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I am a writer of novels, plays and film scripts. I live in Manchester England with my partner Andy and our teenage son Jack. Andy and I started my Newsletter Raw Meat and began publishing with Rawprintz in 1999 to showcase my work. Some of you may be confused by my continual references to Ziggy, that’s my wheelchair! Both Andy and I are writers. I’ve recently lost my sight – hence the continual reference to my being confused! Thanks for visiting.

My Comrades...


The Reluctant Vampire - Chapter Thirteen


The night is made up of so many colours. Not only colours… textures too. There is the velvety softness of indigo, the sort you long to rub your face against and bury your sadness in, hoping that it will muffle the emotion as it would deaden the sound of church bells. Then there is the smooth sensuality of pure blackness, like treacle pouring over your body and caressing it as it coats and covers. Twilight is silent; dark and lightless, silhouetting all objects and removing dimensions from everything it touches; it whispers and shrouds, preparing for the witching hours. Dawn seeps through, watery and grey, killing the night and bearing with it a feeling of death, light fingers revealing the greyness of it’s body in its state of eternal slumber.

Tomorrow, the dawn will light upon the body of Thomas, my friend whom I must kill. My tears shatter the dream of nights which shimmers so slightly in a puddle below the seat of the swing on which I sit. The fragments are like the pieces of light, which fell from the stained-glass windows in the Sitting Duck. I sniff and wipe my nose on my sleeve. I can’t stop crying. Thomas sits on the swing beside me, saying nothing. He moves the swing gently back and forth and it squeaks quietly, a rhythm that will not cease. Clouds cover the moon and there is no light but that thrown over the hedge from the streetlight on the main road. I sniff again. I can’t imagine where all these tears are coming from. Certainly not from inside me, for where would I store them all? Yet they keep on coming, blow after blow. I remember when I first saw Thomas change into a bat, while I hid, terrified in the undergrowth, in this very same park. It seemed years ago, but it couldn’t be more than two weeks. The realisation was shocking to me. I had only known Thomas for three weeks at the outside and yet; here I was claiming to be madly in love with him to such an extreme that I could not imagine life without him. He must have some sort of supernatural attraction about him. This followed; Othello was assumed to have bewitched Desdemona into loving him, for he was black – probably thought then of being an equal handicap to that of being a vampire nowadays. A vampire! Strange to think of Thomas as being a vampire. Well, no one would believe me now; it was pointless even to argue. But I could think of one person who would argue, demand and generally hassle until he got his own way. Thomas would be truly safe from the clutching hands of Dr. Lloyd-Jones, as he reposed upon the bed. Like Chatterton, intangible in death.

I suppose there would be a sort of glory, a vague triumph, in such an act of selflessness on my part. But, however, the more I thought about it, the more selfish I felt and greater was my disgust at Thomas’s demand upon my humanity. Surely this act was just too brutal and inhumane to carry through! I still harboured the vain hope that perhaps Thomas would suddenly realise this and tell me to forget the whole thing. But my sense of dread wrestled with this fantasy and began to throttle the life from it… there was no point hoping, no point at all! My tears splashed as gently they hit the puddle and shattered the dream

“So, I gather from all this that you really are going to go through with this… this… agreement?”

Thomas’s voice caused me to start violently so that I nearly fell off the swing. His voice floated up on the dark air like a bat, disembodied as it was, a sound with no apparent source. His frail, lean figure was shrouded in nets of blackness, so that he could not be distinguished from the landscape of the night. I digested the words, chewing the cud and my bitterness welled up in me like a swollen river.

“Agreement? Agreement?” I found myself laughing hysterically, such were my previous thoughts. “Oh… so that’s what it is now, is it? I’m committed now… it’s settled, it’s agreed, is it?”

“Well, I thought so, yes,” came the reply.

I said nothing. I knew that it was agreed, really. It just sounded so final that I didn’t really like to admit it out loud.

“You have been giving that impression, haven’t you? Look Alison,” he continued, and I heard the swing creak finally as he rose and stood over me, “I really do realise how hard this is for you. Much harder than it is for me.”

“Oh, well why on earth do we have to do it then?”

There was a silence for a while. I heard the rain falling around us, two lonely figures lost in darkness. When Thomas spoke, his voice was right next to me; he must have been squatting down beside me. I thought of his cloak, trailing in the mud.

“You know, don’t you? You know why.” His accent seemed stronger than ever, getting stronger all the time. “Don’t let me down now, will you? You know what this means to me. You know how much I want this. How long have I waited, and you never know what happens after death, do you?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, I could return to you as someone else. I could become human.”

This brought on a fresh outburst of tears.

“But I wouldn’t want you to be human! I don’t want to kill you!”

There was a brushing of velvety darkness around me and I was falling through black space into the arms of my beloved vampire; I clung to his nocturnal presence, my body wracked with sobs. He waited, surrounding me with his cloak. The nocturnal seeped into me and I began to feel its strength, the strength that opposes life. It swept through me like a whirlwind while I tried to hold some of it within. Thomas held me tighter as I shook and waited until the blast had subsided.

“Alison, I don’t want to leave you crying.” Thomas’s words did not seem to emanate from his body but from out of the shadows themselves. “I want to leave you strong. Don’t think like this. Promise me that you’ll be brave and strong… remember that you’ll be acting upon my wishes.”

It was so hard to remember that. My tears still continued to fall and I watched them, felling a little distanced from everything that went on around me, except the night, of course.

“Come on, then.” I felt the polished prick of my gentle vampire’s fangs against my lips as he kissed me lightly and then stood up, pulling me alongside him and I offered no resistance. Leaving his cloak wrapped around me like a protective cocoon, Thomas and I set off towards home; my mind flooded with the image of me sharpening one of the posts from my garden fence to a sharp and lethal point.

* * * *

“This room, I think,” he said, pushing open the door of the back bedroom. “It’s always been my favourite and this is where we met, do you remember?”

“I remember,” I snapped.

I followed him in, dragging the stake and hammer behind me, where I couldn’t see them. I was careful to keep directly in Thomas’s shadow… had he possessed one; the Undead cast no shadow. I wanted to become shrouded in him, in his presence. I didn’t want him to feel alone in this. Giving Chatterton a mournful, hostile glance, my eyes returned to the carpet. They were burning, full of fire, a killing flame. I wished the atomic blast would melt my eyeballs, or else put them right out, like Gloucester’s in King Lear. Would I still see visions and sense such pain then? The painting hung ominously above the bed, silent and powerful; guiding fate, ordering destiny to progress in this or that direction, creating and destroying lives in a single sweep. It grinned like the Incubus in Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s The Nightmare.

“It is… appropriate, I suppose,” I mumbled. Who knew whether I was referring to Chatterton, or the back bedroom… or even The Nightmare, they all echoed the future.

