Dark Picture

Get A Picture

black Canon EOS Rebel-series DSLR camera
Image from Unsplash, taken by Andrew Hutchings

“You want me to do what?” Darren asked, baffled.

Alex Poole leant forward. “It’s important,” he said. “If you bless the camera then I have a chance of keeping the images.”

“And you want to keep the images of…” Darren looked at the camera and then back at Alex. “If you actually find vampires and take pictures of them, what are you going to do with the pictures?”

“It’s proof that they exist,” Alex said. “I’m sure that they do. I’ve heard all sorts of rumours. An old guard told me that there were incidents under York Railway Station a few years back.”

“I don’t remember seeing anything about that in the papers,” Darren said.

“And there have been people talking about pet rats disappearing from their cages in mysterious circumstances.”

“Really?” Darren said helpfully. He looked at the camera then back and the thin, eager face of Alex. “And if you get a picture of a vampire, how do you prove that he or she is a vampire?”

Alex paused for a moment. “I’d have to follow them, to make sure that I got a proper picture.”

“Don’t you think that would be a little risky?” Darren asked.

“That’s where the blessing would come in,” Alex said. “If you blessed the camera, they wouldn’t be able to touch it.”

“It wouldn’t stop them touching you,” Darren said.

“Oh!” Alex sat back, suddenly thoughtful.

“Another important point is that a blessing or a prayer isn’t like an action in a video game. It’s about faith, and intent, and the will of God. It’s not something that settles on the camera like dust.” Darren said. “But let’s go further. If you find a vampire, and get a picture that is definitely of a vampire without any doubt, what are you going to do?”

“Stake it, of course,” Alex said.

Darren looked thoughtfully at the slight young man sitting opposite. “Apart from putting yourself in extreme danger, what would happen if you got it wrong?” He watched as Alex hesitated.

There was a knock on the door and Egerton stuck his head in. “Ian and Dean are here for the Bible study,” he said. “I’ve left them in the living room.”

“I’ll be a few minutes,” Darren said. He turned back to Alex. “Do you have evidence that a crime has been committed?”

Alex shook his head. “But if vampires are prowling our streets, then no-one is safe.”

“I am not going to tell you that vampires do not exist,” Darren said carefully. “And I can believe that they walk the streets. For all you know, the people waiting in my living room could be a vampire or werewolf.”

“That’s not possible,” Alex interrupted. “No vampire or werewolf could come into a vicarage.”

Darren looked thoughtful. “I’m an exorcist, as you know. I’ve seen many strange things. And I’ve seen people with all the disadvantages trying to live a normal life without hurting anyone. I’ll bless you and the camera, but I advise you against vampire hunting. And if there is any crime being committed, apart from possibly fraud, come to me. I’ll make sure that the authorities listen.”

“You don’t believe in vampires,” Alex said flatly.

“I believe that perhaps this isn’t a good idea,” Darren said. “But I will never refuse a blessing. Some things are beyond my judgement. Please, put the camera on the table and we can pray.”

Lucky Meeting

Alex sat in the coffee bar and stared at the camera. Perhaps he should have shown the vicar the pictures. They were still on the camera, but also backed up on his PC, the cloud, half a dozen emails and two usb sticks. He flicked through the pictures on the view screen. Perhaps it was just good makeup at Halloween, but it looked too real. And if it was still on the camera, it couldn’t have been photoshopped – could it?

“Hey,” a deep voice said behind him. Alex turned around. A tall man stood behind him, slim but not skinny, with a neatly trimmed beard and short hair. “I saw those pictures.”

Alex forced a smile. “I got the camera second hand with these pictures on them. Looks like great makeup – right?”

“I’m Rhys McGee,” he said, sitting opposite Alex. “And I think we both know that it isn’t makeup.”

Alex froze for a moment, before forcing out, “What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s real,” Rhys said quietly. “But perhaps you shouldn’t be looking in a public place. If I could see them, so could anyone, or anything, else.”

“I got the camera blessed by a priest,” Alex said defensively.

Rhys hovered a hand over the camera, then paused. “That should help,” he said. “But what are you going to do about it?”

Alex shrugged helplessly. “I’m not exactly an action man,” he said.

Rhys looked thoughtfully at the skinny youngster in front of him. “I’m not going up against anything on my own,” he said. “That’s suicide. But perhaps we can do some stuff together. And I’ve worked as a personal trainer.”

Alex picked up the camera and stared at the pictures. “That’s what the priest said. That it was dangerous and that if a crime was committed then I should tell him.”

“What does an old man think he can do?” Rhys said. “Listen, I’ve got to get going, but why don’t we meet down by the river tonight, on the Lendal Bridge. They’re not supposed to be able to cross running water, so it should be safe enough.”

Alex stared at the stranger. For a brief moment he had the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff or the start of a rollercoaster. He should listen to the young, dynamic priest instead of some man that had approached him in a café. He should be sensible. He should get his laundry done before work tomorrow. He should walk away. Instead he nodded. “What time?”

“Make it around 10pm,” Rhys said. “I’ll have finished work by then, and it will be quieter.”

Rhys left the café and strode down Coppergate. Of course vampires could cross running water. He crossed the Lendal Bridge half a dozen times a day and it never bothered him. He could walk in sunlight as well, though he preferred the night and his night vision was now excellent. So was his hearing, which made the chatter filling the street and the off key busker even more annoying. Just because he could almost hear whether a coin had landed heads up did not make it a blessing.

He still couldn’t remember exactly how he became this monster. His memory was hazy. He’d met a woman in a bar a few years ago. Vivienne had been wild and edgy and he had gone back to her place and then…

He could never remember much more. There had been others around, he thought, coming and going, and lots of strange incense. Then one day, in the middle of summer, he had woken up. The old stone house was empty and all the vampires, including Vivienne, were gone.

Rhys would never forget the isolation he felt. The sensation of being adrift in a small, rudderless boat with no shore in sight. There was the gnawing hunger always at his back, a darkness in him that hadn’t been there when he was the second desk on IT support. He didn’t need caffeine anymore. He needed something far darker. And he couldn’t touch the camera.

