This story begins at Night. Notice the capitalisation. That means it isn’t your normal, everyday (or everynight) night, the sort you get in the In-Between. No, this is the full-blown, all the time Night at the bottom of the World.
This can seem confusing, to the first-time visitor of this particular World. A brief explanation is probably needed.
Picture a planet – like the Earth, with oceans and continents and mountains and volcanoes and all that sort of thing – but tilt it. So now you’ve tilted it, and this planet is spinning on its axis at a much steeper angle than the Earth is. This means that at the top is a large area where it’s day all the time, and at the bottom there is an area where it’s night… all the time. And in the middle, there’s an in-between place where day and night alternate, just as we on Earth are used to. Except, it’s not quite like that, because this planet doesn’t orbit its sun. It stays put, rather stubbornly, you might think. And this means that in the In-Between (again, notice the capitalisation – it’s a point of pride, as well as location) the nights are longer in some places than others, and the days are longer in some places than others. To be accurate, the nights become longer the closer to Night you travel, and the days become longer the closer to Day.
You might think that the poles of this world would be frozen, just as the poles of Earth are frozen… but they aren’t. There is, however, no logical reason for this. In a world where fairies and gnomes and goblins roam pretty much freely, there cannot be an explanation for everything.
The planet doesn’t have a name, as such, as the people (broadly speaking) who live on its surface (or under it, or above it) tend to call it what they like, and never actually get round to agreeing with each other. This isn’t really a problem, as disagreements about such petty things as what one’s home planet is called can normally be solved pretty easily. By a brief war, for example. Such wars aren’t particularly big or destructive – when one small village rises up against another small village only a few miles down the road, the worst that can happen is a few haystacks being set alight and some unlucky cats being run over by marauding carts.
But to save any confusion for you, the reader, we shall call this planet the World. Just to make it simple.
You’ve heard of all the things that go bump!
in the night? Well, all of them, and more, live in this Night. Going bump!
Rupert Gregory Claremont Veinspurt Bloodsucker Morbid-Hilt IX did not go bump!
He never had the slightest inclination to do so, and would have been very much ashamed of himself if he did. He was a vampire. And as such, he tended more to swoop silently (and in most cases fatally) through the night, instead of bump!
ing in it. He’d heard of what the humans – the In-Betweeners - said about things that went bump!
in the night, but personally he thought it was a stupid way of introducing your presence to your intended victim, who could then whip out some garlic or holy water and brandish it at you with a smug ha!
And then you’d have to skulk back home to be laughed at by everyone. And you’d still be thirsty.
No, Rupert decided, if he ever found himself going bump!
he’d hammer the stake in himself.
But often promises made to oneself before
a thing happens don’t seem such good ideas afterwards
Rupert left the castle at midnight. At least, when it was midnight in the nearest In-Between village. His family’s castle was perched on a rocky cliff just at the edge of Night, overlooking the little towns of villages of In-Between, as most vampires’ castles were. It was practical to live near the source of food.
Leaving at midnight was tradition. Usually, Rupert didn’t hold much truck with tradition - for example sleeping in a stuffy coffin instead of a perfectly reasonable, and much more comfortable, feather bed – but in this case he found it worked. Midnight was sensible. None of the humans could see you as you flew down, and by midnight all the young virgins were safely tucked up in bed… with windows wide open to let in the cool night air, if you were lucky.
Rupert drifted slowly down towards the village. He wasn’t in a particular hurry tonight – he’d fed well only a few days ago, and so he wasn’t all that thirsty anyway – so he found himself swooping to and fro in lazy arcs over the tops of the trees, contemplating afterlife. Well, afterlife probably wasn’t the right word for it. Rupert had been born a vampire, as had many others; he hadn’t died and then been brought back as one. Contrary to popular belief (among the In-Betweeners, anyway) that sort of thing didn’t happen much any more. Vampires did not go around turning humans into vampires very often at all. It only happened on extremely rare occasions and, Rupert reflected, it’d have to be a damn good human to be worth the bother. Humans seemed to think that there was one quick bite and that was it, and they were partly right. But after that there were all the questions: Why did you do it? Who were they? Where are we going to put them, this castle’s stuffed full as it is… Yada yada yada… And then there was the paperwork… Much too much bother entirely.There’d been an incident in his own family castle not so many years ago, which had been disruptive, not to mention upsetting for certain parties. Much
too much bother.
