An Episode of Not Quite Dead.
Episode Content Warnings
- Please bear in mind that this show is a work of horror fiction and frequently places characters in situations which jeopardise their psychological and physical health. This episode contains:
- – discussion of violent deaths
- – heavy descriptions of blood
- – biting necks
- – descriptions of violent death
- – descriptions of the experience of a panic attack (describing the feelings felt during the panic attack including racing heart, breathlessness, and panic)
- – descriptions of violent injuries
- – descriptions of dead people
- – swearing
- – threats to kill or harm others
- – descriptions of kissing
There was just someone at my door. It’s still pretty early. Like five thirty. I don’t know who it could be but–
If they have got Casper, it’s not going to be too much of a reach for them to find me. I don’t know what they’ll do if they come here. I still have some of Casper’s blood. Maybe that’s enough to– to.
But I give them that and I’m dead already. For sure. No ambiguity.
I’m getting closer to having to make this decision but… I feel further away from knowing what to do than ever. I could try, and die anyway, and have wasted hours more I could have been alive. I could end up like the thing that killed Ben.
ALFIE TAKES A DEEP BREATH
It could work and I could be like Casper. And then maybe I can find him and help him and. But it’s the least likely of all potential outcomes. Not worth holding my breath over. And yet.
God there’s no point in even thinking about it. There’s no way to know what will happen if I drink the rest of this blood at once. I either do it or I don’t. It’s a risk-benefit analysis. Like those god awful risk assessments they make us do at work which are either painfully time consuming and unnecessary or offer nothing helpful by way of prompts or suggestions in those instances where you could really use them.
I should try to sleep more. But. The knock on the door really has– It’s–
I can’t go back to sleep. So where was it that I left off? Oh yeah. Casper had just saved my life for the first time.
INTRO MUSIC. EIRA: This is Not Quite Dead. Episode Five. Fight or Flight or Not.
That first bite on my neck, the scars have faded to pink. They’re slightly raised when I run my fingers over them, and I can feel the ghost of that dull ache I felt the morning after, like my muscles still remember it, even after everything else that’s happened since.
In the morning after Casper made them, I stood in the bathroom mirror, looking at the bite mark and the dark bruise around it, tracing the punctures that would become scars, this new topography. As I touched them, I felt something strange rising in me. It was somewhere between fury and longing, stirring deep inside me, half-buried under the grief and the guilt that seemed to be pressing in at me from all sides.
Apart from the bruise and the scabs, now I’d showered I didn’t look any different, but… I felt it. I’d seen people die before. I’d seen people die horribly and in pain. But I’d never seen it like I’d seen Ben go. I’d never been so close to the same death as the one playing out in front of me. I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened in Casper’s car afterwards but I was pretty certain I’d almost died then, too, that I would have if he hadn’t bitten me–
As I thought it the healing punctures in my neck throbbed and that weird angry longing stirred deep in my guts. It was like something was knotting itself deep inside me, directionless but urgent. I looked down at my phone, at the notes written there, hurried, full of errors. Descriptions of Casper, of Linda, what he’d done, how he’d been. He’d kissed me. To make me forget.
This thought twisted the anger and need even further, like it was coiling on itself. My eyes stung.
My phone started ringing; it was Grace. ‘Where the hell did you go?’ she demanded.
I thought, for a split second, to tell her the truth. To tell her I’d seen Ben torn to shreds in front of me, watched him bleed out, been saved by a man who threw Ben’s attacker into the river after he killed him with a chair leg, and almost died of infection that moved so fast I swear it could have taken me in minutes.
Didn’t say any of it though. Instead, I told her I was sorry, I got too drunk and needed to go home, I wasn’t thinking.
‘I was so worried!’ she told me. I thought about Ben, how Grace was right to be concerned because it could have so easily been me instead of him dead on the pavement. How was it that I’d left him lying at the riverside, covered in his own blood? I hadn’t even closed his eyes.
‘I’m sorry,’ I told Grace. And I just… started crying.
Grace was really confused and felt worried she’d somehow desperately upset me and spent the next twenty minutes consoling me as I sobbed, sitting on the bathmat, holding my jeans. They were stiff with blood and I’d had to peel them off my skin when I undressed to shower. The blood was Ben’s. Blood I’d watched pour out of him. His life spilling out into my lap. The stars reflected in his unseeing eyes.