There were advantages. When Rhys had searched the house for information, he had found some very detailed, very organised paperwork that even had his name on it. Through complicated trusts and deeds, he was now an owner of a large property set in its own grounds on the edge of the tourist haven of York. He was getting a fortune for it as a holiday rental. He hung out in a small caravan in a corner of the grounds. It gave him time to work his way up as a freelance tech guy and to work out what he was supposed to do now.

Perhaps he should speak to the priest. Whoever he was, he knew his stuff. The camera had been glowing with the blessing. Rhys hadn’t been able to get his hand near it. But then, getting a priest involved wasn’t fair. Most priests were old and frail and he didn’t want to drag one into a fight. Because that was what he was planning. He was going to hunt down every vampire he could, and he was going to destroy them. He was going to train a team, starting with Alex Poole. And they were going to get every last bloodsucker out there. All he, Rhys McGee, Vampire and Vampire Hunter, had to do was find them.

And he could start by looking through the pictures on the camera.

Mistake

Dave stretched and worked his shoulders. Life as a Tarot reader could be remarkably stressful. He checked the clock and grimaced. There wasn’t really time for a decent run before the next booking, but he would definitely hit the gym when the store closed. That was one advantage of having a room for Tarot reading over a new age supplies and book shop. He could keep to shop hours. There was a knock on the door. Dave groaned inwardly. “Come in.”

Martin strode in and took the chair opposite Dave. “You’re a funny sort of Tarot Reader. You don’t believe in it.”

Dave shrugged. “It says ‘for entertainment purposes only’ on the booking form. Besides, what I do is a sort of counselling. I’ve even been taking night courses for therapists.”

“I heard that you claimed them on your expense forms,” Martin said. “Anyway, I’m not here about the Tarot. It’s Paladin business.”

“What have you done?” Dave asked. Tarot reading was his side business. His main purpose was to be the Paladin of York, the defender of the unknowing normals who lived in the area against the supernatural creatures that lived among them. This wasn’t the easiest of jobs. He worked in a shop run by half the non-normal population of the area and they all seemed to have their own version of reality that they refused to abandon.

“It’s not exactly what I’ve done,” Martin said. “It’s more what I was seen to have done.”

“Does Lady Freydis know?” Dave asked. The ancient vampire shifting uncomfortably in the seat opposite him was married to the Prince of York, the ruler of the non-normal population and a barista downstairs. They weren’t exactly difficult, and they weren’t generally considered dangerous to people in general. However they had the potential for more havoc that was good for Dave’s mental health.

“Of course,” Martin said. “She thinks that it’s hilarious but that you ought to know.”

Dave’s heart sank further. “So what exactly happened?”

“I was minding my own business,” Martin said. “I had met with one of my young ladies.”

“That’s one of the ladies you feed from,” Dave said. “I thought that there were alternatives to feeding from young ladies.”

Martin ignored that. “As you know, I take great care of my young ladies, and we were having a very pleasant moment.”

“You were feeding,” Dave said.

“Yes, I was feeding, but I don’t want you to think that there was anything non-consensual involved.” Martin said. “I take great pains to make the experience pleasant for the young lady.”

“So I believe,” Dave said dryly.

“The young lady involved was very much enjoying herself. And I was rather lost in the moment myself.”

“So you were seen feeding,” Dave said. “What happened then?”

“The man interrupted us and pushed me away, telling Kayla that he would defend her.” Martin winced. “It didn’t go down well.”

Dave shut his eyes for a brief moment and shuddered. “What did you do to him?”

“I didn’t do a thing!” Martin said. “Kayla was the one who drove him off. But he said that he would hunt me down, that he wouldn’t forget this, and that he would find me and stake me.”

“What did Lady Freydis say?” Dave asked.

Martin shrugged. “She hasn’t stopped laughing at it. He is probably traumatised and out there somewhere. I’m quite worried about him. I thought I may try and look for him, but that I had better let you know. And he may come to you through the usual channels.”

“When you say you are going to look for him, you mean to explain things and reassure him, right?” Dave looked hard at Martin.

“I have not survived these endless centuries by indulging in mindless cruelty,” Martin said firmly. “And the young lad looked distressed. I want to make sure that he is alright.”

Dave ran a tired hand over his face. “I’ll have a look out for him as well,” he said. “And I’ll give Darren and Luke the heads up. What does he look like?”

Martin thought for a moment. I suppose he is about the same height as you, so tall but not too tall. He’s slim, but not skinny. He has blond hair, not bright blonde, but sort of dull like old sacking. And he has a black eye.”

“I thought you said you didn’t do anything to him,” Dave said.

“I didn’t,” Martin said. “But Kayla was really upset and has a surprisingly good right hook.” He winced in sympathy as he remembered it. “And perhaps we had better find this young man before she does.”

Drinking Buddy

clear shot glass with brown liquid
Image from Unsplash taken by Phil Cruz

“It’s not fair,” Alex slurred to his new friend at the bar. “I should get a medal.”

Jack watched the slim lad with amusement. “So you tried to rescue a woman from a vampire and she fought back.” He caught the barman’s eye. “Can I have another glass of the house red and…” He glanced at Alex’s empty glass. “Add a rum and coke to the tab as well.”

“He’s had enough,” the barman said flatly. “And he’s going to throw up all over the toilets any minute if you don’t get him out of here.”

“I’ll take him home, Pete,” Jack said. “Come on, mate, let’s get you out of here.”

“I should have had a medal,” Alex repeated bitterly. He focussed on Jack. “Do you believe in vampires?”

Jack paid the barman, adding a generous tip, and helped Alex out of his seat. “Yep, I believe in them. And I believe in werewolves too.”

They walked out into the brisk night air and Alex swayed a little. “I think I had a bit too much to drink,” he confided to Jack.

“It’s okay, it sounds like you needed it,” Jack said. “Where do you live? I’ll get you home.”

“You’re a good pal,” Alex said. “I’ve got a room out in Acomb.” He looked doubtfully at Jack. “You’re not a vampire, are you?”

Jack shook his head. “Definitely not,” he said. “Come on, it’s going to rain soon.”

Jack steered Alex past the Railway Museum and the Holgate Windmill towards his bedsit. “So you saw a vampire feeding? What did it look like?”

