Chapters one to five of The Great Right Hope… enjoy.

The Great Right Hope

1

Brian wiped beer from his face with his sleeve. He sighed a heavy sigh, for being a scholar was hard work sometimes.“You all right, our Sid?” he asked.

Sid Tillsley, the perpetrator of the drenching, gave his chin a well-needed dabbing. “Aye, you caught me by surprise, that’s all.”

“Look, it’s quite simple, really, mate,” said Brian. “If you flash your headlights twice, it means you want to go over and take a look at the action.”

Brian dodged left, fast, as Sid spat out another torrent of beer, splattering the pub’s nicotine-stained wallpaper. There was no chance of the mess being cleaned up and there’d be no complaints either, for this was The Miner’s Arms, and this was the Smithson Estate, the roughest council estate in Middlesbrough, and therefore, the North of England, and therefore, the universe.

“You sure you’re all right?” asked Brian.

Sid stared at the table in front of him, his mouth gaping. “I don’t get it, Brian. I just don’t get it.”

Brian was in a position to explain, because he was a man of the world. He’d made it out of Middlesbrough at least half a dozen times, once as far south as Sheffield, not that he liked it, mind. “Sid, me old pal, we’re all different. It’s a funny old world out there these days. This dogging lark is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Shaggin’ was such a private matter when I was a lad.” Sid looked away into the distance. “It was so private, I did it on me own till I was twenty-five.”

“Aye, things have certainly changed. There are loads of crazy fetishes around now; swinging and dogging are pretty standard.” Brian laughed. “Just think what some of them Germans get up to!”

Sid took a moment to consider this, scratching his great bald dome and rubbing his unshaven double chin. Suddenly, his face darkened, and it was already heartattack red to start with.

“I am NOT being invaded, Brian,” he growled.

“Eh?” said Brian, screwing his face up.

“Them Germans. They ain’t invading me.”

“Invading? What you on about?”

Sid rose up in his seat, his clenched buttocks giving him the extra height. “I ain’t havin’ it!”

Brian sighed. “No, mate, you’ve got it wrong again. What I meant—”

Sid’s fist banged down on the table. “My uncle was a Dambuster, Brian.”

Brian’s brow furrowed. “No, he wasn’t.”

“That ain’t the point!” Sid was becoming angry, and Sid wasn’t a man to anger. Sixfoot five with shoulders still out of proportion to his height, he was built like a silverback gorilla, albeit a morbidly-obese silverback gorilla whose days of tree-swinging were well and truly behind him. On top of the shoulders sat his big, bald head where not a single hair had survived the storm of male-pattern baldness. A five o’clock shadow covered Sid’s face and ran down his neck to join the thick, black, curly hair that carpeted his chest. A nose broken at least a dozen times split two dark, beady eyes. His thin lips covered a set of yellow teeth earned for years of hard, hard smoking. Thick rolls of fat sat on the tops of his shoulders and rose to just under his ears. Technically, he owned a neck, but you’d have to take an X-ray to prove it.

Sid’s attire for the evening consisted of a black leather jacket that was made from a whole cow, accompanied with a pair of skintight blue denim jeans. Under the jacket, Sid wore a faded Esso Tiger Token T-shirt. In his younger days, he wore the combination to try to look like the Fonz, but that hadn’t lasted long, for alas, Father Time had not been kind, and Mother Nature had been a bitch in the first place.

Brian decided honesty was the best policy. “I haven’t got a fooking clue what you’re going on about.”

“I ain’t having one of them lot watching me.”

“Them lot?” asked a confused Brian.

Sid’s anger waned only to be replaced by awkwardness. He tore up three beer mats in the matter of seconds. “You know, them…lotthem lot that dance on the ice, on the telly.”

“Torville and Dean?”

“No!” Sid contemplated it. “Well, he probably is, like. But I mean them lot, the ones who like to wear…clothes. Nice clothes. Them lot are always wearing those nice clothes, them ironed clothes…from shops. You know them shops, Brian…them shops.” Sid nodded at Brian, as if his rambling was significant.

“I think a lot of people wear clothes from shops, Sid.”

“No! You know…they look after themselves. They use all them products, like, what’s it called?” Sid clicked his fingers in thought.

Brian was impressed with his multi-tasking.

“That deodorant thing!”

Brian grimaced. “You really should start wearing deodorant. We’ve had this chat before.”

“Howay, Brian! What I mean, is that they groom, Brian. They groom.”

Brian rubbed his goatee beard. “So do I. Northern women love an oiled goatee. Half of the lasses from Newcastle think I’m Zorro.”

“No! They groom, they groom… their part. Their part!”

Brian shrugged. “So do I, Sid. It maximises aerodynamics.”

“Yeah, but you’re Middlesbrough’s Finest Swordsman.”

And that he was.

Brian Garforth was one of Middlesbrough’s most successful ladies’ men. Born without a virginity, he’d conquered all of the ’boro in his forty-five years, even though he was no oil painting. Even his impeccably kept thin moustache and little pointy beard couldn’t rescue his looks. He was short and skinny-fat, an unappealing combination of skinny limbs and a pot-belly. He wasn’t well-endowed either, and his penis was like a war veteran: grizzled.

Brian dyed his hair jet black on a weekly basis so that the world would never know about the grey lurking beneath. His hair was slicked back over his skull, but a slightly balding patch could be seen under the brightest of spotlights, although mentioning it always resulted in the spilling of blood. Brian was always suited and booted. Tonight, he sported a red woollen suit with a matching thin red woollen tie. A black Italian shirt matched his shoes.

So no, the reason for his unrivalled sword skills had nothing to do with his looks but came down entirely to his intellect, his perspicacity, and his Machiavellian silver tongue.

“Aye,” he said, “I’m great with me cock.”

“Anyroad, Brian, them lot! You must know what I’m on about. They drive them cars, them women cars with flowers in the front and parkin’ assistance. Do I have to spell it out? I thought you were smart! They like the company of other men, in the family way.” Sid waggled his bushy eyebrows.

“Sid, are you talking about gays?”

“Sssshhhhhhhh! Don’t say the name!” Sid turned quickly in his seat to check the entrance to the pub.

Sid’s display of stupidity amazed Brian. “Sid, they won’t appear when you say the word, ya daft git. They ain’t the opposite of Rumplestiltskin.”

Sid screwed his face up. “Rumple—eh?”

“Rumplestiltskin. If you say his name, he disappears. You must have heard of Rumplestiltskin. It’s an old fairy tale.”

Sid’s eyes widened at the phrase “fairy tale.” Suspicion soon replaced the shock. “You seem to know a lot about these fairy tales. Have you been up them dogging sites, Brian? Have you been up there, being watched by German them lot?

Brian sat back. Suddenly, he was on dangerous ground. Sid was the most homophobic man in Middlesbrough, and therefore the North of England, and therefore the universe. Like most idiots, his phobia didn’t extend any further than the male half of the species. Lesbians were OK with Sid, mainly because he didn’t know what they did. He assumed they watched a lot of soaps together and had double the cleaning power of most households.

Luckily, Brian Garforth, being the most educated man on the Smithson Estate, was more than capable of dealing with the situation “No, Sid,” said Brian with caution. “No, Sid, I haven’t.” Brian paused to allow the words to sink into his friend’s large but slow brain. “You know that Janice who works in chippy up on Charleston Street?”

Sid nodded, still sporting a suspicious glint in his eye.

“Well her hubby Charlie has been getting into it apparently.”

Sid’s Gay Defence System roared into action. His massive face flushed, and then the colour drained, and then the cycle repeated. He was like a pink strobe light. This was his infamous Pink Alert.

“Charlie? He’s a…a German now?” Pink Alert forced other bodily functions to shut down, especially thinking, which was never high on the priority list. It was similar to when Captain Kirk diverted all of the Starship Enterprise’s power to the front shields and weakened other parts of the ship.

Sid always kept his rear shields at maximum power.

“No, Sid,” reassured Brian, holding his hands up, but in a very masculine manner. “I heard that he goes up there on Wednesdays and Fridays to meet LADIES,” shouting the word added to the heterosexuality of it all, “which I confirmed at a later date.”

“How?” demanded Sid.

“Well, after hearing Charlie was out Wednesdays and Fridays, I started going round and servicing Janice, his WIFE!”

Suspicion drained from Sid’s face, and Brian gave a satisfied smile. Sometimes Brian surprised even himself with his complete mastery of the spoken word.

