This simple moment could be one of the happiest of my life. I’m standing out front of a deserted convenience store, picking through post cards I don’t plan on buying, and he’s standing across from me, looking through post cards that I know he hasn’t thought about buying, smiling.
Another warm and sunny December day casually passes by. It’s always nice, the feeling of being a million miles away from home, not thinking on any of the everyday things you think about in your everyday life. There is no cooking, no washing or cleaning, no mail to collect, no alarms to set and best of all no job to attend, no responsibilities of any kind.
I met James just over a year ago, in a city a few thousand miles from here, in an altogether different country. He joined the company I was working for, and there seemed to be an instant interest between us. Within weeks, we had started secretly dating. In less than six months, we were out in the open and engaged.
For someone else it might seem hurried, for us, it was perfect timing.
As I look at him I realise, he could quite possibly be the most handsome man I have met. He styles his short, dark blonde hair combed neatly back away from his face, his eyes are the colour of the clear blue sky, and he stands just shy of six feet tall, a couple of inches taller than I do. He wears a suit most days due to his work, but I like it best when he dresses down, as he has today, in dark blue jeans and light blue t-shirt.
I could literally spend hours looking at him, and having married exactly seventy-eight hours ago, I am certain he’s feeling the same.
We married on a cool summer’s day, amongst draping flowering trees, followed by a marquee reception within the same landscaped gardens. Decorated the marquee was with a variety of flowers, all in an array of different colours, and crystal led lighting chandeliers throughout. It was a small affair with our closest friends and family being invited, having decided to keep the wedding small for two reasons. One, we honestly only wanted to have the ones we cared for most share in this special day, and two, by keeping the wedding small there would be more money to spend on the most important thing, the honeymoon.
Now here we are, in sunny Florida, and the room service is definitely great. We are staying in an exclusive small hotel, with direct access to the hotel’s own private beach; it’s where we’ve happily spent most of our time.
“Come on,” James says taking my hand and we walk. The air is warm, it feels as if a blanket is brushing up against my skin, and the chatter of strangers talking sounds musical, mixing in with the different songs playing from one store to the other.
As we walk to nowhere, I snuggle into him that bit closer.
“I love you,” he whispers into my hair. I think of all the ways I love him back, but I don’t reply. He looks down at his watch. I feel him instantly tense. “We’re going to be late,” he says at an incredible speed.
“Late for what?” He doesn’t answer instead pulls me to run with him. I should have known he was planning something when he asked me to wear his favourite dress. Regardless, I put on the cherry print dress, and matched it with my new, beige, wooden wedge heels, coincidently a bad choice for running.
“Late for what?” I yell, as we hurry down a quiet street, with banana trees overgrowing in residential front yards. At its end, the street meets with the warm coastal waters, of the Gulf of Mexico.
“I’ve made a reservation for a dinner cruise. They have the best seafood in town. We’re not missing it, so run,” and so we keep running.
As we near the pier, we see a large boat with multi coloured light bulbs hung across its railings, and three tall masts. It’s a beautiful black and gold historical tall ship. The kind you can picture men slaving on a hundred years ago. Along the side of the boat, in large, fancy, white script, reads its name, ‘New Beginnings.’
Crewmembers are busy packing the detachable bridge from the pier, pulling at ropes leading to the boat. We run faster, passing a flustered, elderly couple on the way that appear to be racing at snail speed, trying to reach the same boat. James sprints ahead reaching the crew first. He waves his hands in my direction, trying to convince them to wait. “Just a few more minutes,” he finishes saying, as I reach his side.
One of the crewmembers agrees to let us on board, so then we make them wait for the elderly couple. Guided by various workers we pass along the way, we dash up a short flight of stairs. The stairs lead to a finely decorated, wooden-trimmed dining area. It stretches all the way out to the back of the boat.
An attractive blonde woman, dressed in the crew’s uniform of red shirts, navy pants, and matching silk floral scarfs, greets us. She collects a couple of menus and then shows us to our table by one of the windows. Placing our drinks order before we have seated, we tell her to bring us cocktails, leaving it to her to decide which type. We set ourselves a challenge at the beginning of our holiday that we would try every available cocktail.
Slumping into our booth seats, we smile at each other in triumph, as the boat begins to coast across the calm turquoise water. James explains how he had planned this dinner for the last two days. He talks about how the boat is renowned for its amazing food. It is one of the rare places you can get a piece of truly authentic Key lime pie. Not the greenie custard variety sometimes sold over the counter. Booked out for weeks in advance, he was able to convince the receptionist to prioritise our booking in the event of a cancellation. By a stroke of luck or sheer persistence, here we are.
