”
“No point in you coming,” Cassandra agreed, “I just need some aspirins.”
I stared after my friends as they disappeared through the swing doors. There was something strange going on here, Cassandra never got headaches or, very rarely anyway. Those two were definitely plotting something. Without a minute’s further hesitation I darted through the swing doors after them
At the end of the corridor they turned right, through some more doors and I followed, keeping out of sight. Cassandra kept turning and glancing behind her nervously but did not see me. The sickroom was right near the ladies’ toilet so I slipped in there while they knocked and entered; then I hurried out and tiptoed up to the door of the sickroom. It was ajar and inside I could see the black lace of Cassandra’s dress and hear her voice.
“… We’re really very worried,” I heard. Then Joseph’s voice joined in and I only managed to catch a few words with difficulty … ‘hallucinations’ and ‘vampire’. I closed my eyes and leaned against the wall. This, I couldn’t believe! My own friends betraying me in this way! I had trusted them… I thought of Cassandra’s mocking laughter, when I had told her about Thomas and I felt tears welling in my eyes.
“… Could be dangerous,” continued Cassandra, when I listened again. “You saw what happened this morning. She’s convinced that this friend of hers is really a vampire.” There was a pause and Joseph murmured something. “Yes, “ Cassandra added, “that would explain the incident with the blood.”
My mind went blank as I thought of Thomas and how real he was to me, I knew he was a vampire. I knew it and yet… perhaps it was all in my mind… they could be right after all… perhaps I really was ill.
“He’s a good psychiatrist.”
I went numb as the nurse spoke those words. I knew instantly, I’m not mad. Thomas is a vampire and not part of my imagination. Inside the sickroom, Cassandra giggled at something the nurse said and the tears began to dribble down my cheeks. My sanity betrayed by my best friends! I closed my eyes again as I heard Cassandra call, “Bye then,” to the nurse as her black dress emerged from the room. Joseph followed her, his head down so that his shaved head was like a blank face. They saw me. Cassandra stopped and stared, aghast and Joseph looked away and quickly walked off. I watched him go from beneath wet lashes, no expression on my face. Then Cassandra moved towards me, clutching her black lace gloves in her hands. Her face looked white, surrounded by black, rather like Thomas really… I turned my face away quickly as she reached out a hesitant hand and brushed a strand of hair out of my eyes. I didn’t want her reminding me of my only true friend, the vampire. She had betrayed me.
“Oh, Al,” she said gently, biting her lip, “we were only worried about you. Really.”
I swung round and glared at her, pushing her hand away. My friends had conspired against me – they believed me mad… they plotted my downfall in secret. And so, turning my back on her, I walked rapidly away without glancing back. As I reached the gates to the college, I began to run, tears pouring down my cheeks. I ran away, away from the college, away from treacherous friends, towards home, towards solitude, towards Thomas.
* * *
I paced up and down the room, waiting for sunset. Although the day had been so dark and dull, night seemed reluctant to fall and end my agony. Finally, I went out into the garden and stacked all the tools in the shed, surrounding the coffin that was wedged in the middle. Then I sat beside the coffin and waited patiently for the lid to creak open.
I was terrified when it did; it was just like one of those Hammer horror films. I whimpered like a scared dog, longing to scurry away into the undergrowth. But, as soon as I caught sight of Thomas’s tousled, dark head, the fear vanished. I stood and watched the vampire waking from sleep.
He stepped out of his coffin, yawned, stretched and gazed at me uncomprehendingly. I don’t think he realised where he was at first then he grinned and hugged me. I was surrounded by his cloak, lost in the folds of the night, the nocturnal.
“Alison! How nice of you to meet me.” He stepped back and I clutched his cloak manically.
“I’ve been betrayed!” I cried.
Thomas frowned, the smile still wavering on his lips, his fangs glinting dangerously.
“I have!” I continued frantically. “They’ve ganged up on me; they’re going to send me to a shrink!”
Thomas’s smile fell away like crumbling rock as he caught sight of my neatly bandaged arm and he reached out to touch it inquisitively.
“I set fire to my sleeve and now they think I’m mad.”
I began to sob as I remembered how unfairly I had been treated.
“They don’t believe me, that you’re a vampire. They think…”
Thomas glanced at me quickly.
“You’ve not told anyone about me? Who’ve you told?”
“No one, just Cassandra and then she told Joseph, but they don’t believe me anyway. They told the nurse and she thinks I’ve gone mad, with my stealing the blood and everything; she’s going to send me to a shrink! Thomas, what am I going to do?”
“A psychiatrist, a head doctor, they think I’m mad or I’m ill. I keep falling asleep but I know, I know you’re real…”
Thomas put his arm round me, swathing me in his cloak and led me inside and slowly up the stairs. I barely noticed him push me down on my bed, in my own tiny room, remove his beautiful, precious cloak and throw it over me, I was so distraught. Then he sat beside me and gently stroked my face with his cold fingers until I fell asleep. Feeling wrapped in drowsy velvet, an indigo sensation of warmth and softness, I fell asleep smiling, the image of the gentlest vampire in history diffusing itself gently throughout my dreams like a dark and drowsy opium vapour.
