A reimagining of the classic vampire trope of drinking blood.
As the sun rose behind the castle on the hill, a cold wind swept over the forest below. It stirred the leaves on the old, disused road leading to the drawbridge. Pine trees swayed under its increasing force and it called to the distant hills sending dark clouds scudding across the sky. A grey veil lifted from the surrounding fields, and the castle walls shivered out of indistinct shadows, their large stone blocks rising to crenellated heights. When the wind died away, the momentary silence was broken by the harsh clatter of wheels on cobbles. A black carriage emerged from the forest and mounted the steep road, stirring up mounds of leaves. The carriage lurched on the uneven road and the driver clutched the rail as he whipped the horses forward harder. It rattled across the drawbridge and through the arched tunnel into a desolate, overgrown courtyard. The driver leaped down and opened the door, standing swiftly back as a figure stepped to the ground. It was a young man, tall and painfully thin, his body wrapped in a long black cloak he clutched tightly around him. The driver’s eyes were turned to the floor and he didn’t see the anger in the young man’s face at the lateness of their arrival. He strode off without speaking towards a dark, doorless opening in the castle wall, his footsteps loud in the still air. As he disappeared from the driver’s view and descended unseen stairs, gleams of sunlight shafted across the wall and shone on the coach, glowing like gold on the crest.
He laughed at her question as they watched the taxi slowly descend the steep road and disappear into the forest below the castle.
“We don’t always drink blood,” he sighed. “But that is what everyone believes.”
She looked puzzled.
“But, then …”
He lifted her hand and examined it. The delicate veins shone blue in the sunlight. Her skin appeared like a blank page, and he wondered what he could write there if he chose.
“That is only at the end,” he said, releasing her hand although she held it out for a moment longer before lowering it to her lap.
“By then we know that we are dying, and this knowledge drives us to take blood.”
He walked to the parapet and looked down.
Thirty metres below, the castle walls melded into the living rock of the mountain that continued falling another hundred metres to the valley floor. The sun was high in the sky, and when he turned back to her, the soft blue of his eyes appeared to her like the surface of a deep lake. She saw nothing in them to make her afraid, but conflict moved swiftly across his face like a cloud before the sun.
He smiled and shrugged.
“But we don’t know when that will happen. And until it does, living is marvellous, more clear and vibrant than anything you have experienced before.”
“But, isn’t it frightening, the, the transition, I mean. I always imagined it would be terrifying.”
He shook his head vigourously.
“No. None of us knows how we begin. That is another mystery.”
He waved his hand dismissively as she tried to speak. “Yes, I know the trope: a dark night, possibly a wolf howling, definitely some bats —the flapping of wings and a sharp bite. But that’s all … speculation.”
He sat down next to her and looked at the sky before turning to her.
“The truth is that one day, you just feel … different. More alive than ever before but you don’t know why. At first, it seems like a strange dream. You hear more sounds than you ever noticed before; a mouse scratching in the basement of the house; a stream rushing down a mountain that is a misty shadow on the horizon, clouds passing overhead. You hear everything.”
“Are all your senses enhanced?”
He shook his head.
“No, I can only see as far as you, and my sense of smell is normal.”
He touched her shoulder and felt the light material of her dress move. She noticed he said nothing of taste.
“Touch is more sensitive,” he pinched the cloth, and rubbed it between his fingers. “But not especially so.” He removed his hand and straightened up. She felt something diminish, and absently raised a hand to her shoulder as if she had lost part of herself. He noticed the movement and turned away to hide his smile.
“No, it is really only sound that is the problem. I stayed alone here for several days, down there in the vault,” he pointed at the base of the other tower and she turned her head to follow, “before I could face leaving. Even through several metres of stone, the noise was almost unbearable.”
He looked over his shoulder and smiled, and again she had the impression of a lake, of thoughts stirring in the depths of his eyes and she felt, curiously, that she shared some of those thoughts, that what he would say in a few minutes is what she would have said had they met years before.
“I learned to shut them out unless I wanted to listen. And I became very good at it. For instance, I can hear your heart now; it’s beating faster than usual, but I can also ignore it and hear that eagle’s wings beating above us. Or, I can shut the world out out and let my own heart be the only sound. Life changes. Living is a process of controlling sensations. You don’t have to search for anything any more. It comes flooding over you all the time.”
He pointed at her.
“That is another aspect that is always misunderstood. A vampire never has to go in search of a victim. They provide themselves willingly.”
She looked down as though she had been asked a difficult question in an interview, but almost immediately raised her head.
“I don’t believe that,” she said harshly, “it sounds like a self-justification. One trait you haven’t mentioned is your charisma. Perhaps you manipulate them without realising it so that you can tell yourself they are willing participants, while they feel compelled.”
He passed a hand through his hair and rested it on the back of his neck, lifting his head. Then he crossed his arms across his chest and was silent. She noted how thin he was, almost emaciated. And that reminded her of the question she wanted to ask.
“Why do you need to drink blood at the end?”
He turned his eyes upon her, and a weight pressed her down. He seemed to be struggling with the question, or was uncertain whether or how he should answer. After a few moments, he sighed and uncrossed his arms, letting them hang at his sides.
“At the end,” he said reluctantly, breathing out. “We cannot continue with the effort of controlling our lives Oh, yes, I know …” he continued, waving her to be quiet, “.. compared to your life span, we live hundreds of years. But, … it passes eventually. And then, slowly at first, but increasingly persistently, the desire grows.”
He walked around the turret looking up at the flag waving in the breeze.
“Gradually, over time, ordinary food loses its flavour.”
He raised a hand to his face and examined his fingers.
“I used to enjoy wild berries, especially blackcurrants, the stain they made on my fingers made me happy. I would walk for miles in the fields collecting them. My friends and I had parties where each of us had to bring a different fruit or berry. It became quite hard as our numbers grew.”
He laughed sadly at something she couldn’t see, and continued pacing around her. She resisted the urge to keep turning to follow his movements, and just watched for him to appear in her vision each revolution.
“I’m not even sure if we need to eat at all. To survive, I mean. I’ve always done it out of habit from before, so I don’t know what happens if you stop. But in the final stage, we need to drink. I’ve heard stories,” a pause, “oh, a long time ago now, of what happens to those who try and suppress the need.”
He hesitated before going on, speaking more quickly as if he were running out of time.
“We age so fast at the end. Years pass in a day. We start to become weak. If we don’t drink regularly, we go mad. Attack everything around us, kill everything we find.”
He paused in front of her and shook his head. “It’s much worse. For us and everyone else.”
“What does it give you, the blood?”
He didn’t answer immediately but came and sat beside her. She hesitated, tempted to pull away and maintain a distance, but in the end, she remained still. He reached for her hand and took it in his. His skin was cool and dry. She felt subtly afraid, but not of him. She looked away as if she sensed someone watching them. But the tower was empty. Just the two of them sat on the old stone seat under a rustling flag. His fingers stroked hers and her fear drifted away in the warm air. He took a deep breath.
He looked in her eyes, and a spark rose like a bubble in a lake.
She flinched, and he felt it, and turned away.
“To maintain ourselves, we must consume others.”
When he stopped speaking, he released her hand and lay both of his on his lap.
They were silent a long time.