My theatre buddies were abuzz at the end of the day. I would've gone straight home hadn't I overheard the topic of gossip on the way out of school. The sun had weakened. Even if the winter solstice had passed, nature didn't seem to know it yet. Colder days were coming. The next few nights were meant to drop several degrees below zero, the forest fog falling into icy slicks on the roads. I slowed after passing the gates so I could listen to Tim Burton, a gangly kid from the lighting crew who had acne scars.
"...another reported sighting! Outside of town this time. Some hikers went off-trail North of Whitman's Point, they found these patches of dead grass and trees, andtherewas Tommy."
"His suit has all leaves and shit in it. He lives down in a ditch now, out there."
"Nah man! My girlfriend told me, her Dad's on the police force."
"Hayley isnotyour girlfriend, dude."
I kept going on the way to my car. If there was one profession that wasn't suited for a vampire it was gardener. That was a silly thing to think. I imagine they'd also be terrible doctors. But you get my point.IfAngela was a vampire she needed a place to sleep during the day that was away from sunlight. If her presence made plants die, then it would've been easy to find the block, maybe even the house she was hiding in. Unless she had a place out there. A wide berth of dead forest, a tunnel, or abandoned house with zombified Tommy acting as guard dog.
Simon was waiting for me by my car. I smiled, despite everything, unlocked it when I was close and we both slid in.
"So what are we going to do now?"
"Might sound crazy, but the shops? Might help to load up on garlic and crosses."
I gripped the steering wheel and stared forward "...anything else vampires don't like while we're at it?"
"Holy water. Water blessed by a priest, or other person of religious status. Any kind of spiritual symbol or item, not just Christian. Silver... according to some lore."
"Well we better find out what's real and what's fake." I started the car and pulled out, paid extra attention to driving. "I know she can't cross running water, I saw that with my own eyes. She definitely can't enter houses either. It might've worked with Tommy, but she wasn't stopping by our places just to say hi." Something occurred to me. "Should we tell Jane?"
"Well she might be in danger too."
"What do you think? Would she help us?"
"No. She's terrified. She's been seeing the councillor all week. At least we know she's not likely to let Angela in, whether she thinks she's dreaming or not. And I don't think she'll be leaving her house at night."
I trusted Simon, but I couldn't tell anyone else about the vampire theory. Jane was scared enough.
And with good reason, as it turned out. Simon had been pondering the exact same thing as me after hearing about the latest Tommy sighting. Was Angela sleeping her days away in the forest? All of the legends implied that vampires needed a dark place to sleep, hence why they had their own castles or hideaways. Simon was going to look up old factories or plants, proper olde lumbermills that might have existed away from town. It was Scone's original export during its foundation three-hundred odd years ago, Simon would know.
I slept restlessly. Red eyes and pointed fangs, smiling invitingly. Asking nicely to be let in. Then the struggling stopped. I relaxed in bed, a stillness settling over me. A quiet blur in the night. Moments that you try so desperately to wake up from, completely at the mercy of your mind, but when you do wake up you forget all about them anyway. Angela was behind my window, gently asking me to come over, pulling at my mind. I couldn't see her behind the curtain, but I knew she was there.
I tried to think, tried to remember. I was too sleepy. Where was the stuff I'd bought with Simon today? Where had I even put it? I couldn't for the life of me remember. There was a gentle tapping at my window. She was still waiting for me to answer her. I threw off the blanket, a sinking feeling in the back of my mind. I stepped over to the curtains where I knew she'd be waiting. Visiting me for the second time, or was it only the second?
My hands were on the curtain, next thing I knew. I spread it apart and there she was.
I couldn't focus on much with my blurry vision, but I recognized her. She had the same honey-tinted chin-length hair, mostly straight but hooking at the ends to frame her face. She had the same little mole on the side of her chin. The same bulb end of her nose. The plain, forgettable face that was barely pretty from certain angles. I knew what Jane meant when she said Angela was beautiful though. There was an otherworldly aura to her now. Her features were smoother, the everyday-ness of her looks replaced by the paleness of a life-sized porcelain doll.