Finally, Grace hung up and I crawled back to the couch, turned on the news and just sat there, staring at it between stretches of sleep, sure the announcement of his death would come any minute.
Whilst I waited, I lay on the couch and read the notes in my phone again and again, trying to make the memories come back into my head.
I thought about Linda, what Casper had done to her. What he’d done to me. None of it made sense. The more I thought, the more the feeling in my guts twisted and twisted, and I could see it, feel it almost speak sense. He’d left me. Casper had done all of that and he’d left me. I wanted to scream. I wanted to bite him back and leave him waiting, see how he liked it.
The memory of the car journey away from Ben’s murder, of the bite in my neck, it all felt so strange and unreal, not quite like a dream, but close. I felt horrifyingly alone with it, this knowledge about what the patients with the torn out throats had suffered, and knowledge of Casper, whatever he was, because I still couldn’t name it, not then, not yet, even with his teeth marks in my neck like I was the bride of fucking Dracula.
I stared at the text about the notes. It must have come from Casper.
I could text him. I could ask him to come. Somehow, knew in some deep part of myself that if I’d asked him to come he wouldn’t have hesitated. I could have called and he’d be there. I don’t know how I knew that, I just did. But I couldn’t make myself do it. I couldn’t make myself ask.
Instead I just lay there, reading notes on memories which moment by moment seemed more and more real, until finally I fell asleep again.
The call about Ben’s death came early the next morning. It was my mum. Are you okay, she asked, and before I could answer she was telling me she’d seen Ben’s face on the news. ‘It’s just awful, Alfie, it’s like what’s happened to all those other people they’ve found,’ she said.
I started crying again, just awful choking sobs. Mum was a bit taken aback by the force of it and honestly I can’t blame her because I was, too. Tentatively, she asked if I’d been hoping to get back with Ben after all. I wasn’t, I told her. I didn’t even like him very much, and the longer that passed between our relationship ending, I felt more annoyed at myself for staying with him for as long as I had. I didn’t wish him dead. Just far, far away from me.
But he was dead, brown eyes gone glossy, reflecting stars. Covered in his own blood.
After my call with mum, I had to get myself ready for work. Huge bruise on my neck and eyes swollen from crying I had this horrible realisation I was going to get teased for having a wild night in and I just couldn’t cope with that. I splashed as much cold water on my face as I could stand and put on a high-necked vest under my scrubs to try to hide as much of the bite bruise as possible.
It didn’t help much, but in the end I needn’t have worried. Hayley was waiting for me by the staff room. She pulled me into a fierce hug and told me how worried she’d been, asking if I’d seen the news yet. ‘That’s your ex, isn’t it? The awful one you dated before I met you?’ she asked.
People kept asking about Ben all day, between setting bones and fitting IV lines I was beset with it every moment. Some people had a fierce kind of glint in their eye as though they were expecting that I might be glad that Ben was dead. Whenever anyone brought him up, all I could think about was the way his mouth kept moving like he was trying to talk, how he’d looked right past me, up at the sky. I thought about the bubbling gargles of his breath. The foul thing that killed him. The more I remembered, the more the twisting, needy rage furled inside me, and the more keenly I felt it, the sting of something close to sensible rage at Casper, Casper who’d saved my life, who’d bitten me, who’d drunk my blood and then left.
Towards the end of my shift, I got a moment to breathe. I’d have usually gone out to smoke down the side of the hospital but Tracey was working and I was sure she’d accost me about Ben, too. Not wanting to face the break room, either, I thought I’d try my luck with the doctor’s on call room. In the afternoon, it was often empty. I could sit in there for ten minutes with my back to the door and actually maybe breathe for a moment.
As I got to the door, though, I could hear something inside. Rasping breath. For a moment I wondered if maybe someone was hooking up in there, which wasn’t unheard of, but then the breaths caught with a ragged little sound, and I knew whoever was in there was crying. I stood uselessly on the other side of the door, wondering what to do, when whoever was inside’s pager went off. Their breaths stuttered. I heard them get to their feet, and as I was turning to make it look like I was just walking past, they opened the door.
