On a night in Bristol city centre when the cold of winter was setting in, Hannah Newman hurried in the direction of home. It had been another long night and she was thoroughly exhausted. The wind was like ice cutting through her, and she pulled at her coat. This was useless, as she hadn’t had a chance to change out of her work clothes and her legs were bare.
Hannah enjoyed her work, generally. It wasn’t where she had expected to be, but then nothing had been for the past few years. She had never been much of a performer, but she fit in well with the rest of the dancers, and the sex was tolerable, whenever she was chosen. She was good enough to be kept on and to be paid, and that was good enough for her.
But the man she had been with tonight had been difficult. He had been some kind of higher-up, part of the management elite, and he had been tense, with aggression held back just below the surface. Hannah had been afraid to ask him about it, and her efforts to calm him ineffective at best. The whole night had left her drained, and she longed for home.
The journey felt even longer than usual. She arrived at home, a cheap first floor flat in the rough part of town, the first she and James had rented together. She approached the door and fumbled for her keys, her fingers numb, and hurried inside.
The flat was dark and quiet. Hannah took a moment to rest, and something moved in the darkness. Tall, broad, and looking just as exhausted as Hannah, James stepped forward.
“Hey, Killer,” he said gently.
“You’re still up?” said Hannah.
“Yeah, I am. You look frozen,” he said. She stepped towards him and they embraced each other.
“Long night, huh?” said James, his tone low and tired. “You want to eat?”
“No,” she said, her head pressed into his chest. She could feel his arms around her, and his warmth was a welcome change. She breathed deeply, and she could smell the long day of work he had had.
“Okay,” said James. “Bedtime.”
They went into the bedroom and Hannah tossed her work clothes aside. After changing into her pyjamas, she and James went to the bathroom to clean their teeth. The heating wasn’t on, and Hannah still carried the chill from walking home. She anticipated climbing into bed with an almost desperate pull.
Once done, Hannah and James fell into bed. They lay facing each other, and although they were both exhausted, neither of them fell asleep right away. In the darkness they looked into each other’s eyes, saying nothing. Nothing needed to be said when they were so close.
By the time the sky had begun to lighten, they had both drifted off.
They woke the following evening. Hannah rose first and peered round the bedroom. In the fading daylight she could see that it was a mess. She and James did their best to keep the place nice, but they didn’t have a lot to work with. She found her dressing gown and put on a pair of socks, then went into the living room to make breakfast, or what passed for breakfast at that time of day. She poured two bowls of cereal, only to find that there was only enough milk left for one of them.
James came in to find her eating the one without milk. He rose an eyebrow and said, “Really?”
“You should’ve woken up first,” said Hannah.
James sat down. “I’ll go to the shops later,” he said and picked up his spoon. This was a little ritual they shared, eating meals together. Neither of them needed to eat like this, of course, but this was a small comfort for them both. But they still needed to feed, and Hannah had been feeling the pull more often lately. James must have been feeling it too, she thought, and she made a note to arrange an appointment with the abattoir. They were eligible, and their names were on the list. But that was a grim thought, and it could wait. Now, she and James ate and enjoyed each other’s company.
After eating, James went into the bathroom to have a shower. Hannah went back to the bedroom, ostensibly to tidy up, but she noticed something on James’s bedside table. It was a worn book with a faded green cover. She knew what this was: a book of poetry by Robert Burns, the famed Scottish poet. It was the only possession James prized, and he had owned it for as long as Hannah had known him. It had been given to him by his mother.
She picked it up and leafed through its pages of archaic Scots poetry. She couldn’t pretend to understand any of it, but she knew they meant a lot to James.
When he returned, clad in a towel, she said, “Have you been reading this?”
“Oh yeah, I dug it out to pass the time,” he said, rummaging for his clothes. “Why, you interested?”
“Sure, if you are,” said Hannah. “What’s your favourite poem?”
He pulled his shirt over his head and pulled it down, filling it with his bulk. “Do you want the actual answer or the romantic answer?”
