Thanks, everyone who's stayed with this story so far. Now that Josie has let Mitchell stay, what will happen to them? Does Josie have any idea what she's in for?
As always, I'd love to know your thoughts, concerns, critiques, or just wave hello.
These characters are borrowed from BBC, and all the wonderful and talented people involved in creating Being Human. Thanks for letting us spend more time in their world.
I've agreed to help him. What happens now? No idea. There are no guidebooks for this. He's completely impossible, a mythical creature.
"More tea?" I ask.
"No thank you."
It's very late and I have to work in the morning. I pick up the mugs and take them back to the kitchen. When I return, he touches my arm.
"You know, there's nothing I can say to thank you enough. I can't even begin to to tell you what this means to me."
"So even you don't know the protocol?"
"No, we're going to have to figure this out for ourselves. " He gives a bemused chuckle and shakes his head. "Protocol? You really are a funny little thing."
"You know, that might have been a nice thing to say to someone back when you were a boy, but I'm not a thing. I'm a person. I would never call you a 'thing'."
For a moment he appears taken aback, then he smiles. "You wouldn't? You may be in the minority, you know."
"It's getting late, and this has been an unbelievable day for both of us," I say. "I'm exhausted. You must be too. I'll make up the sofa for you." I turn to get the linens from the bedroom.
"Josie, wait a minute." Light from the lamp on the bookshelf casts his face into sharp relief, throwing shadows in the hollows of his cheeks and beneath his eyes.
For an instant, his closeness startles me, then there's the scrape of a stubbled cheek against my face. His kisses are tentative and quick. I'm filled with a warm electric hum. After a few seconds, he lets go of me. His brow wrinkles apologetically.
"I'm sorry. I've no right..." he begins.
At this point in my life, I'm supposed to settle down, find a suitable husband, and have babies. Be a sensible adult. Do what's expected of me. Stop dreaming of fairy stories. What kind of life is that?
I interrupt his apology with another kiss. Date, rescue, one-night-stand, death wish; I don't care what it's called. Never mind the sofa.
Mercy. I can't remember how we got into the bedroom. Beneath his clothes, his skin is cool to the touch, but gradually warming from my own heat. Mouth, hands, hips, I pull him to me.
Come here come here come here. Closer. Yes, there. Like that. How did you know? Oh yes. Oh, Christ, yes. Like this? All right? Oh my. More more more. Here.
Now. Please. Now. Ohh.
Wait. What's wrong? Oh my god, your eyes. If this is when it happens, you need to break the habit. You don't want to be like this.
No Mitchell. No no no no no. Stop it. Remember why you're here. Stay with me.
Let's do this instead. A kiss. Come back.
Ah, here you are. Steady, I've got you. Here you are darling. That's it. Oh yes. That's it. Kiss me. There? There. Again. More. How's this? Here too? Mmm. Just like that. That's right. Oh my love. Don't stop. Hold me. I'm here. And so are you. Yes. Oh yes.
Here we are. We're safe.
We lie on our backs. Only our hands are touching. For awhile we're both speechless. I have an uncertain sense of triumph. Did he stop for me? Am I special or just lucky?
Finally, I say, "If you'd killed me, I'd have been very disappointed."
"I know. Me too."
He must unconsciously gravitate to warmth because he sleeps pressed against me. He doesn't appear to breathe, but shifts around at intervals during the night like anyone else. I'm awake because his feet are unbelievably cold. I'll ask him to keep his socks on next time.
Jesus. I'm thinking about a next time.
I leave him asleep when I go off to work, and by the time I return in the midafternoon, he has washed every dirty dish in the kitchen, swept all of the floors, made the bed, dusted, taken out the rubbish, emptied all the ashtrays, and is slouched on the sofa smoking a cigarette, drinking tea, and leafing through my copy of Alice in Wonderland.
"So this is what that song is about," he says.
"You never read it before?"
"No. I've missed a lot of things, I'm afraid."
