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…”
“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 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?”
“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...