“He wasn’t feeding from the neck,” Alex said with a shudder. “But he was intent, you know, like the films. And he was dark, like Italian or Greek or something.” He swayed slightly. “I think I’ve had too much to drink.”

“I’ll make you a coffee when you get in,” Jack said. “Was he young or old?”

Alex shivered. “He looked late twenties but he felt about a thousand. Hang on, I’m feeling a bit queasy…”

Jack waited patiently as Alex emptied his stomach into the nearest litter bin. “We need to get you home, mate, and get you into bed.”

Alex managed a grin. “Yeah, propped on my side with a bucket next to me.” He shook his head. “It’s the shock. I mean, I had the pictures from the second hand camera, but to see it right in front of me…” He stared into the darkness.

“What do you mean, pictures?” Jack asked.

“I got a second hand camera from this bloke,” Alex said. “He comes into work sometimes and I thought I’d have a go at being a blogger. So I got this camera cheap because he didn’t have the charger.” He shrugged. “That was easy enough to pick up. But the memory card still had a load of pictures on it.” Alex shuddered. “It was pictures of vampires. I kept trying to tell myself that it was photoshop, but they were still on the memory card.”

“That must have been a shock,” Jack said.

“I got a priest to bless the camera, but he said that I shouldn’t interfere. What sort of priest says that? He said that no crime had been committed.” Alex looked around him. “I live down here.”

Jack turned down the road with him. “And you still have the pictures?”

Alex nodded. “On the memory card, on the cloud, backed up on usb sticks, the lot. I can show you them, if you like?”

“Perhaps tomorrow,” Jack said. “You need to get some sleep. But I could meet up with you later.”

Alex tried to think. “You’re not going to set me up or anything are you?”

“I believe in vampires, and I’d love to see what you’ve got. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one caught on film,” Jack said, skirting over the honesty of his intentions. “Listen, why don’t I meet you at home tomorrow evening? I’d love to see the pictures.”

Alex reluctantly agreed, the warning bells at the back of his mind muffled by the fog of alcohol. “I’ll see you then. And I’m making a website for it. Perhaps you could help with that.”

Jack left Alex, safely tucked in bed, propped on his side with a bucket next to him, and whistled as he walked back towards the Minster. York was an ancient place. It had been a thriving settlement when the Romans arrived all those centuries ago, a trading hub where the rivers met. Of course there were vampires here, and a thriving pack of werewolves, and all sorts of non-normal characters. The supernatural roots of this city went deep. Some were just keeping their heads down and living their lives. Others were by their nature less well intentioned. He’d been a nature spirit with an instinct for mischief when the first settlers came down to barter for the fine flints of Derbyshire with amber from across the plains and marshes to the north. He grinned and waved a hand at a shuttered shop, casually setting off the alarms that would wake the street. He knew all the vampires in York, at least, all those who reported to the Prince, and they were, to his mind, a dull and insipid bunch. He’d recognised the description of his old friend, enemy and sparring partner from Alex’s description and inwardly chuckled.

Alex was the least heroic vampire hunter Jack had ever met, and the vampires in York were so pathetically moral that it was unbearable. Watching them chase each other through York would be the best entertainment he had found for years. Jack wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but whatever he decided, it would be fun.

Over Coffee

cup of coffee on white ceramic saucer
Image from Unsplash, taken by Emre

“What do you mean, you know where the vampire hunters are?” Martin asked the nature spirit seated across the café table from him.

Jack grinned, his eyes bright with mischief. “I know where one is, and I’m not telling you.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Jack,” Martin said. “This isn’t time for games.”

“Oh, I think it is,” Jack said. “Just think of all the fun I can have, leading them a merry dance to chase you and Dean.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Martin said. “And it’s not fair on them. What if they find something that’s actually there?”

“Wouldn’t that be delicious?” Jack said. “It would be quite irresistible.”

“Resist it,” Martin snapped, before looking around the White Hart and lowering his voice. The supernatural supply shop wasn’t busy, but there were a few tourists hanging around the fairy figurines. The last thing that they needed was to be overheard.

“He’s soooo earnest,” Jack said. “He’s taking exercise to better fight off the evil fanged foe.”

“I’m warning you,” Martin put down his coffee cup and loomed over Jack.

“It’s not like you’re going to get a mob waving poorly made stakes,” Jack said. “The most I could hope for is a run on garlic in the supermarket. I wonder what they’ll try next?”

“It could drive them mad,” Martin said. “You need to send Darren over to them.”

“He’s already spoken to Darren,” Jack said. “The padre is a marvellous exorcist, but he isn’t much of a shepherd to his flock, is he? It sounds like he made quite the mess of it.”

Martin narrowed his eyes. “It’s the one that tried to rescue Kayla, isn’t it?”

“I heard all about that!” Jack’s eyes glinted with laughter. “I don’t know. But I know he has pictures of Rey, your wife’s former lover from before you woke up.”

What?” Martin stared at him.

“He was a vampire as well, you know. It seems that Lady Freydis has a taste for necking-”

Martin hauled Jack out of his chair and punched him hard with the speed that only a vampire could manage. Jack was slow to read it and caught the full force, sailing over the counter and bouncing into the floor in the back room. “Do not speak of my wife like that!” Martin snarled, striding towards the counter, fury in every inch of him.

Rhys slouched over the car park of the White Hart towards the door. He had avoided it so far. There had been receipts around from the store, and it looked like there could be a connection. He had to risk it, though. It seemed to be the best source of occult books and paraphernalia so perhaps vampires shopped there. Maybe there was a notice board or something. Mentally he grinned. Perhaps there should be something like ‘wanted, kids scooter in good condition’ and ‘for sale, coffee table’ and ‘for sale or swap, silk lined coffin, lightly used’. He opened the door and stared. A tall man, like the vampire that Alex had described, dark and dangerous looking, was staring past the old woman minding the counter, and every sense in Rhys’ body screamed at him to run. This was death, this was dominion, this was rage and power and darkness that could overcome him with a thought. This was a vampire that ruled the devil. Without any rational thought, Rhys turned and sprinted away, his vampiric speed taking him out of sight before Martin could move to stop him.

