I had to wait half an hour before Dr. Lloyd-Jones would see me. Horse-face kept telling me triumphantly that the Doctor was ‘behind schedule’ and I must be patient. Her continual sneering and tossing of the head really got on my nerves, and I only managed to control my anger by sheer concentration of will. I leafed idly through a glossy magazine and read the article on Post-Natal Depression; I was half-way through the follow-up article entitled How to Learn to Love your Baby, when the receptionist called my name in her clear-cut, horsy tones. I folded the magazine deliberately carefully and slowly, knowing that she was watching. I wanted to say something cutting as I passed her, but my mind was a blank after all that petty Baby-talk. At least I would never have to sit in this awful paddock again and watch her grazing vacantly. The thought gave me all the power I needed. I contented myself with a slight snigger when she had turned her back.
“Ah, Alison! So sorry to have kept you waiting!” Dr. Lloyd-Jones turned happily from his casual pose by the window as I came in. His hands were in his pockets, the customary barley-sugar in his mouth. “I hope I won’t keep you too long.”
“I hope so too,” I muttered, throwing myself into my familiar comfy chair.
The Doctor ignored me, reaching instead for his usual white paper bag on the desk-top.
I shook my head vehemently.
“Well, let’s get straight to the point, shall we?” The Doctor settled himself in his swivel chair, crossing his legs gracefully. The movement reminded me of my mother folding her deck chair up on the beach at Skegness. Every gesture of the Doctor’s, however whimsical and abstract, was careful, planned, precise. One of his beautiful, pale hands lay across his knee as if it had been carved in that position, while the other stroked his tiny, immaculate moustache pensively. That dancing light never left his eyes, the permanent grin forever lurking around the corners of his mouth. There was silence for several moments and I eyed the Gothic painting on the wall, wondering whether to leave or not. I had begun to fidget nervously when Dr. Lloyd-Jones spoke again. “You see, Alison, I feel we are getting near the truth. The basis for your problem… all your problems.”
“I don’t have any problems now,” I said, aggressively.
The Doctor laughed merrily, his eyes jumping with his laughter.
“Oh now… I think you know that that, my dear, is not true. And I think you also know what… or who… is responsible for these… imaginings. I say imaginings but you know as well as I do that what you have seen is as real as you or I.”
I stared miserably at my Doc Martin’s. I was stupid to have agreed to come back, even for only one more time. I was in a corner again. It was just as I expected.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, sharply, trying to sound contemptuous. But I knew that my guilt was seeping through like water under the bathroom floor.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones could obviously see it all showing through, for he laughed all the more and swung wildly in his leather chair.
“I think you do, my dear! I think you do! I’m talking about your friend… the vampire”. He leaned across the desk, grinning, and I grew suddenly alarmed. Surely the Doctor hadn’t seen Thomas… surely he had no real proof? Yet he sounded so confident and sure… “Ah yes, I do believe all you have said,” he continued happily, “I believed every word of it. I know, I know, you haven’t really said anything to me, directly, but… ” He tapped my notes which lay spread out on the desk in front of him. “It’s all here, in black and white. Just because you’ve changed your mind and are doing your best to dismiss all your previous claims as hallucinations… ” He leant back in his chair, staring at the ceiling in delight. “Oh, I can see right through you, Alison. After all, I am a psychiatrist. And I’d like to meet this vampire of yours very much. In fact I insist.”
I sat, rigid, in my chair, gripping the arms for dear life. Of course, he could just be humouring me. Perhaps that was the usual psychiatric strategy with hallucinating patients – to insist that what they are seeing is real. But there was something about the Doctor’s manner which aroused my suspicion… I didn’t trust him at all. And I would never, ever allow him to meet Thomas. I stood up, and found my knees shaking like jelly. As I clutched at the edge of the desk for support, I caught sight of the words ‘the reality of the vampire in Western Europe’ scribbled across a piece of paper in the Doctor’s wild, flamboyant writing. I shut my eyes involuntarily. Now I was sure. Dr. Lloyd-Jones really did believe in vampires… and I was suddenly gripped by Thomas’s vision of himself in a cage, on a platform, with Dr. Lloyd-Jones below, grinning and pointing at Thomas with a long stick. Around him were many distinguished faces, every eminent doctor in the country would flock to see Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s indisputable evidence of the reality of the vampire in Western Europe. I let a little moan escape from between my lips. As I opened my eyes I saw the Doctor, poised in his swivel chair, his legs crossed, a horribly satisfied grin on his face. That did it. I was definitely getting out of here. I had heard, and seen, quite enough.