I squeezed my eyes shut; there was a sudden clatter as I dropped the hammer and stake on to the floor. Thomas spun round and his eyes latched themselves onto mine. Remembering my promise, I looked away quickly.

“Wouldn’t you rather… er… do it… in your coffin?”

For some reason I felt hot and constricted in this room, as if it were already full of corpses that had been stored there for weeks and weeks with the door shut and the curtains drawn. I longed to run about in the garden and howl at the moon, but Thomas walked over to the bed and sat down, his eyes still on me.

“Why?” Although his voice was quiet, it seemed to shatter the night brutally, the fragments falling, falling dangerously.

“Why what?” I said irritably.

“Why should I want to die in my coffin?” He stopped and pointed a gleaming white finger at me. “You just think it’ll be more convenient for taking me to the undertaker’s, that’s all.”

“Bullshit!” Striding to the window, I flung it open. “My God, I can’t breathe in here.”

I gulped in the night air compulsively until I almost choked. It was so cool and silent outside, I could have stayed there forever, leaning out of the window, drinking in the darkness… so sensual… the very elixir of life – like blood. I felt the liquid air slide down my throat, treacle soft and smooth, sliding and then diffusing throughout my body, poisonous fumes of poppies as I lay and am covered with a drowsiness that calls me deeper, deeper into the dark. To sense, to feel, to touch. This numbness lulls me to receive and subsequently, to act. So this is what it was like to be a creature of the night. To be able to call the darkness a friend, a lover, intimate and loyal to the last… it didn’t seem such a bad life, after all.


The curtains stirred and I turned, I found myself gripping the edge of the windowsill behind my back. Thomas’s eyes were still upon me, staring without ceasing, as if they had never ever closed. Suddenly it seemed to me that he looked a little unsure, a smile flickered across his face and then was swallowed by the darkness. Stretching out his hand towards me, it seemed as if his strength had suddenly been sucked from him, the leeches of life and death and his hand dropped on to the eiderdown like a beached white whale, inert, a bright surgical white against the rich scarlet cover. A dying fish, it twitched once, twice and then lay quite still. I watched it closely then but was unable to move towards it, to do anything to prove to myself my own reality… existence, life, will… was death really that precious? Would it really bring release, release from what? I didn’t know, I couldn’t say! Who was I to handle fate like Plasticine in my hands? I couldn’t do this! I couldn’t!

“I can’t do this!” I cried. I clutched at the curtain, which billowed, gently against my shoulder. “You can’t expect me to do this, Thomas! It’s unfair!”

For the first time Thomas dropped his eyes and turned away. His silence was a knife between the ribs to me; never in my life have I wished to change into a bat and flap away through the window quite so desperately as I did then.

“I know I promised!” I continued in a frenzied scream “But I can’t do it! I can’t!”

My passion rose to such a height that I clutched at the curtain so hard that a couple of the hooks at the top snapped and ricocheted off the walls, one bouncing on to the bedspread and settling beside Thomas’s hand and the other spinning across the floor and disappearing, finally behind the wardrobe. Absently Thomas flicked the curtain hook off the bed with a delicate, ivory finger, it whizzed past my ear and flew straight out of the open window. I fancied that I could hear it hit the ground below with a tiny click. Thomas ignored the flight of the curtain hook; he was staring intently at the bedspread as if it were entirely to blame.

“Just do it,” he said and I could tell his teeth were clenched almost as tightly as mine. His words dropped like pebbles on to scummy water and they floated on the surface, wanting to sink, but unable to break through the thick green skin and become digested within the murky depths. The words were indigestible anyway. But there was no way out. I found myself the Edgar Allan Poe victim again, groping in the blackness for a door, feeling my flesh decaying, falling from me like rolls of pastry, my fingers disintegrating as they touched the walls, my whole self degenerating into a sobbing, invertebrate mass.

“Just do it,” Thomas said again.

Or was it just an echo? There was no way out. The realisation washed over me, leaving me drained and resigned to the fact that there really was no way out. Imaginary fumes of opium drugged me mercifully; poppies fell like a royal carpet at my feet. Dragging them behind me, I stepped between the petals to the foot of the bed and picked up my hammer and stake. I could hardly lift them, they seemed so heavy, instruments of death, they glittered like fangs in the pale moonlight. Straightening up, I stood there, glaring at Chatterton. It was a horrendously ironic omen now; I cursed Henry Wallis for ever painting it, and also myself for setting eyes on the damned thing! If I had never seen it, would this whole thing never have happened? Could fate really be avoided, or postponed indefinitely? Could it really all be blamed on my obsession with Mr. Chatterton? My guilt was heavy and hard to bear and I was glad when Thomas stood up and grasped my arms lightly, I would probably have fallen on to my face otherwise.

“I am to blame,” I muttered inaudibly. I felt as if I were rehearsing a role, reading the script as it appeared before me, written by another distant hand. Thomas shook me briskly, attempting to rearrange my brain. I was thankful to him for that.

“You must stop this, Alison! Stop thinking like this. You’re doing me a favour remember!”

He sounded as if he were smiling and when I looked at his face; I discovered that he was, slightly. I stared for a moment; I found it incomprehensible that his sense of humour could go downhill quite so rapidly.

“I want this more than anything,” he continued, the smile stigmatising his face, withering its beauty like a fading, dying poppy. “You know I want it! You, of all people… know… it’s what I want.”

I was tempted to shout ‘what about what I want?’ as they do in the movies but it didn’t seem worth it. What good would it do?

“Don’t let me down now,” he went on, a sadness curling his voice like an autumn leaf. “I know for you… it must be… hard, but don’t let me down now.”

I almost smiled at his understatement. Hard? I was being torn apart. He hugged me and sat on the bed, gathering his cloak around him, like a shroud. The ghost of a smile was settled on his face, the hint of a fang gleaming from a corner of it, just visible. Slowly he swung his legs up on to the bed and lay back.

“Now” he said.

He was waiting. I couldn’t take my eyes from the black of his shoes, his cape, and his hair against the shocking scarlet of the bedspread, the bloodbath, and a shadow in a bath of blood like Marat waiting for the knife. I walked like Charlotte Corday in her drowsy state of numbness to the bed, hands outstretched, eyes closed. And then, a scalpel, the surgical whiteness of his shirt, the lining of his cloak, his skin, the barely visible fangs, a diamond passion, death and birth mixed before my eyes. A dangerous white, clean and sharp; an operating room of blades and scissors soiled by the black shadows, the lightless night, the immortal night… and behind it the blood, splashes of crimson staining the sharp edges, so much blood washing over and around everything. A ceaseless flow of blood. Thomas swam in it… and beside him, the pale hand, a beached whale.

But fate could not be averted. He wanted it done – he wanted it done right now. I held the stake poised over his left breast but I was shaking so much that I thought there was a fairly good chance that I would miss his heart altogether and end up impaling his liver or some other vital organ. I noticed the small dint that the point of the stake had made in Thomas’s shirt, I raised the stake slightly. I couldn’t bear to think of hurting Thomas in any way, especially not now, he didn’t deserve pain. Three drops of moisture fell on to his shirt in quick succession. Tears and not blood, I noted mechanically. I raised the hammer in a shaking hand.

