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Diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of eleven T L Spencer turned to writing as a way to cope with her condition. Her vivid imagination and love of all things paranormal influenced her writing. T L Spencer enjoys all forms of literature and is currently studying at university, hoping to become a teacher.

Always Out There: A Short Story

“Katherine,” my mum shouted from the kitchen. “Where’s the paper?”

                “I’m looking at it now!” I spread an article from the Telegraph out onto the living room floor. It looked really interesting and seemed to be rather important – it took two full pages. As mum came back into the room, I started to read aloud:  “Experts on the Supernatural Surge are at a loss to explain why the recent Paranormal Census has recorded such an increase in the Vampire population. Since their discovery in 2010, there have been numerous laws put in place to ensure that the otherworldly beings, for the safety of humans, make themselves known by way of private listings. However, the sudden rush of Vampiric activity has left experts feelings extremely confused. Indeed, so befuddled are they by the recent results, experts themselves have been heard to say that ‘Vampires will be found around every corner.’”

                “That’s nonsense!” Mother exclaimed over her tea cup.

                I privately agreed. Mum may not be up-to-date with the whole ‘Vampires are among us’ news but she had a valid point. If there were paranormal creatures around every corner, why had I never seen one? They couldn’t be that hard to spot?

                I looked up at the clock from my comfortable position on the floor. It was five o’clock. “Mum, I’m going to see Alex… See what he thinks.”

                “It’s getting dark…”

                “Mum, I’m seventeen and this is Durrington. Nothing exciting ever happens here.” I stood up, put on my shoes and checked my handbag before continuing, “Besides, Alex lives five minutes down the road. I’ll be fine.” And I was off.

                The roads were quiet, even though people were getting home from work. There were hardly any cars in Durrington, although it was only a short drive from the bigger cities; most people hated to drive and used public transport instead.

                As I walked towards Alex’s house, I gazed around at all the familiar sights. Mildred, my Mum’s oldest friend, was just leaving her house, heading to her shift at the local twenty-four hour garage around the corner; cats were chasing bugs and butterflies into hedges and older teens were hanging around street corners in a sad attempt to look cool.

                I laughed to myself. Thanks to Alex, I missed that embarrassing stage. We’d been friends for years, since we were tiny, but with him being older, he usually led the way. It was odd. In many ways, Alex and I were complete opposites. He was six-foot with short black hair that gleamed beautifully like a raven’s wing, and I was five-foot four with annoying curly blonde hair which went frizzy at the mere mention of damp weather. Alex, despite my trying not to notice, was also drop dead gorgeous and I… wasn’t. I sighed in momentary disgust and kicked at a pebble to release my frustration.

                When I next raised my head, I found myself stood in front of Alex’s front gate. His house, unlike my hovel, was also perfect. Though it looked like every other semi-detached in this small town, it had an old-world elegance about it. With Elain, Alex’s mother, always pottering in the garden, the front of the house never failed to remind me of a quaint English cottage, complete with smoking chimney and freshly painted window boxes. The front door was just as pristine.

                But that was where the only unusual thing about the house was. Where everyone else would place a horse shoe or a butterfly or even a chicken, the Hodsons had chosen a pentagram for their number plaque.

Shaking my head, I opened the gate and walked to the front door.

I knocked but no one answered. For a minute, I thought about leaving but raised voices drew my curiosity and when I realised that the door was open, I let myself in and sneaked into the kitchen where an argument was raging.

As I entered the kitchen, I was immediately taken aback by Henry, Alex’s father. He was a scary looking man; he was taller than Alex and held himself differently, tougher. I swallowed, took a deep breath and met his gaze. He looked livid.

His eyes narrowed and I stepped back until my back hit the kitchen side. My handbag landed with a loud thud and I watched helplessly as everything tumbled out of it.  He spared the handbag a brief look of disdain and focused his attention on his son.

“She can’t be here,” he shouted sternly.

Alex stepped in front of me protectively. “Dad, Katie would never say anything. I trust her.”

“I don’t care,” he spat. “She’s here too much; she knows too much! She must be silenced.” Henry took a threatening step forward and before I knew what was happening, I was thrust into the hallway and was forced to watch my best friend and his father fight each other.

