Aldhard De Vend had dressed for the occasion.
He wore a full-length duster, a straw hat, and oversized aviators. He also donned driving gloves, turned his collar up, and slathered SPF 100 sun cream over every inch. But, of course, he hadn’t needed to do any of it. A mid-December afternoon, the sun had been on its way below the horizon for well over an hour. Even before sunset, thick cotton-wool clouds bunched up in the sky and blotted out its rays. The fogginess imparted a washed-out grey filter. Still, it didn’t hurt to be safe. His species had earned its longevity, after all. And this little trip posed a particular risk — no need to add more.
He never thought he’d stand here, in the deserted car park of a rescue shelter, with a rented Vauxhall behind him. He hadn’t needed the vehicle, but the return journey might — if he allowed his shrivelled heart to hope — demand it. Aldhard squinted through his shades at the building. He’d only seen one employee so far — a young, thirty-ish woman with blonde hair. She busied herself with something at the front desk and went to check on the back kennels now and then. Good.
The fewer people he had to interact with, the better.
Aldhard already had the animals with which he must contend. Given how they’d reacted to him last time — what, 50, 60 years ago? — he didn’t expect anything short of chaos. The assistant had accused him of drug possession. What else, they had said, could have set the animals off so? But, he must try. The contentment of his long-dead heart depended upon it. He could go not one more decade alone. He’d stake himself and have done with it or sit and wait for sunrise atop his roof. He’d grown oh so tired of the humans he consumed and the bloodsuckers with whom he cavorted. He missed his old dog — his old, old dog — Ferdinand. Ferdinand had been a very good boy, indeed.
The more I see of men, the more I like my dog. Frederick the Great had said that. Aldhard knew him. Prince Frederick, back then — before he ascended to the throne to Prussia. How true his words had rung — before the infamous Count D had turned him into a vampire, an undead. Since then, he’d been unable to own a pet. Something about the lack of a soul set the animals off. And now, three or four hundred years later, Prince Freddy’s words rang true once more.
Aldhard sighed and squeezed the pack of Good Boy Super Licious Stick Dog Treats in his pocket. Then, he approached the electronic doors. They slid open with a pneumatic sigh, but he did not cross the threshold. The woman behind the desk looked up and smiled at him. “Oh, hey there! Come on in.” And he thought it would be hard.
With the invitation given, he stepped into the animal shelter and pulled off his shades and hat. He didn’t want to unnerve the woman. And Aldhard had learned what frightened humans and what calmed them. Strange men with concealed eyes fit into the former category. He grinned and gave her a gentle hypnotic nudge with his eyes. “Hello there!”
For one startled second, her eyes spun — dazzled. And then the bewitchment took hold, and any tension she held in her body disappeared. She came around the side of the desk and offered her hand. “Nancy, Nancy Warren.”
Aldhard took it and shook it — his nails since trimmed to human standards. “Hello Ms Warren—”
“—Nancy. I am Mr De Vend.” Count De Vend, but he omitted that little fact. “You can call me Al.”
“Is that a European name?”
“It is! How observant of you.”
“Well, I spent a semester in Paris.” She pronounced it the French way: Pah-ree. “How can I help you this evening Mr De— I mean, Al?”
“You see, I am looking to adopt a dog.”
“That’s wonderful news! You know, we don’t get enough people in here looking to adopt. The pups will be so pleased! They do love new people.” Nancy ushered him through a doorway next to the front desk. “Come, come. Let’s meet the doggos.”
And meet them he did.
The corridor, lined with cages, exploded into a cacophony the moment he entered.
Barks, howls, meows, and yowls assaulted his ears, and a barnyard perfume stung his nostrils.
“Oh my god!” Nancy seemed off-balance — took several steps ahead, then turned. She ran a hand through her hair and looked to him, wide-eyed. “They’re never normally like this. I—” she shook her head, then raised an eyebrow at him. “You don’t have any food on you, do you? ‘Cause they might be able to sniff it.”