My whole body was tensed to breaking point. Through that numbness that held me suspended in its shroud like grip, I felt Thomas’s eyes on me.

“Go on then,” he pleaded.

I thought that my jaw would shatter; my teeth were clenched so tightly together.

“For God’s sake, don’t look at me,” I hissed and Thomas obediently closed his eyes.

My hand, the one holding the hammer, faltered but I raised it again. I couldn’t let him down now.

The first strike was weak and I only just tore the flesh. Crimson spread across his shirt even so, as if to spite the whiteness. Thomas did not cry out but as I brought the hammer down again and again, he screamed; his eyes snapped open and searched my face wildly for something – mercy, violence, whatever; his hand grasped desperately at mine, with no effect. I could only think of those terrible screams ripping through my head, I had to stop them. What would the neighbours say? The blood bubbled and spurted, red staining red. Again. A dribble of blood appeared at the corner of Thomas’s mouth and ran down his chin; I was appalled by the violence of his death, this creature whom I claimed to be so fond of, even – yes – to love. I was appalled by my own violence… but I couldn’t stop now. Again. I felt the stake dig deeper into Thomas’s heart, the point could not be seen now. Again. His screams weakened into pale moans. Again. He tried to catch his breath and could not. Again. The hammer slipped from my grasp as I crumpled to my knees. Thomas gave up fighting for breath; his hand flopped on to the bedspread beside him, the beached white whale finally dead.

I stayed down there on my knees for quite a while, my face buried in Thomas’s cloak. I could still hear the screams and smell the blood. The silence ached and throbbed around me. Instead of being a negation of sound, it seemed to be full of noise and activity; my eyes were tightly shut but psychedelic visions in Technicolor exploded before me; black, dazzling white and red, scarlet, crimson, cascading down endlessly from a bloody backcloth, spurting and pouring, again, again, again and again. My hand was twitching compulsively, reliving those brutal moments. I thought desperately of Lady Macbeth, washing her hands every night, unable to forget. I sobbed hysterically until my head ached and the silence no longer seemed such a threat. When I finally raised my head and opened my eyes, the grey morning light had begun to seep into the room. It fell on the edge of the bedspread and caused it to glisten like wet blood. Perhaps it was wet blood. There was blood everywhere; the room was awash with it. All over the floor, the walls, the bed, Thomas, me… how would I explain this to my mother? Well, the bedspread was red already; that was all right. But the muted grey wallpaper was now viciously mottled; a few spots had even found their way on to Chatterton; two dribbles on the floorboards of Chatterton’s garret, one on the bedspread and one staining the poor boy’s white shirt. I was glad. I resented the fact that Chatterton could lay there dead, but quite unmarked and unscarred, beautiful even, while my Thomas, his disciple, lay in a similar state – yet how different! Drowning in a horrific array of blood and violence, death and brutality. No peaceful, easy sleep of tranquillity for him. Arsenic seemed a luxury he could not afford. I was seized with a sudden fury. Dropping the bloodstained stake that I was still gripping for dear life, I grabbed the picture in my bloody hands; striding to the window I flung it out. A smile of satisfaction crept across my face as I heard it smash below, frightening several starlings that were searching for worms in the grass. They flew off, shrieking.

It was dawn. I had to decide what to do with Thomas’s body. If I left it where it was, it would dissolve into nothing (as I had read in Nosferatu). This thought made me feel sick. I couldn’t bear to lose him like that, so completely. The alternative was to drag his coffin upstairs and put him in that. This seemed preferable, but what could I do with the coffin then? To give it over to the undertaker’s at the mortuary would be impossible, it was clear; too many difficult questions would be asked. To bury him myself was also out of the question; someone was bound to notice if I started digging six-foot trenches in the garden. I could ask for no help, certainly not from either Joseph or Cassandra, who thought that Thomas was safely on a plane back to Romania. I wiped my hands pensively on my jeans. I wondered how Thomas felt now. Relieved? Overjoyed? Peaceful? He certainly didn’t look very peaceful, blood trickling down his chin, his mouth half open in a sort of agonised snarl and his brow furrowed with pain. Unlike humans, vampires can’t relax for a moment, I thought absently. His skin had acquired an ethereal grey sheen in death. Perhaps I would leave him to vanish with the first light, I decided. Perhaps I should be glad to let him disappear without a trace. Perhaps, like Chatterton, it was finally his end.

I turned my back on Thomas’s body and stared out of the window at the lightening sky. I thought I could see some pink in it but it could have been my eyes playing tricks on me, after all that blood. In the grass below I could see Chatterton in pieces. Tears began to course down my cheeks once again and I thought of Thomas, sitting there in the dark, reading Ode to a Nightingale. Why did I have to kill him? A sudden panic seized me; he hadn’t really wanted to die! He had just been joking! But no, I knew really, that he had wanted to. Hadn’t he made me promise to help him die? He had been alive for too long. Much too long.

But oh, the pain of parting! The sun began to glimmer through the clouds. The intolerable pain of it all! Well, it was done and he was free. The window was wide open; his soul would soar through. The pale sun grew brighter. I gazed into it. I didn’t want to turn round. I knew that Thomas would be gone, leaving only his crumpled clothes upon the bloodstained sheets.

I was still standing by the window, when the hammering at the front door began. I listened for a while but it didn’t stop. I listened for voices but there were none. Just a bang – bang – bang, again and again, until the noise shook my little house on it’s foundations.

I stared out of the window. The sky was blue, speckled with grey and white clouds, the sun dodging between them. The early morning air was fresh and cold, like a slap in the face. The knocking went on. It was probably a neighbour complaining about the noise last night. I walked slowly away from the window, stepping over the hammer and stake that lay beside the bed, near the door. Or, it could possibly be Dr. Lloyd-Jones. I gazed absently at the blood all over my hands and down the front of my shirt. Either that, or the police.

THE END… Or is it?


Too horrific an ending to accept? Well, that’s what I thought when I reread it… so I decided to rewrite it, and give things a slightly more positive slant – see what you think, Nic

It will be appearing next week!!!
Here's the Alternative Ending.


The Reluctant Vampire - Chapter Twelve


I was so shocked when I opened the front door that I found myself quite unable to speak for a few moments. The familiar white face stared back at me from the twilight gloom, grinning from ear to ear.

“What the hell do you want?” I muttered, finding my voice at last.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones (for it was indeed he) raised his eyebrows and shook his finger at me admonishingly. That horrid grin never left his face. The texture of his complexion suddenly struck me as being identical in tone to those foam rubber masks you could get of Popeye or Mickey Mouse. The flexibility was there, mixed with the same menace.

