From the #1 bestselling author of the beloved Calendar Girl books comes the first in a witty, wise and emotionally compelling new series, where coming home is just the beginning… “Fly free.” For ten years those words, written on pink parchment paper in her mother’s...
I was sitting in the garden feeling remarkably pissed off considering it was such a beautiful day. It was understandable though. This was supposed to be a girls only holiday to recover from the end of our marriages. Granted when we booked the cottage last autumn we were still married, and it was booked for four people, but that didn’t mean four people had to come. When Dana had told me she was bringing her new man, Matt, I hadn’t been pleased. I was emotionally battered and bruised and the last thing I needed was my two week escape to the sunny Loire Valley polluted by love’s young dream. I mean, really, they were sickening, giggling at their little in jokes, and gazing into each other’s eyes as they fed each other little delicacies at the dinner table, and the breakfast table, and the lunch table.
They said they were bringing Nerdy Neil so that Matt would have company while Dana and I went off to do our own thing. Oh yeah right. I’d have to surgically separate those two at the lips first. Then last night, when somewhat in his cups, Neil had revealed that as far as he was concerned, we were here as two couples. As he tried to corner me in the kitchen and slide his wine sodden tongue down my throat, my knee put an end to that misconception. Then a huge row broke out. Apparently I’m being completely unreasonable and trying to ruin everyone else’s holiday by making a huge fuss about a hopeful kiss.
Matt looked at me very earnestly and told me that he is worried about me, that I’m becoming reclusive, and he only dragged poor Neil along to keep me company, so I wouldn’t feel left out, and make Dana feel guilty for spending time with him. He said that I have unreasonable expectations of my friends, and I shouldn’t expect them to be miserable just because I am. He said he was trying to help me, by taking the pressure off our friendship before I ruined it permanently.
Now bear in mind this man has only been dating my best friend for three months, and he has no idea the state Dana was in before he came along, Mr Sincere in his shining Lexus. Before he starts psychoanalysing me he wants to have a little think about being Mr Rebound. I know the mess Dana was in over Rob cheating on her, I know that level of pain doesn’t disappear just because someone new comes along. She’s in denial, and he can be as sanctimonious as he likes, I know she’ll dump him sooner or later. Sooner I hope. And as for his slimy friend, a hopeful kiss does not involve grabbing a handful of breast as far as I’m concerned, and once his knackers are that close to me without my consent, they are fair game.
So, no one’s speaking to me this morning. I may have been a little too honest for everyone’s taste, I’ll admit. Wine does that to me, acts like a truth serum, so I tell people things they don’t need to know. Breakfast was beyond frosty, so I came outside with my coffee and a good book in the hope of the fresh air shifting my hangover. I dragged a cushioned teak sun lounger to the back of the garden behind the little orchard. I hoped the trees would act as a screen between me from the filthy looks coming from the house.
As I got myself settled, curved on my side with my towel serving as a pillow, the neighbour’s little tabby cat trotted over chirruping and leapt up beside me. She settled into the curve my legs made, purring happily as I rubbed her ears. So at least I still have one friend. I don’t know when I dozed off, but the warmth of the morning sun, gentled by the breeze that danced and tickled between the trees and over my bare skin, soothed me, and soon Tabby and I were fast asleep curled up together.
I became aware of a dark shape blotting out the sun which had been shining on my eyelids. I thought it was Dana come to make peace at first, and decided to ignore her. My head felt swimmy and stuffed with cotton wool, the thought of opening my eyes and having a deep and meaningful was beyond me. But there was something wrong with the smell, Dana smells of sunshine and honey and melon, not dank caves and musty corners. And the breathing was wrong too. Dana doesn’t breathe through her mouth like a child concentrating on doing something cruel in secret.
I struggled to open my eyes and it felt like they were glued closed, I managed to force them open a tiny crack and was able to see the outline of a figure bent over me. It definitely wasn’t Dana, and it wasn’t Neil or Matt either. My brain was trying to scream to my body, I should have been flooding with adrenaline, my heart pounding, so I could leap to my feet and run for my life. Tabby was a hissing, spitting arch of fury and terror by my feet.
The figure turned his attention away from watching my face, and looked towards Tabby. The instant he looked away from me I was able to force my eyes open wider so I could see a shambolic figure bent over me. His skin was the colour and texture of Stilton cheese, and he had grey crusty warts caking his nose, cheeks and chin. His mouth hung slightly open, and his liverish tongue poked at the spittle crusted corners of his cracked bluish lips. He was wheezing directly into my face, and his breathe was icy and smelt like the inside of a crypt.
He made a sudden snatch at Tabby with nightmarishly long gnarled fingers. They seemed to have an extra bulbous knuckle each, and were tipped with long yellowed scythes. Tabs flattened herself, leapt off the lounger and streaked off through the orchard. He chuckled like the rustling of dry leaves and turned his empty eyes back up to my face. They were the colour of curdled milk, and utterly soulless.