“It’s a beautiful boat,” I tell him.
“You’re beautiful,” he replies in an instant. Leaving me lost for words, I laugh, as the waitress sets down a couple of obscure named, orange coloured cocktails.
Nothing quite compares to a Key West sunset.
We sip the fruity drinks watching out the small window as the sun begins to set across the ocean in a glorious golden-red glow, another day brilliantly welcoming its night. A subtle warm breeze flows through the boat, making the various coloured light bulbs tinker against the railings.
“There is nowhere I would rather be,” James says. I return his comment with a smile. “Seriously, I love you so much.”
He waits a moment, waiting to hear those words, the ones he has been trying to get out of me for the past two hours. Losing patience, he begins to try to tickle the words out of me, but I refuse. I refuse to say, ‘I love you.’
I know that if I don’t say those three words he will continue to say them over and over again, and I want to hear him say them, over and over and over again.
I change the subject to the Caribbean delights on the menu. It works well in distracting him. When the waitress returns for the second time, having given us adequate time to review the menu and collaborate orders, we ask for fish soup entrees, curried coconut lobster mains, a side of fresh oysters, plus another two cocktails of a different variety, completely forgetting the pies.
“Say it,” he says, but I won’t. “Why?”
The frustration starting to show on his face through the wrinkles between is eyes.
“Because I want you to keep saying it,” I tell him, and he laughs. He laughs loud enough that the couple at the table next to us turn and stare. I smile at the large, round man and his skinny, sunburnt date, but they return my smile with looks that remind me of the way my parents looked at me, when I misbehaved as a child. Fighting back the urge to stick my tongue out at them, I instead look over the rest of the room.
Every table is set with decorative China, and silverware on royal blue tablecloths, each chair with its matching royal blue ribbon tie. The majority of diners are couples, probably newlyweds too. The Florida Keys appears to be a popular honeymoon destination. There are a few families with young children, and scattered small groups.
At the opposite far side windows, is the elderly couple we helped get on the boat.
“Look, there’s that couple who were running late,” I point in their direction, before whispering to James, “How cute, they’re holding hands.” The couple shares the same shade of silvery hair. It reflects a golden colour in the glow of the slow-moving sunset. Holding each other’s frail, wrinkled hands, they talk, oblivious to everyone else in the room. The look in their eyes is one of nothing less, than blissful content. “Will you hold my hand when I’m that old?”
“That’s the plan.” Without missing a beat, he always finds the words, to make me feel secure and safe.
The air starts to fill with the smells of traditional island cooking, as various diners begin to receive their meals. My stomach grumbles in anticipation, while a flurry of birds of indigenous breeds race across the sky, trying to make it home before dark. The sun completes its graceful farewell, and the night slowly begins to move, inviting colourful district lights to illuminate the coast.
When our meals arrive, we feast on perfectly seasoned soups, followed by the freshest lobsters on earth. We both agree we should order more oysters. The good reviews about the food on this boat have proven true. We find that by the time, we‘ve finished eating our meals, we’re already on our fourth cocktail each, and the thick, warm night air begins to engulf us.
Cuban music plays through large black and chrome speakers, sending the sound bouncing across the darkened waters. The rhythm attests enticing to various patrons, who start to move to the small open-air dance floor. I move to James’ side of the booth, the closer to him the better. He welcomes me into his arms, as he orders two more cocktails. There are three more drinks on the menu we haven’t yet tried.
“Should I go blonde?” I ask, not out of insecurity, but that I actually consider it as I watch the waitress return to the bar for our drinks, her long, wavy, blonde hair in a trailing ponytail behind her.
“Alice, you know I love your brown hair, and I love your sexy new haircut.” He pulls me closer with one arm, runs his free hand through my newly layered hair. I’m still getting used to the new length. It reaches mid-way down my back, short considering I’ve always had long, waist length hair. Now it falls into a V-shape at the back, with a short fringe that sits above my eyebrows, and flicked to one side.
I move my legs over his lap, my arms around his neck, just to be closer still.
“And I love your chocolate brown eyes,” he adds as he kisses my lips. Then as his eyes look over my body he continues, “And I love your –”
“Okay, I get it.” I kiss him, only harder this time.
We talk between kisses, planning things we will do over the next few days. Things such as snorkelling and hiring a sea kayak to further explore these beautiful waters. We get excited again, about the four-night cruise, we are taking through the Bahamas, then continue going over plans for the next few weeks. Plans of staying with friends we haven’t seen in ages who now live in England, the same two friends who convinced us to move there for the next eighteen months.