“Now Alison, that’s not a very friendly greeting.”

“I don’t regard you as a friend, “I said coldly.

“Well, let’s put our personal feelings aside.” The doctor leaned against the doorframe loftily and glanced past me into the hallway. “They don’t really come into it. I’ve come to meet your friend.”

The sheer audacity of it! I found it difficult to keep my anger in control. The ordeal that I had been subjected to but two nights previously was still fresh in my mind, as were Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s motives concerning Thomas. And he had the nerve to come along and casually expect to be allowed to visit Thomas! In my house, what’s more! I spoke through clenched teeth.

“I’m quite aware of what you’ve come here for, Dr. Lloyd-Jones.” I stared icily into those dancing, flinty eyes, longing to smash my fist right into them. “And I would strongly advise you to turn round and get back in your sodding car and bugger off before I call the police. Now, if you’ll excuse me…“

I stepped back and swung the door shut with some force but that loathsome man had jammed his foot in it. The grin was still on his face as I opened the door again, sighing.

“Look, what do you want? I’ve told you, you’re not coming in.”

The doctor spat on his fingers and rubbed his black shoe vigorously until it shone once again.

“You damned near broke my foot then,” he complained mildly, “and my shoe’s marked now. I could get you for grievous bodily harm.” He glanced behind me into the hallway again. “Alison my dear, I really can’t see why you won’t let me meet your friend. According to you, there’s absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about him.”

I swallowed. The doctor had me trapped in a corner once again.

“No… no, that’s right. I mean, I’m not trying to hide him from you.”

“Well, you’re putting on a fairly convincing act then!” Dr. Lloyd-Jones tittered gleefully, quite aware that he was winning. “You’re acting very suspiciously, my dear. May I ask why I can’t meet this friend of yours? I’ve heard such a lot about him, you see!”

“It’s… it’s not suspicious at all really,” I stammered, “he – he’s not in, you see. That’s why you can’t meet him.”

Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s eyebrows shot up as far as they could go and his grin widened incredulously.

“Not… in?” he repeated shrilly.

“I’m afraid not, he doesn’t live here you see.”

There was a slight pause in which we stared at each other like rabid dogs.

“Well, where does he live?”

As I opened my mouth to speak, I felt a wave of darkness behind me. I could see the Nocturnal reflected in Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s delighted eyes, he chortled and clapped his beautiful white hands together.

“Never mind! Never mind! He seems to have just arrived.”

I glanced over my shoulder, panic-stricken; there stood Thomas, black cloak, sharp teeth and all. Our eyes met but I couldn’t read his expression. Resigned, perhaps? Then I felt Dr. Lloyd-Jones push past me. I leapt at him and caught the arm of his jacket. I was quite frightened by my own ferocity. I pinned the horrendous doctor against the wall and would quite happily have given him the full benefit of my right hook, had Thomas not intervened.

“It’s alright, Alison,” he told me, gently prising me from the stick-insect figure. I remembered his incredible strength and didn’t bother to resist much. I stood by the banisters, clenching and unclenching my fist, feeling like a spring that had been wound tighter and tighter and then was prevented from releasing its energy. Thomas was very calm and instantly took control of the situation. “Perhaps you’ll go into the back room and wait for me,” he suggested firmly, turning to Dr. Lloyd-Jones and gesturing with a majestic sweep of his arm. Straightening his jacket, still grinning unceasingly, the doctor instantly did what he was told. When he had gone, Thomas turned to me.

“I assume that’s the infamous Dr. Lloyd-Jones?”

I nodded, my anger building up. It was all my fault! I had started all this! Almost in tears, I gripped Thomas’s arm.

“You shouldn’t have let him in! What the hell are you doing?” I tried to keep my voice down and it came out in a strangled hiss between my teeth. “You’ll regret this! You know why he wants to talk to you, don’t you?”

Thomas fixed his eyes on his feet.

“He thinks I’m a vampire.”

“He knows! He’ll get you to admit it!”

“I won’t admit it. Of course I’ll deny it all.”

“And you think he’ll believe you?” I almost laughed out loud. “Oh Thomas, just get rid of him! He’ll trick you, he’s evil!”

“Well, who cares what he thinks anyway.” Thomas looked up at me and smiled. “He’ll have no proof.”

“Don’t be so bloody accepting! He’ll trick you…”

But what was the use? Thomas had gone. Well he had been warned; I had done all that I could possibly do now. I turned to tramp wearily upstairs, I didn’t want to be anywhere near that rat Dr. Lloyd-Jones now. If Thomas thought he could handle him… well, let him see how he fared. But I knew Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s tactics and they were as underhand as you could get… I suddenly felt that I could not possibly desert Thomas now and I scampered silently back down the stairs and crouched like a gargoyle behind the door of the back room, which was ajar. My role as an eavesdropper was becoming quite firmly established now. I could hear Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s shrill, excited voice clearly and imagined him to be sitting facing the door. He seemed to be in the middle of explaining briefly to Thomas all that I had told him concerning my friendly vampire. I bit my lip as the thought again flitted through my mind; I had brought all this trouble on to Thomas and yet, Thomas would maintain that it was inevitable.

“And so, you must be able to understand my desire to meet you,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones was saying breathlessly. “She was so very definite about your true identity. So convinced was Alison that you really were a vampire, that she attempted to steal blood, presumably for you to drink – and injured herself physically because she was tired through lack of sleep; this, she blamed on your nocturnal visits.

When Thomas spoke it was in a weary, strained voice, as if explaining a very simple matter to a very small child.

“But surely, as a psychiatrist, you will appreciate that Alison has been ill. She has been suffering from hallucinations and insomnia… it’s happened to people before, hasn’t it?”

“Ah yes, but not over this length of time and not to this degree. Alison denies most fiercely all her hallucinations now, which is not normal. After all, why should I believe them in the first place… unless it really is all true?”

There was a period of silence and I imagined Thomas to be staring out of the window. Then Dr. Lloyd-Jones spoke suddenly.

“Anyway, if you’re not a vampire, who are you?”

I clenched my teeth in the pause, almost biting my tongue.

“I’m… well, what do you expect? I’m just a person.”

“What about your accent?”

“I come from Romania.”

“That’s… just a coincidence, of course?”

“Of course. That’s probably where Alison got the idea from.”

“Like your cloak, the way that you’re dressed.”

“I’m a waiter. I start work at eight.”

“And how do you explain your pallor?”

I could sense Thomas rising angrily.

“I think you should leave now, Dr. Lloyd-Jones. This has gone quite far enough.”

“Because I know? You’re a vampire, aren’t you?”

Thomas’s voice became louder as he moved towards the door.

“I’m afraid it’s your word against mine, Dr. Lloyd-Jones.”

“Not so! Not so! People will believe me instantly! Look at the following the Abominable Snowman has!”

