The woods were as silent and still as a fresh corpse with only the faint rustling of small woodland creatures and the predators hunting them registering any sound at all as they waged their nocturnal battles.
Majestic in its frigidity, the moon was full and high in the ebony sky, but the dense foliage of the lofty, ancient trees was enough to ensure that only a meagre amount of its light filtered through to illuminate the loamy forest floor below.
It was then that an almost imperceptible footfall disturbed the pristine calm, and a quiet whisper floated across the gloomy air.
“Do we have to do this now?”
“Well, when else do you suggest we do it? You could try coming out at lunchtime I suppose but I don't think you'll find many werewolves strolling about trying to work on their tan.”
“Okay, fine, but just remember what happened to the last two chaps who got this job.”
“And what would that be?”
“Coming out here totally unprepared without having done any research. They even brought silver bullets, for goodness sake, and everyone knows they don't work.”
“Well, don't keep me in suspense by blathering on all night. What happened to them?”
“One was never found, and all they found of the other one was his hat.”
“His head was still in it!”
“So, on the strength of that, you're just presuming that he was eaten by a wolf,” came the sarcastic reply.
“Well, what else could have done that out here? A Boy Scout gone postal? Finally tied one too many reef knots and completely unravelled?”
“Maybe Cowan got fed up with his constant whining and cut his head off to shut him up.”
“Don't wind me up, I'm nervous enough as it is.”
“I didn't know you were afraid of the dark.”
“It's not the dark that bothers me. It's what's hiding in it that gives me the willies. Especially out here.”
A quiet snort impinged upon the funereal hush.
“Look, there's really nothing to worry about. You know I've brought along everything we need. I've got Wolf's Bane, chains and padlocks, a dog whistle…”
“Yeah, and half a sheep festering away in that bag. I can smell it from here, it's disgusting. It's so strong there's more chance of us getting attacked by a shark. Look, even the maggots are running away.”
“I didn't know maggots could run.”
“I really don't know why you came out here, Alf,” said the first figure, dropping the meat laden sack to the ground where it landed with a glutinous squelch. “All you've done is moan and jump at your own shadow.”
“It's too dark for a shadow. It's like being down the bottom of a bloody well.”
A hushed, almost indiscernible noise had punctured the abyssal silence. In reality it was no louder than a freshly laundered towel caressing a baby's cheek, but it resounded like a gunshot because the forest was so still.
Both men reacted instantly, hunching over, straining their ears for all they were worth, trying not only to figure out what they had heard but where it had come from, and from what.
Alf was now way beyond his initial fears about the venture. He'd arrived at St. Panic Station and was on the verge of becoming a full blown gibbering wreck. He wanted to flee but his feet were glued to the floor, his knees were trembling, and his bowels were quickly turning to water.
“Hey!” he whispered, “what is it?”
“I don't know for sure,” replied his companion, “but I think it might be behind us.”
Whatever it was emitted a rich, bass growl that the two men felt way down deep in their chests.
“We're in trouble.”
The snarl grew louder and more menacing.
“We're definitely in tro…”
All Alf saw was a large, vague shape launch itself at his friend's back, and when it hit a second later, it had enough force to carry him to the forest floor. He felt a chilled rush of air sweep past his cheek and detected the unmistakable odour of damp dog.
His stricken partner screamed once and was then silenced, his cry replaced by a sickeningly liquid crunch. Alf gazed in fascinated horror as a head the size of a horse's turned towards him and two intense red eyes fixed him with a wicked glare. Thick dark fluid dripped from teeth the length of an index finger as the creatures' breath formed a miasmal cloud before it. An instant later the massive beast launched itself at the now lone hunter, hell bent on rending him to shredded chunks so that it could continue its grizzly feast.
Alf reacted instinctively, his adrenal gland pumping for all it was worth in order to fuel his taught muscles, and before he was consciously aware of what he was doing, he was turning to flee.