After the honeymoon, we will be having our first white Christmas.
As excited as we are about the move, it was a difficult decision. We both love our island home of Australia. We’ve left everyone we care for, jobs we actually liked, and then there was the hassle of moving our belongings into storage. In the end, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to live abroad for a while. Besides, we’ll be back home soon enough and better off for it, considering the wages are higher in London.
Before getting started on our fifth fruity cocktails that arrive right-on queue with our second serving of oysters, we decide to go for a dance. Making our way, we manoeuvre around dining tables, as stars float above us, through small, rounded windows. Reaching the dance floor, we stay for a while, occasionally bumping into other dancers, but doing a good interpretation of salsa dancing in my opinion.
The dance floor extends to the exterior of the boat, where the multi-coloured light bulbs hang from the railings. We start to tire, so we head to the railings for a rest. Sprinkles of water fill the fresh, sea air having bounced off the waves.
“New Beginnings,” I mumble as I lean over the side of the boat, considering the significance of the words, with all the new beginnings for us – a new home, in a new country, and with this move, new jobs, and new friends. Playing with the antique, diamond ring James gave me for our engagement, I roll it around my finger. It sits below my new wedding band. They sparkle against the light coming from the moon.
These rings usher a new name for me. We are now, Mr and Mrs Whyte.
“New Beginnings,” James mumbles back. He stands behind me, running his fingers through my hair. He then wraps his arms around my waist, leans over me, so that he too can look over the side, at the lightly illuminated water below. The breeze created by the moving boat cools our skin. He smiles, then breaks our peaceful silence, “Let’s go inside, we have oysters to finish remember.”
He leads me through the dim dance floor, breaking into a dance here and there. We once again manoeuvre past dining tables, until we are back at our own private booth. We start on our drinks straightaway, pineapple ones this time. We eat the oysters at super speed, until there is one oyster left on the plate. Finishing our drinks, we order a pair of creamy cocktails, leaving only two still to taste.
The waitress returns with our drinks. I check with her how much longer we have left on the cruise. She tells me we have about an hour before docking, plenty of time for two more drinks, but I have to admit to feeling somewhat tipsy already.
All the sounds around us seem to have become progressively louder, from the conversations and laughter to the music streaming from the speakers. Even the sound of plates and cutlery clattering in the nearby kitchen seem all the more chaotic. There are a number of drunken dancers, strutting their stuff on the dance floor, and there are tired children, sitting on tired parent’s laps. The grumpy couple seated next to our table, share the last remnants of a cheesy marinated tuna steak.
We start to debate which one of us should get the last oyster, when the large, round man begins choking on the piece of tuna steak he was chewing. With an unexpected heave, he violently spits out the tuna piece. It goes flying out of his mouth, and tumbles down our table, landing smack bang in the middle of the last oyster on our plate. We break out in laughter, but the screams from the skinny, sunburnt woman seated next to him, tame our amusement.
The large man is bleeding from the mouth. As crewmembers rush to his aid, he stands up, and they stop short, having realised there is nothing they can do. There is a gaping hole in his chest, where his heart should be. Face first he falls on the dining table. Behind him, stands a peculiar man, holding his heart in one hand.
Other than the screaming woman and the music still playing through the speakers, there is no other sound in the room. Even the most intoxicated dancers on the dance floor are still. No one seems capable of moving, including James and myself.
“Get down on the floor, get on the floor now,” one of the crewmembers yells at the man holding the heart, who has been scanning the room, his long, white-blonde hair, serenely floating behind him. Anxious workers move to surround him. He continues to stand, almost smiling. He watches the crewmembers scattering around him.
I turn to James trying to gain some perspective. In a blur of movement, an enormous scuffle breaks out on the dance floor. Screams begin bellowing from every direction, as further fights start, including one between the white-blonde haired man, and several now terrified crewmembers.
“Get under the table.” I think it is James yelling. I have lost my focus. The room starts to spin in my head. “Alice, get under the table,” James shouts, grabbing a hold of my arm. I crawl to ground. We huddle holding onto each other.
“Did you see what he’s wearing? Who dresses like that?” I say, trying to make sense of things. He is wearing obviously old Victorian styled clothing. James tries to calm me, but I can’t stop myself from rambling. “It’s his skin, it’s whiter than anyone’s I’ve ever seen. His blue eyes are more a misty, bluey shade of white.”
