In a rare and unprecedented move (at least for me!), I have decided to post a free and exclusive short story for this particular blog post.
Call it laziness.
Call it whorish attention seeking.
Call it what you will.
(If it's imaginative, please leave a comment so I may steal it!)
The following story was penned long after Swan Song's publication and is included in my twelve tales vampire collection, Against The Grain - and even though said collection was originally intended for my previous publisher, unfortunately it never saw the light of day.
I'm currently doing my level best to rectify that situation.
‘Oh, Darren, it’s you! I’m sorry, we were expecting the doctor. Please come in.’
Darren stepped into the house, the familiar words falling from his lips before he'd even taken his jacket off.
‘How is she tonight?’
Ariel Marwick smiled sadly in response.
‘She ate some soup earlier in the evening, managed to sleep some. We had...'
'...an episode earlier. She’s calmed down now though.’
Darren nodded solemnly. The door closed behind him, leaving the cold outside.
‘Should I come back a bit later?’
‘No! No, it's fine...'
Ariel said, a touch too vehemently.
'...she’d like to see you. I know she’d like to see you.’
Darren smiled, feeling every bit as anxious as he ever had inside this house. The feeling intensified suddenly as Mr Marwick appeared at the corner of the stairs, one shoulder set heavy against the wall.
‘Hello, Mr Marwick,’
Darren ventured. He received a raised eyebrow in greeting before the father continued into the living room.
‘Don’t you worry about him tonight, Darren...'
Ariel reassured him, placing a tender hand on his shoulder.
'...you’re here for Bethany.'
Isabelle’s high shrill voice signalled her approach as she slid from the bottom of the stairs into a heap on the floor before them. Darren couldn’t contain his laughter as Bethany’s little sister gathered herself up and raced towards him. He bundled her up into his arms and squeezed her tight as she giggled with breathless excitement.
‘Young lady, you are supposed to be asleep.'
Ariel reminded her young daughter, unable to keep the smile from her face.
‘I heard you talking...!'
Isabelle said as she squirmed in Darren’s arms.
‘...can I show Darren my new doll?’
‘Not tonight, sweetheart...'
Ariel said, taking Darren's lively burden into her own arms.
‘...Darren is here to see Bethany. It’s grown-up stuff, honey.’
‘...but soon! Right, Darren? You promised me tricks, remember? Amazing tricks?'
Darren grinned and touched her chin with a playful finger.
‘The likes of which you've never seen!'
‘Go to bed, Izzy!’
Mr Marwick’s voice commanded from the living room. Isabelle’s smile disappeared immediately at the sound of her father’s instruction. Darren smiled at her and mussed her long blonde hair.
Darren said to her.
‘I’m glad you’re here.’
Isabelle said, planting a quick kiss on Darren’s cheek before allowing herself to be swept up towards the stairs by her mother.
‘Go make yourself comfortable, Darren...'
Ariel chimed as she climbed the stairs, child in arms.
'...I won't be long.'
Darren nodded amicably before turning his attention to the front room where, although the door remained open, he was sure he was far from welcome.
‘She cried out your name again last night...'
Bethany's father said as Darren entered the room.
'...she thinks about you a lot.'
Mr Marwick sat in one of the numerous armchairs that peppered the luxurious room. It also played host to numerous flowers, ornaments, statues and paintings, the likes of which Darren had never seen before and was unlikely to see again. He remained awkwardly in the doorway, watching the father of his girlfriend swirl his whisky round his glass absentmindedly.
‘Make yourself a drink and sit down.’
Mr Marwick said tiredly.'With all due respect, sir...'
Mr Marwick laughed, self consciously.
'...make yourself a drink...'
He repeated sternly.
‘...and sit down.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
Darren said carefully and, pacing across to the small custom bar, he plucked a bottle of imported lager from a bucket of ice.
The father ordered again.
Darren, popping the lid free with his fingers, did as instructed and sat on one of the many chairs, the one furthest away from where the man with the world upon his shoulders sat.
‘I love my daughter...'
Mr Marwick said. Darren took a minimal sip of his beer.
'...and my daughter loves you, Darren. She told me, though what do children really know of love...?’
The question needed no answer, so Darren didn't provide one.
'...my daughter is sick...’
The father said.
Darren said quietly.