“Dr. Lloyd-Jones… please…”

Although there was apparent chaos then, with people moving and shouting, that tiny ‘click and whirr’ shot through my brain like an electrical impulse. Maybe I was in tune with the wily ways of that detestable psychiatrist… maybe I was just nearer to the doctor than Thomas was, whatever, I leapt up and ran into the room and onto the doctor in one impressive bound. Thomas fell back against the dresser as I pushed past, causing the plates and ornaments to jangle dangerously and the musical box to play a single note of defiance. Grasping Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s shoulders I knelt on his chest with my Doc Marten’s embedded in his stomach I tore at his jacket like a crazed Beatles fan. From his ridiculous position, the doctor sniggered and grinned nervously. It seemed I had caught even him by surprise. Straightening himself up, Thomas wandered over and watched me, amazed.

At last my hand closed around the object that I had been searching so wildly for. I held up the offending black box, leaping off the doctor, leaving him crumpled and confused. I glared at him, my disgust rendering me temporarily speechless. Examining the black box, I pressed a few buttons at random and, as I had expected, Thomas’s voice issued forth, muffled yet unmistakable.

“What do you expect? I’m just a person.”

“What about your accent?” (That in Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s shrill tones, of course.)

“I come from Romania.”

“That’s… just a coincidence, of course?”

I had heard enough, I switched the tape recorder off. The phantom voices still hung eerily in the air. Again, I switched my glare to the sheepish, yet smiling countenance of the psychiatrist.

“Dr. Lloyd-Jones, your underhand tactics will never cease to amaze me,” I spat at him, the tape recorder swinging gently from my raised hand. “I’ve no doubt at all that you planned to produce this tape to your fellow doctors as ‘evidence’ that Thomas is a vampire.” I glanced at Thomas, who stood expressionless behind me. “But I’ll tell you something, Doctor, you’re the only vampire round here. It’s you who’s the one who feeds off other people’s blood to keep yourself alive… you’re nothing but a demented, perverted, parasite… and what’s more, you’re certainly not human!” I stared at the grinning, disgusting face, incensed. The grin was fixed now, a painted smile, I felt good now that I had the power over that Daddy-Long-Legs. Parasite! Slowly I stretched out my arm and released the tape recorder from between my fingers. The doctor’s eyes followed it, the grin still fixed and he flinched as it crashed to the floor. Very carefully and slowly, I raised my Doc Marten’s and brought it down mercilessly upon the recorder. Like Mr. Henry’s glasses, it crunched and the glass shattered beneath the heel of my boot. I watched Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s grin fade in satisfaction, unlike Mr. Henry’s glasses; I made sure that the recorder was quite beyond repair.

“Now, Dr. Lloyd-Jones,” I said icily, “you can take your filthy, degraded, degenerated little mind and get out of here. And don’t come back.”

The doctor rose, straightening his suit and without giving me so much as a backward glance, left. I stared at the heap of crumpled plastic on the floor, the useless brown tape spewing like a tongue from its mouth and feeling immensely powerful and, yet at the same time, utterly crushed.

* * * *

“It looks nice up here,” said Thomas quietly, sitting on the bed. “Very nice indeed.”

I stared at Chatterton wordlessly. I couldn’t see Chatterton lying across his bed; Thomas’s image was superimposed upon the background, the empty bottle of water and arsenic beside him; quite dead of course, as he intended. This was what Thomas had longed for and what Dr. Lloyd-Jones certainly dreaded… that his newly discovered vampire would suddenly die.

Thomas gazed at the picture grimly; perhaps he too, could see only himself in Chatterton’s place… I know he longed to be there.

“I want to die here,” he told me abruptly. “Here in this room, beneath this picture.” He looked around the bedroom as one would look at a familiar house the moment before moving out. “This is where we first met, do you remember? I was standing over by the window –“

“I remember,” I muttered, turning away.

Thomas took my hand and pulled me to him.

“Don’t be like that. But isn’t it time, now?”

The silence around us compressed us together like two dried flowers and the nocturnal seeped into the room, through the open window.

“That little incident with Dr. Lloyd-Jones… it must be clear to you now… it’s really the only ending possible. You must see that.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, refusing to look round at Thomas. I knew he was right… oh, I knew he was right. That was what made the whole situation so very desperate and unbearable.

Behind me Thomas got up and slowly fastened his cloak around his shoulders.

“Alright then,” he said, “let’s go to the pub.”

* * * *

We walked in silence. Nothing could be said… there was no room for words now. The rain fell steadily, causing the pavement to reflect the streetlights until the loss of perspective flowed and danced above and below, as if my friend and I were walking among the stars themselves.

The Sitting Duck was almost empty. Thomas went off to find a table in a suitably gloomy corner, while I got the drinks. Ms. O’Rourke served me with her customary energy. Her black hair flowed down her back and her black satin ball gown was edged with black lace and net. What a ravishing partner she would have made for Thomas in his last dance with death! Putting such contrived and morbid thoughts aside, I picked up the two pints and turned to go. Ms. O’Rourke laid a gentle hand on my wrist, her grip light yet restraining.

She nodded towards Thomas, who was barely visible in the shadows of the overhanging beams. Her silver, hooped earrings jangled and flashed magnificently as she moved her head. I smiled wearily.

“His name is Thomas. Perhaps you have seen him around.”

“Oh yes – I remember him all right,” said Ms. O’Rourke, nodding slowly. “Not the sort of bloke you forget in a hurry. Very… elegant.” She winked at me slyly.

“He is, isn’t he?” I was surprised to discover the edge of pride in my voice. Quickly, I looked down at the pint glasses in my hands. “Unfortunately, he’s just passing through, he’s going back to Romania tonight.”

“Oh dear, what a shame! I thought you looked a bit unhappy, love.” Ms. O’Rourke frowned sympathetically, leaning across the bar and folding her arms in front of her. “Romania eh? I thought he looked foreign.”

“Yes, he’s been… having a holiday.”

“Funny.” Ms. O’Rourke frowned again, looking at Thomas directly. “I didn’t think they let you out. Romania, it’s Communist, isn’t it?”

I was temporarily stumped. I had forgotten how politically minded the entire O’Rourke family was.

“Oh… they do. With a special visa.”


Ms. O’Rourke seemed satisfied and I left quickly before I could be enticed into further complexities concerning the Communist laws in Eastern Europe.

“How did you get of Romania?” I asked Thomas, putting down the glasses on the polished wood table and sitting down beside him. “It is Communist, isn’t it? Do they let you out?”

“They let me out,” said Thomas, sipping his beer.

“Did you fly?”

“Yes.” Thomas spread out his arms dramatically. “Transylvanian Airlines. Provide your own wings…”

I chuckled.

“Still… it can’t have been easy – how did you carry your coffin?”

“I didn’t. There’s plenty of graveyards around… even Communists die sometimes.”

“You mean – you dug up corpses?” I was aghast. “And slept in their coffins?”

Thomas was quiet for a moment.

