Barbara knew her son had caught ‘the virus’: the sudden weight loss, the paling skin and bloodshot eyes; those symptoms, plus his sudden mood-swings and new-found fondness for lying in bed all day with the blinds down, and the not eating, were dead giveaways. She’d hoped, at first, that she was wrong, that it was drugs or anorexia, or some other ailment that could be reversed in time with a bit of medical help; but when she came across the sketchbook showing the several hundred different hand-drawn depictions of sarcophagi, she understood there was no hope.
Not that Barbara knew much about vampirism, other than what she’d read or seen on TV. Apparently, most of the infected folk were capable of leading perfectly normal lives, and could hold down jobs and have families (although the females couldn’t carry a child). There was a man who lived two blocks down who worked as a gravedigger; and Pamela Moldavie’s husband seemed to thrive as a nightshift security guard following his life-change. ‘It’s all about perspective,’ she told herself.
She knew things weren’t that simple though.
It was a cruel world. And there were folk out there who hated unfortunate souls like Willis. Hated and hunted. Every-time she picked up a newspaper there was a yet another headline about a violent haemophobic attack. Hmer boy was only seventeen, and suddenly she was filled with the anxiety that he would not reach his next birthday.
And then, of course, there was the glorification of so-called ‘corpse-culture’: the reality tv shows and soaps that featured controversial donor/vampire relationships, and role-players with prosthetic fangs and white face-paint who dabbled but never quite succumbed to living deadliness; the campaigns to promote vamp visibility and the ‘Dead Proud’ marches which often did more harm than good. All that, and the pressure for young converts like Willis to up-and-leave their families to join so-called covens; and to adopt familiars and dress in clothes from a more romantic era and to set themselves apart as a different species entirely.
Recently, a woman appeared on ‘The Jeremy Kyle’ show with her fourteen-year-old daughter: apparently, the girl was sneaking out in the early hours and coming home with bites all over her neck. Jeremy asked the mother how she felt about it but she couldn’t speak for crying. The father came on later but he wouldn’t sit next to the girl, and all he wanted to do was shout and growl and tell his daughter that she was already dead to him. Kendra, that was the daughter’s name, she sat and rolled her eyes the whole time, and when she was asked why she allowed herself to be bitten, she said it was ‘a buzz’. Apparently, her mother, who was a nurse, had twice administered a lifesaving blood transfusion. When Jeremy asked her if she wanted to end up a ‘blood-junkie’ – a phrase that later spawned a tirade of angry phone-ins and forced him to apologise publicly – Kendra shrugged.
Barbara felt sorry for the mother: she’d looked close to breaking point and didn’t appear to be receiving any kind of sympathy or support from her husband; it was also obvious that there were deeper issues going on between father and daughter – he had a monobrow and a thicker-than-average head of hair that fell past his shoulders and was heavily pomaded, but not enough so to hide the fact that he was a were-beast – and when he pointed towards the girl with his super-long index finger she curled her lip and spat the word ‘hypocrite’.
Barbara always thought being a vampire was something that happened to you against your wishes: either you were born like that or someone bit you out of pure spite or an inability to control their urges; and so she was mystified as to why Kendra and these other girls would go to these back alley dives and offer their necks and offcuts of their flesh up willingly.
She had no idea how it had happened with Willis: had he been forced or initiated, or bought? Was it something that he’d been involved in over a long period before finally allowing himself to be drained of life? Had he been unhappy or depressed?
She was scared to ask.
She’d first noticed changes in his behaviour at the beginning of term when he brought his new school-friend home: Frederik, the boy with the overbite and white porcelain skin who dressed in a black cloak and wore all the Celtic jewellery. She knew what he was right away or she’d guessed at it. But she wasn’t the type of parent who’d discriminate against anyone, and Willis wasn’t the type to follow the crowd. Plus Frederik seemed like a nice young man.
Willis’ father didn’t agree. He’d referred to the boy as a ‘blood sucker’ and a ‘night walker’, and after Frederik left, he went on a rant about how folk like him should ‘all be drowned in holy water and then staked through the heart just to make sure’. They argued about it for hours, that and whether or not their son’s friendship with a carrier of the virus posed any physical threat, before finally agreeing to disagree.
Barbara had her suspicions that Frederik was at least partially responsible for her son’s conversion but she didn’t want to go making accusations. She just wished Willis would talk to her and tell her what he was thinking. There were still options available to him – he didn’t have to let this thing rob him of a career and a good future – he could continue his studies at night school (although being a doctor might be a bit tricky). They couldn’t discriminate against him because he had a medical condition, although she supposed it would be a little unorthodox to allow someone with a constant craving for arterial fluids to perform open heart surgery.
Barbara just wanted to help him. And if his father had anything to say about it, well, it was her wages that payed the mortgage!
She’d wept when she saw the flier for ‘Killing Time At The Crypt’ scrunched up on his bedroom floor that morning. At first glance, it looked like an advert for an ordinary club-night: the drinks promos, the live music, the image of the scantily-clad female in the short black shawl; but then she realised it wasn’t pints of alcohol they were selling, and the girl had a pair of elongated canines protruding from her carmine lips. She’d seen a program on channel five about what went on in these so called ‘corpse-shops’: human and non-human kids alike, locking themselves together in darkened rooms and playing Russian roulette in a deadly kissing game. One college-age girl who appeared with her face all pixilated even claimed that she’d gone there to have an unwanted foetus sucked out of her womb because ‘everybody benefits’. And although Barbara understood that the term ‘killing time’ was just a fang-in-cheek innuendo, the very the thought of her son indulging in haemophagic behaviour made her feel both nervous and nauseous.
It was four o’clock in the afternoon. He’d be rising soon.
She opened his door just a crack, saw that he’d pulled his duvet up over his head.
Soon he’d be off out into the night, out scavenging god knows where. She hoped it was just the corpse shops he was going to, that he was staying safe and not picking up donors off the street or in graveyards. The town where they lived had it’s fair share of haters so he’d have to keep a low profile. Not to mention the fact that he was underage, and whoever had bitten him would be in a lot of trouble if the authorities found out.
Barbara tiptoed into her son’s room, pulled back his duvet. Then she leant over and kissed his head. His skin was cold and smooth like fresh clay, his pulse non-existent; he reminded her of a beautiful, living doll.
Ely Percy is a Scottish fiction writer, a memoirist and an epistolarian; their debut novel ‘Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz’ is due for publication in February 2019.