The screaming subsides to outbursts of an eerie intensity. It is hard to keep track of what is happening, other than everyone is fighting or hiding. From our viewpoint from under the table, we can see several concurrent, violent, bloody brawls, each leading to several bodies falling to the floor. I realise there are tears streaming down my face. I don’t make a sound in case someone somewhere notices. As I huddle into James, partly hidden behind his arms, something amongst all the chaos in the opposite corner catches my eye. Its stillness is what makes it obvious.
Crouched on the floor holding a small child, at first, I mistake it for one of the parents. I focus, and the scene unfolds, making every hair on my arms stand upright. Resembling a wild animal that has conquered its prey, its teeth locked on the child’s neck. Pale, translucent skin exposing the throbbing, blue veins beneath, as the blood pulses through them. Its arms a firm weave around the child’s limp body. Its pallid, lime green eyes, stare at us. A lost droplet of blood escapes, devoured is the rest. All the while, those lime eyes stare with an undeniable intention directed, entirely at us.
It can’t end this way. The words run circles in my head. Followed by another single, unimaginable word, vampire.
Everything changes with an immense crashing sound. The boat has run aground. With an incredible force, both James and I go flying in opposite directions, along with booth seats and tables, as the boat’s foundations crumble. I land head first into the opposite wall shielded only by my hands. Water starts filling through a giant hole in the front of the room. By the time I regain a complete standing position, I am chest deep submerged, my vision blurring from the massive hit to the head. I feel for damage, turning my hands bloody.
James – I try to focus and search what is left of the room. The water level starts to reach my face. I take one final, massive breath before I am deep in water, dragged deeper by the pull of the sinking boat. Falling into the depths of its darkness, the ocean’s silence is serene, in some way safe after the chaos floating above it. For a moment, I linger in this quietude. A flash of movement, something shooting past, sends water rippling in my direction, startling me back into action.
I fight against the drag, trying with all my strength to swim back to the surface. My throat burns for air. If it were possible, there would be tears still streaming down my face. I struggle harder. There is sky somewhere above. I need to find James.
Almost resigned, my face breaks through the water’s surface. I take the longest breath, my lungs strain to contain it. There are desperate sounds of crying, calls for help. In the darkness, it’s impossible to make out any faces. I call for James, but there’s no reply. Debris and faceless bodies trying to keep afloat, riddle the water.
My heart only keeps sinking.
A larger piece of wood floats by, I grab at it with both hands, pulling my body on top of it. It is a piece containing part of the boat’s name. Worlds away from the mindset I held earlier, looking down at this name, I now lie on it, struggling against the darkness. The words I never said left sitting on my lips.
The first thing I notice is the coolness against my skin. For a short moment, a feeling of being safe, as if waking up in your own bed in the morning, rushes over me. Then, actual recognition of not being in any bed at all seeps into my mind. The cold, hard surface beneath me, triggers memories of the last moments of despair before the darkness, these memories creep through every part of my body, willing me to be still.
Flashbacks of the night before run through my head. Images of everyone fighting, scurrying as though bewildered animals, or hiding beneath tables. It is the thoughts of James that come to mind, cause the hardest struggle against the urge to leap to my feet, in search of him. I clear my mind. Hold my eyes closed in an attempt to conceal my waking, feel my surroundings first. I listen.
It is quiet. The only sound is an internal thud; it accompanies a blunt, pulsing pain coming from the side of my head. My hair is wet and matted, pressed up against my face. I can see light in that warm shade you see it in, when you close your eyes against the sun. Several futile minutes pass.
I open my eyes, using my eyelids to shield myself from an unwelcomed reality, brought about, by a resolute feeling of being watched. In large squares of white and black, a marble floor begins to sprawl outward from my narrow vision, beneath my matted hair. The marble shines against the light in this currently infinite room.
I pick myself up, and with every small ascent, as though a cold, silent breeze, their faces appear. Encircling me, they fill every end of the room. Observing with severe fascination, through striking, deviant faces, they share an evil perfection within their features. A look of carved statutes made of the same substance that they stand on. I am the only human among them. There are at least one hundred of them.
My waking brings smiles to some observer’s faces, revealing the sharp teeth hiding beneath their lips, others snicker at each other, share whispers too faint to decipher.
I mask emotions trying to contain the fear rising within me. This unnatural world becomes all that there is. Held in voiceless stillness, a reflection of my watchers, there is no tangible escape. I am a feeble lamb led to the slaughter. All the while, they watch, most of them stand, some lean against decorative columns. Dressed in fine formal attire, they congregate, stare, and whisper.