* * *
Thomas was gone when I awoke. I stumbled out of bed and over to the window and pulled the curtain aside, expecting the day, however grey and dismal it may be, to have dawned. But blackness glared defiantly back, the streetlight winking like a dirty old man at me, leering, intimate. Turning away, I stood on Bosworths’ tail; he leapt up, screeching, his fur jagged and electrified. I was paralysed with fear and shock for a while and I sat on the floor until my senses returned. Bosworth glared at me from under the bed. My head was heavy and confused with sleep and silent images from my dreams flickered through my mind like spectres but would not stay around long enough to be identified. When I shook my head vigorously, I saw these flimsy characters fall to the ground, translucent like transfers without a background and as soon as they touched the carpet, they disappeared, popped out of existence, fairy bubbles, too fragile to stay. I traced their outlines on the carpet moodily. A movement caught my eye, Bosworth pulling a blanket or some piece of clothing off the bed. He held the material firmly in his mouth and dragged the garment onto the floor. The material slithered across the carpet like silk. Leaping up, I grabbed Thomas’s cloak from between the cat’s jaws and checked it hastily for tooth marks. Bosworth gazed at the cloak as if debating whether or not to attempt dragging it from my hands. I decided to return the precious garment to Thomas immediately. I couldn’t risk taking the responsibility for it being damaged in any way. Its nocturnal powers appeared to attract cats, as well as people.
I discovered Thomas in the front room; he was sitting at the table, reading. The room was in darkness, the moon obstructed by low clouds but I didn’t turn the light on, for I knew that it would hurt the vampire’s eyes. I wondered how even a vampire could manage to read that tiny print in such gloomy light but he glanced up when I came in.
“Oh, hello,” he said smiling faintly, “I hope you don’t mind … this is your book.”
He indicated the paperback edition of Keats which lay open on the table. I shook my head, smiling, finding myself with nothing to say. I wanted to share my broken cartoon characters of dreams, to resurrect them with words; but the realization dawned slowly that those precious words I needed did not exist. I stood behind Thomas and draped his cloak carefully over his shoulders. He didn’t seem to notice but he snuggled into the nocturnal hues as if they made up his epidermis. I sighed and felt again, that maybe it wasn’t so bad being a vampire. There was an obscure aura of beauty that clung to Thomas and shrouded him like a veil. I stroked his hair; it was just like human hair, slightly rough and matted in places but his flesh marked the difference. My hand brushed his neck and withdrew, the iciness shocking to my touch as I turned away.
“I thought you’d sleep all night, “ he said conversationally.
I shook my head. “I can’t, not when you’re here.”
Carefully, Thomas picked up the copy of Keats and closed it decisively with one hand.
“Maybe I ought to go then.” He sat back but I still could not see his face. “It’s not fair to keep you awake all night, every night and then expect you to function properly in the daytime as well. It will lead to…” he glanced at my bandaged arm quickly, “… to more accidents.”
My face burned with embarrassment. It was a silly slip, which anyone could have made anyway, the damage, was done, the arm bandaged, the sanity doubted, the psychiatrist consulted, I bit my lip. I didn’t want to talk – even to think - about this. The thought of me ending up in an asylum was as unbearable to me as was Thomas leaving. I tried to imagine my friendly vampire going away forever, but I couldn’t.
“No, don’t go,” I said finally.
This seemed to convince Thomas. “All right,” he agreed. Perhaps he hadn’t really meant what he had said at all – perhaps he was just testing me. “It would be very hard to leave you anyway. A vampire… you’d be surprised how few friends I have had. It’s a very lonely existence.”
I collapsed into an armchair, rubbing my forehead. No, I was not surprised; I’d always imagined vampires to be very solitary beings.
“The reputation of the vampire has been irreparably damaged by Bram Stoker. He has a lot to answer for,” he told me sternly.
“You mean it’s not true – about Dracula?”
“Oh, the facts are vaguely true – most of them, some are slightly exaggerated and Count Dracula did exist, he was supposed to have been a vampire.” Thomas stood up and strolled across the room, clasping his hands behind his back. “But he neglected to mention the isolation of the vampire. It’s not all power and sadism and fear, lovely fear. What happened to the misery when people die all around you and you… you go on living? The horror when you realise just what you are… and when people scream and bear crosses, warding off evil spirits… Alison, I’m not evil, neither am I a spirit but all my life has been spent avoiding people, keeping in the shadows, running away… and always alone. Always, always, always.”
He leant his back against the sideboard and closed his eyes. The form of his melancholy diffused his outline, decomposing as unseen droplets of something nasty in the air. I wondered what to say, the magnitude of the situation frightened me.
“You’re not alone now,” I faltered, “you’ve got me.”
For a moment he turned and looked at me and I saw his eyes, like everything else about him were dark, but not black; rich shades and tones jostled, a chiaroscuro of hues, glimmering and luxurious, like a kaleidoscope.
“I’ve got you now,” he said gently, “but you will die and I will not, I cannot, I will go on living forever. I am dead and yet I cannot die. How ironic.”
