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Curse of the Vampire

He was tall, dark and saturnine (as befits a vampire) with a penchant for menstrual blood. But it was the devil's own job getting constant fresh supplies. There was no shortage of menstruating women, of course, that wasn't the problem. It was catching them at just the right moment of ovulation that taxed his ingenuity. The blood had to be fresh, and since his incisors were worn with age and not very efficent, he had no choice, not to put too fine a point on it, but to go direct to the source. Years before, when he was in the army, he used to sneak into the officers' married quarters at night and sniff out a likely prospect. More than one captain's wife had wakened to feel a stealthy hand infiltrating the bedcovers and lain rigid with fear and a dread excitement as the hand explored below, removing any impediment, and the mouth bore down, softly voracious, gently insistent.

The wives discussed it among themselves, but never with their husbands. They all agreed it had to be an enlisted man, but they never found out who. If they had, they might have put pressure on their husbands not to have him transferred.

The period in the army was a good one, and he bloomed in health. The years immediately after were leaner, dryer, far less succulent. To stay fit and healthy he needed to be replenished at least once a week, and therefore even a permanent relationship wouldn't have satisfied his needs. It was a never-ending search - on and on and on - until sometimes he felt so utterly weary and despondent that he thought of finding some cool damp place underground and waiting out the millennium in earthy silence and darkness.

He never did. The unceasing search went on. His victims didn't die; they weren't even infected by the vampiric plague that coursed through his bloodstream. He was a benign form of parasite, taking sustenance where and when he could and leaving his host (hostess!) unharmed. Most of them, these women, thought him harmless, if peculiar, and some thought him deranged. All found him charming.

During one particularly dry spell, becoming desperate, he cruised the pubs and wine bars, his senses on tiptoe for the heady whiff wafting through the smoky air like the snatch of a fragrant melody. In a roomful of a hundred women, say, the intoxicating scent assailed his nostrils from many directions, and he would swivel slowly like a radar antenna, fine tuning the compass of his search down to less than one degree. Already he was salivating, though his parted lips were dry with the thrill of the chase, the blood-red mist hovering in front of his eyes ...

He had marked her out. She was sitting at a table near the wall with two companions, female. Straight dark hair cut short to her jawline, elliptical eyes with long lashes, aquiline nose, full mouth. Not many of his victims were this attractive. He couldn't afford to pick and choose usually, driven by his need to replenish himself, and the plain and the plain ugly were easier to obtain and sufficient for his purpose.

The fatal thing, he knew, was to reveal even the slightest degree of desperation. She mustn't suspect, either, that he was aware of her existing condition. Throughout aeons of time he had evolved a strategy of enticement that had been honed and refined to detect and react to the subtlest nuances of behaviour. This was the great advantage of having been undead for so long - a counter-balance to the interminable tedium of grey dusty ages he had lived though and would have to live through without any hope or prospect of respite, much less the oblivion of everlasting peace.

His was a living death sentence, cursed beyond eternity.

Helen, she told him her name was. He told her his was James, having judged it right for this occasion. Names were important, had to be matched precisely to the victim and make her compliant, relax her guard, feel at home, etc.

Her two companions smiled behind their pointed painted fingernails; his guile was so transparent, the typical stupid deceit of man on the make, and besides they forced themselves to smile to show that they didn't give a jot that he was interested in Helen and not them, when of course they did. So the chat went on, he bought them drinks, the crowded bar became a smoky, noisy blur like a comforting woolly blanket all around them.
Young women of this day and age, he had found, unlike the past, were the predators. Gradually, with all the time at his disposal, he had learnt to adapt, but it was still difficult for a vampire to suppress its natural urge of being the stalker rather than the stalked. Took away the stealth of capture, the seduction of conquest. But he would get what he was after all the same.

One of the girls, a pert little frown on her sharp face, asked him how old he was.

"Thirty-one," he answered, which was what he always said.

"Bet you're not," the girl said, her eyes flicking sideways towards Helen. "Nowhere near." She was seventeen or eighteen, her face shiny with a glaze of make- up, her thin lips a sliver of purple. "You're not fooling us," she said with derision. "More nearly twenny-four, five."

He shrugged and smiled. "You're not stupid, are you?"

"Don't treat me as if I am then."

Helen said, "And don't you be so touchy," in an accusing tone, which made the girl glare at her as if to say, "Don't be taken in by this crap-artist, he just wants to get inside your knickers."