Across from me, beneath savage, painted depictions of war, staging numerous men losing limbs and lives is an area furnished with armchairs and lounges of a French Provisional style. Black and white striped lounges that currently comfort several lazing vampires, sprawled as royalty, beckoning to be served. Slim silhouettes of bone and muscle, they are reminiscent of well-bred greyhounds, which share in the same flawless, dusty skin, transcending human races, creating a new collective one.
Every so often, I catch one of their iniquitous eyes, and one after another, they sneer, exposing longer-than-normal human canine teeth. One particularly vicious female with straight, jet-black hair, and an assortment of large gold jewellery, glares at me with her yellow eyes from the centre armchair.
Leaning forward, she is poised as though ready to pounce.
“What a sad, little mouse, did you get caught out in the rain little one?” she asks – the amused, lazing vampires laugh. Groomed as if attending a formal dinner, they casually share in social chatter, as droplets of blood splatter on the marble floor, having rolled off the length of my hair.
“A cat got her tongue, perchance,” says a female in a light-gold layered dress.
“I thought a dog would be fun?” says a male standing behind her. They share extended glances between one another. They come to an unspoken agreement.
The murmurings from the rest of the room of vampires intensify. Dread finds me as I regard the cruelty these powerful creatures can inflict, but rather than allow them the satisfaction of a fearful display, I glare back at them. The yellow-eyed vampire waves her hand. The attention in the room turns to the left doors where an extremely tall, bald male in a midnight blue tuxedo stands.
“Let the game begin,” he bellows with a deep rasping voice that echoes through the hall, as he slams down on the floor, three consecutive times, with a thick, wooden walking stick. The hall waits in silence, before movement begins amongst the standing vampires to my right. They disperse enough to make way for a male vampire, with piercing grey eyes, and long, dark brown hair.
He comes to stand a few steps ahead of the rest.
For an extended time he simply stares with eyes that command attention, his inner intentions unclear. Pulling a blade from the inside of his long, dark-grey jacket, he leans down. In a palpable gesture to arm not harm, he slides the blade across the marble floor. Perfect precision, the blade stops a few inches from my bare feet. He disappears back into the crowd.
I stare down at the knife. An embellished handle with glistening stones of red and white, rubies and diamonds, sparkles under the bright lights. The blade sits slightly curved upward at the tip. I look away, avoiding ideas, why a blade curves this way. Through the hum of murmurs, I catch scattered words here and there.
“You will lose,” is the most common phrase.
A resounding further three slams of the walking stick, and the distinct sound of heavy, animal paws tapping along the marble start at the doors to the left, and come to stop behind me. I consider my options, with nowhere to run, no one to help if I scream, no one to care if I plead, one option remains. In a continuous motion, I lower myself, picking up the knife. I turn to face what stalks behind me.
Soundlessly, two enormous, vampiric dogs stand, hairless, with black and dark-blue skin. They break their noiseless stance the second I complete my turn – ferocious snarls, savage growling, saliva drips off their extended teeth. A muscular, female vampire stands between them. Electric blue coloured streaks through her short, light brown hair. She shares her sinister smile with everyone in the room, while tapping a short, wooden whip against her long, pencil skirt.
“One by one or all at once?” says the female with the jet-black hair. I turn to my side to watch her as various by-standing vampires yell, “All at once.”
Their response invites a sadistic smile to her small, sharp face. She rises from her comfortable chair, walking closer to the centre of the hall, opening the palm of her right hand as she moves, to reveal a large, golden coin.
“All at once or one by one?” she says.
“Only one,” says a smooth male voice, in an English accent. His comment sends sniggers rippling through the entire vampire ensemble. The female with the jet-black hair and yellow eyes, surveys the room, seemingly pondering the suggestion. After a moment, she smiles, appearing satisfied with an internal decision.
“Only one or both at once, who will second?” she commands.
“I will second,” says a velvety, female voice. A splash of her dark red hair is visible from where she stands at the back of the crowd of vampires. Imperceptibly, she holds the power to bargain with my destiny.
“Then choose a side,” says the yellow-eyed vampire.
“Heads,” calls the male with the English accent.
The hall fills with the sounds of vampire whispers.
She plays with the golden coin in her hand, flicking it down along her red, manicured fingers. She takes her time. Then, with a soft, high throw, the coin tumbles through the air, past carvings of tangled snakes, arranged around black, crystal chandeliers, before falling to ground. It rolls for a length of time, and then stops.
My fate is sealed.