Sadly though, his instantaneous attempt at flight was brought to a sudden and dramatic halt. As his right foot pivoted, the toe of his boot caught on something wooden and, even though every fibre and sinew in his body fought to keep him upright, he lost his balance and crashed heavily to the leaf strewn forest floor. Time seemed to slow and as he fell, he turned his head. The werewolf was nearly on him. It was in full flight, all four legs off the ground, slavering jaws wide open and ready to strike. Realising that without further action he was about to be torn to pieces, Alf brought his left arm round, intent on finding purchase in an effort to spur him to his feet and away from what was going to be the most certain of certain deaths. His grasping fingers, however, did not hit the soil. They touched and unconsciously closed around a piece of frigid wood that was much too uniform to be a part of any tree.
With time now seemingly at a stand still, he brought the object closer to him. At the very least he could make use of it as a club. Then, with a flash of intense relief that actually made him shudder, Alf realised it was the high powered rifle that he and his recently deceased acquaintance had brought with them.
The wolf was now close enough that he could see the small red capillaries in its eyes and smell its foetid, meaty breath. Without a second thought, Alf brought the barrel of the weapon to bear on the creature and pulled the trigger, sending a hollow point bullet straight at it. He didn't see where the bullet penetrated, but the sudden silence and the fact that he wasn't being torn limb from flailing limb told him all that he needed to know. He collapsed back onto the forest floor and let out the breath that he'd been holding for what had seemed like an eternity.
“Never again,” he muttered to himself.
* * *
“Dinner time, Ollie!”
“Oh, good grief, do I have to?”
“I fink you do yes, uverwise you put your, umm, immortal soul in, drier, uh dire peril, decci, dicec, mess up your very flush and, um, bones, and den 'ave to spend all 'ternity wandring about da efereal neverworld.”
Ollie Splint closed his eyes and sighed, trying to push the thought of dinner from his mind. Actually, and by way of introduction (never let it be said that us authors are rude types) it might help you to know that Ollie was a vampire. Well, he was half vampire anyway. His father, Glut the Bodyripper, was a most infamous bloodsucker and was renowned throughout the undead world as one of the most gruesome and malevolent creatures ever to don the black cape and pointy fangs. His mother, however, wasn't such a denizen of the dark, occupier of the otherworld or inhabitant of any evil environs of any description whatsoever. Her name was Sharon Goldsmith and she was, to this day, an assistant in a small library in Cardiff (she worked in the Welsh language section so spent most of her time wiping phlegm off the books and telling English tourists that 'heaty hottio' didn't mean microwave oven).
His father had met her during one of his many night time hunting expeditions (or to put it another way, he was out to kill as many living things as possible before the sun came up and turned him into a Cornish Pasty).
Sharon, on the other hand, being slightly more academically inclined and not really that interested in slaughter on a scale not seen since the Spanish Flu epidemic, had been on a college gap year and was hiking through Eastern Europe to broaden her mind and expand on her life experience.
As was traditional (and who am I to tamper with that) they'd met in a secluded, pseudo medieval village that was populated by dribbling simpletons, world class idiots and a mad woman who spent her days wandering about yelling 'WHOOOOO!” at passers by. You know the sort of place don't you? If not, imagine Southend but just a tad friendlier and with a higher collective IQ.
Anyway, their meeting had been something of a revelation to them both. In all his centuries of existence Glut had never been so affected by a human female (in that he didn't have the urge to tear her throat out and drink her blood. Well, he did for a bit but then he wouldn't have been a proper vampire if he didn't would he), and as impossible as it may seem, he'd actually fallen in love with the demure Welsh lass.
And so, stricken as he was by Cupids fateful arrow, he realised that if he wanted to forge any sort of meaningful relationship with Sharon he needed to be truthful with her, so he took a risk and told her about his, how shall we put it, colourfully alternative lifestyle. Surprisingly she took it all on board without batting an eyelid and dealt with the vampires surreal tale in an amazingly level headed fashion because, if the truth be known, she was as smitten with the giant blood sucker as he was with her. They'd never married of course, because vampires simply don't do that by tradition, and what with traditions being somewhat traditional, and vampires being very traditional in their keeping of traditions there was no way that Glut could break that particular tradition because it was so traditional, and as you can imagine there are certain traditions that simply can't be trifled with. She had, however, been afforded the greatest honour that a male vampire can bestow upon a human female. He'd chosen her to bear his child and since then they'd enjoyed a very happy romance thank you very much. Even to this day he still visited with her several times a year (it's in all the papers whenever he does. Well, almost. The last headline was 'Another 34 unexplained deaths in Wales' capital city.' No doubt they'll figure it out one day but by then there'll be no one left except Sharon, that statue of Sir Gareth Edwards and the bloke who polishes the Millennium Stadium).