‘My daughter, dear opportunistic Darren, has been sick for years, but I think you’ve known this, haven’t you? I think you’ve known this and you've preyed upon this...’
'...my daughter does love me, sneaky little Darren...but she didn't love me enough to tell me the things a daughter should tell her father...'
Darren's grip on the beer bottle instinctively tightened. As if on cue, the sound of Isabelle’s crying drifted down, uninvited, into the room, breaking the hollow silence that had existed between each word Mr Marwick had uttered. He continued onwards regardless, ironically ignoring one child’s pain to lament another’s.
‘...you don’t know a parent’s anguish...’
The father continued.
‘...until you have children of your own.’
‘I love your daughter...'
Darren stated sharply, aware now that the father’s eyes were on him, albeit dulled by pain and alcohol.
‘...I’ve stayed by her side for four years now. Four years. I’ve defended her. I’ve respected her and in a high school like ours, I’ve even had to fight for her...but I think you know this, don’t you, Mr Marwick?’
Darren knew he was pushing the envelope, throwing the upset father’s words back at him, and yet he needed to be heard, finally, needed to be accepted, as Bethany’s mother understood and accepted.
‘Fight for her...?’
The father mused aloud.
'...yes, I remember. You put that poor kid in a coma...'
‘I love your daughter...’
Darren repeated forcefully.
'...and now that she needs my help, our help, I’m here, aren't I? I still visit. I think it’s time you afforded me some respect...’
He paused here, careful not to upset the respite the father had allowed him.
‘...there may be some things your daughter trusted me with, that she couldn’t have trusted you with. We may be able to help each other, Mr Marwick, and, in turn, help Bethany.’
The words were harsh but they were out there now and he couldn't take them back. He’d waited so long to be heard.
‘You’re saying you know the reason why my daughter is so weak she can hardly stand...?’
Mr Marwick asked simply for the first time in their relationship, utterly devoid of cynicism.
‘...you’re saying you know why she refuses to go out in the daytime? Why she’s scared to leave her room? You know?’
‘I’m saying you should trust me...’
Darren countered gently.
‘...I may be able to make her happy again.’
‘My daughter is a cutter. Did you know that, Darren?’
The words were flung like a retaliation strike for the earlier offensive. The paternal father figure’s head was fully raised now, the whiskey had been forgotten, the hurt was real.
Darren repeated, unsure of how to respond. Mr Marwick leant forwards suddenly, like a drunk who’d been challenged to prove his sobriety.
‘Yes, you cunt. A cutter. Do you know what that is?’
Darren remained silent.
‘Allow me to enlighten you...’
Mr Marwick reached behind his chair and with something approaching a magician’s flourish, brought forth a well-thumbed medical journal.
‘...a cutter, according to our medical dictionary here, is someone who has extreme difficulty in describing or expressing stressful feelings in a healthy way. By cutting themselves, they are providing a tangible release for feelings they cannot express otherwise. Often, such a person believes the damage done, which involves exterior feeling instead of interior feeling, will be seen and allow them the chance to heal.’
‘Okay, I think I understand you.’
‘But we haven’t got to the good part yet...’
Mr Marwick retorted and returned to the book.
‘...those who self-harm may think that the injuries, which are now in physical form, will somehow provide tangible evidence that the inner emotional pain is real. Through the physical pain they feel may be the catalyst that allows release of inner pain, the release is only short-lived...'
‘I get you. Stop. There’s no need for this.’
Darren spat, but the words coming at him only seemed to get louder.
‘...for self-harmers, this coping mechanism is ineffective because the pain eventually returns without any actual healing occurring...’
Darren got to his feet suddenly, his bottle still clasped in his hand, just as Ariel appeared in the doorway. The tears in her eyes, rather than her presence, reminded him of who he was and where he found himself as he towered above the father of his girlfriend.
Mr Marwick said to no one in particular, as if he’d suddenly come upon a particularly shocking paragraph. The book slipped through his fingers to the floor. Oblivious to the physical threat Darren presented, the man had retreated within himself, his whiskey glass having spilled from his hand. Now ‘Her thighs, my baby girl...’
Darren could barely hear the father’s words above Ariel’s sobbing.
Wordlessly, Darren dropped the bottle onto the carpet and turned in Ariel’s direction.
He demanded. The mother was distraught. Something had happened upstairs.