Sid dug out his fags, a packet of “El Sphinxo” Egyptian cigarettes. He’d earned four hundred of them for helping local Egyptian entrepreneur, Anhur Jahari, steal three tonnes of sharp sand from local playgrounds and take it to the construction site of what would be Middlesbrough’s first Egyptian Experience Centre. Even Brian, a bona fide culture vulture (he watched a film with subtitles once; he didn’t like it mind), was sceptical of its success.

Sid loved smoking. He both metaphorically and literally died for it. He was the definition of a chain-smoker. His brand: anything cheap. In the last decade, he’d paid zero tax to the government for cigarette duty. Every cigarette that had passed through his lungs had been ripped off or smuggled in from abroad.

“So,” started Sid, all fear of Brian’s homosexuality having subsided, “are you thinking of giving this dogging lark a go then?”

Brian shook his head. “Nah, I’m seeing Janice two nights a week, and then, there’s Maureen from deli at Morrisons. Oh yeah, I’ve just started seeing that Karen who works in The Duke’s Head, as well.”

“Karen?”

“You know, the funny-looking one with the limp who works behind bar. Works with her tits out on weekends,” said Brian matter-of-factly. “Anyway, I can’t be doing with any more lasses at the moment. Too many names to remember.”

“Bloody hell, mon! Three on the go!” said Sid flabbergasted. “So this doggin’ lark, then, you just go out, pick a lass and start a shaggin’?”

“Well it ain’t quite that simple, like. Dogging’s been all over the news lately, but you still have to make sure you’re in the right place, at the right time. You can’t just whip out the old man in Tesco’s car park. It normally takes place in nature reserves and lay-bys. Oh, and the coppers are trying to knock it on the head. You can get banged up for it, like.”

“Sound complicated. So, why’re you telling me about it?”

Brian hesitated. It’d come to the crunch and it was time to tell his good friend the reason he’d brought it up. He didn’t want to upset the big fella, and not just because of his fearsome reputation of handing out swift, right-handed justice; Sid was his best friend. “You haven’t been doing too well with the ladies of late, have you?”

“What do you mean? I split up from that lass not too long ago,” he said defensively.

“That was over a year ago now, fella, and Gladys, well, she wasn’t exactly Middlesbrough’s finest now, was she?”

The big man reminisced over Gladys and her feminine wiles…and it didn’t bear thinking about. Brian couldn’t comprehend how a man could become physically or emotionally attached to a sixty-two-year-old retired prison guard whose party trick was extinguishing cigarettes on her nipples.

Sid grinned. “Any port in a storm, you know that.” Although everybody knew he’d never risk docking in Greece.

“Well anyway, I thought that maybe a good-looking, young go-getter like yourself may not have time in his busy schedule for dating. Maybe a bit of no-strings fun would do the trick. What do you say?”

“Me? Go dogging? I’ll think about it, Brian,” said Sid unconvincingly. He banged his pint glass down. “Now then, mate, I do believe it’s your round.”

“Sid, I’ve already bought you two beers and you haven’t put your hand in your pocket yet.” Brian knew what was coming next.

Sid coughed for dramatic effect. “Brian, me ol’ mate, I don’t pick me sickness benefits up for another couple of days.” It was a well-rehearsed yet poor performance. “Don’t suppose you could lend a good man a ten pound note, or possibly buy him an ale to soothe his dodgy heart?”

Unfortunately, this particular performance had been seen before. Historically, the only performances that had been witnessed more were those involving Mick Hucknall’s penis.

“I’ve already bought you two beers, and there’s as much chance of me seeing that tenner again as you not taking the lift.”

Sid’s second mortal fear was stairs. The bald head dropped.

Brian sighed. “Tell you what, mate.”

Sid’s head rose.

“You can earn that tenner.”

Sid’s head dropped again.

“If you pick me up some stuff from shops next week. How ’bout it?”

Sid stroked his chin. He knew something was afoot. “What stuff? Why can’t you get it yourself?”

“It’s just…erm, I’m busy next week and I need to pick up a few things from Abdul,” said Brian looking sheepish.

“Abdul? Ain’t he the guy who owns that mucky shop?”

“Err…yeah,” admitted Brian.

“What are you buying from a mucky store?”

This was a delicate situation for he was Brian Garforth, Middlesbrough’s Finest Swordsman. He was proud of his swordsman reputation, and entering such an establishment could ruin it all. Unfortunately, the most intelligent man on the Smithson Estate couldn’t think of a single good excuse why he’d need to. Being a swordsman, he had no need for mucky magazines or videos as he literally never had to take matters into his own hands. A swordsman had no need of those plastic abomination dildo things. And all that fetish stuff was for blokes who didn’t know how to pump hard enough.

However, Abdul Zafar, purveyor of gentlemen’s interest magazines, did have something Brian wanted to try. Brian’s art of seduction had developed with age, like the swordsmanship of a Samurai master. However, this Samurai master’s sword was not as sharp as it had been in recent years. The old Samurai master had the goods to deal with any particular adversary on any particular day. Nevertheless, to face an opponent more than once was now proving difficult, or in all honesty, nigh on bloody impossible. Brian needed a little help from a little blue pill, having recently come to terms with maybe possibly needing Viagra for occasional use…just in case—probably won’t need it at all—definitely wouldn’t…just as a safety net.

Abdul had the cheapest stock in town, but Brian had to find a way to obtain the goods without anyone knowing. He’d decided to ask Sid, his most trusted friend.

“Sid, I want you to buy me some Viagra from Abdul. I’m asking you to perform this task in utmost confidence. You have to keep this under the radar, on the down low. This sort of thing being leaked is life or death to a swordsman.”

“What’s up with your pecker, Brian?” asked Sid, innocently.

“You bastard!” The Middlesbrough Casanova’s face turned crimson. This was like Maradonna losing his football; Leonardo Da Vinci losing his paintbrush; or Rod Hull losing Emu, the world’s most elaborate wanking sock.

“Calm down, Brian. You’re too sensitive!” reassured Sid. “Of course I’ll pick up your stuff, and I won’t mention it t’anyone,” said the modern-day saint.

“Thanks, Sid.” said Brian relieved. “You truly are a good—”

“Sixty quid for me troubles.”

“You bastard!”

“Brian, I’m putting my reputation on the line entering this seedy back-street shop,” said Sid, like he was the pillar of the community.

“Very well,” conceded Brian through gritted teeth. “But if word gets out to anyone about me experimenting with sexual enhancers, then I’ll let a few secrets out about you!”

“No problems, Brian. May I have the cash in advance, please?”

“Half now and half on delivery. I’ll give you the money you need for the stuff later in the week.” Brian reached into the top pocket of his jacket and pulled out his imitation crocodile skin wallet. He took out thirty pounds and handed it to Sid, who took the money graciously, got up, and moved his massive frame to the bar.

 ****

 Sid eyed the beer hungrily as he approached.

“Same again, Sid?” enquired The Miner’s Arms’ landlord.

“Yes please, Kev.”

Kevin Ackroyd pulled two pints of Bolton Bitter; two exact pints down to the millilitre. Sid, Brian, and a select few were the only patrons to get served the legal limit. It wasn’t because Kev liked them, it was because they’d give him a shoeing if he didn’t.

If Sid was a Russian doll, and you took the top off Sid, then the top off mini Sid, then the top off the mini-mini Sid, and then added a ginger ’tache, you’d have Kevin Ackroyd. He was about five and a half feet in both directions, and where Sid’s shoulders were out of proportion to his body, Kevin’s belly was out of proportion to his. The nose was not broken as was Sid’s, but was incredibly red with the years of alcohol abuse.

Sid lit his eightieth Egyptian of the day. “How’s the extension going round back?”

The landlord’s face dropped. “Don’t get me started, Sid. The bleedin’ missus nags all day long about building a new bedroom. She wants to move her bleedin’ mother in, doesn’t she? As if my shit life couldn’t get any shitter?”

“Sorry for askin’, Kev, didn’t realise. How much do I owe yer?”

“£3.92 please.”

Sid passed over a ten-pound note and waited for his change.

“I’m sorry, Sid. I didn’t mean to snap there. It’s just, you know how our Marie gets about bleedin’ home improvements and bleedin’ decorating.”

Sid asked the million-dollar question. “You ain’t changing the inside of the Miner’s?”

Kev looked genuinely offended. “God no. I let her have her own way in everything, Sid. I’m a good husband, but she’ll never alter the inside of this fine public house.”

The Miner’s Arms hadn’t changed since Kev took over from his old man in ’67. Not even the breweries had managed to convince the stubborn landlord to decorate, and even Kev’s own failed arson attempts hadn’t warranted a lick of paint.

