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