A Knock at the Door

The first part of this story can be found here, Rat. The second part of the story can be found here, A Civil Conversation.

Mary knocked and then carried the tea tray into Lachlan’s study. She came to a sudden halt. Not only had Lachlan remembered to wind up the aether lights but he had also put a match to the fire. He had even drawn the curtains across against the cold November evening. Mary stared at the room, then realised that Lachlan was not in his usual place at his desk but sitting in front of the fire. To Mary’s alarm, Lachlan indicated the armchair in front of him. “Good evening, Mary. Would you please sit down.” He jumped quickly to his feet and took the tray from her. “And perhaps you should have a cup of tea. I don’t really drink it these days, but I’m sure that you would appreciate it.”

Mary sat carefully down. “Is everything satisfactory, sir?” she asked. She saw Lachlan lifting the teapot. “I’m happy to pour the tea, sir, if you like.”

Lachlan shook his head. “I don’t propose to make a habit of this, but I feel that I perhaps should show you some consideration.”

Mary felt sick. “Are you giving me notice, sir?” she said, trying to control her voice.

“Not at all,” Lachlan said hastily, nearly spilling the tea. “Not at all. You have been an exemplary housekeeper despite your youth. It’s just…” He handed Mary a cup of tea. “I feel that I must be honest and open with you.”

Mary felt cold all over. Surely he wasn’t going to make an indelicate suggestion. There had been no sign of that. “Thank you, sir.”

Lachlan swallowed and looked paler than ever. “You have been an absolute treasure, you know,” he said. “And so supportive of my work. You’ve never flinched at the rats.” He tried to meet Mary’s eyes and failed. “Mary, do you remember that the rat bit me?”

Mary nodded. “It looked very painful and was so shocking. It was very unlike Cedric as well.”

“And you wanted to call the doctor, but I wouldn’t permit it,” Lachlan continued. “Though you bound up my wound very skilfully.”

“Yes, sir. Does your wrist give you trouble now?” Mary asked.

“No, it’s quite recovered,” Lachlan said. “If you recall, it barely bled and it healed almost completely by the next night. Mary, do you know how to take someone’s pulse?”

Mary nodded. “Of course,” she said.

“Then please take mine.” Lachlan shrugged off his jacket and meticulously straightened it before hanging it over the back of the chair at the desk. Then he rolled up a sleeve and held out his arm. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”

Mary rubbed her hands down her apron before reaching out and gently placing her fingers on the vein. His skin was ice cold and she could feel nothing. She moved her fingers across the wrist, but there was no trace. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t find a pulse. Perhaps I should call the doctor after all.”

Lachlan placed his free hand over hers. “No, you can’t find a pulse, because I don’t have one. I don’t have a heartbeat, either, and as you have mentioned, I don’t want to eat or drink. Have you read Dracula by Bram Stoker?”

Mary nodded. “But that was just a story,” she said as she looked down at his white wrist.

“Perhaps,” Lachlan said. “But I am only casting a shadow in a mirror, not a true reflection.” He hesitated and added softly, “And I was unable to pick up my late mother’s crucifix this morning. Poor Cedric was only destroyed by a stake through his little heart, so I fear that he also became a sort of monster. Let us use the word, ‘vampire’. It’s as good a word as any and I must face facts.” He looked anxiously at Mary. “I don’t feel any sort of bloodlust, though, which is somewhat of a blessing. I don’t feel inclined to attack you in any way.” He smiled wanly. “I seem to be attracted to the aether waves and the crystals generate enough for me. Though I shall miss your incomparable plum cake.”

Mary gently withdrew her hand and sat up very straight. Nothing had prepared her for this. “So just to be sure, sir, you don’t have any improper inclinations to me?” she asked, picking up the teacup and taking a large drink.

“No, not at all,” Lachlan said. “But I rather hope that you would continue as my housekeeper. No-one has ever been so deft at keeping house. You’ve made me very comfortable and I would hate to change that.”

“Would there be extra duties?” Mary asked, trying to make sense of everything.

“You can read and write, can’t you?” Lachlan said. “Then I would appreciate if you would assist me in research. I need to find out what I am, and if anything is to be done.” He pulled over a covered tray. “I brought these together, and while we will look at better precautions. I think you should keep these with you at all times.” Lachlan pulled off the cover. “That’s a stake, which you could wear in a belt, I think, or in your apron pocket.” He pushed the sharpened wood into Mary’s unresisting hand, nodding in approval as she tucked it into her apron pocket. “And this is my late mother’s crucifix. It was extremely painful for me to even look at, so it should be some protection if you wear it under your dress.” Lachlan waved vaguely at Mary’s prim and high buttoned blouse. “Tomorrow I’ll look into getting some Holy Water and you will have to purchase some garlic, if you can find it. Obviously I would have to add to your wages…” He turned a second before there was a sharp rap at the front door. “I’m not at home,” he said.