It was Other Ben. Ben’s toy boyfriend. Me but hotter. Red eyed from crying.
He looked at me, horrible recognition in his eyes. I looked back. I have no idea what my face looked like. I hope I managed to keep the horror out of it until he was gone and I was just standing there, standing in the hallway. My chest was tight. I couldn’t make myself breathe right. I wanted to move but my legs felt cold, my knees unsteady. My face felt numb, like I’d just been hurt, and there was mounting pressure behind my ribs. My ears were ringing just slightly and the edges of my vision seemed to be wavering, flickering, like they were behind a haze of heat.
Someone grabbed my arm. The moment his fingers curled around my bicep I knew him. Casper. The thing knotted inside of me constricted, adding to the sticking pain in my lungs and ribs. I looked at him and I was furious but I couldn’t speak. I wanted to scream at him. All that happened was tears split down my cheeks.
Casper’s hand gripped me tighter. The thing in me hissed and fizzed, part of it purring at the contact, the rest of it livid. He left, he left, he left. But he came back.
Casper said ‘come on.’
It took a moment to get my legs to respond to his command, but I did. He led me out by the upper arm to the lift. I still couldn’t breathe properly. My chest ached. I whispered ‘I’m fucking dying’.
‘You’re not,’ said Casper, gruffly. The lift doors opened and he walked me outside. It was the end of dusk. Casper marched me over to a low wall and forced me to sit. ‘Breathe in through your nose,’ he said, and I did.
‘That was his boyfriend,’ I said on the exhale.
Casper said he knew but it wasn’t important right now, that the important thing for me to do was breathe. He was squatting in front of me, his dark eyes wide. For the first time, I saw them not as black, but a deep, red-tinged brown, flecked with bright amber. When I could breathe again, Casper said ‘do you want to get out of here?’
I nodded, so we did.
We pulled out of the hospital carpark with startling speed and the fields raced past the windows. ‘Where do you want to go?’ Casper said.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. I didn’t look over at him. I didn’t dare. I stared at the road.
Casper settled the car into a higher gear. I listened to the engine purr and stared out of the window. We drove out of the edge of the city. The fields flicked past, sheep, cows, crops barely visible in the murky light which grew thinner every moment. It should have worried me, that I didn’t know where we were going. That I didn’t know Casper. But it didn’t. I felt hollow. But at the edge of the void in me there was something strange. Relief. Relief that Casper was there. A wrongness that had had me itching all day was finally beginning to subside.
Casper flipped on the radio. Piano music began to play, softly at first but building into a manic rage that made my fingers tingle. I stared out at the fields, though it was dark enough that I couldn’t really see them at all anymore. I was determinedly not thinking about the fact I was in Casper’s car, that he was a few feet away from me, that I didn’t know him, that I didn’t know where we were going, that I really ought to care a little more about all of that but I didn’t.
The car stopped abruptly. The engine cut out. I looked up, alarmed, and found Casper sat staring at me, his expression completely unfathomable. We were in the shade of some trees. A small forest that crept up a hillside towards nowhere in particular.
‘This is a bad idea,’ I said.
Casper laughed. ‘Now he gets a sense of self-preservation.’
I turned back to the window, to the ocean of trees clawing skyward and said ‘thank you.’
Casper didn’t say anything for such a long time I had to turn and look at him or I’d have shivered out of my skin in discomfort. His expression was smooth, a blank slate. He was staring at me but his eyes were unfocused. He clenched his jaw. I watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down. ‘Don’t thank me,’ Casper said. His voice was tight.
‘For getting me out of the hospital, I mean,’ I said, quietly.
Casper shook his head. ‘Regardless,’ he said.
‘Oh Jesus, don’t be so fucking melodramatic,’ I said.
Casper frowned. ‘What?’
I shook my head, unable to answer because I really don’t know what it was. The thing inside me was back, angry, curling inside me and rising up my throat like bile. My hand went to my throat, to the bruise. His bite. ‘You did that and you left.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ Casper whispered. ‘I. Knew where you were the whole time. I knew you were safe. As soon as it seemed you weren’t, I came for you.’
His words were like a brand in my chest. What terrible reasoning. ‘Yes,’ I hissed back. ‘Maybe you knew where I was, but what about me? I didn’t know where you were!’