Hannah perked up. “There’s a romantic answer?”
“You bet there is,” said James, and he put on his accent, the accent he had grown up with. “We Scots are a romantic bunch.”
“Like fuck you are,” said Hannah. “I’ve been to Glasgow.”
“Then how do you explain this?”
James took the book and opened it to a dog-eared page. “Listen to this,” he said. “I can see him writing this, you know. Over that desk in that little cottage.”
He began to recite the poem, “My Luve is like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June; My Luve is like the melody, That’s sweetly play’d in tune.”
He spoke the words on the page and Hannah could hear the poetry in his speech, the gentle cadence of the words. There was an honesty in what he was saying, a genuine passion that she so rarely got to hear. She watched his mouth and lips move, his body sway with the performance and her fingers curled tight as the poetry moved her heart. James went on, “As fair thou art, my bonnie lass, So deep in love am I, And I will—”
There was a sound from outside, a knock at the door. James stopped and shot up. The mood died.
“Who’s that?” said James, confusion and strained beginnings of panic in his voice. “I don’t know,” said Hannah.
They dashed into the living room and eyed the front door. James nodded to the corner of the room. “Stay there.”
Hannah started to protest, but he gave her a reassuring look. “Be ready,” he whispered.
He crossed the room and there was another knock. It was polite, but firm. James opened the door, keeping it on the latch and peered out. “Yes?” he said.
Hannah couldn’t see the visitor, but she heard him, even across the room. “James Franklin?”
“Are you alone?”
“What’s it to you?” said James, already defensive.
“My name is Greggory. Greggory Mayer,” replied the man. “I’m here about the recent disturbances.”
“Are you police?”
“No, no,” said the man. “I’m…”
Hannah didn’t see what happened then, but James’s stance changed slightly. “Can I come in?” Greggory said from behind the door.
Cautiously, James undid the latch and opened the door further. He stepped back into the room to reveal the man at the door. Warily, Hannah went to James’s side and they clung to each other. The man, Greggory, was tall and well dressed. His age was hard to determine, but he looked older than either of them. There was something diplomatic and self-assured about the way he held himself.
“James, thank you,” said Greggory. There was a hint of an accent in his voice, maybe Eastern European. “And you must be Hannah. I know this is unexpected, but I promise I’m here for a good reason.”
“Who are you?” said Hannah, refusing to let her guard down.
“A friend,” he said. “You heard my name, of course. And if I may begin to allay your concerns…”
He lifted his hands to his mouth and pulled up his top lip back with his pointer fingers, revealing something unusual. Both of his upper canine teeth were abnormally long and pointed, protruding from his gums like elegant little blades. That could only mean one thing. He was one of them.
James glanced at Hannah. She understood a little better now, but they both knew to remain wary.
“You’re in the club?” said James, with cautious aggression.
“I am in the club,” replied Greggory. “So, I’m sure you can believe I’ve come with friendly intentions.”
“Not necessarily,” James said.
“How’d you find this address?” asked Hannah.
Greggory replied, “You could say, we make it our business to know these things.”
It was an enigmatic answer, and Hannah scoffed. “What kind of secret society bullshit is that?”
Greggory narrowed his eyes. “Less of the attitude, please. I’m here for your benefit, and the sooner I make you understand that, the better.”
“You said something about disturbances,” said James, keen to keep the conversation moving. “What disturbances?”
Greggory tilted his head. “Don’t you know? I thought you would have, considering the circles you work in.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” James asked.
“You work on the industrial estate. In one of the factories, correct?” said Greggory. “There’s an unease among the work force, from what I gather. A discontent among the labourers, and certain individuals with an interest in propagating it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said James, but his tone suggested this that wasn’t true.
“And Hannah,” Greggory continued, “You must hear things. Those night clubs are a practical hub of information. Something’s coming to this city, and we need to take this time to prepare, to consolidate. That’s why I’m here, to offer help.”