“I put them back afterwards. No one would have known.”

He ran his finger absently through a pool of spilt beer on the table; drawing out the liquid into long, fine points. “You’re right, of course, it is horrible. Perhaps you can see why I don’t want to go on.”

“Oh, I see alright.” We were back on this bloody subject; my stomach sank, weighted down with misery. “But do you know what you’re asking me to do?” I looked into his pale face, pleading. “You’re asking me to commit murder!”

“No!” Thomas shook his head firmly. “You’re helping me to kill myself. It’s not murder.” He reached out a white hand and laid it on my wrist, as Ms. O’Rourke had done, but this hand was ice cold. “Look, surely all that… thing with Dr. Lloyd-Jones has shown you something. There’s no way he’ll let me escape now! He’ll be round tomorrow… he won’t leave until he has me! You surely don’t think he’ll be content to leave it at taping my words? No, he won’t leave you alone until he has me in his grip to show off to all his cronies. The only thing to do now is to disappear from the scene, as it were.”

Thomas moved closer to me and I felt that darkness permeate my soul and it seemed that I had gained nothing. My misery pulled me down, down until I was drowning in the nocturnal which had invaded my spirit so purposefully.

“Then Dr. Lloyd-Jones will have won.” I said, almost in tears.

Thomas shook his head and smiled.

“No, he was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We will have won. You… and me.”

I was so deep in the wall of misery now, that Cassandra’s voice echoed and spun round and round before Cassandra; she seemed so far from me at this time and I glimpsed her face as that of an angel far above me, peering down a well.

Alison! Yoo-hoo!” She flicked her abundant black tresses out of her face. I tried to smile feebly. She gave me a playful shove. “My God, where were you? Don’t tell me… Jane’s taught you transcendental meditation.” She flopped onto a stool opposite me, rain dripping from her shiny crimson Mac. “Bloody rain, it’s like a second flood. Get us a drink, there’s a love Joseph.”

Joseph had been standing behind her, silent, his baldhead shiny and damp. Obediently he turned and wandered off towards the bar at Cassandra’s bidding. I wondered at his incredible amiability.

When I turned back, I found Cassandra exclaiming rapturously over seeing Thomas again. Thomas was listening politely, his head tilted slightly to one side, his dark hair straggling wetly over his pallid face. Suddenly it felt as if this were quite a mundane, domesticated scene; familiar friends who knew each other and our loyalty spread like melted margarine over the toast of our collective lives. Who would guess that history was truly in the making – for tonight, I would kill a vampire? I could barely guess at the truth. I saw light from the street lamps outside falling down as if it were rain upon the floor near Cassandra’s red boots; it became different colours as it passed through the marvellously ornamented stained glass windows. As the light hit the ground, it fragmented and the red pieces dissolved into thin rivers of blood and trickled away across the tiled floor. Some fragments of light spread into their place and took over; of course, they were of the darkest blue, a midnight hue, and the nocturnal perversion once again. Such a beautiful degeneration though!

A scuffed brown Hush Puppy trod into the patterns of light abruptly, squelching wetly. I looked up. It was Joseph, returning with his and Cassandra’s drinks. Plonking them down on the table, he sat down opposite me, smiling faintly as Cassandra burbled on, oblivious to his arrival. He switched his mild gaze to me and winked. I smiled back. I noticed his Celtic Cross earrings and choked on my drink, the irony was almost unbearable. It was a good job that he was not sitting next to Thomas.

Joseph sipped his drink and glanced at Thomas, then back to me.

“I presume that’s the infamous Thomas?” He said in a whisper.

I nodded.

“I forgot – you two haven’t met, have you?” I would always regret the fact that my two dearest friends never really met each other face to face. “Ah well.”

“Never mind. I see Cassandra’s making up for the lack of my conversation.”

Cassandra ignored him, or else she simply didn’t hear. She was intent on what she was saying to Thomas, who sat perfectly still, as if modelling for a part of a painting. Joseph turned back to me.

“You know Mr. Henry’s leaving?”

“No, when?”

“Summer, I believe.” Joseph nodded his head slowly. “I read it in a Staff Bulletin on Mrs. Blood’s desk the other day.”

“Oh dear.” I sighed and turned my glass round and round in front of me. “What a shame, I feel so guilty.”

“So you should. You’ve probably driven him to an early grave.”

A black hole opened before me and yawned; I stared at Joseph, paralysed. He couldn’t have said that… could he? The grave, the grave… that was where Thomas would rest tonight, but not this time, in some usurped Romanian tomb while the resident corpse lay on the freezing ground outside. Patiently, waiting for the sun to set and the vampire to drag him back into his house… the skeletons would take up their fiddles and dance, while Thomas prowled the streets… the grave, such a peaceful resting place. Entombed in raging silence. I gripped the edge of the table to keep myself from slithering onto the floor, smashing amongst those fragments of light. Joseph had fallen abruptly silent, but I could still hear Cassandra’s voice, pouring into my vulnerable ear like the poison that killed Hamlet’s father.

“Romania, how interesting but I thought you came from Poland?”

Her words rose, louder and louder, like sirens; they screamed through my head, chaotic, visions of decomposition, death and decay like a book of Edgar Allan Poe’s. I could not, I cannot stand this.

“But you told me you came from Poland. I’m sure you did.”

I suddenly realised that I was on my feet and tugging manically at Thomas’s arm.

“He comes from Romania, Cassandra… Romania… and he’s leaving tonight.” I found myself crying shrilly. “He’s going back and you won’t ever see him again!”

Quickly Thomas stood up, and wrapping his arm round me, met Joseph and Cassandra’s looks of alarm and astonishment with a calm, yet regretful smile.

“That’s right. I forgot how late it was getting”

Again Thomas had instantly taken control of the situation. Turning his collar up against the inevitable rain he would meet outside, he continued in the same, sad manner in which he had begun.

“I have to catch my plane soon, we must go. If you’ll excuse us…”

Cassandra stood up and grabbed at Thomas’s arm, almost knocking her beer over.

“You’re not serious, are you? You’re just going to leave forever, back to Poland or Romania or wherever the hell you come from, just like that?”

Again I tugged impatiently at Thomas’s cloak, almost blinded by tears. This was almost too painful to endure. Cassandra, meanwhile, seemed more angry than upset.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” She demanded furiously. “Why didn’t you tell, Alison?”

Thomas turned back, a strange look of defiance coming into his eyes.

“How do you know I didn’t?” he said.

“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Look at her!”

I was thankful that Thomas didn’t.

“Anyone can see that this is as much of a shock to her as it is to us! More probably.”

“I really have to go back. My visa… has ended.” Thomas sighed, turning away again. “I thought it would be easier… not to mention my departure.”

I broke away from Thomas suddenly, running to Cassandra’s table. I thought that my heart would burst with love for her, she and her protective anger. Joseph remained seated, silent and staring at me morosely.

