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
- – scenes of a sexual nature
- – heavy descriptions of blood and blood drinking
- – Descriptions of decaying flesh
- – Description of violent assault
- – threats to kill or harm others
- – mentions of murder
This… this micro-dosing the blood thing is not working. It’s just. Not working. I drink a little mouthful and it’s enough to bite the pain back enough that I can think straight for a little while but it’s not enough to let me sleep, it’s not enough that it’s even really dulled, it’s. I think. Ugh. If anything I think it’s making it worse.
Maybe I just neck the rest of this does in one. Maybe that’s what I should do. But. Ugh. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know! I just.
ALFIE TAKES A DEEP BREATH
I’ve diluted it with a little salt water. I don’t know if it’ll help. But I don’t know if anything will help at this point so. Another shot in the dark, whilst I’m still cognizant enough to make shots in the dark.
ALFIE SIPS; PLACES A MUG ON THE DESK
Whichever way I’m looking at it, it’s looking more and more important that I finish this account of what happened as soon as I can. So. I need to tell you about the other vampires.
INTRO MUSIC. EIRA: This is Not Quite Dead. Episode Eight: Reason and Regret
Here’s the thing about vampires. They’re predators. From a food chain perspective we are their prey. But they look like us, they move like us most of the time. They speak and think and laugh and cry. But they’re different, other. When you enter their spaces you’re intruding on the place where they are most themselves.
Casper agreed to let me come with him to that meeting and wait out in the car. We parked up outside a three-storey terrace on the way out of York proper, halfway to Heslington, a tiny little suburb which is where the university is. Fulford Road is the other way out of the city from where my mum lives, heading North East to Hull rather than North West to Leeds.
Why am I telling you this. You do not need a map to understand the vampires. It won’t help.
The house looked like the others on the street except it had clearly not been subdivided into flats the way that most of them had. It’s an area full of students, so despite its quant charm and the prettiness of the buildings there’s a scruffy unkemptness that comes from homes which change hands every year, cared for long term only by landlords who don’t really give a shit about what you do there as long as you pay the rent. That meant the bin-bags outside the front of the vampire house didn’t look that out of place, that it didn’t seem so strange that all the curtains on the building were tightly closed throughout the daylight hours, and at night only a faint orangey glow from old, exposed overhead lights could be glimpsed around the curtains’ edges.
It also wasn’t that weird that the windows were single pane, the original sash, their paint last updated maybe forty years ago, cracked and peeling and grey-green with dirt and moss. It also meant nobody thought much of the many people who came and went from the house into the early hours of the morning, and nobody really noticed when there were screams, because they were always short lived.
The day of the meeting it was raining. We were a few days past Halloween, and many of the houses on the street had slightly deflated carved pumpkins sitting out on their doorsteps and windowsills, triangular eyes beginning to bow, leaking their pale orange guts. Casper gave me a long, strange look before he got out of the car and walked up the path to the peeling red front door of the vampire house. He didn’t knock, but just a moment later, it opened for him. He hesitated for a second, his head turning slightly as though he might look over his shoulder at me sitting there in the car, but he didn’t. He disappeared inside, and the door slammed shut.
I didn’t see the inside of the vampire house until last week, the second day after Casper was gone. I didn’t know what to do, where else to go. I didn’t think he’d be there, not really, but I had to check. It was a stupid thing to do and I knew it, but they did let me come in, and they let me leave again afterwards, which tells me something important about the others that Casper doesn’t really believe himself. They’re not animals. They don’t exist solely to feed the drive the way he thinks. Of course they don’t; if a vampire like Casper is possible it means they’re capable of rationality, of consideration, thought, even compassion. He’s incredible, of course, and the effort he takes to make sure he doesn’t have to kill anyone is something he should be proud of. God knows I’m proud of him for making that choice. But he’s not some special kind of other, you know?
Any of them could choose that path, if they wanted. If they were given the help, maybe. If anyone had ever shown them it was possible.
It’s hard to know what Cas thinks about himself, there, really, but it’s clear the others consider him as different from themselves as the half-made. He’s a vampire but he exists with one foot in our world, and one in theirs. They can’t see his life as a choice they could make for themselves. He’s too different.
