He reached the place just before nightfall — a seaside town chosen by closing his eyes and sticking a pin into a map. It had actually landed in the sea, but drowning himself would be a futile exercise, so he had dragged the pinpoint to shore and bought the train tickets. The evening sky was a sodden, heavy grey, producing a thin, listless drizzle which soaked into everything. If the rain wasn’t bad enough, anyone foolhardy enough to walk along the promenade would find themselves drenched by salty, cold spray from a sea the colour of wet concrete.
Since he didn’t feel the chill and didn’t mind the damp, Edward strode along the sea front, letting the wind whip his dark grey woollen coat and the rain flatten his woolly-academic hair.
Here and there along the road opposite the promenade, neon reflections shimmered in the puddles, the lights promising candy floss, souvenir rock or ice creams – the sickeningly sweet tastes of summer. Amusement arcades cast their golden glow into the dark street, with jaunty electronic tunes and the rattle of small change offering false hopes to the few passers-by.
In window after window, faded and dog-eared signs announced that there were “vacancies”. That at least, he thought, was a relief. It would not be difficult to find a place to stay, although the choice appeared to be seedy or seedier.
The fairground was closed and in darkness, silent save for the clanking of a loose cable whipping in the wind, high up against the side of the rollercoaster. Peering through the thick-wire fence, Edward could read the sun-faded painted signs advertising thrills and childish fun.
Eerie green phantoms of phosphorescent paint haunted the front of a boarded up ghost train. The golden-maned horses on the carousel grinned their rictus grins as though straining to begin their dull circular dance.
Outside the Hall of Mirrors, two silvered rectangles reflected distorted images of the fence and the promenade beyond it. Even now the emptiness of the mirrors was disconcerting, triggering memories from a different, yet not-so-distant lifetime of standing at the front of a lecture theatre teaching Lacan to first years.
“We have only to understand the mirror stage as an identification , in the full sense that analysis gives to the term; namely, the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image.”
It was a puzzle that would have fascinated Edward-the-academic. Without that image in the mirror, what became of the comfortable deception of wholeness and identity? Could a person without a reflection have any self-awareness at all?
But he was not Edward-the-academic any more, so he turned away from the blank mirrors with a mirthless laugh that did nothing to dissolve the ache in his chest.
Once past the fairground, the town got going properly. Bright plastic buckets and miniature spades still hung in front of the grilled windows of hardware shops, unlikely to sell at this time of year, but not valuable or desirable enough to need protection from thieves.
The rain was getting harder, enough now to be annoying, and he was about to attempt knocking on the door of one of the dilapidated hotels, when he caught a scent carried on the blustery sea air. It awakened in him a hunger so deep and visceral that for a moment he felt giddy and off balance. It called to memories of innocent bliss and sheer decadence and was at once intoxicating and comforting.
All thoughts of shelter forgotten, he allowed himself to be guided by instinct and heightened supernatural senses in search of the source of this unexpected desire. Such ordinary appetites were supposed to be meaningless to him now, his cravings purer and more primal than the petty hunger of the common run of humanity. But this joyous salivating want did not feel like a weakness, it felt powerful and glorious – sheer excitement pulsed through his veins.
Finally he saw the shop, the plate glass windows spilling the glare of fluorescent light into the street. How simple, how normal, it would be to join the back of that queue of rain-soaked people.
But he wasn’t simple or normal. Not anymore.
So he waited outside in the now torrential rain, with only his hunger for company, until a teenager stepped out of the bright shop, pulling up the hood on his sweater as meagre protection from the rain.
The hunt was quick, a shortcut along a dark footpath proved to be a fatal mistake on the part of his victim. The boy died with barely a sigh and he let the body crumple to the ground, snatching the warm newspaper-wrapped bundle before it could tumble its precious contents into a puddle.
Reverently, Edward folded back the corners of the paper then breathed in the heady scent of the steaming chips, anticipating the tang of salt, the sharp pleasure of acid vinegar, the soft, fluffy potato. He savoured the rush of memories – delicious and agonising. His prize would provide him with no real sustenance, but that didn’t matter. He bit into the first chip. A second later he gagged, spitting out potato – bland, revolting. His body rejected this thing his memory wanted so badly.
Another thing lost to him then, just like his reflection. Despair caught him blindside. Friends, family, home, career – these things he had shrugged off without a second thought, revelling in his new existence. But this, this hurt. To lose the beloved illusion of wholeness was one thing – but now even the fragments of that self had themselves begun to shatter.
Blood oozed from the corpse by his feet, pooling thick and red, like ketchup. He stooped and dipped a thick chip into it, grease-slicked fingers swirling it in a spiral pattern before popping it into his mouth and forcing himself to swallow it.
(c) Jane Mackenzie, All Rights Reserved
Tags: Bloodlust-UK, Dracula, Everything Tastes Better with Ketchup, Jane Mackenzie, Short Story, Vampire, Vampire Fiction
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