Mary nodded. “I’ll be right back, sir,” she said, jumping to her feet and hurrying out of the study to the front door.

The man at the door was tall, slim and intimidating. “Good evening, I’m here to see Mr Lachlan Aberford,” he said, stepping forward and taking off his top hat.

Mary stepped in his way. “I’m afraid Mr Aberford is not at home,” she said. “Would you like to leave a card?”

Benedict strode past her. “Of course he is in, I can sense him.” He handed Mary his hat and cane. “There is no need to announce me.”

“I must ask you to leave immediately,” Mary said, gathering all her courage. “And if you don’t, I’ll have to summon the constable.”

Benedict turned to her, his piercing eyes almost glowing in the aether lamp in the hall. “Your master is dangerous to you. You should leave until I have dealt with him.”

Mary drew herself up to her full five foot and two inches. “Mr Aberford is a very considerate employer.” She held out Benedict’s hat and cane. “Indeed, I feel far more at risk with the stranger at the door. Oh!”

Benedict’s fangs showed white in the hall aether light. “Perhaps you are,” he said smoothly. “But I’m in control of myself. How about your employer? Perhaps he has been a little… odd lately.”

Mary held on to her temper. “Mr Aberford may or may not be having a few issues with his health,” she said primly, “but his behaviour towards me has remained exemplary. Unlike yourself,” she added. “You have not even had the courtesy to introduce yourself.”

Benedict leaned forward and studied Mary. “I’m Sir Benedict Roydon. And you remind me of someone. But not a housemaid, I think.”

Mary took a deep breath. “You may have known my father, Sir Algernon Smithers.” She pushed the hat and cane towards Benedict. “Please leave.”

“Of course,” Benedict said softly. “Please accept my condolences. The tragedy was in all the papers. I knew your father slightly. I knew your mother better. Is she…?”

“She died two days later. The doctor certified a broken heart. Please, Sir Benedict, please leave.” Mary hated the desperation she could hear in her own voice, but she couldn’t bear it.

“And you are reduced to a housemaid,” Benedict said quietly. “But a spirited one still. And you say that Mr Aberford is not dangerous?” He took his hat and cane from her and carefully placed them on the hall table.

“Mr Aberford knows nothing of my family matters,” Mary said. “And he is not at home to visitors.” She held onto the hall table to steady herself. Today was becoming a little too overwhelming.

“But I do,” Benedict said. “And if you tell me that your employer, Mr Aberford, is not behaving erratically, I will believe you. But is he well? And do you know what happened to the rats?”

“Yes, I know how the rats changed,” Mary said. “But please, Sir Benedict, I can’t betray my employer’s trust. He’s a good man, and while he may be…” she hesitated over her words. “Things may be a little trying, but I assure you that he is no danger to me or to anyone.” She rallied a little. “Can you say the same about yourself?”

Benedict smiled. “I can be extremely dangerous,” he said. “But I do not plan to hurt you, and I am intrigued that you do not believe that Mr Aberford could be dangerous. I think that it is more important that I speak to him than ever. There is information that he needs to know, and I need assurances that he is no threat to the general public.”

Mary swallowed and nodded. “Of course, sir. If you would follow me.”

Before they could leave the hall, there was a crash from the study followed by Lachlan’s cry of alarm. Benedict ran towards it, almost a blur to Mary’s bewildered gaze. She hurried after, following in through the study door before coming to a lurching halt. A strange man had Lachlan by the throat.

“Lysander, stop,” Benedict called out. “Wait a moment. I’m not sure that this is a threat.”

“Do you think that this is the first abomination I have dealt with,” Lysander hissed, turning to Benedict, his teeth lengthening. “You do not even know the half of it. These aether kind, they are shadows of us, mockeries. They endure daylight and there is still a shadow of them in mirrors. They are a link to us and cannot be permitted.”

“Let him go!” Benedict cried. “We don’t know what could happen.”

“You destroyed the half formed and mad,” Lysander snarled. “But I found the scientific, the experimenters, they inquisitive ones. And just like the astrologers and charm peddlers before them, I destroyed them. They study and pry and pull at the fabric of our lives and cannot be permitted. They will bring us all out of the shadows far more than any blood maddened half turned berserker! Now get back, Benedict, before your soft heart undoes you.”

“You call yourself a duke,” Benedict snapped, “But you can’t make decisions like this for all of us.” He strode over to Lysander to pull him from Lachlan.

“Get back, idiot!” Lysander kept one hand around Lachlan’s neck, holding him hard against the chair and leaving Lachlan struggling to respond. Then Lysander pulled something out of his pocket with his free hand and hurled it at Benedict.