It was a small pub. A pub for locals. Only one student had ever ventured into the public house, but that was because he’d been thrown in through the window. Tonight, it was relatively empty, like every night. Apart from Sid and Brian, only the lads were in. They sat round a small black-and-white telly near the bar watching a repeat of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? They were silent apart from the odd shout of: “Tarrant, you twat.”

Walking into the Miner’s, the first thing that hit you (if you were lucky) was the smell of stale beer and cigarettes. The smoking ban was paid no heed in these parts. Most patrons thought the ban was make-believe, like Father Christmas, paying taxes, or safe sex.

No pictures adorned the nicotine-stained wallpaper. Three flying ducks and a postcard from Great Yarmouth were the only decoration inside. The only other feature was the dartboard. The Miner’s had a wicked team that inspired fear in the opposition, and not just because of their good arras. As you walked to the bar, the next thing you noticed was the infamous carpet, terribly worn, and with a pattern indistinguishable from the cigarette burns, chewing gum, beer spillages, and other stains of bodily origin. If the carpet was hung on the wall, you could walk up it.

There was a mismatch of furniture on the way to the bar with not a single chair or table alike in the entire pub. The bar, however, was immaculate, and Kevin Ackroyd was very proud of it. Bar stools were placed equidistantly along its length, which occupied the entire left wall up to the toilet door. That’s where the flies were.

Only one toilet was originally built in the Miner’s: the gents. It comprised of two urinals and a flushable toilet (unless Sid was caught short, in which case, it became a non-flushable toilet). The pub had undergone one small alteration since Kevin took over from his dad. The new landlord had designed the Miner’s only refurbishment himself. In what was deemed at the time to be a crazy venture, he’d installed a ladies’ toilet.

The venture only took an afternoon. He merely wrote “Ladies” on the Gents cubicle door in a permanent marker and put a mirror over the washbasin so the fairer sex could apply their war paint. It was still acceptable for gentlemen to use the ladies’ loo. After all, it was not an uncommon sight to see the ladies using the urinals, and this was the age of equal rights. A regular Ladies’ Night of variable vigour had been held periodically since the refurbishment, an event that had proven hugely popular with the locals. On the wall to the right of the bar were the remains of The Miner’s Arms’ jukebox. It had never been fixed since that ill-fated night when Sid had pressed the wrong buttons and ended up playing “Club Tropicana” on repeat.

Sid took the beers and returned to sit next to his friend.

“Cheers, Sid,” said Brian, taking down a large draft of ale. “Now then, what do you say about giving this doggin’ a go?”

Sid shook his head. “I don’t know, Brian. It’s a lot of hassle, and you never know who’s going to be there, like. If I’m that desperate, I can always go and see that prossy, Lizzie, who lives down road.”

“No, Sid. I won’t let you pay for it again. Anyway, Lizzie has weathered since you last saw her, and she was never exactly a looker in the first place. I heard that you can get the lot for three cans of Skol.”

Sid looked around. There wasn’t a female in sight. “Guess I could give it a go, like.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Brian beaming. “Tomorrow night up at Middlesbrough Memorial Park, they’re having one of their regular meetings. Don’t worry. It’s a one hundred per cent heterosexual spot. After Charlie told me about it, I looked it all up on Internet.”

More proof that Brian was the brainiest man on the Smithson Estate: He’d used a computer.

“Shit the bed!” said Sid slightly in awe. “If it was on that computer thing, then it’s got to be reet.”

Brian spent the night explaining to Sid what he’d found out on the World Wide Web and about the etiquette of the dogger.

The two friends smoked, supped ale, and chatted until Kevin Ackroyd kicked them out because he wanted to go to bed. The walk home was exciting for Sid, as tomorrow, after two years of waiting, he was going to get lucky.

“Howay, the lads!”

2

He kicked open the door and stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the moonlight. A howling wind whipped snow into the log cabin. A child playing in front of the fire screamed when she saw him, and a middle-aged man ran through from an adjoining room to check on his daughter. The father yelled, but his cries fell on deaf ears.

Bloodlust had devoured the senses.

In a moment he crossed the room and picked the father up by the throat so that his feet dangled six inches from the floor. He sunk his teeth deep into the neck of the struggling victim. Blood sprayed onto his face and gushed down his throat, satisfying his thirst; the pure pleasure of it, every molecule of his body emanated life. These mortals could never experience such a feeling. Sex? Love? This was everything.

He let the limp body drop to the floor, and the senses returned with the wailing of the young girl who sat hugging her dead father. Her cries ceased the instant he snapped her neck. She wouldn’t have felt a thing. Not that he cared. He was simply tired of the noise.

 ****

He held the human’s throat in a vice-like grip. Eyes looked back at him with the utmost calm. No fear. No panic. No emotion at all.

“You bastard. Your mother should never have dropped you from her putrid womb. Look what you are. You’re nothing, and you’ve taken everything from me.” His voice matched the human’s gaze, complete calm. Rage had subsided. Nothing he could do to this man could possibly match the debt the man owed him.

He tore the human’s throat out and watched as his eyes glazed over. The human’s pain was a moment. This pain, however, would burn for centuries. This would hurt until the very end.

  ****

 Gunnar awoke in a cold sweat. Those two events had haunted his dreams often of late. That log cabin had saved his life. He’d been trapped in an avalanche in Canada, starved of blood for weeks on end. A tragedy if he’d died that way—the great Gunnar Ivansey killed by a snowball. The absurdity of it all! It’d taken weeks to tunnel out of that drift, and then, he’d wandered around in a daze, unaware of time or space. Stumbling across that cabin had been pure luck. Blood had never tasted so good.

The other dream…it was hard to put aside such despair.

He quickly left his resting place. The room was pitch black, but he could see perfectly. There was only one door to this secret room, and he closed it behind him when he exited, climbing the stairs into a massive circular hallway, both grand and utterly extravagant. The mahogany staircase meandered round, and it was difficult to see any imperfection in the carpenter’s work. The marble floor and the rosewood furniture from the seventeenth century would’ve thrilled the gentry. But he was so bored of grand and extravagant. Gunnar noted the time on the grandfather clock standing next to the huge oak front doors: quarter past eleven. He’d never been good at keeping time.

The bathroom was a vision from nineteenth century France, the likes of which would’ve been celebrated by humans, a shrine to money, a shrine to success. Things. Objects. Nothing more. He ran water in the sink close to boiling. He lathered soap between his hands and applied it across his face and scalp before shaving with a cut-throat razor. After showering, he left the bathroom and walked through to the next room. An entire wall was a mirror. To each side of the room stood open wardrobes that contained suits and shirts of every fabric and hue. He picked out an outfit with no hesitancy and dressed quickly but impeccably.

Gunnar admired himself in the mirror for several minutes. It wasn’t just his size that made him stand out in a crowd, it was those ageless eyes, steely blue. They’d inject fear into any human. He turned on his heels and headed for his enormous underground garage. Out of the dozens of cars, he looked longingly at a black Porsche GT3. He should really drive a more inconspicuous vehicle to tonight’s destination.

“Fuck it.”

The garage opened automatically, and Gunnar raced the Porsche up the ramp and out onto the driveway. It was a significant distance to the front gates, which opened automatically when he reached them. He didn’t have to slow down to pass onto the country road. Once on it, he raced around the twisting roads like a rally driver. After the kill, after war, driving was his next love. In this modern age, speed was the only thing that held his attention.

He was ten miles from Newcastle’s city centre and it was time to meet an old friend. Ricard was the complete opposite to Gunnar. He was not a vampire of modern technology. Gunnar had taken him out in his Aston Martin DB5 in the 1960s and even that amazing machine didn’t impress the old fool. “We have an eternity to travel the corners of the world, and we have an infinite number of things to observe and behold. If we travel at one hundred miles an hour, we’ll miss something.”

They say opposites attract, and it was the only explanation for their close friendship. Ricard was at least three thousand years old and had been a keen politician and an influential thinker from a young age. He was a true gentleman and a scholar of unprecedented intellect. However, the two fervently disagreed on the status of mankind. Ricard treated humans with respect and with a kindness that disgusted Gunnar. To him, they were less than cattle. Ricard was also one of the major contributors to the formation of the human-vampire Agreement, the abomination that kept vampires on a leash.

Ricard was a wiser vampire than he, and certainly a better creature. Nevertheless, Ricard’s compassion would certainly lead to his eventual downfall. Respect humans? Gunnar thought to himself. If they knew of us, would they show us the same courtesy?