Martin stared impotently after the fleeing vampire, then stalked around the counter and into the back room where Jack was massaging his jaw, still sprawled on the floor. “Hell and damnation! I’ve just seen a vampire – a fledgeling! I haven’t created one, and I’m damned sure that Dean hasn’t, so now I have to track down the poor kid that’s just fled, plus have a word with their creator to ask why they haven’t presented themselves at court. The last thing I need is a boy scout vampire hunter messing around. Get it stopped, Jack.” Without waiting for an answer, Martin disappeared.

Jack looked thoughtfully at the space Martin left. Martin had been old when he came with the Roman legions to York. He had seen all humanity and was surprised and shaken by so little. To see Martin so rattled was a gift beyond price. He had to find the fledgeling first, and then set the hunters on their merry chase. What fun!

Pictures on a Wall

Alex spread out the photos. “I got all the pictures from the camera printed out,” He said. “These ones show the…” He hesitated for a moment. “The ones that look like vampires.”

“It’s okay,” Rhys said quietly. “You saw one feeding. You know that they are real, and so do I. I’ve known it in my bones for a while.” He looked at the pictures spread across the wall of Alex’s bedsit. “This is well thought out.”

“Thanks,” Alex said. “I’ve watched a lot of crime shows.” He pointed to the central picture. “That’s the most obvious one. You can see a lot of details.” He swallowed. It wasn’t a pleasant picture. “But I don’t think that it’s the most important. If you look at this picture,” Alex pointed to another feeding picture slightly above the centre, “you can see a little of the window. And here there is a reflection in the glass door of a cabinet.”

Rhys leant forward. “I never thought of looking like that.”

“That’s the Minster, there. I’m pretty sure of it. But if you look at the reflection there, it’s a hotel. I think this picture was taken in a flat on Tanner Row.”

Rhys opened his phone and pulled up a street map of York. “Yes, I think you’re right.” He frowned. “But not the ground floor. It’s at least two floors up.”

“There’s some student housing around there,” Alex said. “It could be one of their flats.”

“Or someone who has a flat among them,” Rhys said. “I mean, it’s good cover. No-one is going to be around long enough to keep track on who lives where. And there is likely to be people coming and going all the time.”

“We need to visit,” Alex said. The implications of that hung in the air.

“We need to be prepared,” Rhys said. “There could be anything there.”

“Or nothing,” Alex said. “I’m not sure when these pictures were taken, but it must be a while ago. There’s no sign of any masks or anything, even in the background.”

“I wonder who that is?” Rhys pointed at a picture of a dark haired woman. “She seems to be important.”

Alex nodded. “I made a whole section of her pictures,” he said, gesturing at a spray of pictures. “I don’t think that she’s a vampire, though.”

Rhys looked closely. “She looks ill in most of them,” he said. “You can almost trace the way she is fading. She looks quite well here, but she’s paler here, and she looks really ill in this one.”

“I wonder if the vampire had an obsession with her,” Alex said. “Perhaps she was a victim, like the woman I saw a few weeks ago.”

Rhys leaned back. “I think it’s a little more sinister. The woman you saw was obviously consenting. This doesn’t look like she is enjoying herself.”

“I wonder if she is okay,” Alex said. “I mean, the last picture is pretty bad.” He tapped on the picture on the extreme left. The woman was looking almost colourless, and the hollows and shadows on her face were an unpleasant contrast to the bright expression on the first picture.

Rhys swallowed. “I hope so. Perhaps she escaped. Perhaps they killed the owner of these pictures. Perhaps we are chasing a ghost.”

“But I saw that one feeding,” Alex reminded him. He shrugged and hesitated. “You weren’t around, and I saw an opportunity.”

Rhys’ heart sank. He couldn’t bear the thought of his friend risking himself. “What sort of opportunity?”

“I was browsing jobs, and I saw that they needed a new staff member at the White Hart,” Alex said. “I called in, went into the interview an hour later, and they gave me the job.”

Rhys shook his head. He could feel his fangs lengthening with the shock and fought it back. Alex did not need to find out that his vampire fighting comrade was actually a vampire. “It’s too risky!”

Alex shook his head. “I need to know. I can’t get that picture out of my mind. Besides, it’s good money and it sounds interesting. I could be helping in the café, the warehouse, making local deliveries, stocking the shop, and they even included ‘other duties as required’ which makes me think that I could end up doing anything. It would be a nice change from the old place. I gave in notice this morning.”

“There are a lot of pictures of the place,” Rhys said, waving his hand at the wall.

“So it’s even more important for me to work out what’s going on,” Alex said. “There may be some talk I overhear, some sort of group or network. I’ll have a chance to spot any subtle signs.”

Rhys swallowed. “Okay, I suppose it’s a good idea. But you need to be careful. I got this for you.” He carefully handed over a silver crucifix on a chain. “Perhaps you could see if that priest would bless it for you.”

Darren frowned at Alex. “It’s not like a slot machine,” he said. “You don’t just insert prayer and have a blessing shoot out of the bottom of a dispenser. You can’t order the divine around.”

“Please,” Alex said. “I could really use the job, but there’s a lot of scary stuff in there.”

Darren drummed his fingers on his immaculately polished table. “There are plenty of jobs around,” he said. He sighed and stood, pacing up and down the sparse study. “I never feel comfortable refusing a blessing, but you have to understand, it isn’t a magic spell. It isn’t a film or a computer game. It’s about faith.” He frowned and held out a reluctant hand. “If you’re still worried about vampires, then perhaps a blessing will help. I’ll pray over this, but in return I will ask that you come to me if you think that a crime is being committed. Predators come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and keeping within the rules can be a form of protection in itself.” The priest sighed heavily as he took the necklace. “I call in to the White Hart quite often, and they’re a good bunch.” He sighed again as he arranged the chain in his hands. “If you are worried about vampires, it’s perhaps not the best place to be, though.”

“I thought it would be a good place to be,” Alex said quietly. “There must be a lot of stuff that fights against darkness there.”

