WARNING: Features a deader than usual man.

In which strange things happen in a wine cellar. 

For past episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page or Wattpad: @JesseQuill

London – 1841

The strange had become normal. Bran examining a corpse in the wine cellar for evidence of a vampire attack was still strange. It was just as well the door was good solid wood with a good solid lock because it was the sort of strangeness children shouldn’t see.

‘Not to play the superstitious sort but prodding a dead man seems perverse,’ I said then frowned at the nearest rack of dusty wine bottles. ‘The irony of that statement hasn’t escaped me.’

Bran wasn’t paying attention, he’d tugged the man’s ragged shirt off his shoulders and was examining the skin. I was a concerned about how close the candle was to Bran’s face, vampires were highly flammable, apparently they saw in the dark with heat which was no good for detail. Still, he could’ve held the candle a little further away.

‘Shoulders are rich in blood. They’re a good place to bite,’ he said and glanced at me. ‘If you don’t mind scarring someone.’

I reached across and caressed his cheek but said nothing. It had been my idea that Bran feed from me on a regular basis and yet it still seemed to bother him. He never bit me, there were faint nicks all over my inner thighs where I’d broken the skin with my knife and he’d sip, constantly worried he’d lose control. I trusted him more than he trusted himself.

He moved slowly down the man’s chest, adjusting the shirt lest the dead man get embarrassed. I watching the candle flame dance in the draught of movement trying not to think about the way the last vampire I’d seen catch fire went up.

‘Have you ever been a doctor, Brandon?’ I asked to try and distract myself.

‘An apothecary. A long time ago. I wasn’t very good at it.’ He shrugged. ‘More of a record keeper.’

‘Uh-huh,’ I murmured. Watching the careful way Bran examined his patient it was hard to believe he hadn’t been a good apothecary, he was far too caring and gentle to be bad at it.

I reached across and pushed the candle away from his face.

He glanced at it as if he hadn’t noticed how close it was.

‘I wouldn’t like it if you set fire to yourself.’ It was unnatural feeling like the sensible one in the relationship. I’d done many things in my life but I’d never examined a corpse beyond checking it was a corpse. It had never occurred to me.

In retrospect it was an obvious investigative tool but my knowledge of anatomy didn’t extend beyond ‘stab here’, ‘don’t get stabbed there’ and ‘ow, that hurts’. Having said that, some of the doctors I’d met didn’t even seem to know that much.

I wandered over to one of the wine racks that lined the walls and made a maze of walkways through the cellar. Some of them were so old the dust had obscured the names or the labels had faded completely. Others had names in French, Italian and Spanish and dates that stretched back so far the contents must’ve been vinegar.

I pick up one and rubbed my thumb over the wax label wondering how many places the bottle had rested over the years.

‘I found it,’ Bran said.

I dropped the bottle. It clattered against the stone floor and rolled under the rack. I bent over to look into the dusty darkness to see it resting against the wall at the back. I picked it up, checked it for cracks and returned it to its appointed space. They didn’t make them like that anymore.

Bran had pulled down the man’s breeches, making sure his dead modesty was covered, and was examining at a spot on his thigh. Bran stretched the skin with his thumb showing a tiny v that would be easily missed. ‘There’s a few more, he was drained over time, probably why people think it’s a sickness. If a vampire enthralled him, he wouldn’t remember.’

‘Any idea what made that mark?’ I asked.

‘A vampire’s claw,’ he replied.

Bran’s books said vampires had claws they could extend but Bran’s nails looked average enough to me. I hadn’t asked him to demonstrate, it would make him uncomfortable. I glanced at his nails to make sure they were still short and neat.

‘I never would’ve thought to look for that,’ I said.

He blew out the candle. ‘I have age on my side.’

‘More than age,’ I replied. ‘I’d kiss you but even I think that would be wrong over a corpse. Now what are you going to do with the body?’

He frowned.

‘You brought him home, it’s your problem.’ I pressed my fingertips to my lips then to his. ‘But I may be available for digging.’

He smiled faintly. ‘No, vampires study the art of getting rid of bodies.’

‘I can imagine,’ I said, not sure I wanted to think about vampires and the number of dead bodies they must leave in their wake over the centuries. ‘Well, you enjoy that, the children will be up soon and I’ve got mummy lessons to attend.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Ugh, I’d rather fight vampires, far less scary.’

He chuckled. ‘You’re doing alright.’

‘I don’t feel like it.’ I trudged towards the stairs.

Bran caught my arm before my foot touched the bottom step. He kissed me very softly. ‘I have their scent now.’

I grinned. ‘That sounds exciting.’

He glanced away then went to sort out his dead friend. When I got upstairs I made sure the door locked behind me. I didn’t want any children sneaking in when I wasn’t looking.

They were good at sneaking.

Really good.

Part of Jesse’s Studio’s Fiction Frenzy there will be a new episode of Victorian Mistress everyday until 24th June 2017.


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