He bared his fangs at nothing, his instincts demanding the kill. Demanding satisfaction. Demanding vengeance.

Always demanding vengeance.

“SNAP OUT OF IT!” he screamed.

Gunnar reached the city centre. Tonight, he’d meet with others of his kind. He’d relax, unwind, and talk to his heart’s content throughout the night and safely through the day if the need presented itself. This was the time for happiness. Tranquillity.

Peace and tranquillity.

He backfisted the driver’s side window out.

He arrived at his destination, Rapunzel’s Nightclub. It was full of human vermin who entertained themselves by drinking, fucking, and fighting; seemingly all they could manage with their brief spell on this Earth. How could Ricard hold any feelings for this race as a whole? They were disgusting, meaningless, shallow, selfish, despicable.

The door to the club’s underground garage opened as he drew near. He drove through the dimly lit parking lot, appreciating the other vehicles. Was one of them Ricard’s? Had he finally invested an insignificant portion of his immense wealth in a car? He laughed again at Ricard’s disdain for speed, although on some occasions, the old goat was right. Gunnar could remember, all too well, the look on the paramedic’s face after Gunnar had emerged from the wreckage. It was not in their basic training to deal with car crash victims that could walk and talk with half a windscreen protruding from their heart.

Gunnar parked the car and climbed the stairs situated in the centre of the garage. At the top of the stairs was an imposing black door with no handle. It opened slowly as Gunnar approached, and music poured through, heavy bass booming off the grotesque lilac-coloured walls beyond.

A giant of a doorman stood on the other side of the entrance in front of a short staircase leading to a similar door to the one Gunnar had just passed. He was as tall as Gunnar himself, about six-foot-eight and must have weighed twenty-five stone, all muscle. He was bulkier than Gunnar, but his muscles were the result of years of steroid abuse. Farther down the hallway, Gunnar could see humans dancing, drinking, and making complete fools of themselves. They deserved to die. He paid the doorman no heed and started to climb the stairs. A huge arm barred his path.

“Where do you think you’re going, son?”

Gunnar halted but didn’t look at the giant. “Move your arm and never bother me again.” He held his composure for this was one of Richmond’s pets.

“Who the fuck do you think you are, you little prick?” yelled the doorman, steroid-induced rage racing through his bloodstream. “Do you know who the fuck I am?”

Some of the drunk humans noticed the commotion, leering, jeering, adding fuel to the giant’s anger….as for Gunnar’s…

The bouncer curled up into a ball, hitting the floor, a dead weight. The doorman struggled for breath after the punch to the solar plexus, turning a shade of blue through lack of oxygen.

Gunnar hadn’t meant to strike. He hadn’t meant to lose control. “Has Richmond not told you that all guests who enter through the garage door can use the facilities at their leisure? I was trying to stay calm,” he said, his words escaping through bared teeth. “Trying to stay—” he landed a boot in the ribs, delighting in the cracking of bone, “—fucking calm!”

He spat on the doorman before climbing the stairs. The door at the top opened automatically like the last. A fire roared inside, radiating a tremendous amount of heat. It was the only source of light, adding to the ambience of this small, antiquated room full of tapestries, paintings and sculptures of the last two millennia. A drinks cabinet on the far wall contained whiskies and brandies, centuries old. The decorator of this room certainly appreciated the finer things in life. Large, comfortable armchairs were placed around the room and a small table accompanied each chair, which held a selection of fine cigars. In an armchair nearest the fire sat Ricard.

“Good evening,” said Gunnar.

Ricard turned from the fire. “Good evening, Gunnar,” he said affectionately. Ricard showed a slight receding of his hairline, and his thick black hair was streaked with grey at the wings. His face would have resembled a man in his fifties if it was not for his ageless green eyes. Although he looked old for a vampire, he was still incredibly handsome. He was large compared to a human but of medium build when compared to his brethren. Gunnar’s hand completely encompassed his as he shook it warmly.

“Was one of the cars downstairs yours?” Gunnar asked with a grin as he poured himself a brandy.

“Yes, actually. It may surprise you to know, I purchased a hybrid that’s economical, and thus, the least polluting of your favoured smog-wagons.”

Gunnar raised his eyebrows. “Smog-wagons?” he teased. “At least you’ve realised their necessity in this modern age. Who knows, you may even enjoy driving one day?”

“I’ll have a suntan first.”

“And how are you feeling, Ricard? Three thousand years must be taking its toll by now? Surely knees as old as yours can’t take more than a brisk walk?”

Ricard appreciated the jest. “I feel the same as I did two thousand years ago, but then, I’ve never been the most athletic of our kind. I was born to use my head, dear boy, and if the need arises, rent muscle-for-hire like you. And what about you? I’m sure your body copes with everything you throw at it?”

“My body gets stronger every day, but…” He rubbed his hands awkwardly over his shaven scalp, “my head does not hold the same strength, no matter how hard I try.” Gunnar trembled as he finished the sentence, his emotions betraying him as always.

“What bothers you?”

“Dreams,” said Gunnar, as he stared wistfully into his brandy.

“Of your mother?”

Gunnar looked up from the glass. “That obvious?”

Ricard smiled sympathetically.

“Bah! Five hundred years ago. What is the point of hating yourself over the death of a low-life whore!” spat Gunnar. “She deserved everything that happened to her, Ricard, everything.”

Gunnar’s mother was executed in 1503, beheaded after a trial by the vampire council, the Lamian Consilium. Her crime was to fall in love with a human. It was punishable by death, and rightfully so. They should never have changed the damned laws.

“She left me for him, a mortal, only a century after a bastard hunter slew my father. How can I forgive her? How can I forgive them?” He remembered looking into the human’s eyes, remembered his fingers tightening around his throat and slowly, so slowly, tearing out his windpipe.

“Love, Gunnar. Love is the world’s ultimate power.”

“Fuck you, Ricard! Everything is taken from us! How many decades of happiness can be rendered meaningless because of one action, one incident, one night? How can you sit there so calm, so righteous?” Gunnar stood up and punched the wall, shaking the room, leaving knuckle marks in the plaster.

Ricard wasn’t affected by such displays. “We’re all different, Gunnar. Your heart has ruled you since the day I met you. I, however, have always been ruled by this.” Ricard tapped his head. “I admire your fire. I admire your spirit. But you’re in danger of burning out. The pain you desperately hold on to will kill you. You punish yourself and mankind for your mother’s death.”

Gunnar sank to his knees, tears streaming down his face. “It’s over five hundred years since I took her in for trial. I took her in! Five hundred years of guilt. Humans killed my father, and that slut took one into her arms, into her bed! She was all I had. I still hate her!”

“So much rage, Gunnar. So much hate and anger combined with so much power. I’m starting to worry your fury is insurmountable.” Ricard poured another brandy and placed it next to Gunnar’s armchair.

Gunnar stopped his sobbing in an instant. Don’t be so weak, he thought, chastising himself. He got up and sat back down on the chair. He sipped at the brandy after regaining his composure.

“Thank you, Ricard. You’ve been a father figure to me for nearly half a millennium. I’m sorry I spoke out of turn.”

“Don’t be silly, dear boy. I’ve heard far worse profanities in my three thousand years, and from people for whom I felt a lot less love.”

Gunnar was lucky to have such a good friend. He didn’t have many. “What news do you have from our beloved Consilium, and their dealings with your precious humans and their Coalition and their Agreement?”

“A little hostility I sense there?” said Ricard with a wry smile.

“I’ll never understand why Michael set up the Coalition. All it does is benefit humans.”

“I’m the one you should blame.”

“Michael’s the one who rules.”

“Because of my foresight. With modern-day surveillance, the Agreement is an absolute must for our survival. If it is jeopardised, the world will be plunged into war. The Coalition links vampire and man. Both races have their own organisations. The vampire has the Lamian Consilium and man has the Hominum Order. The Agreement binds us together.”

Gunnar dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Have you any news which might affect me? Any nasty surprises on the horizon?”

“As you ask, yes, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of humans killed in this region over the last year, and all were killed in a rather gruesome manner.”

Gunnar smirked before raising his hands in defence. “It has nothing to do with me.” He put a hand on his heart. “I can’t believe you would suspect me of such a foul deed.”

Ricard smiled. “Forgive me for judging.”

This time, Gunnar laughed out loud, a rare sound to his ears. “And what of you? What does our all-knowing Lamian Consilium have you occupying your time with of late?”