I lunged towards the door handle and wrenched the door open. Glancing over my shoulder as I made my hasty exit, I saw Doctor Lloyd-Jones behind his desk, the smile still on his face, his eyes on The Nightmare. He looked directly at me as I hesitated, and winked. I slammed the door cutting his image from my range of vision. As I rushed by her desk, the receptionist looked up, astonished, tossing her head nervously and glancing back at the Doctor’s door. I broke into a run. I could hear her thin calls of “Miss Smith! Miss Smith!” following me as I raced out into the car park behind the clinic.
It took me a moment to realise that in my haste I had run out through the wrong door; I felt quite lost at first, standing there amongst the Audi’s and the BMW’s. I stumbled around for a moment, trying to find the way round to the front of the clinic. The sound of a car starting and the crunch of its tyres on the gravel seemed extraordinarily loud to me in my intense state of panic. Then I saw the road leading round the side of the clinic and ran thankfully towards it.
I was just rounding the corner when I heard a roar and screech behind me. I swung round and felt the whole of my body turn white with light from the glare of the head-lights, which were turned full on. I didn’t see the car. But I felt it. The metal grazed my elbow and leg as it swerved wildly. I didn’t feel any pain, just shock. I collapsed onto my knees by the roadside, staring ahead, stunned. I wondered how the car had managed to miss me – and had it really missed me? I couldn’t tell. Perhaps I was on my way up to heaven right now. Reason and proportion were absolutely lost on me. I was only aware of sensations – the dazzling glare of the headlights, the screech of the tyres, the wetness of the ground beneath me. And then, the excruciating harshness of the laugh which echoed around me, thin and piercing though it was.
“Alison, my dear! So sorry!” Dr. Lloyd-Jones exploded into another torrent of bubbling, hysterical laughter which I allowed to spill over me like the waters of life. I blinked at the thin, gawky figure kneeling beside me stupidly. It was nearly dark and I could just be imagining him. I could have imagined the whole incident… just like I had imagined Thomas right from the start. I stared at Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s grinning, quivering face, and knew that I was not imagining this. I could feel the cold water seeping through the bum of my jeans, and the viciousness of the drops smashing against my face. I wanted desperately to get up and run away, away from the nauseating Doctor, home to Thomas, but I could not trust my legs to bear my weight as they usually did. I shivered.
“My dear Alison, it was my fault entirely. Are you hurt?” I shook my head numbly as the Doctor put his arm firmly around me and led me to his car. I didn’t see the car but I could smell the leather of it’s seats; I was also aware that it had no roof for the rain continued to fall around me. “let me take you home. It’s the least I can do,” the Doctor chortled, climbing into the car himself. “Now, don’t worry. We’ll be home in no time. No time at all.”
The car set off with such a jerk that I had to cling to the black leather seat to stop myself from rolling right over the back and being deposited on the roadway. We turned out of the clinic onto Washway Road; then I was only aware of the air roaring in my ears and attempting to tug the hair from my head as we picked up speed. I squeezed my eyes shut, wondering how Dr. Lloyd-Jones could possibly see adequately – surely the rushing wind would cause his eyes to water profusely? There was darkness all around, except for the bright lights of passing cars, and a blurring of sound and sensation until it all mixed into one confusing state of being. Perhaps this was what Keats had meant by ‘negative capability’. I clung to the seat and allowed the speed to clear my brain.