Another morning. Last night, at a crucial moment, I was able to redirect him again. I think it's getting easier. I haven't mentioned socks. We have more pressing things to talk about. He's out of bed, half-dressed, pacing.
"This isn't the sort of help I can expect you to give me. "
"Mitchell, don't patronize me."
"I'm not. I mean it. It's seriously not something you'll want to see. It's been a long time since I've been through anything like this and it wasn't pretty then."
"I've told you. They come back, all of them. They're so vivid sometimes I think they're real."
"So you hallucinate."
"You could call it that. And I'm afraid I could be very ill. Or I could hurt you."
"You want to do this?"
"It's not a matter of wanting to. It will happen. Unless I -"
"- you kill people or this happens? That's not fair at all, is it?"
He drops his shoulders and looks at the floor.
"Those are the options, yes. It's not fair to put you through this either. "
It hasn't been very long, but I hate the idea of him leaving, with an almost physical sense of loss. Maybe it's selfish of me. I don't know what to do.
"But you knew this would happen. And you came here. You didn't really think this through, did you?" My voice spills over into frustration.
"Josie," he says gently, "When I came here, I didn't really think you'd let me in. I'm sorry."
"Doesn't matter if you're sorry or not, does it? Bastard."
He winces at that. He's getting frustrated too. "Look, I don't know what could happen. I won't be in my right mind. If I leave I may kill someone, but if I stay I could kill you, or I could die." More pacing, back and forth, back and forth, across the room, looking out the window, staring at the floor, back to the doorway, around again.
"If I don't feed I'll get very …unstable... and you shouldn't have to deal with it, so I should go. I'll find someplace safe." He stands still for a second, and faces me. His tone softens. "I can't say when I'll be able to come back, but I will, as soon as I can."
A dry ache builds behind my eyes, reaching deep into my skull. There are no good options. If he leaves, I won't know where he's gone, or how to reach him again. Or if he's hurt anyone. Or if he's okay.
It's up to me what happens next, isn't it?
"Don't leave," I say with as much resolve as I can. "This is someplace safe. Let me help you."
He shakes his head no, but won't look me in the eye.
"It's too much to ask."
This is driving me mad. I'm so frightened for him. I've said I would help, and I will. So far, I've been able to pull him back from the edge. He needs me to do it.
I am not dressed, but I stand in front of him so he can't avoid my eyes. I take his arm to interrupt his agitated circling.
"Look at me. Have you hurt me yet?"
"Do you want to?"
"No, of course I don't. But do you have any idea how dangerous this is?"
"I'm beginning to get the idea. "
"It's going to start very soon. I can feel it." He recoils from something I can't see. "I thought you'd gone," he says to someone across the room.
"Who were you talking to? "
"It was Stephanie. She was just there. I liked her, you know. We were so wasted I didn't remember until I saw them. It was bad.
"And she was so...she wasn't even angry...I was just another bloke who let her down in the end. I saw her after, you know. Her ghost. She didn't know what happened."
"Ghosts are real too?"
"They were angry," he continues. I can't tell if he's heard me. "They wanted to show me how angry they were. It seemed to be enough for them. I don't know how it could have been, but they passed on."
"I don't understand."
"...and I still keep seeing her, but it isn't her, it's her blood, she comes back, she keeps coming back. I'm almost glad to see her."
"Did you even know her?"
He seems surprised. "Not really. A little. She was nice to me."
"All right. I understand why, but I really don't understand how. How can you?"
"If I didn't do it, I wouldn't be here. I'd be dead."
I watch him spiral down. It starts with a slight tremor in his hands, an absent look when he's hearing voices or seeing things.
"What's going on? What do you see?"
He tells me.
An alley, the one in Bristol in a block where there are still vacant lots where bombed buildings stood, a vicarage without the church it belonged to. A hotel room with flocked wallpaper, smelling of stale smoke and hairspray. Wiping blood from the faucet taps with the hand towels. Lives compressed to nothing and swallowed.
It's overwhelming. I can't even process it. I don't know what to think.
"Why haven't you killed me? It wouldn't be very hard."
