AMANDA AND I arrive at the run-down, sad and ruined château late in the afternoon.
When we drive down the dirt road between the tall trees and past the derelict, once white, wooden fencing, I have a sad feeling of dread. We drive through the overgrown bushes and then there it is, large and majestic, from a lost era.
We stop the car in front of the defunct pond which used to be so imposing. The walls crumbling and the floor bright green, covered in a multitude of moss variants.
Hesitantly we walk up the wide, flowing stairs and then in front of the large wooden doors we stop.
Amanda looks at me apprehensively while I look for the key I have kept all these years. I pull the heavy silver key from the navy velvet satchel and I push it into the keyhole.
It scrapes as I force the lock to turn and then together we push the heavy doors open. It opens silently and I am shocked when I see the splendour and glitter I was so used to when walking through these doors, non-existent. Everything is dull and grey, all the colour sucked out of the heavy chandeliers, the rich wood and furnishings.
Amanda walks further into the foyer and then into the first reception room. Immediately she starts to pull the heavy white sheets off the chairs and billows of dust explode into the air.
I follow her and then I stop at the door, looking up at the portrait of my mother. It is as if I am looking up at my own reflection, except for our different hair colour. Although the painting is dull, I can still see her dark, long hair and the brilliant sapphire eyes. This is the first time I notice the sorrow in her eyes.
When I was younger, I used to look up at her sadly and wish I knew her. I grew up wishing she never died when I was born and I often wondered what it would have felt like to feel her arms fold around me. I grew up with Francois as my only family member, and more often than not, he used to look at me with regret and longing in his eyes. I knew when he looked at me he saw my mother and he missed her. The feelings of loneliness and solitude, I used to have flooded back and I feel like that little girl again.
Amanda’s voice breaks through my dark memories, “Help me. We will clean this room so we have somewhere to sleep. Tomorrow we will walk through the rest of the house and plan how we will restore it. It is going to be a mammoth task.” She laughs bitterly. “Not that we have anything else to do.”
I look at her and frown, and then silently I start pulling sheets from the furniture.
After a while, Amanda announces, “I am going to the car to get some dust rags, then we can start dusting.”
“Dusting?” I ask incredulously.
She sighs. Since Shayne died, she has been very bossy and even more motherly than usual. It seems as if she feels she needs to protect me even more now, in case she lost me as well.
“We cannot sleep like this. We do not even know if there is water here. Either we will have to walk down to the river with buckets to wash or sleep like this. I prefer to sleep clean and comfy.”
She turns and walks out of the room while I continue pulling up dust covers. The dust covers did not really work because once I pull them off, the dust rising into the air settles back down onto the furniture it is meant to protect.
When she comes back, she is carrying car interior polish and two soft cloths. Silently we start to clean the room and when it starts getting dark, she is happy.
She sits down in one of the chairs. “I think this is okay for now. We would not be able to clean it all as it should be. Tomorrow we will drive into the village and get everything we will need to fix this room and then move on from here – room for room.”
I consider despondently that it will take forever, but it would be nice to restore it to the memory of Francois and my mother.
I turn to Amanda and I say cautiously, “I am going for a walk.”
“Okay, but don’t be too long. It is not like the last time you were here. Things have changed and the world is more violent now.”
I give her a peck on the top of her head. “I’ll be fine.” Then I walk out of the room to the main door.
I walk to the little graveyard a distance away, past the conservatory. The flowers in the conservatory, or what is left of them, grow wild and I look at them sadly.
When I reach the little graveyard, I walk straight to the grave of my mother. Although the grass sweeps against my knees, I know instinctively where it is. I used to spend so many lonely hours here, talking to her softly as if she could hear me and wondering whether she would have stayed with me if she had a choice.
I sit down on the grave of my mother and sweeping the long grass away with my hand gently, I look sadly at the headstone. Her date of death matches my original date of birth. I notice the grave of Francois next to hers. I remember the day he was buried, I watched from the shadows of the trees.
