WHEN I SEE the hills turn pink with wild heather, I wonder if Callum is okay.
We have restored the château to its former glory. Herman, Claude, Edward, Justin and Peter now sleep upstairs. They moved from the cellars so we can arrange the wooden barrels and get the cellar organised for all the wine we are planning to produce.
Amanda and I have our own wing. I also insisted on a room for Callum. Justin and Peter share a room.
We leave the area where Callum had placed the piano and chairs. It is a snug place for me to go and sit when I missed Callum too much. I sit there and read his old books and then I feel closer to him because he must have read them as well. It feels as if I am sharing an experience with him.
Peter takes over the role as our person in charge and Amanda relinquishes this role eagerly.
We have replanted the vines in the soil, and the vitis vinifera we chose is thriving in this climate and ground. The first winter we prune the vineyards and we carefully tend the vines. I enjoy the silence and the sun-drenched hills dotted with the planted growing grapes. Amanda has adjusted well in the circumstances and there are fewer and fewer mornings when I notice her tired eyes or hear her soft agonising moans in the middle of the night.
At night, we gather in the large kitchen around the bulky wooden table. I like the dungeon feel of the room. We laugh and joke and we have really meshed well as a group. We get along as if we have known each other forever.
IT IS ALREADY late summer and one-night Peter announces that he feels the sugar content of the grapes has reached the correct level of sweetness to start picking. Our first wine is going to be a table wine, so the sugar content needs to be lower than that of a sweet wine because table wines are usually drier.
The grapes have to be cut from the vines by hand. I work silently and the sun is blazing down on my head, even though I have a bright scarf wrapped around my hair. I move my basket along with my feet and when it is full, I carry it to the waiting wagon.
When I reach the wagon., Edward smiles down at me, while he says, “This is hard work.”
I laugh. “It sure is.”
“When Callum gets back he will be shocked when he sees all we have accomplished.”
“He sure will.”
I get another empty basket and looking over my shoulder while I walk away, I say friendly, “Stop slacking. You have to finish your section today.”
He sighs. “Peter is a real slave driver and I preferred it when Amanda was in charge. She is moody, but not so bossy.”
I walk away from him with Callum on my mind. It has been so long, almost two years since Callum left.
Night falls and I stay to finish my section. Herman has driven the wagon away, but I will leave my baskets where he will park the wagon again tomorrow.
They will not stop working tonight anyway. Claude and Justin have started crushing the grapes in a huge cylindrical container we bought. We did not want to make the wine in the old-fashioned way of crushing the grapes by treading on them barefoot. Once the grapes are crushed in the container, the juice is run off into the vats and barrels for fermentation. We are making a white wine, so we only need the juice, whereas if we were making a red wine we would use the pulp, juice, and colour-bearing skin.
It is such a beautiful night, the moon is full and the sky is clear. The air feels crisp and as I walk back to the château, the river winks at me, inviting me to come in for a dip. I look at the house and decide to have a swim. When I get home I will be pulled into another chore and I did not feel like working tonight. I feel like floating on the river, maybe just drift with the flow and get out when I have passed the village. I will enjoy the walk back. Maybe I will have a good run to get the cobwebs cleared from my mind. Callum has been on my mind constantly the last few days and I wonder blissfully whether it is because he might be thinking about me as well.
I walk into the river with my clothes on, because I could not get out of the river on the other side of the village and run naked through the fields. I smile amused at the thought.
I drift to the middle of the river, the flow is slow and I look up at the moon as it follows me. The water around me glimmers with the light and the stars reflect off the water. I could imagine floating in the sky.
I am blissfully relaxed by the time I start to see the lights from a few houses in the village and reluctantly I swim to the embankment. I did not want to go past the village, unwilling to venture too far away from home.
I wade onto the riverbank and then from the corner of my eye I see two dark figures to the side of me.
The one shadow laughs sadistically. “We were wund’rin when you’d come out o’ the river.”
I feel instant fear.
The other shadow agrees, “We thought we was following ye to the North Sea, the way ye was driftin’ along.”
I turn to run and my clothes hang on me heavily. A steel grip folds around my arm and pulls me backwards, while a voice sneers close to my ear, “Where are ye goin? I am hungry, lassie.”
The other man laughs heartily.
I try to pry my arm out of the painful grip. I turn to lift my hand and to scratch his face. They must be vampires because if they were human I would have gotten away without even trying.