‘...Ariel, what’s wrong?’
Darren walked round the chairs and took the mother’s hands in his.
‘She wants you...’
Were the words Darren heard through the mire of sorrow.
‘...please go and see her, please go and see my Bethany...'
Here, the sobs grew louder and Darren had to lean back as Ariel launched herself upon his shoulder. ‘...my baby...’
The mother cried, over and over.
Darren said gently, stroking the mother's arms.
'...it's okay. She just needs cheering up. Just like before, remember? All she needed was a TV. Jim Carrey would wring a crude laugh from Jesus Christ himself.'
Ariel let go a solid laugh, despite herself, yet her hands took hold of Darren's arms, her fingers pressing into his flesh.
‘I always liked you...’
Ariel whispered into his ear.
‘...I know you can make my baby laugh again. I know you can.'
Slowly, gently, Darren unlatched Ariel’s hands from his arms, guided her from the room and placed her neatly upon the bottom step of the stairs.
‘Don't tell Mr Marwick, but I think I spilled my beer on the carpet.'
He confessed into the mother's ear conspiratorially, winning another hard earned laugh.‘Bethany hates that carpet.'
Ariel confessed in return. Smiling gently, stroking the mother's hair as one would a child, Darren left Ariel to her dry heaving dying sobs and began to ascend the stairs.
The landing was shrouded in darkness. Bethany’s door was seven steps away. Darren took it in one.
‘It’s time to go.'
He said as he entered the bedroom and closed the door behind him.
Bethany Marwick sat upright in bed on a pile of pillows, a Bible in one hand and a razor blade in the other. Her pink nightdress was pulled up over her milky thighs, blood running in thick rivulets to puddle between her legs, staining her Minnie Mouse knickers.
‘Choose a hand, any hand.’
She grinned as he stepped towards her.
‘I told you to knock it off with that religious shit...'
Darren snapped by way of greeting.
'...it makes me uncomfortable.'
'Come on, you must be hungry...'
‘...go to it, lover boy.’
Darren said as he crossed the room and threw open the curtains.
‘...and stop the kooky act. Your parents are fucking flipping out down there.’
‘Who said it’s an act...?'
'...you got to me baby. Who deals with this kind of shit in a sane way? You tell me.’
‘If you had moved your ass when I’d asked you...'
'...none of this shit would have been necessary. Your parents think you’re a sick bitch who cuts herself for no reason. It didn’t have to be this way, Beth.’
‘I am a sick bitch...'
She grinned devilishly.
'...but I'm not selfish. I know what my lover needs. I’m just sweet enough to cater to it.’
‘If this is going to work, if you are going to come with me...’
Darren paused long enough in his preparations to look at her.
‘...you’re going to have to start listening to me. This isn’t high school anymore, sweets. This is the real deal. Big time, baby.’
‘I’m all ears...’
Bethany cooed, twirling the razor blade a hair’s breadth from her ear.
‘...if I lopped this off...’
She teased, scraping the edge of her ear with the edge of the blade.
‘...would it grow back?’
‘Try it and find out.’
Darren said bluntly. Bethany pouted and threw the bloodied razor and the Bible to the bed.
‘You’re no fun tonight.’
‘I’m serious, Bethany. This doesn’t have to be as hard on your parents as you’re making it.’
‘Ooh, why? Do they think I’m suicidal? Perish the thought!'
Darren turned away and, squatting on her desk, swept her stationery and childhood ornaments to the floor.
Darren said, breaking her window lock with a flick of his wrist.
‘...we’ve wasted enough time as it is.’
‘What’s a measure of time, for those like us...?’
She breathed sweetly, suddenly, in his ear. He turned around on the desk to find her standing close behind him. Though she still wore her knickers, the blood ringed around her thigh like a ceremonial wedding garter, she’d shucked off the nightdress, exposing her lithe young form.
‘I know what you’re thinking.'
He said, desire pulling at him.
‘Do you now?’
‘Beth, we haven’t the time.’
She took his cold fingers in hers.
‘I’ll be quick.’
She promised quietly, taking his fingertips to her tongue.
‘Bethany Marwick, get yourself dressed this instant...'
Darren said sharply, his impression of her father faultless, his tone artificially perfect.
'...you know how cold you get when we fly.’