Casper’s eyes were wide. ‘Do you care?’ he asked, with genuine shock.
‘Of course I fucking care, and like. I just watched my ex boyfriend die and you were the only person I could talk about it with.’
Casper turned away then, sharply. ‘My apologies,’ he said, thinly.
I was even more furious at that. ‘Fuck you,’ I told him. I yanked open the car door and stormed out, fury carrying me all the way to the treeline, my hand on the rough bark, chest heaving, heart pounding in my ears.
Casper was following me. ‘Alfie!’ he demanded. ‘I thought you might need space. I thought you might need time.’ He sounded furious, but I couldn’t look at him. I could no longer see. My heart felt like it was trying to break free, uncontrollable and nonsensical, far away from my thoughts but consuming them at the same time.
‘I think I might actually be having a heart attack,’ I said.
‘You’re not,’ said Capser.
‘What the fuck do you know, you’re just a porter,’ I hissed.
‘I can hear your heart,’ said Casper. ‘You’re having a panic attack.’
‘Fuck you,’ I told him.
‘Would you just fucking sit down,’ Casper growled. There was no room for argument in his voice. I dropped to the dirt like an obedient dog. Casper knelt in front of me. ‘Just breathe with me,’ he said, smoothly, quietly.
‘Shut up,’ I hissed.
Casper sighed, irritated. He reached out and I flinched from his hand. He hesitated a moment, trying to keep my gaze. He put his hand on the side of my neck. His fingers were cold. The shock of it ran right through me. ‘Just breathe with me,’ he repeated.
I could smell his breath on the wind. Sweet, honey-like, almost, but musky, rich. I wanted to lean in despite my pounding heart and my giant panic breaths.
‘I’m sorry about Ben,’ Casper whispered. ‘I’m sorry we had to leave him. I’m sorry about what happened. I’m so sorry I didn’t. I couldn’t get there before it got you. I’m sorry about this,’ he whispered, and on the word ‘this’, his thumb brushed over the bite on my neck. ‘I’m sorry. I left. I shouldn’t have. I thought it was best, but I was wrong. And I’m sorry.’
I squeezed my eyes shut so I didn’t have to look at him. His hand was very, very cold where it pressed against the heat of the bruise on my throat. His thumb brushed back and forth rhythmically across the bite mark, sending a bright shiver of pain every time it passed. It was easy to channel all of my focus onto it. I closed my eyes and cringed at the tears that rolled down my cheeks. ‘Damn it,’ I hissed.
‘Try to uncurl yourself a little,’ said Casper.
For a moment I didn’t know what he meant, but then at once I felt the trembling tension in all of my limbs, my arms binding my knees to my chest, muscles shaking slightly. I couldn’t make myself move. It was like I’d been glued in place.
Casper, somehow sensing this, reached across to my elbow and pulled it gently out from where it was jammed behind my knees, keeping his cold fingers lightly against my neck the whole time. Next, he put his hand on my knee, tugging at it gently. A little shudder of tension left me.
When I opened my eyes, his were closed. His expression was serene, one hand on my neck, the other on my knee. His face was mere inches away.
‘Casper?’ I said.
A small crease appeared between Casper’s eyebrows. ‘A moment,’ he breathed, just barely audible. He let out a long, shuddering breath and let his hands fall to his sides. He rocked back on his heels, then crossed his legs, so he was sitting two feet in front of me. He opened his eyes slowly, a small smile twitching up the corner of his lips. A breeze stirred his tousled hair.
ALFIE SIGHS WISTFULLY
He was completely and utterly beautiful. So beautiful it took me perhaps a full minute to notice that his eyes were now a bright, alarming scarlet. I stared at them. They softened more and more every second, so quickly returning to their near-black that I wondered if I’d imagined it.
‘What are you?’ I asked him.
Casper smiled, but there was something off about it. ‘Ah, yes,’ he said, quietly. He pressed his hands flat on the forest floor either side of his crossed legs. ‘We’ll have to do this, I suppose. You’re marked now.’
I put my hand over the bite. ‘What did you do to me?’
