Saturday 29 July 2023

Saturday Sample: Devils, Demons and Werewolves , As If, Bulls Blood

Closing the book on its final page, I stared at the cover. “As if!” I said, and threw it over my shoulder in disgust. 

My flat-mate, Sue, caught it as she walked past. She glanced at the title and started laughing. “So, Caro, this is what you’ve been so secretive about reading. As if, indeed.” 

 I would have blushed, if that was possible for me, anymore. “I was just curious… but as if a vampire could fall in love with a human and get a happily ever after.” 

Sue was nodding. “And all that stuff about skin sparkling like diamonds in the sun.” 

I grinned. Looked like Sue had succumbed and read it, too. “Yeah. The most that can be said for us is we’re pale and interesting – in any light.” 

Sue threw the book back to me and I caught it easily, crushing it in my fingers until it was almost powder. Still, it had been nice to dream. All the male vampires I knew were so blokey and only really interested in where their next meal was coming from, if you know what I mean. The idea, just for a second, that perhaps I could find a nice human boyfriend, that there was some loophole I hadn’t thought of, had given me something to look forward to for the first time in decades. Now, that hope was gone. 

“I’m off out,” said Sue, patting her stomach. “Dinnertime. Want me to bring you a snack back.” 

I looked up, worried she was serious, but saw the glint in her eye. I smiled. “I’ve already eaten.” 

She looked surprised, but skipped out with a wave, leaving me to clean up the mess from my destroyed book and flip through the TV channels. 

Vampire Diaries… True Blood… Being Human… Twilight… I rolled my eyes. The whole world had gone 8 vampire mad, which was fine unless you were one. Which I was. Sue, too. 

I may have looked 18, but I was nearer 70, if my math was correct. As to how I became one of the immortals, I had no idea. Sue had found me unconscious in a London alleyway and presumed I’d been someone’s dinner, but they’d been interrupted. She recognised the signs, took me home and kept me. 

She was sort of a big sister/mother rolled into one and we rubbed along pretty well together. The only thing we really disagreed on was dinner. I ate as infrequently as possible and then picked my meals carefully – the already dying, the murderers among us. Sue ate whenever and whoever she felt like. Recently, I’d tried an animal-only diet, and that wasn’t working out too badly although bizarrely, it made me feel a bit sick. 

It had its benefits, however. Take next-door’s dog, for example. Wouldn’t be driving anyone crazy barking half the night again. We’d tried talking to the neighbour about it, but got nowhere, which was unusual for us. People usually listened – some sort of inbuilt preservation mechanism. I could only think it was because said neighbour was elderly, deaf and didn’t see too good. In fact, I’d probably done the poor animal a favour. I think the old guy forgot to feed it half the time and I never remember it being taken for a walk. But I protest too much. Guilty conscience, maybe? 

Clicking off the television I sighed. I was bored – about as bored as you could be with eternity to fill. I’d taken to vampirism remarkably well, Sue had said, which I thought had something to do with having no memory of my human life. In fact, I’d quite enjoyed the first 30 or 40 years, but then it had all taken on a sameness. The only friends I had were other vampires, mostly the same ones, 9 who never changed, never aged. Sure, Sue and I moved around every five years or so, before people started getting suspicious, but it was only the location that changed. I’d been bored – and let’s face it, lonely – for decades. 

“Nothing’s ever going to change,” I murmured and wished I could just have a good cry, but I couldn’t. 

And then there was a knock at the door. I sniffed: human. Probably selling something, but it was a break in the monotony and I could always have fun scaring him. 

He had his back to me when I opened the door, but turned around at the sound, the smile on his face faltering slightly. We had that effect on people. They could tell something wasn’t quite right, but not what. I mean, how would you guess, although with all those vampire shows now, surely it would only be a matter of time. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said, “but we’ve received a complaint about animal cruelty – your neighbour’s dog. And now, well, it seems to have gone missing. I wondered if you’d heard or seen anything.” 

For a moment, I thought he was joking, that Sue had put him up to this, but then I took in his uniform, with its RSPCA tags and realised exactly who “we” were. I also realised he was gorgeous – spiky blond hair, green eyes… I shivered. I wanted to eat him all up – quite literally. 

