Another addition to my little ‘Mischief’ of tales, but one that draws on some of the more traditional elements of the horror genre, even if I have used a slight degree of poetic license with them … Hopefully the purists will appreciate a few of the liberties I’ve taken with such an iconic theme.
If you enjoy this story, please keep an eye out for my collection of Rat Tales later in the year …
It was fascinating to watch so many of you gripped by your own fear and panic, not knowing if or when you or any of your litter might be next. That was nearly 700 years ago, back when even I was young, barely a century past my time as a Ritten. Since then I’ve killed and turned more of your kind than you will ever know, but then, of course, I’ve had time on my side.
You see, I am immortal – an immortal rat to be precise. My mortal kin rarely live more than two or three of your years so imagine if you will how truly old that makes me.
Most humans find it difficult to believe me, most of you so unimaginative to have honestly believed the beasts and demons you fear were exclusively two-legged. Let me tell you, dear humans, we immortal monsters exist in every size, shape, and form.
I sometimes wonder if the ‘Old One’ of your kind that made me the way I am ever considered what being immortal would mean to a rat? I say ‘your’ kind, but that’s not strictly true, for indeed, he’s more akin to mine now – you may share the same number of legs, but we share the thirst, a thirst for the blood of all your kind.
The Master, the one the turned me, he lived across the great river and then way south across the land to Transylvania. I was little more than a Ritten the first time I saw him, with but the finest covering of wispy black hair and only the tiniest sight of teeth or claw to me. But having few of the weapons I would need to hunt and scavenge for food didn’t mean I didn’t have the hunger for it.
The Master’s manservant was skilled in the training of creatures in the art of hunting and killing my kind. He had more than a dozen ferrets for invading our tunnels and secret spaces or for digging and burrowing into the soft ground where we birthed our Rittens in the lowest reaches of the castle. They would pursue us into whatever recesses in the earth we could find before forcing us out for the dogs to rend us limb from limb.
And both had been doing their job well of late then. It had been by chance alone I had escaped their latest campaign to rid the castle of us, as if they ever could, but it had left me the only survivor of my litter and without food.
The whereabouts of the manservant’s or the Master’s food stores were unknown to me; I wasn’t to know the Master of the castle didn’t eat in the way mortal creatures do. I was still unskilled in the ways of scavenging with only my primordial hunting instinct to rely on. Over the coming weeks, I did as good a job as any of the ferrets at ridding the castle of its remaining population of mice and was soon as skilled a hunter as any of my older kin had been before the dogs got them. And that was to determine my fate – having hunted my little mammalian food source cousins to extinction I was facing starvation again. I still had to stay away from the manservant for fear of his dogs and ferrets nearby, just leaving the living quarters of the Master himself.
It was as well we were both nocturnal creatures for I never saw him during daylight hours when he would disappear for over twelve hours at a time, though he was almost as rare a sight even after the setting of the light from the sky.
I never saw his manservant bring him food nor the Master visit the kitchens so I assumed he must have food in his room. I looked about it as best I could, not having the means or intellect to open locked cabinets or pull open drawers. When I found nothing I gnawed holes in them, such was my hunger, but still I found nothing. I knew he must eat sometime so I decided I would follow him where he went that night before the light of the sky came back.
I was surprised when I found myself following him deep into the cold, damp bowels of the castle, deeper even than I had ventured for I had never thought there might be food there. Again I followed, more out of curiosity than hunger now as I could still not see or smell any food. The Master came to a door at the bottom of some stone steps, each one ground down into a hollow from what I now know to be the weight of his nightly pacing down them over the past thousand years, from long before the castle above had ever been built.
He had closed the door before I could follow him into that room. I searched for and found another entrance, a small narrow tunnel some way along the wall, no doubt dug by others of my kind. I entered it, wondering what I would find on the other side. There was no sign of the Master, just a large box. It was a grand box, thick solid oak, ornately decorated but still just a box, the sort you humans like to use to bury your dead.
Still being an ordinary mortal rat, I had no concept that that must be where the Master was. Perhaps there was food in the box though? There didn’t appear to be any opening or way of looking inside. It was good the box lay directly on the ground, meaning I could gnaw a hole in it. There was no food in the box, just the Master lying in it – The Master’s body was as cold as the stone floor on which his box lay.
Young though I was I knew the difference between a live and a dead body. My instincts told me this one had not had the warmth of life in it in a long time even though it was but an hour before I had seen the Master walk into the room.