The yellow-eyed vampire walks over to the idle coin, her long, tan, organza gown floating across the room. After slightly lowering her fiendish yellow eyes, she turns, making her way back to her chair. About to retake her seat and with her back still turned to the crowd she proclaims, “Heads it is.”
I turn to face the dogs, with a subtle instruction from its guardian vampire, one lurches in my direction – unsure what drives me, in a state somewhere beyond fear; I harden my stance, aim the curved tip of the blade toward the ground, and prepare for the attack. The dog charges, as it gets within arm’s length, I begin to swing down with the knife – we meet at a point, where we are face-to-face, its putrid breath has swept across the space between us.
I plunge the blade deep into its skull.
A discordant yell escapes the mouth of the blue haired vampire. She is ready to attack in the hound’s defence, but it has ended in less than a second. The dog’s momentum pushes its limp body sliding past me, across the marble floor, all the way to the lazing vampires. It comes to a stop at the feet, of the vampire with the jet-black hair. The hall buzzes with an excited anticipation. My hands covered in blood, I have escaped, unharmed.
The vampire with the jet-black hair bursts out in laughter. The rest of room joins her, all except for the guardian vampire who leaves, her remaining dog, following closely behind her. In time, the laughter subsides. The yellow-eyed vampire digs her stiletto heel into the dead dog’s shoulder. She wrenches the blade out from its scull. Throwing the knife at the standing vampires, it is caught by the grey-eyed one.
“Nice selection, John. I am – entertained,” she says. The grey-eyed vampire offers her a small bow. She motions with a sweeping wave of her hand. A large vampire, whose appearance reflects a biker gang member, dressed in three-piece suit, appears by my side. Another wave of her hand, she concludes, “Remove it from the Court.”
At once, the large vampire is pulling me by the arm, in the direction of the large, black doors to the right. I allow the vampire to lead me. We pass the grey-eyed vampire. He is watching us, as the rest of the room of vampires, has already forgotten us. I try not to imagine what he has gained in supplying the knife.
A strange calmness runs through my body as we pass him by.
We make our way through the open doors. Two determined vampires march down the long, plain corridor, delivering the next unwilling contestant. A vampire at each arm, screaming, and trying to get free from their explicit hold, is the blonde waitress from the boat. Her beautiful long, wavy hair in curtains of firm knots. Her torn navy pants exposing dried blood across her deeply scraped knees. They drag her past. As recognition crosses her desperate face, she begins to plead for me to help her, but there is nothing, I can do for her.
The metal bar door slams shut against the concrete wall. The suited, biker vampire has disappeared back up the high staircase that leads to the long, plain corridor of the hall. Leaning my back against these bars, I look across the dim, ice-cold room, filled with strangers, huddling together for warmth. Some of them are hurt – bleeding or crying, others seem less harmed. All are lost in a shared misery, quietly freezing.
The first thing I did was look over every face in search of James, now I stand here, watching my feet turn various shades of blue. There are three small, metal barred windows, high up along each of the three tall walls, other than these, nothing else, but bare concrete and metal doors. Along parts of the back walls, there are scribbled messages. I will read them once the light in the room improves.
“You should sit with us, it’s close to freezing. Body heat is all we have to keep warm,” says a skinny, brown haired man. For a moment, I consider if freezing to death is the better option. Without reply, I join them. He covers my shoulders with a wispy summer shirt that he and an older woman are sharing. We share in what warmth there is between us without any conversation.
For an extended time, no one speaks, creating a thick self-absorbed silence. I can hear the chatter of teeth and strained breathing all around me. Others take turns walking the cell, desperate attempts at keeping warm. Their exhaled breaths form white mists, resembling halos around their heads.
“Were you on the boat?” the woman sharing the summer shirt asks. I nod my head.
“I think we were all on the boat. I’m Michael,” says the brown haired man. He extends his hand in defeated welcome, but retracts it, noticing the blood on mine.
“I’m Judy,” says the woman, pretending not to see the blood. I hide my hands beneath the yellow, cotton shirt.
“I don’t remember seeing either of you on the boat. How did we get here?” I’m surprised not to remember anyone. I guess there would have been about eighty of us on the boat. I guess they wouldn’t be looking the way they do now.
“This is where we woke up. No one remembers how we got here. The last thing I remember is being dragged under water,” Michael says.
“I remember being hit on the back of my head, then waking up here. This is where we’ve been all night,” Judy says. She pauses for a moment as though collating her words, and then continues, “Every so often, they’ll come, you know, those creatures. They collect someone. They don’t bring them back. You’re the first to return.”
