For a superficial woman and a superb actress, who could cry on cue, laugh without humour, and make every man in the office believe that it was only a matter of time before he bedded her – Mandi nevertheless found it impossible to disguise her distaste for Estelle. Cynically I supposed that this had something to do with the fact that Estelle was the only other female in the small company, and as such posed a threat to Mandi’s total domination of her male underlings. But I soon came to understand that the cold war between these two women came down more to the proof that opposites do not attract opposites.
From Estelle’s point of view, it didn’t help that Mandi was the manageress; Estelle merely a junior clerk. For the latter, handcuffed by her lowly position on the company food chain, was never able to really swipe back when the two women locked heads. And Mandi made no apparent attempt to fight on equal terms because there was no equality in her eyes: she was the boss and she stamped that authority on the 17-year-old’s every working day.
I guess I felt sorry for Estelle – she took a lot of stick from the rest of the team, chiefly because the rest of the team knew which side their bread was buttered, and the lovely manageress with her flirtatious skills owned the butter knife. The plain and sullen Estelle who spent most of her day in the musty archive room or the photocopy booth, didn’t really have a lot working for her.
If Mandi set out to make a particular day hell for Estelle, the rest of the fawning male office staff joined right in. Yes, I felt sorry for her – but I was as guilty as the rest of them on occasion. Estelle was an easy target.
We had an after-office pub do. One of those Company morale pick-me-ups.
The object of everyone’s affection was holding court: the entire male office staff, along with a number of pub regulars, flocked at Mandi’s feet like farm chickens around a feed bucket. Mandi giggled a lot needlessly. She flirted a lot professionally. And she chattered incessantly to all of her admirers as though each one of them was particularly special to her, when the truth was that none of them were at all special to her.
‘What a total twinkie!’ I heard Estelle mumble.
‘Come on, honey,’ I said. ‘Just forget your differences for tonight. Have a good time. Get drunk. And save a dance for me.’
She scowled. ‘I don’t dance.’
I was irritated by the scowl, so I hissed back at her. ‘Well, Mandi does. So don’t worry yourself. I’ll get a dance with her.’
‘So will everybody else,’ she sniped. ‘But in the event that you don’t get a dance with your ‘object of loveliness’ – who clearly has enough air in her brains to rescue an asthmatic seizure – well you’ve probably got a decent 8x10 of her in that precious case of yours. You could always smooch with that!’
Self-consciously I squeezed the case between my feet. Yes, I had 8x10s in it. But not of Mandi.
As it transpired, I did get to dance with Mandi. And she treated me to an extra squeeze of affection right in front of Estelle. Making Estelle’s eyes darken with fury.
Both of them knew, for all Mandi’s attractions, for all her posturing, that given the choice, for reasons I would never understand – I’d sooner have had Estelle in my arms.
She always rides the subway with her eyes closed. From stepping on the vacuum-packed train at Kings Cross to stepping off at Hendon Central, she keeps them closed tight. Some preternatural alarm system in her brain’s timepiece counterpoises the slack rhythm of steel on steel, the buffeting of cramped bodies, the slip and shy of carriage movement, all the way through the eight-stop journey, then informs her with uncanny accuracy that it’s safe to open her eyes and disembark the train precisely as it glides into Hendon’s station.
The eye-shut habit began at infancy. When something, someone or some situation is forced upon her, and she is backed into a corner from which there is no obvious escape – she shuts out the confrontation with her eyelids.
This particular day she had delivered a spreadsheet workup to a client in Caledonian Road and made the seven minute walk to King’s Cross for the trip back to the office. As she filed down the Northern Line’s stacked platform, pressed between clamouring bodies, claustrophobic in the intensity of human closeness, she shivered. Truthfully, claustrophobia would be too simple an explanation for her discomfort. Irritation would be too blasé. She just doesn’t like people that close.
Then she was on the train, squeezed against the door, her spine moulded against the door’s curved skin. Sweat and garlic and curry sauce and a host of other bodily perfumes pressed her even further into the door until she thought it likely she might melt through the damn thing. The man right in front was the worst oppressor. And not so much because of his proximity, but rather his collection-box of smells, all of which he seemed determined to offer willingly and which she had little choice but to accept ungratefully.
His hand slid along the grab-rail and brushed against hers. She looked up at him, and prayed to Our Lord God that the man wouldn’t speak.
Our Lord God, presumably, was busy, for the man did in fact speak.
‘Hello. Look, I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but...’ He looked away for a moment, with a kind of professional embarrassment. ‘Well, forgive me if I seem a bit coy, but I, er,’ he smiled with an equal measure of professional charm, ‘I just wondered if I could have your phone number.’
She stared blankly at him for several seconds. Then,
‘Why? Do you not have one of your own?’
