HAPPY HALLOWEEN! My special Halloween short story is BACK!!

In honour of Halloween tonight (mwa HA HA!) my special Halloween short story rises again from the grave, to bring you frights, delights, and a VERY familiar character from ‘The Breathing Ghosts’ Series! Enjoy!

Image from Google (CC licensed.)

Blood Portrait– A vampire story for Halloween

Copyright Eleanor Keane, October 2014. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Original work by Eleanor Keane- not for redistribution, theft, copyright or editing in any way.

CURIO: /ˈkjʊərɪˌəʊ/ noun (pl) curios.

1.any unusual article, object of art, etc., valued as a curiosity.

Poor stranger. You say you want to know my story. You’ve heard it’s a horror tale of vampires and ghouls, and just the very rumour of it intrigues you, rather than warns you away. You lean closer, eager to catch every word. You see me shrink back, and you wonder if I will tell you at all- if I will ever find the words to describe what happened to me that night, all those years ago.
Well, the rub is not knowing whether I should tell you, but how I should start. Once I begin, there’s no going back, and the cork will be pulled from the demon in the bottle, and nothing will coax the demon back in. Words scrape dry in my mouth, but I press on. It’s Halloween, after all- maybe, finally, the time has come to tell my story. Perhaps I should say that it all began on a ‘dark and stormy night’, with leaves swirling in thick Gothic mists, all around a ruined castle on a craggy hill. Perhaps I could say that bats were swarming about me, as I ran for my life through a moonlit graveyard. Wolves, jagged lightning, haunted castles- it’s all been done before, of course, by far better storytellers than I, and besides, it wouldn’t be the truth. What really happened was far more horrific than any bloodsucking bat or bogeyman conjured up by some writer with an overactive imagination. What really happened will haunt me until my days are ended, and there are no more Halloweens.
Crowley Manor, despite its extravagant name, was actually your normal, run-of- the-mill girls’ boarding school, shoved in the middle of nowhere on a dark, rainswept down that no one ever hiked. Whitewashed walls, staircases gloved in cement and cracked, peeling paint, doors plastered with signs advertising clubs, societies and events that no one ever wanted to go to. The upper landings were a maze of warren-like dormitories, steel bed frames and thick double-glazed windows that you could steam up and write on, even in summer. It was always cold, and there was always some kind of mould growing in every classroom. The place smelled like chalk, dust and girls’ cheap, sweet perfume, and beneath it all was the thin faint scent of despair. Its name came from the Victorian manor house that had squatted in its place, abandoned and forgotten, until it was bulldozed down- gargoyles, stained glass and all- to make way for a rabble of proud, prepubescent girls that didn’t once think to care. The only things that were salvaged from the Manor were a handful of dusty oil paintings in heavy gold frames, featuring a succession of pale, bored-looking women with their hair like piles of whipped cream on their heads, and their necks throttled with pearls, and a group of perfectly preserved baby skeletons inside glass jars, pickled in some sort of eerie greenish liquid. They were left over from the Manor’s previous owner, who was some kind of scientist, and were lined up like skittles along the worn shelves of the laboratory block.
I hated their bald, gleaming skulls and their pitiless eye sockets and yet at the same time they fascinated me. I used to draw them, over and over again in my sketchbooks, and sometimes I used to dream that they’d come alive at night, and turn their bulbous heads to stare at me.
At that time in my life, I had nothing but the Manor to depend on- and it proved no comfort whatsoever. My father had died in a car crash, and my mother had died from flu one nasty winter, leaving me only a pittance- barely enough my cover my school fees and uniform costs for the Manor itself, let alone the silly little things that would have made me popular- lipstick, fashion magazines, CDs, you know the type of thing. Stupid stuff that means nothing now, but then meant everything. All the other girls would strut around the Manor on the weekends in mini skirts, denim jackets and diamante chokers, brushing each other’s hair, giggling and giggling and giggling until I thought my head would burst from the sound. Or else they’d catch the coach and leave the Manor for the day, trotting into town to spend their pocket money on fast food and videos that they’d watch in the dormitory when I tried to sleep, in between endless runs of Top of the Pops. I didn’t have any pocket money, so I had to make do with cast-offs from the nearest charity shop- old jumpers, cardigans, tights and skirts that were either too long or too short, showing off my knobbly knees and matchstick arms. The only thing I had which I actually liked was an old brooch that my mother had left me- it had been passed down from generation to generation, and was a miniature of a smiling, pale faced man with a shock of black hair.