“Oh, this and that. I’m too old for political games, especially those that affect mankind and not just our own people. I’m there to offer my advice when it’s needed. I only wish for harmony between the species, although I accept that this harmony cannot be absolute. Michael rules the Coalition and the Lamian Consilium with an iron fist. Unfortunately, I believe it to be the only way.”

“Michael Vitrago,” Gunnar mused. “He’d put fear into the Creator himself. Gabriel and I followed him for decades, possibly the best decades of my life. Let’s hope he regains his senses one day and puts an end to the truce between us and them.”

Ricard shook his head. “It will be a dark day for the world if he does.”

The door to the study opened and Richmond entered the room with a beaming smile for his guests. As always, he was elaborately dressed and wore an immense, white fur coat, which covered his broad, muscular shoulders. A matching fur top hat held in his long dreadlocks.

“Hey there, boys!”

 ****

Ricard stood up to greet Richmond, his host. There was no one who disliked the massive African. The first impression that Richmond gave was that he was the epitome of happiness. The first impression was the right one. Moods were eased wherever he went.

Nightclubs: the perfect business for Richmond. He didn’t need to work; no vampire did, for they amassed great wealth over the centuries. In this room alone were enough priceless historical artefacts to live a life of luxury. Richmond was in the business purely for the enjoyment of it all. He owned nightclubs all over the world, and each club had a room similar to this where he’d entertain his guests with his famous hospitality.

It was possible he didn’t have an enemy in the vampire world. If he were human, things would be different. Many would hate him for his African origin. Vampires were different. There was no sexism, no racism. The main divide was the Agreement, and with all species, the lust for power.

“My friends, how has it been, apart from the terrible weather?” Richmond complained about the weather whenever he travelled outside of the West Indies, the place he adopted as home.

“Where to start, Richmond?” posed Ricard. “It has certainly been lacking a certain something without you around for the past twenty years. I’m sure you’re up-to-date with the Coalition’s dealings?” Ricard considered his question. “Or perhaps you’ve found other, carnal distractions?”

Richmond let out a deep bellowing laugh. “I think you know me a little too well.”

“That I do. It’s been a strange twenty years,” said Ricard. “The technological advancement of the age changes our lives with every blink of the eye. I can’t imagine what another twenty years will bring. Nevertheless, I’ll watch with interest as events unfold and do my best to help us move forward.”

“And you, Gunnar?” asked Richmond.

“I’ve driven some fast cars,” said Gunnar, with a grin.

“And I’ve ridden some fast women,” bellowed Richmond, laughing.

Richmond loved women, whether it was a lamia or a human, it mattered not, he’d pursue them all. Sex was a strange thing in the vampire world, and Ricard was thankful that most of the race were asexual. Most would never have sex of any kind throughout their lifetime, because reproduction was not a straightforward affair. The oldest living vampire was five thousand years old and had the appearance of an eighty-year-old man. There was no biological urge to procreate.

Procreation wasn’t as simple as in humans. A male seed was still required for the female egg, but the female lamia required huge amounts of the male’s blood to sustain the life of her and the child. Throughout history, this had often led to the male’s demise and was a natural deterrent. The process kept the vampire population to a relatively low number when compared to their prey.

Sleeping with a human was once punishable by death, which was the crime Gunnar’s mother committed. In this modern age, there were no constrictions, as conception between the species had been proven impossible. However, if a vampire of either sex raped a human, it was best practice to kill the human. Vampire DNA samples would create interesting problems down the line. This was another reason why the Agreement couldn’t stand without the efforts of Sanderson, a human member of the Coalition assigned to hide vampire activity.

“Although the world changes around us,” continued Richmond, “the three dinosaurs in this room do not.” He raised his glass, and his companions followed suit.

The night continued into the morning and well into the daylight hours. Ricard and Gunnar would enjoy the hospitality of their host until the safety of nighttime returned. That would bring a reunion of a different sort, for Gunnar would be reunited with his closest friend and, for mankind, his most dangerous ally.

3

It was a beautiful, bright summer’s evening. Sid had shaken off his hangover by mid-afternoon and was bright as a button in anticipation of adult entertainment. He was parked in Middlesbrough Memorial Park in his 1987 maroon Montego Estate and applying the finishing touches to a look that would guarantee action of the filthiest form.

Sid pinned on the Dambuster medal, which a bloke down the pub, Peter Rathbone, had sold him. Women never turned down war heroes. According to Brian, women never turned down anything, but then, he was a swordsman, possibly the finest. Sid got out of the Montego and applied a final splash of Male aftershave, which Rathbone had also sold him. Rathbone had said it was the manliest scent devised by scientists. Sid thought it smelled a bit like piss and was starting to question the authenticity of his purchases.

Reaching inside the car, he took out a dog lead. He had one of them guide dog leads with him, because he thought the ladies would love the sob story of him losing his blind dog. There were a few other cars in the car park, and they were empty. Obviously, the desperate, nubile, young females had left their cars to seek a jump out in the wilderness.

“They’re gonna be gaggin’ for it.” Sid rubbed his hands at the prospect and pushed on.

Middlesbrough Memorial Park was a beautiful place mostly set on a hillside with views of the surrounding valleys and the sea in the distance. All of this was wasted on Sid, because Sid thought hills were shite. The fifty-yard trek up the shallow incline took all the fire out of his loins, taking Sid’s personal hygiene to a bad-place, or, rather, a worse place. The Male Body Spray wasn’t helping, in fact, it was taking on an even pissier odour.

Luckily, Sid’s leather jacket hid the sweat rings that were growing at an alarming rate. Like the Germans of Sid’s nightmares, the sweat rings from his armpits were invading the surrounding territory with ruthless efficiency, threatening to drown the tiger on his Esso Tiger Token T-shirt. Even a zipped-up heavy leather jacket couldn’t disguise the smell the sweat rings would start making in the next ten minutes, nor would snorting bleach.

Sid continued along the path, huffing and puffing and smoking “Al Persio” Iranian cigarettes. He’d picked up four hundred of these full-tar, no-filter, carcinogentastic bad-boys as reward for finding Middlesbrough’s only Iranian tobacconist, Isha Majeera’s, dog.

The tree-lined car park had been left behind, and Sid walked around the hill on one of the nature trails. The first bench he came across was structurally tested when his considerable backside hit it with force. Sweat poured off him. He must have walked at least—he weighed up the trek—three hundred yards!

“Shit the bed!”

Who would’ve thought this doggin’ malarkey would be so strenuous…and he’d not even started yet! He regained his breath after going through an Iranian per minute. From where he sat, he had a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside and woodland, marred only by the presence of Seal Sands’ Chemical site in the distance.

Sid’s lust waned. He couldn’t see any ladies anywhere and the scent of the Male Body Spray was…evolving. If he left now, he could still get a gallon of ale in before the Miner’s closed. However, a little voice in his pants said, “Keep trying, please! Not another cosy night in, just the two of us!”

The out-of-shape Casanova got to his feet. Another few hundred yards around the hill, and if nothing came of it, the Miner’s was calling. Sid psyched himself up and set off around the hill of hidden passion. He took two steps and then stopped.

He could hear something up ahead. His mind raced. Unfortunately, Sid wasn’t very imaginative when it came to the bedroom department, or any other department for that matter. He focused on….his old school teacher, Miss Stevens. Absolutely cracking set of jugs. Cracking. He imagined her…

He imagined her…

Err…

He imagined her flicking through a copy of Tits.

Imagery sufficient.

Sid’s sex drive pumped blood towards a much underused appendage, which was shocked but pleasantly surprised. He strode forward, reached the brow of the hill, and…

This wasn’t part of the plan.

In front of him was a well-dressed, middle-aged gentleman with a Scottish Highland Terrier.

The colour drained from the big man’s face, which took a significant amount of time considering how red it was to start with. His mouth dropped open. The power of speech evaded him.

There was but one explanation: this was a them lot hill.

Before this moment, he didn’t even know what a them lot hill was.

What if he was German?

Oh God.

“Good evening, squire,” English, thank fook, but wait…squire? This was worse. This one was Southern, possibly from London. Sid remembered back to Brian’s lecture on how Londoners hadn’t produced a straight man in their history and that the entire Cockney population was maintained by two Scouse dockers and a lorry driver from Hull.

“Are you all right there, old boy?”

Sid’s eyes widened. Old boy! He mentioned his old boy!They were so forward! So forward!

The Southern them lot clocked the lead in Sid’s hand. “Lost your dog?”

A cold, clammy sweat covered Sid, the type only raw fear can induce. Sid thought fast…(thirty seconds later)…”No.”

“O…K….,” replied the gentleman. “Well, good day to you.” He nodded his head and walked on.