I licked my lips and he looked startled. Were my feelings really that obvious? 

Smiling brightly, I shook my head. “The dog did bark a lot and I don’t think I ever saw it taken for a walk. But missing, you say. How sad.” I held out my hand. “I’m Caro.” 

He took my hand and squeezed it, letting go quickly. It was pretty cold, after all. “Greg,” he said and then pulled a card from his pocket. “Here’s my number. If you do hear anything, or the dog comes back, please call me.” 

Then he turned and walked away, casting one curious glance over his shoulder at me. It took every ounce of self control I had to let him go. 

Sighing, I closed the door and went back to the TV. I almost wished I hadn’t destroyed that book – maybe there were some hints in there about a making a vampire/human romance work that I’d missed. 

“Why the long face?” asked Sue, when she came back a couple of hours later.

 I pouted. “Nobody loves me.” 

“Of course, they don’t,” she said, flopping down next to me on the sofa. “You’re a vampire. You’re not supposed to be lovable.” 

“I don’t care what I’m supposed to be. I want to be loved. I want a boyfriend, I want…” 

“You want to stop reading those books – they’ve only put silly ideas into your head.” 

I stared at my hands, all white and unnaturally smooth. “Is it silly to want to be loved, then?” 

Sue sighed. “No, Caro, it’s not. But it doesn’t work that way for us, not any more. Believe me, I know. I used to be like you, but I tried the whole romance thing and it just didn’t work out.” “You did?” 

She nodded. “At first, I stuck to our own kind – other vampires – but none of them wanted to be tied down. More than a few weeks in one place and they got itchy feet. So, I tried finding a human partner. I thought, if I fell in love, I could change him…” 

I knew Sue’s self-control around humans still wasn’t what it should be and said as much. 

“I know, I know. First, I tried meeting people through the personal ads – this was before the Internet. I got to write and talk to them first. I thought perhaps if I 11 knew them as a person, I wouldn’t be tempted to – well – you know. Hopeless, though. Remember those headlines in the papers 40 years back – Dates with Death and Dying to be Loved – and the killer they were calling The Loveline Murderess? That was me.” 

I screwed up my eyes, trying to remember. “Ah,” I nodded. “That’s why we had to move so quickly – and so far.” 

Sue nodded. “I left it alone for while – but then I saw this article on speed dating.” 

 I laughed. “You didn’t!” “

I did. Quite a few times, actually. It turned out to be a great way to pick a lunch date. All that choice – and I could just take the tastiest…” I shuddered. “So you gave up.” “I did. Because that time the papers were calling me the Quick Killer, although I don’t recall being too quick about it.” She smiled and I shuddered. “But,” she added, putting her arm around me, “that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go. You’re different to me. More controlled.” 

“I don’t think I fancy speed-dating, thanks very much.” 

Sue shrugged and stood up. “I believe the Internet is the way to go these days. Come on, I’ll help you write your profile.” 

It took two hours to come up with something I was happy with. Sue had rattled off one straight away. “Pale and mysterious ageless beauty on the hunt for a delicious date. Send me a message – I guarantee you’ll be dying to meet me.” 

I’d deleted it and instead typed in, “Camera-shy (despite the changed perception, we didn’t show up in photos) 18-year-old (still), tall, slim with chestnut hair and matching eyes (thanks to contact lenses) looking for romance with an 18-24-year-old male.”  

I added a few more details – likes and dislikes, that sort of thing – and loaded it onto the Lurve-lines website. Now, all I had to do was sit back and wait… 

I didn’t actually get that many replies – not from the 18-24 age group, anyway. Sue said it was because most of them used the more conventional ways – pubs and clubs – to meet someone. I thought it was more probably because there was no photo, so everyone automatically assumed I was ugly. I had older men try their luck – more interested in my age than looks – but deleted their messages. And then there he was. Lucas. His message started by apologising for being 25 and a year outside my limit, plus being technologically challenged meant he couldn’t seem to upload a photo, so he guessed we’d have to have a true blind date. 