He looked princely somehow, almost regal. His black eyes were filled with a lazy, arrogant power, but I always found him handsome. Occasionally at night, when the others had been cruel, or when I couldn’t sleep, I’d reach for the brooch and stroke his face, fantasizing that one day he’d walk up to the school and rescue me, but then, other nights, I imagined his eyes gleaming, pinning me to the spot. I was both repelled and fascinated by him. I used to fasten the brooch on the inside of my jacket so the others wouldn’t see, but somehow I still felt as though he- or at least his presence- escaped. Mere fabric couldn’t contain him, and I’d have nightmares of him stepping bodily out of the brooch, and coming towards me with his hands like claws. I’d wake up to find myself in my nightdress, on the upping landing of my dormitory, with my foot hovering above the top step, and my arms outstretched, fingers clutched around the brooch. The other girls used to whisper and point at me, and wonder why I was always wandering about, with my unseeing eyes like marbles, rolling in their sockets, and my slow, steady feet moving towards the stairs. Trying to escape.

Oh, if only I’d known- I would have thrown that brooch away, or buried it in the soil with all my other dead hopes.
I don’t want to whine, but I never really felt as though I fit in with anyone at the Manor- although it was probably my fault, as I’ve always been anachronistic- I pronounce my ‘T’s, clip my vowels and drink tea with my little finger sticking out. I like long, elegant words, games of Scrabble and those Persian cats with the squashed-up faces. I hate computers and I work in a library, where my day-to-day uniform is knee-length skirts and polonecks- always polonecks, even in August, although there is a far darker reason for that. I know I’m hardly cool, hip or fashionable, but at least I’m clever. Looking back, I probably would have been alright at one of those fictional ladies’ finishing academies you can read about in ‘50s novels, where you’re trained to walk properly and talk like the queen. But in the Cool Britannia ‘90s, it just made me an oddball, a relic from another era. It didn’t help that I preferred classical music to Blur, Pulp and Oasis, that I didn’t watch chick flicks and chose to while away my time practicing the piano or reading the Classics. (I liked to roll their long, luxurious names around on my tongue like chocolates- Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Antigone.)
Of course, the other girls laughed at me, teased me and called me names. I suppose it was inevitable with the sleepwalking, but no-one laughed at me more than Danielle, the most popular girl at the Manor, who used to scowl at my hum-drum mousy brown hair and hand-me-down clothes, and rake an elegant hand through her own glossy, chestnut locks; and Natalie, her best friend and crony, whose father was a hot-shot lawyer. She wore a gold necklace he’d given her for her birthday, and her rosebud mouth was full of words like awesome, lame, and pathetic. That one she usually directed at me.
Things changed one Halloween, when a new girl was introduced to the Manor. She went by the name of Nellie- presumably short for Ellen- and she had long, straight blonde hair and quick, dark eyes like the eyes of the man on my brooch. She soon fell in league with Danielle and Natalie, and she spent her dinnertime with them that night. She even borrowed their notes on geometry. But a few times that evening, I sensed her watching me, only to lift my head and see her with her nose stuck in a book, or frantically scribbling. I was too shy to say hello, and this continued until midnight that very night, where Danielle and Natalie dragged me- sleepy and groggy- out of bed and down to the laboratory block.

