“So, mum,” Luke said when they were all sitting comfortably in the attic, with tea and sandwiches and with K9 hunkered by their feet cosily. “About this vampire?”
“I’m getting to it,” Sarah Jane told them. She sighed distantly as she let her mind drift back from the present to the day in the far past when she and Harry had spent such a pleasant time together.
Night had fallen. Harry lit candles around the room instead of the harsh electric lights. He put some long tapers in the middle of the table as well. He treated her so delightfully, sitting her down before bringing through the meal he had prepared all by herself. He poured the wine and waited on her at each course until they retired from the table to the sofa with coffee and brandy, and soft music…
“Yes,” Sarah Jane said. “We kissed. Stop grinning you two boys. There’s nothing wrong with kissing. Grown ups do that. Harry and I had been looking out for each other ever since The Doctor’s regeneration, when the Brigadier asked Harry to look after him. The Doctor took us both off in the TARDIS and plunged us into all sorts of mayhem and danger, and we had to stick together. Then, when it was all over, it was Harry who actually drove to Aberdeen to collect me when The Doctor was daft enough to get it mixed up with Croydon. Harry was the man I could rely on. And when he went back to the navy after his time with U.N.I.T., I was the girl he could rely on, to write to him and be there to meet him when he came back home after a tour of duty. And yes, when we had a chance to be together like that, yes, we kissed. Why shouldn’t we?”
“Mum, chill,” Luke said, though he said it as if it was a word that Clyde had taught him to use rather than his own vocabulary. “It’s nice. I’m glad you and Harry were friends… or more than friends, even. Only…”
“Only remember we’re not past the watershed, yet, and we’re impressionable teenagers,” Clyde added with a cheeky grin. “So if it goes past kissing, let’s have a bit of censorship, please.”
Sarah Jane smiled ruefully. Maybe that night could have gone into post-watershed realms. It had all the makings of something more. But they never found out, because they were disturbed soon after that by sounds outside. Harry went to the window and reported that there were a lot of people getting out of taxis in the courtyard. They were all wearing Halloween costumes.
“Trick or Treaters?” Sarah Jane groaned. “Oh, dear. I didn’t think we’d have that kind of bother in a quiet, secluded place like this.”
“They’re all heading towards the main house,” Harry answered her. “I’ll go and see what it’s all about.” He grabbed his coat and stepped out. He came back a few minutes later looking bemused.
“It’s a private party organised by the son of the property owner,” he explained. “They’re having a ‘vampire and bride’s’ theme party. You should see some of the costumes. Absolutely outlandish. You’ve never seen anything like it. I told them we were here and asked them not to be too noisy. It should be all right.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Sarah Jane conceded. Though it didn’t feel quite the same now, knowing that there were so many people in the house next door. It felt a little less private and intimate. The mood that had been building was lost.
Even so, they had a pleasant enough evening. They talked together, never running short of topics. Harry told her about some of the exotic ports he had visited on his last tour of duty. Sarah Jane told him about some of her journalistic assignments. They occasionally touched on the past, their shared memories of life with The Doctor. It seemed impossible not to talk about The Doctor when two people who had known him came together. Sarah Jane and Harry had plenty to remember.
“Skaro,” Sarah Jane said. “That was the worst. Mostly because we were all separated for so long. I didn’t mind so much when we were back together.”
“Yes, I think about that time a lot,” Harry said. “It was my first time as a combatant in a war zone, you know. I’d been to some hairy places as a surgeon, but nothing like that, before. I think a lot about The Doctor… when he had the chance to destroy the Daleks once and for all and he didn’t. He couldn’t commit genocide. I don’t blame him. I don’t think I could, either, in truth. In fact, as a doctor, it’s the last thing I could ever imagine doing. He was right to hesitate. But… sometimes I do wonder… I hope… wherever he is, whatever’s happening to him… I hope he doesn’t live to regret that hesitation.”
“Yes,” Sarah Jane agreed. “I think of him, sometimes. I wonder if he’s all right. I wish I knew where he was, and how he’s doing. But he’s hardly the sort to send us postcards, is he?”
“Imagine what sort of stamp would be on it, if he did!” Harry laughed.
They talked some more like that. The music ran out and Harry got up to change the LP. As he did so, he glanced out of the window. He called Sarah Jane to join him there.
“Doesn’t that look magnificent,” he said and Sarah Jane agreed that it did. The big house, on the other side of the ‘L’ was in shadow, apart from the oriel window of the ballroom. The courtyard itself was brightly lit by moonlight, except where a perfect moonshadow of the clock tower crossed it.