He looked perturbed, but gathered his thoughts quickly. ‘Ah. A woman with a sense of humour,’ he said lightly, ‘I like that.’ He was lying through his teeth. Women weren’t supposed to be witty. They were supposed to be impressed with his army of expensive colognes, awed by his sharp and somewhat broody face, and melted to puddles of pliant flesh by his simmering eyes. So he adopted a professional grin, like a jackal just one bite away from a zebra’s neck. ‘No,’ (he laughed now) ‘I’d like your phone number.’
‘I’m sure you would,’ she said with deadpan gravity. ‘But if I gave every man what he asked for just because he said he wanted it, I’d have nothing left for myself.’
‘Have you got a phone?’ she said.
‘Yes, but what I’m saying is I’d like—’
‘Yeah, I know. So why,’ she said with plain irritation simmering close to bubbling annoyance, ‘should I give you my phone number when you’ve already got one of your own?’
The man breathed disappointment down his nostrils (both of which needed clipping, she noticed) and shrugged. ‘It wouldn’t hurt to be a little more friendly.’
‘How do you know?’
‘How do I know what?’
‘How do you know it wouldn’t hurt? It might give me cramps. Might make my joints ache.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘Jesus, for all you know it might start my period early.’
He stood staring at her with astonishment.
‘Is it the fuck bit or the off bit you don’t get?’
The train shuddered, and introduced the torpid passengers to Camden’s vomit-stained platform.
‘So you said,’ she mumbled. And stared at him hard now, desperate for another challenge. She was bitchin’, and bitchin’ in fine form.
‘I’m sorry (his face shrugged) if I’ve upset you.’
‘What...what do you mean? I’m just sorry. Christ! I wish I’d never started this conversation.’
‘It’s too late, isn’t it.’ A glimmer of optimism perked his eyes, brightened them with the promise of a glued-back-together ego. He reckoned he had her now, checkmate coming up. ‘I can hardly not start this conversation now that it’s already happened.’
She shook her head. ‘I didn’t mean that. I meant don’t wish that you hadn’t started it.’
Another glimmer of optimism kicked in. Was this just some hard-to-get tactic...some new style he’d not come across before?
‘So,’ (he damn nearly purred, and leaned in close to her.) ‘You don’t regret meeting me, then?’
She breathed in very deeply, considered her response for just the amount of time it took for her breasts to swell, rise, and push against his chest. She smiled and the door behind her hissed closed, the train shimmied away from the platform and Camden became a memory in another lost underground tunnel. ‘I said don’t wish that you hadn’t started it, because that’s about as futile as wishing you could impress me.’
His top lip curled in anger. ‘You’re a bitch, aren’t you. Just a snide bitch.’
‘Just!’ she said, honestly shocked. ‘Good God, I wish I was that high up the company ladder.’
‘No, pal. I’m not a bitch. I’m an office junior. But if I work really hard and don’t piss off the personnel manager, I might get promoted to Bitch if the existing one leaves.’
He pushed away from her, found another tiny piece of dry land in the ocean of undulating bodies.
And she closed her eyes.
Behind them, she cried for a while, but no one noticed.
The man was an eighth of a mile from home when he heard her voice calling him. He had passed through an alley and into a square of residential garages from which led a bracken-lined path to the heart of Oaklands Estate. So he was a mere twenty-three lampposts or a few thousand heartbeats or a random selection of trite thoughts from home when his life ceased to be of any value.
He’d stopped, turned at the sound of his name, saw a shape misted by water in his eyes approaching as rapidly as if carried by wings, and recognised her an instant too late to save himself. ‘Hi. This can’t be coincidence. You’ve followed me...’ His smile melted into the contours of terror as she embraced him, and he unwittingly encircled her waist with his strong arms. She brushed her lips for just a moment against his mouth before nuzzling her face against the warm and pulsing side of his neck.
Some of them she would have use for after it was done – they became disciples in her growing army. But some – those for whom she held no real affection or desire – she destroyed utterly. This victim had nothing to give her but that which he had surrendered from the fountain of his pulse to her salivating and endless thirst.
Therefore she left his carcass amongst a clutter of rat-infested bins between the garages. Pushing a thought from her black soul to the hunger of the rats, she deposited the victim as a gift to those carnivorous little bastards, knowing his flesh would be safely devoured before morning.
There would be no discovery, no headlines concerning the mysterious death of a young man in the middle evening of a winter’s cold and feral day. And the rats would not wonder at their own willingness to obey some telepathic command.
By the time she found another station, ridden another subway, arrived back at the office, she found that everyone had gone home. Everyone except me. And she knows I would never leave without her.
How could I? I’m as willing to obey as the rats.
By closing her eyes, Estelle is able to separate herself from the world – no matter how near it may be in physicality. It might only be a pair of tissue-thin eyelids partitioning her from it, but to her mind and its nucleus of peculiar reasoning, those eyelids are dense steel shutters, impregnable, unforgiving.