The night was chill, and I wore only my nightdress, which seemed somehow very clingy. I was more aware than ever of my flat chest and sticky-out knees. If this was to be a prank, I hoped it would end soon. “Come on, clever clogs, it’ll be fun!” Natalie insisted, fingering the gold chain around her neck.
“You do want to be our friend, don’t you?” Danielle coaxed, her eyes glinting. “I mean, surely you do want to be cool?”
Nellie said nothing, but I felt her hand on my back, propelling me gently along. “I want to go back to sleep,” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes and trying to sound indignant, when really I was curious, and more than a little afraid.
“But its Halloween,” Danielle persisted. “It’s time for an adventure! It’s time to get scared out of our wits!”
“I’m good, thanks,” I muttered sarkily. Danielle tutted, and slid a hairslide from her ponytail. With a few twists and turns, the lock to one of the laboratory doors clicked, and she pushed it open slowly, deliberately making it creak.
“Woo-oooo….” Natalie said, giggling. Nellie still said nothing, but I thought I could see something like amusement in her eyes. Within, the laboratory was dark, musty and shrouded in shadows, but I could already see the whitish-yellow of the skeletons in the jars. Danielle flicked a switch, and the overhead strip lights came on. Nellie winced, but remained silent. She perched on the end of one lab bench, and looked at me intently, as though waiting for something. Her eyes flickered momentarily, on my brooch, which I pinned to the collar of my nightdress for fear of the others stealing it.
“What do you want from me?” I demanded, shifting my weight from foot to foot. The floor felt dusty underneath me, and somehow sticky.
Danielle grinned at me, showing row upon row of very white teeth. “We want you to tell us a horror story,” she said, sitting down next to Nellie and resting her arm around her shoulders. “We’ve heard rumours about you and that brooch you always wear. We heard you got it from a graveyard- that you dug it up.” She breathed the last words, unable to contain her excitement.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said stiffly, folding my arms over my chest. The thin material of my nightdress bunched and creased along my elbows like lines on a map, leading to nowhere.
“Sure you do,” Natalie said, a thin smile cutting across her mouth. “You talk in your sleep, you know. Every night we have to put up with you tossing and turning, moaning and groaning about your creepy little brooch. As if it wasn’t bad enough with your weirdo sleepwalking, too.”
I flushed, and Natalie knew she’d got me. “Oh, we know about your precious brooch,” she insisted. “What, you think we don’t have eyes?”
“You mumble about it all the time,” Danielle chimed in. “Something about a carriage, and a woman, and a graveyard…”
“There was no graveyard,” I blurted out, without thinking.
“Aha, got you!” Danielle shouted, pointing at me. I shrivelled inside with embarrassment and humilation. “I don’t understand…”