What was going on? I was clearly missing something. With a growing dread, I watched. There was nothing human about it. My best friend was vampire! His entire family were vampires. It was impossible but it was true. How could I deny the evidence that was right in front of me?  The shocking, terrifying proof…

Watching them made me feel sick. It was too fast and extremely brutal. I didn’t want to look but it felt like I had no choice; what if they killed each other?

Alex bared his fangs and hissed, defending himself as his father tried to force him to the floor. He blocked a fist but was too slow to block the next one and with a thud, Alex was pushed into the hallway, stumbling by my feet. I tried to steady him but I wasn’t strong enough. What could I do?

I moved out the way, wanting to cower in the corner, as Henry strode up to him to grip him by the throat. Alex jabbed outwards at his father with claw like hands and caught him; I saw blood pool on Henry’s shirt and screamed. At least Alex wasn’t the only one being hurt, I thought.

What was I thinking?! He was a vampire! Alex would probably just heal instantly after he was cut.

But as the fight continued, I started to grow more apprehensive; though Alex was clearly super strong, Henry was clearly stronger. And the wounds weren’t healing: Alex was going to lose.

Henry was still holding Alex by the throat. I had to do something. What could I do?

I didn’t think; I just acted. I ran up to Henry and did the first thing that came to mind; even if it was a bit girly. I reached for his thick black hair and pulled as hard as I could.

It worked. He yelled in surprise and released his grip on Alex, who went crashing to the floor, banging his head against the wall. Henry quickly regained his composure and turned to me, his face as menacing as ever. He lifted his hand but stopped when he heard his son’s voice, “Don’t you dare!” The strong voice made him stop but he didn’t look happy. Henry stepped closer and Alex shouted, “Dad!”

Henry snorted and turned, giving me a chance to check on Alex. He was bleeding on the floor, leaning against the wall for support; his breathing ragged and uneven. His face was swollen and there was a large gash across his temple. He could have a concussion, I thought. But do vampires even get them?

Suddenly furious, I looked at his father and shouted. “What do you think you’re doing? You don’t beat your own son, no matter how enraged you get.” It occurred to me that he might just rip my throat out. After all, I was probably their equivalent to a prime rib-eye, but I said it anyway.

“You have no right to be here human, leave us.” His voice was hypnotic, deep and sensuous. A buzzing started in my mind. Was he trying to control me? Anger rose. How dare he?

“Beating your son makes you even more unworthy in life than a human! You’re nothing more than an animal. A brute from the caves. A Neanderthal. But then again, you have to be a man for that and even if you were human, you would still fail on that count,” I said, my head held high. I turned my full attention to Alex; his face was covered in blood. Racing back into the kitchen I grabbed my handbag, searching for some tissue before running back into the hallway. I needed to wipe the blood from his face.

Kneeling down beside him, I examined his wounds with shaking hands. “What on Earth…?”

“I’m a vampire, Katie,” Alex said with a flat voice.

My hands trembled even more but I ignored them, “We need to get you onto a chair or something.” I motioned to Henry and he reluctantly came to my assistance.

 It was unnerving, being in a room full of vampires. I knew that I had been alone with them before but fear is a weird thing. Rationally, I knew I was safe. Neither of them had ever attacked me but I just couldn’t help it. Every time one of them looked at me, my heart seemed to stop.  My skin went cold and clammy and my veins, which I could usually see, had hidden themselves away. Self-preservation?

“We would never hurt you, Katherine.” Alex looked offended by my reaction to him. I pretended it was because he was in pain. As we manoeuvred him onto a high-backed chair in their living room, I sat back on the sofa and curled my arms around myself as tightly as possible.

“How did I not know you were vampires?” I blurted the question. “All the reports said that vampires were really easy to spot. And don’t call me Katherine!” I hated it when Alex called me that.

“What mortals know about vampires,”  began Henry, “couldn’t fill the back of a postage stamp. You are all too full of mythologies and fictional tales to see the truth.”

“Well inform me then,” I replied simply.

“Those experts are stupid, Katie,” Alex began. “They don’t really know anything. Do you remember that pamphlet everyone received a few months ago? ‘How to Recognise a Supernatural?’ There were things like…” He affected a pompous voice, “Watch for particularly pale persons, be mindful of those who enjoy rare red meats, Vampires do not have a reflection; be sure to test all your neighbours with a mirror.” He shook his head at me and smiled, “They’re all a load of rubbish.”