Casper sighed. ‘I had to suck the poison out. Those… things. They’re like me, but gone wrong, understand? It would have killed you in minutes if I hadn’t done what I did but,’ Casper sighed. He hung his head. ‘I’ve burdened you.’
‘Burdened me,’ I repeated, dumbstruck.
‘I took. More from you than I should have,’ he said, and he spoke with a quiet anger. ‘I’m ashamed. I — I should have stopped when I knew it was out but. I’m. It’s been weeks since I,’ he kept fumbling it and fumbling it and eventually I snapped.
‘Weeks since you WHAT?’ I said.
Casper looked up, eyes wide and apologetic. ‘Since I fed.’
‘You… fed,’ I repeated, in a whisper. ‘As in. That’s what you were doing. You were feeding on me.’
Casper nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said.
‘You bit me,’ I said, stupidly.
‘Yes,’ Casper said, again. ‘Sorry. I so rarely speak to humans. I interact with them where necessary but they avoid us by nature and I have no interest in attempting to overcome that.’
‘I feel like you’re trying to say something without saying it,’ I said.
Casper whirled around, his beautiful face twisted in frustration. ‘Yes. For heaven’s sake, yes. I’m trying to tell you that I am a… Well. The common parlance for it would be. It would be vampire. That’s what you would say.’
I stared at him. ‘You’re a vampire,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ said Casper.
I closed my eyes and heaved myself to my feet. Another wave of disappointment, this one so huge I thought I would crumble under it. I started walking towards the car.
‘Where are you going?’ said Casper.
‘You’re clearly insane,’ I said.
‘I’m not insane,’ he said, eyes glistening with sincerity in the darkness.
‘Y– you think you’re a vampire and you’re trying to convince me you ate my blood. You’re definitely insane. I’m going to go.’
‘I think I’m a vampire?’ he repeated, mystified. ‘You don’t believe me.’
‘No. Obviously, there’s no way I’m going to believe that, is there?’ I told him.
Anger flashed across Casper’s expression. ‘God, here I was, thinking you were bright. How can you not… you took notes, I saw you as I pulled away, was that not enough for you to piece it together? I bit you on the neck. Have you seen the marks, Alfie? Months, fucking months I was desperate to make you forget, and now you’re finally offered the facts, and you reject them?’
‘Facts?!’ I scoffed. ‘You just told me you’re a fairytale creature!’
‘You are impossible. Impossible, idiot boy,’ said Casper.
‘Hmm. You know what? Fuck you. I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you, but you need to stay. The hell. Away. From me.’
‘I can’t. Not now. Not after drinking that much of you and letting you live.’
‘What are you talking about!?’ I hissed.
‘I kill you or you fucking listen to me, what don’t you understand?’ said Casper.
I laughed in his face. ‘You just threatened to kill me,’ I said.
‘It wasn’t a threat,’ said Casper, his voice low and quivering. ‘I’ll always be able to find you, after taking that much you into myself. I’ll feel what you feel. I’ll always know where you are, what you’re feeling. That’s the way it is. Take enough from one source, it will own you. That’s just the way it is. And you. Your blood inside of me, it’ll call to you. You’ve felt it, haven’t you? That pull. I know you have because I felt the relief in you the moment I arrived. What I did, it can’t be undone. You’re mine or you die.’
‘Sorry, I’m yours?!’ I scoffed. ‘I don’t know what you’re into but I do not belong to anyone.’
Casper said ‘this situation is less than ideal, obviously. But I don’t want to kill you.’
I didn’t know what to make of any of it. At the time I remember I just supposed that this was his preamble, a… a long self-justification for the life he was going to beat out of me, except my heart was beating faster, and I could feel something between us, something strange, like maybe he wasn’t lying, like I could feel that pull, that need. Had I not been angry at him for leaving me all day?
Casper stared at me silently for a long time, and then said, ‘I can prove it to you.’
He took my hand, lifted it to his neck, a mirror of where he’d let his hand rest on mine. His skin was icy there, too. ‘Can you feel my pulse?’
I frowned, pressing my fingers to his cool, soft skin. ‘No. I can’t. But… the other night, when you bit me. I could feel it then..’
‘It only happens when I feed. Here.’ He trailed my hand down his chest. ‘And now?’