The man on the subway was not the first who misread her superficial gaze of unspoilt innocence and decided it should be translated as an invitation to force a path into her life. I can’t know how many men have stood and regarded her, fallen (as one does in moments of poetic want) to the spell of her caring liquid eyes, and become as servile as a trained puppy, so eager to please, so desperate to be a part of her. But there must have been many. And I know I am the most recent.
I am also the most jealous. So I have disposed of her army (she tells me) – its legions of mindless, idiotic followers gathered across the months; those blood-sucking fools who themselves have terrorised so many other victims. They were all innocent, of course, for they had no volition of their own, no purpose to their existences but that of serving her and feeding her. So you may condemn me my selfish cruelty that I have destroyed them. But damn you. I did what I had to.
I couldn’t possibly share Estelle. The others had to go. I am her only servant.
She has given me many names in the time we have spent together. Some names I swear she must surely have invented. Some are Latin, or Biblical, or plucked from the pages of an Anne Rice novel. But I spurned all those names and insisted she called me by the one that sums up the quality of my appearance to her.
On a scale of one-to-ten (she broke my heart when she told me this) my physical and facial structures amount to a paltry three-and-a-half. I wept when she rated me that day, compared me to the faces of other men, and decided I merited such a lowly figure. And even the pleasure of providing for her that delicious red wine of humankind became somehow spoilt, a second best gift. But my pain (the hurt in my ego), and my shame (the clouds shadowing my heart) are yet, I now know, just another way to make her happy.
Therefore not only do I accept my rating, but I have insisted on it as an identity. I love to suffer for her. The woman taught me to enjoy suffering for her. She tells me that my pain is her pleasure. So with each hurt that I feel, she is made stronger, made better, more complete. I think if I died she would be whole again. But I can’t die, of course. Ever.
She says she will never let me free. Evidently I belong to her. And I know she’s lying.
I am Mr 3½. Perhaps, at some other time in my life I might have been Mr 9¾ to a woman blind drunk, desperate for a piece of me inside her or just crazy enough to love me for some reason that would never stand up to explanation. But those days are gone. And Estelle is my only lover. And I shall always be a three-and-a-half when she gazes upon what is left of me.
Being a three-and-a-half I often make Estelle close her eyes. Is it because I’m ugly? – hell no. She can gaze upon ugly without flinching. And I think that when I provide for her and serve the glass of red life to her lips, she truly does love me. She smiles and brushes her cold fingertips against my cheek and looks as though I am the most handsome man in the world. But I guess that’s just gratitude. Estelle doesn’t get out much these days. Not since that bastard clipped her wings.
The bat can’t fly until it’s healed.
She depends on me, then – for sustenance. My neck is punctured every evening at the moment the sun sets. And of course I’m always providing nutrition from other victims when she sends me out to find them.
‘Until I’m well again,’ she says, ‘you will care for me, won’t you, my precious little Mr 3½?’
‘Of course,’ I say, ‘until you are well enough to hunt for yourself again.’
Despite my servitude, I anger her somedays. And she again has the need to close her eyes to me. I know why – it’s because at times I am yet another one of those oppressive things she needs to evacuate from her life. So she separates me – and the various interrogations I force upon her – from her mind.
But lets me back in when she’s thirsty.
Who the fuck else is going to cheerfully offer a neck to sink her teeth into?
I’m looking at her now, fondly and with a readiness to provide on the word of her command, as she lays here in a mess of quilted bed linen and cool pillows. The room – our room – is darkened by half-drawn shades, and twilight is melting into evening, and soon it will be time to light the candles and set tiny hungry flames to the incense. The heady smell and the deepening shadows always bring out the little girl in her, and turn my desire into something virtually insane. While she shuts me out behind those steel lids, and while she goes to that peculiar secret place in her mind from where she draws strength and appetite and knowledge, I fuss around her bed and whisper questions she will tolerate, but which she hates.
‘Are you truly a virgin, my little princess? How am I to accept the other men who have pleasured you in one way or another? Shall you ever belong to me, really? Must I be nothing more than a friend when I desire so much more? Will you be mine one day?’
She never answers. How could she, so safely locked away behind closed eyes, taking comfort from some private thought, or some internal knowing, or some restless safety? No. She never answers me...the bitch.
So I sing to her in my cracked feathery voice: ‘Where do you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed?’
Sometimes it makes her lips crease back in a parody of a smile, to expose her beautiful white teeth. And I see – as if the teeth are growing excited with the anticipation of a coming feast – pips of gleaming red liquid fall like tears on to her bottom lip.
Oh my little vampire. You are plain and beautiful; sullen and exhilarating. Why can’t you love me?
The power of imagination is a frightening thing. Like a caged monster unleashed it becomes at first a beautiful liberated creature, but untamed may so easily become a rampaging monster.
Estelle was transformed in her mind’s eye to a beautiful woman at the moment she took her first bite of male flesh. It was the same day that she discovered herself and the same day that she lost herself. And it can all be blamed on imagination.
I must explain this … somehow I find the incident both amusing and horrific.