“What do you mean return?” I ask.
“You were here with us. We couldn’t wake you,” Michael says. His words hang in the air. I try in vain to recall anything before my waking in the hall.
“Alice, my name’s Alice,” I tell them with another nod of my head. “Was my husband here? His name’s James, he has blonde hair – blue eyes. He was wearing jeans and a light blue t-shirt, have you see him?”
“I’m sorry,” Michael says.
“It’s probably a good thing love, maybe he swam to shore,” Judy adds with a compassionate frown on her face. Maybe he swam to shore. I know James is a good swimmer. It’s possible he could have made it if he tried. I run through the moments before the sinking. I don’t recall seeing him after the boat’s foundations crumbled.
I push further thinking aside for another time. He’s fine. I know he is.
“Why is it so cold in here? I know it is winter but we’re in Florida, seriously. Have you tried having a look out the windows?” I ask. Frustration kicks in as the relentless chill begins to seep deeper into my bones.
“The windows are too high,” Michael says. It prompts me to stand, try to revaluate the height of the windows for myself. Anything is better than sitting here, wallowing in despair. I pace the room with deliberation, and decide although tall, I’m not that heavy. I’m sure that if someone would lift me, I could see over the window’s ledge.
“How tall are you Michael?” I ask and he tells me he’s six feet tall. “If you lift me on your shoulders, I may be able to reach the window to take a look, will you try?”
He considers my request for half a second then jumps to his feet, “Okay, let’s try it.”
We stumble a couple of times, find I can’t reach the window on his shoulders alone. We coax Judy and a couple of the other men to help. Together, they manage to lift me, two of them at each foot, raising me to a point where I can reach the window’s ledge with my fingers. I strain to pull myself up. An icy cold wind blows through the small barred window causing me to shiver. I grab at the bars, pulling myself up higher, until my eyes peak over the ledge.
“It’s coming dawn.” The glow of the rising sun is starting to light the sky outside. I look over the ledge trying to see more. A flake of snow falls on my cheek. “What –”
“What? What is it?” various voices ask.
“It’s snowing. Can you lift me higher? I can’t see anything but the sky.”
They struggle below me, lifting me higher, over the height of the ledge. I wrap my arms through and around the bars, lifting further still, until finally, I have a clear view out of the small window. There is a forest, snow cosseted and dense, encircled by a myriad of mountains. A labyrinth of landscaped hedging creates an extensive maze, which leads to a vast, in parts, frozen lake. Ravens fly across the clouded sky as more snowflakes start to fall. How long was I sleeping not to have realised at the least crossing state lines? Morning is just breaking. How far could we have travelled?
“What can you see?” someone yells. Before I can answer, I’m falling back to the ground. Various hands try to catch me.
“There’s a forest, and it’s covered with snow, and an iced up lake, there’s no way we’re in Florida.” I stumble trying to regain my balance. They stare at me with confused expressions. I point up at the small window. “Take a look for yourselves. Why do you think it’s so cold in here? There is snow coming in through the window.”
Michael begins to reply, but is distracted by the sound of heeled footsteps, coming down the stairs. Everyone who isn’t already standing jumps to his or her feet. They rush to press their backs against the furthest wall from the bars. Michael pulls at my arm, and so I join them.
Four vampires, two females dressed in elaborate ball gowns of light orange and green, accompanied by the biker vampire, and a male dressed in antique suiting, stroll torpidly past the door. They peer through the gaps in the bars, akin to humans looking for animals in a pet store, trying to decide which one to take home. Between smiles and amused looks, they speak in an ancient sounding language, unlike any dialect I’ve heard before. They take their time looking over us before turning to the large vampire with their request. He opens the metal bar door, walks toward a large, muscular man standing in the opposite corner from us. He grabs him by the arm.
The man struggles, kicking and punching at the vampire, but without much effort on the part of the vampire, the man is held in a headlock, then forcibly walked through the door. The biker vampire locks the door behind him, making his way back up the high staircase, the man still restrained in a headlock. Resembling excited children, the three accompanying vampires laugh, as they follow behind him.
“That’s it, I’m not waiting around to be collected by one of those freaks,” a man yells. He walks toward the door, hits the lock with his hand.
“It’s pointless, if you could get past the door, the stairs lead straight to a hall full of them.” The shattered look on his face makes me regret saying anything at all.