There was a multicoloured flash and Benedict was flung backwards, staggering helplessly as the aether energy pulsed around him. “Don’t do this!” Benedict yelled.

Mary watched in horror as Lysander snarled down at Lachlan, tightening his grip with sadistic deliberation. “No!” she cried and snatched up the crucifix that was still sitting on the tray next to Lachlan. In desperation, she thrust it against Lysander’s face. He fell back, howling as the crucifix burned into him.

Lachlan crashed to the floor. “Run, Mary, get away!” he gasped, pulling himself shakily to his feet.

Aware that Benedict was thrashing helplessly behind her, and seeing the murder in Lysander’s eyes, Mary reacted in the only way she could think of. Brandishing the crucifix in Lysander’s scarred face, she pulled the stake from her apron and thrust blindly forward. There was a long moment of silence as Lysander stared into Mary’s shocked gaze, then he crumbled around the stake, leaving nothing but a pile of rags and ashes. She dropped the stake and stepped back, appalled. Lachlan put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“That was informative,” Benedict said, getting shakily to his feet. He walked over to the pile of dust and bent to pick up Lysander’s ring. “And somewhat unexpected.” He looked at Lachlan and Mary. “I think I need to explain a few things to you. Your lives are now going to become so much more interesting.”

This was originally meant to be part of the October Frights Blog Hop, so please feel free to dip into the amazing authors taking part.

Be Afraid of the Dark

Hawk’s Happenings

Carmilla Voiez Dark Reads and Intersectional Feminism


Frighten Me

Brain Matter – The Official Blog of JG Faherty

Angela Yuriko Smith

James P. Nettles

A Civil Conversation

Image from Unsplash, taken by Alexander Grey

You can find the first part of this story here – Rat

Benedict stalked across the black and white tiled floor, past the maroon leather sofas and the aspidistras and stood in front of Lysander. “It’s getting worse,” he said.

“Good evening, it’s nice to see you too,” Lysander said. “Please, Benedict, take a seat. I trust that I find you in good health?”

“This is no time for fripperies,” Benedict snapped. “I have just destroyed half a dozen vampiric rats.”

Lysander raised an eyebrow. “I would have thought that they would be your perfect pets.”

Benedict’s fangs lengthened. “Do not try me, Lysander. I am in no humour for this. They were not hunting blood. They were hunting the aether currents. That cannot continue.”

“Our Creator has made such a wonderful variety of life,” Lysander murmured. “Of course creatures will feed on the aether currents, especially now that there are so many amplified sources.” He looked down at his ring. The iridescent aether stone gleamed in the heavy silver setting. “And I am grateful for it.”

“You were not always so fastidious,” Benedict snarled. “We are vampires – dark creatures. Our nature demands that we embrace that darkness. Relying on a chunk of stone is ridiculous! When did you last feed from a living mortal? And I don’t count the geese and bulls you have bled in the past.”

“Does it matter?” Lysander said wearily. “Please, sit down and try and relax. I can summon Brigitte. She is always willing to be your chalice and perhaps you will be calmer if you have fed.”

Benedict dropped into the neighbouring armchair and a little tension left him as his fangs retracted. “We are what we are. You cannot hide from your own nature. We feed on blood.” He glanced around and smiled thinly. “And I ate before I came here.”

“We don’t have to be enslaved by our nature,” Lysander said. “Now that aether stones are so common, many of our kind are glad to be free of the need to always tend our…”

“You have always called your food ‘chalices’ and not people,” Benedict said. “Half the time you don’t even remember their names. Using the aether stones instead of feeding properly cuts us off from who we are and why there should be so few of us. London is one of the greatest cities in the world, and there are perhaps no more than a dozen or so vampires here. Any more would be a risk to us all.”

“There are a few vampires that we know of,” Lysander said. “But who knows what else is in the shadows. I agree, there can’t be too many of us. I remember the lynch mobs in Tirana too well. That was a new vampire that became, what is the word?”

“The bloodlust overwhelmed them,” Benedict said coldly. “Jomar calls it ‘berserk’. But do you think that things would have been so much better if they had been feeding from the aether currents? I heard all about it from Alexias. It was the power that went to their heads. They deserved to be destroyed, and you know it.”

“That’s why I lit the pyre when they were caught,” Lysander said calmly. “But it is still unsafe for vampires, even a decade later.”

“As coldly pragmatic as ever,” Benedict said. “But you don’t understand. Half the time, it’s the tie of the blood that keeps us in check. The reality of hunting, hiding in the dark and knowing the darkness inside you stops the excesses. The aether stones release us from that tie. They remove limits.”

“And that is a bad thing?” Lysander asked.

“You know it is,” Benedict snapped.

“We could achieve wonders,” Lysander said dreamily. “We have the resources to forge to the coldest wastes, the deepest, fever-ridden jungles and into the thinnest air of the mountains. Think of what we could discover! Think of all we could do!”