All this was too much for my instinct-driven rat mind to understand fully and once again my hunger for food became my main focus. The other two-legs had held the Master in awe, and even the dogs and ferrets seemed to recoil in terror in his presence as did I for reasons I didn’t yet understand. Now though he was just a lifeless body, but one that hadn’t rotted and returned to the earth yet, one that could still sustain me for many days and nights. With no other food in sight, I resolved to eat of the Master’s dead body.
I opened my jaws the widest I could and plunged my teeth through the material of his clothing, my teeth sinking deep into his flesh beneath. The softness of the flesh surprised me given it was dead. And even though it was icy cold, blood flowed from it like it would from a live body.
Still being an ordinary mortal rat, I had neither intellect nor understanding, but my primitive instincts were screaming at me just how wrong this was, how wrong it all was. I suddenly became very afraid, again for reasons I still had no understanding. It was only my burning hunger that stopped me from scurrying away faster than if I were being chased by every last one of the manservant’s dogs and ferrets. Without warning the strangest feeling ran through my body as I swallowed that first morsel of cold dead flesh, the icy cold but still flowing blood wetting the sides of my throat. My stomach seemed to explode from the insides, making me completely forget my hunger.
The dead body I had just started to feast on leapt to its feet, sending the lid of the box hurtling upwards and across the stone dungeon-like room. I would have run, but an indescribable pain was coursing through every part of my body, totally paralysing me.
The Master reached down and grabbed me, his fingers and thumb firmly gripped about the entire girth of my body, his grip breaking my ribs, crushing my insides. It was not just his strength squeezing the breath from me, but his shortly trimmed nails had grown into claws, easily piercing deep beneath my fur and skin. He held me up at almost at arm’s length. It was impossible to believe, but the Master’s teeth were as long and sharp as any of my own kind, or any of the creatures of the woods. How this was made no sense to me; I knew the humans had neither teeth nor claws of the kind to defend or attack, or so I had been taught – but I was wrong – all my kind were wrong.
The Master fully bared his teeth to me.I could see the angry fire in his eyes blazing brighter than the burning logs in the log filled grates that warmed many of the castle rooms.
I knew at that moment my time had come, that I would surely die as the Master brought me towards his face before biting into my body. I was still in pain from the dead flesh and blood I had already swallowed from the Master’s body but the pain that followed, even after near on 700 years, the memory haunts me, my fur and whiskers bristling whenever I think of it.
The wailing squeal my crushed lungs produced grew in intensity till it turned into a roaring scream; were I human, its equivalent would have been that of an exploding volcano.
The Master tossed my limp and almost lifeless body to the stone ground. I felt the dark and nothingness of sleep overwhelming me, probably for the last time, I believed.
“Hello, little rat.” I heard a voice saying to me. It was the Master voice I heard. I was still alive, how could that be?
“You’ll be hungry I imagine. There’s food in the bowl for you.” I heard him add. I didn’t understand, or rather, I did understand.
We had heard the humans speak, of course, understood the tones and loudness of the sounds they made, even recognised a sort of meaning in a few of them. This was different – I truly understood the meaning of the Master’s words; he knew I was hungry and was telling me there was food immediately to hand in the wooden bowl that lay a few feet away to my side. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I knew.
And he was right. I was hungry, hungrier than I had ever been in my life. It was a different sort of hunger though – not the empty stomach kind but more like a cross between an insatiable thirst and a desperate need to breathe.
I turned towards the bowl, descending on it with a speed that surprised me. The smell of the food was overpowering, the unmistakable scent of fresh blood. I plunged my face into it, lapping it up as like it was last to be my last. I continued drinking the red nectar till it was gone, and even when there was no more to be had I licked at the rough wooden bowl, determined to devour every minuscule drop clinging in the grain of the wood.
“Feel better now?” The Master asked. Again I understood. But how to answer?
“You can’t speak, not as I do, little rat,” the Master answered, knowingly:
“But you don’t need words, not with me, not with anyone. Without human vocal chords to make proper sounds, the turning and the thirst has given you the gift of speaking with your mind, what the humans call telepathy, a gift they lost long before even I was first born.”
A whole new world of understanding had opened up to me. 700 hundred years later and I still have no words to describe what it was like awakening that night – not just being blind and waking up sighted but as one never having ever known that others could see.
I understood words, language, meaning. I could look about me and know what things were – a table, a door, a bookcase – things that had been obstacles or just something to scurry and hide behind till now. But I still had questions, many questions …
“What’s happened to me? How did this happen, what does it all mean?”
