I just took part in the Halloween Gothic Day of Creation. It was another day-long event organised by Dr Sam Hirst, as a part of the Romancing the Gothic lectures and talks. Today was particularly inspiring with wonderful workshops on world-building and folklore. I was very pleased to be able to read one of my stories as a part of an authors’ showcase.
If you enjoy this story and want to support me, you can donate a cup of coffee to me on my ko-fi!
I was still sizzling from the holy water when she found me. The hunters were after fun that night, their strikes designed to injure, not kill. But they overestimated their abilities and my flight into the building took them by surprise.
Contrary to popular opinion, we’re strong but not that strong. With my arm half off and third degree burns coursing down my neck, I was somewhat weary after the fifth flight of stairs.
I stumbled along a concrete walkway before spying the light through a kitchen window.
I took a chance. In the dead of night, there I was, covered in blood that was mostly my own, hair frazzled from a fiery torch (bloody amateurs), and fangs on display. I can imagine I was quite the sight.
But when I slumped to my knees and pounded my fist upon the door, begging for help, she opened it. A small woman with crinkly, soft skin poked her head out and looked down at me. She adjusted her glasses, then asked if I’d like a cup of tea.
I didn’t understand at the time why she helped me, but afterwards I did. It was just who she was.
She shuffled back inside and beckoned me to follow. Doing as I was told, I limped after her, shutting the door behind me. She led me through to a warm living room containing a sturdy sofa that she instructed me to “park” myself on while she sorted out some tea.
As she passed me, she pulled her dressing gown a little closer and shivered, before frowning at the thermostat on the wall.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, “that’s my fault.”
She smiled and said, “Nice in the summer, though! Do you take sugar?”
People like me don’t generally drink or eat human food. Think of it like lactose-intolerance. However, like many lactose-intolerant people, some of us still eat things we know aren’t good for us: we miss the taste of sandwiches, or cream cakes or, in my case, tea.
While the kettle boiled, I heard the gentle thwacking of her slippers as she went to another room. She emerged shortly after, armed with a fluffy dressing gown and a pink nightdress.
She motioned to the bathroom and suggested I may want to change out of my still smouldering jacket.
I returned to find her ensconced in a high back armchair facing the sofa. A mug of steaming hot tea sat waiting for me on a coffee table. Upon the mug was an orange cartoon cat declaring an aversion to Mondays.
Taking my seat once again, I held the mug between my hands, placing it upon my knees, thanking her as I sat there.
She nodded and, after a few minutes of silence, asked, “Do you always have the fangs out?”
I threw a hand up to cover my mouth, forgetting my ligaments were still knitting themselves together. My lack of control meant I smacked myself in the face.
She laughed a little at that.
“S-sorry,” I stuttered, “they’re automatic. They come out when we’re threatened or, um-“
I didn’t finish the sentence, but she nodded again.
“So. You’re a – what do you call yourselves?”
“Ah, humans call us vampires,” I explained. “The ones who know about us, that is, like the hunters.”
She made a humph sound at that. Then she said, “And what do you call yourselves?”
I wasn’t expecting that, but Marie was always full of surprises.
I told her and she said it sounded nice to her ears: “lyrical”.
It didn’t take long for the hunters to find me. Marie was in the kitchen, boiling the kettle for our second round of tea (“decaf, this time,” she insisted, “it’s after 8”), when they began knocking on the door.
She popped her head into the living room, squinted at me and asked, “These those hunters of yours?”
I knew they wouldn’t just barge into a human home, but I was putting Marie at risk the longer I stayed. I placed my mug down, and began to thank her for giving me sanctuary, if only for a while.
I had a whole speech prepared. It was very good, noble, even.
Marie just rolled her eyes at me and told me to sit myself back down. She said that if she could tell that Tory fool to get off her doorstep (then she muttered something indecipherable about someone called Thatcher), she could deal with this.
I stayed out of sight on the sofa, but I heard Marie approach the front door and, in a trembling voice I did not recognise, she asked, “Who-who is it?”
I don’t know exactly what kind of lies they tried to weave, but I don’t think it would have made any difference.
I have heard the banshee’s shrill wail as it announces the passing of a loved one, and I have endured the screech of mothmen as they swooped upon the damned. However, nothing could have prepared me for Marie’s shrieks as she threatened to call the police, accusing the hunters of being “dodgy conmen” trying to do her harm, that she’d get Steve from no. 6 to sort them out, and he went to the gym 5 times a week and while she was worried he spent far too much time there, it made him happy so who was she to judge?
Hunters aren’t risk-averse, but they are fixated on the idea of “working in the shadows” as anonymous guardians. You can’t maintain that mysterious aura if you end up battling a gym enthusiast called Steve on the 5th floor of a Camden council estate block.