“We could end on a pyre,” Benedict said. “Even those who feed from the aether leave traces, like these rats. It is my belief that we have another new vampire, another debutante who has been playing with aether crystals. They turned rats, and have no doubt turned themselves and have no sire or dam to explain what has happened or how they need to protect themselves and the rest of us.”

Lysander paused. “There have been several such recently. They have not had happy transitions.”

“None of them survived,” Benedict said brutally. “And what of that office worker who turned wrong and ran crazed in the slaughterhouses at the East End. It took all of my time to track and subdue him. Where were you when that happened?”

“I found out a little too late,” Lysander said. “Perhaps you should have called earlier. I’ve dealt with problems at other times. There was that rogue from Croatia a while ago, and I’ve spent my fair share of time patrolling some of the more obvious hunting grounds.”

Benedict snorted. “It’s not enough. It’s always bad when someone turns with witchcraft or curses, but the aether kind are dangerous. They are dangerous to mortals and they are dangerous to us.”

“How are they so dangerous?” Lysander snapped. “Because they don’t hurt others?”

“Because their wills are unstable, they have no direction, and they have no hunting ground to track,” Benedict snapped back. “They have all been insane – you know what they say about aether miners! And because they have no hunting ground, we can’t spot them to let them know the proper ways and introduce them to Society. And because we can’t track them and find them, and because they are insane, they run amok and mortals get hurt. At some point there is going to be a link between these sad creatures and Mr Stoker’s creation. Too many have heard of vampires. And once these aberrations have been destroyed, they will start looking for us. How well do you hide yourself, Lysander, with your discreet club and loyal servants. Is it discreet enough?”

“I am confident in my situation,” Lysander said coldly. “But perhaps you are correct. The thought of so many potential kindred unknown to us and quite out of our influence chills me. Besides, those created by the aether crystals have all been somewhat deficient. We should cull them before they become a risk to us. I’ll share my thoughts with the rest of us. I shall also spend some time studying the latest scientific papers on aether waves. Perhaps then we can take further steps.”

“And are you going to look for this debutante?” Benedict asked.

Lysander stared at his ring for a moment. “I doubt that they exist,” he said. “Rats get everywhere and now so many crafts are using aether stones, there are bound to be a few incidents. I think I shall speak to the rat catchers.”

“So you won’t look,” Benedict said.

Lysander shrugged. “If there is an aether kind, and I doubt it, they will make themselves known soon enough. But don’t let me stop you from hunting. You always did enjoy the exercise.”

“I’ll look, and I’ll look carefully,” Benedict said. “They are out there, and when I find them, I’ll deal with whatever situation that I find.”

“Kill them,” Lysander said.

“I’m not killing for the sake of it,” Benedict said. “But I’ll deal appropriately with any rogue.”

“I’m sure that you shall,” Lysander said. “And so shall I. Where did you find the rats?”

Benedict looked at him thoughtfully. “Why? You said that you wouldn’t be looking.”

“I wish to speak to the local rat catchers to see if the contagion has spread,” Lysander said, staring at the play of light on his ring.

Benedict raised an eyebrow. “I trust that you will enjoy the encounter. I found the rats at Woolwich.” He stood. “I’ll take my leave.”

“Let me know if you have found and killed anything,” Lysander said. “Leave nothing that could be a risk. There should be no vampire outside the influence of our Society.”

For a moment Benedict’s fangs lengthened, then he shrugged. “I’ll send a message. Goodnight.” Then he swept out of the room and into the London fog.

This is part of the amazing October Frights Blog Hop. Please check out the awesome authors that are also taking part.

Be Afraid of the Dark

Hawk’s Happenings

Carmilla Voiez Dark Reads and Intersectional Feminism


Frighten Me

Brain Matter – The Official Blog of JG Faherty

Angela Yuriko Smith

James P. Nettles


Mary carefully opened the door to Lachlan Aberford’s study and paused to allow her eyes to adjust. Outside the November afternoon was drawing down to dusk and Lachlan’s study was unlit and dim. It was a stark contrast to the bright aether lights in the kitchen and hall and, for a moment, Mary struggled to see her employer. “Good afternoon, sir,” she said brightly. “I’ve brought the tea tray. Shall I put on a light?”

“Hmm?” Lachlan stared out of the window at the hansom cab trotting along towards Plumstead Common. “Yes, of course.”

Mary set the tray down on the side table near the door and wound up the aether light. “I’ve got the evening paper as well,” she said. “It’s all about the Boer War on the front page.” With the ease of practise, she set out the teapot, milk, cup and saucer, side plate, sandwich and slice of fruit cake on the edge of Lachlan’s desk. “They say that Kitchener is likely to be sent there.” She shook out the paper and then folded it again neatly.