Darren thought about his friends at the White Hart. “Well, a couple of the staff come to Bible study here.” He hesitated. “You’re welcome to come as well, if you like, if you feel that you need the protection of faith. I’ll still bless this crucifix no matter what you decide, but you need to think. Ask yourself why it is so important to you to have this blessed by me.” Darren shook his head. “Let us pray about this.”

Jack took his time studying the wall of pictures in Alex’s room. “I think that this is a remarkable work of art,” he said. “And you are starting work at the White Hart next week?”

Alex nodded. “They want me to start training in the warehouse,” he said. “The current staff are moving to a new location.” He hesitated. “The priest blessed my crucifix, just in case.”

Jack glanced at the crucifix. “That was a good idea, if it works,” he said, as if he couldn’t see the vivid holy aura surrounding it. “I know a few people at the White Hart,” he said. “They’re okay.” He pointed to the pictures of the woman. “That is Fiona Adderson, and I am very fond of her – in a non-romantic way!” he added quickly. “Her husband, Steve Adderson, is someone I think neglects her, but they are happy enough. Mrs Tuesday is a scary old lady. Never take alcohol from her. And the Tarot reader, Dave Kinson, doesn’t believe in Tarot.”

“That sounds a little unusual,” Alex said.

Jack shrugged. “Better safe counsel than true divination,” he said. “Oh, and the priest’s girlfriend works there as well. She is a beautiful blonde lady, called Jasmine. Don’t try and romance her.”

“She doesn’t sound like my type,” Alex said stiffly.

“You don’t like blondes?” Jack asked.

“I’m not into ladies,” Alex said quietly.

Jack shrugged. “It won’t make much of a difference at the White Hart,” he said. “Anyway, I must leave. I have an appointment. But I will be back soon. We can perhaps find the flat of that vampire together.”

Jack almost danced out of the flat and down the street. He wouldn’t even need to tempt Martin to meet the vampire hunter. Martin called into the White Hart at least once a week. All Jack needed to do was to be there when Alex met Martin and enjoy the fireworks.

Only the Bravest

grayscale photo of trees and pathway
Image from Unsplash, taken by Simon Burger

The faerie domain underneath York where Lady Freydis, Prince of the non normals, ruled, was not the most stable of places. Like all homes of the elfen, it reflected the mind and the mood of the ruler. This was a problem as people kept giving Lady Freydis lifestyle magazines. There could be minimalist and boho in the same issue. Lady Freydis would read articles on ‘twenty ways to use yellow in your decorating’ and the next day her hall would be like the inside of a buttercup.

Today was relatively calm with a ‘Handmade, Homemade House’ feel. Dave and Steve crossed the strewn rag rugs, passed the beautifully upholstered, throw covered sofas and joined Lady Freydis in her private study (‘use books as accents to give a calming feel’) where at least the chairs were comfortable. Dave nodded at Martin, Jack and Kadogan standing next to Lady Freydis. This looked serious. They sat down warily.

“Thank you for joining us,” Lady Freydis said. “You are under my protection while in my domain and can walk where you will without fear.” Dave and Steve exchanged worried glances as she turned to Martin. “I blame myself. But there was so much confusion. You weren’t here, you don’t know what it was like.”

“I saw some of the aftermath,” Martin said grimly. He looked over to Dave and Steve. “Apparently a vampire called Rey made a play for the throne of York while I was sleeping.”

Steve nodded. “He tried to get to us through Fiona. I dealt with it.”

Dave still had nightmares about Steve’s destruction of Rey. “But that was years ago.”

Lady Freydis waved a hand. “There was a lot going on at the time, if you remember, and then there was all that dreadful darkness infecting everywhere, and the disembodied hands. So no-one really checked the station. Besides, the elfen can’t get there easily. There’s too much iron.”

“What has happened?” Steve asked. “I thought Rey’s little domain under there collapsed when I killed him.”

Lady Freydis shifted a little in her pink, overstuffed armchair. “The part of his little patch that was underneath the station mostly collapsed, but there were still loose ends that overlapped into the faerie domain under York. We didn’t really get near there because all the iron nearby made it hard for us to notice.”

Martin’s expression was dark. “We thought that we had unravelled all of the dark essence left behind, but someone or something seems to have found that small pocket and it’s let loose again. It’s spreading through the domain.”

“Fortunately I’m in charge now,” Lady Freydis said, “But I need help with this.” She looked at Steve. “I would owe favour and gratitude to someone who could brave the iron and close the connections to my land. I do not feel comfortable having an entrance that I can’t guard.”

“What is more to the point, someone has got in there,” Martin said. “We could have anything or anyone wandering around.”

“I’m mobilising my defences, but it’s a tricky part of the realm,” Lady Freydis said. “I’m doing my best with aid from the werewolves, but even Mark is struggling with the conditions.”

“Um,” said Jack.

“I can see if I can get in from the station end,” Steve said. “Perhaps I can bring in a couple of werewolves with me from there. It sounds like we need to move in numbers.”

“Um,” Jack repeated, shifting uncomfortably where he stood.

Lady Freydis nodded. “I can only think of it being a fierce and powerful enemy, finding a weak spot and entering my domain from a hidden entrance – one that is full of dark, distorted power. It is not a safe place. Only the bravest can travel there.” She turned to Dave. “There is a chance that it is an unknowing normal, and you may be needed to explain things. That’s why I invited you.”

“Um.” Jack was looking more uncomfortable by the second.

“I’ll take Ian and Callum in with me,” Steve said. “Callum has some experiences of Rey’s paths anyway. We’ll start from the station…” He stopped and looked hard at Jack. “Anything that you want to share?”

Suddenly Jack grinned, bubbling over with mischief. “Do you remember that amateur vampire hunter? The one who saw Martin feed? Damned indiscreet, by the way.”

Martin stared at him as he saw the implications. “You are kidding.”

“You see, he found out about vampires when he got hold of a second-hand camera that used to be Rey’s. Apparently Rey liked to take pictures of his food.” Jack shrugged. “Everyone seems to take pictures for their social media, but Rey’s images were a little specialised.”

“So there is now proof vampires exist all over the internet,” Martin stared in horror.

“I don’t think that they’re out for general release,” Jack said, “Just safe, in several places. But it made Alex rather keen to fight vampires.”