“You could almost tell the time by it,” Harry said. “If you knew the time of moonrise.”
“It’s midnight,” Sarah Jane said as she looked around at the clock on the drawing room wall. Then she gasped in shock and grabbed Harry’s arm tightly.
“What’s THAT!” she exclaimed as they both saw another shadow against the pool of moonlight. “It can’t be a bird?”
“It’s….” Harry’s voice was steady. He wasn’t a man who scared easily. But he was lost for words. Something was definitely sitting on top of the clock tower. It was like a bat, or a bird. But far too big to be either.
Then it stood up. It looked like a man. A full grown, though rather thin, man.
Until it opened its wings and flew. Sarah Jane squealed in fright as they both saw the thing fly down from the tower and land on the gable roof of the main house where the vampire and brides party was still in full swing. They watched as it crawled down the wall head first, just like Bram Stoker described Dracula moving down the castle walls.
“It’s a vampire!” Sarah Jane managed to say. “It’s an actual vampire.”
“It is,” Harry agreed. “It has to be. Oh, my. Those people. We’d better warn them.”
Sarah Jane was scared, but she didn’t hesitate. She grabbed her coat from the peg and slipped it on before following Harry outside. She watched him pick up a garden hoe that was leaning against the wall and break it in two over his knee to create two very sharp stakes. They were equipped to fight vampires as they crossed the courtyard to the house.
They found the front door ajar, though the hallway inside was in darkness.
“Is the vampire inside?” Harry wondered.
“I thought they had to be invited,” Sarah Jane replied.
“Maybe he was. They probably thought he was one of the crowd.”
They stepped inside and were disorientated in the dark until they noticed the light coming from under the double doors to the ballroom. There wasn’t any music playing, but there were excited voices raised. Harry opened the door slightly to look inside. Sarah Jane looked with him.
What they saw astonished then. The vampire, the real vampire, dressed in an old fashioned evening suit with his leathery wings outstretched behind him, was standing on the stage in front of the DJ’s currently silent decks. The DJ was sitting at the side of the stage having a cigarette and a bottle of beer. The party vampires and their brides, meanwhile, were lining up in pairs to go up onto the stage. Harry and Sarah Jane did their best not to scream in horror as they saw each of them bend their heads to be bitten in the neck by the vampire.
Harry grabbed Sarah Jane’s arm and pulled her away from the door. They ran out of the house and back to their own cottage without stopping.
“Oh, my!” Sarah Jane exclaimed as Harry put on the main light and searched in the sideboard for a torch. “I think… I think they were actually volunteering to be bitten. They…”
“It’s the highlight of the party,” Harry said. “It’s like… like a reverse of Santa Claus bringing presents at a Christmas party. They’re all lining up to be bitten as their party treat!”
“Oh, no!” Sarah Jane protested. “Oh, no. But… won’t they all become vampires, then? They’ll be infected.”
“We’ve got to stop it,” Harry decided. “Come on…”
“Come on where?” Sarah Jane asked.
“The tower,” Harry answered. “It came from there. If we kill the main vampire the rest will be freed from his curse.” He turned and ran to the kitchen. Sarah Jane followed, still clutching her half a hoe as a stake to kill the vampire with. Harry fumbled at the tower door and then pulled the door open. He took a step forward and then yelped and grabbed the door handle as he struggled to regain his footing. Sarah Jane pulled him back through the door and they both looked at the space where, earlier, there had been a floor. The winding staircase continued down into darkness and the floor appeared to have slid into the wall.
“The vampire lives down there? His coffin… you now…”
“I was going to go up to the tower,” Harry said. “But… you stay here. A vampire’s crypt is not place for you.”
Ordinarily, that kind of chauvinism would have rankled. But Sarah Jane didn’t want to go down into a vampire crypt. She was happy to let Harry do it. She watched his torchlight as he carried on down and then there was a sound of a door opening and closing. A few minutes later he came back.
“There’s no coffin. Just an ordinary single bed and a portable TV and lots of books. And… a fridge full of blood… you know, in the packs used in hospitals for blood transfusions.”
“And no vampire?”
“No.” Harry turned and looked up the stairs and then started to climb up them. Sarah Jane followed this time. She knew there were no coffins to worry about in the room above that they had seen in daytime. They climbed slowly and carefully, having only the torchlight to see by and came at last into the room at the top. It was partially in darkness, and partially in bright moonlight. The vampire was sitting on one of the chairs, his feet up on the table. He had his wings folded around himself and he was wearing sunglasses as if he was bathing in the moonlight.
