A Rare Vintage
By Adam Dixon
I watched the young man as he weaved through the crowd and reached the bar. I observed his ready smile as the bartender caught his eye, and his lips moved as he ordered a drink. The buzz of Saturday night good humour in The Swan drowned out his voice. Such a graceful bird, the swan, but it does not have any instinct for the hunt, nor does it taste blood. A pity.
The young man leaned against the bar, his fingertips tracing the worn surface. A light above him illuminated his round, boyish face and his fair hair. My nose was confused by the mixture of alcohol and stale cigarette smoke, but I could still smell the young man’s blood. It rose to the top of the other smells, like oil glistening on water. My nostrils flared and my own blood quickened. Even after these incalculable years a hunt still thrills me.
The man scratched his neck and smoothed his white shirt. I reached out with my mind and touched his with an imperceptible tendril. His voice was clear in my head.
I hope Tasha likes this shirt. Have I undone too many buttons?
Then the voice disappeared as if I had turned the dial on a radio only to snap it off again a second later. I looked at the young man’s shirt and saw that his two top buttons had been left undone, exposing a portion of his skin and a tease of chest hair. I followed his nervous gaze to a young woman seated alone in a booth a few metres away. I did not need to touch her mind to see that she did indeed like the man’s shirt. She smiled at him and cocked her head, her dark hair spilling over a bare shoulder. The young man grinned and turned back to the bartender, his cheeks beginning to redden. How quaint. How predictable. How dull.
I raised my half-empty glass of ale to my lips and took a long swallow. It was lukewarm and ashen in my mouth. I was granted a watery view of my reflection in the brown swill; I looked just like any other wrinkled old man, drinking away his joyless evenings alone. I couldn’t wish to be more invisible. My hunt would not be disturbed.
The young woman, Tasha, lifted her mobile phone and began tapping at it, her false nails sparkling. I had not seen her part with the device for longer than the time it took to raise a drink to her glossed lips. All around The Swan men and women were doing the same, idly flicking at their screens even as they laughed and conversed with their companions. They were like moths before flames, and that would earn me my advantage. I focused my attention on Tasha.
I reached out with my mind across the room. Inevitably, I brushed against the minds of the cattle between us. Their petty thoughts clambered for attention in my head.
This pint tastes a bit off…
Barbara’s at it again! Mutton dressed as bloody lamb…
I’d shag him if he ever shuts up and takes me home…
John’s ready to open up alone, but he’d better not fuck it up…
Tasha’s painted face was lit with excitement and her smile was warm. My mind touched hers.
Ricky’s such a babe, I can’t wait for the girls to see our pics!
I pushed my will against the young woman’s, and she stiffened, her eyes growing wide. There was a meagre resistance, but I exerted my will irresistibly onwards, and she was mine; it was child’s play. At my command, Tasha began to type.
“Oops! Sorry, mate!” I was almost knocked from my stool and my drink slopped over the table. A large man blinked piggy eyes at me, then at his depleted glass.
“Didn’t see you there,” the fat man slurred. His blue football shirt was soaked, and his sour breath wrinkled my nose.
“Think nothing of it,” I rasped, turning back towards Tasha. My hold had broken, and she frowned at the partially-typed message on her screen. I began to stretch out my mind once again… A meaty hand clapped me on the shoulder.
“Lemme buy you ‘nother, yeah?” the fat man wheezed in my ear.
“No, thank you,” I said smartly, shrugging off his hand. “Leave me be.” I needed to concentrate. I glanced at the bar and saw that the young man, Ricky, had not yet been served. There was still time.
“Come on!” the fool laughed, swaying close and scratching my jaw with his stubble. “Lemme buy you a-“
The man’s head slammed into the table with a crash and he crumpled to the floor. No-one would have seen my hands move; I can be very fast when I’m angry. I ignored the shouts of surprise nearby and concentrated. Tasha shuddered and resumed typing. After a few seconds the message was sent, and I allowed her to rest her hands on the table. Without releasing my hold on her, I cast my eyes over to her lover.