“I knew all along, Cassandra,” I told her. “Of course I’ve known all along – how could he keep a thing like that from me? Only –” I shrugged, “- it’s much worse tonight.”

“I see.” Cassandra smiled faintly.

I could see that she still didn’t think much of Thomas, loving and leaving me like that.

“I’ll come round later.”

“No, don’t do that,” I said hastily. “Um – I’d rather be alone. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Cassandra nodded slowly. I returned to the shelter of Thomas’s nocturnal cloak, ducking beneath the arc of his blackness cascading like molten ebony from his arm. From the corner of my eye I could see Ms. O’Rourke like a lacy bat behind the bar, watching me carefully. I loomed at Thomas; his eyes were fixed straight ahead of him and he glanced neither right nor left, nor over his shoulder; but he hurried down the stone steps of the pub and out into the night and, of course, the rain.
Now go to Chapter Thirteen...


The Reluctant Vampire - Chapter Eleven


The next day was Saturday, so I lay in bed retrieving my strength and sanity all morning. It was still raining on and off. Every so often, the sky would become dark and menacing and the rain would hit the ground with startling violence and intensity, then it would stop as suddenly as it had begun. I lay in bed with my eyes closed and head buried under the pillow, trying not to think of anything. I was haunted by pictures and sensations of my experience of last night and the image that was the most persistent was that of dark outlines of pine trees against the stormy sky, lit up intermittently by the moon as the clouds raced by. This image seemed to be etched onto the curtains and the folds fell in such a way, that I could still see it, even with my eyes closed.

I wondered as I got dressed, how a vampire could tell when the sun had set, when there was no sun in the sky. How could he tell any time, when he was sealed within his coffin? One never heard of a vampire climbing out of his coffin before the sun had set, to nip back inside the nearest house to have a quick look at the clock. Thomas had no watch, I was sure of that.

I fell to thinking about Thomas as I stirred my tea absently, or more specifically, Thomas’s desire for death at the hands of yours truly. I had, and I continued to consider, his request very seriously. Although it made good sense, the more I thought of it, the more the action repelled me. I don’t know why I considered it so seriously; I could never bring myself to hurt Thomas. Not even now that I knew that the enemy (in the form of Dr. Lloyd-Jones) was so alerted to his true identity. There could be no happy ending to this story – not for Thomas, anyway. It was tragic but I was powerless to resist the attackers that bore down mercilessly upon the Nocturnal.

My mother used her own key to get in the house, and I heard her wrestling to remove it from the keyhole, which had a habit of swallowing a key once it was inserted into its mouth. I strolled out into the hall to assist.

“Hello, Mum,” I said, leaning against a wall.

“Hello, Alison,” my mother wrenched the key finally out of the lock. “Bloody door, have to get it fixed before we sell the house.” She picked up two Marks and Spencer’s plastic bags and dragged them into the hallway. Her eyes darted about nervously as she looked around. “It doesn’t look as though you’ve vacuumed in here recently.”

“I haven’t, I’ve only just got up.” I picked up one of the bags, heading for the stairs. “Is this clean clothes?”

“Yes. Looks like you could do with some as well.”

I hurried to the seclusion of my bedroom and began to put my clothes away in the chest of drawers. Below me, I could hear my mother vacuuming every surface she could see, in search of those annoying little bits of dust and the occasional fragment of biscuit or cake. It depressed and irritated me to watch her sink deeper and deeper into the void of trivialities, while her imagination rotted. Who was responsible? Could it be blamed on society or was the fault her own? Well, whoever; it didn’t really matter anyway, the damage was done.

I finished putting my clothes away, carefully keeping my brain blank, remembering that I was supposed to be resting today. It was Saturday after all and I had been through a fairly traumatic experience the night before. Better to let my mind take a complete break from philosophy today. Undue questioning and moralising would only lead to a temporary breakdown. Slamming the bottom drawer shut so that two photos, which were standing on the dresser, fell onto their faces, I hurried back down the stairs, two at a time and deciding to tell my mother about Thomas. Well, I would mention his existence anyway, no harm in that. And maybe that would keep her mind from dwelling on trivialities for a few moments anyhow.

She was in the front room polishing the sideboard. In one hand she clutched the canister of Mr. Sheen, in the other a yellow duster with which she rubbed every visible piece of woodwork manically, as if hoping to produce a genie. I leant against the doorframe and watched her tiny little face twist and writhe into a multitude of grimaces, as if she were the one being rubbed at, not the sideboard. Her beady little eyes scurried back and forth over the dresser as she worked, frantic and almost panic stricken. She didn’t even appear to notice me.

“I really don’t know why you put so much energy into things like that,” I said at last.

My mother looked up, startled. She turned back to her work almost at once.

“Well, if I don’t do it, nobody will,” she said, kneeling on the floor so that she could polish the legs off the dresser. “And I do wish you wouldn’t sneak around like that. Why don’t you do something?”

“I’m not sneaking around.” I walked slowly closer to my mother. “And I don’t mean why do you do it, I mean why do you expend so much energy on such a petty thing?”

“If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

Bosworth strutted into the room and began winding himself around my ankles. I held on to the dresser for balance.

“Yes… but it seems so insignificant,” I persisted.

“It is if you go and put your filthy hands on it and smear the polish,” my mother snapped, standing up. I whipped my hand away quickly, sighing. My mum glanced at me sharply. “Anyway, I’m doing more than you are. Why don’t you do something?”

“I am, I’m talking to you.”

“Well, talk then. Actually, I want to talk to you.”

She looked at me, her brow wrinkling and I leaned forward expectantly. “Isn’t it time you did something about de-flea-ing that cat? Get it a flea collar, they’ve got some cheap ones in that pet shop near Dane Road station…”

I gazed blankly at my print of Chatterton. Something needed moving around here. Some action was needed to rest my growing frustration. Kneeling carefully on top of the dresser, I grasped the picture firmly in my hands.

“What’re you doing?” cried my mother, running back into the room and shaking her duster at me frantically. “Alison! You’ll break it!”

I was concentrating on removing the heavy painting from its hook.

“No, I won’t, I’m only taking it down.”

“Not the picture! The dresser! The dresser! Get down!”

The painting was safely in my arms, I clambered down. Turning to transport the precious cargo upstairs, my mothers’ eyes met mine, fury and frustration were there; her mouth was set, her eyes watering behind her glasses. The last thing I needed now was this amount of hassle. She was bottling it up; it would all come out now. Setting Chatterton down on the sofa, I hurried outside, grabbed my jacket and made for the front door.

“Just going to get some nails,” I called, then added, hoping to placate my mother, “and a flea collar for Bosworth.”

It was nearly dark when I arrived home, although it was only late afternoon. Dutifully, I had remembered the flea collar; I caught Bosworth and tied it firmly round his neck, swearing and cursing as the cat struggled and scratched, trying to get away. When I released him, he scurried under the sideboard and glowered at me. Ignoring him, I picked up the painting of Chatterton and began to transport it slowly upstairs.

