WARNING: Things get a bit creepy and disturbing.
Charlotte and Bran go looking for vampires.
London – 1841
There were posters all over this part of the city warning of ‘The Sickness’, not a specific sickness, not a way to combat it, just a warning to people like Bran and I who didn’t have to live there to turn back. The rain pitter-pattered against my hood as we stood rereading the poster but it was vague as the monsters drawn on some of the maps in Bran’s library.
There wasn’t anyone around, there should’ve been, the streets on London were never empty even when it looked like they were. People were always about in the dark places doing things the constables wouldn’t like. The profound emptiness weighed down on me.
‘Don’t let your children out at night,’ I murmured. ‘Wait until the return of light.’
‘Where’d you hear that?’ Bran asked.
‘I don’t know.’
The clopping of hooves and the groan of wood bounced around hollow formed by the listing houses. A cart of corpses clopped by with two men on the driver’s bench. I turned to watch it pass. Decay hovered in its wake.
‘It reminds me of the workhouse,’ I said when it had disappeared around the corner. ‘Off to the pit with you.’
Bran’s fingers closed around mine. I turned my head, he was looking at me with his eyes full of unspoken things. I hoped they stayed unspoken. I wasn’t a lingering on the past type.
‘I was hoping if I stared at it long enough it would reveal something,’ Bran said, with the air of a man who was averse to tackling vampires, despite being one.
‘Does that ever work on you?’ I asked.
I smiled. ‘So how do we work out if here there be vampires?’
Bran’s gaze flicked towards the end of the street. ‘You’re not worried about poking dead people, are you?’
‘I prefer to be poked by them,’ I replied.
I tugged his fingers and he let me lead him down the street after the cart, it wasn’t moving fast, that would’ve been disrespectful to all those people who weren’t going to get a proper burial.
‘Do you have a plan?’ Bran asked.
‘I’m going to walk up to them and ask “fellas can I take a look at your corpses?”’
He rolled his eyes but smiled, which was something.
At the corner I stopped and peered into a narrower street where the cart had stopped. One of the men jumped down and bang on a door. He was hefty looking under his cloak which shone went with rain in the light seeping from the windows.
Bran pressed against my back to look down the street, we must’ve looked strange. Except nobody was going to see us, Bran was in his default don’t-notice-me state which always seemed to encompass me when I stood close to him.
‘I need you to do one of your vampire mind tricks on them,’ I whispered.
‘I can’t do that to people,’ he said.
I could’ve pointed out that he did it to people all the time without realising but instead I said, ‘The alternative is that I knock their heads together for doing their job.’
The door opened and one man disappeared inside, I supposed they didn’t want to leave the cart unguarded lest resurrectionists were abroad. It was one thing for them to steal bodies after they’d been buried, but to stop a man doing his job, couldn’t be having that.
A few minutes later he reappeared with a small bundle and threw it onto the cart. The parents’ wailing was muffled when the door shut. I felt sick. I wouldn’t mind knocking their heads together.
Don’t let it be the child, I thought.
‘Influenza,’ Bran said as if he’d read my mind. ‘I can smell it from here.’
I nodded. Logically it wasn’t better than being eaten by a vampire, and yet I was relieved.
His hand brushed my hip then he moved down the street towards the cart, his quiet footsteps eating the distance with unnatural speed. I watched wondering if the men could hear those footsteps coming up behind them. They didn’t react.
The horse snorted and shied. Bran’s books said that animals didn’t like supernaturals but living in cities where the anonymity drew supernaturals they seemed to acclimatise.
Bran drew level with the horse, the men didn’t spare him a glance, he patted the beast’s side and murmured something in Irish. I couldn’t hear the words, and my lip-reading wasn’t very good, but I recognised the shapes his mouth made as Irish not English.
Bran gestured to me and I ran down the street and jumped onto the back of the cart. The two workers were slouched in the front asleep.
The little bundle drew my gaze and held it. I crossed myself, touched the rosary around my wrist and murmured a pray. Bran touched my leg but said nothing.
The moment passed, Bran cleared his throat and rummaged carefully amongst the corpses. ‘Malnutrition… Syphilis… Syphilis again,’ he said. ‘Here’s one.’ He rolled one body over to reveal a dirt smeared young man beneath. ‘Smells of vampire and there’s no blood in him.’ He frowned. ‘I can’t see a bite but that would be too obvious to pass off as a sickness.’
I peered at the young man but everything seemed to be in its right and proper place.
‘We should take him with us for a closer look,’ Bran said.
I stared at him, he didn’t notice.
Bran hefted the man out of the cart and onto his shoulder as if he weighed less than a sack of potatoes and walked back the way we’d come.
‘Yes,’ I muttered and hopped down off the cart. ‘Let’s just add grave robbing to my list of hanging offences.’
‘He’s not in his grave yet,’ Bran called back.
I jogged after him. ‘Be sure to tell the judge that.’
Part of Jesse’s Studio’s Fiction Frenzy there will be a new episode of Victorian Mistress everyday until 24th June 2017.