I was silent for a while. Then I thought of Chatterton.
“Couldn’t you commit suicide?”
“Think I wouldn’t like to?”
Miserably Thomas turned to the wall and gazed jealously at Chatterton's lifeless body, draped over the bedspread.
“Think I haven’t thought of every single possibility in all my years on earth? I have. I have and there is nothing, nothing I can do.”
He walked slowly over to me and collapsed gracefully into my lap. I was almost smothered by the mystery of his cloak. I spat out the darkness.
“I would love… I would love to take a potion of arsenic and water, to swallow it down… to feel my stomach burning and writhing like a snake inside me… to clutch at the air as if it could save me but – oh – the pain… my life ebbing away, watching it slip away, out of my grasp… to die, to die like Chatterton. His body is on the bed but no life… the life is gone. Gone forever.” He leaned back and closed his eyes blissfully. “Ahhhh… suicide, choosing to die. Suicide, what a beautiful word.”
“So why can’t you do that?” I shifted. Thomas was really heavy. “What’s stopping you?” I read a story once, ‘Varney the Vampire’, I think it was called – and he killed himself. He jumped into a volcano, so…?”
“Oh, no, not ‘Varney the Vampire’. I’ve read that. Well, you said it yourself, it’s a story, and fiction it’s not true. The vampire cannot kill itself, the only way they can really die once and for all, is by having a stake plunged through their heart, and as you will probably appreciate this is rather a difficult operation to perform oneself.”
I nodded, I could appreciate that.
“What about like in Nosferatu, just staying up till dawn? Don’t you just melt as the sun’s rays touch you?”
Thomas sighed. “That, I’m afraid is not true either. It sounds such a quiet, peaceful death but it hurts like hell and it doesn’t work. The vampire heart is not destroyed, a vampire can be resurrected from his ashes quite by accident if his heart remains intact.”
“Who knows? Perhaps, like in The Scars of Dracula, have you seen it? It only needs a vampire bat to dribble on the remains.”
“What?” I laughed despite myself. “This is beginning to sound incredible.”
“It was only a Hammer Horror low budget movie.”
“Well.” I tried to push Thomas off my knee but he resisted. I gave up, remembering his amazing strength. “Anyway, how do you know? How do you know staying in the sunlight doesn’t work?”
“I had a friend once, in Rumania, a vampire. He tried it as a form of suicide but I saw him again, about two hundred years later. It hadn’t worked, obviously.”
“Obviously.” I stared fiercely at Thomas’s cloak, a myriad of nocturnal shades… this problem seemed insurmountable, to live and never to die. But how sad to let this vampire die! “You ought to have kids,” I told him, “you ought to start a new breed. There can’t be that many vampires as… available as you.”
Thomas looked at me as if he too, doubted my sanity.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Anyway, I don’t know any woman vampires who’d be… willing.” He draped his arms round me, gazing somewhat hungrily at my neck.
“Well, now’s your chance.”
Thomas leapt off my lap as though stung.
“You are joking?” he whispered, horrified.
But Thomas seemed to be really shaken by my ‘joke’. He paced up and down, wringing his hands frantically behind his back.
“You don’t mean that, you don’t mean that. You don’t want to be a vampire. You’d hate it, I hate it. Don’t say that.”
“It was only a joke. What’s the matter?”
“You don’t realise Alison, when you say that, what it does to me. It would be so easy for me in my living death, as I can’t join you in life.”
I was silent, I hadn’t realised how near I was to becoming a vampire myself, I hadn’t realised, Thomas was right. I hadn’t appreciated how easy it would be for him… to drain my blood and my life away.
“I could… though… if I could…”
“What?” I asked.
“Suicide, the stake through the heart.” Thomas stopped pacing and stared at me. “It might work… if… someone else were to do it…”
I stood up quickly.
“Oh, no. Oh no, you can just forget that Thomas.”
The very thought of murder had seized up my insides and caused my blood to run stony cold, like Thomas’s.
“No, way. You can’t bring yourself to kill me, so I definitely can’t bring myself to kill you, even if you so want it, sorry forget it.”
Thomas turned away and shrugged.
“Just a thought.” Suddenly he looked up. “What time is it?”
I glanced at my watch, noticing for the first time that I was fully clothed.
“Ah.” Thomas glanced out of the window at the gradually lightening sky. “I’ll be off then.” He began to walk slowly towards the door. “Try and get some more sleep before college. “I’ll see you tonight.”I nodded. How could I possibly get some sleep with images of Chatterton and arsenic and hammers and stakes falling out of my mind? Was the vampire mad? Every day the nightmare became more and more real to me… and I was still expected to deny it? Thomas wasn’t a figment in my head, though sometimes I wished he was… and this would all become a dream, receding beneath my control, shrinking until I could wear it like a locket, next to my heart. The nocturnal welled and wavered, it threatened to infiltrate the day and swallow me right up with it, down, deep inside it’s deep dark belly. I was caught up and the nocturnal wings spread like a raven, reigned supreme. And I was expected to deny it?
Now go to Chapter Five