Before I put up the story for this dirty snow sky Sunday I wanted to talk briefly about all of the wonderful work done for the boardgame, which I have finished today. It’s definitely a testament to the way my brain works, which is to suddenly realise how to do something and just run wild with it, like a dog with a stick. This has been a a very productive week: finishing my latest draft of my first novel- Z-List Celebrities, finishing the nitty gritty details of my boardgame, and actually going outside and walking.
It’s not the end of January and i’m already feeling very productive, especially as i’m writing each and every day, even if it’s just a few notes in my pad and my daily blog, it all adds up and it’s important to know when to take a moment and pat yourself on the back for a days good work. I also finished Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, one of the early vampire works, and I can see why it’s regarded as one of his greater stories.
Carmilla is one of those stories where you can see the ground work for a lot of other vampire stories not just Bram Stoker, but also Anne Rice for the influences on Claudia. It is one of those stories which transcends its age, and contains rules for vampires which seem to have been lost over time. A creature created from the visitation of a spectre, that not only feeds off blood, but adoration and companionship. Carmilla is a story that focuses on the creature not the superpower human, but does so in a way that allows you to draw parallels between the beast it has become, and the human mind it employs to do so.
The air outside was harsh and biting, but that didn’t matter; it was Christmas! Which meant it was a time of smiles, kisses, and wooly jumpers. It was a time of gift giving, fatty foods, and whatever passed for the rapidly rising vegan yule-tide tradition. Everyone was there, in one way or another, even those that had left brushed past us, trailing their cobwebbed memories throughout the house. Grandparents, friends, and animals were remembered with such a fondness you could smell them in the hall, watching just out of sight. Tonight would be the night that quarrels were lain to rest. Hugs would be given whether welcomed or not, and tears kissed away, while Doctor Who saves the world again. It was a time of magic, old and powerful. It’s origins stretching keeping into the hot drippy, egg yolk of creation itself. It was a time of wishes, promises, and pacts.
Dad was halfway through his second glass of wine when there was a knocked at the door.
‘Who the bloody hell’s that then?’ said my Father, picking his way through the stains of mashed potato scattered through his bearded chin, like dustings of snow on a bramble bush.
‘It’s Christmas, Love,’ said my Mother. ‘It’s probably carollers.’ Her face was worn from the seventeen hours she had packed into the day to ensure everything was going to behave itself and do exactly as it should. There was very little room for any other way than Mother’s way when Christmas was concerned, even if like today she bulged with life.
My brother had asked which he preferred- A boy or a girl- he just shook hail head and asked if he could have a pony instead. Everyone laughed, except him, which was obviously a respectful and rather adult request, and not one that he appreciated us laughing at.
‘I’ll go and get it then,’ said my Mother in a huff, as my Father who was still preoccupied with foraging through his face, seemed completely oblivious. I watched her open the door to greet a man, so tall that he had to lean down in order for his face to be seen. He appeared to be dressed in furs, bits of bone, and a helmet, with horns the colours of smokey amethyst.
‘Oh dear, wait there,’ my Mother waved over her shoulder as she waddled back into the living room for her purse. ‘How much change to do need, love?’ she called over her shoulder.
My Father grumbled and cursed under his breath, muttering something about Christmas being a time for relaxing, and if He he wanted any money, then He should go out and earn it like a normal person, instead of sponging of good honest people like us.
Mother invited the stranger in out of the cold, much to the grim faces my Father pulled from the comfort of his grey shorts, stained with gravy and flakey florets of broccoli.
The man came in, hand-crafted heavy leathered boots pressed down on the laminated wood, head held down in a bow. My breath caught in my through as I saw his face, covered with the blue foot prints of some spiralling language, framing a face more forest than fuzz, the colour of old wood. His eyes were bright brown and rested under a thick furrowed brow, like brass pennies. I had the sense that I was staring at a piece of nature, wild and unkempt; I could feel some part of my brain begin to tick and scratch against my skull, desperate to go outside and just run somewhere. Then as he sat down, I felt the urge to sit and listen, rest because with him I was finally safe. I could see marks carved into the dark stone of his helmet, golden stick figures, fought, danced, and died like they were adorning the home of the King of the cavemen.
‘Would you like a drink,’ asked my Mother.
‘Fermented Yacks milk, if you’ve got it,’ said the man with a voice like rolling thunder of in the distance somewhere strange and forgotten.