“Trust me,” Dave said, “Rey would make anyone want to fight vampires.”

“He’s terribly clever,” Jack said. “The vampire hunter, I mean. He’s not a great warrior, or even a fighter, but he worked out where Rey lived and broke into the apartment.”

Martin turned to Lady Freydis. “You didn’t think to check where Rey lived?”

Lady Freydis shrugged. “There was a lot happening, and I wasn’t in charge.”

“Your little friend broke into someone’s flat?” Dave asked.

“Well, sort of,” Jack shrugged. “He used lockpicks. I was quite intrigued. He wasn’t fast, but he was remarkably skilful. We found quite a few bits of useful information. And some truly dreadful clothes. The man had no style.” He looked around. “There was a lot of mail as well. Apparently there was enough money in an account to cover the direct debit and so the rent was still paid. The landlord left him alone. But there was so much dust. It took a while to dig out the information.”

“Would the information include how to get into an elfen domain through the passages underneath York station?” Martin asked with dangerous calm. Jack shrugged again.

“And what are his chances of survival?” Dave asked.

Jack lost his smile. “His chances are quite slim. And that makes me sad, because although he is quite weak and very scared, he just wants to do the right thing. That is something that should be praised and protected.”

“You can come in with us, then,” Martin said. “From the sound of it, we will need all the help we can get.”

“I have an address for his other vampire hunter,” Jack said, “Though I haven’t met him yet. I’ll fetch him.” He hesitated. “The vampire hunter, he’s Alex Poole, the young man you hired for the White Hart. He wanted to find information on vampires.”

Steve looked appalled. “He’s only a young lad. I was worried that he’d not be strong enough for the warehouse!”

“I remember him,” Lady Freydis said. “We may be able to reach him. I remember that there is a strength inside.” She took charge. “Martin, use the information from Jack and his vampire hunter to get into the domain from the station side. Steve can go with you as well as Ian and Callum. I’ll lead a rescue party from my side, but I don’t know how far in we can get. And it’s been at least twelve hours. We can’t waste any time.”

“I’ll pick up Darren as well,” Martin said. “He knows the vampire hunter and hopefully the young lad will trust him – if we can find him in time. Dave, you had better go with Lady Freydis in case she meets him first. Jack, I’ll meet you at the War Memorial at the corner of Station Rise in thirty minutes.” He caught the eye of his wife and nodded.

“And I’ll leave now,” Lady Freydis said, the glamour around her shifting from an elegant cocktail dress to utilitarian leather jacket and jeans. She glared at Jack. “And then you and I will be having a long conversation.”

There are a few references to events that happened in Tales from the White Hart, More Tales of the White Hart and Further Tales of the White Hart, but I hope that you can enjoy the story even if you aren’t familiar with them.

Entrance to Fairyland

Rhys followed Jack down towards the station. “So you say that there’s an entrance to Fairyland under York Station?”

Jack winced. “That’s not the best description, and there wasn’t one until a few years ago, but it will do.”

“And we’re going to meet a vampire?” Rhys asked.

“Yes, we are,” Jack said. “Perhaps the most powerful that you will ever meet.”

“And the problem with Fairyland…”

Jack interrupted. “Please can you call it the faerie domain. People will think that you are peculiar.”

“I’m a vampire,” Rhys said, controlling his voice with some effort as they edged past some tourists. “And I’m supposed to be meeting a couple of werewolves, an exorcist, a paladin – whatever that is – and another vampire. I’ve gone past peculiar.” He shook his head. “And the problem was caused by a vampire, a different one from the one we’re meeting.”

“Yes,” Jack hurried his pace. “He’s been destroyed, but it seems like it was quite a performance. I’m sorry that I missed it. There were all sorts of dark things left around. He’s the one who Alex found, the one who had that room.”

Rhys swallowed. “And he isn’t around anymore.”

“No, he was dealt with,” Jack said. “Will you please hurry yourself.”

“What about the other vampires?” Rhys asked, picking up the pace.

“There is only Martin, Dean and you now. There was a bit of a cull, apparently. I missed all the fun. Here they are!”

Rhys recognised Martin and flinched. When he tore his eyes away from that dark gaze he saw two huge Alsatian dogs, or perhaps husky crosses, and two hard muscled men with grim expressions. “Hi,” he said, uncomfortably aware of how lame he sounded.

“You must be Rhys. I’m Martin, this is Dave, the paladin. This is Darren, an exorcist and this is Callum and Ian.” Martin indicated the huge dogs. “Yes, werewolves. They’re staying in fur for this. Come on.”

They strode over the road away from the war memorial and then cut across the Memorial Gardens. “There are a few old tunnels,” Martin said. “Steve is checking them out now and looking for the entrance. Of course, he’s half elfen himself so he has a better chance of finding something.”

“And he’s not affected by iron either,” Jack said. He turned to Rhys. “You are in powerful company. How strong are you?”

“I don’t want to leave Alex in there,” Rhys said. “I don’t know what to expect or what it all means, but Alex is a good lad. It’s my fault.” His voice broke.

“Lady Freydis thought that he would be strong,” Martin said. “And she is usually right.” He thought for a moment. “That is, if she is concentrating. Regardless, we can’t abandon him. The part he entered is likely to be…” He looked at Darren. “How would you describe it?”

“Lethally unsympathetic,” Darren said. He shifted the huge kit bag on his shoulder. “I’ve got some stuff here, if we need it.”

Martin led them around a corner to a grating covering what looked like an old, stone built tunnel. “What we will need most is our wits.” He unlocked the cover and motioned them in. “I hope you have included torches, if only for this part.”

Dave pulled out a torch and shone it down the tunnel. “Is it far?”

Jack shuddered. “I can feel it close enough. I’ve never felt such malice.” He looked around. “Can anyone explain why you didn’t put him down?”

“It’s amplified now,” Darren said. “And I think it was complicated.”

Rhys flinched. He could feel it as well, the heavy oppression of dark swirling evil.

Martin noticed. “How long have you been turned? I mean, how long have you been a vampire?”

Rhys could feel his nails becoming claws and his fangs lengthening as he fought against the fear. “I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps two years.”

