I lay on the wet grass looking up at the night sky, my long coat sprawled out around me.
The park was deserted at two-thirty in the morning and the lack of artificial light left me free to gaze at the heavens above. My advanced eyesight could pick out countless constellations and galaxies invisible to the human eye. It was quiet; I needed quiet. My life had become unexpectedly chaotic over the past few weeks and I did not like it.
Almost two months ago I had found myself unwittingly working with Nick, a vampire hunter, in order to rescue his younger sister from a malicious vampire called Rowland who had been plotting against us both. I had succeeded in killing Rowland and the young girl, Angela had been successfully returned to her home. The consequences of this mission had been far-reaching. According to vampire tradition, killing Rowland meant that I took possession of his full estate. This included his substantial fortune and ownership of the city in which we both lived.
I did not want the city. As head vampire of the area, I was responsible for all of the vampires in the city. I had to make sure that everything ran fairly, disputes were upheld and above all, the secret was kept. Humans, in general, were not aware of the existence of the supernatural and we had to keep it that way. This had meant that my previously quiet nights had suddenly become much busier.
This was all Nick’s fault. If I had had never met him, I would still be happily serving coffee and enjoying my immortality in peace.
I had not actually seen Nick at all since the end of our awkward truce when we rescued Angela. Just as I had been leaving his house, he had taken me completely by surprise when he kissed me. I did not know how to feel about this at all and I did not know what it meant for the strange and confusing relationship between us. I had left immediately after and we had not spoken again. In fact, I had wondered if he was perhaps deliberately avoiding me. It was possible that I was deliberately avoiding him. Would we resume trying to kill each other when we finally met? I wasn’t sure, but I found that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to finding out.
The now too familiar sound of my mobile phone ringing suddenly broke the silence. I glared at the too-bright screen which announced that Adam my new PA was calling. I did not want a personal assistant but I couldn’t deny that it had its uses. He had turned up at my house of his own accord, a few days after I had returned from Scotland. The news of Rowlands death had spread quickly and his people had scrambled to reorganise themselves as my people. It was nice to see that their loyalty extended as far as the supplier of their substantial paychecks.
At the time, I had not fully grasped the implications of my new role. I was neglecting my duty, needing a break after everything that had happened. Defeating Rowland had not been easy after all. I had been late to rise that evening and I was still in my flowery dressing gown when there was a timid knock on the door to the small apartment I shared with Lillian, my ghostly roommate. Assuming it was probably just Amir, our upstairs neighbour and friend I had swung the door wide open to find Adam standing there a little awkwardly.
He was a tall man in his early thirties, smartly dressed in a grey suit with a blue tie. His dark hair was combed tidily back and he carried a neat looking briefcase. Despite his outwardly calm exterior, I could hear his heart pounding with nervousness, telling me for sure that he was human. He inclined his head to me respectfully.
When I said nothing he straightened his glasses uncertainly and held out a hand for me to shake. “Hello, my name is Adam Little. I am assuming that you are Scarlett?”
I raised an eyebrow, surprised that he knew my name. “Yes, that would be me.” I shook his hand firmly and he showed no alarm at the icy temperature of my skin. He was clearly used to dealing with vampires. “Can I ask what you are doing here?” I said, still confused as to why this person was at my house.
“Oh! Of course, apologies I should explain.” He said. “I have worked as Rowland’s PA for the past two years. Now that Rowland has…” He cleared his throat delicately, “passed away, I believe that I am now officially your PA.”
“I see,” I said slowly, disliking this conversation more and more. “Well, you better come in then.” I turned and led him into my sitting room. I watched his eyes flicking around nervously and I smiled. “Not what you expected?”
“You have a somewhat… different taste to Rowland.” He said diplomatically.
I much preferred my light but cosy apartment over Rowland’s pomp and grandeur. “I would have probably put some more clothes on if I was aware you were coming,” I commented, straightening the sash on my dressing gown as regally as I could.
“I apologise for the intrusion.” He replied quickly, clearly worried he had annoyed me. Vampires were not known for their patience. “I did not have any way to contact you. I discovered your address in the records.”
I sat down on the white sofa, indicating that he should take a seat opposite me. “I suppose that it was necessary.” I sighed. “Now, what can I do for you?”
Taking that as his cue he opened up his briefcase and began handing me sets of papers. He explained that Rowland had a number of companies and assets that I was now technically in charge of. He also outlined the details of each one and what they did. It seemed that Rowland had his hands in everything from electronics to clothing. He also explained the vampire situation in the city. I knew most of this from my own observations but he did have some useful information, such as the fact that several new vampires had entered the area. They had no doubt come to take advantage of the unstable conditions.