From the corner of my eye, I see a shooting star cross the night sky swiftly, and my thoughts involuntarily return to Andrew. We grew close in that last week before Amanda and I left to come here. I doubt I will ever see him again, even if he professed his undying love for me. He did not really understand the concept we could never be together. Even if I wanted to love him and I wanted to spend forever with him, I could never turn him. If I did go as far as making him like me, we would always be fugitives and looking over our shoulders, waiting for them to catch up with us and to kill Andrew and me brutally and painfully. I must spare him from that, and so, in a way, I am glad Amanda and I moved away. There might have come a time when I would have wanted to keep him with me forever despite the dangers. Although I used to have a short future planned of going to university and finding a job, the one thing I have learned from all my years is that things never happen the way you assume they will.
I will always remember those feelings Andrew awakened in me. Innocent, nervous feelings I have never experienced before. I convince myself love was not in my future, not my destiny and it is better for Andrew to move on and hopefully, he will think of me every so often.
I get up from the ground and stretch my legs. Slowly I walk back to the house and when I walk into the room we attempted to make liveable, Amanda is already fast asleep. I sit down on the chair opposite her and then slowly, as it gets later, I start easing down onto the uncomfortable cushions, but sleep does not come.
Unable to fall asleep, I look through the window up at the many stars I have not seen in the longest time. I look for the Southern Cross, despite the fact I know, you cannot see it up here in the northern hemisphere at this time of the year.
I WAKE UP when Amanda touches my arm softly. Fleetingly I consider I had eventually fallen asleep whilst looking up at the night sky.
When I open my mouth to ask her what her problem is, I hear her urgent whispered hush.
I sit up slowly, frowning, and she sits down next to me. She whispers, “There is someone here.”
Quietly I reply, “Can’t be. Maybe it’s rats.”
“Although it sounded like footsteps, I also thought it was only rats or something in the walls, but a loud screaming woke me up completely.”
I stand up and take her by the hand, but she pulls me back determinedly. I hiss softly, “This house belongs to me and I am going to see what is going on. If there is anybody here, I will chase them away.”
Suddenly there is a loud yell from outside and hurriedly Amanda and I rush to the window.
I move the curtain aside and the railing falls from the wall with a loud clang.
Before terror fills me, I see six men running across the lawn. Two figures float across the old, broken pond while another man grabs onto a scared running woman and then I see that familiar stance as he bends down and hides his face in the nape of her neck.
One of the running men stops abruptly and turns to look at the house. Searchingly he looks at the house and then he sees me, as Amanda gasps.
I follow her gaze as the woman, in the arms of the man who caught her, collapse. He drops her to the floor without a care and I notice she is laying deadly still. The other four men fall over her and I see them ripping her body apart.
Amanda says softly, “My god, Susie. Go hide. I do not know if we can defend ourselves against them. They are savage!”
I look back at the man who noticed me and I see him walking slowly, deliberately toward the house with a smug grin on his face.
The moon is bright and I notice his light coloured hair, long enough to touch his shoulders. His shoulders are broad and strong. He strides with long steps and I am unable to move away from the window as I stare at him. He mesmerises me by the sheer confidence he portrays.
Amanda turns to me and it is the first time I see fear in her eyes. She insists, “Susie. Hide.”
Rebelliously I reply, “No! If they attack you, you will need my help.”
She still wants to be firm, pushing me to the door further away from the main door, when a deep voice resonates through the room. “What do we have here, uninvited in my home?”
“My home,” I reply defiantly.
Across Amanda’s shoulder, I see him look at me more intently.
His eyes move from mine to the portrait of my mother over the huge fireplace. He smirks. “My apologies.” He walks closer to us and then I see a brief moment of disappointment in his eyes when he realises we are not dinner.
I hear the other five men come into the house noisily and when they walk in, I see one hurriedly wiping the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. I hear another growl softly, deep in his throat.
They immediately take an attacking stance, but the blonde haired man standing only a few feet away from Amanda and me, holds his hand up in a cautionary motion.
Amanda moves in front of me and slowly deliberately, she nudges me backwards to the door behind us.
The man says, “Forgive my rudeness. If I may introduce myself, I am Callum Devereux.”
He steps forward and Amanda steps back, pushing me backwards with her body.
Callum stops and then he turns to the five men standing behind him. Smiling friendly, he says, “May I introduce my companions. Justin.”
A blonde haired man, lean and effeminate steps forward and he bows at the waist, folding his one arm around his back and the other across his stomach. Amanda cannot help herself and she curtseys back involuntarily.