Within our small company, there lived in the murky corners and dusty paperwork piles of the office, a beast called Shaun.
Shaun – let’s do a quick résumé which he might have found useful had he applied for another job when he had the chance: Estelle would be writing this résumé.
ASSETS: GOOD-LOOKING, AMIABLE PERSONALITY, PLENTY OF USEFUL STORAGE SPACE IN THE AREA THAT SHOULD BE RESERVED FOR A BRAIN.
SKILLS: THE ABILITY TO PERSUADE AN INNOCENT GIRL INTO ACTS OF SEXUAL SLAVERY - WHOSE TALENT FOR SUCH MAGICAL HYPNOSIS STEMS FROM THE SIMPLE FACT THAT HE PLEASES THE FEMALE EYE.
QUALIFICATIONS: FRIVOLOUS, OVER-CONFIDENT PERSONALITY, WITH A DEGREE IN MASTERY OF THE ADOLESCENT MIND.
LONG-TERM PROSPECTS FOR A SERIOUS RELATIONSHIP: DUBIOUS.
Nevertheless, it has to be said in all fairness, Shaun was a nice guy. Difficult not to like him. Difficult not to understand why an impressionable mind, female in design, wouldn’t be swayed by his persistence.
There are places dotted about the Greater London area in which a car may be parked in a hidden street, seemingly innocent when viewed from a distance but quite disturbing if you were to sneak up on the car and peer into its steamed windows. Your curious gaze would be met by the sight of Shaun, phallus in fist, persuading that part of him which rules his every waking moment into the open mouth of yet another victim.
Estelle was one such victim.
Were this story a video I would have to fast-forward it to the scene where Estelle feels she has debased herself sufficiently for one lifetime, and decides to cease being the victim, and become the persuader.
Shaun would be her first victim.
He doesn’t take the ending of their torrid fling too well. He becomes ‘the office pest’, harassing the poor girl at every opportunity that presents them alone together. Like a mighty sabre thrust into the face of an approaching enemy, Shaun brandishes his phallus at Estelle’s face and insists she drink from the fountain of her own stupidity.
But Estelle isn’t having any of it. She’s drunk quite enough, thank you, couldn’t take another drop. Yet Shaun isn’t too clever at understanding the meaning of the word ‘NO’, so on and on he persists.
How to stop him, wonders Estelle.
And this is where her imagination rescues her from this terrible mousetrap in which she has placed herself.
‘Just a hug,’ she says one day, when presented yet again with Shaun’s erect threat.
‘Ah, come on, babe. You know you want it.’
‘Just a hug,’ Estelle repeats adamantly.
Shaun sighs deeply from the depths of his testicles. ‘Okay, okay.’ He zips it up for the day, wonders what the fuck is the matter with the daft bitch, and goes to embrace her. Estelle wraps her arms about his neck, snuggles her face against the side of his face and...
and discovers her true self.
Maybe she’s just read too many novels, seen too many late-night movies, believed too strongly in the atmosphere of the abbey ruins she frequently visits. Or maybe the gods decide to remake her into that which she most craves to be. Whatever the reason, at that precise moment she achieves all that she ever prayed for, and finds – Power.
Poor old Shaun thinks he’s getting a love-bite. Poor old Shaun things that warm, slick liquid running down his neck must surely be the girl’s saliva. Poor old Shaun feels at first elated to a height of near ecstasy. Then poor old Shaun feels a little tired. And gradually drained. Very very weak. Poor old Shaun is no longer the man he thought he was. He’s no longer a man. He’s Estelle’s first husk, and he looks for a moment into her blood-red eyes, and gawps with dumb comprehension at her red-stained lips, and knows, and is glad to know, that he will serve her for the rest of his life. Which won’t be too long.
‘First,’ she says, ‘before you are allowed to serve me, I must have a sacrifice.’
I can’t decide if this is funny or tragic. Perhaps it depends on whether you’re the one slamming the car door shut, or the one whose penis is trapped into a gap that is suddenly and brutally no longer there. I could only watch from my hidden place in the car park, as Shaun willingly fed his eager phallus into the gap between the door edge and the door post of his company Ford.
I swear to God he was smiling as Estelle first drew the door back on its hinge, then slammed it with all her might so that it closed Shaun’s manhood from sight. His mouth opened as if to scream, but then Estelle went immediately to his neck again, and drank from him what little life there remained. And he smiled.
We drove the ruins of the poor boy to a derelict underground station, and left him for the rats to feed upon.
‘Would he not have been more use to you as a provider?’ I asked her.
Her face was aglow; an aura of furious energy surrounded her. Her smile was lascivious and her damned greedy eyes were aflame. ‘No. I shall hunt for myself.’ She stretched her arms.
I felt sick, dizzy, wholly disorientated as she left me. Before passing out the last thing I saw was a shape like an overfed bat swooping among the joists and beams of this dilapidated subway tunnel. When I awoke I was in her bed; and she lay sleeping at my side, and I didn’t need a mirror to know there were two precise punctures at the side of my neck.