I opened my eyes quickly as the car stopped. I could see only blackness and vague shadowy forms, and I could hear nothing. I had distant recollections of roaring wind in my head and bright light but now the absence of any sensations gave me only a feeling of falling. I was in a void, passing through time and space without a sound. Dr. Lloyd-Jones turned the engine off, and immediately the intense silence began to scream at me. I was compressed by it and preserved by it. I was metamorphosed by the total lack of anything on which to feed my senses. Something touched my face and I cried out. That tinkling, annoying laugh followed, sounding out of place and almost blasphemous towards the silence.
“Don’t be frightened, Alison.”
The voice seemed disembodied, floating out of the blackness and then being swallowed up by it. For the first time I began to feel definitely uneasy. I didn’t really want to be stuck here, with the obscene Dr. Lloyd-Jones, apparently nowhere near home. I moved my leg but the ache reminded me how close I had come to being run over by the malicious Doctor in his phantom roofless car. A movement high above caught my eye; I could just make out the gentle swinging of the tops of tall fir trees against the sky. Panic clutched my stomach. This seemed to be a forest!
“Where is this?”
I gasped, finding my voice.
There came an irritating giggle in reply, and a sudden flood of silvery light as the gibbous moon was revealed through scudding clouds for a moment. In that moment, I made out the dark giants of pine trees all around, watching; and I saw Dr. Lloyd-Jones sitting in the seat in front of me. He had twisted right round so that he was leaning over the back of the seat. His white hand gleamed dully yet beautifully, laid casually upon my knee. I couldn’t see his other hand; but I could feel it, stroking my face like a cobweb. The sensation made me shiver uncontrollably. And I could see his white teeth flashing like the Cheshire Cat’s perpetual grin. Then the moon disappeared abruptly, plunging us both into darkness once more.
“Dr. Lloyd-Jones,” I hissed fiercely, “take me home at once!”
“But Alison, I can’t do that. At least not yet.”
The Doctor’s smooth voice coiled itself around me like a Boa-Constrictor. His hand was on my shoulder, gentle and caressing. “I need you to tell me something first. I think you know what it is.”
For a moment fear floored me. He could kill me if I didn’t tell him what he wanted to know! And, of course, he wanted to know about Thomas. He wanted to know all about him. But I couldn’t betray my friendly vampire, not possibly!
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said feebly.
“Oh, now, I think you do. You’re going to tell me all about this vampire you know.”
The Doctor giggled again. “And don’t deny it I know that it’s true.”
I didn’t deny it. I knew it would be absolutely pointless. I felt drained, numb. My leg and elbow ached and I just wanted to get home and run into those dark folds of Thomas’s nocturnal cloak. I felt completely exhausted.
The silence stretched out and I closed my eyes. I hoped that maybe Dr. Lloyd-Jones had forgotten his demand and I could stay like this forever. I felt his delicate hand flicker around my throat and then suddenly dive inside my jumper. I sat up and tried to remove his hand from my breast by force but his fragile frame concealed a vicious strength which fought against me. Anger overwhelmed me, banishing my fear.
“Take your fucking hands off me,” I screamed.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s merry tones seemed unaffected by his physical exertions.
“Perhaps you could tell me about your vampire?” he suggested cheerfully.
I wondered frantically just how much he wanted to know. Anything, anything, just to get him away from me. Forgive me, Thomas, I thought desperately.
“Alright, yes, I know a vampire,”
I said, still struggling. Dr. Lloyd-Jones sighed happily and I knew that he was waiting for me to go on. “I know a vampire… called Thomas. He’s six hundred and thirty seven years old. And he comes from Romania. I finally managed to remove the Doctor’s creeping pale hand from my person. “Satisfied now?”
That horrible laugh again. I suppose that the Doctor must have clapped his hands together, for a small smacking sound permeated the darkness.
“Not quite, my dear, not quite,” he crowed joyfully. “I would like a little more information.”
“What for?” I demanded.
“Just interest, my dear,” he sang, “just interest.”