The hallway in the vampire house has floors tiled orange-red and black. There’s a strip where they’re visible in the centre of the hall, where regular use has worn through the dry, dark grime that covers the edges. It’s hard to tell the colour of the walls because there’s no light, and there’s mould growing thick and wet down from the ceiling. The stairs head straight up just s few steps in from the door, their old wood covered in thin cloth which had once been carpet, a long, long time ago.
In every room there are pieces of furniture, but they never seem like the right ones, or placed in ways that make sense. Wardrobes lie on their backs, doors wrenched off and propped against walls, their innards lined with blankets and old clothes which vampires sit in like small nests. Beds are crammed together, mattresses crisscrossing over too many frames. Vampires perched, grubby, watching small TVs on the floor in the corners of rooms, or propped on boxes. Some of them read, others lay strung out, languid on the filthy carpets.
Seeing them put some things Casper had told me about the others into perspective. Most of them were young, only living undead for less than a decade. Most vampires don’t survive their first year, even fewer make it past ten. Their makers tend to be young and inexperienced, unprepared for the work and responsibility of bringing another into the life. Sometimes it’s a change made of desperation for company other vampires were unable to provide, an attempt to make a lover or a surrogate child to replace relationships destroyed with then lost their human lives.
Almost every vampire is a victim of circumstance, first and foremost. They didn’t choose this. Whether they were made to be siblings or bodyguards, the life was thrust upon them without choice or warning. Usually by the time a vampire is successful in their attempts to make another, they’ve failed a dozen times or more, and with each attempt their choice of human to change becomes less and less discerning. Even if you were picked for a reason, that was usually a choice made out of love or favour or admiration, or simply because you looked healthy and robust enough to make the change successful. Very little thought was given to the psychological effect the change can have, even though those very effects are exactly what motivated the maker to create a new vampire in the first place.
And let me tell you, that shit can ruin you, Casper said. He told me to imagine trying to function in the world when you barely stand to be in a room with other people because you’re afraid at any moment you will kill them. Imagine that the only way you can live without agony is to stalk and kill people going innocently about their days. Imagine one morning you woke up as normal, ate your breakfast, went to work, then you were violently attacked, and the next thing you can remember is that sunlight burned your eyes and made your skin come out in boils and the air in every room was thick with the most delicious smell of food you’ve ever smelled and you were starving.
Some vampires can hold down jobs, if they learn to manage their blood debt well enough to keep the burn of the drive for blood in check. Some of them can live in the same place for more than a few months at a time. Some can have a handful of human friends. But this requires years of practice, years of mistakes, years of accidental killing and taking and anguish. Years where you are at constant risk of not finding enough to sustain yourself, where the only ones you can turn to are other vampires just as rabid as you who might, in an instant, drain you dry in desperation just because it had been so long since they’d last tasted blood.
You begin, Casper told me, to measure your days in drops of blood. A mouthful will get you through a commute and a morning shift, another through the afternoon. A pint can get you through a day, as long as you don’t have to run or lift anything heavy, as long as you stay out of the sun, as long as you don’t knock your elbow or twist your ankle or have to argue or fight. Eventually it is easier to just stay as still as possible, to lie and wait until you next have to kill. There’s no room for thoughts of love or compassion, when you live like that. Each day just another long slew of hours you have to get through.
The cruelest twist of fate, says Casper, is that the older you get, the less blood you need. Which is why vampires are mostly less than ten years past their change, or else well over a hundred years old. The older vampires show little concern for the younger ones, he says. Most are of the opinion that those worth paying attention to will manage to live long enough to make it out of the squalor of those early days alone.
That makes me so fucking furious, because that’s very human in the worst sort of way, isn’t it? Looking to people in the exact same position you’ve once been in yourself and instead of being like ‘there are ways I could make this easier for them’ you just immediately go ‘well I did it, so can they’. What a vile way to think.
It’s usually the older ones that call on Casper. New vampires have rarely heard of him. This nest in Fulford was a rare thing, because the top floor of that massive den of a house was pristine. The floors were covered in thick carpet. The curtains were hung with heavy, velvet curtains that crinkled if you touched them. There were chaise lounges and four poster beds, a dark wood coffee table strewn with empty wine glasses and playing cards. It belonged to Ros and Eponine, and they were the ones who’d asked Casper for help.
