Read Refuge Online

Authors: Kirsty Ferry

Refuge (6 page)

The couple turned down the narrow lane of Derby Street. Beyond that, Kester knew, was the tiny street of Pitt’s Head Mews. It was quiet down there. If anybody was walking along the Mews, it was unlikely there would be anyone around to hear their cries. Kester followed the couple, feeling the familiar jostle of the dagger against his hip. If he was wrong, he would only make himself look foolish. Rather that, than have this opportunity slip through his fingers.

                ‘Excuse me!’ he called. His voice sounded loud and out of place in the quiet lane. The couple stopped and the man turned around. The woman kept her face turned away from him. ‘This may sound quite strange, but I couldn’t help noticing that you were trying to visit a friend of mine a few moments ago.’ Kester almost choked on the word ‘friend’. How could that creature have been anyone’s friend? ‘I met him in Northumberland. He gave me that address, but I was unable to get an answer from the door. Do you know where he might be today?’

The man stared at Kester, seeming to weigh him up. ‘You ask some strange questions, Sir,’ he said. ‘Why should I answer them?’

Kester felt the annoyance bubble up within him. Why were these things so bloody arrogant all the time? ‘You do not have to answer me, Sir,’ he replied. ‘Certainly not. You do not have to explain yourself either. I was simply curious. I bid you farewell.’ He nodded briefly and made as if he were to leave the alleyway. There was the faintest
whoosh
and he felt a cold breeze behind him. He turned, raising the dagger at the same moment the man reached out to grab him. The dagger found its mark; the vampire shrieked, exploding into a cloud of dust as it was slain. The vampire’s partner screamed. She hurled herself at Kester, her eyes wild and blood-red. Kester struck once more and the blade landed between her breasts. She howled and stared at the dagger before collapsing into ash. It proved to Kester which house he needed to visit. Although, if he was honest with himself, he was unsure of what he hoped to find once he arrived there.

***

Tucking the dagger safely into his waistband, Kester pulled his waistcoat down to hide it, and shrugged his frock coat around him. Pushing his hands deep inside his pockets, he sauntered out of the alleyway back towards Curzon Street. All the while, he was planning the best way of entering the house. It seemed to him that his only option was through the back of it. He turned sharply onto Market Mews – the little street that would take him along the back of the terrace. He walked along to the end, assessing which house he needed to be at. There was a high brick wall along the back of the terrace, but there were gates leading out from each house on to the Mews. Kester was considering his chances of success, should he have to somehow break into a yard and clamber through the neighbouring ones until he got there, when he saw his opportunity. It was as if God was welcoming him; one of the gates was ajar. It was as if someone had left in a hurry and clashed the gate shut, but it hadn’t caught on the latch and had bounced back. As he stood staring at it, Kester realised that this was, indeed, the house he had wanted to enter.

                ‘Thank you, God,’ he murmured, and pushed the door open wide enough for him to slip inside the yard. From the back, the house looked just as grim as the front did. He crouched down, keeping close to the dividing wall of the neighbouring house and made his way to the back door. He sensed that there was nobody around, but his heart still pounded in his chest. He felt around the door to see if that too was ajar, but it wasn’t. Then he leaned his shoulder against it, to see if he could somehow open it with force. The door would not budge. He stood back and looked around him. He saw the basement window at ground level, and wondered if it was possible to drop down into the space and try to get in that way. He stood quietly, and pressed his ear against the back door, listening for sounds within the house. Nothing. He took a deep breath and stepped towards the basement space. In one movement, he was down in the gap. He hoped he could somehow get in – otherwise he was well and truly trapped.

                The window slid upwards as many of them in these buildings did, and he tried to prise the pane up to gain access. A piece of rotten wood on the window sill suddenly gave way and it gave Kester’s fingers enough purchase to push the pane up. The window moved – enough for him to slot both hands into the gap and continue to push it up with all his strength. The window creaked and groaned and sweat dripped down Kester’s forehead. Eventually, it slid up and Kester was staring at a space wide enough for him to crawl through. This definitely led into the kitchens – and if a vampire lived here, he doubted that it would have need for a food preparation area such as this every day.

                Kester slipped through the window and almost immediately his nostrils were assailed by a smell that made him gag. The whole room stank of rotting meat. He covered his mouth with his forearm and retched. He stumbled through the room and pushed open a door that he guessed led out into a corridor. The smell was worse here, if that were possible and he tripped over something on the floor.

                ‘Dear God!’ he cried, as he steadied himself. Lying on the floor was the decomposing remains of what he assumed had once been a scullery maid. He could just make out her white hat and apron in the gloom. He tried to push his way through another door, which at first resisted his efforts to open it. Partially blocking the door, at the bottom of a stone staircase, was what Kester assumed had once been a butler. He ran up the stairs and found himself in the main hallway of the house. Grand reception rooms led off from either side of it, the doors wide open. Through one door, Kester made out another body – a chamber maid, this time; still clutching a bunch of shrivelled flowers in her hand. A footman, dressed in golden livery was huddled by the front door. Thick masses of flies buzzed around the place and Kester ran up another flight of stairs. Door after door stood open; a similar scene greeting him in many of the rooms. He did not dare investigate the dining room too thoroughly; one glance was enough to satisfy him that the bodies of several people, men and women, were ranged around a table covered with blood and broken crockery. The body of a young girl was amongst them; her eyes stared sightlessly out of the door towards Kester and she reminded him somehow of his sister. He made the sign of the cross and closed the door to the room, feeling utterly helpless. It was as if something had purged the house of all life; and Kester decided that this carnage could not possibly be the result of one creature’s greed. It was more than likely the work of the vampire he had met on Lindisfarne, assisted by his elegant, hungry friends.