The man grabs me around my waist as I turn to him and then with lightning speed he bends his head toward me.
He stops for a moment and then he sniggers amused. “Wha ave we ere?”
The other man asks excitedly, “Wha’s it?”
“She ain’ human,” the first man replies perplexed.
The other man steps forward and I struggle against the arms pinned around me. He pushes his hand against my chest, pushing against my breasts aggressively.
He looks up at the other man confused. “She ain’ got no heartbeat, but I can smell ’er.”
I try to get away from them and thoughts of death flash through my mind. I wanted to see Callum again. I wanted to spend forever with him.
The man holding me tightly to him laughs meanly. “A bloody half-breed, this is. Betta to rid the earth o’ them.”
The other man jumps forward eagerly. “Me first, me first.” The stench from him makes me gag involuntarily.
The man holding me with a vice-grip to him pushes the other one away with the palm of his hand and the little, smelly man stumbles back. “I’m first, wait ye turn, eejit.”
I hear my scream of defiance echo into the night, but then I feel the excruciating pain as his teeth sink into my neck. He is standing in front of me and he has my hands gripped in his behind my back. He pulls me to him and his other hand pushes my chin away from the exposed area.
As I feel him bite me, his teeth breaking through my skin painfully, my knees go weak and then I am hanging from him. A feeling of complete weakness overwhelms me. I feel a strange thump, thump in my chest and I feel myself gasp for air.
I am dying.
From a distance, I hear a voice call my name and the man drops me to the ground. I hear the little one hiss, “I ne’er go’ a turn.”
There is a slapping sound and then I hear them run away.
I feel lifted and carried as a darkness take me.
Faintly I hear Amanda shriek. I feel the arms around me put me onto a bed gently and Amanda’s voice telling everybody to leave the room.
Her hands are all over me, pulling the wet clothes from me. I feel weird. My entire body is tingling. It feels as if my body is shaking from the rhythm of my heart. It is the strangest feeling, although it feels familiar. Previously I never noticed my own heartbeat until it stopped, and for a time my body felt unbelievably silent. I got used to that, though, and now the action of breathing and my thumping heartbeat seems loud in my ears.
I shiver and realise I feel cold, so very cold. When last have I felt a chill in my bones?
Opening my eyes, I look into the worried eyes of Amanda.
“What is going on?” I ask softly. My neck is painfully sore, I move my hand up and tentatively I touch the origin of the pain.
Amanda is frantic and she whispers, “Oh, Susie. When I said you would die when a vampire bites you, I did not mean drop dead immediately. Because your father was a vampire and your mother human and you survived the fever if another vampire bit you, you would turn human again. Thus, your immortality is taken away from you, and you will indeed die eventually when the course of your life has run out.”
I look up at her confused. “Human?”
A dry sob escapes her. “Yes, human.”
“Why has nobody ever told me this before?” I struggle to say.
“I was going to, but I have never felt the need before. When we got here, I thought there could be a possibility with the others, but although they seemed savage they turned out to be quite civilised.”
I suddenly remember something and I ask, “So why did William not turn human for my mother?”
“I don’t know Susie. Maybe he wanted it to be forever and he did not want to lose her eventually anyway through natural death. I really don’t know.”
I have so many questions, but I cannot fight the darkness as it drifts closer.
WEEKS LATER, I walk out of my bedroom weakly, the wine has been barrelled and the frost lies thick on the ground outside.
I walk to the kitchen. I have never before realised how draughty and cold this big house is, as I fold my arms around my body and I shiver.
Claude is in the kitchen and he stands up concerned when he sees me. He looks at me apprehensively, not knowing how to deal with me now I am a human.
I ask him softly, “Would you mind lighting a fire in the wood stove for me?” We never replaced the old stove, because we did not need cooking facilities.
He says, “Sure.”
He rushes out of the kitchen in search of wood and I sit down on a chair. I am hungry. I want a big bowl of warm oats, the way I used to eat it when I was only six years old, sitting here at this very same table. I want to pour large spoons full of sugar over it and then watch as it melts into the warm oats before I pour the warm milk over it. My stomach growls. The sound is loud and it gives me a fright. I laugh cynically because I cannot remember when last I heard that sound.
Claude comes back into the kitchen and silently he puts the wood into the little door in front of the large black stove.