He was just finishing up his explanations when Lillian appeared by my side, invisible to Adam. “Who is this?” She asked.
“This is Adam Little, apparently he is my new PA,” I told her. I figured that if this man was going to be spending any significant time with me, he would have to know about Lillian.
Adam looked at me doubtfully. I was aware it appeared that I was speaking to thin air. “Scarlett?” He asked uncertainly.
“I do apologise,” I said, “It would be rude of me to not introduce you to my friend and roommate, Lillian.”
He had turned a little white; I wondered what the records said about me. “I was not aware that you had a roommate.” He said cautiously.
“Well since she is a ghost, you won’t find her in any official documents,” I told him.
He had paled further at the mention of a ghost but, I could tell that he did not fully believe me. He was too well trained to question me, however.
Lillian had an evil glint in her eye; she loved to unnerve new people. A cool breeze suddenly blew through the room, ruffling my already messy hair. Adam jumped and looked all around him but saw nothing. “I’ll leave you to discuss business.” She said, disappearing with a ghostly laugh.
I could have used my power to make her visible to Adam, but I figured that he had had enough frights for one day. Besides, I found it best to not publicise the extent of my abilities too much. There were already too many whispers about me and my talents.
After this little incident, Adam was quick to wrap up his explanations. I agreed to visit my new offices around town and we exchanged phone numbers so that he would (to his obvious relief) not have to visit me at home again.
At the time I had been sceptical about my new assistant. I was loath to trust anyone who had spent any time with Rowland, and I was not entirely sure how useful he would be to me. Nonetheless, he had seemed anxious to impress and fairly intelligent so I had given him a chance. Now, almost two months later I sat in the park staring at his name on my phone with a mixture of trepidation and acceptance. He had proven to be highly efficient and sensible. I doubted that he would be calling if it wasn’t important.
With a sigh I got to my feet, brushing damp grass off of myself. I answered the phone reluctantly. “Mr Little, to what do I owe the pleasure at this hour?”
“I am sorry to bother you.” He said.
The frown just developing on my face deepened; the worst conversations always started like that. “What’s going on?” I asked with resignation in my voice.
“There is a body in the city morgue.” He explained, “A vampire kill, I am pretty sure. Mr Winslow is… demanding to speak to someone.”
Mr Winslow was in charge at the morgue. I had learned that in the rare case where a death was due to something supernatural, the right price would get him to turn a blind eye. I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting him. “Demanding?” I asked with a raised brow, “I will take care of it.”
Adam’s voice was noticeably relieved when he answered. “That is great; I will send you his details.”
I hung up the phone to see some sort of document arrive with the mortician’s information on it. I squinted at the bright screen in irritation. What was wrong with paper? I wondered.
The walk to the morgue was not particularly long, especially with the streets so quiet and deserted at the late hour. I now actually had a car and a driver I could summon at any time if I wished. But, like my own car I rarely actually used it. I much preferred the freshness of the night air and the feel of walking. I had been around long before cars had been a thing and some habits are hard to get out of.
On the way I attempted to put my hair into some kind of semi-professional looking bun to hide its slightly windswept appearance. I was wearing a flowered dress and leggings under my long blue coat. It was not particularly authoritative or threatening but it would have to do.
Since Adam had called me at such a late hour, I knew that Mr Winslow would be waiting for me. If it wasn’t urgent he could have left a message for me to pick up tomorrow. My assumption was correct; I made my way through the mostly quiet hospital unchallenged until I located the morgue. A lone light was on in the adjoining office.
Deciding to begin with politeness, I knocked on the door.
A slightly gruff voice answered me. “Come in.”
On entering the room I spotted the man at his desk. His most defining features were his white hair and beard, which stood out against his dark glasses and eyes. “Mr Winslow?” I asked.
His eyes narrowed a little as he took me in. “Yes?” He said a little cautiously.
“My name is Scarlett. I recently received a call from Adam Little, my PA. He told me that you have a body of interest and that you wish to see me.”
His expression changed from confusion to incredulity as I spoke. “I’m sorry, but you are Scarlett? I was told that you are in charge of everything.”
My mood instantly soured and I knew he caught the flash of red in my eyes from the way his own widened. I grinned humorlessly to reveal the tips of my fangs. “Which part of that exactly, do you have a problem with?”
He swallowed nervously, realising he had overstepped his bounds. “I- I just meant that you… I mean, Rowland looked a little more…” He trailed off helplessly, recognising that he was making the situation worse.
I wasn’t really overly angry. I did feel, however, that I needed to make some sort of point. It was important that he gave me the same respect that he would have given Rowland.
“You mean to say that Rowland looked the part better than me?” My voice was glacial.