They left, but they wouldn’t be gone forever. When I saw Marie’s grinning face, and how pleased she was with her performance, I almost didn’t want to tell her that my reprieve was a temporary one; that they would be watching this block for some time.
Marie just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I’ve got a spare room. Could do with the company.”
I thanked her for the generous offer, but reminded her that my dietary requirements were somewhat specialised and not covered by a supermarket home delivery.
She pondered this, then said she would deal with it tomorrow.
The next evening, I woke in the spare room, thankful for Marie’s blackout curtains. I found her in the kitchen, warming something in the microwave. I recognised the smell immediately and asked her where she had got it from.
She smiled and said that she was friends with a local butcher. She’d convinced him to sell her some regularly, telling him that she wanted to make blood pudding.
An ingenious woman, Marie.
We spent the next few weeks in a sort of domestic bliss. Marie would carry on with her normal routine while I slept: library visits on Mondays, book group on Wednesdays, catch-up with some friends on Saturdays.
In the evenings, we would eat together, her usually demolishing cauliflower cheese and ham at an alarming speed, while I sipped from a mug.
After dinner was my favourite time, however. On my second night there, I’d noticed what turned out to be a large, remastered DVD box set of Murder, She Wrote, still wrapped in cellophane. I asked what it was and what followed was about 30 minutes of her telling me all about the show: how long it had run for, notable guest stars like Magnum PI, as well as the fan-theory that Jessica Fletcher was secretly a serial killer, covering up her crimes by “solving” them and implicating others.
It was wonderful to watch, honestly.
I asked her why, if she was such a big fan, the DVDs were unopened. She looked at them for a moment and said a friend had gifted the set to her, years ago. That, while she appreciated the thought, she liked the quality of VHS tapes much more, especially the grainy lines that appeared now and again as the tape began to warp and fade. She also found it comforting to watch the old ad breaks, reminding her of products that had long-disappeared.
At this point, she led me to a broom closet. Within were several shelves, all filled with VHS tapes in cardboard sleeves. The tapes were labelled and meticulously arranged into season order. Each season had a different colour label, with 3 episodes listed upon the cassette’s spine in neat handwriting.
I blinked a few times, and asked how long she had been collecting for.
She grinned and said, “Oh, just a few decades.”
I asked if we could watch some episodes. I had never been able to keep up with TV shows and was fascinated to know a bit more about this Jessica Fletcher whom Marie so clearly adored.
She drummed her fingers upon her mouth and shuffled into the closet, her gaze scanning along each shelf in turn. It was like watching a sommelier contemplate the best wine to pair with a fine meal.
Eventually she went back to the start of the shelf and grabbed the very first cassette.
“Always best to start at the beginning,” she said, wiping the dust off the cardboard sleeve and leading me back to the living room and her TV cabinet.
Beneath the TV was a VHS player. Marie pushed the tape through a slot with a satisfying “schlunk” and pressed play. She fiddled with a remote control and the jolly, tinkling music hit me first. There on the screen was the surprisingly upbeat opening sequence, featuring a woman laughing and riding her bike around a cosy seaside town while presumably solving horrific murders.
I fell in love immediately.
So, each evening, we would watch a couple of episodes. Marie had watched them all several times, so it was down to me to try and guess who the murderer was. It became a fun game for the two of us, one I would often lose.
When Marie retired to bed, I’d stay up to watch more. The next morning, I would recap them to her over breakfast. She enjoyed sharing little details I might have missed, like how then little-known actor Andy Garcia shows up as a street thug in the very first episode. Then I’d go to sleep and she would go about her day, before repeating the cycle again in the evening.
I think that was the happiest I’d been in centuries. Maybe ever.
Of course, it couldn’t last. At some point, the videos would run out. At some point, the hunters would return.
I had to make a difficult decision and I told Marie I needed to go; that creatures like me did not get fairytale endings.
I had a whole speech.
She cut me off just as I got to the part where I had begun to explain the historical complexities and solitary life of my kind. Instead, she motioned towards a large trunk she’d brought home the day before and smiled at me like I was a foolish child.
Of course she had a plan.
It wasn’t a comfortable journey, but we managed to escape to America in one piece. Marie had always dreamed of seeing the places portrayed in the show she adored, but she’d never had a suitable companion. Until me.
We started with Cabot Cove, naturally, which was actually filmed in California rather than Maine. She loved that, getting me to take photos of her smiling as she rode a bicycle along the seaside paths.
Without a friendly butcher to help out, we’ve had to improvise around my diet. Marie doesn’t mind me feeding from hunters (but only if you attack first; she thinks it’s unsporting, otherwise), and thankfully there’s always a fresh supply of you. Sometimes I even let you live.
I think she prefers it if you die, though, so I am sorry about that. It pleases her funny sense of humour to go around the States leaving bodies where Jessica Fletcher did; and who am I to disappoint such a wonderful lady?