Hannah thought back. All the whispers, the rumours, the things overheard at the bar that led to fearful speculation. There was the feeling of hostility rising to the surface everywhere she went, and she couldn’t ignore it any longer.
“James, I think he’s right,” she said. “The other girls have been talking, and the owners are spooked. It’s like there’s something going around.”
James looked at her. “You think there’s danger?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” “Neither do we,” admitted Greggory. “But whatever’s coming, we can help you.” “Who’s ‘we’?” James asked.
“Other people like us in the city, and people sympathetic to our plight.” He reached into a pocket and produced a card with an address and a phone number on it. He offered it to them, and Hannah took it.
“You might be surprised by how diverse we are,” Greggory continued. “We would like you to meet us properly, although circumstances are not favourable.”
“You think some shit’s about to go down,” said Hannah. “When, and where? Where can we be safe?”
“Hard to say. But it’ll be soon,” replied Greggory. “And you should stay out of public, stay out of sight. There are those who want to bring hatred to these parts. Hatred is attractive, you know. It’ll attract some terrible things if they have their way. They would see you both dead in the gutter, don’t forget that.”
“Trust me, we won’t,” Hannah muttered.
James held her tighter. “I don’t know what’s going on, but we’re going to be okay. I’m sure we will.”
“I know,” she said, looking into his big, brown eyes. “I know.”
“That’s all well and good, but I do need to be getting on,” said Greggory. “You’re not the only hapless kids in this city.” He turned, but then his face softened. “James Franklin,” he said. “Your mother was Scottish. She died on that night when you were changed. It’s all public record. All kept track of by the government.”
His body language shifted. “Nobody deserves something like that. Nobody. It’s unfortunate, truly, but there are people who understand, people you can call friends. Neither of you are alone.”
He moved towards the door. “I have to go now. There are others I need to see tonight. I’m sorry I couldn’t offer you any more advice or protection. Contact me if you need to. I’ll tell you where to find me.”
“Thank you,” Hannah said as they watched him leave.
“You know, I’m not going far. I’m meeting someone near that old church.” He stopped as if a thought came to him. “Have you ever met a Catholic vampire?”
Hannah and James glanced at each other.
“It’s an ordeal,” said Greggory, and he was gone.
They were left alone in the quiet flat. The sun had set by now, and it was dark once again.
“Hannah?” said James.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Come on, sit down.”
She led him to the old and ruined sofa that was their only item of furniture aside from the dining table and chairs. They sat down and looked at one another.
“That man…” said Hannah.
“He was a vampire, like us,” James said.
“I know. Does that mean we can trust him?”
James thought. “I don’t know, Killer. I think he might want to help us, but… I don’t know if trusting him is worth the risk.”
“He’s right though, isn’t he?” said Hannah. “There is trouble in the city. People like us are in danger.”
“Hannah, people like us are always in danger,” said James. He bowed his head. “I wish it didn’t have to be like this. I wish we could feel…”
“No,” said Hannah. “James, no. We’re not going to feel like this. We don’t have to be scared.”
James looked back up. Hannah went on, “We have each other. We’re strong. We always have been. We have each other, and… there are others, like us. There are friends. He must’ve been right about that, there have to be people who can help us! There’s no way we’re alone. There’s no way.”
James smiled, but it was a strained smile. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. We’ll be okay.”
They hugged each other in the dark. James said, “We’ll be okay. We’ll be okay, Killer.” His embrace and hearing his nickname for her made her feel safe and warm inside, and they stayed like that for a long time.
Hannah fell into her chair, out of breath. Someone passed her a bottle of water, and she drank gladly. A few days had passed since their unexpected visit, and since then her concern had not faded. Despite this, she and James had no choice other than to continue as normal.
Tonight’s crowd had been quite modest, Hannah thought. But there had been more than a few big names in the audience. Businessmen, club proprietors and even alleged gangsters were among the ones Hannah had recognised in the stalls. She could only imagine what that would mean next.