                Kester made his way through some more rooms. One small room which led off a hallway was devoid of bodies and seemed to be a study or a library of some description. He moved over to the walnut desk which sat in the middle of the room and pulled the drawers out. He rifled through the contents of the drawers one by one: household bills and accounts, advertisements, old scribbled notes – the usual detritus of day to day life. He wanted to find something which would give him a clue as to where the vampire’s friends resided. The vampires he had encountered were well-dressed, cultured looking individuals. They could be swarming around Mayfair and Kensington for all he knew. He was willing to bet that the one who had killed his sister was from the area. For a fleeting moment, he wondered if the vampires actually bred – whether the couple he had seen today, perhaps, had any children? He doubted it. Reason and research told him vampires only increased the number of their species by choosing victims which they changed. The thought was abhorrent to him – not just the changing, but the thought of them making love and acting like animals. Surely there could be nothing loving about it? Did they even have feelings?

                The smell of gore and decay was getting stronger in the warm afternoon as the house heated up and the sun filtered through the shutters at the back. He had to work quickly before he vomited. He didn’t think he would be disturbed; on some level, he trusted that the man on Lindisfarne had been the hub of the activity in this house and that man was, of course, no longer a danger. Kester wondered why he had killed his servants though, as well as the dinner guests. Had they seen too much, or had his friends become greedy? Or were the guests, indeed, the main course? He didn’t want to think about it too deeply. He felt around in the desk and pulled more bits of paper out; nothing. He stared around the study, thwarted; then he remembered the couple pushing something through the letterbox, moments before he had confronted them.

                ‘That’s it!’ Kester cried. His voice echoed around the house, breaking the incessant buzzing of the bluebottles. The letterbox; his stomach churned at the thought of going too near the body of the footman, but he had no choice.

                Kester made his way down the stairs, the bile rising in his throat with every step. He saw the footman propped up by the door and pulled a face, trying not to inhale as he leant down to pick up the letter. Inches away from the bloodied corpse, he caught sight of a movement out of the corner of his eye. He yelled as the footman’s hand suddenly reached out, the fingers curling tightly around his wrist.

The footman laughed and began to stand up, almost pulling Kester to the floor. Kester’s foot slipped in a pool of blood; he knew that if he fell now, he would have no chance at all. The footman, or whatever he was, would be at an advantage.

‘Too late for ‘em,’ rasped the vampire. ‘They got ‘em. They got ‘em all except me. I disturbed ‘em, you see, but they didn’t finish me off. They’d been too well fed. Not much feeding left here now.’ The vampire shook Kester like a puppet, dangling him a few inches up in the air, then dropping him down and so he skidded around on the bloody floor.

‘They were disturbed before they could finish me off, you see. I’ve been eatin’ up their leftovers, just waitin’ here on my own; but fresh blood is better. You’ll do for fresh blood. I’ve finished with them gentlefolks now.’

Kester writhed, held fast by his wrist. Swearing and shouting, he struggled against the clearly insane footman, who was now laughing at him in delight. ‘You’re lively, nice and lively,’ the footman was saying. ‘You’ll make a good meal, you will.’ Kester twisted once more and managed to reach across his torso. He grabbed the dagger with his left hand and wasted no time in plunging it into the footman’s body. The vampire looked startled and the pressure on Kester’s wrist disappeared as the creature evaporated into dust. Kester, breathing heavily, stared at the heap of ash. His idea of a clever, elegant person was challenged. An apparently newborn vampire left to fend for itself, seemingly had no more social skills than the next person. This problem was possibly more widespread than he had ever imagined.

Kester listened to the silence of the house which was overlaid with the beating of his heart and the repulsive buzzing of the flies. He prayed that no more vampires would appear in that beautiful, yet evil, residence. He tried to calm himself, telling himself that there was nothing there now except human death. He must focus on his task and for that, he would need the letter. Stepping across the remains of the footman, he picked up the envelope, opened it and began to read the gracefully formed script. The author had been astute. There was no address and no name: but, reading between the lines, Kester formed his own opinion of what the letter suggested;

                “
I thank you for inviting us to your recent house party. It seems a fair length of time since we enjoyed such a substantial meal. One does forget that one needs to curb one’s appetite at times; and it is a pity that the guests and particularly the staff were not more compliant. Disturbances never suit me, but I suspect we will not be bothered again. I regret any unfinished business, and offer my sincere apologies; but we must live for the future and I believe we may now have found the ideal area for our next ‘dinner’. New Gravel Lane is the perfect place – too many suicides from the bridge have occurred in recent months to cause any concern. We hope to have the pleasure of your company very soon. The area may not be quite to your taste, used as you are, to a more refined environment, but it serves us very well. Once again, thank you for your hospitality. The pleasure was immeasurable. I trust I shall be seeing you upon your return from the North. Best regards
.”

                Kester stared at the letter. New Gravel Lane. An area as far removed from Mayfair as it was possible to be. New Gravel Lane was near the docks – part of the East End and a notorious suicide spot as the author suggested. The perfect place, in fact, for people to disappear with no questions asked. Kester looked around the hallway, thinking. He re-read the letter and made his decision. There was obviously a group of these creatures in the East End; somewhere near the Ratcliffe Highway. Fifty years ago, there had been some high profile murders in the area – nobody had been formally convicted. People still talked about the killings and he had learned something about them over the years, especially from some of the older servants at Grosvenor Square. Nobody was ever formally convicted, but the main suspect had hanged himself and been buried with a stake through his heart at a crossroads. Exactly how vampires were buried. Kester did not think for one moment that the accused had been a vampire – vampires did not die by simply hanging themselves. But for the locals to bury him as they had done...was it purely coincidence? He shuddered.

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