‘Would tea be alright, dear?’ asked my Mother. The man nodded, and she was off into the kitchen to fix everyone a cup of tea, probably glad of the excuse to use her fancy new cups.
My Father didn’t really seem to notice the strangeness of the man sat on the couch at his side- whether this was out of spite I couldn’t say -instead he focused on the television that resided in the corner of the room, forgotten or all but the most special of occasions.
‘What is this bile?’ asked the stranger, revealing a mouth of teeth filed sharp.
‘ -S Muppet’s,’ answered my Father, a look of disgust rolling lazily across his face as he looked at the stranger. ‘Everyone loves the Muppet’s, what’s wrong with you.’
My Mother returned, tray of cherry red cups atop her special guest tray, wide grin on her face as the man took a cup. My Father took the second cup, a look on his face that suggested he wasn’t accustomed to getting the second of anything in his own house, and he certainly wouldn’t be happy about it.
‘Would you like something to eat?’ asked my Mother, and before my Father could object, she was off. Every cupboard was opened, as was the fridge; she even offed to nip to the garage on the corner before it shut for the night.
‘That is very gracious, but I have come to give you something,’ said the stranger.
My Father was listening now, his eyes narrowed in that particular fatherly way they do when someone suggests they can offer something they couldn’t do.
‘I have come because my ways, like so many others, have gone, with the last of tradition and faith. There is no place for me here anymore, so I must go, taking the last of my stories with me, but before I go I wanted to give you a gift.’
‘Why are you giving up gifts?’ asked my Father as he looked the man up and down. ‘We don’t want any religion or any of that stuff, we’re happy the way we are. We’ve done our charitable bit.’
‘Exactly,’ said the stranger. ‘You have helped me and my people through the years, with offerings of goat during the colder months, the riced pudding and the saucers of cream put out for the pixies and the sprites.’
‘So you’re a nutter who’s come to tell us we’re not allowed to put food out is it? Upsetting the ecosystem or something is it?’ asked my Father. ‘My Mum always told me to be good to the world, and to respect the traditions. I do lot’s of good stuff like recycling, and giving to the homeless.’
‘And feeding the foxes, the squirrels, and the crows. You wave the the moon, and bless the sun, and show love and compassion to your tended gardens, while leaving spots of little animals to come and nest. You’re a family that celebrates the old and the new.’
‘So you’re a stalker then?’ asked my Father. ‘We don’t help weirdos, and we certainly don’t go to the grave for them.’
My Mother opened her mouth, but closed it when she saw the serious look on my Father’s face, and the worse one on the stranger’s.
‘Listen to me,’ said the man, as he rose up from his seat, and did not stop until his horns scraped across the ceiling. ‘I do not stalk, I do not threaten, and I do not bully. I am the force of nature that sweeps through the world, I am the first breath, the long pause.’
‘You’re bloody mental,’ said my Father.
‘Don’t upset the poor man,’ said my Mother as she slapped my Father on the shoulder.
‘He’s obviously dealing with a lot of things, being homeless and all. Why are you here then love?’
‘I’ve come to give each of you a gift,’ said the man, his hand vanishing inside his bear skin rug, and produced a small hat. ‘This is for the little fellow there.’
My brother looked up at the stranger with the interest that comes with someone giving you a gift. ‘I’m not allowed to take things off strangers.’
Mother looked proud, and the man nodded, placing the hat on one side.
‘That’s very wise,’ said the stranger. ‘But i’d fear for your safety if you didn’t take some safety precaution.’
‘For what?’ asked my Father, and as if answering the question there was a distinct clop, as something vaguely horselike, clacked its straw hooves on the laminated flooring. It looked liked it had been crafted from a field of wheat and flowers, with the faint glow of molten earth deep within the recesses where its eyes should have been.
My brother squealed, forgetting his Mother’s lesson about gifts, as he ran over to plant several kisses of his new pony. ‘Fank you.’
‘Do not thank me,’ said the stranger. ‘Thank Lughnasadh, for his last and most noble of steeds.’
‘Fank you Loo nasur,’ said my brother. ‘I’m gonna call him Denis.’
The horse stuck out a tongue of pressed flowers and straw and licked his face, filling the room with the fragrance of hot rain and spice. He giggled, then running his fingers through the mane of long grass, he took the pony around the house, showing Denis all of his favourite things.