He looked at her with his brown eyes, unsmiling, nostrils flaring slightly as he breathed in the pungent scent of her third day. The pessaries and perfumes and talcs that women used these days acted only as camouflage, a cocktail of distracting odours that didn't fool his fine senses. In the olden days of blessed memory there had been no such impediment: heady intoxication had been everywhere, on every stroll, borne on the four winds, wafting fresh and uncontaminated from beneath swirling skirts. Enough, no more; 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

Still, he would have her, and drink his fill.

"You staying here," Helen asked, "or going on somewhere?"

"Where do you go usually?"

"Usually to a club," Helen said, "but not always. Sometimes we don't bother." She lowered her long eyelashes and took a sip of her drink, a gassy German lager in a fluted glass. She was older than the others, twenty-two perhaps, or twenty-three. She had wonderful skin, pale and smooth, which made her dark eyes and dark brows even more striking. There was a natural crooked curl at the corner of her mouth, insolence or defiance, he couldn't decide which, but it enhanced her beauty by seeming to disown it, even maybe to find the notion of physical allure, her own especially, just too ridiculous.

By ten o'clock, and becoming bored, the sharp-featured girl and the silent, morose one were eyeing up other men in the room. His presence at the table was a hindrance, sending out confused and misleading signals, balking any possible approach by other males. Besides, it was clear that Helen, with her lowered eyelashes and slanting gaze, had more or less come to a decision. She fancied this tall, dark, lean stranger. Let her go ahead; they would make other arrangements.

At the wheel, driving to her flat, he wasn't able to pay much attention and therefore didn't see the expression on her face in the darkened interior with the lights flashing over it. Her eyes were stony bright, like gleaming black pebbles. The little curl at the edge of her mouth was gone, lips straight and firm, compressed. None of this he noticed.

In fact he was more concerned with the night-time streets and the lateness of the hour. You never knew who was prowling about after dark. There were some real weirdos abroad these days whose vicious behaviour was as unpredictable as it was inexplicable. He avoided walking alone in secluded places after a certain time, for instance, frightened by the mindless mentality that drove them to senseless violence. Harming or killing someone for no reason was alien to his nature.

Helen turned on the gas-fire and offered him a drink. He wanted to drink, but not the red wine she offered. He accepted anyway, to keep her company, knowing she required alcohol to convince herself she was getting drunk. Thus she could happily surrender her willpower to desire, by default as it were.

Many years ago he had felt desire; now it was simply a necessary act of replenishment. However, the motions had to be gone through, the rituals observed. These entailed talking to her as if she were an intelligent human being with opinions worth listening to. Which led to phase two, sitting on the furry mildewed rug in front of the gas-fire, sipping wine while his intense brown eyes bored into her dusty blue ones. And then eventually, after a decent interval, tracing the blue veins on the back of her slender white hand with his fingertips.

She was astonishingly white, her skin almost translucent. It occurred to him, alarmingly, that she might be anaemic. Helen's thin blood wouldn't provide him with sufficient sustenance - unless quantity made up for quality. Well, he consoled himself, at least they had the night together. He could return to the trough for top- ups, nips at the flask like a hiker on a winter's day.

His throat felt parched with the thirst and the anticipation.

Only half-listening to Trish and Kath prattle on about nothing, Helen saw him the moment he entered the bar. He was very good-looking, in a sombre, gaunt-cheeked sort of way. Several girls marked him out, he was that different. He seemed unaware of this attention, Helen noted, standing with his drink as he swivelled on the axis of his spine, his face lifted slightly as if sniffing something rare and exotic in the smoky air swirled by the wooden blades of the fans above.

"Third one this week," Trish said, noticing Helen's fixed gaze. "Have you never had enough?" Her little sharp-boned nose wrinkled in disgust. "They'll be calling you a slag next."

"He's a dish," Kath said. She moistened her upper lip and suddenly blushed.

"Since you finished with Rob you've been like a bitch in heat," Trish said. "How many cocks do you want? The handsome bastards are the worst bastards."

Helen said nothing. Rob had been handsome and a bastard, and she hadn't finished with him, he had finished with her. Three weeks later she missed her period, went into a blind mad panic, tested herself with a kit from Boot's, which showed negative. That was all right then, thank God. But it wasn't. Something was wrong. She felt listless and nauseous, running on empty; lost her appetite, and when her period did arrive, ten days' late, she felt worse not better.