Harry stepped closer and raised his sharpened half a hoe above the vampire’s heart, ready to plunge it in.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” the Vampire jumped from his chair, sweeping off his sunglasses and rustling his wings impatiently. “Can’t I have five minutes peace and quiet to enjoy a good full moon? Who are you anyway? You don’t look like partygoers.”
“What?” Harry was startled by the vampire’s indignation and forgot for a minute that he was meant to be killing it. “What do you mean… peace and quiet. You’re a vampire… you…”
“And that means I’m not allowed a bit of privacy?” He saw Sarah Jane edging closer and turned towards her. “Lady, just drop the garden fork. I can move much faster than you, although I’d rather not. I’ve had a busy night. Five other parties before the big one here. Halloween is my busy time. I just wanted a quiet moonbathe before bedtime.”
“But you’re a VAMPIRE!” Sarah Jane protested. “You kill people. You…”
“Excuse me,” the Vampire replied indignantly. “I have never killed anyone. And by the way, while we’re on the subject of illegal activities, you two are trespassing.”
“We rented the cottage for the weekend,” Harry explained. “Wait a minute. Why am I explaining myself to a vampire? We saw you sucking their blood – over at the big house.”
“They love it,” he replied. “They invited me. I’m a huge hit at costume parties. I only take a mouthful from each one. It’s like wine tasting. It’s certainly not enough to satisfy the appetite. But they love thinking they’ve been vamped. And I get enough money for my appearances to pay all my bills.”
“What bills?” Sarah Jane asked, despite herself.
“Food bills. I have regular supply from the blood bank. But it’s under the counter, you know. And it costs. Then there’s the electricity to keep the fridge going. And the costumes. Silk lined cloaks and all that sort of thing doesn’t come off the peg at C&A, you know.”
“You are seriously telling us that you’re a party entertainer who lives on blood packs?”
“Look, it wasn’t my first career plan. I got bitten by a vampire and turned. I thought I was going to die. But I didn’t. My parents hid me in the crypt. They did the deal with the blood bank for me, set things up, made things as nice as they could, for me. I can sit up here at nights and look out over the city. I like it. And the parties… as well as the money, I get to meet people. Slightly loopy people, admittedly, I mean, who volunteers for a vampire bite… but at least I have friends. It’s not too bad a life. But then you come along trying to stake me. Vampire hunters…”
“We’re not vampire hunters,” Sarah Jane told him. “I’m a journalist and Harry is a sailor. But… we’re both off duty and… you scared us. And it’s a horrible way to live.”
“Does that give you the right to kill me? Just because I have a different lifestyle to yours?”
“Sarah, old thing,” Harry said. “I really think… I think we’ve made a big mistake. He really isn’t a killer. And we have been rather rude in making assumptions, and trespassing on his time.” He stepped forward and offered his hand to shake. The hand that reached out to respond had longer nails than was normal, and it was rather cold, but other than that there was nothing wrong with it. “I’m Lieutenant Surgeon Harry Sullivan, Royal Navy. This is Miss Sarah Jane Smith, a very well known journalist. And you… you must be the son of our landlord… Mr Cross? An unfortunate surname for a vampire…”
“I’m Eric Cross,” he replied. “And… yes… the surname is a source of hilarity. Though the whole thing about religious icons is a myth, actually. So is the sleeping in a coffin thing.”
“Well, you learn something new every day,” Sarah Jane admitted. “I… er… well… it does seem we were a bit hasty. I think… maybe we should leave you alone.”
“Please, stay a little while,” he invited. “Sit down. I can’t offer you refreshment, I am afraid. But a little company would be pleasant. I think the party down in the big house is winding down now. They’ll all be going home. They’ll have sore heads in the morning, of course.”
“And stiff necks?”
“Yes. Though you would be surprised how many of them will be showing off their wounds. It’s a badge of honour. And good for business, of course.”
“So… what did you do, mum?” Luke asked. “About Eric…”
“Nothing. We sat with him and talked for a while. Then we came downstairs. He went down to his own room and we came back into the cottage and had cocoa and went to bed – separate beds, of course. We paid him a visit the next night, as well. And we left him our business cards when we left. We didn’t see him again, but we got Christmas cards every year. And… when Harry died… at the funeral… there was a beautiful wreath from Eric Cross, and a lovely sympathy card to me. He remembered us. I suppose he still lives there. As long as nobody disturbs him and he doesn’t fall asleep moonbathing and get caught in the sun.”
“Could we go and see him?” Clyde asked. “A Vampire… cool!”
“I don’t know, Sarah Jane answered. “It’s not really… well… possibly… But not at Halloween. That’s his busy time, after all.”