Paul winced as his Ford Focus bounced over the rugged lane that led to the cottage. It was already dark and the road was terrifying. “I may need to get a new car.”
“I’ll give it a good clean later,” Liz said. “It’ll be better then.”
“I don’t want you to feel you need to do that,” Paul said, out of his depth. “I mean, I’m not paying you that much. Besides, I think if I’m staying here for a while, I need a car that’s a bit more…” he searched for the word. “I think I need something more suited to these roads.”
“You couldn’t do the shopping in a tractor, if that’s what you’re thinking of,” Liz said. “And I bet it’s tricky in winter. I don’t suppose that there’s a rush, though. The farm shops around here seem decent for fresh stuff and the supplies we picked up today should last a while.”
Paul thought of the stuffed boot and the overfilled bags spilling over the back seat. “I would hope so,” he said.
“I could do with some more rags,” Liz said thoughtfully. “I’ll have to have a trip to a charity shop to see what they have to cut up. Do they have jumble sales in this forsaken wilderness?”
“I don’t know,” Paul said. “I’ve not been here that long.”
Liz sniffed. “I’ll ask at the shop. And there’s plenty of soup ready for your guest as well. I put it on before we went out.”
Paul navigated the awkward turn into the yard and stopped before saying anything. “What guest, what soup, and how did you put it on before we went out?”
Liz climbed out of the car. “That guest there, it’s pea and ham soup that will keep you going with all the work that you’re doing, and I brought a slow cooker with me.” She sniffed again. “He can help bring the things in while I get unpacked and set the table – properly!”
Paul frowned as he climbed out. Theo was hanging onto the wall at the front, almost invisible in the dark. He looked scruffier than ever. “He’s not my friend and I didn’t ask him to come,” he said.
Liz looked at Paul, gave Theo a long hard stare and tutted. “You can’t leave him there. He makes the front look untidy. And he may as well be useful. Besides, he looks like he could do with a square meal.”
Before Paul could answer, Liz had taken the first of the bags and marched in through the front door. He braced himself and went over to Theo. “Hi, mate, are you okay?”
Theo looked at him with bleary eyes. “I’m a damned fool.”
Paul was tempted to agree. The man looked drunk and it was barely 8pm. “What’s the matter?”
“I can’t find him anywhere,” Theo said. “I know that he’s near here, but I can’t quite find it.”
“Who is?” Paul asked.
“The vampire,” Theo said. “There’s a vampire around here.”
Paul thought of the locked room full of notes that he was slowly reducing to order. Vampires didn’t even cover a tithe of it. “There’s no such thing as vampires. Listen, why don’t you give me a hand with the bags. Liz said that you can stay for dinner.”
Theo looked wistfully at the cottage. “I usually don’t bother much. I have a sandwich or pizza most nights.”
“It’s homemade soup,” Paul said. “Give me a hand with the bags. I think Liz bought half the supermarket.” He walked back to the car.
Theo walked after him, staggering only a little and put his hand on Paul’s shoulder. “There really is a vampire, you know. I’ve got an old book back at the cottage. Someone wrote it, years ago. There’s a vampire in the hills near Darke Manor. I want to find them.”
Paul’s mind whirled. He handed Paul two shopping bags. “Why?”
“Hm?” Theo hefted the bags and swayed just a little.
“Why do you want to find a vampire?” Paul picked up a couple of bags and headed to the door.
“Want to find one to become one,” Theo said earnestly. “I want to know the secrets. I want to find everything out.”
It took all of Paul’s composure and self-control not to pause. The last thing he needed was Theo finding out about the paper room. He could never allow him to roam around the house. “Okay, let’s say that the vampire is real. What about all the blood? And how will you convince them? I mean, what if they just drain you?”
“I’ve got some charms,” Theo said. “I’ve done all the research.” He strode into the cottage where Liz was waiting in the hall.
“Leave the bags here for me to unpack while you get the next lot,” she said. “I’ve got the kettle on, and I’ve stoked up the fire in the kitchen. If you get the rest of the shopping in and wash your hands, dinner should be nearly ready.”
Theo gave her a charming smile. “Something smells absolutely amazing,” he said. “I’ll get the rest of the bags in a jiffy.”
Paul watched him go out and then turned to look at Liz who was blushing. “Are you alright?”
“I’m just a little warm from rushing around,” she snapped. “Could you bring the rest of the shopping in, please, and don’t forget to wash your hands.”
“Right away,” Paul said, watching her bustle back into the kitchen. He hesitated for a moment before he followed Theo. He was fairly sure that at least two vampires were currently active locally, though he wasn’t sure who they were, and he was confident that they were happily feeding from the local cows. He had to stick with Theo and act like an unknowing side kick. If Theo poked his nose in the wrong places, it could get bad, because it seemed obvious that Theo hadn’t done all research at all. Besides, there was that piece of paper he had found tucked at the back of one of the diaries. It had been crumbling and he had copied it before the fragment disintegrated in his hands. There was another vampire somewhere, one that had retreated to sleep. Paul had the feeling that perhaps it was best that the vampire was undisturbed. If that meant following Theo around and sabotaging him, so be it.
You can read Paul’s story from the beginning here – Under Dark Hills.
And you can also read the first instalment of a series that Three Furies Press is kindly sharing here – Researching, Writing and Rabbit Holes.
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