The young man already had his phone in his hand, naturally, and his eyes widened as he read the new message. I compelled the woman to look at him, smile, and wink mischievously. Ricky coughed and managed to grin back, and I made Tasha turn away with a coy flick of her hair. The young man was distracted by the polite bark of the bartender. He tapped his credit card against the offered device, hesitated, then leaned in to speak. The bartender appeared confused, but he nodded despite his frown. Ricky stole another look at Tasha, who had placed one hand suggestively on her thigh. Ricky left the fresh drinks untouched as he stepped eagerly through the door and into the street. I almost despaired at how easy it had been. One can always trust humans to think with their genitals; they are nothing but apes.
I made a point of finishing the dregs of my glass before I rose and followed the young man. I released Tasha’s mind as I exited The Swan and left her to her confusion. The air was biting cold, and I sampled it as delicately as a wine-taster. I caught the scent of Ricky’s blood; there was the vintage I sought. That was the curse of superiority – the common blood would simply not do.
Ricky had disappeared into an alley a short walk away. The wall of a shop guarded one side and a damp, mouldy wooden fence presided on the other. The amber light from the lampposts did not penetrate the space, and so it was draped in shadows. I could hear the young man’s breathing, I could see the mist pluming from his lips. A slow smile crept across my face. I had him.
“Tash? That you?” the young man called, his voice tremulous and excited. I stepped into the alleyway, my feet making no sound upon the gravel.
“Bit cold for this, innit?” the man asked with a laugh. “Not that I don’t want to, obviously!” he hastened to add. I could hear Ricky’s heart beating, forcing his elixir-like blood down the rivers of his arteries and veins. I began to salivate.
“Tash?” Ricky asked, doubt entering his voice for the first time. “That is you, isn’t it?” I bunched my muscles and prepared to spring.
The headlights from a passing vehicle slashed the alleyway with brief light. Ricky’s eyes widened in shock, and then I was on him. My hand clamped across his mouth as I bore him to the ground. His panicked cry was stifled as the air was driven from his lungs as he slammed onto his back. His hands instinctively clawed at mine, but he was as weak as a kitten compared to me. His cry became a squeal as my fangs pierced his throat and hot, salty, delicious blood filled my mouth. I gulped greedily, seizing Ricky’s flailing arms with my free hand as I ground his ribs under my knees. His blood was sublime; I began to shudder with ecstasy, falling into an involuntary rhythm with the bucking of the dying man. He snorted and gasped, coating my palm with saliva. I removed my hand from his mouth as his struggles weakened and his cries trailed off. I wiped the spit off on his shirt and my fingers traced the skin exposed by his undone buttons, his chest hair tickling my fingertips. I kept drinking, feeling my stomach swell near to bursting. Ricky’s heels stopped scraping against the gravel and his arms fell limp.
I was obliged to strike the man’s chest to force the last few mouthfuls from his withered heart. I pulled away at last, my exhalation sending a great cloud of vapour into the cold air. Blood spilled from my lips and trickled down my chin, but I was too rapturous to even slide my tongue after them. The rare blood had restored me, and I was like a wretch stupefied by strong spirits.
There was a rustling at the far end of the alley. I glanced into the dark with glazed eyes. A fox, its fur matted and filthy, paused to stare at me. It could smell the blood, and I could smell its trepidation and fear. That was good; it ought to be humbled before a superior predator. I hunched my shoulders and bared my dripping fangs in a hiss, locking on to the fox’s amber eyes. The animal turned and fled, exposing its gaunt ribs and dishevelled tail as it ran from me. I smiled and leaned my head back to stare up at the sky. Stars twinkled in the heavens, the sole witnesses to my prowess. No matter, I needed no audience; I owned the night.
Once the blood-haze had faded I stood, scenting the air and listening with senses which had sharpened tenfold. The drunken merriment of the Swan’s patrons reached my ears, and the odour of their cigarettes crept into my nostrils. I glanced down at the corpse of the young man, taking in his pale, twisted face. A pity. Almost.
I gave a growl and darted from the alley to leap onto the roof of the nearest house. I bounded across the rooftops with the wind whistling through my silver hair. The speed of my journey forced back the loose, wrinkled skin of my face, smoothing it into an illusion of youth. But I was so very old, and the blood of the young man roiled in my bloated stomach, proof that I would get older still. I grinned into the night and licked my fangs. It was a fine thing to be old, because youth never lasted long, anyway.
Follow me on Twitter @ADixonFiction.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com