I arose from bed and opened the curtains.
The sun blasted through the windows, a roar like God’s wrath behind each brilliant ray. The bed on which my sweetheart lay became an altar of beautiful white light.
And Estelle screamed, and glared death at me whilst I watched her face turn ash.
I kept the curtains open. I knew it was the right thing to do. It was breaking my heart to destroy that which I loved, but you have to let go, don’t you? You must ‘guillotine’ something when you know that it is bad for you.
I waited for her to break into a thousand pieces of black dust; to see her destroyed by the warmth of God and I prepared to begin grieving for the woman who could never really love me.
But Estelle remembered her secret place.
She went to her hideaway – that place in which she had found protection all her life, from disappointed parents and mealy-mouthed manageresses and from men like Shaun from whom she needed love but who only used her for disposable moments of lust. A place where she can even hide from her own insecurities.
She closed her eyes.
And the sun retreated.
I mentioned earlier that Estelle had her wings clipped. The bat could no longer fly, the predator no longer hunt, and the bastard that did it to her should have been drained, destroyed and delivered to the breakfast table of some nearby rat colony.
But she forgave him. She forgave the bastard.
She forgave ME.
Maybe it’s because she loves me in her own guarded way.
I don’t know. But after I tried to guillotine her with the warm breath of morning sunlight she was weakened. But saved by the secret hiding place behind her eyes. Nevertheless, however weakened she was, she was still strong enough to destroy me for my sinful, shameful act. I expected it.
Yet somehow I was in her arms, at her command. We were naked on the coverlet. Her breasts were flat beneath my chest and I felt her powerful thighs encircle me. ‘Do you know what you have done, Simon?’
‘Yes.’ I said. ‘I tried to destroy you, before you destroy me.’
She smiled into my face. ‘Why should I destroy you? You’re not like the others. And we are so close, in our minds. I need you.’
‘You need me to serve,’ I said.
She has an operatic giggle, and it showered across my face. ‘But isn’t that enough – to serve me is surely better than not to have me at all?’
Oh fuck – she always did this to me. My voice must have sound pathetically humble. ‘Of course. I need you.’
She nodded. ‘Because I’m a virgin. I present an innocence you didn’t ever expect to find.’ She tightened her legs around me and I felt the warmth of her loins set flame to my own aching phallus. God and Shit and Fucking Holy Ghosts … heed me! – I wanted to fuck her more than I wanted to draw another breath.
Which of course she knew.
‘I’ll make you a deal, my precious Mr 3½. Now that Shaun’s gone, how about I promote you to a 7?’
I shook my head. ‘Not enough. I want 10.’
‘Because 7 isn’t allowed to make love to you. And I want to make love to you.’
‘Do you really think you’re in any position to bargain, Simon?’
‘Yes. Because you wouldn’t have let me live if you hadn’t some use for me, some need for me.’
She ran her hands down my chest and clawing hot shivers raced along my spine.
‘You’re right, sweetheart. When you opened the morning curtains on me you clipped my wings.’
‘I know. I couldn’t destroy you – but I have reduced you.’
‘So you must care for me until I am recovered. When my strength is returned and I can hunt for myself, you will be my partner. My Heathcliffe. My soul-mate.’
Tears were begging my eyes for freedom but I restrained the little shits. ‘No I won’t. You will leave me when you no longer need anything from me. But I can accept that. Just let me...’
‘Love me with your body?’
I nodded, and the guilty tears ran from my eyes and fell like prayers on to her face.
And then the heat in my loins was furiously intense, and the smooth wet passage into the unspoilt part of her was like my soul’s own passage through the gates of Heaven. She muttered something: a name; it wasn’t mine. But I didn’t care. I don’t know if I loved her for seconds or minutes or hours or months. But Time isn’t important when you have that which you most desire. And if I only loved her for five minutes, it was for me an eternity of satisfaction.
Besides, if it were five minutes, it was the first five minutes of her sexual maturity. And I had claimed it. It belonged to me. Whatever else I lost, no one could ever take that.
I was her First. That was worth dying for.
Shaun may have been her first bite, but there were many after him. Between the disposal of Shaun’s body and my awakening in her bed, several months had passed during which I suppose I must have functioned in some capacity, and during which Estelle must have developed and thrilled in her new power, her freedom and thirst. I have no recollection of that abyss in Time. I know only that she left me unconscious in the underground and my life must then have travelled some aimless path, until Estelle brought me into this room.
After we made love she filled in some of the blanks for me. And explained why she had brought me to her bed, and allowed me to be a 10, and permitted me to make love to her.
‘Your jealousy is kind of sweet,’ she said.
I had no idea what she meant. We lay there, after our sex, and smoked cigarettes. She made a tattoo of a heart on my right shoulder by burning the design into my flesh with the tip of her cigarette. It was a nice kind of pain.
‘When have I ever shown jealousy?’
