The man sat at his writing desk, his laptop barely illuminating the cramped study. No writing was being done. On the desk was a heavy crystal tumbler, half filled with golden liquid. The bottle sat a few inches away. He always enjoyed a glass of whisky, opting usually for a nice bottle of single malt. However, over the last few months his drinking had increased, fuelled by the bad dreams and indecision that wracked his thoughts. The whisky had dropped in price and quality. As long as it did the job and eased him into a deep dreamless sleep, he didn't care. Another sip was taken before continuing his reading. Over the last few months he'd read more and more about vampire folklore. It appeared that every civilisation from since the dawn of time held various accounts and stories of the mysterious creatures. He was currently reading the account of an unfortunate girl in Cornwall at the turn of the seventeenth century. The web page was framed in black, twisted wraiths and skulls dotted around its perimeter. It gave the screen a macabre feel, seeming to lower the temperature in the small room. The young girl in question had been visited by a vampire before her death. The local clergy had buried her in an unmarked grave. A stone tablet had been placed in her mouth, the casket filled with Hawthorn to ward off evil. The man took off his steel rimmed glasses and pinched the top of his nose, closing his eyes as he did so. A large hand rubbed at his bearded face. A beard that was showing more silver every day it seemed. He sat for a minute in silent contemplation before nodding to himself. The fiery liquid was downed in one go, the burn spreading from his throat down into his chest. He stood and shuffled out of the study into the darkened hallway. Slipping on his sports jacket and loafers, the man opened the cupboard under the stairs. Reaching inside, he flicked the light switch, bathing the hallway in a yellowy hue. He moved garments out of his way on the hanging pole until reaching the winter coat at the back. The man reached into the large pocket, drawing out a silver cross. He weighed it in his left hand, liking the sturdy feel it gave off. His palm tingled as he slapped it with the metal object. He flexed his fingers before stowing the cross in his jacket pocket. Walking down the hallway, he scooped his keys from the side table, dropping them in his trouser pocket. A mobile phone and an old wrist watch were found next. He pressed a button on the keypad, making the display glow. Quarter past eleven. He had enough time. His watch was clipped on his wrist, the phone stashed in his inside pocket just in case he needed it. For what, he knew not. If what he may encounter was a possibility, calling the emergency services would be a waste of time. It would certainly give the operator on the other end of the line an unusual twist to their night, the man thought. He spotted a lighter on the window sill and put that in his pocket, purely on a whim. Walking back through the house to the front door, he stopped at a picture on the wall of his wife, Denise. She had travelled to Ipswich to tend her dying mother. She'd told him to stay behind to perform his duty. A duty that was ebbing away it seemed. She'd noticed the empty whisky bottles in the recycling, coupled with witnessing his troubled dreams. Dreams that had started several months before. On several occasions, she had woken to find him mumbling incoherently in his sleep, clearly distressed. When she'd gently questioned him at the breakfast table the following morning, he would make excuses of late night movies that had followed him into his subconscious. She'd let it go. If it needed to come out it would in the fullness of time. She also had a grieving mother, who'd recently lost her husband and was now on her last legs too. They had busy lives, full of duty to loved ones. He locked the door and walked down his front path, turning right passing a tired row of shops. What once had been a thriving community now seemed like a ghost town. The local car factory had closed a few years before, hitting the area hard. This was coupled with a world-wide recession a few years later that left its scars on the whole country. Times had been tough, and things would take time to recover. He unzipped his coat as he started sweating. Summer was struggling to give up its hold on the land. Autumn could wait.
Ten minutes later he was walking past his local pub. The Hare and Hounds had a warm glow that gave the establishment an inviting pull. It was Friday night and the revellers inside looked like they had no intention of finishing up. The man had been young once. He knew people were winding down after their week at work. As he passed by the entrance, a young couple burst through the double doors, giggling at some private joke. They spotted the man and their laughter died down.
“Hello Father Stephen,” the man said. “Isn't it a bit late for a stroll?”
“Hello John, Sarah. I've had a cold over the last few days. I thought I'd take a walk before turning in for the night.” He looked at the young couple. He'd known them from when they had attended the local primary school, some twenty years before. “Finishing early?”
“We thought we'd beat the rush to the chippy. It can get crowded as they all spill out of the Hounds.”
“What's on the menu tonight?” he said as he suddenly smelt the aroma floating from the chip shop.
“Chicken and mushroom pie and chips for me and a kebab for greedy guts here,” Sarah said as she nudged her husband in the ribs.
“Well, enjoy your midnight feast. Be seeing you.”