“It’s nearly a new century,” Lachlan said, still staring out of the window. “The century starts in 1901, you know, and we are on the edge of such discoveries.”

“Yes, sir,” Mary said, deftly pouring a cup of tea. She shivered and realised that she could see her breath steaming in front of her. “It’s very cold in here, sir. Would you like me to light the fire? If nothing else, it will be better for the rats.”

Lachlan pulled his attention away from the window. “Of course, although we have sadly lost all but Cedric now.”

“Oh dear!” Mary said. She took down the aether lighter and knelt to light the fire. At least the fire was still coal. It may make more work for her, but the amount of aether crystals in the house made her uneasy. “Poor things. What do you think it was? They had plenty of food, didn’t they?”

Lachlan slowly pulled the heavy curtains across the window. “Yes, I made sure of that, with lots of fresh water. And you did a splendid job of cleaning the cages.”

Mary repressed a shudder. She didn’t have much choice of employment, and this situation had a lot of good points. The rats were a small price to pay. “Thank you sir.” She stood and brushed down her skirt before walking around the room and turning on the lights. The study was the biggest room in the house, with the small fire and desk at one end and the large table with rat cages and experimental equipment at the other. “I’m sorry to hear about the losses. Will Cedric be alright?” Mary looked around. “Perhaps I should leave you to eat your tea, sir. You haven’t had anything all day.”

Lachlan walked slowly over to the cages. “Cedric seems to be tolerating the effects of aether waves much better than the others,” he said, ignoring the food. “But it still doesn’t answer the question of the effects of aether rays on a man. The relative size of an aether crystal to a man compared to the rat is significant.”

“I heard that the miners in aether mines go mad if they spend too much time in them,” Mary said. “It was in the paper. Can I tempt you to a little beef broth, perhaps, sir? Or some nice buttered toast?”

“I put the remains of Cedric’s companions out on the rubbish heap,” Lachlan said. “I wonder if I should have preserved their remains.”

Mary took a deep breath. She couldn’t afford to give notice, not even if there were preserved rats. “I’ll give the cages a good wash tomorrow with carbolic and hot water,” she said.

“Do you think you would be able to clean some of my equipment for me?” Lachlan said, waving a hand at a large bowl full of wooden clutter. “It’s quite specialised, to work with the aether crystals, so needs a certain amount of care, but it’s not too complicated.”

“I’m sure I’ll be able to do that, sir,” Mary said.

“There are no real traces of rats, I promise,” Lachlan said. “I used some rags to clean the instruments off and burnt the rags. But a wash with hot water and carbolic soap would improve them. They are made of wood, you see, instead of metal, to try and reduce aether conductivity.”

“I see,” Mary said. They reminded her of her brother’s equipment, many years ago, and for a moment the sadness washed over her. Then she pulled herself together. “So these sharpened sticks and dowels, then, and these…” Mary poked at the full bowl.

“I designed a lot of these myself,” Lachlan said. “These may look like toothpicks, but they are specially filed and sanded ironwood. They are much more robust and quite sharp so you can rub them quite briskly in water but be careful of their points. These I suppose are a type of chisel but with only the very edge made of metal. And while the oak clamps are nowhere near as robust as their iron counterparts, they don’t spark with aether interference. Wood seems to be non-conductive. It’s not ideal,” he said, frowning, “but it gives clearer, results and helps me get a better idea of the aether flow.” Lachlan paused and stared back at the window now hidden by the curtains. “I’m getting so attuned to the aether current. Sometimes I feel I can see the currents with the naked eye, without the use of an aether scope.” Lachlan put a hand on Mary’s arm. “You mustn’t try and wash the delicate instruments,” he said quickly. “Just these wooden and metal pins and probes.”

“Your hand is very cold, sir,” Mary said. “Are you feeling quite well.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Lachlan said, stacking the notebooks to one side. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt better. But I’m not sure about Cedric. Perhaps he will take a morsel of my sandwich.”

“And I then could make you some fresh just for you,” Mary said. “I made ham sandwiches for you, with some nice Wiltshire ham, but there’s some cheese in the kitchen. Do you think that would tempt him?” She peered past Lachlan and into the cage. Like all of the cages, it was placed carefully out of the draughts and provided with lots of straw. There were dishes of water and untouched feed and, at the back, the iridescent and experimental aether crystal strapped in place. Her heart broke a little. Cedric had always been her favourite. He may have been a rat, but he had been friendly, playful and even willing to be cuddled as she cleaned the cages. Now he was uninterested and unmoving. “Perhaps I could even try some bread and milk.”

“Yes, that may be an idea,” Lachlan said as he frowned over the rat lying listlessly in the corner.