‘I’ll have her later.’ He muttered, as much to himself as to me.
He saw I was looking at him and chuckled again, blasting me with his fetid breath. He turned his head to and fro as he looked at me, like a crow deciding which angle would be preferable for pecking out a lamb’s eye. Then he slowly shimmed his shoulders, cupping his hideous hands in front of his crotch as he did, so his curving nails clicked together like gruesome maracas.
‘So, my pretty, you’re awake are you?’ He stepped back a bit so I could see more of his twisted body. He was stooped, and scrawny, but I didn’t for one second think that made him vulnerable or weak. He oozed evil from every pore, and his delight in others agony washed off him in waves. I knew he was in my head controlling me, so I couldn’t scream or run, and I could feel his crusty nails flicking through my memories as if they were files in a filing cabinet. Every now and again a memory of my unhappiness or humiliation would particularly please him, and he’d spend longer on that one breathing in as much of my pain as he could.
‘Go on my dear, fight me, it feels soooo good,’ he crooned, giving another creepy shimmy, so his nails rattled in front of my face again. As he spoke I saw his teeth peeping over his lip, they were short and sharp, like the blade on a hacksaw. I stopped my internal struggle. I couldn’t resist him, but if my attempts to resist gave him pleasure then I could at least refuse him that delicacy.
I don’t know if it was the influence he was exerting over me, pining me in place, and riffling through my thoughts, but I didn’t feel terrified like I should have, instead I felt a low, simmering rage. I found myself almost welcoming the fight. I had had vivid nightmares all my life, and I had learned how to fight the horrors in my dreams, by pretending to comply, and then attacking when they think they have you beaten. The secret is to not care about surviving, only about beating the beast.
I felt myself split inside, the furious, fierce core of me, curling around my decision to destroy this monster through whatever means necessary, while at the same time, the other part of me, the one he could feel, fed him juicy morsels fear and compliance. His hollow eyes crinkled in delight as he felt my submission.
‘Don’t expect any help, my lovely’, he chortled, ‘I am ancient, and I am immense, and I can control your friends as easily as I can control you. They can stand at the window and watch what I do, but they cannot move, and they cannot scream, not out loud. But inside, oh, inside, I can hear them in there, and I can taste them, and it tastes so good.’ He smacked his rubbery lips in delight.
His claw reached out and traced a line down my cheek, down my neck, down to my breast, until his nails were holding my nipple tight, twisting it and turning it. In my head I writhed and sobbed and deferred to him, while at my core the pain stoked my ire. He cackled and hopped in pleasure, then ran his fingers down my stomach, down my thigh, up under my skirt and into my knickers. He made no attempt at gentleness, and scratched and tore at the velvet flesh. His other hand scrabbled at the buttons on the front of his mud coloured trousers, and he tenderly brought forth his wizened cock, it sat between his thumb and index finger like a desiccated maggot.
I filled my thoughts with terror and repulsion at the sight of it, whimpering and begging to be released, while in my depths my essence roared with laughter at his shrunken manhood. He rubbed his little dick, faster and faster, dry as tinder, trying to start his fire. His other hand scrabbled and tore at me, snagging the tender bud, and scratching the delicate lips. Then he reached into my thoughts and found the memories of my love, and played them back, not just for himself this time, but for me too, so I felt my body throb and swell despite myself as the echoes of arousal flowed through me.
As he felt my body betray me in its flowering he danced a little jig of glee, and waved his stiffening member in my face. Rubbing madly, determined to keep it primed he climbed between my knees, pushing my legs apart and yanking at my knickers. I knew what he meant to do, and I knew I couldn’t resist, so I turned his own strength against him. I turned the trickle into a torrent and opened the floodgates of every erotic experience I’d ever had, I washed every orgasm I’d ever had into him at once. He juddered and shook, and a feeble strand of thin slime laced over my thigh. I hid my jubilation from him and cried and simpered beneath him.
He tugged and yanked at himself some more, face twisted in frustration, but quickly gave up, and tucked himself away again. I made sure that when he looked back at my face my eyes were closed, tears seeping out beneath the lids, letting him believe I had not witnessed his shame, had not gained strength from it.
‘It’s been a long time’, he snickered as he climbed back out from between my legs. ‘Not a problem though, tee hee hee. I’ll just get one of those nice boys from the house to help me.’ Despite myself my eyes flew open. ‘Oh yes, lovey, I’ll just latch myself onto his neck and I’ll be able to feel everything he can. Be better like that anyway. Young man like that, bet he can last for hours.’ He looked at me closely as he told me his plans. I made sure I showed him the same level of wretched misery, as if unaffected by who he used to do what, allowing him to savour my dejection.
My eye was caught by movement over his shoulder, and he turned to watch Matt stagger towards us like an automaton. I will never know if he deliberately chose Matt to cause as much heartache as possible, or if it was just a vicious coincidence, but as Matt approached me I could see his eyes screaming in his slack face. I held his gaze for a moment and tried to convey my blessing, to let him know I would not blame him for whatever this monster used his body for, to tell him to do whatever he needed to do to keep him and Dana safe.