I don’t know much about them, only that Ros is older than Cas and Eponine some hundred years younger. Ros is tall, thin, beautiful in a nymph-like sort of way, and Eponine is small, round, soft around the edges, pretty like an expensive cat. Ros dresses like you’d imagine a vampire to dress, almost all-black, expensive fabrics, hair needle straight and framing her long, pointed face, like Morticia Addams if Morticia Addams were featuring on the cover of vogue. Eponine, by contrast, looked like the platonic ideal of a primary school teacher, all soft fabrics and pastel florals, ribbons in her softly curled hair.
None of the vampires in the den below them were made by either of them. Eponine had never even tried to make a vampire, and Ros had only made one; Eponine. They and Cas were not friends, exactly. Ros and Eponine killed humans and would not dream of doing otherwise. But Casper had a healthy respect for them because of the den they’d allowed their house to become. It was a safer space for the young vampires who found it, if not necessarily one that could have saved them. They didn’t help the youngsters that came to live beneath them, but they didn’t turn them out, either, and for that they had some measure of Casper’s respect.
There were a few other older vampires in the area, and Ros and Eponine’s house had become the place where they would gather when something was going wrong. Which is why that was where Casper had brought me that day, to wait in the car for him to emerge again.
I’d resorted to playing some dumb game on my phone when I heard a rap of knuckles against the window. I looked up, expecting Cas, but saw a small woman dressed in a paisley patterned summer dress, despite the November chill and the hammering rain. She was not much taller than the roof of the car, so with her head tilted to the side, I could see her whole face, and her deep red eyes.
She was standing deathly still, no movement of her shoulder for breathing, no blinking of her eyes despite the water streaming down her face. She could have been the most detailed and perfect wax statue ever made for all signs of life she was giving. I stared back at her, feeling my pulse quicken. My hand automatically moved to my neck, covering the scars of Casper’s bite.
At this, the woman’s eyes darted quickly from my face to my fingers, and a slow smile began to spread across her features. She breathed in sharply, deeply, her nose and chin rising the way a dog’s do when they smell something tasty, and her lips split as her smile widened further, the red in her eyes seeming to swirl, turning from burgundy to scarlet.
My heart sped faster, and I looked away from the woman’s face over to the front door of the vampire house just a second before it burst open and Casper strode out onto the street. There were other vampires behind him in the hall, their expressions blank, eyes almost glowing with the ferocity of the red in them.
‘Eponine!’ Casper shouted, so loud I heard it crystal clear over the hammer of the rain on the roof of the car.
Eponine turned her body away from me before her face, holding her gaze until she couldn’t any longer.
Casper was right next to her. He was standing half-stooped, eyes narrowed, hands in fists at his sides.
Eponine crooned at him; ‘now, now, Cassie darling, no need to get aggressive.’
Casper growled in response, honest to god, a deep guttural thing like a lion or a wolf. The sound tore through like wind through leaves and I shuddered.
Eponine took a step back from the car.
Casper moved too fast for me to see, and the driver’s door slammed shut. Before I’d fully turned to look at him, the engine was roaring and the car jutted forwards so fast I slammed back into the headrest with a shout of alarm.
‘What the fuck!’ I said, as the tyres screeched on the tiny residential street. Behind us, Eponine was still grinning, montionless again. Some of the others had come out of the house to stand in the rain, too, a dozen pairs of blood red eyes shrinking behind us as we sped away.
‘I shouldn’t have let you come,’ said Casper, furiously.
‘I just sat in the car!’
‘They could have smelled you a mile away!’
‘So it they’d have found out about me anyway!’ I said, desperately.
Casper made a wordless sound of irritation and discomfort.
‘Cas, it’s fine,’ I told him.
‘It is very, very far from fine,’ he barked.
‘Would you just calm down!?’
‘Calm down,’ he repeated. His tone was flat, unrecepetive. ‘Calm down,’ he said again.
Casper slammed his foot on the brakes and I hurtled forwards into the dashboard, knocking all the air out of my lungs. We were on a backroad I wasn’t familiar with, lined with large warehouses made from corrugated steel and a huge carpark filled with empty buses.