Mary moved the notebooks away from Cedric. Lachlan had the finest notebooks but had strips of old maps as bookmarks. He paid her a generous salary but his boots were worn almost to pieces. The rats were given the best care he could manage but insisted on the plainest of food for himself. She had been here nearly a year now, and while the work wasn’t hard, there were quite a few quirks that needed to be considered. Caring for sick rats was barely a tithe of it. “I could get a hot water bottle for him to sleep on,” she said. “I could wrap it in flannel and it would keep him snug.”

Lachlan opened the cage and reached in. “That is probably a good idea. The poor little chap has been quite cold to the touch. Ouch!” Lachlan stared in disbelief at the rat. “Cedric bit me!”

Mary stared. “But Cedric never bites! Did he hurt you, sir? And the poor thing must be feeling even worse than we thought.”

Lachlan frowned. “His eyes look quite red. I wonder if I will be able to get a photograph of this. Ouch!

Cedric squirmed out of Lachlan’s hand and fell heavily onto the bench. Instead of fleeing, he turned and reared up on his back legs, glaring at Lachlan and squeaking defiance. Lachlan grabbed at him but missed. Mary tipped the bowl of instruments out and tried slamming it over Cedric, who slipped easily out of the way, chittering as he went. Wooden skewers and chisels scattered wildly over the notebooks and desk. Lachlan swore as Cedric fastened onto his wrist, sinking his incisors deep. “Mary, get back!” Lachlan cried as his attempts to pry Cedric from him failed. In desperation he caught up a wooden stick and stabbed up into Cedric’s belly.

Mary watched horrified as Cedric shrieked and seemed to shrink and fold in on himself. The poor rat shrunk and collapsed around the wooden pin as the red light faded from Cedric’s eyes and he looked at them with a final sad squeak. Then there was just a husk of bone and dusty fur where Cedric had been and a stain was creeping up the ironwood skewer. “Poor Cedric,” she whispered before wrenching her gaze back to Lachlan. “Your wrist, it’s hurt.”

Cedric had torn a ragged gash into Lachlan’s wrist and it was oozing blood. Lachlan stared at it, growing paler. “This is all wrong,” he said.

“Mr Aberford, please come and sit down and I’ll tie up the wrist before fetching a doctor,” Mary caught Lachlan’s elbow and steered him quickly away from the bench. “Just sit nice and quiet with this tea. It’s lovely and hot.”

“I don’t need a doctor,” Lachlan said quietly.

“I think it best to be safe,” Mary said. “I don’t want to be presumptuous, sir, but you have a hole in your wrist. It needs to be seen to.” She pushed him gently into his chair.

“And yet there’s hardly any blood,” Lachlan said, his voice carefully controlled. “I don’t seem to be feeling the cold. I rise later and later and spend most of my waking hours in darkness. My night vision is currently greatly improved and I am not hungry at all despite a lack of food. I think that I have more than Cedric to worry about.”

This is part of the October Frights Blog Hop. Check out the awesome authors taking part

Be Afraid of the Dark

Hawk’s Happenings

Carmilla Voiez Dark Reads and Intersectional Feminism


Frighten Me

Brain Matter – The Official Blog of JG Faherty

Angela Yuriko Smith

James P. Nettles

And don’t forget to keep an eye out during the rest of the week for more spooky fiction!

Hunting in the Fog

Vitalius paused at the corner of the street and breathed in deeply. The heavy, acrid fog of the London’s East End sent most reeling, but to the vampire, it was a balm. It had been a good decision, he thought, to leave Dubrovnik and hide in the holds of so many ships that brought him here, eventually, to the thriving capital of Queen Victoria’s Empire.

He picked his way carefully over the rough cobbles. Earlier in the evening he had attended a performance of Carmen and then joined with the intelligentsia of literary society for a late supper. He had barely touched the creams and jellies that had been spread out and he had avoided the devilled lobster. He hungered for something completely different.

And here it was. Barely half an hour in a hansom cab from the glittering West End to this – the murk of London’s darker side. As he paced slowly, he watched. The contrast was stark. From the expensive gowns and lavish dinners to the cheapest of the cheap. Women were clustered on corners, their outlines softened by the clinging fog. Vitalius sneered. They were his for only a few coins. But he would not take someone from a group or somewhere well lit. He was not ready to get noticed. He pushed further into the dark, cramped alleys and back streets of Whitechapel.

It was easier here. In the wealthy areas of North and West London, the new aether technology was causing interference. Here in the poor slums, there were no aether lights or stoves to disturb the flow that curved and snaked overhead. Like all vampires, he could see the aether trails with their currents, the ebb and flow of the energy that was now being harnessed by the new engines and their crystals. Here, where the flow was undisturbed, he could walk unimpeded by the darkness and the fog and search for prey.

