Ghosts in the Blood

By: Andy Monk

In the Absence of Light

Book Three

Chapter One

The Uninvited Guest

Deptford – 1708

Caleb stared blankly through a crack in the stained rags that served to curtain the glassless window. He tried to stretch a little, but the movement made the old stool he was sitting upon creak alarmingly; he could feel Lazziard’s disapproving stare boring into the back of his neck. For an instant, he was a small boy called Daniel again, squirming under the gaze of his father whose attention he’d inadvertently drawn by fidgeting too much.

He comforted himself with the thought that his watch would be over soon; then he’d be able to forsake his awkward perch for the luxury of a rough horse blanket spread over the bare uneven floorboards.

The old man who lived here was no doubt off celebrating his good fortune in some drinking ken or other, spending the good Doctor’s money on cheap booze and cheaper whores for the duration of their venture. For three consecutive nights Caleb and the vampire hunters had crouched in the dark watching for unexpected callers to the ramshackle hut Judd Gusty and his mother called home. So far young Judd had been unmolested by anything worse than the occasional rat straying in from the rich pickings of the shit smothered lane that separated the two rows of hovels.

It was gone midnight in Caleb’s estimation and, other than a few drunks staggering past in search of a bed or somewhere new to embalm the remains of their brains, the shadow filled lane was deserted. Nothing captured his attention apart from the occasional mewling cat, distant raucous laughter or pitiful cry carried on the gentle fetid breeze from one corner of the squalid slum or another.

It was not what Caleb considered a fine night’s entertainment…

The city beyond these pauper’s shacks was full of brightly lit gin palaces, packed taverns, riotous music halls, gambling rooms, opium dens and cat houses where he could pursue his numerous vices in comfort. What price a fine bottle of wine and a card table surrounded by fools? Followed by a comely and giggling whore, maybe even two; all the comforts of civilized living…

He thought about Alyssa instead, spending a happy moment imagining her draped invitingly across silken sheets, long fiery hair crashing over soft white pillows. She was probably curled up in her bed, perhaps wearing just a nightgown of delicate lace against her pale alabaster skin, which rode up as she tossed and turned in the night to reveal the soft places that she hid from the world.

She had been a regular clandestine visitor to his bed over the past few weeks, and each time she had both insisted on her tuppence and refused to let him kiss her.

It was one of the stranger relationships he’d had with a woman, but he did not try too hard to fathom her behaviour for she excited him each time he saw her, whether respectably dressed in the Doctor’s dining room or wantonly naked in his bed.

As far as he knew none of the other vampire hunters were aware of the clandestine affair; after all, he usually only saw Alyssa when she snuck quietly into his room in the small hours of the night. He had suggested moving back to his lodgings for the sake of more privacy, but neither the Doctor nor Alyssa, for presumably decidedly different reasons, would hear of it.

He saw little of her during the day, and when their paths crossed in the house she was as properly behaved as any respectable Doctor’s daughter should be, although even in company she regularly managed to slip in a mischievous word or a sly sideways look that would fire his lust once more.

It was strange, Caleb thought, that in the immediate aftermath of having a woman he usually felt an immense emptiness and not a little loathing for himself; a feeling that typically only grew stronger with each subsequent bedding. With Alyssa, however, he felt, if not contentment, then, at least, an ease that he found unfamiliar. He had sat wondering long and hard whether this might be some stirring of love within his shrivelled old heart, but after talking at length to the memory of his brother about the matter he had eventually dismissed the idea. If Alyssa walked out of his life he would be disappointed, he would miss both her body and her company, but he would continue on his road without breaking stride or looking back over his shoulder and a year hence she would be just another blurred and hazy memory.

No, whatever he felt for her, he could not fool himself that it was love. He could not fool himself that it was what he had felt when Defane had drunk his blood.

They had snuck out of the house a couple of times to drink and dance and explore the darkest and meanest alleys they could find, which seemed to be something that excited them both equally. It was only when he took Alyssa in this manner did the urge to bite her become overwhelming. Perhaps it was the memory of Defane’s teeth that had broken his own skin in an equally squalid alley, but the desire to bite her, which was usually vague and indistinct, became irresistible as he pressed her back against a rough and filthy wall. She seemed only too eager to indulge him too, for she swept her hair back and pulled his mouth down onto her soft and oh so yielding flesh.

He shivered and tried to push such things from his mind; it was strange enough having to carry the memory of his dead brother around with him so vividly, he did not want Defane’s bloody desires too. There was only room for so many ghosts in his head.

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