“Oh come off it, clever clogs,” Natalie scoffed. “Isn’t it obvious? We want you to tell us the bloody story, don’t we? We’re going to sit here and listen to it all, from start to finish. It must be a pretty good story if you’re dreaming about it every night. Who knew you had such an imagination?”
“I won’t,” I replied. “It’s all nonsense anyway. Just mumbo-jumbo.”
“Well, it won’t matter if you tell us then, will it?” Danielle said. I looked at her, and saw no pity or kindness in her big, bright eyes, only shrewdness and malice. I raised my hand to the brooch pinned to my collar. It felt like an albatross around my neck, as hard and unyielding as a piece of rock.
“If you don’t tell us, we’ll just have to burn these,” Natalie said. She reached into the satchel slung over her shoulder, and took out a heap of books. They were instantly familiar to me, with their old, marbled pages and dogeared calfskin bindings. They, like the skulls in the bottles and the old portraits, were relics from the original Crowley Manor, and they were all on the subject I most loved- the Classics. I’d spent hours poring through them, gently turning page after page. Who knew how much they were worth- probably hundreds, even in those years- and yet to me they were priceless.
“Or perhaps we’ll just rip them apart, from cover to cover,” Natalie added, cupping her mouth to stifle a giggle. My eyes flickered to Nellie, and for a moment I could have sworn that she scowled at Natalie. But then I blinked, and the scowl was gone, the girl’s expression impassive. My attention return to the books. Natalie ran her finger across the cover of one of them, and I gulped. I could already feel beads of sweat breaking out along my forehead and underarms.
“But I have nothing to tell you… I don’t know what you’re talking about…” Even as I tried to say the excuses, they shrivelled up and blew away into nothingness, like dead leaves. Silently cringing, I lowered myself onto a stool.
“Okay” I said eventually. My voice felt and sounded as heavy as a lead weight. “If I tell you, you have to promise never to tell anyone else.”
Danielle and Natalie nodded solemnly, but I knew that they were clearly lying. I ignored them nonetheless, knowing I had no choice. I just couldn’t bear to see my beloved books go up in flames.
“Very well,” I said, sounding at once haughty and about ninety years old. Natalie smirked, and I already knew she was memorizing my way of speech and my mannerisms to perform for the rest of the class later on.
“My mother told me this story,” I explained, ignoring her, “and her mother before that, and her mother before that, and so on, and so on.”
“Get to the scary stuff,” Danielle said, a hint of a whine in her voice. “This stuff is lame- what is it, a history lecture?”
Natalie stifled a yawn, but Nellie leaned forward, as silent as the grave, though her every limb was taut and sharp with eagerness.
“What I’m trying to say is- this brooch is an heirloom,” I said impatiently. “It has real history…and it’s also reminds me that once, many many years ago, my great-great-great grandmother Eliza met a…well, she met something truly evil.”
Danielle and Natalie breathed a collective ‘Ooooh!’ and drummed their hands on their knees in excitement.
“One night, Eliza, her friend Maria and her chaperone- an elderly bachelor cousin…”
“Bachelor- that’s a single person right?” Natalie asked. I sighed silently, and carried on. “All three of them were all journeying home after a ball held on the local country estate. Everything was going smoothly, when they heard a woman cry for help. Looking out of the carriage window, my great-great-great grandmother Eliza saw a beautiful young woman with long, curling black hair, pale skin and dark, dark eyes. She was running by the side of the road in a fancy, expensive evening dress, waving a red handkerchief and trying to flag them down.”
The woman’s eerie appearance had been drilled into me so many times by my mother and grandmother, as part of some sort of bizarre family tradition, and yet it still made me shudder to speak of it.
“She looked helpless and lost, and when Eliza asked her what was the matter, she said that one of her carriage’s wheels had hit a rock and come loose, sending her careering into a ditch. She was all on her own- she said her chaperone had been taken ill during the ball, and had been forced to return home- and she was desperate, so Eliza offered to give her a lift. The woman thanked her, and introduced herself. Her name was Virginia, and she wore this brooch as a miniature around her throat on a black velvet choker. When Eliza asked who the man in the miniature was, Virginia told her it was her husband, who had died years ago. She hopped into the carriage, and they trundled off in the direction of my great-great-great grandmother’s village.”
“This sounds like bloody Jane Austen,” Danielle sniffed. I ignored her. My palms already felt sweaty and hot, because- unlike Danielle- I knew what happened next in the story.
“As they continued on, the moon rose in the sky, illuminating Virginia’s pale skin. She was so pale, she looked almost sickly, and her hands were wrapped tightly around her handkerchief. Her eyes were black as night and as huge as marbles, the pupils a strange silver colour. Her fingers moved, and Eliza saw that the handkerchief wasn’t red at all, but wet and red- it had been soaked in blood.”
Danielle grinned, and clapped her hands. “Now we get to the exciting part!”
“‘Why, Virginia, have you cut yourself?’ my great-great-great grandmother’s friend, Marie, cried. ‘That handkerchief is covered in blood!’ At this, Virginia turned and snarled, looking suddenly feral. ‘Yes, blood!’ she cried. ‘The blood of my last victim!’
‘To their horror, the women saw sharp, glistening fangs slide out from the woman’s gums, and over her top lip. It was then that Eliza knew that Virginia was a vampire. Before anyone could move or even scream, the woman- the creature- leaned forward and bit the throat of Eliza’s chaperone. He was elderly, and died instantly, and in great pain. There was lots of blood,” I added, for dramatic effect. Seeing Danielle turn slightly green, I suppressed an inner smirk, and carried on, embellishing the story until even Nellie seemed rapt.
“She lunged at Marie, Eliza’s friend, and sank her fangs into her neck, drinking her blood until there was none left, and the lovely miniature around her neck was stained with red. She crawled like a spider to the carriage reins, and slid them around the throat of the driver, garotting him until he fell back against his seat, lifeless. The carriage veered into a tree, and the horses whinnied and reared, sensing danger.”
I looked up and saw Danielle and Natalie leaning closer, clearly enthralled. I bit my lip.
“The vampire woman sniffed the air, and looked around for Eliza. Terrified for her life, Eliza tried to flee the carriage, but Virginia grabbed her and pulled her back. Eliza fought with all her might, biting, scratching, and kicking, but seizing upon nothing but the miniature, which she managed to rip from the vampire’s neck. Eventually, the vampire pulled away and laughed. ‘You have spirit!’ she said. ‘Just for that, I’ll let you live.’ So Eliza was the only one to escape the vampire that night. She ran frantically to her village, still clutching the miniature, and tried to tell people what she’d seen, but they thought her carriage had somehow crashed, and that the crash had made her delirious. In time, she learned not to speak of what had happened, but the miniature- and its story- was passed down from daughter to daughter, right down to me.”
“Is that it?” Danielle said, sneering. “Is that all? We wanted to be really scared! That was laughable!” To prove her point even further, she tossed her head back and let out a snicker. Her hand flew to her throat, pressing over the thin gold chain that she always wore. I though I caught a glimpse of a tiny gold crucifix dangling from it. My mouth dropped open in shock at her reaction. That story had been my family’s blackest secret for years-decades-centuries, it had been the memory that my great-great-grandmother had prayed for salvation from. And here was Danielle, laughing and sniggering at it, because it didn’t meet her guts-and-gore expectations? Natalie joined in, her laugh higher than Danielle’s, and somehow even more annoying. It made me feel sick to my stomach just to look at them both. I curled my hands into fists by side, willing myself not to smack them. My body was still shaking with fear and adrenaline- I felt as though I could snap at any “Honestly, what moment.
a liar!” Natalie cried, brushing at tears streaming down her cheeks. “That story was lame!”
“Totally pathetic,” Danielle agreed. “You really had us going there for a moment, but what do you think we are, idiots?”
“No, no” I said quickly- a little too quickly. Danielle’s eyes narrowed. Befoee I could stop her, she scooped up my precious books in both her arms, and began to saunter away from me. Her bespoke leather shoes made hard clack-clack sounds on the wooden floor. I ran to her, and tried to seize the books from her, grabbing her arm and yanking her back, harder than I even thought I could. She gave an angry little yelp and pushed me back with her one free hand, her fingernails leaving angry red crescents in my bare arm.
“Ugh, let go of me, you little cow!” she snarled, and marched to the door. “Come on Nat, Nellie, we’re leaving,” she said, all haughtiness and arrogance.
“Smell you later,” Natalie called out, and bounded to the door, an ugly grin on her face. I felt thunder-struck, a maelstrom of differing emotions that threatened to gobble me whole- anger, resentment, shock, fear, even a little illicit thrill at knowing that the two most popular bullies in the school had listened, in awe, to me- even for just a couple of minutes. For those minutes, I’d known what it was like to be popular, and they had wrenched it from me.
I heard the door slam behind me, so hard that the panes of glass in its frame rattled. I pounded on it furiously, but they’d already locked it- they’d locked me in the laboratory, with the dust and the cold and the skeletons and the chemicals- for a whole night. My blood seemed to freeze in my body. I ran my hands through my hair, trying to figure out what to do- and then I saw her.