‘How are we expected to pay for a horse then?’ asked my Father.
‘It is a gift from the Harvest God,’ said the stranger. ‘Upon his mane grows the first fruit, delicious beyond all others. Where he treads, the world blooms. It can travel safely anywhere.’
My Father grunted, obviously unimpressed by the prospect of a animal that provides food. ‘What if we don’t want fruit? For all you know we might be allergic, did your friend think of that?’
‘I can assure you that the pony will bring you nothing but prosperity, for Lughnasadh was once responsible for sowing the crop of the world so mankind can enjoy its bountiful harvest.’
‘And why’s he not doing it now?’ asked my Father.
‘Because nobody wants him to,’ said the stranger. ‘Spirits and gods are fickle, they need to be wanted, they need you to have faith in them for them to work.’
‘Sounds like someone’s trying too hard,’ said my Father. ‘Maybe he should try something else.’
‘He is leaving, like the rest of them,’ said the stranger, his head down. ‘He just asks that whenever you climb a hill, or enjoy a bilberry, to just thank him.’
‘I’ll think about it,’ said my Father. ‘What else have you got up your sleeve then? Perhaps a squirrel that farts chocolate, or a pair of magic trouser that can help me put up a shelf?’
The man looked puzzled, then removed a candle from his pocket the colour of dull gold, and handed it to my Father.
‘What’s this then?’
‘Go to the window and it will show you those who are close to your heart, even if they are so very far away. It will even bring those who have passed on.’
My Father’s face became strange, and I realised it was because he was scared, I cannot tell you how much that unnerved me, but not as much as it did watching him cry as he sat by the window, staring out into the black night with the soft silvery glow of the candle. He called out my name, probably to speak to whoever he was talking to, but I was staring at the stranger now.
He then rose to his feet, his features seemed older, his skin sagged, and his eyes were now dark and dull. He leant upon the wall as he walked to the door, where my Mother and I followed. He stopped by the door and looked at my Mother with a warm look, like they had been childhood sweethearts.
‘For you I cannot begin to thank for everything you have done for us,’ said the stranger, a honey coloured tear running down his face. ‘You have raised your children to believe in fairies, to respect the animals, and to tell stories. You have given us hope in the darkest moments, and as we leave we do so in regret for we cannot take you with us.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked my Mother.
‘You know all about us, and fill the world with such strange fancies and stories, but we have no stories of humanity to tell to our own. We do not know how to help you, so you can continue to create. I fear we’ve been too busy, and now we must leave you without any more stories to tell, but the ones you live.’
‘It’s not all that,’ said my Mother, leaning up to stroke the mans bearded chin. ‘There will always be stories, as long as there are people to listen to them. You just need to give us a little faith.’
‘I wish it were that simple,’ said the stranger as he sagged down as if the world was crushing him. ‘I lied before, when I said I did not want anything, but I have something to ask your son.’
He turned to me then, with those strange eyes, which seem to know every inch of the world. They were eyes which could cut deep into a person’s soul, and see what courage lay there, and as he stared at me I could see he saw something intriguing.
‘We would like your son to come with us,’ he said. ‘ There are so many stories to still tell, and then there are the stories of humanity. We want to learn, but there isn’t any place here for us, and there may never be again.’
I turned to my Mother, who had a stern look in her eye. ‘Do I have a say in it?’ she said.
The man looked hurt at the remark. ‘Even if we had that power, it’s long since gone. We are creatures of creativity and faith, we cannot make you do anything. We cannot move you if you do not want to be moved, and we cannot take you if you do not want to be taken.’
‘And that explains the pony that can go anywhere, and the candle which can let you talk to people a long ways away?’
‘What if we need him more than you do?’ asked my Mother.
‘I cannot take him where he doesn’t want to go, because he is held here by your love,’ said the stranger. ‘But if he comes with us he doesn’t have to just watch from the distance. He like the rest of us is grateful for you keeping his spirit alive, but now is time to let him rest, where we can go and spend eternity in the comfort of old friends.’
My Mother’s eyes were full of tears now as she looked down the hallway. ‘Is he here?’ Did he come back to see us on Christmas?’
The stranger put his hand on her shoulder and caressed it gently as he looked down at her with a smile. ‘He never left.’
‘Then let him go,’ said my Mother with a sad smile. ‘But make sure he takes a jacket. It’s very cold out there.’