 I replied and we started emailing. A week later, we arranged that date at a local pub. 

“I’m coming with you,” said Sue as I was getting ready. “Just in case.” 

I laughed. “Just in case what? I’m a vampire. If anything, he’s the one who needs a bodyguard.” 

Sue sniffed. “I’ll be discreet. Sit at another table.” 

“Absolutely not.” 

She sighed. “I’ll wait up then and you can tell me all about it.” 

 Given that we never slept, waiting up didn’t really come into it, but I nodded. If it made her happy… 

We’d agreed to each carry a red rose – all very 1930s romance movie – and I gripped mine harder than strictly necessary, the thorns digging in, but not making me bleed. It was a warm summer evening and we’d arranged to meet in the beer garden – much quieter and easier to talk. 

I relaxed when I saw he’d actually come, and I wouldn’t have to go through the humiliation of being stood up. He was sitting with his back to me, but I could 13 see him turning the rose over and over in his hands. I didn’t need to breath and now stopped, just in case he smelt too tasty. I tried to be good, but you never knew. 

“Lucas?” I asked, walking around in front of him. He looked up, startled, and then smiled. If I’d still had a heart, it would have flipped. He had warm brown eyes and floppy hair to match, both of which made him look a bit like a Spaniel. 

“Caro. Wow. I have no idea why you would be camera shy.” 

"Charmer,” I laughed, sliding into the seat opposite him. He grinned and an honest-to-goodness dimple appeared in his left cheek. 

“I’ll get us some drinks – what’s your poison?” 

As I couldn’t ask for a pint of blood, it didn’t really matter what I ordered as I wouldn’t drink it, so I opted for a mineral water. Might as well be a cheap date. 

I watched him walk into the pub, hardly daring to believe my luck. He moved easily, with long loping strides, totally unhurried. I allowed myself to “breathe” while he was away, but stopped as he came back. 

His hand brushed mine when I took my drink, but the glass was cold and he didn’t notice my hand was, too. 

e talked about anything and everything, leaning closer together across the table as the evening progressed. I still refused to “breathe” just knowing he would smell as wonderful as he looked. All too soon, the pub was closing and we walked together to the street, our arms touching. He stopped and smiled. “I think we should do this again – soon.” 

“Absolutely.” I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. He bent his head to mine and brushed his lips against my cheek. When he frowned, I sighed inwardly. Too cold. He’d noticed I was too cold. 

“Something wrong?” I managed. 

“No… you just smell… different.” 

“Oh!” 

He laughed. “That didn’t come out right. Not in a bad way. Just… different.” 

He kissed me again. “I’ll call you,” he said and I was about to nod, when Sue appeared like lightning from nowhere and pushed me behind her. 

“No you won’t,” she hissed. “You animal!” 

 I shoved her aside, horrified. “Sue, are you mad? He’s barely touched me.” 

“And that’s the way it’s going to stay.” 

 Lucas looked from me to Sue, totally bewildered.

 “You’re not breathing, are you?” Sue spat. 

 Now, I was terrified. What on earth was she doing? 

She spun round to face me. “Breathe.” 

 I’d never seen her so angry and, scared of what she might do, I breathed. And that was when the smell hit me. I looked at Lucas over her shoulder and mouthed one word: Werewolf. 

I watched the colour drain from his face and one look at Sue told me why. Her eyes were blazing red, the venom destroying the blue contact lens and her lips were pulled back in a snarl. “But you’re a myth,” he whispered. 

“And you aren’t?” Sue spat back, before slinging me over her shoulder and breaking into a run. We were four blocks away in seconds and it was only my pounding on her back that stopped her. 

“Put me down!” I yelled. “What do you think you’re doing?” 

 “Saving your arse, Caro. Vampires and werewolves don’t mix.” 

I glared at her. “And you don’t think I’m capable of making that decision for myself?” I demanded. 

“Frankly, no,” she said. “I want you to promise not to have anything to do with that thing again.” 

I laughed, but there was no humour in it. “And you think he’d want to go out with me again after what you just did.” 

Sue smiled. “Guess not.” Her eyes were still glowing red and she licked her lips. “All this confrontation has made me hungry. I’ll see you later.” 