A strong gust of wind sprang up, and Rupert let himself be lifted slightly on the air currents. As for all that turning into a bat business, that was just stupid. Yes, it was useful in fitting through small windows, but only if you wanted to end up squeaking for the next half-hour and trying to see with your ears.
Gradually, Rupert came to notice something. As the wind pushed him gently around above the treetops, he caught a tantalizing scent riding on the air. He sniffed. It smelt of… what was it now… not blood, no, but something… intriguing, something good…
Rupert let his nose guide him. He slid away to the left, away from the direction of the village, and across the dark cover of dense forest. The uppermost leaves rippled beneath him; their rustling seemed to surround him, as though it was the wind that made the sound, rather than the trees. He had never come this way before – it didn’t seem a place where humans would settle. Just trees, trees and more trees. But that smell, that wonderful smell, was coming from somewhere, and he wanted to know where…*
And then, suddenly, there weren’t trees underneath him any more. Instead, a huge clearing had opened beneath his feet, and he was staring down at a large, stately mansion of grey stone, sitting smugly in the centre of a green grass lawn. Rupert frowned down at it. Surely he should have known this was here. But then, no one ever came this way… And then he noticed the balcony, and the doors opening onto it, with the curtains billowing out into the night, along with that interesting smell. He smiled. It was almost too perfect.
He started down towards the house, and the spicy scent became stronger and stronger. But as he neared the balcony, something happened. He started to wobble. Then he stopped wobbling. Surprised and more than a little embarrassed, he stopped and hovered, glancing around quickly to check that no one had seen his little mishap. No one had… or so he thought. He flew on, and was about to land on the balcony’s edge when it happened again. His smooth flight suddenly became difficult, as though he was being buffeted by a gale. He struggled to keep on course, but before he could pull himself together (figuratively speaking) he wobbled right through the open doors, and landed with a most definite and disgraceful bump! on the floor.
Harriet lay in her bed and watched the vampire wobbling about outside her window. It had been quite amusing the first few times, but now she found she just felt sorry for them. She half closed her eyes as she waited for him to enter. She knew how this would go – how it always went. They flew in through the window (well, wobbled in – a side effect that her father had not yet ironed out) and when they had dusted themselves off and regained a little of their composure, they’d start on The Speech. There was always a Speech. It began with something like: “Quake with fear, thou puny mortal” or “Aha! Is this a virgin I see before me, my teeth before her neck?” and typically ended with their purposeful stride forward to get on with the bloodsucking business. They never actually managed it though, her father saw to that.
A loud bump!
made her pay attention again. The vampire was now sitting on the floor of her room, looking decidedly ruffled and… handsome. Harriet started to take a bit more notice. He was tall and slim. Vampires were always slim – a diet consisting pretty much completely of blood could hardly be expected to fatten a body up. This one’s face was long and pale, as were those of most vampires, but his was younger than most she’d seen, and much more attractive. His hair was long and bound back in a ponytail, which had been sleek… before his tumble onto her floor. Now a few strands had escaped and fallen over his face. Harriet liked
that sort of thing.
Harriet expected to see the vampire pick himself up, brush off his sleeves, straighten his waistcoat, then begin. She did not expect to see him remain sitting on the floor where he’d landed, and hit himself on the head with the palm of his hand. Nevertheless, that is exactly what he did. Then he did it again. She could hear him mumbling to himself.
“Um… excuse me?” Harriet ventured, sitting up amongst her lacy pillows.
Rupert ignored her, but kept on mumbling.
“Er… aren’t you going to say something?”
Harriet decided there was something very odd about this vampire. “Aren’t you going to say anything? A speech, say? Quake with fear, you puny mortal? No?”
There was definitely something strange going on. “Then… maybe you just want to get on with the bloodsucking part?” Harriet tilted her head down to look at him. “I am a virgin, you know,” she added.
Then the vampire did look at her. Aha,
“Er… you don’t happen to have a stake, do you?”
“What would you want a stake for? I’d have thought that would be one of the last things a vampire would want!”
He looked a little abashed. Two spots of light pink had appeared above each high cheekbone, which was positively glowing for a vampire. “I deserve it,” he told her wretchedly. “I promised myself I’d never go bump!
Things that go bump!
in the night? Damn stupid idea – I deserve to be tied up and left for the daylight to take care of...” He trailed off, and lifted his head to take a sniff of the air. “Is that… Is that you?”
“Is what me?” asked Harriet slyly.