"I couldn't. "
"I really should be scared of you, shouldn't I? I'm still not."
"They're not real to you. But they were real. You do understand, don't you? They died because of me."
"I'm trying to put it together, you and what you're saying. It's like my mind just slides away. I know it's true but I still can't believe it."
"Josie Josie Josie. You need to get this, to really get it. You can't ignore what I am, as much as we'd both like to. I'm a predator. "
"You've never hurt me. I don't think you would. "
"I killed Stephanie. You met her, didn't you?" His voice is shaking. "I ripped one of her breasts off with my teeth. I tore her chest open and the blood spurted out like a fountain. I drank it until she was dead. I couldn't stop myself. I didn't even try. "
"That's horrendous. "
"That's my point," he whispers miserably. "Don't think I'm not grateful for your help, because I am. But you have to know who it is you are helping. I'll always be someone who did those things."
None of it should surprise me. He hasn't tried to hide it. I wish I could give him absolution for what he's done. All the forgiveness in the world couldn't fix it.
I sigh. No way out but through. "We can't change what happened, but you can make different choices now."
I have a twinge of jealousy toward the nonexistent Stephanie, but then he starts to sweat and shake, growing paler and more listless, hallucinating. His eyes widen with fear at whatever he's seeing, whatever is talking to him in the corner is not very happy with him, he seems endlessly contrite and horror-stricken.
He has lucid intervals when he tells me what he's seen. So many people. It doesn't seem possible, but then none of this does. The danger is working its way to the surface. He's warned me over and over. There are purple-brown rings beneath his eyes, so dark they look like like bruises. He's nearly collapsing from exhaustion.
"Get some rest."
"It's no good. I wake up screaming every time."
The only time he makes a sound is when he is asleep, keening with grief, shrieking in fear and pain, thrashing back into awareness, gasping and heaving. My heart hurts for him, but I know he needs this.
I care for him as I would for any sick person, sit by the bedside, keep him warm and clean, help him to the toilet, read to him, let him rest. He grows more and more delirious, and at some point forgets who and where he is, and tries to bite me.
Thank goodness for the practicing we've been doing: when I urgently tell him to stop and snap out of it, he does. This is my responsibility now. I need to take precautions. Nobody is coming to rescue me.
It's vaguely ridiculous to use fashion accesories for this job, but they're all I have. With an assortment of belts, I restrain him as best I can, trying to keep him comfortable. He seems to understand what I'm doing and why, because after I secure one hand, he gives me the other. I do his feet too, to be safe, and curl up at the far end of the bed, blinking back tears.
He's slipping in and out of consciousness, moving spasmodically. His empty black eyes don't register me sobbing at the foot of the bed. I lie with my arms wrapped around his knees as he thrashes and moans. I don't know how much more I can take.
A break. In the other room, drinking tea trying to calm down before I go back in to try and clean him up. A banging at the door.
"What's all the racket?"
"Nothing to worry about. My friend isn't feeling too well, I'll ask him to keep it down. "
The cries and moans get louder and louder. Maybe he deserves this ordeal, but I don't think I do. I just want him to stop, I want this to be over. I wonder what would happen if he died, would it be a relief? Then I feel guilty for even thinking that.
I want him back, like he was. I try to picture him like that, a brave man facing this horror, in there somewhere. Now he's a virtual stranger, a demented vampire, for Christ's sake. Impossible. Lying in my bed screaming bloody murder. Shh.
He's looking at me. His eyes are clear. We're about to have the same conversation again, the one where I remind him what he's doing here. It's become a ritual over the past few days.
"Josie, that's you isn't it? "
"Who else would it be?"
"I'm not going to die. I'll get better. I promise."
"When? How long?"
"I don't know. It's all my fault."
Yes it is.
"No it isn't. You didn't ask for it."
"But I loved it."
"You are what you are."
"But it's not right is it?"
"No it's not, but we are here now. You never get a choice about where you've been, only about where you go next. I'll help you with that one."
I smooth the hair back from his darkly bristled face. His eyes change from black to amber-green and back again.