So Ollie, thanks to his mixed parentage, had been blessed with some very distinct and somewhat odd character traits. He could mesmerise anyone he liked (as long as they had the brain of an over the hill heavyweight boxer and the IQ of a boiled turnip that is), he needed to avoid direct sunlight, but could go out in it if he wrapped up like an Eskimo who really hated the cold, he slept in a coffin the size of a piano crate and, for some strange reason, he could make his left foot invisible. On a good night, if he'd had plenty of sleep and concentrated really hard, he could turn himself into a decently sized bat. Well, he'd managed it once, but had gotten fed up with the entire process and vowed never to do it again after spending three hours hanging upside down from a branch, passing water all over his own face, passing out and falling to the floor. And trying to shave when you didn't have a reflection was a constant pain in the chin.
On the flip side of all these black, vaguely evil and some might say, outrageously nefarious talents (and let's face it, it's nice to have some balance. It doesn't pay to be completely rotten all the time does it, not unless you're a serial killer, an evil dictator or an estate agent anyway), he was fond of a cup of Earl Grey tea (decaffeinated of course. Vampires can be stroppy enough even when they've had a good day's sleep), Marmite sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a nice drop of wine and a good cry at anything remotely sentimental.
His heritage was also the reason for his rather peculiar moniker (not the one from Friends. She was just weird). In true vampire tradition where the male's title was meant to be something as vile as possible, his given name was actually Gore the Spinesplitter, but once he'd reached an age where these things mattered, he'd decided that it would be next to impossible trying to go through eternity with such a ghastly title, especially after he'd tried booking a meal in a restaurant one evening. He'd barely finished getting his name out when the maître d' gave him a rather peculiar look, went deathly pale and asked him to leave otherwise he'd call the authorities. Obviously a squad of policemen wouldn't have posed the young vampire any problems at all, but it wasn't quite how he'd planned the evening to go, and having to kill several officers of the law would probably have put him off his trifle.
Ollie did, however, love his old Dad, so as a sign of respect rather than changing his name completely, he'd contracted it to the reasonably more user friendly Splint. Ollie was the name of a pet cat that he'd had as a boy. A cat that had mysteriously disappeared one weekend when his cousin, Grind the Felinekiller, aged nine and a half, had come for a sleepover.
The main bugbear in Ollie's life though, was a total and utter loathing of the sight, smell, taste, feel and look of blood. It made him shudder every time he thought about the revolting liquid, which was twice a day in fact, a pint at a time. And as you can imagine it was no fun being a creature of the night when blood-letting and everything else related to the vile substance made you retch. The twice yearly meeting of the Vampire Union, V.L.A.D (Vampires Love a Drop) was a complete nightmare from beginning to end. The other members, happily throwing gallons of AB negative down their necks, would quite happily pull his fangs out if they discovered he'd smuggled in a couple of bottles of strawberry flavoured Ribena. And the buffet, well, that was beyond words (it was putrid, nauseating, horrific, nasty, noisome and downright yucky. There you go, not quite as beyond words as I thought. Hurrah for a bit of hyperbole, overstatement, exaggeration, over-embellishment and the like).
As Flug placed the tray on Ollie's desk and backed off slightly, Ollie thought about what Flug had just said. It sounded wooden and stilted, almost rehearsed. He could never have come up with anything like that on his own.
“Have you been looking at the pretty pictures in your vampire comics again, Flug?”
“Yeah. Me like da hunters. Dey cool,” he rumbled.
“I'm sure they are.”
“And good cooks.”
“Cooks?” asked Ollie.
“Dey do good stuff wiv steaks, me like steaks.”
Ollie gazed despondently at the hulk before him.