Red eyes like a character from a TV horror series. Except this wasn't TV. She was smiling at me like a friend, but the edges of her face weren't friendly. She wasn't looking at me like a person, in her eyes I looked like a treat. She waved again but it was only an act. I narrowed my eyes in confusion and she placed her palm against the glass.
"Hi Peter. Remember me?"
I swayed where I stood. Pretty sure I left all that stuff I bought in a plastic bag on my desk.
"It's me, Angela Preaker. We had class together." Her legs kicked lazily behind her in mid-air.
I turned away from the white figure and felt her eyes on me as I went to my desk. Took hold of the bag in slow hands, wandered back towards the glass. The moonlight played against Angela's breezing nightdress in such a pretty way.
"What have you got there?" she was confused, looking between my blank face and the plastic bag. "Peter I'm thirsty, just let me in."
"Garlic... and crosses." I knew enough to know Angela was the enemy. I pulled out a wooden bead necklace with a crucifix at the end, bought from a rack at the dollar store. Showed it to her.
Her hand went back from the glass immediately. Angela recoiled. Furious with thirst once she realised I'd seen through her.
"Peter I'm going to kill you!"
I closed the curtains in her face. Then I went back to the bed, sat down and turned onto my side. Head against my pillow, bag of protective gear on the floor beside me. Later in the night when I got cold, I reached over and pulled the blankets over me.
When morning came I didn't move from my side for a long time. I heard activity from downstairs, my little sister trudging into the bathroom. Her bedroom was only two doors down from mine, and she had a window. Dad switched on the morning news. I turned into my pillow and started crying. Sobs of terror.What a fucking nightmare. I was awake for an hour before I called Simon.
"Don't worry. We'll figure this out." He tried to reassure me.
"She knows that we know what she is. She knows we figured it out." My eyes were still streaming. I just couldn't get over it, a real-life monster had tried to kill me last night.
"I don't think she'll come back. Not now she knows she can't trick you while you're asleep."
"Simon, she has it in for me. What if she watches my house? All I'd need to do is go outside. What if my family goes out? What if Dad takes the trash out?" My voice was raising into hysteria.
"What do you want to do?"
"Find out where she's sleeping and kill her. Today. While the sun's still up." I breathed in the silence, holding the phone to my ear while Simon paused.
I was dead serious. The way I saw it, it was her or me at this point. Her or my family. No one else could help us. Who would you even go to for help in a situation like this?
"Okay." Simon answered.
"We'll ditch school today. Is it okay if I come pick you up now?"
"Have breakfast first. You'll need your strength. And act normal for your family, okay? If you want to do this we can't have your parents getting in the way."
Instead of school books I packed my bag with torches, hiking gear, my bag of protective trinkets. I ate with my family like Simon suggested, getting another comment about how tired I looked. Mum asked me to unload the dishwasher – what an absolute waste of time. Every plate and spoon felt like a fatal liability. I left at the usual time, Megan twirling her routine in the front room behind me, ribbons trailing from her hair as she spun.
It was especially chilly outside. Frost had formed on the windshield and backscreen of my car, I had to use my little scraper to get it off. Then I hopped in and drove.
The forest creek where I encountered the mist was North of Scone. If Angela slept beyond that it must mean there was a fallen tree or rocks, maybe an old bridge, some way in which she could cross it. As I recalled the late-night adventures of the past week or so, I was boggled by my own recklessness. Driving around town at dark, walking by the forest, running through the trees, with friends or alone. It had all been so dangerous. Much more dangerous than I'd ever imagined at the time.
We'd thought we were fairly safe. We were so wrong. Angela had been with Tommy in the forest that night. She must've been distracted, otherwise she could've killed all three of us then. Vampires were supposed to be strong, right? We escaped by sheer dumb luck.