As the Master had said, I couldn’t make the sounds of language like he and the humans could, but I could articulate words in my mind, and I knew he understood. I had already deduced that the Master was not a normal human:
“I don’t know, not exactly. It was when you bit into me and swallowed some of my blood. It did something to you. Not enough to turn you, not completely, but something half-way between.”
“I still don’t understand? Turned? The thirst? Half-way?”
“By drinking of my blood you acquired my immortality and the thirst for fresh living blood to live but without the strength and speed or the telepathy that allows you to communicate. I sensed it in you when I picked you up. I was so angry with you; I was tempted to leave you as were. It would have been a miserable life, possessing the desperate thirst for blood but not the intelligence to understand it, not having the strength to overcome your natural enemies, having to feed off the smallest and vilest of creatures without knowing why.”
“But you did something to me? I do understand. And I feel strong, and … so much more,”
“Yes, I did. I would have been wrong to leave as you were. You weren’t to know what I was; you were just a hungry animal acting on instinct. Instead of biting you it would have been a mercy to have devoured you whole when I grabbed you up from the ground.”
“But you didn’t. Something when you bit me, it made me stronger, made me more – like you?”
“Yes. When I bit you, I only took a small amount of blood while allowing my saliva to enter your bloodstream. That’s what completed the turning, making you what you are now.”
We spoke for many hours after that, through the night almost to the rising of the sun, an event he explained I would never see again. But what did I care about sunlight? We rats possess poor eyesight, but since the ‘turning’ my eyesight was now as sharp as my teeth, ideal for a life lived only at night.
In the several years that followed, I would accompany the Master on his nightly jaunts to the surrounding towns and villages to feed. Many times I dined on the same human he had chosen, both of us taking only enough to satisfy our thirst. But I was a rat – a predator used to doing my own hunting and feeding, not some tame pet leeching off its owner. The Master understood, this and when he felt I was ready, left me to hunt my own food.
I had no wish to feed off other rats, though I would if I had to, but feeding with the Master had now given me a taste and thirst for human blood.
It was not to be as easy as I imagined; I had thought with my new awareness, and speed and strength far exceeding that of my mortal brethren, hunting would be easy.
My minuscule size made it impossible to approach and strike directly at the neck of a human the way the Master did. The human preference for wearing shoes or boots and thick clothing on their legs made it equally difficult to strike at ground level most of the time
The females of your kind were easier to feed on, leaving their lower legs and calves more exposed beneath their skirts. It was a pity not more of them were to be found or choose from in the late hunting hours. Fortunately, there was rarely any shortage of males after dark, many falling to the ground after a night in the taverns and alehouses. It was easy for me to sidle up beside one to take my fill from an exposed hand or about the neck. My smaller size made it easy for me to fully satisfy my thirst with a relatively small amount of blood. I had to be careful though – sink my teeth too deep and I would pass on the thirst, a mistake I made several times in those early years. It was not until over a century later I was to discover one of the abominations I had created during one of those early feeding hunts.
With the passing years, I became aware of another thirst, one every bit as strong as the one for blood. I yearned to see more of the world than the tiny one that existed within the walls of the castle and the surrounding countryside. The time was coming for us to go our separate ways …
I remember that first day in England when we docked into Plymouth Harbour. I had never dreamed such a place could exist.
It had also been my first time aboard a ship; my Master had brought me aboard to accompany him in his cabin. It was a strange and luxurious way for a rat to travel you might think while most of my kin were scurrying about in the bowls and darkest hidden recesses of the tall sail ship. He claimed it was partly from his guilt for having condemned me to an eternity of bloodthirst as the price of my immortality.
I didn’t understand his guilt and regret at the time. The greater intelligence that came with my transformation hadn’t yet fully manifested itself. I still had no real comprehension what it would mean to live much beyond my natural lifespan let alone the hundreds or possibly thousands of years to follow.
The journey to England was most exciting, exploring the ship and mixing with other albeit mortal rats. I was immediately aware of their deference. They sensed that I was something more and quite different …
We finally alighted from the ship later that night after his current manservant released us from the travelling casket aboard the ship.
I had protested the unnecessary cruelty of the previous one in his hunting of my kind. The Master agreed. We both enjoyed several days of fresh warm blood.
The Master bade me farewell, though not before saying we would meet again someday, and how he looked forward to hearing of my travels. He also warned me never to underestimate the humans’ capacity for cruelty and cunning. It was not a warning I needed. I still remembered all too well the dismembering and bloody deaths of my fellow Rittens
The Master was right; we were to meet again, each time exchanging tales no human could imagine of our lives down through the centuries, even though I was still yet to experience my first real adventure.
The master gently placed me upon the stone cobbled streets of Plymouth to begin that first adventure.