It was true that he did, I had never seen him without an impeccable suit. That and the fact that he could have passed for late twenties or early thirties seemed to make humans more comfortable with his authority. Outwardly, I was still a young skinny girl in my early twenties with messy hair and flower pattered clothes.
“Well…” He hesitated, at least having the sense to see that I was more dangerous than I looked.
I shrugged, “It is true, I suppose he did… at least, until I removed his head. However, what you fail to understand is that he was but an infant in comparison to me. If it is experience you are concerned about, you need not worry. With regards to my appearance… well, social convention has changed so many times over the past millennium; I find that I care little for it now.”
I sensed a change in the man’s mood and when he answered me it was with surprising hostility.
“Perhaps what I am really concerned about is the fact that you murdered my previous associate in cold blood, and yet you waltz in here expecting me to work with you.”
Very coolly I sat down in the chair opposite him and leaned back crossing my legs, not reacting to his anger. I was secretly glad that I had found the root of his issue.
“I feel like I need to clarify some things here.” I said calmly.
“Please do.” He spat.
I held up my hand to tick my points off as I went. “Well, firstly… you say that I murdered him in cold blood. Did anyone stop to tell you the reason behind it? Did you know for example that Rowland had kidnapped an innocent, six-year-old girl?”
Mr Winslow’s face betrayed his surprise and shock, making my think that no, Rowland had not revealed his more monstrous side to the man. He had most likely portrayed himself as some kind of do-gooder for the city; a Good Samaritan vampire who just so happened to have a lot of money.
I decided to continue my story. “I knew the girl personally; I could not allow him to take her from her family. After I tracked them down I discovered that he was plotting against me too. The resulting fight left me with no choice but to kill him. My only other option was to abandon the girl and risk death. I know that you have no reason to believe me, but I am being completely honest when I say that I have absolutely no desire to be here. I was perfectly happy with my life; I did not need Rowlands responsibilities adding to it.”
“So why you? Why do you have to take on his role?” Mr Winslow asked.
I smiled bitterly, “That’s just the way it is. Our rules are strict, as Rowland’s killer it is my duty to inherit his role.” Sometimes honesty is in fact the best policy. I knew that he would not cooperate with me if he viewed me as some kind of power-hungry tyrant.
The old man sat back in his chair and looked at me over the top of his glasses. I sensed that his opinion of me had shifted somewhat. It took a while for him to speak but when he did it was back to business.
“Well… if you are as old as you say you are, perhaps you can shed some light on this case for me. I have no idea what to put in the report.”
I sensed that perhaps I was on the path to acceptance. I stood up and smoothed down my dress.
“Let’s go and take a look.”
He led me into the adjoining room filled with large metal draws. With an effort, I kept my face impassive. I really did not like the space; the smells of various strong chemicals burned my nose but even that could not hide the lingering scent of death. It seemed to cling to everything; I knew I would be showering the instant I arrived home.
The odour of old blood was the worst; once it was no longer in a living person it became toxic for me. Mr Winslow did not seem to be disturbed, but I guessed for a human the smell would be nowhere near as intense if he could even smell it at all.
He led me over to a particular silver drawer and I waited as he pulled it out to reveal a covered figure. The scent of vampire was the first thing that caught my attention, making me frown. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about it wasn’t right. Very carefully he pulled the cover down to reveal the head and shoulders of a woman. Her appearance had changed so much that it took me a moment to recognise her. But, when I did I gasped.
Mr Winslow looked at me sharply. “You know her?”
“She was a witch.” I murmured softly, “She helped me out with finding someone a couple of months ago.” Linda was the witch who had performed the location spell to find Nick’s brother, Darren. It was thanks to her that we had finally discovered what had happened to him.
Taking some kind of silver implement in his gloved hand he gently drew her top lip back to reveal the sharp points of fangs. “Doesn’t look like a witch to me.” He said.
I nodded absently but the fangs were not my main focus of attention. What had really caught my eye were the very fine streaks of red going through her otherwise mousy brown hair. Streaks of red that were the exact shade of my own hair. “Can I see her eyes, please?” I asked tensely.
Very carefully he opened one of her eyes for me. Death had already taken some of the lustre, but they too were still a clear shade of red. I swallowed and took a step back. “How did she die, exactly?”
“This is the weird part.” He told me as he pulled back the sheet further.
I inhaled sharply at the bitter smell as he revealed a dark hole in the centre of her chest. “Is that burned?” I asked in alarm.
He nodded, “Yes, the heart is completely gone. It’s as if it… spontaneously combusted, but it left all of the surrounding flesh untouched.”
Stressed, I paced away from him. “This makes no sense.”