He's come to again. He's filthy.
"I need to clean you up okay? Can you hold on long enough for me to do that?"
"I'll try." His eyes are wide with the effort, he bites his lip until it slowly oozes dark purple blood. I carry clean towels and a basin of warm water and slide the soiled sheets out from under him, ease the rubber sheet and the clean bedding back in place. He shivers and gasps until I nestle the hot water bottles back beside him and wrap him in clean covers. I run a comb through his hair, hold a cup for him so he can have a few sips of water, and kiss the top of his head.
When he opens his eyes they are black again and he's gone, he strains against the bonds and howls.
I retreat to the other room with a bottle of brandy and and turn on the television to drown out the noise. There's a program with a middle-aged man walking on the beach, looking at a flapping, fabric-like ghost in the distance. Abruptly, he turns and addresses me.
"What are you doing? Are you fucking stupid? He's the spawn of the devil. Your worst nightmare."
Not this again. Just leave me alone.
"No," I say. "He's more like an injured wild animal. He doesn't understand what's going on right now. I'll keep myself safe and do what I can to help him without getting bitten. But I know it's really a person in there."
"Is it? He doesn't even recognize you. He can't see you. All the things he says, they're just part of the script."
The man bares his teeth and claws the air with his fingers in a demonstration, and uses a comical growly voice to say, "Raaaaar! I'm a predator. Top of the food chain. I can't help it. Sorry, thank you, I need you, it's only natural. We're sharks." His voice returns to normal. "Well, people are animals too. You know, predators, prey, all that. It's just nature."
"No. We're not animals."
"Oh but we are, just like all the others, we kill because it's in our nature. We mate because it's in our nature." He makes a rather obscene movement with his pelvis to illustrate his last point.
"But that's not what happened. It was more than that."
"I highly doubt it. Why do you think so?"
"Why? Because we have a choice. It's not just a blind urge to rut. It's not only a compulsion to feed or die. We can rise above instinct, we can meet at a different place. We can choose to be together."
"Is that what you call this? "
"Together? Not right now, no. But I chose this too. You're really obnoxious. Please leave me alone."
I switch off the telly.
I lie down with my brandy at close reach and sob through gritted teeth until I drop off to sleep.
A lucid Mitchell meets me in my dream. He lies on the sofa with his head in my lap and murmurs half to me, half to himself.
"It all spirals around, back through. The blood remembers it all. It makes me remember, like I'm extracting the last bit of pulp before the life in it runs out. But the memories are never really gone are they? They are me now. I'm all that's left of them. There's not enough pain. I can't feel it all. Not enough fear. There's no point in sorry. There's no point in crying. I'm not here. I've been gone for a very long time. It can't be undone."
His arm reaches for me and wraps around my waist. His clear eyes look up into mine.
"I've died. I can't come back."
Albert rings me.
"Josie what's happened? Where have you been? Are you all right?"
I'm exhausted and lonely, losing hope, on the verge of insanity, but I say, "I've been quite poorly, with symptoms I'd rather not describe except to say it is a bad idea to be far from a toilet."
If anyone were to see me, I'm sure I look the part.
There's a knock on the door of the flat. How did anyone get inside? Through the spyhole I see a slightly rumpled, fair-skinned young man in a suit. He carries a battered leather briefcase. His collar is undone and his tie is loosened. When, against my better judgement, I open the door, I think I smell alcohol on his breath.
"Hello, Miss. I'm here in an official capacity. This building has recently changed hands. I represent the new owners. I was just visiting with the tenants upstairs, and thought I might pay you a visit as well while I'm in the neighborhood."
I try to put him off but he somehow works his way inside, and is standing in the entryway, clearly expecting me to invite him in. I'm conscious of the flat's disarray, and worry that it might smell less than clean after all this time. I haven't had much opportunity to do the laundry.
"I've heard there may have been some unusual occurrences here," he says.
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"All right, I suppose there's no need to beat around the bush." He sucks on his teeth for a second.