‘Do you have any idea what they’d do to you if they had the chance?’
‘Yes!’ I said. ‘I do, actually! Very, very aware of the vampire-y-ness of the situation!’
I was still trying to catch my breath. It was this, more than anything, that seemed to make Casper come back into the room, or car, in this case.
‘Alfie. I’m sorry. It’s just that you don’t fully appreciate the connotations of that interaction. Any human who knows of our existence is a threat.’
‘Why?! You could just kill me and take care of the problem!’
‘The smell of me in your blood is enough to tell the others that I won’t do that. You’re a threat to them.’
‘I’m just a silly little human,’ I said. ‘I don’t understand the problem; you’re fairytale predators that feed on human blood, how much a threat could I really be!’
‘There have been times in our history where vampires have made a bid towards the light, attempted to step out of the shadows of society. This has most often been when someone in power has been turned, which is why those with any modicum of authority in human society are avoided as prey or attempts at new vampires wherever possible.
‘Tensions are high because of the abundance of half-made. Some suspect there is a vampire with human authority pulling the strings. There are many reasons why they would want to do this, and none of them are good. It is always a risk for us to take human lovers, not just to the humans themselves, but to us, and our entire way of life.’
‘Lovers,’ I repeated.
Casper’s eyes swirled red. ‘Yes.’ He pulled me forward into a rough kiss that left me breathless again. I scrambled against him, knotting my hands into his hair, slightly damp from the rain. He pulled up the hem of my jumper, yanking it off over my head. He bit hard into the bruise he’d made on my chest the day before and kissed me again, my blood on his tongue.
He told me that the vampires had faced threats like this before as he fumbled with my belt. That their fear was now that they’d been discovered and it was a matter of time before someone made a bid for power like they’d seen before, tried to exert control over all the vampires in the area. Perhaps they were trying to make a whole contingent of new vampires they could use as enforcers and they were discarding the half-made as failed attempts, and as a warning for what was to come.
‘Do you think that’s what’s happening?’ I asked, as Casper pulled off his jeans.
‘I don’t know,’ he told me. He pulled me into his lap.
‘Are you afraid?’ I said.
‘Yes.’ He ran his hands up my back. ‘But I won’t let them have you.’
I shuddered under his hands. ‘I know you won’t.’
‘Good,’ he said, and then he bit down on my neck, hard, and without warning.
‘Casper!’ I hissed, but he didn’t listen. He was wrapped around me tightly, his arms a vice-grip around my back. I called his name again but he didn’t listen. I tried to fight in his grip, my hands clawing at his his shoulders. ‘Casper!’
He didn’t listen. His heart was hammering fast and violent, separated from mine only by skin and muscle and two sternum’s worth of bone. My own heart was speeding too, thundering in my ears as that long, deep pull of pressure on my neck peaked and fell, peaked and fell as Casper drank, and drank. My vision pixellated around the edges. My clawing fingers turned to useless swipes. My head was spinning.
‘Casper,’ I said, and it was barely audible at all.
My heart gave an alarming double thud, sending searing pain across my chest.
Casper let go. ‘Shit, shit,’ he whispered. I slumped back against the passenger door, my head hitting the glass with a sharp crack. I felt a hot trickle of blood on the back of my neck. I tried to open my eyes, could only manage it for a second, and saw Casper’s horror struck face, my blood down his chin and his chest in red streaks and smears.
I was distantly aware of Casper saying my name, of his hand pressing against my throat, but I could only think vaguely of how nice it was that his fingers were so cold against the white hot pain of the bite he’d made there.
And then, his cool wrist was against my lips, and the rich, boozy honey taste of his cold blood was on my tongue. It burned the back of my throat as I swallowed. Mm.
Maybe. Maybe talking about this is not a good idea.
Ugh it’s not enough. It’s not enough! I need. I need.
You know what I need.
Anyway I woke up in my bed with a horrible fever some hours later, and.
ALFIE CRUMBLES SLIGHTLY, QUIETLY CRYING
I don’t want this. I don’t want any of it.
Casper, please. Please come back. I can’t do this on my own.
EIRA: Not Quite Dead is written, performed, and edited by Eira Major, under a Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution License. Live, laugh, bite.