The vampire in Grace Cross’s guest room caused her, for the first time in her life, to contemplate murder.
The late afternoon sunlight streamed in and bathed her kitchen in soft golden tones. Motes of dust danced in the beams, and the town beyond snoozed in a post-work siesta. Mr Wiegand wouldn’t be up even now; this she knew. Once the Sun had retreated into its grave for the night, he’d begin to stir. It all made sense. It reminded her of the plots to ‘Salem’s Lot and Fright Night. A mysterious stranger moves into town, later revealed to be — gasp! — a vampire. The townspeople discover, too late, the truth of the matter. Some fall, and others become denizens of the night. Well, the vamp wouldn’t fool this pensioner. Grace knew which way the wind blew.
Grace had first suspected when she met the “young” man. Pale and gaunt, with an eastern European name and a vague accent. The veins in his head rippled the surface. His skin pulled taut over the skeleton. His lips peeled back from his face in a flesh wound, the teeth beneath clipped and tidy like manicured nails. The unique teeth did not show, but didn’t bloodsuckers have complete control over that? A far cry from those randy gents who failed to conceal an erection. Mr Wiegand’s sunken eyes glared out of their pits, marbles in the gloom. She’d worn a crucifix, and — despite her low-cut top — his gaze refused to drop to that symbol. He’d turned down her delicious garlic soup for tea and hardly spoke to her, and now he’d slept through the entire day. He may as well have given her a business card with I Am a Vampire emblazoned across it.
She picked the empty kettle up — bloodred, how appropriate — and began to fill it. The water thundered, and her eyes rolled across the town’s backdrop — simple and solid houses. Reliable people, if a little boring. As the kettle grew heavier, thoughts bloomed in her mind like the flowers on her windowsill. Once the water had reached the two-cup mark, she snapped the lid shut.
Grace popped the kettle onto its base with a thump. Her finger nudged the flip switch, but she paused. An idea had pushed its way to the forefront of her mind, and, unlike the others, it remained there. A wicked smile tugged at the corners of her lips. She flicked the switch right as the decision settled in her brain. Never in her wildest dreams did she ever think she’d become a murderer, but life can be funny sometimes. Grace knew what she had to do. She pulled two mugs from the overhead cabinet and placed them on the work surface — clink, clink.
Four minutes. Give or take. Grace’s old kettle — not as old as her bones, but still knocking on for an electrical appliance — took four minutes. Four minutes to reach a boil. The older woman opened the drawer to her left and sought the right tool. She found it. Her arthritic fingers curled around it as if it had laid there, patient, for its moment to come. Four minutes would be plenty for her plan.
As the kettle rumbled its way towards its finale, Grace crept from the kitchen.
· · ─────── ·𖥸· ─────── · ·
Klemens Wiegand opened the door to his B&B room with tired eyes and a killer migraine.
He’d suffered for the past two days, for almost 24 hours before he’d arrived in town. Klemens hadn’t been in a great mood, and the nutcase who ran this B&B had rambled on and on. He could hardly get a word in edgeways. He rubbed at his temples, winced at the lights, and mentioned how he needed to get some sleep several times. But no. She’d kept offering him this disgusting soup and shoved her bosom into his face several times. Had he left Germany for this? So much for backpacking and expanding your horizons. Klemens had stayed in bed all day, too miserable even to leave his room in search of an apothecary.
“Good morning!” The old bat’s grin widened to Cheshire Cat proportions. Klemens recoiled at her sheer volume, then glanced at his watch — it hadn’t been morning for several hours. At his gesture, this knockoff Carole Baskin nodded. The china on her tray clinked together. Herbal tea sloshed in one mug, something dark purple-black brewed in the other. “Yes, I know, but it’s morning for your type, isn’t it?”
Your type? What did she mean, Germans? The timezone in Deutschland couldn’t be more than an hour or so off from the one here. Klemens scratched his head, aware that he stood in the doorway in nothing but a vest and his boxers. He raised one eyebrow. “I guess? But—”
Grace — a misnomer if there had ever been one — barged past him and slammed the tray down on the table. She had to shove his open suitcase to the floor to do so. Clothes vomited from the zip, and Klemens suppressed a groan. “I took the liberty of making you your favourite. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Klemens frowned and bit back the question — along with his irritation. How on Earth would this lunatic know his favourite tea? Not even he knew his favourite tea. He’d never given tea that much thought until now. Black, green, herbal or fruit. Did it matter that much? He preferred to drink colder beverages, except for his morning espresso.
Grace shoved the mug into his hands and half-scalded him. He let out a yip as the black liquid sloshed over the side and down over his hand. It stained the skin like red wine, but it smelled nothing like it. Only mulled wine also had this temperature and colour. But this had a coppery, metallic odour, and a rust-coloured scab floated across the surface. It swirled around before it clumped against the cup’s rim.
“What in the—”
Klemens leaned over and looked down, a move that took forever as time’s beat slowed: Thump the-thump. Thump the-thump. Thump. The-thump. Thump. The-thump. Thump. The. Thump. Thump. Thump.
At first, he didn’t know what lay at the bottom. But then Grace said, “It’s fresh. And it’s not like that bitch Philippa was even using it anyway.” She giggled. “Well, now I guess she really is heartless, hm?”
Oh, Jesus, God in Heaven. This madman — madwoman — had killed a person. She killed them and butchered their corpse and cut out their heart and—
Klemens clenched his abdomen tight as the urge to puke all over her rippled through him. She might look harmless, but she’d murdered somebody. She could be capable of anything. He couldn’t risk upsetting her, even though he felt 90 per cent sure he could take her with one arm behind his back. Never in his wildest dreams did he ever think he’d become a cannibal, but life can be funny sometimes.
Her eyes urged him on. They danced with unhinged pleasure. “Go on, take a sip — take a sip! And remember, Grace Cross was on your side before all of it! Don’t you forget that. And don’t forget to leave me a five-star review. I’ll need all the undead business I can get once this down dies. And who knows?” Grace swept her hair away from her wrinkled neck and rocked her head to one side. “If you play your cards right—” she winked “—I’ll let you have your way with me!” Grace threw her head back and tinkled laughter as if she’d told a hilarious joke.
The laughter in her face died.
“Now, take a sip Mr Vampire.”
· · ─────── ·𖥸· ─────── · ·
Philippa Fairbank lay dead in her kitchen, a pool of half-congealed blood around her.
Her wrenched-open ribcage revealed the absence of a particular organ. Instead, fragments of bone and flesh and other carved-out innards lay in a pile to her side. Philippa’s face remained twisted in an ugly rictus — the dull eyes wide and white, the lips contorted down. Never in her wildest dreams did she ever think she’d become a murder victim, but life can be funny sometimes.
Blue and red lights flashed through the window. Officers shouted to one another and barked orders back and forth. Paramedics yelled amongst the chaos. And somewhere in the distance, a woman screamed bloody murder, over and over and over.
“You’ll still leave me a five-star review on Yelp, though, won’t you?”