Nellie hadn’t left with the other girls. For some reason she’d stayed, and now she sat calmly on one of the benches, facing me. She seemed taller somehow, without them in her shadow, and she was toying with the expensive-looking rings on her fingers. I wondered how I’d never noticed them before- they were silvery in the moonlight, and wrought into strange, almost fanstastical shapes: a cat, a tiny sword, a skull with a rose in its open mouth…
“Good evening,” she said smoothly, and I realized it was the first time I’d ever properly heard her speak. Despite myself and my horrible situation, I was intrigued. Her blonde hair looked so soft it almost seemed to glisten, like molten gold, and her eyes were large and heavy-lidded. She seemed inexplicably much older than fifteen- she looked more like twenty-five, with her height and her long, lean limbs.
“That was an interesting story,” she said, in the same measured tone. Her eyes flickered to my brooch appraisingly. “Most illuminating.”
“It was nothing,” I mumbled, searching for an excuse. “You heard the others- I made it all up. I’m very good at lying.”
“No, I’m the liar,” the girl said, standing up in one single move. She slid towards me with an almost feline grace. “I’m not who you think I am, and I know that what you told me tonight was true. Every single word.”
Is that it?” Danielle said, sneering. “Is that all? We wanted to be really scared! That was laughable!” To prove her point even further, she tossed her head back and let out a snicker. Her hand flew to her throat, pressing over the thin gold chain that she always wore. I though I caught a glimpse of a tiny gold crucifix dangling from it. My mouth dropped open in shock at her reaction. That story had been my family’s blackest secret for years-decades-centuries, it had been the memory that my great-great-grandmother had prayed for salvation from. And here was Danielle, laughing and sniggering at it, because it didn’t meet her guts-and-gore expectations? Natalie joined in, her laugh higher than Danielle’s, and somehow even more annoying. It made me feel sick to my stomach just to look at them both. I curled my hands into fists by side, willing myself not to smack them. My body was still shaking with fear and adrenaline- I felt as though I could snap at any moment.
“Honestly, what a liar!” Natalie cried, brushing at tears streaming down her cheeks. “That story was lame!”
“Totally pathetic,” Danielle agreed. “You really had us going there for a moment, but what do you think we are, idiots?”
“No, no” I said quickly- a little too quickly. Danielle’s eyes narrowed. Befoee I could stop her, she scooped up my precious books in both her arms, and began to saunter away from me. Her bespoke leather shoes made hard clack-clack sounds on the wooden floor. I ran to her, and tried to seize the books from her, grabbing her arm and yanking her back, harder than I even thought I could. She gave an angry little yelp and pushed me back with her one free hand, her fingernails leaving angry red crescents in my bare arm.
“Ugh, let go of me, you little cow!” she snarled, and marched to the door. “Come on Nat, Nellie, we’re leaving,” she said, all haughtiness and arrogance.
“Smell you later,” Natalie called out, and bounded to the door, an ugly grin on her face. I felt thunder-struck, a maelstrom of differing emotions that threatened to gobble me whole- anger, resentment, shock, fear, even a little illicit thrill at knowing that the two most popular bullies in the school had listened, in awe, to me- even for just a couple of minutes. For those minutes, I’d known what it was like to be popular, and they had wrenched it from me.
I heard the door slam behind me, so hard that the panes of glass in its frame rattled. I pounded on it furiously, but they’d already locked it- they’d locked me in the laboratory, with the dust and the cold and the skeletons and the chemicals- for a whole night. My blood seemed to freeze in my body. I ran my hands through my hair, trying to figure out what to do- and then I saw her.
Nellie hadn’t left with the other girls. For some reason she’d stayed, and now she sat calmly on one of the benches, facing me. She seemed taller somehow, without them in her shadow, and she was toying with the expensive-looking rings on her fingers. I wondered how I’d never noticed them before- they were silvery in the moonlight, and wrought into strange, almost fanstastical shapes: a cat, a tiny sword, a skull with a rose in its open mouth…
“Good evening,” she said smoothly, and I realized it was the first time I’d ever properly heard her speak. Despite myself and my horrible situation, I was intrigued. Her blonde hair looked so soft it almost seemed to glisten, like molten gold, and her eyes were large and heavy-lidded. She seemed inexplicably much older than fifteen- she looked more like twenty-five, with her height and her long, lean limbs.
“That was an interesting story,” she said, in the same measured tone. Her eyes flickered to my brooch appraisingly. “Most illuminating.”
“It was nothing,” I mumbled, searching for an excuse. “You heard the others- I made it all up. I’m very good at lying.”
“No, I’m the liar,” the girl said, standing up in one single move. She slid towards me with an almost feline grace. “I’m not who you think I am, and I know that what you told me tonight was true. Every single word.”

