She smelled of raindrops, desperation and the champagne she had accidentally spilled on her strange garment. She smelled of life and all its pains. Her hands were moist with water and it was glorious. 270 years hidden behind stone the onslaught to his senses was overbearing, yet, he did not dare to touch her, did not dare to give in to temptation. She seemed so fragile as she put the heavy crate with wine glasses on top of three other boxes. With quick footsteps she rushed up the stairs again. It was better this way.
The air in the cellar was still full of dust; the builders had just left this afternoon, others would come to pick up the last stones in the morning. Had it not been for the water damage after the last heavy rain, nobody would have ever opened that wall, nobody would have accidentally freed what had been lurking behind for centuries. He was thirsty for life, thirsty to know, if much had changed during his slumber.
Her scarf had been carelessly thrown on the wooden shelf next to two bags and a jacket. He pushed the fabric to his nose and breathed in: she had been near the river recently, there was some moss clinging to the wool and the wing of a dead mayfly, a splatter of mud at the bottom, so small it was invisible to the eye.
“What are you doing?”
He did not turn around. “I am drinking in your smell.”
She laughed. “You know that is a bit weird, right?”
“Go,” he said.
She did not move and as he turned around he expected her to be frozen in fear, instead her eyes were full of curiosity. “Who are you?” she asked. She seemed different than the humans of his past.
He drank from her wrist that night, three sips she had willingly offered. For such a kindness he let her live, but the thirst for a human life had been awakened. He did not need their blood to survive; he was a vampyre not a monster after all. Yet, their blood was so full of memories and emotions and he had none himself. His mind was just a grey shadow of what had been.
The first to disappear was an old scholar, a ripe vintage, rather dry but rich in memories, the happy ones were few and so he drank until he had tasted them all.
The second one was a young girl, a visitor, keen to discover the college’s hidden secrets. Her blood was like summer wine, forbidden fruit, just like the paths she had wandered. The first sip was a delight, the flavour of love and another’s body recently tasted. He drank more than he should and the fruitiness evaporated in the sinfulness of her youth. He had not felt that young in centuries and like the visitor he became more bold, unreasonable and stupidly fearless. He drank her in bright daylight, in the shadow of an arch, just a few steps from where her friends were calling her name. Later he cried. What a waste! She should have lasted longer.
There was one more he drank before anyone became suspicious: the head butler was a heavy man, tall and filled with the delicacies he used to serve the guests. Even for a vampyre he was not easy to overcome, but the smell of pistachio ice cream and dark chocolate sauce was too tempting to resist. He still remembered the Italy of his youth, just reborn, and the pale girl with copper hair he had savoured for weeks. The memory of her taste nearly forgotten, he still remembered the pistachio smell of her skin. Desperate to taste her again he buried his teeth deep in the butler’s neck. Blood splatters on the wall, a torn artery, the man fought back. What a disappointment. The pistachio smell faded with the iron tinge of blood. And instead of his copper haired lover all the vampyre saw were the sad dark eyes of two little girls loosing their father. The butler tasted bitter and sad. The vampyre felt lonely afterwards – and guilty. He never felt guilty. Desperate for something sweet, something tender he lurked in the dark, waiting for victim number four.
That night she returned.
She waited for him where he had seen her last, just awaking from his slumber. She held a basket of strawberries in her hand. “I picked them today,” she said. “I thought you might like to taste them.” She picked a small one, just the right size to fit into her mouth. As she bit down a small drop of juice coated her lower lip. “They are full of sunshine,” she said and opened the top button of her white shirt, her work uniform as he had learned. “It’s precious,” she said. “Don’t spill anything.”
He knew it would hurt and so he traced the vein with his claw-like fingers, tilted her head and brushed her hair aside. “Another one,” he whispered into her ear. And while she bit the fruit, he bit her neck. The taste flooded his senses. He saw her in the garden, the wind playing with her dress while she chose her harvest carefully. She had tasted one then and there. It was for him, he knew. Sun on her skin, fruit on her lips – that was something he would never again experience himself. He took another sip: her naked body under the shower, washing away the dirt underneath her fingernails and the dust from her face, the pollen she didn’t like and two little greenflies that had been hiding in the braids of her hair.
He drank again and finally he was back in the cellar. The taste of strawberries filled his senses and her warm body felt like an eclipse. “ Stop,” he said. “You have to stop or I will kill you.”
“Maybe that is why I am here.”
“No more killing,” he said and licked her wound dry. “You humans have become far too clever for that.”