The presence of so many humans was already making me thirsty. But I had another thirst that needed satisfying too.
My sibling Rittens had all been bloodily rent by the claws and fangs of the human trained dogs and ferrets. The gift of self-awareness that came with the thirst had made me aware of another concept – revenge …
It was the year 1347, the year and time your kind refers to as the Plague and the Black Death
Number 10 in my Flash Fiction series (just 90 to go – yayyyy). A hint of horror but with a very small ‘aitch.’ Got a bit carried away with this one, but with a bit of ruthless editing, still managed to keep it just under 1000 words (966 for those who are curious lol).
If you’re enjoying these flash fiction stories, for some even shorter 100-word microfiction from different authors, see link below:
Jack and Mary were a couple of twenty-somethings travelling around Eastern Europe. They made a living from travel writing and blogging about their adventures and way of life. For the past six months, they had settled in Romania, exploring its picturesque views, the historic villages and towns and the imposing stone castles that dotted the countryside. It was a country Jack knew well, being able to trace his ancestry back several generations there.
It was during a stay at one such Gothic fortress, Bran Castle, that Mary fell ill. It didn’t appear serious, but with Mary’s recently discovered pregnancy they were taking no chances.
“She’s a touch anaemic I’d say and has a slight fever. A virus would be my best guess until we get her test results back,” Doctor Miereanu of the Bucharest emergency hospital was telling Jack, “but let me assure you, there’s no danger to the baby,” he added, guessing that’s what they wanted to know.
“Thank you. But this virus? I mean, have you any idea how she may have contracted it, doctor?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know at the moment, but if you’re taking her back to Brasov today, I’d ask your local doctor. I’ll give you a letter for him, and I’ll be emailing your local surgery some patient notes.
Despite being widely travelled in some of the most remote and primitive parts of the world, when it came to health matters, particularly someone he cared for, Jack’s mindset was firmly geared to the high-tech facilities of a modern hospital.
Upon their return, Jack took Mary to their local surgery, just like the Bucharest doctor had suggested. Apart from all the usual health and lifestyle questions, Doctor Dragulescu asked how long they’d spent at Bran castle and if they’d done any wild camping in the area during their travels. Jack thought the doctor was merely going through the motions with his questions, at least until about where they’d travelled in Romania.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, we did some hiking through the Carpathian mountains and surrounding forests” Jack answered. The doctor gave a gentle, knowing nod of his head.
“Is that relevant, doctor?” Jack immediately asked, sensing the doctor was holding something back.
“Possibly. I suspect she may have been bitten by something. Some of our local insects transmit a harmless virus that induces temporary fever, but like my colleague in Bucharest told you, it’s nothing serious that might affect the pregnancy.”
Within the week, apart from her continuing anaemia, Mary had recovered. Three months later she gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby boy.
The local villagers were happy for them. It was an area where people tended to have large families, and childbirth was celebrated.
Because of her recent fever and anaemia, Mary and Jack had decided against breastfeeding, fearing that traces of the virus she had contracted might still be in her system and be passed to their baby.
Little Jack Jnr wasn’t doing well at all. He’d hardly put any weight on since his birth, and cried almost constantly; it was more like screaming, really, the sort you associate with being hungry, yet he refused to eat, bringing up whatever little milk he could be coaxed into taking from his bottle.
Mary and Jack worried at how pale and sickly their baby looked. Their friends and neighbours never commented on it though and continued to make a fuss of the new baby, assuring Mary the lack of appetite and constant crying would soon pass. The doctor had dismissed the young couple’s concerns, explaining the frequent crying as being due to teething pains; Jack Jnr was a rarity being that 1 in 2000 babies born with natal teeth. Even rarer in Jack Jnr’s case was being born with two front upper incisors.
Jack Jnr continued to refuse food, and after just a month, Mary decided she was over the virus and tried to breastfeed him. Jack Jnr seemed to quieten when she brought his face closer to her. A moment after putting his mouth to her breast, Mary recoiled in pain when she felt a sharp pain akin to a needle piercing her nipple. Jack Jnr seemed oblivious to her discomfort and appeared to be feeding. Mary instantly forgot the momentary pain, elated at seeing that Jack Jnr was finally feeding and had stopped crying. He suddenly looked a picture of health; even a trace of colour appeared to fill his otherwise deathly pale complexion.
After ten minutes or so, Jack Jnr ceased suckling, and she slowly put him back in his cot, not even noticing at first the trickle of blood around her nipple.
