I open the door at the knock, wondering who would come calling at such a horrible hour. I'll be hanged if it isn't William the Bloody Awful Poet. He seems in an awful state, shivering, unkempt – rather pale, as well.
"Where have you been?" I ask him, pulling on the dressing gown. I would call my valet, but he is already asleep for the night, and he has some strong views about being shaken awake. Impudence, yes, but he is a good servant and I would rather not displease him.
"May I come in, please?" William stammers. He isn't wearing his glasses, and I wonder why. He also wears a cravat around the neck, higher up than usual.
"I suppose you may. Everyone's been wondering where you went after the party last week. Some said you drowned yourself in the Thames. And where is your mother?" Not that I really care about that sniveling little twit, but I have a reputation to hold up. Besides, fresh gossip would be ideal for the next soiree.
William crosses the threshold. "I wouldn't suppose you would have some brandy?"
"Fresh out, I fear," I lie. Out of curiosity, I inquire, "Where did you really go?"
His eyes dart around. "Are you alone here?"
"Except for my man. He is a sound sleeper, though, so any confidence you might reveal to me –" Yes, yes anything I could tell the ladies. Making fun of William is our favorite sport.
"Is private. Thank you." He stares at the table. "I thought about what you said. That night changed my life."
"So you've decided to do something useful, rather than idly composing the worst verses that London has ever seen?"
He hides his face, looking away from me. "No. I thought I would grant your wish."
And then he turns around, and it is not a human face. In the few split seconds before I faint dead away, I see that he has fangs, and the brow is creased in some demonic fashion.
I awake to darkness, unable to move. I am also unable to see. "What have you done? What is going on?"
"You hurt me pretty badly that evening," William's voice pipes on, sounding more cheerful than I have ever heard him. "But that was nothing compared to the cumulative effects of the years. I was always your whipping boy, always the fool. All I wanted was some appreciation. But no, that was too much to ask from you. Then…I met a lady who made everything different."
"Sweetheart, you are entirely too kind." The voice sounds very common, Cockney even. Never has a woman's voice been so chilling.
"You're mad," I tell the darkness, wishing my words could be steady.
"Hush, pet. Let me talk to the man," William tells her.
She lets out a schoolgirl's laugh. "Is he going to play? I like this game."
My mind races for some escape. "You're both mad."
"Well, she is, certainly. Quite mad. I, however, am more sane than I have ever been." As William speaks, I feel an odd sensation at my feet. William speaks as if to a child. "Dru, leave his toes alone."
"But they're so soft and pink. Like ladybird beetles."
"Ladybird beetles are neither soft nor pink, Dru."
"It was a metaphor."
"Why don't you go play with Darla, and let me talk to this nice man?"
I lick my lips, for they feel drier than the best of gins. "If it's ransom you want, I can surely arrange something."
"Got no use for money anymore. What I eat, they don't sell in shops." William chuckles. "Now what was it you said to me? Rather than listen to my poetry, you would prefer a railroad spike through the – left foot?"
I scream and scream, for something sharp has pierced all the way through my left foot. "I'm sorry, all right? Please!"
"Too late." William sounds quizzical, searching, as if attempting to recall his mother's favorite jam flavor. "You know, I still can't remember. Was it the right foot?"
"Was it the right arm?"
"Was it the left arm?"
"Please, please, please…What are you, anyway? You certainly aren't human."
"Oh, how impolite of me. I forgot to let you know. Oh yes, it was the head. Silly me. Unfortunately, blood won't flow very well after the person's dead, so I better have dinner first."
He bites my neck, and that's the end.