The Last Summer: Prologue

by Frances Tate

London, June 1831.

Contrary to convenience, the woman continued to bleed.

At least no longer as the flow of a mountain stream, but the stop-start of a defeated man bailing out a leaky rowing boat. Richard propped the docile prostitute against the wall. Her heart beat strongly within her chest and thudded in his ears, promising him –them– she could survive the loss of more blood…

Disagreement.

Sweeping his thumb over the twin punctures in her wrist smeared a ruby of blood across her clammy skin. Had she been a more enjoyable dish, he would have used his tongue and not wasted even a drop of her. He did not need another taste of cheap gin and the sickly aftertaste of syphilis… and she represented the most palatable of the evening’s options!

In this sweltering cesspit of two million bodies and rather fewer souls, summer was nought but a nuisance; stunting his active hours whilst extending everyone else’s; increasing the likelihood of witnesses to his dining habits.

Would that the opera season coincided with winter. Culture, corpuscles, and comfort all under one opulent roof. Or more specifically, between the discreet velvet curtains of a private box.

Instead of sampling the splendour of Covent Garden, he lingered in the least salubrious of places; the labyrinthine slums of the East End. And a particularly ripe section at that. The lane probably had a name; all these rat-runs did, but using it gave the miserable location undeserved significance.

The baked, bare earth beneath his polished boots hosted the evacuated contents from the bowels and bladders of at least three separate species. And under the onslaught of relentless heat and new deposits, the smell — which he was spared by virtue of breathing being optional — defied description.

Humans needed oxygen. He –they– needed human blood and this evening, a little co-operation. His donor’s thin blood refused to clot, demanding more of his precious resources than just his time and attention. Such flagrant inconvenience was not uncommon in the summer when the heat forced him to loiter in dark alleys to avoid accidental corpses and very deliberate manhunts. Forced him to dispense his vitality one drop at a time to age and disguise the evidence left after he’d fed.

At least the solstice was behind him, if only by days. The daylight, if not the summer, had done its worst. London had yet to.

As if eavesdropping and giving credence to his thoughts, the human rookery clattered and cawed around him. The poverty-ridden populace crammed tightly into small spaces and smaller purses often exploded. Like now. Glass shattered and loud, discordant voices carried. The siren call of violence.

Richard jerked his head towards the event and depleting meagre reserves, unfurled hunting senses. An altercation… naturally, with an audience, blocked a narrow lane upwind from here. Sounds and smells floated towards him. He opened his mouth and the fight’s hostile energy fizzed across his tongue like champagne.

Grasping the prostitute’s jaw, he angled her face towards him. Using his larynx required air. Just as well the city air he’d eschewed just moments ago, was now desirable.

He filled his lungs. “Remember me favourably.” His needful growl betrayed the depth of his –their– hunger.

She seemed to like the sound, smiling coyly and running her fingers through his long ponytail.

Impatience. The sensation, not the word, seeped through him. These ‘conversations’ had gone on for so long, they had become a working language in their own right, if simple. Visceral.

Irritation. He shot back.

The ancient creature’s complaint gnawed within him. Starved of sustenance and stimulation, the vampire’s influence and enhancements were weak, so the host’s finely honed sense of self-preservation protected both entities. The balance of power was literally fluid – and turning like the tide. Unappetising as the streetwalker was as an entrée, she qualified as sustenance … and the vampire strengthened, stirred. Craved the feast and the exhilaration that the fight promised.

Patience. Richard placated and lifted the woman’s wrist to examine any progress. Just one puncture mark remained; a barely discernible hollow beneath soft new skin. His blood did more than staunch bleeding. Her flesh, if not her depleted circulatory system, had forgotten he’d bitten and drank from her.

“For the special.” He produced a silver coin. Flipped it towards her.

She snatched the shilling from the air, and raising her skirts, tucked her earnings into the top of her stocking. She adjusted her clothing like a starling settling ruffled feathers, winked at him and left.

Richard loosed the vampire. Walls passed beneath him as he sprang easily over them, crossing the tiles and breathless chimneys of two and three-storey buildings so swiftly, if he was discernible at all, it was as a wrinkle in the heat haze.

The bare-fisted fight, with its savage perfume of blood and sweat, filled his nose, his head and as the vampire responded to the stimulus visceral, took the last of his control.

Aching gums spawned predators’ teeth from his upper jaw. Strong, sharp opaque talons stretched and strengthened from soft fingernails and the night-blind dark human eyes bleached white. Homing in on the hot, glowing blood, he dropped off the roof and into the thick of things.


What does the vampire do when uncontrolled? And what’s the scent of jasmine that promises a delicious meal? Be sure to join us again for Chapter 1, coming June 9th, 2022.


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