Now it sounded like madness to be outside at night. I was sure my schoolmates would continue to do it anyway. Spooking themselves for a thrill. Unaware of the real danger. Angela might have it out for the three of us, but if she gets hungry enough what's to stop her attacking any random streetwalker? Then she could wait to drink from us next month, or just kill us earlier than that if she wanted.
Simon climbed into my car wordlessly after I pulled up beside his house. His bag was full of clunky supplies too. I took off down the road, turning in the direction of Whitman's Point.
"This is going to be dangerous." Simon began.
"If we had more time to prepare-"
"We don't. It has to be today."
I drove the car down the North exit of Scone, a windy strip of road. Simon had brought a map and I had a compass. His cell phone had GPS but the signal was bound to mess up out there. We pulled over at the right spot, edging the car off the road and against the tree-line. Then we got out and carried our bags to the bonnet, just to go through what we had.
"We need to wear these cross beads on our necks and wrists, ankles too if you want to be extra safe. Cloves of garlic in your pockets. Garlic oil on your skin-"
"Like we're marinating ourselves." I interrupted. "Why the hell would garlic work against her anyway?"
"It's natural. Most things that are blessed or special seem to repel these creatures. There are probably other herbs that work too. I read that people in some European villages that were preyed on by vampires would eat lots of onions, and it would make their blood taste bad."
"But garlic works better."
Simon pulled out two sharpened branches, he handed me one "Wooden stake. Through the heart." I took it.
"And that is..?"
"Lighter fluid. Matches. Fire works too, but not as well."
"Walkie talkies. Good idea." I took one of the pairs he handed to me. "Simon... what if there's more than one vampire? What if there's more than one zombie?"
"Most rumours say they travel alone. Angela wasn't always here. She was gone for a while, but then she came back for Tommy. It should just be them."
I took the little bottle and copied Simon - little drops on my fingers, rubbing the oil behind my ears and down my neck. I gave Simon one of my torches. Only a precaution, we had no plan to still be out looking anywhere near dusk. The forest was cold, remnants of mist wafting by our knees. There wasn't a lot of greenery to start with this time of year, but away from civilisation there were plenty more pine trees. Tall and proud. If we followed the compass west we'd find the hikers' path sooner or later. We started the trek.
It took hours. I was antsy. Neither of us were experienced hikers, but I was sure we were doing everything right. Putting the compass on a flat surface every so often and watching the jostling needle. Aligning it with the map. I was too agitated for talk to travel very far from Angela, and mostly we walked in silence. My thoughts lingered on my family, how much danger they were inadvertedly in because of me.
Simon kept his dark eyes lowered as he trudged through underbrush. They were bright, his mouth a thin line. We still hadn't talked about Saturday night.
If we succeeded in slaying a monster, would all of this end? Would our lives revert to normality? We'd go back to thinking of school work and extracurriculars, planning for college and which career we wanted to embark on. Maybe we would start dating, have a proper relationship. If these ghastly events, Simon's latest obsession, were to end.
Neither of us had brought food. I had some old crackers buried at the bottom of my bag so we shared those. Simon thought to bring a water bottle. Eventually, we found the track. Around us nature rustled and chirped. Possums frolicking up the higher branches. The sun was overhead, my breath was still misting.
"Where do we go now?" I watched Simon take a moment to consult the map and compass, shivering into his jacket.
"This way. To Whitman's Point."
The path was clearer, and we followed it for more hours.
"This is taking too long."
"Look on the bright side... if this takes any longer all we have to do is wait until nightfall and she'll come to us."
"And that's a good thing?" I whirled around incredulously, but kept up the pace.
"She shouldn't be able to touch us... theoretically." Simon followed from behind, the map bunched under his arm and gripping the straps of his bag.
The day continued to pass us by. The sun arcing overhead. I wondered idly about school. Whether they'd contacted my parents about my absence, whether they'd already been trying to reach my mobile. The consequences would come what may. Something had to be done, I couldn't just run from this. The memory of last night, vague as it was, blared like a warning siren in my mind's eye.