The other girls whose routines had ended were all chatting to one another. They were talking openly about the rumours now. There had been an increasing number of factors contributing to the fear felt by the city’s night life. Certain statements from political leaders; decisions made by companies in the area that invited grim speculation, and a murder of a young man reported in the news that had shocked the nation. Hannah heard it all, and only talked about it with James, when they got the chance. Despite this, she went to work and did her job. But she was still afraid.
The door to the dressing room burst open and an older woman barged in. She cast a glance around the room and found Hannah tucked away in her corner.
“Hannah,” the woman said. “Make yourself presentable. Room two, twenty minutes.” Everybody knew what that meant. All eyes were on her as she stood to ready herself.
She changed out of her sequined leotard and feathered tutu into a pair of denim shorts and a crop top, and then reapplied her makeup. Once done, she dashed upstairs. Now she had to wait for the client.
Sure enough, he arrived. He was quite overweight, and in his thirties. He wore a suit and tie and spoke with a refined, but husky voice.
He said, “Oh, hello. They tell me you’re a vampire?”
She nodded. “I’m Hannah.”
“Good. Call me Charles,” said the client. He produced a pack of cigarettes. “Do you mind if I…?”
“Not at all,” said Hannah. She did, in truth, but she couldn’t tell him that.
The man called Charles went to the doors leading to the room’s balcony. He opened them, letting in the cold of winter. “Come and join me, if you want,” he said. “There’s no hurry.”
Hannah thought about leaving him alone, but decided that would be a bad idea. She went to his side and leant on the railing.
“You don’t smoke, do you?” said Charles, offering her the pack. There was an unlit cigarette in his own mouth.
“No, thank you,” Hannah replied politely.
“Fair enough.” He lit his cigarette, inhaled, then breathed out a jet of smoke. “It’s not for everyone, you know. Although I suppose a vampire wouldn’t have a problem with it. No need to worry about cancer.”
Hannah said nothing to that.
“Not like us,” Charles continued. “We get told about the dangers all the time. Lung disease, infertility…” He shook his head. “You’d think we’d listen, but apparently not.”
Neither of them said anything after that. Hannah looked out over the city at night, taking in its electric-lit beauty. Streetlights and tower block windows twinkled like stars clinging to the ground. She heard the distant sound of traffic mingling the wind buffeting the buildings.
They stayed like that for a few minutes. Charles let out another puff of smoke and said, “There’s some shit going down in this city, Hannah.” He flicked the cigarette away. “There are people with ideas who want to ruin the order of things. If I had my way…” He stopped himself then let out a chuckle.
“Yes, things are moving, believe me,” he said. “It’s all very troubling for a man like me. Do you think you can make me forget about it for a while?”
Hannah knew to turn it up a notch, and took an ever-so-slightly suggestive pose. “I can try my best,” she said with a hint of devilment.
“That’s what I like to hear,” said Charles. “Now, I…”
He was interrupted by a buzzing from one of his pockets. He swore and fished out a Blackberry smartphone to read the message. He frowned.
“Sorry,” he said to Hannah, and strode into the room, tapping at the screen. Out of earshot, he began to speak into the phone.
A little bemused, Hannah turned back to look at the city. It worked away to itself as always. She thought of James. He must have been working hard in the factory. In that moment, Hannah felt a longing she had felt too many times before, a longing to be with him and everything was easy. She longed for enough money to live in a nice neighbourhood, to get married and be with him forever. She wanted things to be fair so badly, for them both. She felt very far away from the boy she loved at that moment, and it simply wasn’t fair.
And then there was a scream. It was far away, but unmistakable as a scream, one of pain and fear. Hannah’s attention snapped to it and she strained her hearing. There was a commotion coming from the direction of the scream, like a crowd of people shouting and moving in one direction. It must’ve been only a few streets away. Then there was more noise from elsewhere, not as clear as the rest of it, but recognisable as a disturbance.