‘In the last few months, since we did Shaun. You followed me – you stalked me.’
‘How? How the hell could I follow a vampire?’
She shrugged. ‘I asked myself the same question. Perhaps your need of me was so strong that you found some powers of your own. Anyway, follow me you did. And every man whose blood I drank, you destroyed. Like the man on the train who tried to chat me up. You followed me as I followed him. And after I drank from him, and thus recruited him to my little army, you killed him.’
My face was a study in disbelief. I have never killed anyone.
‘With a crucifix sharpened at its end to the point of a knife,’ she continued lightly, ‘you dragged out his throat. Then dumped him in garbage bins. For the rats.’
‘No. No. I haven’t got a knife like that. Christ, Estelle – where would I get something like—’
‘From that ceremonial attaché case you carry everywhere – that portable shrine to me.’ She turned and snuggled up close. ‘You’ve got all the tools of the professional stalker in there, haven’t you? Camera, binoculars, tape recorder. And my pictures, scraps of paper with my hand-writing, even discarded crisp packets I’ve eaten from. You truly are obsessed with me.’
I could only stare at the ceiling and enjoy the warmth of her flesh and think:
When did it get that bad? I didn’t notice. I must have everything in that case but for the memory of how it all got there.
‘I … I don’t remember killing anyone. Since Shaun I remember nothing except waking up here, with you.’
‘That’s why I let you live and uprated you to a 10, honey. You loved me enough to kill for me. And now you will bring me the red nectar every night until I am well enough to continue feeding myself. Perhaps I don’t need an army, anyway. Perhaps you are all I need, Simon.’
I moved on top of her. But she was cold very suddenly. The night was folding back and dawn was approaching. Christ! – how time flies in this room … how it flies when you’re enjoying yourself, I guess.
‘Close the curtains, please.’
I obeyed. I can do that. I can obey without loss of pride or self-respect. Why? Because whatever the future may offer, I will always have this:
– Shaun was her first bite. I was her first fuck. Estelle can rate me a three-and-a-half or a ten or a thousand; doesn’t matter. I was the First.
Therefore I’m priceless.
My own vampiric appetites grow stronger by the day. As do my frailties. I – like Estelle – can no longer bear the sunlight. So I hunt at night for the food she needs. And for the food I also need.
Estelle’s other life no longer exists. Each of its component parts has fed me, and I in turn, stocked up to the gills with the blood of recently deceased, continue to supply her and make her stronger.
Her thirst is ravenous. And it grows.
She never asks me who my victims are. She doesn’t care, so long as I keep the juice flowing. All those that she and I knew and cared for, or knew and despised (no difference now) have long since succumbed to my avid teeth.
She doesn’t question me because she needs a carer, and I need her body, so we trade. And sometimes I see the resentment in her face when we make love and she closes her eyes. But she isn’t retreating to her hiding place at those times, she is imagining that I am someone else – whom she has loved enough to kill.
And whom she intends to replace me with when she is recovered.
She will want a soul-mate when her wings are healed, and it won’t be me. I know she wants HIM.
I found Shaun’s frozen corpse in the secret coffin she had hidden in the abbey crypt. I knew that she had killed him only to fool me, that she recovered his body and took it to a shrine of her own. She meant to bring him back as soon as she had finished playing with me – and punishing me – for my obsession. But I destroyed him. Long after his mortal flame was extinguished, I made sure of his eternal death. The good old traditional stake through his soulless heart. Whatever remains of his corpse is presently feeding the rats in their lair beneath Kings Cross Station. Should I tell her?
She’d finish me here and now, no matter how much she needs my services.
Well too bad.
Her One True Love has gone.
And it’s her own fault for muttering his name when we made love the first time.
At times I feel I am carrying so much foreign blood within my shell that I must surely be bloated out of any recognisable shape. But Estelle’s own power taught me so many necessary facilities.
I can shape-shift. I can fly like a vulture. I can dematerialise and rematerialise and disguise myself with shadows. I can do anything but face the light. And the truth.
What is it I know to be the truth which I must face before she is fully healed?
Simple: I must destroy her. Before she disposes of me and goes to recover the man she will never find.
I must destroy her.
And I already know how.
I just don’t want to do it.
‘Awake, Princess. It is evening. Time to dine.’
She stretches her delicious arms out in a wide embrace and I fall willingly into it. The candles burn, but not as normal diamond flames. No. They are black shafts supporting ruby-red fire. They cast a curtain of blood on our naked flesh as we cavort among the sheets. Her hunger for sex grows as rapidly as her hunger for the antibodies and corpuscles of recently deceased friends. She will look for those friends when her power is full again: perhaps she will wish to make them part of her army.
Look at me shrug with malice!
God I’d like to laugh in the bitch’s face – and shout: …YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS. YOU’VE DRUNK THEM ALL AWAY!
Curtains flung aside, bitter night air fanning the candles’ red flames, the scented incense wrestles with the musk of our bodies, and the smell of sex, blood, sweat, and the stale dust of our room makes me giddy with delight and regret.