“My name isn’t even Nellie- it’s Noelle Naughton,” she said, her eyes flashing like chips of jet. “But you may call me Nerissa. Everyone does- except for my mother, of course.”
“Hasn’t it hit you yet?” she said quickly, scanning my blank, confused expression. “Haven’t you realized what I am?” Her pointed words rooted around in my mind, and all too quickly I remember my great-great-great grandmother’s story.
I staggered back in shock. “You- you can’t be- you’re just a schoolgirl like me!”
Nerissa pouted. “Clearly I’m not,” she said, a little tartly. With a wave of her hand, her hair melted from gold into poker-straight, gleaming black. I was stunned by the change- for a moment I could have sworn that a flash of black light had burst from her fingertips. I clutched at the bench for support, my hands rubbing at the scored, grubby wood.
“You can’t be a…a vampire!” That word, that hideous word, bubbled up in my throat and came out as a screech. Nerissa looked faintly bemused. “Ah, but I am,” she said, with a casual shrug. “Blood-drinker, night-walker, life-stealer, call me what you will, it all means the same.” She strode over to the jarred skeletons, and bent down, moving closer and closer until the tip of her nose brushed against the cloudy glass. “Exquisite,” she muttered, and brushed her finger along the glass, from top to bottom, almost like a lover. A draught blew under the laboratory door, and I shuddered. “What do you want with me?” I cried, trying my best to sound defiant, even though I was petrified, and the vampire knew it. Nerissa’s eyes flickered to the brooch held tightly in my clammy fist.
“I want that brooch,” she said firmly, and there was a note of command in her voice that I hadn’t heard before. It made something within me want to shrivel and cry.
“Why?” I said, my voice cracking. “It’s just…just a curio. It’d be worthless to you, but it’s the only thing I’ve got of my parents…”
“It’s the one of the only things I’ve got of my parents,” Nerissa interrupted. “I’ve been watching you for some time, and I recognized the brooch immediately. The whole school was rife with rumours that you were mad and hallucinating- did you know that? It wasn’t hard to track you down. The brooch belonged to my mother, and shows my father, her husband. My parents are…are dead.” She said the last word with obvious difficulty. “They died recently- all too recently, in fact, and anything I can take to preserve their memory I will take. It’s far from worthless to me.”
My brow knitted. “Then…then your mother was Virginia? And her husband- she said her husband had died…”
“She lied, of course,” Nerissa said. “It was just a cover story she told to string along her victims. In reality, my father was waiting close behind, along with my brothers. After your ancestor Eliza fled, they attacked the carriage and finished what was left of the feast. Oh, and just for the record, she preferred the name Virginie to Virginia. She was actually French.”
I put my hand on my stomach to hold down the bile threatening to overhwelm me. “You can’t do this…you can’t take it…” In a flash, she was on me, her long, sharp hands straining to prise the brooch from my grasp. I yelled and squirmed and twisted like an eel.
“I won’t let you take it!” I screamed, thinking of my own parents, Eliza, and the story that had been unspooled throughout my whole life. “I won’t let it be parted from me!” Nerissa stopped fighting me, and took a step back, disentangling herself from me with ease. She looked at me quizzically, and then a small, cruel smile played across her lips. “Fine,” she said, “I’ll make sure you’re never parted from it again.” Slowly and calmly, she reached a hand toward me, and touched me gently on the collarbone. Her finger felt surprisingly warm, and she smelt heavily of patchouli, and some other scent I couldn’t quite grasp. Suprisingly, I was no longer afraid- only excited. I felt the brush of her hand on my skin, and instinctively closed my eyes, preparing for a bite, but when I opened them she was by the door, with my beloved family heirloom in her hand, and a skeleton jar under one arm. She was gazing at the portrait on it with an odd mix of affection and reverence. “Papa,” she whispered, just loud enough for me hear. She caught me looking at her, and grinned, revealing her fangs. She gestured to the dusty jar under her arm. “Don’t mind if I keep this, do you? I think it’s rather curious.”
I think I screamed then, but by the time I reached the door she had already gone, taking my brooch with me. The only thing left to signal her presence was the open laboratory door, swinging gently in a cool, wintry draught.