She sighed and sucking one of his fingers clear of her mouth with a loud popping sound, pouted again.
‘You’re definitely no fun tonight.’
She turned and padded across to her wardrobe.
Darren turned back to the windows and flung them open, noting the thick fog that clung to the town below like a coarse and intricately woven spider web.
‘We got lucky with the weather.’
‘What did you tell them, my parents?’
As if she honestly cared.
‘What could I say...?’
‘...your dad hates me.’
‘Can’t think why.’
‘I said he had to start trusting me, that I knew what would make you happy. It’s funny, your mum liked me from the start...’
‘All that sexy vampire charisma, no doubt.’
Bethany giggled. Darren shook his head.
‘No. I never played any of that with her. I promise. It would have been weird.’
‘Look at Mr Morals over here.’
This won a laugh from him as he continued to look out into the night that awaited them beyond the window.
‘I’ve only ever used it when I really wanted someone, when I couldn’t take no for an answer.’
‘What about me, Darren Miller...?’
He turned back to face her. She was standing now fully clothed in black boots, black jeans and a tight black top. Her long black hair was down upon her shoulders, framing that exquisitely paling face.
‘...have you ever pulled that kindred mumbo-jumbo with me?’
She smiled at him, dangerously. Death had made a beauty of her.
‘Maybe in the beginning.’
He grinned now. He couldn't help himself.
She whispered, her smile widening.
‘Be careful landing in those...’
He advised as he noted the high heels on her boots.
‘...we’ll be coming in fast.’
This made them both laugh. She walked back to him and fell into his arms as he sat, still squatting upon her childhood desk.
‘Your parents will miss you.’
Darren said as he nuzzled her neck.
‘...they should have cared a long time ago.’
She thought about this for a minute.
She replied coldly.
‘Where you going?’
Isabelle said from the doorway.
Complete with teddy bear hanging from her hand, the six-year-old portrayed the perfect picture of a younger sister. She might have been able to have been bribed into secrecy had it not been so late. Although one eye was closed, the other seemed wide-awake and was easily the tattletale of the two.
‘I thought you were sick, Bethany?’
Isabelle asked innocently.
‘I am, Izzy...’
Bethany cooed and kneeling down before her sister, she took one human hand in one cold hand and a teddy hand in the other.
‘...Darren’s going to take me out for some fresh air.’
‘I want some fresh air...'
‘...can I come?’
Bethany looked towards Darren, a curious look upon her face. Darren swallowed his disgust.
‘I’m afraid not, Isabelle...’
He said as he slid from the desk and placed a cold hand upon the young girl’s cheek.
‘...we may be gone a very long time.’
‘But you promised we’d play!'
Isabelle cried, in danger of rousing the whole neighbourhood. Bethany’s grin widened as she stood and tugged on Darren’s arm.
‘Always wanted an eternal baby sister.'
She whispered into Darren’s ear.
‘Why not? All that experience ahead of her.’
‘I said no. What the fuck is wrong with you?’
He barked. As much to misdirect his focus from the newborn fire in Bethany’s eyes, he turned again to Isabelle and kissed the top of her head, desperately trying not to notice how soft and warm it felt.
Darren said jovially.
‘...do you know hide and seek?’
Isabelle’s eyes widened with sudden joy.
‘I’m the best!’
‘...prove it. Can you count to twenty?’
She playfully covered her eyes.
‘...one, two, three...’
A sudden blast of wind blew inwards from the open window and Isabelle fell backwards, instinctively opening her eyes as she fell, her hand losing purchase on Mr Teddy. She must have been sleepwalking again, just like her daddy had warned her about. It was one of her dreams, one of her crazy dreams. It had to be. Her sister was sick. There was no way that being ill, as ill as she had been, her sister would have been able to soar upwards into the sky with her boyfriend like that, holding each other and spinning into the darkness like a pinball, silver and alight with moon lit fire. It looked like they were headed a long way, high, too high, so high Isabelle herself would have been scared to look down. Not too far, Isabelle hoped. Darren had promised he would play with her. He was nice and she liked him. He always told the truth.
Isabelle decided to close the window, just in case mummy and daddy wondered where they had gone, and finish her count of twenty before going searching.
Darren and Bethany had no idea what they were in for. She was very good at hide and seek, and even if it took forever, she would find them.