How shall I bring myself to kill her?
We lay there as midnight announced itself and the moon paled behind a smoky passing cloud. ‘I feel so … secure,’ she said. ‘So confident and beautiful and certain.’
I smiled in the darkness and held her so tight that I thought she must surely guess tonight was her last night of life.
‘Your power gave you confidence. But, Estelle – it’s just a mask. The real you is still in there somewhere.’
Her fury was sudden and startling. ‘NO! THIS IS THE REAL ME.’
I comforted and soothed her until her pulse faded to a steady thrum against my chest.
She whispers at me now.
‘Simon, only when I discovered myself through the taste of Shaun’s flesh, the warmth of his blood, did I become complete. You must understand this.’
Despite his passing I still felt envious. ‘He never deserved to be a 7, Estelle. He never deserved to have so much control over you in those damn lay-bys and damn car-parks and—’
‘It doesn’t matter now,’ she said. ‘Now no one will ever control me, except perhaps … oh, it doesn’t matter. I am nearly recovered.’
(And I am nearly finished, aren’t I?) – I whispered in my mind – (you have nearly done with my services. You think!)
‘No,’ I said into the candle-red mist. ‘It doesn’t matter now.’ I filled my lungs with the smoke of burning joss sticks. ‘Nothing matters now, except us.’
She snorted, then quickly disguised her contempt with a fake cough.
Oh yes, you bitch. Don’t think I’m fooled. I know…
....I know where you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed…
When she closes her eyes, she goes into her imagination. It is a place of ultimate triumph. In there she is the bloody warrior princess: she is unbeatable, commanding, defiant. In there no one has the last word: no one can defeat her with a clever sentence, for in that place her mind does not stumble and fumble, nor does her tongue trip over so many bitching replies that it ends up mute as a priory sister. In there she has every answer for every occasion. No one can hurt, humiliate, patronise, insult, mock, tease or damage Estelle in her imagination.
For it is a place of pure power. And the place from where she found the untapped source of will that made her so strong.
Had she wanted to be a fighter, courtesy of her imagination (the place of escape through all her seventeen years) then she would have become a fighter. Or a psychic. Or a telepath. Or a devil or a demon or a whore or a queen. Such is the imagination that it rescues little people from perilous consequences. The rape victim closes her eyes and separates her flesh from her spirit … in her imagination. The desperate mother sees her baby trapped beneath a car and attains the strength of ten men … in her imagination. The victim of a bully becomes Bruce Fucking Lee and thrashes the playground thug … in his imagination. The failed writer is a best selling novelist, the clumsy guitarist is a rock legend, the pauper is a prince and the lame can walk and the blind can see and the Messiah can rise from the tomb for the benefit of desperate disciples … in the imagination.
God really exists … in the imagination. You’ve just got to want it bad enough.
She sleeps, as dawn breaks viciously across the leaded slates of the abbey in which belongs our tragic room. This place she made for us. So this is where she must die.
She sleeps the sleep of the damned and the confident. She sleeps in the protecting warmth of her imagination. She knows I cannot open the curtains on her again, for now I would destroy myself long before I would destroy her.
I have not the power/strength to drive stakes through her heart; she could stop me as easily as if swatting a fly. (Her power is so much stronger than mine.)
So she believes she slumbers in safety.
Well, get over yourself, girl. I have one thing you can never defeat.
I’m Mr 3½.
She opens her eyes as darkness settles across the abbey portals and it becomes safe to draw back the curtains.
‘What are you doing?’ she asks.
(I’m preparing something in my attaché case.)
She sits up in the bed and looks at me over the far side of the room. Finally I realise what she discovered some time ago. That this is no ordinary business case. It is – as far as Estelle is concerned – Pandora’s Box.
‘I have something special for you.’
‘What?’ – she asks flatly.
I turn around and smile. Holding my black case clearly so that she can see it. ‘This is Pandora, and here within is your own particular evil.’ I withdraw a small phial of red liquid.
Estelle smiles. ‘You bring me my supper and call it evil! What is the matter with you, Simon?’
I step over to the bed and show her the syringe. ‘I just used my imagination, Estelle. As you did. But I didn’t imagine myself to be a vampire. I imagined my case to be the source of all evils. Its power allowed me to follow you and destroy all those stupid sons and daughters of bitches after you’d drank from them. The power of the black case is awesome. And all because I imagined it so.’ I insert the needle into the cork of the phial. It draws red nectar in a slow steady stream until the syringe is full.
‘Silly man. I don’t need an intravenous feed. Stop jabbering about your sappy shrine and give me the fucking bottle. Let me drink.’ She is reaching out her hands, eagerly.
I shake my head.
‘This is special. This brew is very very special. Open your mouth.’
She slams her fist on the bedcover. ‘Stop playing games with me and give me that. Don’t push me, Simon. I’m warning you.’