And prey there was in abundance. Life was so cheap here. An unregarded child, a drunken woman or a sick and crippled man were all easy to find and unlikely to be missed, at least, missed by anyone that mattered. Vitalius turned left into a maze of alleys and then right, into a back street that had been fruitful before. Dirty public houses lurked at the corners with light and music dispersing into the deadening fog. He smiled. The taste of the cheap gin added a certain piquancy. Some vampires fed solely on the aether energy. Vitalius preferred more robust food.

He paused. His ancient instincts told him that someone was following him. He smiled at the thought. Few in this bustling city knew enough about vampires to even guess that they existed. None of the people in his old home would have followed him into narrow spaces in the dark. Of course, the local thieves had not had a chance to learn from the mistakes of others. This could be more fun than the opera. He ducked suddenly right into a narrow alleyway.

Even he found it difficult in the dark and the smoke as he picked his way over the cobbles. The aether energy was thin overhead and barely flickered as he moved steadily forward. A cat fled as he approached and his perfect hearing could hear the rats scratching over the stealthy approach of his hunters. He smiled again. The prey was bringing itself to him. He ducked right again away from a drunken couple and then jinked left to avoid the lights of a pub. He slowed. Ropes across the top of the alley gave him pause. Someone hung their clothes here when the fog wasn’t thick in the air. It made one escape route trickier, but there were always other options. He could hear the movement behind him. There was more than one, but that was unlikely to be a problem.

Vitalius paused and then slowly turned. The wall behind him was solid and there were no crates or barrels to impede him on either side. Three shapes emerged from the mist. His smile grew. Three of them! He would feed well tonight. “Do you have any idea of what you have followed tonight?” His fangs lengthened and his claws grew from the tips of his fingers. Unexpectedly, a cold chill of fear ran through him. The three facing him also grew fangs and claws and they did not look ready to back down.

“We know what you are,” the leader said. “And we know what you planned. We do not permit that here – and we police our own.”

Welcome to the first day of the October Frights Blog Hop! I hope you enjoyed my contribution and will look out for another story tomorrow.

And why not dip in to the giveaway of great stories at Story Origin? You can find them here. It’s a selection of free stories from some of the people taking part in the October Frights Blog Hop and you may find a new favourite author. Just in case, there is an associated Book Fair here, where you are always welcome.

While I am talking about the goodies going on, there is the panel taking place today which you can find here where some of the authors who are part of this amazing event will be chatting

And speaking of authors, here they are!



An Angell’s Life

Angela Yuriko Smith


Frighten Me

Hawk’s Happenings

Blood Red Shadows

The Unicorn Herd

Creative Quill


Welcome to Avalon


Image preview

The Orchids

purple and green flower in close up photography
Image from Unsplash, taken by Rae Galatas

“Charles, are you listening to me?” Cynthia tapped her foot impatiently.

“Hmm?” Charles looked at his sister. “What? Look, this is incredible. I’ve managed to cross pollinate and look at the results. I may present them at the Society next month.”

Cynthia peered at the orchid that Charles was presenting so triumphantly. “It’s a funny sort of pink.”

“No, my dear, look at the markings! They are extraordinarily exquisite. And there is nothing else like these in the world! I created them in my glasshouse.”

“Most people grow pineapples in their glasshouses,” Cynthia said. “But Charles, this isn’t why I came.”

“Isn’t it?” Charles’ gaze was fixed on his orchids. “Perhaps you came to see my latest acquisition. Ellington sent it to me from Nicaragua.” He glanced up at his irritated sister. “Come and see this! I don’t suppose there’s another specimen like it in Europe. Ellington was stationed on the Mosquito Coast, you know, and retired there. You remember Ellington? Friend of father.” He caught Cynthia by the hand and dragged her from the drawing room. “It’s all the aether crystals,” Charles said. “They’ve revolutionised the keeping of orchids. It’s made all the difference.”

“Aether crystals can send you mad, you know,” Cynthia said. “Alfred won’t have them in the house. And about that…”

“Your husband is an old fusspot and always has been,” Charles interrupted. “Look at this!”

Cynthia caught her breath as she entered the glass house. The humid heat almost overwhelmed her and she grasped at the nearby table to steady herself. “You could have warned me to loosen my stays!”

“Don’t touch the table!” Charles shrieked as he tenderly closed the door. “There can be no draughts or sudden disturbances. These flowers are valuable. I was offered a thousand guineas for that specimen on the counter.”

“Did you tell Helen that?” Cynthia asked.

“Helen is always so busy with the business,” Charles said. “Besides, I would never part with it.” He frowned and stroked his chin. “Though if I can get some decent plants grown from seed… But it’s a dashed tricky business, Cynthia, and I’m loathe to risk being without it.”

Cynthia looked at the black and violet flower that seemed to smirk malevolently. “The business is doing well, but Helen said that you were spending a lot on these flowers.”