I move away from her, but she stops me with her arm, pushing me back behind her. I see Callum notice the way she is protecting me and I cannot blame her for being overly protective, especially after the fiasco with Ethan.
Callum says amused, “Peter,” and Peter steps forward. Peter is older looking with a hairless scalp and a full beard.
He announces them one by one and individually they step forward, bowing slightly. Callum seems to be their leader and without his instruction or agreement, they would not kill Amanda and me.
He names the remaining three, Edward, who has dark, black hair and a goatee, Claude, who is extraordinarily tall and muscular with short, cropped brown hair and a jovial expression on his face and Herman, who is slim with reddish, curly hair and a serious appearance. It looks as if his frown is permanent.
Callum looks at Amanda enquiringly. “May we sit and have a civilised discussion. I have some questions.”
We remain standing while they sit down on the chairs. The dainty French antique chairs look too flimsy to carry their weight, but I am impressed with the durable quality when none of the chairs collapses under them.
Callum looks up at Amanda. “Would you take a seat?”
Amanda says defiantly, “Say what you need to say. I think you should ask your questions and leave, it is improper to be here at this time of the night.”
Callum looks at her amused. “This time of the night?” He laughs suddenly. “This is our day and yours too. Am I wrong in presuming you are not human?” I see a greedy glint in his eyes. He did not get any blood from the woman earlier on because he came to investigate us and thought we were innocent travellers who found an empty château and decided to spend the night.
I feel Amanda gasp because this confirms her initial guess that they are savage. They do not move in the normal circles of the community because then they would have known times have changed, they would have known about the big yellow sunshine pill. These six men have continued to live at night and I realise the rumours are true. There are still savages amongst us.
Amanda says adamantly, “No we are not human, but we have evolved and can live under the glaring sun.”
Callum sits up straight. There is a look of shock on his face. “What? Why don’t we know about this?”
He looks at the other five men and they shrug while looking up at Amanda expectantly.
I feel Amanda sigh. She reaches for my hand and then she pulls me along. We sit down on a chair, away from them and Amanda makes sure she is still between them and me.
She asks Callum directly, “Where have you been all these years that you do not know this?”
Callum answers, “Living at night and hiding in old houses and cellars. We have been keeping to ourselves.”
Claude says, “We have always wondered what happened to everybody. We never came across anybody. The two of you are the first other vampires we have seen for decades.”
Amused Herman affirms, “We thought we were the last of our kind.”
I feel sorry for them, as I say, “You have missed so much. The day is so beautiful.”
Amanda nudges me and I hear her soft hush.
Abruptly Edward says, while looking directly at me, “You look very familiar. What is your name? Have we met?”
Amanda replies, “No, you have never met her. She has always been with me.”
Callum looks at me, while Edward continues thoughtfully, “You look familiar.”
Amanda replies hurriedly, “This house belongs to her.” Amanda points up to the portrait up against the wall.
Edward smiles as recognition dawns in his eyes and then he says sceptically, “You are Susanna? You are William’s Susanna?”
Amanda says, “Yes, she is.”
Edward laughs unbelievingly. “You must be kidding me!”
Callum interrupts him, “Later, Edward.” He turns to Amanda again. “Tell me how you are able to live in the day.”
Amanda starts to explain, “Joseph, a vampire, who grew tired of living by night invented a serum. After drinking it for a prolonged period, it builds immunity in our systems against the sun.”
Callum shakes his head doubtfully while the other five men stare at us in amazement.
Callum asks after a while, “You live amongst humans?”
I reply, “Yes, we do. We live normal lives.”
Amanda interrupts me and says admonishingly, “We do not live savagely and we do not kill indiscriminatingly. We live with humans as their neighbours. We shop with them and are friends with them.”
Claude asks curiously, “You do not need to drink blood?”
I laugh. “Of course we do, but there are ways to deal with it. If you have lived amongst humans for a while, you are able to resist as long as you drink one human every thirty days or so.”
I see a despondent longing in Callum’s eyes and I feel immeasurably sorry for him.
Peter and Justin become restless and then Peter says, “It is almost dawn, we must go down.”
I have forgotten and have lost the ability to sense dawn as it approached.
They stand up as one and then they move to the door.
When he reaches the door, Callum turns around. He looks directly at me and asks, “You will be here?”
I nod my head, yes, and I remind him, “This is my house.”