At first, the creature came across as a real person – but that
was cold comfort. Stella was the first amongst us to notice that the thing that called itself Alan was no such thing. Indeed, nothing. Too alien even to be called nobody. You see, vampires do not exist.
But I am racing ahead of myself. When we originally met Alan he wasn’t yet nobody, let alone nothing. He even possessed a reflex reflection in Stella’s bedroom mirror. She had in fact fallen for his charms. Charms to which none of us other members of the group could even begin to aspire. Charms that held her locked by the eyes, whilst her heart was gripped by icy fingers which would have been invisible if they had not been within her chest.
When I was a child – longer ago than I care to remember - pictures in storybooks constituted memories for the future: the future when television screens would coldly flicker reminding us, sometimes, of nostalgia’s death. Indeed, while TV screens cannot smell, books are redolent with an aura of endless summer holidays, childhood pranks and mother’s lap. The book’s illustrations resonate with yarns of adventure and with remembrances in the making; some of the aroma, trapped, like dead microbes, within the spine, where pages are stitched and folded between black end-papers.
That creature – the one I knew as a human being called Alan – was one such memory, as if he had ever haunted me since my exploration of a forbidden illuminated book in my father’s library. As far from mother’s lap as it was possible to go: that library.
Yet, none of this will mean much, unless I describe the other members of the group who – if nothing else – gave Alan context. An invisibility is only invisible by virtue (virtue?) of – or, rather, by contrast with – the visible.
Well, there was Susan. A sexy wench – by all accounts – but someone I found dull and untitillating. And eminently forgettable. Bob – as handsome as the best of young men in those days. A film star in the making, if a bookish one. Claude – well, Claude, you know Claude already, and Claude’s Claude. And, of course, Stella. Now you’re talking. I even found myself yearning to fondle her breasts. And, finally, there was me, the nameless one – and my figure was nothing to write home about.
Stella’s obsession was her living-room stove which she needed to keep fed with anthracite small nuts. When she left the house – along with us others, for instance – she always worried whether she had sufficiently banked it up so that the fire could slumber with a low knottage of under-air, ready to be stirred back into flaming life upon her return. Indeed, when she rattled the riddler device upon refuelling with anthracite, I often speculated upon her requiring a fire-sitter (as opposed to a baby-sitter) if she happened to leave for longer than a normal outing. I laughed. Perhaps, there were back-stokers in the house – crawling along a tunnel behind the stove – who “saw” to it . . . by sliding the throat-plate aside and poking through via a door in the chimney-wall. I glanced at Alan, and he was laughing, too. Stella, if nothing else, was a source of amusemnt. Stella and her stove.
Claude and Bob never saw the funny side of anything, however. They were leafing through crusty tomes with frowns on their faces.
There was a peculiarity about Stella’s stove which may have been true of all such stoves: its unpredictability. For days on end, it would burn brightly – heating the boiler with great efficiency and casting cosy warmth through the stove’s door of glass-strips – with several nights of being banked up and riddled back into life each morning – and would blaze healthily, clean-limbed and smokeless. But, then, abruptly, it would fade into a corpse-fire, fizzle to an ash-choked, barely smouldering mound, as if its spirit was departed. And when Stella cleared out the remains from the fire-pit, there would be much clinker and muck, together with a coagulated substance that reminded me of kiln-hard excrement. The amount of such waste which she dug from both above and beneath the bars was so voluminous, one wondered how only a minute before it was possible for the blaze to be such an inferno – with baking hot pipes and radiators feeding off it to make her abode a hothouse even for cold-blooded creatures. A seed-bed of passions.
And, indeed, she soon re-set the fire and, with the use of what looked like white wooden chalk under the anthracite, the flames ate into the cobbled black with the raging fever of disease.
Alan smiled at me knowingly. And I smiled back, without understanding. In hindsight, I suppose, he intended to draw a parallel with existence itself. A human body. One minute in scissoring fitness. The next a nest of crimson maggots.
It is a wonder – after all the trouble with the stove – that Stella was the first to draw attention to Alan’s nonexistence. I assume Claude and Bob had their noses in books – and me . . . well, I was too much in love with Stella to have noticed her own erstwhile love for Alan. Love is blind, they do say. Love-sickness is the inability to recognise any faults in the object of one’s love; even the fault of not being there at all.
So, yes, it was Stella who – one day – stood up from tending to the stove, turned round – poker in hand – and smashed at the empty air as if she fought off the invisible monster that her madness had become. Claude and Bob placed markers in their books – everything dead silent except for a desperate tampering noise which I illogically thought must be back-stokers and the crumbling of anthracite as flames faded outwards from the seat of the fire. I felt tears reaching my eyes, as I saw that the ash-pit – upon being scraped out from under the bars – was full of a sludgy black substance . . . as if some jellyish fluid had accidentally mingled with the solid fuel.
The pair of purple incisions that appeared on Stella’s neck – which I later showed her by means of her bedroom mirror – she blamed on scorching, a explanation which I believed even when the holes wept, too. Bob and Claude had already left the room in gloomy silence. They would never be able to believe what they read in books again. Stella and I spent the rest of our lives pampering each other’s breasts before the raging glass. We spread our legs, too, every month, before a new-set fire. And, indeed, the well-riddled stove was our means of keeping night’s icy fingers at bay. All else was eminently forgettable – or become mere back-stokers.
Published 'Vampire's Crypt' 1995