The next day was like a nightmare made flesh. I woke up in my own bed in the first grey rays of dawn, instinctively knowing that something was wrong. All around me, other girls were sobbing and moaning. Natalie had been found dead in her bed earlier that morning, with her neck slashed to ribbons. Danielle had been found on the bare floor by her side, her eyes wide and her mouth forever frozen in a rictus of shock. The coroner said she had died of fright, and put Natalie’s case down as murder, though they never found out who did it. I knew though- I knew all along. All the Halloween decoratons were taken down after that, and candle-lit vigils were held in front of their smiling, shining photographs. It made the London news, and the local news as well. Crowley Manor closed after that, and the building was soon demolished. The skeletons in their jars were all crushed to fragments. No collectors dared to even want them. The place, and all that had happened there, was cursed- just like me.

Because that wasn’t the worst thing that happened to me, oh no. There was an old cracked mirror in our dorm, stained with lipstick smears and covered with Post-Its. I remember clambering shakily out of bed and walking over to the mirror after the forensic team that taken their bodies away. I nearly screamed when I saw what Nerissa had done to me- there, on my collarbone, as clear and black as a tattoo, was a permanent outline of the brooch I had loved and lost- burned right into my skin. It was intricate in its detail, and completely indelible. I still have it now. It never hurts or itches, but it’s always there, like a second heart. It shows up under thin summer dresses, pyjamas and silk. Wondering why I’m forced to wear polonecks in the summer? Well, now you know.

And do you know what the really odd thing is? Sometimes at night, when I’m lying alone in my bed, unable to sleep, I trace my fingers over that inky black outline, and remember the vampire’s touch. Sometimes, just sometimes, it almost feels pleasant, and then I wake up, with my room filled with the scent of patchouli, and fresh tears on my face.

The Somnambulist, by John Everett Millais

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