I hold the bloody syringe over her mouth. ‘Trust me, Estelle. Haven’t I served you faithfully all along? This little ritual will bring us closer, will bond us for eternity.’
She doesn’t quite manage to disguise the contempt in her face, but does manage quickly to cover it with a mask of patience. We both know that the time is near, that she will destroy me soon and go to recover Shaun.
But the silly child still believes that I am completely subservient to her. So she smiles and says, ‘All right, play your little games. Just feed me, honey. Please, feed me.’
‘Open your mouth, like you did for Shaun.’
She scowls, but her need is too absolute. She has to obey. Undoubtedly she intends to tear my flesh apart with her ferocious teeth as soon as she has finished her supper. And that thought is comforting her; allowing her to humour me. She tilts back her head and parts those luscious lips.
And I let fall three drops of the red syrup into her open mouth.
A half-sized measure of one more drop then beads at the tip of the needle, and she waits expectantly, until it too falls between her lips.
‘Three-and-a-half drops precisely, my sweet.’
It doesn’t take long.
At first she convulses, then gags. She sits bolt upright in the bed and looks at me with stark horror. She reaches out and tries to claw my face, but I step back out of her lethal reach. And I grin.
Paler and paler she grows, weaker and weaker. Her face fills with loathing and vicious temper. She can barely manage to form the words to ask:
‘What … what is that filth?’
‘It’s blood, my little treasure. Just blood.’
She shakes her head. She tries to vomit, but the poison is already at work. It’s too late for her. There is nothing left to do but spend her final moments reaching for the answer to the mystery.
‘WHOSE BLOOD … WHOSE FUCKING BLOOD IS IT?’
The bedroom door opens. The girl comes in and puts her arm through mine. She smiles sweetly at Estelle. And then reaches up to kiss the side of my face.
Estelle collapses back against the pillows. Vomit traces a lazy path from the corners of her mouth. Her eyes begin to turn over, exposing the white underbelly of the membranes.
‘No … please … Simon … NOT HER!’
‘Yes,’ I say. And smile the first honest smile that I have ever given Estelle. ‘It’s HER blood.’
Quietly, arm in arm, two lovers at last united, Mandi and I leave the room.
And Estelle dies alone with her bitterness, the poison chalice laying spitefully on the bedcover, the vampire’s eyes wide and staring at her worst nightmare.
She has a little piece of Mandi inside her. And she has taken it to the grave.
When she opens her eyes the sterile smell of antiseptic and chloroform stings her nostrils.
‘Where am I?’
The man leans over the bed, shining a pencil-torch into her eyes. He checks monitors and seems, at last, to be moderately satisfied.
‘How many times,’ he says with weary annoyance, ‘must I warn you silly kids about drugs?’
Estelle looks around at an army of flowers and cards which fill the ward.
‘Do you remember the club?’
She doesn’t answer.
‘You were given a tablet. You collapsed. If it wasn’t for your friend getting you here so fast, we would have lost you. You’ve been in a coma for three-and-a-half weeks.’
There were other faces around the bed, but her sight was too blurred and confused to distinguish them. There is one face, very close, though, leaning over her. She thinks she recognises it.
Her mouth struggles to say...
I didn’t take any drugs. I was … I was alone in the abbey, just thinking, imagining, pretending, and then...
She can’t remember. Did she go alone to the abbey before or after the club? She doesn’t know. But she knows she didn’t take any drugs.
Eventually she recognises the face leaning over her and she smiles, and cares not that she is crying in front of him. ‘You?’ She reaches out and pulls him close to her.
Shaun has never felt so totally in control as he does at this moment.
Eventually, after scanning the ward, Estelle asks: ‘And where’s Simon?’
A voice says something about him having an argument with Mandi the day before she was brought into hospital, and that he left the company in a wild temper. Their brief affair was ruined by his manic possessiveness.
‘Do you want to see him?’
‘No,’ Estelle says firmly. ‘I’ve got all I need.’ And again she smiles at her One True Love – and banishes Simon to the back of a coma-induced dream … where he belongs.
Family and friends, work-mates and medical staff all file out gradually and leave the two of them alone.
He folds her hand in his. ‘I found you at the abbey. When everyone started wondering where you’d gone, we all split up from the club, sent out a search party.’
‘How did you know where to look?’ she asks.
He shakes his head. ‘Don’t know. Maybe some part of my mind heard you calling my name. There you were, at the abbey, asleep or unconscious – God knows. But talking, Estelle. Mumbling my name over and over. Saying you loved me.’ He gently shakes her shoulders. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? You’ve had months to say something … you never—’
She put her hand across his mouth. ‘I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.’
He smiled. And when he kissed her for the first time she was too caught up in the moment to hear the soft thud of the packet he dropped into the waste bin at the side of the bed, within which was three-and-a-half pills.
The other half of the fourth one he’d slipped into her drink at the club.
(copyright Gareth K Stokes 2006)