 She was gone in the blink of an eye and I walked slowly home. A werewolf, and I hadn’t even noticed. But then, why should I? I’d never come across one before. 

I spent the night surfing the Internet searching for werewolf legends and it did seem that was exactly what they were – a legend. Only I knew better and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Lucas. If what the myths said were true, he’d become a werewolf after being attacked by one and every full moon would change from his human form into a terrible beast. I sighed. Whereas I, well I was a terrible beast all the time – much as I tried not to be. 

“What did I do to deserve this life – or half-life,” I murmured. Eventually, as the sun began to rise, I checked my email. Amazingly, there was one from Lucas. 

Not sure what to expect, I opened it. “I don’t care,” he’d written, and signed off, “From one myth to another.” 

I thought about it for all of one second before writing my reply. “Neither do I.” 

The response was immediate. “Breakfast – the little café by the river.” 

“Half an hour?” I typed back and was already quitting and heading for the door, keen to make my escape before Sue came home. 

He was waiting for me, a takeaway coffee cup in one hand and muffin in the other. 

 I allowed myself to breath and found he didn’t smell too bad. In fact, because he didn’t smell “human”, it made it easy to resist taking a nibble. 

“Let’s walk,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d want to sit and watch me eat.” 

“Very considerate,” I said, smiling at him. We set off along the riverbank, our arms touching occasionally, but saying nothing. When we came to a bench, Lucas sat, and pulled me down next to him. 

Taking my cold, pale hands he covered them with his large warm ones. “Is this too hot?” he asked, after a minute. 

 I shook my head. “No. Am I too cold?” 

“You,” he said, raising my hands to his lips and kissing them, “feel wonderful.” 

“How long have you been a…” I hesitated. “Werewolf?” he finished for me. “Much too long. So long, that I remember no other life. And you?” 

I sighed. “The same.” 

He pulled me closer, tucked me under his arm. His warmth felt wonderful. “It’s a lonely life.” I nodded and he glanced at me. “Although you have scary Sue.” I smiled. “She is a bit protective.” 

Lucas nodded. “And how do you think she’d feel if we kept seeing each other?” 

“She wouldn’t allow it.” My voice was flat. 

Lucas turned my head and kissed me on the lips. “The very heat of him burned into my body, breathing life where I’d thought it no longer existed. I responded fiercely, wrapping my hands in his hair and pulling his mouth harder onto mine. If he’d been merely human, I would have broken him with my strength. We separated, both gasping. For the first time in decades, I felt hot. Whatever it was that made him a werewolf seemed to cancel out my vampireness. I wondered if he felt the same. He did. “We’ll have to go away,” he said, “somewhere no-one knows us.” 

I laughed at the thought of it. “We could be like a proper couple, living together, looking out for each other.” 

He nodded. “But do you know what you’re taking on? When I change, well… I couldn’t stand to hurt you.” 

I took his face in my hands and smothered him in kisses. “I don’t think you could. I’m pretty much unbreakable.” And my lips found his again. 

Sue, of course, was angry, then worried, then sceptical when I broke the news. “As if that will work,” she said. “Love just isn’t for us. You’re not living some trashy vampire romance novel, you know.” 

“I know,” I told her. “This is much much better than a novel.” 

“After all I’ve done for you,” were her parting words, but I’m sure I heard her whisper, “Take care,” as I closed the door. 

And so Lucas and I – the werewolf and vampire – settled into a relatively peaceful existence in suburbia and if we had to move every few years, it didn’t really matter because we had each other. As for Sue, our paths crossed again, sort of, about 20 years later, when I spotted the news headlines screaming about the Kissing Killer whose male victims all came from a dating website. Seemed like Sue was still looking for love, after all. Elaine Westley 

For Jan Goldie, who got me hooked on everything vampire. Elaine has been a journalist for over 25 years, working on national papers and magazines both in the UK and Australia, buts love the freedom of expression writing fiction gives her. As a busy mum of two young children the biggest challenge is not what to write about, but finding the time to do it. She has previously had her story "Stuck" published in Bridge House’s Going Places. 

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