Henry took over when Alex broke into a coughing fit. “Vampires, Katherine, are masters of deception. We can hide more effectively than any mortal ever could. There are few ways to tell us apart from humans and once you know them, they are rather obvious.”

I waited with bated breath. Was he going to tell me, or leave me in suspense?

“When we are in heightened emotional states, our eyes take on an almost metallic sheen. This is the predator in us. We have better eyesight than humans; the metallic sheen to our pupils indicates our ability to see into the shadows.” That was kind of useful, I thought. I stared at the floor. Was I going into shock?

He continued, “The other two are less obvious. Our reflections - as you can attest, we do have them – are blurred. We have never known the reason for this, perhaps we never shall. But is a way of identifying our kind, a way of recognising each other. The last is by our movements.”

I lifted my head, remembering their fight. “You made no noise!”

Alex took a deep, calming breath and said, “Exactly.”

“That article in the paper today,” Alex continued. “Where is it Dad? Over there!” Henry passed it over to him and Alex picked out a paragraph: “When the first Vampires were discovered, demonology and military experts did all they could to find their origin, but to no avail. They can however confirm that the Paranormal creatures are a result of an, as yet, unidentifiable and incurable disease. Dr Michael Jameson, Director of the C.D.C had this to say, ‘These people are simply innocent men, women and children that have been infected with a rare and mutating pathogen. We know that it is not an airborne contagion, so the public have nothing to worry about.’” He looked at me, astonished. “And people believe this!”

I nodded and remained silent. I had nothing to say. That worried me – I always had something to say.  Alex looked worried too; he put the paper down and leaned his head against the back of the chair, rubbed an uninjured hand over his face and let the air race from his lungs.

“I don’t have anything to say, Alex.” His lips twitched and a laugh escaped. How dare he? Of all the insensitive things to do after what I’d just experienced? I was furious.

 “Alex Hodson.” He had the grace to wince at my angry tone. “How dare you laugh at me? Did it ever occur to you that this bombshell…” I puffed and panted, jumping off the sofa to point violently down at him. I saw Henry smile out of the corner of my eye and glared at him before continuing, “That this very large bombshell would be disconcerting, even frightening for me?” My voice broke and a tear fell.

“Damn,” he muttered. “Come here,” he whispered. “Come on, Katie.” I sniffled and leaned down into his arms; he kissed my hair and continued, “I’m sorry.”

Henry spoke from his seat, “Your wounds need cleaning son. “ Alex nodded in reply.

While his father raced into the kitchen, searching the cupboards for the first-aid kit, I remained where I was, trying to sort out my jumbled thoughts.

What should I do? I already knew vampires existed, that wasn’t what shocked me. The entire world knew about vampires. It was something closer to home. If Alex could keep that big a secret from me, what else was he hiding? How could I trust him? Was I really safe with him now that I knew? Even if I was, would I ever feel that way again? Could I ever just go to his house and do homework, or complain about the rubbish programmes on the telly?

I tried to breathe normally, but I was having difficulty. My thoughts were too jumbled and the adrenaline was still pumping and I was still too scared to move. If I moved, I decided, all of it would be real. All of the hellish nightmare of the Saturday night would be real. Every single thing.

I heard Alex hiss and my whole body stiffened in alert. I stopped breathing and listened closely. Henry was in the kitchen, still rummaging for bandages and antiseptic, but Alex had gone very, very quiet and his breathing had changed.

An odd noise caught my attention and as I drew back, I felt a small prick to my neck. “Alex, did you just…?” I jumped back in horror, knocking a vase off the coffee table. His fangs had come out! He had nearly bit me! I watched, shaking and wide-eyed as Alex tried to control himself. His incisors had lengthened considerably; they looked fake, they looked sharp.

Alex took a deep breath and his fangs disappeared. When he had regained control, his eyes were clear and sparkling and he no longer looked like a monster. Now he looked handsome (though grimy) and very concerned as he looked up at my terrified gaze.