Rupert raised himself from the floor, somewhat shakily. He took a few steps towards her, nostrils flaring. “That… smell…”
“What smell?” Harriet surreptitiously flicked her long hair away from her neck, giving the vampire a better view of her smooth white skin. But he noticed the gesture and stopped, eyeing her suspiciously.
“Aren’t you going to bite me?” Harriet asked sweetly.
Rupert narrowed his eyes. “You… want me to bite you?”
“You wanted a stake, didn’t you?”
“Well, yes, but not really
“Maybe I don’t want you to really
Rupert’s brow wrinkled. He licked his lips nervously. “Er… what?”
Harriet was getting a little impatient with this strange vampire… even if he was good-looking. “Just bite me, will you?”
“No! Look, you do know you’ll die, don’t you?”
“And… you won’t come back as a vampire.” He’d come across girls who thought they would, and had all but thrown themselves at him in an attempt to access vampirdom. He’d had to explain all about the paperwork etc, and then they had realised. And they’d screamed. That made him feel a little guilty, but what did they expect? He was a vampire. They were human. It was supernature.
This earned her another long stare.
“Just bite me!”
“But – no - listen – what did you mean about not really wanting me to-"
Harriet had had enough. She leapt out of bed, right at the vampire, and bared her neck to him. “Let me go!” she cried. “Do not bite me, oh foul fiend of the Night!”
This girl, Rupert decided, was weird. She wanted him to bite her? She wanted to be killed? Not normal behaviour for a human, in his opinion… He could still smell that strange, attractive scent on her though. He leaned closer, just to get a good whiff of it…
Then the door burst in. It was a quick process, but managed to be, in Rupert’s opinion, needlessly loud, messy, and dramatic.
A tall, heavyset man strode into the room across the wreckage of the door, hand held aloft, a lone finger quivering righteously. “Halt, thou servant of darkness!” he cried, aiming the finger at Rupert. “Do not lay one tooth on her, or you shall be sent from this world in terrible pain and agony!”
“But…” Rupert began, but the man was in full flow.
“Release her, or I shall bring down on you the wrath of the gods and expel you from the light forevermore!”
Rupert glanced down at the girl in his arms. She seemed to have fainted. He had to admit, it did look pretty suspicious. “But… I didn’t… I wasn’t… it was her!”
“And now you lay blame upon my innocent daughter, she who is the apple of my eye, the flame in the darkness of my life! Lay her down, or I will smite you from this earth! Oh, but what have you done to her already, that she lies so still?”
Rupert thought this had gone far enough. He let go of the crazy girl, and she dropped limply to the floor in a rustle of lacy nightdress. Rupert turned to the man.
“Look,” he said, “I haven’t done anything! If anyone’s done anything then it’s her. She just… jumped at me! She wanted me to bite her!”
“How dare you accuse my daughter! Not once, but twice! You shall pay for this dearly, you monster!”
Rupert had had enough. “I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here,” he told the room in general. “So I’m going to leave. Right now.” He turned away, ran toward the doors, jumped gracefully off the balcony and… fell.
Harriet sat up, scratching absently at her lacy neckline. She hated lace. It was itchy
. “I feel a little sorry for him, you know,” she told her father. “He almost guessed it…”
“Sorry?” Lord Winkton snorted. “Shouldn’t feel sorry for them – they’re vampires! Dirty little leeches…”
“Don’t you but me, girl!”
They went to look over the balcony. The thin figure of Rupert was sprawled on the lawn below them.
“Well,” Rupert rasped. “That’s never happened before…” He tried to sit up, but his back started screaming at him, so he stopped. Strange, he thought, I’m feeling pain… from a fall… that shouldn’t happen. Come to that, I shouldn’t have fallen… why did I fall? I don’t… I don’t…
Harriet and her father watched Rupert’s head fall back into the grass.
“I think he’s unconscious,” Harriet said mildly.
“Hah, yes,” said Lord Winkton. “Not so invincible as they think, the arrogant b-"
“Hadn’t we send someone down to fetch him?” Harriet put in hurriedly, before her father could begin one of his tirades.
“Ah, yes, of course.” Lord Winkton went and tugged on a bell pull hanging by the bed. A moment later a sombre-looking servant appeared in the doorway. “We have another guest,” Lord Winkton informed him.
“Go and fetch him, will you?”
“Fetch him, sir?”
“He’s lying on the lawn.”