I stare at him and I can see he feels uncomfortable being here with me all alone. I ask kindly, “Where is Amanda?”
“They are pruning the vines.”
“You were sleeping a long, long time.”
Softly I say, “I thought I died.”
He does not reply.
After a while, I say, “I am still the same person, you know?”
He looks up apologetically. “I know. It just feels… It is …”
“Don’t bother. I know it can’t be easy.”
When he has the fire going, he walks to the cupboards on the opposite side of the kitchen. I stand up and pull the chair I am sitting on closer to the stove and then I sit closely beside it so I can feel the warmth.
I hear him say uncertainly, “Amanda bought you some food… Human food. There are a lot of different things here and then there are these tubs of chocolate things in the fridge.”
I stand up from the chair and I open the fridge. I smile pleased when I see the little tubs of decadent chocolate mousse. Leaning into the fridge, I break one of the square tubs away from the six-pack.
Eagerly I pull the silver lining from the top and I dip my finger into the pot. I stick the big lump of chocolate on my finger into my mouth. My eyes close involuntarily. It is total bliss. The bubbles and the decadent chocolate melt onto my tongue.
I open my eyes when I hear a drawer open and then Claude leans across to me with a spoon.
They come into the kitchen noisily and then they stop talking as one. The silence is immediate. I see the relief on Claude’s face. Amanda rushes to me and then I see her hesitate for a moment before she pulls me into her embrace.
Edward, Herman, Claude, Justin and Peter remain standing on the other side of the room. Amanda sits down by the table with me. Amanda starts talking first and not long after they all join in. Soon we are laughing and talking, but when Amanda leaves the room, the silence once again descends upon the room.
I sit staring down at my hands awkwardly and decide this is my home, so if they cannot stand the thought of living with a mere mortal, they can move.
Resolved in my decision, I stand up and I am about to say they are all welcome to leave when Amanda comes back into the room and I feel the room heave a sigh of relief.
This carries on for a few weeks and when I cannot stand it any more, I stand up one night and I wait for them to stop talking amongst themselves.
They all turn to look at me anxiously. Amanda smiles up at me encouragingly.
I take a deep breath. Weird to do this, but it really does happen naturally. At first, I used to take measured breaths every second and then I forgot all about breathing.
They all look at me in anticipation and I start to feel nervous, but I am standing now and I will feel even more awkward if I sat back down. I clear my throat and then I say, “I am still the same person and I know you all feel funny having me around, but don’t worry, I am not scared of you. I am not scared you would want to feed on me.” I laugh dryly. “It would be interesting to see what would happen to me next if one of you did!”
Edward starts laughing nervously and then they all join in. Amanda looks at me warily.
I say warningly, “That was not an invitation though and I am not your dinner. If your urges get too much, you leave.”
Claude walks to me. He is the one who saved me that dreadful night from being drained completely and hesitantly he hugs me closely to him. It feels nice to be held and he is so bear-like I almost disappear into him. He turns away from me to look at the rest of them, but he keeps his arm on my shoulders. He glances down at me, smiling his lopsided grin, and he says, “We will never feed on you. You are like our baby sister.”
Individually they hug me close and suddenly I do feel like the little sister. I feel safe and know instinctively they will protect me.
I start cooking for myself because I can only have so many chocolate mousse tubs before the decadent chocolate starts to taste tart and too sweet. Cooking is difficult. Justin teaches me a few things and he tells me proudly he used to be chef once, a long time ago. During my cooking lessons, I learn more about him and his relationship with Peter than I do about cooking.
One day, while Justin shows me how to make Crème Brulè, he tells me, “Peter and I met one night very long ago. I was already turned, but Peter was still human. I always felt different, and in my nineteen human years, I never felt any attraction to girls. Even Veronica, the woman who turned me, never had any appeal for me.” He smiles delightfully. “Then in a pub one night, looking for a man to love for a little while and then kill him afterwards, I saw Peter across the room.”
I laugh. “You are saying you used to be like the black widow spider, luring your unsuspecting victims with promises of love and devotion.”
He laughs with me. “Precisely and then when I was satisfied, I literally ate them.”
Amanda walks into the kitchen, reprimanding Justin sternly, “Justin, don’t talk like that in front of Susie, she is only sixteen.”
Apologetically Justin says, “Sorry,” and gives me a wink.