"Vampires," he says. He mouths the syllables in an exaggerated fashion, over-enunciating, as if he thinks I won't recognize the word. "Have you seen any?"
"What? That's ridiculous," I say, trying to ease him back out the door.
"Do you really think that?" His eyes fade to black.
I try to suppress a gasp of shock. The sight of those blackened eyes doesn't unnerve me anymore. Mitchell's have been fixed in that state for more than a week. But an unexpected visit from another vampire unnerves me quite a bit.
"What do you want? Are you here to kill me?"
"No, no. Nothing like that. This place is probably the safest house in London, vampirewise. Your new upstairs neighbors would never draw attention to their home like that. No one wants to foul his own nest."
"Am I the only one in this building with a pulse?"
"There's another flat downstairs from you, isn't there? No vampires in that one.
"Mainly, we're looking for a chap that goes by the name of Herrick. Rather diminutive, blue eyes, light hair, looks about fifty-ish, snappy dresser? The local authorities would like a word with him."
"He was here, but that was several weeks ago. I don't know where he went. He went away, that was good enough for me."
I really want this man out of here.
"If you don't mind, I'm caring for a sick friend at the moment, please excuse me."
"You'll have to forgive me, Miss, but frankly it smells sort of like an undead monkey cage in here. It's concerning. I hope you don't mind if I pay your sick friend a visit." Without asking, he opens the bedroom door.
The bedclothes are draped over Mitchell for modesty but there's no way to hide that his hands are secured to the bed frame. His eyes have been perpetually coal black for the past few days. His skin has taken on a greyish hue. His lips are cracked and dry. He stares into space mumbling feverishly. When I approach him he appears to register that I'm there, but I can't be sure.
The man shakes his head disapprovingly. "You've got to feed this poor fellow, he's starving. You know as well as I that if he just has a little blood he'll be right as rain. Might take a few days for him to recover, but he'll be fine."
"He doesn't want it."
"Of course he does. This is just ...wrong."
"He asked me to help him. "
"I fail to see how this is helping."
Mitchell is stirring, beginning to emerge again from his daze. He blinks a few times, trying to make out what's happening.
"Why don't you ask him yourself? Mitchell?"
"Wait, wait. Did you say Mitchell? Good grief. Really? John Mitchell? You do know that's a very dangerous man, don't you? I've heard the stories. I mean, hell, I'm afraid of him. Well, not when he's like that, but normally I would be. Herrick's lost him, has he?"
Vampires tell stories about Mitchell? I don't think I'd like to hear those.
"I'd no idea he was famous. In any case, I'm sure he'd prefer to keep a low profile."
The man leans over the bed for a closer look. A cracked, gleeful smile spreads across his face.
"It really is you. I saw you once, at a meeting. The crowd parted to get out of your way. They were so starstruck they were practically begging for autographs."
Mitchell squints at him.
"Should I know you?"
"Probably not. We've met in passing once, not that you'd remember. You're looking rather poorly, I must say. Listen, I can get you out of here."
Mitchell closes his eyes and turns his face in the other direction.
The young man laughs in a slightly unhinged way, almost a giggle. "Go away? You mean to tell me that you, John Mitchell, are here voluntarily allowing a human to hold you prisoner and deprive you of sustenance? That's insane. You know that's insane, right?"
I need to put a stop to this. He's in no shape to have this discussion.
"Sir, I'm sure he appreciates your concern. You heard him. He doesn't want your assistance, and he's asked you to leave. I'll ask you the same."
"I should think he does need my help. But so long as he's causing us no trouble I'll leave him be. We'd prefer him like this, actually, as he's of no use to Herrick in this defanged condition. You're welcome to keep him as long as you like. I only request that if he kills you, he does it someplace besides here. We don't want any more incidents in this location."
He lets himself out, saying, "I hope to see you alive sometime in the future, Miss, but I don't really expect I will. Good day."
When I check on Mitchell, he is gazing fixedly at a point on the wall. The muscle in his temple is twitching. He turns to me with an annoyed expression.
"Has he gone?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Good. Worthless little shit."