"This is getting us nowhere." I groaned, well and truly ticked off. We were in the middle of a literal ghost-hunt.
"Don't be so sure..." Simon quietly answered.
"What do you mean?"
"Haven't you noticed? It's gone quiet."
I stopped moving and listened. No animals. I started walking again with greater enthusiasm.
"Are we almost to Whitman's Point?"
"There should be an outpost ahead, any minute now."
We didn't make it to the outpost. I spotted some dead trees. Plenty were leaveless this time of year, but I could sense that these were well and truly dead. Surrounding shrubs gone as dry as tumbleweed. Normally it was something I'd pass without even noticing, but since we were keeping our eyes out for it we did notice. Simon and I stopped and stared, then we looked at each other.
"It looks like it gets worse farther out."
"Guess we don't need the trail anymore." Simon unslung his bag, put away the compass and map. We set off the track together, following the path of death.
The hours of daylight were few in mid-winter. We walked and walked, more and more of the plants looking dead. We were heading in the right direction. Even the pines had lost their leaves. This was clearly the centre of vampiric activity. I noticed the sun getting close to the horizon.
"Simon... it's almost dusk."
"We need to pick up the pace."
"We shouldn't exhaust ourselves. Relax. At least we know what we're up against."
I couldn't understand why he was calm about this. Our calculations had been so off it was ridiculous. We were meant to be home by now, not even halfway there. Thank God I had the torches.
Ahead the space opened into a meadow of dead grass. The silence had got louder without me noticing, but as I gazed at the old cottage house it was screaming. Grass and weeds sprouted through cracks in the enclosure, broken chimney and pillars. The wood had rotted. This little hermit home had to be centuries old, and it was in utter disrepair. A safe, secluded spot for a vampire. Though Angela's trail of death had still reached the path and led us to her.
I saw movement through a window. The opening of a wooden door, squeaking against rusted hinges. Trudging footsteps, and then Tommy Phelps dragged himself out into our line of sight. From beside me Simon froze. My heart thudded in my chest.
He really did look bad. There was the black suit everyone talked about: black with buttons open, torn, grass stains. His skin was pale grey and I could see dark veins. The eyes of his face were sunken, neck and cheeks lined. He staggered over, hair in that marine buzz-cut. His muscular figure had atrophied. He was glaring at us, eyes milky, just like Simon had said. Under his collar I could see the mark where he'd hung himself. The two of us stood blankly as this real-life monster approached us.
"How did you find this place?" There was the voice I'd heard from the forest. Like he had a fistful of gravel down his throat.
"Holy shit... Tommy." My mouth moved, I couldn't make my brain come up with what to say.
"Is Angela in there?" Simon managed, holding firm.
"...are you Peter?" the wandering corpse regarded us. "One of you must be Peter, right? Angela was going to kill you, that's what she kept saying. You, or the girl. She wanted the girl to stay with her so she'd have friends."
"She was going to turn us into zombies too?" I balked, a foul stench reached me from the open door. I blocked my nose.
"You actually came here to kill her? She never even thought..."
To the west, the sun was a gold glow on the horizon.
"We need to get in there now." I said.
"You can't. I would've let you. But if Angela dies I will too. I'm scared to die..."
Simon and I looked at each other.
"We got all the stuff to work against Angela... what about zombies? What works against them?"
"Nothing..." Simon answered drearily.
"Well... worst he could do is punch us, right?" I stepped into a low ditch where a tree had fallen. Took hold of a heavy branch, stepped down and snapped it backward, prying it loose. Stepping back I swung the metre-long branch, arming myself with two hands. "Sorry Tommy, you're gonna have to move."
He roared with anger, withered cheeks exposing a decaying mouth, brown and shrunken gums. The fear made my heart race. The more I looked at the details of his face, the more intimidating he became. He'd be even more frightening up close.
"Simon we can't just stand here. If I hold him off can you get inside and take care of Angela?"
He was too nervous to speak, but nodded quickly. The zombie gritted his grizzly teeth then roared at us again.