A thought came to her. Pulling away from the distant sounds, she peered into the room. Charles was still on the phone, and his expression was concerned. More than that, he was pacing and muttering almost frantically.
Something’s come up for him, Hannah thought. And there’s something happening in the city. She pondered this, choosing her next move carefully.
Then there was a string of loud popping sounds from far away.
That made Hannah decide. It was time to go.
She went for the door. If Charles protested, she didn’t hear it. She was downstairs and out of the building in moments.
On the street, she oriented herself. James was on the industrial estate. That was her destination. She planned the route in her head, then took off running. It was another cold night, and again she was underdressed, but she didn’t have time to worry about that.
She didn’t get far before encountering trouble. There was a stream of night club goers and late-night pub patrons stumbling down the street. Hannah slowed to navigate them and looked in the direction they were running from. There were men, armed with clubs and machetes brandishing their weapons and shouting aggressively. They were some distance away, but they looked like they were revelling in the chaos. Hannah had never seen such a display of violence.
But she needed to move. She dashed down an alley and, at the other end, peered out to see if the coast was clear. There was more commotion, but she could run past unnoticed. She ran and kept running with only her goal in mind.
The industrial estate was on the other side of town, but she got there. As she approached, she noticed more violence, more armed people stirring up trouble. They had started fires and damaged property and left people injured. Passing a building site, Hannah saw an elderly security get pulled from his booth and struck several times. The sight turned her stomach, but she didn’t have time to stop, and she went on towards where she knew James worked.
She arrived at the big ugly building and looked frantically for an entrance. There an alarm sounding from somewhere, and people running, confused and unsure of what was happening.
Hannah took a moment to get her breath back, but she didn’t wait long. “James,” she said, as though to reaffirm her goal. “James!” she shouted this time. Then she shouted his name again, and again, circling the building and searching frantically.
Then she heard a response. “Hannah!” called a male voice from a distance. Her attention darted in that direction and she was a lone figure in the shadows.
Without thinking, Hannah ran towards him. She and James met and hugged each other fiercely.
“Hannah,” James breathed.
“James,” said Hannah. “Are you okay?”
She looked at him and saw his face had a collection of fresh bruises. Bits of his clothes were torn.
“I’m okay,” he said, and hugged her again. The comfort let her realise how much adrenaline had been in her system, how much shock she had been carrying. The hug helped to ease it, if just a little.
“We need to get home,” said James. “Maybe out of the city.”
Hannah nodded. “We’ll make a plan. Call Greggory.”
“Are you sure?”
“There’s no-one else.” She locked eyes with him. “We can do this.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “We can.”
And then there was a sound. Something horrible and cruel coming from nearby. Once they heard it, the blood in their veins ran cold.
Hannah and James peered into the darkness. Hannah felt a subtle change in her mind, a primal shift that told her there was something approaching. There was another noise, like a pained scream prolonged into a single moment and distorted into itself. It made them feel like nails were being dragged over their very bones.
The thing responsible wasn’t human, but it might once have looked like one. It was hunched over with an elongated torso and long, thin limbs. It had no skin, as if it had been flayed. It had no apparent bone structure; it looked like it was held up by muscle alone. Its head was bowed, attached to a thin neck. It looked up and its only facial features were a mouth full of jutting, misshapen fangs, along with a pair of gaping eye sockets.
They knew what this was, they knew instinctively. This was the Night-monster, the Beast That Lived In The Woods. This was vampire, taken to its logical conclusion.
It peered at them from its hunched stance. It was drawn to them, reaching out with its horrible, clawed hands, it spoke again with its terrible voice. The sound went through them, frightening them like nothing else.
“Hannah,” James whispered.
“I know,” said Hannah. She would not let the fear take her. She refused to let it take her.
They turned and ran.
Elis Rowlands is a creative writing student at Cardiff Metropolitan University. He enjoys reading and writing fantasy, science fiction and speculative fiction about nationality and identity. He has previously been published in Cardiff Met Anthology 8.