Of course I didn’t believe him. I could see his intentions as clear as daylight, and they were just what Thomas had always feared. He wanted to capture Thomas and show him off as The Doctor’s Discovery. He would keep my beloved vampire in a cage and force him to change into a bat before his audience’s eyes… And of course, he would never allow Thomas to be hurt or killed; he knew that Thomas longed for some freak accident to happen one day, or the murderous hand of some heaven-sent assassin to rob him of his unwanted eternal life. However unlikely these incidents may seem, Thomas clung to them, knowing that, by the laws of probability, one of them was bound to happen eventually.
As I thought of this I realised that I couldn’t possibly let Dr. Lloyd-Jones get his greedy little hands on Thomas, no matter what he might threaten to do to me. I caught the dull gleam of the Doctor’s hand as he raised it to his moustache, and I took my chance. I leapt out of the car, over the edge of the door, not wishing to fumble needlessly with the handle, and I landed with a thump on the carpet of pine-needles which layered the soft ground. As I lay there, I heard a car door click open. The moon emerged briefly and I saw clearly the bulk of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s beautiful car gleaming in the moonlight. It reminded me of Cruella DeVille’s car in The 101 Dalmatians. Just before the moon vanished again, I glimpsed the gawky form of Dr. Lloyd-Jones climbing gracefully out of the car. I wasted no more time. I set off at a sprint through the wood, in which direction I did not know. My leg ached as I put pressure on it, but that did not bother me now. It was frightening, running headlong through darkness and complete silence. The thumps of my feet upon the pine-needles sounded hollow, like my heart. I kept running into tree trunks, tripping over roots and being slashed and impaled by malevolent branches. I ran on and on. The darkness seemed to stretch forever. After a while I slowed to a hasty walk when I thought that Dr. Lloyd-Jones had ceased to be so very close a danger. I began to fell chilly so I broke into a jog again. I could have been anywhere in the world. This place reminded me of the Black Forest in Germany, which Cassandra and I had visited last year on our tour of Europe. And, my word, it certainly was black. I could run with my eyes closed and it would make no difference, I still continued to collide with trees and branches.
After about an hour of stumbling through the undergrowth, the trees began to thin out and, as the moon briefly lit up the scene around me, I saw that I was on the edge of a dense pine forest which gave way eventually onto a bleak landscape of sloping ground, tufted here and there with brown grass which swayed in the wind. I recognised this desolate place vaguely but I couldn’t put a name to it. I memorised the landscape around me while I could still see it. Then, as darkness enveloped everything again, I set off down the slope towards a wall that I could just make out. I hoped that this wall would reveal, on its other side, some sort of civilization which I would be able to recognise for certain. As I wandered wearily through the darkness, it began to rain again. The ground turned to slippery mud beneath my feet.
When I finally reached the wall, I leant against it and waited patiently for the moon to show its face again. I hoped that somewhere along the wall would be a gate, or a stile, but I was not prepared to walk up and down searching for a way out, groping in the darkness. I would go by sight. While I waited I wondered about Thomas. He must be quite worried about me by now. At least. I hoped that he was.
After ten minutes my patience was rewarded by the moon throwing down its silvery light over everything for a few seconds. Quickly I scanned the stone wall and saw a wooden stile about ten feet to the left of me. I swore loudly and went to climb it. It was difficult, for it was high and, of course, completely dark. As I reached the top of the stile the moon came out and illuminated the landscape behind me. Immediately I recognised it. The bleak, barren hills… the muddy slopes… the stone walls… I glanced over my left shoulder and just glimpsed the dull shine of metal in the moonlight as its beams disappeared. I began to descend the stile carefully. This was Lyme Park - I had been here many times before, though not recently. But I still recognised it. And behind me was the Adventure Playground, which I had found so thrilling as a child. But Lyme Park was out near Disley, which was miles away from cosy little Timperley where Thomas would be waiting anxiously for me. I jumped off the stile and began to jog quickly across the car park. I prayed that Dr. Lloyd-Jones wasn’t lurking there in his beautiful but deadly car, waiting for me to emerge. But there appeared to be no-one there, so I began the long jog along the mile-long roadway through the park, the rain dripping down the inside of my neck and off the end of my nose.