‘Hello kind sir, and welcome to our little gathering. We are in need of your assistance.’ The creature shook another hideous shimmy, one shoulder dropping, then the other, nails clacking. Matt blinked slowly and stumbled to a stop before us. The goblin pranced and jittered around us clapping his claws in glee.
I saw a look of horror spread over Matt’s face as he felt the monster invade his memories. I saw the horror replaced with despair as it found the memories it wanted, and the arousal spread through Matt’s face lips plumping, cheeks flushing, I saw his nipples enlarge and his jeans tent. I saw the tendons stand out in his arms as he tried to resist having his hands forced to open his fly. I looked resolutely at his face then, holding his gaze, reassuring him as best I could.
I felt the monster’s thoughts prod at me again, find only soggy misery and acceptance of my fate, and then return to this exciting new toy he had found. He jiggled and chortled and danced a dance of repulsive joy. He walked around the front of Matt and poked at his rearing cock, face twisted in envy. In that second as he teased and tortured himself as much as Matt I felt his attention leave me, complacent in breaking me, he was concentrated on feeding completely on Matt.
In the second his attention switched. I reached under my lounger and grabbed the coffee mug I’d tucked away there hours earlier. I jumped to my feet pushing the teaspoon that had been in my mug between my middle fingers so the concave head was cupped in my palm, and the handle poked out between my fingers, as I curled my hand into a fist.
My other fist clutched the handle of the mug as I slammed it against the top of the wooden lounger so it smashed into savage shards. I spun towards the creature slashing and gouging, aiming for his throat and eyes, doing as much damage as I could as quickly as I could. He shrieked, and turned on me, curdled eyes glowing redly furious like burning coals. As his attention shifted to me Matt was released, he punched the fiend between the shoulder blades, and kicked his legs out from under him. I’d forgotten Matt was a kick boxer, he stamped on the monster’s neck, trapping him on the ground. I fell on it slashing and hacking, fury powering me on, overwhelming it’s enfeebled attempts to infiltrate my mind again.
‘That will do. I’ll take it from here.’ A cold female voice said. I spun round and gaped at the towering female that stood over us. She was as imposing as a statue, frozen face turned towards me. Her hair and eyes were black as a raven’s wing, her skin as white and smooth as chalk. ‘He slipped his leash. I’ll take him now.’
‘Who, what…’ I blinked at her, unable to reconcile her calm authority with the brutal fight for our lives Matt and I had been battling only moments earlier.
‘My name is Amunet . This wretched creature is Ammon. We are the oldest vampires.’ Her revelation did not surprise me, this monster was not of the world I had known.
‘No one knows we still exist. We live on the fringes of life, hiding from the jealous seeking of others. Ammon has corrupted himself by feeding on other vampires too often. He is addicted to their memories, feeding on them right back to their human memories, collecting all their knowledge, feeling all of their hopes, fears and heartbreaks. He has poisoned himself, like any addict will.
‘He was my love once. Majestic and beautiful, but he ignored the warnings and kept drinking, kept killing our kin, unable to resist. Now he is a ruin, a wreckage, nothing more than a sneaky creep. All that was regal before has been corrupted, until he is this snivelling wretch, humping like dog at a human’s leg,’ her voice dripped contempt.
‘He holds so much knowledge, he would be irresistible to others, one sip, and they could know so much, but his mind is coddled, and all that knowledge is beyond him.’ As she snarled her hatred of what Ammon had become Amunet’s face remained serene and smooth, only her tone gave away her disgust.
I looked at her, bewildered by this out pouring of information, distrustful of what her openness meant.
‘It must be hard, not being able to put him out of his misery.’ I decided to try understanding, maybe she wouldn’t kill us all if I offered her sympathy. She turned her ancient gaze upon me, and saw right through me. The slightest smile touched her scarlet lips.
‘I could kill him in an instant’, she said calmly. ‘But I have loved him for millennia. When I look at him like this I am repulsed, but I drag him behind me so I cannot see him, and I remember him as he was.’ She looked down at her snivelling lover, and then back up at me. ‘We seek a healer, a vampire who can make him whole again when he feeds on her, and then he shall be whole again, and his mind will be restored to him, and the knowledge of all the ancients will be his. We shall rise then, and rule the world together, my love and I.’
‘Now I have a choice’, she said her far away gaze focusing back on me, making my heart stop cold. ‘I can kill you, or wipe your minds’. She tilted her head, looking through me again as she calculated something beyond my imagining. ‘No’, she sighed, killing you would be too risky, there is a pride of vampires not far from here, and in if they got wind of vampire slayings they may investigate further. I cannot take the risk of discovery while Ammon is weakened. I’ll just have to wipe your memories.’
She smiled a final sharp toothed smile at me, then wiped her hand over my face. I felt my knees weaken and sag, and my mind soften and swirl, and I slept.