 His hand trembled as he reached for me. I recoiled from his grasp and cowered away from him. His face of concern morphed into one of pain. He looked away and I saw a tear fall down his cheek. I had hurt him. He couldn’t even look at me.

Honestly though, what did he expect? Did he think I was going to just sit down angelically or jump for proverbial blooming joy? He nearly bit me!

Still, seeing him so down trod did make me feel guilty. Slowly and with caution, I sat down next to his chair and put my hand on his. “I’m sorry Alex,” I began. “I just… It’s a lot to take in.” I squeezed his hand gently. He held on to it tightly, raising it gently to his lips and smiled, his eyes staring at me with that usual dark intensity.

“That’s okay, Katherine.” I scowled at the use of my full name. “I’m sorry too.”

At that moment, Henry came running in with enough medical supplies to sink a ship. There were enough bandages to make a mummy, enough plasters to build a life raft and so many needles, my eyes nearly popped out of my head in fear. I hated needles. My eyes bulged at the sight of so many. How on Earth would someone use that many needles? There were only so many places a person could be poked and prodded. Anyone with that many needle marks would be like a sieve by now surely?

A shiver overtook me before I could suppress it and Alex barely had time to smother his laugh. I glared and started to chastise him but yawned instead. I glanced at the nearest clock and couldn’t believe my eyes. “Ten o’clock!”

“It is late, “Henry agreed. “And you are tired. Go home and rest. We will meet again in the morning.” He was right. I had a lot to think about.

I didn’t wave goodbye. I just gathered my things and got out of there as fast as I could. If I didn’t think about anything, I didn’t have time to feel guilty for just abandoning my best friend who was bleeding on a chair. But what good would I have been anyway? How could I have helped him? As I closed the front gate of the Hodson household, I squinted to see the front door and its pentagram plaque. That was why it was different to everyone else’s, I thought miserably, because they themselves were different. They weren’t human. The plaque was just a small way of showing that without revealing their secret. A secret I now also had to keep.

I turned away. I didn’t want to look anymore. I didn’t want to see it again for a while.

The white streetlights cast ghostly shadows onto the empty pathways and made the trees take on lives of their own. With my new found knowledge and the newspaper article buzzing around in my head, paranoia became a living entity within me. Everything seemed to be moving. Post boxes became sinister demons waiting to ambush innocent bystanders, birds turned into hobgoblins crouching in the bushes. Even a cat made me jump as it ran across the road to chase a mouse.

I needed a break. I needed chocolate. Chocolate would cure all my problems. After all, chocolate is a girl’s best friend; that and a good book under warm covers. It would only take a minute or so, the short walk from the end of my road to the small garage around the corner. It was always open. And, with any luck, I would be greeted with a familiar face when I got to the checkout. There would be nothing supernatural, or weird or out of the ordinary. Everything would be blissfully normal. Just like life should be.

The bright lights blared and stung my eyes as I turned the corner but I smiled. This was just what I needed. The all too familiar sights of newspaper racks and empty flowers buckets soothed me as I opened the garage door and headed straight to the sweetie aisle.

There was just so much to choose from. I spent at least five minutes wondering what to pick but I finally made my decision: a giant Yorkie bar. I also went to the hot drinks counter and poured myself a hot chocolate. Why not? If I was going to feel sorry for myself, I might as well do it properly. But as I was going to the checkout, fishing for my purse, I looked up onto the glass counter and screamed.

My hot chocolate crashed to the floor, forgotten. My chocolate bar fell to the ground and echoed in the silence. There it was. A sign; just like they told me. A blurred reflection. So blindingly obvious yet so often overlooked. But it wasn’t that that made me scream.

It was who the reflection belonged to.

It was Mildred!

I ran from the garage, not bothering to help with the clean-up. I was terrified and completely shocked. Mother had known Mildred for nearly fifty years. Mildred was mother’s best friend in the whole world, and she was a vampire! How could this happen? How could we not tell?

Henry’s words echoed in my mind, “What mortals know about vampires couldn’t fill the back of a postage stamp. You are all too full of mythologies and fictional tales to see the truth.” Maybe that wasn’t it, I thought.

 Maybe we just didn’t want to know…

I certainly didn’t.

Copyright © 2012 TL Spencer