Martin was unimpressed. “We shouldn’t have brought you, not so young. Stay close, don’t take risks and play it safe. When we find Alex, he will want to see familiar faces.”

One of the werewolves gave a sharp bark. Jack nodded. “I think if you stay close to Ian and Callum, you’ll be alright. And Martin is correct, as usual. Alex will want to see someone safe and familiar.”

“He doesn’t know that I’m a vampire,” Rhys said.

“When we get out, you are going to have to explain why you took up with a vampire hunter,” Martin said. “Cruelty is not a survival trait.” He peered down the tunnel. “Here we are. Have you opened it, Steve?”

The tall, slim man waiting shook his head. “It was already open. I’m pretty sure that someone has come this way.” He looked anxiously at the group. “It’s bad.”

Darren unzipped the holdall and handed swords to Dave and Martin before taking one for himself. “I think a quick prayer is a good idea before we go into this.”

Martin looked through the portal next to Steve. There was no colour in the misty woodland stretching away from them, and the stench of decay hung in the damp air writhing out of the portal. “I think we need all the help that we can get.”

Dark Woods

Alex stumbled over a root and caught himself just in time. He ached. He straightened slowly and looked around. Why hadn’t he waited?

He prodded one of the logs. It seemed safe enough so he sat down and worked his shoulders, taking a small sip from the bottle in his backpack. It was nearly empty. He had no idea how long he had been wandering. He didn’t dare check his phone. The battery had been full when he entered this place, but somewhere in the foggy mists filling his head he knew that there would be no chance of recharging.

He screwed the bottle top on tightly and settled it back into his backpack. He was losing track of everything. He closed his eyes briefly, then forced them back open. He couldn’t risk sleeping here, he knew that at least. He couldn’t let his mind wander. He was Alex Poole, who had just got a job at a shop called the White Hart. His mind slid off for a moment as he stared at the small fern curling at the base of a tree. He was caught by the intricate fronds delicately unfolding and spent another few minutes before he brought himself back. He was Alex Poole and he had bought a second-hand camera with pictures of a vampire on it. He’d caught a vampire feeding, but the victim had chased him off. There were others who knew about vampires. They were, they were…

Alex pushed himself to his feet. He could see the faces of his friends. But he had come here alone, to the vampire’s lair. He was Alex Poole and he had come alone because Rhys – yes, that was his name! Rhys was nervous and Jack was weird so he, Alex Poole, had decided to go alone. He had worked out the entrance from the pictures on the camera and the notes from the flat and he had come to kill the vampire.

Alex stumbled again but kept his feet and carried on along the track. Things had not worked out exactly as expected. He’d got through the iron grill without too much trouble. There were no fancy alarms or cameras, just lots of padlocks. And then he had stepped through the door.

Alex spun around. He strained his ears. Was that someone calling his name? He leaned towards that direction, over in a dark thicket of oak. Yes, someone was calling. All he had to do was leave the path and strike off towards the sound. Alex dug his nails into the palms of his hands and held on to what he knew. He was Alex Poole. He was trying to hunt a vampire. He seemed to have stumbled into Fairyland.

It wasn’t the Fairyland of children’s stories, with the bright flowers and sunshine. It was all the dark, brooding stories that dripped with blood and terror. He mustn’t leave the path. He had tried to turn back to the gate, but when he turned, it wasn’t there. Just this endless, hard dirt track through mossy, fern filled woods. He was exhausted, but he didn’t dare sleep. Bad things happened to those who slept in Fairyland. He pushed himself to take another step and on around the huge ash that hung heavily over the path.

Alex groaned out loud. A clear spring ran over the rocks, clattering and chuckling as it tumbled in a miniature waterfall. Next to it was a crystal goblet, perfectly placed. It looked like something from a fantasy film. Alex’s mouth was dry and sore. He was desperate for water and had perhaps two mouthfuls left in his backpack. He didn’t dare drink from the stream. He couldn’t look away. He was desperate. How much longer could he go? What would be the worst that could happen? He couldn’t remember what the stories said. He couldn’t remember why he was there. He couldn’t remember anything except this frantic, all-consuming thirst.

With a strength of will he didn’t know he had, Alex forced himself backwards away from the temptation and against the ash tree. He couldn’t force any words out of his dry mouth, but his lips made the shape as he tried to cry out, ‘No!’ Then the tree grabbed him.

Alex struggled as he felt branches whip over him and pin him tight against the trunk. He could feel the trunk giving and his back sinking into the bark. It shouldn’t end like this. He had to find the vampire – he couldn’t give in! But his body ached and his mind was full of fog and it was only his reflexes that kept the struggle going.

“Hang on!” A voice rang out along the path. “He’s here, and in trouble!”

“Don’t worry, Alex, we’ve got you,” a familiar voice said.

It sounded like glass in the background. “It’s gabble ratchets. Dave, can you keep them back? Someone help Alex.”

“I have them Padre,” another voice said.

Alex tried to form the sounds. “Jack? Watch out.”

“It’s okay, Alex, we have you. We’re the rescue party.” Jack grabbed Alex’s hand and started a steady pull.

“Release him!” another voice said with authority. “Ian, Callum, set up the howl.”

Alex fell forward into the arms of Jack, who grinned his irritating grin and pulled him away from the ash. “Don’t worry. You’re safe now.” He frowned. “Have a drink of this, take slow sips.”

Alex didn’t know how he managed to control himself as he took a small mouthful and swilled it around his mouth before swallowing. “I thought it was the vampire’s lair, but it isn’t.”

“It’s sort of that,” Jack said. “That particular vampire managed to grab a corner of Faerie but left it a little tainted. Most of the elfen, the fairies, can’t get near here because of the iron in York Station. But Steve here will sort it out, and I think that Lady Freydis will be along any minute. You can hear the doggies howl.”

A huge wolf broke off its howl to give Jack a cold look and a sharp bark before returning to the howl.

“My apologies, Ian,” Jack said, unrepentant. He grinned at Alex. “Werewolves can be so touchy. Just never mention fleas.”

“A little help over here,” another voice called.

“Excuse me,” Jack said, bounding off.