Sid waited until the man was well out of sight before heaving a sigh of relief. That was close, too close. He was going to have serious words with Brian when he got back to the Miner’s.

“Ah fook this!”

If this was a dogging area for them lot, he was getting out of here. He smoked another Iranian and began the three hundred-yard marathon. His only saving grace was that the journey was downhill. Approaching the car park, a flash of yellow caught his eye. A man from the ’boro could spot blonde hair from space.

The blonde hair quickened Sid’s pace…

The low-cut top doubled it!

“Fooking ’ell! Right, Sid, it is time, my son,” he murmured to himself as all memories of the them lot hill floated away, literally with the fairies.

The peroxide blonde wore blue jeans that appeared painted on. How she got the waistline of the jeans over her massive buttocks could only be explained by forty-ish peroxide blondes who refused to accept they were getting old. She wore a vest, which didn’t do much to conceal her impressive cleavage or the offensive tattoos on top of each breast.

Sid was in love.

Contact.

“Good evening, young lady.” Sid Tillsley miraculously transformed into a fat, Northern Roger Moore.

“Y’alllllrrrrriiigggght?” It took a good two seconds for the word to be completed. The strong Leeds accent went from his ears to his loins at the speed of light. She was from Leeds, she was blonde, she was forty plus, and she had tattoos on her titties. Sid Tillsley was certain he’d be getting down to it in a matter of minutes, possibly seconds. In fact…

Sid looked down at his old fella, just to make sure he wasn’t already having sex.

“I’m very well, thank you, my dear.” said Northern Roger Moore. He tried to raise a seductive eyebrow, but only succeeded in letting go of a little wind. “What is the reason that I come across you this fine summer’s evening?”

“Walkin’ dog, mate,” she replied, then bellowed, “C’MON, ENRIQUE!” A red setter bounded from a cluster of trees. “Catch ya later,” said the Northern rose, and began to walk past Sid.

“Hang on there, love.” Northern Roger Moore disappeared. Sid didn’t know what to say to initiate sexual contact, and his earlier innuendo had clearly failed. Sid looked down at his lead. He’d have to make a more obvious innuendo to entice the Jewel of the North into letting him give her one behind the bushes. “It’s such a beautiful evening, and my dog is out…shagging.”

The lady looked at Sid blankly. “Oh, that’s grand,” she said, slightly bewildered. “I think I’ll be on my way.” She turned to follow the red setter that had disappeared from view.

Sid didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t taken the bait, but he was so close. Shit or bust, he decided. “My dog’s off shagging and I was thinking maybe…erm…I could give you one behind the hedge over there?”

The real Roger Moore would’ve had his kecks round his ankles by now. Northern Roger Moore was kicked square in the knackers.

4

It was all so different now. A planned kill. What was the point? “The Golden Age,” they called it. At least Michael Vitrago, for all his hypocrisy, did. He was responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of humans, all unnecessary and all for the pure fun of it. Michael was the most powerful vampire of the last two millennia, a force to be reckoned with, and a beast of a lamia. Who could have predicted his fall from grace?

Gabriel was his second in command during the true Golden Age, the tenth century. It was a time when humans lived their lives in righteous fear of the vampire. It was not hunting, it was feasting. Lords, ladies, there was no one powerful enough to avoid their fangs.

And now, thanks to the Agreement, Gabriel was to endure an organised hunt in the arsehole of the world: Middlesbrough. Now, vampires hunted local criminals who didn’t deserve to die of leprosy, let alone be taken by an immortal. Nevertheless, if you didn’t move with the times, then you died. That was the way of the world.

Gabriel was to meet Gunnar in a local public house after his meeting with Ricard and Richmond. Three completely different characters, all dear to his heart, but Gunnar was his kindred spirit. Born thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart, the same desires drove them. They were predators born to hunt and rejoice in the kill. This modern age was for the Ricards of the world: artists, philosophers, musicians. But the good times would return. Everything travels in cycles and the balance would be restored one day. How Gabriel lusted for war.

He watched the locals pour out of the pubs and clubs. Witnessing it made him nauseous. They drunkenly shouted at each other and threw punches, while others vomited on their own streets. If vampires had sunk in stature, humans had plummeted. He took in his surroundings. It’d be almost worth his death slaughtering the whole godforsaken town. He turned down an alleyway leading to the back of the Wolf’s Head free house.

Gunnar was waiting outside.

“I thought we were meeting inside the pub?”

“We were,” said Gunnar, “but I cannot waste time with you, drinking and reminiscing. After fifty years, we can finally hunt.”

Gabriel embraced his closest friend. “Then, let us hunt.”

  ****

 She awoke, and her throbbing headtold her to go back to sleep. When she opened her eyes, the world spun, so she shut them tight again. God, she was still drunk. Too much booze. Always too much booze. She’d lost her friends in a bar. Then, those lads had kept her company, buying her drinks. They’d been so friendly, but then…everything was hazy after that, like a dream. Like a—

That stench: alcohol, weed, a hot breath on her face. She opened her eyes again and—He was on top of her!

She was in…She was—Oh, God, her top had been pulled down! She was in a car. Where was she! Her fight or flight instinct kicked into overdrive. She erupted into a rage, clawing and yelling at her attacker as he tried to grab her flailing arms and legs. He slapped her hard, but she kept fighting for her life. He was hideous: a pock-marked face, greasy hair, and a stained baseball cap. She kicked him hard, and he flew back, and he kept flying, twenty feet away from the car door.

“What the…?”

A face, just as ugly, just as evil, loomed. He sat in the front seat, mouth and eyes wide open. He stared at her and then at the car door where her attacker had disappeared. Suddenly, a face filled that doorway, a face which couldn’t have been more different.

“Are you OK, girl?”

She nodded but couldn’t speak, not because of the alcohol, but because of the beauty of the man before her. Dark hair blew across his perfect skin, and she couldn’t escape from his transfixing brown eyes. He took off his coat to reveal powerful, broad shoulders and gave it to her. Suddenly aware of her nakedness, she quickly wrapped herself in it. The ordeal was sobering her up, fast.

“My friend and I have to deal with these two young gentlemen, so please, shut your eyes. Whatever you hear, do not open them. You’re safe now.”

She struggled to shut her eyes and stop looking at this angel, but she had to obey. There was the sound of a car door opening as the man in front seat screamed. The door slammed shut and then there was nothing.

  ****

 Steve was dragged to where Daz lay motionless. By the dim light of the moon, he could see Daz was still breathing, but Steve couldn’t make up his mind if that was a good thing.

These men were tall and heavily built, one a skinhead who looked mental, and the other one with dark hair. They had to be the police, and he knew which one would be bad cop. This was all Steve needed. He already had two cautions, and this was serious stuff, probably a jail sentence. Fuck, it was just a bit of fun. The girl was on her own, pissed out of her head. A few more drinks and it wasn’t tough to coax her out of the club and into the car, and then, it was just a short drive out of town into the countryside…

The dark-haired copper touched Daz’s neck and he came to, coughing and wheezing… What the hell? It was like someone had thrown a cold bucket of water over him. “You were going to force yourself on her,” said the copper to Daz.

Daz couldn’t speak. He couldn’t even breathe. Man, they’d messed him up bad.

Steve broke in. “We weren’t, copper! She asked to come out here with us. We met her in town. She was well up for it.”

The dark-haired one said, “What makes you think I’m a policeman?” He reached down and grabbed Daz by the throat, picking him up with ease until Daz’s feet dangled a foot off the ground. Steve’s eyes bulged, and he struggled to control his bladder.

“My acquaintance is Gunnar Ivansey. I am Gabriel. I was born in Hungary centuries ago. Do you know what we did to rapists in Hungary?” His stare caused Steve to cower. “No? The education system today…” He sighed and shook his head mockingly. “We ripped off their genitals until they bled to death.” He reached down, grabbed Daz’s crotch, and said to him, “You’re going to relive the past.”

Daz screamed in pain, but Gabriel drove his thumb into his throat quenching his cries. Daz’s mouth distorted into a silent scream, and Steve vomited. Daz’s eyes closed as he lost consciousness but this thing, this devil, Gabriel, shifted his grip and Daz’s eyes bolted open.

“Don’t worry. Soon, you’ll sleep forever.” The torturer lifted his hand so he could show Daz his own dismembered, blood-dripping genitals. “You value these tiny little things so much, don’t you?” He shook his head at Daz. “It is true what they say, ‘Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.’” He threw Daz to the ground, who screamed for a second before the pain took him. Gabriel threw Daz’s genitals at Steve who didn’t dare move for the terror that bound him. “And you…”

This time, Steve did lose control of his bladder. He couldn’t take his eyes off Daz whose breathing was slowing.

