by Frances Tate
The injured fighter, a compact, wiry man, his split eyebrow trickling white blood into his eye socket, swung wildly at Richard’s head. The clumsy attack masked a calculated punch to the kidneys.
Richard trapped the low hand as rough fingers snagged and half-tore the flap from his pocket and back-handed him off his feet.
The small crowd unravelled. Some melted away, some sprinted for the safety of the dark maze at their backs. Gin and ale fumes rode the breaths of two spectators as they charged at him.
A blow to the back of Richard’s skull caused a shower of glass.
Richard shook shards from his hair. Plucked the bottle from its wielder’s hand and pushed the jagged end in through the man’s throat and out through his spine. Holding the dying man upright, he drank from the enthusiastic fountain as it decanted over a wide radius.
The fountain subsided. Richard released the corpse.
The man on the ground rolled off his back and on to all fours. Thin lips peeled back from rotted teeth and he sucked in a breath-
“Hush now.” Richard sank to his knees and wrapped the man in a tight embrace. The fighter wriggled his eel-like arms, insinuating small hands between Richard’s body and his. Grime and blood-stained thumbs gouged at Richards’s eyes. Bent, quick-bitten fingers manoeuvred to fishhook Richard’s nose. Snarling, Richard snapped his mouth shut and wrenched his head to one side. One finger severed, one pulled apart at the joint, the fighter fell backwards. His hushed open mouth miming a scream. His back did not touch the ground: Richard caught him. The fighter’s fingers tumbled over his lower lip, falling as canines struck, opening the man’s throat. Terror and agony coated Richard’s palate with hot, slick copper.
His eyelids fluttered shut.
The human’s heart fluttered its last.
Host and vampire invigorated; Richard flowed to his feet. He bounded lightly from wall to roof, covering ground and gaining height until he landed on the bell platform in the church steeple a quarter mile away.
Up here, the tang of the River Thames was unmistakable. The turning tide exposed the pungent mud and lowered jostling vessels at the watermark. Ropes and timbers creaked. Canvas sails salted the air and pulled memories from forgotten parts of his mind. He turned his back.
Jasmine, intoxicating in its purity, drenched him. The scent was so powerful he could almost see the tiny white flecks of perfume twirling towards him, beckoning. Promising much.
In pursuit of that promise, he stepped over the carved stone balustrade.
He tracked it for almost half a mile, leaving the desperate over-crowding behind and coming to a halt beside pale, sedate Georgian dignity. Three floors of wide windows, presided over by narrow stone and wrought-iron balconies, edged all sides of the affluent residential square like a well-drilled battalion.
A small lamp; wick faintly smoking; flame gently breathing, lit the second-floor room. He closed his eyes. Painted the picture inside the sanctuary from keen senses and keener memories.
The young lady within had not long bathed.
The idea of her alone in her bedchamber was a temptation too far. He landed silently on the narrow balcony, crouching to look in through the fine muslin curtain guarding the half-open sash window. She sat at a walnut dressing table, her back and three-fold reflection directly before him. He swept the fabric aside, ducked through the gap, and stepped into her chamber.
As she turned towards him, her expression curious not afeared, he captured her dark-eyed gaze with the vampire’s bleached, iris-less stare.
“Remain calm, My Lady. There is no one here but you, no reason to pause the performance,” he murmured, and lifting his jacket tails behind him, settled on the wide windowsill.
Unwinding the twist in her waist, she faced the mirror and gently shook free the loosely pinned mound of fragrant hair. Intense jasmine washed over him and brushed his eyelids closed. Imagination rained a single drop of perfumed water onto her forehead and let it roll down her cheek. He slowed the fanciful physics. Anticipated the drop’s delayed descent along her jaw to curl, with tortuous disrespect to gravity, as it crept beneath the neck of her nightgown.
Of course, he could have her wash, or at least wet her hair again… and open the tiny pearl buttons to better frame the display.
Soft rustling movements tempted open his closed eyes. The broad hairbrush was almost within her grasp. He abandoned his roost, reaching around her to claim it first, and lifting her hair, stroked the brush, andante, from root to tip. He sank his nose into the dark, waist-length hair as the silver-backed brush cleared the wavy ends and they curled and contracted behind the white bristles.
The reflection of her eyelids descended and her breathing lulled him… elsewhere. His gums ached as he resisted his canines’ descent.
“Continue, please.” Her voice startled his attention back into her bedchamber.
“You see me, although I instructed you not to.” He studied his bloodied, triplicate face in the mirror.
When a vampire instructs you to do something, you must oblige. So, why didn’t it work? How is it possible that she could see him and disobey? Be sure to join us again for Chapter 2, coming July 9th, 2022.