I shook my head, stumbling closer to him without meaning to. I stared into his eyes, which were tight with something I didn’t understand. I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but leaned closer, until my head was resting next to my hand on his chest.
I heard nothing but the whoosh of air in his lungs.
I closed my eyes.
It made no sense. Vampires did not exist, they were fairytales, metaphors. I could not press my cheek up against them. It was some kind of trick, that I could feel no pulse. Some kind of mistake. A weird arrhythmia. I remembered in a distant part of my brain that some athletes had a pulse so slow that they could die in their sleep, if it dropped even further. Perhaps it was like that, only the second stretched on and on into minutes, and there was nothing. No thud of a pulse, and no heat coming off him. Just the whoosh of air in and out of his lungs, and the rustle of the trees.
Eventually, Casper said my name and it echoed through his chest, like he was hollow. Perhaps he was.
‘Shh.’ I said.
Casper’s hand dropped from my wrist. He stood like a statue for a moment, breathing slow and even, and then I felt the brush of his fingers at the back of my head. His arms wrapped around me, filling my head with that rich honey smell that always clung to him. I curled my free hand up to my chest. I felt small, but safe, cradled against his silent chest.
It struck me I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I tried desperately to reach towards fear but found nothing, nothing except the thought that he was holding me. A little sob tore through me. I was crying again. This too seemed not to matter. Not to me, nor to Casper, who simply stood and held me, as the trees swayed, and he breathed in time with the wind.
‘Will you kill me?’ I asked him.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to.’
‘I try not to kill, where I can,’ said Casper.
I looked up at him, with this strange feeling inside of me, and I took his face in my hands. He looked at me, and I don’t know why, really, but I kissed him. For a moment he was perfectly still under my lips, but then, tentatively, gently, he began to kiss me back.
It was a soft thing, a sweet thing. I could feel my heart hammering. I still don’t know why I did it, why that was the instinct, but it was.
‘You’re really a vampire,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ he told me.
‘Right,’ I whispered.
Casper pulled away then. He covered his mouth with his hand.
‘Do you want to kill me?’ I asked.
He shook his head. ‘No.’
‘But you want to drink my blood.’
‘Yes,’ Casper whispered. ‘But I don’t want you to die.’
Honestly, I had no idea what to do. He seemed so ruined and ragged, but in that moment I knew exactly what I wanted from him, and it tore me to shreds. In the moonlight, he was exquisite. Good god, he was beautiful. And he was a killer. A monster. And I should have cared but I absolutely did not.
The thing in me, the angry, hurt little thing, it preened as I touched him. It was a frightening relief that he was here, that he had spoken to me, that he’d told me the truth no matter how stupid and unbelievable that truth felt to me as he spoke it. He was there and he was real and he was breathing and he looked as wrecked as I felt.
I said ‘you’re ruining my life’ and he looked at me with the most awful expression and said, ‘you’re ruining mine, too.’ so I told him ‘just kill me, then’, and I meant it, because I was so tired of not being able talk about it, of trying to speak and finding myself silenced, trying to get past the breach of it, finding it impossible. I was exhausted with seeing him in my head, and right there in front of me, where it was so, so much worse than anything I could have dreamed, because— with that quick danger on his tongue, the tongue that darted across his lips as he considered it, really considered taking my throat in his teeth and tearing the flesh. I thought of how it had felt when he bit me the night before, the sink of his fangs through skin and sinew, the tug of his mouth as he sucked me dry, I’d have died looking at the sky, and the twinkle of my vision as it blacked out would have seemed like galaxies.
But he didn’t kill me. He grabbed a fistful of my shirt and shoved me against a tree. He was speaking fast and quiet in a language I didn’t understand, but I knew, somehow, that he was swearing at me.
I was useless; my shoulders hit the tree and the air burst out of my lungs with the a pathetic little sound and I swear I have never felt at the mercy of anything the way I felt at his that night. He pressed against me so hard I could feel our bones trying to touch through our skin. He bit my lip hard enough to make me bleed and kissed me like he was about to break my neck. I was a rag doll; I’d have done anything he asked, and I did.
ALFIE BREATHES HEAVILY
Enough now. Enough.
EIRA: Not Quite Dead is written, performed, and edited by Eira Major, under a Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution License. Live, laugh, bite.