Aldhard pulled out the packet from his pocket — chicken, apple, and cranberry flavour. He flashed Nancy a guilty look and spun his pupils a tad more — not actual hypnosis, only a nudge. “I wanted to give the little angel — whomever I pick — a little treat before I took them home.” Suppose he could find a pet that didn’t hate his very existence. He scanned the rows of dogs and cats, who glared at him, hackles raised. Their jaws worked, fangs bared, as they made their sounds of discontentment. Hope began to dim inside the cold recesses of his heart. “Sorry, I did not mean to stir them into a frenzy.”
Nancy’s anxiety melted into a smile. “How sweet! That’s such a good idea.” She didn’t seem aware that she’d begun to yell for Aldhard to hear her. “No, don’t worry. It’s just their way of shouting, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’” She looked to the maelstrom of paws, claws, tails, teeth, and ears. “So, you see one you like?”
Aldhard strolled in the human’s direction as his eyes took in the sights. Angry Alsatians, mad mastiffs, perturbed Pitbulls. Miserable Maine coons and bilious Bengals. On and on and on. Why had he even bothered? A vampire who owned an animal? One that he didn’t intend to consume? Who had ever heard of such a thing? Pointless — the whole damn thing. His shoulders drooped. “No, I do not think I’ll take one home tod—”
His words screeched to a halt.
The vampire locked eyes with another.
A small sausage dog watched him — quiet and still — with a tilted head.
It did not bark.
The electric lights fizzed and buzzed as he floated over — an act he’d later wipe from Nancy’s memory. The dissonance of the shelter went up another ten notches as the vampire revealed his true self. The dachshund, meanwhile, continued to stare at him with its coal-black buttons. Those eyes bored into Aldhard and would have gazed into his soul if he only had one.
“And what of this one?”
Nancy jogged to keep up with him. “Hmm? Oh? This one?” Nancy shook her head. “Cute, right? But this one can’t smell.”
Aldhard stared at the pup, who stared right on back. The rest of the place continued to thunder its anxieties upon him. But this little dachshund only measured him up. Then, after a moment, the tail began to wag — slow at first. “There is something wrong with it?”
“Her. And yes, there’s something wrong with her, but we haven’t figured out what. It’s not a sinus infection or anything like that, we’ve checked. Unfortunately,” Nancy sighed, “I think it’s permanent.” Nancy wrinkled her nose. “A dog that can’t smell. How weird, huh?”
“I do not know.” Aldhard felt something stir within his core. If he hadn’t been undead for the past few hundred years, he would’ve sworn that his heart issued a beat. Thump-thump. A knock on the door in the ink-black night. “I rather like her.”
Her tail became nought but a blur.
“Wonderful! You know, even disabled dogs deserve love. I’m not too fond of it when people only go for the pretty and the young dogs, and—
“Does she have a name?”
“Well, we’ve been calling her Snoot-Snoot, on account that she can’t, y’know—”
“Can I change it?”
“Her name? Sure!”
“In that case, I name her…” The cogs turned in the vampire’s brain. But then, a realisation pierced him as sharp as the stake that missed his heart back in 1666. Never lose hope in the world. “I name her Adelinde.”
Nancy nodded at that. “Adelinde.” She rolled the name around her mouth. “Hmm, yeah. I like it! So, Mr De Vend, do you wanna come this way and we’ll start to do the paperwork on little Adelinde here? Now, you won’t be able to take her home straight away, but it should be fairly soon.”
Aldhard remained for a moment, unwilling to sever the first real connection he’d had in a few hundred years. Then, at last, he turned and followed Nancy with the promise that he’d come back for her. Not tonight, but soon.
His footsteps echoed along the corridor as the animals yelled their final abuses. Teeth glinted, and flecks of saliva flew. Only one remained silent — a tiny dachshund girl who couldn’t smell. Adelinde’s tail continued to wag until the vampire had left her sight, and for a few minutes after that, still.
Aldhard followed Nancy into the office. The chaos of the shelter fell away behind him, but inside he felt the tug of something more profound. It yanked him like the twitch of a dog lead. The vampire’s resurrected heart thumped and tattooed an addendum to his realisation.
Most of all, never lose hope in dogs.