I don’t know how I managed to summon up the strength to clamber over the main gate at the entrance which was padlocked shut. The park must have been closed for hours. A wave of anger swept over me as I realised that Dr,. Lloyd-Jones must have made his own hasty exit while the gate was still open, ages ago, cosy in his car. I held my watch up to the streetlight and was somewhat disappointed to discover that it was only ten to ten. It felt much later than that. Still. That meant that I could hopefully thumb a lift home. I raised myself wearily from the pavement, on which I had collapsed, and began to walk along the main road, my thumb a weary beacon beside me.
After ten minutes a Cortina car pulled up behind me. I ran over to it thankfully but, discovering that the driver was a man, hastily turned my back and ran down a side street and hid until the man had gone. I had had quite enough of men for one night. I was luckier with the next car. It was a Daimler driven by a wealthy-looking woman wearing a white fur coat. On the seat beside her were two little Labrador puppies, white like her coat. I wondered if there was any link. I still had Cruella DeVille in my mind. I sat on the edge of the luxurious seat, trying not to drip on the expensive upholstery. The woman dropped me at Wilmslow Road, where she lived, she explained. I watched the Daimler turn into the road which led up to Bruntwood park. The houses on that road were very exclusive, huge ranch-like mansions, with three or four cars parked on each forecourt, a Daimler or a Jaguar usually amongst them.
I was almost in Gatley when a man pulled up and offered me a lift. Although the driver was an old man, I figured that if I travelled in the back, I would be safe. So I sat amongst old carpets and tools (he was a carpet-layer) until I reached home. I tumbled out of the van, hardly able to believe that I was standing at the end of my road and there, just visible amongst the rooftops, was my house.
* * * * *
“What the Hell happened to you?”
Thomas stood outside the kitchen and stared at my dripping, mud-stained form. As I closed the front door behind me I found that I did not even have the energy to answer him. I went over to my friend and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“I’ll tell you afterwards,”
I said wearily. “Make us a cup of tea, will you? I’m going to have a bath.” I began to climb the stairs.
When I reappeared I felt more like talking. A hot cup of tea greeted me in the back room, and Thomas fetched his cloak from its place on the banisters and wrapped it around me. I closed my eyes and felt myself fall through space as the nocturnal folds encompassed me and I was the Queen of the Night again. I described these feelings to Thomas, who was totally unsurprised as if to feel anything else would have been bizarre.
“After all, it is a vampire’s cloak.”
He told me reproachfully. I was comforted to hear that my feelings were natural, anyway.
“Are you going to tell me what you’ve been up to then?”
Thomas asked, after a while.
I sighed as I thought of what a long story it was going to be.
“Certainly I am,” I replied, “if you’re prepared to listen” Then a thought struck me and, setting my cup down firmly, I turned to Thomas. “Listen, you’re going to have to leave. You could go… abroad. He wants to capture you, he knows about you, I’m afraid I - I told him.” Thomas looked down at the carpet. I could see his knuckles tensed snow-white as he squeezed his hands together. “It’s just like you said,” I continued miserably, “these psychiatrists… they have ways and means… ”
There was silence as Thomas and I avoided each other’s eyes. I wanted to tell him that it was not too late, I hadn’t told Dr. Lloyd-Jones that much, and I had put up a struggle, at least… but I didn’t want to make myself look a hero. I certainly didn’t feel like one now. Thomas’s silence pointed accusing fingers at me… he didn’t have to say or do anything. The only slightly redeeming path open to me now was to simply launch into the full story of that evening’s events… which I did without delay.
Throughout my detailed explanation Thomas kept his eyes fixed upon what must have been a particularly fascinating area of the carpet. He didn’t interrupt at all so that when I neared the end of my story I felt as if I were talking to myself, not someone else. The silence afterwards supported this sensation; but Thomas brought himself into life at last by asking if I wanted another cup of tea. A little bewildered, I said yes, wondering just what was going through my friendly vampire’s mind at this moment. But, on reflection, I should have expected this; it was the way Thomas (and all vampires?) digested news – slowly and in a state of solitude. Perhaps this stemmed from six hundred odd years of living with and trusting only oneself. I admired Thomas’s self-possession and confidence in his own judgement. I didn’t trust myself at all. I knew how frequently I let myself down.