“Were you going to rape that poor, defenceless girl?”

“No…I…”

“Do you wish to share the same fate as your friend or maybe your punishment should be more severe?”

Steve’s gaze was ripped from Daz’s dying body at the mention of a more severe punishment. “Mister, I…I…”

“Were you just going to watch? You don’t look the sort who could force himself on a woman, but you would’ve sat there and watched wouldn’t you? I have another punishment for you.”

Gabriel reached down and thrust a forefinger into Daz’s eye-socket, hooked the finger once inside, and ripped out his left eye. Daz didn’t move; he must have passed out. Steve wept. His stomach had no more to give, nor did his bladder, but he’d never stop crying. He shut his eyes tight, hoping it was all a nightmare.

“I’m going to give you a chance, rapist. You can walk away, a free man and with everything intact. Aren’t you the lucky one?”

Steve nodded, nervously trying to go along with the situation, doing his best to survive.

“There are two things you have to do to walk away. Number one.” Gabriel held Daz’s dripping eye and rubbed his stomach. “Dinner time!”

“Wh-wh-what?”

Gabriel threw the detached eye to Steve, and it hit him in the chest leaving a bloodstain over his white T-shirt. It bounced to the ground in front of his knees and stared right back at him. The oozing blood from the optic nerve and the limp extra ocular muscles caused him to dry-heave incessantly.

“Oh, poor show, poor show.” Gabriel looked away in disgust. “Pick it up,” Gabriel ordered.

Steve reached down slowly towards the eye, his hand shaking unrelentingly. He paused millimetres from the sickening object.

“I…I can’t,” he whimpered in between tears.

“Do you have your wallet with you, young man? Do not answer, just listen. If you have, then I have your address. If you do not do as I ask, then I can play these games with your mother and father. Perhaps your little brother would like to eat parts of your little sister? Your choice?”

Steve picked up the eye and placed it in his mouth. He bit down on the soft tissue and liquid exploded inside his mouth, and poured down his throat.

“Good boy! Now just one more thing to eat. What was the other thing I took from Daz?”

  ****

 “Have you finished playing judge, jury, and executioner?” asked Gunnar.

Gabriel stood over the dead bodies of the men, looking down with a smirk on his face. “I do like to teach them the error of their ways before sending them on their journey to the afterlife.”

“Have you ever let one live?”

“What do you think?”

Gunnar nodded and then gestured at the car where the girl still sat with her eyes tightly shut. “She’s waiting for her Knight in Shining Armour.”

Gabriel strode towards the car. He opened the door, grabbed the girl, and yanked her out of the vehicle. A reassuring crack indicated a dislocated shoulder. She screamed as he dragged her by her useless arm. No more games. Bloodlust consumed him. He fell upon her and gorged himself on her neck.

Gunnar joined him and savaged the other side.

The girl went into spasms and blood gushed from her mouth as her arteries and veins were ripped to pieces.

As one, they stepped back, their faces covered in blood that glistened in the moonlight.

Gunnar held his hands aloft and roared.

Gabriel fell backwards onto the ground, satiated. A minute later he said, “The moment after the rapture, we realise we live in dark, oppressed times.”

Gunnar spat on the ground and pulled out his mobile phone. “Three to clean up as expected.” He hung up without waiting for a reply, shaking his head. “Poor Sanderson. It must destroy him knowing he has to come and clean up after us. Shall we leave the place in a state?” He ripped off the girl’s dislocated arm.

“No, let’s not play games. Let us hunt, for the night is young. Let us hunt, Gunnar, for old time’s sake.” He tore off the girl’s other arm and held it up as if making a toast. “To old times.”

“To old times.”

They ran through the night. They jumped from tree to tree, sprinting, diving, embracing free running, leaping over hedges as if they weren’t there. This was what their lives used to be. Every vampire’s life had been about running; either running to catch food, or running away from a lot of food. These two, however, had never run away from anything.

Gabriel hadn’t been united with Gunnar since World War II where they travelled across France. They’d killed at will, and to them, it was the greatest time in the past century. Now was a time to taste blood and remember a better life. Neither cared about the consequences of the crimes they were about to commit. Nothing could come close to the sixty years of boredom since the war. Up ahead was the north car park of the Memorial Park and human activity was unusually high. The two ran at pace until they reached the outskirts of the clearing.

“Like old times, Gunnar?”

“Not quite the same. There are no arrows or bullets flying past our ears.” He vaulted a small tree. “Same old man in the moon smiling down on us, though.”

“Better that than the sun.”

They both stopped on a sixpence and were unrecognisable in the shadows. From where they lay, they could see three cars.

“There is a young couple in that Astra, early twenties,” said Gunnar. “They are intimately entangled, and she’s a very friendly young lady.” He smirked. “In the Land Rover are a couple in their early thirties; two attractive young women enjoying each other’s company.”

Gabriel grinned. “Perhaps this is the ‘Golden Age,’ after all?”

“Yin and Yang. There’s a fifty-year-old man being intimate with himself in that Volkswagen Beetle.”

Gabriel’s grin turned to a look of disgust. “Humans, bah! What’s the plan?”

Gunnar raised an eyebrow, “My plan? This is a turn-up for the books.”

“Yes, I don’t know what I was thinking.” Gabriel surveyed the car park and looked at the Beetle. “I want that man dead.”

“As you wish.” Gunnar gave a mock salute and disappeared into the night. A moment later, the door of the Beetle opened and the man’s head fell forward. Gunnar was back by Gabriel’s side in a matter of seconds.

“Very good, assassin.”

Gunnar flourished the black blade. “It didn’t deserve me to touch it. That leaves us with a choice of two. The females or the more conventional couple?”

“We’ll kill the boy and the girl.” He grinned. “And then we’ll have our fun.”

After two relatively quick murders, Gabriel nodded towards the Land Rover. He and Gunnar surrounded the car. Gabriel opened the passenger’s door while his companion opened the driver’s door. They were rewarded with the sight of two attractive women, kissing and touching each other passionately. The two vampires grinned at each other. The girls didn’t look up, but they became increasingly intimate, turned on by their audience.

“Do you just want to watch? Or do you want to join in?” asked the more dominant of the girls without even pausing to look at her captive crowd.

“What do you think?” asked Gunnar.

“I think I’m hungry.” He climbed into the car and shut the door behind him, Gunnar following suit. Gabriel bit the first warm piece of flesh he reached. He ripped into an arm and blood sprayed onto the windshield. The victim screamed and clutched at her wrist. She thrashed pathetically, trying to rid herself of the bite.

Gunnar went straight for his victim’s neck, killing the girl instantly. He’d always struggled reigning in his killer instincts. Gabriel, however, wasn’t finished. His hunger satisfied, now was time for fun. He grabbed her wrist tight to quell the blood loss. He wanted his game to last as long as possible

“Ask me to kill you,” he said.

The girl thrashed harder, kicking and screaming.

“Ask me to kill you, and it will be over. Only then can you join your friend.” He grabbed the girl’s dark black hair and pushed her face into that of her lover’s. Lifeless eyes stared back, and she stopped struggling.

Gabriel persisted. “Ask me to kill you, and it will be all over.” He pulled back her head and kissed her, smearing her own blood across her face, but suddenly, her eyes deadened and she fell limp. He looked up to see Gunnar spit out a hunk of the girl’s neck.

“Why did you do that?” he asked with calm annoyance.

“That car flashed us.” Gunnar pointed at the car on the opposite side of the car park. It must have arrived moments ago. “There’s no time for games if there are witnesses. Have your fun with them.”

Gabriel frowned. The occupant would pay dearly for the interruption. The two left the Land Rover and crossed the park until they drew near to the car. A fat human jumped out and shouted obscenities at them in an inaudible language. He was a horrible wreck, even by human standards. They could sense his diseased veins from metres away and the smell of the man’s unwashed body was overpowering. He stank of urine.

Gabriel circled the man, leaving Gunnar to attack the front. The man was petrified and fear oozed from every pore of his clammy skin. Gabriel could sense his pulse racing through clogged veins. With a nod towards his comrade, Gabriel leapt.

And then, there was nothing.

5

Sid entered The Miner’s to find it almost empty except for a few lads watching Tarrant. Brian was about, entertaining a forty-ish-year-old redhead and was “in the zone,” as he normally described it. Seeing the master was at work, Sid bought himself a pint of Bolton Bitter, took a seat near the dartboard, and lit up an Iranian. It’d been a terrible day, but a few ales would sort him out. A few ales sorted everything out.