Perhaps it was some combination of witchcraft and vampirism? I theorised to myself. Although Linda’s speciality was not fire, so I doubted that it was her own doing. My gut feeling was that someone had killed her, although I did not know of anyone who could have done something like this. The vampirism and the red colouring was an entire other issue... I didn’t even know where to start there. Drawing myself up I tried to focus on the immediate situation at hand.
“If you have seen enough, I can put in a suggestion to rush the cremation on the body.” My Winslow told me quietly. “I’ve already checked her over for any evidence that could help, and in her current state… well, she can’t really be seen by anyone.”
“Was there any useful evidence at the scene?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “No, she was found in an alley. The report said no useful fingerprints or DNA anywhere. No witnesses either.”
I sighed, “I don’t know if she has any family… although if they are also into witchcraft they might be… aware.” It was possible that they would know about the vampire world in the city.
“I’ll be… cautious with them.” He told me.
I nodded, “Good, I will look into this further. I can tell you now that this is not a normal vampire killing. For a start, this woman was not a vampire when I last saw her, suggesting to me that someone has created her illegally. To create a new vampire, permission should first be gained from the head of the area. As this is the first I am hearing about it… well, obviously permission was not granted. As for her death… I can only say that I will personally investigate that. Currently, I do not know anyone capable of such a thing.”
As he slid the big drawer back into the wall I was already backing out into the corridor. It was a relief to breathe the marginally fresher air. When he returned to my side I discreetly handed him a thick roll of notes from my pocket.
“Thank you for your continued cooperation,” I said diplomatically.
He nodded a little stiffly. “I wish I could say it was a pleasure…”
That finally brought a smile to my face, “Well, these things never are, are they?”
I took the walk home at a leisurely pace. My night had been busy, starting with my shift at the Coffee Stop. Despite my new roles, I had refused to give up my job. It was the only opportunity I had to feel “normal” and a part of human society. I did not want to lose that; for I worried I would become remote and uncaring like so many of my kind. After a couple of hectic weeks, I had however agreed to go part-time. I now only worked at the Coffee Stop Monday, Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday. The rest of my week was devoted to my new leaderly duties.
Tomorrow was Thursday, meaning that I had to hold a session in the backroom of one of the clubs in town. It had not taken me long to become extremely tired of people bothering me at all hours of the night with their various complaints and issues. As the city leader, I was expected to mediate arguments and resolve disputes between any vampires in the area. Sick of the constant harassment I had created a day specifically for dealing with such things. If anyone had an issue, they could find me at the club Eclipse between seven pm and one am every Thursday. Unless it was a matter of life and death, all other times were off-limits.
Lillian greeted me cheerfully as I let myself into our half of the small house we shared with our upstairs neighbour Amir. I had noticed that the two of them had begun spending a great deal of time together over the past couple of months.
Despite being a ghost, Lillian had made Amir’s transition into being aware of the supernatural world much easier. Her friendly outgoing manner had immediately fitted well with his quieter more serious personality and they had quickly become friends. The friendship was not even hindered by the fact that Lillian could only be visible to Amir when I was around to use my power on her. In my absence, they made do with a system of notepads to allow Lillian to communicate her side of the conversation. Now, it seemed he was more often in our half of the house than his own.
“Where’s Amir?” I asked Lillian, noting his absence.
“He had to sleep.” She said dejectedly.
“Oh, of course.” I murmured. It was easy to forget that not everyone was on a nocturnal schedule. Amir had his work at the hospital and his studies to think about during the day. I sensed that Lillian was feeling a little lost so I sat down on the sofa and launched into a lengthy explanation of my evening.
She was distressed by the news of Linda’s death. “Oh my!” She exclaimed, “Whatever could have happened to her?”
Leaning back into my seat I picked at a loose thread speculatively. “I don’t know… something is not right with this.”
“Was she… around anywhere?” Lillian asked. I knew that she referred to Linda’s ghost.
I shook my head. “No, I didn’t see her anywhere and I didn’t feel any energy to indicate that she is still around. Most likely she has moved on already.” Most people moved on almost straight away when they died; only certain people chose to remain as ghosts. Being a witch, Linda had probably been aware of this.
After my busy night and lengthy chat with Lillian, dawn was fast approaching. I got to my feet and stretched; I wanted to have a bath before passing out for the day.
It was a relief to climb into the big claw-footed tub filled with soapy water. I had a large selection of pleasant smelling creams and lotions for both my bath and the shower. My sensitive sense of smell had to cope with the strong and often unpleasant odours of the city all night. It was nice to wash away all of them and fill the room with the fresh scents of rose or the sharper clean scents of lavender or perhaps citrus.
By the time the sun broke the horizon I was already securely in my cosy bed in the basement of the house, fast asleep.