Alex swayed a little, sipping from the water bottle. The howling had stopped and small, malevolent creatures were being batted away by the priest, Rhys, the vampire and someone that Alex didn’t recognise. Jack used a fallen branch to swing wide and hard at them and they broke with the sound of glass and evaporated. A huge swarm was rapidly being reduced as Alex’s rescuers pushed forward with purpose. The werewolves had taken a station either side of him and didn’t seem hostile. Instead they were snapping at the twigs that were pushing towards Alex and Steve and keeping a watchful eye on the fight. Behind him, Steve was muttering at the tree and pulling dark strands out. Alex stared as the strands became iridescent and multicoloured. “I’m hallucinating.”

One of the werewolves gave a gentle woof and leant against him briefly. Alex looked down at the water bottle and wondered what was in it. He had just felt comforted by a werewolf’s touch.

“I don’t think so!” A feminine voice rang through the woodland and, to Alex’s fevered eyes, the landscape seemed to shimmer. A tremor ran through the trees and the ground under their feet. Sunlight raced across the trees and birdsong echoed. Alex stared as flowers bloomed like bad stop motion, jerkily unfurling until they were surrounded by blossom. The woman who strode out was tall, blonde, impossibly beautiful and queenly. She was also very annoyed. The men who followed seemed like heroes to Alex’s dazzled eyes. The woman turned to Steve. “I am most grateful to you. I will not forget this.” She turned to the huge ash, her eyes narrowing. “How dare you!”

Alex stared as the ash tree, at least six feet across, started to dwindle. Branches and twigs retracted as the trunk shrank and faded. Then the monster that had nearly destroyed him was just a sapling.

The woman frowned. “No excuses!” She uprooted the sapling and snapped it in half, throwing each piece in widely separate directions. Everything went quiet and a sense of peace and serenity stole across the small clearing.

After a moment, she turned to Alex. “I apologise for your experience. Please come with me, and I will make sure that you are looked after.” She turned to Steve. “Could you close everything down here? I had better get this poor young man back to the White Hart. I will make a short cut.” She turned back to Alex, her huge blue eyes sympathetic. “Poor, brave boy. I think you have seen enough today. Sleep.”

And for Alex, everything went blessedly dark.

A New Start

File:Bermuda (UK) image number 123 Shepherds Pie dinner dish at restaurant.jpg
Image from WikiCommons, taken by tomwsulcer and in the public domain

Alex sat in the café of the White Hart, leaning forward over the hot coffee that had been placed in front of him. Jack and Martin were arguing.

“I can’t believe how irresponsible you are!” Martin yelled. “That young lad could have been killed.”

“Well he wasn’t,” Jack said. “He’s just had a bit of a wander in the land of the elfen. No harm done.”

“No harm!” Martin yelled. “He almost died.”

Alex turned to Dave who was sitting next to him. “So Martin is a vampire, right?”

Dave nodded. “But he’s not a bad guy, you know.” He thought for a moment. “Well, not really. As far as we can tell, all his lady friends are only enthralled for a short while, and they always end up better off in some way. We keep an eye on him.”

“Could you do anything against him if you needed to?” Alex asked. “After all, you’re supposed to protect the local – what did you call it? The local normals?”

“Dammit, Jack, when are you going to realise that times have changed?” Martin yelled.

Dave looked apologetic. “It would be tough. But that isn’t a reason to give in.”

Alex thought about that for a moment. “And Jack is a nature spirit of some sort.”

Dave nodded. “No-one is exactly sure and Jack isn’t sharing, but that’s about right.”

Jack grinned insolently at Martin. “You should have a half naked harem of gorgeous women lounging around the feet of you and your wife.” He jumped back, but not quickly enough as Martin grabbed him around the throat.

“And those two there are werewolves?” Alex asked, nodded at Ian and Callum who were intently watching the argument.

“Yeah,” Dave said. “They are really the good guys. They didn’t hesitate to help look for you, and they always turn out if there’s trouble. Ian’s in charge.”

Alex looked at the hard muscled, hard faced man watching Martin and Jack and didn’t doubt it. “And Lady Freydis is a sort of fairy and is in charge?”

Dave nodded. “She’s Martin’s wife, and we call her an elfen.” Lady Freydis was watching with interest as her husband shook Jack by the throat like a terrier with a rat.

“She’s an elfen,” Alex repeated. “And Rhys is a vampire?”

Dave sympathised as he heard the confused hurt in Alex’s voice. “I don’t think Rhys wants to be a vampire. I think he wants to take revenge on all of them. But he’s speaking to Dean, who didn’t want to be a vampire either, and Dean will sort Rhys out. We’ll look after him.”

“Somebody has to, the poor kid,” an old lady said, placing a plate in front of Alex. “I’m Mrs Tuesday and underneath my glamour, the illusion of what you see when you look at me, I’m a horrible hairy monster that’s strong enough to sort most of this lot out. Now eat up. I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil. You can call in for dinner for at least the next week or so. I bet you haven’t had a proper hot meal for months. Dinner is usually at seven, but I can always keep a plate warm if there’s a problem.” She put a second plate in front of Dave. “And it wouldn’t hurt you to get a meal here now and again.” She stalked away.

Alex watched Mrs Tuesday bustle back behind the counter and then looked down at the magnificent portion of shepherd’s pie in front of him. “Is she serious?” he asked Dave.

Dave picked up his fork. “She’s definitely a huge hairy monster under there, and I’ve seen her pick up a washing machine and carry it like it was a bag of sugar, but the scariest thing about her is just her. She just knows what to say to reduce you to a speechless mess. And she just knows all the stuff you hope that she’ll never guess. Don’t cross her.” He picked up an enthusiastic forkful. “But she’s a cracking cook!”

Alex had a taste and agreed with Dave. He could feel the savoury mouthful warming him. “I’ll definitely be around for any meals she wants to hand out.” He watched Jack struggle futilely against the stranglehold and then disappear into nothingness leaving Martin lurching forward.

“I hadn’t finished with you!” Martin yelled and vanished, presumably following Jack.

“You’re supposed to start work here on Monday,” Dave said, “but I think that you’re already part of the family with everything that’s happened. Welcome to the White Hart.”