Sid enjoyed his ninety-first, second, third, and fourth Iranians of the day, watching his friend work his magic. The master gracefully moved in for a kiss, and a less graceful tweak of the breast. Brian was Middlesbrough’s answer to Lionel Ritchie.

After a couple of reloads at the bar, Sid caught Brian’s eye and waved a paw at him. Brian gave him a nod and excused himself from his date.

“What you doing here, Sid? You should be getting ready for a night of shaggin’.”

“I’ve been, Brian,” said Sid dejectedly. “It went pissing terrible.” Rubbing his swollen genitals to emphasise the point. She’d managed to connect with both of them.

“What do you mean, ‘you’ve been?’ It’s only quarter past ten. It’s only just got dark for fook’s sake. The only people up there in daytime are bird-watchers and dog-walkers!”

For Sid Tillsley, many things fell into place.

Brian looked over his shoulder at the redhead who was playing with her hair in, what some would consider, a seductive way. “Look, mate, I’m on for one here. She’s a dead cert, and she’s fooking gagging for it, like.”

“Who is she? I thought you were servicing Charlie’s missus tonight?”

“Charlie’s done his knee in. Banged it on the bonnet of a Peugeot 406 the other night. Had to phone his missus from the dogging site. Told her he was bat watching and she bought it. Anyroad, he won’t be going out for a few weeks, so I canna go round.” Brian gave a shrug and then nodded towards the redhead. “That there is a new cleaner from work. And Sid, I’m going to give her something to clean up!”

“She’s a bit young for one of your cleaners, ain’t she?” said Sid. Brian, being a scholar, worked in the town. He was the manager over half a dozen cleaners at Middlesbrough General Hospital.

“Yeah, but she just got out of nick, and they set her up with a job. She don’t speak much English, like.” He looked over again and tapped his chin thoughtfully. “And I don’t think she’s foreign. Anyways, I’ve got to go, mate. I don’t want to lose this one. Give the car-park thing a go tonight. I told you: it don’t start till ’bout midnight. Remember, keep your interior light on and flash your headlights twice. What can go wrong?”

  ****

 Sid Tillsley, forty-six, GSOH, likes: tits, dislikes: cocks, sat in his maroon Montego Estate. The back seats were down and the radio was turned up. Status Quo bashed out riff after riff of unadulterated Manrock.

His Montego was a well-known vehicle around the streets of Middlesbrough. Local legend has it that the maroon estate was the first one of its kind. Mr. David Montego was the mastermind behind the ultimate human-transportation device. The idea had come to him after he was struck by lightning one afternoon while playing golf. He said that God himself had told him to build a machine worthy of the almighty. David took fifteen years to design the Montego and helped build the very first with his own hands. He put his heart and soul into his creation. When he finished, he passed away mysteriously. Some say that he’d sacrificed his own life-essence in creating the car. Others say that God punished him because the car was shit.

Sid’s Montego did, however, exhibit some strange attributes. It always passed its MOT and never obtained speeding tickets or parking fines either. This was most likely because the majority of the people in Middlesbrough knew of Sid and of Sid’s devastating right hand. Therefore, rumours of David Montego haunting the car to ensure that no ill befalls his beloved creation were, like most pub rumours, bollocks.

There were three other cars in the Middlesbrough Memorial car park. No streetlamps meant Sid could only see by the moonlight. The other cars consisted of a Land Rover, a clapped-out Astra, and a new Volkswagen Beetle. Sid had his eye on the VW Beetle. After all, it just had to be a lady driving it, and if it wasn’t, then it was best he kept an eye on it. He assumed the Astra was a young lad with his girlfriend, and that the Land Rover was probably a businessman looking for some action, just like him. He didn’t consider that the driver could be one of them lot. They could never handle such a big car.

The Beetle’s interior light hadn’t been set to “Howay the lads!” The Land Rover and the Astra were both unlit and motionless too. Sid had been here for fifteen minutes now, nervous yet excited. His nerves had the upper hand at the moment. He’d not plucked up the courage to turn on his own light.

How things had changed since his heyday. He remembered the days of wining and dining girls, not meeting them in car parks. Brian had changed with the times. Sid hadn’t. He was an old romantic at heart.

Sid flicked through the copy of Tits he’d bought at the local newsagent. All he wanted was a gigantic set of breasts in his face. Was that too much to ask? It really was tough being a romantic.

He looked up.

Movement! Near the Land Rover. Maybe a lady had gone over to the lad in the 4×4. Sid’s heart rate increased. He could see a couple of shadows either side of the car.

“Where have these horny lasses come from?” he said, curiously.

Both front doors of the Land Rover opened simultaneously, and the two shadows entered the car, which instantly began to rock up and down.

“Fookin’ hell!” Sid rubbed his hands together and looked down at his crotch. “Tonight, son, you end the biggest drought of your life!”

The rocking of the car stopped when the big man flashed his lights over-enthusiastically at the Land Rover. The doors opened and the two ladies jumped out of the car, turning to face the Montego, edging slowly towards the erect Sid. The moon shone behind the two girls and Sid couldn’t see their faces, but he’d decided on the way down here that it didn’t matter what they looked like. In fact, he’d decided when he was fifteen that it didn’t matter what women looked like. They continued slowly towards the car.

It dawned on Sid that the two girls were a little bit on the large side, not fat, more…Amazonian, but that was OK. Sid had slept with big women before, some unbelievably big women, but he’d certainly never slept with any as tall or as broad as these two.

“They’ve got their titties out!” said Sid with glee, although he wasn’t happy about how small the ladies’ breasts were, although they were incredibly pert, even though the hair was a little off putting. As the two young, desperate, nubile nympho sluts walked in front of the headlights, a horrible realisation dawned on Sid. The young, desperate, nubile nympho sluts were actually blokes…

And of course that meant…

Them lot!”

The two men were now ten feet from the car and the only way Sid could get away was through them, and that caused him a lot of discomfort. He went for the keys in the ignition, but the sheer terror of having them lot just feet from his Montego Estate caused him to drop them. One of the blokes stood directly in front of the car and placed his hands on the bonnet, staring through the windscreen at Sid.

“Aw fook, where have his hands been!” said Sid, fearing for the Montego’s polish. Fight took over from flight, and he jumped out of the car.

“Right, yous twos. I’m a fanny man, so fook off!” He clenched his fists, the equivalent to taking the safety off a gun.

The threat didn’t bother them and both snarled back at him.

“What the fook have you done to your teeth? They’re pointy! I didna realise you fookers had different teeth! Ain’t wearing ironed clothes and shaving your plums enough!”

Slowly, the two circled Sid. They were sly fookers, which meant he could only see one of them in his field of vision. They both entered striking distance.

“You ain’t getting any, ya bastards!” He recalled a conversation the night previous. What was that there fairytale thing Brian was on about? he thought. Ah! “Rumpledforeskin! Rumpledforeskin!” he cried desperately trying to rid himself of the unwanted male attention.

Suddenly, the man outside of Sid’s vision leapt at him, but Sid’s Pink Alert gave him eyes in the back of his head and his arse. Spinning around with a speed that defied his size, he unfurled the right and connected fully and firmly with the airborne attacker. He continued his spin until he faced the other fairy. Sid knew the first one was out cold. When he dealt his right hook, they always were.

“Now then, Tarquin, your turn.”

Sid’s attacker was not looking at him. He was staring behind him to where his fallen comrade lay. Sid knew it was a trick, because they never came round until morning. The young man turned his gaze to Sid. Terror filled his piercing blue eyes. He somersaulted backwards and twisted in mid-air to run at full speed upon landing, sprinting across the car park and out of sight.

Sid looked down at his right and smiled. “Won’t be trying that again will you, Shirley?” He turned around to look at the fallen fairy.

But he’d gone.

 ****

 Gunnar ran like the wind, not caring who saw him. What he just witnessed added more pain, more suffering, and more anguish to a soul already saturated with hatred and vengeance. He stopped dead on the edge of the cliff tops, having covered thirty miles in what seemed like a moment. The North Sea crashed below, unrelenting as his woe. The moonlight shone beautifully on the water.

He leapt.

The wind whistled past his ears, and he plunged deep into the icy water. His foot shattered against a rock. It’d heal in minutes, not that he cared. He floated to the surface and gazed at the moon. That same beauty he’d looked upon when he lost his mother. Why must something so beautiful remind him of something so terrible?