Her GP did the usual tests. Helen thought she might be anaemic, that she would need some vitamin B shots, but when the results came through she found out she was HIV positive. She hadn't seen Rob since then, didn't want to ever again. There were plenty of other handsome bastards around, and what was sauce for the gander was sauce for the goose.

Four the first week, three the next, five the week after that ... after nineteen she lost count and no longer bothered to keep a tally. A plague on all their houses, Helen thought, a deep, bitter satisfaction in her heart. Bring on the Handsome Bastards, roll 'em out, line 'em up, cart 'em away.

When he came over to their table and started chatting she gave him her slanting look from beneath her long eyelashes, the one that went with the curl at the corner of her mouth, insolence or defiance, the Handsome Bastards never could decide which.

His head lay sideways on her smooth belly, as if listening with his ear pressed to the ground. The beat of her heart was a distant seismic rumble on another part of the planet. Juices gurgled nearby like underground streams. He could have swooned at the proximity of his desire to its source of satiation.

The shedding of unwanted life from her womb would prolong his undead existence, so in this transaction no one was the loser. In the morning he would be gone from her life forever, and Helen would be none the wiser, never knowing the true nature of the service she had provided. Like all the others she would think him strange perhaps, a fetishist with a bizarre craving. But when all was said and done there was no accounting for taste. At least this form of deviant behaviour left the victim unharmed. (That's what she would tell herself, thanking her lucky stars that the demon of her worst nightmares - the casual pick-up-cum-axe-murderer - had turned out to be nothing but a crank with a penchant for menstrual blood.)

His hand moved upwards along her inner thigh, nearer to the holy grail. It amazed him in a quiet way that she made no move to stop him. Although heightened to sex when menstruating, women as a general rule were uneasy about men taking an interest in the mechanics of the procedure: bleeding was a private thing, as intimate as the shaving of armpits or the grunts and sighs on the lavatory bowl. Yet she lay calm and quiescent while he removed the plug and discarded it over the side of the bed onto the rush matting.
Now the aroma hit him, delicious and thick like hot gravy, and his puckered lips worked their way downwards over her smooth white belly until it scalded his nostrils.

The wardrobe door stood ajar, and in its inside mirror Helen saw him rise up a few minutes later wearing a wide bloody grin. His eyes were shut, and his garish vivid smile reminded her of a clown.

In the bathroom, standing in the tub, she used the showerhead spray to wash her abdomen. As the water coursed down her legs and between her toes Helen was stricken with shame. It was the first time this had happened, probably because he had demanded nothing of her and asked for nothing in return. It was an innocent boy she had infected, for no purpose other than self-pity and self-hatred. But it was too late. This stable-door of emotion and reason had banged shut on empty space with the deafening finality of doom.
Helen came back into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed, wrapped in a bath towel. She looked at him lying there, flat on his back, hands crossed peacefully on his chest in the manner of a corpse. A few traces of her were still on his lips.

She touched his shoulder. His eyelids flicked open immediately. Resting not sleeping. He lay looking up at the ceiling and for the first time she realised how supernaturally white the whites of his eyes were. They looked so healthy they were practically luminous.

"I have to tell you something - " Helen said, stopping short, meaning to add his name if only she hadn't forgotten what it was.

"That's all right," he said peacably. "No apologies, no explanations. You've done me a favour, you'll never know how big."

"There's something wrong." It blurted out, her eyes shut tight. "With my blood." She swallowed. "Something wrong with all of me. You might get it too, and there's no cure."

He sat up then, blinking slowly. "What do you mean? No cure for what?"

He watched as she hunched over, sobbing, and between the sobs he caught the drift of a stumbling explanation, the reason for her distress, the grievous harm she had caused him.

There was nothing he could do to console her, nothing he could say.

He couldn't say what he really felt - the sudden lifting of the heart - that would be too cruel.
In the wardrobe mirror he watched himself cradling her in his arms. It was popular belief that vampires had no reflection, which wasn't true, like all the rest of the superstitious nonsense to do with garlic and crucifixes. His image in the mirror was as sharp as hers this minute. As yet he could detect no change. He would have to stare at it a long time before he saw his own outline start to waver and fade, like an unfinished pencil sketch, leaving Helen in a ghostly embrace. All the same he kept on watching, in the hope that the first faint sign of any fading might appear.


© Trevor Hoyle 2008

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