“They’re orchids, Cynthia, not just flowers. Besides, now that we have all the aether heaters and humidifiers, we only have the cost of any replacement crystals. Travers sorted it all out. The new aether science has made all the difference. Look at this!” Charles dragged his sister to a large mahogany cabinet. “See – heat controls here, humidity here, all on timers. Travers sorted out everything. Of course, I have to keep on top of distilling the water. The water around London is shocking for orchids. But even the distillation is aether powered, look!” He dragged Cynthia over to a glass contraption that was hidden behind the ferns. “This is the absolute latest thing in orchid culture. I think I’m the only one in North London who has one.”

Cynthia fanned her face, desperately trying to catch her breath. “Charles, we really need to talk.”

“I know it cost a few more guineas than I normally pull out of the business, but it can stand it. Helen’s doing sterling work and so is Travers. Look, the water comes in from the mains supply here, then goes through the evaporator here. It was a devil to set up, pardon my language, but worth it. It goes out of this window here, to allow condensations – this room has to be at this temperature for the orchids, you know. They are so delicate. Where was I? Oh yes, then the condensate is fed into this flask. I don’t water automatically, though. I wouldn’t want to risk it. I had a nasty case of root rot in one of the specimens from Siam, lost quite an expensive example of Dendrobium to it, and overwatering at the port was no doubt the cause.”

“Charles, you need to listen!” Cynthia said. “Aether crystals aren’t always safe. Travers said you didn’t get any of the latest shielding.”

“Didn’t see the point, old thing, and I suppose I have been dipping into the business somewhat so I didn’t want the expense. But I have a private buyer for these, which I’ll keep for any further investment. Why, I could even turn a profit.” Charles waved an expansive hand at some unprepossessing shoots.

“Charles, do you miss Helen?” Cynthia asked.

“What do you mean?” Charles turned back to aether engine. “I saw at breakfast. No, hang on.” He stopped and thought for a moment. “No, I don’t know if I did see her. But I’m sure that I saw her at dinner last night.” He looked at Cynthia with doubt in his eyes. “Or was she at one of her meetings. The business is quite demanding, you know.”

“I need to get out of here,” Cynthia said, carefully making her way to the door. “And you need to listen to me.” She opened the door and stood there, waiting.

Charles hesitated for a moment and then rushed through the room, meeting Cynthia at the other side before carefully shutting the door. “I told you – I cannot allow draughts in there. What is so damned important?”

“Your language around ladies is dreadful,” Cynthia said, walking away and back to the drawing room where she collapsed into a chair. “And the heat of that room is insufferable. Please ring for some tea.”

Charles looked around absently and rang for the maid. “Well what is so important?”

Cynthia stared at him. “You know Helen, your wife, the one you moved heaven and earth to woo, the one that took our family business and actually made it turn a profit? The pretty woman with the red hair?”

“Yes, what about her? She hasn’t met with an accident has she?” Charles said. “Because it would damned inconvenient if she had. I’ve had a telegram this morning about a package on its way and it takes time to get a specimen settled, especially if it’s come from some distance.”

“May I remind you of your language,” Cynthia said. “Helen left you. She’s been living with her brother for the last six months and taking a salary from the business. Mr Travers, your secretary, is leaving because his father died and he needs to go back home to support his mother in Manchester. And Mrs Callaghan, the housekeeper, won’t stay another week as there is no lady of the house. You need to do something.”

“But I can’t possibly spare the time,” Charles exclaimed. “I’ve just told you, I have a package likely to arrive any day now.” He looked at her. “Are you sure that Helen left? I can’t think why she would. We haven’t had a cross word since Christmas.”

A housemaid came in and set the tea things on a side table. Cynthia waited until she left before pouring herself a welcome cup of tea. “She left just before Christmas. I helped her move. And I don’t blame her one bit! At least she’s keeping the business going. If she didn’t, you wouldn’t have the money for these orchids.” Cynthia watched her brother carefully. “If I were you, I would not upset her.”

“Why would she leave?” Charles asked, bewilderment in every inch.

“Because you didn’t attend your only daughter’s wedding,” Cynthia said. “I can’t see any way of reconciling with Helen, at least, but I would avoid antagonising her. And I think that you will need a new housekeeper as a matter of urgency.”

“Simply not possible, my dear,” Charles said. “I don’t have the time. And if that is all, I must get back to the glass house. Some of the blooms were looking fragile and I need to check the water levels.”

“At least get some shielding for those aether crystals,” Cynthia said as she watched her brother stand and head towards the door. “They can power anything, but they can send you mad.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Charles said. “I show absolutely no sign of irrationality of any sort. I’m sure that Mrs Callaghan will see you right before you leave.”

Cynthia listened to the door close firmly, then took a long drink of her tea. She had never felt more worried in her life.