“This has been going on for hours. There were about forty of us at the start, we’re down to fifteen – fourteen now. Tell us what is going on out there,” says a chubby woman with short-cropped hair. They stare at me wordlessly demanding answers – I explain what happened. I explain waking up to one hundred deviant faces. I explain the lazing vampires, the dogs, the knife, and the blood on my hands. I continue explaining until every question is satisfied, every detail exhausted, and every person resigned, back into their communal misery.
Time passes. Daylight shines through the small barred windows. Snow continues to fall, collecting in piles on the floor around us. No vampires come to visit us. The shared despair in the room deepens as the cold persists, encouraged by regular icy winds. They begin to fall asleep, some stop moving, including Judy who lies rigid against Michael’s shoulder. I can hear Michael’s teeth rattling beside me as he tries to speak, the words taking considerable time to leave his mouth.
“How long have you been married?” he asks.
“I have a daughter, she’s five.” I smile at him with grit, chattering teeth. I don’t want to ask if his daughter was on the boat. “Where do you think we are?”
“I don’t know – the Southwest – I’ve been there before – it looks similar,” my words come out in bits. I remember a road trip to the Grand Canyon a few years back, the glossy black ravens for some reason reminding me of that trip.
“Like cats playing with mice, purely for entertainment,” he says.
“It seems a lot of effort just to play games – still, why move us, why not kill us then and there.” I whisper the last few words. Michael whispers back.
“They can take their time this way. What else have they got to do, but hide in the shadows, playing with humans like us?”
“I have no idea – I can’t believe they exist.” Michael turns, nudging Judy to wake. Her body falls, propping up against the adjacent wall.
Hours pass. We fall in and out of sleep. The light from the windows begins to dim; night will shortly come creeping through the growing dungeon shadows.
“Alice, stay awake.” Michael’s voice prods my closed eyes open.
“I thought I was awake. I was dreaming of this dungeon.” We share in a laugh. Then panic sets in. Night is coming. I haven’t read the messages on the walls. James might have been here. He might have left me a message. I try to make myself stand. I’m too cold to move. The room falls back into darkness, the only remaining light oozing from the high staircase. Everyone who had taken turns moving about the cell has become ever still. We are still.
I notice a shadow from the corner of my eye. There is a figure crouched on the floor on the other side of the bars. He has come down the stairs without a sound. Who knows for how long he has been watching. He doesn’t flinch at being discovered. No one but Michael has noticed him. Michael’s grip around my shoulders tightens.
We wait while the vampire examines us.
When satisfied to his content he rises out from his crouched position, makes his way back toward the stairs, his light grey eyes watching no one, but us.
“What the hell?” Michael says, once the vampire is out of sight.
“He’s the vampire that gave me the knife.” Michael starts to say something, but holds it back, whatever it is he is thinking he chooses not to share it with me. We retreat into a pensive silence.
Time continues to pass. Falling in and out of slumber, we allow ourselves longer periods of sleep. A constant numbness remains of what was a piercing cold against my skin. Laughter, the sound of heels along the stairs, this time two unaccompanied females, laughing as if socialising at a party, come to the door with key in hand. They peer through the bars with incisive eyes. This time no one stands. Most don’t open their eyes. The brunette vampire with wild, curly hair sweeps her eyes across the room. She stops when she sees Michael.
“That is the one,” she says to the blonde female alongside her. She nudges her face in our direction. We are unable to respond, although aware.
She opens the door. They flow into the dungeon in a deluge of colour, lace, and satin. Dark reds and navy blues on soft, shiny fabric colour the insipid space between us. I look at Michael. He gives my shoulders one final squeeze before letting go of the shirt. Not long after, the vampires drag him across the icy floor. The door slams shut. I can hear them drag him up the staircase, through the corridor of the hall, then silence. I stare at the bars for an endless amount of time.
I no longer know when I am sleeping, awake, or how much time is lost. The dreams start, recurring dreams of falling, never reaching solid ground. Snowflakes float through the air, reminding me of glitter, sprinkling down to the piles mounting on the floor. I follow their flight with my eyes from the windows all the way to the ground, and he stands behind the bars, having once again returned.
He opens the door, makes his way to where I sit, pinned up against the wall, unmoving. When by my side, he crouches so that his face is level with mine. He looks me over, reminiscent of a doctor studying a patient.
“You are going to die. If you come with me, you might live,” he says, in an English accent. “Come with me.”
I should stay; death would have to be near. All this will be over – my mind falls on James, falls on all the ones I love, and then I want to live. I want to take every chance I have to live. Unable to speak, I lower my head while holding his gaze. He picks me up off the floor, cradling my body in his arms.
He carries me out of the frozen dungeon.