A functioning police force, forensics, murder investigations – he had tasted the stories in her blood and remembered the times of great plagues and sickness. He would never bite rotten meat and taste poisoned blood, but a drained body was easy to hide between mountains of decaying corpses. In modern times that was no longer an option.
War times had always been a feast for his kind. The vampyre still remembered the doomed king and his parliament in Oxford, the raging battles in the countryside, hunger and starvation hiding his rampage. How glorious the 19th and 20th century must have been for his brothers and sisters while he was in deep slumber behind ancient walls…
Memories were not always sweet: he had held the lovely young courtier in his arms weeping as he drank the last drop of blood. His friends gone, his family divided, and a girl lost to cannon fire. Even after centuries he still tasted the bitterness of the widow who had seen three of her children starve, only a girl of seven left. The widow had offered herself to the hungry beast, so that he might pay for bread for her starving child. He had taken her pain with him and his only consolation was to see the young girl grow into an adult, unspoiled by starvation and war. He had kept his promise until the mother’s blood had faded in his rotten veins and the young woman became just one of the many he yearned to taste. He drank her blood on her wedding night – just enough to remind himself of the sweetness of life, not enough to kill. He left Oxford the next evening, returning 98 years later, only to be buried in the vaults of his old hunting ground. The irony! He had slept through all of it – the bricks and mortar they put in place, the centuries that followed. So tired. Had they known what was hiding behind the wall, what creature they so successfully sealed in? Or had they just been lucky to incarcerate what would have taken their lives, if given the chance?
“Taste it again,” she said. “For me.” He inhaled the chocolate through her blood. It was the fifth evening the girl had come to visit in just one week. Her skin was paler than ever.
“No more,” he said, but she only laughed.
“But you want it. And so do I.”
“I brought you something special tonight,” she said the next time she came to him. “You have to taste it from my heart.”
So he punctured a vein on her chest, close to the heart where the blood was fresh, clean and intoxicating, he bit where danger lurked underneath her velvet skin. He tasted him in her blood. She had taken a lover the night before, a warm-blooded scholar with auburn hair and freckled skin. The vampyre tasted the apples and cinnamon on his lips and traced his body with her hands. The memory made him burn with desire and he swallowed again, the thick blood filling his mouth, four drops spilled on his chin. He felt the sheets underneath their bodies and breathed in the rhythm of their joy. Three more sips and the vampyre felt his body shudder in delight. So close! So close to living, feeling, breathing again!
He had stained her yellow dress with bloody tears, holding her body close to his unmoving heart. It took him a while to realise why the familiar body felt so strange in his arms: her steady heartbeat was silenced.
Another one ruined, another one gone. He could no longer bear it and so he poisoned her lips with a gift from his veins.
“Hello,” she said to the young girl of 13. “Are you lost? Let me show you the way, my dear. These hallways can be very confusing.”
They found the body three days later floating in the river Cherwell only a few meters from Magdalen Bridge. It had gotten stuck between two punts and the riverbank.
“Do you like sweets?”
The little boy nodded.
“What are you having?” she asked with a sugary smile, the blood of the girl still coating her lips like burgundy lipstick.
“Colin Caterpillar,” the boy said and pushed another wine gum between his lips.
“Oh, I love Colin. May I taste one?”
The boy nodded. They found his drained body three months later, stuffed behind wine crates in a far corner of the cellar.
She did not like the taste of old people. It reminded her of all the things she would never have. A baby girl, grandchildren, a garden full of flowers and sunshine to watch them play… She rather enjoyed the innocence of the youth she was beginning to forget.
He was barely 19 and had just started studying philosophy this term. She found him in the library between piles of books. The sun had set and he was enraptured with his readings. She was a silent hunter and so his only warning was a breath of wind on his neck just before she tore his throat. His blood soiled the expensive books, one volume dated back to the 17th century – the vampyre would have loved to hold it between his fingers but all his little creation cared for was the thrill of the hunt and being alive again, even if it was just for a few moments as the young scholar’s memories rushed through her brain.
This time she did not even clean away the body.
It was enough.
It was enough.
The vampyre watched the young woman he had so desperately loved while putting mortar to stone. Another cellar, another prison but this time he was his own jailor. This time he would not be alone. He kissed his sleeping beauty’s lips while he put the last stone in its position. Again underneath layers of Oxford’s century old stones he went to rest, a lover by his side and the memories of the once living trapped inside their veins.
Maybe this time they would be save.