When Thomas returned he smiled vaguely at me as he sat down, as if trying to remember who I was. He stared at his own cup vacantly as I sipped my tea. I was waiting for him to break the silence, not me. I felt I had done quite enough talking for that evening.
“Tell me, Alison,” said Thomas at last, sounding uncharacteristically uncomfortable, as if the long silence – or my story - had embarrassed him. He hesitated, cleared his throat, and tried again. “Tell me – did you get hurt? When the car knocked you down?”
In reply I showed him the graze which ran down the outside of my right leg and the similar injury to my elbow. He looked briefly and turned away. I suddenly realised that he might feel a little responsible for Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s attack on me. I moved further up the sofa and grabbed his arm.
“Hey look, I hope I’m not making you feel guilty about any of this that’s happened.”
Thomas sighed deeply and dropped hid head into his pale, slim hand. For the first time I noticed a beautiful ruby ring on one of his delicate fingers. I wondered if it was real and if it was at all significant.
“Of course I feel guilty, I am responsible for all this.”
He stared at the carpet miserably. “I knew this would happen. You will be in danger now, because of me.”
“I don’t regard Dr. Lloyd-Jones as a very real ‘danger’. He can’t hurt me. Anyway, I’ll never see him again now.”
“Not a danger? He tried to run you over!” Thomas was full of indignation.
“OH, he didn’t. He didn’t want to hurt me. Why should he?”
I settled back on the sofa, pulling Thomas’s cloak tighter around me. “No, he just wanted me to tell him about you. You’re the one who’s in danger. He’s going to tell everyone what you really are and expose you as: The only living twentieth century vampire. You’d better go away – go back to Romania.”
“Oh, what’s the point?”
Thomas stood up and began his usual pacing up and down the room. I watched him through half-closed eyes. “Runningaway – to what? Another six hundred years, isolated from everything and everyone… from you… hunted all the time, and never to die… I don’t want to flee to Romania, the land of the Undead… and let it all start all over again.”
I objected, “you don’t want to become the first vampire showpiece either, do you? You don’t want to be captured?”
“Of course I don’t.”
“Well then, what’s the alternative? There is no alternative.”
“But there is.”
Thomas stopped and crossed the room quickly to me. He sat beside me, facing me, and his tortured eyes were full of such pleading that I almost began to consider what he was saying as a realistic option. “You can help me. You know you can. I can’t kill myself but if I could, you know I would. If you’ll do it… and you could… say you will, Alison, please.”
Something inside me wanted to agree to this wild, morbid act… but it was a very small something and it was swamped instantly by my reasoning (how would I do it?), my emotions (how would I bring myself to do such a thing to my beloved Thomas?) and, surprisingly, by my morality, which I didn’t even think existed (how could I bring myself to kill anyone?) No, my reaction was instantaneous. I stood up, pushing Thomas away.
Christ Thomas, not that again. Don’t mention it again. Don’t even think about it again. I think it’s totally selfish and unreasonable of you to go on and on at me about… such a horrific idea.”
I stroked his hair affectionately just to show that I was not really unforgivably outraged. If I considered it, which I did later, it was really a very reasonable request to make. But then my emotions would begin to scream, and I would have to banish every thought of murder from my mind. But while Thomas was present, I would have to refuse to even consider the idea. It was a tactic – a way of making up my mind alone… in true vampire style. I removed Thomas’s cloak from around me and draped it over the huddled, miserable figure. “Now, I’m going to bed,” I said firmly, walking wearily towards the door. Thomas looked even smaller and sadder from there. But I couldn’t allow his misery to affect me now, at least not too much. “It’s been a long day. I’m knackered.”I began to climb the stairs again, weary once more – this time to my bed.
Now go to Chapter Eleven...