She gasped in horror when Jack Jnr smiled. She saw the two tiny front teeth in his top gum. Jack Jnr may indeed have been ‘a rarity’ as doctor Dragulescy had put it, having been born with some natal teeth, but these seemed much bigger than they should be and were dripping a small amount of blood. She thought it must be his gums, and that the traces of blood around her nipple was from Jack Jnr.
After that first breastfeeding session, Mary felt no more pain when Jack Jnr suckled on her. The traces of blood in each case, the doctor assured her, were down to the premature development of Jack’s front teeth and was nothing to worry about.
At just three months old, little Jack Jnr was already sporting two impressive quarter inch front incisors that would protrude over his lower lip whenever he was hungry.
The locals too were delighted at the progress little Jack Jnr was making. It had been several centuries since Bran castle had boasted an aristocratic Count in residence.
Dracula’s Castle as legend more accurately knew it would once again be restored to its former glory in the coming years, no longer just another tourist attraction.
Another book from the members of the Indie Author Support and Discussion Fb group, this time a humorous book from the vampire genre by group member Angela Lockwood. This will be the second book of Angela’s books I’ve read and reviewed, the first being an anthology of short stories that she co-authored with Elspeth Morrison. Apart from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this is the first vampire book I’ve read since then. This particular book is actually book 2 of a series, but one that that stands equally well as a stand-alone book. In addition to her own books, Angela Lockwood has had one of her short stories featured in the highly acclaimed Indie Author charity anthology You’re Not Alone.
Angela Lockwood-van der Klauw was born in the Netherlands. She learned her trade as There she met and later married her husband Adam. Angela ran her own jeweller’s shop in Edinburgh for ten years before she and her husband moved to the south of France in 2011. Angela prefers the climate there, but often thinks about the town she left behind and its people.
Angela started writing in the spring of 2013, a very wet spring during which she found herself climbing the walls, frustrated that she couldn’t go out and have her usual long walks along the seafront. Seeing his wife’s frustration, Adam suggested ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ Angela thought about it for a few days, then switched on her laptop and started writing. She published her first book ‘Language in the Blood’ in August 2013.
Further links to Angela Lockwood’s writing can be found at:
Blood Ties: Language In The Blood (Book 2)
By Angela Lockwood
(Available from Amazon Kindle)
This is one of those books that gets off to a flying start, really drawing you in from the very first page. Our principal character, a Scottish vampire by the name or Cameron, finds himself in the unlikely scenario of having to explain his existence and circumstances to the French police authorities. Right from the start the book begins to live up to the author’s claim of ‘comedy with bite…’ The central character Cameron Blair has lived for over a century, living off the blood of both humans and animals to survive, much as you might expect of a vampire – but that’s as about as far as any similarity to the traditional image of the evil blood sucking stereotype goes. What the author has done here is provide the reader with a humorous and satirical exploration of just what else it takes for a vampire to survive through the ages, i.e. earning a living, interacting with humans, sex and romance, and a host of other circumstances and practicalities you wouldn’t normally associate with a vampire; although committing a host of crimes over the course of a century our vampire here also displays some remarkably human tendencies and virtues, some to his advantage, and others to his detriment such as loyalty to a human friend which is what leads to the situation he finds himself at the beginning of the book.
Although this is the second of the two books the author has written in this vampire series, it reads just as well as a stand-alone book, and not once did I find myself confused at not having read the first book (yet). I also liked the first person point of view, which I must say is not a style of writing I often like in a full length novel but one which works extremely well in this instance, giving the reader a thorough insight into Cameron’s mind and rather skewed sense of logic and morality; since there is no jumping from one character or location to another the story flows in a mostly linear and easy to follow fashion. Cameron’s ‘inner narrative’ provides just as comprehensive a view of the wider picture as might be achieved had the author chosen to write in the third person, and the way Cameron deals with people is the perfective vehicle for the author’s humour here – referring to his blood sucking activities as breakfast and feeding, the reference to blood that’s been processed to prevent clotting not tasting as good as fresh blood, his dislike of cat’s blood, and fear of getting rabies when he once drank from a fox are just a few examples of when you just can’t help but laugh. In many ways, Cameron is like a vampire version of E.W. Hornung’s gentleman cat burglar Raffles, sharing the latter’s charm and debonair persona, and yet like the former, doing what he has to do to survive and get by, with possibly just a bit of the amoral serial killer Dexter thrown in the mix.
A very funny and entertaining take on the more traditional vampire genre, and just as the author describes it as comedy with bite, I’d say definitely a huge helping of humour with the horror in this one… great book.
Angela Lockwood’s works: click on thumbnails for Amazon links