My mother was also in the back room, changing the bed. I greeted her and clambered up on the bed to hammer the newly acquired nail into the wall. My mother tutted but said nothing. She waited patiently for me to hang the picture before she laid the clean sheets on the bed.

I stood back and looked critically, checking that the work of art was straight. I glanced at my mother as she picked up a white sheet and spread it over the bed.

“What do you think, Mum? Do you like it?”

My mother glanced briefly at the painting, frowning.

“Yes … it’s a bit modern for this room, though.”

“Mum, it was done in the Nineteenth century!”

“That’s modern!”

“I don’t know what you mean. It was one hundred and fifty years ago!”


My mother gestured with a quick jerk of her head for me to tuck the other side of the sheet under the mattress and, at the same time, to stop arguing. Sighing, I obeyed her.

I found myself remembering when I had first discovered Thomas in this very same bedroom, leaning against the window and looking out into the moonlight. That was the beginning of it all, then. Such a lot had happened since that point in time, I struggled to place the event. I thought of Thomas telling me to turn the bloody light off and my own bewilderment as to how my Dark Stranger had managed to climb in at the window with no ladder. I chuckled quietly to myself.

“What’s the matter?” Demanded my mother, throwing another clean sheet over the bed so that it billowed and flowed like Thomas’s cloak. I caught the edges and tucked them firmly under the mattress.

“Nothing,” I said. Then, remembering my decision to tell my mum about my friendly vampire, I added “just thinking about Thomas.”

“Oh,” my mother was silent for a long while and I began to wonder if her brain had digested this comment at all. Finally she asked “who is this Thomas then?”

“Oh, I expect you’ll meet him soon.” I stuffed a pillow into a pillowcase. “He comes round here a lot.”

My mother tossed the red eiderdown over the bed and began to smooth it out, frowning to herself.

“Not too much, I hope,” she said, collecting up the dirty sheets.

I looked up sharply.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know very well what it means.”

I stared after my mother as she disappeared out through the door, an armful of sheets clutched to her breast. I felt a little stunned. I hoped that she didn’t mean what I thought she did. I wouldn’t know where to start with a vampire …

After making the beds, we sat down with a pot of tea. It would be nice to say that we indulged in the sort of idle chitchat that mothers and daughters often share; but I’m afraid that would be the most blatant fabrication of the truth, as any reader possessing the merest morsel of intelligence would instantly realise. In fact, we sat in silence. I watched my mother’s anxious eyes flicker round the room like two restless flies from the corner of my own fixed gaze. I knew that lists of criticisms and jobs to be done were reeling through her mind on an ever turning mechanical roll of paper. The thought of that restless movement alone exhausted me. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine Chatterton’s feelings the moment before he died.

The slam of the back door startled me. Thomas! I glanced at my mother, who had spilt some of her tea in fright and was hastily trying to scrub it from her skirt with her apron before it stained. I tried to imagine what her reaction to Thomas would be. I couldn’t.

“Oh – hello,” said Thomas, he stopped in the doorway, hesitantly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you, er, Alison …”

“No, no come in,” I urged, leaping up and dragging Thomas into the room. “This is my mum. Mum, Thomas.”

My mother stood up, nervous. Thomas held out his hand and she shook it incredulously. I don’t think she even noticed how cold it was. It was obvious that she had never met anyone like Thomas before and couldn’t quite believe him. He stood at least two feet taller than her, dressed in his customary black and white, the merest ghost of a smile on his face.

“I’m very pleased to meet you,” he said at last. “Alison told me about you. I wanted very much to meet you.”

My mother blinked repeatedly behind her glasses. Her little mouth pursed and then straightened; licking her lips nervously like an animal under threat, she withdrew her hand hastily from Thomas’s grasp and shoved it into her apron pocket. I hung onto Thomas’s arm for support. That moment seemed very long, the tension unbearable.

At last my mother spoke, taking a step back as she did so.

“You’re foreign,” she said accusingly. I should explain here that my mother is not generally racist; her prejudice can be attributed to her extreme nervousness, which I think probably caused the statement to sound more like an accusation than had been originally intended.

“Yes, I’m afraid I am.” He paused and glanced at me for a second. “I’m Romanian. Originally.”

There was a silence. My mother obviously did not trust herself to say anything else, realising her blunder. She tore her eyes from Thomas’s face and looked him up and down, taking in the expensive cut of his trousers, the beauty of the material, the opulence of his cloak.

“He… works in a restaurant,” I said quickly, catching my mother’s sharp eye. “He’s a waiter.”

Thomas smiled and my mother nodded, frowning. To this day, I don’t know what her real opinion of Thomas was, or even if she had one. She was always very careful to avoid mentioning him in conversation, even in passing. She may have harboured, from then on, a deep-seated fear of him, which would explain why no mention was ever made of my rich friend.

“Well, it’s… very nice to have met you too,” said my mother smoothly, turning away and picking up her coat and familiar plumed hat, both of which lay on the rocking chair beside her. “Maybe I’ll see you again. Ta ra, Alison”

“Well, bye then, Mum,” I answered. I was a little surprised at the suddenness of my mother’s departure. She usually hung around for hours.

“Oh, Alison.” My mother turned in the doorway, that notorious worried frown returning to her brow as she gazed in my direction. “Your father told me to tell you to get rid of that crate in the garden shed or else he’ll burn it himself next time he comes round.”

Thomas and I exchanged glances. With difficulty I managed to stifle my giggles until the door had closed behind my mother. However, Thomas did not share in my mirth. He watched me disdainfully for a while, his hands clasped studiously behind his back.

“It’s an idea, you know,” he told me sternly.

I sat up and attempted to compose myself.

“What is?”

“Burning to death in my coffin.”

My face fell instantly and I looked away angrily. All the light seemed to have gone out of the night and such a weight was continually being piled onto my shoulders; like Atlas trying to hold the bloody globe on his back.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about that,” I muttered.

Thomas sighed deeply; he walked over to the window and stared out into the gloom. A few raindrops splattered against the window.

“No, there must be a less painful way,” he said, ignoring me. I felt as if I wasn’t there. This was my destiny being planned for me, over my head. “Anyway, I’m not sure it would work,” he continued thoughtfully, “killing the Undead is such a tricky business. We need something foolproof – something that we know will work.”

But I could still react to Fate, even if I couldn’t change it. I scrambled up from the sofa defiantly.

“Thomas, what do you mean, ‘we’? ‘We’? Don’t you mean ‘I’?”

Thomas stared at me for a long while. So vacant was his gaze that it seemed to pass right through me, soaking in the night instead. I saw that the Nocturnal really was both the time and the place for my friend, reposing eternally in the slumber-like death, safe forever from anguish and solitude.

“No,” he said slowly, “you know that I mean ‘we.’"